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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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WHAT HAPPENED IN “THE LAND WHERE MILK AND HONEY FLOWS”?

THE CONQUEST OF THE PROMISED LAND

“At Mount Sinai God entered into an agreement with the people of Israel. This agreement or covenant we know as the Old Testament. We call it the “Old” Testament to distinguish it from the New Testament established by Jesus Christ. At the time the Old Testament was made between God and the Israelites the people did not clearly understand that it was to be but the forerunner for a new and lasting covenant between God and all the nations of the world.

THE OLD COVENANT

They did understand that God had chosen them from all the peoples of the world to be His own peculiar people. ‘… Thou art a holy people to the Lord thy God. The Lord thy God hath chosen thee, to be his peculiar people of all the peoples that are upon the earth’ (Deuteronomy 7:6). They were told also that it was not their own merit which explained God’s choice. ‘Not because you surpass all nations in number, is the Lord joined to you, and hath chosen you: for you are the fewest of any people’ (Deuteronomy 7:7). They were told that they were chosen simply because God loved them with a special love: ‘because the Lord hath loved them’ (Deuteronomy 7:8).

On their part they entered into the covenant because they had faith in God. He had shown them His almighty power. He has redeemed them from bondage in Egypt and had protected them against the wrath of the Pharaoh. He had fed them miraculously in the wilderness. He had let them hear His voice. He had come to dwell in their midst. As a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night He led them through the desert. In acknowledgement of His power and His presence, in gratitude for His blessings and in anticipation of the land He had promised to them, the people of Israel entered into their covenant with God.

DESIRE FOR MATERIAL COMFORT COUPLED WITH LACK OF FAITH IN GOD’S PROMISE

It would be pleasant to report that the Israelites remained completely faithful to their bargain. Unfortunately this was not the truth. The divine will for man’s salvation was still to engage in a long struggle with the weak rebellious will of man before the glory of God’s plan could be more clearly revealed. The subsequent history of the Israelites presents us with the picture of this struggle.

DELAYS DUE TO THE WEAK REBELLIOUS WILL OF MAN

At first, as always, it was the desire for material comfort which weakened the fidelity of the people. They complained of the hardships of their march from Mount Sinai.

They began to remember with longing the delights of the land of Egypt where they had dwelt. Their slavery in Egypt appeared to them more pleasant than their God-given freedom in the wilderness. Discouraged by the bleakness of their lives they were only too ready to believe that the land of Canaan was too strongly defended for them to conquer it. Their lack of faith in God’s promise to them brought swift punishment. God decreed that no man over twenty, except Caleb and Josue (Joshua), who had trusted His word, should enter the promised land.

LACK OF FAITH IN GOD LEADS TO FRUITLESS WANDERING IN LIFE

As a result of this punishment the Chosen People spent forty years wandering in the wilderness. Little is told us of the happenings of these years. Who can imagine truly the feelings of these men who knew that their own lack of faith had condemned them to long years of fruitless wandering?

QUESTIONING THE AUTHORITY GIVEN BY GOD

But memory is short, and children are impatient both of the sins and the wisdom of their elders. Sacred Scripture tells us how even during this time of punishment the growing generation rebelled against the divine authority.

Some, like Core, refused to recognise the divinely instituted priestly authority of Aaron and his descendants. ‘Let it be enough for you,’ they said to Aaron, ‘that the multitude consists of holy ones, and the Lord is among them. Why lift you up yourselves above the people of the Lord?’ (Numbers 16:3). Others, like Dathan and Abiron, would not acknowledge the civil authority of Moses.

A DETOUR FOR SECURITY REASONS

Toward the end of the period of forty years of wandering the people were encamped near Cades. The time had come to enter the land of promise. Moses requested the permission of the Edomites for the Israelites and their flocks to pass peacefully through Edom on their way to Canaan. But the permission was refused. Choosing not to fight with the Edomites, the people went south, intending to move eastward farther south, and then ascend northward, thus going around the land of the Edomites.

‘A STAR SHALL RISE OUT OF JACOB…’

During this march toward Canaan a curious incident occurred. Balac, king of the Moabites, fearing the advancing Israelites, sent for Balaam, a soothsayer or magician from Mesopotamia. He desired Balaam to curse the Israelites. But, moved by Jahweh, Balaam blessed them instead, saying: ‘A star shall rise out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel’ (Numbers 24:17). In this way God renewed His promise to His Chosen People.

MOSES DIES

When the people were within sight of the Promised Land, Moses, their great leader, died. His authority passed on to Josue [Joshua]. Josue led the invasion of the land of Canaan. His military career opened with the dramatic and surprising capture of the walled town of Jericho.

THE CONQUEST OF JERICHO

Before proceeding to the siege of Jericho the people renewed the practice of circumcision, the sign which bound the people to God. They also celebrated the feast of the Pasch and the unleavened bread, recalling to themselves how the power of God had saved them in Egypt. After this Josue invested the city of Jericho. At God’s command the Israelites sent their soldiers to march around the city.

On the seventh day of the siege, as the soldiers were marching round the walls, the priests sounded the trumpets, the soldiers cried out, and the walls of Jericho fell. It is probable that the walls were shaken down by an earthquake. The finger of God is to be seen in the fact that the earthquake occurred at the moment when the Israelites were calling upon their God to deliver the city into their hands.

THE OCCUPATION OF THE PROMISED LAND

After the conquest of Jericho and Hai, Josue defeated an alliance of five Canaanite kings. Then he successfully destroyed the city states of Maceda, Lebna, Lachis, Eglon, Hebron and Dabir. The defeat of the kings of the northern part of Canaan completed the conquest of the Promised Land.

The conquered land was then distributed to the twelve tribes of Israel. The tribes of Ruben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasses received the lands already given them on the other side of the Jordan. To the other tribes were given allotments on the western side of the Jordan, with the exception of the Levites, to whom no special territory was assigned, because they were to reside in the designated Levitical cities within the territories of the other tribes.

The conquest of Canaan under Josue was not secured. Many of the Canaanite towns and kings had been conquered and the land had been divided among the tribes of Israel. But much of the territory was still unsubdued. It was necessary therefore for the tribes of Israel to continue their work of conquest. At the death of Josue the Israelites had not yet succeeded in wrestling complete domination of the land from its former inhabitants.

LACK OF OVERALL POLITICAL AND MILITARY LEADERSHIP

In the Book of Judges we read the story of the efforts of the Israelites to dominate the land of Canaan. After the death of Josue the Chosen People had no real national leader who commanded the obedience and allegiance of all the people. Instead, each tribe seems to have attempted individually to achieve secure possession of its own allotted territory. Sometimes, though, several tribes united with one another to conquer the land.

Thus Juda, in allegiance with Simeon, defeated Adonibesec of Besec, set fire to Jerusalem, though without apparently destroying the Jebusites who dwelt there or gaining possession of the city, and overcame the city of Hebron. With Othoniel, the nephew of Caleb, Juda conquered Cariath-Sepher. Juda also took Gaza, Ascalon and Accaron.

THE ISRAELITES DISOBEYED GOD’S COMMANDS YET AGAIN

Unfortunately, in these conquests the Israelites did not obey the divine command not to make a league with the idolatrous and polytheistic inhabitants of the land. Thus, the sons of Benjamin did not destroy the Jebusites who inhabited Jerusalem. Manasses did not destroy the inhabitants of Oethsan, Thanac, Dor, Jeblaam and Mageddo. Ephraim did not destroy the Canaanites in Gezer, but dwelt with them. The same policy was followed by Aser, Nephtali and Dan. The tribes of Israel either dwelt side by side with the Canaanites, or, when they were powerful enough, they made tributaries of them.

THE ISRAELITES, INSTEAD, FOLLOWED THEIR OWN DANGEROUS POLICY

This policy was dangerous both from the political and the religious point of view. Politically it was unfortunate because it allowed the Canaanites opportunity to attempt to re-establish their former domination. In the field of religion it exposed the Israelites to the danger of seduction by the religious views and practices of the Canaanites. This danger was made acute by two factors in the history of Israel. In the first place severe spiritual monotheism which Moses had taught them was not as yet completely understood by them. While they recognised Jahweh as their only God, many of them probably still thought that other Gods existed and ruled, each in his own territory. This could lead them to acknowledge the supposed power of the local Canaanite divinities.

THE TEMPTATION OF IDOL WORSHIPPING LOCALLY POPULAR FERTILITY GODS

In the second place, by occupying the Promised Land, the Israelites were transforming themselves from a nomadic, wandering people into an agricultural people to whom the successful growing of crops and livestock would be of major importance. But the gods of the Canaanites were gods of fertility. What would be more natural than for the Israelites to imagine they might find prosperity by giving homage to the local gods of fertility? By not remaining faithful to their promise not to enter a league with the Canaanites the Chosen People exposed themselves to this great and grave danger.

WHO WERE THE ‘JUDGES’ IN THE OLD TESTAMENT?

Events proved the reality of this danger and divine retribution followed swiftly. After the death of Josue and the men of his generation many of the people began to worship Baal and Astarte, the gods of the Canaanites. God became angry with them and allowed the Canaanites to oppress them. But, even though the Israelites broke their covenant with God, god did not break His covenant with them. As often as they deserted God for Baal and Astarte He allowed them to be oppressed by their enemies. But when they repented and called upon Him He raised up military leaders who delivered them from oppression. These military leaders are known as the ‘Judges’.

The activities of the Judges was therefore sporadic, and, as far as we can tell, local. The Judges were not national leaders, like Moses and Josue. They laboured on behalf of particular tribes. The period of the Judges lasted from about 1225 to 1020 B.C.

A PERIOD OF UNREST AND TURBULENCE

The period of the Judges appears as one of unrest and turbulence. Politically the efforts of the Chosen People to possess securely the Promised Land were impeded by the military campaigns and conquests of the Canaanites, the Moabites, the Madianites, the Amalectites, the Ammonites and the growing threat of the Philistines. The successes of these enemies of the Chosen People at different times subjected different Israelitic tribes to their political domination. The situation was complicated by the lack of national unity and by the occasional rivalries and jealousies between the different tribes of Israel.

NEGLECT OF THEIR PROMISES TO GOD RESULTS IN THE DECLINE OF NATIONAL UNITY AND LACK OF SECURITY

The tribes of Israel possessed the foundations of national unity. They had a common history from the time of Jacob and therefore a common bond of past experience. They had also in common a belief in Jahweh, the God of their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They had, too, a belief that God had given them the Promised Land.

But in the time of the Judges these unifying factors in the life of the Chosen People were not sufficiently prized by the people to establish a national unity. Like all other nomadic people the Israelites preserved a fierce spirit of individualism and a jealous pride in tribal glory as against national interest.

Yet there are evidences that the political and military difficulties of this period were leading them to realise the benefits of united national action. This can be seen, for example, in their desire to make Jephte their king.

But the fundamental mistake of the Israelites was to neglect the strongest unifying element in their national life. This factor was their religious unity. They had all sworn to a covenant with Jahweh. They were all God’s Chosen People. They had all agreed to worship Jahweh, and Him alone. God, in His turn, had promised to protect them and to give them peaceful possession of the land of Canaan. God had cautioned His people on the danger of fraternising with the Canaanites, and the people had promised that they would not enter into a league with their enemies. What would have happened if they had kept their promises we do not know. How God would have protected them we cannot say, for unfortunately they did not keep their promises. They fraternised with the Canaanites, married their daughters and worshipped their gods. God did not desert them, as they had deserted Him. But He allowed them to become the prey of their enemies.

Yet, time after time, when they repented of their sins, God raised up Judges to liberate them. As the author of the Book of Judges intimates, God sought in this way to educate His people. He wished them to learn that they could be saved only by allegiance and obedience to Him.

THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD TO MAN

As the subsequent history of Israel will show, the lesson was not perfectly learned. But this history shows once again the same factors playing their respective roles in human history: human weakness and ignorance and failure to love God adequately, the subtle influence of the devil leading men into impure forms of worship, the enduring patience and love of God for man, and man’s ability to rise from his sins and seek the true God. But over all we perceive the faithfulness of God to man, of God Who has sworn that He will redeem man through Israel. God has sworn, and He will not repent.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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PRAYER FOR WHEN WE ARE LOST AND OVERBURDENED IN LIFE

O Lord, show Your mercy to me, and gladden my heart. I am like the man on the way to Jericho who was overtaken by robbers, wounded, and left half-dead: O Good Samaritan, come to my aid. I am like the sheep that went astray: O Good Shepherd, seek me out and bring me home in accord with Your will. Let me dwell in Your house all the days of my life and praise You for ever and ever with those who are there. Amen.

 

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