Friends and family,
Today, we departed the desert and the Dead Sea, and we journeyed northward to the land where Jesus spent the majority of the years of his ministry. We arrived at the Sea of Galilee. Blue water, green hills, flowers of many colors, eucalyptus trees (probably those weren’t there in Jesus’ time, but still)… in March, it is hard to imagine Jesus choosing anywhere else to spend his time with flesh on.
In Chorazin, a small town near the Sea of Galilee, we walked through an insula. An insula is a place where people lived in community in a very real, very built environment (one community living space with several bedrooms adjacent to it – one bedroom per couple typically – children in the same room). As a physician, I can tell you that the insular cortex is part of the brains emotional system, dealing in part with social emotional processing. So that’s fun.
Oh, speaking of emotional processing… after that, I got married.
We reenacted (ahem, Genesis Ramirez and I reenacted) a Jewish proposal and wedding. I shall distill the excitement and passion of true love down to this:
In order to propose, I journeyed from a neighboring village with my father (played by my roommate Ryan), and met Genesis’ father (her actual father… so that was a little intense…). The fathers worked out their arrangement, and then I offered Genesis a cup of wine – a cup of Covenant – which was the Jewish way of proposing marriage to her. She took the cup, accepting.
So now, whenever I walk forward to the altar to take the cup of communion, I shall hear the voice of God saying “I love you…will you marry me?” and the voice of Genesis’ father saying “I am always watching you… and I know kung fu.”
Our day ended at Bet Saida which translates as the House of the Fishermen. It’s a small town, with a small insula that we walked through. This town and that insula, nestled in the hills covered with purple thistles, yellow and white flowers, now shaded by eucalyptus trees, carries echoes from the past of the running footsteps and goofy laughter of 5 little boys. These boys didn’t make it all the way through the rabbinical educational system – they were rejected by the Rabbi(s) for higher education and therefore went about learning their family business (mostly fishing, as the name of the town suggests).
But then, these boys were chosen by a different Rabbi, who spoke the words they longed to hear:
Come, follow me.
These were the ultimate words of acceptance by a Rabbi. In the ancient Hebrew world, these words from a Rabbi actually meant, “I believe you can be like me.” And, yes, that Rabbi that called them was Jesus.
That Rabbi also calls you, and me. And that Rabbi believes we can be like Him.
Those 5 boys, running, joking, throwing rocks at each other, chasing each other with tractors (apologies for the anachronism - we actually saw some boys doing that today, (no one got seriously injured)) getting in trouble, making their parents proud, dreaming, failing, and now back home fishing, those 5 boys were suddenly called, in a huge step of honor, to follow The Rabbi.
That path they followed led for 3 years around Israel, then to “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the Earth.” These boys who witnessed the World Changer and took His Gospel across the globe were all later martyred for their faith in Him. Brutally. All 5 boys from a small fishing town in Galilee.
Within our lifetime, a fortified city underneath (predating) the fishing village of Bet Saida was discovered.
As opposed to the beauty and orthodoxy of Bet Saida, the former city was full of idols – including one at the city gates, which we saw. That city was utterly and completely destroyed by an invading Assyrian army.
On top of all that ugliness, idolatry, and eventually death and devastation God built a simple village from where He would draw nearly half of His disciples.
That story has been discovered within our lifetime.
God wrote that story in the earth of the Galilee for someone to discover – for us to see in this present time.
Please excuse me, this will get a little personal for a second. I stood in the Galilee today, in that place. I saw the ugliness and pain I have brought to my community, often to those I loved most, due to my broken ways, my idolatry. I saw it carved into the rock of the lower city – false gods with false promises, and a city, a community, destroyed, burned to nothing but piles of death and darkness.
But then… I saw God pile Earth on top of those old fortifications and begin to rebuild. I saw my life… and I was able to stand in that place in the Galilee and see that the story of my life did not end with my own darkness and the devastation I have wrought. As the sun set today over the hills where Jesus walked, where now flowers and eucalyptus trees grow, God continued the work He began long ago, and wove my story in with the story of this place.
For me, Redemption now has a sound, and it is the sound of the wind through the eucalyptus leaves. Redemption now has a sight, and it is piling Earth on old darkness – the death and burial of the old darkness – and it is the flowers growing new life and the sunset reflecting off the Rock – the Foundation of trust in my Father from whom my life is now being rebuilt.
I have many here on Earth who have walked with me through the darkness, but today I would particularly like to thank my mother, with whom I am blessed enough to currently be walking through Israel(!), my father and sister, the men of RPCDTCG, and four of my oldest friends – who I have known since we were 5 boys from a not-quite-so-small city in Texas – David Germer, Jeff Brouillard, Matthew Pipkin, Hunter Schimpff. Thank you, family. Thank you, insula. Thank you, brothers.
-Lonnie (Leon) Walthall
PS one final fun thought: eucalyptus trees are not native to Israel, but they have thrived here and brought benefits to the community. I, too, have been grafted into what I was not originally a part of… and Redemption’s sound is now for me, also.