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May 27, 2020

The Sermon on The Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:29)

The “Mount of Beatitudes” provides one of the most beautiful vistas in all of Israel. Beginning at the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, it slopes upward to a height about four hundred feet above the water. It is called a “mountain” but in fact is one of several foothills leading from the Lower Galilee to the Upper Galilee, culminating about their miles to the north in majestic Mount Hermon, ten thousand feet above sea level. Standing at the top of this storied foothill you look down on an awesome sight. Immediately below is Capernaum and Tabgha (where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish) with the entire expanse of the Sea of Galilee glittering in the sunlight. From the prospect you see why the Israelis call the lake “Kinneret”, for it truly is harp-shaped. About twelve kilometres long and six wide, the lake is bordered by the might Golan Heights on the east, and the “Horns of Hittim”, a towering outcropping of jagged heights, on the west. Just a bit south of the Hittim horns is Tiberias, one of Israel’s four sacred cities. This is where much of the Talmud was written over the course of hundreds of years. Immediately on the right, about five kilometres away and one hundred meters higher than where you’re standing, is the ancient town of Safat, another of Israel’s sacred cities, the home of the “Kabalah”, the handbook of ancient Jewish mysticism. Today it’s a favourite Jewish tourist destination, rife with artists’ studios, and colourful old synagogues.

There are two constructions on the crown of the Mount: one is a Catholic nunnery, the other a beautiful chapel built with funds supplied by the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. No one know why he built it, but it may have been and effort to leave a “good taste” with the historical record of his life. Sweeping down the hill to the very edge of the lake is a citrus orchard redolent with fragrance and peace. Between the mount and Safat on the west, the rocky slope is festooned with luscious green grass (in season) and herds of sheep. The entire setting is idyllic.

Adjacent to the chapel is a small grove of tall eucalyptus trees shading a fascinating outcropping of twelve basalt rocks “placed” in a circle of about thirty feet in diameter. This circle slopes downward with the contour of the mount and looks like the rocks were deliberately placed as some kind of monument. The rocks stick out of the ground at a height of two to three feet. There, in the shad of the eucalyptus trees, I imagine Jesus sitting down, his disciples lounging against the rocks as “lawn chairs”, and “opening his mouth” to teach. Such a pastoral picture for the greater “pastoral” sermon of all time.