The striking thing we find when we read the gospels is how much Jesus walked.
As I asked in my previous article, “Why did he do this?”
Jesus had options other than walking everywhere.
- He could have stayed in his home in Capernaum and let the world come to him.
- Like other kings, he could have had his followers carry him on a throne everywhere he went.
- He could have secured an Arabian horse from the Nabatean people to the south.
- Or he could have teleported his body to different cities as he did during his post-resurrection appearances.
Jesus didn’t pick any of these.
Here’s my question again, asked a different way: what about walking is so vital to flourishing as human beings that it caused Jesus to model walking so much?
Let me share four possible reasons.
1. For The Health Benefits
Author Frank Gelett Burgess said of our human selves, “Our bodies are apt to be our autobiographies.” 1
When we “read the autobiographies” of Jesus’ first–century peers, their stories are short and sad.
The average person in Galilee ate two meals a day, totaling a daily average of fewer than 1800 calories.
900 calories of their diet, roughly 50%, came from bread.
450 calories came from alcohol. 2
Let those stats sink in.
Half of their diet was bread and alcohol!
The remaining 450 calories or so came from a vegetable-based, stew-like saucy paste that they’d dip the bread into as their “main course.”
On the Sabbath, they’d include some fish into that paste dish.
Milk-based products such as cheese and butter were occasionally consumed.
And that was it.
Despite living alongside a lake with a bountiful supply of fish, scholars who have examined the DNA from graves from that time period always remark that people in Jesus’ immediate area were protein deficient.
Not only did they not eat enough fish every day to meet their daily protein needs, but according to historians, keeping livestock to eat was unknown during this time period. 3
Eating meat was simply not an option for many.
Except for the priests in Jerusalem.
In other words, the average diet in Jesus’ time for peasants was terrible.
This explains, in part, what New Testament scholar Richard Rohrbaugh observed about Jesus’ peers,
“…about one-third of those who suffered the first year of life (hence not counted as victims of infant mortality) were dead by age 6. Nearly 60 percent of these survivors had died by age 16. By age 26, 75 percent were dead; and by age 46, 90 percent were gone. Less than 3 percent of the population made it to age 60…
At 32 or 33…Jesus would have been older than perhaps 80 percent of his hearers, who would have been ridden with disease, malnourished, and looking at a decade or less remaining of their life expectancy. Since few poor people lived out their thirties, we may also have to revise our picture of Jesus. He was hardly one who died in the prime of life.” 4
If the bodies of Jesus’ peers were their autobiographies, then Jesus walked to show them that they could re-write their story.
“Walking,” according to Hippocrates the father of modern medicine, “is man’s best medicine.” 5
What was hinted at by Hippocrates in 400 b.c., is now being confirmed scientifically by modern research.
In his groundbreaking book, In Praise of Walking: A New Scientific Exploration, author Shane O’Mara, observes,
“When we stand up, and then walk around and move about, our posture changes, with our torso and spinal column shifting to a single vertical axis from our head down through our back, and, through our legs and feet, contacting the ground.
By contrast, when we sit, the weight of our body trunk is largely concentrated on the lower back.
…Long periods of immobility…cause changes in muscle: fatty deposits build up in leg muscle, and, as we age, we lose muscle mass in part because of our immobility (‘sarcopenia’).” 6
Thinking about the impact immobility has on aging, O’Mara writes,
“…you don’t get old until you stop walking, and you don’t stop walking because you’re old. Lots of regular walking, especially if conducted at a high tempo, with appropriate rhythm, forestalls many of the bad things that come with aging.” 7
The problem is Jesus’ peers didn’t know this information.
But Jesus did, intuitively at least.
Looking at the stats at how many of his peers died early deaths, it’s no wonder that Jesus modeled walking as he did.
Walking is physically restorative and transformative.
As O’Mara observed,
“We all know that walking is good for our heart. But walking is also beneficial for the rest of our body. Walking helps protect and repair organs that have been subject to stresses and strains. It is good for the gut, assisting the passage of food through the intestines. Regular walking also acts as a brake on the aging of our brains, and can, in an important sense, reverse it.” 7
For a compelling personal argument for the health benefits of walking, look no further than the great Christian writer Søren Kierkegaard.
When writing to his sister, who had a tendency to get depressed and sick often, Kierkegaard wrote,
“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” 8
Undoubtedly Jesus believed this as well.
2. To Stimulate Brain Activity
People often think that even as a baby, Jesus understood who he was and what his mission was going to be.
But that’s not entirely true.
Much of what Jesus learned about the way God works was learned from his mentor, John the Baptist.
The remaining, most important details, came to him over time.
Walking would have been the time and place when these sweeping insights would have come to him.
The prolific philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously said, “Sitting still is the real sin against the Holy Ghost.” 9
Over the 10 years when his greatest books were written, Nietzsche walked 6-10 hours a day. In fact, he wrote his book “The Wanderer and His Shadow” – entirely while walking, scribbling down thoughts in pencil in six small notebooks.
Like countless authors before and after, Nietzsche believed his best ideas came to him while walking.
“We do not belong to those who have ideas only among books when stimulated by books. It is our habit to think outdoors – walking, leaping, climbing, dancing, preferably on only mountains or near the sea where even the trails become thoughtful. Our first questions about the value of a book, of a human being, or a musical composition are: Can they walk? Even more, can they dance?” 10
Nietzsche experienced what modern science has been telling us about the numerous connections between optimal brain health and exercise.
As O’Mara observed in his book In Praise of Walking, when we walk…
“…we become ‘cognitively mobile’, our minds are in movement, our heads swivel, our eyes dart about. Our brain activity changes when we move about, with electrical brain rhythms that were previously quiescent now engaged and active. We become more alert, our breathing changes, and our brains and our bodies are ready for action.” 6
Even though Jesus was fully God at birth, God’s revelation of truth to Jesus about himself, the world, and his purpose in it came to him over time.
We can only assume that happened, in part, because of, and as he placed one foot in front of the other.
3. To Be Inspired By Nature
I’ve traveled to quite a few countries over the years and can say that one of the most serene places I’ve ever sat has been on the shore of Capernaum, Jesus’ hometown.
The sound of the waves.
The birds flying over the water.
The smell in the air.
There’s no question in my mind why at 30 years of age, Jesus moved to Capernaum.
It’s no coincidence that the first description of God in the Bible says,
“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day…” – Genesis 2:8
To admire its beauty. Why else?
Another one of my favorite views is from the Arbel Heights, a ridge overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The image at the top of this essay was taken from Mount Arbel.
Every time I’m there I imagine Jesus and his disciples sitting on the ridgeline soaking up the views and beauty.
To get to Mount Arbel from Capernaum takes 2 hours and 45 minutes on foot.
I imagine that a 6-hour round trip would have been a regular highlight for Jesus, as well as other hikes to Mount Tabor, Mount Hermon, Mount Meron, and other beautiful sites throughout Israel.
The greatest thinkers we’ve had all attributed their best ideas to walking, especially walking in nature – Rimbaud, Rousseau, Thoreau, Nerval, Kant, and others.
As Nietzsche said, there’s just something about walking in nature that causes ideas to dance.
The draw is so powerful that the great poet and Christian author Wendell Berry said, “There comes…a longing never to travel again except on foot.” 11
4. ToMeetNew People
Filmmaker Werner Herzog said, “The world reveals itself to those who travel on foot.” 12
Anyone who has ever driven through their neighborhood, and later walked the same route, knows what Herzog is referring to.
When you walk, you hear people talking. You hear the birds. You hear kids laughing. You overhear the clanging of dishes as dinner is being prepared.
Walking allows you to meet your neighbors.
It’s one of the most natural of human acts.
Walking opens us up to encounters with people that never would happen by driving or taking public transit.
In a very real sense, the gospels are nothing more than stories of Jesus slowly walking around Israel meeting different types of people.
Just think of the odd array of characters that fill the pages of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John:
- Roman centurions
- Tax collectors
Jesus never would have met these people if he had simply stayed home.
In my next article, I want us to think about our stories, and how walking like Jesus can make our “autobiographies” more interesting, meaningful, and impactful.
- Frank Gelett Burgess, as quoted in The Michigan Journal, 1979.
- Richard Rohrbaugh, Editor, The Social Sciences and New Testament Interpretation (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996), 5, 160.
- Ibid, 165-166.
- Ibid, 5.
- Hippocrates need citation
- Shane O’Mara, In Praise of Walking: A New Scientific Exploration (New York: Random House, 2019), 7.
- Ibid, 11.
- Howard V. Hong, Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, Vol. 5 (Indiana, Indiana University Press), 412.
- Frederick Nietzche, Ecce Homo (Oxford: Oxford Press, 2009), 21.
- K. LaMothe, Nietzche’s Dancers (New York: Macmillan, 2006), 49.
- Wendell Berry, Remembering: A Novel (Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2009).
- Werner Herzog, A Guide For The Perplexed (London: Faber & Faber, 2014).