LAST VISIT TO CAPHARNAUM
JESUS AGAIN SPEAKS OF HIS DEATH THE TAXGATHERER OF CAPHARNAUM OUGHT THE MASTER TO PAY THE TRIBUTE? THEORETICAL AND PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS OF THE QUESTION HE PAYS FOR PETER JEALOUSY AND DISPUTE CONCERNING THE PRIMACY JESUS' EXPLANATION ADMIRABLE THEORY AS REGARDS THE PRIMACY THE MAN WHOM THE DISCIPLES FORBID TO CAST OUT DEMONS SCANDAL THE CRIME AND MISFORTUNE OF THOSE WHO SEEK TO DESTROY THE CHURCH BY SCANDALISING HER CHILDREN THE SHEPHERD'S LOVE FOR HIS SHEEP. (St. Matthew xvii, 22-27; xviii, 114; St. Mark ix, 3050; St. Luke ix, 4350; xvii, 12; xv, 37.)
AMID all these glorious incidents, at no time is Jesus without the thought of His expiatory sacrifice. By this thought He is inspired to go and make His last visit to Capharnaum, and to this thought, on the way, He unceasingly endeavours to lead back the minds of His disciples.
Thus, when He sees them full of pride at the ovations of the multitudes their childlike natures passed swiftly from extreme discouragement to the liveliest enthusiasm He said to them: "Lay you up in your hearts these words." For a day cometh when the memory of them shall not be too much to keep their faith from failing at the sight of the humiliation reserved for the Son of Man. For it is irrevocably decreed: "He shall be betrayed into the hands of men and they shall kill Him." However, this shall not be forever, for on "the third day He shall rise again." These words, calmly spoken in a tone of conviction, brought back suddenly a vague impression of terror upon the group of travellers. They were sad during all the time of the journey, yet they dared not to invite the Master to give longer explanations, so great was their fear to learn too much of so painful a subject.
When they reached Capharnaum, the cold and almost hostile reception given them proved that Jesus' prophecies were well founded, and that they must no longer count on the triumph of former days.
They had scarcely established themselves when already Peter was roughly accosted by taxgatherers, who said to him: "Doth not your Master pay the didrachma?"1 "Yes," responded Peter, and he went into the house where Jesus was, to ask of Him the amount in question.
Before Peter had time even to explain, Jesus began to question him.2 Either the conversation between the collector and the disciples had reached His ears, or He wished to prove by His divine knowledge His right to an exemption of which He would not take advantage. "What is thy opinion, Simon?" He said to him. "The kings of the earth, of whom do they receive tribute or custom; of their own children or of strangers?" Simon responded: "Of strangers"; and Jesus said to him, "Then the children are free."
If it was a question of paying the tribute to the Temple could He, the Son of God, and therefore Master of the Temple, be forced to pay the tax for His own house? Did He owe any ransom to His own Father, when He was giving even His life to satisfy the exactions of His justice?
If it had to do with the civil taxes, Jesus could appeal to another reason for exemption: His theocratic royalty. The kings of earth reign only by permission of the King of Heaven. Their power comes from on high, and there it finds its sanction. They being simply God's delegates, would it not illbecome them to demand the impost from the wellbeloved Son of Him Who delegates them?
Clearly, in either case, the Master was referring to His divinity. He proved it, soon after, by a miracle. "But that we may not scandalise them, go to the sea, and cast in a hook; and that fish which shall first come up, take; and when thou hast opened his mouth thou shalt find a stater; take that and give it to them for Me and thee." His first thought is to quiet the conscience of the weak. Excellent as are His reasons for exemption from the obligation of the tax, the people, indeed, might be unable to understand them. Some would be shocked by His refusal as by an act of revolt, and others would profit by it to justify their own insubordination. But the Son of Man is come to edify, not to scandalise. He decides to pay the tribute, but He will pay it as God. Though submitting to human laws He will make it clear that by a higher right He was dispensed from them. The King will employ His royal power in order to obey. He could have found, indeed, in the common treasury or in that of His friends the trifling sum demanded by the taxgatherers, but by paying in that way He would identify Himself with the multitude and would lose sight of the fact that He was the Son of the King of Heaven. The condescension with which one renounces a right does not mean its suppression; frequently one holds it a matter of honour that the right be proved. If, therefore, as really happened, in fact,3 a fish eager and docile in the divine service brings from the depths of the sea the pittance which discharged Peter's obligation along with His Master's it is to prove in the eyes of the multitude that, though Our Lord suffers man's exactions, He is absolute Master of nature, and is in all things superior to mankind.
It is noteworthy that He paid for Himself and for the disciple to whom He had promised to delegate His authority, as if Peter, His future vicar, would henceforth be but one with Him. The very terms that the Master had used, plainly indicated that the official representatives of the Church, whatever might be their name, would, by divine right, be forever exempt from material obligations that are incompatible with their mission. The services of a superior order which they were to render to humanity would well seem, even to the most exacting, a sufficient compensation for this privilege.
Thus was Peter's particular place among the Twelve emphasised more and more. This latest incident proved it. It suddenly revived the discussion that had excited them during the journey and of which we must say a few words.
The question was which of the Twelve was the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. This was truly a puerile and innocent bit of vanity betraying all the simplicity of these humble Galileans. When the Master arrived the discussion was becoming still more heated. On their faces He read the trouble of their souls, and demanded an explanation. What means all this dissension which He has noticed on the way and which still continues? Nothing more was needed to recall them to themselves and to make them blush for their foolish concern. At first, says St. Mark, so great was their confusion, that all remained silent. But they knew well that Jesus was not ignorant of that which He desired to make them confess, and they began resolutely to ask Him themselves, as St. Matthew indicates, the solution of their difficulty. "Who is the greater in the Kingdom of Heaven?" they said to Him. In reality they changed somewhat the question that had divided them. Before, it was more personal, since they sought to know which one, at that moment, was the first in the society founded by the Saviour. By making it more general they somewhat concealed the unseemly vanity of those who had propounded it. Jesus sat down as if to add greater solemnity to His answer. He called the Twelve, so that none of them might lose this sublime lesson, and began by saying, as St. Mark, whose text we follow, tells us: "If any man desire to be first, he shall be the last of all, and the minister of all."
At the same time, the better to emphasise His reply the Orientals in their teaching took pleasure in speaking to the senses the more surely to reach the mind Jesus called a little child4 to His side, embraced him kindly, and, placing him in the midst of His disciples, He said: "Amen, I say to you, unless ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven." What use, then, in claiming its highest dignity? Before they shall know who is to be first or last, they must first be incorporated therein. It is innocence, simplicity, selfdenial, candour that open its gates.5 The nourishing of secret ambitions, the desire of command, of flattering distinctions, will mean inevitable exclusion therefrom. The Kingdom of Heaven is a family of children under the authority and love of a gracious Father.
Nevertheless, if they desire to know the order of merit and the degrees of real greatness, here is the principle which serves as the basis of the whole hierarchy of souls. "Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the Kingdom of Heaven." Thus the absence of all selfseeking, the desire to be unnoticed, and, like the child, to count for nothing in society, will beget in man the humility, the spirit of sacrifice, and charity which alone are the real steps by which he rises. The more he devotes himself to the service of others through selfdepreciation, the more he advances in merit before God; the more he seeks to be last through selfdenial, the more surely he shall become first. In spite of the apparent Paradox of it, nothing is more profoundly true or more divine than this doctrine. It has inspired prodigies of heroism and of sanctity in souls that have understood it, and whose rule of morality it has become. The Church has at all times done justice to the men who, thoroughly devoid of thought of self, have been found generously filled with the spirit of God.
However, in the Kingdom founded by Jesus Christ there is another order of dignity, which arises not from the individual worth of men, but which God communicates as a gratuitous gift: namely, the hierarchy of the ministry. It is with regard to this especially that the Apostles appear to be troubled. In His reply the Master touches briefly on this point. He clearly explains the truth concerning this hierarchical greatness, and gives them to understand that instead of being man's possession, it is exclusively God's. For the mission of proclaiming Jesus Christ, which different souls receive in different degrees, separates them, no doubt, from the multitude and assures them an undeniable superiority, but this superiority is but a borrowed one. The greatness of the Apostle, of the bishop, of the priest, is no other than the greatness of the Master Who has chosen them. Children remain children although they have in them Him Who makes them doctors and Apostles. If they were not children they would not be of the Kingdom; only such children possess God and the dignity of God. "Whosoever shall receive one such child as this in My name," continues Jesus, "receiveth Me, and whosoever receiveth Me, receiveth not Me but Him that sent Me." This was as much as to say that, properly speaking, there is in the Church only one priesthood, His own, of which the Apostles shall become the ministers. Thus all personal selfseeking must be suppressed. If they have any influence, any success, any honour, they must attribute them, not to their personal worth, but to Him alone Whose envoys and representatives they are. May the tool boast of the work it has done. Does not the merit belong to the workman who has used it? The only honour then to dream of in the new Church shall be that of submitting generously to the divine influence in order to transmit it to others; and if, in the dispensation of grace, there are different degrees in the new priesthood, it must nevertheless be acknowledged that, in the last analysis, these degrees are united in the one eternal Pontiff Jesus Christ Who lives, speaks, and acts through those whom He has delegated. For the Master alone remains first, second, and third in the Kingdom of Heaven. His colabourers rise only in proportion to the efforts they make in selfeffacement and in the showing forth of Him in His divine and unique activity. The Christian theory of the primacy is summed up in this wise: God alone is of any value in His ministers; man is nothing but by his God.
As they hear these sublime assertions, the Apostles perceive how frequently they have been mistaken in their human calculations. More particularly, they did not know that He Who came in the name of the Lord ought to be received and respected as the Lord Himself. Since they are now well disposed to make avowals, they determine to tell all and to confess a recent fault committed through their jealous exclusiveness. It is John who speaks. We shall see him come forward more than once in the days that are to follow. His soul seems to have passed through a special crisis of religious enthusiasm at this time. "Master," said he, "we saw a certain man6 casting out devils in Thy name, and we forbade him because he followeth not with us." And Jesus said to him, "Do not forbid him, for there is no man that doth a miracle in My name and can soon speak ill of Me, for he that is not against you is for you."
At first glance this last apothegm would seem to contradict another saying of the Master's: "He who is not with us is against us." In reality it is not so; for while elsewhere He spoke of works similar to His own in result, but not in principle, namely of false miracles due to diabolical intervention, here He means prodigies attempted in His name. In the first case, the foundation of the work was infected with evil; that is why not to be with Him was to be against Him. In the second, the cause of the work is not bad, for to demand or to attempt a miracle in His name, even though with imperfect faith, signifies that one is a friend rather than an enemy; this is why He declares that such a one is not against Him. The truth is that the hostility of the one and the goodwill of the other are measured by the interior dispositions that actuate them.
He who was attempting to cast out devils thus was, if not a minister of the Gospel authentically delegated by the Master, at least a soul enlightened by the divine word, touched by grace, and growing by faith in the supernatural life. In either hypothesis, they must let him go on and must show him their goodwill. If he was a novice in the faith, a little child scarcely yet born in the Heavenly Kingdom, a new arrival on the Gospel frontier, what a crime it would be brutally to repel him and to stifle the spark that was growing within him! If he was in heart and mind one of the Apostolic family, though not following it ostensibly, what a sacrilege to pretend to bind a power that God has authorised, an influence which, far from aspiring to the highest posts in the hierarchy, was being exercised with humility and disinterestedness in the advancement of the Messianic work!
Unfortunately and inevitably, jealousy, that poisons all undertakings; intolerance, that checks them; blind zeal, that destroys them without distinction, will often hide beneath the mantle of the Church to check the free expansion of her holy activity. For far greater reason then must we expect to find them in the world, perhaps under different names, but with even greater fury. Faithful souls, whether at the summit of perfection, or as yet hardly born in the Christian life, whether in the hierarchy of the ministry or in the humility of everyday life, will always meet with difficulties and stumblingblocks. Philosophy in her pride will follow them with arguments, politics with interested suggestions, passion with its dangerous influences. But woe to the man that shall scandalise them, small or great as they may be, in their humility and their simplicity! Rather than be a persecutor, an evil counsellor, or a bad example for them, "it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck,7 and he were cast into the sea." This punishment was less severe than to fall into eternity beneath the awful weight of a soul lost through another's fault.
And yet this crime will not be a rare one. After stigmatising it severely, Jesus stops for a moment. His gaze penetrates the future, and with a glance He embraces all the actions of man against truth and virtue, and heaves a deep sigh of sadness and of indignation. "Woe to the world because of scandals," He cries out, "for it must needs be that scandals come, but nevertheless woe to the man by whom the scandal cometh!" The only means of preventing this abuse of liberty would be the suppression of liberty itself; but in that case divine wisdom would destroy its own masterwork, and undo that which it had so marvellously organised. Would man still be man, were he no longer free? The providential plan permits, rather, that there shall always be souls desirous of evil in themselves and around themselves. "It must needs be," says the Master. However, as nothing obliges man to be perverse, since in reality he always retains his freewill, he will be eternally responsible to God for having chosen and desired evil, whereas it was so reasonable to prefer the good. If the thought of tempting simple, upright souls comes from within him, let him violently stifle it in his heart. If it comes to him from without, let him forcibly reject the vile suggestion. Let him suffer anything rather than cooperate with evil or enter into an alliance with the wicked. Cut off the hand8 and the foot, pluck out the eye that would lead to scandal. It were better to enter into the Kingdom of God with one eye, one hand, or one foot than to be cast unmaimed into hellfire, "where the worm dieth not and the fire is not extinguished. For every one shall be salted with fire; and every victim shall be salted with salt."
It is clear that scandal is going to be the great danger of the moment, the engine of war which the Pharisaical party will put in action to attempt the destruction of the Galilean Church, built up with such patience and guarded with such solicitude. This thought arouses the Master's holy wrath and inspires the awful picture of the punishments reserved for the guilty. Isaias had said to the Jews,9 that from the gates of the city they would behold the bodies of the enemies of Jehovah, of the wicked and of traitors, lying in the plain. Worms would never cease to devour them, nor fire to consume them, not merely because the criminals would be innumerable, but because it would be God's will to leave this fearful spectacle to continue there forever. It is the prophetic menace that Jesus takes pains to repeat.
The workers of scandal, too, will be counted among the adversaries of Jehovah, for they shall have killed His faithful. They in turn shall be seen stretched upon the horrible battlefield, where, victims of the anger of heaven, they shall be penetrated with salt that smarts but which will preserve them from decomposition. This salt will be nothing else than the fire employed in consuming them. At the same time, remorse, like a pitiless worm, will feed upon their hearts. Thus, after the days of mercy, the eternal sacrifice shall be accomplished wherein nothing shall be wanting to restore the order which for a moment had been disturbed. All creatures shall be before God in the only state that belongs to them, that of victims some, the happy victims of love in the glorious transformation of heaven; others, the accursed victims of hate in the fire of the pit of hell. A mystical salt shall envelop them in eternal suffering. And that is how he who shall not have consented to keep the salt of wisdom upon earth shall find the salt of woe amid the braziers of eternity. "Salt is good," Jesus adds; "but if the salt become unsavoury, wherewith will you season it? Have salt in you, and have peace among you."
Alas! how often the absence of this salt in humanity was to trouble the religious life of the Church and to hinder her development! How often pride and ambition, instead of humility, were to beget schism, heresy, infidelity! How often cruelty was to estrange the poor weak lamb from the fold! How often fanaticism with lips closed against charity, was to put human passion in God's place! Fools! for the want of salt, they have lived pitiless in their jealousy, cruel in their pride as rebellious heretics, persecutors, hypocrites, calumniators, ravenous wolves within the fold. In requital they shall have found in death the salt of eternal justice.
To withdraw themselves from God's influence and to remain unbelievers is in itself a great crime on the part of the Pharisees; but to deprive God of the souls to whom He gives His tenderest care, to rob the Shepherd of His most cherished sheep, and to violate the rights of love, no less than those of property, is the most daring of crimes. "See that ye despise not one of these little ones," says Jesus, "for I say to you that their angels in heaven10 always see the face of My Father Who is in Heaven." The punishment will be striking if it is in proportion to the dignity of these souls whose protectors, like princes in the Heavenly Kingdom, contemplate face to face the King of Kings.11 It will be certain, if it is intrusted to friends so devoted and to hands so redoubtable. Besides the princes of the Heavenly Kingdom are not the only avengers of the souls whom it was their mission to guard. Did not the Son of Man Himself come down from heaven to save that which was lost? The fruit of His redemption shall not be destroyed with impunity by scandal. His anger against these ravishing wolves shall be measured by His love for His cherished sheep. He will be unsparing, and will eternally exact from the scandalgiver the soul he shall have ruined, whether it be the soul of the priest or the soul of the simple neophyte, the soul brave in faith and in charity or the soul doubting and undecided.
The formal and immutable will of the Father, the Son knows it well, is that there shall not perish even one of these faithful, humble little children, born but yesterday to the Gospel, simple and unpretentious, despite their virtues and their merit, and all worthy of respect, inviolable, sacred, because they are branded with His own name and destined to share His glory.
1 The didrachma was a small piece of silver worth two Attic drachmas, half of a Hebrew shekel, or of a Roman dater, about thirtyone cents in United States money. (Josephus, Antiq., iii, 8, 2.) This was the amount which, in the Mosaic law (Exod. xxx, 13; 11 Paralip. xxiv, 6; Josephus, Antiq., xviii, 9), enforced again on the return from the captivity (Esdras x, 32), every male Israelite, from twenty to fifty years of age, was bound to pay annually for the support of the Temple and for the public worship. The Rabbis were probably exempted. There was therefore something odious in this tardy demand on the part of the collectors; for this tax was paid after the 15th of Adar (FebruaryMarch). At that time they had not demanded it of Jesus either because the collectors had not met Him on their route, or because He was then at the height of His popularity in Galilee. They exacted it now because they met Him just at Capharnaum and because they contested His character as prophet. We know, moreover, that they profited by the approach of every great festival to dun again those in arrears. (Cf. Greswell, Dissert. Princ. of Harm., viii.) Some have thought that there was question here of a civil impost collected in Ceasar's name, or even in the the name of Herod, the Tetrarch, and payable any day in year. This would not be impossible. The Romans claimed a real suzerainty over Galilee, and, for his part, Herod did not hesitate to levy a tax periodically upon his own subjects. Ordinarily it was just the very sum exacted for the Temple that Jewish sovereigns demanded for themselves. (Antiq., xiv, 10, 6.) Later on, Vespasian followed their example (Bell. Jud., vii, 26), and it may be questioned if, in so doing, he was not simply reestablishing what the Caesars had regulated before him. However, the term ta didracma employed without other explanation was commonly understood as the tax for the Temple, and the first hypothesis with its explanations seems the more natural.
2 That is the real meaning of the word proefqasen. We may call attention also, in the intimate tone of the conversation, to the affectionate relations that existed between the Master and His disciples. The Apostle is addressed by the familiar name of Simon. St. Matthew (xvii, 24) is the only one who records this incident for us.
3 Those who have deemed it materially impossible for a stater or a threefranc piece and a fishhook to he lodged in the throat of a fish, are not aware that the Chromis Simonis of the Lake of Tiberias hatches its eggs and raises its young in its mouth, until they are able to care for themselves. We have seen this for ourselves on buying one of these fishes which we ate at Tabigah.
4 Early tradition had it that this child was Ignatius, later Bishop of Antioch and celebrated for his glorious martyrdom. (Nicephorus H. E. ii, 35.)
5 "Amat Christus infantiam," says St. Leo (Serm. xxxvi, de Epiph., 7, 6), "quam primum et animo suscepit et corpore. Amat infantiam humilitatis magistram, innocentiae regulam, mansuetudinis formam."
6 Many commentators understand that this man had the desire but not the power of casting out devils. "It is not unusual," says Maldonatus, "for a verb to denote what one would like to do and not what one has done, the effort, but not the effect (affectum, sed non effectum)." It appears that the right of exorcism had as yet been granted only to the twelve Apostles.
7 It is of little importance to know whether such a punishment was in use among the Jews or not. As a matter of fact, we know from Josephus, Antiq., xiv, 16, 10, that it was practised in Galilee: tous Hrwdou en ph limnh katepontwsan. It was employed also in Phoenicia. Jesus here seeks to show by a picture the awfulness of attempting the ruin of one of His faithful. The stone spoken of was that which was turned, not by a slave, but by an ass (mulos onikos). Ovid (Fasti, vi, 318) speaks of it: "Et quae puniceas versat asella molas." The expression itself is found in Julian (Orat., 6, p. 198).
8 There is no doubt here at least that Jesus, on two different occasions, made use of the same figures. If St. Mark alone had the triple metaphor of hand, foot, and eye, it would be a question which of the two evangelists had put it in its right place. But St. Matthew by repeating it here, after having already mentioned it in the Sermon on the Mount, shows that Jesus more than once in His discourses used the same thoughts in the same form and before the same hearers.
9 Isaias lxvi, 24.
10 These ideas of the protection of angels assured to man were no cause of surprise to the ancients. The pagans had it from their poets that Jupiter sent spirits to earth to protect mortals, to watch and to judge their works (Hesiod, Opera et Dies, lib. i, vers, 121); their philosophers taught that these spirits are our witnesses in the present and in the future life (Plato, De Legibus, lib. x). As for the Jews, in their Holy Books they read that God had given to the just man an angel guardian (Ps. xxxiii, 8, etc.); to their ancestors an angel to guide them to the desert (Exod. xxxiii, 20, etc.) ; to their privileged nation, Michael as protector (Daniel x, 13); and, finally, to the peoples of the earth, as later on to the different Christian communities, heavenly spirits to watch over their prosperity (Deut. xxxii, 8); cf. Schottgen on this passage of the Gospel, p. 151. These doctrines, ancient as the world, belong to the sum of truth that has nevertheless remained the inalienable possession of mankind.
11 This picture is taken from the customs of the Orient, where the subjects were only rarely admitted into the presence of the monarch and where it was permitted only to the highest nobles to remain at all times before him. The true servants of the Gospel, therefore, have as protectors the highest powers of Heaven.
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