Ancient Paths - Austin group

March 11-23, 2022

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Day 08 - Gamla, (Tel Dan), Caesarea Philipi, & the Decapolis

Every morning and evening, our group has been praying the Sh'ma - a prayer and commandment that Jesus likely prayed every single day. My mind today has been fixed on the last line of the Sh'ma "and love your neighbor, as yourself."


We started our day hiking down into Gamla, an ancient village located in the north of Galilee, which was home to the Zealots. We discussed the feeding of the 5,000, and the Psalms, which the Zealots likely got their ideology from. There can be some pretty disturbing images presented in the Psalms, of the writers praying for the death or destruction of their enemies. But, Rod taught about how the Psalms are descriptive, NOT prescriptive; how the Psalms are the deepest parts of the soul, praying and crying out to God; and that God is not ashamed of our prayers, and that he welcomes our deepest aches, he listens to our unjust desires for vengeance and retribution, and that these thoughts don't scare God away. He knows that we need to process these feelings with Him. And at the end, he always brings us back to a place of understanding our relationship with him, and our relationship with his creation.


Next, we traveled far north and learned some about Israel's recent history from our incredible guide, Nadav, as we traveled very close to both Syria and Lebanon, on our way to Caesarea Philipi. This city was originally founded by Alexander the Great as a "mini Athens" and a hub for the worship of the Greco-Roman god, Pan. This city was later taken over by Herod Philipi - hence the name of the city. Rod talked about how this city was the "red light district" and how it would have been a place that orthodox Jews - people like Jesus and his disciples - would have stayed far, far way from. And yet Jesus brings his disciples here, to this place. And it is here that Simon identifies Jesus as the son of God, and Jesus renames him Peter, calling on him to build his church. And it is here, in this city, that Jesus calls his disciples to pick up their cross and follow him. We talked about how God calls us into the dark places to be the church, and not just the dark places like Caesarea Philipi, but to our neighbors. And to love them just like we love ourselves.


We attempted to see the Tel Dan - the ancient ruins of an altar from Jeroboam's reign, and other historically important pieces - but due to the wet conditions, we were unable to pass. While this is a bummer for us, this is such a joy for the residents of Israel where water is so, so precious.


We ended our day not only with Craig rejoining our group (!), but with a drive back to the Sea of Galilee and driving up to where the remains of the Decapolis sit. Being a center of the Roman society and military in the Galilee, this is another place that the orthodox Jews would have NEVER come. And yet who comes here? Jesus. And on the way, a storm rises up over the sea - which we have learned is synonymous with the abyss and the place of the dark spiritual forces of our world - Jesus silences it. Showing that he has power not only over the natural, but the supernatural. And when they come to the other side, they find Legion - the man who has been running naked among the tombs, screaming and cutting himself with rocks, a person so deeply possessed that not even iron chains can bind him. And here comes Jesus, stepping out of the boat, into an unclean territory (the Decapolis), an unclean place (a graveyard) with an unclean man (naked and bloody) with an unclean spirit (demon). And without having to call on anyone or anything, he simply tells the demon to leave, and sends it into the unclean pigs, and back into the abyss of the sea. And all of the sudden, this man is not only restored wholly, but he is clothed as well.


And I guess that's why I am thinking about my neighbor and that last line of Sh'ma today. Jesus steps into all these "unclean" spaces, all these "unclean" people's lives, and he bring restoration, he brings clothing, he brings healing. He is loving them just as if they were His own body. Matthew 22.37-39 says, "And he said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’"


by Abigail Wilson

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