The Life of Christ

Mgr. E Le Camus




As a matter of fact, Jesus turned His steps toward Jerusalem shortly after the departure of the caravans. His journey was made without commotion. He took with Him perhaps only a few of His disciples,1 not wishing to be noticed on the way. He went as if in disguise through the various places He passed.2 In the meantime Jerusalem was given up to the joys of the festival. The spectacle of the metropolis transformed into a camp of fervent pilgrims, the memories of the divine protection in the desert — renewed in the ceremonies of the Temple — the glad canticles, the public processions in which each one carried sacred palm-branches, the feasts themselves in which all were united in common aspirations toward a better future, all contributed to exalt the mind and to reawaken the ancient hopes of the people of God.

Jesus' name had naturally been heralded by those who had witnessed His works and heard His declarations. His friends repeated His name with enthusiasm; His enemies attacked it with fury; strangers desired to know Him. Hence the great excitement remarked by the Evangelist "The Jews,3 therefore, sought Him on the festival day and said: Where is He?" He refers here to the hostile portion of the people who, grouped behind their leaders, betrayed by their very impatience the perversity of their intentions.4 As for the pilgrims, they were much less unanimous in looking upon Jesus with an unfavourable eye. Their thoughts of Him were various. Some said "He is a good man." And others said: "No, but He seduceth the people." Between these two extremes there was a multitude wavering, undecided, not daring to pronounce either way, so long as the supreme authority had not yet passed judgment.

Suddenly, when the festival was at its height, the much discussed Jesus appeared in the Temple, and began publicly to teach.5 He surprised first of all the Jews, just as once before He had astonished His compatriots in Nazareth, by the sublimity of His doctrine. "How," cried they in amazement, "doth this man know the Sacred Scripture having never learned?"6 They knew the condition of His family, the occupation of His boyhood and youth, and they could not understand how He, never having been a disciple, had become a teacher, expounding the Sacred Text with the aid of happy comparisons, venturing to speak in public, and achieving a great success. They knew not that there is a Master Whose eloquence is quite different from that of the Rabbis for the formation of disciples: namely, God the Father; and there is an authorised teaching more sublime than that of the Synagogue namely, that of Heaven. "My doctrine," answered Jesus, "is not mine, but His that sent Me. If any man will do the will of Him, he shall know the doctrine whether it be of God, or whether I speak of Myself." In fact, the true way to prove the divine origin of the Gospel is by desiring to do what God demands of us.

This desire is nothing else than the sincere love of good in general, the observance of the moral law set forth by conscience and revelation. To be good through the inclination of the heart facilitates the working of the intelligence; to be evil, on the contrary, multiplies the mists that rise from the heart to the mind and darken the understanding; for, as Pascal has so happily said, "If in order to love human things we must know them, in order to know divine things we must begin by loving them, and we reach the truth only by the way of charity." The Jews, therefore, have only to desire good — to do it is, perhaps, beyond their strength — and naturally they will seek the Gospel which is the meeting-place of all men of goodwill. The honestminded man who is seeking his ideal, will find it so complete in the words of Jesus, that he will be forced at once to acknowledge the divine origin of these words. He alone can have created a doctrine so marvellously adapted to man's aspirations, Who Himself created man's heart. The happiness, the peace, the satisfaction experienced by the soul that practises the lessons of the Gospel furnish at once the most eloquent demonstration both of the origin of this same Gospel and of its divine authority.

In addition to this, we can, according to Jesus, reach the same demonstration by a more direct way: "He that speaketh of himself, seeketh his own glory," says Jesus; "but he that seeketh the glory of him that sent him, he is true, and there is no injustice in him." It is easy to analyse the teaching of the Gospel. Does the Master speak for His own interest or for the glory of His Father? It is evidently for the glory of His Father, it is for Him that He labours; it is His cause that He defends. Therefore He is come for God; therefore He is God's messenger; therefore His words are the words of Him Who sends Him, and His work consists not in deceiving the multitudes, but in bringing them back to God by the fulfilment of duty. Hence He can protest against all accusations of jealousy, and declare that His discourses are worthy of faith and His work free from injustice. He does not assume for Himself the honour that is due to God.

It is different with the princes of the hierarchical party, who spend their lives in seeking the consideration of the multitude by flattering its evil passions.7 God's glory is not their chief thought. They wish above all to glorify themselves, and for that purpose they work iniquity and falsehood. "Did not Moses give you the law," said Jesus, challenging His enemies, "and yet none of you keepeth the law?" In fact, they suppress it whenever it checks their passions. In vain does it forbid homicide in any form, for these pious Israelites are even now preparing some one's death. More than this, the murder they are meditating will bear the character of an awful sacrilege; for Moses has not only written: "Thou shalt not kill," but he has also given us the words of Jehovah announcing the Prophet of the future Who is to be the great Law-giver of His people: "And he that will not hear His words, which He shall speak in My name, I will be the avenger."8 But the princes of the people mean not only to close the Heavenly Envoy's lips, but even to do away with Himself by assassination. "Why," cries out the Master energetically, "why seek you to kill Me?" Is that obedience to the law of Moses? They know well how to quote that law when they wish to accuse Jesus of having violated the Sabbath, and these who now scorn its gravest prescriptions will defend it with energy when there is question of secondary precepts which a reason of a higher order can always annul: "Thou hast a devil; who seeketh to kill Thee?" exclaimed some who heard Him, in ignorance of the situation or through hypocrisy.9 Overlooking this insulting interruption, Jesus recalls the incident that had marked His last visit to Jerusalem and the serious threats of which He had been the object because He had cured the paralytic. "One work I have done," says Jesus, "and you all wonder."10 It was modest to speak thus of a great miracle and to liken it to servile work, careless of the supernatural character which might render it a decisive argument in the discussion. But He thinks it useless to employ all His arms to confound His adversaries.

"Therefore Moses gave you circumcision," He continues, "(not because it is of Moses,11 but of the fathers;) and on the Sabbath-day you circumcise a man." As the law-giver directed that the child should be circumcised on the eighth day after birth, there was a conflict between two different laws when this day coincided with the Sabbath. But in this case, no Jew hesitated to sacrifice the Sabbath in favour of the circumcision, for the reason that the Sabbath is for man and not man for the Sabbath. Then the Master concludes: "If a man receive circumcision on the Sabbath-day, that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry at Me because I have healed the whole man on the Sabbath-day?" The argument was wholly conclusive, for in circumcision there was a material work, requiring preparation and special care, whereas in the cure with which they found fault, an act of the will had sufficed; the transgression of the Sabbath in order to circumcise was a very ordinary thing, and the same for the sake of healing a sick man was merely an exception. In the first case, it was a matter simply of the consecration of a man to God; in the second, Jesus had healed the entire man, in soul as well as in body;12 finally, circumcision was merely a ceremony dating back to Abraham, while charity was the natural law itself, inscribed by God in the heart of the first man and of his posterity. The hypocritical malice of the Pharisees is, therefore, evident. Jesus is content simply to add in all gentleness "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge just judgment." This was equivalent to saying that works are to be judged less with the eyes of the body than with those of the soul. To do otherwise is, in the study of the law, to accept the letter and neglect the spirit.

This sound logic silenced adversaries who could do nothing except through falsehood, malevolent insinuations, and secret plottings. Since, therefore, no one arose to contradict Him, Jesus remained master of the field. Some, however — they were people of Jerusalem, better informed of the plans of the hierarchical party than the others — were astonished that He should be suffered to have the final word in a public discussion and be allowed to triumph with so much honour. "Is not this," said they, "He Whom they seek to kill? And behold He speaketh openly, and they say nothing to Him. Have the rulers known for a truth that this is the Christ? But we know this man whence He is: but when the Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence He is." Although the teachers of Israel could not ignore the origin of the Messiah, since they clearly read in their books that He would come forth from Bethlehem and from the race of David,13 the people were less enlightened. They looked for a Messiah who would come unexpectedly, like a man fallen from heaven whose generation would be unknown, and whose triumph would be as swift as lightning. These ideas, or better, these assumptions were born of the confusion produced in the minds of the multitude by the twofold nature, human and divine, of the Heavenly Envoy. They were pleased to retain these vague beliefs with their special character of the wonderful and mysterious, instead of correcting them by an attentive study of the texts,14 which would restore the truth in its own light. It is quite true that the Christ would advance upon the clouds of heaven, that His reign had begun in eternity, that His generation was unspeakable, but all this was said of His divine nature, while the prophecies concerning His family, His place of birth, His time, were spoken of His human nature.

Ever ready to make use even of the difficulties opposed to Him, in order to triumph, Jesus takes up the objection, acknowledges its worth, and immediately derives from it an argument to prove His character as Messiah. It is true, the origin of the Messiah must remain a mystery to His contemporaries, but is not the origin of Jesus Himself a mystery? "You both know Me," He said, raising His voice in the Temple in order to be heard by His adversaries, "and you know whence I am,15 and therefore you refuse to recognise Me as the Messiah. But you know naught of Me, but that which concerns My human nature; there is another part that escapes you and in which I fulfil the condition required of the Messiah; in this part you know not whence I am. I am not come of Myself ; the truth is that some one has sent Me and Him you know not.16 Cease, therefore, denying Me this characteristic mark of being unknown which the Messiah must bear, and, in keeping with your own ideas, admit the legitimacy of My mission." There is a yet more intimate and, so to speak, more categorical mark of His superior nature namely, that although no one knows that real Being Who delegates the Messiah, He knows Him, both because He shares in His essence, having proceeded as the Word from His bosom,17 and because, as man, He has been in communion with Him in receiving His mission: "I know Him, because I am from Him, and He hath sent Me."

This response, so clear, so peremptory, could not but have the twofold result of exasperating His declared enemies and of arousing faith in undecided souls. For immediately we see the crowd separate into two distinct groups. Some desire to lay hold on Jesus and close His lips by violence; others say among themselves: "When the Christ cometh, shall He do more miracles than these which this man doth?" The enthusiasm of the latter renders powerless the hatred of the former, and they dare not attempt what they desire; because, as the Evangelist says, Jesus' hour was not yet come.

However, exasperated by the popular movement in favour of the young Prophet, and unwilling longer to listen to His praises, the Pharisees, acting in concert with the chief-priests, obtained a squad of police officials who were to keep watch on Him and seize Him at the first favourable opportunity, however slight. For He might, at any moment, furnish a chance for judicial action by a few seditious words, and, even in the midst of His vehement attacks, compromise His popularity, and find Himself deserted by all.

Jesus soon became aware of this hostile surveillance, and was distressed by it. The police ready to lay their hands upon His shoulder and to arrest Him, the audacity of His enemies in daring to undertake such forceful measures against His person, the isolation of which He was still conscious in the midst of multitudes, all united in an endeavour to disconcert His courage. With an accent of sadness capable of recalling those honest hearts that still hesitated, He exclaimed: "Yet a little while I am with you, and then I go to Him that sent Me." These, then, were the last days of divine mercy. After having seen the miracles, heard the discourses, received the grace of the Saviour, there was nothing more to do but to hasten and join themselves to Him by faith. A few months more and it will be too late; He shall have been removed by the enemy. "Ye shall seek Me, and shall not find Me; and where I go, thither ye cannot come."

This threat was to have a most terrible fulfilment. For, some time after this, Jesus was taken from the midst of His people, and those who had not believed in Him when alive, have sought Him since and seek Him still, but find Him not. This unfortunate Jewish people calls in vain with most touching supplications for the Deliverer foretold by the prophets; the Deliverer comes not. Israel, looking to the future for Him Who has already come, cannot meet Him on the way. Israel shall therefore die without a Saviour in time and without hope for eternity. They alone enter the Kingdom of Heaven who have joined themselves by faith to its true Founder and Chief, Jesus of Nazareth.

These words of the Master were beyond the understanding of His hearers; and they began to say ironically "Whither will He go, that we shall not find Him? Will He go unto the dispersed18 Greeks, and teach the Gentiles? What is this saying that He hath said: Ye shall seek Me, and shall not find Me; and where I am, ye cannot come?"

In the eyes of the Jews what could be more extravagant and more ridiculous than that the Messiah should preach to the Gentiles and establish among them the kingdom which He could not found in Israel? They therefore laugh sarcastically at the pretensions which their ignorance attributes to Jesus. Not comprehending these words, they treat them with derision. But their insolent mockery shall be none the less the story of the future. The Messiah, borne on the Apostles' lips, shall soon go to the nations of the earth to establish Himself among them. St. John, who wrote among the Greeks, took pleasure in inscribing in his Gospel these jests of the Jews, to show how God can, when He will, without departing from the ways of His wisdom, punish the sarcasm of the impious by insuring its most terrible realisation.


1 St. John ix, 2.

2 St. John vii, 10.

3 It has been observed with good reason that St. John has distinguished between the Jews and the multitude. For him the Jews are the nation which follows the influence of its chiefs and is personified in them. They always act in a spirit hostile to Jesus (verses 11 and 13, etc.). The multitude, or the people, represents a whole made up of individuals with different sentiments, malevolent or favourable (verse 12, etc.). These are people from all parts, and the Evangelist distinguishes them from the inhabitants of Jerusalem (verse 25).

4 The term used to designate Jesus Christ, ekeinos, manifests the hostility of those who speak.

5 It was probably on the Sabbath-day, falling within the octave of the feast, that He made His sudden appearance. The theme of His discourse seems to indicate this. Excepting the first and the last day, the intervening Sabbath-day was the most solemn of the whole octave.

6 The expression memaqhkws must be taken in an absolute sense, and it demonstrates once more that Jesus had never frequented any school.

7 St. John v, 44, and xii, 42.

8 Deut. xviii, 19.

9 Certain exegetes put this interruption as coming from the lips of Jesus' followers, who are unaware of the plot against His life. It is more probable that it came from the very ones whom Jesus was unmasking and whose fury knew no bounds. We shall soon see that the designs of these persons were a secret to no one (v. 25); and, besides, this question is so insulting that it would be out of place on the lips of Jesus' followers. His enemies accuse Him of having a devil: daimonion eceis, which is equivalent to being a fool. (St. John x, 20, and St. Matt. iv, 24.)

10 The verb qaumazw signifies here the mingled astonishment and irritation caused by a flagrant violation of the law. The explanation of this is seen in the words that follow later: emoi colate, "are you angry at Me ?"

11 It may be that this parenthesis is the Evangelist's. However, it is more commonly admitted that it is Jesus', and that the Master is careful to prevent any accusation of inexactitude after the assertion concerning His knowledge made shortly before. He observes therefore that the prescription as to the circumcision of male children is falsely attributed to Moses. It dates from Abraham. (Gen. xvii, 10; xxi, 4.) Moses, writing the history of the people of God, notes its institution. That, no doubt, is why it may have been said to come from him. In reality, he simply mentions it as a tradition to be preserved. (Levit. xii, 3.)

12 The miraculous cure with which they reproach Jesus, had effected a remission of sins.

13 See St. John vii, 42, and St. Matt. ii, 5, 6.

14 Isa. liii. 8; Mich. v, 2.

15 The text preserved by St. John is so concise that we feel obliged to develop it in order to render it intelligible. notwithstanding our custom of adding nothing to the words of Our Lord. The following are the exact words: "You know whence I am, and I am not come from Myself; but He that sent Me is true, Whom you know not. I know Him, because I am from Him and He hath sent Me." The Evangelist observes that in pronouncing these words Jesus cried out ekrazen, and that He was in the Temple, that is, right before the eyes of His enemies.

16 There is something like harshness in telling the Jews, who regard themselves as the only adorers of the true God, that they do not know this God. Jesus here considers God, as the Father, in relation with His Son. Whom He begets from all eternity, and Whom He sends in time. As the God of deism, the Jews know Him; as the God of the Trinity. He is altogether beyond them, since they do not recognise the Son, Who has come to them.

17 St. John i, 2, 18; vi, 46, 62.

18 Some authors have understood these words. thn diasporan twn Ellhonwn, to mean the Jews living outside of Palestine; in this they wrongly rely on the First Epistle of St. Peter i, 1, and on that of St. James i, 1. For in that sense, the Evangelist would have to use the term Ellhnistai. Ellhnes is here put in opposition with the Jews, and means the Greeks or the Gentiles. We should, therefore, take this as meaning the Greeks dispersed throughout the world, that is to say, the nations that speak the Greek language, civilised peoples. (See Acts xiv, 1 et passim; Rom. xi, 16 et passim.)

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