THE BEGINNING OF THE GALILÆAN MINISTRY.
REJECTED of Nazareth, our Lord naturally turned to the neighbouring Cana, where His first miracle had been wrought to gladden friends. He had not long arrived when an officer from the neighbouring court of Herod Antipas, hearing of His arrival, came and urgently entreated that He would descend to Capernaum and heal his dying son. Although our Lord never set foot in Tiberias, yet the voice of John had more than once been listened to with alarm and reverence in the court of the voluptuous king. We know that Manaen, the foster-brother of Herod, was in after days a Christian, and we know that among the women who ministered to Christ of their substance was Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward. As this courtier (Basilikòs) believed in Christ with his whole house, in consequence of the miracle now wrought, it has been conjectured with some probability that it was none other than Chuza himself.
The imperious urgency of his request, a request which appears at first to have had but little root in spiritual conviction, needed a momentary check. It was necessary for Jesus to show that He was no mere hakeem, no mere benevolent physician, ready at any time to work local cures, and to place His supernatural powers at the beck and call of any sufferer who might come to Him as a desperate resource. He at once rebuked the spirit which demanded mere signs and prodigies as the sole possible ground of faith. But yielding to the father's passionate earnestness, He dismissed him with the assurance that his son lived. The interview had taken place at the seventh houri.e., at one o'clock in the day. Even in the short November day it would have been still possible for the father to get to Capernaum; for if Cana be, as we believe, Kefr Kenna, it is not more than five hours' distance from Capernaum. But the father's soul had been calmed by faith in Christ's promise, and he slept that night at some intermediate spot upon the road. The next day his slaves met him, and told him that, at the very hour when Jesus had spoken, the fever had left his son. This was the second time that Christ had signalised His arrival in Galilee by the performance of a conspicuous miracle. The position of the courtier caused it to be widely known, and it contributed, no doubt, to that joyous and enthusiastic welcome which our Lord received during that bright early period of His ministry, which has been beautifully called the "Galilean spring."
At this point we are again met by difficulties in the chronology, which are not only serious, but to the certain solution of which there appears to be no clue. If we follow exclusively the order given by one Evangelist, we appear to run counter to the scattered indications which may be found in another. That it should be so will cause no difficulty to the candid mind. The Evangelists do not profess to be scrupulously guided by chronological sequence. The pictures which they give of the main events in the life of Christ are simple and harmonious, and that they should be presented in an informal, and what, with reference to mere literary considerations, would be called inartistic manner, is not only in accordance with the position of the writers, but is an additional confirmation of our conviction that we are reading the records of a life which, in its majesty and beauty, infinitely transcended the capacities of invention or imagination in the simple and faithful annalists by whom it was recorded.
It was not, as we have already observed, the object of St. John to narrate the Galilæan ministry, the existence of which he distinctly implies (vii. 3, 4), but which had already been fully recorded. Circumstances had given to the Evangelist a minute and profound knowledge of the ministry in Judæa, which is by the others presupposed, though not narrated. At this point accordingly (iv. 54) he breaks off, and only continues the thread of his narrative at the return of Jesus to "a" or "the" feast of the Jews (v. 1). If the feast here alluded to were the feast of Purim, as we shall see is probably the case, then St. John here passes over the history of several months. We fall back, therefore, on the Synoptic Gospels for the events of the intervening ministry on the shores of Gennesareth. And since we have often to choose between the order of events as narrated by the three Evangelists, we must here follow that given by St. Luke, both because it appears to us intrinsically probable, and because St. Luke, unlike the two previous Evangelists, seems to have been guided, so far as his information allowed, by chronological considerations.
It seems then, that after leaving Cana, our Lord went at once to Capernaum, accompanied apparently by His mother and His brethren, and made that town His home. His sisters were probably married, and did not leave their native Nazareth; but the dreadful insult which Jesus had received would have been alone sufficient to influence His family to leave the place, even if they did not directly share in the odium and persecution which His words had caused. Perhaps the growing alienation between Himself and them may have been due, in part to this circumstance. They must have felt, and we know that they did feel, a deeply-seated annoyance, if, refusing to admit the full awfulness of His mission, and entirely disapproving the form of its manifestation, they yet felt themselves involved in hatred and ruin as a direct consequence of His actions. Certain it is that, although apparently they were living at Capernaum, their home was not His home. Home, in the strict sense, He had none; but the house of which He made ordinary use appears to have been that which belonged to His chief apostle. It is true that Simon and Andrew are said to have belonged to Bethsaida, but they may easily have engaged the use of a house at Capernaum, belonging to Peter's mother-in-law; or, since Bethsaida is little more than a suburb or part of Capernaum, they may have actually moved for the convenience of their Master from the one place to the other.
The first three Evangelists have given us a detailed account of the Lord's first Sabbath at Capernaum, and it has for us an intrinsic interest, because it gives us one remarkable specimen of the manner in which He spent the days of His active ministry. It is the best commentary on that epitome of His life which presents it to us in its most splendid originalitythat "He went about doing good." It is the point which the rarest and noblest of His followers have found it most difficult to imitate; it is the point in which His life transcended most absolutely the ideal of the attainments of His very greatest forerunners. The seclusion of the hermit, the self-maceration of the ascetic, the raptare of the mysticall these are easier and more common than the unwearied toil of a self-renouncing love.
The day began in the synagogue, perhaps in the very building which the Jews owed to the munificence of the centurion proselyte. if Capernaum were indeed Tell Hûm, then the white marble ruins which still stand on a little eminence above the sparkling lake, and still encumber the now waste and desolate site of the town with their fragments of elaborate sculpture, may possibly be the ruins of this very building. The synagogue, which is not very large, must have been densely crowded; and to teach an earnest and expectant crowdto teach as He taught, not in dull, dead, conventional formulae, but with thoughts that breathed and words that burnedto teach as they do who are swayed by the emotion of the hour, while heart speaks to heartmust have required no slight energy of life, must have involved no little exhaustion of the physical powers. But this was not all. While He was speaking while the audience of simple-hearted yet faithful, intelligent, warlike people were listening to Him in mute astonishment, hanging on His lips with deep and reverential admirationsuddenly the deep silence was broken by the wild cries and obscene ravings of one of those unhappy wretches who were universally believed to be under the influence of impure spirits, and whoin the absence of any retreat for such sufferershad, perhaps, slipped in unobserved among the throng. Even the poor demoniac, in the depths of his perturbed and degraded nature, had felt the haunting spell of that pure presence, of that holy voice, of that divine and illuminating message. But, distorted as his whole moral being was, he raved against it, as though by the voices of the evil demons who possessed him, and while he saluted "Jesus the Nazarene" as the Holy One of God, yet, with agonies of terror and hatred, demanded to be let alone, and not to be destroyed.
Then followed a scene of thrilling excitement. Turning to the furious and raving sufferer, recognising the duality of his consciousness, addressing the devil which seemed to be forcing from him these terrified ejaculations, Jesus said, "Hold thy peace, and come out of him." He never accepted or tolerated this ghastly testimony to His origin and office. The calm, the sweetness, the power of the divine utterance were irresistible. The demoniac fell to the ground in a fearful paroxysm, screaming and convulsed. But it was soon over. The man arose cured; his whole look and bearing showed that he was dispossessed of the over-mastering influence, and was now in his right mind. A miracle so gracious and so commanding had never before been so strikingly manifested, and the worshippers separated with emotions of indescribable wonder.
Rising from the seat of the maphtîr in the synagogue, Christ retired into the house of Simon. Here again he was met by the strong appeal of sickness and suffering. Simon, whom he had already bound to Himself on the banks of the Jordan, by the first vague call to his future Apostolate, was a married man, and his wife's mother lay stricken down by a violent access of fever. One request from the afflicted family was sufficient: there was no need, as in the case of the more worldly noblemam for importunate entreaty. He stood over her; He took her by the hand; He raised her up; He rebuked the fever; His voice, stirring her whole being, dominated over the sources of disease, and, restored instantaneously to health, she rose and busied herself about the household duties.
Possibly the strictness of observance which marked the Jewish Sabbath secured for our Lord a brief interval for refreshment; but no sooner did the sun begin to set, than the eager multitude, barely waiting for the full close of the Sabbath hours, began to seek His aid. The whole city came densely thronging round the doors of the humble home, bringing with them their demoniacs and their diseased. What a strange scene! There lay the limpid lake, reflecting in pale rose-colour the last flush of sunset that gilded the western hills; and here, amid the peace of Nature, was exposed, in hideous variety, the sickness and misery of man, while the stillness of the Sabbath twilight was broken by the shrieks of demoniacs who testified to the Presence of the Son of God.
and amidst them all, not"A lazar-house it seemed, wherein were laid
but far into the deepening dusk, the only person there who was unexcited and unalarmedhushing by His voice the delirium of madness and the screams of epilepsy, touching disease into health again by laying on each unhappy and tortured sufferer His pure and gentle handsmoved, in His love and tenderness, the young Prophet of Nazareth, the Christ, the Saviour of the world. Unalarmed indeed, and unexcited, but not free from sorrow and suffering. For sympathy is nothing else than a fellow-feeling with others: a sensible participation in their joy or woe. And Jesus was touched with a feeling of their infirmities. Those cries pierced to His inmost heart; the groans and sighs of all that collective misery filled His whole soul with pity; He bled for them; He suffered with them; their agonies were His; so that the Evangelist St. Matthew recalls and echoes in this place, with a slight difference of language, the words of Isaiah, "Surely He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows."
The fame of that marvellous day rang through all Galilee and Peræa, and even to the farthest parts of Syria; and we might well have imagined that the wearied Saviour would have needed a long repose. But to Him the dearest and best repose was solitude and silence, where He might be alone and undisturbed with His heavenly Father. The little plain of Gennesareth was still covered with the deep darkness which precedes the dawn, when, unobserved by all, Jesus rose and went away to a desert place, and there refreshed His spirit with quiet prayer. Although the work which He was sent to do obliged Him often to spend His days amid thronging and excited multitudes, He did not love the tumult, and avoided even the admiration and gratitude of those who felt in His presence a spring of life. But He was not suffered thus to remain, even for a brief period, in rest and seclusion. The multitude sought Him persistently; Simon and his friends almost hunted for Him in their eager desire to see and to hear. They even wished to detain Him among them by gentle force. But He quietly resisted their importunity. It was not His object to become the centre of an admiring populace, or to spend His whole time in working miracles, which, though they were deeds of mercy, were mainly intended to open their hearts to His diviner teaching. His blessings were not to be confined to Capernaum. Dalmanutha, Magdala, Bethsaida, Chorazin, were all near at hand. "Let us go," He said, "to the adjoining country towns, to preach the kingdom of God there also; for therefore am I sent."
It is doubtful, however, whether Jesus put His intention into instant effect. It seems as if He so far yielded to the anxiety of the multitude as to give them one more address before He set forth to preach in that populous neighbourhood. He bent His steps towards the shore, and probably to the spot where the little boats of His earliest disciples were anchored, near the beach of hard white sand which lines the water-side at Bethsaida. At a little distance behind Him followed an ever-gathering concourse of people from all the neighbourhood; and while He stopped to speak to them, the two pairs of fisher-brethren, Simon and Andrew, and James and John, pursued the toils by which they earned their daily bread. While Jesus had retired to rest for a few short hours of the night, Simon and his companions, impelled by the necessities of a lot which they seem to have borne with noble-minded cheerfulness, had been engaged in fishing; and, having been wholly unsuccessful, two of them, seated on the shoreprobably, in that clear still atmosphere, within hearing of His voicewere occupying their time in washing, and two, seated in their boat with their hired servants, and Zebedee, their father, were mending their nets. As Jesus spoke, the multitudesome in their desire to catch every syllable that fell from the lips of Him who spake as never man spake, and some in their longing to touch Him, and so be healed of whatever plagues they hadthronged upon Him closer and closer, impeding his movements with dangerous and unseemly pressure. He therefore beckoned to Simon to get into his boat and push it ashore, so that He might step on board of it, and teach the people from thence. Seated in this pleasant pulpit, safe from the inconvenient contact with the multitude, He taught them from the little boat as it rocked on the blue ripples, sparkling in the morning sun. And when His sermon was over, He thought not of Himself and of His own fatigue, but of His poor and disappointed disciples. He knew that they had toiled in vain; He had observed that even while He spoke they had been preparing for some future and more prosperous expedition; and with a sympathy which never omitted an act of kindness, He ordered Peter to push out his boat into the deep, and all of them to cast out their nets once more. Peter was in a despondent mood; but the mere word of One whom he so deeply reverenced, and whose power he had already witnessed, was sufficient. And his faith was rewarded. Instantly a vast haul of fishes crowded into the nets.
A busy scene followed. The instinct of work first prevailed. Simon and Andrew beckoned to Zebedee and his sons and servants to come in their boat and help to save the miraculous draught and straining nets; both boats were filled to the gunwale with the load; and at the first moment that the work was finished, and Peter recognised the whole force of the miracle, he falls, with his usual eager impetuosity, at his Master's feetto thank him? to offer Him henceforth an absolute devotion? No; but (and here we have a touch of indescribable truthfulness, utterly beyond the power of the most consummate intellect to have invented) to exclaim, "DEPART FROM ME, for I am a sinful man, 0 Lord!" A flash of supernatural illumination had revealed to him both his own sinful unworthiness and who HE was who was with him in the boat. It was the cry of self-loathing which had already realised something nobler. It was the first impulse of fear and amazement, before they had had time to grow into adoration and love. St. Peter did not mean the "Depart from me;" he only meantand this was known to the Searcher of hearts"I am utterly unworthy to be near Thee, yet let me stay." How unlike was this cry of his passionate and trembling humility to the bestial ravings of the unclean spirits, who bade the Lord to let them alone, or to the hardened degradation of the filthy Gadarenes, who preferred to the presence of their Saviour the tending of their swine!
And how gently the answer came: "Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men." Our Lord, as in all His teaching, seized and applied with exquisite significance the circumstances of the moment. Round them in the little boat lay in heaps the glittering spoil of the lakeglittering, but with a glitter that began to fade in death. Henceforth that sinful man, washed and cleansed, and redeemed and sanctified, was to chase, with nobler labour, a spoil which, by being entangled in the Gospel net, would not die, but be saved alive. And his brother, and his partners, they, too, were to become "fishers of men." This final call was enough. They had already been called by Jesus on the banks of Jordan; they had already heard the Baptist's testimony; but they had not yet been bidden to forsake all and follow Him; they had not yet grown familiar with the miracles of power which confirmed their faith; they had not yet learned fully to recognise that they who followed Him were not only safe in His holy keeping, but should receive a thousandfold more in all that constitutes true and noble happiness even in this lifein the world to come, life everlasting.
We have already seen that, at the very beginning of His ministry, our Lord had prepared six of His Apostles for a call to his future service; four of whom were on this occasion bidden not only to regard Him as their Master, but henceforth to leave all and follow Him. There was but one other of the Apostles who received a separate callthe Evangelist, St. Matthew. His call, though narrated in different sequences by each of the Synoptists, probably took place about this time. At or near Capernaum there was a receipt of custom. Lying as the town did at the nucleus of roads which diverged to Tyre, to Damascus, to Jerusalem, and to Sepphoris, it was a busy centre of merchandise, and therefore a natural place for the collection of tribute and taxes. These imposts were to the Jews pre-eminently distasteful. The mere fact of having to pay them wounded their tenderest sensibilities. They were not only a badge of servitude; they were not only a daily and terrible witness that God seemed to have forsaken His land, and that all the splendid Messianic hopes and promises of their earlier history were merged in the disastrous twilight of subjugation to a foreign rule which was cruelly and contemptuously enforced; but, more than this, the mere payment of such imposts wore almost the appearance of apostacy to the sensitive and scrupulous mind of a genuine Jew. It seemed to be a violation of the first principles of the Theocracy, such as could only be excused as the result of absolute compulsion. We cannot, therefore, wonder that the officers who gathered these taxes were regarded with profound dislike. It must be remembered that those with whom the provincials came in contact were not the Roman knightsthe real publicani, who farmed the taxesbut were the merest subordinates, often chosen from the dregs of the people, and so notorious as a class for their malpractices, that they were regarded almost with horror, and were always included in the same category with harlots and sinners. When an occupation is thus despised and detested, it is clear that its members are apt to sink to the level at which they are placed by the popular odium. And if a Jew could scarcely persuade himself that it was right to pay taxes, how much more heinous a crime must it have been in his eyes to become the questionably-honest instrument for collecting them? If a publican was hated, how still more intense must have been the disgust entertained against a publican who was also a Jew?
But He who came to seek and save the lostHe who could evoke Christian holiness out of the midst of heathen corruption could make, even out of a Jewish publican, the Apostle and the first Evangelist of a new and living Faith. His choice of apostles was dictated by a spirit far different from that of calculating policy or conventional prudence. He rejected the dignified scribe (Matt. viii. 19); He chose the despised and hated tax-gatherer. It was the glorious unworldliness of a Divine insight and a perfect charity, and St. Matthew more than justified it by turning his knowledge of writing to a sacred use, and becoming the earliest biographer of his Saviour and his Lord.
No doubt Matthew had heard some of the discourses, had seen some of the miracles of Christ. His heart had been touched, and to the eyes of Him who despised none and despaired of none, the publican, even as he sat at "the receipt of custom," was ready for the call. One word was enough. The "Follow me" which showed to Matthew that his Lord loved him, and was ready to use him as a chosen instrument in spreading the good tidings of the kingdom of God, was sufficient to break the temptations of avarice and the routine of a daily calling, and "he left all, rose up, and followed Him," touched into noblest transformation by the Ithuriel-spear of a forgiving and redeeming love.