Saturday, January 24, 2015


Each time I teach my New Testament course, at some point I pull out this long strip of shiny paper (18” x 5 feet) containing a map of the Holy Land. What’s unique about it is that it’s not a drawing but an actual full-color photograph taken from a satellite. My enthusiasm for this “map” usually spills over to the kids as they locate real places mentioned in the gospels: the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee, the coast of Tyre and Sidon, etc. Several New Testament towns are discreetly labeled in small yellow letters that you only notice if you get up close.

I point out to the students that this photo reminds us that the gospel stories are situated in real places, as real as Irvington and Newark. God took flesh and walked among us in Nazareth (you can find it on the map!) and called his first disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (which is much easier to locate).

With sophomores you always want to make sure you get to the “So What?” part fairly quickly before they ask, "So who cares about this map?" I tell tham that for me the satellite photo says something like this: These places on the map are every bit as real as your own home town; God worked wonders in Israel during Old Testament times and eventually actually came and lived there. So why shouldn’t this same God be working wonders in our cities and towns and homes and hearts?

When this Sunday’s Gospel says that Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee I picture the satellite image of Israel and then with my mind's eye I zoom in (like you do on Google Maps) to a very specific spot on the shore of the sea. This is a real place! So it’s easier for me to then imagine a real Jesus talking to real fishermen and calling them.

And maybe more important, it’s also easier for me to imagine Jesus coming to Newark (a place as real as Capernaum) and calling me (a person as real as Andrew or James). I can more easily imagine him calling me in that same tone of voice he used with those first disciples, “Come, follow me!”

In fact, he keeps calling me over and over, again and again: “Come, follow me!” I hope that my response will be as real as the response of those four fishermen on the shore.

As real as the Sea of Galilee that you see on the map.


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