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THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MEN AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: OUR GOD OF MERCY

“JESUS SAID: ‘I AND THE FATHER ARE ONE.'(John 10:30)

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

JESUS DID NOT SAY SIMPLY: ‘I AM THE MESSIAH.’

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

JESUS WAS SPEAKING IN TERMS OF THE HOLY TRINITY

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

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

THEY WANTED TO PUT JESUS TO DEATH FOR BLASPHEMY

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

THEY WERE EXPECTING A POLITICAL MESSIAH

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

JESUS REFUSED TO FOSTER THIS SPIRIT OF WORLDLINESS

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

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

MORE THAN JUST A GREAT POLITICAL AND MILITARY LEADER

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

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

THE NARROW GATE

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

SALVATION, ETERNAL LIFE WITH GOD, IS THE GOAL OF HUMAN LIFE

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

PEOPLE OF ALL NATIONS ARE ADMITTED INTO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN

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

DISTURBANCES BY JESUS’ PREACHING?

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

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

PRACTICAL LESSONS ON THE NEED OF HUMILITY AND SELFLESS LOVE

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

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

UNCONDITIONAL LOVE

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

GOD ACCOMPLISHES HIS PLANS IN HIS OWN WAY

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

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

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

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

TO GIVE UP EVERYTHING RATHER THAN LOSING GOD

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

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

BEWARE OF SELFISH DESIRES FOR THE PASSING GOODS OF THIS WORLD

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

GOD’s TENDER LOVE FOR MEN

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

THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON

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

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

THE PARABLE OF THE UNJUST STEWARD

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

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

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

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

THE PARABLE OF THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS

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

DEDICATING ONESELF WHOLEHEARTEDLY TO GOD

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

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

 

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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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THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: CITIZENS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD

PREPARING THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN

“In Galilee Jesus announced to the people that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. He invited them to repent of their sins that they might enter the kingdom. He insinuated that He was the Messiah by assuming the title ‘Son of Man,’ and by claiming to be the ‘Lord of the Sabbath.’ He also claimed the divine power to forgive the sins of men. He authenticated these claims by the miraculous cures He worked. The nature of His teaching and His claims and the miracles which accompanied them excited the admiration of the people. Some, such as Peter and Andrew, James, John and Nathanael, attached themselves to Him as disciples. But the Pharisees refused to accept Him or His claims and resolved to do away with Him.

THE CHOICE OF HIS TWELVE APOSTLES SHOWS JESUS CHRIST’S INTENTION OF EXTENDING AND BROADENING HIS WORK ON EARTH

Despite their opposition Jesus continued His work to establish the kingdom of heaven. Some time after the crystalisation of the opposition of the Pharisees to Him He took the first definitive measures to ensure the continuation and the extension of His work on earth. He went up a mountain and prayed to God. Then He summoned His disciples and from them He chose twelve Apostles to assist Him in His work. As St Mark says:

‘… he appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them forth to preach. To them he gave power to cure sicknesses and to cast out devils. There were Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter, and James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (these he surnamed Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); and Andrew, and Philip and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alpheus, and Thaddeus, and Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him’ (Mark 3:14-19).

The choice of the twelve Apostles is an important event in the Galilean ministry of Jesus. It shows, first of all, His intention to broaden the field of His work. He chooses them so that they also may preach the kingdom of heaven, and preach it in power, for He gives them the power to work miracles. They will bring His message and power to those to whom He Himself will not personally appear.

THE ROLE OF THE APOSTLES

Secondly, by choosing only twelve out of His followers, and by giving only to those twelve the power to preach the kingdom, Jesus Himself establishes a distinction of function and authority among His disciples. Some will be only His disciples; by their belief in Him and by their repentance they will enter the kingdom with Him and enjoy its blessings. But others – the twelve Apostles – will not only enter the kingdom with Him to enjoy its blessings, they will also share in His own power to establish the kingdom, to rule it, to preach its doctrines and to disperse its blessings.

Lastly, it is interesting to note that Jesus chose twelve Apostles. No doubt He chose twelve in remembrance of the fact that God’s blessings were promised to the twelve tribes of Israel. In this way He relates the founding of the kingdom of heaven to the original promises made by God to Israel.

THE BEAUTIFUL SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Shortly after the choice of the twelve Apostles Jesus ascended a mountain again and delivered to His disciples, and perhaps to some of the crowd that followed Him the beautiful Sermon on the Mount. The high moral and spiritual tone of this sermon has retained the admiration of all men down to the present time. It is well to remember though, that the sermon does not contain the whole message of Jesus. In it He does not, for example, speak of the nature of His Church nor of the doctrine of Redemption. These and other doctrines He will speak of later. In the Sermon on the Mount He is content to describe to His disciples the moral climate of the Kingdom of Heaven, its identity with and its perfecting the Old Law delivered to the world through Moses and the Prophets.

Jesus begins His sermon with the Beatitudes:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 5:3-10).

THE SPIRITUAL ATTRIBUTES AND BLESSINGS OF THE MEMBERS OF THE KINGDOM

In these Beatitudes Jesus describes both the spiritual attributes of the members of the kingdom of heaven and the blessings which God gives them both in this present world and in the world to come, in this present time and in eternity. The members of the kingdom, the disciples of Christ, must be ‘poor in spirit,’ ‘meek,’ that is, they must be men who turn to God alone for relief from the woes of this world. They are men who mourn their sufferings, but who hope for consolation in union with the sufferings of the Messias. They are men who hunger and thirst for justice, that is, holiness. They are men who extend mercy to all, who live in union with God in purity of heart, who seek to bring peace to the troubled world of men, who suffer persecution for the sake of Christ, the Son of Man.

The men who possess these spiritual qualities will be members of the kingdom of heaven: ‘theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ They will inherit the Messianic blessings. To them will be given purity of heart, real holiness. In eternity they shall be called the children of God and they will see God face to face.

FALLEN MAN’S NATURE LEFT TO ITS OWN DEVICES TENDS TO SEEK SECURITY RATHER THAN HOLINESS

In the Beatitudes Jesus simply but strongly shows the contrast between the conception of life of fallen man and the new idea of life which He has come to realise in the kingdom of heaven.

Fallen man, betrayed by his own weaknesses and misled by the devil, tends to find security and happiness by relying on force and power. He puts his faith in wealth and domination, rather than in God. He seeks security rather than holiness. He chafes under poverty, distress or suffering. He will not forgive injuries or extend mercy to the erring. Insecure in such happiness as he may find, he is ever at odds with his neighbours. Afraid of pain and loss, he will compromise with truth and principle for the sake of comfort.

IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN MAN’S ESTIMATE OF VALUES IS CHANGED

But in the kingdom of heaven which Jesus is to establish, man, with God’s help, will change his estimate of values. He will no longer be so passionately, so desperately concerned with the pleasures, the wealth, the power of this world. He will raise his eyes on high and seek the holiness, the justice of God. To gain this great blessing he will rely not on his own strength but on the power and the love of God. Trusting in God he will hope for his own ultimate redemption. Buoyed up by this consoling hope he will accept his own sufferings, the penalty of sin, and will extend mercy and peace to his fellow sufferers in the general torment of mankind. Firm in this hope he will suffer persecution, even unto death of his mortal body, for the sake of attaining union with God in justice and holiness.

UNION WITH GOD IN JUSTICE AND HOLINESS

After the solemn announcement of the Beatitudes Jesus addresses His disciples more directly and tells them that they are the recipients of these blessings, and through them these same blessings will be given to the world.

‘You are the salt of the earth,’ He tells them. ‘You are the light of the world … so let your light shine before men in order that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:13, 14, 16).

‘I HAVE NOT COME TO DESTROY, BUT TO FULFIL’

Following this admonition to the disciples Jesus goes on to explain the relation between the Law of His kingdom and the Old Law of Moses and the Prophets.

‘Do not think,’ He says, ‘that I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For amen I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle shall be lost from the Law till all things have been accomplished’ (Matthew 5:17-18).

Since Jesus Himself in the rest of the sermon will make some changes in the Old Law, and since His Apostles will later abrogate many of the detailed and minute prescriptions of the Mosaic Law, this statement of Jesus is not easy to understand. Fortunately He Himself provides the clues to His real meaning.

A HIGHER PLANE OF MORALITY

In the first place, we notice that the changes which Jesus Himself institutes are not so much an abrogation of the Mosaic Law as they are an extension of it, or rather an elevation of it to a higher plane of morality. Thus Jesus tells His disciples that not only is murder wrong but even anger against or contempt for one’s fellow man.

CHARITY IS THE FOUNDATION

It is quite clear also that the foundation of the changes made by Jesus is love or charity.

‘You have heard,’ He says, ‘that it was said, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and shalt hate thy enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute you and calumniate you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, who makes his sun to rise on the good and the evil, and sends rain on the just and the unjust’ (Matthew 5:43, 45).

Men are to love one another as God loves them, loving both friends and enemies, both good and evil, the just and the unjust. In this way, men, as Jesus says to His disciples, ‘are to be perfect, even as (their) heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48).

WHAT IS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE LAW OF MOSES AND THE LAW OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN?

The bond of continuity or identity between the Mosaic Law and the new Law of the kingdom of heaven is love, the love of God for men and the love of men for God and for their fellowmen in God. Jesus will say later that the two great commandments of the Old Law are the commands to love God and to love one’s neighbour, and He will explain that one’s neighbour is every fellow human being. Even here in the Sermon on the Mount He sums up the Old Law in the Golden Rule:

‘Therefore all things whatever you would that men should do to you, even so do you also to them; for this is the Law and the Prophets’ (Matthew 7:12).

And this Golden Rule is a law of love, for it commands men to love one another with the wholehearted love they give themselves.

When Jesus says, then, that He has not come to destroy the Mosaic Law but to fulfil it, He means that He will not revoke the essential meaning of that Law, the law of love. But He will fulfil it by extending the scope or the object of love and by deepening the quality of love. In His kingdom men must love God and all other men, and in this way Jesus makes all men the object of Christian love.

Moreover Jesus deepens the quality of love by insisting that it is concerned not only with external actions but also with the inner man, with the heart and the mind of man. So he castigates not only the actual adulterer, but even those who look with lust at another human being (Matthew 5:27-28).

IN THE KINGDOM THERE IS NO HUMAN PRAISE FOR PIETY – IT GOES WITHOUT SAY

Jesus also emphasises the purity of the love which He demands in His kingdom by contrasting the piety demanded of His disciples with the piety of the Pharisees. The Scribes and the Pharisees perform works of piety ostentatiously so that they may be well regarded by men. When they give alms to the poor, they call it to everyone’s attention. When they fast, they disfigure their faces and look gloomy so that all may know they are fasting. On the contrary the disciples of Jesus are not to parade their virtues before the crowd, nor to seek the praise of men for their piety. They are to do good for the sake of God alone, and God will give them their true reward. They are to pray often, for prayer is powerful. God will answer their prayers. They are not to judge others; judgement is reserved to God. Their love of God must be a real, an effective love; it must be a love which produces works of virtue. ‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father in heaven shall enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 7:21).

A TRUE INTERIOR LOVE

The primary message of the Sermon on the Mount is the message of love. Jesus accepts what His Father had revealed to mankind through Moses and the Prophets, the law of love. Men are to love not only their friends but also their enemies, not only their fellow countrymen but also all men.

The true child of God loves all men. And this love must be a true interior love, proceeding from the innermost heart of man, a love as strong as his love for himself. Moreover it must be a love patterned after God’s love for men, complete, sovereign and impartial. As such it will go far beyond the demands of the old Mosaic Law. It will rule not only the external actions of a man but also his innermost thoughts and desires. It will be a total, a dedicated love. In this present world it will be a disinterested love, seeking no present reward for men.

JESUS CHRIST’S MESSAGE IS STARTLING

When Jesus had finished preaching this message of love, this foundation of His kingdom, as St Matthew tells us, ‘the crowds were astonished at his teaching; for he was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their Scribes and Pharisees’ (Matthew 7:28).

It was clear to the crowd that had followed Jesus that there was something new and strange about the preaching of Jesus. Not only was His message new and startling but He had deliberately emphasised the difference between His preaching and the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees. The latter spoke as theologians, appealing to the authority of other theologians or to the authority of their ancient scriptures. But Jesus dared to speak in His own name and, in His own name, to make changes in the Pharisaic interpretations of the law.

Though the crowds did not fully realise it, Jesus was speaking to them as the Christ, the Messias, instituting the Kingdom of God. He spoke as the Lawgiver, establishing the new law of grace which would be the foundation of the Kingdom of God.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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“OUT OF ORDER” – THE PHARISEES’ VERDICT ON THE BEGINNING OF JESUS CHRIST’S GALILEAN MINISTRY

THE ARREST OF JOHN THE BAPTIST WAS A RELIEF TO THE PHARISEES

“After Herod the tetrarch had imprisoned John the Baptist Jesus departed from Judea and set out for Galilee. St John seems to hint that Jesus left Judea because of the opposition of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were, in their own minds, the official representatives of the holiness of Israel. The preaching of John the Baptist was probably regarded by them as out of order. The arrest and imprisonment of John was a relief to them. But, as they learned, the preaching of Jesus was becoming even more popular and He was attracting even more disciples than had John. In order to avoid their enmity Jesus left Judea.

‘LIVING WATER’

Jesus returned to Galilee through Samaria. At the Samaritan town of Sichar Jesus announced Himself to the Samaritans as the Messias, the Christ. He was sitting at the well of Jacob when a Samaritan woman drew near to fetch water. Jesus asked her for some water to drink. Because of the bitter enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans the woman was surprised at the request. When she inquired how it was that a Jew stooped to ask a Samaritan for water Jesus told her that if she but knew Who He was she would ask Him for water and He would give her living water, a fountain of water springing up into life everlasting. Jesus, of course, referred to the new life of holiness which He could give her.

A NEW LIFE OF HOLINESS

The woman was sceptical. But Jesus overcame her scepticism by revealing to her the secret of her life. This revelation of her secret led her to accept Jesus as a prophet. But loyalty to her own religion and nation made her propose a problem. “Our fathers,” she said, “worshipped on this mountain, but you say that at Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship” (John 4:20).

‘THE HOUR IS COMING, AND IS NOW HERE…’

Jesus replied to her: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeks such to worship him. God is spirit, and they who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-24).

‘THIS IS IN TRUTH THE SAVIOUR OF THE WORLD’

The woman was still not convinced and so she attempted to put the problem aside by appealing to a higher authority. “I know,” she said, “that Messias is coming (who is called Christ), and when he comes he will tell us all things.” But Jesus replied, “I who speak with thee am he” (John 4:25-26). Thus simply did Jesus proclaim Himself to be the Messias, the Anointed One sent by God to bring salvation to the world. The woman believed Him and brought her fellow-townsmen to meet Him. Many of the inhabitants of Sichar accepted Jesus as the Messias, saying, “We know that this is in truth the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42).

THE SALVATION BROUGHT BY JESUS IS WITHIN THE DIVINE PLAN ANNOUNCED TO ABRAHAM, ISAAC AND JACOB

This incident at Jacob’s well is interesting for several reasons. It is the first declaration made by Jesus Himself of His Messiahship. Secondly, it marks the first acceptance of Jesus as the Messias by people who were not members of the Chosen Race. In this way it is a foreshadowing of the acceptance of Jesus by the Gentile world, and so it is a beginning of the fulfilment of the words of Jesus: ‘The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” Jesus is announcing the extension of salvation to the whole world. Thirdly, it is also possible that the incident foreshadows the ultimate rejection of Jesus by the Jews, for St John tells us that Jesus left Judea to return to Galilee because ‘a prophet receives no honour in his own country’ (John 4:44). Fourthly, Jesus here reveals the basic spiritual nature of the kingdom He has come to establish as the Messias. True worshippers, He says, will worship God in spirit and in truth. The material worship at the Temple of Jerusalem will give way to a more spiritual worship. Lastly, and with an importance of its own, Jesus insists that ‘salvation is from the Jews.’ Even though it is to be extended to all the world and even though it may be rejected by the Chosen People themselves, nevertheless salvation comes to the world from the Jews. In this way the salvation brought by Jesus is found to be within the divine plan announced so long ago to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

THE POWER OF JESUS IS NOT LIMITED BY SPACE OR TIME

After a stay of two days in Samaria Jesus reentered Galilee. At Cana He was approached by a royal official whose son was lying sick at Capernaum. In response to his request Jesus cured his son of fever. Since Jesus was at Cana and the boy was lying ill at Capharnaum, the cure was worked at a distance. The power of Jesus, it is clear, is not bound by the limitations of space or time. As a result of this miraculous cure the official and his whole household came to believe in Jesus.

‘TODAY THIS SCRIPTURE HAS BEEN FULFILLED’

The fame of the miracles of Jesus spread throughout Galilee and Jesus was welcomed to preach in the synagogues throughout the region. In the synagogue of Nazareth, His own home town, Jesus spoke to the people of the prophecy made by Isaias: ‘The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me; to bring good news to the poor he has sent me, to proclaim to the captives release and sight to the blind; to set at liberty the oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of recompense.’ After reading this prophecy to the people Jesus said to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (Luke 4:18-19, 21). Since Isaias was referring to the blessings of Messianic times, Jesus was declaring to the people of Nazareth that these blessings were to be found in His own Person.

HE WAS TEACHING AS ONE HAVING AUTHORITY

During this stay in Galilee Jesus seems to have chosen Capharnaum as the centre of His ministry. It is at Capharnaum that the people were astonished at His teaching and recognised that He was teaching as one having authority, and not as the Scribes and Pharisees. It is at Capharnaum that He worked many miracles. There He drove devils from the bodies of many; there He healed the mother-in-law of Simon Peter; there He cured many people afflicted with various diseases. St Matthew tells us that Jesus worked these wonderful cures so that the words of Isaias might be fulfilled: ‘He himself took up our infirmities, and bore the burden of our ills’ (Matthew 8:17).

THE GOOD NEWS OF THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD

The news of His miracles spread abroad throughout Galilee and many people desired to hear Him preach. Jesus satisfied their desires by going in the neighbouring towns and villages to preach the good news of the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

JESUS CALLS THE APOSTLES

It was during one of these preaching journeys that Jesus definitely called four fishermen to be His associates in the work of saving men. At Lake Genesareth He saw Simon and Andrew fishing. They had laboured all night and had caught nothing. Jesus entered their boat and preached to the crowd on the shore. After He had finished He asked Simon to launch into the deep and let down the nets. Simon felt that the effort was useless, but at the words of Jesus he let down the nets. At once they were filled with so great a catch of fish that Simon had to enlist the aid of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, to get all the fish to land. Simon was frightened at the miracle and besought Jesus to leave him, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’ (Luke 5:8). But Jesus instead called Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow Him, saying, ‘Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’ (Matthew 4:19). Immediately they left their boats and followed Jesus. These four fishermen, then, were no longer simply believers in Jesus; they had become, at the call of Jesus Himself, fishers of men, that is, they were to assist Jesus in the work of enrolling men in the Kingdom of God.

THE CLEANSING OF THE LEPER

In some unnamed town in Galilee at the time Jesus worked one of His most marvellous cures. A leper came to Him and said, ‘Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean’ (Luke 5:12). Jesus stretched forth His hand, touched the leper and said, “I will; be thou made clean’ (Luke 5:13). Immediately the leper was cured. Jesus asked him to tell no one of this miracle, but the leper could not contain himself and his joy and wonder. He published abroad the great act of mercy and power extended to himself by Jesus. This increased the fame of Jesus and the admiration of the people for Him.

THE SUSPICION OF THE PHARISEES

The growing fame and popularity of Jesus excited the suspicion of the Pharisees. The Scribes and the Pharisees of Galilee – and even some from Judea and Jerusalem itself – began to observe the activities of Jesus at close hand. It was not long before they found grounds sufficient to their narrow mentalities to object to the words and deeds of Jesus.

‘THY SINS ARE FORGIVEN THEE’

Jesus had returned to Capharnaum after a trip to the neighbouring towns. When the report spread abroad that He was at home, four men brought to Him a paralytic. So great was the crowd gathered to listen to Jesus that they had to lower the sick man down to Jesus through a hole in the roof of the house. Jesus was deeply touched at this manifestation of faith. But, instead of curing the man of his paralysis at once, He said to him, ‘Take courage, son; thy sins are forgiven thee’ (Matthew 9:2).

The Scribes and Pharisees seized upon this as evidence that Jesus was over-reaching Himself. ‘Who is this man who speaks blasphemies?’ they asked. ‘Who can forgive sins, but God only?’ Jesus rose to the challenge. ‘Why are you arguing in your hearts?’ He asked. ‘Which is easier, to say ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee,’ or to say ‘Arise and walk.’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins – he said to the paralytic – I say to thee, arise, take up thy pallet and go into thy house’ (Luke 5:22-24).

The paralytic man arose, took up his pallet and returned to his house. The Scribes and Pharisees were defeated and the crowd glorified God for giving such power to men. The cure of the paralytic proved that Jesus did possess the power He claimed, the power, the divine power to forgive sin.

JESUS IS EATING AND DRINKING WITH SINNERS

This striking manifestation of divine power was not accepted by the Scribes and Pharisees. Their continued their efforts to discredit Jesus in the eyes of the people. The next incident occurred when Jesus chose a publican named Levi to be one of His associates. Levi, or Matthew (as we know Him), was a tax collector. As such he would be unpopular with people generally, and suspected of being dishonest. But when he was called by Jesus, he gave up his position as a publican or tax-collector and followed Jesus. To celebrate his call to enter the Kingdom of God Levi gave a great feast and invited other publicans to attend. The Pharisees protested to the disciples of Jesus, ‘Why do you eat with publicans and sinners?’ (Luke 5:30). Or, as Matthew and Mark tell the story: ‘Why does your master eat and drink with publicans and sinners?’ (Matthew 9:11; Mark 2:16).

THE PHARISEES WERE TRYING TO DISCREDIT JESUS IN THE EYES OF THE PEOPLE

The Pharisees were trying to discredit Jesus by pointing out that He lived familiarly with sinners. The Pharisees themselves would not enter into such contact with men whom they regarded as legally or ritually unclean. Jesus replied to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a physician, but they who are sick. I have not come to call the just, but sinners to repentance’ (Luke 5:31-32).

In these simple words Jesus rebuked the pride and the callousness of the Pharisees. Priding themselves on their own purity because they kept scrupulously the many prescriptions of the law as interpreted by the Scribes, they avoided ordinary men who could not keep the same strict observance. In their minds only they were pleasing to God and the blessings of God were not to be extended to others. To this proud attitude Jesus replies that the blessings of God are to be extended to all. Those who are already truly just do not need Him; hence He has come to call sinners to repentance and, to call them successfully, He will go to them directly.

ONE FASTS TO BE CLOSE TO GOD SPIRITUALLY; IF GOD INCARNATE IS RIGHT IN YOUR MIDST, ONE DOESN’T NEED TO FAST WHILST HE IS THUS AROUND

The Pharisees returned to the attack by pointing out that they and the disciples of John the Baptist observed fasts, whereas the disciples of Jesus did not. If Jesus and His disciples were really good Jews, would not they also fast? Jesus answered them, ‘Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and they will fast. And no one puts a patch of raw cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, for the patch tears away from the garment and a worse rent is made. Nor do people pour new wine into old wine-skins, else the skins burst, and the wine is spilt, and the skins are ruined. But they put new wine into fresh skins, and both are saved’ (Matthew 9:15-17).

THINGS HAVE MOVED ON; GOD’S LAW IS BEING FULFILLED BY JESUS CHRIST INAUGURATING THE KINGDOM OF LOVE

This reply of Jesus was hardly satisfactory to the Pharisees. It implied what they were unwilling to accept: that Jesus was someone extraordinary, someone whose mere presence was an occasion for rejoicing rather than fasting. Now the Pharisees were anxious to show that Jesus was someone ordinary, perhaps someone less than ordinary, someone to be shunned rather than followed, an occasion for fasting rather than joy.

THE DEEPER MEANING

Actually Jesus, in veiled terms, is telling them that He will some day be separated from His disciples, and as a result of this separation a new spirit, a new life, will be given to His followers. When He speaks of the separation of the bridegroom from his wedding guests, Jesus refers to His death on the Cross for the salvation of men. When He speaks of the foolishness of putting a fresh patch on an old garment or of pouring fresh patch on an old garment or of pouring fresh wine into old wine-skins, He alludes to the fact that He will establish a new life in God and a new Law. His disciples must not be asked to observe the old Pharisaic observances.

HEALING ON A SABBATH

The next dispute of the Pharisees with Jesus was concerned with the observance of the Sabbath. In the minds of the Pharisees the Sabbath law was very strict. No work of any kind might be done on the Sabbath. On two occasions Jesus did not seem to observe the law as the Pharisees thought it should be kept. Once the disciples of Jesus picked corn on the Sabbath and ate it. On another occasion Jesus worked a miracle on the Sabbath; He cured a man with a withered hand. Both times the Pharisees objected. On the first occasion Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath’ (Luke 6:5). On the second He said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil? To save a life or to destroy it?’ (Mark 3:4).

THE PHARISEES’ OPPOSITION TO JESUS GREW

These replies infuriated the Pharisees and hardened their opposition to Jesus. As St Matthew tells us, ‘But the Pharisees went out and took counsel against him, how they might do away with him’ (Matthew 12:14). From this time on there is war between the Pharisees and Jesus. They are determined to destroy Him. They see in Him only an enemy of all that they themselves stand for.

The guilt of the Pharisees in rejecting Jesus is something only God can measure. The language of Jesus Himself seems to hint that in His eyes these Pharisees were not guiltless. But, be that as it may, the important thing is to notice that throughout these first encounters with the Pharisees Jesus is manifesting gradually more of His own identity.

JESUS IS REFERRING TO HIS ROLE IN RELATION TO THE WHOLE HUMAN RACE

At least twice He calls Himself Son of Man, thus identifying Himself with the apocalyptic figure spoken of by the prophet Daniel, the Son of Man Who will ultimately come to judge the whole world. He refers to Himself as the ‘bridegroom,’ thus recalling what John the Baptist has already called Him. At the moment the Pharisees probably could not see His deep meaning. But He was referring to His role in relation to the whole human race. He is the bridegroom of all humanity, and through union with Him the bride, all humanity, will be saved. He claims to be the ‘Lord of the Sabbath.’ Now the Sabbath was the Lord’s day, God’s day. By claiming power over the Sabbath Jesus was claiming at least to have some special power from God to do as He pleased with the Sabbath, the day of God. He claimed also to have on earth the power to forgive sins.

What were all these claims, these claims so staggering even to the imagination of religious men such as the Pharisees? Were they blashemies, as the Pharisees decided they were? Or were they sober but stupendous truth? Only the remainder of the story can tell us.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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THE BRIGHTNESS OF A NEW STAR LED THE THREE WISE MEN TO A SIGHT OF HUMILITY

PROGRESS IN HOLINESS: WORKS AND FAITH

“Recalling the deeds performed by the Saviour of the human race brings us great profit, dearly beloved – if what we venerate as something believed we also take on to be imitated. In the arrangement of Christ’s mysteries, there are both effects of grace and influences from doctrine, for we follow in the example of his works the one whom we acknowledge in the spirit of faith. Those very first things which the Son of God experienced in being born of his Virgin Mother set us on the road to progress in holiness.

HUMAN LOWLINESS AND DIVINE MAJESTY

There appear to those of an upright heart in one and the same Person both human lowliness and divine majesty. Whom the cradle shows to be an Infant, heaven and heavenly things call their Maker. That Boy with a small body is Lord and Ruler of the world. He who is encompassed by no limits is held in the arms of his Mother. But it is in these things that the healing of our wounds and the raising up of our abasement rest, for, unless such diversity had come together as one, human nature could not be reconciled to God.

A PATTERN FOR OUR CONDUCT

Our remedies, then, have established for us a rule of living, and a pattern has been given for our conduct, a pattern from which medicine can be applied to the dead. Not inappropriately, when the brightness of a new star had led three wise men to worship Jesus, they did not see him ruling over demons, not raising the dead, not restoring sight to the blind or mobility to the lame or speech to the dumb, nor in any action of divine power. They saw him, rather, as a Child – silent, at rest, placed in the care of his Mother – in a situation where there appeared no indication of power.

HUMILITY

From this lowliness, however, a great miracle was presented. Consequently, the mere sight of that Sacred Infancy to which God the Son of God had adapted himself was bringing to their eyes a preaching that would be imparted to their ears. What the sound of his voice was not yet presenting, the activity of sight was teaching them. For the entire victory of the Saviour, the one that overcame the devil and the world, began in humility and ended in humility.”
– Pope St Leo the Great, 5th century

 
 

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“YOUR CHURCH TOO LORD, IS THE LIGHT THAT LEADS US TO BOW DOWN IN WORSHIP OF YOU”

• “‘They bowed down and worshipped him’ (Matthew 2:11)

• ‘The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Saviour of the world’ (CCC 528).

• Today we celebrate the rich feast of the Epiphany. Rich, because so many important themes and truths about Christ emerge: Christ proclaimed to the whole world; the light of Christ shining in the darkness; the revelation that Jesus is the promised Messaiah, the Son of God. The power of the Holy Spirit moves hearts and minds to seek these truths. This is what Pope John Paul II affirmed in Fides et Ratio: ‘…men and women are on a journey of discovery which is humanly unstoppable – a search for the truth and a search for a person to whom they might entrust themselves’ (Fides et Ratio 33). The Magi found both of these realities in the Child of Bethlehem. They knelt and worshipped him.

• Lord, you are the star which guides us to you today. Your Church too Lord, is the light that leads us to bow down in worship of you.

• Our Father…, Ten Hail Mary…, Glory be…

• Today my prayer is for… ”
– From the Resource for the Year of Faith 2012 by Alive Publishing. For information about their booklets please visit http://www.alivepublishing.co.uk (external link).

 
 

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4th JANUARY, GOSPEL READING (JOHN 1:35-42)

WE HAVE FOUND THE MESSIAH.

As John stood there with two of his disciples, Jesus passed, and John stared hard at him and said, “Look, there is the lamb of God.” Hearing this, the two disciples followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, “What do you want?” They answered, “Rabbi,” – which means Teacher – “where do you live?” “Come and see,” he replied; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him the rest of that day. It was about the tenth hour.

One of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. Early next morning, Andrew met his brother and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” – which means the Christ – and he took Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked hard at him and said, “You are Simon son of John; you are to be called Cephas” – meaning Rock.

V. The Gospel of the Lord.
R. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

 
 

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