14 Jun


About … the month of December, Jesus went to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Feast of the Dedication. While teaching in Solomon’s porch at the Temple, He was asked, ‘How long doest thou keep us in suspense? If thou art the Christ, tell us openly’ (John 10:24). Jesus answered, ‘I tell you and you do not believe. The works that I do in the name of my Father, these bear witness concerning me. But you do not believe because you are not of my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me. And I give them everlasting life, and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch anything out of the hand of my Father. I and the Father are one’ (John 10:25-30).


Jesus does no reply simply, ‘I am the Messias for whom you have been waiting.’ Instead He appeals to His works, that is, His miracles. These are a divine testimony to Himself; they reveal His identity; in them God the Father manifests His Son. But the Jews have not been willing to accept Jesus as their Christ and hence theu have not perceived the inner meaning of His works or His words. Still, as Jesus tells them, the Father has given some the power to believe in Jesus. These are His sheep; they hear His voice and follow Him, and He gives them everlasting life. Nor will anyone be able to take this everlasting life away from them, for the will and the power of God the Father will keep them safe. The same power belongs also to Jesus Himself, for He and the Father are one.


The Jews who were listening to Jesus may not have understood all He said, but this last statement aroused them. While Jesus was distinguishing Himself from His Father, as two distinct Persons, nevertheless He was also claiming unity with the Father as God. While it was probably not clear to the Jews that Jesus was speaking in terms of the doctrine now known as the doctrine of the Trinity, they still saw enough of His meaning to realise that He was claiming an equality with God.

Now the one thing which the Jews had finally learned through their long experience of dealing with Jahweh was the unity or oneness of God. It was also clear to them that Jesus was a Man. They were familiar, too, with the pagan tendency to make men gods. The latter notion, with its overtones of Polytheism and idolatry, was abhorrent to them. They understood Jesus in this sense and took up stones to put Him to death for blasphemy.


To soften their wrath Jesus tried to lead them more gently to an understanding and acceptance of His claim. He pointed out to them that the Israelites had been called ‘gods’ in their own Sacred Books. This was because by their covenant with Jahweh they had become the ‘sons of God.’ Now His thought continues, if they, who are quite ordinary men, men who have never performed the works which Jesus has performed, can with justice be called the ‘sons of God,’ why should they object because Jesus, who performs divine works, calls Himself the ‘Son of God’? This might have seemed to them as if Jesus were watering down His previous claim to equality with God. But when He added, ‘the Father is in me and I in the Father,’ then they realised that He was still making the same claim. They determined to seize Him and, perhaps, deliver Him over to the magistrates on the charge of blasphemy. But Jesus escaped from them.


Thus, once again, the people were given the chance to accept Jesus as the Christ, but they would not. Why did not Jesus reveal Himself to them as clearly as He had already done to His own disciples? Many explanations are possible, and all are perhaps, in their way, true. The people were awaiting the Messias, but they were expecting a political Messias who would lead them to glory against their political enemies. They had not as yet, in any large numbers, heeded the call of Jesus to personal repentance for sin; they had not perceived the spirituality of the kingdom which He had come to establish. If He had said simply that He was the Messias, they might have tried to rise in rebellion against the Roman authorities, trusting in the power of Jesus to lead them to victory. But Jesus, with no intention of leading such a rebellion, refused to give the occasion for such a foolhardy attempt.


Besides, as this incident shows, Jesus was claiming to be not only the Messias but something much higher, something even more mysterious and harder to accept. He was the Messias, but He was also God; distinct from God the Father as His Son, but one with Him in the unity of the Godhead. Jesus wished to be accepted not simply as the Messias but also as God Himself.

If He had acknowledged simply that He was the Messias, perhaps the people, filled with their worldly dreams of political freedom and domination, might have seen in Him no more than a great political and military leader. Jesus refused to foster this spirit of worldliness. Instead He reminded them that He has come to give men, not temporal prosperity but everlasting life, the life which only God could give them. That it was difficult for the Jews to accept His teaching cannot be denied. But the way was open to them. They had seen or heard of the miraculous works of Jesus. These were a divine testimony to the truth of His teachings, of His claims. If they would believe in Him because of His works, then they would lay hold on everlasting life.


After this incident Jesus left Jerusalem and went into Perea. One day, while He was teaching the people, someone asked Him, ‘Lord, are only a few to be saved?’ (Luke 13:23).

Jesus replied, ‘Enter by the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many there are who enter that way. How narrow the gate and close the way that leads to life! And few there are who find it’ (Matthew 7:13-14). The answer of Jesus is figurative. But this much seems evident. Since salvation, or eternal life with God, is the goal of human life, men must find salvation by seeking God instead of the many opportunities for pleasure and happiness in this world. They must enter the narrow road of using the world, not for themselves alone but to find God. This involves the renunciation of the world or detachment from the world for the sake of God.


But the world and the pleasures of the world are like a wide gate and a wide road; their very wideness and apparent spaciousness are appealing. Many men, misled by their broad and gracious vistas, will set out on the road of the world and will mistake this world for God, their true goal. Many therefore will follow the wide path to destruction, and only a few will follow the narrow road to eternal life.


Jesus goes on to speak more particularly of the salvation of the Jews and the Gentiles of the world. The kingdom of heaven is like a house. After a certain number of guests have entered, the master of the house closes the doors. Then others come and demand admittance. But the householder refuses to let them enter. They appeal to him, saying that they have eaten with Him in the past, listened to His teachibg, prophesied in His name, even cast out devils in His name. But the householder replies, ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me all you workers of iniquity’ (Luke 13:27). Through the door (or perhaps a window) those outside can see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and a great company of peoples from the East and the West, from all the nations of the earth, feasting with the householder.


In these words Jesus repeats something He has said before. The Jews, the Chosen People of God, the people among whom Jesus Himself has lived and with whom He has broken bread, will reject Jesus and be cast out of the kingdom of their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But the other nations of the world will accept Jesus and be accepted into the kingdom of heaven.


The Pharisaical opposition to Jesus may not have been so bitter or so strong in Perea as it was in Judea and Galilee. Herod, the ruler of Galilee, heard that Jesus was in Perea, which he also ruled. Fearful that Jesus might, by His preaching there, cause disturbances among the people, and moved perhaps by his superstitious fear that Jesus might be John the Baptist returned to life, Herod determined to put Jesus to death. Some of the Pharisees learning of this came to Jesus and told Him to depart from the land so as to escape the designs of Herod. Or, if their opposition to Jesus was as strong as it was elsewhere, it might be that Herod used them to induce Jesus to leave Perea. At any rate, Jesus, knowing that His mission would come to an end at the moment willed by God, refused to go. ‘Go and say to that fox,’ He said, ‘Behold, I cast out devils and perform cures today and tomorrow and the third day I am to end my course. Nevertheless, I must go my way today and tomorrow and the next day, for it cannot be that a prophet perish outside Jerusalem’ (Luke 13:32-33).

Jesus, then, would continue to teach and work miracles in Perea until it was time to go to Jerusalem to give His life for the fulfilment of God’s plan.


While in Perea the old difficulty with the Pharisees recurred again. One Sabbath day Jesus was dining in the house of one of the Pharisees. A man came who had dropsy. Jesus asked the Pharisees if it were lawful to cure on the Sabbath. When they refused to answer, Jesus cured the man, and then reminded them that even they would go to aid an ass or an ox which might fall into a pit on the Sabbath.

Jesus then proceeded to give practical lessons on the need of humility and selfless love. He had observed how the guests in the house had each striven to sit as near the host as possible, so as to gain greater honour for themselves. He pointed out to them that it was better to seek a place lower down, in fact, the last place. Then they would not be embarrassed if the host were to ask them to give way to some guest more distinguished than themselves. On the other hand if they took the last place, then perhaps the host, recognising their real merits, might ask them to go up higher. In this way Jesus intimated to the Pharisees, who prided themselves on their favour in the sight of God, that God would be more pleased with them if they had a humbler estimate of their own virtues and faithfulness to God.


He was conscious that the Pharisees, because they felt themselves to be loyal and generous to God, expected great rewards from God. Their love of God was not an unselfish love. They loved God because they wished rewards from Him. Jesus attacked this selfishness by telling another parable. When you give a dinner, He said, do not invite only your friends and relatives and the rich of the neighbourhood. When you do only this, then they, because they are rich, will return the invitation and so you will be rewarded. But rather invite those who can give you no return, the poor and the afflicted. Then you will receive a reward at the resurrection of the just.


This led one of the guests to say, ‘Blessed is he who shall feast in the kingdom of God’ (Luke 14:15).

The mention of the Kingdom of God induced Jesus to remind the Pharisees again that they were in danger of being excluded from God’s kingdom. The Pharisees, because they were zealous in the fulfilment of the Law of Moses, were certain that they, above all others, would sit in the Kingdom of God. But they were, as a class, refusing to recognise God’s Anointed One, Jesus. This refusal, if they persisted in it, would lose for them the glory which they expected.

Jesus tells them the parable of the great man who gave a great feast and invited many. But those invited refused to attend. Each one found some worldly excuse for his refusal. The host then sent his servant to bring to the feast the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame, even the poor of the countryside, until all the places at the table were filled. ‘For I tell you,’ he said, ‘that none of those who were invited shall taste my supper’ (Luke 14:24).

The Pharisees expected to sit down in the final Kingdom of God. In this parable Jesus was warning them that their preoccupation with the things of this present life would lead them to refuse God’s invitation. In their place God would fill His kingdom with people whom they themselves despised. God’s plan was not theirs, and God would accomplish His plan in His way, not in their way.


On another occasion Jesus teaches the people what they must do, if they are to enter the Kingdom of God. ‘If anyone,’ He says, ‘comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. And he who does not carry his cross, cannot be my disciple’ (Luke 14:25-27).

Now Jesus does not mean that hatred of one’s relatives and of one’s own life is the key to membership in the Kingdom of God. He means that a man must so love God that he is prepared to give up everything rather than lose God. He must love God so much that he will, if necessary, give up even his life for the sake of God.


Moreover this total dedication to God must persevere throughout life. It must, therefore, be made deliberately, with knowledge of what it entails. The man who dedicates himself to God by following Christ must not be like the builder of the tower who lays the foundation of the tower without knowing how much he will need to finish the whole tower. If he has not estimated how much material he will need, he may find himself forced to stop building before he has completed his work. The follower of Jesus must realise from the beginning that he must be ready to give up everything to follow Jesus. If he sets out to follow Jesus with a divided heart, a heart not totally dedicated to God, he may find that his selfish desires for the passing goods of this world will lead him to desert Jesus before he has reached the goal of the eternal Kingdom of God.


Among those listening to Jesus were many sinners, sinners at least in the eyes of the Pharisees. The latter murmured that Jesus welcomed sinners, as if that were a proof that He Himself could not be good. In reply Jesus told them three parables in which He pointed out that God, in His love for men, rejoiced in the conversion of sinners. Will not the shepherd, He asked them, who has lost one of his sheep, go in search of it and rejoice when he has found it? Will not a woman who has lost one small coin search for it until she has found it, and rejoice when she has recovered it? So also God and the angels rejoice when even one sinner repents.


These two parables are followed by the parable of the Prodigal Son, a tender parable of God’s mercy to the repentant sinner. A father had two sons. The younger son had so ardent a desire to taste the pleasures of the world that he could not wait for his father to die and leave him his inheritance. He asked his father for his share at once. The father granted his request. Then the younger son went to a far country where he squandered his wealth in loose living. He was finally reduced to the lowly task of swineherd and was not even as well fed as the swine he tended. Then he remembered his father’s tender love for him and he resolved to return home and ask forgiveness, even if it meant that his father might make him only a servant in the household. But, on his return, his father welcomed him with open arms, dressed him in the finest clothes and prepared a great feast for him. This made the elder brother, who had remained at home working soberly and industriously, jealous and he refused to attend the feast. But the father said to him, ‘Son, thou art always with me, and all that is mine is thine. But we were bound to make merry and rejoice, for this thy brother was dead, and has come to life; he was lost, and is found’ (Luke 15:31-32).

God’s love for sinners is like the love of the father for his prodigal son. If the son will but turn to God, his Father, in repentance, then God will receive him with open arms and readmit him to the fullness of his Father’s life. The just, who have remained faithful to God, must not be jealous of the salvation of the sinner. God’s wealth is so great that the favours He restores to sinners are not taken away from the just. Rather, the just, because they identify their wills with the will of God, will rejoice at the conversion of every sinner.


About this time Jesus, apparently in the presence of the Pharisees, explained to His disciples how they were to regard the goods of this world, especially money, the symbol of the goods of the world. A certain man, He said, had a steward who squandered his master’s possessions. The master on learning of this asked him to account for his stewardship. The steward, realising that he would lose his high position, and desirous of still living well, sent for all those who owed money to his master and gave them new contracts decreasing the amount of their debts. Thus, when he was discharged by his master, the friends he had gained by lowering their debts received him into their houses.

Jesus does not commend the steward for his unjust actions. But He remarks that the unjust steward, whose sole concern was for money, knew how to deal with others, who were also afflicted only with a love of money, so that he did not lose what he desired. Then Jesus points the lesson. Those who love God must be as wise in their search for God as are those who love money in their search for money. They must be prepared to give up everything else in order to be received into God’s everlasting dwelling.

The reference to money in this parable leads Jesus to an even more important lesson. The good things of this world have been given by God to men to lead them to God. Men are only the stewards of God in the employment and use of the goods of the world. This is especially true of money. Therefore men must use money in such wise that it does not take them away from God. Men cannot serve both God and mammon, that is, they cannot dedicate themselves totally to both or partially to both. They must dedicate themselves only to God. Money they must use in subordination to their dedication to God. If their love for money were to draw them away from God, they would fail to achieve their true destiny, union with God.

This attitude of detachment toward money disturbed the Pharisees. They loved money. They believed that God would give prosperity to the Chosen People, above all to themselves, who were so zealous to observe the Mosaic Law. The words of Jesus displeased them and they began to sneer at them.


Jesus answered them in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man dressed in fine clothes and dined well each day. But Lazarus, the poor man, lived only on crumbs which were thrown away from the table of the rich man. But the rich man was evil, and when he died, he went to hell. Lazarus, on the other hand, was good, and when he died, he was received into Abraham’s bosom. The rich man asked Abraham to allow Lazarus to come down and slake his thirst. Abraham replied that this was now impossible. The rich man asked then that Lazarus might return to life and warn the rich man’s brothers. But Abraham replied that his brothers had the Law of Moses and the Prophets, as he himself had had. If they would not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they would not listen even to a man who had returned from the grave.


In this parable Jesus sought to teach the Pharisees that God’s love and mercy did not depend on wealth. Wealth was not an infallible sign of God’s favour. Nor did God promise His kingdom only to the wealthy. But He rewarded men with eternal life because of their goodness. God’s mercy is extended to all those, whether rich or poor, who repent of their sins and dedicate themselves to God.

Shortly after this Jesus began His last journey to Jerusalem. But, while in Perea, He had given the world the great doctrine of God’s mercy. Men are sinners. They have deserted God for the pleasures and power of this world. But, if they will repent, if they will resolve to use this world only for the love of God, if they will follow Christ wholeheartedly, giving up all rather than lose God, then God will pardon them their sins and receive them once again as His beloved sons.


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