Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at www.waynestiles.com.
water flowed from a large pipe beside where the Jordan River empties
into the Sea of Galilee. The place has a Greek name, Heptapegon
, meaning “place of seven springs”; but in Arabic it is called Tabgha
(pronounced “tav-guh”). The springs attract fish to this part of the sea and have for thousands of years.
church I entered, about the size of a gymnasium, is covered a number of
Byzantine mosaics. Its most famous design commemorates Jesus’
multiplication of the loaves and fishes—the event from which this church
gets its name, though the miracle occurred near Bethsaida (Luke 9:10).
Candles flickered here and there, with unlit ones available for
Outside, a narrow footpath led me to a modest
structure made of old gray blocks. The 1933 Franciscan chapel had about a
dozen seats facing an altar up front. The sign on the bare rock beneath
the altar read “Mensa Christi,” meaning “Table of Christ.” I could hear
the rhythmic waves lapping against the shoreline outside the Church of
the Primacy of St. Peter.
The bare rock under the altar extended
under and outside the chapel wall. I walked outside and saw a rusted
gate that fenced off the rock with yet another sign on top: “This is a
shoreline had leveled pea gravel to accommodate elderly tourists. I
stooped where the waves slapped the shore and withdrew a stone from the
Sea of Galilee. The constant lapping had hollowed holes in the rock, and
the algae greened my fingers and reminded me of the nearby springs—and
why this spot has remained a mainstay for fishermen for thousands of
saw a fisherman standing on the shore, holding his nets. More floated
by in their boats. At the sight of them, I tried to imagine the scene
that took place here so long ago. The New Testament records that after
Jesus’ resurrection, he met Peter and some of the other apostles by the
shore of the Sea of Galilee. Tradition identifies it as Tabgha.
is my favorite place around the Sea of Galilee. It always greets me
with a sign that makes me laugh. It reads: “Holy place. No shorts.” And
yet here, Peter fished half-naked. (Don’t try that today, by the way.)
fished all night and catching nothing, the apostles saw a lone figure
on the shoreline as they floated on the sea. They followed the
stranger’s ridiculous suggestion to fish on the other side of the boat,
and amazingly, they couldn’t haul in the miraculous catch.
the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, beside these same waters at
Tabgha—near where the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter sits today—a
dumbfounded Peter had fallen at Jesus’ feet after a miraculous catch of
fish (Luke 5:1-8). Now, three years later, another miraculous catch had
the disciples reached shore with the catch in tow, they found a
charcoal fire already laid, with fish cooking on the “Mensa Christi.”
The only other time the Greek term for “charcoal fire” appears in the
Bible occurs three chapters earlier, where we read that Peter warmed
himself in Caiaphas’s courtyard in Jerusalem—and, out of fear, denied
ever knowing Jesus (John 18:18; 21:9). Now, Peter sat in an awkward déjà
After breakfast, Jesus called Peter by the same name as when
they had first met and asked. “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
One of the reasons I love going to the Holy Land is
because I get to see geographical connections that often have spiritual
implications. Jesus took Simon Peter back to Tabgha—to the place where
their relationship first began, to the place of grace, where a
miraculous catch had pulled from Peter a confession: “I am a sinful
man!” There Jesus reinstated Peter and reminded him of his purpose. Just
because Peter had blown it didn’t mean it was the end of the line.
Instead, it was the beginning. Time to start over.
I go to the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter at Tabgha, I remember
how important it is to return to the basics. Sometimes it’s helpful to
start over and to realize that in spite of our failings, we still have a
purpose in life. We should never quit.
Tabgha reminds me of that wonderful truth. Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at www.waynestiles.com.
This post adapted from Wayne’s book, Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus: A Journey through the Lands and Lessons of Christ
(Regal Books, 2009). Used by permission.