We only have one more week together here in Israel. A week today we will be flying back to the UK. Today we are all going off on our own. We have hired a mini-bus and we are going back to the Galilee. We went towards the beginning of our stay in Nazareth but none of us felt that we had stayed there long enough. We have declared UDI and put Graham in charge … it is his own fault for being so insistent that we do this! Graham turns out to be a very good tour guide. I reckon that if he ever left the Ministry he could set up his own tour business – Wee Jock’s Tours?! Johny, who owns the bus firm we have been using all week, turns up himself to drive us. This is good, very good. Johny speaks good English, and also brings his best mini-bus … the one with really comfortable seats, air conditioning that works, and VIP on the doors!
We drive down to the Galilee, via Cana. The tourist busses are pulling up outside the shop that sells Cana Miracle Wine. I don’t know if it is actually on the alleged site of Jesus’ first miracle when he turned water into wine (John 2). I do know that the French group staying at Saint Margaret’s went there the other day and said that the wine in the shop,tasted awful. Apparently it gave a whole new meaning to the French word ‘degustation’!?
Our plan is to drive right round the Sea of Galilee, stopping off at various sites on the way and ending up at Ginosar where we are going to the beach for a swim and relax. I have to confess that I was reluctant when this trip was first suggested – I am tired and was looking forward to a quieter weekend – but it is actually an extremely pleasant drive and I am glad we have come after all. Our first stop is at Kursi on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is allegedly the site where the Gaderene demoniac was delivered by Jesus (Luke 8:26-39). The site was discovered by accident some years ago as a result of a new road being built along the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. We like this site. There are no other tourist groups here, but us. We get cut price entry for some reason. And the site is what it is – an interesting ruined church built over the alleged site of the miracle, and a smaller chapel up a steep climb, by the alleged cave where the demoniac lived.
From Kursi we drive on to Bethsaida, the site of many of Jesus’ miracles. Originally we did not intend going there, but since we got a good deal at Kursi we chance our arm and get an even better deal at Bethsaida. It is a fascinating little site and we are struck by all the blatant references to Jesus’ works and words (given that this is a Jewish National Park) all over the site, such as his famous comment, ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes’ (Matthew 11:20).
We continue driving round the Sea of Galilee. We are heading for the beach at Tabgha – the place where it is suggested Jesus and his disciples often escaped to when they needed some peace and quiet. It is also the alleged place where Jesus re-commissioned Peter (John 21). I have always loved this place but both times I have been before we have never been able to spend any length of time here. Today we get the chance to spend an hour or so just sitting at the far end of the beach, ignoring the tourists and trying to ignore the loud music coming from the motor cruisers belonging to rich Israelis celebrating a secular Sabbath in the next bay along the coast. We eat our picnic lunch, read the bible story from John 21, and then just wander or sit quietly and prayerfully. The contrast between the sacredness of the place and the secularisation of our noisy neighbours leaves me with a real sense that when Julia and I return to the UK we will be returning to the ministry that God has long planned for us … a ministry that seeks to make the sacred real and relevant in the midst of a loud and noisy and needy secular society.
We reluctantly drag ourselves away from Tabgha and drive on to Ginosar (Gennesaret) where several of us spend the rest of the afternoon on the beach while others wander round the gift shop. May has secured a good deal for us enabling us to make use of the private beach belonging to the hotel Julia and I stayed in eight years ago when we first came to Israel. We find a nice shady spot under the huge sun shades the hotel has erected by the Sea of Galilee. We both go swimming and it is so nice to cool off in the Sea of Galilee. The temperature is hitting 38 degrees.
We are sitting near a Jewish family who are very friendly and interested in us and who share some of their food with us. Lots of Jewish families come to places like this on the Sabbath to celebrate it in a secular manner. This family is very nice. There are lots of children and they have brought grandma with them as well. Grandma has made these wonderful chocolate cakes. I like them so much I suggest that I take grandma back to the UK with us?! They all think this is very funny … grandma seems to like the idea!
After a long and tiring day, but a day that has turned out to be great day, we drive back to Saint Margaret’s. We eat outside in the courtyard. All the tables are laid, every table but ours has bottles of wine, whiskey and some lethal aniseed concoction on it. There is clearly going to be another party tonight. This is confirmed when the band turns up. It looks like we are in for another long and noisy night! Still we do have chicken for dinner yet again to look forward to?!