The Other Side of the Lake

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The Other Side of the Lake

Most of the accounts we have of the life of Jesus happen around the Sea of Galilee.

What ancient Jews called the Sea is actually a large freshwater lake in the middle of northern Israel.  During the time of Jesus, the region around this lake was roughly broken into four territories. 

The northwest shore of the lake was called Galilee.  This was home to thousands of observant, faithful Jewish families.

Many familiar stories concerning Jesus, including the feeding of the 5,000 and the Sermon on the Mount, happened here at “11 o’clock” (if the lake were a clock) and the village of Capernaum became his adopted hometown and base of operations.

The southwestern region (“8 o’clock”) was also called Galilee, and it was also heavily Jewish.  But these were the Jewish families that subscribed to Netflix.  They did business with the occupying Roman Empire.  They had compromised with the world.  Those in northern Galilee (think Bible Belt) would rather die than do such things.  Many of them, in fact, did just that. 

Likewise, the northeastern region (“2 o’clock”), also populated by secular Jewish households, was spiritually lukewarm.  It was called Gaulanitis.  That name is still associated with the high ridge on that side of the lake – the so-called Golan Heights – where Israelis and their Arab neighbors warily confront each other to this day. 

That leaves the southeastern quadrant, or “5 o’clock.”  It was known as the Decapolis or Ten Towns. 

This region was thoroughly pagan.  No Jewish boy who valued his spiritual integrity would ever be caught dead on the southeastern side of the lake. 

Dr. Jim Martin, a Bible scholar and archeologist, points out while these areas weren’t that far away in terms of actual miles, for all intents and purposes, for a Jewish young man, they were equivalent to the dark side of the moon. 

When Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son and said that he went to live in a “faraway country,” all Jesus had to do was point to the opposite shore of the lake.  Visiting the regions of Gaulanitis or the Decapolis would be like a Sunday School class dropping in on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. 

Therefore Luke 8:26 is a verse that brims with drama:  “They [Jesus and his disciples] sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee.”  What is Jesus doing? 

Keep in mind that he is about 30 years old.  His disciples are anywhere from 15 to 22 years old.  This is essentially a youth group leader taking twelve kids from his high school or college fellowship into an exceedingly threatening situation.

Martin points out that it would have been reasonable for the young disciples to assume that Jesus was taking them into battle.  They are crossing over into enemy territory.  They are going to the other side of the lake, where they have never been before.  Demonic forces will be waiting for them.  Martin wonders if the disciples even got out of the boat.  This isn’t Kansas anymore. 

Since Halloween is just a few days away, our next reflection is going to zero in on Jesus’ actual confrontation with evil that happened shortly after the boat reached the far shore. 

In the meantime, what about you? 

If Jesus were to look at you and say, “I want you to go across the lake with me,” would you do so? 

What if that means representing the reign of God in a business meeting where all kinds of divergent priorities are about to clash?  Or standing against injustice?  Or choosing to extend forgiveness and understanding to someone your friends are ready to abandon? 

What if that means confronting the entertainment industry?  Or freeing women and children who are being sexually trafficked?  Or resisting government agencies whose financial decisions seem to be perpetuating the classic cycles of poverty instead of breaking them?

We can spend all of our days playing it safe with spiritually convinced people in some local version of the Bible Belt.  

Or we can set our hearts on the other side of the lake.  

More than we can ever imagine, following Jesus is going to mean heading into uncharted territory.