« السابقةمتابعة »
by Jesus with regard to the religion of his people. We have not made such a use of it, though we have already referred to and explained it;' for in itself it is too ambiguous to give us much light, and it is only in connection with the five contrasts that its meaning becomes clear. Besides, it is rather doubtful whether the saying is genuine. For the words " Think not” imply that there were some of his followers who supposed that he did intend to destroy the Law and be Prophets, – that is to say, to reject the divine revelation atterly, and sweep away the whole religion of Israel; and we can hardly believe that this was the case. The saying can only be defended as authentic on the supposition that it was uttered by Jesus in answer to the accusations of his enemies, towards the close of his life. But whether authentic or not, it exactly describes the position of Jesus with regard to the Law and the Prophets.
And now we have the key in our hands to reconcile the contradictions which we began our last chapter by enumerating. Since Jesus had few points of sympathy and many points of conflict and hostility with the piety of his contemporaries, it is easy to understand his being put to death as a heretic; for his new principle of life struck at the very root of Israel's religion. But inasmuch as he was himself an Israelite heart and soul; inasmuch as he appealed to his great predecessors, believed himself to be simply bringing out the true spirit of the Law and the Prophets, abolished no religious forms, never gave a dogmatic form to his principles, and still less worked them out into a doctrinal system, can almost understand how his very Apostles might afterwards, under a combination of unfavorable circumstances, succumb to Jewish orthodoxy, and how Paul might suppose that Jesus, born under the Law, had suppressed all self-complacent parade of liberty, and had become a servant of the circumcision. And finally, the result of the work of Jesus, when once his principles had taken shape, might easily be to call a new religion into life. All this will come out clearly as we go along, in the light of the examination we have just concluded.
About a century after the death of Jesus, a profound writer, one of the loftiest spirits of Christian antiquity, gave the following emblematic description of his work : 3 Jesus (the word become flesh) was invited with his friends
1 See pp. 225 ff.; pp. 220, 221, 230.
8 John ii. 1-11.
to the great wedding feast (the kingdom of God at its commencement) which the heavenly bridegroom (God) had prepared for his guests (the sons of Israel). But the joy of the festival was marred by the absence of that wine of the spirit which had flowed in the days of the prophets. There was nothing but the water of religious forms left now! So the mother of Jesus (the Israelite community of God) lamented the defect to her great son. At the time he put her appeal aside; but she, knowing what to expect from him, urged the attendants to pay strict attention to his words.
And ere long he told them to fill the six great vessels of stone (that stood there to meet the requirements of Levitical purity) up to the brim with water, and then to draw it off and take it to the steward. The water was turned into wine! Instead of forms he gave the spirit; for life according to the Law he substituted that free love of God which is the life of the spirit. And not only did he cause this spiritual life that had dried up and died to flow forth in inexhaustible abundance, but he made it so much nobler than it had been in the old days of the prophets that the steward, who knew not whence this new wine came, expressed his surprise to the bridegroom that he had set the poorer wine before them first and had kept back this noble vintage till the end. The joy of the wedding feast was now secure; the kingdom of God would win its way; the future was assured ! Water was turned into wine ; the symbols of the old dispensation were facts under the new; the formal religion of the Law was superseded by the spiritual religion, by the living piety of love ! This was the first great sign that Jesus gave, the revelation of his divine glory. Henceforth his true disciples believed in him.
THE PROPHET IN HIS NATIVE PLACE.
LUKE IV. 16–30; MATTHEW XIII. 54-58; MARK III. 20, 21, 31-35.1
is Saturday morning, and the sun is shining brightly on
vines and olive trees. The people of the place, in scattered groups, are turning their steps to the synagogue at the city gate. It is even fuller than usual to day, for the report has already spread among the villagers that their former townsman, Jesus the son of Joseph, who has been so much talked about of late, is at last going to speak in his own city for once !
Let us go in. The appointed section of the Law has been read, and a passage from the Prophets is to follow. And now Jesus, upon whom all thoughts are fixed, rises from his place to signify his wish to read. The attendant takes a roll from the chest and gives it him. It is the book of Isaiah. It openg at that consoling prophecy of the mission and the work of the servant of Yahweh, and Jesus reads aloud. As the wellknown words drop from his lips, they seem to gain a special power and a deeper meaning : “ The spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor ; He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, and sight to the blind ; to rescue them that are bruised ; to preach a blessed year of the Lord.” . . . And here he stopped, for he could not follow the prophet who addressed the captives in Babylon any further; he could not follow him in describing the time when Yahweh should make manifest his love to his people, as "the day of vengeance of our God.” 2
Then he rolled up the book, gave it back to the attendant, and, while perfect silence and strained attention reigned in the synagogue, sat down to speak about the passage he had read : "To-day this prophecy is fulfilled in your ears.” Does Jesus mean to say that he is the servant of the Lord, the prophet sent by God to fulfil these glorious promises of the Messianic age? He does! Only hear how he dwells upon his mission
1 Mark vi. 1-6; Matthew xii. 46-50; Luke viü. 19-21.
and the task of his life, upon his expectations and his divine certainty that they are not vain, upon himself and all that he has gone through ! — for here, in his native city, he cannot help speaking of things that he passes over in silence elsewhere; upon the blessings of the great deliverance that is drawing
He ceases, and a murmur of approval rises on every side. There is but one thought expressed in every eye and upon every face: “How wonderful! How beautiful!” But this and all other impressions are lost the next moment in sheer amazement! Who would ever have expected this of him? And see, the people are all bending their heads together and whispering, “Surely this can't be Joseph's son! How is it possible?
And is this all that his former fellow-townsmen have to say to the prophet's message?- not a single question? not a single vow? not a single cry of sacred inspiration or of fervent thanksgiving to God from end to end of the synagogue ? Dull of heart, superficial and unbelieving, they could not understand him. He begins again, but now there is a sternness in bis voice that was not there before. - No doubt you will remind me of the proverb, · Physician, heal thyself! Before you look after others, look after your own authority as a prophet here! We hear that you have done wonders in Capernaum, do as much here in your own city!!! Then, after a moment's silence, he adds, to show that he was prepared for such a reception : “I tell you, a prophet is never honored in his native place. Be assured that in Elijah’s days, when there was a drought for three years and a half, and a fearful universal famine, there were many poor widows in Israel ; yet Elijah was not sent to one of them, but to a heathen widow at Sarepta, near Sidon. And in the time of the prophet Elisha there were lepers enough in Israel; yet not one of them, but only Naaman the Syrian, was cleansed.” Fierce cries and protests interrupt him, and he can say no
Is that the way of prophets, then? - to neglect their own townspeople and countrymen for strangers ? What intolerable arrogance! Indignation seizes the whole assembly, and they are resolved to a man not to let such things be said with impunity. They start from their seats, rush upon Jesus, and fill the place with tumult and confusion. Drive him out of the city!” “Hurl him from the cliff!” they shriek; and the fierce rabble drags him through the city gate, and up the mountain, to the top of an almost perpendicular
precipice, intending to cast him headlong dowr. But he passes calmly through the raging crowd as though they had been suddenly struck blind, and departs from the unbelieving city of his birth.
However far from credible this story in its present form may be, it is certainly remarkably clear and graphic. Nor is this its only merit. It has great value as exemplifying one of the methods of teaching adopted by Jesus. And again, all the sayings it attributes to him bear the stamp of authenticity. In the first place, as to the text of his discourse, we know from other sources that he had a great admiration for the book of Isaiah, and that in the servant of Yahweh especially be recognized his own image, or rather an indication of his own work. Again, Luke can hardly have invented the fact that Jesus was taunted with the proverb, “ Physician, heal thyself!” for he obviously misunderstands its application himself, and therefore puts à false interpretation of it into the mouth of Jesus. In its true sense it is so thoroughly natural on the lips of the Nazarenes! Though they could not point to the smallest imperfection in the character of Jesus, yet they muttered, “ Let him look nearer home before beginning to treat us as sick men that need his help! He seems to think there is no room for improvement in himself !” It is just the way of shallow natures, when stirred to envy and malice, because a man whom they regarded as simply one of themselves has shot far, far above them! Lastly, the citation of the examples set by Elijah and Elisha is in perfect harmony with the use which Jesus made of history, and with his later opinions concerning his people.
But there are many difficulties. This can hardly have been the real occasion upon which Jesus reminded his hearers of the privileges granted to heathen, for they have no bearing on his subject. And Luke is certainly quite wrong in putting this visit to Nazareth at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, before his settlement at Capernaum. Indeed, he contradicts himself in this.? Finally, the concluding scene, with the murderous and inexplicable fury of the citizens and the miraculous escape of Jesus, is a pure fiction. But the mistake is made on purpose, and the fiction has a meaning. The Evangelist wished to give a single typical sketch of the reception Jesus met with at the hands of his people and of his rejection by the men of his own country, which proved such a bless
I See, for example, pp. 94, 197, 210, et seq.