After our boat ride across the Sea of Galilee, we visited Capernaum. After the death of Herod the Great (4 BC), the territory of Galilee fell to his son Herod Antipas, and Capernaum would have been the first settlement that travellers would have come across as they travelled from the territory under his brother Phillips’ territory to the east of the Jordan River. As a consequence, it seems to have had a custom’s office, where Matthew the tax collector was approached by Jesus (Matthew 9:9).
Jesus made this village his base of operations in Galilee, having moved here from Nazareth (Matthew 4:13 ff). He was “at home” in Capernaum (Mark 2:1). Peter and Andrew, his first converts, lived here. He taught in the synagogue here (what you see in the video is a 4th or 5th century synagogue, but was built on the foundations of a synagogue that would have been here in Jesus’ time), and even had the audacity to heal people right here in the Capernaum synagogue on the Sabbath. He left the synagogue and, going a short distance, went to Peter’s home and healed Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1).
A centurion lived here in Capernaum and when his servant became deathly ill, he sent Jewish elders to Jesus to ask him to heal his servant. The Jewish elders urged Jesus to do it because “he loves our nation and he is the one who built us our synagogue”. Before Jesus could get to the centurions house, the centurion sent friends to Jesus to tell him not to trouble himself by actually coming, but suggested that Jesus just say the word for his servant to be healed. Jesus is astounded at his faith and commends this gentile “I tell you not even in Israel have I found such faith”. And Jesus does issue the command and the servant is healed (Luke 7). Would that such co-operation and respect marked the land of Israel today.
Egeria, a woman pilgrim from the 4th century who wrote of her experiences, says “In Capernaum, the house of the prince of the apostles has been made into a church, with its original walls still standing . . . There is also the synagogue where the Lord cured a man possessed by the devil (Mark 1:23). The way in is up many stairs, and it is made of dressed stone.”
What a thrill to be here in this place, and to remember the presence of Jesus, his power to heal, his call to its inhabitants to follow him and welcome the kingdom of God. May we all be faithful to his call.
signing off – Father Wismer