The Life of Christ


How long Jesus remained in Jerusalem after His discourse with Nicodemus is unknown. The Evangelist simply says that, followed by His disciples, He went into the land of Judea. It was natural, indeed, that, after having evangelized the capital, He should desire to exert His influence over the honest dwellers of the rural districts. Since baptism was the sign of penance, and penance the entrancegate into the Kingdom of God, Jesus commanded His disciples to baptize, as John was doing. Thus all would contribute simultaneously to develop the religious agitation and to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.

The disciples alone baptized, according to the counsels of the Master Who Himself did not baptize. He was not to participate directly in a baptism not His own, but which was merely the repetition of that of the Baptist and the figure of that which He was to institute later on. Only after His resurrection, in fact, did Jesus prescribe baptism of water to which was inseparably united baptism of the Spirit, and Pentecost witnessed its solemn inauguration.

John had left the banks of the Jordan, and had retired to Ennon1 near Salim, both sites uncertain, but which it seems unreasonable to look for outside of Judea. There were in that place some fine springs, and he could easily administer there his symbolical ablutions. It may be, too, that he sought to avoid the anger of Herod, whose incestuous conduct he had courageously condemned. Jesus had come into the neighborhood where John was, to support him, perhaps, in the struggle he had undertaken, and in the persecution he was undergoing; perhaps, moreover, to provoke the last testimony of John, who was now near to the close of his mission.

The two preachers being in close vicinity of each other, and their baptism being simultaneously administered, feelings of jealousy were roused in John's disciples, and they called upon several of the Israelites2 to declare their reasons for preferring the baptism of Jesus to that of their master. The discussion was necessarily a lively one, and it was easy to cause the disciples of John great embarrassment by raising the objection that, according to the Baptist himself, Jesus was the great worker of purification for mankind. They, therefore, sorely vexed, betook themselves to the Precursor's presence and said to him with bitterness: "Rabbi, He that was with thee beyond the Jordan, to whom thou gavest testimony, behold He baptizeth and all men come to Him." But their recriminations had not the result they desired. John was far from sharing their anxiety. As he listened to them, his soul was stirred not with indignation, but with joy. What wish could he have more ardent than to see the Messiah inaugurate His Kingdom and enter into the fields which he had made ready for Him? He replied, "A man cannot receive anything, unless it be given him from heaven." The wish to usurp what is not one's part, would be a crime. John was born to make straight the way for the Messiah, not to be His rival. Between him and Jesus there can be no opposition, no comparison. The distance that separates them has long been marked out. "You yourselves do bear me witness," he goes on, "that I said, I am not Christ, but that I am sent before Him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth with joy, because of the bridegroom's voice. This my joy, therefore, is fulfilled."3

The Baptist here borrows the image, in which he expresses his thought, from the customs of social life; and he does it with a boldness worthy of Ezechiel or Jeremias.

In the Jewish customs there was established between the betrothed couple an intermediary (shoshben) who was to assist them in their affectionate relations. The shoshben, in reality, prearranged the marriage and brought it about. His part began by bearing to the young maiden the first expression of affection on the part of the intended groom, and ended only with the solemn introduction of the happy couple into the nuptial chamber. Then standing there, near the door, listening to the loving talk of the married couple, he took credit to himself for his work and made known to all what joy it was to have so well succeeded in making people happy. This role of shoshben, the friend of the groom, was that of the Precursor. The new religious society, for which he has made ready, is nothing more nor less than the spouse of the Messiah. Between them both, he stood an intelligent and devoted mediator, and when, by his oftrepeated testimony, he had turned over to Jesus the new disciples who were the nucleus of the Church, he claimed the credit of his work. Then, standing behind the door, he sought to bear amid the stories of his old disciples, John, Peter, and Andrew, the words of love that passed between the Messiah and the Church, and he was filled with joy at a labor so well accomplished.

Now it remains for him only to retire and to leave them to their effusions of joy: "He must increase, but I must decrease." Such is the providential and logical order. His disciples must now make their choice: "He that cometh from above, is above all," he continues;4 "he that is of the earth, of the earth he is, and of the earth he speaketh." By His origin, by His nature, by His speech, is Jesus separated from all that is of earth. He is of heaven, and it must astonish no one to see this superhuman figure increase until it eclipses all others. "And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony."

The disciples, giving ear only to their own jealousy, had said that all were hastening to His side. John, giving ear to his affection alone, declares that none do so. For the religious movement that he looks upon appears insignificant in comparison with what he would wish. It angers him to behold a witness from heaven received with such indifference and incredulity. Yet what honor there is for the man who believes in the words of Jesus! "He that receiveth His testimony, hath set to his seal that God is true. For He whom God hath sent, speaketh the words of God." The act of faith with which His teachings are received directly honors God, Whose veracity is thus acknowledged. The messenger is simply the voice of him who sends him.

This is especially true in the present instance. Others may have received the Spirit of God only in an incomplete manner, for a time and with limitations. To Jesus, God has given the Spirit without limitation; "the Father loveth the Son, and he hath given all things into His hand." None can affirm this more strongly than John, before whose eyes was accomplished the sovereign manifestation at the baptism. Therefore he draws his conclusion with the tone of threatening severity that is characteristic of the new Elias: "He that believeth in the Son, hath life everlasting; but he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth in him."

Such is the Precursor's final testimony, which the Evangelist gives here in the hope, perhaps, of bringing back the disciples of John who were scattered wherever there dwelt Israelites of the Dispersion, and especially at Ephesus, where the fourth Gospel was published; it is explicit, and duly so. If Israel hears it not, his ears have been closed by malice.

John will continue for a few days valiantly to fulfill his part; but, as his closing words imply, his end is not far off.

1 Authorities are not agreed upon the geographical position of Ennon; the indications given by the Evangelist are insufficient to decide it. There are many sites which must first be eliminated; for example: all those in Peræa, for, the disciples in addressing themselves to the Baptist, indicate that Ennon was on the opposite side of the province and in those parts west of the Jordan (St. John iii, 26. Compare with i, 28); also those which had not an abundance of water, because, he says, there was much water in the place. This very detail, given as characteristic, seems to exclude all those springs to be found on the banks of the Jordan. Moreover, if the Baptist happened to be in the near neighborhood of the river, one naturally asks why did he not baptize in it? It is, therefore, in the interior of the country _ despite the information of Eusebius, St. Jerome, Onomast., and Epist. lxxiii ad Evang., and of St. Sylvia, Pereg. ad Loc. S., which place them eight miles south of Scyphopolis _ that we must look for Ennon and Salim. Is it possible to believe with Robinson and Conder that Salim and Aïnoun, to the east of Naplouse, in the very heart of Samaria, are the places we seek? Not to speak of the distance (7 kil.), which will not allow us to put Aïnoun and its springs near Salim, it is evident that John could not have transferred his ministry to a people especially hated by the Israelites, without rendering that ministry fruitless in Israel. We must, then, since we cannot do so in Galilee, look for Ennon in Judea. SilhimAïn has been thought of (Jog. xv, 32; xix, 7). But on the southern frontier of Judea we find only wells, and these very rarely. The polla ndata could not be there. Why not accept those splendid springs which, eight kil. to the south of Bethlehem, feed the basins of Solomon? One of them bears the name of AïnSaleh, preserving, perhaps, the memory of Aïnoun and Salim. The waters there, as is well known, are very abundant, and in this place John would have been on the caravan road and safe from the wiles of Herod. In this case, Ennon is really, according to the Gospel data, on the other side of the Jordan (v. 96) in Judea, where Jesus is baptizing (v. 22), and the reader sees how a discussion arose with the Jews (v. 25). If we accept this identification, which we are perhaps the first to put forward, Jesus would have evangelized Southern Judea, Bethlehem, Hebron, and we could say that no part of Palestine had been untouched by His religious activity.

2 Readings vary between the singular and the plural. The Vulgate translator has read Iondaivn, but good authorities read Iondaion.

3 Jehovah's union with His people had often been likened to the conjugal union (Isa. liv, 5; Os. ii, 21). This idea reappears frequently in the New Testament (Eph. v, 32; Apoc. xix, 99) and fully corresponds to the living reality. Jesus alludes to it in Matt. ix, 15, and xxv, 1, in the parable Virgins.

4 Some think that it is no longer John that speaks, but the Evangelist who adds his own reflections. it is true that there is a surprising similarity in style and in thought between the end of this discourse and the conversation with Nicodemus. But, besides the fact that the reporter of a conversation involuntarily inserts something of his own personality, as, for example, literary phrasing, a work otherwise conscientious, it may easily be supposed that John Andrew, and Peter had more than once repeated to their master the teachings of Jesus, and that the Baptist was fully acquainted with the Savior's doctrine. This is why he reproduces naturally, as it were, many of His ideas and makes them the complement of the testimony he renders to the MessiahKing. Moreover, part of the testimony contained in the close of this discourse agrees with Matt. iii, etc.

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