Barely three weeks ago I was blessed to spend some time in Israel, including several days around Lake Kinneret, or what the Bible more properly calls Lake Gennesaret or the Sea of Galilee. It’s not terribly big, but big things happened here throughout the story of Christ. In the Gospel for today we see the disciples filling two boats to the rim with fish because they listened to the word of the Lord. This is also where storms arose and then were stilled with a command, where people walked on water, and where Jesus stood in a stern and preached to the shore. It’s where disciples were asked to leave their nets and follow. And it was a key meeting point after the Resurrection.
As I said it’s not very big, and if one knows where to look one can easily see several of the towns that encircle the waters, places like Migdal and Capernaum and Bethsaida and Tabgha and Tiberius. None of these, of course, was the city of Jesus’ birth. But Jesus lived in Capernaum when His ministry really started to take off (see Matthew 4:13). He moved there right after He was baptized by John and then tempted by the devil (see Matthew 4:12-16). It was here that most of His early miracles took place (see Mark 1:25-26; 31; 34; 41-42; 2:10-12). Even His first miracle, that of turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, took place in that hilltop village nearby.
But not only did Jesus make something out of another thing at the Sea of Galilee, but He also took something out of another thing here. He cast out a demon while in Capernaum (see Mark 1:25-26). Many other demons departed, and sicknesses left people, too (see Mark 1:34) when He was in town. Leprosy was removed (see Mark 1:41-42). Sin was cast out (see Mark 2:5-9). Even a coin needed to pay the temple tax was taken out of a fish from just beyond the rocky shore (see Matthew 17:27). Jesus came to town, and then lots of things left. That’s important to note. For when Jesus comes, life comes. And when life comes, death departs.
People were healed around these waters. The teachings they heard left everyone who heard them amazed. Prayers were answered in marvelous ways. Again, Jesus always replaces the bad with the good. He always fills the void with meaning and brings to life that which was dead. He did away with much and replaced it with better. Saint Paul phrased it in Colossians 3:1-14 by saying that we put off the old self and put on the new. It’s all about Christ in us. It’s all about what we freely get for what we freely give, not in a transactional manner but in a transformational one.
Standing in a boat on the Sea of Galilee I thought about what it might have been like for Peter after that catch of fish. Scripture is clear that he was frightened and awe-struck and shamed by the presence of Christ in his midst. “I’m a sinner!” he confessed, just like I am, like we all are. And I expect we all would have been similarly dumbstruck and self-aware in the presence of One such as Christ. But then Peter was called by the Master to leave all this and follow.
I stood there and thought about what that row to shore was like. What was Peter thinking? Maybe it was of all the things he was going to give up, his career, his family, his home. He must have doubted. “Can I do this? Will it be worth it?” And yet I can’t help but imagine that had one of the others in the boat asked him how he could possibly give it all away he would simply have shook his head and pointed to the boat and said, “Look at all these fish! Given what God has given us through Christ, how can I not?”
We all have things to give to God. Addictions. Behaviors. Pride. Sin. But the Sea of Galilee reminded me that life is not just about what I have to give up. It’s about what God gives to me in return.