The Life of Christ

Mgr E. Le Camus





IN His debate with the Jews, the discourse of Jesus contained an allusion to an important event that had happened only a short while before, the imprisonment of John the Baptist. When the Savior says that the Precursor ceased to be a burning and a shining light, He means that His enemies have caused Him to be thrown into prison. It is probable that those to whom the close of the preceding discourse was addressed were not acquainted with this fact, for, if we compare the data in Josephus1 with the Evangelist's narrative, we find the following to be the course of events:

For some time John had ceased to respond to the hopes which the sacerdotal party had founded on him. The embassy from the Sanhedrim found but little satisfaction in his replies, and their, discontent must have greatly increased when they learned that he proclaimed a carpenter of Nazareth as the Messiah. This was as much as to contradict all the patriotic aspirations, all the hopes of glory that the nation had. His mission now fell under suspicion, and, as suspicion easily leads to persecution, they concluded that this false preacher of the Messianic kingdom ought to be suppressed. This was not easy to do, for his popularity was great. Josephus says, "Many came in crowds about him, for they were greatly pleased to hear his words." The Pharisees, therefore, decided that they must seek for some means of placing2 him in the hands of Antipas, a prince cruel enough to put him to death. An opportunity of doing so soon presented itself in the natural course of events.

Antipas, son of Herod the Great and Malthace of Samaria, tetrarch, as has been said elsewhere, of Peræa and Galilee, had married a daughter of Aretas, King of Arabia. He suddenly repudiated her, and took to himself his brother Philip's Wife.3 So great a scandal aroused universal indignation. The people were the more stirred up, since Aretas, to prevent this insult from going unpunished, declared war against his soninlaw. John the Baptist, who was preaching in Peræa and, consequently, within the territory of this incestuous tetrarch, did not fail to stigmatize publicly this misdemeanor. The Evangelist seems even to say that the austere preacher went so far as to carry his loud remonstrances into the very palace of the guilty man to disturb him in the midst of his joy, and there gave the pitiless non licet, which inevitably arouses remorse and leaves to crime naught but pleasures full of bitterness. "It is not lawful for thee," declared the man from the desert, "to have thy brother's wife." And to this he added a terrible catalogue of the crimes of which Herod bad been guilty.

This declaration must have particularly excited the fury of the criminal princess, who, having braved dishonor, now dreaded seeing the miserable failure of her ambitious dreams. John the Baptist stood in her presence like an opponent quite capable of her destruction, if he himself were not soon destroyed. Hence at the same time that she was binding Herod unconsciously to herself by those artificial ties of which passion holds the secret, she was careful to place before him, as a danger to be feared, the great popularity of the Precursor. With calculating cleverness she suffered the murmurs of public indignation to reach the prince's ear; and then, showing how one more word would suffice to let loose the tempest, she seemed to say that this word was already on the lips of this terrible agitator.

It must be at this point that the hierarchical party, the secret enemies of the Baptist, commenced their part. For an influence not named in the Gospel, but only too real, here intervened and delivered him into the guilty hands that sought him. As it was easy for him to escape Herod's authority by taking refuge in Judea, we may reasonably admit that he retired into that province; but such a retreat afforded him no security. The Sanhedrim, deceived in its first hopes, dissatisfied with the Baptist's categorical declarations, and in the end hostile to his tendencies, must certainly have refused him its protection. John fell into the hands of his enemy, was loaded with chains, and shut up in the prison of Machærus.4

Herodias' hatred would have sought more than this; but Herod hesitated to pronounce sentence of death. He could not but admire and even love, while he feared, the courageous voice that inculcated duty.

Besides, such excessive rigor might intensify the universal discontent, and hasten a sudden breaking of the storm. The popularity with which virtuous men are surrounded is ever redoubtable even to tyrants. In its own time it can crush with its weight the most firmly established thrones, and hence it is that it protects the just man in the solitude of his dungeon.

It was sufficient to hold John shut up in prison to prevent him from addressing the multitude, without making his captivity too, severe. We shall see that his disciples were permitted to visit him. St. Mark even gives us to understand that Herod manifested not only regard, but actually esteem and confidence in his victim, seeking and following his advice on more than one occasion. Unfortunately a wicked woman stood between these two men; she had seduced the one, and she detested the other. Her influence, preparing a triumph for her hate, was to bring on the catastrophe which would make the latter a martyr and the former his executioner.

For Jesus, the Baptist's imprisonment, if it was, as we suppose, partly the work of the chief priests, was a serious warning. He had but to avoid the secret plannings of the Pharisees by taking leave of Judea. If they had betrayed the preacher so loved and applauded at his first coming, what would they not hold in reserve for the Master, because of Whom His herald had become detested?

At all events the reception the Messiah had just met with for the second time in the Holy City revealed more and more the tenacious hostility of these multitudes, filled with prejudices and guided by a perverted priesthood. If Jesus had been able to accomplish nothing in Judea, even though the Baptist gave Him the support of his solemn attestations, He could hardly hope for more consoling fruits now that the official witness had, through imprisonment, ceased to carry on his ministry.

From this point He alone is to preach and to establish the Kingdom of God. Galilee is, without a doubt, the spot where His thought shall more slowly, perhaps, but more surely take root. Souls there are already tempered by divine grace. The Master has only to model them as He wishes. Rude as they may be, we shall see them change unconsciously in His powerful hands. Of these uncultivated mountaineers, He will make up a spiritual army which He will lead later on to the assault of the Holy City. Jerusalem may even yet resist these latest advances of divine mercy, and then the Galileans, shaking the dust from off their sandals, as a sign of malediction, will quit this accursed land and, turning toward the pagan world, they will go to achieve its conquest.

Jesus therefore went up toward Galilee,5 there to enter upon His work. He will go out from that country only when the Church has been definitely organized.


Formative Period in Galilee


Jesus Gathers Together the First Elements of His Church




OUR Lord's ministry in Galilee is the most peaceful, the happiest, and the most fruitful period of His life. The Master devotes Himself completely to these generous mountain peasants who welcome Him with kindness, listen to His words, and call for His miracles. It is, indeed, the Lord's blessed year. God's work is done openly. Its gradual development may be followed and its final triumph foreseen.

In this labor of creation, Jesus used untiring patience, power, and especially charity. Nothing is for us more consoling than to study the Master at work, and to place ourselves among His disciples and piously to gather in His lessons.

Jesus' return to Galilee was signalized, according to the Synoptics, by an extraordinary display of activity. In every synagogue the young Master was heard preaching the Kingdom of God, penance, and the obligation of faith in the GoodTidings. He declared with an irresistible conviction that the time was fulfilled; His words were applauded and the preacher's fame was becoming great.6

The large number of synagogues in a deeply religious country must naturally have been a means for the scattering of the divine seed. On arriving in a town Jesus was always certain of finding an audience ready to hear Him and to discuss His words. Besides the obligatory assembly on the Sabbath, there were also optional reunions in the synagogues on Monday and on Thursday; and, as these days were at the same time court and market days, the inhabitants of the country, after doing their business, rarely failed to come and glorify God in the holy assembly.

Every town containing ten citizens sufficiently wealthy to be freed from the necessity of manual labor, had a synagogue. The large cities had more, according to the number and munificence of their inhabitants. Tiberias had twelve, and Jerusalem four hundred and eight.7 Nazareth, too, had her synagogue; Jesus must needs appear there and reveal Himself to His fellowcitizens. Although their bad disposition was notorious _ we have already seen that He once passed through His own country without stopping there _ He wished to prove it plainly and thus to leave no excuse for those of His own people who refused to receive Him. Taking the opportunity, therefore, of a Sabbathday, He came, as usual, to the synagogue and took His place among the people. They were accustomed to see Him from early childhood constant at these pious meetings; but, concealing the extraordinary state of His soul from the gaze of men, He had ever sought to remain modestly mingling in the crowd.

The synagogues may be described as large rectangular halls of more or less definite construction. The more elevated portion, the sanctuary, separated by steps from the enclosure proper, contained a reproduction of the Ark or Tabernacle together with the Book of the Law. In this spot, closely corresponding to the choir in our modern churches, on the seats of honor8 sat the dignitaries of the assembly, president, elders, the officiating minister, and other important personages of the community, all faced toward the people, who were within the enclosure around the ambo prepared for the lector or preacher.9

The right of speaking to the congregation was not so strictly reserved to priests and Levites as never to be permitted to ordinary individuals. In fact, we know that when, on solemn feasts, the ceremonial required seven lectors, the most educated of those present were invited through politeness or through necessity to ascend the ambo and read a passage from Moses or from the Prophets. Besides, one could ordinarily ask to be heard even without invitation. But in such a case he must be almost certain of compensating by his knowledge for the temerity displayed in soliciting such an honor.

The reading of the fragments of the law (Parascha) was over, and that of the Prophets (Haphtara) was about to begin. The general surprise must have been great when, from the midst of the people, Jesus, the carpenter, made known that He desired to speak. Not that the report of His recent works in Cana, in Jerusalem, and at Capharnaum had not drawn upon Him the attention of His compatriots; but besides the fact that they did not know exactly how much faith they ought to place in all the wonderful stories they heard, it was publicly known that Jesus had never frequented any school other than the workshop, and no one believed Him to be sufficiently lettered to make a solemn reading, much less to explain it. However, the president of the assembly, or the angel of the synagogue, granted Him permission to ascend the ambo. There, the hazan, a sort of subaltern officer, handed Him a cylinder about which were rolled rectangular strips. This was the collection of the prophetical discourses of Isaias. For we know, that on the Sabbathday the reading of the prophets10 was joined to that of the books of Moses. Jesus unfolded the volume, and, whether the order of reading brought it about so, or whether God so permitted that the roll should of itself open at that place, He found a passage11 most happily selected for the occasion. The chief of the synagogue gave Him the sign to commence, and Jesus read the following words: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, wherefore He hath anointed me, to preach the Gospel to the poor. He hath sent me to heal the contrite of heart; to preach deliverance to the captives, and sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,12 to preach the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of reward." At these words He ceased, closed the book, returned it to the hazan, and sat down.

This was a sign that He wished to speak and to explain the text. There was, deep silence; all eyes were fixed upon Him. "This day," He said in a solemn tone, "is fulfilled this scripture in your ears." And He developed His declaration with all the sentiments of tender affection that the occasion inspired. Those who listened to Him, His fellowcountrymen, the friends of His family, the companions of His childhood, were truly the unfortunate blind whom first He sought to cure, the slaves He came to liberate. To them He desired to bring the firstfruits of salvation and of grace. Before an audience less hostile than that of Nazareth, His success would have been most consoling. On the other hand, His thesis was not altogether one of sentiment. He could prove, by the testimony of John the Baptist and by the miracles He had already done, that the Spirit of God had really come upon Him at His baptism. And as for the merciful disposition of His heart toward humanity, He was ready to attest it by devoting His life to the saving of unfortunate mankind. For, from this day, as the true representative of the mercy of the Most High, He shall advance not with the sound of the jubilee trumpet, but, inaugurating the Gospelpreaching, to proclaim in all parts the great year of grace and benediction.

The jubilee, as understood in the law of Moses,13 every fifty years, returned liberty to the slave who had sold himself, their patrimony to families that had alienated it; in a word restored Jewish society to its primitive basis. The ministry which Jesus is about to undertake will do more than this since it will restore not a people, but mankind, long held in slavery, ruined and fallen. And His work of resurrection shall not be for a halfcentury, but for all time.

The benevolence, the ease, the eloquence with which Jesus expressed Himself forced the assembly to do Him justice and admire Him. Nevertheless this first movement of enthusiasm and approbation soon gave way to a feeling of surprise and even of violent vexation. The beautiful words just listened to were forgotten as each one asked himself who it was that had spoken them: "Is not this the son of Joseph?" some one said, and this question provoked other cutting words that Jesus overheard, or illfeelings which He perceived in the depths of their hearts. Since He presented Himself as the preacher of the great jubilee of mankind forgiven, why did not He, Whose childhood had been so obscure, prove His mission by some extraordinary works? He was to commence the demonstration of His Messianic character in His own city. "And He said to them: Doubtless you will say to me this similitude: `Physician, heal thyself; as great things as we have heard done in Capharnaum, do also here in Thy own country."' And He said, "Amen, amen, I say to you, that no prophet is accepted in his own country." It is true; the fellowtownsmen of an extraordinary man ever find it particularly difficult to give full recognition of the worth of one whose birth and growth among them they have witnessed.

And as Jesus perceives in their objections a kind of ironical doubt of the miracles He had done elsewhere, He says to them with severity in His tone that heaven owes a sign only to those who merit it by humble and sincere faith. The fact that they are of the same nation or of the same city as the wonderworker gives them no right to His works. Above all, they should be one with Him in thoughts and in aspirations. This is the true bond, before which all others are effaced, "In truth I say to you, there were many widows in the days of Elias in Israel, when heaven was shut up three years and six months.14 when there was a great famine throughout all the earth; and to none of them was Elias sent, but to Sarepta of Sidon, to a widow woman. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet, and none of them were cleaned, but Naaman the Syrian."

As they heard themselves likened to the faithless Jews of the past by the very one Who likened Himself to their great prophets, the Nazarenes no longer checked their fury. They rose up and drove Him from the city, and pursued Him even to the summit of the mountain15 on which Nazareth was built. Their intention was to hurl Him down from the precipice. So did they prove that Jesus was right in accusing them of evil dispositions. At the critical moment, just as they were on the point of consummating their crime, the Savior checked them by sending forth one ray of His majestic light. In the gaze or in the words of superior men, there is a surprising force that holds in check the most violent onset, and impresses itself on the fierce but astonished beast. On other occasions we shall see to what degree Jesus possessed this influence; but we may not be surprised at this, since we know that the energy of His great soul was doubled by the strength of God.

Overwhelmed by the superhuman dignity which He suddenly manifested, the Nazarenes turned to each other in amazement, their arms paralyzed, their fury held in abeyance. As if by a sudden and irresistible impulse, they opened a way for Him Whom they were going to destroy, and Jesus passed along between them, calm and serene in His majesty, and not one ventured to lay sacrilegious hands upon Him. Such, as has been said, was the miracle He left them in place of all others, as He departed from them.

He went out, therefore, like one banished from the city where he had spent the long years of His hidden life. It is not said that any friend of His youth accompanied Him. No doubt He looked back from afar off for the last time upon that ungrateful city, upon the humble house that had sheltered His work and His virtues, and He mourned, perhaps, that He was obliged to bear unto others the works of mercy and the words of salvation which His own refused to accept.

He turned His steps across the mountains toward Capharnaum. He was certain of finding there elements prepared for the first organization of His Church. Did not Isaias16 prophesy that the light would begin to shine on the confines of Zabulon and Nephthali? Besides the royal officer, whose son He had cured, and those who had followed him in his act of faith, was there not in the city itself a twofold group of brothers and of friends whom He had already selected to be the foundation stones of the new society? Young and generous men, convinced of Jesus's extraordinary mission, they only awaited the final signal to hasten into the religious movement, and to bring with them, with all the defects of unpolished Galileans, the good qualities of hearts naturally upright and devoted.

1 Josephus, Ant., Bk. xviii, ch. v, § 2.

2 This is probably what is meant by the expression meta to paradoqhnai used by St. Mark i, 14

3 The Philip here named must not be confounded with the tetrarch of Ituræa and of Trachonitis, who was the son of Cleopatra. The man here mentioned is another son of the same name, whom Herod had by Mariamne, the daughter of the High Priest, and whom he had disinherited. (See Josephus, Ant., xvii, 6; B. J., i, 30, 7.) It is a mistake to suppose that there was a contradiction between Josephus and the Evangelists, because the former calls this prince Herod, while the latter call him Philip. It is the same individual in each case, who at one time bears his own particular name, and at another only his family name. Krebs, Observ. in Nov. Test., p. 37, has clearly shown that the writers of the time, among others Dion Cassius, lib. lv, p. 567, called princes sometimes by their patronymics, sometimes by their distinctive names. As for Josephus in particular, Krebs proves that we may see how he called the person here spoken of both Philip and Herod. (Compare Ant., xviii, ch. iv, with ch. v.)

4 Machærus, built by Alexander, the son of Hyrcanus I, destroyed by Gabinius and rebuilt by Herod, was a fortress of the first class and served as a natural defense of Palestine against the Arabs. Josephus, B. J., vii, 6, gives us a description of it. It comprises a stronghold, an upper and a lower city. It is believed that traces of it are found at M'Kaur, to the east of the Dead Sea. The foundations of the citadel are still there, with a cistern and underground chambers which might have been the prison of John the Baptist. The remains of the upper city, 150 meters below the citadel, are strewn in a plateau of about 1,600 meters, whence the view to the Dead Sea and the mountains of Judea is quite picturesque. The lower city, to the east of the fortress, retains in its ruins some traces of Greek civilization.

5 Compare Matt. iv, 12; Mark i, 14. Nothing more manifestly shows the omissions of the Evangelists than the one found in the three Synoptics at the beginning of Jesus' public life. All three suppress the two returns of the Master to Galilee after His baptism, and His two appearances, though significant, at the Feasts in Jerusalem. They seem too, to confound His third return to Galilee with the first, and thus pass over in silence the first halfyear of His public life. We have seen how the fourth Gospel happily fills up this hiatus; but does it fill up all the others?

6 St. Luke iv, 15.

7 Megill. Perek., i, and Barachot, fol. 8

8 St. Matt. xxiii, 6; Ep. St. James ii, 23.

9 See Vitringa, De Synagoga Vetere; Jost Geschichte des Judenthums, i, 168 ss

10 Acts xiii, 15; xv, 21.

11 Isa. lxi, etc. Although referring directly to the return from exile, the prophecy applies equally to the Messianic times of which the deliverance of Israel was to be the symbolical figure.

12 It is very surprising to find here the clause aposteilai teqranous en afesei, which is neither in the Hebrew text nor in the Septuagint. These words are found in ch. lviii, v. 6, of Isaias. Are we to suppose that Jesus took them from there and inserted them in His reading? It is scarcely probable, because He was reading and not expounding at that moment; so that no interpolation would have been permitted Him without correction by the chief of the synagogue, to the scandal of all. It is more plausible to say that St. Luke, quoting from the version of the Septuagint, found this fragment as a marginal note in his copy, transferred from ch. lviii to ch. lxi; that it was there in explanation of tnflois anableyin, or simply as a comparison of grammarians of similar ideas, and that he inserted it in his citation as the real text. These inaccuracies may lead to a modification of certain rigid theories on inspiration, but they do not endanger the authority of the Evangelist.

13 Lev. xxv, 9.

14 St. James v, 17, gives the same space of time, whereas in III Kings xvii, 1, and xviii, 1 and 45, we read that rain fell in the third year. To solve this difficulty it has long since been remarked that in Palestine there are only two rainy seasons, October and April. It is supposed, therefore, that since the rain failed at the very moment when it was due to fall, it was necessary to add to the three years of drought the six months that preceded, but which formed no part of the punishment.

15 The expression evs ofruos tou orous indicates clearly that we must look for this spot in climbing the hill on the side of which Nazareth is built, and not in descending toward the plain

16 St. Matt. iv, 14, sees in this change of domicile the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaias, viii, 23 and ix, 1, which he quotes freely, not following exactly either the Hebrew or the Septuagint. The prophet predicts in this passage, at one and the same time, the deliverance from the Assyrian yoke and the Messianic Kingdom.

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