One of the interesting facets of Jesus’ teachings are those moments when he indulges in what may be termed, “side teachings”. By this we mean that he is not officially teaching, not in a synagogue or as we would say, in the pulpit, but rather walking along the road, noticing a fig tree, or being aware that his disciples are arguing about who is more important etc. - and at that time teaching something important about God, life, love or the law. Unrehearsed, unscheduled but relevant side teachings.
So, too, when traveling in the Holy Land. There are always unexpected moments that come as a surprise, not on the daily itinerary, not expected but suddenly there before us to bless us. Allow me to share a few of these “side blessings”.
As one travels from the baptismal site at Yardenit towards the Royal Plaza Hotel Tiberias you will pass a set of stones on the left side of the road piled upon each other. Reminiscent of the so called Ebenezer. Many Christians sing, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and heartily sing “Here I raise my Ebenezer’ and have no idea what it means. The reference is from 1 Samuel 7:12 where Samuel raises a great stone to encourage and remind the Israelites that thus far God has prevailed in their battles and to look at the stone and find hope and encouragement for the difficulties still to be faced. It signifies so far, so good. God has brought us thus far so we can readily trust him for tomorrow. (This is not the original Ebenezer stone but gives us a good idea). PS Ebenezer Scrooge got his name for trusting his money and not God’s grace.
Then there is the Eremos cave, right oposite Peter’s Primacy, near Capernaum and right below the Mount of Beatitudes. This is from Mark 1:35 and is most likely the cave where Jesus found silence, solace and shelter when he spent nights on his own in the Galilean hills. It is probably from this cave that he saw the plight of the disciples on their boat as they crossed the Sea of Galilee and came walking to them on the water (Mark 6:45-50). Ask you guide to point out the Eremos cave easily visible from the road.
Still today, and frequently, fishermen cast their nets off small boats to catch fish on the Sea of Galilee. If you are in Tiberias do look near the harbor and often in front of Caesars’ hotel - you may well catch a glimpse of the fishermen plying their nets as did the disciples of old. Makes for a great photo.
Also do notice the variety of interesting trees as you travel along. Australian eucalyptus used for drying up swampy areas, Sycamore trees, made famous by Zacchaeus, a little man who climbed this tree in order to see the Lord pass by and especially the Bengali ficus (a good example is outside Cesar’s hotel in Tiberias). This tropical tree has “air roots” sprouting from the branches and growing down towards the ground. When the roots reach the ground, they grow like a new trunk, adding additional support so the tree can continue to grow. Beautiful, unusual and fascinating.
Date palms abound in the Holy Land. Date groves are everywhere. Not everyone, however, is aware that there are male palm trees and female palm trees. Normally one male palm tree is needed to fertilize 100 female trees. Without this the dates would be insipid. Ask you guide to point out the male palm tree, normally on one corner of the grove.
Every day has unexpected side blessings, keep alert and enjoy some of the great happenings that are not on your itinerary.
Dr. Lee van Rensburg
EO Hospitality Staff,
Sea of Galilee, Tiberias