The Life of Christ

Mgr. Le Camus

CHAPTER III

CONTROVERSY WITH THE PHARISEES

THE PHARISEES PRECEDE JESUS TO CAPHARNAUM TO CALUMNIATE HIM HE IS IN LEAGUE WITH BEELZEBUB HIS CRUSHING REPLIES THE DEFEAT OF THE STRONG MAN HIS TERRIBLE REVENGE THE SIN AGAINST THE HOLY GHOST ENTHUSIASM OF THE MULTITUDE ASKING FOR A SIGN FROM HEAVEN _ THE SIGN OF JONAS IN THE JUDGMENT, THE QUEEN OF SABA AND THE NINEVITES WILL CONFOUND THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL THE EYE OF THE SOUL _ FAITH CREATES KINSHIP WITH JESUS. (St. Mark iii, 1935; St. Matthew xii, 2250; St. Luke xi, 1736.)

FROM this sympathetic mercy which Jesus has for fallen but repentant souls, compared with His severe attitude toward pharisaical pride, one could easily conclude that His preference was for the unfortunate and the humble. He found in them the first element of moral resurrection: contempt of self and courage for the most difficult sacrifices. It is all that His grace demanded for the supernatural rebirth of life.

But if to consort with sinners was a crime, to prefer these sinners to the Pharisees must have seemed an abomination. They were not slow to make Him feel it cruelly.

For from that moment the opposition of the Pharisees in Galilee became particularly vigorous and daring. The sermon on the Mount had produced upon the representatives of the old formalism the effect of a declaration of principles absolutely subversive and revolutionary. The welcome accorded to sinners now filled the measure of His opposition, and it was decided that no further caution was required.

Thus, when the Master, followed by His disciples, made His entrance into Capharnaum, He found that His adversaries had preceded Him to that place in order to circumvent Him by their calumnious accusations. To their mind, His works were performed through the help of the devil. No attack could be more brutal or more unskilful. It did not check the people, at the first report of His arrival, from hurrying in crowds to the house where He had stopped.1 This was probably Peter's house, a small dwelling in which we have already seen a tumultuous gathering. The welcome, according to St. Mark, was so enthusiastic that neither Jesus nor His disciples had time to eat even a morsel of bread. They had brought Him one possessed, who was both blind and dumb: the Master restored to him both sight and speech. The multitude, happy at seeing the young Prophet give so crushing a retort to the calumnies of His adversaries, were in a state of moral exaltation, of joy, of wonderment, which seemed to drive them beyond all selfcontrol, and they cried out: "Is not this the Son of David?"

To this loud acclaim, the jealous fury of the Scribes and Pharisees made answer: "This man casteth not out devils but by Beelzebub, the prince of devils."2 No supposition could be less rational; but who is ignorant of the blind credulity of a mob? The most extravagant contradictions, uttered with assurance, are frequently the very ones that produce the liveliest impression. Provided one knows how to shout loud enough, he can gain acceptance for them. Jesus permitted His enemies to go no farther. Checking them with the strength of simple commonsense, He asked them: "How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan be risen up against himself, he is divided and cannot stand, but hath an end." This is simple reasoning; it crushes by its truth and is absolutely irrefutable. A selfdestroying Satan is an absurdity.

Moreover, if this argument is not enough, He has another, that goes farther home because it is personal: "Now if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children3 cast them out? Therefore, they shall be your judges." For it was, indeed, only too palpably the outcome of partiality to attribute, without any motive, the latter's works to God and the works of Jesus to the demon. "But if I," continues the Savior, "by the Spirit of God cast out devils, then is the Kingdom of God come upon you. Or how can any one enter into the house of the strong and rifle his goods, unless he first bind the strong? And then he will rifle his house. When a strong man armed keepeth his court, those things are in peace which he possesseth. But if a stronger than he come upon him and overcome him, he will take away all his armor wherein he trusted, and will distribute his spoils." Such has been the lot of Satan. Having attained the mastery of the world at the very beginning, he reigned over it as over his own house; mankind had erected altars and had built temples to him. In succession, material creation, man's body, and finally man's soul had become his property. Everything underwent not only his moral influence in the habit of evil, but even his physical violent action, in obsession and possession. But now a Stronger than he is come, Who is the Son of God. He begins by vanquishing Satan and binding him, and, then advancing into what had become the house of the devil, He seizes upon all that is there, and that had formerly been His own legitimate property. He takes it, and the vanquished cannot prevent Him, for the Kingdom of God has begun. Such, figuratively, is the history of the Redemption, of the aggressive turning of good against evil, of God against the demon, which they behold and at which they are scandalized.

After this argumentation, which was absolutely conclusive against the calumnies of His adversaries, Jesus turned to those of the multitude who, having suddenly grown chill in His regard, held a reserved and almost indifferent attitude, and exclaimed: "He that is not with Me is against Me; and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth." Once having known the Savior, it is no longer possible to be indifferent toward Him. Not to be His friend is to declare one's self His enemy; not to make with Him the conquest of eternal life is to perish in misery. Such will be the misfortune of those whom grace has once enlightened, and whom doubt has turned cold again. Satan has formidable attacks yet to make. He bides his time; it is when the heart is troubled, or when the mind is groping in darkness, that he will seize the favorable chance, and take again with interest that which he had lost. "When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through places without water4 seeking rest; and, not finding, he saith: I will return into my house whence I came out. And when he is come, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then he goeth and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and, entering in, they dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first." Thus all that God had accomplished by way of cleansing a soul of its past and of adorning it with new virtues and serious habits, is of no avail. For having remained a moment vacantthat is, without Jesus Christ, Whom doubt has caused to flee Satan has entered in once more in triumph. His victory will probably be final. So great is the crime of those who, by their daring denials, disturb the faith of believers and lead them on to ruin. "I say to you," says Jesus, "every sin and every blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but the blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven." The Holy Ghost completes in us the full and perfect manifestation of divine truth. He is the light, the evidence that makes God visible to the human conscience. To rebel against this light, to deny this evidence, is moral suicide for man. By this inexcusable act of malice we deaden all religious feeling in our hearts, and deliver ourselves to eternal blindness. "Whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him neither in this world nor in the world to come."

In doubting the reality of the divine nature of Jesus or of His mission, man may be misled without any obstinate or hateful malice, by a mere aberration of mind or by the influence of certain prejudices that keep him from seeing the light. He is certainly culpable, but his fault is not too great to be forgiven. He has not deliberately intercepted the rays of divine light by a criminal and cold calculation. At the appointed time, when his heart is purer and his mind less troubled, heavenly light may illumine his soul. All is not lost. The wicked man, on the contrary, who, though he sees clearly and without doubt the work of the Holy Ghost, has even then through hatred pronounced it to be the work of Satan, is unworthy of the light of heavenly signs. He stubbornly prefers night, falsehood, evil; he shall have them forever. God pardons weakness of the heart, illusions of the mind, even the wanderings due to pride in those who do not cease to seek a better state; but pure malice of the soul He never forgives, because it removes from the soul all possibility of doing anything to deserve forgiveness. "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree evil and its fruit evil. For by the fruit the tree is known." If the casting out of demons, the healing of the sick, the performance of miracles are good works, it must be admitted that the agent of these good works is good himself, and that he cannot be confused with Satan, the horrible personification of evil. Or, if one is absolutely desirous of regarding Satan as the cause of all these wonders, he must conclude that the wonders themselves are evil. To say that the tree can be good and its fruit evil, or that the fruit can be good and the tree evil, is to deny evidence, it is blasphemy, and inexcusable sin. That is the crime of Jesus' calumniators.

"Ye offspring of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things?" cries the indignant Master. "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of a good treasure bringeth forth good things, and an evil man out of an evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." The energy with which Jesus hurled all this in the face of the Pharisees amazed all present. They were not aware that their gentle Master was capable of such outbursts of voice, such power of longrestrained indignation; and the Pharisees, in amazement, their masks torn from them by His burning words, could only say: "He is become mad."5 At this the multitude hastened to Him in even greater numbers, and Jesus took the occasion to accentuate His triumph by continuing to humiliate His enemies with His overwhelming retorts. His success was such that the people no longer withheld their admiration; and a certain woman, speaking aloud for all, exclaimed: "Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the paps that gave thee suck!" Jesus' reply was, "Yea, rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it." The Pharisees, in order to regain the ground they had lost and to check the applause of the multitude, now gave utterance to the following challenge: "Master, we would see a sign from thee." His miracles done on earth appear to them to be open to suspicion. They judge that they may be the work of magic, or the result of some diabolical intervention. Let them be seen in the heavens, and they will agree that they are conclusive, for then they will be from on high, not from below. Then will they truly be heavenly signs, and no longer to be contested. "An evil and adulterous generation," answered Jesus, "seeketh a sign, and a sign shall not be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet. For as Jonas was in the whale's belly three days and three nights, so shall the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights."6 Such was His reply to the Pharisees. The true sign of Jonas to the Ninevites was his preaching: "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed." The sign that Jesus gives to Israel is the announcement of His approaching destruction. The prophet's menace suffices for the Ninevites. That of Jesus means nothing to the Jews. He will, therefore, give them one more sign also plainly analogous to that of Jonas, more conclusive than any, but which, however, shall leave the Jewish people still obstinate in their unbelief. Not on high but in the abyss will He show them His sign. Samuel had bidden the thunder resound in defiance of the laws of nature; Elias had drawn down fire from heaven; the Son of Man has kept for Himself the stifling of death itself in the grave by His glorious resurrection. "For as Jonas was a sign to the Ninevites, so shall the Son of Man also be to this generation." Jonas, by his miraculous escape from death, served to recall the Ninevites to penance and to salvation. Ought not Jesus' resurrection to be of like efficacy for Israel? The Savior goes on: "The Queen of the south shall rise in the judgment with the men of this generation, and shall condemn them; because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold more than Solomon here." What was Solomon's knowledge when compared with the works and discourses of Jesus Christ? And yet the Queen of Saba, seeking no extraordinary sign from heaven, hastened over long distances and through the midst of dangers to listen to the heir of David. What, then, shall be the confusion of the Jews for not having recognized the wisdom of the Messiah, which was far more marvelous, and for having demanded proof of Him in signs! But the sign once given by His resurrection, far stranger shall it be to see Israel even yet resist. "The men of Nineveh shall rise in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it, because they did penance at the preaching of Jonas, and behold more than Jonas here."

What, then, can be the cause of this strange obstinacy in the face of truth? Jesus tells it clearly. "The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single, thy whole body also will be full of light, but if it be evil, thy body also will be full of darkness." By the eye, indeed, each of our members sees and is guided. The eye itself receives its light from without, but it receives it only in so far as it itself is pure and sound. So, too, for the interior man there is an eye, the heart, by which the intellect and will are enlightened. If the heart be pure, light is abundant; if it be diseased, depraved, light is feeble, inconstant, and is even withdrawn altogether to leave us in darkest and most perilous night. "Take heed, therefore, that the light which is in thee be not darkness." This is the greatest woe that can come to man. Vainly shall he struggle in the midst of the most striking of divine revelations; he shall receive no light, because his spiritual eye is incapable of being penetrated. Such is the fate of the Pharisees. Their hearts are not pure; they can see nothing, and all the heavenly signs they may ask, if granted, would not make them see more. They must needs first cleanse their soul's eye, put off their pride, their hypocrisy, their secret sins, their formalist prejudices; then naturally they shall behold the truth, and shall not ask a needless superabundance of light.

Meanwhile, Jesus' family had been made anxious by the rumors that were spreading concerning the tumult of the gathering; and, fearing the danger He might incur by braving a faction no less fanatical than powerful, they hurried to find Him in order to lead Him away.

The presence of Mary on this occasion proves that His relatives had no intention of taking Him away by main force, as some have concluded from St. Mark's expression.7 They wished merely to induce Him to abandon so perilous a position, by reminding Him that neither He nor His disciples had yet had time to take their repast. The crowd was so dense that the family had to convey their wish to Him by means of intermediaries. They said to Him: "Behold thy mother and thy brethren stand with out, seeking thee."8 But Jesus, intent on proving that there was a relationship truer, more intimate, and dearer to Him than any earthly bond, merely replied: "Who is My mother and who are My brethren?" And, looking about Him, He stretched His hand out toward all the disciples who were eager to receive His instructions, and exclaimed: "Behold My mother and My brethren. For whosoever shalldo the will of MY Father that is in heaven, he is My brother, and sister and mother!"

He who does the Father's will casts his own life into the very current of the life divine. The bond of perfect dependence which he thus establishes between himself and the Father constitutes a real sonship. From this point of view he becomes truly the brother of Jesus. Such relationship, in that it proceeds from the heavenly Father, is only the more intimate and the more glorious. The Master rightly places it before every other. For is not the soul's life more than the life of the body?

Many of His hearers did not comprehend the depth of what He said. Through all the ages His words have stirred up enthusiasm, and have made him who received and pondered them capable of any sacrifice. Can too much be given for the title of nobility that has made us sons of God and brothers of Jesus Christ?

NOTES:

1 St. Mark iii, 20, in saying that the crowd came again, palin, to the house, seems to suppose that it is the same place where the paralytic had been cured (ii, 1, 2), that is, the house in which Jesus lodged at Capharnaum, oikos or oikia, without the article, viz., Peter's house, where He had already worked so many prodigies (i, 2934).

2 Interpreters are divided as to the meaning of the name here given to the prince of the demons. St. Jerome, who gives Beelzebub, says that this name, formerly given to the god of the Accaronites (IV Kings i, 2), signifies the god of flies, either because the Accaronites believed he had the power of delivering them from the flies that devastated the Country (Pliny, Hist. Nat., iv, 9), or because the Jews thus maliciously compared their neighbours' god, the god of flies, with their own God, Who was the God of gods. See, also, Lenormant, La Divination, p. 95, the Babylonians' belief in the divining virtue of flies. But the most common reading was Beelzeboul, which signifies god of offal. For the Jews qualified idolatry as filth, offal, etc., and for the Rabbis to take part in idolatrous worship was extendere manus in stercorario. Satan was the king of idolatry (Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr., in Matth. xii, 24). Some exegetes prefer to see in Beelzeboul (Baal in Chaldaic, Beel, by contraction Bel, the Lord, and Zeboul, of the dwelling) the name given by the Phoenicians to their sungod, master of the heavenly spheres. Cf. Movers, Phönizier, i, p. 960.

3 Before the time of Jesus and without reference to Him, Judaism had exorcists who pretended to cast out evil spirits by certain rather fantastic rites. (St. Luke ix, 49; Ads xix, 13; Antiq., viii, 2, 5, and vii, 6, 3.) We are free to doubt the reality of this power. What Josephus tells of the magician Eleazar looks more like jugglery than like genuine exorcism. The Talmud, Tanch., fol. 70, 1, speaks of exorcists who, invoking the names of David and Solomon, enveloped the sick with smoke by burning certain roots, and thus drove out evil spirits. Jesus, citing the example of the Jewish Rabbis, by no means intends to compare their works with His own. He argues not from what these magicians do, but from what the Pharisees think they can do.

4 The common opinion was that the desert was the ordinary dwellingplace of demons. (Job xxx, 3; Bar. iv, 35; Apoc. xviii, 2, etc.) Exiled from eternal happiness in the invisible world, it was supposed that they must likewise be banished from the joys of creation in the visible world.

5 The "multitude" is undoubtedly the subject of elegon and "Jesus" the subject of exesth. This latter verb signifies a moral exaltation which seems to deprive man of selfcontrol and to render him insane.

6 As a matter of fact Our Lord did not pass three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. He was among the dead only one day and two nights. Since in reality Jesus' stay in the tomb began the evening before the Sabbath and ended the morning after, the Jews, following their custom, rightfully expressed this space of time in round numbers. See I Kings xxx, 12: II Paralip. x, 5; compare with xxvi, 12.

7 Exhlqon krathsai auton.

8 The absence of Joseph, who is not even mentioned on this occasion, is another proof of the opinion that he was dead.

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