Closeness. Do you remember what it was like to be close to things? Friends, relatives, and even a job?
We live in a world today where we are close, and simultaneously not close through the magic of technology. It’s like we are with people when alone, but alone when we are with people.
Today I noticed there was a consistent theme that was rising to the surface as I traveled from the ancient Roman seaport of Caesarea to the seaport in Cappernaum. That theme was closeness.
The two seaports were not close in style, nor distance. But there was a closeness attached to them both. It very much is the classic tale of two cities.
Caesarea was grand in its scale, Cappernaum was so small, it was hardly called a “seaport,” but rather just a hometown village.
Caesarea was styled in Roman design, and Cappernaum was just a small bunch of houses near the waterfront of the Sea of Galilee.
Caesarea was a port the the vast Mediterranean Sea. Cappernaum, the much smaller Sea of Galilee.
Despite being so different in so many ways, I felt this connection filled with similarities between both towns.
I think it is fair to say that most of us have a pretty decent commute. I travel about 30 minutes to my job every morning. But Peter, he just walked down to the sea, a distance that is less than the length of my backyard.
When I used to read the gospels, I pictured these cities as large as the one in which I live.
But walking around the archaeological dig in Cappernaum, you can see that the synagogue was literally a stone throw from Peter’s house. One person’s backyard was formed by the walls of the house next to it.
I can understand how Jesus’ reputation spread so quickly. With the population situated so close to the shoreline, as Jesus and his followers walked along the shore they would have visited many communities.
The closeness of this small town also was found in the constant reminder in the need to fish for food, as they heard the waves lapping the rocks just a few meters away.
Within some of the houses, like Peter’s house, when the house was so crowded they lowered a man through the roof, we can see how close people were. The houses were much smaller than today’s houses, and had stone walls. But the roofs would have beeen thatched, making it much more easy to spread apart that roofing to create an opening to lower someone into the room where Jesus was speaking. Walking the ruins of that town, you could see the closeness.
Caesarea was similar in telegraphing that same closeness. At first it seemed grand. After all, it was a grand Roman city.
I walked the length of the arena where the chariots raced. As I walked it’s length, the stone tiered seating for the crowds on my left, and the Mediterranean Sea to my right, I thought about the spectacular events held here, with the sea as a backdrop to the games.
But things changed when I got to King Herod’s palace. It’s foundation extended out into the waters. It was all that was left of what must have been a magnificent building. But it took just about about fifteen seconds, literally just cresting a small incline, to go from his palace to the crescent seating of the city’s theater.
And it was in this theater in which Paul would have likely stood, appealing to have his case heard in Rome. These buildings were so close, it became apparent to me that Paul would have heard the waves crashing against the rocks outside and heard the cheers of the games in the arena.
I can imagine Paul waiting for his trial, hearing these things going on around him, not knowing if he would be sentenced to be killed on that very field in front of an audience, or if he would be granted his appeal.
The closeness of these elements in Caesarea brought the weight of his situation to Paul in a way not felt in a more spread out city.
In this way, these two cities showed me how close people were to the events that we read about in our bible.
And these two cities, despite their distance, brought me closer to who Jesus was and what Paul must have been feeling as he was being persecuted for his faith.
This morning I read my Greek New Testament while sitting on the rocks, the waves splashing on my feet, and the words came alive in a way that had never happened before.
It brought me spiritually closer to these moments that just last week seemed so foreign to me. Now, I can picture the real places, hear the birds, and feel the water.
When I read about Jesus walking along the shore and calling Peter and Andrew, and them leaving their boats behind, I can now picture the very shoreline, the sound of the waves, and remember the feeling on my feet as I stood in the Sea of Galilee.
Reading about Paul, I can now picture his excitement as he sailed from Caesarea to Ephesis, and then pictured him standing in the theater by Herod’s palace years later, standing trial.
God’s words now have this additional depth for me.
And if His word can be given this depth just by spending time in these earthly places, just imagine the depth and magnitude we will feel when we experience Him in person, in the heavenly places.
When we remember our friends, family, and neighbors, and we strive to be closer to them, we can better understand how they might need the gospel and God’s nourishing words. This is why I feel it is so important to spend closer time to people we know.
This, after all, is loving our neighbor. And after the Shema, where Jesus teaches us to love God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our might, he says that in addition, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Hi. I'm Scott Sullivan, a slave of Christ and husband to my awesome wife Angie. I'm an artist and writer,
living in the beautiful countryside of Lancaster, Pa.