The Life of Christ

Mgr. E Le Camus




THERE is a moment in human undertakings when all things seem to conspire in demanding from those who conduct them supreme and decisive resolution. If Jesus had been merely a man, we might say that for Him this moment had arrived. Not only was Judea hostile to Him — we know1 that He refrained from appearing there again lest He might push too far the homicidal hatred of His adversaries — but even Galilee was at last assuming a threatening attitude. Emissaries from Jerusalem were actively at work. Several of His first followers, startled by His declarations and deceived in their hopes, had publicly deserted Him, and were seeking to separate from Him those who were still faithful. The Apostles themselves were passing through a moral crisis fraught with danger. It was time for a diversion.

When Hannibal was encamped almost at the gates of Rome, Scipio deemed it necessary to hasten beneath the walls of Carthage, and by this daring stroke to restore all when all seemed lost.

It was in this wise, probably, that those relatives of Jesus argued, whose singular conduct at this time is described for us in the Fourth Gospel. They found, on the one hand, that the situation was becoming critical for Him in Capharnaum, and, on the other, that an opportunity for appearing in Jerusalem could neither be delayed nor be better chosen.

It was near the Feast of Tabernacles. This was the last great solemnity of the Israelitic year. It was celebrated with an enthusiasm, a concourse of caravans, a boisterous excitement, all of which was calculated to aid any daring attempt in the way of Messianic manifestation. Established at first, to celebrate the memory of Israel wandering in the desert, it derived a new meaning from the particular circumstances of time and season. On the fifteenth of Tisri, the end of September, the vintage was over, and with it ended the series of the principal harvests of the year. 2 Thanksgiving was then offered to the Lord for the fruits given to earth. And, afterward, the principal object of the feast being the commemoration of the events in the desert, the Israelites devoted themselves to characteristically symbolical demonstrations. They left their houses, and, in tents or huts of leafy branches, they took up their quarters for eight days on the terraces, in public squares, and on the ramparts. In the Temple, the morning libations commemorated the miraculous water that had leapt from the rock beneath the rod of Moses, and in the evening the two candelabra represented the pillar of fire that had guided the people amid the sandy deserts of Pharan. Sacrifices of thanksgiving served as a final expression of the people's gratitude.3 The multitude was the greater since the season afforded leisure to every one, and because, again, whoever had for any reason been dispensed from appearing at the other two feasts of the Israelitic year, was obliged to be present at this one. One's absence would have exposed him to the severe criticism of every true Israelite.

Moved by these considerations, the brothers of Jesus, who were preparing to go up to Jerusalem, came to Him, and said: "Pass from hence and go into Judea, that thy disciples also may see thy works which thou dost; for there is no man that doth anything in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, manifest thyself to the world." A corner in Galilee is not the proper theatre for one who calls himself the Messiah. If He is sure of His power and of His mission, why address Himself longer to these poor people who are incapable of appreciating Him? The place where He must manifest Himself is Jerusalem. There learned men may hear Him and judge of Him; there the Temple is, the House of God and of the people wherein the new Kingdom ought to be inaugurated; there are proselytes whose faith is long standing, and who deserve an authentic confirmation of their nascent faith; there innumerable pilgrims shall be found, and to show Himself there will be to manifest Himself to the whole world. On the other hand, to delay longer in these obscure surroundings will give the impression that He fears the light, and that all these works, apparently astonishing, cannot bear a serious examination.

Such was the language which the brothers of Jesus uttered naturally and unaffectedly and which St. John has courageously preserved for us. These brethren of Jesus were Joseph and Simon, with their sisters and their brothers-in-law, but not James and Jude, who belong to the Apostolic college. As the Evangelists say, they had not yet acquired that exact conception of their kinsman which true believers ought to have. They suspected, of course, that He was an extraordinary Being, for they could not be indifferent to what they saw and heard; but a solemn demonstration of His real character seemed to them desirable and alone capable of putting an end to all uncertainty.

All these considerations, which, perhaps, might have influenced a mere man, failed to move the Son of God. He did not fear the light, as we shall see; but, knowing the hour of Providence, He did not intend to anticipate it. His Messianic work was not finished, and He could not think of shortening its development. He had scattered, indeed, strong germs of life and of truth in certain souls; He had brought together a nucleus of believers, greatly diminished of late, but henceforth constant and enduring; He had fortified His disciples under the blasts of persecution; He had enlightened them as to the future; He had dispelled all the illusions of their carnal hearts; but, were He to disappear on the morrow, what would be the lot of this young and frail organization? A few days more of patient teaching will not be too much for the completion of a religious formation so vigorously outlined, but so evidently incomplete. Were He, on the other hand, to follow the caravans to Jerusalem, and arrive there with noisy display, the object of an ovation, would He not provoke the fury of the Pharisees, give them time to plot His ruin, in a word precipitate on the following day the crime which is not to be consummated for six months yet to come? The Son of Man must die on the Feast of the Passover, not during the solemnity of Tabernacles. All this was written long ago. Jesus reads it in the prophecies and in the divine light that floods His soul. Besides, He has no wish boisterously to be proclaimed a king; He will have no triumph won by surprise, or, as we would say to-day, by political strategy. He will achieve His work with patience, He will go on spreading the light here and there, doing good, quietly gaining over a few souls, and then He will die.

When the time is come, Jesus will be seen going up to Jerusalem, and nothing will be able to check Him in His supreme resolution. It is not that courage is wanting in the Martyr, nor generosity in the Victim. For the time being He calmly pursues His victorious career by ways that men cannot understand, because they are the ways of God. This is why He responds: "My time is not yet come; but your time is always ready." Their situations are quite different. He has His mission, His fame, His views; they are actuated only by curiosity, by the desire to satisfy their longings, and a readiness arising from an absence of danger to themselves. He is the sign of contradiction destined to arise in the midst of the multitude; they are unknown pilgrims; He is the voice that accuses and is detested; they are accepted allies or unnoticed non-partisans. "The world," He says, "cannot hate you; but Me it hateth, because I give testimony of it, that the works thereof are evil. Go you up to this festival day, but I go not up (now)4 to this festival day, because My time is not accomplished." He does not say that He will not appear there at all, but simply that He will not go there with His relatives. This is plain from His affirmation, which is in the present tense: "I go not up." The sense of these words would have been quite different had He employed the future tense. Besides, whatever was vague or even obscure in His reply, as a result of the form He used, was intentional. Inasmuch as He did not wish to arrive on the first day of the feast in order not to give His enemies time to hatch a plot against Him, He could not, for this same reason, positively intimate that He would come before the end of the festival.

His family, therefore, departed, and He remained in Galilee. His plan was, by following them a few days later, to let the impression spread that He was not in the Holy City, and then arrive when He was no longer looked for. Appearing unexpectedly in the midst of the religious enthusiasm, He will inflict swift blows upon His enemies, and will disappear before they are able to contrive any serious scheme against Him.

Thus, according to His wise foresight, He will arrive soon enough to manifest Himself to the multitude and late enough to escape the malice of His enemies.


1 St. John vii, 1.

2 The Israelitic year commenced on the twelfth of October.

3 During this festival there were sacrificed seventy calves for an expiation, it is said, of the sins of the seventy nations of the earth. This immolation began with thirteen on the first day, which number gradually decreased by one each day. The close brought the offering of one bull and seven lambs.

4 Of all the several ways of interpreting the Master's words in a sense exclusive of all shiftiness or mental restriction not in keeping with the simplicity of His character, this has seemed to us the best. The adverb now, which seems to be inserted into the text, is implied in the verb in the present indicative. Many interpreters make Jesus say: "I go not up to this feast to take part in it " (pour la solenniser) ; because He intended to arrive only at the close of the celebration and in secret.

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