During the next week Jesus spent a great deal of his time in prayer and quiet thought. It was all-important for the success of his work, he felt, that he should choose the right men as his band of helpers. About most of them there seemed little doubt. For work among the quayside folk of the lake cities there were the four fishermen. In the countryside the two gardeners, James and Thaddaeus, would probably understand the people better. Philip and Nathaniel would have easier access to the cultured classes; Matthew might do valuable work among the business community. Simon would be well fitted through his hard military experience for talking to young men of the roughest type. Of Thomas he felt less certain; he had not seen so much of him as of the others; but his eagerness to join gave him some claim to selection, and his clear logical mind would be of service in persuading those who found it difficult to accept any new theory unless their reason, as well as their heart, were convinced.
For some cause which he could not explain to himself, Jesus had fixed on twelve for the number of the band. One more was needed.
Luke had already made his decision; he would not give up his medical work. What about Isaac? After the recovery of little Joab, he and all his household had accepted Jesus’ teaching. But Isaac’s whole life was centred round his home and especially round the boy; it was very doubtful if he could put anything else above that absorbing passion. On the whole, it would be better to choose an unmarried man, or at least one who had no children.
The day on which Simon was due at Capernaum was one of those when Jesus was holding one of his usual meetings in the lecture-hall. As he came out into the square he was astonished to find an immense crowd of sick and injured people waiting to be healed. News had been carried round the countryside that the healer was expected back from Judaea this week, and the sick folk had been brought from many miles away. Moving about among the crowd, he learnt that they had come from all over Galilee, some from as far afield as Jerusalem and the country round, some actually from Idumaea in the extreme south! There was even a sprinkling of foreigners, Phoenicians from the neighbourhood of the great seaports, Tyre and Sidon.
Not only was the little square full, but in the narrow streets leading from it were rows of mattresses on which lay sufferers of all ages and classes. For hour after hour Jesus passed from one to another, bringing healing to the body, and joy and happiness to the sick and to their anxious friends. So absorbed was he in his task that it was only in the last half hour that he noticed Simon standing at the edge of the throng.
Simon was not alone. With him was a middle-aged man of very striking appearance, whom Jesus had not seen before. The stranger was taking in the scene with quick, intelligent eyes.
Jesus waved a greeting to Simon and continued with his work of mercy. So numerous were those who had needed his touch that he had been unable to speak more than a few words to each. But as soon as he had seen the waiting throng, he had felt that it would be a marvellous opportunity wasted to let these hundreds go to their distant homes without at least opening their minds to the love and goodness of God. James and Thaddaeus had been present for the first time today in the lecture-hall. So while Jesus went about healing, he told them and Matthew to spread the news that he would be teaching the next morning on a hill outside the town and that he would welcome any who could spare the time before returning home. This would be a good occasion, he reflected, to announce publicly the names of his band of helpers. He must fill the last place before then.
Who was Simon’s friend, he wondered? From his first glance at him Jesus summed him up as a man of forceful personality. He had been praying much about the appointment of the Twelve; so far he had only been able to select eleven. Was the arrival of this interesting stranger the Father’s answer to his prayers?
The last person to approach Jesus was a depressed woman, leading by the hand an idiot girl about twelve years old. To see light and intelligence dawn in the vacant little face gave him almost greater happiness than to watch crooked limbs grow straight or disease fade into health. The mother gave a gasp of joy.
“The devil’s gone out of her,” she cried.
“Better than that,” replied Jesus, “the gift of God has entered into her.”
As the woman led her child away, Simon crossed the square; Jesus looked across to the spot where he had been waiting. The stranger was no longer there.
“Who’s your friend, Simon?” he asked.
“He comes from Judaea,” Simon answered. “I’ve never met him before yesterday. He’s an agent of the patriotic movement and was making a tour of Galilee, calling on everyone who has enrolled in the Zealots and similar societies. That’s how he came to see me.”
“Is he a paid agent or a real enthusiast?” Jesus questioned.
“I have no idea if he gets a salary,” replied Simon, “but there’s no doubt about his enthusiasm.”
“I should like to meet him,” said Jesus.
“He’s just as anxious to see you,” answered the Zealot; “I told him something of your work and of the circle of followers you’re intending to start. He was extraordinarily interested. He would like to join us.”
Jesus started. How amazingly this fitted in with his thought. “He would like to join us.” It seemed as if it was foreordained—something beyond his own control.
“What is his name?” asked Jesus with growing interest.
“Judas,” said Simon; “Judas of Kerioth.”
Suddenly Jesus shivered. He was unaccountably filled with a sense of foreboding. “Judas of Kerioth.” There was nothing peculiar about the name. Yet it seemed ominous, fateful.
He shook off the feeling; it was unreasonable.
“What do you think of him?” he asked casually.
Simon paused for a moment before replying.
“He’s certainly a very able man,” he answered; he was weighing his words carefully; “to do him justice I think he’s absolutely genuine in his desire to serve the patriotic cause. Whether I like him or not it’s hard to say. There’s something—something queer about him.”
“I must make up my mind for myself,” said Jesus.
“Judas wanted me to invite you to come round to the inn,” added Simon.
“Come along then,” replied Jesus, “I am anxious to meet this queer character.”
They found Judas in a shady corner of the inn yard; he was sitting at a rough table on which was a beaker of wine. As they entered the courtyard, he rose with a smile and came towards them.
“You must be hot and tired,” he said; “have you had a meal?”
“I had no time,” answered Jesus; “I never expected to find that crowd of people waiting outside.”
“I have just ordered some food,” said Judas; “you must both join me.” He rapped on the table and a servant appeared.
“Bring dinner for three instead of one,” Judas ordered; “and some more wine.”
The man re-entered the house, and the newcomers sat down at the table.
“You’re an agent of the patriots, Simon tells me,” remarked Jesus by way of opening the conversation.
“Yes,” replied the other; “but it’s a thankless job. Most of the people I visit are only lukewarm supporters, either too comfortable in their present life to take a risk or too fainthearted to wish to strike a blow. What we need is a leader—someone who can rouse the indifferent and put courage into the feeble. When I see the Roman legionaries swaggering about in the streets of our cities, the Roman officials making regulations to oppress our people—worst of all, Jewish tax-collectors bleeding their fellow-countrymen to line the pockets of the Roman bankers, it makes my blood boil. Don’t you agree with me?”
He shot out the question so suddenly that for a moment Jesus was taken by surprise. He did not answer immediately.
“I hate any form of oppression,” he said at last, “most of all the oppression of the poor by the rich and of the weak by the strong. It is the exact opposite of God’s will for mankind.”
“I knew you’d agree,” said Judas delightedly. “Yet most of our people seem content to live under oppression and the tyranny of the conquerors.”
At this point the servant reappeared with food and drink. As they ate, the conversation passed into more trivial channels, and Jesus had an opportunity of studying his new acquaintance more closely. He was a man of middle height and lean but muscular build. Dark hair, going grey about the temples, was brushed back from a high intellectual forehead. The small dark beard, cut to a point, accentuated rather than concealed the determined line of the jaw and jutting chin. The restless eyes, set a shade too close together, betrayed the eager dissatisfied spirit within. Altogether Jesus summed it up as the face of a man who might rise to great heights or sink to the lowest depths. Judas of Kerioth would never be negligible.
When their hunger was satisfied and the meal cleared, they remained sitting on the hard benches, each with a mug of wine before him. Simon remained a more or less silent audience while the others talked. But all the time he was comparing the personalities of the two speakers. About Judas there was something repellent, yet attractive. With Jesus it was different; every word, every expression, every gesture was characterised by absolute genuineness.
Judas enquired about Jesus’ teaching; Jesus explained simply and directly his view that God was like a loving Father, who cares for all his children, good or bad. Judas listened attentively, occasionally putting a pertinent question, now and then nodding, apparently with approval. He asked about his healing powers; Jesus made it clear that this was no power in himself, that he could do nothing for those who deliberately opposed or distrusted the love of God; that it was, in fact, the power of God working through him for the benefit of others. Judas smiled at this.
“That may be quite true,” he said; “yet you must admit that you, and not others, possess the—” he hesitated for the right word, “the capacity for passing on this healing power.”
“Other people could have the same capacity,” replied Jesus, “if they would only believe it. It is a case of making sure that one’s own Self does not interfere with God’s love and power.”
“Yes, I see,” said Judas noncommittally. He was clearly not convinced.
In his turn Jesus put many questions to the other man; he was anxious to find out what he could about his life, his work and his views. Pieced together his story was one of thwarted ambition.
The son of well-to-do parents of the middle class, Judas had been carefully educated. From the first he had shown talent and ambition; as a boy he had naturally taken a lead among his contemporaries and this power of leadership had fed his vanity and increased his desire to take a prominent part in the affairs of the world. Two alternative courses seemed to be open to him; either to acquire Roman citizenship with its many privileges or to adopt the popular cause which meant opposition to Rome. The former course seemed the quickest way to success; his father had not wholly approved of his intention, and refused to put down the large sum required to purchase citizenship. But Judas was not to be deflected from his purpose; he had obtained a clerkship in the office of a Roman lawyer in Jerusalem. With this experience he later became a clerk in the Roman government offices in Syria. He had never shirked hard work and gradually rose to a position of some trust. Then came his application for Roman citizenship on grounds of service to the Empire. The application was refused.
That was five years before, when he was thirty six. He had thrown up his job and returned to Judaea. Here he had found that anti-Roman feeling was on the increase, though there seemed to be no popular leader to unite the malcontents for any concerted action. Judas was wise enough to know his own limitations; he knew he had influence over those he met; he was conscious of his organising ability; he could be an admirable second-in-command. But he realised that he lacked the personal magnetism of a successful leader. So he had been content to bide his time and work quietly and unostentatiously to rouse patriotic fervour until the right leader, and the right moment, should come.
The candour with which this strange man talked of his not too creditable career roused Jesus’ interest. Here was a man who at least looked himself honestly in the face and was not afraid to proclaim his own shortcomings. If his energy and ability could ever be turned into an unselfish channel, what a power for good he might be.
It was late in the afternoon when Jesus took his leave. Judas accompanied him to the door of the inn.
“You can’t possibly realise,” he began, “how much your account of your aims and beliefs has impressed me. I should like to hear you speak in public.”
Jesus smiled. “You’ll have an opportunity tomorrow morning,” he said, “if you care to take it. I have arranged to talk to the folk who came for healing today.”
“I shall be there,” replied Judas.
“Nine o’clock then,” continued Jesus, “on the hill just to the west of the town. I’m expecting you there, Simon,” he added to the young Canaanite who was hovering in the background.
“Simon tells me,” went on Judas, “that you are thinking of forming a kind of inner council for your movement. If you think I could be of use in any capacity, do call upon me. I think I can lay claim to some experience in such matters.”
“Experience is not the only requirement,” replied Jesus. “None of us have any experience.”
“Then that’s where you might find me useful,” said Judas with so charming a smile that the remark was robbed of any suggestion of contempt.
Jesus still had several things to do before returning to Peter’s house for supper. He called first at Luke’s house. Thomas was still his guest, and Jesus asked him to be present the next day. He then sought out Isaac, told him of the proposed meeting on the hillside, and asked him as a favour to send one of his men with a message to Philip and Nathaniel at Bethsaida. Matthew, James and Thaddaeus had already promised to be there.
At supper he broached the subject to Peter, who promised to pass on the message to his brother and the sons of Zebedee. They would all be fishing together that night, but the boats were bound to be in by six at the latest.
Jesus watched the boats set out, and then wandered out of the town westwards. As he passed out of the city gate, the twinkling fires of hundreds of little encampments met his eyes. It looked like a fair field after the booths have closed down. These were the families from far and near to whom he had been the means of bringing healing and happiness that morning, and to whom he had promised to speak on the next day. He wondered how many would be there—and how many would believe the truth which he wanted to teach them.
He turned his steps towards the hill which he had selected as tomorrow’s meeting place. He climbed to the top and sat down with his back against a rock. It was a still, warm night; from below came the confused murmur of the town and the encampments outside. Occasionally the shout of a fisherman or the sharp bark of a dog punctuated the indefinite hum. As night deepened and the stars in their countless myriads peered down from an indigo sky, the sounds became less frequent and the hum died into silence.
And in the silence Jesus was alone with the Father. To Jesus prayer meant quite literally intercourse with God. Ever since that day in his childhood when the lost boy had awoken to the stupendous truth that God was the Father of all, he had striven to make that fact the guiding principle of his life. And through many years of effort he had at last arrived at a state in which he was never without the consciousness of the Father’s presence and help. It was now natural for him to refer every problem to the Father for solution, not in so many words, but by thinking it over with the certainty that God was helping him to reach a decision. And in perfect confidence of a right solution he laid before the Father the problem of this night.
Was Judas of Kerioth to be one of the Twelve? Of the remainder he was now certain; each in turn had been referred to the judgement of the Father; he knew that each in his own way would justify his choice. But Judas?
It was not that the man’s character was a complex one. His strong qualities and his faults were equally obvious. He himself made no secret of them. The whole problem appeared to be this; if Judas became one of the Twelve, could he lose himself in the joy of service for others. All his life “Self” had been the motive which spurred him to every action. Even his patriotism had its roots in hatred of the Romans who had spurned him, rather than in love for his own country and people. Could such a man understand a life devoted to the service of God and of his fellows? It seemed impossible. Yet with the Father nothing was impossible.
But would Judas allow himself to be influenced? Was his interest even genuine? Jesus saw clearly enough that his object in life was to find a leader who could head a rising to shake off the Roman yoke. There was no doubt that he saw in Jesus himself a possible candidate for such leadership. Under the watchful eyes of the stars Jesus smiled as he pictured himself heading a rebellion. No doubt Judas was thinking of him as an impractical visionary, whom he could use as an easy tool for his own ends. If so, he would find that he had made a mistake.
So clear did all this appear to Jesus that it seemed that his question was answered, his problem solved. He saw how Judas would complicate all his work by pulling in the opposite direction, perhaps by persuading the simpler minds of his other followers that it was the highest act of service to God to drive out the Romans and found a great Jewish Kingdom. Then they might all lose sight of the Kingdom of God which he really meant to establish on earth, the Kingdom of love and peace and happiness, in which Jew and Roman, Greek and Barbarian could all live together in brotherly harmony, because all were sons of the one Father.
All this was revealed to Jesus in the darkness of the hilltop. Yet it was borne in on him too that Judas of Kerioth was a necessary link in the chain of the Father’s purpose, that in some mysterious way the final completion of Jesus’ own work depended on him. He neither knew nor could imagine how this might be; yet he was satisfied that the Father had made his will clear. The list of the Twelve was complete.
The first streaks of dawn were beginning to show on the eastern horizon; from the mists by the lakeside a cock crew. He had spent all night in prayer with God.
Some hours later people began to ascend the lower slopes of the hill. Jesus went down to meet them. As he had climbed the hill the evening before, he had decided on the spot for his meeting. There was a low flat stone lying at the top of a steeply rising bank; immediately below, the ground sloped away gently. Here the people could sit while he talked to them from above.
As the various groups reached this place, he asked them to sit down where they wished. The crowd consisted not only of those who had come from distant places for healing; many Capernaum townsfolk were there as well. Jesus noted the arrival of all those whom he had specially invited and many others whom he knew intimately. Dr. Luke was sitting, with Isaac and his wife. Judas of Kerioth had taken up a position where he could not only hear the speaker but observe the effect of his words on the audience. Matthew was sitting well in front with his brother and Thaddaeus; Matthew carried a writing tablet.
By nine o’clock something like a thousand people were grouped on the grass in front of the flat stone. Jesus walked up to it and sat facing them. A hush fell as he began to speak. It was not a sermon, not a speech; he did not raise his voice, yet in the still clear air every word could be heard. He just talked to that great crowd as if he were talking to two or three friends at a picnic; it was all very homely, very intimate, and for that very reason it was the more impressive.
He passed from one subject to another as the thoughts came into his mind. But certain sentences stuck especially in his hearers’ memories.
“Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.”
“Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
“Love your enemies.”
“Pray in this way, ‘Our Father.’”
“No man can serve two masters. You must choose between God and the world.”
“Criticise no one, that no one may criticise you.”
“Would a father give his son a stone if he asked for bread? Then how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?”
Time after time Jesus spoke of God as the Father; time after time he showed that those who really wish to serve God must often act in a very unexpected way. And he finished with a remarkable passage. “Everyone who takes in what I have said and puts it into practice is like a prudent man who built his house on a firm foundation of rock. And when tempestuous weather came and the rivers swept down in flood, the house stood firm because the foundation was on the rock.
“And anyone who listens, but makes no effort to follow my advice is like a thoughtless man who built a house on the sand. And the rain poured down, and the floods came and the winds blew and beat upon that house—and it collapsed. And the whole house was in ruins.”
Jesus stood up; he had been talking for more than an hour, yet the interest of his audience had never wavered. As he finished, a long drawn sigh passed through the crowd; never had they heard anything like this; it was like the opening of a door into another world.
Two members of the audience had been particularly noticeable. Matthew was taking copious notes; Jesus remembered that he had said it was his ambition one day to write a book. The other was Judas, who had looked frankly puzzled by much of what Jesus had said; a shadow of annoyance had passed over his face at the words: “Love your enemies.” Yet he had been amazed by the speaker’s hold on this vast crowd; that was what he wanted to see.
Jesus then explained to the people his intention of forming a band of twelve helpers; he wished to proclaim their names publicly, so that anyone could go to them for help or advice.
“Will each man,” he went on, “as I call his name, come and stand by me, so that everyone can see the Twelve. Simon of Bethsaida, whom I call Peter, and his brother Andrew.”
The two fishermen stepped forward, a little self-consciously, and stood behind Jesus. The rest followed suit as Jesus spoke their names.
“James and John, the sons of Zebedee of Capernaum.”
“Philip of Bethsaida.”
“Nathaniel, son of Tolmai, of Cana.”
“Matthew, son of Alphaeus of Bethany in Judaea.”
“Thomas of Caesarea.”
“James, the son of Alphaeus, of Bethany.”
“Thaddaeus of Bethany.”
“Simon of Cana.”
There was a moment’s pause. Then Jesus said clearly and steadily: “Judas of Kerioth.”
As he spoke the name, he was conscious of two things: it was the Father’s will: and he had sealed his own doom.
Judas walked confidently across the intervening space; the eyes of ten of his new colleagues were fixed upon him. Who was this stranger whom Jesus had honoured? No doubt he had good reason for the choice.
The little ceremony was over; it had taken less than five minutes. But it was one of the supreme moments of the world’s history.
The crowd had dispersed and Jesus was left alone with the Twelve. His first act was to introduce Judas to the others. The man had considerable tact and made a good impression; this was not the time to assert himself. He must discover first how he stood with this curiously assorted company.
Jesus proceeded to give them a few simple directions; they were to continue to do their everyday work unless he wished to employ them on some special job; the work for which he had chosen them must, as a point of honour, come first; they were to meet twice a week at the lecture-hall to compare notes and receive instructions and advice; a little later on, when they had had more experience of his methods, he proposed to send them out in couples to do some teaching on their own; but first they must learn their job by coming with him the following week on a tour he intended making in some of the towns of Galilee.
As Judas listened, he began to wonder whether he had mistaken his man. This was no mere visionary, but a leader with common-sense and a definite plan of action. The quiet authority with which Jesus spoke filled him with doubt and anxiety; could he twist a man like this round his little finger and use him for his own designs? He comforted himself with the reflection that as Jesus’ popularity and influence grew, as grow it must, his head would be turned and he would aim at greater power. That would be Judas’ opportunity. For the moment he must lie low and imitate the rest.
As they entered the town gate, they were met by three influential citizens of Capernaum. They accosted Jesus politely and one of the three explained why they wished to see him.
“We are acting at the request of a Roman centurion, Lucius Quinctius, who has been quartered for some years in the city. He is a good friend of our nation and himself built the new synagogue as a mark of gratitude for the many kindnesses he has received from the townspeople. He has heard of your healing powers and begs you to help him. His favourite slave, a boy of sixteen, is dangerously ill.”
“I will come with you,” said Jesus.
Two of the centurion’s friends hurried on ahead to prepare him for Jesus’ arrival. By this time a little crowd had collected and was following to see what was going to happen. When they drew near to the centurion’s house, they saw his friends coming back to meet them. Jesus stopped, wondering at their return.
“Quinctius asked us to give you a message,” said one of them. “He realises how particular we Jews are about entering the houses of foreigners.” Jesus smiled. “He therefore wished me to say that he is not worthy to receive you under his roof. If you will say the word, he knows that you can heal the boy.”
“He understands the authority of the spoken word,” added the second man. “He particularly wished us to make that clear. Throughout his career in the army he has been accustomed to receiving and giving orders. He recognises your authority and believes that your word can cure his slave from a distance.”
Jesus turned to the crowd which was whispering in astonishment behind him.
“This Roman officer is a very remarkable man,” he said. “I have never come across such confident belief.”
He then spoke to the messengers:—
“The boy has recovered. If you go back to Quinctius’ house, you will find it is as I say.”
For a moment the three men looked doubtful. Then they thanked Jesus a little uncertainly and walked slowly towards the centurion’s home.
Thomas was standing by Jesus’ side; the sceptical expression on his face was evident to all.
“Oh, you good Israelites,” said Jesus with a laugh; “you have something to learn from the belief of this Roman soldier.”
As he spoke a man advanced quickly towards them; he was clad in a thick leather tunic, the undress uniform of the Roman army. As he passed his friends, he nodded reassuringly to them. He singled out Jesus as if by the instinct of a man accustomed to recognise authority.
“Sir,” he said, “I have come to thank you. My boy is himself again.”
A gasp from the crowd greeted his words.
“From all I have heard about you,” the officer continued, “I know that I could trust you. You see, sir, I am a soldier; since I was eighteen I have been accustomed to obeying orders; and since my promotion I have seen that my own orders were obeyed. I trust my superior officers, and I hope my men trust me. I suppose that’s how I have learnt to know where confidence can be placed. I had confidence in you, and my confidence was justified.”
Jesus glanced at Thomas, who caught his eye and understood.
“It was your own belief,” he said to the centurion, “which made it possible for me to help the boy.”
“The God whom you worship,” said Quinctius, “must be better than the gods of Rome. I should like to know more about him.”
“I will come to your house,” answered Jesus; “I want to meet the boy too.”
Again Jesus was aware of whispers in the crowd behind him. The centurion was looking a little undecided.
“You’re sure, sir, you don’t mind coming to the house of a foreigner,” he asked tactfully.
“Quite sure,” replied Jesus with a smile, “if the foreigner is willing to receive me.”
“I will go on,” said Quinctius, “and tell Flavius—that’s the boy,” he explained. He walked hurriedly back to his house.
Jesus turned to the crowd.
“You seem surprised at my visiting a Roman,” he said; “the gates of God’s kingdom are not open only to Jews. Many shall come from the east and west into the Kingdom. But many of our own race, I’m afraid, prefer to remain in the darkness outside.”
And with that he walked on alone to the centurion’s house.
Some days later a discussion was taking place in the lecture-hall. The building was crowded; it had become known that another deputation had arrived from the Council at Jerusalem to investigate Jesus’ work. People were curious to see how he would answer their criticisms. There were both men and women present and every square foot of floor space was occupied.
Seated at one side of a table were the three representatives of the Council, the senior of them taking the chair; the proceedings were being conducted with some formality, quite unlike the usual custom at Jesus’ meetings. Grouped behind the table at the end of the room were the leading scribes and Pharisees of Capernaum.
Jesus was sitting at the end of the table; the light from a window fell on his face, which was calm and unruffled. The Twelve occupied seats near him. Isaac and Dr. Luke were both present and many others of all classes who believed in him. The rest of the company consisted of idle sightseers.
The Chairman cleared his throat.
“Jesus of Nazareth,” he began; “we have been instructed by the sacred Council of the Sanhedrin to inquire into your teaching and other activities. Complaints have been made in many quarters that you habitually profane the Sabbath, breaking the laws of Moses by healing on God’s holy day. Have you anything to say on that point?”
“I regard the relief of suffering,” said Jesus in a distinct voice, “as a service to God. If it is profanation of God’s day to use it to do His work, then I have profaned the Sabbath, not once but many times.”
Subdued applause greeted this answer. The chairman looked up.
“I must ask for absolute silence,” he said. Then turning to one of his colleagues, he said: “He has admitted the first charge. I suggest that we go on to the second. Reliable evidence has been placed before us that you refer in your teaching to the most High God as your Father; this is tantamount to a claim to be the Son of God, a title, as you doubtless know, which is used for the Messiah for whose coming we all so earnestly hope. Is this report also true?”
“The central point of my teaching,” replied Jesus, “is that God is a loving Father to every living soul: in this sense every man, woman and child is a child of God.”
“The third point is a very serious matter indeed,” continued the Chairman smoothly; “it concerns your healing. I may say that here I am speaking as an eye-witness. Yesterday in the market-place you were accosted by the father of a lunatic boy; he asked you to cast out the devil by which his son was possessed. That is so, I think?”
“Certainly,” replied Jesus. He guessed what was coming.
“You healed the boy, to the astonishment of the bystanders,” went on the even voice; “but when my colleagues and I compared notes of your methods afterwards we came to the unanimous conclusion that you made use of witchcraft. In other words it is by the aid of Beelzebub, the Prince of the devils, that you cast out devils.”
He looked round the room triumphantly.
A cry of: “shame, sir,” came from the back of the hall; voices were raised in protest:—
“You have no right to say such a thing!”
“We won’t hear a good man slandered!”
“How can you tell it was witchcraft?”
Such were the remarks flung at the Chairman. He stood up, rather red in the face.
“I said there was to be silence,” he cried.
But the hubbub increased. It came not only from Jesus’ supporters. The obvious injustice of the accusation had ranged the sympathy of the whole room on his side, with the exception of the Scribes and Pharisees, who were becoming more and more uncomfortable as the excitement rose.
The chairman thumped the table. There was a momentary lull. He took advantage of it to say: “Do you realise, my good people, that we have come from the Sacred Council at Jerusalem?”
“I don’t care where you come from,” shouted a truculent voice. The remark was greeted with a roar of laughter. Jesus rose to his feet. He raised his hand. A silence fell on the room.
“I am grateful for your sympathy,” he said, and there was a gleam of humour in his eyes; “but these gentlemen have accused me of practising witchcraft—a serious charge, as the Chairman has said. I shall be glad if you will remain quiet and give me a chance of answering the accusation.”
Every eye was fixed on Jesus, as he sat down and turned courteously to address the Chairman.
“How can Satan cast out Satan?” he began. “If a Kingdom is divided against itself, it is bound to come to grief. If there are quarrels and dissension in a family, it is broken up. And if the forces of evil are fighting against one another, then the power of evil would be broken. Yet we know to our cost the terrible strength of evil in the world. Nothing but good can subdue evil, nothing but the love and power of God can overcome misery and disease and the many spirits of evil which afflict mankind. You saw a lunatic boy cured yesterday; I claim that nothing but the power of God could have brought healing to such a case. But if I by the finger of God cast out devils, then the Kingdom of God is already here on earth, with its opportunities of love and happiness and service to all who care to enter it.”
Jesus stopped. A murmur of approval ran round the hall.
“Thank you,” said the Chairman, “you have answered my questions and stated your case very clearly. I must explain that our duty is merely to make a preliminary report to the Council. Should they wish to carry the matter any further, you would be summoned to the capital. I think that concludes our business for today—unless you wish to say anything more,” he added pleasantly.
“Only this,” replied Jesus. “There are many sins which men commit and which God the loving Father is eager to forgive as soon as the sinner turns to Him. But in my view there is only one sin which can never be forgiven; and that is the refusal to recognise the Spirit of God when he brings his blessings to mankind.”
The Chairman rose and rustled the papers on which he had been taking notes.
“An interesting theory,” he remarked casually; “but I cannot see much connection with today’s proceedings.” He bowed formally to Jesus and made a dignified exit through a side door, followed by the other scribes and Pharisees.
Everyone started talking at once, with the exception of Jesus, who remained standing gravely by the table. Judas made his way to him through the throng.
“I congratulate you,” he said; “nothing could have been finer. You held the room in the hollow of your hand.”
“You don’t understand, Judas,” answered Jesus with a sad smile. “This is the beginning of the end.”
There was no time for Judas to reply. A man had elbowed his way through the room and now touched Jesus on the arm. Everyone was listening to hear what the intruder wanted.
“Your mother and brothers are outside,” he said; “they’ve been waiting nearly an hour to speak to you.”
“Who are my mother and my brothers,” he said, “that they should interrupt this morning’s meeting.” He waved his hand round the room. “Look! I have plenty of mothers and brothers in here. For everyone who does the will of God is my mother or sister or brother.”
But as he walked towards the door, he wished that his mother had not arrived on this very morning. The cross-questioning of the councillors would only increase her anxiety.
After that fateful Sabbath in Nazareth Mary’s fears had subsided for a time; but more and more distorted rumours were continually being brought from the lakeside, and the gossip-mongers made the most of them when they repeated the stories to Jesus’ mother. At last she could stand it no longer and the plan which she had formed that evening with James and Joses was put into execution. Three days travelling had brought them to Capernaum.
On their arrival in the town they had immediately inquired for Jesus.
“What Jesus is that?” asked the man they accosted.
“Jesus of Nazareth,” replied James.
“Oh yes,” said the fellow, “Jesus the prophet. You’ll find him at the lecture-hall. Turn right at the bottom of the street, then second left will bring you straight to the place. It’s an important meeting there today, they say. Some of the Councillors from Jerusalem have come here to see what our local celebrity’s after. You’ll be able to get in if you want to; it’s open to the public.”
As they hurried on in the direction indicated, James whispered to his brother: “he’s mad if he’s going to oppose the Sanhedrin. We must insist on his coming home with us.”
“Not much use insisting with Jesus,” replied Joses with a grin; “he’ll go his own way, whatever we say.”
On their arrival at the hall they were refused admission. As a rule the doors stood open for anyone to come in; but today as it was a formal occasion, no one was allowed in after the proceedings had started. They could hear voices inside, but could not distinguish the words. Mary trembled with anxiety when the uproar began; but it quickly subsided.
Jesus found her pale and troubled as he emerged from the hall.
“Mother, this is a surprise,” he said cheerfully. But before he could say any more she burst into tears.
“You’re tired,” he went on, as he kissed her; “come and see where I live.”
And taking her donkey’s bridle, he led the way to Peter’s house.
Peter had not yet returned from the meeting. But Judith and her mother could not do enough to make the guests welcome. Water appeared miraculously for their feet, and Mary felt reassured in this homely atmosphere in which her son had chosen to dwell.
When Peter came in, he treated Mary with charming deference; to the men he said: “Your brother’s doing wonderful work in Capernaum. The quayside’s a different place since he came here.”
Joses knew this must be true. He remembered so many instances of the same thing in the old days at Nazareth. James was less easily satisfied; he was intensely worried that the Sanhedrin could have sent to inquire into Jesus’ doings. Whether this anxiety was on his brother’s account or his own, he would have found it difficult to say himself.
After the midday meal, Peter made some tactful excuse about putting the boats shipshape and strolled out onto the quay. Judith and her mother disappeared into the kitchen.
“What happened at your meeting this morning?” asked James, more abruptly than he intended.
Jesus gave them a careful account, omitting nothing. James became more and more gloomy, as he proceeded. His depression was so comical that Jesus burst out laughing. “James, you conventional old scribe,” he said, “do try to look on the bright side of things.”
James laughed in spite of himself. But he quickly relapsed into seriousness.
“Don’t you understand, Jesus,” he said affectionately, “if the Sanhedrin gets its knife into you, it may lead to anything.”
“Yes,” replied Jesus, with equal seriousness; “I understand all that.”
James thought he had scored a point.
“Then wouldn’t it be better to come home with us,” he urged, “and give up this philanthropic work?”
“No,” said Jesus quite definitely; “I couldn’t do that.”
And Mary, in spite of her natural anxiety, was glad.
“Now you’re here, Mother,” Jesus said to change the subject, “you must stay several days. I want to introduce all my friends to you. I think I can find some comfortable lodgings; the landlady is a friend of mine. She’s got a stable for your donkey too. Let’s go and see her.”
His brothers went out to fetch the donkey which had been tethered with others further along the quay. Jesus and his mother were left alone.
“My dear,” she said, “I’m so proud of you. But are you being wise?”
“I’m doing what I must, mother,” was the reply.
“Are you in danger?” she asked tremulously.
“It is always dangerous to do the will of God.”
“But if the Council summons you to Jerusalem,” she urged.
“Mother,” she said, “do you remember telling me that I was destined to do great work?”
“And would you have me shirk that work because it brought me into danger? Perhaps to my death?”
For a moment she did not answer. Then she said proudly and firmly:—
“No. I would have my son go on with God’s work whatever it might cost him—and me.”
They understood one another. Now Mary could face the future with courage, bring what it might.
In spite of James’ foreboding the visit to Capernaum was a success. Jesus made a point of seeing that his mother and brothers met all the Twelve; she was impressed by their simplicity and kindness—and still more by their evident devotion to her son and their belief in his teaching. Only with Judas she felt uncomfortable.
“That man Judas,” she said to Jesus privately, “is different from the others.”
“They’re all so different from one another,” answered Jesus lightly; “the more different characters I have about me, the better. They can all be given work to suit them.”
“I don’t mean that,” said Mary. “Judas is not genuine. Be careful of him, my dear.”
The sociable Joses made friends with all of them, especially with John and Thaddaeus; James was naturally more reserved, but even he admitted that Jesus had chosen his associates wisely.
It was with much easier minds that they set off on their return journey three days later.
On the following morning Jesus started on his first tour of Galilee with the Twelve. They visited many country towns and villages; in every place they came to, Jesus taught those who were ready to listen. It was at this time that he began particularly to make use of parables, simple stories of everyday life which had an inner meaning. He did not explain these stories, but left it to his hearers to think them out for themselves. And he found this an excellent way of bringing home the truth to simple folk; they would remember a story when they would not forget a sermon.
Wherever sick people asked for healing, he was at their service. He explained the technique of this healing to the Twelve and suggested that they should try it themselves. And in many cases they found that God’s power operated through them, as it did through Jesus.
It was during this period that they fell naturally into the habit of calling Jesus the Master. That was just what they felt him to be—master of their lives, master of their souls.
The astonishing thing was that they all got on so well together. With twelve men of widely differing characters and outlook, many of whom were more or less strangers to one another, one might have expected quarrels, or at least occasional friction. But though they were thrown together day after day, there was nothing but cheerfulness and harmony. At first some of them found it difficult to establish much contact with Judas, the circumstances of whose life had given him a different outlook from the others. But the general atmosphere of friendliness was already beginning to have its effect on him and drawing him out of himself. Though they did not discuss the reason for this harmony, all of them knew instinctively that it was due to the influence of the Master, in whose presence there could be no discord.
One afternoon they were drawing near to a town called Nain. As they approached the gate a funeral party came out of it. It was all very simple, just a funeral from the poorer quarter of the town. Standing by the roadside were the usual knots of sightseers, whose morbid curiosity had brought them from their houses to stare at the sight of other folk’s sorrow.
On a stretcher carried by four bearers lay a figure covered by a white cloth. A middle-aged woman walked by herself immediately behind. She was followed by three or four friends. There was nothing impressive about it. But the expression of the woman’s face smote upon Jesus’ heart; she was not crying, but gazing straight ahead; and in her eyes was a look of hopelessness and desolation.
Jesus turned to one of the sightseers and asked if she knew who it was who was being carried out to burial. Glad of the chance of gossiping with a stranger, the woman replied:—
“Oh, yes, it’s young Reuben, the wool-carder; he’s been ailing a good many months. As nice a young man as you’ll meet anywhere. The only son of his mother he was, and she a widow, poor soul.”
Jesus walked across the narrow road and laid his hand on the stretcher. The bearers stood still, looking at him in surprise.
Would the Father give him the power to do this? He was not sure; death was different from disease. As he touched the bier, he prayed,—
“Father, give me back this life and give back happiness to the broken-hearted mother.”
Then he spoke:—
“Young man, I call upon you. Rise up.”
The still form lay still.
No. Surely the cloth had moved. A long shuddering sigh was heard. The covering was flung aside and the dead man sat up. He looked about him in bewilderment, as if waking out of a troubled sleep.
“Whatever are you doing with me?” he said. His eyes fell on his mother. “Hullo, mother; what’s all this about?”
But the mother could not speak. The impossible had happened. She burst into tears.
Jesus spoke to her:—
“You must get him home. He’ll want a bit of rest. You need have no fear; he’s restored to perfect health and can be about tomorrow. But make him comfortable and keep him warm for a few hours.”
She pulled herself together at once; there was something to do for her boy, something she had never thought to do again.
“You’d better carry him home,” said Jesus to the bearers. “He’ll be a bit shaky for a time.”
Without a word the four men began to retrace their steps. They were too stupefied to speak.
“I’ll look in and see you tomorrow morning,” Jesus said to the woman; “I want to know how he is.”
“Then I’ll try to thank you, sir,” she said, breaking down again. “I don’t seem able to say anything now.”
“Don’t try to,” replied Jesus; “mind you keep him quiet till the morning. You’ll have to hurry back. They’ve got a start on you.”
The mother looked round and hastened after her son.
They struck the lake at its southern end, passed through the new town of Tiberias, and spent more than a week in Magdala. News of Jesus’ arrival quickly spread through the town, and crowds collected to hear his teaching and to be healed of various diseases.
It was here that he again heard news of his cousin John the Baptiser. A few of his friends were allowed to visit him in prison; two of these he sent to find Jesus; and hearing that he was in Magdala, they took the opportunity of seeking him out.
Months of imprisonment had had a depressing effect on John. He knew that his work was finished; but to one who had been accustomed to the freedom of the open-air, a life between four narrow walls was hard to endure. Better death than loss of liberty, he felt. He had brooded much over his own work; had he done all that was possible to prepare the way for Jesus? And from this his thoughts turned to the rumours which reached him of Jesus’ work in Galilee. Doubts began to assail his mind; was it possible that the boy whom he had seen grow up to manhood was really the long-expected Messiah? Why was he living such a humdrum life in the backwaters of the lakeside towns? Why had he not already proclaimed himself?
In his heart John knew the answer; he could never forget their joint experience at Jesus’ baptism; he remembered their many talks and his cousin’s views on how to begin his ministry; he realised that Jesus had never intended to lead a rebellion or to found any kingdom save one of happiness and goodwill among men.
Yet when he heard how violently the religious leaders of the nation were opposing him, John began to wonder whether he had, after all, been mistaken. The Messiah should at least meet with success in the work he had undertaken. John had almost forgotten their conversation in the cave, when Jesus had insisted that the Messiah must suffer, perhaps die, to achieve his purpose. He failed to understand that the very enmity of the scribes and Pharisees was leading surely and inevitably to the tragedy through which the Messiah was to accomplish his aim.
John’s mind kept reverting to the one thought. “Is Jesus the Messiah? Or were we both mistaken?” It was in this frame of mind that he sent two of his faithful followers with a blunt message.
With astonishment they had watched Jesus healing the sick and had afterwards listened to his teaching. When a chance occurred they accosted him.
“John the Baptiser told us to seek you out,” they said; “he has heard nothing but second-hand reports in the palace prison. He told us to ask you one question.”
“What was that?” replied Jesus, who guessed what the question was to be.
“Are you the one who is to come?” continued the messenger, “or are we to go on hoping for someone else?”
Jesus paused for a moment before replying. He realised how his cousin’s vital spirit was being crushed by day after day of monotony. How could he best cheer him and revive his belief?
“Go,” he said; “tell John what you have seen and heard. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are made clean, the deaf hear, the dumb speak, the dead are raised to life, the poor have good news preached to them.”
Jesus drew John’s messengers aside.
“I know how unhappy John must be,” he said, “to be doubting what he once believed. Tell him all is well. The work which he began is going forward.”
When the two men had gone, Jesus turned to the bystanders. “Are there any here who went to listen to the Baptiser,” he asked. Several in the crowd held up their hands. Jesus noticed two scribes listening with supercilious smiles. One of them he recognised as a resident of Capernaum, named Zadok.
He spoke warmly to the people of John’s character and work. He explained that in him were fulfilled the prophet’s words, “behold, I send my messenger before me to prepare the way;” for John had proclaimed the coming of the Messiah.
Then he addressed the two scribes, asking if they had been to hear the Baptiser.
“It is always said,” replied Zadok pleasantly, “that he was mad; all his talk about the Messiah being in the world suggests that. And look at the kind of life he lived in the wilderness.”
“The usual criticism,” answered Jesus. “If anyone chooses to live an unconventional life, he’s called a madman. But if a teacher lives an ordinary life, eating and drinking among ordinary people, as I do—well you know what your colleagues in Capernaum call me: a glutton and a drunkard. The people of this age are hard to please, you know. You are just like sulky children in the market-place, who won’t join in the games of the others. If their friends suggest playing weddings, they won’t dance with them; and if they play funerals, they grumble just as much.”
A burst of laughter from John’s supporters greeted this sally; the scribes had no reply to make.
Jesus went on more seriously. “You see, God in his wisdom chooses different kinds of people for different tasks. And the wisdom of God is always justified by results.”
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