The sun was setting beautifully on the shore, bringing a perfect ending to the 12 May 2013. There’s nothing special about this date, except that it was the last day for Palestinian Christians in my area to travel outside Bethlehem. The temporary door to freedom was about to be closed.
I was on a church trip to the beautiful city of Jaffa. This city is mentioned a couple of times in the Bible. Who amongst us has not heard the story of Prophet Jonah? Jaffa (known as Joppa back then) is the port where Jonah escaped for Tarshish (Jonah 1:3). In the New Testament, we read about Peter raising Tabitha from the dead in the same city (Acts 9). Still today, this city offers some poignant spiritual lessons. Well, at least, it does for me!
Everywhere you walk in this city you smell the sea. Mingling with that is the delicious aroma of fried or baked fish. Tall ships kissed by a delightful fresh breeze sail beneath a radiating sun, superb blue skies, and airborne acrobatics by colourful birds of all sorts. It’s a majestic panorama that surely testifies to an artistic God!
However, looking around, I must say that this is not what really touched my heart the most. My passion is people. God spoke to my heart through being with such a delightful group of people whom I dearly love: my home church. I saw things through their eyes.
The sea is something within their reach only twice a year. They had to make the best of every minute. It was something they had to dearly cherish, because the rest of the year no one can think, “I fancy going to the sea today” and just go! That would be asking for the impossible. But that day there was water splashing everywhere, smiles, laughter, joy all around and plenty of food to share: nothing beats Middle Eastern cuisine!
As I mused on everyone swimming, running, playing and walking, the words of Jesus echoed in my ears: “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them” (Matthew 9:36). Compassion is a meaningful and important word. Jesus was a very compassionate person. He was a people person. He loved crowds. He loved being with them and around them. He also loved feeding them and eating with them. However, sometimes He had a higher priority. For His “food was to do the will of His Heavenly Father” (John 4).
Interestingly, in chapter 21 of John’s gospel, after the resurrection, we see a different side to Jesus. We see a hungry Jesus. Therefore it was he who asked the disciples for food: “He called out to them, ‘Friends haven’t you any fish?'” (John 21). And when they didn’t have, He provided; not one nor two, but 153 fish. The Bible comments that the disciples – or “friends” as Jesus beautifully calls them – were “unable to haul the net in, because of the large number of fish.” In Chapter 4, His food was to spiritually minister to a broken Samaritan; in chapter 21, His food was to physically feed the disciples and eat fish with them. Not in Jaffa, but not so far away beside the Sea of Galilee.
I love my people and so does Jesus. In fact, He loves the whole world. In the city of Jaffa, I was reminded afresh of my calling to be with my people, eat with them, listen to their spoken and unspoken stories, encourage their weary hearts and help them turn their eyes to Jesus, who meets all our needs, physically and spiritually. Jaffa is a good place to be reminded not to run away from God’s calling, like Jonah once did.
I find no better words to express my heart than to quote Jesus: “My food is to do the will of God” – to show compassion where needed and offer spiritual nourishment along the way. Another timely reminder for me on this trip was that God is still able to use us – just as He used Peter to raise Tabitha – to raise the dead in our community, figuratively speaking rather than literally, but if also the latter, why not?!
I thank the Lord for the freedom everyone enjoyed that day. I thank Him for His goodness and mercy, and because “every good and perfect gift comes from Him” (James 1:17). Let us hold tight to our faithful Friend, who also calls us friends and disciples. What a privilege to serve such a God in the land of the Bible that still speaks today to me and you!
Blessings and peace