REJECTED BY THE NAZARENES.
UP to this point of the sacred narrative we have followed the chronological guidance of St. John, and here, for the first time, we are seriously met by the difficult question as to the true order of events in our Lord's ministry.
Is it or is it not possible to construct a harmony of the Gospels which shall remove all the difficulties created by the differing order in which the Evangelists narrate the same events, and by the confessedly fragmentary character of their records, and by the general vagueness of the notes of time which they give, even when such notes are not wholly absent?
It is, perhaps, a sufficient answer to this question that scarcely any two authorities agree in the schemes which have been elaborated for the purpose. A host of writers, in all Christian nations, have devoted yearssome of them have devoted well-nigh their whole livesto the consideration of this and of similar questions, and have yet failed to come to any agreement or to command any general consent.
To enter into all the arguments, on both sides, about the numerous disputed points which must be settled before the problem can be solved, would be to undertake a task which would fill many volumes, would produce no final settlement of the difficulty, and would be wholly beyond the purpose before us. What I have done is carefully to consider the chief data, and without entering into controversy or pretending to remove all possible objections, to narrate the events in that order which, after repeated study, seems to be the most intrinsically probable, with due reference to all definite indications of time which the Gospels contain. An indisputable or convincing harmony of the Gospels appears to me to be impossible, and as a necessary consequence it can be of no absolute importance. Had it been essential to our comprehension of the Saviour's life that we should know more exactly the times and places where the years of His public ministry were spent, the Christian at least will believe that such knowledge would not have been withheld from us.
The inspiration which guided the Evangelists in narrating the life of Christ was one which enabled them to tell all that was necessary for the peace and well-being of our souls, but very far from all which we might have yearned to know for the gratification of our curiosity, or even the satisfaction of our historic interest. Nor is it difficult to see herein a fresh indication that our thoughts must be fixed on the spiritual more than on the materialon Christ who liveth for evermore, and is with us always, even to the end of the world, far more than on the external incidents of that, human life which, in the council of God's will, was the appointed means of man's redemption. We shall never know all that we could wish to know about
"The sinless years
but we will still be the children of God and the disciples of His Christ if we keep His sayings and do the things which He commanded.
St. John tells us that after two days' abode among the open-minded Samaritans of Sychar, Jesus went into Galilee, "for He himself testified that a prophet hath no honour in his own country," and yet he continues, that, "When he was come into Galilee the Galilæans received him, having seen all the things that He did at Jerusalem at the feast;" and he adds, immediately afterwards, that Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, and there healed, the nobleman's son. The perplexing "for" seems to point to one of those suppressed trains of thought which are so frequent in St. John. I understand it to mean that at Nazareth, in his own home, rejection awaited him in spite of the first gleam of transient acceptance; and that for this rejection he was not unprepared, for it was one of His distinct statements that "in His own country a Prophet is dishonoured."
It was not the object of St. John to dwell on the ministry in Galilee, which had been already narrated by the Synoptists; accordingly it is from St. Luke that we receive the fullest account of our Lord's first public act in His native town.
It appears that Jesus did not go direct from Sychar to Nazareth. On His way (unless we take Luke iv. 15 for a general and unchronological reference) He taught continuously, and with general admiration and acceptance, in the synagogues of Galilee. In this way He arrived at Nazareth, and according to His usual custom, for He had doubtless been a silent worshipper in that humble place Sabbath after Sabbath from boyhood upwards, He entered into the synagogue on the Sabbath day.
There was but one synagogue in the little town, and probably it resembled in all respects, except in its humbler aspect and materials, the synagogues of which we see the ruins at Tell Hûm and Irbid. It was simply a rectangular hall, with a pillared portico of Grecian architecture, of which the further extremity (where the "sanctuary" was placed) usually pointed towards Jerusalem, which, since the time of Solomon, had always been the kiblehi.e., the consecrated directionof a Jew's worship, as Mecca is of a Mohammedan's. In wealthier places it was built of white marble, and sculptured on the outside in alto-relieve, with rude ornaments of vine-leaves and grapes, or the budding rod and the pot of manna. On entering there were seats on one side for the men; on the other, behind a lattice, were seated the women, shrouded in their long veils. At one end was the tebhah or ark of painted wood, which contained the sacred scriptures; and at one side was the bîma, or elevated seat for the reader or preacher. Clergy, properly speaking, there were none, but in the chief seats were the ten or more batlanîm, "men of leisure," or leading elders and pre-eminent among these the chief of the synagogue, or rôsh hak-kenéseth. Inferior in rank to these were the chazzân, or clerk, whose duty it was to keep the sacred books; the shelîach, corresponding to our sacristan or verger; and the parnasîm, or shepherds, who in some respects acted as deacons.
The service of the synagogue was not unlike our own. After the prayers two lessons were always read, one from the Law called parashah, and one from the Prophets called haphtarah; and as there were no ordained ministers to conduct the servicesfor the office of priests and Levites at Jerusalem was wholly differentthese lessons might not only be read by any competent person who received permission from the rôsh hak-kenéseth, but he was even at liberty to add his own midrash, or comment.
The reading of the parashah, or lesson from the Pentateuch, was apparently over when Jesus ascended the steps of the bîma. Recognising His claim to perform the honourable function of a maphtîr or reader, the chazzân drew aside the silk curtain of the painted ark which contained the sacred manuscripts, and handed Him the megillah or roll of the Prophet Isaiah, which contained the haphtarah of the day. Our Lord unrolled the volume, and found the well-known passage in Isaiah lxi. The whole congregation stood up to listen to Him. The length of the haphtarah might be from three to twenty-one verses; but Jesus only read the first and part of the second, stopping short, in a spirit of tenderness, before the stern expression, "The day of vengeance of our God," so that the gracious words, "The acceptable year of the Lord," might rest last upon their ears and form the text of His discourse. He then rolled up the megillah, handed it back to the chazzân, and, as was customary among the Jews, sat down to deliver His sermon.
The passage which He had read, whether part of the ordinary lesson for the day or chosen by Himself, was a very remarkable one, and it must have derived additional grandeur and solemnity from the lips of Him in whom it was fulfilled. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed upon Him with a gaze of intense earnestness, and we may imagine the thrill of awful expectation and excitement which passed through the hearts of the listeners, as, in a discourse of which the subject only is preserved for us by the Evangelist, He developed the theme that He was Himself the Messiah, of whom the great Prophet had sung 700 years before. His words were full of a grace, an authority, a power which was at first irresistible, and which commanded the involuntary astonishment of all. But as He proceeded He became conscious of a change. The spell of his wisdom and sweetness was broken, as these rude and violent Nazarenes began to realise the full meaning of His divine claims. It was customary with the Jews in the worship of their synagogue to give full vent to their feelings, and it was not long before Jesus became sensible of indignant and rebellious murmurs. He saw that those eager glittering eyes, which had been fixed upon Him in the first excitement of attention, were beginning to glow with the malignant light of jealousy and hatred. "Is not this the carpenter? is He not the brother of workmen like himselfJames and Joses and Simon and Judasand of sisters who live among us? do not even his own family disbelieve in him?" Such were the whispers which began to be buzzed about among the audience. This was no young and learned Rabbi from the schools of Gamaliel or Shammai, and yet he spoke with an authority which not even the great scribes assumed! Even a Hillel, when his doctrines failed to persuade, could only secure conviction by appealing to the previous authority of a Shemaia or an Abtalion. But this teacher appealed to no onethis teacher who had but been their village carpenter! What business had he to teach? Whence could he know letters, having never learned?
Jesus did not leave unobserved the change which was passing over the feelings of His audience. He at once told them that He was the Jesus whom they described, and yet with no abatement of His Messianic grandeur. Their hardness and unbelief had already depressed His spirit before He had even entered the synagogue. The implied slur on the humility of His previous life He passes by; it was too essentially provincial and innately vulgar to need correction, since any Nazarene of sufficient honesty might have reminded himself of the yet humbler origin of the great herdsman Amos. Nor would He notice the base hatred which weak and bad men always contract for those who shame them by the silent superiority of noble lives. But He was aware of another feeling in their minds; a demand upon Him for some stupendous vindication of his claims; a jealousy that He should have performed miracles at Cana, and given an impression of His power at Capernaum, to say nothing of what He had done and taught at Jerusalemand yet that He should have vouchsafed no special mark of His favour, among them. He knew that the taunting and sceptical proverb, "Physician, heal thyself," was in their hearts, and all but on their lips. But to show them most clearly that He was something more than theythat He was no mere Nazarene, like any other who might have lived among them for thirty years, and that He belonged not to them but to the worldHe reminds them that miracles are not to be limited by geographical relationshipsthat Elijah had only saved the Phœnician widow of Sarepta, and Elisha only healed the hostile leper of Syria.
What then? were they in His estimation (and He but the "carpenter!") no better than Gentiles and lepers? This was the climax of all that was intolerable to them, as coming from a fellow-townsman whom they wished to rank among themselves; and at these words their long-suppressed fury burst into a flame. The speaker was no longer interrupted by a murmur of disapprobation, but by a roar of wrath. With one of those bursts of sanguinary excitement which characterised that strange, violent, impassioned peoplea people whose minds are swept by storms as sudden as those which in one moment lash into fury the mirror surface of their lakethey rose in a body, tore Him out of the city, and then dragged Him to the brow of the hill above. The little town of Nazareth nestles in the southern hollows of that hill; many a mass of precipitous rock lies imbedded on its slopes, and it is probable that the hill-side may have been far more steep and precipitous two thousand years ago. To one of these rocky escarpments they dragged Him, in order to fling Him headlong down.
But His hour was not yet come, and they were saved from the consummation of a crime which would have branded them with ever-lasting infamy. "He passed through the midst of them, and went on his way." There is no need to suppose an actual miracle; still less to imagine a secret and sudden escape into the narrow and tortuous lanes of the town. Perhaps His silence, perhaps the calm nobleness of His bearing, perhaps the dauntless innocence of His gaze overawed them. Apart from anything supernatural, there seems to have been in the presence of Jesus a spell of mystery and of majesty which even His most ruthless and hardened enemies acknowledged, and before which they involuntarily bowed. It was to this that He owed His escape when the maddened Jews in the Temple took up stones to stone Him; it was this that made the bold and bigoted officers of the Sanhedrin unable to arrest Him as He taught in public during the Feast of Tabernacles at Jerusalem; it was this that made the armed band of His enemies, at His mere look, fall before Him to the ground in the Garden of Gethsemane. Suddenly, quietly He asserted His freedom, waived aside his captors, and overawing them by His simple glance, passed through their midst unharmed. Similar events have occurred in history, and continue still to occur. There is something in defenceless and yet dauntless dignity that calms even the fury of a mob. "They stoodstoppedinquiredwere ashamed fledseparated."
And so He left them, never apparently to return again; never, if we are right in the view here taken, to preach again in their little synagogue. Did any feelings of merely human regret weigh down His soul while He was wending His weary steps down the steep hill-slope towards Cana of Galilee? Did any tear start in His eyes unbidden as he stood, perhaps for the last time, to gaze from thence on the rich plain of Esdraelon, and the purple heights of Carmel, and the white sands that fringe the blue waters of the Mediterranean? Were there any from whom He grieved to be severed, in the green secluded valley where His manhood had laboured, and His childhood played? Did He cast one longing, lingering glance at the humble home in which for so many years He had toiled as the village carpenter? Did no companion of His innocent boyhood, no friend of His sinless youth, accompany Him with awe, and pity, and regret? Such questions are not, surely, unnatural; not, surely, irreverent;but they are not answered. Of all merely human emotions of His heart, except so far as they directly affect His mission upon earth, the Gospels are silent. We know only that henceforth other friends awaited him away from boorish Nazareth, among the gentle and noble-hearted fishermen of Bethsaida; and that thenceforth His home, so far as He had a home, was in the little city of Capernaum, beside the sunlit waters of the Galilæan Lake.