The picture looks east from my hotel room in Tiberias early on a Thursday morning (I was trying – unsuccessfully – to get a sunrise photo).
The scene is the Sea of Galilee, also known as the “Sea of Tiberias” (John 6:1) and the “Lake of Kinnereth” (Joshua 13:27) with the mountains in the distance. Somewhere over there, perhaps straight ahead, is where Jesus fed the 5000 (John 6).
Tiberias is mentioned only once in the New Testament and it’s a funny little story. After Jesus fed the 5000, he sent the disciples away, dismissed the crowd and went off to be alone. The next morning, some of the crowd was still around and they, knowing Jesus did not leave (in the only boat there was) with the disciples, wondered what happened to Jesus. While they were wondering, several boats arrived from Tiberias and the curious crowd took the boats and headed for Capernaum.
John doesn’t go into detail, but I can’t imagine boats being “available for the picking” like Capital Bikeshare bicycles. So . . . the crowd seemingly stole the boats to go find Jesus. I guess they thought if the cause was worthy enough, a little larceny could be excused. The Bible doesn’t condemn or address every case of unethical behavior. God however does expect us to catch those instances as we read, and perhaps shake our heads with incredulity at the shallowness of their spirituality. In more reflective moments, perhaps we can also catch a similar shallowness in our own spirituality when we are tempted to pardon poor behavior with the excuse that “good came from it in the end.”
Some of you know that recently I went to Israel and Jordan for ten days. It was a wonderful (first time) visit for me — made possible by a gift from my wife and some incredibly resourceful friends.
I hope you can see and make sense of this picture. The focal point is not the people gathered, but where they are gathered.
Two weeks ago this coming Sunday I was sitting with these folks on these steps. Specifically, they are steps on the south side of the city of Jerusalem going up through what was called the “double gate” leading not only into the city, but into the temple area. In the days of Jesus, these steps were over two hundred feet wide and alternated between a twelve inch run and a 35 inch run.
Why the change?
So that worshipers going up to the temple could not rush, but would have to think about their steps: slow, deliberate, thoughtful.
Very little of Jerusalem appears today as Jesus saw it, but these steps were there when Jesus was there and he would have walked them. It crossed my mind that if it weren’t for all the people, I could spend time walking the length of every step and surely, I would at some point, walk in the same place as Jesus.
The thing is however that I am never called to walk where Jesus walked. I am called to walk as Jesus walked – live as Jesus lived. The Apostle John, in his first letter writes: “Whoever claims to live in Jesus must walk as Jesus did.” It’s not an ideal, but God’s very real expectation.
I’ve just finished Jimmy Carter’s latest book: A Full Life: Reflections At Ninety. The last paragraph was most thought-provoking. He writes:
“The life we have now is the best of all. We have an expanding and harmonious family, a rich life in our church and the Plains community, and a diversity of projects at The Carter Center that is adventurous and exciting. Rosalynn and I . . . are blessed with good health and look to the future with eagerness and confidence, but are prepared for inevitable adversity when it comes.”
And of course, adversity did come not long after the book was published.
Here’s his life: A family he can be proud of. A place to serve in his church and community. Interesting and challenging work and the health to pursue it. Hope and confidence for the future. If there’s anything missing, I can’t imagine what it could be.
His words remind me of some in the Bible: “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 8:15 but see also 2:24 and 3:12).
We could be envious of the former President. But no life so blessed occurs by luck. It requires planning, purpose, and effort. When you get near the end of your road, where do you want to be? What do you want your life to look like at ninety? What are you doing to make it so?