I am alone at ruins of the ancient city of Gamla, which once stood on this mountain peak high above the Sea of Galilee. Bird sounds break spooky silence at this isolated place where thousands of Jews took their last stand against Rome in AD 67. Blood ran down steep streets of Gamla after Roman battering rams breached its walls during the great Jewish Revolt of AD 66-73. That insurrection failed and ended in destruction of Jerusalem.
General Vespasian and son Titus commanded troops who slaughtered 4,000 Jews here. As Roman legions closed in, another 5000 Jews hurled themselves to death into ravines far below. Suicide at Gamla has an eerie echo today, with news reports of suicide bombers in various countries. The human cost of warfare–by sword, bullet, bomb, disease, famine or suicide–is staggering.
I make my way to ruins of the first-century synagogue. Did Jesus preach here? It’s likely, since Gamla and Capernaum are close enough to be visible to each other on a clear day. The Gospels say Jesus “went about all the cities and villages” in Galilee “teaching in their synagogues.” He proclaimed good news of the kingdom: healing the sick, forgiving sin, caring for the poor, loving enemies. Did his message “take” at Gamla?
Our Lord changes hearts and reconciles sinners with their Creator, making us citizens in a kingdom “not from this world.” This community is heaven-sent, but it takes form here and now in every generation among believers. “The kingdom of God is among you,” our Lord told disciples.
Jewish rebels were ready to die fighting Rome, and Roman soldiers were ready to perish putting down revolt. Followers of Jesus are ready to give our lives for the kingdom of God. We engage spiritual and political battle with weapons of forgiveness and divine authority to heal.
“If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting,” Jesus told Pilate (John 18:36). What a contrast to the deaths of first-century Jewish rebels and Roman soldiers, or the endless spilling of blood today in Syria just over the mountain from Gamla! In the face of such evil, nonviolence and love of enemies seem impractical. But the slaughter of 9000 Jews at Gamla is hardly a practical outcome. Death or displacement of millions in Syria today is not a practical way to solve conflict.
Jesus offers no easy solutions to corrupt government, abusive empire, social injustice or civil war. He nonviolently confronted evil, refused the sword, and faced state execution on a Roman cross. Countless followers have suffered martyrdom rather than compromise their allegiance to the Lamb.
You and I will not save the world or end all suffering by our noble, peaceful deeds. But by giving our lives daily to Jesus in living sacrifice, by showing compassion for the poor and charity toward enemies, we become a tangible expression of the kingdom of heaven. God is breaking the cycle of sin and hatred, empowering us to bring resurrection hope to the world.