Series: Israel 2022 – Mount of Beatitudes
I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear
Falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses….6
We have entered a beautiful garden on a hillside on the Korazim Plateau overlooking the Sea of Galilee. There are roses blooming along the walkway, birds flitting among the trees chirping and singing, bees and other pollinators buzzing among the blossoms adding a quiet hum to the peacefulness of the site. Even though it is February, the middle of winter, and there is snow on Mount Hermon to the north, here it feels like spring.
This “mount” we’ve come to is Mount Eremos and Har Ha Osher in Hebrew.1 I suppose it could hardly be called a mountain at all. This “mount” has a negative altitude. It is 200 meters above the Sea of Galilee but still 25 meters below sea level. Mount Eremos is one of the lowest summits in the world.
The Franciscan chapel that dominates the garden was built in 1937-38 over the ruins of a Byzantine chapel at the site that was used from the 4th through the 7th century. It was the practice of the early Christian church to build chapels at sites in Israel associated with Jesus and His ministry. Only a few traces of the ancient monastery and cistern remain at the site.1
The “new” chapel was designed by an Italian named Antonio Barluzzi commissioned by the Italian Mission Society…. with funding from Benito Mussolini…. yes, that Mussolini.2
It is a lovely chapel built with 8 sides in a Neo-Byzantine style. It has marble veneer casing the lower interior walls and includes gold mosaic in the dome over the altar.
The floor inside is circular around a central altar and includes mosaics for 7 virtues. Each stained-glass window is dedicated to and shows a single Beatitude written in Latin.2
For this is the Mount of the Beatitudes. While there is a 20th century chapel and garden with views all the way down to the Sea of Galilee, there is very little to identify this hillside as the one where Jesus sat and spoke to his disciples and a multitude of followers some two thousand years ago…nothing at all from the first century to commemorate what is today called “the Sermon on the Mount”.
The Sermon on the Mount is detailed in the Gospels, Matthew 5, 6, & 7 and Luke 6. It is the longest single discourse by Jesus memorialized in the Christian Bible. It is probably the most famous and most quoted of all the sermons recorded in the Bible or anywhere else for that matter. These three chapters in Matthew and corresponding chapters in Luke also include the “Lord’s Prayer” which absolutely has to be known by every Christian in the world today. (Okay, maybe the 23rd Psalm would be in the running for most famous and memorized passage, but I think it holds a distant second at best to the Lord’s Prayer.)8
It may also be one of the most mis-quoted and maybe misunderstood passages in scripture. While reading and researching the Beatitudes (in both Matthew and in Luke where some call it the Sermon on the Plain4), I was amazed at how many different interpretations and applications I found. After two thousand years, theologians are still trying to understand what Jesus was saying that day on the hillside where He sat and taught those who followed Him.
At first read, it seems so simple…as is the way with most deeply complicated things. The Beatitudes include 9 blessings that focus on justice, faith, fortitude, hope, temperance, humility, compassion, meekness, charity, peace, and love… of course, love. Did Jesus not always preach love?
I have read several translations but the pure poetry of the “blessed” verses in the King James Version (KJV) is what I grew up with and what I tend to remember.
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn,
5Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger
and thirst for righteousness,
7Blessed are the merciful,
8Blessed are the pure in heart,
9Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted
because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11Blessed are you when people insult you,
persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil
against you because of Me.
12Rejoice and be glad,
because great is your reward in heaven;
for in the same way
they persecuted the prophets before you.
The koine Greek word “makarios” used for Blessed can also mean “happy” or “fulfilled”.7 Some see the Beatitudes as a guide for living for Christians under the New Covenant. Would that I could follow these tenets and be perfectly happy and fulfilled – perfectly righteous – all on my own! But, alas, I cannot. No one can. That was the point for the Jews in the first century and it is still relevant for all Christians today. You cannot do it on your own – the standard is too high — you need help – you need a Savior.
I walked there, in the garden on the hillside where Jesus (our Savior) might actually have come and sat down to teach this lesson. Scattered throughout the garden amongst the flowers were large plaques showing the Beatitudes in different languages of the world.
There are other engraved stones about that have a single Beatitude inviting contemplation of just one “blessing” at a time.
It is a place for meditation, a place to consider those “blessed” words. A place to pray and to talk to God and to listen for that still small voice as God responds.
“And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other, has ever, known!” 5&6
Sources and References:
- Mount of Beatitudes – Wikipedia
- Church of the Beatitudes – Wikipedia
- New Testament places associated with Jesus – Wikipedia
- Ministry of Jesus – Wikipedia
- In The Garden – Lyrics, Hymn Meaning and Story (godtube.com)
- In the Garden, C Austin Miles, 1912 (Public Domain)
- Strong’s Concordance 3107, Interlinear Bible, Greek – “makarios”, Helps Word Studies 3107
- Sermon on the Mount – Wikipedia
- The Holy Land for Christian Travelers, John A. Beck, 2017, Baker Books, Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, MI, www.bakerbooks.com , USA, Mount of the Beatitudes, p218 (This book can be purchased on Amazon.com)
ICYMI (In case you missed it) – Previous blogs in the Israel 2022 series:
Israel 2022: Pinch Yourself – April 4, 2022
Israel 2022: Caesarea Maritima – April 11, 2022
Israel 2022: Contested on Mount Carmel – April 20, 2022
Israel 2022: In This Valley – April 30, 2022
Israel 2022: Sea of Galilee – May 9, 2022
Israel 2022: A Very Old Boat – May 31, 2022
Israel 2022: A Blessing & A Curse – Capernaum – June 20, 2022
Israel 2022: One Little Boy Named David – July 5, 2022