For the scripture lesson, Harley Camden read from fourth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. “Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea,” he intoned, pointing up to the stained-glass window behind him.
“Our window shows the sea that Matthew is talking about,” he said as an aside, “the Sea of Galilee.” Then, returning to the reading, “He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’”
Harley closed the Bible and looked out over the faces in the congregation, people that had been strangers to him just two months before. They looked eager, maybe even anxious, to hear what he had to say. Words created reality.
“Galilee of the Gentiles,” said Harley, beginning his sermon. “That’s how Matthew describes the place where Jesus lived and worked. He doesn’t describe it as ‘Galilee of the Jews,’ even though Jesus and his disciples were all Jews. No, it is Galilee of the Gentiles. The region was full of Romans and other non-Jews, people called Gentiles. It was a very multicultural place. It was a place in which people had to talk to one another, really communicate with one another, if they were going to live in peace. They had to be willing to do business with each other and be neighbors to each other, if they were going to avoid fighting over culture and religion and politics.”
At that moment, the door of the sanctuary opened and Youssef and Sofia Ayad slipped in. They quietly entered and took a seat next to the Bayatis.
“When I was a divinity school student,” Harley continued, “I spent a summer doing an archaeological dig in Galilee. I worked in a town called Sepphoris, which is next door to Nazareth. We found a mosaic of a beautiful woman that has come to be known as the Mona Lisa of the Galilee.” As Harley pictured the mosaic, he thought of Norah Bayati—maybe she was the Mona Lisa of Occoquan. Shaking off the thought, he returned to his sermon.
City of Peace
“The important thing about Sepphoris is that it was a community in which Jews and Romans lived together in peace. They didn’t fight one another, even though Jews in other parts of the country had been involved in violent revolts against the Roman Empire for many years. Instead, Jews and Romans lived as neighbors and did business together. They did so well that it became known as Eirenopolis, ‘City of Peace.’”
Sofia Ayad leaned over and whispered something to Fatima Bayati. Harley wondered what it was but kept going. “Here in Occoquan, we live in multicultural place as well: We have Christians, Jews and Muslims, representing different cultures, races and nationalities. We live next to a river, not a sea, but it would be fair to call us ‘Occoquan of the Gentiles.’ The question for us is the same one that faced the people of the Galilee. Will we fight over our differences, or will we live together in peace? Will we accept each other and communicate with each other, or will we live in the kind of isolation that leads to violence?”
Harley went on to say, “I am convinced that isolation is a major problem for us today—just think of those terrorists in Woodbridge, cut off from the larger community and stewing in their resentments, plotting an act of violence that could have killed us all. This could have been a City of Violence! A City of Jihad!” Harley felt his passion rising as he departed from his manuscript.
We should all be Galileans
“My professor on the archaeological dig was a Jew,” Harley said, returning to his text. “He has worked hard over the years to support peace efforts in Israel. He sees the history of Sepphoris as a model for us today, and I remember him saying to us: ‘You should all be Galileans. Learn to live together as the people of Galilee did in Sepphoris. Galilee can be a model for Jews and Palestinians in Israel, and for Jews, Christians and Muslims in the United States.’” Harley saw a few nods through the congregation, and a smile from Youssef Ayad.
“I agree with my professor,” Harley continued. “Occoquan has not been a City of Peace, but it can be. We should all be Galileans here, whatever our religion. We should work together and be good neighbors to each other. Isolation breeds violence, while communication and community lead to peace. Do you remember what I said last week? The Spirit of God gives us gifts to advance the common good. We’ve seen the Spirit at work this week, helping ordinary people to do extraordinary things, including the foiling of a terrorist plot. We should be using these gifts every day here in Occoquan. God’s Spirit is present when people work and live together as one people, but terrible things happen when communities become fractured and polarized. We need to be Galileans!”
Read chapters 23 and 24 of City of Peace as well as Matthew 4:12-17: “Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’”
- What does the multicultural Galilee of the first century have to teach us about living in the multicultural United States of the 21st century? Be specific.
- Where do you see an example of an Eirenopolis, “City of Peace,” today? What could you do to make your community such a place?
- What does it mean to you to be a Galilean? Where do the challenges lie? How could such an identity advance God’s will in the world?