The Life of CHrist

Mgr. E Le Camus




AFTER this stay in the city of the Samaritans Jesus again set out and turned His steps toward Galilee. Knowing well that a prophet is without honor in his own town, He turned aside from Nazareth and went straight in the direction of the Lake of Genesareth. An enthusiastic welcome awaited Him. The people of Capharnaum and of the other cities had seen Him during the festival at Jerusalem; they knew of His wonderful works, talked of them and boasted of them. The independent and even superior attitude He had assumed before the religious authority had flattered the Galileans, who were so long accustomed to submit to the overweening influence of the capital. They were eager to attest their admiration and their gratitude to Him. Besides, the first miracles they had witnessed begot in them a desire to witness others. The wonderworker was at least a prophet, if not the Messiah Himself. His name was in every mouth, and the wish to possess Him in every heart. And so, scarcely had He arrived at Cana, where He had worked His first miracle, when the inhabitants of Capharnaum were informed of His presence. In fact, from Capharnaum there came a royal officer,1 Chusa, perhaps, Herod's steward2 or Manahen,3 Herod's fosterbrother, hastening to make known to Jesus the sad plight of his young son, who was ill, and to supplicate Him to save him from death.

The father's story left no doubt that the child was in the last extremities. But since Jesus had effected other miraculous cures, He could surely do so in this case. The officer, however, supposed that the influence of this worker of miracles had to be immediate in order to insure success, and so he requested Him to come down in person to Capharnaum, at a distance of twentyfive miles from Cana. It was evidently a wish formulated by an incomplete and illenlightened faith. The miraculous power of Jesus, as already revealed, could not but be absolute. All nature was subject to it, and, like a docile slave, nature received, bore to a distance, and fulfilled His sovereign commands. To cure means to put an end to sickness by the suppression of its cause. This cause, on the other hand, is the result of one of the manifold phenomena that depend on the general and providential laws of nature. Hence nothing was easier for Jesus, and the officer should have known it, than to express His will to the illness, instead of going in person to touch and heal the sick boy. This imperfection in a faith which, however, really existed in a man otherwise well educated, seems to have given Jesus a feeling of sadness.

To this first painful impression was joined another, the knowledge of the immoderate desire to behold miracles that was deep in the souls of all those present. The Samaritans had not been so exacting. They had sought, above all, truth upon His lips, mercy in His heart, and, through truth and mercy, salvation. The Jews of Capharnaum desire miracles first of all. They make it a condition of their faith. They must be satisfied; yet how much better it would be to believe on His word alone, inasmuch as His word has in itself most evident signs of a mission from God! So He said with some bitterness, "Unless you see signs and wonders, you believe not!" It was a reproach to the universal condition of minds, but the officer was the first to receive it. Nothing daunted, however, he reiterates his request: "Lord," he says, "come down, before my son4 die." Jesus saith to him: "Go thy way, thy son liveth." This speech was so authoritative and so reassuring, that the father believed in its allpowerful efficacy.

It might have been about one o'clock in the afternoon. Without delay the officer set out for Capharnaum. On the way, when the sun had already set, he met his servants, who were hastening after him, eager to announce the child's sudden and complete recovery. The father at the very height of joy, yet not forgetting the gratitude he owed to Jesus, asked at what hour his son had been cured. His servants tell him: "Yesterday at the seventh hour." In our language we should have said, "This afternoon, at one o'clock." Day commenced for the Jews at six o'clock in the evening. So, at seven o'clock they spoke of yesterday, as we do of the hour that precedes midnight.

This was exactly the moment at which Jesus had said: "Go thy way, thy son liveth." The evil had been exorcised from afar. All was due, without a doubt, to the Master's miraculous intervention. The happy father now had faith in Him, and all his house believed with him. Thus did the faith begin to spread in that land of Galilee; and Jesus was filled with great joy.

We shall meet again later on with the wife of Chusa, Herod's steward, among the faithful servants who followed Jesus Christ and aided Him with their resources. If she was the mother of the child thus miraculously cured, we may understand that she earnestly desired to requite with touching and faithful gratitude the incomparable mercy she had received.

For the second time, in that same city of Cana and again on His return from Judea, Jesus had proved His omnipotence by a miracle.




IN Galilee, Jesus' first miracles were bearing fruit, and it was easy to see that religious fervor had been aroused wherever the WonderWorker had made known His divine mission.

But how was it in Judea? Was this land of Pharisaism and of high rabbinical culture disposed to receive the Good-Tidings with a like enthusiasm? This was improbable; Jesus desired to prove this at the very outset of His public life, and so to justify before all the preference He was to show for Galilee by making her mountains the cradle of the Kingdom of God.

At the very first festival that occurred, that of Pentecost, or, at the latest, that of the Tabernacles,5 He again set out for Jerusalem. Already He had made Himself known in that city in a remarkable manner in the Temple. But now He seemed resolved to be simply a pilgrim mingling in the crowd, when an occasion presented itself for the exercise of His mercy and omnipotence. He did not neglect it.

Near the SheepGate,6 at present probably the Gate of SittiMariam, there was a pond or piscina, called Bethesda, or "House of Charity." Around this basin, benevolence (whence no doubt the name "BethCheseda"7) caused to be erected an edifice with five arches,8 within which many sick, blind, lame, and withered had taken refuge. The public belief was, that from time to time an angel came down into this pond and moved the waters. The first who then entered the healthgiving pool would be cured of whatever malady afflicted him. This periodical miracle could not be denied, if the passage that relates it were authentic. But the four most ancient manuscripts have suppressed it, and many others have kept it marked or overladen with such variations as render its authority very doubtful.9 So that here we are inclined to regard it as a copyist's pious explanation insensibly transferred from the margin to the text. Hence the piscina of Bethesda was simply a basin of mineral waters, like those found in Palestine at Callirrhoë, for example, near the Dead Sea, in the thermal baths of Ibrahim near Tiberias, or even in Jerusalem, at AïnesSchifa. This spring has disappeared. There, waited the infirm looking for the propitious moment when the subterranean caloric, suddenly breaking loose, caused considerable agitation on the surface of the water and stirred up the metallic salts that gave efficacy to the bath. It may be, also, that the spring was intermittent, like that of the Virgin at the present time, and we can thus understand why the infirm should hurry to dip themselves in the pond when the waters began to rise. At that moment they were particularly disturbed, being warmer and more abundant.10

Among the unfortunates who awaited their cure, there was a man who had been infirm for thirtyeight years. From his appearance of discouragement and suffering it was easy to see that he had long sought recovery from an illness as violent as it was deeprooted. "Wilt thou be made whole?" Jesus said to him. "Sir," replied the sick man, "I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me in the pond. For whilst I am coming another goeth down before me." The unfortunate man supposed there was no efficacy in the agitated waters except for the first sick man that reached them. This was a mistake, and if all were not cured, it may be accounted for by the slowness of some in plunging in, and by the fact that others sought an impossible cure. Jesus saith to him: "Arise, take up thy bed and walk." On the instant the man was cured; he took up his bed and went his way. Now it was the Sabbathday. The Jews, who saw him as he passed along the streets, cried out to him: "It is the Sabbath, it is not lawful for thee to take up thy bed." Pharisaical rigorism hardly allowed a small cushion,11 pulvillum, to be borne upon the head, provided it was of a certain insignificant weight. But the sick man was carrying a bed. Hence the reason why the Jews paid no attention to his cure, but took pains to reprimand him for his trespass of the law. He replied quite naturally without annoyance, but sheltering his unlawful conduct beneath the responsibility of Him through Whom he had regained his health: "He that made me whole, he said to me: `Take up thy bed and walk.'" Then they asked who was this man, but he did not know his name. Jesus, wishing to escape the noise and the mob, had promptly slipped away through the multitude. The disciples were probably not with Him.

When the Savior discovered the sick man later on in the Temple, whither he had come to thank God for his cure, He said to him: "Behold, thou art made whole; sin no more, lest some worse thing happen to thee." This seems to imply that the paralytic's infirmity had been caused by his excesses and was a punishment of misconduct. Jesus, Whose divine eye penetrates the inmost regions of the human conscience, knew not only the body, but even the soul of the man He had cured, and He intended to complete His work of mercy by giving him a salutary lesson. Immediately the paralytic inquired the name of Him Who addressed him, and hastened to announce to the Jews that the author of his recovery was called Jesus.

From this moment the struggle began to assume great proportions. The real Contemner of the Sabbath being known, it was the duty of the religious authorities to demand an explanation. Jesus, on the other hand, does not refuse to discuss this theological case; He is ready to seize upon such a fine opportunity to confront the storm, and to develop His doctrine on His relations with the Father, and on the undeniable proof of these relations. Then, no longer the accused, but as their accuser, He will make a direct attack upon the incredulity of His adversaries and will lay bare its true causes and its malice. "My Father," He cries out, "worketh hitherto, and I also work." The force of this argument seems to be this: the Jews claim that all work must be laid aside on the Sabbath, because God, having completed the work of six days, rested on the seventh. But this is not exact. God, after having created the universe, did not enter into absolute repose. He was active even in His day of rest, and His providence continued to preserve, to govern, and to vivify all things. He has not ceased to make His sun to shine upon the just and upon the unjust. If the Sabbath forced Him into absolute inactivity, it would be the saddest of all days, for it would thus bring about the final catastrophe. It is by a relative repose, therefore, that it must be sanctified. It will not be dishonored by the doing of good to men. If the Father is active even on the Sabbathday in order to preserve the life of humanity, the Son, too, can act in order to give back health to one that is sick. Moreover, His personal activity in the working of miracles is not separate from that of God. The principal agent of the prodigy is the Father; the Son is but the secondary instrument. If, then, they blame Him for having caused a miraculous cure on the Sabbathday, they blame the Father Himself in His works; and is it not folly to accuse God?

When they heard Him call God His Father, and even make Himself His equal, the Jews' indignation again burst forth with violence. The violation of the Sabbath was no longer a cause of anxiety. The impiety, the blasphemy of which Jesus was just guilty were of exceptional gravity. Their thought was to submit Him to the punishment of blasphemers, to put Him to death.

But Jesus was not of those whom danger overawes and reduces to silence. Full of His subject, He raises the discussion to its loftiest heights. His theme, boldly grasped, was the necessary relation between the activity of the Father and that of the Son. In heaven the Father is the eternal Exemplar of the Son, for the Word is nothing else than the perfect Image of the Father. On earth, the Incarnation makes no modification of this necessary relation between the two divine persons, but rather extends it to the human nature itself. This latter reads in the Divine Word, as the Divine Word reads in the Father; so that even as man Jesus regulates His activity according to that of His Heavenly Father: "Amen, amen, I say unto you, the Son cannot do anything of Himself, but what He seeth the Father doing; for whatsoever things He doeth, these the Son also doeth in like manner. For the Father loveth the Son and showeth Him all things which Himself doth." Jesus here gives us the secret of His religious life. He reveals to us how He keeps His gaze perpetually turned toward His Father, Who through love permits Himself to be seen through His Word; and His merit lies in His filial imitation of what is given Him to contemplate. Thus is He initiated into the Father's work, into the divine plan, and the development of His own activity will be in direct proportion to this initiation. "And greater works than these will He show Him, that you may wonder," He adds; "for as the Father raiseth up the dead and giveth life: so the Son also giveth life to whom He will."

Taken in a spiritual sense, this power contains something that is more astonishing than the cure of a paralytic. The great moral resurrections that the Son of God will bring about after Pentecost shall, indeed, be a more prodigious sign of His power. But surpassing all these will be the solemn sign, which, at the end of time, shall perpetuate His glory, the physical resurrection of the dead and the general judgment. At the present time He merely anticipates, in isolated cases, this manifestation of His power. Sole judge of the living and of the dead, He selects those whom He wishes to call to eternal life and happiness. This is His right. "For neither doth the Father judge any man," He says; "but hath given all judgment to the Son, that all men may honor the Son as they honor the Father." To give life and to judge are the two great prerogatives of God with regard to His creatures; by communicating them to His Son, God intended to insure for Him the homage and adoration of mankind. So Jesus has the right to conclude: "He who heareth not the Son, knoweth not the Father, who hath sent Him." On this very point shall the judgment be made, and according to their attitude toward the Son, men must expect death or resurrection. "Amen, amen, I say unto you, that he who heareth my word and believeth Him that sent me, hath life everlasting, and cometh not into judgment, but is passed from death to life."

Then, of a sudden, perceiving that He alone was living in the midst of that lost humanity, He foretells the moral resurrection of those who believe. The scene, in His imagination, becomes eminently dramatic. He was like Ezechiel in the vast plain of dry bones, raising his voice to call them back to life. "Amen, amen, I say unto you that the hour cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in Himself, so He hath given to the Son also to have life in Himself." That is, He has made His Son not merely like unto Himself, but equal to Himself; for the Son has in Himself the inherent faculty of divine life. The Son, in the greatness of His love for the Father, has humbled Himself by becoming man; but the Father, Whose love is equal to His Son's, has glorified Him by the very fact of His Incarnation, with the charge of judging as He shall think best the humanity of which He had become a member. So that the Son of God become the Son of Man has full authority and full power here below. "The Father," says Jesus, "hath given Him power to do judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Wonder not at this, for the hour cometh wherein all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God. And they that have done good things shall come forth unto the resurrection of life; but they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment." This resurrection is to be not moral and religious, but physical and corporal. That same voice that shall have given life to souls by the preaching of the Gospel, shall sound again at the end of the world, as clear as a trumpet, summoning the dead from their tombs to give them back their life. Such is the Son's authority and power. He has received them from the Father, and with infinite love He returns them to Him by His declaration that He is perfectly subordinate to Him. "I cannot of myself do anything. As I hear, so I judge: and my judgment is just because I seek not my own will, but the will of Him that sent Me." What sublime simplicity in this clear exposition of the intimate relations of the Son and the Father! We shall find its continuation and full development later on in the discourses at the Last Supper.

After the miracle that occasioned these explicit declarations, it was difficult to contradict them. Yet in order that faith might take deeper root in the hearts of those who heard Him, Jesus shows that the Father Himself is witness of what He says. His assertions might well seem vain were He alone in sustaining them. "If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true. There is Another that beareth witness of Me: and I know that the witness which He witnesseth of Me is true. You sent to John; and he gave testimony of the truth. But I receive not testimony from man; but I say these things that ye may be saved. He was a burning and a shining light. And ye were willing for a time to rejoice in his light. But I have a greater testimony than that of John. For the works which the Father hath given Me to perfect, the works themselves which I do, give testimony of Me, that the Father hath sent Me." If the Jews had confidence in John the Baptist, why do they not believe his testimony? It is true that his testimony, like all that is human, was only transitory. The light beamed for an instant, and then was borne away by sacrilegious hands to the depths of a dungeon. The witness is in prison; he is no longer heard. Therefore Jesus invokes another Who is unchangeable, unfailing, ever convincing; He means His own works, which are the voice of the Father, and the undeniable sign of His mission.

What is more to the point, the Father Himself has spoken directly and not only through the miracles He permitted. He spoke in person at the baptism of His Son; He had spoken before through the, Prophets He had inspired, in Holy Scripture. Israel had heard nothing of the language of the first, for she was unworthy; of that of the second she had understood naught. "And the Father Himself who hath sent me, hath given testimony of me; neither have you heard His voice at any time nor seen His shape. And you have not His word abiding in you; for whom He hath sent, Him you believe not. You search the Scriptures, for you think in them to have life everlasting, and the same are they that give testimony of me and you will not come to me that you may have life." The reason is that Jesus and the Jews are absolutely at variance in their views and aspirations. He seeks not the applause of His fellows; He is love that forgets itself and is devoted; they are pride and egotism. "I receive not glory from men; but I know you, that you have not the love of God in you. I am come in the name of my Father and you receive Me not. If another shall come in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive glory one from another, and the glory which is from God alone you do not seek?" Man is never such a stranger to faith as when in his pride he seeks popularity, the homage of the multitude. His heart, far from being humble, has no ear to listen to God's voice. He longs for the affections of earth, and has no merit for the favors of heaven. Yet Jesus adds: "Think not that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one that accuseth you, Moses, in whom you trust. For if You did believe Moses, you would perhaps believe me also. For he wrote of me.12 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?"

Such are the final and irresistible words of tenderness and logic with which Jesus means to conclude His discourse. They must not look upon Him as the enemy, the accuser of His people. No, He deplores their blindness. The real accuser will be Moses, the great prophet of Israel, the ancient liberator of his people, toward whom are turned all hopes. No longer as intercessor, but as judge, he will condemn those who are apparently so faithful and so zealous, and will do homage to Him Whom they now accuse of being the usurper of his prerogatives and the transgressor of his commandments.


1 Herod Antipas was called king by the people although he was only tetrarch, and his representatives held the title of royal officers.

2 St. Luke viii, 3.

3 Acts xiii, 1.

4 The three words paidion, uios, pais, employed in this narrative in speaking of the child, admirably correspond to the intentions and character of those who use them. The father says paidion, my dear child; Jesus says uios, son, heir, representative of the family; the servants say pais, which is a word neither of tenderness nor of dignity, but of the family life. Such distinctions are not the result of invention; they are the expressions of nature and of truth.

5 This question has been a very absorbing one to exegetes. Those who read h eorth, the festival of the Jews, claim that by this is meant the Passover, the greatest of Jewish festivals. There would thus have been four Passovers during the public life of Our Lord. However, even if the reading h eorth were the more probable, which cannot be claimed, since the article h is wanting in the best manuscripts, there are many decisive reasons for rejecting the hypothesis that makes this the Feast of the Passover. For why should the Evangelist have designated in this passage, in so general and inexact a way, a solemnity which everywhere else he names very particularly (chs. ii, vi, and xii)? If this were the paschal feast it would follow that between ch. ii and ch. v one year had elapsed, and. from ch. v to ch. vi another. Hence, if we already had reason for surprise in the fact that St. John had assigned so few events to the first twelve months of Jesus' ministry (from ch. ii to ch. v), we should have far greater grounds for complaint in finding still fewer in the second twelve months (ch. v to ch. vi). He certainly did not intend to describe two years in four pages; and when he places Jesus before us (ch. vii, 1924) justifying the cure we are about to recount, he does not suppose (what, indeed, would be true if this were the feast of the Passover) that between these two events there is an interval of a year and a half, for after such a lapse of time the conflict would probably have been forgotten.

There were, therefore, but three Passovers in Our Lord's public life: the first, that with which His public life begins; the second, at which He was not present; the third, that with which His public life comes to its close. His public life lasted only two whole years; and between His baptism and the first Passover there were only two or three months.

Exegetes, reduced to hypotheses, have applied this festival, according to their chronological preferences, to each of the solemnities scattered throughout the Jewish year. We believe there is a question here of the Feast of Pentecost, or of the Tabernacles, so that there remain fifteen months, or at least one whole year, in which to classify the events which the Synoptics place in Galilee before the period of struggle in Judea.

6 We understand pulh before probatikh with the Syriac version of Jerusalem and others, because we know from 2 Esd. iii, 1, 32; xii, 39, that there was, toward the northeast of the Temple, a gate of that name, SaarHatson, mentioned with precision in the Septuagint, pulh h probatikh. It was thus named, perhaps, because, being on a level with the platform of the Temple, it seemed most handy to introduce the victims for immolation. Near it was the market where these latter were sold. We must observe, moreover, that several commentators with St. Jerome, Eusebius, Theodore of Mopsuestia, etc., in agreement with the Sinaitic manuscript, cutting off epi th,make of probatikh the qualificative of kolumbhqpa, and translate: "There is at Jerusalem, at the pool of the sheep, a building called in Hebrew Bethesda"; or, again, with M. de Saulcy, Voyage autour de la Mer Morte, p. 367, the word kolumbhqpa, forgotten perchance by the copyists, reads "Near the pool of the Sheep there is a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda." St. Jerome, after Eusebius, de Situ et Nom, at the word "Bethesda" says, in fact, that "they show at Jerusalem two twin basins of which one is filled with the winter rains and the other with red, and indeed bloodred, water, the vestiges of its ancient use, for the priests came there to wash their victims. Hence its name."

7 Delitzsch proposes as etymology Bethestav, or the House of Pillars; others, BethAschada, or the Place of Effusion, that is to say, where the blood of the victims was thrown.

8 A passage of St. Cyril compels us to abandon the idea of the circular form that we had at first attributed to this portico. This doctor well able to describe this holy place to us, since he was Bishop of Jerusalem, tells us: "Bethesda having five porticoes, four around it and the fifth in the middle" (Hom. in Paral., ii).

9 It is wanting, in fact, in the Sinaitic manuscript and in that of the Vatican, which date back to the year 350; in the codex of Ephrem. transcribed a century later; in that of Cambridge, later still by a hundred years, and in many others, too numerous to cite. The Coptic and Sahidic versions, undertaken about the end of the third century, and the Syriac manuscript of Cureton, also omit this passage. The Alexandrine manuscript in the British Museum, which was written in the second half of the fifth century, the Peschito, and Tertullian, de Bapt., c. v., alone defend its authenticity. But the celebrated African apologist, mentioning the fact of the Angel who Stirred up the waters of Bethesda, alludes, perhaps, only to the explanation, written at an early date, beside the text. For he does not cite the Evangelist's authority. Origen does not appear to have read the passage Spoken of in St. John. But, in such matters, an addition is better explained than a suppression.

10 That accounts for the uncertainty in marking out the site of Bethesda. The common opinion seems to be that of M. de Saulcy that there were two piscinæ, the Probatic, or that of the Sheep, and that of Bethes, or the House of Charity. The Greek text (St. John v, 2) strongly favors this opinion, which is accepted by Eusebius and by St. Jerome, who speak of twin basins, limnai didumoi, gemini lacus. The Pilgrim of Bordeaus says that on arriving he beheld two great reservoirs near the Temple, one on the right and one on the left. If he entered the city through SittiMariam gate, we must recognize one of the two piscinæ in the BirketIsrael, and the other must be looked for near the Church of St. Anne, where the White Fathers, in fact, are completing its excavation with the series of superimposed sanctuaries erected by the piety of the faithful. In the Jewish Museum in the Louvre is a marble foot found in the excavations. The Greek inscription it bears, PONPHIA AOTKIAIA ANEQHKEN, shows that the custom of exvoto offerings is an ancient one in the Church and that Christian paralytics also came to Bethesda to ask miraculous cures, not from the waters of the piscina, but from the mercy of Jesus.

11 Maimonides, Hilcoth Schabbat, ch. xix, 17.

12 Jesus here alludes to the symbolic figures of the Messiah, to the promises made to the patriarchs, contained in the books of Moses, and more particularly to the prophecy in Deut. xviii, 18.

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