Israel Trip – 3
Today was homecoming day. We traveled to the regions that Jesus knew best– Nazareth and the surrounding countryside. We visited Jesus’ hometown as well as Sepphoris, the capitol of Galilee during Jesus’ life. Sepphoris is a 10-mile walk from Nazareth and the traditional birthplace of Mary, Jesus’ mother, and one of the cities where Joseph found work.
While in Nazareth, we toured both Churches of the Annunciation; one is Greek Orthodox, the other Roman Catholic. The first, Gabriel’s Church, is built over the spring that feeds the city of Nazareth. The Roman Catholic church is built over a cave that is another traditional spot where Gabriel visited Mary. We reflected on Jesus’ life in Nazareth and the significance of Luke 1.
We then traveled to Nazareth village. Operated by the Nazareth Trust, the village is a reconstruction of daily life in the first century. The site opened after excavations in 1995 revealed an ancient winepress. The village is run and operated primarily by Arab Christians in Nazareth. For people like me who love performances and storytelling, this is a hands-on immersion into ancient Palestine. The roads and buildings are built as replicas of first century life. The group loved this place.
After the village, we stopped off at Mt. Precipice. Overlooking the Jezreel valley, this scenic view commemorates the place where the villagers from Nazareth attempted to throw Jesus off a cliff after his first sermon. (I’m glad that’s not how people respond to my invitations.) He escaped by moving through the mob without being noticed. I taught on the significance of Luke 4 in Jesus’ ministry.
After lunch, we traveled to Sepphoris. This significant city is a well-excavated archeological site home to a 3rd century A.D. villa and a 6th century A.D. synagogue. Sepphoris gives us an important context for Jesus’ life. The city was home to revolutionaries during Jesus’ day, as was much of the Galilee. The locals rebelled against the Roman government when Jesus was a boy, and the Romans burned the city. During Jesus’ lifetime, Herod Antipas rebuilt the Sepphoris. This place is one of my favorites.
Jesus grew up at a time of great change and transition and heard his fair share of stories of upheaval. Even Gamaliel in Acts 5 mentions one of them from this region– Judas the Galilean. Jesus’ family and friends knew of many attempts to change society.
In his first sermon in Nazareth in Luke 4, he spoke of a different kind of renewal. His change did not come from economic, political, or military force. This was a revolution of the heart, life, and community that could only come from God’s Spirit working through people. Jesus read to his hometown crowd from Isaiah 61 that the “Spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” These powerful words, fulfilled in a Nazareth synagogue and sermon some 2,000 years ago, came alive for our group today.
Ironically, Jesus’ home crowd rejected the one they knew best, at least initially. Nazareth has long been home to a vibrant Christian community, and today they struggle to hang on in changing times. These believers today in Nazareth bore witness to us that even Jesus’ home can change. Jesus’ sermon is a call to all believers to emulate this gospel and to start in our own villages and countryside. Today the scripture is still being fulfilled to the people who need it the most, the place wherever we call home.