The Life of Christ

Mgr. . Le Camus

CHAPTER X

A VISIT TO NAZARETH AND TO NAIM

THE REASONS OF THIS SECOND VISIT TO NAZARETH JESUS IN THE SYNAGOGUE IMPRESSIONS AND REFLECTIONS OF HIS HEARERS INCREDULITY PREVENTS MIRACLES FRESH APOSTOLIC JOURNEYINGS NAIM AN ORIENTAL FUNERAL THE WIDOW'S SON RESTORED TO LIFE TRUTH OF THIS MIRACLE FEELINGS OF THE MULTITUDE. (St. Mark vi, 16; St. Matt. xiii, 5458; St. Luke vii, 1117.)

IT must have been about this time that Jesus determined to make another visit to His own ungrateful town. For now that He was to make His final choice of the great dignitaries of His new society, His coworkers in the preaching of the Gospel, His future representatives on earth, He doubtless felt pained in His man's heart that He was unable to let that choice fall upon His own relatives, His childhood companions, the friends of His youth, whom incredulity now held far from Him.

Humanly speaking, there was now reason to expect among the Nazarenes if not an actual triumph, at least a relative success.

Jesus returned, not alone, but accompanied by numerous disciples who, in their lively enthusiasm, told of His wonderful works, and by their talk, as much as by their respectful deference, surrounded Him with a kind of halo capable of recommending Him to the admiration of His fellow-townsmen. But there is nothing harder to overcome than the prejudices of a small town and the opposition created by them. His welcome was less churlish than before, but the religious result was almost the same.

On the Sabbath, He repaired to the synagogue and undertook to instruct the multitude. He produced a deep impression, notwithstanding the suspicious dispositions of His audience. The words of grace that issued from His lips were so full of unction, so appropriate and so strong, that all were struck by them. But this public admiration, far from becoming a germ of faith, soon took the form of a barren, if not a malignant, curiosity. "How came this man by all these things?" said some, "And what wisdom is this that is given to him, and such mighty works as are wrought by His hands?" "Is not this the carpenter?" said others, "the son of Mary,1 the brother of James and Joseph and Jude and Simon? Are not also his sisters here with us?" Thus they took pleasure in running through the list of his relatives as if the intimate knowledge they had of Him could cheapen the youthful Prophet's deeds or lower the sublime character of His discourses. To be sure, none could deny that the circle in which Jesus had grown up was humble and poor, and these illnatured remarks uttered in proof of it were needless; but what conclusion was to be drawn, if not that the sublime height to which, despite all obstacles, He had raised Himself, was the undeniable proof of His personal worth and merit? But instead of admiring this result, his fellowtownsmen drew scandal therefrom, incapable, as they were, of recognizing or even suspecting that God was in the young carpenter of Nazareth.

Jesus, then, was forced to see His mighty and merciful hands bound by the incredulity of His compatriots. God's grace reaches those who lay bare their hearts in faith, and show themselves worthy of receiving its effects by a generous response to its calls. Others it leaves to their reprobate dispositions. When He beheld the obstinate hostility with which they met His fraternal advances, Jesus again gave utterance to that sentence, which He had already pronounced once before, and which the experience of all ages has erected into a proverb: "A prophet is not without honor but in his own country, and in his own house, and among his own kindred." For it was only with difficulty that He succeeded in curing, by the imposition of His hands, a few scattered sick in the very city where His heart's desire was that His goodness and His power might be displayed. He wondered, says St. Mark, at such a phenomenon. By this the Evangelist wishes us to understand how extraordinary was that incredulity which was so obstinate as to cause wonder even in the soul of a God.

Jesus spent but a few days in Nazareth. The chilling atmosphere He experienced there weighed too heavily upon Him. He, therefore, spoke His last farewell to His mothertown, and returned once more to His evangelical journeyings among the neighboring cities. There, at least, He was eagerly welcomed. His words stirred all hearts, and the miracles so confirmed His teachings, that He felt the seed of salvation growing beneath His steps.

On one of His journeys He came to Naim, a charming town, situated on the northwestern slope of little Hermon, at a few hours' distance from Nazareth. A group of miserable huts and a white chapel today mark the spot which it once occupied, and yet bear its name. To look at the ruins that cover the ground, and at the many tombs cut in the cliff to the east, one might suppose that Naim had been in its time a place of some importance. The traveler who pays a visit to the antique and picturesque cemetery, wonders which is the sepulcher that one day remained unoccupied in consequence of the sign the Savior gave to astonished Death. What a blessed joy it would give us to bear its testimony upon one of the most striking prodigies of the Gospel story! This is what took place:

It was toward evening.2 Jesus, escorted by a number of His disciples and by a crowd of people, who were ever as eager to hear His words as to witness His works, arrived on the northern slope of the mountain, almost beneath the walls of Naim. Their conversation was somewhat solemn, like the impressions received upon the journey. Not far away to the east was Endor, near the cavern where, long before, the pythoness had summoned into the presence of Saul the aweinspiring shade of Samuel, and to the west they looked abroad over the vast plain of Esdrelon, which stretched away, teeming with great memories from Sunam to the Cison. It may be that the thought occurred to some among them to mention the great names of Endor and of Sunam, and of the witch and of Eliseus, in the hope of inducing the Master to discuss the awful mystery of death, and to define the power of the friends and of the enemies of God over those who people the kingdom beyond the grave. Over the fields of Mageddo, enriched by the blood of many warriors, hung a cloudy mist. The sun was descending behind the summit of Mount Carmel, and its last beams were still gilding the woody, picturesque hillsides of Galilee. The countryfolk, walking leisurely, were coming back from their labor in the fields. In the air was that deep calm of evening that invites to rest after a weary day. Jesus and His disciples were at the city gates, when suddenly were heard the longdrawn notes of grief and poignant lamentations, and, at last, the confused cries of great mourning. A funeral procession was sadly advancing. Nothing could be gloomier than such a ceremony in the East. Mournful and silent, with heads partly covered with their cloaks, at times with bare feet and torn garments, the men solemnly begin the march. Then, wrapped round with fillets in an open coffin, is borne the corpse upon its funeral bed. Last come the women, the female mourners, chanting in heartrending tones their sorrow for the dead, and alternately beating the tamtam in response to the music of the flute.

The mourning on this occasion was all the greater, as the mother of the dead man conducted it herself. The poor woman, who was a widow, had but this son from whom death so cruelly parted her. No other lips than hers were needed to utter the sad alas! of the obsequies.3 nor other heart to praise the virtues of him who was no more.

The sympathetic crowd, also, shared largely in her grief. Jesus was moved by it, and, gently approaching the unhappy woman, "Weep not," He said to her, in a tone that could not but appeal even to a heart that had most reason to mourn. At the same time He stretched His hand toward the bier. There was such majesty in the gesture that those who were carrying the dead man came to a halt. "Young man," He said, "I say to thee, arise"; and those ears that had been closed by death to the noises of earth hear the command given by the voice of heaven. The cessation of relations between the soul and body is only relative in death as well as in sleep; and as in sleep the voice of man is sufficient to reestablish them by awakening the sleeper, so in death the voice of God restores them by reviving him who was dead. The young man sat up, and began to speak, while Jesus, with gracious tenderness, took him by the hand and gave him back to his mother.

This prodigy, attested by many witnesses, who were disinterested and who belonged to the most diverse conditions of life, was undeniable. They all knew well that the young man had been really dead, since they were on the way to bury him; every one now saw him alive, since he was speaking and walking along. The miracle, or, in other words, the intervention of a superhuman power, was then clearly the necessary hyphen between these two evident facts, a death and a life. The disciples, too, were aware that they had as yet seen nothing so astonishing.

For this resurrection, surpassed later on by that of Lazarus, was more astounding than that of the daughter of Jairus. The dead, who is being borne to the grave, is farther from life than he who has but just died, though nearer than he who has been in a state of decomposition for four days. But the act that revives them all is essentially the same. It is God and His representatives alone who can call back into life those who have departed therefrom.

So, all together, disciples, Naimites, and the people who were following Jesus, divided between a pious terror and an irresistible enthusiasm, hailed the Thaumaturgus, crying out: "A great prophet is risen up among us; and God hath visited His people!"

"And the rumor of Him," adds the Evangelist, "went forth throughout all Judea4 and throughout all the country round about." That is Peræa, where John the Baptist was in prison.

NOTES:

1 In the text of St. Mark no allusion is made to Joseph, and this proves that he was dead at this time. In St. Matthew the father is mentioned because of his trade, but his name is not given, because he is no longer alive.

2 Since the captivity the Jews had adopted the Persian custom of burying the dead on the day of their death. The funeral took place and still takes place toward the close of the day.

3 Jer. xxii, 18.

4 According to this, it is not necessary to look for Naim on the other side of the Jordan in the southern part of Peræa. To be sure, Josephus, B. J., iv, 9 4 5, locates there a city of this name. But it is evident that the miracle reported by St. Luke took place in Galilee; and if the Evangelist observes that the news of it spread, exmlqen, from this country into Judea and the neighbouring countries, it is as a transition to what he is about to tell.

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