The great Lake of Galilee was bordered by hills and plains sown by fruit trees and wheat, vineyards and orchards. Along its banks were crammed several fishing villages:. Tiberias, the cursed city, where King Herod had his palace; Magdala, known for its women; Bethsaida, which means “the house of fishes,” where we were all born; and Capernaum, the noisiest city, which means “the city of consolation,” where we were all residing and working now, upon orders of my father, Zebedee.
Zebedee: Blazes! Everything has gone well today. James, tell your mom to separate the big salmon for our soup…. It’s been a long time since we’ve had such a good catch. This calls for a celebration!
James: Are you gonna let me try your soup, pop?
Zebedee: Why not? Invite your wife. Tell that rascal Peter to come too. What we catch, we all eat, yes sir!
My father, old Zebedee, learned to row even before he could walk. He had spent all his life fishing in the Lake of Galilee. He knew the depth of the water better than the palm of his hand. Sometimes, I would think that my old man had scales on his skin and fishbones instead of a backbone. He had formed some kind of a cooperative, together with Jonas, the father of Andrew and Peter, and two other fishermen. Zebedee was their head. We shared the boats and the nets. Everyone worked together, and at the end of each day we would divide what we had earned, which was not much.
Zebedee: The time will come and my eyes will witness this, when there will be enough fish soup for everyone, enough work for everyone and true justice for the poor! Come on, let’s go home, John. I’m already hungry!
When the sun hid itself behind Mount Carmel, the lake remained still. The seagulls returned to their nests after fluttering over the waters during the day. The ferryboats, with their folded sails, squeezed by each other in the quay of Capernaum, anticipating another day of work the following morning. The stoves began to burn in all of the fishermen’s houses, which were jammed along the riverbank….
Zebedee: How is the soup, lady?
Salome: It will soon be done, old man. Relax!
Zebedee: (with sarcasm) Don’t forget to put in some spices for flavoring!
Salome: Will you stop pestering me and leave me alone with my cooking….
My mother, Salome, was a short, thin woman. Yet she was strong, like the roots of a tree, and her skin was sun-burned. She was advanced in age, but there wasn’t a single white hair on her head, and that was her reason for vanity. She enjoyed her household chores, as well as having a long chat with her neighbors. She did all these with such great speed so as not to miss anything. I am always reminded of those flying fishes leaping about the lake – swift as lightning and clever. We never caught them.
Zebedee: Hey, Andrew, aren’t you coming over? Where’s your brother, Peter?
Andrew: He’ll come later. He wouldn’t miss Salome’s cooking for anything. Peter is staying with the children, as the wife had to look for herbs for her sick mother. He is coming though….
While my mother was cooking, the smell of the fish permeated the house. Andrew, James and I played dice…
James: There goes number five!… It’s your turn, Andrew…..
Andrew: Four and two!
James: Your turn, John…
John: I win again! Hey, James, you owe me two turns. And so do you, Andrew.
Andrew: What bad luck! I’m left with nothing, not even a single cent.
John: James, I think you cheat.
James: Who, me? You gotta be kidding. I play clean!
John: You, redhead. You’re a cheat.
Andrew: Don’t mind him, John. He always does it.
James: Hey, what are you babbling about, toothpick? I’m honest, do you hear?
Zebedee: Hey guys, don’t waste your energy fighting among yourselves. Reserve it for the Romans… By the way, it’s been sometime that we haven’t heard anything from the movement. It’s strange. There is much quiet around here.
John: The people are scared ever since they apprehended John the Baptist.
Andrew: The zealots are waiting to see what they’re gonna do to him….
James: What they’re gonna do to him, what they’re gonna do to him… Why don’t we see what we can do! If no one does anything, then let’s do something without our being told. We can’t just be looking at the clouds all the time.
Zebedee: What can you do, young men?
John: Nothing, because the Romans are everywhere. The whole of Galilee is being surrounded.
James: So much the better…. The more birds on the loose, the more they’re gonna fall into the trap. Why don’t we act now and surprise them?
Andrew: Peter was thinking about it the other day… but….
James: Hey, you, toothpick, will you stop worrying?
Andrew: Don’t forget that this is the best time for fishing in the lake. If we make trouble now, then we would have to go into hiding afterwards. Have you forgotten what happened during the feast of the Passover? What about our job?
John: Toothpick is right… We who are starving to death must always think of our stomachs first before anything else.
It was already night when Jesus arrived in Capernaum. He passed through the barrio of the artisans and walked toward the quay. There was the smell of cooked food coming from each house which later on fused with the smell of rotten fish in the streets. That was the noisiest and liveliest moment in Capernaum… After asking where our house was, he finally reached our place….
Jesus: May I come in?….
Zebedee: Certainly, my friend. Who are you?
John: Jesus! What are you doing here?
Jesus: As you can see, I came to visit you….
James: Oh, the moreno from Nazareth!
Jesus: I’m happy to see you again, James… Hello, Andrew!
Zebedee: I see that you know each other very well….
John: Hey, we didn’t know what happened to you after you went to the desert. We thought you’d been devoured by the scorpions!
James: When did you find out about John? We gotta do something, Jesus!
Andrew: We were just talkin’ ’bout it and….
Zebedee: Dammit! But who is this man? He comes sneaking into my house, and here I am like a fool…
James: Don’t act like that, old man. He’s a friend whom we met at the Jordan.
Andrew: He’s from Nazareth and his name is Jesus.
Zebedee: From Nazareth? Bah…. a good-for-nothing man of that town… a farmer who wants to conquer the sea?
Jesus: Your sons invited me to come. They say I can find a job here in Capernaum. In Nazareth, things are not so easy.
John: Jesus, this is Zebedee, our father. If you can count the hairs in his beard then you will know the ordeals he has been through. Here he is: an old, experienced revolutionary…
Salome: I am the mother of these two rascals!
James: This is our mom, Salome.
Salome: Welcome, young man. You’re just in time to try our special fish soup… You must be tired. Come, have a seat.
Peter arrived shortly, rowdier than the rest of the group. He was elated to see Jesus again. He was with his wife Rufina and little Simon, one of his four sons. They wanted to greet the man from Nazareth…. My mother had to add more water to the soup for everyone to have enough….
John: Do you remember that afternoon when toothpick and I were having a chat with you…. Come on, Jesus, tell them the joke about the flea. That’s a good one..!
James: This is no time for jokes, John. You look silly. Weren’t we talking about doing something….? Why don’t we discuss it with Jesus?…
Peter: I was just thinking the same thing. Long live the movement!
Rufina: For heaven’s sake, Peter. Don’t get yourself into trouble. My mother is dying… Don’t give me another problem… You crazy! Holy God!
Peter: But Rufi….
James: How is Nazareth, Jesus? Judas of Iscariot was there recently, and he told us that….
Little Simon: Say, you know that I’m gonna have a baby sister?
James: It seems that everyone in the whole valley is being watched.
Jesus: That’s right. And that’s because of John. In Cana, I saw a lotta soldiers too.
Little Simon: Say, you know that I’m gonna have a baby sister?
James: Now shut up, you little brat. Don’t you see we’re discussing something?
Rufina: Little Simon, come over here. Don’t be nasty.
Little Simon: But I’m going to have a baby sister!
Jesus: Oh really? And how do you know it’s gonna be a baby sister or brother? How’d you guess that?
Little Simon: ’Cause I can foretell everything!
Rufina: Shut up, young man, and come over here…
Jesus: So you can guess everything. Now tell me what this is: What is the only fish that wears a necklace?
Little Simon: The only fish…
John: That’s it, a joke!
Zebedee: Quiet, John…. What was it you said?… Have you ever seen a fish wearing a necklace…?
Jesus: Yes, sir, there’s one, and it even uses a scarf… and…
Peter: It must be a strange fish… What is it? Tell us.
Jesus: It is the neck. (Transl. note: In Spanish, it is read as pescuezo; pez, to mean fish in Spanish)
Jesus: What about this other one: “Everybody buys it ’cause he needs it for eating, but nobody eats it.”
Andrew: He needs it for eating, but nobody eats it…
Jesus: The plate!
Todos: That’s right.
John: This is getting to be exciting!
Zebedee: Quiet and listen. Come on, tell us some more.
Jesus: Listen to this: “There’s a married couple: the wife leaves and the husband stays.”
Salome: That must be you and I, Zebedee…!
Zebedee: Shut your big mouth, idiot… and let me think…. How is that again? ….a married couple…. the wife goes away and the husband stays behind…. pfff… I give up… What is it?
Jesus: The key, man, the key and the padlock!
All: One more, one more!
Little Simon: Hey, how d’you know so many riddles?
John: This moreno makes up one story after another…. Why don’t you tell them a long story, about the camels, remember?… Pssst… silence now, everybody and listen….
Jesus: A man had three camels. One of them went to a well to drink. When he reached the well….
Jesus began to tell us stories…. one after the other. We had finished our soup and everyone felt sleepy but we continued listening to him. What a gift he had for telling stories! Everyone understood him, even grandmother Rufa and the little brat, Mingo… Then when he started to talk about the Kingdom of God, he did so by way of stories and parables… They all listened to him in Capernaum and in Jerusalem. His stories spread fast and we proclaimed his words in the streets and in the plazas, confident that what he started in a village of fishermen was good news for everyone in every nook and corner of the earth.
The Lake of Galilee is called “sea” of Galilee because of its great expanse. The Gospel likewise refers to it as the Lake of Tiberias or of Gennesaret, in relation to the two cities found along its shores. In the Old Testament it is called sea or lake of “Kinneret” (from “kinnor,” which in Hebrew means “harp”). Legend has it that the lake has this shape, and that the gentle sound of its waves reminds us of the sound of a harp. From north to south, the lake measures up to 21 kilometers. Its greatest width is 13 kilometers. Like the Dead Sea, it is situated below sea level (212 meters), with a depth of 48 meters. Its waters taste sweet. All kinds of fish abound in it, of which about 24 different species are known. In Jesus’ time and even at present, fishing is the principal activity in the cities along the banks.
Several cities have been established along the lake. During Jesus’ time, one of the most important cities was Capernaum (“city of consolation” or “city of Nahum”) which was never mentioned in the Old Testament. The city had a customs house since it was a frontier town between Galilee which was governed by Herod, and Iturrea and Trachonitis which belonged to Philip. Likewise, it was located beside the great Roman highway that joined Galilee and Syria (the so-called “via maris”). Because of its strategic importance, it also had a Roman garrison, under the command of a centurion. Here in Capernaum, many stories of the preachings of Jesus in Galilee were developed. It was here where he lived after he left Nazareth. Matthew referred to this as the “city of Jesus” (Mt 9:1).
During the gospel era, Capernaum had an expanse of a few kilometers and a few thousand inhabitants. Aside from fishing, the town was also engaged in the development of agricultural crops like olives, wheat and other grains. The houses were made of black basalt stone with roofs of straw and clay that shielded the residents from heat especially during summer, owing to the great depression by the Sea of Galilee. About four centuries after Christ, Capernaum was destroyed and its ruins were not found until the end of the last century. These ruins – consisting of a few house foundations, the lay-out of the town and streets of the old city – were one of the greatest archeological treasures of the gospel era. The present day Capernaum still preserves a great synagogue built over the old one as well as objects that existed during the period (oil lamps, printing press, stone mills, etc.) Undoubtedly, the most important of all these is the foundation of Peter’s house. The inscriptions found show that since the first century, the early Christians would gather here to celebrate the eucharist. The house was beside the quay and together with other small houses formed part of some kind of a common patio (or yard) for the neighborhood. The plan of these small houses clearly indicates the extreme poverty in which Jesus’ friends lived. It is probable that Peter’s family, Andrew’s family, and Zebedee together with his wife Salome and his two sons James and John lived together in one of these aggrupations of fishing villages in Capernaum.
Oral tradition was common in all peasant culture, such as the gathering of neighbors to listen to one of their townmates tell a story that has been repeated a thousand times; this was the way to transfer knowledge from one generation to another through stories told by a father to his children. The grandparents were the expert narrators…. Jesus, a peasant, was heir to this type of culture. On the other hand, the Orient has always been a fertile cradle of stories with moral themes, fables and parables, etc. To all of these, Jesus would incorporate personal mastery as conversationalist and narrator – and the gospels are proof of this. Practically all his parables sprang from his family and peasant environment. He expressed himself a lot better with imagery than with abstract ideas. It is wrong to believe that in order to do this, he had to “adapt himself” to his less intelligent listeners, so that he would be better understood. In his language, Jesus did not have to lower himself, because like his listeners, he was one of them, and he spoke like them.
The Good News of Jesus began to bloom in the fishermen’s barrio of Capernaum, certainly a poor and mass-based territory but whose people were hard-working. It is necessary to preserve these origins of the Gospel because, more often than not, Jesus tended to be identified as an urban rather than a rural dweller with good manners – a condescending person, who was patient towards the rude and hardened people. No. Jesus belonged to the lower class of that small land. He mingled with the filthy children of the place, as well as with women with calloused hands and townmates who laughed and cursed while enjoying a pitcher of wine.