The Life of Christ

Mgr. E. Le Camus




IN all probability Dalmanutha and the territory of Magedan were to the west of the Lake of Genesareth, and consequently not far from either Tiberias or Capharnaum.1

Jesus must have been eager to see again the little Galilean flock whom He had left for the time being. He desired to strengthen their faith and to encourage their hopes. His enemies were going to dispute this right. The agitation of the Pharisees was far from being calmed. That jealoussect had in their fury gone so far as to join hands with the Sadducees, their most implacable enemies, in order to share with them their hatred of the Savior. It is not a rare thing for religious hypocrisy to consent to become the ally of impiety, when it is its interest to do so. As the Sadducees were the friends and partisans of Herod, through them the Pharisees sought the support of the tetrarch himself.

Thus ready to inflict a blow, they awaited only a favorable opportunity. Scarcely had Jesus reached the western shore of the lake, when, advised of His presence, they hastened toward Him, no longer to engage Him in controversy — for that was a sort of warfare they waged with but indifferent success — but to call upon Him to show a sign in the firmament. They had already once defied Him in this manner, and He had consented to offer them but one sign, and that not in the present but in the future, not in the heavens but in the depths of the earth. By insisting they might, if He made a like response now, succeed in placing His omnipotence in doubt. Nothing more was needed to demean Him in the eyes of the multitude and so to hasten His destruction. Indeed, it is not easily seen what manner of sign it was that they sought. Was it the Son of Man advancing in the clouds to the Ancient of days, as Daniel had contemplated Him?2 Was it their desire to behold the sun and moon covered with a veil, and the stars withdrawing their light, as Joel had foretold?3 These, indeed, were Messianic signs long since prophesied. But, perhaps, the Pharisees' question had not this bearing. Since, on two occasions, Jesus had just multiplied the loaves in the desert, it is not impossible that the miracle demanded was the sight of the manna falling from heaven4 to nourish them, as it did for their fathers in the desert. In any case, the Master pays no heed to the achievements of the great men of the Old Testament, Moses, Josue, Samuel, Elias, Isaias, nor to the exact wishes of His present interlocutors. He has perceived the perverse intentions provoked by His omnipotence; He will respond by unmasking the baseness and bad faith of His adversaries. No doubt the heavens are a beautiful book, and they should be proud of their ability to read therein; but they would do better were they to seek for signs nearer at hand. Their competence would be, perhaps, the more easily admitted. "When it is evening," says Jesus ironically, "you say: It will be fair weather, for the sky is red. And in the morning: Today there will be a storm, for the sky is red and lowering. You know then, how to discern the face of the sky; and can you not know the signs of the times?" How is it that these clearsighted teachers who were fain to behold amid the clouds the Son of Man foretold by Daniel, do not perceive that the term of the "weeks" fixed by the same prophet is fast approaching at last? If it is the star of Jacob that they long to see on the horizon, why have they not noticed, first, that the sceptre has fallen from the hands of Juda? How can they pretend to draw conclusions from a single sign appearing in the heavens, they who know not what to deduce from the fulfillment of so many prophecies and from the achievement of so many miracles on earth? To aspire to read so high when they can discern nothing close at hand, is presumption. "A wicked and adulterous generation," says Jesus with a profound sigh, "seeketh after a sign, and a sign shall not be given it, but the sign of Jonas, the prophet." And leaving them there with their desire to circumvent Him, He embarked once more and pushed off in a northerly direction.

Coasting along the wellknown shores where, on its rocky promontory, Capharnaum proudly rose with its little cupolas and its graceful terraced dwellings, His soul must have been saddened by bitter reflections. His enemies were seeking to destroy His influence even in those lands which He had dewed with His own sweat, which He had evangelized with His own lips, and astonished with His miracles. What was to become of His nascent Church? Were the faithful whom He had laboriously gathered together, destined to abandon Him in betrayal at the most solemn moment of His struggle? Was Satan able to destroy with a blow the fruit of so much patience, sanctity, and mercy? The situation appeared as grave as the day on which He had forced his disciples to declare themselves when He said to them: "Will ye also go away?" His adversaries' power and malice were great, and the wavering of His best proselytes was almost a ground of despair. On the one hand, their alliance with the Sadducees, Herod's partisans, assured to the Pharisees a force brutal in its strength. For plain folk this is an argument of weight. They readily bend before those whom they deem the stronger. On the other hand, did not He Himself appear in their eyes to have lost His early energy? For some time they had seen Him fleeing like one proscribed. Was not this trial beyond the strength of Poor Galileans, led on at first by the notion of following the future theocratic King, and now disconcerted by an unexpected turn of events? Have not the many objections which have arisen of themselves, and which, perhaps, have been multiplied around them, troubled their souls and shaken their faith? "Take heed," said Jesus, in a tone of tender solicitude, "and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the leaven of the Sadducees and of Herod."5 These words came from the Master's lips at the very moment when the disciples, absorbed in thoughts of a wholly material order, were worrying because they had departed without having taken provisions. They had only one loaf left. Believing that Jesus was aware of their plight, and interpreting literally what they had just heard, they understood it as being a warning never again to accept food unless they knew whence it came; as though there were ground for fearing that the Pharisees and the followers of Herod, in their unpitying hatred, might have defiled or even poisoned it.

This was a gross mistake; and if the Master's thought was on a lofty plane, that of the disciples was, indeed, very low. Sad at finding them ever so dull and so material, Jesus said: "Why do you think within yourselves, O you of little faith, for that you have no bread? Do ye not yet know nor understand? Have you still your hearts blinded? Having eyes see you not, and having ears hear you not, neither do you remember when I broke the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took you up?" They answered "Twelve." "When also the seven loaves among four thousand, how many baskets of fragments took you up?" They answered "Seven." "Why do you not understand that it was not concerning bread I said to you: `Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees' ?"

On reflection, the disciples understood that the leaven of the Pharisees and their allies must be taken as meaning the calumnies and secret jealousy of these sectaries. Nothing has a surer influence upon the masses than the spirit of calumny and skepticism, when spread by hypocrisy and malice. Sometimes it blackens, sometimes, again, it devours, and again it turns to ridicule. It always falsifies; but gradually it changes public opinion, as the leaven, by its sharpness, transforms the dough into which it is put. Then by a sudden veering, the mob detests and accuses those whom the day before it had loved and honored. The working of calumny, though secret and slow, is none the less certain. This is Jesus' explanation of all the injury that had been done Him in Capharnaum; an injury that threatens to gain over even the Apostles themselves. Let not the hearts of the Twelve, at least, be taken from Him! The present hour more than any other exacts from them absolute fidelity and most generous devotion. He has no joys or triumphs to promise them. The future is full of sorrow, and to accustom them to the awful prospect before them, He feels Himself moved to raise imperceptibly the veil that conceals it.


1 The geographical details here given by the two Evangelists are not very precise. According to St. Matthew, they landed on the coast of Magdala, as some manuscripts say, or of Magedan, as is found in the most numerous and the best of them. If it was Magdala, it is easy to locate that village; if Magedan, our uncertainty becomes complete for the want of historical data in antiquity. St. Jerome and Eusebius, only, tell us that, in their days, there was to the north of the lake a village called Magedena. (See Caspari, Chronol. and Geog. Introd., p. 105.) According to St. Mark, they disembarked near Dalmanutha. But this name too is not found anywhere, either in Josephus or in the Talmud. This detail is therefore as unsatisfactory as the former. Quite recently P. Van Kasteren (Rev. Bibl., Jan., 1897), in a very interesting article, suggested identifying El Delhamiyeh, seven kilometers south of the lake and on the left bank of the Jordan, with Dalmanutha, both names containing the three consonants in the same order; and Magedan with Ma'ad, which is more to the southeast. According to this learned religious, the country of Dalmanutha was the northern part of Ghor, that is, south of the lake.

2 Daniel vii, 13.

3 Joel iii, 15.

4 The text has: ek tou ouranou or apo tou ouranou, and, from this, seems to imply a sign coming down from heaven as the manna did, rather than a sign remaining fixed like a new and sudden phenomenon in the sidereal world.

5 St. Mark viii, 15 has "leaven of Herod," whereas St. Matt. xvi, 6, has "leaven of the Sadducees." This is not a divergence, the Sadducees being a political party on whom Herod relied

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