The story of Jesus doesn’t start in Capernaum or end there, but most of it takes place there. Today you will only find the ruins of this ancient fishing village along the shore of the Galilee, but I saw something in those ruins last month that I had never seen in a lifetime of reading the Jesus narratives. And somehow it made the story more magical and more human all at the same time.
I’ll come back to that, but it might make more sense after first taking a moment to remember just some of what took place in this small town.
- It was in Capernaum where Jesus selected and chose twelve regular guys to join him and form his revolutionary band. Most of those blue collar disciples were residents of Capernaum.
- Peter’s family house was in Capernaum and Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in law there. That house became the hub of the church in Galilee during the 1st century and the ruins of the house can still be seen.
- It was in Capernaum where Jesus first taught that the Kingdom of God was near.
- When Jesus tells Peter to walk down to the lake and get a coin out of a fish’s mouth to pay the temple tax, it was for the temple in Capernaum, (pictured here), which was just steps away from Peter’s front door.
- Jesus calls a dark spirit out of a troubled soul in that temple and commands the spirit to leave. Later, in that same Capernaum temple, Jesus tells his followers that they will leave him too.
- It was in Capernaum where the Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant, and Jesus does.
- The un-named royal official who risked his job when he asked Jesus to heal his dying son also lived in Capernaum. That’s where his son was spared and probably played in the streets.
- It was in Capernaum where four tough-mined men carried their paralyzed friend up onto a roof and busted a hole through it to get their friend down to where Jesus was.
- Matthew worked a toll booth on the road out of town, and when he invited Jesus to join him and some other unsavory characters at his house for dinner, they dined in Capernaum.
- On the hillside just above Capernaum Jesus delivered perhaps the greatest teaching ever offered, a talk often referred to as the Sermon on the Mount.
I was struck by the small footprint of the town that was referred to so often in scripture. The entire village of Capernaum is about the size of two football fields lying side by side. So all the people mentioned above were neighbors. They would have known each other. Most of them probably grew up together. Occupying forces, seditious fishermen, corrupt tax authorities, temple priests, the privileged and the working poor would have all passed each other every day in the narrow alleys of this ancient village. They not only would have known each other, they would have known each other’s stories. The above stories weren’t just the stories of isolated individuals, they were the stories of a neighborhood that would have been talked about over every table.
But the thing that really struck me was that Jesus chose this little village to become his new home. He could have moved to a larger, more strategic city, but he chose to move into a neighborhood where everybody knows your name. He launched his global initative by becoming an integral part of a little neighborhood that his disciples called home. The scriptures are so dense with stories revolving around Capernaum because Jesus submerged so deeply into its life. It was far more than just a place to work out of; it was the neighborhood Jesus inhabited and made his home.