This weekend, our passage includes the text where Jesus curses the three towns that were key to his ministry. Three towns in Galilee. Around the shoreline. They form the orthodox ministry triangle, where Jesus invested most of his time and performed most of his miracles. I was just at the ruins of those cities in April. They are each unique today.
Korazin. This city is built of the local black basalt stone. It’s volcanic stone. Against the green grass and weeds, you can’t miss it on the hillside. Not many tourists visit the site. So I love it.
Bethsaida. This town is not all that exciting to visit, if I’m honest. But just being there illuminates our text this morning. It is now up on a rise a couple of miles from the shoreline of the lake. And, yes, it is a fishing village. Apparently, sediment has washed down the Jordan River for a couple of thousand years, altering the shape of the lake. Neglect of the forces of nature can do that.
Capernaum. Located right on the lake, Capernaum is the most popular of the three cities on most tours to Israel. There is a third century synagogue built on the foundations of a first century synagogue. There is a modern Roman Catholic church (think Star Wars in design) built on the ruins of a Byzantine church built on an even earlier church built on what seems to be the home of Peter’s mother-in-law.
All three of these cities would have made for a life as comfortable as possible in the first century. The afternoon breezes would have been refreshing. The lake would have provided a steady source of protein. You were far enough from Jerusalem to avoid the daily grind of politics, but not too far to make one the pilgrimages each year.
And Jesus spent a lot of time in those three towns. The people knew Jesus. And Jesus knew them. They were mostly orthodox Jews so they knew the Law, too. And yet, today they are deserted, known as the three cities cursed by Jesus during his lifetime.
They are barren, except for the gift shops and tourists. Capernaum is always crowded with buses and tourists, the other two are very quiet. They had seen the power of Jesus but they would not repent and believe. Are we like them? We see the power of God. But I wonder if we conclude in our comfort that this Jesus stuff is just a nice game we play. It is no game.
Jesus still looks for repentance. How’s the marriage? How are the kids? How’s your anger these days? Is your belief in Jesus changing life? Are we putting into practice our belief in Jesus as Messiah or are we just like the folks in these three towns? Comfortable. Lots of knowledge, but little belief? These cities stand as a warning to us. They are nothing but ruins today. Don’t follow their path. Listen carefully to their voices as they cry out to us today.