The King of the Jews (Holy Land Pilgrimage, Dispatch 3)

We started our search for the footprints of Jesus in a place we knew we would not find them.

Ancient Sepphoris was a small city just across the valley from Nazareth. The two were separated by only a few miles, but they might as well have been separated by a few thousand. Sepphoris was entirely Hellenized, Nazareth entirely Jewish.  The archeological record reveals hardly any interaction between the two towns, and Holy Scripture makes hardly any mention of Sepphoris. While the two communities seem to have only their geography in common, there is one other similari ty: They both claim to be the home of the King of the Jews.

Sepphoris was the first capital of Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, who competed with his brother, Philip, to be the Roman overseer of the Jewish people – that is, the King of the Jews. (It was to Herod Antipas that Pontius Pilate sent Jesus for judgment when he realized that Jesus was Jewish, and it was Herod Antipas who would have taken the most offense at the sign that Pilate had nailed to Jesus’ cross: The King of the Jews.) Antipas and Philip competed ruthlessly for the job that the emperor had given to their father, and an untold amount of blood was spilled in the process.

Nazareth was, as I mentioned yesterday, a town so small and insignificant that some scholars question its very existence. Nazareth’s homes were not actually homes at all, but a series of a dozen or so caves in which its first residents took shelter from the elements. Jesus’ parents were no friends of the emperor, but unmarried Jewish peasants who had been visited by an angel.

Some two thousand years later, Sepphoris is in ruins and Nazareth takes great pride in being the place from which God’s light shined and shines into a darkened world. Ancient Sepphoris is dead, but Nazareth is full of life.

We found the footsteps of Jesus in Nazareth this afternoon. We walked through several of the cave dwellings that would have comprised Jesus’ neighborhood, and began to imagine what it would have been to see our childlike savior running from house to house. Whose mother’s kitchen offered the best snacks? Whose courtyard had the most space for playing ball? As I write this reflection, the sound of children playing and rubber balls bouncing can be heard echoing through the streets. Nazareth is no imperial headquarters, it is a small town just like any other.

The Jesus that we will meet tomorrow alongside the Sea of Galilee is a preacher and a teacher, a healer of the sick and a liberator of the poor. The Jesus that we met today in Nazareth is a child just like any other. I often find it hard to believe that God chose to come among us as one so small, as one so powerless, as one from such humble circumstances. But, he did. God did an amazing thing in the most unexpected way, and he continues to work in just that way.


Posted by The Reverend Sandy Webb at 10:13 PM
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