By Frank Bienas
In the years 381 – 384 A.D., a Spanish lady named Egeria spent three years writing the first travel log about the holy places in Israel. Because of her, archeologists reading her writings were able to find many archeological sites including a natural seven stone step leading to the rock where Jesus prepared fish for His Apostles’ breakfast on a charcoal fire in John 21:4 after His Resurrection.
After breakfast, He asked Simon Peter three times, “Do you love me?” We know, Peter, standing in front of a charcoal fire, denied Christ three times. Christ then said, “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, and feed my sheep.”
A small Franciscan chapel that incorporates a fourth century church now covers the rock where Jesus would have prepared the fish. This chapel was about 30 feet from the shore of the Sea of Galilee and is called the Church of the Primacy of Peter. The distance of the shoreline varies with the amount of rain fall. On my second trip, the shoreline was 150 feet from the chapel.
Here Christ reminded Peter that he – Peter – is the rock upon which Christ’s Church would be built. This was the institution of the Papacy of Peter. The church is very simple but the rock serving as a table to feed the Apostles almost brings tears to your eyes knowing its history. Many Catholics revere this rock with a kiss.
A few minutes away is the Church of Tagbah. There is an ancient mosaic tile on the floor from the fourth century with loaves and fishes clearly depicted. The floor is part of a relatively new church built over it in the early 20th century. This is where Jesus fed the 5000 with five loaves and two fishes. This miracle took place just before Jesus walked on water. There was so much to eat that 12 baskets of bread were picked up after all had eaten.
In the Jewish New Testament Commentary by David Stern, according to the Halakhah, destruction of food is prohibited. In other words, waste not, want not. According to Stern, this is the Jewish background for Jesus’ command to gather the left over pieces of bread so nothing would be wasted. The number 12 would also have reminded the Jews of the 12 tribes of Jacob/Israel as well as the magnitude of the miracle.
Leaving Tagbah, we headed to Capernaum celebrating Mass on the beach of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum is filled with ruins. The population in the time of Jesus was about 1500. This was the hometown of Andrew, Peter, James, and John. Levi, who we know as Matthew, was a tax collector there.
Jesus began His teaching in Capernaum after the arrest of John the Baptist. Capernaum was in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali where the two northern most tribes of Israel intersected. Zebulun and Naphtali were ravaged by Assyrians in 732 B.C., ten years before the downfall of the rest of the Northern Kingdom. This is where Jesus chose to begin the reversal of the tragedies of Israel and restore the twelve tribes in the New Covenant also at the same time fulfilling the prophesy of Isaiah 9:1-2. (Mt 4:12-16)
In Matthew 10:5-6 it is here that Jesus charged the twelve Apostles with their mission saying, “Go nowhere among the gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” It is not until after Jesus’ Resurrection that the Apostles are sent to the gentiles. Jesus told the Apostles, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
It was in Capernaum that Jesus healed a man with the spirit of the devil; healed Peter’s mother-in-law; healed a Roman centurion’s servant; and he healed the paralytic who was lowered through the roof where He was speaking. This town was the center of Jesus’ public ministry for three years.
Jesus seldom taught in Jerusalem. He went there for Passover and other Jewish feasts. His teachings, however, brought Pharisees to Him in Capernaum. The people of Galilee, who lived north of Jerusalem, were loyal to Jerusalem and the synagogue but the Jews from Judah only tolerated them because of their monetary support of the Jerusalem temple. The Galilean Jews had a peculiar accent and were considered to be extremely uneducated, but they were loyal in their tithing.
In Capernaum Jesus gave His ‘Bread of Life’ discourse. There is a fourth century ruins of a synagogue built on the ruins of the original synagogue where Jesus told the people in John 6: 53 – 59:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” This He said in the synagogue, as He taught in Capernaum.
Today there is an octagonal church built over the house of Peter. The floor is a thick, transparent glass allowing you to see down into Peter’s house. The house is bigger than other houses, although very small by our standards, and was easily found by archeologists because of all the religious graffiti on the walls.
We then drove to Tiberius for a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee for about an hour. That night we walked the Mount of Beatitudes for the last time.