Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Nativity Rock, Nazareth, Israel
Loaves & Fish Rock, Tabgha, Israel
Table Rock, Sea of Galilee, Israel

It didn’t take very long for our tour group to begin referring to the next archeological site in Israel as another “rock farm”. Rocks are one resource that are more than plentiful in this country! Many of the digs scattered throughout the country consist of the stone foundations of ancient buildings which were long ago destroyed by war, earthquakes and time. However, I did change my image of a desolate land of rocks and desert after we spent the better part of our trip in the Galilee region and along the Jordan River Valley. We traveled from the Jordan’s northern headwaters at Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights through the Sea of Galilee and on down south to the river’s termination in the Dead Sea. The Jordan River’s irrigation systems and Mediterranean rainfall have given life to vast fields of grain and large almond, olive, date, grape and banana farms among other commodities. We didn’t venture south of the Dead Sea in east-central Israel and on into the Negev desert towards Egypt.

It recently occurred to me that many of the historical sacred sites in this Holy Land are built over significant rock outcroppings. The Holy of Holies, God’s sanctuary, in the destroyed Jewish temple was built on a solid foundation rock. It still exists close to the sacred limestone Western prayer wall. I would imagine that if you were tracing the footsteps of Jesus through this country to establish worship sites, you might settle on approximate locations which contained a surviving physical feature. The Church of the Nativity where pilgrims gather to celebrate Jesus’ birth was built over a stone cave. An altar has been built over the cave and there is a dark hole in the marble floor which enables folks to insert their arm and touch the cool rock. Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre resides a similar arrangement over the rock outcropping of Golgotha where it’s believed Jesus was crucified and died. The spiritual meditation in both locations is combined with a tactile experience of touching an unseen presence.

Churches like the Church of the Multiplication have been built over a large rock commemorating Jesus’ blessing of five loaves and two fish on the shores of the Sea of Galilee when he performed the miracle of feeding the five thousand. This is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels besides the resurrection. Further up the shoreline is St. Peter’s Church enclosing a large table rock. It may have been used by Jesus when he shared a breakfast of bread and grilled fish with his disciples after his resurrection--manifested in a new being that had been created in the universe. And there’s a large rock imbedded in the floor of the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is where it is considered that Jesus knelt and vehemently prayed to his Abba while sweating drops of blood in the stressful hours before his betrayal, arrest, imprisonment, trial, beatings, crucifixion and burial--all within the following twenty four hours.

Jesus used many analogies in his teaching which he drew from observing his surroundings such as the potential of mustard seeds, grape vines garnering substance from the branches, growing seeds on rocky ground versus fertile soil, and building a house on sandy ground versus a rock solid foundation. When Jesus came to Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus responded by revealing Peter’s true identity and role by renaming him Peter (which means rock) and proclaiming that “on this rock I will build my church”! Shortly after, Jesus begins to predict his death in Jerusalem and prepare his disciples to carry on.

Later, when Jesus entered Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives to join the people in the Passover feast he was extremely well known. He rode in on a colt to fulfill the prophesy in Zechariah. They placed cloaks and palm branches on his path in celebration while shouting “Hosanna!” in expectation of a liberating warrior king. When the anxious religious leaders asked Jesus to rebuke everyone, he replied, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out!” for he was establishing a Kingdom of God on earth.

After Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter and the other disciples carried on and facilitated the spread of Christianity throughout the world. Peter was later crucified upside down in Rome for proclaiming the good news of the gospel. Although the Romans also took Peter’s life, God is always at work bringing good out of man’s perpetual free will inhumanity to man. St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is now considered the greatest church in Christendom. And Peter the Rock is buried under the altar of that magnificent church!

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