Monday, June 13, 2011

Whose Dust Are You Covered In?

As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him. - Matthew 4:18-20
Capernaum was only recently uncovered by archaeologist in 1838, so unlike most holy sites in the Holy Land, it is one of the few that is not inhabited by anyone aside from the Franciscans who maintain the land and buildings. That Capernaum is now uninhabited is a blessing in a land where many holy sites are hidden amid crowds of people, shops and layers of modernization. The lack of visual and auditory noise allowed me to drink in the atmosphere of the abandoned city, the city in which Jesus spent much of his time and where his apostles Peter, James, John, Andrew and Matthew hailed from.

This was the first site I walked on that Jesus also walked on and I will never forget that first experience. My whole being vibrated with the excitement and knowledge that God walked upon the very same earth that my feet were walking upon.

I walked around the ruins that were built on the very synagogue where Jesus walked, talked, preached and performed miracles. He would have cured the demoniac, preached the Bread of Life discourse, and healed the man with the withered hand there. And just a few hundred feet away, the ruins of the house of Peter still remain. It is believed that the ruins are the house of Peter because ancient graffiti reveal that early Christians revered the spot and made it into one of the earliest churches where they worshiped. For more archaeological information on Capernaum, check here.

When we visited all of the sites in the Holy Land our tour leader, Tim Gray, would give us a teaching.  My trip would not have been the same without these teachings. In all of them, I learned new things that gave my faith new texture and vibrancy.

At Capernaum, Tim told us that near the city a school for studying the Torah was uncovered by archaeologists. The school would have been up and running during the time of Peter, the apostle of Jesus. In that day, young Jewish boys would attend local schools where they would study the Torah. The most promising of these boys would be chosen to continue to study under the rabbi and perhaps one day become rabbis themselves. Peter was a fisherman so we can conclude that he was most likely not one of the most promising students of his time and was not chosen to study the Torah more closely.

In rabbinic literature studying the Torah is one of the most important things that a Jewish person can do. The Talmud teaches that studying the Torah is an even greater mitzvah or commandment than saving a human life, (the most common reasoning being that studying the Torah leads to saved lives as well, just in another way.)

There is phrase in the Mishna that says, "May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi," which reveals again the importance of studying the Torah but also of studying under someone who knows and understands Scripture well. All of these facts provide the background to the part in Scripture when Jesus walks by Peter and says to him, "Come follow me."

It has always struck me as strange that Peter left his boat and immediately followed Jesus. Even if Peter knew Jesus was performing miracles and was a famous rabbi, why would he drop everything right away? Was he really that holy and in tune with God's will for him? The context of Judaism at the time helps me to understand, as Tim Gray suggests, that Peter was following a rabbi, a rabbi who saw something in this rough fisherman that his teachers had overlooked. Peter followed Jesus in the hope and knowledge that this was his only opportunity to be covered in the dust of a rabbi. Little did he know that Jesus was the rabbi of all rabbis.

As I walked around exploring Capernaum, the town covered in dust until little over a century ago, I ask myself the question that Tim Gray ended his teaching with - "Whose dust am I covered in?" If we could literally follow the persons and things in our life that take the most of our time and energy, whose dust would we be covered in? Would it be our TVs? Our iPhones? Our computers? Our obsessions? Our anger? How many people can say that the majority of their time is spent following Jesus? I can't and I live in a convent.

Like Peter, we are called to follow Jesus and give over to him all corners of our lives. We can't know Jesus and continue fishing. We have to take risks and leave behind those things in our life that need to be left behind in order to be covered in the dust of God.

So let's get dirty.


  1. I love your words - I felt as if I walked with you on your journey. MORE PLEASE.

  2. I'm really looking forward to the rest of your reflections on your trip to the Holy Land!

    I really feel that you brought us with you and now you are bringing it all back to share with the world.

    It is as if you are writing 'the Gospel according to TheresAgnes'. :)

  3. You remember so well what Tim taught in the Holy Land. Now I remember what he said about "whose dust are you covered in"? Wasn't it great being there? I hope we can go some time in the future.

    love, Dad

  4. Take me, take me! Ditto, Theresa - we parents of less-than-trustworthy minds are very happy we brought along a young'n to remember (and to remember to take notes)! Actually, I did take pretty good notes and your post inspires me to go read them. Right now. Bye!