MEN CALLED HIM MASTER
By ELWYN ALLEN SMITH
THE WESTMINSTER PRESS - PHILADELPHIA
COPYRIGHT, MCMXLVIII, BY W. L. JENKINS
Transcriber's Note There is no evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
All rights reserved—no part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review in magazine or newspaper.
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Have You Ever Wondered? 6
1 A Voice in the Wilderness 7
2 Fishers of Men 14
3 A Man of Authority 25
4 God Is Now King! 34
5 Who Is This Carpenter? 45
6 The Old and the New 54
7 Missionaries of the Kingdom 64
8 He Is More than a Teacher 74
9 How Will You Know the Messiah? 80
10 "You Are the Christ" 88
11 A Secret Is Told 102
12 The Greatest Among Us 113
13 The Messiah Must Die 122
14 A Day of Victory 131
15 Dispute in the Temple 141
16 The End of Hope 152
17 The Darkest Hour of All 165
18 The Rock of Faith 173
HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED?
What kind of men were Jesus' disciples? What was it like to be with Jesus in Palestine? Why did some of the disciples find it so hard to understand Jesus? Who were the people who killed Jesus? Why did they do it? This book has been written to help you to answer these questions. It takes you right into Jesus' world so that you can hear his conversations with the disciples and watch the things they did.
The stories of Jesus and the disciples in this book are told in different words from those you will find in your Bible, and background has been built in from other records of the time. For example, the Bible gives only the fact that one of the disciples was a Zealot; in this book the disciple is shown speaking and acting as we know Zealots spoke and acted. The story of the rich young ruler has been placed early in Jesus' ministry to show that he would not accept every man who wanted to be his disciple. The parable of the Good Samaritan has also been placed in the early period as an example of the informal way in which Jesus taught. That you may know what is from the Bible and what is added to make a complete story, Scripture references for each event are given in the back of the book. These references will help you to read and understand the Gospels. As you read what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus while he was on earth, you will see more clearly what it means to be one of his disciples today.
1. A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS
"Andrew! The baskets are slipping!" Two men on foot were driving heavily loaded donkeys ahead of them. Across the back of Andrew's tiny beast hung two huge baskets. One slanted crazily forward.
"It ought to hold until we get to the top," answered Andrew. He looked critically at the load and then at the path ahead. They were climbing the bank of a wide gully cut by the floods that rushed down from the barren hills into the valley of the Jordan River every spring. Andrew shouted a command and the donkeys climbed slowly upward. At the top the men stopped to catch their breath.
"John," exclaimed Andrew in disgust, "I have tightened this thing on every hill between Galilee and Judea!" He worked impatiently at the knotted ropes that bound the baskets on the donkey's back. John was not listening. He was gazing at the scene before them.
Torrents of muddy water poured through the gully during the season of rains. Now the clay in the bottom was dry and cracked. Under the hoofs of the animals it was as hard as stone. John pushed his damp hair back from his forehead. His home province, with its green hillsides surrounding the cool Lake of Galilee, was very different from this burnt, rocky land of Judea, which lay southwest of where they stood. The gully carried a sluggish stream of heated air up from the valley; he could feel the damp warmth on his skin. Even on the hilltop there was no cooling breeze.
Andrew wiped his face with a dusty sleeve and left a dirty streak above his brows. "There!" he exclaimed. "These baskets ought to stay on now." The rope was drawn tightly around the belly of the donkey.
"We should be at Bethany soon," remarked John.
Andrew struck the donkey with his whip and said gruffly, "Come on!" as though the animal had shaken its load loose on purpose. The little caravan started again, Andrew in the lead.
The road was built on the slope of the hills which closed in the plain of the Jordan. Stretching far to the west the men could see fields of ripe grain. The heat of early summer had come quickly this year and now threatened to destroy the crop. Farmers were hard at work cutting the wheat and threshing out the grain on platforms of earth pressed smooth as stone.
"Are you sure that John the Baptizer is still at Bethany?" called Andrew over his shoulder. John did not answer. After a moment, Andrew added, "Perhaps he has gone to some other place to preach." Still there was no reply. Irritated, Andrew turned. John had dropped behind and was walking with a stranger. Where had this traveler come from? He must have been moving fast to overtake them so swiftly. His robe was hitched high at the waist for easier walking. Andrew slowed and waited for the men.
"Could you tell us, friend, where John the Prophet is baptizing?" John was saying.
The traveler smiled. "I hear he is at Bethany on the Jordan, near Jericho. Do you want to hear him?"
"We are his disciples," responded John proudly; then he bit his lip. Andrew was frowning at him. It was dangerous to say a thing like that! John looked at the stranger narrowly. He was from Galilee; his broad accent showed that. John glanced at Andrew. Surely a Galilean was safe! "The Prophet says that Israel will soon be free," ventured John. It was a test question. The stranger smiled as though he agreed, and Andrew asked enthusiastically: "Do you believe him? He says that God will overthrow the Romans soon!"
"How does John the Baptizer think all this will happen?" asked the Galilean traveler. Andrew did not reply for a long while. Finally he said: "The Prophet tells us that we cannot set ourselves free without God's help. He says that if we had been willing to change our ways, God would have rescued us long ago. Therefore we must get rid of sin and pride and take our stand on God's side. When we do that, great things will happen!" He looked directly at his fellow traveler. "Do you believe this?"
The stranger's answer was clear. "John speaks the truth."
Suddenly they heard the thunder of galloping hoofs. A band of horsemen was bearing down on them. Helmets and spears glinted in the brilliant sunlight. Andrew and John shouted at the donkeys, but one of them moved slowly. Desperately John whipped the animal. The donkey leaped. A rope snapped and one of the heavy baskets dropped to the ground.
The three men heard a soldier curse them. They could hardly see each other for the thick dust. The basket lay trampled in the dirt; salted fish were scattered all over the road. Andrew kicked the ruined basket into the ditch. "May God soon burn Rome and all her soldiers! This land belongs to us!" He ran a few steps as if to overtake the riders and shook his fist. "God will strike you!" he shouted. The stranger was helping John put what was left of the fish in the other three baskets. Andrew turned to them.
"I have seen whole armies of Romans march through fields of ripe wheat! I have seen our towns burned by these destroyers! They have killed thousands of our people! We have seen even our own friends killed by these murderers!"
The man answered quietly: "I know what they have done. But hating them will not help." Andrew was taken by surprise.
"We have been oppressed before," continued the stranger. "God has sent John to us now, just as he has always sent prophets to tell us what we should do."
"What should we do?"
"Just as you said yourself, we must repent of our sin," replied the traveler. "God can do very little until he finds men who are willing to obey him." Andrew had nothing to say.
"There is a well not far ahead," remarked John. "We must water the animals." Under a dusty palm over the next hill they found the well. The stranger drew water for the donkeys and they drank noisily. Then he drew water for the men. They had no sooner finished than Andrew urged: "Let's hurry. We are not far from the place where John is baptizing."
The road led down the slope and across the plain toward the river, which had cut a deep gorge. At the edge the men paused to look. A hundred feet below flowed the Jordan. It seemed sluggish now; but in the rainy season it was swift and treacherous. The water was yellow and gray and only a few shrubs clung to the banks. A short distance away the river turned and disappeared behind the opposite cliff.
"The crossing is below that bend," explained John to the stranger. "The Prophet should be there." He gave his donkey a cut with the whip, and the stolid animal moved faster. A few minutes later he cried out: "There! See down there?" People were gathered at the edge of the river. It did not take the men long to reach the gully through which the road descended to the river. The fishermen tied their donkeys with the other animals that stood tethered to bushes and small trees. In their haste they forgot their companion.
"Do you see the Prophet?" inquired Andrew, looking eagerly about. John jerked at his sleeve.
"There! By that rock on the bank!" They climbed up the slope where they could see.
John could not tell why he felt the way he did. It might have been the appearance of John the Baptizer. He wore a rough camel-hair tunic and a leather belt. None of the people who were there for the first time had ever seen such a man before. He was very thin. His skin was tanned brown and his hair and beard were long. Like the poorest people in Palestine, he lived on grasshoppers and wild honey. Just then John the Baptizer spoke. He looked old, but his voice showed that he was young and strong.
"It is time you begin to show some sign that you are God's chosen people," he cried out. "But you are just like your ancestors—you pay no attention to God. You don't listen to the prophets. God is not going to wait much longer. The time has come to repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is near!"
The crowd stirred. What was this? Could it be true that the end of the world was coming soon?
"Isaiah the Prophet said, 'Everyone shall see the saving power of God,'" continued the Baptizer. "God is getting ready to clean off his threshing platform. He will gather his wheat into his storehouse, but he will burn the straw in fire that never dies down! Let every one of you get ready for the coming of the Lord!"
Near the front edge of the crowd a priest stood up. "How do you dare talk this way?" he demanded. "Who are you—the Messiah?"
"No, I am not the Messiah," replied the Prophet.
"Then who are you? The Prophet Elijah?"
"I am not Elijah."
"Are you Moses come back to us?"
"Then who are you? The rulers in Jerusalem have sent me to find out. What have you to say for yourself?" Andrew and John glanced at each other. The rulers!
John the Baptizer called out boldly to the whole crowd, "I am a voice crying in the wilderness, 'Clear the way for the Lord!'"
The priest from Jerusalem interrupted again. "If you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor Moses, what right have you to baptize people?" The people stirred; they did not like this man.
"I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier. I am not fit even to tie his sandal laces. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. You must repent!"
A man broke away from the crowd and stepped uncertainly toward the Prophet. Words came from his lips as though it hurt him to speak. "I have forced money out of people. I am a tax-gatherer. What can I do?" Everyone there had been cheated by tax collectors.
"Turn your whole life back toward God. Never again force people to pay more money than is just."
Several other people had joined the tax collector. "What must I do?" asked a soldier.
"Never take money from people by force. Never blackmail. Be content with your pay." He looked at the group before him and said: "Let every man of you who owns two garments share with the person who has none at all. If you have food, share it too!"
A whisper ran over the crowd. John had turned to some religious officials, Sadducees and Pharisees, who stood watching. "You nest of snakes! Who told you to flee from God's day of judgment? It is time you repented!"
"How can he talk that way to Pharisees?" said Andrew. He could tell even from where he stood that the Pharisees felt the charge was unjust.
"Why should we repent?" asked one of them. "We are descended from Abraham himself. We were born to be God's chosen people!"
"God can make children of Abraham out of these rocks if he wants!" burst out the Prophet. "Instead of saying over and over again, 'Abraham is our ancestor,' you ought to live so that people will know that you have repented! The wood chopper is ready to destroy every tree that is not producing good fruit. Every bad tree he will cut down and throw into the fire!" John turned his back on them.
"Look!" whispered Andrew in excitement. "There is the stranger we met on the road!"
The Prophet had walked down into the water to begin baptizing those who were waiting on the shore, but now he stopped and turned toward the place where the Galilean was standing. He completely forgot the crowd. In the silence Andrew could hear him protesting.
"No! No! No!" The Prophet stepped back in awe. "I am not worthy to baptize you. You should baptize me!" The two fishermen could not hear the Galilean's reply, but they saw him walk down into the water, John the Baptizer leading. The people stood as though fascinated. Recalling the incident later on, Andrew and John realized that their tense concentration on the two men at the river had driven every other thought from their minds.
John was baptizing the stranger. As he came up from the river, the Galilean's face bore an expression of joy and praise which the fishermen remembered as long as they lived. Some power had come upon him.
"What happened, Andrew? What happened?"
Andrew did not hear; he was staring at the Galilean.
"Andrew!" John was insistent. "Something just happened. I don't understand. What was it?"
Andrew murmured. "He must be a prophet too."
The people were talking excitedly. Everyone felt as John and Andrew did. The Galilean had gone, and the Prophet was now baptizing the others who waited. Shadows were creeping into the gorge as evening approached. Groups started away toward the near-by towns.
"Did you hear what the Galilean said to John the Baptizer?" asked John. Without answering, Andrew started toward the knot of people near the Prophet, and John followed. Andrew asked a man beside him, "Did you hear what the Galilean said to the Prophet?"
"Yes," the man answered. "He said, 'Every man must take his stand on God's side.'" Before Andrew could say any more the Prophet spoke. He knew what the people were thinking.
"Upon the head of this man of Galilee I saw the Spirit of God settle like a dove from the sky," he declared. "God has chosen him to do His work!"
2. FISHERS OF MEN
The morning sun was breaking over the hills that closed in the Lake of Galilee on the east. Fog was thick over the water, but the fishermen in the two boats that lay a short distance from the shore knew the sun had risen, for the mist was full of white light. Between the boats was a great net, partly under water. The fishermen, two in each boat, were pulling the opposite edges over the side into the bottom of their boats. Their breath hung in the chilly air. Andrew had returned to Galilee after his trip to Judea and was working with his brother, Simon.
"I wouldn't mind hard work if we could catch fish," remarked Simon, resting a moment.
"We'll soon see what we've caught," replied Andrew. The net was almost gathered in.
"It won't be much," grunted Simon, bending to his work again. After a few minutes the boats lay side by side, the nets heaped high in them.
"I have fished in this lake all my life," remarked James, the brother of John, "and so has my father, Zebedee, but I have never seen so few fish for a night's work!"
Andrew felt as disgusted as Simon and James, but all he said was, "Let's go ashore."
James and Andrew guided the boats toward the spot where Zebedee had built a fire of thorn twigs. The men jumped out and crowded around the crackling flames. Zebedee had chosen several fish for their breakfast. He raked some hot coals from the fire and laid the fish among them. They smelled good to the hungry men. This was the best time of the fishermen's day. Hard work was done. The fire was warm. The thought of food gave them a good feeling.
"Father, why is fishing so poor this year?" asked John.
"I don't know, son," replied Zebedee. "Some years there are enough fish for all Galilee and Judea. But in years like this, the people of the five cities on our lake go hungry." He was thinking of times past. "If the wheat crop is poor in Galilee, there may be riots."
"That would only make matters worse," commented Simon.
"Yes, unless King Herod has improved lately." Zebedee smiled sourly. "I think that foreigner actually enjoys killing. How he loves our money! If riots come, we are sure to be taxed even more." He took two of the fish off the coals and laid them on a smooth rock. When they were cool enough, he picked them up. "Breakfast is ready," he said. The men rose and bowed their heads, while the older man prayed.
"Praise ye the Lord. I will give thanks unto the Lord with my whole heart, In the council of the upright, and in the congregation. He hath given food unto them that fear him: He will ever be mindful of his promise. Holy and reverend is his name. Amen."
While they ate, James asked, "Father, who is in the other boat this morning?" Zebedee hired men to work for him.
"Old Gideon the farmer, with our new man, a gentile from Sidon."
"Why in the world did you hire a gentile, father?" asked John sharply.
"Well, son, he is young and strong. He is willing to work for us." He paused. "But I couldn't help wondering where he came from."
"Did you ask him?"
"No. He wouldn't answer questions about himself. But he knew fishing." John shook his head.
"I don't like it, father. Jews have no business working with gentiles. And besides, if he is a runaway slave, we might get into trouble."
"Now look, son. Half the people in Galilee are gentiles. Every day we see them. What harm is there in working with them?"
"Here comes the other boat," said Simon. The sun was driving away the mist; Simon pointed to a fishing boat drawing closer to the shore.
"Did you do any better than we did, Gideon?" called Zebedee.
As the old farmer came toward them, the men could tell that his body was rugged in spite of stooped shoulders. "No better; maybe worse. It's getting as hard to make a living on the lake as by plowing the land."
The newcomers sat down and hungrily ate the fish that Simon handed them.
"Zebedee says there may be riots if the wheat is poor," said Simon. "What do you think of the crop, Gideon?"
Gideon squinted toward the hills as though looking at the fields that lay beyond them. "My guess is that there will be enough." He frowned. "Enough, that is, if the landlords don't grab it all."
James glanced at Simon, concealing a smile. Old Gideon never got tired of scolding the big landowners.
"Before I was forced off my farm we had plenty to eat, even in dry weather." He shook his finger. "And mind you, I had only five acres! Now look what has happened!" He pounded his knee. "A man can hardly feed his family with ten acres. Why? Taxes and more taxes!" He counted on his fingers. "First, Herod takes one fourth of all our grain. That goes into the bellies of the Romans. Then there is the tithe. That takes enough to feed a hired man! Then we pay the Temple tax to feed the priests. They get the first-born of all the sheep too. When a man's first son is born, he must make a big gift to the synagogue. Farmers have to give part of the wool at sheep-shearing; part of the wood at woodcutting; and the best of the fruit at harvest." He looked around and spat on the ground. "On top of that we pay for the schools and synagogues! Is it any wonder we have hardly enough left to feed ourselves?"
"But religious taxes are paid for the sake of God, Gideon!" protested James.
"Yes, yes ... I know." Gideon couldn't argue the point; for a moment he was silent. Then he looked sharply at James and snapped: "Do the landlords pay religious taxes? No!" His voice was bitter. "That tax-gatherer who bought me out knew ways to get out of paying the Temple tax!"
"Was it when you sold your farm that you became a fisherman, Gideon?" asked James.
"Yes. I almost had to serve a term of bondage."
The gentile jerked up his head and said, "Were you a slave?"
"No, but my brother bound himself for twelve years," answered Gideon, looking at the gentile curiously.
"Do the bondslaves make much trouble here?" he asked.
Zebedee looked at him very closely. "In Galilee the slaves do not cause riots. The Jews do."
James explained. "In Palestine there are more free men than slaves. Hunger causes most riots. But in a way, our whole nation is a slave to Rome." His eyes challenged the gentile and no one missed his meaning when he spoke again. "A nation can't run away from its master the way a slave can."
The gentile started. He glanced swiftly around the group. The men were looking at him suspiciously.
"Are you a runaway slave?" demanded Zebedee point-blank.
The man flushed and spoke shamefacedly. "Yes," he admitted.
After a moment's silence, Andrew said: "The Romans treat us all the same way. No one here will betray you." The man's face showed his relief.
"Perhaps you will tell us where you are from," suggested Simon.
"I am a Greek; a fisherman from Corinth. I was taken captive and made the slave of a Roman soldier. We were sent to Sidon." He waved his hand toward the west. "I watched my chance and ran away. Here I want to work and remain unknown."
John said: "Will you come with us to the synagogue? If you are going to work with us, you should become one of us."
"I will worship any god who will give me a happy life."
"I can't promise that God will do that," answered John. "Our nation has always suffered greatly." He looked at Andrew. "But we believe what John the Baptizer tells us: God is soon coming to save us."
The gentile shook his head. "I don't understand."
"Perhaps he has not heard of the Prophet," Andrew said to Simon. He turned to the slave and said, "God has sent a Prophet to warn us to turn back to God."
"What will your god do for you?" asked the other.
Andrew spoke sternly to him. "God is not our servant! We are his servants! We obey him."
"John the Baptizer says God will soon set up his Kingdom," added John.
"I must say the Zealots make better sense to me," interrupted Simon. "After all, you have to make some effort yourself. You can't just sit and wait."
"Who are the Zealots?" asked the gentile.
"They are warlike patriots who are always staging riots against the Romans," explained Simon.
"While I was at Sidon, the Romans were busy hunting down bands of these people," observed the gentile.
"Many brave men have been killed by Rome. We seem to be defeated in every rebellion." Simon turned to his brother. "Do you remember Judah the Galilean?" Andrew nodded.
"Judah was a Zealot," continued Simon. "He gathered a group of brave young Jews and raided one of Herod's forts. They took swords, spears, and money to buy food. At the Feast of the Passover, they came out of their hiding places in the northern hills." He pointed toward the mountains where the snowy crest of Mount Hermon shone in the morning light. "They hid swords under their robes and joined the crowds going to Jerusalem. I was only a child but my parents took me to Jerusalem that year.
"The Zealots knew the Temple would be guarded by Roman soldiers, so they surrounded it. The Roman commander saw men with swords in the crowd of pilgrims filling the Temple and thought they were going to attack his men, so he ordered his soldiers to attack first.
"The Zealots were taken by surprise and the Romans gained the upper hand. Then Judah saw his chance. He rallied his men, and they climbed on the roof of the wooden buildings which surround the Temple courtyard. From there they threw spears down on the Romans. It looked then as though they had a chance to win.
"To drive the Jews off these buildings, the Romans set them afire. They were dry as tinder and burned fiercely. The Zealots had to get down. Some killed themselves rather than surrender. Others leaped among the Romans and died fighting. Those that escaped to the country hid in the hills around Jerusalem. There Judah gathered together as many of his men as were still alive.
"The Roman general sent bands of his men into the hills to hunt down the survivors. One morning there was a blare of trumpets and a group of Roman soldiers came marching down the street. From the roof of the house where I stayed with my parents we saw Judah of Galilee being prodded along by guards in armor. He was hurt but he walked proudly.
"I began to cry. Even my father had tears in his eyes. Although I was only a young boy, I knew that Judah would be killed for fighting the Romans. But I did not know how terrible it would be.
"The Romans made all Jews who did not live in Jerusalem leave within two days. It was a sad time. We had come in joy, remembering how at the first Passover Feast God had protected us from the Egyptians. We left sorrowing. We saw a dreadful sight when we went out of the city gate."
The fishermen had finished their food and sat with their eyes fixed on Simon. James and Andrew had heard bits of this story before, but listened eagerly for details as Simon talked. John's eyes seemed to be saying: "Go on! Go on!" Zebedee was older and knew the story well. Already his face showed pain and sorrow.
"Judah had been condemned to die as a criminal. All criminals were crucified. He was thrown to the ground and his body was spread on a wooden cross. His hands were nailed to the crossbeam. His feet were nailed also. The cross was set upright beside the road from Jerusalem to Galilee. All the Zealots who had been hiding in the hills of Judea were crucified with him.
"When my father and mother took me out through the city gate, I saw hundreds of crosses on both sides of the road. On each cross hung a brave Galilean. When I saw that Judah was dead, my boyhood dream crumbled. I have never forgotten."
The fire had burned out while Simon talked. The morning sun glared on the gray ashes. Lost in thought, the men gazed at the dead fire. Finally Simon said: "It seems that every time we fight for the Kingdom of God we suffer all the more. How does John the Baptizer explain that, Andrew?"
"He didn't say anything about it that I remember," Andrew admitted.
People were hurrying along the road back of the beach.
"Come along, men," said Zebedee briskly. "We must clean the nets."
"I think I'll try my luck in the shallow water," said Andrew. He picked up a circular net with weights around the edges. He waded to his knees and threw the net. It fell flat on the water and sank, trapping a small fish under it.
The others began to wash the nets, patiently picking out the seaweed and pebbles caught in them.
"Say! What's going on?" John pointed to a knot of people following a man who was walking along the beach.
"Probably some trader," remarked Simon.
"He looks more like a teacher to me," said John.
"Why not go over and see?" suggested Simon.
In a moment John came running back. "It is Jesus, the Galilean whom Andrew and I saw with John the Baptizer! Andrew! Andrew!" he called. "Come and see him, Simon. Come on!"
"I think I had better finish cleaning this net, John."
"But this man is a Prophet!"
"You go ahead if you want to." John gave Simon a disgusted look. When he turned toward the crowd of people, he noticed that they were moving toward him.
I wish they would come over here, thought John. As if he had read John's mind, Jesus walked nearer the fisherman. Everyone was listening to a scribe who was asking questions. Scribes knew the religious laws and the sacred books thoroughly.
"How can I get into this Kingdom you are telling us about, Rabbi?"
"What is written in the Law? What do you read there?" asked Jesus. The scribe answered: "You must love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole strength, and your whole mind. Also, love your neighbor as yourself."
"Correct," said Jesus. "Do that and you will live." Simon's hands were busy, but he smiled to hear Jesus answer the educated man so easily.
The scribe felt foolish because Jesus had made him answer his own question. Hoping to escape embarrassment, he asked, "Just who is my neighbor, Master?"
"There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho," answered Jesus. "He was attacked by some robbers who took everything he had and left him badly hurt. After a while a priest came by, but when he caught sight of the man lying in the ditch bleeding, he went on without even looking a second time. A Levite came along a little later and he too passed by on the other side of the road. Then a Samaritan came along." Simon was listening intently. Like most of the people there, he looked down on Samaritans, and wondered why Jesus had brought this one into the story.
"The two Jews had done nothing to help their fellow countryman, but the Samaritan stopped," continued Jesus. "He put salve on his wounds and tied them up. He put him on his own donkey and took him to an inn by the road. He paid his bill so that he could stay as long as it would take to get well. When the Samaritan left, he said to the manager: 'Take care of him. If you have to do more for him, I will pay you back when I come this way again.'" Jesus looked at the scribe. "Which of these three men was a true neighbor to the man who was beaten?"
"The man who was kind to him," admitted the scribe grudgingly.
"Then go and be like that yourself!" said Jesus.
Simon looked at Jesus amazed, the net in his hand completely forgotten. Not even John the Baptizer would say the Samaritan was better than the others, he thought to himself. No wonder Andrew and John had talked so much about this Rabbi whom they had first met in Judea!
Attracted by the crowd, many more people had come down from the road. They were pressing in on Jesus so much that he turned to Simon and asked abruptly, "May I use your boat?"
Simon was taken by surprise but he quickly recovered himself and said, "Certainly, Rabbi."
Jesus asked him to push out a little way. Then he turned around and spoke to the people on the shore. "The Kingdom of God does not come like a flash of lightning so that you can say, 'Here it is!' The Kingdom of God is right now in your midst."
"Does that mean that our enemies will be destroyed soon, Rabbi?" asked Simon eagerly.
"The Kingdom of God does not come by violence and bloodshed," answered Jesus, "but by the power of God. It is not his will that you should kill persons whom you hate. You should love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you! Pray for those who abuse you. If a man slaps your cheek, let him slap the other one too. If he steals your coat, give him your shirt too.
"If you love only people who love you, what does that amount to? Even bad men do that! It is your enemies that you must love and help. You must give without expecting to be paid back."
"That is impossible!" exclaimed Simon in dismay.
"God's Kingdom has power to change all kinds of men," said Jesus, looking straight at Simon. "His power is like a piece of yeast in a bowl of dough—the tiny bit of yeast quickly works its way through all the dough until every bit is changed. The Kingdom of God is also like a tiny mustard seed. It is so small that a farmer can hardly see it mixed with his wheat. But this tiny seed is so powerful that when it is planted it grows larger than most trees."
Simon shook his head. He did not say anything, but he doubted if any such power existed.
"Will you push the boat out into deep water?" asked Jesus. "I want you to lower the net for a catch of fish."
"Rabbi, we fished all night and took nothing," protested Simon. "But if you wish, I will try again." Much puzzled by this sudden request, the two fishermen pulled toward deep water. The people on the shore watched them put up the oars; the boat drifted slowly in the wind. The two men lowered the net. It had hardly sunk below the surface of the water when the fishermen knew that they had dropped it directly in the path of a great school of fish. Startled into action, they pulled desperately at the net, but it was too heavy. The cords began to break. In great excitement Andrew stood up and shouted to James, "Come and help us!"
With James and John drawing the opposite edge of the net into their boat, the four men succeeded in saving the huge catch. Jesus sat quietly watching from the back of the boat, which was now filled with fish to the point of sinking. Simon looked at Jesus and a strange fear took hold of him. There had been no fish all night—and now, at the bidding of this Rabbi, they had caught hundreds! Impulsively he fell on his knees at Jesus' feet and said: "Lord, I do need to be changed! I am a sinful man!"
"The Kingdom of Heaven is like a net that catches all kinds of fish, Simon," replied Jesus. "You must follow me. From now on you shall fish for men." From the other boat, James and John had been listening to every word that Jesus had spoken. He now turned to Andrew and the two others. "If you will follow me, you too shall become fishers of men."
When the boat came to shore, the people looked in amazement at the great haul of fish, but the catch meant nothing to the four fishermen. Without a single word they left Zebedee and followed Jesus back to Capernaum.
3. A MAN OF AUTHORITY
It was not long before reports of the new Rabbi at Capernaum had traveled to all the cities around the Lake of Galilee. At Bethsaida, a little town three miles across the lake from Capernaum, farmers gossiped about the news as they worked in the green fields on the hills above their town. The name of Jesus was on the lips of everyone in the noisy market place; but the fishermen on the beaches knew most about the Teacher who said that the Kingdom of God was very near.
One Friday afternoon, a fisherman from Bethsaida, named Philip, was netting fish from his small boat at the northern tip of the Lake of Galilee. The Jordan River emptied into the lake at this point, and there were often large fish to be caught. Spawned and fattened in the many tiny streams that flowed into the upper Jordan, they came down the river to feed on the weeds that grew thickly in the swamps at the river mouth.
Philip glanced up at the sun. It was well past noon, time to be leaving. Philip drew his net into the boat, set the oars into their crude notches, and rowed steadily toward Bethsaida, about a mile distant. He would have just enough time, he reflected, to clean up, get back to the boat, and row across the lake before the Sabbath Day commenced at sunset.
Philip landed and drew his boat a short distance up on the beach.
"Say, Philip! Why don't you pull it up farther?" Philip looked around and saw a friend cleaning a net. Without pausing he replied, "I am going to use it again."
"Are you going far?" But the question was not answered; Philip was already hastening up the narrow street toward his home. An hour later, he returned. Anxiously he glanced toward the sun, now nearing the horizon.
"Where are you going?" asked the fisherman. Philip kept his back turned to the curious man. After he had launched the rowboat and was pulling away, he called out, "Across the lake." He knew the man had asked only to find out if he would be back before the Sabbath started.
Nevertheless, Philip rowed hard for Capernaum; he was conscientious and did not want to break the Sabbath if he could help it. The white walls and small domed houses of Capernaum were only a quarter of a mile away when Philip heard a sound that told him he had left Bethsaida too late.
The minister of the synagogue at Capernaum had blown his trumpet. Philip twisted around and saw that the mellow note had come just as the red sun sank behind the hills west of the lake. There were two more long blasts. From this moment, the Sabbath rest began.
The minister laid the trumpet down on the flat roof of his house. No Jew worked after this signal. The women had already brought a full day's supply of water into their houses and were forbidden to carry any more. Fishermen were not supposed to clean nets or row. The market place was silent, for no buying or selling was permitted. The minister did not even carry his trumpet into the house. He would wait until sunset on Saturday when the Sabbath ended and then he would put it away.
He lighted the great synagogue lamp. This was part of Sabbath worship and did not count as work. This shining light, hanging where Philip could plainly see it as he drew his boat up on the beach in front of Capernaum, made him feel a little guilty. Hurriedly he stored the oars under the seats and set out for the home of Simon, his friend in the city.
Simon's house was in a high part of Capernaum, set back against the hills. It was not a long walk for Philip through the streets that led up from the lake front. Leaving the street of hard-packed dirt, Philip went under an arch into a square courtyard, open to the sky. The house was built on four sides, and doors led from a narrow porch into the rooms. Philip hesitated a moment and then knocked at one of the doors.
"Philip!" Simon stood in the doorway, smiling at his friend. His broad shoulders and short neck made him seem burly. "Come in, my friend!" Simon called across the courtyard to his wife: "Bring some food! Philip has come."
Inside, oil lamps were lighted and Simon's children were playing on the floor in a corner of the room. Philip was very fond of them. He ran his fingers through the hair of the oldest, a black-haired lad of seven. The child gave him a friendly smile.
"What brings you to us on the Sabbath, Philip?" inquired Simon, half teasing, half reproving.
"I did not leave the river mouth until about three o'clock," explained Philip, a bit ashamed. "I was very eager to come to Capernaum."
Simon was immediately curious. "What made you come?"
"Everyone in Bethsaida is talking about the new Rabbi who is teaching here," answered Philip. "They say that he talks of a new kingdom." Philip was a little surprised to see how intently Simon was listening to his words, but he did not pause. "I thought you could tell me more about him. I hear that he comes from Nazareth. When did you first find out about him?"
"A couple of months ago John and Andrew went up to Jerusalem and when they came back they told us they had met this man," answered Simon. "They saw him baptized by John the Baptizer. The Prophet told them that Jesus was going to be a mighty servant of God. We didn't take it very seriously though—you know how enthusiastic Andrew gets.
"We never realized what kind of person Jesus was until we saw him ourselves," continued Simon. "He isn't like an ordinary teacher. You feel that he is so sure of himself and yet he is so humble." Simon was deeply earnest. "Everything he says goes right to your heart, Philip. I can hardly understand what it is—there is some power in him!" Simon's wife entered.
"Here is food for you," said Simon, as his wife set a bowl of boiled fish on the table. Hungry from his trip across the lake, Philip gratefully moved to the rough bench in front of the table and began to eat.
After a while he asked, "Then you know this Rabbi well?"
"Yes," answered Simon. "He has been down on the lake shore every day this week. I have been with him most of the time."
"Doesn't that take a good deal of time away from fishing?" observed Philip.
"Yes, some," replied Simon. "We do some fishing early in the mornings. But it is true that we don't do very much."
Philip was thoroughly puzzled by now. Simon had always been a hard worker. But Philip could not think of a way to ask why his friend had changed. For a while Simon remained silent. Nervously his foot stirred the palm fronds that covered the floor. "You see, Philip," he finally said very hesitantly, "I have really stopped fishing. I am now a follower of Jesus."
Philip was dumfounded. "You mean you aren't working with Andrew and James and John any more?"
"They have left Zebedee too," answered Simon.
"What in the world...." blurted Philip. He stopped short. "How are you going to feed your wife and children?" he asked.
Simon looked at Philip frankly. "I do not know, Philip," he said, his voice firm. "But this one thing I am sure of: I cannot turn back from my decision to go with Jesus wherever he goes. I believe in him and am willing to do anything for him."
Philip knew there was no use protesting further. Simon had told him what he intended to do. What could he say? Finally he asked, "When can I hear your Rabbi teach?"
"He will be in the synagogue tomorrow," replied Simon. "I am sure you will understand why I feel this way," he added very earnestly.
On Sabbath morning the streets which Philip had found so silent the evening before were filled with people. From every part of Capernaum they climbed to the place where the synagogue stood. It was on the highest hill in the city, because no building was more important to the people than their place of worship.
Simon and Philip came hurrying with the crowd. At the door of the synagogue they stopped to catch their breath and looked at the lake below them. The water lay still and smooth in the morning light, but no one knew better than the fishermen how quickly a wind storm could sweep down the ravines between the hills around the lake and whip up dangerous waves.
"Where is the Rabbi?" asked Philip.
"He is probably inside," answered Simon, turning to enter the synagogue.
From behind a row of pillars they looked for Jesus among the men who filled the room. In the middle of the room was a low platform with a desk on it. Seats were arranged on all sides. Over their heads was a balcony where the women sat. Simon pointed.
"There is Jesus down near the front," he whispered to Philip. "We'll sit with him." Philip noticed the tone of reverence in Simon's voice.
A row of dignified men sat in front of a heavy curtain at the end of the room. One of them came over to Jesus. Simon and Philip were too far away to hear what he whispered, but evidently he asked Jesus, as the visiting teacher, to take part in the service, because Jesus followed him and sat down with the elders. The synagogue filled quickly. Philip thought that many people must have heard about Jesus and come to Capernaum. Jesus walked to the desk on the platform. Philip was impressed by his strong voice repeating a prayer that was often used in the synagogue:
"Blessed be Thou, O Lord, King of the world, Who formest the light and createst the darkness, Who in mercy givest light to the earth and to those who dwell upon it, And in Thy goodness, day by day and every day, renewest the works of creation. Blessed be the Lord our God for the glory of His handiworks, And for the light-giving lights which He has made for His praise. Selah."
In the second prayer, Jesus asked God to forgive and help the people.
"With great love hast Thou loved us, O Lord our God, And with much overflowing pity hast Thou pitied us, Our Father and our King. For the sake of our fathers who trusted in Thee, And Thou taughtest them the statutes of life, Have mercy upon us, and teach us. Enlighten our eyes in Thy law; Cause our hearts to cleave to Thy commandments: Unite our hearts to love and fear Thy Name, And we shall not be put to shame, world without end. Amen."
Then all the congregation repeated their Creed in unison.
"'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one God.... Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, And with all thy soul, And with all thy might.' Remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them. 'I am the Lord your God, who brought you ... out of the land of Egypt' To be your God. I am the Lord your God."
Philip leaned over and whispered to Simon, "Do you think he will dare say anything about founding a new kingdom?"
"I have never heard him here before," answered Simon, "but he will say what he thinks."
After Jesus had repeated two prayers of thanksgiving, the minister of the synagogue brought a heavy scroll to the desk. A man from the congregation read some verses from Leviticus; then several other men read short passages.
The people stirred expectantly when Jesus stood up. Again Philip was impressed by the clear and convincing manner of his speech. "Listen to the words of the Prophet Isaiah," Jesus said.
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has consecrated me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release for captives and recovery of sight for the blind. He has sent me to set free the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord's blessing." Jesus rolled up the scroll. Every person in the synagogue waited to hear what he would say.
"This very year," declared Jesus quietly but firmly, "is the year that Isaiah is talking about. You do not have to wait any longer for God to come to you. The words of Isaiah are true right now; God is here. The prophets tell you about a great day, but that day is not far in the future! God can be your King now! He can defeat every evil power. He will rule you if only you will open your hearts to him."
Philip turned to Simon. He was disappointed. "What can he mean by that?" Simon did not answer. He was waiting attentively for Jesus to go on.
"You think you are oppressed and poor," continued Jesus. "But I tell you that you will never win freedom by fighting and by shedding blood. Only the truth of God can make you free. Only his eternal treasures can make you rich! It is useless to depend on earthly things: moths destroy clothing; rust destroys iron; thieves steal money. Fire will burn down barns. Do not spend your lives getting things that pass away. Rather, store up treasures in the Kingdom of God. Only God's Kingdom is truly real. Only in his Kingdom are you truly free. Only his treasures make you really rich!"
"But how shall we get this Kingdom? That is what I want to know!" whispered Philip hoarsely to Simon.
"He will tell you," answered Simon.
"You spend all your time getting ready for a Kingdom that is far away," cried Jesus. "You do not have to wait for God's Kingdom. God is here now, working among you." His voice became stern. "The trouble is that you do not really believe in God at all. You do not wish to give yourselves to him. You always want to live for yourselves a little longer. You are blind to the rule of God because you are stubborn and unwilling to obey his will.
"The prophets tell you what God wants you to do! Have you obeyed them? No! Repent your sin! Give yourselves to God! On this very day you shall find his Kingdom!"
The people were looking at Jesus blankly. They had never heard anyone speak like this before. But Philip was able to understand one thing: the Kingdom of which Jesus had been speaking was very different from anything he had expected.
Behind them Simon and Philip heard a man say, "He doesn't speak as the scribes do!" Scribes always read or recited from memory the comments which the great Rabbis had written on the Law and the Prophets.
Suddenly there was a fearful scream in the rear of the building. A man had jumped from his bench near the back of the synagogue and was rushing down the aisle. Insanely he yelled: "Ha! Jesus of Nazareth! What business have you with me?"
"Let me out of here!" exclaimed a frightened man on the front benches. "He has a demon!" In his haste to get out of reach, the man tipped the bench over and it struck the stone floor with a bang.
"Have you come to destroy us?" shrieked the madman. "I know who you are! You are the Holy One from God!"
"Silence! Come out of him!" In an instant, Jesus had taken complete control of the man; as though all his strength suddenly melted away, he dropped to the floor and lay still. A single moan broke the tense silence of the synagogue. He seemed to be dying. Jesus motioned to the elders and they brought a cup of water.
In a moment the man stood up. He was weak but in his right mind. Utter amazement filled the people.
The elders were looking at one another, shaking their heads. "There is no doubt about it. He is free!" Others asked in wonder: "Who can this Rabbi be? He even has power over demons!"
People pressed toward the front of the room to stare at the man whom Jesus had healed. After a while, they began to drift away, talking excitedly. Philip did not push forward with the curious crowd but stood staring at Jesus. Even after the people had all gone, he continued to gaze wonderingly at Jesus. He could hardly believe his eyes: The man who had been so violent now sat quietly listening to Jesus.
Simon came over to where Philip was standing. "Do you now see how powerful his word is, Philip?" he asked. "Do you see why I follow him?"
"Never in all my life have I known such a man," said Philip, almost speaking to himself. He could not understand what was happening within him. He did not feel excited; his mind was clear and cool—but Philip knew that some strange power was at work. Everything had somehow changed. Jesus turned to him.
"Philip," asked the Master simply, "will you follow me?"
Jesus' words were like the turning of a key. Philip wanted to speak only words of obedience: "Master! I will go with you anywhere!"
4. GOD IS NOW KING!
Before nightfall, all Capernaum was talking about the Teacher from Nazareth who had power to overcome demons. What strange person had arrived in their midst? He had even dared to break the Sabbath law, for healing on the day of rest was strictly forbidden. Some believed he was planning to start a rebellion to set the nation free from Roman rule; but to the sick and lame of Capernaum, the news meant just one thing: someone had come to help them.
Curious eyes had seen Jesus leave the synagogue with Simon. No sooner had the sun set, marking the end of the Sabbath, than hundreds of crippled and diseased persons crowded to the street where Simon lived. Jesus would not refuse them. In the cool twilight he taught and healed all who asked.
As it grew darker, the disciples began to marvel that the people kept coming. They knew everyone was very superstitious and hardly anyone ever went out at night for fear of evil spirits. But as the hours passed, Simon noticed many people who were not sick or crippled. They came for another kind of help; they knew Jesus could give more than healing for the body.
In the babble of voices Simon suddenly heard a man cry out sharply. The pain in the man's voice cut into Simon's heart like a knife. Simon scanned the crowd, but in the darkness could not see him. No one moved to let him through.
Jesus looked toward the man. "Do you cry out to me?" he asked, raising his voice above the noisy crowd around him. "Come and I will help you." Unwillingly, the people made way and the man crawled toward Jesus. Something was wrong with his legs. A hush settled over the crowd when Jesus spoke. "Your greatest need is not to be free from pain—it is to be rid of sin. Repent and turn back to God. Believe my word and you shall enter the Kingdom of God!" Jesus stooped and laid his hand on the man lying before him.
"O Father," he prayed, "heal this man of his suffering, in order that he may know thy truth and enter thy Kingdom." Jesus straightened up and held out his arms to all the people. "Come to me, all of you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest!"
The disciples felt the power of their Master as they heard him call on the people to repent. They had never known anyone like him; they had never heard a message like his. Again and again they heard Jesus say: "Do you understand why you have been healed? This is a sign that the power of God has come among you."
It was after midnight when the last person left. Jesus was very tired. He looked at the black sky. There was no moon. The stars shed a faint light on the hills above Capernaum. Jesus turned to Simon. "It is time to rest." He went into the house.
"The people had no fear of evil night spirits," remarked James.
"They know he has power over them," commented Simon.
In the morning, long before dawn, Jesus rose in order to pray outside the city. A few yards from Simon's home the street dwindled to a path, and Jesus had to push through the stiff, dry grass which grew knee-high all over the hillside. As he climbed, he walked around large rocks. When he reached the crest of the hill, Jesus stood for a long while gazing down at Capernaum, barely visible in the starlight. There was a little breeze from the east. It smelled of both lake and desert.
The memory of the sick and lame people filled Jesus with sorrow. Some of these people really thought that everything would be all right if their bodies could be healed! What a terrible mistake! Had they understood what he had told them?
Would they realize that they were thinking only of themselves? Perhaps their lives were too cluttered with little hopes and ambitions to see the will of God. How dearly they loved worthless things! Jesus found a hollow where the bushes sheltered him from the wind and knelt to pray.
Dawn was turning the gray sky to blue when Simon was aroused from sleep by the noise of a crowd outside his house. He dressed hastily.
"Where is the Healer?" shouted the people. Simon waved his hand for silence.
"He is not here." His words were instantly drowned by a hundred voices. "Where is he?" everyone demanded at once.
"I don't know where he is," answered Simon.
"Will he be back? Where did he go?"
Simon knew he would never succeed in sending them away. Andrew came out of the house.
"Do you think we could find him?" asked Simon.
"We can try," answered Andrew, smiling wryly. Without explaining their plan to the people, they set out toward the hills. Some of the people tried to follow, but Simon gruffly sent them back.
The two men followed a faint path toward the top of the hill. For about a mile they walked, searching the slopes on both sides of them. "We may not find him at all," remarked Simon. At that moment Andrew caught sight of a patch of white ahead of them.
"Is he up there?"
Simon began to run. Jesus was kneeling in prayer. Andrew had seen a corner of his woolen robe against the dark bushes.
"Rabbi!" panted Simon. "Everyone is looking for you!"
He had interrupted Jesus' prayer, but Jesus was not offended. "I am not going back to Capernaum."
"But, Rabbi," protested Simon, "hundreds of people need you. They are in pain. What will they do without you?"
"I must go to the other villages of Galilee and preach the news of the Kingdom there too," replied Jesus.
"But, Master, your word is the only help these people have ever had." He realized that Jesus had fully made up his mind to go. "Think of the blind and the crippled!" he cried desperately. "What will become of them?"
Jesus answered with firm conviction. "Simon, they have heard the news that God has come to them. I have a greater work than healing the sick bodies—my work is to proclaim to everyone the message which gives them a whole new life! This is why God has sent me! I must go on to the cities of Galilee!"
Simon and Andrew knew they could not change their Rabbi's mind, so at his command they returned to Capernaum and prepared for a trip through Galilee. At noon the disciples left Capernaum, carrying only a small amount of food, and met Jesus outside the city. Jesus knew it was hard for Simon to leave his wife and children.
By late afternoon they had reached Tarichaea, a town smaller than Capernaum, about six miles south on the shore of the Lake of Galilee. Here lived many rich men who owned the fertile farms on which all Galilee depended for wheat. There was also a large fish business, because in Tarichaea fish were salted and sold to men who came to buy food for the Roman army.
The market place was busy when Jesus arrived with the disciples, and a group of people quickly gathered to hear him teach. A young man in fine clothing joined the circle around Jesus. The disciples immediately recognized that he was a member of the party of the Pharisees because he wore large tassels on his robe. During a pause in the discussion he asked a question which Simon thought must have been troubling him for some time.
"Good Teacher," he asked, "you have told these others how to enter the Kingdom of God. Now what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus looked at the young man keenly. "Why do you call me 'good'?" he asked. "Only God is good." Then his tone softened. "You know the commandments—do not commit adultery; do not kill; do not steal; do not speak lies—if you obey the law of God you possess eternal life."
The disciples looked at the young man with the greatest respect. Here was a really religious man! A Pharisee who kept all the Law—what more could God require? And he was rich. Did that not prove he had pleased God?
"But, Teacher," replied the young man, "I have obeyed every one of these laws perfectly since I was a child. But somehow ... it is not enough. I am not satisfied."
John was puzzled. This man should be happy, he thought. I was just a poor fisherman, but this man seems to have everything. The other disciples also wondered what Jesus could say to the young man.
"You lack just one thing," said Jesus. "You must get rid of all your possessions. Sell your property. Go and give your money to the poor. Come and be my disciple."
Shock and disappointment came over the young man's face. "I can't do a thing like that!" he exclaimed. "Why should I give my money away?"
"You must sell all that you have and give to the poor," insisted Jesus. "If you want eternal life, you must put God first. If you go on clinging to the things you own, no matter how little you may keep back, you will never find the Kingdom of God."
"But God gave me my money," protested the young Pharisee. "Is he not the one who gives all good things? Why should you ask me to get rid of things he himself has given me?" The disciples felt that his argument was logical. "I have kept every detail of the religious rules," continued the young man. "I even keep two fasts instead of one! I never break the Sabbath. Don't you think I have earned eternal life?"
Jesus answered simply; he did not argue. "Any man who wishes to enter the Kingdom must seek the will of God above every other goal. Where a man's treasure is, there is his heart also. You have not given yourself to Him. You trust in your possessions and in your good deeds."
This is unreasonable! thought the young man. He turned and left. Yet the longing to be sure he had pleased God was strong still. "That is no solution!" he insisted, arguing within himself. "God cannot ask me to give up things he has given me. People turn from sins—not from their good deeds!" But he could not forget Jesus' demand: "Repent! You love your own riches more than you love God. Repent!"
Jesus looked sorrowfully after the young man. "How difficult it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom!" he exclaimed regretfully. "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to give himself to God!"
The disciples listened astonished. Finally Simon blurted out: "But, Master, if he cannot be saved, who can? He is a good man!"
Jesus answered with the deepest feeling: "Simon, with man it is impossible. But with God—all things are possible!"
"Well," said Simon, "if giving up things is the answer, we ought to have eternal life. We have given up everything!" There was bitterness in his voice, and everyone knew he was thinking of his children in Capernaum.
Jesus felt great sympathy for Simon, and his answer was very gentle. "Yes, Simon, you have given up much. But you need not fear—a man who gives up his home and his property for my sake will never be sorry. He will receive back a hundred times over the eternal gifts which God gives those who love him. Many who now are rich will be the last in God's Kingdom; but those who are poor for my sake will be the very first in his Kingdom!"
That night the disciples stayed in Tarichaea. They did not argue any more about what Jesus had told the rich Pharisee, but they were more troubled by these words than by anything else Jesus had said. His teachings seemed against everything they had ever learned!
The next day, as the band of men walked with Jesus toward Nazareth, Simon brought up the question. "Teacher," he said earnestly, "I don't understand why you talked to that young Pharisee as you did. He was very sincere. The Pharisees do more to obey God than any others and this young man looked to me as though he tried even harder than most. God had even given him riches as a reward for his goodness! And yet you said he had to get rid of all his wealth in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven!" Simon could hardly find words to express his strong feelings. "I needed to repent, but why should he? He was already a good man!"
James summed up the thoughts of them all: "Rabbi, if a man as good as that can't enter the Kingdom, how can anyone?"
Jesus said: "Simon, I want to tell you a story. Two men went up to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee—like the young man we talked with yesterday. The other was a tax collector, who had been dishonest.
"The Pharisee stood by himself, a distance away from the ordinary folk who went in and out of the Temple, and prayed this way: 'God, I thank thee that I am not like other men—thieves, rogues, and immoral—like that taxgatherer over there. You know I am a good man. I fast twice a week and pay tithes of all my money.'
"But the taxgatherer," continued Jesus, "went off in a corner where he could hide from people. He wouldn't even lift up his eyes as he prayed. Rather, he hung his head and beat his breast in the deepest shame and said, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'"
The disciples did not seem to understand, so Jesus said: "The taxgatherer left the Temple accepted by God. But not the Pharisee! He trusted in his own goodness rather than in God. If he had been humble, like the taxgatherer, God could have forgiven him."
"But I don't see what that has to do with the young Pharisee," protested James. "He was not dishonest! Why should he be ashamed?"
"This young ruler was like the Pharisee in the Temple," replied Jesus. "He was so confident of his own goodness that he could not see how far he was from what God wants him to be."
"But, Master," urged Simon, "look at the things that the Pharisees do! They educate our children in religion in the synagogue schools. They never have anything to do with the Sadducees or priests who take money from the Romans. They study the Scriptures more than anyone else; don't these things count for anything?"
"Men may do all these things and yet have no real faith in God," answered Jesus. "The Kingdom of Heaven comes to men who love God above everything else. There was something that meant more to that young man yesterday than God—and that was his money. Other men depend on other things; whatever they are, they must get rid of them. Even the most upright Pharisee must forget his pride in goodness and trust God as simply as a little child."
John shook his head doubtfully. "The people will never understand that," he said. "Even though the Pharisees are often very snobbish, they are the best people in our nation."
Jesus suddenly became grim. "The whole religion of the Pharisees sets them against the Kingdom of Heaven!"
The men looked at him in surprise. "But Master," urged James, "we need them to help us set up the new Kingdom! They are more loyal to God than anyone else. Besides, we can do nothing without their friendship."
"I know them, James," answered Jesus. "Men who are sure of themselves will never welcome what we have to tell them!"
John shook his head but said no more. This was not his idea of the way the Kingdom would come. The disciples felt sure Jesus could not mean all he said. But two days later they realized they were wrong. Jesus had meant every word.
After a short trip through lower Galilee, the men arrived in Nazareth where Jesus had lived until a few months before. His mother and brothers were still there, but Jesus stayed outside the town until Sabbath morning and then went with them to the synagogue.
The rumors of Jesus' miracles had spread through all Galilee, and when Jesus entered the synagogue many people looked at him curiously. He saw many people he knew. There was the woman who had lived next to them for twenty years and who was a special friend of his mother's; there were several young men whom he knew well. He smiled across the congregation at one young man who had helped him in the carpenter shop after his father Joseph had died, when Jesus was forced to support the family.
The minister of the synagogue, an old friend of Jesus', invited him to lead the service. After the prayers, he sat down at the desk in the center of the synagogue and opened the scroll to the Prophet Isaiah.
Looking into the faces of many people who had known him from boyhood, Jesus knew it would not be easy to tell them about the Kingdom. He read the same passage he had read in Capernaum: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has consecrated me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release for captives and recovery of sight for the blind. He has sent me to set free the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord's blessing."
Jesus rolled up the scroll. Everyone waited for him to speak. "Today," he declared, "these words of the Prophet Isaiah have come true right here. God has sent his Holy Spirit upon me to tell you that he is now among you. If you truly know that you need God, your ears will be open to hear this word from him; but if you are proud, you will be deaf. Put your entire trust in God and seek his will! I declare to you that God's Kingdom is not far in the future; God has brought it to your door!"
He paused and looked from person to person. "Who would have thought Joseph's son would turn out so well?" whispered one of the elders to a neighbor.
"He does speak with ease," replied his friend, a grudging note in his voice.
"If we could see him do a miracle, we should know for sure whether he is all he claims," said the elder.
From the very first, Jesus had known that the people of Nazareth would find it hard to believe in him. Looking at the elders, he said: "No doubt you are ready to say to me, 'Do for us here in your own home town the things you have been doing in Capernaum.' But prophets are never accepted by the people of their own country. There were many Jewish widows who needed Elijah's help when the great famine came over all Israel, but God did not send him to any of them—they would not believe in him. He sent him to a widow in Sidon, a gentile!
"Elisha could have found many Jewish lepers who needed to be healed, but not one of them was made clean. They would not believe in him! Rather, he healed Naaman, a Syrian and a gentile!"
A deathly silence settled over the synagogue. They were not as good as gentiles! Gentiles, who were unclean outsiders! A carpenter's son telling them that God would pass them by for gentiles! The men began to murmur angrily. Jesus' voice rang out: "How can I do great deeds among you when you do not really believe God at all?"
Open anger swept through the synagogue. "How dare he talk like this to us?" demanded one man, leaping to his feet. All over the room men began to crowd toward the front where Jesus stood.
"Let us have order here!" The minister could hardly make his voice heard. A group of men rushed toward Jesus, who did not even step back. "Over the cliff with him!" shouted someone. In a moment they were shoving and hustling Jesus toward the door, yelling, "Over the cliff with him!"
Carrying Jesus with them, the crowd moved swiftly toward a place outside the town where the hill dropped straight down. Then a peculiar thing happened. The men seemed suddenly to realize what they were doing. This was Mary's son! The son of Joseph, the carpenter who for many years had made yokes for their oxen.
Wrath seemed to melt away. The men let go of Jesus' robe. They seemed almost afraid of him. None laid a hand on him as he walked through the mob which only a moment before had wanted to kill him.
An instant after Jesus was gone, anger again came over the men like the backwash from an ocean wave. Some shook their fists in the direction Jesus had gone, but not one had the courage to follow.
The disciples did not attempt to follow Jesus. They were glad that no one in the town knew them, and they wasted no time in leaving. They all realized that men who were afraid of Jesus might take out their anger on his followers. It was late that night before the disciples found one another and started to hunt for their Master.
Jesus had left the city and climbed to a high ridge where he had loved to go as a boy. Now he looked down on the broad valley of Esdraelon, stretching south to the foothills of Samaria, where so many of the great battles of ancient Israel had been fought. Had he not always felt that someday he would be rejected by his own home town?
Nevertheless, Jesus was not scorned by everyone in Nazareth. A few people remembered the place he loved and they came to him there. They were not rich people, and there were no elders from the synagogue among them. They were the sick and crippled; they were people for whom life was hard, and they believed the word which Jesus had spoken to them. The disciples found him teaching and healing these few.
"These have heard my word," said Jesus to the followers. "To them the Kingdom is given." The disciples listened to Jesus telling the poorest folk of Nazareth the news of the Kingdom. When they left, Jesus spoke very plainly to the disciples.
"Why are you so discouraged?" he asked. "Have we not preached the gospel of the Kingdom here?"
"They turned us out!" burst out James. "They laughed at us! They tried to kill you!"
Simon was bitter. "We should never come near this miserable village again. We might have been killed!"
"If men are to enter the Kingdom of God, they must repent," answered Jesus. "It cuts them to the heart to confess that they have forgotten God and his righteousness. They hate us for teaching them the truth about themselves."
The disciples sat in gloomy silence. Simon gazed out over the plains below. Here through many defeats in battle the Jews had paid the price of their sin—but Israel had not yet learned. Still the nation spurned the prophets whom God sent. Would the Kingdom never come?
5. WHO IS THIS CARPENTER?
After their harsh experience at Nazareth, the disciples were prepared for other disappointments. Before they entered the next town on their journey through Galilee the men talked soberly, a little fearfully, about what might happen. But, one after another, the villages of Galilee welcomed Jesus. The common people listened eagerly to the news that he proclaimed, and many believed. The disciples began to forget that Jesus had been driven out of Nazareth.
Late one Friday afternoon just before the Sabbath began, Jesus led the disciples into Chorazin, a town crowded in by the steep walls of a valley north of Capernaum. A full hour before sunset the hills to the west threw deep shadows over the village. It was cooler than Capernaum, thought Simon. Soon he would be home with his wife and children! But he was as glad as the others to rest in Chorazin over the Sabbath. They had traveled all week, pausing only to tell the good news in the towns they had passed through, and they were very tired.
The men rose the next morning greatly refreshed, ready to worship at the synagogue. They were sure Jesus would be asked to teach. Most of the disciples expected the people to receive Jesus gladly, but Simon could not forget the last time they had been in a synagogue—at Nazareth. It was in the market places and on the streets, Simon remembered, not in the synagogues, that Jesus had been most gladly welcomed.
As soon as they entered the synagogue, Simon decided that the whole town must have seen them arrive the night before; everyone was expecting them. Invited by the minister of the synagogue, Jesus took his place behind the desk on the low platform in the center of the room, and read from the Prophets. Then he told the people very plainly that God was among them in great power; that they must immediately give up everything that kept them from understanding God's purpose and devote their lives to him. Both the people and the elders listened closely, and Simon was not surprised when many people gathered around Jesus as soon as the service was over. The minister and the elders asked many serious questions, and Simon saw that they were very sincere. The things Jesus had said disturbed them deeply. No one noticed a very short woman quietly walking up behind the men who surrounded Jesus.
When at last there were no more questions, Jesus turned to go. The men stepped back. For the first time, Jesus saw the woman. Shyly she moved away. Instantly he realized why she had come. Her back was terribly bent.
"Do not be afraid," he said to her encouragingly; "come here!" She hesitated.
Does he realize that this is the Sabbath? Simon thought in alarm.
As though he were alone with the woman, Jesus laid his hand on her twisted back and raised his eyes in prayer: "Father, I thank thee that thou hearest me when I pray. Set this woman free, I beseech thee, from the deformity which has bent her body these many years. This I ask in order that she may know that thou hast sent me with thy message of life." While Jesus was praying, Simon glanced at the elders of the synagogue.
They were utterly amazed at what Jesus was doing. Doesn't this Nazarene know this is the Sabbath? wondered the minister.
Jesus had finished. He said, "You are freed from your infirmity." She stood up straight. "May God be praised!" she exclaimed. There were tears of joy in her eyes.
"God's blessing on you. Rabbi!" The woman's friends had been watching from the balcony and now they ran down to the main floor of the synagogue and gathered around her.
Amazed and outraged, the minister looked from the woman to Jesus and back again. Angrily he turned to the people. "The Law says there are six days in each week for work. That means there are six days for getting healed. What more do you need? Why do you come on the Sabbath?"
Simon glanced at Jesus and almost shivered. Jesus had seen the distress and embarrassment of the woman. "You hypocrite!" The man cringed. He had not imagined Jesus would dare speak to him like this. "Do you scold this woman for coming to be healed on the Sabbath? Every single one of you will lead your ox to water as soon as you get home. If that isn't work, what is?" His scorn bit into the elders like a whiplash. "You say the Law allows you to give your cattle water. Hasn't this woman the right to be healed? For eighteen years her body has been twisted. She is a child of Abraham! Isn't she more important than any animal?" Jesus looked right through the men. They felt like fish wriggling on a spear.
The friends of the woman stole triumphant glances at the elders. Simon knew Jesus was getting into trouble, but it made no difference: his Master was right!
Without another word, Jesus strode out of the synagogue. The people left in the room felt suddenly cold, and all but the elders hastened away to their homes.
Hardly wishing to look at one another, the elders sighed and sat down. It was not just that they were angry. They were baffled by what Jesus had said. Their respect for the Sabbath rule was sincere; they believed it was the most important regulation in the entire Jewish Law. No one who disobeyed it, they were certain, could possibly love God. "Never in my life have I seen such a fanatic!" exclaimed the minister finally.
"He is dangerous," agreed another. "What will happen to our religion if the people begin to think that they don't need to keep the Sabbath?"
"We must tell the people how serious a matter this is," said the minister. "I am going down to Capernaum tomorrow. I will stop and talk to our friend Symeon. He may know about this Jesus. Perhaps he can tell us what we ought to do."
At the inn where they were staying, the disciples were gloomy and silent. They were worried about the dispute with the elders; but they were troubled also about the thing Jesus had done that morning. Jesus knew that he had perplexed them, and he was not surprised when the next day, on the road down to Capernaum, Simon spoke up.
"Master, we would like to ask a question," said Simon. The others gathered closely around. "Moses told us at Mount Sinai, 'Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.' He told us never to work on the Sabbath. Yet, Rabbi, you healed the woman on the Sabbath. We do believe she is more important than any animal—but still. Rabbi, you did break the Sabbath rule! Do you want the Sabbath forgotten? Do you intend to cast out all the laws and rules?" Simon's tense voice told Jesus he was deeply disturbed. The other disciples looked at Jesus gravely.
"I have not come to destroy the Law," he answered. "Rather, I am showing you what it really means to obey the Law."
"But you did heal the hunchbacked woman on the Sabbath, didn't you?" persisted Simon.
"Unless you obey the Law better than these men who make the Sabbath so important, you can never enter the Kingdom of Heaven," replied Jesus.
"We don't think they are right. Master," explained Simon. "We think that the woman was more important than the animals, which they feed and water on the Sabbath. But...." Jesus knew Simon was not satisfied.
"Even though the Pharisees are very careful about little things," said Jesus, "that does not mean that they know what God asks of them. They obey the Sabbath rule—but inwardly they have forgotten justice and mercy. They all know that it is wrong to kill another Jew. But much more is required than that: if you even hold a grudge against another person, you have no right to pray to God. The Pharisees give much attention to small rules and forget the important things."
"This seems so new," said Simon. "I don't understand very well."
"I have only told you what Moses and the Prophets taught," replied Jesus. "The meaning of their words has been forgotten, even though the Pharisees talk about them a great deal."
"But don't you think we are likely to get into trouble if we speak out like this in public?" urged Andrew. "We can teach the people, but I don't think we need to be so harsh with the Pharisees and the elders of the synagogues. We ought to be careful. The Pharisees are really good people and we must not offend them. How can we preach the good news to the people if we do? When we go to the synagogues, I think it is much safer to keep quiet."
Jesus watched the men listening to Andrew and knew why they agreed. He knew the inward emptiness of fear—fear of a future they could not know. Andrew was right; their peril was increasing every day. But Jesus shook his head. "My followers," he said, "do not think that I was sent to bring peace to this nation. I came to bring strife. It cannot be any other way. Men enter the Kingdom of God only through conflict and pain."
When the disciples arrived in Capernaum on the day after the Sabbath, they heard a report that dismayed them: John the Baptizer had been thrown into prison by King Herod. They found out about it through one of his followers who had come to Capernaum to find Jesus and was waiting for them at Simon's home. The man's name was Jacob. Andrew and John remembered him as one of the Baptizer's most loyal disciples.
"What made the king do it?" asked Andrew.
"John told the king he was doing wrong in the sight of God," replied Jacob.
John is no bolder than Jesus, thought Andrew.
Jacob added, "John himself told us just before he was taken prisoner that we should come to you."
Andrew turned to Jesus. "What will Herod do to him?"
"There is no way to tell. We must be prepared to hear the worst."
"Why did John send you to us?" Simon asked Jacob.
"Some of us went to him and told him that more people were following your Master than were following him," answered the man. "He just said to us: 'Didn't I tell you that I am not the Christ? I am glad that Jesus has many followers. He must grow even stronger, and I must decrease.' When he was thrown into prison, I came to you."
Andrew looked at Jesus and spoke the thought in the minds of them all: "If we go on proclaiming the gospel, the same thing may happen to us."
Jesus' answer was firm: "Nothing must stand in our way. We speak for God."
Never before had the men felt the strength of Jesus as they did now. There was not a trace of fear in his actions. He knew that their danger was increasing every day! And he acted with such authority! Everything he said or did proved that he knew what he was about. It was his certainty that convinced the people!
An event occurred on the second day of their return to Capernaum which showed the disciples that they might soon share the fate of John the Baptizer. It did not take many hours for the report to spread through all Capernaum that Jesus was back in the city. From every corner of the town came those needing help—not only the sick and lame, but people of all kinds who were restless and dissatisfied. So many people crowded into the courtyard of Simon's home that Jesus decided to stand in the doorway of his room where he could see them all. The porch roof shaded him. He was about to raise his hand to quiet the people when Andrew hurried to him.
"Master," he whispered excitedly, "there are Pharisees and their scribes outside."
"Well, bring them in."
Andrew was amazed. "But, Master, some of them are from Jerusalem!"
Jesus knew what that meant. Over the crowd he caught Simon's eye. The fisherman was worried. From Jerusalem! Simon was thinking. They have come to see if what we are teaching is against the Law of Moses.
Jesus realized that news of his preaching must have traveled to Jerusalem. He knew that officials of the Pharisees would come to hear him personally. He expected no friendliness from them; but he was ready.
He glanced behind him. "There is room for them there. Bring them in."
Andrew looked anxiously at Jesus. "O Master, don't...."
Jesus looked at him. "Courage, Andrew! Make certain that they see and hear everything that happens."
People stepped back respectfully as the scribes and Pharisees came in. Jesus paid no special attention. He had turned to the people who stood before him.
"I have been sent by God with news," he began. "If you are poor, you can be rich if you will humble your heart and trust God."
He saw a man covered with sores. "Are you unclean?" he said, looking at him. "God will accept you. You are clean in his sight if your heart is turned toward him.
"Are you full of fears and worries? Come unto me, all of you that are burdened in spirit, and I will give you rest."
There were many outside the house who could not get in because there was no room. Among them were four men carrying a stretcher. On it lay a man who was helpless from paralysis. His body had wasted away to skin and bone. His four friends had heard about Jesus' power, but now they stood in front of the house in dismay.
"We can never get in," said one.
"There's no use waiting until they leave," said another.
"Let's take him back," said the first, discouraged.
"No indeed!" The others were determined. "I am sure he will be healed if we can just find some way to get through," said one of them.
The fourth man was gazing at a staircase that led up to the roof of the house next to Simon's home.
"Look! Why can't we get in that way?"
In a moment the men had climbed the stairs and stepped across the narrow space that separated them from the roof of Simon's house. On the porch under them, they could hear Jesus talking. It took about fifteen minutes to lift the tile from the porch roof, tie ropes to the stretcher, and lower the man toward Jesus.
Everybody stared as the paralyzed man slowly came to rest at the feet of Jesus.
"My son!" Jesus' voice could be clearly heard in the hush of the courtyard. "Your sins are forgiven."
The statement took everyone by surprise. Andrew saw a scribe whisper to a friend.
"Did you hear what he said?" remarked the scribe whom Andrew was watching. His friend nodded.
A woman who knew the sick man said: "Is this man paralyzed because he sinned? He was born this way, wasn't he?"
"He has been a very good man," answered her husband.
Jesus turned to the scribes and Pharisees. "Why are you wondering about what I said? Tell me which is easier, to say to this man, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your pallet and walk'?"
None tried to speak. Then Jesus said, "'But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins'"—he turned to the sick man—"Get up! Pick up your bed and carry it away!"
Strength surged into the wasted frame of the paralytic. He rose and did as Jesus told him. A whisper ran over the crowd.
The Pharisees and scribes sat silent. Watching them carefully, Simon saw that they were puzzled. An elderly man, who appeared to be a leader, whispered to a friend, "He actually claims to forgive sin! God alone can do that."
The Pharisees and scribes rose to leave. They walked through the crowd without looking at the people. When they were outside, the elderly leader shook his head very gravely. "I had hoped this man would be a friend of the Law, but I am afraid he is not. 'Your sins are forgiven!' What a blasphemous thing for a man to dare to say!"
6. THE OLD AND THE NEW
"Rabbi, it is a serious mistake for us to mix with outcasts!" Simon was disturbed. Jesus had summoned a tax collector named Levi to follow him. On this night the tax collector had asked Jesus and his disciples to come to his home for dinner. "I know that Levi is different now," protested Simon, "but we ought not to get mixed up with his old cronies. We should take him away from that class of people!"
Jesus came straight to the point. "Don't you want to eat at Levi's home at all?"
"No!" Simon answered bluntly. "After all, look who he is! A taxgatherer! A traitor to our nation! For my part, I want nothing to do with him." Simon realized that his tone was not respectful. "I am thinking of our work, Master. People will not listen to us if we eat with those men. The best people will look down on us!"
"Levi has sinned," answered Jesus. "That is why we called him to join us. His friends have sinned. We are going to eat with them because they need help. And do not forget, Simon, you will be judged by the same measuring stick that you use on Levi's friends."
"I am far from perfect. Rabbi," persisted Simon, "but I try to obey the Law." His tone became bitter. "Anyway, I never worked for King Herod! I cannot stand the idea of sitting down at the same table with tax collectors. It might as well be a gang of robbers!"
"Simon," said Jesus sternly, "before you start looking for the sliver in Levi's eye you had better dig the tree trunk out of your own." Strongly rebuked, Simon consented to eat with Levi and his friends, but he was very unwilling.
The next day two close friends of Symeon, the most respected citizen of Capernaum, stopped to visit him. The report of what Jesus had done came up.
"What I cannot understand," remarked Symeon, a dignified man of about sixty, "is how a man who wants to teach religion can actually associate with such people."
"For that matter," replied one of his friends, "look at the men who follow him. They are very common people—fishermen, this tax collector, and such like—not a Pharisee among them. Not one of them takes religion seriously."
"And yet I have heard this Nazarene myself," continued Symeon. "He says many things that show he knows the Law very well. He knows he should not eat with people like that Levi!"
"Did you hear about the healing at the fisherman's house the other day?" inquired the younger of the two visiting Pharisees. "Some men put a paralytic in front of the Nazarene while he was teaching. The first thing he said was, 'Your sins are forgiven.'" The others nodded.
"The puzzling thing is that this young teacher seems very sincere," said Symeon. "He really knows a great deal—and no one can deny that he has great power. The people go out to hear him everywhere. I want to find out his purpose. I have a suggestion that may help us see what he is trying to do." The other men looked up. "You may think this is going a little too far, but I should like to ask him to come to my house."
"But he is not a keeper of the Law!" protested the young Pharisee. "We should be as bad as he is, if we were to eat with him."
Symeon nodded. "I realize that it will not be easy for you, but I think we should do it. If there is something good in this Nazarene, we should know it. If he is up to mischief.... Anyhow, I don't see how we can understand him unless we talk to him." The others said nothing, and Symeon took their silence for consent. "Of course," he added, "we will not invite the others—the fishermen and that tax collector. That would be too much! But I think it would be all right to have the Nazarene here just once."
When Jesus told the disciples that he was going to the home of Symeon, Andrew was pleased. "I guess we have not offended the Pharisees too badly after all," he exclaimed enthusiastically.
Simon too was relieved. "I hope. Master," he said, "that you will explain why we ate with Levi."
Jesus said very little. It was natural for fishermen and workers to want the approval of the most respected citizens of Capernaum. Yet Jesus knew how little the Pharisees cared for people like his own disciples.
There were many guests in Symeon's home, for this was the season of the New Year and every Jew left the door of his home open for any visitor who cared to enter. During the meal, both friends and strangers continued to come into the room, but Symeon was listening intently to Jesus as they conversed about religion.
"The men who obeyed God in past times were not the rich and the powerful," Jesus was saying. "Very often our nation has listened to God's voice only after defeat in war. When men know they are weak, they turn to God."
"Is this your purpose in going about and preaching to the people of Galilee?" asked Symeon. Everyone listened for the answer.
"I am sent to tell our people that God is their rightful King. His power is present among us," answered Jesus plainly. "But most of you will not take my message seriously. You trust other gods, and your hearts are hard."
The Pharisees looked at one another. Some were puzzled, others offended. "But surely you misunderstand us. We keep the Law very carefully," said Symeon.
"If you are really a teacher sent from God, how can you mix with outcasts?" The young Pharisee's question was blunt.
"I am not here to call the righteous to repent," answered Jesus, his eyes accusing the young man. "I am here to call sinners!" Irony came into his voice. "People who are healthy don't need a doctor. It is the sick who need help. It is to them that I am sent."
The room was tense, but before anyone could ask another question, Symeon's attention was drawn away. He glanced around the room. It sounded as though someone were weeping! He examined the shadowy corners where the light of the candles did not reach. At that moment a woman stepped swiftly toward Jesus and dropped to her knees.
Jesus turned and looked at her. He had not known she was hiding in the darkness behind him. Her tears fell on his feet. She loosed the cord that tied her hair. With its long waves she gently wiped Jesus' feet.
Symeon, usually dignified, was irritated. "What kind of nonsense is this?" he asked as he rose from his couch.
Jesus turned to him. "Do not rebuke her," he requested. That is the trouble with leaving the door open, thought Symeon. Women like this are bound to get in. Everyone there knew her. She had a bad reputation in the city. Symeon felt humiliated to have such a person in his house. This Nazarene certainly knows all the worst people, reflected the young Pharisee cynically.
Suddenly a lovely fragrance filled the room. The woman had broken open a bottle of precious perfume and recklessly poured every drop on Jesus' feet.
Such waste! thought Symeon angrily, realizing what she had done. I wonder if the Nazarene has any idea where she got the money to buy this oil! But he said nothing because he was very polite.
Jesus turned to his host. "Symeon," he said, "I have something to say to you."
"What is it, Teacher?" asked the Pharisee.
"There was once a man who loaned money," said Jesus. "One of his debtors owed him two hundred and fifty dollars; another owed him twenty-five dollars." The guests were listening closely. "Neither of these men could pay back the money, so the lender said to both of them: 'I forgive you your debts. You don't need to pay me back at all.'" He paused and then asked, "Now which of these two men would be more grateful?"
"Why, naturally, the man who owed more money would be more grateful," replied Symeon without hesitating.
"Right!" said Jesus. "When I came into your house you didn't even offer to wash my feet—and everyone does that for his guest! But this woman has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair!
"You didn't welcome me with a kiss—and everyone greets his guest that way!" He pointed to the woman. "But she has been kissing my feet.
"You didn't anoint my head with oil—and everyone does that for his guest! But this woman has poured precious perfume on my feet!" Jesus' voice was quiet, but all the Pharisees could sense the force of his words when he said: "She has committed many sins, but they are all forgiven and now her heart is full of love." Then Jesus spoke directly to Symeon and each word seemed to strike him like a blow. "But a man whose sins are not forgiven has no love in his heart." Then he said very gently to the woman, "Your sins are forgiven."
Symeon's face burned hot. Never had anyone spoken like this to him! He was troubled by the suggestion that he was a sinner. All his life he had done his best to obey the Law. Had he not always prided himself on his good actions?
Hurt and confused, Symeon heard a friend beside him whisper, "Did you hear him say that this woman's sins are forgiven?" Abruptly Symeon looked up at the man. He was right! It was an outrage for anyone to say such a thing as this!
"You have no reason to be sorrowful," Jesus was saying to the woman. "Your faith has saved you."
Symeon stood up, his shame forgotten. Why had he ever let this person disturb him? Anyone who talked this way was a heretic and a blasphemer, nothing better! Only God could forgive sin. They all knew the truth about this Jesus now: such a man was dangerous to all true religion. As a Pharisee who loved the Law, he would have to do all he could to keep him from deceiving the people.
Jesus said nothing to the disciples about the events of the evening in Symeon's house. But two days later, while buying food, Andrew and John heard a rumor which they discovered later came from Symeon. "Should we tell the Master?" wondered John.
"We must." Andrew was positive. They made a quick trip to Simon's home, left their food, and hurried out to the shore of the lake. As usual, a large group of listeners surrounded Jesus. "We shall have to wait until we can talk to him alone," said Andrew.