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Category Archives: The salvation history of all men as revealed in the Bible

THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MEN AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: THE RANSOM FOR MANY

The Gospel according to Mark, chapter 10

WHAT MOTIVE COULD EXPLAIN THIS SEEMINGLY FOOLISH RESOLVE?

“Caiphas and the enemies of Jesus had resolved to put Jesus to death. The feast of the Pasch was approaching, and Jesus expected to attend the feast at Jerusalem. To avoid the plot of Caiphas, after restoring life to Lazarus at Bethany, Jesus withdrew to Ephraim, a village twenty miles north of Jerusalem. He remained there until it was time to start the journey to Jerusalem for the Pasch.

When Jesus started on the road to Jerusalem the Apostles were both puzzled and frightened. They knew of the enmity of Caiphas for Jesus; they had taken the sojourn of Jesus at Ephraim to mean that Jesus was seeking to avoid the traps of Caiphas. Now Jesus seemed determined to walk into the clutches of His enemies. What motive could explain this seemingly foolish resolve?

Jesus, knowing their fears, said to them, ‘Behold, we are going to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the Scribes; and they will condemn him to death and will deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and put him to death; and on the third day he will rise again’ (Mark 10:33-34).

THE APOSTLES SEEMED TO HOPE IN A GLORIOUS MESSIAS

Jesus knew that His time had come, the time appointed by His Father for Him to die. He foretold it to His Apostles and disciples. He also told them that He would come back to life again on the third day after His death. Both of these predictions were mystifying to the Apostles. They understood neither of them. Their minds were so filled with visions of Jesus as a glorious, triumphant Messias, that they could not perceive any significance in the picture of a suffering, defeated Messias, even if He were to rise again.

‘YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE ASKING FOR’

That the minds of the Apostles were blinded by their own hopes for a glorious Messias is shown by the incident which immediately followed the prediction of the death of Jesus. The mother of the two sons of Zebedee, John and James, came to Jesus and asked Him, ‘Command that these, my two sons may sit, one at Thy right hand, and one at Thy left hand, in Thy kingdom.’ Jesus, addressing John and James, said, ‘You do not know what you are asking for. Can you drink of the cup of which I drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I am to be baptised?’ Believing that Jesus would lead them to a glorious triumph, the sons of Zebedee answered, ‘We can’ (Mark 10: 35-40; Matthew 20:23).

Jesus knew that they misunderstood Him. They had not seen that Jesus was to enter His own glory only after passing through death. Hence He asked them if they were ready to drink of the chalice which He Himself had to drink, that is, the cup of misfortune and death. Even though they did not understand, their loyalty to Jesus remained firm and they answered that they were ready to drink the same cup. Jesus then told them, ‘Of my cup you shall indeed drink; but as for sitting at my right hand and at my left, that is not mine to give you, but it belongs to those for whom it has been prepared by my Father’ (Matthew 20:23).

The other Apostles who had followed the conversation became indignant at the ambition of the two brothers. Jesus took the occasion to enlighten all the Apostles on the true nature of His mission. ‘You know,’ He said to them, ‘that the rulers of the Gentiles lord over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. Not so is it among you. On the contrary, whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; even as the Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matthew 20:25-28).

THE PRICE TO BE PAID TO GOD FOR THE RESTORATION OF DIVINE LIFE TO MEN, THE SALVATION OF MEN

In these words Jesus gently rebuked all the Apostles for their worldly dreams of power. If they were to be His faithful disciples, they must not seek to lord it over their fellowmen, but rather to serve them. Jesus Himself has not come into this world to rule an earthly kingdom, but rather to serve mankind. In fact, He is to give up His life as a ransom for all men. Jesus had already predicted His death three times, the last time just before the ambitious request of the sons of Zebedee. Now, for the first time, He says clearly that His suffering and death will be offered as a ransom for men. He had already hinted at this aspect of His death when He compared Himself to a Good Shepherd and said that the Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. A ransom is the price paid to liberate someone, and the Good Shepherd lays down His life to save the lives of His sheep. Jesus, therefore, is saying that His life is the price which will be paid for the salvation of men. It is the price to be paid to God for the restoration of divine life to men, the salvation of men, the establishment of the Kingdom of God among men.

‘LORD, SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON US’

The Apostles probably did not understand the words of Jesus, but they followed Him on His way to Jerusalem. As they drew near to Jericho, they were met by two blind men. When the blind men heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth who was passing by, they cried out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us.’ Though some would have prevented them from disturbing Jesus, He commanded that they be brought to Him. He asked them what they wished of Him. When they asked Him to restore their sight, Jesus, moved by compassion, touched their eyes, and immediately their sight was given to them.

Shortly afterwards, as they were passing through Jericho, a great crowd filled the street to see Jesus. One of the townspeople, a certain Zacchaeus, a rich publican, climbed a sycamore tree to be able to see Jesus. Now publicans, tax gatherers, were regarded by the people as sinners, as extortioners. It was therefore surprising to the crowd when Jesus, seeing Zacchaeus in the tree, called to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay in thy house today’ (Luke 19:5). Zacchaeus, sinner that he was, was overjoyed at the thought that the Wonderworker, Jesus of Nazareth, condescended to accept the hospitality of his house. But some of the people, probably those opposed to Jesus, murmured that Jesus did not hesitate to be the guest of a sinner. This gesture of Jesus, however, moved Zacchaeus to repentance, and he said, ‘Behold, Lord, I give one half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold’ (Luke 19:8).

THE PARABLE OF THE TALENTS

Tax gatherers, publicans, worked for the Roman authorities, gathering taxes for them. For that reason, they appeared to the people as traitors of Israel. The gesture of Zacchaeus in returning the monies he had gained by his trade showed his sincere repentance. Jesus recognised this and said, ‘Today salvation has come to this house since he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost’ (Luke 19:9-10).

In these last words Jesus repeats the lesson He had already given His Apostles. He has come, not to establish an earthly kingdom but to save the souls of sinners. He will give His life for the salvation of men.

Either during or after the meal in the house of Zacchaeus, Jesus told the parable of the talents or the gold pieces. The people were looking on Jesus as a political Messias, who would restore the kingdom of Israel. Jesus knew that their hopes would be disappointed when He died an ignominious death at Jerusalem. He tried, in this parable, to correct their false hopes and lead them to a better hope.

A nobleman, He told them, went to a far country to obtain a kingdom for himself. This would probably recall to the people the history of Herod, who went to Rome to obtain from the Romans the title of King of Judea. The nobleman, before leaving, sent for his servants and gave each of them some gold pieces which they were to use to gain profit for their master. But his enemies sent a delegation after him that they did not desire him to be their king. On his return as king he sent for his servants and demanded an accounting of the gold pieces. One servant had gained ten gold pieces, another five. He rewarded them by giving them positions of power and influence. But one of the servants had been afraid to hazard the piece given him, and so he returned only this piece, without any interest whatsoever. The king took even this piece away from him because he had been a useless servant. The citizens who had opposed him he put to death.

THE MEANING

In this parable Jesus was trying to describe the relations between Himself and His own people. He was the Messias, seeking to establish His own kingdom in the world. But he was to do so only by dying, by leaving His people for a time. In His absence His enemies will work to keep His kingdom from Him. But He gives His Apostles and disciples gold pieces, the means of building up His kingdom for Him. They must work for Him, even in His absence, to build up His kingdom. Even though He Himself is absent from them, they must persevere in His interests with hope and courage.

THE OINTMENT OF GREAT VALUE

After this warning Jesus continued on His journey to Jerusalem. Six days before the Pasch Jesus arrived in Bethany. Here He met Simon the Leper, Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. While they were reclining at table, Mary took a pound of ointment, spikenard, an ointment of great value. She anointed the head of Jesus with the spikenard, and then, since there was some left over, she anointed His feet also. Judas Iscariot, one of the Apostles, the treasurer of the band of Apostles, objected to this waste. The ointment, he claimed, could have been sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor.

St John tells us that Judas said this, not because he had any great love for the poor but rather because he was avaricious and sought money for himself. It is possible that Judas, of all the Apostles, was the most interested in the establishment by Jesus of an earthly kingdom, a kingdom in which Judas himself would become rich and powerful. He may, at this time, have become discouraged at the refusal of Jesus to seek to establish such a kingdom. In such case the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, the stronghold of His enemies, would have seemed to Judas to be madness, and so he was already prepared to betray the ‘madman’ who disappointed his hopes.”

– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

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THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MEN AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: THE LORD OF LIFE

THE TEN LEPERS

“While Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem, He entered a certain village and ten lepers called out to Him, ‘Jesus, master, have pity on us’ (Luke 17:13). Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests. While they were on their way to the priests, they were cured of their leprosy. Only one of them was grateful enough to return to Jesus to thank Him, and this one was a Samaritan.

WHEN IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD COMING?

As He was on His way to Jerusalem, the Pharisees came once again to try Him. They asked Him, ‘When is the kingdom of God coming?’ (Luke 17:20). Since Jesus had been preaching the arrival of the kingdom for some time, it is clear that the Pharisees were expecting something more striking than Jesus had already manifested. His works, His miracles were not apparently enough for them. No doubt they were expecting some great cosmic phenomena to manifest the tremendous power of God, or perhaps some great divine sign against the Romans, their oppressors.

SOME GREAT COSMIC PHENOMENA?

Jesus, knowing their desire for some external manifestation of divine power against the Romans, said to them, ‘The kingdom of God comes unawares. Neither will they say, ‘Behold, here it is,’ or ‘Behold, there it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17: 20-21). The meaning of Jesus is clear. The Pharisees were expecting the kingdom to begin with the liberation of the Jews from the domination of the Romans. This would demand some triumphant victory of the Jews over the Romans. The power of God would be manifested on the side of His Chosen People. The might of God would cast down into the dust the might of the greatest empire the world had ever known. But Jesus had not come to establish a world empire. So He told the Pharisees that the Kingdom of God had already come; it had come without the pomp and eclat of an earthly kingdom. It had already come; it was being established in their midst. But it had come quietly, for it was not to be a great political kingdom; it was meant to rule the hearts and souls of men, and it had already begun in the hearts of those who had given their allegiance to Jesus.

HE WOULD COME AGAIN SUDDENLY, IN POWER AND IN GLORY

This thought of the modest beginnings of His kingdom gave way in the mind of Jesus to the thought of His final coming at the end of the world to judge all men. “The days will come,’ He said, ‘when you will long to see one day of the Son of Man, and will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Behold, here he is; behold, there he is.’ Do not go, nor follow after them. For as the lightning when it lightens flashes from one end of the sky to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation’ (Luke 17:22-25).

These words Jesus addressed to His own disciples. He had come to men now in humility, but He would come again at the end of the world; He would come suddenly, in power and glory. Though men would be watching for His coming and pretending to find Him, He would come unexpectedly, swiftly, at a moment when they did not expect Him.

MANY WILL BE UNPREPARED FOR HIS SECOND COMING

The heart of Jesus is not entirely joyful at the thought of His triumph at the end of the world. He warns His disciples that many will be unprepared for His coming and will be lost. Just as no one heeded the warnings of Noe [Noah]; just as people went on wining and dining and sinning right up to the moment of the flood which destroyed them, so also will men be up to the moment when Jesus comes to judge them. At the end, then, many will still be forgetful of the Kingdom of God and so will be lost.

PERSISTING IN PRAYER TO GOD

Jesus then tells a parable to encourage His disciples to remain steadfast in their allegiance to Him and to His kingdom. A poor widow sought justice from an unjust judge. For a while he refused to render a verdict in her favour. But she persisted in coming to him. Finally, worn out by her pleas, the judge gave her a favourable verdict. The widow’s persistence had finally won justice. So also the disciples of Jesus must persist in prayer to God. If they do, their faith will triumph in the end. Then the eyes of Jesus turn once again to the end of the world and He remarks sadly, ‘Yet when the Son of Man comes, will he find, do you think, faith on the earth?’ (Luke 18:8). Jesus knows that not all men will become His faithful disciples, not all men will enter His kingdom. And perhaps at the end His followers will be only a few among the many.

LORD, HAVE MERCY ON ME, A SINNER

On this same journey Jesus told also the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. Both went into the Temple to pray. The Pharisee took pride in his own virtue and, in his prayer, called God’s attention to the fact that he was not like other men a sinner. The publican, on the other hand, stood afar off, struck his breast in repentance and asked God to be merciful to a sinner. Jesus then pointed out that the humility of the publican was more pleasing to God than the pride and complacency of the Pharisee.

WHAT GOD HAS JOINED TOGETHER, LET NO MAN PUT ASUNDER

It was during this same journey to Jerusalem that Jesus gave His position on the questions of separation of spouses and divorce. The Pharisees asked Him directly if it were ever lawful for a man to separate from his wife. First of all Jesus laid down the law of the indissolubility of the marriage bond: ‘What God has joined together, let no man put asunder’ (Matthew 19:6). When the Pharisees objected that Moses had allowed the separation and divorce of spouses, Jesus replied that while it might be allowed to separate from a wife who was unfaithful, this separation did not dissolve the marriage bond, and neither the man nor the wife were allowed to remarry while the other spouse was alive. ‘Whosoever puts away his wife, except for immorality, and marries another, commits adultery’ (Matthew 19:9).

DON’T HINDER LITTLE CHILDREN TO COME TO ME

On another occasion the people were bringing their children to Jesus so that He might touch them. The disciples, probably afraid that Jesus might be wearied by this, sought to prevent the parents from so acting. But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for of such is the kingdom of God. Amen I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God as a little child will not enter into it’ (Luke 18:16-17). Men must not approach the Kingdom of God filled with pride in themselves, but rather as little children, innocent and humble, seeking only to receive the riches of eternal life.

THE RICH YOUNG MAN

Soon after, a rich young man, attracted to Jesus, came to Him and asked, ‘Good Master, what shall I do to gain eternal life?’ Jesus told him that he must keep the commandments of God. The young man replied that he had done this all his life. Perceiving his good will, Jesus then said, ‘One thing is still lacking to thee; sell all that thou hast, and give it to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me’ (Luke 28:22). Jesus was giving this young man the chance to practise heroic virtue. He was even offering him the chance to become a favoured disciple. But the young man could not find it in his heart to part with his possessions, and so he left Jesus.

IT IS EASIER FOR A CAMEL TO PASS THROUGH THE EYE OF A NEEDLE…

This young man’s attachment to his wealth led Jesus to remark how difficult it was for the rich to love God wholeheartedly. ‘With what difficulty will they who have riches enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’ (Luke 18:24-25). The disciples were astonished at His words. ‘Who then can be saved?’ the asked. But Jesus told them that God could save even the rich: ‘Things that are impossible with men are possible with God’ (Luke 18:27).

MANY WHO ARE FIRST NOW WILL BE LAST

This led Peter to say hopefully, ‘Behold, we have left all and followed thee’ (Luke 18:28). Jesus rewarded his hope. ‘Amen I say to you, there is no one who has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or lands, for my sake and for the gospel’s sake, who shall not receive now in the present time a hundredfold as much, houses, and brothers, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands – along with persecutions, and in the age to come life everlasting. But many who are first now will be last, and many who are last now will be first’ (Mark 10:29-31).

Jesus promised that those who loved Him would be taken care of in this world and, even more, they would receive life everlasting. But they would also be despised in this world and suffer persecution. But, at the end, those who had persecuted them and looked down upon them would be last, and the followers of Jesus would take the first places.

THE PARABLE OF THE LABOURERS IN THE VINEYARD

Then, and perhaps to emphasise the gratuitousness of God’s gifts to men, Jesus told the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. The owner of a vineyard hires labourers at the beginning of the day to work in his vineyard. Then about nine o’clock, again at noon and three, and just before evening he hired others to work also. He agreed to pay all a penny for their work. When the day was over he paid all the penny agreed upon. But those who had come early complained that they did not receive more than those who had come late. The owner of the vineyard told them that he had treated all with justice, for he had given all the sum agreed upon. If he chose to give the same sum to those who had worked less, that was due, not to injustice, but to his generosity. ‘Have I not a right to do what I choose?’ he asks. ‘Or art thou envious because I am generous?’ (Matthew 20:15)

God is not unjust to anyone, Jesus was saying. But His mercy to men was a free gift on His part. And in the mystery of His mercy He might give life everlasting even to those who had turned to Him only at the end of their lives. This should not cause those who had laboured long for life everlasting to complain. In fact, their complaints might show that they were less worthy of the divine mercy themselves. Hence Jesus concludes, ‘Even so the last shall be first, and the first last; for many are called, but few are chosen’ (Matthew 20:16).

THROUGH IT THE SON OF MAN MAY BE GLORIFIED

When Jesus was about a day’s journey from the village of Bethany, word was brought to Him from Mary and Martha in Bethany that their brother Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, was sick. Jesus loved Lazarus. But He did not hasten to Bethany to take care of him. ‘This sickness,’ He said, ‘is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that through it the Son of God may be glorified’ (John 11:4). Jesus waited two days and then said to His disciples, ‘Let us go again into Judea’ (John 11:7).

TOO DANGEROUS TO GO?

The disciples objected to His going because opposition to Him was strong in Judea. But Jesus, knowing that His hour was not yet come, insisted on going to aid Lazarus. ‘Lazarus, our friend, sleeps,’ He said, ‘but I go that I may wake him from sleep’ (John 11:11). Taking His words literally the disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will be safe’ (John 11:12). Jesus then informed them that Lazarus was, in fact, dead. Thomas, the Apostle, seeing that Jesus was determined to go, said to the others, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’ At this moment Thomas was ready to die with Jesus at the hands of the enemies of Jesus.

LAZARUS HAD ALREADY BEEN BURIED FOR FOUR DAYS

When Jesus arrived at Bethany Lazarus had already been buried for four days. Martha, on hearing of His coming, went to meet Him. ‘Lord,’ she said to Him, ‘if thou hadst been here my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever thou shalt ask of God, God will give it to thee’ (John 11:21-22). Jesus said to her, ‘Thy brother shall rise.’ Martha replied, ‘I know that he will rise at the resurrection, on the last day.’ Then Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, even if he die, shall live; and whoever lives and believes in me, shall never die. Dost thou believe this?’ And Martha said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, who hast come into the world (John 11:23-27).

Then Martha went to summon Mary. Some of the village dwellers followed Martha and Mary out to Jesus. Martha and Mary took Jesus to the tomb where Lazarus was buried. Some of the villagers murmured, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that this man should not die?’ (John 11:37).

LAZARUS, COME FORTH!

At the tomb Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, fearing the odour of the decaying body, said, ‘Lord, by this time he is already decayed, for he is dead four days.’ Jesus said, ‘Have I not told thee that if thou believe thou shalt behold the glory of God?’ The stone was then removed from the mouth of the tomb. Jesus raised His eyes to heaven and said, ‘Father, I give thee thanks that thou always hearest me; but because of the people who stand round, I spoke, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.’ After saying this, He cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ And at once Lazarus, who had been dead, came out of the tomb, still bound hands and feet in the burial bandages. Jesus commanded the bystanders to remove the bindings.

BY HIS APPREARANCE THERE HE WAS COURTING DESTRUCTION

The resurrection of Lazarus is one of the greatest of the miracles worked by Jesus. It is the third resurrection brought about by the power of Jesus. He had already restored life to the son of the widow at Naim and to the daughter of Jairus. In all three of these miracles Jesus had showed Himself to be the Lord of life. He proved the truth of His words, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ But, in the story of the resurrection, as told by John, there seems to be apparent an atmosphere of greater urgency and appeal than in the other miracles of Jesus. Jesus, against the urgings of His disciples, has come into Judea, the stronghold of His enemies. By His appearance there He was courting destruction. Yet He had insisted upon coming. It is as if He knew that His time was short, drawing rapidly to a close. He would, therefore, work a great miracle, right in the midst of those who were refusing to accept Him. It would be a strong appeal for their acceptance, one more effort to gain their good will.

That Jesus meant this miracle to be one of great importance in His mission is shown by His behaviour. He refuses to go at once to the aid of Lazarus because He knows that God wishes to manifest His glory through the resurrection of Lazarus. He realises that He Himself will be glorified by this miracle. He waits until Lazarus has been dead for some days before He goes to Bethany. Before working the miracle He demands from the sisters of Lazarus a confession of faith in Himself. And Martha acknowledges Him as the Messias, in fact, as the Son of God. Again, before working the miracle, Jesus says that it will happen, it will come to pass through the power of God so that men may believe that He has been sent by God, has come from God. And, lest there be any doubt about the reality of the resurrection, He commands that some of the bystanders unbind the risen Lazarus. He wished all to be convinced of the fact that He was the Lord of life, the giver of life.

JESUS HAD ASKED MEN TO ACCEPT HIM AS THE GIVER OF LIFE

Jesus had come into the world to give men eternal life, eternal life in the Kingdom of God. This was God’s greatest boon to mankind. He had asked men to accept Him as the giver of this life, the Anointed One of God, the Messias for whom they were waiting. He had worked miracles to prove His claim, to gain their faith. Some had followed Him. But many had rejected Him, and among these were the leaders of the people, the priests, the Scribes and the Pharisees. Now, in the resurrection of Lazarus, He would give them an unmistakable proof of His power and of His identity. By raising Lazarus back to life, Jesus showed Himself clearly to be the Messias, to be even more, the very Son of God, the Lord of life. By restoring to Lazarus the life of His body, Jesus showed Himself to be the Lord of eternal life. Those who accepted Him as such, would live forever in the Kingdom of God, and on the last day they would rise even in the body.

THEY RESOLVED TO PUT JESUS TO DEATH

That the resurrection of Lazarus was a decisive moment in the earthly life of Jesus is shown by its effects. Some of those who witnessed it believed in Him. But others, still opposed to Him, went to the Pharisees and reported His success to them. The priests and the Pharisees, instead of being convinced of His claims, called a council to decide what to do about Him. They refused to accept Him as the Messias, and so they could see in Him only a threat to their own power and position. They forgot that Jesus was not interested in an earthly kingdom. They feared that He might lead a rebellion against the Romans and so bring down on them the wrath of the Romans. Caiphas, the high priest that year, remarked cynically, ‘it is expedient for us that one man die for the people, instead of the whole nation perishing’ (John 11:50). The council of the Jews thereupon resolved to put Jesus to death.

GOD WAS USING HIS PLANS TO BRING ABOUT THE TRIUMPH OF JESUS

Although Caiphas was seeking his own ends in this decision, his words, in God’s sight, had a prophetic import. Caiphas was saying that it was better to put Jesus to death before a rebellion against the Romans broke out, so that the nation, and especially its ruling classes, should not suffer. But, as St John remarks, Caiphas was an unwitting prophet in the hands of God, for Jesus was to die not only to save His own nation but so that He might gather into one all the children of God throughout the world (John 11:51-52). Caiphas thought that he was planning the death of Jesus, but God was using his plans to bring about the triumph of Jesus.”

– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

 

 

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OUR LORD JESUS’ COMING WILL BE AS QUICK AND AS SUDDEN AS LIGHTNING

THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM AND THE END OF THE WORLD

“In great sorrow Jesus brought His public preaching to a close with a solemn warning of destruction to Jerusalem. Then He sat down opposite the Temple treasury and watched the people offering their gifts to the Temple. He observed the splendid gifts of the rich. But he also observed a poor widow putting in two mites, a small sum, but all she had to live on. He called this to the attention of His disciples.

‘Amen I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who have been putting money into the treasury. For they have all been putting money in out of their abundance; but she out of her want has put in all that she had – all that she had to live on’ (Mark 12:43-44).

JESUS CHRIST’S OWN PEOPLE WILL REJECT HIM

This little incident is both a solace to Jesus and a lesson to His disciples. Jesus has come from heaven to offer men the precious gift of salvation, to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. But the Scribes and the Pharisees have rejected Him. Under their leadership His own people will reject Him and demand His death. Their unwillingness to receive Him shows, on their part, a lack of total dedication to the love of God. When Jesus sees the poor widow giving all that she has to the Temple, His heart rejoices at this example of total love of God. In pointing it out to His disciples He means to tell them once again that it is the spirit which inspires a gift that makes it valuable in the eyes of God. The rich gifts offered by the wealthy were praiseworthy. But since they were only a small part of the abundance of the wealthy, they did not symbolise so well the total gift of one’s self which God demands of every man. But by giving all that she possessed the widow showed in fact that she was totally dedicated to God.

‘THERE WILL NOT BE LEFT ONE STONE UPON ANOTHER’

After this incident Jesus and His disciples remembered His warning of the approaching doom of Jerusalem. They could not help but contrast the beauty and the solidity of the stone walls of the Temple with the sad forecast of the ruin of the Holy City. One of them said to Jesus,

‘Master, look, what wonderful stones and buildings!’ Jesus replied, ‘Dost thou see all these great buildings? There will not be left one stone upon another that will not be thrown down’ (Mark 13:1-2).

Jesus and the band of disciples went then to the Mount of Olives. There the curiosity of the disciples could no longer be restrained. Peter, James, John and Andrew asked Him, ‘Tell us, when are these things to happen, and what will be the sign when all these things will begin to come to pass?’ (Mark 13:4).

DID JESUS MEAN TO CONVEY THAT THE END OF THE WORLD WAS COMING SOON?

In the minds of the disciples there must have been great confusion. They had accepted Jesus as the Messias. Since they were Jews it was natural for them to expect the Messias to bring great glory to the Chosen People and to Jerusalem, the Holy City of God. But Jesus had just told them that Jerusalem would be left desolate and the great Temple, the centre of worship of Jahweh, would be destroyed. Perhaps they thought also that the destruction of the Temple would occur only when the Son of Man (spoken of by the prophet Daniel) came in glory to establish the final Kingdom of God at the end of the world. Of what then could Jesus be speaking? Did He mean that the end of the world was coming soon and that then His own glory would be manifested to all men?

WOULD THE GLORY OF THE SON OF MAN BE MANIFESTED TO ALL MEN SHORTLY?

Jesus, in replying to their question, spoke of both the destruction of Jerusalem and of the end of the world. But He distinguished the two events. They were not to be simultaneous, but rather separated by some interval of time. The destruction of Jerusalem would come during the lifetime of the generation of men who had listened to Jesus Himself. But the end of the world would come later, at a time determined by God the Father. When this time might be was not permitted to men to know. But it would be preceded by signs which would warn the followers of Jesus of its approach.

THE FOLLOWING THINGS TOOK PLACE BEFORE THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM IN THE YEAR 70 A.D.:

As for the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus first warned His disciples to beware of false Christs, men who would claim to be the Messias. These false Christs would only lead the people astray. There would be wars, and rumours of wars, He told them, pestilences, famine and earthquakes. The He added, ‘And when you see the abomination of desolation, standing where it ought not – let him who reads understand – then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; and let him who is on the housetop not go down and enter to take anything from his house; and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. But woe to those who are with child, or have infants at the breast in those days! But pray that these things may not happen in winter’ (Mark 13:14-18).

All these things took place before the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 A.D. False Messiases arose and led the people into revolt against the authority of Rome. Jerusalem was besieged. Its people suffered from famine and pestilence.

As for the disciples themselves, Jesus told them, ‘But be on your guard. For they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, a witness to them’ (Mark 13:9).

THE APOSTLES WERE NOT TO BE AFRAID

When this persecution came upon the disciples they were not to be afraid. ‘And when they lead you away to deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to speak; but speak whatever is given you in that hour. For it is not you who are speaking, but the Holy Spirit… And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake; but he who perseveres to the end will be saved’ (Mark 13:11-13).

The disciples of Jesus are urged by Him to face persecution without fear. They will be working for God, for ‘the gospel must first be preached to all nations’ (Mark 13:10).

JERUSALEM WAS ENCIRCLED BY VESPASIAN’S AND TITUS’ TROOPS

God Himself, therefore, will speak through them, and if they persevere they will be saved.

That the first Christian community took His warning seriously is proved by the fact that the Christians there fled to Pella just before the encirclement of the city by the troops of Vespasian and Titus.

THE ANGELS WILL GATHER HIS ELECT FROM THE FOUR WINDS

The mind of Jesus then turned to the thought of the end of the world. With prophetic insight He foresaw the signs which would precede His coming as the Son of Man in power and majesty to judge the world. ‘Then,’ He said, ‘there will be great tribulation, such as has not been found from the beginning of the world until now, nor will be. And unless those days had been shortened, no living creature would have been saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. Then, if anyone say to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or, ‘There He is,’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told it to you beforehand. If therefore they say to you, ‘Behold, he is in the desert,’ do not go forth; ‘Behold, he is in the inner chambers,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes forth from the east and shines even to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together. But immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then will all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with great power and majesty. And he will send forth his angels with a trumpet and a great sound, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other’ (Matthew 24:21-31).

‘BUT OF THAT DAY OR HOUR NO ONE KNOWS… BUT THE FATHER ONLY’

Before the world comes to an end, then, a number of false Christs will appear, seeking to lead men astray. So powerful will be the forces of evil that even the elect would be led astray except that God will shorten the time so that they may be saved. Just when the end will come Jesus does not say.

‘But of that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only’ (Mark 13:32).

Jesus does not mean that as the Son of God He is Himself ignorant of the day when the world will end. He means that this is knowledge which God the Father does not allow to angels or men, but reserves for God alone. Jesus, as the Son of God, knows the day and the hour, but as the Messias He will not reveal it to men.

OUR LORD JESUS’ COMING WILL BE AS QUICK AND AS SUDDEN AS LIGHTNING

The destruction of Jerusalem, as Jesus foretold it, would not be sudden, its approach would not be unrecognisable. Men would have an opportunity to flee from the city and escape its fate. But the end of the world would come suddenly and men will find no chance to escape.

Neither will they be able to recognise its approach clearly.

‘And as it was in the days of Noe [Noah], even so will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noe entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and swept them all away; even so will the coming of the Son of Man be’ (Matthew 24:37-39). Or, as Jesus had already said, His coming will be as quick as sudden as a bolt of lightning searing the sky from east to west.

‘TAKE HEED, WATCH AND PRAY’

Because of the uncertainty of the time of the end of the world Jesus warns His disciples to be ready at every moment for that final catastrophe. ‘Take heed, watch and pray, for you do not know when the time is’ (Mark 13:33).

In several parables Jesus emphasised the necessity of being prepared for the coming of the Son of Man to judge the world. ‘As a man,’ He said, ‘when he leaves home to journey abroad, puts his servants in charge, to each his work, and gives orders to the porter to keep watch. Watch, therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or early in the morning; lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping’ (Mark 13:34-36).

Or again, ‘Watch, therefore, for you do not know at what hour your Lord is to come. But of this be assured, that if the householder had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would certainly have watched, and not have let his house be broken into. Therefore, you also must be ready, because at an hour that you do not expect, the Son of Man will come’ (Matthew 24:42-44).

Or, ‘Who, dost thou think, is the faithful and prudent servant whom his master has set over his household to give them their food in due time? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, shall find doing so. Amen I say to you, he will set him over all his goods. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master delays his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day he does not expect, and in an hour he does not know, and will cut him asunder and make him share the lot of the hypocrites. There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth’ (Matthew 24:45-51).

THE WISE AND THE FOOLISH VIRGINS

Lastly Jesus made the same point in the parable of the wise and the foolish virgins. Ten virgins went out joyfully to attend a wedding. They carried lamps to light their way. Five were wise and carried also some vessels of oil to replenish their lamps if it became necessary. But five were foolish and carried no extra supply. The coming of the bridegroom was delayed. The virgins fell asleep. When the bridegroom came they arose and prepared to attend the marriage feast. But the lamps of the foolish virgins had gone out and so they were late in arriving at the feast. The door was shut. The bridegroom, not knowing them, refused to let them in.

…TO MEET JUDGMENT UNAFRAID

In all these parables Jesus was emphasising the point that His disciples should be prepared always to meet judgment at the hands of the Son of Man. ‘Watch, then, praying at all times, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that are to be, and to stand before the Son of Man’ (Luke 21:36).

No man may know when the end of the world will be. But all men must be prepared to meet it at any moment. They must watch and pray so that they meet judgment unafraid.

‘HE WILL COME AGAIN IN GLORY TO JUDGE THE LIVING AND THE DEAD’

This thought of the end of the world and of the second coming of the Son of Man is followed quite naturally in the discourse of Jesus by a description of the judgment of men at the end of time. ‘But when the Son of Man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory and before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and he will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; naked and you covered me; sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the just will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and feed thee; or thirsty, and give thee drink? And when did we see thee sick, or in prison, and come to thee?’ And answering the king will say to them, ‘Amen I say to you, as long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it for me.’

Then he will say to those on his left hand, ‘Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you did not give me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take me in; naked, and you did not clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Amen I say to you, as long as you did not do it for one of these least ones, you did not do it for me.’ And these will go into everlasting punishment, but the just into everlasting life’ (Matthew 25:31-46).

THE JUDGMENT WILL BE BASED ON THE LAW OF UNCONDITIONAL LOVE

As the Son of Man, the apocalyptic figure spoken of by the prophet Daniel, Jesus will come at the end of the world to judge all men. His judgment will be based on the law of love which He so often preached to men. Those who have loved their fellowmen enough to aid them in their need will be given eternal life with God. Those who have not followed this law of love will be punished eternally in the fire of hell prepared for the devil and his angels. At the moment of judgment the secret of all history will be revealed.

THE SECRET OF ALL HISTORY WILL BE REVEALED

Jesus does not tell us the full nature of this secret. But He tells us enough for us to know that it flows in some mysterious way from the free wills of God, the angels and men. In the transcendent freedom of His will God has loved the universe enough to give it being, existence. And He has given it existence for the sake of His elect, angels and men whom He will gather from every corner of the universe to share His Kingdom with Him. The elect are those who live by the law of love, love of God and love of one another. Their love is the free choice of their own wills, echoing generously the creative act of God’s free decision to make the world. But some angels, and some men, will freely choose not to imitate the divine love; they will refuse to love [unconditionally], and in their refusal they will reject both God and all others. They will be punished by their own refusal; having rejected [unconditional] love, the secret of the universe, they must live forever in the self-corrosion of hate.

TO LOVE ANYONE IS TO LOVE HIM WHO IS THE BROTHER OF ALL

The disciples of Jesus might have wondered that Jesus mentioned only love of men as the basis for the final judgment of all men. Surely, they might have thought, men should be judged on the basis of their love for God. But Jesus had already taught them that it was God’s will that they should love all men as they loved themselves. In so doing they would be loving God Himself.

And in Jesus Himself there is an ever deeper reason why this is true. Jesus is God Himself come to earth, God-made-man. By taking to Himself a human nature, the Son of God has become the neighbour, in fact, the brother of all mankind. By His own free decision He has identified Himself with all men. To love anyone, therefore, is to love Him, Who is the brother of all. And to love Him is to love not just a man but God Himself.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

“A BAND OF FAITHFUL FOLLOWERS

For some time Jesus had been instructing His Apostles and disciples, seeking to lead them to a proper understanding of His own identity and of the nature of His mission and kingdom. Although His compassionate heart had induced Him to heal the sick when the occasion presented itself, still for the most part He had been living in Galilee as quietly as possible. Knowing already that His people, as a whole, were to reject Him, He had been content to spend His chief effort in the task of building up for Himself a band of faithful followers.

‘NO ONE DOES A THING IN SECRET IF HE WANTS TO BE PUBLICLY KNOWN’

But the Feast of Tabernacles was approaching and many pious Jews were going to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. Some of the relatives of Jesus – cousins perhaps – urged him to go to Jerusalem. Having seen or heard of His miracles, they were in some doubt about His true identity. Perhaps He was the Messias, they reasoned, but if He were, He should go up to Jerusalem, the very centre of Judaism, and there make some magnificent display of His power and so draw men to Himself.

‘Leave here,’ they said to Him, ‘and go into Judea that Thy disciples also may see the works that Thou dost; for no one does a thing in secret if he wants to be publicly known. If thou dost these things, manifest thyself to the world.’ (John 7:3-4)

This reasoned request shows that even some of the relatives of Jesus had no true understanding of His mission in this world. They were somewhat impressed by the magnificence of His powers, but they failed to grasp the meaning of His doctrine of repentance and of the spiritual nature of His kingdom.

JESUS REFUSED TO CATER TO THIS MISUNDERSTANDING OF HIS ROLE IN HUMAN HISTORY

Jesus refused to cater to this misunderstanding of His role in human history.

‘My time has not yet come,’ He replied to His relatives, ‘but your time is always at hand. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I bear witness concerning it, that its works are evil. As for you, go up to the feast, but I do not go up to this feast, for my time is not yet fulfilled’ (John 7:6-8).

He did not mean that He would not go to Jerusalem for the feast. He meant that He would not go up to Jerusalem in the manner requested by them. He would not go up to Jerusalem to score a political triumph or start a political movement to make the Jews a great nation politically. But He did go to Jerusalem privately, in His own way, to proclaim once again His message of deliverance from sin.

HIS MESSAGE OF DELIVERANCE FROM SIN

His appearance at the feast did not go unnoticed. Opinion about Him was divided. Some thought Him a good man, but others considered Him a seducer of the people. It was still remembered that on His last visit to Jerusalem He had been attacked by the leaders of the people because He had healed a man on the Sabbath day. For this reason – because He seemed to them to be advocating the destruction of the Law of Moses – the leaders had determined to have Him put to death.

THE LEADERS HAD DETERMINED TO HAVE HIM PUT TO DEATH

One day, about the middle of the feast, Jesus went up into the Temple to teach. In His discussion with the crowd He brought up again this old grievance which the leaders held against Him. The Law of Moses, He reminded them, required them to circumcise a man even on the Sabbath. Why then did they object when He cured a man on the Sabbath? They should judge, not by appearances but by truth.

JUDGE NOT BY APPEARANCES BUT BY TRUTH

The crowd still remained divided in its opinion of Jesus. Some still regarded Him as a seducer; others thought He might be the Christ, the Messias. Word of His teaching reached the Pharisees and they sent attendants to seize Him.

‘RIVERS OF LIVING WATER’

On the last day of the feast Jesus, addressing the crowd, said, ‘If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture says, ‘From within him there shall flow rivers of living water'” (John 7:37-38).

These words also, which Jesus spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world, caused the people to dispute with one another about His identity. The turmoil was so great and the uncertainty so extreme that the attendants sent by the Pharisees dared not arrest Jesus.

‘I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD’

In spite of the opposition which His teaching aroused, Jesus continued to make His claim.

‘I am the light of the world,’ He said, “He who follows me does not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12).

The Pharisees objected that His claim was unsubstantiated. He offered nothing but His own word about Himself. Jesus replied that His witness to Himself was acceptable because He knew the truth, He knew from whence He came and whither He would go. He meant that He knew that He had come forth from God the Father and would return to God the Father. And so He said to them that His word was not alone, but was reinforced by the word of His Father in Heaven. To which word of His Father does He refer? To His Father’s word at His baptism or transfiguration? To the prophetic words spoken through the Father’s inspiration and found in the Sacred Scriptures of the Chosen People? To the miracles which He Himself worked through the power of His Father? Jesus does not say, but He has already pointed to these indications of His Father’s testimony to Himself.

‘YOU KNOW NEITHER ME NOR MY FATHER’

The Pharisees refused to accept the staggering truth that Jesus was indeed the Son of God and therefore equal to God. ‘Where is thy father?’ they asked, meaning no doubt, where is Thy human father. Jesus answered, ‘You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would then know my Father also’ (Kohn 8:19).

In spite of the opposition of the Pharisees Jesus continued to make His claim to be the Son of God, the equal of God in divinity. ‘I go,’ He said to them, meaning that He would return to His Father in Heaven, ‘and you will seek me, and in your sin you will die. Where I go you cannot come’ (John 8:21).

The Jews misunderstood Him – or at least pretended to misunderstand Him – and asked did he mean to commit suicide. Jesus told them that they did not understand Him because they were blinded by their sins and their worldliness. ‘You are from below,’ He said, ‘I am from above. You are of this world, I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am he, you will die in your sins’ (John 8:23-24).

‘I AM HE’

Now in the Aramaic tongue which Jesus was speaking, the words ‘I am he’ would mean to the Jews that Jesus was claiming to be God. Since He appeared to be a man this claim seemed to many of them to be blasphemous. They asked Him, ‘Who art thou?’ Jesus was discouraged by their lack of belief, but He condescended to reiterate His claim.

‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that of myself I do nothing; but even as the Father has taught me, I speak these things. And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, because I do always the things that are pleasing to him’ (John 8:28-29).

‘THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE’

Some of the crowd believed in Him and to them He said, ‘If you abide in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’ (John 8:31-32).

To abide in the word of Jesus is not simply to believe in His divinity; it is also to keep His word, that is, to live by the message of repentance and deliverance which Jesus brings to all men, to live according to the light and the life which Jesus gives to men. To live by the light and the life which Jesus gives is to be freed from sin, and thus, through living the truth, to be free.

FREEDOM THROUGH LIVING THE TRUTH

But some of those listening refused to accept the truth of Jesus and so they objected that they were children of Abraham and, as such, they were not slaves to anyone, that is, they worshipped the one true God and were not enslaved to any false gods.

Jesus pointed out to them that the freedom of which He spoke was freedom from sin.

‘Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. But the slave does not abide in the house forever; the son abides there forever. If therefore the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are the children of Abraham; but you seek to kill me because my word takes no hold among you. I speak what I have seen with the Father; and you do what you have seen with your father’ (John 8:34-38).

THE JEWS MUST ACCEPT JESUS, THE SON OF GOD, AS THEIR SALVATION

The freedom of which Jesus speaks is freedom from sin. As children of Abraham, and Jesus recognises that the Jews are physically children of Abraham – perhaps even spiritually his children because they believe in the God of Abraham and reject false gods – and hence they ought to be free. But they are slaves to sin, and hence not really free. Because they are sinners they refuse to accept Jesus as the Son of God. But only the Son of God, Who resides in the bosom of God forever, can give true freedom from sin. To be truly free from sin the Jews must accept Jesus, the Son of God, as their salvation. By refusing to accept Him they remain slaves to sin and their true father is not Abraham but the devil.

CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM?

The Jews reply that they have but one father, God. Jesus replies that they do not understand His words because they are children of the devil, who was a liar from the beginning. If God were really the Father of these unbelieving Jews – that is, if they really acknowledged God as their Father, if they really sought the holiness of God – then they would love Jesus and they would accept Him and His word. But because they are sinners and so slaves to the devil, the father of lies, they will not accept the truth which Jesus brings to them. Jesus then appeals to His own holiness, His own sinlessness, as a testimony of the truth of which He speaks.

‘Which of you can convict me of sin? If I speak the truth, why do you not believe me?’ Then He gives the reason for their unbelief: ‘He who is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear is that you are not of God’ (John 8:46-47).

AT THIS MOMENT JESUS IS OFFERING TO ALL MEN LIGHT AND LIFE AND FREEDOM FROM SIN

This discussion of Jesus with the Jews is of vital importance, not only to His immediate hearers but to all men. At this moment Jesus is offering to all men light and life and freedom from sin. In a word, He is offering men eternal salvation. This salvation can be grasped by accepting Jesus as the Messias, nay, even more than the Messias, as the very Son of God the Father, equal to God, in fact, God Himself. To those who accept Jesus as the Son of God, as God Himself, there will be given light and life and freedom from sin; they will have the power to abide in the word of Jesus, to live by the light and life which He will give them. But to accept Him they must be of God, that is, they must be men of good will, men ready to give up sin, to live as children, not of the devil but of God. Salvation is freely offered to men by Jesus, but it must be accepted freely, in love.

OF VITAL IMPORTANCE

Those who were unwilling to acccept Jesus retorted that He was a Samaritan and possessed by a devil. Calmly Jesus rejected their accusation: ‘I have not a devil, but I honour my Father, and you dishonour me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is one who seeks and who judges. Amen, amen, I say to you, if anyone keep my word, he will never see death’ (John 8:49-50).

ABRAHAM AND THE GREAT PROPHETS ARE DEAD – HOW THEN CAN JESUS GIVE ETERNAL LIFE?

Unwilling to see that Jesus spoke of eternal spiritual life, the unbelievers in the audience took His words in a purely material sense. Abraham and the great prophets are dead, they remarked. If this great men of God died, how can Jesus give eternal life. Whom does He make Himself? Jesus answered:

‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say that he is your God. And you do not know him, but I know him. And if I say that I do not know him, I shall be like you, a liar. But I know him, and I keep his word. Abraham your father rejoiced that he was to see my day. He saw it and was glad.’ The Jews therefore said to Him, ‘Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I am’ (John 8:54-58).

In the face of their unbelief and, almost, of their derision Jesus quietly claims to be God, for He claims to be eternal; before Abraham existed, Jesus was and is, for He is God. In prophetic vision Abraham saw that Jesus was to come to fulfil God’s promises and so he rejoiced.

The people understood the nature of the claim of Jesus. They saw that He was claiming to be God. Unable because of the worldliness and sinfulness of their hearts to accept Him as their God, they chose to regard Him as a blasphemer, and so they took up stones to stone Him to death for the sin of blasphemy. But Jesus his Himself from them and left the Temple.

“I BELIEVE, LORD”

Some time after this Jesus cured a man who had been blind from birth. When the news of this cure reached the Pharisees they investigated the fact thoroughly. They examined the man who had been cured; they questioned his parents; they re-examined the man himself. But they could not disprove the story. They were angry because Jesus had worked this miracle also on the Sabbath day. After their failure to shake the story of the cured man, they turned him out as a sinner.

Later Jesus met him again and said to him, ‘Dost thou believe in the Son of God?’ He answered and said, ‘Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Thou hast both seen him, and he it is who speaks with thee.’ And he said, ‘I believe, Lord.’ And falling down, he worshipped him (John 9:35-38). (Martin J. Healy, to be continued)

 

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THE MYSTERY OF THE SUFFERING MESSIAH

JESUS ‘STRICTLY CHARGED HIS DISCIPLES TO TELL NO ONE THAT HE WAS JESUS THE CHRIST’ (Mt 16:20) – WHY?

“Peter had acknowledged openly that Jesus is the Christ [Mt 16:15-19], the Messias. Immediately after this acknowledgement Jesus promised to make Peter the rock on which He would found His kingdom. This remarkable series of events must have brought great joy to the disciples of Jesus. Now at last they knew: Jesus was the long-awaited Messias, the Christ who would rescue His people; Jesus was the Christ Who would establish the kingdom of God on earth, and He had already chosen Peter to be the foundation stone of that kingdom. Surely they must have thought the Kingdom of God is at last at hand; this is the moment when God will begin to bring to pass the triumph of His people in the world.

WHY THIS SECRECY?

But at this moment, when they were confidently expecting Jesus to prepare His triumph as the Christ, He ‘strictly charged his disciples to tell no one that he was Jesus the Christ’ (Matthew 16:20). But why this secrecy? If Jesus is the Christ, why not publish this news abroad as swiftly as possible, from village to village, from town to city, from the plains to the mountain-tops? The sooner God’s Chosen People knew the Christ was come, the sooner would they rally to His banner and expel the hated Roman legions which kept them in subjection.

GOD’S PLAN, AND NOT OF HUMAN DEVISING

The reason which Jesus gave for secrecy must have mystified the disciples even more.

‘The Son of Man,’ He told them, ‘must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and Scribes, and be put to death, and on the third day rise again’ (Luke 9:22).

Could the Messias sent by God to establish the triumph of His people be rejected by the chief spiritual leaders of the people? If the Christ is to suffer and die, where then is His triumph? Jesus, it is true, also said that He would rise from death on the third day, and if that were true, no doubt His resurrection would be a triumphant vindication of His message to men. But such a resurrection was in itself a mysterious thing and, besides, Jesus did not enlighten them at once on the meaning of His resurrection. Peter with his usual impetuousness refused to accept the idea that the Christ would suffer and die.

‘Far be it from thee, O Lord,’ he said, ‘this will never happen to thee’ (Matthew 16:22).

If he had known or been able to recall the mysterious words of Isaias [Isaiah] about the Suffering Servant of Jahweh, if he had the spiritual insight necessary to identify the glorious King-Messias with the Suffering Servant, he might not have been so impetuous. But his mind was still filled with dreams of the glory of the Messias and he could not reconcile this picture of suffering, rejection and death with his dreams. Jesus, however, rebuked him in strong terms:

‘Get behind me, satan, thou art a scandal to me; for thou dost not mind the things of God, but those of men’ (Matthew 16:23).

In God’s plan, mysterious though it may be, the triumphant Christ must also be a rejected, suffering Christ. Peter, preoccupied with visions of an earthly triumph, did not see the depths of the divine plan. The stern rebuke of Jesus reminds him that the plan is God’s and not of human devising.

‘LET HIM DENY HIMSELF, AND TAKE UP HIS CROSS, AND FOLLOW ME’ (Mk 8:34)

Turning from Peter to the rest of His disciples and the crowd, Jesus tells them that all men must follow Him in His suffering if they would be saved. ‘If anyone wishes to come after me,’ He says, ‘let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me’ (Mark 8:34). Of what value are earthly glories in comparison with the salvation of one’s own soul? ‘For what does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?’ (Mark 8:36). A man must be prepared to lose his earthly life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel of salvation which He brings to men. If he is ashamed of a suffering Messias, ashamed of the words of Jesus, when Jesus returns as the Son of Man to judge all men then Jesus will be ashamed of him. Lest this reference to the last judgement by the Son of Man seem too remote to a people so accustomed to expect a glorious Messias, Jesus goes on to say, ‘Amen I say to you, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death, till they have seen the kingdom of God coming in power’ (Mark 8:39). In these words Jesus foretold what later came to pass, that within thirty or forty years His kingdom had been established throughout the Roman Empire; not a worldly Kingdom, but the Kingdom of God in the hearts of those who had accepted Jesus as the Christ.

THE TRANSFIGURATION

Peter and the disciples did not understand the words of Jesus, but they remained with Him. Six days later Jesus took three of His Apostles, Peter, James and John, and led them up a high mountain. There, perhaps to reassure their faith in Him, He allowed His glory to be manifested to them. His face became radiant and His garments began to shine, white as snow. Then Elias [Elijah] and Moses appeared there and began to talk with Him about His suffering and death at Jerusalem.

‘THIS IS MY BELOVED SON…’ (Mt 17:5)

Now Jesus had already told the Jews that Moses had spoken of Him, and the Jews were expecting Elias to come as the forerunner of the Christ. Their appearance here, then, on the occasion of the transfiguration of Jesus was a sign from heaven that Jesus was the expected Messias. Peter, not quite knowing what he was doing but anxious to keep these heavenly visitors here with the Christ, said,

‘If thou wilt, let us set up three tents here, one for thee, one for Moses, and one for Elias’ (Matthew 17:4).

But just then a radiant cloud enveloped them all in its midst, and they heard the voice of God from heaven saying to them,

‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear him’ (Matthew 17:5).

And looking round they saw no one but Jesus.

THE SIGNIFICANCE

The transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop could have been pregnant with meaning for the Apostles. They had accepted Jesus as the Christ, and there on the mountain in the radiant countenance and garments of Jesus they had been allowed to see the glory of the Christ. Moreover, Moses and Elias, two great prophets and heroes of their people, had come to give testimony to the identity of Jesus as the Christ. But the mystery of Jesus still remained, for though He appeared to them in glory, still Moses and Elias spoke to Him of His approaching suffering and death. How could glory and humiliation be reconciled?

And what about Elias? Was he not to be the forerunner of the Christ? Why then did he leave? Why were they asked to listen only to Jesus, God’s beloved Son? Filled with a sense of awe, but still wondering, they asked Jesus about Elias. Jesus replied to them that Elias had already come in the person of John the Baptist. Elias would not come in person; he was only the prototype of John the Baptist. And the Baptist had already been put to death for preaching the gospel of repentance. So also would Jesus, the Son of Man, be put to death.

MANIFESTATION OF DIVINE POWER

On the following day, after they had come down from the mountain, the crowd brought to Jesus a boy who was possessed by a devil. Apparently the father of the boy had asked the disciples of Jesus to expel the demon. But they had failed to do so. Jesus spoke to the father of the boy, saying,

‘If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him who believes’ (Mark 9:22).

The father cried out, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief!’ (Mark 9:23). Thereupon Jesus rebuked the devil and left the boy.

The disciples, who had been unsuccessful in their attempt to relieve the boy, asked Jesus why they had not been able to expel the demon. Jesus told them that it was due to their lack of faith and to the fact that this demon could be cast out only by prayer and fasting.

This further manifestation of divine power must have strengthened the faith of the disciples in Jesus. But Jesus, for His part, cautioned His disciples once again that He must suffer and die and rise again on the third day. But they, believing in Him as they did and faced with these displays of His power, did not understand what He meant.

THE GREATEST IN HIS KINGDOM

Following this miracle Jesus went with His disciples to a house in Capharnaum where He continued instructing them in the nature of His kingdom. While on their way there the disciples had been discussing with one another which of them was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Their discussion of this topic shows that they were still thinking of the kingdom of Jesus as a worldly kingdom. Jesus had already said that He would make Simon Peter the rock of His kingdom [Mt 16:17-19]. Perhaps some of the other Apostles were wondering why he should have been chosen for this honour in preference to someone else. Certainly they were all wondering what position each should occupy.

Jesus took this occasion to teach them that humility would be one of the characteristics of the members of His kingdom. Taking a little child into His arms, He said to them,

‘Unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whoever, therefore, humbles himself as this little child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such little child for my sake, receives me’ (Matthew 18:3-5).

HUMILITY IS ONE OF THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE MEMBERS OF CHRIST’S KINGDOM

The lesson is given affectionately buy clearly. In the kingdom of Christ the Apostles must be like little children, not priding themselves on position or power, but humbly serving others, ready to see the Christ Himself in all the ‘little’ ones of the world and receiving in love all the ‘little’ ones of the earth as if they were Christ Himself.

‘DO NOT FORBID HIM’

John, still remembering that Jesus had just cast a devil out of a boy, interrupted and said: ‘Master, we saw a man casting out devils in thy name, and we forbade him, because he does not follow with us’ (Luke 9:49).

Jesus replied, ‘Do not forbid him, because there is no one who shall work a miracle in my name, and forthwith be able to speak ill of me. For he who is not against you is for you’ (Mark 9:38-39).

In these words Jesus taught the Apostles the lesson of tolerance. Even though a man might not yet be a member of the kingdom, following openly after Christ and Peter as did the other disciples, if he had enough faith to invoke the name of Jesus to work miracles, he was already on the right road; he would not speak evil of the Christ.

‘FLEE FROM SIN’

After this reply to John Jesus went on to speak of the evils of scandal. Those who give scandal, that is, those who by their words or actions lead others into sin, will be severely punished; it were better for such a one ‘if a great millstone were hung about his neck, and he were thrown into the sea’ (Mark 9:41).

As for the disciples themselves, they must flee from scandal in the actions of others. If they would enter into everlasting life with God, they must flee from sin. On this point the language of Jesus is very strong. If a hand or a foot or an eye should be to them an occasion of sin, He tells them, they must rather cut it off or pluck it out, rather than fall into sin. It is better to enter into life with God maimed or blind rather than to descend into the everlasting fires of hell.

THE SON OF MAN HAS COME INTO THIS WORLD TO SAVE ALL MEN FROM SIN

This thought of the final end of man, either heaven or hell, leads Jesus to emphasise once again the nature of His mission. He has come into this world to save what was lost, that is, all mankind. Speaking again of the ‘little’ ones of the world, He says,

‘See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you, their angels in heaven always behold the face of my Father in heaven. For the Son of Man came to save what is lost. What do you think? If a man have hundred sheep, and one of them stray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the mountains, and go in search of the one that has strayed? And if he happens to find it, amen I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so, it is not the will of your Father in heaven that a single one of these little ones should perish’ (Matthew 13:10-14).

The Son of Man has come into this world to save all men from sin.

THE POWER TO FORGIVE SIN

This in turn leads Jesus on to the thought of the forgiveness of sin. He has already claimed to have the power to forgive sin. If any of your brethren sin, He tells His Apostles, go to him and try to correct him. If he will not listen, then take one or two more with you and try again. If he still will not listen, let the Church speak to him; and if he will not hear the Church, then let him be put out of the Church. Then Jesus speaks the words which give to all His Apostles the power to forgive sin, ‘Amen I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven’ (Matthew 18:18).

In this way Jesus gives to the other Apostles a share in the power which He has already promised to Peter.

The power to forgive sin is a tremendous power indeed, but Jesus goes on to say that the prayer of His kingdom or Church will be able to accomplish anything.

‘I say to you further, that if two of you shall agree on earth about anything at all for which they ask, it shall be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together for my sake, there am I in the midst of them’ (Matthew 18:19-20). Though Jesus speaks only of two or three, He means by those words to speak of His Church. For He is speaking in the context of His discourses to His Apostles on the nature of His kingdom. In that kingdom or Church, of which Peter is to be the head, and in which all the Apostles will possess the power to forgive sins, then whenever the members are gathered together in the name and for the sake of Christ, God in heaven will hear their prayers. The prayer of the Church, that is, of all those who profess allegiance to the Christ under Peter and the Apostles, will be all powerful.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD THEY FORGIVE SOMEBODY THEIR SINS?

Peter, meanwhile, had been intrigued by the question of the forgiveness of sin. How often, he was wondering, should they forgive a man his sins. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Clearly to Peter seven was an upper limit to the forgiveness of sins. But Jesus replied that he must forgive his brother even to seventy times seven, thus intimating that God placed no upper limit on the forgiveness of sins; a man was to be forgiven as often as he would listen to the Church and repent of his sins.

THE PARABLE OF THE UNMERCIFUL SERVANT

To enforce this point Jesus then told the parable of the unmerciful servant. The kingdom of heaven, He said, is like a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. It was discovered that one of his servants, that is, one of his more important ministers, had defrauded him of ten thousand talents, that is, over several million dollars. Since he had not enough money to pay back this enormous debt, the king ordered him, his wife and children to be sold as payment. The minister begged for mercy, and the king not only released him but forgave him the debt. Sin is as enormous in its moral guilt as the sum stolen by the king’s minister was financially great. But God forgives sin as generously as the king forgave his servant.

But the parable does not end here. Jesus goes on to say that the servant who had been forgiven went out and found another servant who owed him an insignificant amount of money. Instead of extending to his fellow servant the kind mercy he has himself received from the king, the unmerciful servant had him thrown into prison until the debt was paid. On hearing of this ungenerous act the king then handed the first servant over to the torturers until the debt was paid. Sternly Jesus points out the lesson: ‘So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if you do not forgive your brothers from your heart’ (Matthew 18:25). As God’s mercy and generosity to sinners is infinite, so also the mercy of His Church must be infinite.

THE MERCY OF GOD’S CHURCH MUST BE INFINITE

If we couple this point with the injunction of Jesus to cast out of the Church the unrepentant sinner, the meaning becomes clear. In the kingdom of heaven, in the Church of the Christ, no one is to be a scandal, a cause of sin to another; no one is to be scandalised, that is, led into sin by another; all must avoid sin to save their souls and enter life everlasting. But if anyone sin, then he must repent; if he repents, the mercy of God is infinite. But if he will not repent, he must be cast out so that his sinfulness will not be a scandal to others. This does not mean that the unrepentant one may never be forgiven. It does mean that he cannot be forgiven or readmitted until he has repented.

JESUS HAD EMPHASISED THE SPIRITUAL NATURE OF HIS KINGDOM

In these discourses with His Apostes Jesus had emphasised the spiritual nature of His kingdom. The goal of His kingdom is entrance into the everlasting life of God. To enter the kingdom men must accept Jesus as the Christ, the Messias, the beloved Son of God. They must believe His words. They must believe in His glory, but they must also believe in His suffering and death and in His resurrection. They must accept the mystery of a Messias Who is both triumphant and humiliated. To remain in His kingdom they must avoid all sin. Peter will be the ruler, the key-bearer of the kingdom, but the Apostles will share in his power under him. Especially will they be able to forgive the sins of men, thus admitting them or, as the case may be, re-admitting them to the Kingdom of God.

THEIR FAITH IN HIM PERSEVERED

The Apostles did not comprehend the full meaning of all that Jesus told them. They were still in need of further instruction from Him. In fact they would not reconcile their dream of a triumphant Christ with Jesus’ prophecy of the suffering Christ until after Jesus had suffered and died. But for the moment their faith in Him persevered and so they continued to follow Him, in darkness, it is true, but still in hope.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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“MY FATHER WORKS EVEN UNTIL NOW, AND I WORK” (Jn 5:17)

THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MEN AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: THE FORMATION OF THE DISCIPLES

“The first year of the public ministry of Jesus ended in failure. Most of those who had followed Him deserted Him. His miracles had excited their admiration and raised their hopes of deliverance from Roman rule. But His refusal to conform to their idea of a triumphant political Messias had alienated their allegiance to Him. He had offered Himself to them as the ‘Bread of Life,’ but they had refused to accept Him.

SOME FEW REMAINED FAITHFUL TO JESUS

Some few remained faithful to Him, especially the Apostles. They refused to leave Him, saying, ‘To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.’ By so acting they cut themselves off from the majority of their fellow-countrymen. Jesus Himself knew, as He had indeed said, that He would be rejected by His own countrymen. From this time on He would continue to preach His message of salvation in the spiritual Kingdom of God. Only now He would seek to increase in His faithful Apostles and disciples the true understanding of the kingdom which He was to establish. He would show them how different was this kingdom from the earthly kingdom and domination sought by His countrymen.

A SPIRITUAL KINGDOM

Some time after the discourse on the ‘Bread of Life,’ Jesus went to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. Almost at once He came into conflict with His enemies. At the pool called Bethsaida, near the Sheepgate in Jerusalem, Jesus cured a man who had been a paralytic for thirty-eight years. He told the man to pick up the pallet on which he had been lying and to walk home. Now He did this on a Sabbath day. The Jews, on learning that He had done this, were angry. In their eyes Jesus had broken the law of the Sabbath-day rest. He had Himself worked the miracle and He had even ordered the cured man to carry his pallet. When they objected to this, Jesus replied, ‘My Father works even until now, and I work’ (John 5:17).

The Jews understood Him to mean that He was equal to God. Since they perceived Him only a man, they regarded His claim as blasphemy. Hence they determined to oppose Him.

THE JEWS DETERMINED TO OPPOSE JESUS

Jesus, for His part, was kind to them and He tried to explain His position clearly. ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever he does, this the Son also does in like manner’ (John 5:19).

By saying that He can do nothing of Himself but only what He sees His Father doing, Jesus attempted to soften for the Jews who did not believe in Him or His claims His right to be accepted by them as one sent from God.

JESUS EXPLAINS TO THE PEOPLE THAT GOD HAS SENT HIM TO RESTORE LIFE

But He goes on to explain that God has sent Him to restore life, spiritual life, to men who are dead in their sins. As God the Father has power to give this life to men who are dead, so also has He, the Son, the same power. And because He has this power, He has also from His Father the right and power to judge men. Those who hear Him and believe the Father who has sent Him will rise to life on the last day; but those who do not hear Him and accept Him will rise to judgement.

‘IF YOU WILL NOT ACCEPT MOSES, HOW WILL YOU ACCEPT ME?

Then Jesus tried to show the Jews the justice of His claim to be sent to them by God. Since this mission of Jesus from God is a fact, and indeed a divine fact, it is not susceptible of ordinary means of proof.

Only witnesses can testify to the truth of such a fact. Jesus calls upon the witnesses known to the Jews. John the Baptist, He says, gave testimony to Me and to My mission. If you accept John as a man of God, then you should accept Me to Whom he has given witness. But Jesus was not content to adduce only the testimony of John. There is a greater testimony to Me, the testimony of God Himself.

‘For the works which the Father has given me to accomplish, these very works that I do bear witness to me that the Father has sent me. And the Father himself, who has sent me, has borne witness to me’ (John 5:36-37).

The works to which Jesus refers are the miracles which He has performed. These miracles are the divine seal placed upon His message and His claims. Through the miracles God Himself has testified that Jesus is the Son sent by the Father to establish the Kingdom of God among men. Lastly Jesus refers His hearers to the Scriptures. Moses, He says, has written of Me. If you read Moses rightly you would see that I am what I claim to be. But if you will not accept Moses, how will you accept Me?

JESUS EXPLAINS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE LAW OF MOSES WHICH HE HAS COME TO FULFIL

But the people would not believe Him. Knowing their enmity Jesus, for the time, left Jerusalem and Judea and returned to Galilee. But His enemies pursued Him. Scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem came and reproached Him because His disciples were not keeping the Mosaic Law as they interpreted that Law. The disciples of Jesus, they claimed, were at fault because they did not wash their hands before they ate food.

Jesus made this complaint of the Pharisees and occasion to instruct His disciples and the people. God, He told them, is not so much interested in external observance which may cover an inner impurity and evil; rather He desires an internal goodness and purity of heart. The aim of external observances of the Law of Moses was to preserve internal purity of heart. To interpret the Law (and in this instance there was question of the Pharisaic interpretation of the Law) in such wise as to render it impossible to preserve real purity of heart was to act like a hypocrite. Hence Jesus applied to the Scribes and Pharisees the words of Isaias [Isaiah]:

‘This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; but in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines precepts of men’ (Matthew 15:8-9).

Jesus then summed up His teaching in the words:

‘What goes into the mouth does not defile a man; but that which comes out of the mouth, that defiles a man’ (Matthew 15:11).

The Pharisees took offence at this statement and their attitude alarmed the disciples of Jesus. But He told them that the Pharisees were blind leaders of blind men. Then, at the request of Peter, He explained His meaning to them.

‘Do you not realise that nothing from outside, by entering a man, can defile him? For it does not enter his heart, but his belly, and passes out into the drain. And the things that come out of a man are what defile a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, come evil thoughts, adulteries, immorality, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, shamelessness, jealousy, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and defile a man’ (Mark 7:18-23).

In St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus adds the words, ‘but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man’ (Matthew 15:20).

EVEN THE PAGANS GAVE GLORY TO THE GOD OF ISRAEL

After this instruction to His disciples He left Galilee and went to the district of Tyre and Sidon. While there He expelled a demon from the daughter of a Syro-Phenician woman. Then He went to the district of Decapolis. There He restored hearing and speech to a deaf-mute. As a result great crowds came to Him, bringing their sick, the blind, the lame, the dumb and the maimed. Jesus cured them and the pagan inhabitants of that district gave glory to the God of Israel. Also, on one occasion, Jesus repeated the miracle of the multiplication of loaves, feeding over four thousand with only seven loaves of bread and a few fishes.

MORE UNWELCOME AND HOSTILE ATTENTION

This renewed activity brought upon Him again the unwelcome and hostile attention of the Pharisees. They came to Him and demanded from Him a sign from heaven. But Jesus, knowing that signs would not really convince them, replied:

‘Why does this generation demand a sign? Amen I say to you, a sign shall not be given to this generation’ (Mark 8:12).

Jesus and His disciples then entered a boat and went to the western side of the Lake of Tiberias. During the journey Jesus cautioned His disciples against the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

When they came to Bethsaida Jesus restored sight to a blind man. But He forbade the man to publish abroad what had happened.

‘WHO DO MEN SAY THE SON OF MAN IS?’ (Mt 16:13)

Some time later, when they had come to the district of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus questioned His disciples, asking them, ‘Who do men say the Son of Man is?’ (Matthew 15:13). The disciples replied that some took Him for John the Baptist, some for Elias, some for Jeremias or one of the prophets. Jesus then asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ (Matthew 16:15).

Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus then said to him:

‘Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to thee, but my Father in heaven. And I say to thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt lose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’ (Matthew 16:17-19).

TWO FACTS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE

This incident contains two facts of great importance. First of all, in this dialogue with His disciples Jesus acknowledges to them that He is both the Messias, the Christ sent by God, and that He is the natural Son of God, equal to God the Father in divinity. Secondly, acting as the Christ and as the natural Son of God Jesus makes Simon Peter the rock or foundation on which He will build the Church, the Kingdom of God.

When the crowd would have accepted Jesus as a king who would lead them to earthly glory, a political Messias, Jesus refused to play the role and left them. But on this occasion Jesus allows Himself to be called the Christ, the Messias and the Son of God.

Why does Jesus allow to Peter what He had already refused to crowds of His countrymen?

The answer is clear. The crowds had wanted a Messias modelled after their own desires, a Messias who would lead them to world power. But this was not God’s plan, and so it was not the mission of Jesus. The crowds, stubbornly bound to their own desires, deserted Jesus.

But the Apostles and a few disciples, still believing in Jesus, even though they did not completely understand Him, remained faithful to Him. In their sight, and for their benefit, Jesus continued to do His works, to work the miracles which were a sign of the divine power He possessed. And while their wonder and admiration grew Jesus emphasised to them the spiritual nature of His kingdom and contrasted it sharply with the views of the Scribes and Pharisees.

Now Jesus would carry His disciples a bit further; He would initiate them even more into the understanding of His plans for the kingdom.
First, however, it was fitting that they should recognise Him for what He really is. He questions them gently, not asking them at first Who they think He really is, but asking them Who men say that He is. They reply: His countrymen see in Him surely someone remarkable; perhaps Elias, who is to come before the Messias; perhaps Jeremias, who also might be a forerunner of the Messias; perhaps John the Baptist, the recent martyr for God’s law, come again to herald the Messias; or at least a prophet. Then Jesus leads them on. ‘But who do you say that I am?’

Spontaneously Peter speaks. ‘Thou art the Christ,’ he says, ‘the Son of the living God.’ At last it is said openly by those to whom Jesus has come to preach the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the Christ, the Messias. Even more, He is the true, the natural Son of God, equal to the Father in His Godhood. When the crowd would make Him king, Jesus refused. But when Peter declares that He is the Messias and, indeed, the Son of God, Jesus does not deny it. Rather, He confirms it. Flesh and blood, He says, have not revealed this to Peter. Rather it is God Himself Who has revealed this to Peter, and Peter, in faith and love, through this divine enlightenment, accepts Christ Jesus as the Son of God.

GOD REVEALED JESUS’ TRUE IDENTITY TO SIMON PETER

This moment then is a most solemn one. In it the little band of followers which Jesus has drawn to Himself acknowledges Him as the Anointed One of God, even as the true Son of God, God Himself. With this acknowledgement made openly Jesus goes on to reveal to them His plans for the future.

JESUS REVEALS TO SIMON PETER AND THE APOSTLES HIS PLANS FOR THE FUTURE

It is Simon, speaking under divine enlightenment, who has made this declaration of belief in the Messiahship and divine Sonship of Jesus. Speaking to Him in the presence of all Jesus tells him that He will make him the foundation of his kingdom, the Church.

When Simon first met Jesus, Jesus had told him that his name would be changed to Cephas, that is, to Peter (John 1:42). Now Jesus reveals the reason for the change. The name Cephas (or Peter) means rock. Simon is to be the rock on which Jesus will build His kingdom. ‘Thou art Rock (Peter),’ He says, ‘and upon this Rock (on you, Peter) I will build my Church.’ Simon Peter then is to be the foundation rock of the Church of Christ, the strong rock which will give the stability of truth and love to the kingdom. The ‘gates of Hell,’ that is, the kingdom of the devil, will be arrayed against the Church, but the strength of Peter, of the Rock which is Peter, will prevail against the power against the power of the devil.

To make His meaning even clearer Jesus goes on to say that He will give to Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Now the possessor of the keys of a house is the master of the house; he can admit whom he pleases and exclude whom he will. The goods of the house are his to dispose of as he will. The kingdom of heaven is Christ’s own kingdom; He is the master of it. But at some future time, not yet clearly determined, Jesus will make Peter the faithful steward of this kingdom, this household of God; He will give to Peter the keys which control this kingdom. The authority to rule this kingdom will be entrusted by Christ to Peter.

And as if even this were not enough to make clear that Peter was to rule the kingdom for Christ, Jesus adds, ‘whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ The decisions that Peter shall make, acting as the steward or vicar of Christ, will be ratified in heaven. God Himself, Christ Himself will ratify Peter’s decision, Peter’s rule of the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Jesus refused to accept the title of Messias from the crowds who wished to make Him an earthly king. But He accepted this title from Peter, even the title of ‘Son of God.’

In return for Peter’s faith and love He made (or here He promises to make) Peter His vice regent in the Kingdom of God on earth. Since He would not accept and earthly kingship from the people, it is clear that Jesus accepts Peter’s homage only because Peter and, through him, the disciples are willing to believe in and accept the spiritual kingdom which Jesus has come to establish. This willingness on their part need not at this moment mean that they perceive clearly the essentially spiritual nature of Christ’s kingdom. The subsequent actions of the Apostles seem to show that they had not yet reached that full understanding of the kingdom which they were later to possess. But they had not deserted Jesus when He refused to become an earthly king. They had not left Him when He offered men His own flesh, spiritually received, as the life of the world. Now, in Peter they accepted Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God. They were men of faith and good will. This was enough, for the moment; Christ responded to their faith with a new revelation of the nature of His kingdom.

THE NATURE OF THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST

The kingdom of Christ is in its inner essence spiritual. But it is also to be ‘Church,’ a community of men called to membership in the kingdom. They will enter this kingdom by faith in Christ, by hearing His word and accepting it, especially by accepting Jesus as their life, their spiritual life, the source of their spiritual life. But as a community of men in this world, they will have to contend with the powers of darkness, the kingdom of the devil. To ensure the firmness of their faith, the stability in this community of the God-given truth which Christ brings to them, Jesus establishes (or will establish) Simon Peter as the head of the community of believers in Christ. Thus, though the kingdom is in its inner essence spiritual, it is also in this visible, tangible world a visible and tangible reality. By making Peter the head, the ruler and keybearer of the community of the Kingdom of God, Jesus will make His Church a visible recognisable reality in the world. Those who wish to come to Christ will submit to Peter, the Rock of the Church of Christ, the keybearer of the kingdom. From heaven Christ will ratify the rule, the decisions of Peter, His vice regent on earth. As we shall see later, the actions of the Apostles and of the first Christian community show that this was their understanding of Christ’s words and intention. The Kingdom of God on earth will be a spiritual kingdom, but it will also be a visible kingdom. The spiritual authority of Peter will be the visible rock on which the kingdom will be built.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959 (headings in capital letters added afterwards)

 

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THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MEN AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: THE CHRIST AND HIS KINGDOM

MATTHEW 8

“After concluding the Sermon on the Mount Jesus left the mountainside and returned to Capharnaum. Now there was at Capharnaum a centurion, an officer in the Roman army, who had been very kind to the Jews. At his own expense he had built a synagogue for the Jews of the town. At the moment one of his servants was dying. Having heard of the wonderful cures worked by Jesus, he sent some of the elders of the Jews to ask Jesus to cure his servant.

THE CENTURION

Jesus was moved by their plea and started toward the home of the centurion. But the centurion was too humble to expect Jesus, the great wonderworker, to enter his house, and so he said to Him: ‘Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man subject to authority, and have soldiers subject to me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’

Jesus was moved to admiration at the great faith of this man, who was not a Jew. And so He said: ‘Amen I say to you, I have not found such great faith in Israel. And I tell you that many will come from the east and from the west, and will feast with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, but the children of the kingdom will be put forth into the darkness outside; there will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.’ Then He said to the centurion, ‘Go thy way; as thou hast believed, so be it done to thee’ (Matthew 8:5-13).

And the servant of the centurion was cured in that hour.

A HIGHLY SIGNIFICANT INCIDENT

This incident in the ministry of Jesus is highly significant. Like the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman it shows us Jesus dealing with a non-Jew. Thus it foreshadows the acceptance of the Gentile or non-Jewish world into the kingdom of heaven to be established by Jesus. But here Jesus states clearly that He and His kingdom will be rejected for the most part by the Jews, His own people, but will be accepted by many from the world of the Gentiles. Jesus knew from the beginning that He would not be accepted by the majority of His own people, but that His person and His message would find a response in the minds and hearts of the other nations of the world. In this present instance, the faith of the pagan centurion and the gracious response of Christ to this faith show that the kingdom of heaven will be universal in its inner nature and scope; salvation will now be extended to the whole world.

THE WIDOW’S DEAD SON AT NAIM

Soon after this there occurred the first great resurrection miracle worked by Jesus. At the village of Naim a widow was burying her only son. Jesus came upon the funeral cortege. His gentle heart took compassion on the grief and the real loss of the widowed mother and he stopped the procession. Then he spoke to the dead man, saying, ‘Young man, I say to thee, arise.’ And immediately the young man returned to life, sat up and began to speak (Luke 7:11-15).

By giving life back to this dead man Jesus showed that He had power over life and death.

‘ART THOU HE WHO IS TO COME, OR SHALL WE LOOK FOR ANOTHER?’ (Mt 11:3)

The news of these wonderful deeds of Jesus spread abroad through the country. Word of them was brought to John the Baptist in prison at Machaerus. Thereupon John sent two of his own disciples to ask Jesus, ‘Art thou he who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ (Matthew 11:3).

WHY DID JOHN THE BAPTIST ASK THIS?

Since John himself had already recognised Jesus as the Christ, the Messias, it is not easy to fathom the meaning of this action. Had he been expecting Jesus to proceed more rapidly with the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth? Was his question a mild complaint at the apparent slowness with which Jesus was accomplishing His mission? Or might it not be that John, sensing that his own mission was nearly at an end, wished his disciples to find out at first hand that Jesus was the long awaited Messias? With this in mind might he not have sent some of them to Jesus to ask this very question, ‘Art thou He Who is to come?’ that is, ‘Art thou the Messias?’

‘THE BLIND SEE, THE LAME WALK, THE LEPERS ARE CLEANSED…’ (Mt 11:4-5)

The answer of Jesus is clear. ‘Go,’ He says to John’s disciples, ‘and report to John what you have heard and seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise, the poor have the gospel preached to them’ (Matthew 11:4-5).

In these words Jesus applied to Himself the prophecy of Isaias [Isaiah]. According to Isaias these wonderful happenings would take place in the time of the Messias. In effect then Jesus was saying to the disciples of John that He was the Messias, accomplishing the work of the Messias.

JOHN THE BAPTIST, THE ELIAS WHOM GOD HAD SENT

When the messengers of John had departed Jesus addressed Himself to the crowd which had witnessed the episode. He told them that John the Baptist was the greatest prophet sent by God to His Chosen People. John was, as it were, the Elias whom God had sent to announce the coming of the Messias and the imminent establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.

‘YOU WILL REJECT ME FOR SEEKING TO SAVE PUBLICANS AND SINNERS’

Those in the crowd who had listened to John’s urgings to repentance and had accepted baptism from John rejoiced at this news. But the Pharisees and the Scribes who had rejected John rejected even Christ’s commendation of him. This led Jesus to speak sadly of His own rejection by His own people. To what shall I liken this generation of men, He complains sadly. You have rejected John and you will reject me, the Son of Man. In your pride, in your complacency, in your own fancied purity, you will reject me for seeking to save publicans and sinners.

‘THY SINS ARE FORGIVEN’ (Lk 7:48)

Soon after this, Jesus accepted an invitation to dine at the house of one of the Pharisees. While there His feet were washed with tears and ointment by a known sinful woman. The Pharisee was scandalised that Jesus should thus allow a sinful woman to approach and touch Him. Jesus took the occasion to repeat again that love was the secret law and foundation of His kingdom. The generous action of the sinful woman was the outward manifestation of her great love for Jesus and for God. Love of God is the means to forgiveness of sin. Hence Jesus said to the woman, ‘Thy sins are forgiven… Thy faith has saved thee; go in peace’ (Luke 7:48, 50)

LOVE IS THE SECRET LAW AND FOUNDATION OF HIS KINGDOM

The Pharisee and his guests missed the lesson of love and its great power. Instead they chose to concentrate upon the enormity of Christ’s claim to forgive sins. ‘Who is this man,’ they exclaimed incredulously, ‘who even forgives sins?'(Luke 7:49).”

‘THE KINGDOM IS LIKE A MUSTARD SEED’

After this, Jesus continued His work of journeying through the towns and villages of Galilee, preaching the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of God. During this preaching journey Jesus spoke in parables of the nature of the kingdom He was establishing. He compared the establishment of the kingdom to a man who sowed seed, the growth of the kingdom to the growth of the seed, the extent of the kingdom to the full growth of a mustard seed or the work of leaven in flour. He compared the desirability of the kingdom to hidden treasure or a pearl of great price. He compared the members of the kingdom here on earth to the wheat and the weeds which grow in the farmer’s field until the harvest and to the good and the bad fish which are brought out of the sea in the fisherman’s net.

THE PARABLE OF THE SOWING OF SEED

In these parables Jesus did not give a full description of the nature of the kingdom of heaven. But He did make clear certain aspects of His kingdom. In the parable of the sowing of seed, some seed fell on the wayside where it was devoured by birds; some on rocky ground where it could not establish itself strongly; some among thorns which choked it as it tried to grow; and only some on good ground which flourished and grew to maturity – in this parable, as Jesus points out, becoming a member of His kingdom does not automatically mean that a man will achieve the ultimate salvation which is the goal of the kingdom. Many men will listen to the word of God which Jesus preaches and will believe it. But some of them will be weak and they will lose their faith through the deceits of the devil or through their own weakness and sinful love for the pleasures of this world. This not only shows us that faith, once it is given by God, must be preserved freely and with strong effort; it also intimates that at any moment of time the kingdom of heaven on earth will include among its members those of strong and those of weak faith.

THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD

In the parable of the seed which grows secretly during the night and surprises the farmer on the next day by the extent of its growth, Jesus seems to be emphasising the spirituality of the Kingdom of God. As the growth of the seed hidden in the earth is for some time unnoticed by the farmer, so also will be the growth of the Kingdom of God on earth. Because it is chiefly a spiritual kingdom, establishing its reign in the hidden souls of men, its growth will not be noticeable fully to the world. But when it is fully grown, at harvest time, that is, at the end of the world, God will manifest its full growth to the world. In this parable then Christ is both teaching positively the spiritual nature of His kingdom and teaching negatively that the Jewish expectation of the establishment of a mighty earthly and temporal Kingdom of God is not involved in the divine plan.

THE PARABLE OF THE LEAVEN

The parable of the leaven also pictures the Kingdom of God as a hidden force, working within the souls of men to bring about the redemption of mankind. Leaven, working unseen within the flour, causes the bread to rise. The doctrine of the Kingdom of God and the graces working within that kingdom through an inner conviction of its truth will raise up a people dedicated to God for all eternity.

THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH IS VISIBLE

Yet, while the Kingdom of God is spiritual, and its growth invisible and due to invisible forces, still it is also visible. The parables of the mustard seed, of the field in which both good and bad seed are sown, and of the net which catches both good and bad fish, make it clear that the kingdom will be visible in this world.

THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS UNIVERSAL IN ITS MEMBERSHIP

The parable of the mustard seed shows also that the Kingdom of God will be universal in its membership. Just as the mature mustard tree houses birds of all kinds, so also the Kingdom of God will be the home of all the races of men. Beginning like a small mustard seed the kingdom will grow into a large tree in which all men may take shelter.

THE KINGDOM OFFERS SHELTER TO ALL MEN

The parables of the field in which good and bad seed are sown and of the net which draws up both good and bad fish make the interesting point that the Kingdom of God in this present world will embrace both good and bad men. Visibly then the kingdom will seem to be composed of good and evil men. But at the end of the world God will separate the good from the evil and send the evil into everlasting fire, while the good will rejoice with God in the eternal kingdom of heaven. Perhaps Jesus is saying here that men should not be scandalised at the appearance of evil in the visible kingdom here on earth. Men should imitate the patience of God, Who at the end will render justice according to men’s work on earth.

JESUS THUS DESCRIBES HIS CHURCH, THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH

The kingdom which Jesus preaches is not the kingdom which the people generally were expecting. It will not be a great and powerful earthly kingdom, established suddenly and terribly by the manifest power of God, a kingdom in which all nations are subjected to the temporal dominion of the Jews. It will be a spiritual kingdom, a kingdom growing through the invisible power of God, a kingdom founded on the doctrine preached by Jesus and accepted in faith by men of all races, a kingdom which will grow slowly but widely in the world of men. In this present world both good and evil will be found among its members. But at the end Jesus Himself, the Son of Man, will separate the good from the evil. The evil will be punished, but the good will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of God their Father.

MAN MUST BE PREPARED TO SACRIFICE EVERYTHING – THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE

After giving this brief description of some of the characteristics of His kingdom, Jesus, in a few short sentences, describes how desirable this kingdom is. ‘The kingdom of heaven,’ He says, ‘is like a treasure hidden in a field; a man who finds it hides it, and in his joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he finds a single pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it’ (Matthew 13:44-46).

So desirable is this kingdom that a man must be prepared to sacrifice everything for membership in it.

JESUS STILLS THE TEMPEST

After describing the nature of His kingdom in these parables Jesus continued his work of founding the kingdom. He preached again at Capharnaum. Then He set sail across the Lake of Genesareth. During the night, while He slept, a tempest arose and threatened to swamp the boat. His disciples awakened Him and called upon Him to save them. At the command of Jesus the tempest was stilled.

MORE MIRACLES AND HEALINGS

On the other side of the lake Jesus was met by a poor man who was possessed by unclean spirits. At the command of Jesus the spirits left the man and he was restored to himself. In this case it would seem that Jesus had once again a miracle for a Gentile, thus showing that the power of His kingdom was to be available to the non-Jewish world. This miracle is also interesting because Jesus is addressed by the evil spirits as Jesus, ‘Son of the most high God.’

On returning to Capharnaum Jesus cured a woman of a haemorrhage of blood which had afflicted her for twelve years. It is worth noting that this woman had been treated for this ailment by doctors, but to no avail.

Following this, Jesus restored to life the daughter of Jairus. This was the second of the resurrection miracles performed by Him. On leaving Capharnaum Jesus was met by two blind men to whom He restored their sight simply by touching their eyes. On the same occasion He also expelled a devil from another possessed man.

RETURN TO NAZARETH

After these miracles Jesus probably returned to Nazareth, His own town. This time He was received poorly. There is evidence that His fellow-townsmen may have resented the fact that He had worked miracles in and around Capharnaum, but had not done so at Nazareth, His own home town. At any rate they refused to believe in Him, which led Jesus to remark,

‘A prophet is not without honour except in his own country and in his own house’ (Matthew 13:57).

JESUS SENT HIS APOSTLES

Leaving Nazareth He travelled through the towns and villages of Galilee, preaching and curing every kind of disease and infirmity. Seeing that the people were sorely in need of help, like sheep without a shepherd, He took compassion on them and determined to send His Apostles to help them.

‘The harvest indeed is abundant,’ He said, ‘but the labourers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into the harvest’ (Luke 10:2).

JESUS SAID THAT HIS APOSTLES WILL BE MET WITH OPPOSITION

Then He gave His Apostles power over unclean spirits, and power to cure diseases and infirmities, and sent them forth two by two to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God. They were to go forth on their missionary journey as poor men, trusting in the providence of God. In His instructions to the Apostles Jesus sounds once again the warning that His doctrine will be rejected by many. His Apostles, He says, will meet with opposition; they will be persecuted for His sake. But this is only what men do to Jesus Himself. They are not, therefore, to be afraid of men. God, Who watches over the sparrows of the air, will watch over them. Everyone who receives the word of the Apostles and acknowledges Jesus before men will be acknowledged by Jesus before God. Those who reject Him will be disowned by Him before God the Father. Finally, Jesus gives to the Apostles a share in His own authority to preach the Kingdom of God.

‘He who receives you,’ He says, ‘receives me; and he who receives me, receives him who sent me’ (Matthew 10:40-42).

The Apostles thereupon set forth to preach the gospel of repentance and the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth. Using the power given them by Christ, they expelled demons from the possessed and cured the afflicted of their diseases.

JOHN THE BAPTIST’S MARTYRDOM

While Jesus and His Apostles were preaching in Galilee, at Machaerus the mission of John the Baptist, the Precursor of the Messias, was drawing to a close. John had reproached Herod Antipas for His incestuous union with Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. Because of these reproaches Herod had imprisoned John in the fortress of Machaerus and, except for his superstitious veneration of the holy man, would have put him to death. But the anger of his wife Herodias against John was not appeased by his imprisonment.

On the occasion of a great feast given by Herod to celebrate his birthday, Herodias found her opportunity to wreak vengeance upon John. During the course of the feast Salome, the daughter of Herodias, danced for Herod and his guests. The king was so pleased with her dancing – and, perhaps, so befuddled with the wine consumed during the banquet – that he rashly promised the girl,

‘Ask of me what thou wilt, and I will give it to thee’ (Mark 6:22).

Salome consulted with Herodias. Herodias, surmising that Herod would not dare to break his word pledged before his guests, counselled Salome to ask for the head of John the Baptist. Salome returned to the king and said,

‘I want thee right away to give me on a dish the head of John the Baptist’ (Mark 6:25).

Herod reacted as Herodias had surmised he would. Though his superstitious veneration of John made him hesitate, though he was grieved at the request, nevertheless he was too much given to human respect for the opinion of others to go back on his word. He had John beheaded and gave his head on a dish to Salome. Thus John, the Precursor of the Messias, perished, a Martyr to the gospel of repentance for sin.

JESUS ONCE AGAIN TOOK PITY ON THE PEOPLE

Some time after this the Apostles returned to Jesus after their preaching tour through Galilee. Jesus, no doubt perceiving their fatigue, suggested that they should leave the crowds that besieged Him and them and go to a quiet place to rest. Thereupon they entered a boat and crossed to the other side of the sea of Galilee.

But their efforts to find a quiet place to refresh themselves were in vain. Crowds of people followed them on foot around the lake and were on hand to meet them when they arrived on the opposite shore. Jesus once again took pity on the people and preached to them and cured some who were sick.

THE MULTIPLICATION OF BREAD AND FISH

When evening approached, the Apostles asked Jesus to send the people away so that they might find food at the neighbouring villages and farms. But Jesus suggested that the Apostles themselves should feed the multitude. The Apostles felt that this was impossible. A quick canvass of their resources revealed that they possessed only five loaves of bread and two fishes. But the crowd numbered about five thousand men and an undisclosed number of women and children. It seemed obvious that the Apostles could not feed so great a multitude with their meagre supply of bread and fish.

But Jesus went ahead confidently. ‘Make the people recline,’ He said (John 6:10). When the people had reclined on the grass, Jesus blessed the bread and the fishes and gave them to His disciples to distribute. Then, to the amazement of both the disciples and the people, the bread and the fish proved inexhaustible. From hand to hand they were passed, never lessening, until all those present had received enough. And when the meal was over, twelve baskets of fragments of bread were gathered up.

The people, on seeing this marvellous multiplication of bread and fish, said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world’ (John 6:14). This manifestation of power impressed them so much that they determined to make Jesus King of the Jews.

JESUS’ TEACHING ON THE SPIRITUAL NATURE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAD NOT YET BEEN UNDERSTOOD

It is apparent that the people on this occasion were ready to accept Jesus as a Messias Who would be a worldly ruler, a King Who would lead them to freedom from the Roman domination. The great miracle of multiplying the bread and the fishes showed them that Jesus had great power over nature. They would use this power to free themselves, to take vengeance on their enemies and, who knows, to dominate the world. The previous teaching of Jesus on the essentially spiritual nature of the Kingdom of God had not been understood or accepted by them. They were still imbued with the desire for worldly power and glory.

JESUS WITHDREW TO PRAY

Seeing their mood and anxious to preserve His own disciples from this faulty contagion of worldliness, Jesus made His disciples enter their boat and set out across the lake to Bethsaida. Had He Himself gone with them, the crowd would no doubt have followed Him immediately. But Jesus had no intention of further inflaming their erroneous ambitions. Hence He remained on the same side of the lake, but withdrew from the crowd and went up the mountainside to pray alone. The people settled themselves for the night as best they could.

JESUS WALKS ON WATER

Meanwhile, out on the lake a sudden storm arose. The disciples of Jesus could row only with great difficulty. By the fourth watch of the night they had gone only a little way across the lake. At that time, aware of their difficulty, set out on foot across the lake. Wishing to test the faith of the Apostles, He made as if to pass them by.

The Apostles, not believing their eyes, cried out, ‘It is a ghost’ (Matthew 14:26). Jesus then spoke to them, ‘Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid’ (Matthew 14:27). For the moment, Peter’s faith and courage revived and he said, ‘Lord, if it is thou, bid me come to thee over the water’ (Matthew 14:28). When Jesus bade him to come, Peter bravely stepped out on the water. But the force of the wind and the waves affrighted him and his faith failed. He began to sink and called upon Jesus to save him. Jesus reached out and took hold of him and brought him safely to the boat, saying to him, ‘O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?’ (Matthew 14:31). When they had entered the boat, the wind fell and they reached the other shore in safety.

By thus walking on the waters Jesus gave His Apostles still another manifestation of His power over nature. The Apostles were moved to admiration and they worshipped Him, saying, ‘Truly thou art the Son of God’ (Matthew 14:33).

‘SEEK THE BREAD WHICH ENDURES’

After they landed, Jesus was recognised by the people of Genesareth, and they began to bring Him their sick relatives and friends. Touched by their need, Jesus worked many cures. Then He went back to Capharnaum.

On the following day the crowd which He had left on the other side of the lake pursued Him to Capharnaum. Doubtless they were still intent upon making Him their king. But Jesus would not countenance their ambitions. Patiently He sought to enlighten them again on the true nature of His kingdom. You have sought Me, He said, because I fed you with ordinary bread. Seek not the ordinary bread which perishes; but seek the bread which endures unto life everlasting, the bread which I, the Son of Man, will give you.

The crowd did not understand Him. They ask Him, ‘What are we to do in order that we may perform the works of God?’ (John 6:28). Jesus replies, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent’ (John 6:29). What Jesus asks of them, then, is not the external works which men perform in this world, but an internal act, an act of faith, an act of belief in Himself as one sent to them by God.

PEOPLE MIGHT BE UNWILLING TO GIVE UP WORLDLY HOPES IN ORDER TO RISE TO THE SPIRITUAL HEIGHTS REQUIRED BY JESUS’ DEMAND

Now the people understood very well that Jesus was asking them to do something extraordinary. They had heard His preaching, His teaching on the Kingdom of God; they had seen His mastery over nature; they knew of His claim to be able to forgive sins; they were aware that He claimed to be a Lawgiver in His own right. They had surmised that He might be the Messias. But they looked only for a Messias who would make them prosperous and powerful in this world. But it was now clear to them that Jesus was demanding to be accepted as something else, something immeasurably higher, someone superior to Moses, their great prophet and lawgiver, someone more excellent than their great and impassioned prophets. Yet He did not wish to accede to their expectations for the establishment of a great worldly kingdom of the Jews. Unable to rise to the spiritual heights required by His demand, and unwilling to give up their hopes for worldly power and domination and revenge upon their enemies, they objected to His demand. Moses, they argued, gave our forefathers manna in the desert, truly bread from heaven. You, they said, have given us only ordinary bread from the earth. Give us some other sign, some sign than that given us by Moses, so that we may believe in you.

‘GIVE US SOME GREATER SIGN, SO THAT WE MAY BELIEVE IN YOU’

Jesus replies that the true bread from heaven is that which comes down from heaven to give life to the world. When they ask Him to give them always this bread, He says to them,

‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. But I have told you that you have seen me and you do not believe… For this is the will of my Father who sent me, that whoever beholds the Son and believes in him shall have everlasting life, and I will raise him up on the last day’ (John 6:35-36, 40).

THE TRUE BREAD OF LIFE FOR THE WHOLE WORLD

Jesus Himself is, then, the true bread of life for the whole world. Men who lay hold on Him in faith shall have everlasting life, and He will raise them up on the last day. The entrance to the true Kingdom of God is Jesus Himself. To accept His Person in faith is to enter the Kingdom of God and to find life everlasting.

The people were unwilling to accept Jesus as their life. We know this man, they said; He is the son of Joseph and Mary, whom we know. How can He say that He came down from heaven.

‘HE IS THE SON OF JOSEPH AND MARY; HOW CAN HE SAY THAT HE CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN?’

Jesus is aware of their murmurings against Him and He says to them that no one can come to Him unless God, His Father, draws him. But He makes still another appeal to them. He tries to substantiate His demand by telling them that He has seen God, His Father, Who has sent Him. Because He has seen the Father His words are true, and those who believe in Him will find life everlasting. Then, in the face of their disbelief, He insists:

‘I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the desert, and have died. This is the bread that has come down from heaven, so that if anyone eat of it he will not die. I am the living bread that has come down from heaven. If anyone eat of this bread he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world’ (John 6:48-52).

JESUS TEACHES AN EVEN GREATER AND MORE SPIRITUAL MYSTERY

In the face of the lack of belief of the Jews Jesus enunciates an even greater and more spiritual mystery. Not only is Jesus the bread of life in the sense that man may, by faith in Him, lay hold on eternal life, but He is the bread of life in this wise that men, by eating His flesh, which is bread from heaven, may live forever.

‘HOW CAN THIS MAN GIVE US HIS FLESH TO EAT?’ (Jn 6:53)

There can be no mistake about His meaning. The Jews understood Him literally. He meant that they were to eat of His flesh, if they would gain life eternal. They objected: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ (John 6:53). Jesus refused to retract His words. On the contrary He insisted on them:

‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He who eats of my flesh and drinks my blood has life everlasting and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh, and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him. As the living Father has sent me, and as I live because of the Father, so he who eats me, he also shall live because of me. This is the bread that has come down from heaven; not as your fathers ate the manna and died. He who eats this bread shall live forever’ (John 6:54-59).

Many of those who had followed Him then left, for, as they said, ‘This is a hard saying. Who can listen to it?’ (John 6:61).

JESUS DID NOT TAKE ANYTHING BACK OF WHAT HE SAID

Seeing that the Jews understood Him literally, and realising that they would leave Him because they could not bring themselves to accept so mysterious a doctrine, Jesus would surely have corrected their misunderstanding if they had misunderstood Him. In a matter so important to His mission as the means of attaining eternal life in the Kingdom of God, Jesus would not have spoken so obscurely as to mislead the very people He had come to save. If He did not mean to be taken literally, He could have said, for example, I do not mean that you are truly to eat My flesh and drink My blood. I mean that you must accept the divine revelation I bring you from heaven.

‘DO YOU ALSO WISH TO GO AWAY?’

But Jesus did not do this. He stood by His words, as the Jews understood them, and He allowed them to depart from Him. Then, emphasising the literal truth of His words, He turned even to His chosen Apostles and disciples and said to them: ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered Him simply: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of everlasting life, and we have come to believe and to know that thou art the Christ, the Son of God’ (John 6:68-70).

MANY PEOPLE LEFT JESUS BECAUSE OF THIS DOCTRINE OF HIS

The majority of the Jews present on this occasion took the words of Christ in a grossly materialistic sense. Jesus tried to enlighten them, saying, ‘Does this scandalise you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; and the flesh profits nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe’ (John 6:62-65). In these words Jesus tried to show them that they were to eat of His flesh spiritually, not carnally. He would become, by His very real presence under the sign of bread, the spiritual food of their souls. In this sense His words are spirit and life. But still they refused to accept His words and many left Him forever.

THIS FAILURE DID NOT MEAN THE END OF JESUS’ MISSION

This incident, in the course of which Jesus promises to give His own flesh as the bread of life, is the last incident which the evangelists record of the first ministry of Jesus in Galilee. As the incident shows, this ministry ended in failure. Jesus had come preaching repentance and the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God. He had claimed power to forgive sins. He had acted, in the Sermon on the Mount, as a Lawgiver in His own right. He had explained the essentially spiritual nature of His kingdom and its indispensable basis, charity, love of God and love of men. He had claimed to be the Messias, the Anointed One of God. He claimed to have seen the Father face to face. His Apostles had accepted Him as the Son of God. He had demonstrated His claims by the mastery over nature which He displayed. While these manifestations of His power had gained Him the allegiance of the Apostles and a few disciples, it had not gained Him the allegiance of the multitudes. They sought Him out so that they might benefit by His power; they would have accepted Him as a political ruler, a military saviour. But they would not acknowledge Him as their spiritual leader, the saviour of their souls. After His refusal to lead them as their king and after His insistence that He Himself was the bread of eternal life for their souls and bodies, they deserted Him for ever.

JESUS HAD ALREADY FORETOLD HIS REJECTION

But this failure did not mean the end of Jesus’ mission. He Himself had already foretold His ultimate rejection by His own people. But in God’s plan the mission of Jesus was not yet fulfilled. Jesus would go on, preaching the kingdom to His own people and preparing His Apostles for the establishment of the kingdom throughout the world.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959
(Headings in capital letters added afterwards)

 

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