JESUS VISITS THE NEIGHBOURING TOWNS
HE CURES A LEPER
THE CAPHARNAITES MUST HAVE TIME TO MEDITATE ON THE MIRACLES THEY HAVE WITNESSED - JESUS GOES ON TO THE NEIGHBOURING TOWNS BETHSAIDA, COROZAIN, AND THE OTHER TOWNS A LEPER COMES TO JESUS HIS DISEASE JESUS CURES HIM TWOFOLD COMMAND TO BE SILENT AND TO FULFIL THE LAW. (St. Mark i, 3545; St. Luke iv, 4244, and v, 12 16; St. Matt. viii, 14.)
VERY probably Jesus wished to leave these people, now filled with enthusiasm, time for some reflection and for the drawing of salutary conclusions from the miracles they had witnessed. Their excessive eagerness in hastening to His side was visibly selfish. The ardor with which they sought their cures was not a proof that a normal and correct faith had begun to live in the depths of their hearts. At any rate He had accomplished enough to prove His mission to the people of Capharnaum; it was for them now to reflect upon what they had seen and to judge whether it were not reasonable to receive the author of so many miracles as the Messiah.
Therefore, on the day following this Sabbath of miracles, when the multitude thought to find the Savior at Simon Peter's and to continue the demonstrations of the day before, it was learned that He was no longer there. All, Simon among the first, set out to find Him. They came upon Him in a solitary place where He had retired to pray. For the Son was pleased to be alone with the Father to give expression to His love, to His gratitude, to His pious desires. "All seek for thee," His disciples said to Him. And the people, coming up directly, joined with them to endeavor to keep Him among them. A thousand suppliant voices besought Him not to leave them; but Jesus beheld His duty elsewhere, and gently responded: "Let us go into the neighboring towns and cities, that I may preach there also; for to this purpose am I come." Thence he set out to pass among the surrounding places, preaching in the synagogues, curing the sick, and delivering the possessed.
Galilee, as Josephus says, was at that time well peopled. There were no less than two hundred and four cities or towns,1 in a country badly provided with roads. Its population amounted to three million inhabitants speaking, with an accent that caused them to be ridiculed by the inhabitants of Jerusalem, a language half Syriac, half Hebrew, which we call Aramean. Making allowance for, exaggeration by the Jewish author, it is nevertheless true that the Savior had before Him a field worthy of His zeal and His mercy.
In all probability He confined His first mission to the towns on the northern shore of the lake, Bethsaida, Corozain, and the others.
Bethsaida, the home of Philip, Peter, and Andrew,2 must have been a short distance only from Capharnaum, and we should not be far from the truth if we located it at Tell-Hum. In this case, we must suppose two localities of the same name on the northern side of the lake, one at Tell-Hum and the other which Josephus locates in lower Gaulanitis, on the banks of the Jordan.3 The latter, built by the Tetrarch Philip, became a rather important town under the name of BethsaidaJulias. As the name Bethsaida means "House of Fishermen," it would not be surprising if there were several fishing establishments of the same name on this shore of the lake where the fish are wonderfully abundant.4
Others, and we have been of the number, suppose that there was only one town called Bethsaida. They place it near the spot where the Jordan flows into the lake. But, it was enlarged and improved by the Tetrarch to such an extent that, bearing the name of Julia, the daughter of Augustus, it subsequently extended from the right to the left shore of the lake. Thus the fishing town would have been situated to the west, and the new town to the east of the river. Our latest exploration of the marshy islets formed in the Jordan at this spot, shows us the improbability of this hypothesis, and that BethsaidaJulias was certainly a different town from Bethsaida, the home of Peter.
Corozain, if we identify it with the ruins of Kerazeth, which we also visited, would have lain more to the north and inland. There we find traces of a large and handsome synagogue, but it is only to be reached by winding and almost impracticable paths. Assuredly, this town, in the midst of wild and rocky mountains, must from the beginning have been outside the line of communication with the rest of the country. One would rather call it a place of refuge, where Jews later on could hide themselves, than a proud and flourishing city, such as Jesus speaks of. The remnants of the synagogue, columns, architraves, sculptured in the black and porous stone of the country, have appeared to us to be more ancient than those of TellHum.
However this may be, it is truly in these places, and in returning probably to Saphet and Giscala, Kedes, Rama, Hazor, and the other cities scattered among the mountains, that Jesus began His Galilean ministry. He was the sower who sowed the good seed in haste, and had no time to wait to see the harvest. Numerous miracles confirmed His word and doctrine.
In one of these cities Jesus cured a leper.5 Leprosy was quite common among the Jews. They had contracted it in Egypt, where, crowded together in the land of Gessen and devoured by want, they had greatly suffered. Since then, notwithstanding the comparative prosperity of the nation, this disease had remained hereditary in certain families. Yet there were not wanting legal prescriptions for purging the country wholly of the disease, and they were applied even with severity. In the law of Moses, the leper was obliged to keep apart from all associations until the disease had reached that period when it is no longer contagious. The miserable man, covered with unsightly sores which finally spread over the entire body, was doomed to dwell in the desert places6 with companions quite as abandoned in misfortune as himself. For all these woeful beings food was left in appointed places, and they came to take it furtively like wild beasts. In the most painful period of the disease the whole body swelled up; the nails fell off the feet and hands; the vital juices, changed in essence, escaped from eyes, nose, and mouth. The voice became hard and shrill. If the stricken one survived the crisis, his entire body, even to his hair, became of an astonishing whiteness. This was the time to present himself to the priests in Jerusalem in order to be pronounced pure and thus freed from the interdict that separated the leper from the rest of mankind. Though the cure was not yet complete, the disease could not be communicated to others, and all hygienic precautions in behalf of society were now needless.
The condition of the leper mentioned in the Gospel was quite serious. The leprosy had spread over all his body. How did he succeed in mingling with the crowd and in a City?7 It may be that the astonishing tales told of Jesus and the strong desire he had of obtaining his cure had pushed him beyond all the prescriptions of the law. Besides, the lepers were not absolutely forbidden to travel; they were simply obliged to have the head uncovered, the chin enveloped, and to cry out, when any one approached, "Beware; I am a leper." To forget any of these precautions was to expose himself to extreme penalties.
However, the leper here mentioned had disguised himself as best he could, until, perceiving Jesus, he was able, suddenly and to the surprise of all, to present himself before him.8 Falling on his knees, he hid that hideous face against the ground, and in a suppliant voice he said: "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." He has faith, then, in the power of Jesus, and to His goodness he resigns himself. The two virtues, faith and resignation, that could best attest his merit, are seen, indeed, in his brief prayer, and he moves Him from Whom he seeks salvation to the very depths of His being.
The crowd wonders what will happen. Full of compassion, the Lord looks upon him, and, extending His hand, despite the Mosaic prohibition, He is about to touch the foul, contagious disease. The multitude is visibly agitated. They know not that the Master of the law makes the law, and that the Savior can even touch the far more nauseating leprosy of our sins without danger of defilement. "I will," He says with the serenity of one who breaks the letter of the divine law that its spirit may be made to live, "I will; be thou cleansed."9 At once the leprosy disappeared. The hand of the Lord had not become impure by its contact with the leper; but the leper had been made pure by having felt the touch of a hand so holy. "And He charged him that he should tell no man:10 but go, show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing according as Moses commanded, for a testimony to them."11
The prohibition to speak of the miracle can be explained in several ways. According to some, Jesus was once more desirous of avoiding an outbreak of popular enthusiasm at the expense of His real Messianic work. According to others, He wished the leper to profit by the favor received, in silence and retirement. But the Master's words indicate an evident connection between the command to keep silence and that of showing himself to the priest. Knowing the evil dispositions of the hierarchical party, could He have desired before all things, to force them to acknowledge the supernatural power which had worked the cure, when they learned by whom it had been effected? Or, may he not have feared that the healed leper, in the expansiveness of his joy, and in answering the questions, and receiving the congratulations of his friends, might forget to fulfill the legal obligations? This seems the more probable.
Jesus, although putting Himself above all law, in order to give health and happiness to a stricken man, by no means intended to suppress the law itself. On the contrary, He wishes the priests to know it. They have enough grievances against Him in Jerusalem, and He does not wish to increase them.12 The leper must go, therefore, and make his visit to the Temple and his offering of two birds, one of which will be immolated and the other set at liberty.13 Every one shall thus be witness of his respect for the prescriptions of the law. The time is not yet come for despising the authority of the ancient priesthood. The law of Moses is to remain intact until the whisper of the Holy Spirit shall bury it with honor and bring to life in its place a new religion.
The first part of the command given by Jesus was not observed. The leper was too deeply moved with joy and gratitude to keep silent. He had no sooner quitted the presence of Jesus than he began to publish all that had happened to him.
RETURN TO CAPHARNAUM TRIUMPHANT DEMONSTRATION BEFORE THE PHARISEES
JESUS IS TO TEACH RATHER THAN TO ACCOMPLISH MIRACLES HE RETURNS TO CAPHARNAUM SCRIBES AND PHARISEES AWAIT HIM THERE THE INCIDENT OF THE PARALYTIC WHO WAS LET DOWN THROUGH THE ROOF JESUS IN CLAIMING THE RIGHT TO FORGIVE SINS IS EITHER GOD OR A BLASPHEMER THE CURE OF THE PARALYTIC SOLVES THE QUESTION THE PHARISEES ARE CONFOUNDED. (St. Luke v, 1726; St. Mark ii, 112; St. Matt. ix, 18.)
As we have just observed, it has seemed possible to many that Jesus' idea in commanding silence on the part of the leper was to restrain the popular enthusiasm which threatened to distort the true character of His mission. The Messiah, in fact, was come not to do miracles, but to teach and to save mankind. His works, however astonishing, were to be the frame of the picture; the thing to be placed in prominence was His doctrine. But the accessory was being readily accepted for the essential, and as the fame of the wonderworker spread abroad, multitudes hastened in greater numbers to ask for miracles. When they were granted the crowds were filled with joy and admiration. Indeed, they no longer found either the time or the tranquillity necessary for the fruitful reception of the teachings that were to transform souls and to found the Kingdom of God.
Jesus, therefore, that He might avoid these eager and enthusiastic demonstrations, determined not to appear again in the towns. The crowds followed Him then even into the rural parts. Only the most isolated retreats could from time to time free Him from the demands and the curiosity of the people, by affording Him an opportunity to find again in His Father's presence those effusions of love and prayer which were the strength and comfort of His human life. His zeal soon brought Him back to those who sought Him.
However, since He had either to renounce all evangelizing or submit to this selfish agitation on the part of the people, Jesus deemed it better to return to Capharnaum. before entering upon His apostolic journeyings, and to strengthen the first germs of good which He had sown in that place. He, therefore, embarked in a boat, and, in this way escaping from all that followed Him, He returned to that town, henceforward His homecity.
Here a kind of religious delegation, an element somewhat novel outside of Judea, and quite unknown in a town so unlettered as Capharnaum, patiently awaited Him. They were doctors of the law and Pharisees assembled from all parts, even from Jerusalem, to hear His doctrine and to judge of His works. His fame was becoming universal, and so the hierarchical party, with whom we have seen Him in conflict in the Holy City, was closely watching Him. As the most recent news had come from Capharnaum, and as Jesus seemed to have established there His center of action, it was decided to send to that place a committee of inquisitors. Nothing was easier than to obtain men ready for this work. One of the vain ambitions of the rabbis of this epoch was to be called upon to make an exhibition of their knowledge, and to judge of that of others. They were to be seen, mounted on asses, making regular rounds of the country,14 visiting the schools, the synagogues, and gladly accepting the work of solving difficulties submitted to them. As, ordinarily, they had a manual profession, they worked while traveling, and even devoted themselves to trade. In this way they were enabled to live without being a burden to any. Their influence was, indeed, great, for the people gave to those who explained the law a share of the respect they had for the law itself.
As soon as they learned in Capharnaum. that Jesus had arrived, they betook themselves, the Pharisees and doctors leading the way, to the house where He had taken lodging. It was doubtless Peter's house. An immense crowd made their way inside and even into the vestibule; for they were absolutely eager to hear the new preacher.
But, while the entrance was thus obstructed, some men arrived bearing on their shoulders a litter containing a poor paralytic who besought a cure. All requests to make the multitude separate and permit this group to enter were useless. Nevertheless, the sick man and his friends declared that so good an opportunity of calling upon Jesus to prove His supreme power was not to be abandoned. Therefore, in order surely to succeed, they had recourse to a singular stratagem.
In the Orient the roofs of the houses are generally platforms surrounded by balustrades. They may be reached by means of two stairways, one outside, the other inside. Hence the question which the rabbis consider with regard to the occupant of the upper story: "Ought he to ascend to his tenement by the inside or by the outside?"15 The bearers of the paralytic carried him up the outside staircase to the roof and there they prepared to let him down into the interior. We may conclude that Jesus was delivering His discourse either in the courtyard, or in the cloister which even in ordinary houses opens on this court, or in the principal apartment downstairs, corresponding to the modern divan.16 If Jesus was in the court it was the border of the terrace with its brick balustrade that was removed. If He was under the cloister or more probably in the divan, an opening had to be made in the terrace itself large enough to let down the sick man.17 Lively, indeed, was the faith that thus surmounted walls, and, in spite of all obstacles, succeeded in laying the paralytic at the feet of Jesus, as an irresistible prayer. The Savior admired it, and in view of this, each one looked for a miracle. To the great surprise of the assembly Jesus simply said to the paralytic: "Be of good heart, son, thy sins are forgiven thee."18 The curing of the diseased, then, is clearly not the limit of His power; He claims an influence over souls far more amazing than His influence over bodies. That which is inmost in man, conscience, Jesus can purify and, by His grace, recall to the higher life by suppressing in it all the elements of death. This is God's exclusive right. For, in truth, if sin is an attack upon God's majesty, to Him Who is offended alone belongs the right to remit and to pardon. The Scribes and Pharisees argued in like manner. Hence, their surprise changing to sentiments of illrestrained indignation, they murmured: "Why doth this man speak thus? he blasphemeth. Who can forgive sins, but God only?" It was true. To speak thus, he must be either a blasphemer or a God. Jesus takes up the dilemma; He had foreseen it. His demonstration will admit of no objection. To be consistent, His adversaries will be bound to acknowledge that, as He is not a blasphemer, since He works miracles, He must really be God. "Why do you think evil in your hearts?" He said to them. Thus He Who a moment before had read in the soul of the paralytic, sins to be forgiven and dispositions sufficient to gain this pardon, now discerns in the souls of His adversaries all the difficulties that they encounter and the theological perplexities amid which they are gone astray. "Which is easier to say," He adds: "Thy sins are forgiven thee; or to say: Arise, take up thy bed and walk?" Neither one nor the other is easy for man, but both are easy to God. Logically, if Jesus can, in a moment, cause a paralytic to walk, it is evident that He was guilty of no lie, when, shortly before, He claimed for Himself the power of remitting sins. The visible work will be the guarantee of the invisible. Those present know it well, and they anxiously wonder what is about to occur. If the miracle is done, the doctors of the law are confounded; if it does not take place, Jesus is lost.
No one responded; the test was accepted. Then in the midst of general silence, with calm majesty and full of authority, Jesus said. "That you may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins (He saith to the sick of the palsy), I say to thee, Arise; take up thy bed and go into thy house." At the same moment, as if His word had brought back warmth into the torpid limbs of the sick man and reawakened life in his stiffened joints, the paralytic arose, took up the litter upon which he had been let down, and departed to his house, triumphant in the midst of the astonished and enthusiastic crowd.
It was a clear and positive proof. God alone can remit sins; Jesus claims to have this power; He proves by a miracle that He has it; the miracle is the undeniable seal of truth that God places upon human words; therefore, Jesus Christ is God.
The Scribes and Pharisees withdrew vanquished and in deep thought, while the people, after their first impression of pious fear, glorified God, saying: "We never saw the like!"
1 Autobiog., 46.
2 St. John i, 44; xii, 21.
3 B. J., ii, 9, 1; iii, 10, 7.
4 In our excursions toward the northern side of the lake, our boatmen have always asked us as a favor to stop in these parts to fish. In May 1899, we saw in the space of ten minutes sixteen pounds of fish taken: amongst the islets formed by the laurels and rosebushes and other shrubs which extend into the lake.
5 To be convinced that the Synoptics have not copied each other, not even taken their histories from the same source, we have only to compare the three different accounts they give us of this miracle. If they differ as to time, place, and details, they all agree identically in the words of the leper and of Jesus, words carefully preserved in the oral Gospel.
6 IV Kings vii, 3; St. Luke xvii, 12.
7 St. Luke v, 12.
8 The expressions St. Luke in particular employs, kai idou k. t. l. without any verb, seem to imply that the leper came forward unexpected, without having been seen, like an apparition.
9 There is scarcely any need of mentioning the rationalistic explanation according to which the leper, as soon as he was completely cured, simply besought Jesus to perform the function of the priest by declaring him clean, and thus to save him the trouble of going up to Jerusalem. There is no such statement in the Gospel story. The leprosy is pictured there in the extreme stage. (Cf. Ex. Iv, 6 with IV Kings v, 27.) The leper is not declared clean; the disease is suppressed: "and immediately the leprosy departed from him." The word kaqarisai, "to purify," is, with the Evangelists, synonymous with "to heal"; they employ it here with relation to the uncleanness caused by leprosy.
10 This is the best way of translating the expression of Mark i, 48, exebalen, which has made some commentators think that, contrary to all seeming, the miracle was worked in a synagogue. In reality, nothing in the Gospel warrants such a supposition. Luke v, 12, says simply that Jesus was then in one of the towns He visited. If Matt. viii, 1, places this at the moment when the Master came down from the Mountain of the Beatitudes, it is only by that artificial combination of which we have already spoken. The command given to tell no one excludes all idea of the possibility of Jesus being surrounded by a crowd at the moment of working the miracle.
11 These words, eis marturion autois, which all three Synoptics preserve, have been variously interpreted. The word autois cannot relate to the priest, which is in the singular. We must then give it a collective sense and say that his appearance before the priest would establish in the eyes of all men the complete cure of the leprosy, the almighty power of Jesus, and the respect shown to the law.
12 This hostility of the Jerusalem priesthood might surprise us if we possessed only the Synoptic Gospels, since, according to them, Jesus would not appear to have as yet been in the Holy City. But John tells us of the struggles and animosity which the other three give us to understand, but without mentioning them.
13 Lev. xiv, 4.
14 Cf. Targum on the Canticle of Deborah.
15 BavaMezia, fol. 117, i.
16 The opening through which light and air were furnished to the divan was covered with a curtain or with bricks conveniently arranged according as the occupants desired to protect themselves from the sun or from the rain. Those who imagine that tiles had to be removed from above the court, have not seen the roofs or terraces of the Orient. There are sometimes bricks, but never tiles.
17 The expression in St. Luke, dia twn keramwn, and more particularly that in St. Mark, apestegasan thn stegmn, indicate a real opening made in the roof. This opinion has caused great trouble, on account of the inconvenience that such demolition would effect. We must conclude that it was done with sufficient precaution and under conditions favorable enough to offset any discomfort on the part of the assembly above whose heads the opening was made. It is not uncommon, even today, when it is too warm and the assembly is attracted by some subject of interest or is gathered at a banquet, to see obliging hands partly uncover the terrace or the roof.
18 From this many think that the paralytic bore in his infirmity the punishment of an irregular life and that, moved by repentance, he came to ask for health, firmly resolved to be more virtuous in the future.
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