By Father Glenn J. Comandini, STD
In one of his post-Resurrection appearances to the disciples, Jesus comes upon the weary fishermen after a night of having caught nothing. They were not far from the shore, an indication that they were ready to “call it a night” when, suddenly Jesus asks if they have any fish. They reply that they have nothing; so Jesus (they do not recognize him yet) instructs them to cast their nets off onto the other side of the boat. They humor the “gentleman” by doing as he told them and, quite unexpectedly and much to their surprise, two things happen: they recognize that the one speaking to them is the risen Lord and, they bring in a nets full of large fish. In fact, the Evangelist gives a precise number, 153 fish, yet the nets did not burst. ( Jn 21:1-14) This reference to the “large fish” accentuates how the fishermen actually caught what they sought. The fish have long since been dubbed “St. Peter’s Fish,” since it was Peter who, after discovering the risen Lord’s identity and having jumped into the water out of exuberance, returns to the boat to haul in the large catch. Tour guides would later explain that “St. Peter’s Fish” were tilapia. And the tour of the actual Sea of Galilee often ends with a meal of grilled tilapia at one of the many shoreline restaurants, dotting the southern coast of the renowned “sea.” But there is more than tilapia in the Galilee. It seems the word “Galilee” can refer to the body of water or the region of land surrounding that area, including the Ten Cities, one of which is Capernaum where Jesus spent two and a half years of his public ministry.
Not until I traveled from Jerusalem to Bethlehem did I learn that the birthplace of Jesus was only five miles away from Jerusalem. Little did I know that the entire country of Israel is no larger than the state of Delaware – about 360 miles from north to south and about 80 miles from east to west. Only as I walked through the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, did I see, first hand, just how close Calvary was physically to the place where Jesus’ body was entombed and three days later rose from the dead.
Not until I renewed our baptismal promises in the River Jordan did I see just how shallow and narrow this was by comparison with the Sea of Galilee, in which I swam and sailed. In point of fact, while it is called a “sea,” the Galilee is in reality a large, deep lake which provides one-third of all Israel’s drinking water.
Let’s get back to the Galilee, not the body of water and its abundance of tilapia but to the region. Peter, born “Simon,” came from Bethsaida, one of the towns near the Sea of Galilee. It is there where Jesus called this fisherman and his companions to abandon their maritime profession and follow Him as disciples.
Indeed, there is more than tilapia in the Galilee! This pilgrimage was a grace, a gift from God which permitted me to explore not only the northern region of the Galilee, as well as Nazareth, Jerusalem, Bethany and Bethlehem. It also enabled me to experience the aridity of the southern desert region, including Masada, where Jewish pilgrims flock to honor the memory of those first century Israelis who chose to commit mass suicide rather than be enslaved by foreigners (Herod and the Romans) heading their way.
I best remember Jericho, not only because it was here where Jesus spotted and called Zacchaeus from a huge sycamore tree, but also our hotel had a pool and AC in the rooms. With temperatures tipping at 110 F., I never realized until that day how much I love refrigerated air. At the Dead Sea, the lowest point of the earth, were pilgrims minus this writer, quickly changed into their bathing attire to float in the hot, salty water, I sat under an umbrella with a cold drink and discovered that I had better cell phone recep- tion there than I do in New Jersey. These 10 days in Israel transformed me in such a way that my life, my priesthood, my preaching, will never be the same! I pray that one day, you, readers, may experience what I was blessed to embrace first-hand: the shrines, souks, art, music, religions, cuisine and multicultural peoples of the Holy Land.