It was two days after this in the early afternoon that Jesus was talking on the waterside to one or two of the people who had been healed; they had come to thank him once more and he began to explain to them that it was God who had cured them and that he loved them as a Father loves his children. As Jesus talked, others drifted up to listen and very soon a considerable crowd had collected; he realised that those on the outskirts could not easily hear. He turned to Peter and Andrew who were busy in one of the boats and asked them if he might come aboard. They made way for him at once; then he spoke to the crowd.
“Sit down on the quay where you can all hear.”
The people sat down, many with their legs dangling over the water, some on upturned barrels or folded sails or on anything which was within hearing. Peter meanwhile paddled the boat out a short way from the shore and brought her round so that everyone could see and hear Jesus easily. And sitting in the stern of a small fishing boat, the Messiah told these simple folk of the love and generosity of God.
After he had finished and the people had drifted away, Jesus stood up as if to go ashore. Peter began to manoeuvre the boat towards the quay.
“Andrew,” said Jesus suddenly, pointing out to sea, “come here; do you see that?”
Andrew peered steadily in the direction indicated: “I don’t see anything,” he said. “What is it?”
“There, about two hundred yards out,” exclaimed Jesus excitedly, “a huge shoal of fish.”
Peter sprang to his feet and shaded his eyes. He gazed intently for nearly a minute without speaking, then looked round at Jesus with a twinkle in his eye.
“Your sight must be better than mine,” he remarked drily; “there’s nothing to be seen.”
“But I can see them quite plainly,” replied Jesus at once. “Big ones too; do put out and let down the nets. I’m sure you’ll get a good haul.”
“You know we fished all night,” answered Peter, “but not a single sprat did we catch.” Then seeing Jesus’ eagerness, he added good-humouredly, “however if you say so, we’ll have a go. What do you say, Andrew?”
But Andrew was already at the oars and pulling out in the direction to which Jesus had pointed.
From another neighbouring boat came a hail; Peter looked round and saw John standing in the bows.
“Where are you fellows off to?” he called.
“Fishing,” answered Peter laconically.
“Didn’t you have enough of it last night?” enquired John with a grin.
“There’s a huge shoal out there. Can’t you see them?” replied Peter in an expressionless tone.
James stood up beside his brother; both of them scanned the water carefully. James shrugged his shoulders and sat down again. It was John who spoke again.
“I can’t see a thing,” he shouted.
“No more can I,” replied Peter with a chuckle; “and Andrew’s sight’s no better. It’s Jesus who spotted them. So we’re taking him out for an afternoon’s fishing.”
John grinned broadly and sat down again. He took no further interest in the proceedings. If his partners liked to have a joke with Jesus they were welcome to it. But they would have to dry their nets again before the serious business of the night.
Jesus had paid no attention to this exchange of banter; he had been far too much interested in directing Andrew to the spot where he could still plainly see the shoal of fish.
“This is the place,” he said quietly; “try the nets here.”
A few minutes later Peter cried excitedly, “you were right. The net’s crammed with fish.”
He and Andrew were dragging at the net with all their might; their muscles stood out in great knots; they strained and hauled but the weight of the fish was almost too much for them. Jesus helped to the best of his ability, but not being accustomed to the work he was afraid of getting in the way.
“She’s giving,” gasped Peter; “the net’s going.”
“James! John!” shouted Andrew as he tugged at the net; “come out and give us a hand.”
John sprang up and saw what was happening; in a few moments their boat was alongside. Sweating and shouting the four men hauled in the breaking net. The fish were tumbled, flapping and wriggling into the two boats which were so heavily laden that they were shipping water over the gunwale. The fishermen only just succeeded in bringing them in.
A little crowd had collected on the quay to see the record catch and there were plenty of willing hands to help in unloading the boats. Andrew and Zebedee’s sons went up the steps with the rest to sort and count the fish. But down in the boat, Peter, unnoticed by the fisherfolk above, knelt at Jesus’ feet.
“Andrew was right,” he stammered. “You can’t stay in our house any longer.”
“Then I must look for another lodging, Peter,” answered Jesus; “but why?”
“Judith and I are simple folk,” explained Peter; “and I know I’m no better than I should be. It’s not right that you should stay on with the likes of us.”
“Of course if it’s too much for your wife—” began Jesus.
“You know it isn’t that,” Peter interrupted. “It’s just that we can’t give you what you ought to have.”
“You give me more than that, Peter,” said Jesus quickly; “you both give me what I want to have—friendship and sympathy.”
Peter looked up; there was an expression of devotion and happiness in his rugged face.
“And soon I’m going to ask for more than that,” went on Jesus. “You’re a good hand at catching fish. I want you to help me to catch something that matters more—men and women.”
John looked down into the boat.
“These fellows want to know how you saw that shoal,” he said to Jesus.
That night in his little back room Jesus lay awake for a long time.
How had he seen the shoal? He was just as much puzzled as the fishermen. Had he seen them with his human eyes or had it been given him by the Father to pierce the depths with a spiritual sight which the fishermen did not possess?
What had been the result of this curious incident? It had impressed Peter; there was no doubt of that. And Jesus had been wondering for some time how he could persuade Peter to help him in his work; for it was Peter whose help he most wanted. He had an immense respect for the solidity of this man’s nature; he knew that, if he undertook anything, he would never rest satisfied until he had accomplished it. Whatever might be the explanation of the wonderful haul of fish, Jesus felt that the moment had come to sound Peter and Andrew; if he found them willing to work with him, he would try James and John as well. That would be a magnificent nucleus for any band of assistants. He would put the project before them tomorrow. And having arrived at this decision, he fell asleep.
The next morning was warm and sunny. Jesus found Peter and Andrew washing their nets over the side of one of the boats; when they came ashore to lay them out to dry, he attacked them on the subject which had been occupying his mind.
“You remember what I said to you yesterday, Peter,” he began; “about catching men?”
Peter looked at him eagerly. “Well?” was all he said.
“Well, it’s just that,” Jesus continued; “I want you two to become fishers of men.”
And he outlined his scheme to them; he meant to form a small band of helpers who would be ready to work with him in spreading his message of the love of God. It would not be necessary for them to give up their ordinary occupations; but they must be able to keep in touch with him and with one another: above all, they must be ready to put this work before everything else—to sacrifice, if need be, comfort and money and home ties for the sake of helping those who had no other hope or chance in life.
“Well, what do you think of it?” he asked in conclusion.
Peter did not hesitate. “I’m on,” he said; “what about you, Andrew?”
“I was hoping for something of this sort,” replied his brother.
Jesus did not try to conceal his pleasure. “That’s splendid,” he said; “what about Zebedee’s sons? Would they join us?”
“You can but try,” answered Peter. “They’re both in the boat yonder, patching their nets.”
Jesus walked on and joined them in their boat; old Zebedee was there too with a couple of his paid hands. All five were industriously overhauling the nets; with his neat craftsman’s fingers Jesus set to and helped, and as he worked he explained his plan. When he had finished talking he looked up. James glanced at old Zebedee.
“No, I’m not going to settle it for you,” said the old man with some humour.
James looked seriously down into the bottom of the boat.
“Seems we’re bound to neglect our ordinary work a bit,” he said ponderously. “But the idea’s a good one and I’d like to come in. I’m just thinking of father.”
“Thinking of father, eh, James?” put in the old man sarcastically. “Think I can’t manage a boat without you two boys?”
“You knew it’s not that, father,” laughed James; “but if John and I are not putting in full time, it means more work for you.”
“Well, have you ever known me shirk hard work?” grumbled Zebedee. “Besides I’ve got these two chaps;” he jerked his head towards his grinning men; “they’re more use than both of you put together.”
“You want us to do this?” said James.
“Of course I want you to,” said the old man testily; “isn’t it a more important job than filling the bellies of the rich with fish? If Jesus is going to clean up Capernaum, to say nothing of the rest of the lakeside, he’ll want more than four fishermen to help him.”
And so it was settled; John was enthusiastic; James, more cautious but no less sincere, still had some qualms about throwing extra work on his father’s ageing shoulders. But he agreed, subject to the stipulation that he and John should be free to help with the fishing as often as possible.
The two left Zebedee in the boat with the paid hands and followed Jesus back to where Peter and Andrew were awaiting them.
In the next few days Jesus thought much about the composition of this band of helpers. It was important that some at least should be educated men. His mind turned naturally to Luke and to Philip and Nathaniel. He was anxious also to include Matthew the publican; this would be just the kind of work which would help to take him out of himself and give him that interest in real life which his solitary existence lacked. But he must give up his present occupation, if he were to be of any use. The inclusion of a practising tax-collector would doom the whole scheme to failure.
From Matthew his thoughts passed to his brother James; was it fair to ask James to give up his home, or Thaddaeus to leave the plants and trees he loved so dearly? Jesus thought of thousands of the men and women who so badly needed to know of the love of the Father. He decided that at least it would be right to lay the scheme before the two gardeners and leave it to their decision. With their simple and generous outlook they would be just the kind of men to understand and influence the country folk.
He wondered about his young soldier friend, Simon of Cana. He did not seem to know him so well as the others; he had never actually told him of the work he meant to do or the message he intended to preach. But he felt sure of his honesty; and his evident manliness would carry weight with young fellows. He was certainly worth considering.
Jesus decided to approach Luke first; he was aware that some of the religious leaders were beginning to view him with suspicion. It would be an obvious advantage to him to have among his own followers a few well-educated men, who could meet the Scribes and Pharisees on equal terms and explain to them the purpose of his work. He clung to the hope that these influential people would be ready to assist in spreading the Kingdom of God.
On the following morning Jesus called on Dr. Luke and suggested that they should walk over to Bethsaida; he himself wished to make the acquaintance of Philip’s parents, and he thought it a good opportunity for introducing Luke to his two friends.
Staying with Luke was a young man of about his own age, named Thomas. They had studied medicine together; but whereas Luke had started a practice in Capernaum, Thomas’ interests had been more academic; this had led him to go in for research work, studying the properties of various herbs and so on. On first acquaintance he was neither a very striking nor attractive personality; he was of medium height, with dark hair turning prematurely grey and the stoop which often accompanies short sight. He had the somewhat awkward and abrupt manner, which is assumed as a cloak for shyness. But he was clearly on very intimate terms with Luke and when he was talking to his friend, his face was lit up every now and then with a fleeting smile which redeemed his commonplace features from any charge of plainness.
Luke had decided to finish his work early in the morning, so as to have the rest of the day free to spend with his visitor. The two agreed readily enough to Jesus’ proposal of an expedition to Bethsaida.
It had been Jesus’ intention to approach Luke at once about the matter which was in his mind. If he could enlist his aid, he would be in a better position to lay the proposal before Nathaniel and Philip. But in the presence of a stranger he could not well broach the subject, without at least discovering whether Thomas was likely to be sympathetic or not. He therefore devoted the first few miles of the walk to drawing out this new acquaintance. He found him a man of shrewd and intelligent mind, cautious of giving an opinion unless he were certain of his facts. His was the intelligence of the true scientist who likes to test every link in an argument; there was no jumping to a conclusion, no readiness to take things on trust without sound and logical proof. At the same time he showed no obstinate desire to stick to his own point of view, if a more convincing one were presented to him.
By gradual degrees Jesus led the conversation round to the nature and purposes of God. He found Thomas ready enough to discuss this subject, but disinclined to risk a definite opinion. Suddenly he decided to lay before this student his own simple stupendous discovery—the truth as he had long seen it: God is to each man and woman a loving Father.
Thomas listened in sympathetic silence. When Jesus paused for a moment, he said; “Yes. But what proof have you of that? When one looks at all the vice and misery in the world, it sometimes seems as if the Creator cared nothing for it.”
“Isn’t that perhaps more because man has forgotten God than because God has forgotten man?” asked Jesus quietly.
“That may be so,” answered Thomas. “But it’s only one theory against another. There seems no proof one way or the other.”
“It’s not so much a question of proof,” said Jesus, “as of experience. If you honestly try to come near to the Father, you can always find Him. You can test his love and help by discovering a new wish to help others and new powers for doing so.”
And from this opening he launched out into an explanation of his own proposed work, and of the small band whom he had hoped to collect to assist him. He then addressed himself to Luke, who had listened with lively interest.
“Would you feel inclined,” he asked, “to join such a company, Luke?”
For several minutes Luke did not answer; he was evidently turning over the proposal in his mind.
“Don’t think me damping or unsympathetic,” he said at last; “the whole idea seems to me magnificent. And I am certain you will find plenty of enthusiastic helpers. But I don’t want to give up my professional work, and a doctor’s life is so uncertain. One never knows when a call may come. If I joined you in the work you suggest, I would only do so if I felt I could throw all my energies into it. In that way I should be bound to skimp my medical work. No; I’ve made up my mind to help my fellow-creatures by attending to their bodies; if I can do something to relieve suffering, that’s all I ask. But I don’t feel it would be right to try to do two things at once—and do both badly.”
In spite of a natural feeling of disappointment, Jesus knew that Luke’s decision was the right one. He had dedicated his life to the science of healing; that was his job and he loved it.
“Besides,” added Luke after a few moments; “I believe I may be able to do more to help you if I am not actually associated with your work. You can rely on my assistance in any way I can give it.”
By this time they were already in the outskirts of Bethsaida; as they passed the mouth of a narrow alley they heard a feeble voice calling to them. Jesus stopped and looked at the beggar who had addressed them.
Sitting under an archway was a man—or rather the remains of a man; his clothes were in rags, his skin mottled with patches of whitish decaying flesh. His cheeks had sunk in and the diseased skin was drawn tight over the protruding cheekbones. Standing by the side of the leper was an elderly man whose face seemed familiar to Jesus; there was no doubt about this man recognising him, for his face beamed and he leant down and whispered something to his companion. Then Jesus knew him; he was one of those who had been healed on the previous Sabbath; this too had been a case of leprosy, but in a very early stage of the disease.
When the sufferer under the archway heard what his friend said, he began to crawl out painfully into the dusty road. There he lay at Jesus’ feet and whined in his beggar’s drawl, “sir, if you want to, you can make me clean.”
Jesus bent down and was on the point of laying his hand on the leper’s shoulder, when Luke seized his arm. “Don’t touch him,” he exclaimed, “leprosy is terribly contagious.”
Jesus looked round at the doctor; a smile was on his face.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said; “if the Father’s healing power is passing through me to him, the disease cannot harm me.”
He laid his hand on the sufferer’s bare shoulder. The man looked up at him with a doglike trust in his faded eyes. “If you want to,” he repeated in a shaking whisper, “you can make me clean.”
“I do want to,” answered Jesus. “Become clean.”
It was as if a flame passed through Jesus to the leper, scorching him as it went. So full of the dread disease was the poor man that it seemed as though its malignancy must be burnt out of his corrupt flesh. Jesus gave no sign of the pain he was himself suffering; he only pressed his hand more tightly on the wasted shoulder. Luke and Thomas stood spellbound.
Gradually the pain passed. The white blotches had disappeared from the man’s body; he remained thin and haggard, but the disease had gone. Slowly, very slowly, he rose to his feet and stood facing Jesus; he could say nothing. Then he put his hands up to his face; his whole body shook with sobs.
Jesus drew him aside; “Say nothing about this to anyone,” he ordered him, “except to your priest; go and show yourself to him as evidence that you are cured. And make the usual offering, as the laws of Moses prescribe.”
Still the man could say nothing. For fifteen years he had been an outcast, doomed to cry: “unclean!” if anyone approached him, humiliated by the natural precaution which others had shown in avoiding all contact with him. Now once more he was free; free to mix with his fellow-creatures; free to hold up his head; free to work for his living. He was stupefied with relief and happiness.
Jesus walked to the beach and carefully washed his hands, rubbing them in the sand and then wiping them on seaweed. He must not leave any taint of infection which might be passed on to others. For himself he had no anxiety.
Thomas and Luke stood watching him. Suddenly Thomas spoke: “Luke, can leprosy be cured by medical science?”
“Not in such an advanced stage as that,” replied the doctor; “why, that fellow was full of leprosy.”
Neither spoke another word on the subject.
Philip’s parents were just what Jesus expected, kindly, hospitable people. His father owned a small and well-ordered estate and spent his life overlooking it; he and his good lady were loved by all their tenants, of whose welfare they were always thinking.
After a cheerful meal the younger men wandered out to the lakeside. Here Jesus laid his plan before them. Nathaniel was enthusiastic.
“I can answer for myself,” he said at once. “I’ve been aching to find something really useful to do.”
“What about you, Philip?” asked Jesus.
“I’d better talk it over with my people,” said Philip; “but I think there’s no doubt they’ll agree.”
And before the three returned to Capernaum in the later afternoon the matter was settled.
As they parted, Nathaniel asked; “when do we start work?”
“I want to sound a few others first,” replied Jesus. “There are a couple of friends near Jerusalem I want to see. Probably after the Passover; I shall be going up for that.”
“How many will there be of us?” asked Philip.
“Not too many,” replied Jesus; “a dozen at most.”
On the way home Thomas remained strangely silent; it was not until the lights of Capernaum glimmered in front of them in the growing darkness that he said, quite suddenly; “Look here, I don’t want to butt in; but if there’s anything I can do to help you, you’ve only got to say so.”
“You mean you’d like to join us?” replied Jesus quickly.
“I don’t want to push in where I’m not wanted,” urged Thomas diffidently.
“But you are wanted,” answered Jesus with genuine enthusiasm. “Yet I must warn you, it will mean giving up a great deal that you are accustomed to, your comforts, your studies, many of your friends.”
“I’ve always lived pretty simply, haven’t I, Luke?” answered Thomas with a smile. “My studies never seem to lead to anything but a dead end. And as for my friends—well, if they choose to drop me because I am doing something really worth while, then I must do without them. And I shall have other friends to take their place,” he concluded with obvious meaning.
On the next evening Jesus went to see Matthew. He explained his project of forming a small band of helpers; he told the tax-collector that he would welcome him as one of this band. But he made it clear that if Matthew wished to join him, he must give up his present occupation.
“It’s not that I have any political prejudices,” he said. “But other people have; and it would bring the whole of our work into discredit if one of our number were actually collecting taxes for the Romans.”
“Yes,” replied Matthew cautiously; “I see that.”
“On the other hand,” continued Jesus; “if it were known that you had resigned from your post as a publican to join us, it would make people realise how strong is the influence which impels us to give up everything for the Father’s work.”
“Yes,” agreed Matthew.
“Well, think it over,” suggested Jesus. “I’m not going to press you for an immediate answer. In a month’s time I’ll call at your place of business and hear your decision.”
“Very well,” replied Matthew. “I’ll think it over.”
“In any case,” said Jesus in a lighter tone, “I do wish you’d come up to Jerusalem with me for the Passover. James and Thaddaeus would love to see you.”
“I wonder,” murmured the tax-collector under his breath.
Jesus took no notice of the interruption. “You could stay at your old home,” he went on; “I have a friend in Jerusalem who will probably put me up.”
“The Romans don’t readily grant leave to their employees,” was Matthew’s evasive answer; “they don’t take much account of our religious festivals,” he added with a wintry smile.
“No, I suppose not,” Jesus agreed. He saw the struggle in Matthew’s mind; he did not want to complicate it. It must be a clear decision between a profitable job with its comforts and disadvantages and the proposal he had himself put forward which would mean poverty and hard work, coupled with the joy of helping other folk.
Jesus rose and took his leave. At the door he said, “on March the 20th, then.”
When his figure was swallowed up in the darkness Matthew turned back gloomily into the house.
Jesus was not invited to preach again in the Capernaum synagogue; the Rabbi was a kindly man, but was much under the influence of the wealthy local Pharisees, whose jealousy had been aroused by the evident impression which Jesus’ sermon and the healing of the maniac had made on the popular mind. They pointed out that by healing on the Sabbath he had broken the sacred law of Moses; and the Rabbi had not the courage to oppose them.
But in the other lakeside cities it was different; through the good offices of Philip’s father, the chief Rabbi of Bethsaida had invited him to preach and on his introduction invitations had come in from Tiberias and Magdala. In this way Jesus was becoming known in all the lakeside towns; and such was his reputation that, in every place he visited the synagogue was crowded.
Frequently he healed the sick; but it was his teaching that people thronged to hear. The Capernaum Pharisees realised with dismay that his influence was growing in spite of their open hostility; they sent representatives to ask advice from the Central Council of seventy at Jerusalem. Several members of the Council were deputed to return with them to Capernaum and bring back a detailed report of the new teacher’s activities.
Finding himself excluded from preaching in the synagogue of the city which he had made his home, Jesus began to look about for some building where he could give a regular course of addresses, and where he might be found at fixed times by those needing his help or advice. True, he could always preach in the market-place or on the water-front; but as a general rule it is only the poorer folk who will listen to an open-air preacher and he wished to bring his message to people of every class and calling.
It was a wealthy patient of Luke’s who solved the problem. He had heard Jesus’ address in the synagogue and had been profoundly impressed. He had noticed the hostility of the scribes and Pharisees, and had later heard that the Rabbi had been persuaded to give Jesus no further invitations. Himself a man of education and liberal outlook, he had always disliked the narrow-minded views of the Pharisaical sect; he was determined that Jesus should have a proper hearing.
He lived himself in a large country house outside the town and owned considerable estates; but he had always taken a great interest in city affairs. Some years before he had built at his own expense in the market-place a public hall, where discussions and lectures could be held to which the general public was admitted. After consultation with Dr. Luke, the nobleman invited Jesus to come and see him at his country house.
He found his host, whose name was Isaac, a charming and cultured man of about forty years of age. After half an hours conversation it was settled that Jesus should have the sole use of the hall in the market-place on two days in the week. Here he could teach; here sick folk could be brought for healing. Isaac made only one stipulation, that everyone should be admitted who wished to come; this was exactly what Jesus himself wanted and he thanked his benefactor warmly.
When their business was finished, Isaac invited his guest to stay for the midday meal. He took him out to the garden and introduced him to his wife; their only child, a little boy of six years old named Joab was playing under a huge spreading cedar. Jesus asked what his game was and for the half hour before dinner the two solemnly played at Baalam and his ass, Joab of course being the prophet and Jesus the talking donkey; time after time he had to carry Joab on his back to where his mother was sitting; when they reached her, she stood up and barred the way. Then Jesus had to stop, turn his head and tell the prophet he would go no further; and every time this happened little Joab shrieked with laughter.
By the time they went in to dinner, they were firm friends; Joab took his hand and said: “will you be my donkey again this afternoon?”
But his father intervened. “I’m going to take Jesus for a walk round the farm this afternoon,” he said.
“Oh, may I come too?” begged little Joab.
Isaac glanced at his guest and saw nothing but pleasure in his face.
“You can come if you like,” he said. “If you’ll promise to keep up.”
“Of course I’ll keep up,” asserted the child. “And if I do get tired, my donkey can carry me.”
“He’s been carrying you quite enough this morning,” he said. “You’re not going to be a spoilt prophet this afternoon.”
It was a warm day in early spring; the trees were beginning to shoot and lambs were frolicking in the fields. After walking through the farm buildings and looking at the stables of which Isaac, as a keen horseman, was inordinately proud, they were on their homeward way. All at once they heard the pathetic bleating of a small lamb; its dam was running backwards and forwards in evident distress, baaing in doleful agitation.
James vaulted over a low stone wall and ran in the direction from which the lamb’s high-pitched bleatings came. The little creature had somehow got its off foreleg wedged between two rocks and was struggling violently to free itself. Jesus laid his hand on its back and it stood still, trembling violently; with infinite care he extricated the animal’s leg. It was broken.
At this moment Isaac hurried up; little Joab was still some distance behind. Isaac cast a practised eye over the injured limb.
“It’s broken,” he said. “The kindest thing is to put the poor little beggar out of its misery. I don’t want the boy to see this,” he added hurriedly. “Will you take him home and I’ll do this beastly job.”
“One moment,” said Jesus. To his surprise, he had felt the healing force surging through him. So the Father loved the dumb creatures too, as he did.
Jesus was still holding the lamb as little Joab came panting up. Tenderly he put it down near the frantic ewe and the little animal skipped once into the air, then turned and looked at its benefactor with an impertinent stare. Its mother nuzzled it.
Little Joab burst out laughing. “It doesn’t seem much the worse,” he burbled; “what was the matter with it?”
“It got its leg jammed between those rocks,” replied Jesus.
They turned back to the cart track which led to the nobleman’s house; Jesus was aware that Isaac was regarding him strangely.
“Look,” said Joab suddenly; “the mother sheep and the lamb are following us.”
Jesus glanced back and stopped. The ewe came straight up to him and pushed her nose into his hand; her lamb skipped round him. He patted the sheep’s back and spoke to her as if she were a human mother.
“You mustn’t let that youngster of yours get into mischief again.”
The sheep looked up into his face as if to show her gratitude. Then she turned to the lamb and the two ambled away.
“I say,” said little Joab, “you’d make a jolly good shepherd.”
His father said nothing, but his mind was filled with amazement.
As he walked back to the town, Jesus found the child’s words repeating themselves in his head. “A jolly good shepherd.” What a beautiful thought! “The good shepherd.” How perfectly that phrase described his own work. He thought of the whole of humankind as a flock of sheep, always ready to follow one another, yet some wandering perversely from the fold and drawing others after them.
“That is my job,” thought Jesus; “the good shepherd.”
The meetings in the lecture-hall soon became popular; on Mondays and Fridays the place was crowded with a curious mixture of people. Some of the educated townsfolk came at first out of curiosity and then because they were genuinely interested and inspired; by far the largest section of the audience consisted of the poorest classes; there were always some sick and injured folk who came for healing and then came again in gratitude and affection for the healer.
After the first week or two there were always a few of the Scribes and Pharisees present at these meetings: the object of their attendance was obvious to Jesus; they were on the watch for anything which they might bring up against him. If they could prove that any of his teaching contradicted the sacred writings or that any of his actions infringed the mosaic law, then they would have a handle against him. He made up his mind to disregard them; their jealousy was so petty, their whole attitude so unsympathetic to one who was trying to do the very work which they were supposed to be doing themselves—bringing their less fortunate fellow-creatures nearer to God. So far they had made no open criticism; but he knew they were waiting to pounce upon him at the first opportunity.
One day as he entered the hall, he noticed two new faces among his critics; by their clothes and the deference with which the strangers were being treated by the local Pharisees, Jesus judged them to be men of some importance, probably from the capital. The hall was particularly crowded; men and women who were unable to find seats were standing in the doorway and there were even some trying to listen from the street outside. As he began his address he was conscious of a slight disturbance outside the door; he caught the words, “no you can’t possibly get in; the place is crammed.”
When he had been talking for about ten minutes there came a curious scraping on the roof of the building; several of his listeners looked upwards and began pointing. There was a good deal of whispering and in a few moments everyone was staring at the ceiling.
It was useless to continue; Jesus just said, “I’ll wait for a little time,” and himself looked to see what had caused the disturbance. There was a hole about two foot square in the flat roof and a couple of men were carefully removing more tiles, trying to do as little damage to the structure as they could. A third man thrust a cheerful, dirty face through the aperture and called down, “sorry, governor; this old chap said he must see you; we couldn’t get in for the crowd.”
By this time the hole was a good seven feet in length; there was a pause and a good deal of chatter from above. Then something was lifted into the opening; slowly and steadily a mattress was lowered with ropes by the four men on the roof. Those underneath hastily moved aside and a clear space was left. It descended in the middle of the hall in front of the spot where Jesus was standing. On the mattress lay a paralysed man whom Jesus at once recognised as old Jonah.
So James had succeeded, had persuaded Jonah to come to Jesus for healing both for soul and body. A look of joy leapt into Jesus’ face as he noted the altered expression in the old man’s face. A look of shame, coupled with eager expectancy, had taken the place of the sullen obstinacy which he had seen there before. There was no need to ask questions; James had clearly done his work well, had made the old fellow understand the selfishness which had caused the unhappiness of his family and his own downfall and had convinced him of Jesus’ desire and power to restore him to happiness and self-respect.
Instinctively realising his change of heart, Jesus did not hesitate.
“Your sins are forgiven,” he said at once. A look of infinite relief spread over the wrinkled face. It seemed as if this was what Jonah longed for more even than the healing of his body.
Jesus became aware of a whispered consultation at the side of the room. The local Pharisees and those from Jerusalem were talking together in undertones; the purport of their remarks was obvious. “Why, that’s rank blasphemy.” “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Jesus turned and addressed them.
“Why do such thoughts enter your minds?” he asked. “What are your objections to what I said? Is it easier to say to a paralysed man, ‘your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘get up and walk?’”
None of the Pharisees answered; they kept their crafty eyes fixed gloomily upon him.
“Very well,” continued Jesus; “I’ll try to convince you that the Father, of whom I spoke just now, does give to his human sons the power to forgive sins here on earth.”
He turned to old Jonah and spoke in ringing tones of authority: “get up! Pick up that mattress and walk home to your house.”
A shudder passed through the old man’s helpless limbs; slowly he rose to his feet; he shook himself as if to see that he had the use of his muscles, stooped and hoisted the mattress on to his shoulder. There he remained staring at Jesus while slow tears trickled down his cheeks. Then without a word he turned to the door and walked out. The bystanders stood to one side and formed a little alley along which he passed out into the sunshine. The four anxious faces of his friends disappeared from the gap in the roof.
Every head in the room had been craned to watch Jonah as he passed through the door into the market-place; when he was out of sight the eyes came slowly back to where Jesus stood in the middle of the room. A ray of sunlight struck down through the hole and illumined his head and shoulders. A tense silence had reigned throughout the hall since the moment when he had bidden the old man to take up his mattress. Now a low murmur of excitement spread through the packed room; most of those present knew Jonah well, had seen him lying useless for years. Such a thing as this was beyond all their experience. How it started no one seemed to know, but they suddenly found themselves singing the great psalm of thanksgiving; “O praise the Lord of Heaven; praise him in the height; praise him all ye angels of his; praise him all his host.”
The singing finished as abruptly as it had started; Jesus spoke with quiet authority. He had no desire for a scene of hysterical enthusiasm. “If you will take your places again, I will continue what I was saying before the interruption.”
The excitement died down; the audience was listening again. But the Scribes and Pharisees were no longer there.
As Jesus left the hall, he was accosted by the man who had first looked through the hole.
“Don’t you worry about the roof, governor,” he said cheerfully. “We’ll put back the tiles in no time. But if you’ve got five minutes to spare, old Jonah would like to have a word with you. He’s gone off home to his missus; I’ll show you the way.”
“Many thanks,” replied Jesus; “I know where he lives.”
And he turned up a side alley to the old man’s cottage.
It was March 20th, the day on which Matthew had undertaken to make his decision.
Jesus felt that this was a matter of tremendous significance. It was different from the many cases where men and women believed in him because he had been the means of restoring them or some member of their family to health and strength. This was just a clear issue between following the best and following one’s natural inclinations. Matthew had always loved money and the comfort which money brings; Jesus had offered him the alternative of serving mankind and thereby giving up all that had hitherto made life worth living. The scales seemed heavily weighed against him.
He had purposely seen hardly anything of Matthew in the past month. He did not wish to influence his choice by bringing any pressure to bear on him. Perhaps it was an ominous sign that Matthew himself had not sought him out.
At the hour when Matthew knocked off work for the evening, Jesus walked to his open-air office. He was a little surprised to see another man sitting with the collector behind his table. Matthew was going through various books with him. He looked up as Jesus approached. All the gloom and uncertainty had left his face; he looked as if he had shed a burden.
“Well?” said Jesus.
“I want to introduce you to my successor,” said Matthew cheerfully. “I’ve been putting him into the way of things for the last few days. I think we’ve got everything straight now.”
“Can you come with me now?” asked Jesus.
Matthew got up at once, handed over his keys and ledgers to the other man and followed Jesus onto the quay.
“I sent in my resignation a fortnight ago,” said Matthew cheerfully. “This has been my last day’s work as a publican. Now I’m free.” Then he added, “I’ve sold my house and furniture.”
Though the words were spoken lightly, Jesus knew what a wrench it must have been. He laid his hand on Matthew’s arm.
“You’re sure you’re not regretting it?” he asked anxiously.
“It took me a fortnight to make up my mind,” he answered. “Now it’s done I feel better than I’ve felt for years.”
And Jesus knew it was true.
“I turn out of the house in a week’s time,” he went on; “there are a few business details to settle up still. But that will be about the right time to travel south for the Passover. You are going, aren’t you?”
“Certainly,” answered Jesus; “I want to try and persuade your brother James and Thaddaeus to join us.”
“What about the garden?” asked Matthew.
“What about your tax collecting?” retorted Jesus.
“That’s different,” replied the other. “Gardening is a very respectable trade.”
“In either case it means giving up something one’s very fond of,” answered Jesus.
“But it’s not part of your plan that everyone in the band should give up his occupation, is it?” asked Matthew.
“No,” said Jesus. “But if James and Thaddaeus come to work with us here, they can’t work the garden near Bethany. It’s for them to decide.”
They walked on towards Matthew’s house. Suddenly he said, “I’m having a little farewell supper tonight for my colleagues. I wish you’d come. They’re really not such bad fellows,” he added, as if in apology.
“I’ll come with pleasure,” said Jesus promptly.
That same evening James and John were preparing the boats for the night’s fishing. Two of the local Pharisees were passing. They stopped and looked down at the fisherman.
“I suppose you know where your friend the healer is supping tonight,” said one.
“It makes no difference to me where he sups,” replied John shortly.
“Of course not,” answered the Pharisee smoothly; “I only thought you might be interested.”
“You mean to tell us whether we want to hear or not,” James put in gruffly; “so out with it.”
“We’ve just passed the house of Levi the publican,” said the other. “All the publicans in the neighbourhood were assembling in the garden; the only other guest appeared to be your Jesus, the Nazarene. Evidently he’s found out where good food and drink are to be had. Goodnight,” he concluded pleasantly. “And good fishing.”
The two brothers continued their work in silence. As they were hoisting the sail, John said, “they’ve got their knife into him, haven’t they?”
“Yes,” replied James. That was all, but it meant a great deal to them both.
The hostility of the Scribes and Pharisees troubled Jesus, but did not in any way deflect him from his course. Their enmity had increased as his popularity and influence grew. Looking back Jesus could remember one occasion after another when the religious leaders had shown their dislike for him. There had now been fierce criticism of his choice of Matthew, the despised tax-collector, as one of his chief friends; he was accused of associating with sinners, and had pointed out quite good temperedly that when one is well one does not need a doctor, but only when one is ill; but that had not satisfied them. Whatever he did he found that he was spitefully criticised by the leaders; yet still his influence grew. The Scribes and Pharisees were still intent on trying to catch him breaking the law. Only last week they had accused him and his friends of breaking the Sabbath because they had rubbed a few ears of corn in their hands as they passed through a field. That kind of trick didn’t worry him at all; it was too absurd to be taken seriously. But only this very morning he had himself lost his temper with them in the synagogue at Bethsaida; there was a poor man there whose hand was withered. Jesus saw that the Pharisees were greedily watching to see if he would again heal on the holy day. The narrowness of their view enraged him; what could please the loving God more than that on His day a suffering man should be healed? Deliberately Jesus had quarrelled with the Pharisees; they would not work with him and he had decided to break with them. After this morning there was no hope of their being friends. The open breach had come.
He was tired that evening and sat just outside the city on a rock by the seashore. Little Simeon had walked out with him and was paddling in the shallow water at the edge of the lake. Jesus watched the mist rising from the lake’s surface; he was wondering whether he had been wise in the morning; but looking back he decided that whatever he had done, it would have made no difference. He smiled rather bitterly as he remembered the high hopes which he had once had of working with the Jewish leaders. Now these hopes were shattered. He had done his best; but their jealousy had made an alliance impossible. What would be the upshot of it all? As he gazed into the mist, it seemed to weave itself into fantastic shapes, foreshadowing the future. He knew that as the Messiah he must suffer; all the prophets had foretold that. But how? As if in answer to his question the mist cleared for a moment, revealing the mast of a sailing boat; a spar crossed it at right angles. A cross? Was that to be his fate? He shuddered. Well, if that was what was needed for the salvation of mankind, he was ready.
Little Simon slipped his hand into his friend’s.
“Let’s go home,” he said. “It’s supper time.”
Early in the following week Jesus set off with Matthew for the South; they intended to reach Jerusalem nearly a week before the Passover so that Matthew could have some time with James and Thaddaeus.
On their arrival at the capital, Jesus went to look for lodgings. On previous occasions he had generally stayed with Nicodemus, with whom his friendship was as close as ever. But he had heard recently that Nicodemus and his friend Joseph had been elected to the Sanhedrin, the chief Council of Seventy; and realising that the Capernaum Pharisees had sent a complaint to the Council about his own activities, Jesus felt that it might be awkward for Nicodemus to have as his guest the unpopular Galilean teacher.
But when he had found a room in a humble house in the city, he sent a note telling Nicodemus his address, and suggesting that if he and Joseph would come and see him without compromising their position on the Council, it would give him great pleasure.
His two friends discussed this invitation; it seemed clear to them that if at any time the Council were to take active proceedings against Jesus, their words in his favour would have more influence if they were not known to be his personal friends and followers. They had been already filled with anxiety on hearing the report of the Capernaum Pharisees; they were alarmed lest Jesus should be barred from entering the synagogues, by order of the Council. They decided to warn him. It was therefore arranged that Nicodemus should go to Jesus’ lodgings after dark and let him know how matters stood.
He found Jesus cheerful and calm; he told him how the Scribes, Pharisees and priests were determined to put an end to his teaching.
“They will stop at nothing,” he said, “to bring you into discredit.” Jesus waved aside the warning.
“At one time,” he said, “I hoped the abler people would realise the truth of my message. But their eyes are blinded by self-interest and conceit. Is that to stop me from bringing joy and happiness to thousands of others? Let’s talk about something else.”
And they fell into one of those discussions which Nicodemus had always enjoyed, ever since the time when he had brought the lost boy back to his house. Jesus always had something fresh to say, something surprising. Today he spoke of the Spirit of God moving about the world.
“It’s like the wind,” he said. “No one can see the wind; but you can see the tree swaying, feel it blowing through your hair, watch it driving the leaves up narrow alleys. In the same way God’s spirit moves invisible among men, but his influence can be seen wherever He comes.”
As Nicodemus rose to take his leave, he said, “Jesus, don’t take too many risks. If the Council should decide to do away with you, that would be the end of your work and teaching. Thousands would be the poorer.”
“Do you remember the day we first met? At the top of the Temple steps?” asked Jesus.
“Could I forget it?” answered the other quietly. “It was a turning point in my life.”
“Just before you spoke to me,” continued Jesus; “I was watching some Roman soldiers taking down the dead bodies from three crosses. That scene has often come back me since. As I look forward, I see that the enmity of the priests and Council will grow stronger and stronger; they will be content with nothing but my death. They will hand me over to the Romans on some trumped up charge; and that means a cross on Skull Hill. You remember how Moses set up a bronze serpent to heal the Israelite who were suffering from the plague; in just the same way, if I am to be lifted up on a cross, it will be the best proof of the Father’s love for mankind; for all who come to believe in me as the Messiah will receive healing and life from the Father. I have often thought of what Gamaliel said. ‘The Messiah must suffer, perhaps even die, before his Kingdom can be finally established.’ What if the Messiah is to die on Skull Hill? Does that mean that his work has failed? A thousand times, no. That cross of shame will be the very thing which will convince the world.”
Matthew had not remained in Jerusalem, but had pushed straight on towards his old home. As he walked the mile and a half to the nursery, one familiar object after another brought back poignant memories of his childhood. Here was the ancient olive-tree where James and he used to play at highwaymen, here the flat stone which was always the altar where James had to sacrifice to the idols; it was from that game that he had won the nickname of Matthew. He began to wonder what James would call him now; how would he receive him?
As he neared the cottage, the acrid smell of wood smoke assailed his nostrils. Of all the senses that of smell brings back old recollections most vividly. Matthew paused for a moment and hurriedly brushed away a tear which he found trickling down his cheek. He glanced over a low hedge into the garden which had been the family’s means of livelihood ever since he could remember; he saw a short figure bending over a bed of early carrots, methodically thinning out the rows. That was Thaddaeus, or Jude as they had always called him; James was not with him.
The wanderer hesitated before knocking at the cottage door; then taking his courage in his hands he gave a resolute tap. For a moment there was no response; then deliberate steps sounded on the flagged passage and the door was flung open. The brothers stood face to face; for an instant neither spoke.
“Why its Matthew!” exclaimed James, as soon as he had recovered from his astonishment.
All was well. James had called him Matthew. His heart sang with joy.
“I’m up for the Passover,” said the elder brother; “I wondered if you could put me up for a few days.”
“Well, of course,” replied James heartily. “Wait a minute; I must tell Jude you’re here.” He ran across to the hedge and called his partner. “Have you met our friend Jesus of Nazareth yet? He said he’d look you up.”
Matthew smiled. “Oh, yes,” he said. “I’ve met him. As a matter of fact I came to Jerusalem with him. He’s coming round to see you both sometime.”
By this time Thaddaeus had joined them. His greeting was as unaffectedly friendly as James’ had been. All Matthew’s anxieties were dispelled.
“How did you manage to get away, Matthew?” asked James. “I didn’t think the Romans gave leave for the feasts.”
“I’m not employed by the Romans any longer,” replied Matthew; James looked at him quickly. “I’ve resigned my post.”
“You’re no longer a publican?” said his brother.
“No,” answered Matthew. “I’m through with that. Jesus advised me to give it up.”
“I’m glad;” this was all James said. But there was a wealth of meaning in the words.
“What are you going to do then?” asked Thaddaeus.
James did not wait for the reply. He said at once, “why not come back here? We want a good business head in the firm.”
“That’s good of you,” said Matthew, much touched by the offer. “But as a matter of fact I’m not taking another job.”
“You’ve made enough money to retire?” exclaimed James in bewilderment.
Matthew laughed. “Don’t misunderstand me,” he said humorously. “I’m not quite such a robber as that. No I’ve promised to join Jesus in his work. There’ll be plenty of discomfort and no money in it; but it’s a man’s job and I shall enjoy it.”
James said nothing; he was thinking how much he would have liked to be given the same opportunity. It was Thaddaeus who answered.
“He’s wonderful, isn’t he?” he said slowly; “the sort of chap one would give up everything to serve.”
And suddenly James realised the power of Jesus’ influence. Matthew had known him only a few months; and already he was a changed man. For wealth and comfort he had left his home and family; and now wealth and comfort were the very things he was sacrificing to work with Jesus.
Two days later Jesus turned up at the cottage. He had purposely not come earlier, in case there should be any restraint between the brothers at first. Things had gone better than he had dared to hope.
He found Matthew lending the others a hand in the garden. James welcomed him warmly and Thaddaeus did not try to restrain his delight.
After a simple meal Jesus came straight to the point; he told them of his intention to form a small band of followers to help him in his work of teaching. They would have to meet frequently, both to receive instructions and report progress. There was nothing to prevent these helpers from earning their living in their own way; but most of his work would be done in Galilee for the present, and Capernaum was to be his headquarters.
“I don’t want you to give me an answer at once,” he continued. “I know it would be a big wrench to give up the garden here, especially as it is a family business. But there are other crops to be gathered in, crops that matter more even than peas and beans. The harvest of the world is plentiful but the labourers are so few. Would you two care to come in? Mind you, I can’t offer you anything but poverty and strenuous work—and the joy of serving the Father and bringing his less fortunate children to know and experience his love. Think it over; I’m going to be in Jerusalem over the feast. That’ll give you a week to make up your minds.”
“My mind’s made up already,” said James promptly; “I’ll join you. What about you, Jude?”
Thaddaeus did not speak. His face, usually so cheerful and carefree, looked grey and strained. Jesus realised of a sudden what a sacrifice he had asked of the little man; his soul was torn between two rival forces, his passion for the garden and his love of his fellow-men. It was no easy choice for him.
Slowly and unsteadily he rose to his feet.
“I’m going out for half an hour,” he said jerkily; “I must think things out.”
“There’s no need to make up your mind at once,” said Jesus. “I don’t need an answer for another week.”
“Half an hour will be enough,” replied Thaddaeus. He went out.
Silence reigned in the room; outside could be heard the humming of bees and the chirping of grasshoppers. To this familiar accompaniment the crisis of Thaddaeus’ life was to be fought out.
“Poor old Jude,” said James suddenly; “the garden’s always meant more to him that it has to me.”
“It’s asking him to give up his life,” answered Jesus with quiet sympathy; “but if he does give up his life, he’ll find that a fuller and happier one is in store for him.”
“Couldn’t he and James,” said Matthew unexpectedly, “start a gardening business near Capernaum? I’ve got a little capital put by, enough to buy up a few acres of land. And if James decides to sell up here, he could add to it.”
Jesus gave him a grateful glance. Here was the selfish man of a few months ago offering to spend all his savings to bring happiness to a friend.
“And you could come in yourself as business manager,” put in James, developing the idea. “I’ll go and suggest it to Jude.” And he was already halfway to the door.
“James,” said Jesus quickly; James stopped. “I think Thaddaeus would rather think this out by himself.”
“It would make a difference if he heard of Matthew’s offer,” said James with some hesitation.
“It might make too much difference,” replied Jesus.
“But surely you want him to come?” urged James.
“I want him to come so much,” answered Jesus with a quick smile, that I couldn’t bear to bribe him to come. You see, James, if he is going to join us, his whole heart and soul must be in the work. So he must think the problem out, knowing nothing of Matthew’s generous offer. Then it’s a clear issue. If he decides to give up everything to do the work, I suggest, then we shall know his mind—and better still, he will know it himself. If he decides against my suggestion, then it’s far better for him to stay out, however much we may regret it.
There was a moment’s pause.
“Then you’d rather I didn’t make the offer,” said Matthew in some disappointment.
“Certainly not,” replied Jesus quickly. “I’m all for your plan. But it mustn’t be put to Thaddaeus till he has made his decision.”
“I see what you mean,” answered Matthew. “You don’t mind Jude doing his favourite job, if once he has found that there’s something else that matters more.”
“That’s exactly it,” said Jesus. “And what’s more, he’ll find he enjoys the gardening more than ever when he knows that it’s no longer an obsession.”
At the end of the half hour Thaddaeus came in. He looked tired, but calm and cheerful.
“I’ve thought it all out,” he said quietly; “and I don’t mind admitting I said a few prayers about it.” Jesus smiled involuntarily.
“And after a bit,” the little man continued. “I began to get things straightened out. I was sitting under the old apple-tree—you know, James, the one where I always say my prayers—and the old blackbird sat there watching me. Suddenly he flew down and picked a caterpillar out of one of my cabbages. ‘You’ve saved that plant,’ I said to myself. And that set me thinking. ‘That’s just what Jesus wants us to be doing,’ I thought, ‘saving folks by getting rid of the little things that don’t seem to matter much at first, but eat the heart out of them in the end.’ And I thought of people I’d known and how they had been ruined by faults nobody had noticed much in the beginning. Then the old blackbird flew down and perched on my spade, looking at me with his head on one side, as if he wanted to say something to me. ‘All right, old son,’ I said to him, ‘I understand.’ And then it came to me that he’d given me the answer to my prayer. I do believe the good God showed the old blackbird where that caterpillar was. And I looked at the rows of cabbages and I thought of the chaps I’ve been able to help with a word of advice now and again—boys and young chaps most of them. And I knew I’d been happier when young Tobias came off the drink than if I’d saved a gardenful of cabbages. But still the old blackbird looked at me from the spade handle. ‘Well, what more have you got to tell me?’ I said to him. He cocked his head up at the tree. ‘Yes, yes,’ I said, ‘I know you flew down and saved that plant’s life.’ And then I saw what he meant. It wasn’t me that had saved the cabbage, it was him; and it wasn’t me that had saved young Tobias from the bottle, it was the good God above; who loves him just as a father loves his kids. That’s what I learnt from you, Jesus; and that’s what I told young Tobias; and that’s what made him give up the drink. Well, I’d got so far, and the old blackbird was still watching me anxiously and nodding his head. ‘Oh, I’m right so far, am I?’ I said. And then I began to put two and two together. ‘Jesus wants me to help him,’ I said; ‘he wants me to tell other young chaps about the loving Father; that would help them to keep off the drink and worse things; and those things do more harm than caterpillars; and young chaps matter more than cabbages. Is that it, old son?’ And when I asked him that, the old boy flew up onto the branch and sang as if he was praising the loving Father that he’d been able to get it into my thick head. So I just added my thanks to his and came straight in, to tell you I’d made up my mind.”
Jesus could not speak. He seized Thaddaeus’ grimy hand and wrung it.
“Not that I shall be much use,” said the little man humbly. “I’ve not got the education to teach folks. But I’d like it best, if you could put me on to talk to the kiddies and young chaps. I seem to get on better with them.”
And Jesus saw the wonderful work which this childlike heart would do among young folk and thanked God for guiding his decision.
Three days later a discussion took place about ways and means. Jesus was not present; the two brothers and Thaddaeus talked things over between them.
Matthew suggested putting the cottage and garden up to auction; James demurred; he felt some natural hesitation in disposing of the family property to the highest bidder. It was Thaddaeus who finally solved the problem.
“Why not keep the place yourself,” he suggested, “and put in a manager. Young Tobias would be the very chap for the job; he’s often worked here; he’s handy with his tools and has got a good head on his shoulders. Besides he wants to marry; Rebecca’s a sensible girl and she’ll do more than anything to keep him straight. A regular job like that would be the making of him.”
“What sort of young man is he?” asked Matthew of James.
“He was a bit wild four or five years ago,” replied his brother. “But since Jude got to work on him, he’s steadied down a lot. I like the boy. The only difficulty I see is that we shouldn’t be able to keep an eye on the place.”
“Then let it to him outright,” put in Thaddaeus. “There’s no need for legal documents. Let him and Rebecca live in the cottage and work the garden; fix the rent he’s to pay you and let him make what profit he can. He’s a hard-working fellow and ought to make it pay well.”
“What about your own share in the business?” enquired James.
“The place is yours,” answered Thaddaeus promptly. “I don’t want to be paid anything for goodwill. My payment will be to see a lad I’m interested in getting a good start in life.”
And so it was settled. Tobias jumped at the proposal and hurried off to share the good news with Rebecca; but not before he had shaken Thaddaeus warmly by the hand.
“I owe everything to you,” he said; “you got me straight; you’ve kept me straight; and now you’re giving me the chance of my life. I won’t let you down.”
Some days after the Passover the three, Matthew, James and Thaddaeus, set out with Jesus for Galilee. The journey was uneventful except for one incident which threw light on Jesus’ views. They had taken the road which led due north through the province of Samaria. On the afternoon of the second day they arrived at the outskirts of a Samaritan town called Sychar. By the roadside was an ancient well, reputed to have been used by the patriarch Jacob. It was a pleasant spot and they lay down on the grass near by for a rest; it was their intention to push on a few more miles before nightfall, and Thaddaeus suggested that he should go into the town and buy something for supper; Matthew and James went with him, leaving Jesus alone by the well.
On their return they were surprised to see their friend deep in conversation with a young Samaritan woman who had come out of the town to draw water. As they approached, the woman came hurriedly back along the road, leaving her pitcher on the ground; she passed them without a glance.
They watched her till she entered the city gate and then, wondering why Jesus had been talking to one of the despised foreigners, they walked slowly on to the well.
“We’ve been longer than we expected,” said James; “but here’s the supper.”
“I’ve had a meal already,” replied Jesus; and his eyes twinkled.
The others looked blank. “Who’s given you any food?” asked Thaddaeus; “the young woman we met?”
“No, no,” answered Jesus laughing, “she gave me a drink from the well, but nothing to eat. Yet I feel as refreshed as if I’d had supper already. I’ve been able to do something for the Father in telling her a little of the truth, and it’s meat and drink to me to do the Father’s will.”
“But she’s a Samaritan,” objected James.
“Yes, James; she’s a Samaritan,” replied Jesus cheerfully; “and do you think the Father cares only for his good Jewish children and leaves the rest of his family, Samaritans and Romans and Greeks, to starve, while he spoils the pampered favourites? Look, the good lady has left her pitcher here and will be coming back for it soon. I shouldn’t be surprised if she brought some of her friends with her. Then we shall see what your manners are like, James.”
Jesus had spoken so lightly that there could be no offence in his words. James laughed; yet a new light had been thrown on Jesus’ belief in the Father in the few bantering remarks he had made.
As they ate their meal, they saw twenty or thirty people come out of the town gate; led by the woman who had been at the well before. Jesus greeted them courteously and introduced his friends. Then he sat by the well and talked to them, just as he talked to the people at Capernaum. When he had finished, one of the Samaritans invited him and the others to spend a few days in their town. There were immediate offers from the hospitable folk to put them up.
They remained at Sychar for two days and many of the people there were persuaded to believe in the truth which Jesus taught them. And all the time Matthew and James and Thaddaeus were learning a lesson too, that as kindly hearts beat in Samaritans’ breasts as in those of the true Israelites and that in the sight of God there is no difference between Jew and Samaritan. All, whatever their race or beliefs, are sons of the one Father and members of the one family.
It had been arranged that Jesus should stay for a few days at his home and then go on to Cana to have a talk with young Simon; meanwhile Matthew should take the others on to Capernaum to await his return.
Darkness was just falling as Jesus stepped into the familiar workshop at Nazareth; Joses was shutting up for the night. Jesus could not help noticing a certain awkwardness in his brother’s manner as he greeted him.
“You’re just in time for supper,” said the younger man after they had exchanged a few remarks about the business. “Mother will be glad to see you. She’s been worried about you.”
“Worried?” put in Jesus quickly; “who’s been worrying her?”
“Oh, just things people have been saying,” answered Joses guardedly.
So gossip was at work about him. Jesus pushed open the inner door and entered the living-room.
Mary looked up from her work; she sprang to her feet as she saw who it was.
“Jesus, my dear;” she whispered as he held her in his arms; “I’ve been so anxious about you.”
“What’s all this mystery?” said her son cheerfully. “What’s made you anxious, mother?”
“It’s what James told us,” answered Mary almost in tears. “He met one of the Capernaum Scribes a few weeks ago. He said you were always breaking the sacred law and were teaching people all sorts of blasphemies. Jesus, it isn’t true, is it? I told James it couldn’t be true.”
“I must talk to James,” said Jesus. “He’s at home, I suppose?”
“Yes,” replied his mother; “they’ll all be in to supper in a few minutes. You know James has passed his examination; he’s a real Scribe now.” Her voice could not hide a certain motherly pride.
At supper Jesus could not help feeling that he had in some way become the black sheep of the family. There was an air of constraint at the table; he tried to engage Joses in conversation about the business and was answered with monosyllables. James remained silent and aloof; his two younger brothers kept on glancing at one another, but neither could bring himself to start a conversation. Mary did her best, but her anxious eyes wandered from face to face, as if imploring her four younger sons to give a more cordial welcome to their brother.
When the meal was almost over, Jesus addressed James direct.
“James, if a friend of yours met with an accident on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you help him?”
“Certainly I should,” answered the Scribe without looking up.
“But is there any difference,” continued Jesus, “between that and healing a sick person on the Sabbath.”
“There are six days on which men ought to work,” quoted James. He did not lift his eyes from his plate.
“But isn’t that to enable hard worked people to have a rest?” Jesus probed him further. “Don’t you think the Sabbath was originally made for the good of man? A day for the worship of God, certainly, but the best refreshment from our daily work is to make more perfect contact with God. You surely don’t believe that it’s God’s wish that we should refrain from doing good to one of His creatures on the day set apart for His service?”
James was beginning to feel cornered; he rose from the table.
“The laws of Moses and the tradition of the elders are good enough for me,” he said coldly. And with that he walked out of the room.
After supper Jesus walked round to see his old friend the Rabbi. He asked him point-blank what rumours had reached Nazareth about his work in Capernaum. He learned that all sorts of malicious gossip had been spread by the Capernaum Pharisees; this had obviously been exaggerated as it passed from mouth to mouth until by the time it reached his home town he was a monster of depravity, a teacher of heresies, a breaker of all the sacred laws.
“Mind you,” said the Rabbi, “I don’t believe a word of what I hear. I’ve known you in the past and I know these are only jealous lies. But that’s what people are saying. The real fact is that you’re getting too much influence on the lakeside and the local religious leaders don’t like it.”
“I wonder if you’ll do me a kindness,” said Jesus tentatively. “Let me give the address in the Synagogue tomorrow.”
“Of course you shall,” answered the Rabbi at once, “Some people may not like it; but the best way to stop gossip is for them to hear you with their own ears.”
On the next day the news spread like wildfire that Jesus was in Nazareth and was to give the address in the Synagogue. Reports of his work in Capernaum had been eagerly followed by the people of his home town; his old friends were on the whole sympathetic, though some of them were troubled by the news that the Scribes and Pharisees were complaining of him to the Council at Jerusalem. But many of the townsfolk seemed to resent the fact that one who had been brought up among them was creating such a stir in the larger city of Capernaum.
Early in the morning several sick people, who were friends of Mary’s, sent messages to the house asking if Jesus would go and see them. He called at all their homes before the Service and was able to bring healing and happiness to the sufferers.
The synagogue was crowded. Everyone, friend and foe alike, wished to hear what he had to say. It was a strange experience for Jesus, sitting by the Rabbi, to look round at the familiar faces of people he had known all his life, with many of whom he had played in the streets in his childhood. This was a different gathering from any he had addressed on the lakeside, where most of the congregation were strangers—a more critical audience.
The parchment roll was handed to him as he stood up. He read the words he had selected for his text.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor;
He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovering of sight to the blind;
To set at liberty them that are bruised,
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
He rolled up the parchment, handed it back to the attendant and sat down. As he looked down the building, the eyes of all in the synagogue were fastened on him.
Then he began to speak.
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled.” He started with hesitation; how was he to tell these people he knew so well that his own work was the fulfilment of the prophet’s words? Yet the words did so exactly describe what he was trying to do. He was preaching the good news of God’s love to the poor; he was proclaiming release to those in bondage to sin; he was bringing recovery of sight to the spiritually blind; he was setting at liberty those bruised in the battle of life. Conscious of all this, he began to describe the aims of his own work and this brought him naturally to the central theme, the good news he was trying to spread—God is a loving Father.
As he left the synagogue he could hear people discussing his address. The comments were favourable, many of them enthusiastic. “Where’s he get all that from?” “We know he’s Joseph and Mary’s son; how did he learn to talk like that?” “There’s a lot in what he says too. I like that idea of his that the Lord is like a Father.” “I can’t see what the Pharisees can object to in that,” added another who had come prepared to pick holes.
Mary and his brothers were waiting for him at the door. Mary’s eyes were shining.
“My dear, I’m so glad I’ve heard you; and it’s put my mind at rest after the dreadful things we’ve heard.”
Jesus glanced at his brother James. He noticed in his face an expression of relief. There had been nothing which he, as a Scribe, could have taken exception to.
It was at that moment that the commotion began. On the opposite side of the little square, near a drinking fountain was standing a knot of men; some of them had been in the synagogue, but they were obviously there for some purpose. Jesus recognised most of them as young toughs who were ready for any annoying form of rowdyism. Among them was a man named Joel, who had run a rival building business; by cutting prices he had managed after Joseph’s death to get a good deal of the trade into his own hands. But his sharp practices had recoiled on his own head; he had lost customer after customer by failing to keep to his contracts. And from that time onwards his spite had been concentrated with increasing bitterness against Jesus, who, by the scrupulous honesty of his business methods had brought back the trade to his workshop. At last Joel saw a chance of avenging himself; he had done everything in his power to circulate and exaggerate the malicious gossip which came from the lakeside; and now that Jesus had again appeared in Nazareth, he was determined to make things hot for him.
As he stood with his mother by the synagogue door, a curious chanting dirge began near the drinking fountain. “Hail to the prophet, the prophet of Nazareth. Hail to the Nazarene prophet.”
Jesus touched James on the arm.
“Take Mother home,” he whispered. “I’m going to talk to that crowd.”
James nodded and took Mary’s arm; he led her away in spite of her anxious protests and her two younger sons followed as an escort. Joses remained with his brother. All the time the derisive chant continued; a crowd was beginning to collect, composed largely of young men who had come out of the synagogue.
Jesus walked across the square, closely followed by Joses. He went straight up to Joel.
“We’ve never been friends, Joel,” he said without a trace of annoyance, “but don’t you think we might let bygones be bygones.”
Joel’s only answer was to urge on his followers to renewed efforts.
“Hail to the prophet, the Nazarene prophet.”
“Stop that noise!” cried Jesus in ringing tones. He spoke with such authority that the singing died discordantly away. Some of the youths nearest him moved back a few paces. There was a moment’s silence. This was Jesus’ chance.
“What’s all this nonsense about a prophet?” he said quietly. “I’ve made no claim to be a prophet. And if I had, I know very well that no prophet is ever recognised in his own home town.”
A high falsetto voice broke in.
“They say you’re a healer,” it cried; “you cure lepers and paralytics at Capernaum, eh? Well, Capernaum’s a long way off; we can’t believe what we hear from Capernaum. We’d like to see some of that stuff here, in good old Nazareth. Come on, show what you can do. You’ve known me all your life; straighten me out and I’ll believe you are a prophet.”
Jesus knew the speaker well, a hunchbacked cripple whose mind was as distorted as his body. He had always been the centre of vice in the poorer quarters of the town.
Jesus fixed his eyes on him. “God would enable me to give you healing, Shammah,” he replied, “if you believed in his power and love. The question is, do you?”
“I believe in nothing,” replied the cripple with a malicious chuckle. He was the centre of attention now and that was what he loved; and he was scoring off Jesus whom he had always disliked because for years his influence in the town had been exactly the opposite of his own.
“God’s an invention of the Rabbis and priests,” he continued; “we don’t want any cant about God. God’s never stirred a finger to straighten my body; so let’s see what you can do.”
He winked round at the ever-growing crowd. They encouraged him in his ill-natured banter. “That’s right, Shammah.” “Keep it up.” “Come on, Jesus; if you straighten old Shammah, we’ll all believe.”
A burst of laughter greeted this sally. Jesus remained unmoved.
“Nothing could give me more happiness, Shammah,” he said with quiet emphasis, “than to see you as God meant you to be, straight in body and straight in mind. I have no power in myself to heal you—”
“Didn’t I say the stories of his healing were all moonshine?” shouted Joel.
Jesus took no notice of this interruption.
“But if you could believe that God is eager to cure you,” he continued, “your own belief could give me the help I need to bring His healing to you.”
“What all that rigmarole means,” retorted the cripple venomously, “I don’t know; and what’s more, I don’t care. All I want is to show you up as a fraud; and I’ve done that pretty successfully. I know you can’t cure me; now can you?”
“No,” said Jesus resolutely; “I can do nothing for you.”
He turned to move away. But Joel had not finished. “You see, boys,” he shouted; “the fellow’s an impostor. We all knew he was and now he’s admitted it. He can no more straighten old Shammah than you or I can.”
Joses took a few steps towards Joel, looking dangerous; Jesus laid his hand on his brother’s shoulder.
“Steady, Joses,” he said; “We don’t want to start a street brawl.”
“I’m going to lick that fellow Joel,” Joses answered angrily; “this is all his doing.”
“I can look after myself,” said Jesus; “most of these fellows are half-drunk. I’ll slip away when there’s a chance. If you start a fight, we don’t know where it’s going to end. Mother may be getting anxious. You go on and tell her I’ll be home in a minute.”
Joses saw the wisdom of his brother’s advice; two were no better than one against a crowd and it would be unwise to start a scrap. Besides he had confidence that Jesus could get himself out of a tight corner. But as he hurried homewards along a back street, he suddenly stopped; he heard behind him a shout from Joel, “catch hold of him and drag him up to the crags.” Joses hesitated a moment, then he realised that he could do nothing; he might even prevent Jesus’ chance of escape. He walked moodily homeward, as the hubbub increased in the square.
It was a relief to Jesus to be left alone with the crowd. He knew his brother too well. Joses was one of those stolid men who are not easily roused; but if once his blood were really up, there was no knowing what might happen. A crowd like this could not be managed by a show of temper. But they were not an intelligent lot and with a little ingenuity he might easily outwit them.
There were some fifty or sixty men in the square; many of them were those who had just been listening to him attentively in the synagogue. But stopping idly to see what was going on outside, and finding that a set was being made at Jesus, they had joined in on what seemed the stronger and popular side, and were now as loud as anyone in baiting him. They never stopped to think why he was being attacked or whether there was any reason for it.
As Joel shouted, “drag him to the crags,” Jesus realised his danger for the first time. Several of the knot of idlers closed in on him and started to pull him up the narrow street. Most of the crowd, yelling and laughing were following Joel, who was well ahead by this time.
Jesus saw his opportunity; from childhood he had known every street and winding alley in Nazareth; if he could elude his persecutors for a moment, he felt certain of making good his retreat. For very shame they would hardly pursue him all over the town among the homes of decent people. One of the lads who held him was more than half-drunk; as they passed through a narrow archway, Jesus gave him a push. He lurched and stumbled against the man in front, who turned angrily to know what he was doing. A few rapid steps and Jesus had escaped into a labyrinth of narrow alleys, through which he made his way quickly and surely to the workshop. He smiled to himself as he thought of the scene on the hilltop—Joel waiting triumphantly for his captive and no captive arriving; the realisation that he had been cheated of his morning’s fun; the sheepish way in which the mob would have to disperse. It had its funny side. Yet Jesus knew that in his own town he had failed. He thought of his own words, “No prophet is ever recognised in his home town.”
Mary was sitting quietly outside the workshop door; outwardly she was calm; yet her ears were straining to catch the sounds which came from the distant hill.
As Jesus came swiftly round the corner, she sprang to her feet. He folded her in his arms.
“Are you all right, my dear?” she whispered. “What have they been doing to you?”
Jesus laughed, and his laugh reassured her. “I’m none the worse, as you see,” he said; “but I’ve not been a great success in Nazareth. I don’t want to make things awkward for you and the boys, Mother; it’ll be best if I push straight on to Cana. I’ve got to see a friend there anyway.”
“But it’s the Sabbath,” answered Mary, a little shocked in her simple soul. “Cana’s more than a Sabbath day’s journey.”
“To save you worry, Mother,” he said, “I must break the Sabbath laws again.”
And before she could protest, he was gone.
That evening a little family conclave was held after supper. James was frankly worried; he had always had a secret admiration for his elder brother, but had been at some pains not to show it. What troubled him was that Jesus was clearly incurring the hostility of the religious leaders by disregarding the Sabbath regulations on which they laid so much stress. He said as much.
“That’s all very well, James,” put in Joses who was always ready to take up the cudgels for Jesus; “but he only breaks the laws to do good.”
“I grant you that,” said James; “but it gives his opponents a handle. And if he is forbidden by the Council to preach in the synagogues, what’s to happen to his work?”
Mary’s one anxiety was for Jesus’ safety and good name. She knew he was destined to play a great part in the world; but couldn’t that be done without his involving himself in danger and disgrace? Perhaps he was just carried away by his own enthusiasm? A word of advice and warning might help him to see that he was going too far; that he would have more chance of success if he kept the sacred law strictly. She could not know that it was nothing but the jealousy of the Scribes and Pharisees which made them eager for his downfall. She only knew that her son broke the law, had broken it that very day to save her from annoyance. And she imagined that if he would only stick to the letter of the law, everything would go smoothly.
Finally it was decided that she should go with James and Joses to Capernaum to warn Jesus of what people were saying.
When this resolution had been taken, she went to bed with a mind more at rest.
Meanwhile Jesus had reached Cana and went straight to the wheelwright’s house. Here he received a cheerful welcome and Simon was overjoyed to see him.
“I’m afraid you won’t welcome me so kindly,” he said to his host, “when you know what I’ve come for.”
And with that he launched out into a description of his work on the lakeside; he enlarged on the central truth which it was his aim to bring to all and sundry, and wound up by explaining his desire to raise a band of twelve followers who would be ready to work with him.
“Even in Galilee there’s so much to be done,” he finished, “that it’s impossible for me to do it single-handed. And my work must not be limited to Galilee: that’s only the starting point. I must teach the truth in Judaea, then to the countries round. And in time, perhaps in many centuries from now, the knowledge of God as a loving Father may spread to the furthest corners of the world and bring all nations and languages to a belief in his love and generosity and to a feeling of friendliness and sympathy for one another, in the knowledge that all men are the sons of the one Father. That is what I think of as the Kingdom of God. And from the humble beginning which we are making at Capernaum, this dream of mine may one day become an accomplished fact.”
No one spoke. Jesus wondered himself why he had said so much; he had never done so before. He remained gazing out of the window, by which he was sitting, at the peaceful landscape outside.
“Now you know,” he exclaimed at last, “what my ambition is. I should so much like Simon to join us, if you can spare him.”
There was another pause.
“Well, what do you say, boy?” asked the wheelwright.
“There’s nothing I should like better,” answered Simon; “but I’m only afraid I shouldn’t be much use.”
“I’ll take the risk of that,” laughed Jesus. “If your heart’s really in a job, it’s surprising what you can do.”
“I think you’ll find Simon will be a help,” said the young man’s mother. “And we’re very proud you want him to work with you, aren’t we, father?”
The wheelwright nodded. “It’s not that I shan’t miss him, you understand,” he said; “but there’s more important work in the world than fitting spokes into wheels. And if you think the boy can be useful in some small way, we should be wrong to keep him back; that’s what I say.”
And so it was settled. Simon was to report for duty at Capernaum in a week’s time.
It was one o’clock on the following day. Jesus was just taking leave of his friends. Horses’ hooves came clattering up the street and halted at the wheelwright’s door. Jesus looked round and was surprised to see his friend Isaac, the nobleman who had lent him the lecture-hall. He was attended by a groom, who was leading a third horse, saddled but riderless. Both men and horses were sweating with the pace of their journey.
At the first glance at Isaac’s face Jesus could see that something was wrong.
“Thank God I’ve found you,” said Isaac. “You must come back with me at once. I’ve brought a mount for you. I’ll explain on the way.”
“I’m no horseman,” replied Jesus. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s little Joab,” said the anxious father in a strangled voice; “we’re afraid He’s dying. He was suddenly taken ill yesterday morning—high fever and brain trouble. Dr. Luke took a very grave view of him this morning; it was he who said he wished you were in Capernaum. He had called at your lodgings and heard you were probably going to Cana today. I understood why he wished you were there; you see I remembered the lamb with the broken leg.”
“Unless you see signs and wonders,” said Jesus with a smile, “you won’t believe in the father’s love and power to help you.”
For a moment Isaac looked hurt. But his anxiety was too great to leave room for any personal pique.
“I beg you to come with us,” he entreated, “or it’ll be too late.”
All Jesus’ sympathy went out to the distracted father; and at that moment he felt the healing force throbbing through him; as certainly as if his hands were laid on the child’s fevered brow, he knew that God’s restoring power was passing from him to little Joab.
He remained immovable until the sensation ceased; then he turned to Isaac with a smile.
“You can ride home with your mind at rest,” he said. “The boy’s out of danger.”
A spasm of relief passed over the nobleman’s haggard face. He knew that Jesus had spoken the truth. He did not attempt to thank him; what he felt could find no expression in words.
He turned to the astonished groom, who had overheard the whole dialogue.
“We’ve ridden the horses too hard, Japheth,” he said quietly. “Take them to the inn and give them a good rub down and a mash. The little master’s better; there’s no need for us to return tonight. Get yourself a room and book one for me.”
He patted his mare’s neck and dismounted. The man walked the horses across the road. Isaac watched him enter the inn stable yard; then he turned slowly to where Jesus stood. Their eyes met.
“You have no doubt?” asked Jesus.
“It was your own belief that made it possible,” said Jesus. “I must be on my way. Give my love to Joab.”
And waving a cheery farewell to his friends, he set his face for Capernaum.
As Isaac rode into the stable of his home the next day, the stableman met him with a broad grin.
“Master Joab’s quite himself again sir,” he said. “The doctor’s been this morning and was very pleased, so I hear.”
“What time did the improvement start,” asked Isaac.
“Yesterday, round about one o’clock, I’m told,” was the reply.
“I knew it,” said his master. And leaving the man gaping, he walked on to the house.
He went straight up to the nursery. His wife met him outside the door.
“Did you see Jesus?” she asked.
“Yesterday,” replied her husband, “at one o’clock.”
They looked at one another in silence. At last his wife spoke. “Then—”
“Yes,” he answered slowly; “I think he must be.”
Created from a nineteenth or early twentieth century text by Athelstane E-Texts