THE ARREST OF JOHN THE BAPTIST WAS A RELIEF TO THE PHARISEES
“After Herod the tetrarch had imprisoned John the Baptist Jesus departed from Judea and set out for Galilee. St John seems to hint that Jesus left Judea because of the opposition of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were, in their own minds, the official representatives of the holiness of Israel. The preaching of John the Baptist was probably regarded by them as out of order. The arrest and imprisonment of John was a relief to them. But, as they learned, the preaching of Jesus was becoming even more popular and He was attracting even more disciples than had John. In order to avoid their enmity Jesus left Judea.
Jesus returned to Galilee through Samaria. At the Samaritan town of Sichar Jesus announced Himself to the Samaritans as the Messias, the Christ. He was sitting at the well of Jacob when a Samaritan woman drew near to fetch water. Jesus asked her for some water to drink. Because of the bitter enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans the woman was surprised at the request. When she inquired how it was that a Jew stooped to ask a Samaritan for water Jesus told her that if she but knew Who He was she would ask Him for water and He would give her living water, a fountain of water springing up into life everlasting. Jesus, of course, referred to the new life of holiness which He could give her.
A NEW LIFE OF HOLINESS
The woman was sceptical. But Jesus overcame her scepticism by revealing to her the secret of her life. This revelation of her secret led her to accept Jesus as a prophet. But loyalty to her own religion and nation made her propose a problem. “Our fathers,” she said, “worshipped on this mountain, but you say that at Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship” (John 4:20).
‘THE HOUR IS COMING, AND IS NOW HERE…’
Jesus replied to her: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeks such to worship him. God is spirit, and they who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-24).
‘THIS IS IN TRUTH THE SAVIOUR OF THE WORLD’
The woman was still not convinced and so she attempted to put the problem aside by appealing to a higher authority. “I know,” she said, “that Messias is coming (who is called Christ), and when he comes he will tell us all things.” But Jesus replied, “I who speak with thee am he” (John 4:25-26). Thus simply did Jesus proclaim Himself to be the Messias, the Anointed One sent by God to bring salvation to the world. The woman believed Him and brought her fellow-townsmen to meet Him. Many of the inhabitants of Sichar accepted Jesus as the Messias, saying, “We know that this is in truth the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42).
THE SALVATION BROUGHT BY JESUS IS WITHIN THE DIVINE PLAN ANNOUNCED TO ABRAHAM, ISAAC AND JACOB
This incident at Jacob’s well is interesting for several reasons. It is the first declaration made by Jesus Himself of His Messiahship. Secondly, it marks the first acceptance of Jesus as the Messias by people who were not members of the Chosen Race. In this way it is a foreshadowing of the acceptance of Jesus by the Gentile world, and so it is a beginning of the fulfilment of the words of Jesus: ‘The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” Jesus is announcing the extension of salvation to the whole world. Thirdly, it is also possible that the incident foreshadows the ultimate rejection of Jesus by the Jews, for St John tells us that Jesus left Judea to return to Galilee because ‘a prophet receives no honour in his own country’ (John 4:44). Fourthly, Jesus here reveals the basic spiritual nature of the kingdom He has come to establish as the Messias. True worshippers, He says, will worship God in spirit and in truth. The material worship at the Temple of Jerusalem will give way to a more spiritual worship. Lastly, and with an importance of its own, Jesus insists that ‘salvation is from the Jews.’ Even though it is to be extended to all the world and even though it may be rejected by the Chosen People themselves, nevertheless salvation comes to the world from the Jews. In this way the salvation brought by Jesus is found to be within the divine plan announced so long ago to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
THE POWER OF JESUS IS NOT LIMITED BY SPACE OR TIME
After a stay of two days in Samaria Jesus reentered Galilee. At Cana He was approached by a royal official whose son was lying sick at Capernaum. In response to his request Jesus cured his son of fever. Since Jesus was at Cana and the boy was lying ill at Capharnaum, the cure was worked at a distance. The power of Jesus, it is clear, is not bound by the limitations of space or time. As a result of this miraculous cure the official and his whole household came to believe in Jesus.
‘TODAY THIS SCRIPTURE HAS BEEN FULFILLED’
The fame of the miracles of Jesus spread throughout Galilee and Jesus was welcomed to preach in the synagogues throughout the region. In the synagogue of Nazareth, His own home town, Jesus spoke to the people of the prophecy made by Isaias: ‘The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me; to bring good news to the poor he has sent me, to proclaim to the captives release and sight to the blind; to set at liberty the oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of recompense.’ After reading this prophecy to the people Jesus said to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (Luke 4:18-19, 21). Since Isaias was referring to the blessings of Messianic times, Jesus was declaring to the people of Nazareth that these blessings were to be found in His own Person.
HE WAS TEACHING AS ONE HAVING AUTHORITY
During this stay in Galilee Jesus seems to have chosen Capharnaum as the centre of His ministry. It is at Capharnaum that the people were astonished at His teaching and recognised that He was teaching as one having authority, and not as the Scribes and Pharisees. It is at Capharnaum that He worked many miracles. There He drove devils from the bodies of many; there He healed the mother-in-law of Simon Peter; there He cured many people afflicted with various diseases. St Matthew tells us that Jesus worked these wonderful cures so that the words of Isaias might be fulfilled: ‘He himself took up our infirmities, and bore the burden of our ills’ (Matthew 8:17).
THE GOOD NEWS OF THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD
The news of His miracles spread abroad throughout Galilee and many people desired to hear Him preach. Jesus satisfied their desires by going in the neighbouring towns and villages to preach the good news of the establishment of the Kingdom of God.
JESUS CALLS THE APOSTLES
It was during one of these preaching journeys that Jesus definitely called four fishermen to be His associates in the work of saving men. At Lake Genesareth He saw Simon and Andrew fishing. They had laboured all night and had caught nothing. Jesus entered their boat and preached to the crowd on the shore. After He had finished He asked Simon to launch into the deep and let down the nets. Simon felt that the effort was useless, but at the words of Jesus he let down the nets. At once they were filled with so great a catch of fish that Simon had to enlist the aid of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, to get all the fish to land. Simon was frightened at the miracle and besought Jesus to leave him, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’ (Luke 5:8). But Jesus instead called Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow Him, saying, ‘Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’ (Matthew 4:19). Immediately they left their boats and followed Jesus. These four fishermen, then, were no longer simply believers in Jesus; they had become, at the call of Jesus Himself, fishers of men, that is, they were to assist Jesus in the work of enrolling men in the Kingdom of God.
THE CLEANSING OF THE LEPER
In some unnamed town in Galilee at the time Jesus worked one of His most marvellous cures. A leper came to Him and said, ‘Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean’ (Luke 5:12). Jesus stretched forth His hand, touched the leper and said, “I will; be thou made clean’ (Luke 5:13). Immediately the leper was cured. Jesus asked him to tell no one of this miracle, but the leper could not contain himself and his joy and wonder. He published abroad the great act of mercy and power extended to himself by Jesus. This increased the fame of Jesus and the admiration of the people for Him.
THE SUSPICION OF THE PHARISEES
The growing fame and popularity of Jesus excited the suspicion of the Pharisees. The Scribes and the Pharisees of Galilee – and even some from Judea and Jerusalem itself – began to observe the activities of Jesus at close hand. It was not long before they found grounds sufficient to their narrow mentalities to object to the words and deeds of Jesus.
‘THY SINS ARE FORGIVEN THEE’
Jesus had returned to Capharnaum after a trip to the neighbouring towns. When the report spread abroad that He was at home, four men brought to Him a paralytic. So great was the crowd gathered to listen to Jesus that they had to lower the sick man down to Jesus through a hole in the roof of the house. Jesus was deeply touched at this manifestation of faith. But, instead of curing the man of his paralysis at once, He said to him, ‘Take courage, son; thy sins are forgiven thee’ (Matthew 9:2).
The Scribes and Pharisees seized upon this as evidence that Jesus was over-reaching Himself. ‘Who is this man who speaks blasphemies?’ they asked. ‘Who can forgive sins, but God only?’ Jesus rose to the challenge. ‘Why are you arguing in your hearts?’ He asked. ‘Which is easier, to say ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee,’ or to say ‘Arise and walk.’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins – he said to the paralytic – I say to thee, arise, take up thy pallet and go into thy house’ (Luke 5:22-24).
The paralytic man arose, took up his pallet and returned to his house. The Scribes and Pharisees were defeated and the crowd glorified God for giving such power to men. The cure of the paralytic proved that Jesus did possess the power He claimed, the power, the divine power to forgive sin.
JESUS IS EATING AND DRINKING WITH SINNERS
This striking manifestation of divine power was not accepted by the Scribes and Pharisees. Their continued their efforts to discredit Jesus in the eyes of the people. The next incident occurred when Jesus chose a publican named Levi to be one of His associates. Levi, or Matthew (as we know Him), was a tax collector. As such he would be unpopular with people generally, and suspected of being dishonest. But when he was called by Jesus, he gave up his position as a publican or tax-collector and followed Jesus. To celebrate his call to enter the Kingdom of God Levi gave a great feast and invited other publicans to attend. The Pharisees protested to the disciples of Jesus, ‘Why do you eat with publicans and sinners?’ (Luke 5:30). Or, as Matthew and Mark tell the story: ‘Why does your master eat and drink with publicans and sinners?’ (Matthew 9:11; Mark 2:16).
THE PHARISEES WERE TRYING TO DISCREDIT JESUS IN THE EYES OF THE PEOPLE
The Pharisees were trying to discredit Jesus by pointing out that He lived familiarly with sinners. The Pharisees themselves would not enter into such contact with men whom they regarded as legally or ritually unclean. Jesus replied to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a physician, but they who are sick. I have not come to call the just, but sinners to repentance’ (Luke 5:31-32).
In these simple words Jesus rebuked the pride and the callousness of the Pharisees. Priding themselves on their own purity because they kept scrupulously the many prescriptions of the law as interpreted by the Scribes, they avoided ordinary men who could not keep the same strict observance. In their minds only they were pleasing to God and the blessings of God were not to be extended to others. To this proud attitude Jesus replies that the blessings of God are to be extended to all. Those who are already truly just do not need Him; hence He has come to call sinners to repentance and, to call them successfully, He will go to them directly.
ONE FASTS TO BE CLOSE TO GOD SPIRITUALLY; IF GOD INCARNATE IS RIGHT IN YOUR MIDST, ONE DOESN’T NEED TO FAST WHILST HE IS THUS AROUND
The Pharisees returned to the attack by pointing out that they and the disciples of John the Baptist observed fasts, whereas the disciples of Jesus did not. If Jesus and His disciples were really good Jews, would not they also fast? Jesus answered them, ‘Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and they will fast. And no one puts a patch of raw cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, for the patch tears away from the garment and a worse rent is made. Nor do people pour new wine into old wine-skins, else the skins burst, and the wine is spilt, and the skins are ruined. But they put new wine into fresh skins, and both are saved’ (Matthew 9:15-17).
THINGS HAVE MOVED ON; GOD’S LAW IS BEING FULFILLED BY JESUS CHRIST INAUGURATING THE KINGDOM OF LOVE
This reply of Jesus was hardly satisfactory to the Pharisees. It implied what they were unwilling to accept: that Jesus was someone extraordinary, someone whose mere presence was an occasion for rejoicing rather than fasting. Now the Pharisees were anxious to show that Jesus was someone ordinary, perhaps someone less than ordinary, someone to be shunned rather than followed, an occasion for fasting rather than joy.
THE DEEPER MEANING
Actually Jesus, in veiled terms, is telling them that He will some day be separated from His disciples, and as a result of this separation a new spirit, a new life, will be given to His followers. When He speaks of the separation of the bridegroom from his wedding guests, Jesus refers to His death on the Cross for the salvation of men. When He speaks of the foolishness of putting a fresh patch on an old garment or of pouring fresh patch on an old garment or of pouring fresh wine into old wine-skins, He alludes to the fact that He will establish a new life in God and a new Law. His disciples must not be asked to observe the old Pharisaic observances.
HEALING ON A SABBATH
The next dispute of the Pharisees with Jesus was concerned with the observance of the Sabbath. In the minds of the Pharisees the Sabbath law was very strict. No work of any kind might be done on the Sabbath. On two occasions Jesus did not seem to observe the law as the Pharisees thought it should be kept. Once the disciples of Jesus picked corn on the Sabbath and ate it. On another occasion Jesus worked a miracle on the Sabbath; He cured a man with a withered hand. Both times the Pharisees objected. On the first occasion Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath’ (Luke 6:5). On the second He said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil? To save a life or to destroy it?’ (Mark 3:4).
THE PHARISEES’ OPPOSITION TO JESUS GREW
These replies infuriated the Pharisees and hardened their opposition to Jesus. As St Matthew tells us, ‘But the Pharisees went out and took counsel against him, how they might do away with him’ (Matthew 12:14). From this time on there is war between the Pharisees and Jesus. They are determined to destroy Him. They see in Him only an enemy of all that they themselves stand for.
The guilt of the Pharisees in rejecting Jesus is something only God can measure. The language of Jesus Himself seems to hint that in His eyes these Pharisees were not guiltless. But, be that as it may, the important thing is to notice that throughout these first encounters with the Pharisees Jesus is manifesting gradually more of His own identity.
JESUS IS REFERRING TO HIS ROLE IN RELATION TO THE WHOLE HUMAN RACE
At least twice He calls Himself Son of Man, thus identifying Himself with the apocalyptic figure spoken of by the prophet Daniel, the Son of Man Who will ultimately come to judge the whole world. He refers to Himself as the ‘bridegroom,’ thus recalling what John the Baptist has already called Him. At the moment the Pharisees probably could not see His deep meaning. But He was referring to His role in relation to the whole human race. He is the bridegroom of all humanity, and through union with Him the bride, all humanity, will be saved. He claims to be the ‘Lord of the Sabbath.’ Now the Sabbath was the Lord’s day, God’s day. By claiming power over the Sabbath Jesus was claiming at least to have some special power from God to do as He pleased with the Sabbath, the day of God. He claimed also to have on earth the power to forgive sins.
What were all these claims, these claims so staggering even to the imagination of religious men such as the Pharisees? Were they blashemies, as the Pharisees decided they were? Or were they sober but stupendous truth? Only the remainder of the story can tell us.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959