FAREWELL TO GALILEE.
IMMEDIATELY after the events just recorded, St. John narrates another incident which took place two months subsequently, at the winter Feast of Dedication. In accordance with the main purpose of his Gospel, which was to narrate that work of the Christ in Judæa, and especially in Jerusalem, which the Synoptists had omitted, he says nothing of an intermediate and final visit to Galilee, or of those last journeys to Jerusalem, respecting parts of which the other Evangelists supply us with so many details. And yet that Jesus must have returned to Galilee is clear, not only from the other Evangelists, but also from the nature of the case and from certain incidental facts in the narrative of St. John himself.
It is well known that the whole of one great section in St. Lukefrom ix. 51 to xviii. 15forms an episode in the Gospel narrative of which many incidents are narrated by this Evangelist alone, and in which the few identifications of time and place all point to one slow and solemn progress from Galilee to Jerusalem (ix. 51; xiii. 22; xvii. 11; x. 38). Now after the Feast of Dedication our Lord retired into Peræa, until He was summoned thence by the death of Lazarus (John x. 40, 42; xi. 1-46); after the resurrection of Lazarus, He fled to Ephraim (xi. 54); and He did not leave his retirement at Ephraim until he went to Bethany, six days before His final Passover (xii. 1).
This great journey, therefore, from Galilee to Jerusalem, so rich in occasions which called forth some of His most memorable utterances, must have been either a journey to the Feast of Tabernacles or to the Feast of Dedication. That it could not have been the former may be regarded as settled, not only on other grounds, but decisively because that was a rapid and a secret journey, this an eminently public and leisurely one.
Almost every inquirer seems to differ to a greater or less degree as to the exact sequence and chronology of the events which follow. Without entering into minute and tedious disquisitious where absolute certainty is impossible, I will narrate this period of our Lord's life in the order which, after repeated study of the Gospels, appears to me to be the most probable, and in the separate details of which I have found myself again and again confirmed by the conclusions of other independent inquirers. And here I will only premise my conviction
1. That the episode of St. Luke up to xviii. 30, mainly refers to a single journey, although unity of subject, or other causes, may have led the sacred writer to weave into his narrative some events or utterances which belong to an earlier or later epoch.
2. That the order of the facts narrated even by St. Luke alone is not, and does not in any way claim to be, strictly chronological; so that the place of any event in the narrative by no means necessarily indicates its true position in the order of time.
3. That this journey is identical with that which is partially recorded in Matt. xviii. 1-xx. 16; Mark x. 1-31.
4. That (as seems obvious from internal evidence) the events narrated in Matt. xx. 17-28; Mark x. 32-45; Luke xviii. 31-34, belong not to this journey, but to the last which Jesus ever tookthe journey from Ephraim to Bethany and Jerusalem.
Assuming these conclusions to be justifiedand I believe that they will commend themselves as at least probable to any who really study the data of the problemwe naturally look to see if there are any incidents which can only be referred to this last residence of Jesus in Galilee after the Feast of Tabernacles. The sojourn must have been a very brief one, and seems to have had no other object than that of preparing for the Mission of the Seventy, and inaugurating the final proclamation of Christ's kingdom throughout all that part of the Holy Land which had as yet been least familiar with His word and works. His instructions to the Seventy involved His last farewell to Galilee, and the delivery of those instructions synchronised, in all probability, with His actual departure. But there are two other incidents recorded in the 13th chapter, which probably belong to the same brief sojournnamely, the news of a Galilæan massacre, and the warning which He received of Herod's designs against His life.
The home of Jesus during these few last days would naturally be at Capernaum, His own city; and while He was there organising a solemn departure to which there would be no return, there were some who came and announced to Him a recent instance of those numerous disturbances which marked the Procuratorship of Pontius Pilate. Of the particular event to which they alluded nothing further is known; and that a few turbulent zealots should have been cut down at Jerusalem by the Roman garrison was too common-place an event in these troublous times to excite more than a transient notice. There were probably hundreds of such outbreaks of which Josephus has preserved no record. The inflammable fanaticism of the Jews at this epochthe restless hope which were constantly kindling them to fury against the Roman governor, and which made them the ready dupes of every false Messiahhad necessitated the construction of the Tower of Antonia, which flung its threatening shadow over the Temple itself. This tower communicated with the Temple by a flight of steps, so that the Roman legionaries could rush down at once, and suppress any of the disturbances which then, as now, endangered the security of Jerusalem at the recurrence of every religious feast. And of all the Jews, the Galilæans, being the most passionately turbulent and excitable, were the most likely to suffer in such collisions. Indeed the main fact which seems in this instance to have struck the narrators, was not so much the actual massacre as the horrible incident that the blood of these murdered rioters had been actually mingled with the red streams that flowed from the victims they had been offering in sacrifice. And those who brought the news to Christ did so, less with any desire to complain of the sanguinary boldness of the Roman Governor, than with a curiosity about the supposed crimes which must have brought upon these slaughtered worshippers so hideous and tragical a fate.
The Book of Job stood in Hebrew literature as an eternal witness against these sweeping deductions of a confident uncharity; but the spirit of Eliphaz, and Zophar, and Bildad still survived, and our Lord on every occasion seized the opportunity of checking and reproving it. "Do ye imagine," He said, "that these Galilæans were sinners above all the Galilæans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." And then He reminded them of another recent instance of sudden death, in which "the Tower in Siloam" had fallen, and crushed eighteen people who happened to be under it; and He told them that so far from these poor sufferers having been specially criminal, they should all, if they did not repent, be involved in a similar destruction. No doubt, the main lesson which Christ desired to teach, was that every circumstance of life, and every violence of man, was not the result either of idle accident or direct retribution, but formed part of one great scheme of Providence in which man is permitted to recognise the one prevailing lawviz., that the so-called accidents of life happen alike to all, but that all should in due time receive according to their works. But His words had also a more literal fulfilment; and, doubtless, there may have been some among His hearers who lived to call them to mind, when the Jewish race was being miserably decimated by the sword of Titus, and the last defenders of Jerusalem, after deluging its streets with blood, fell crushed among the flaming rains of the Temple, which not even their lives could save.
The words were very stern but Christ did not speak to them in the language of warning only; He held out to them, a gracious hope. Once, and again, and yet again, the fig-tree might be found a barren cumberer of the ground, but there was ONE to intercede for it still and even yetthough now the axe was uplifted, nay, though it was at its backmost poiseeven yet, if at the last the tree, so carefully tended, should bring forth fruit, that axe should be stayed, and its threatened stroke should not rush through the parted air.
Short as His stay at His old home was meant to be, His enemies would gladly have shortened it still further. They were afraid of, they were weary of, the Lord of Life. Yet they did not dare openly to confess their sentiments. The Pharisees came to Him in sham solicitude for His safety, and said, "Get thee out, and depart hence; for Herod is wanting to kill thee."
Had Jesus yielded to fearhad He hastened His departure in consequence of a danger, which even if it had any existence, except in their own imaginations, had at any rate no immediate urgencydoubtless, they would have enjoyed a secret triumph at His expense. But his answer was supremely calm: "Go," He said, "and tell this fox, Behold, I am casting out devils, and working cures to-day and to-morrow, and on the third my work is done." And then He adds, with the perfect confidence of security mingled with the bitter irony of sorrow, "But I must go on my course to-day, and to-morrow, and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem." And, perhaps, at this sorrowful crisis His oppressed feelings may have found vent in some pathetic cry over the fallen sinful city, so red with the blood of her murdered messengers, like that which He also uttered when He wept over it on the summit of Olivet.
The little plot of these Pharisees had entirely failed. Whether Herod had really entertained any vague intention of seeing Jesus and putting him to death as he had put to death his kinsman John, or whether the whole rumour was a pure invention, Jesus regarded it with consummate indifference. Whatever Herod might be designing, His own intention was to finish his brief stay in Galilee in his own due time, and not before. A day or two yet remained to Him in which He would continue to perform His works of mercy on all who sought Him; after that brief interval the time would have come when He should be received up, and He would turn His back for the last time on the home of His youth, and "set His face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem." Till thenso they must tell their crafty patron, whom they themselves resembledHe was under an inviolable protection, into which neither their malice nor his cruelty could intrude.
And he deservedly bestowed on Herod Antipas the sole word of pure unmitigated contempt which is ever recorded to have passed His lips. Words of burning anger He sometimes spokewords of scathing indignationwords of searching ironywords of playful humour; but some are startled to find him using words of sheer contempt. Yet why not? there can be no noble soul which is wholly destitute of scorn. The "scorn of scorn" must exist side by side with the "love of love." Like anger, like the power of moral indignation, scorn has its due place as a righteous function in the economy of human emotions, and as long as there are things of which we rightly judge as contemptible, so long must contempt remain. And if ever there was a man who richly deserved contempt, it was the paltry, perjured princelingfalse to his religion, false to his nation, false to his friends, false to his brethren, false to his wifeto whom Jesus gave the name of "this fox." The inhuman vices which the Cæsars displayed on the vast theatre of their absolutismthe lust, the cruelty, the autocratic insolence, the ruinous extravaganceall these were seen in pale reflex in these little Neros and Caligulas of the provincesthese local tyrants, half Idumæan, half Samaritan, who aped the worst degradations of the Imperialism to which they owed their very existence. Judæa might well groan under the odious and petty despotism of these hybrid Herodiansjackals who fawned about the feet of the Cæsarean lions. Respect for "the powers that be" can hardly, as has well been said, involve respect for all the impotences and imbecilities.
Whether "this fox" ever heard the manner in which our Lord had characterised him and his dominion we do not know; in lifetime they never met, until, on the morning of the crucifixion, Antipas vented upon Jesus his empty insults. But now Jesus calmly concluded His last task in Galilee. He summoned His followers together, and out of them chose seventy to prepare His way. Their number was probably symbolic, and the mission of so large a number to go before Him two and two, and prepare for His arrival in every place which He intended to visit, implies for this last journey of proclamation an immense publicity. The instructions which He gave them closely resemble those which he had issued to the Twelve; and, indeed, differ from them only in being more brief, because they refer to a more transitory office; in omitting the now needless restriction about not visiting the Gentiles and Samaritans; and perhaps in bestowing upon them less ample miraculous power. They also breathe a sadder tone, inspired by the experience of incessant rejection.
And now the time has come for Him to set forth, and it must be in sorrow. He left, indeed, some faithful hearts behind Him; but how few! Galilee had rejected Him, as Judæa had rejected Him. On one side of the lake which He loved, a whole populace in unanimous deputation had besought Him to depart out of their coasts; on the other, they had vainly tried to vex His last days among them by a miserable conspiracy to frighten Him into flight. At Nazareth, the sweet mountain village of His childish daysat Nazareth, with all its happy memories of His boyhood and His mother's homethey had treated Him with such violence and outrage, that He could not visit it again. And even at Chorazin, and Capernaum, and Bethsaidaon those Eden-shores of the silver lakein the green delicious plain, whose every field He had traversed with His apostles, performing deeds of mercy, and uttering words of loveeven there they loved the whited sepulchres of a Pharisaic sanctity, and the shallow traditions of a Levitical ceremonial better than the light and the life which had been offered them by the Son of God. They were feeding on ashes; a deceived heart had turned them aside. On many a great city of antiquity, on Nineveh and Babylon, on Tyre and Sidon, on Sodom and Gomorrah, had fallen the wrath of God; yet even Nineveh and Babylon would have humbled their gorgeous idolatries, even Tyre and Sidon have turned from their greedy vanities, yea, even Sodom and Gomorrah would have repented from their filthy lusts, had they seen the mighty works which had been done in these little cities and villages of the Galilæan sea. And, therefore, "Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida!" and unto thee, Capernaum, "His own city," a yet deeper woe!
With such thoughts in His heart, and such words on His lips, he started forth from the scene of His rejected ministry; and on all this land, and most of all on that region of it, the woe has fallen. Exquisite still in its loveliness, it is now desolate and dangerous. The birds still sing in countless myriads; the water-fowl still play on the crystal mere; the brooks flow into it from the neighbouring hill, "filling their bosoms with pearl, and scattering their path with emeralds;" the aromatic herbs are still fragrant when the foot crushes them, and the tall oleanders fill the air with their delicate perfume as of old; but the vineyards and fruit-gardens have disappeared; the fleets and fishing-boats cease to traverse the lake; the hum of men is silent; the stream of prosperous commerce has ceased to flow. The very names and sites of the towns and cities are forgotten; and where they once shone bright and populous, flinging their shadows across the sunlit waters, there are now grey mounds where even the ruins are too ruinous to be distinguishable. One solitary palm-tree by one squalid street of huts, degraded and frightful beyond any, even in Palestine, still marks the site, and recalls the name of the one little town where lived that sinful penitent woman who once washed Christ's feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.
And the very generation which rejected Him was doomed to recall, in bitter and fruitless agony these peaceful happy days of the Son of Man. Thirty years had barely elapsed when the storm of Roman invasion burst furiously over that smiling land. He who will, may read in the Jewish War of Josephus the hideous details of the slaughter which decimated the cities of Galilee, and wrung from the historian the repeated confession that "it was certainly God who brought the Romans to punish the Galilæans," and exposed the people of city after city "to be destroyed by their bloody enemies." Immediately after the celebrated passage in which he describes the lake and plain of Gennesareth as "the ambition of nature," follows a description of that terrible sea-fight on these bright waters, in which the number of the slain, including those killed in the city, was six thousand five hundred. Hundreds were stabbed by the Romans or run through with poles; others tried to save their lives by diving, but if once they raised their heads were slain by darts; or if they swam to the Roman vessels had their heads or hands lopped off; while others were chased to the land and there massacred. "One might then," the historian continues, "see the lake all bloody, and full of dead bodies, for not one of them escaped. And a terrible stink, and a very sad sight there was, on the following days over that country; for, as for the shores, they were full of shipwrecks and of dead bodies all swelled; and as the dead bodies were inflamed by the sun, and putrefied, they corrupted the air, insomuch that the misery was not only an object of commiseration to the Jews, but even to those that hated them, and had been the authors of that misery." Of those that died amid this butchery: of those whom Vespasian immediately afterwards abandoned to brutal and treacherous massacre between Taricheæ and Tiberias; of those twelve hundred "old and useless" whom he afterwards caused to be slain in the stadium; of the six thousand whom he sent to aid Nero in his attempt to dig through the isthmus of Athos; of the thirty thousand four hundred whom he sold as slavesmay there not have been many who in their agony and exile, in their hour of death and day of judgment, recalled Him whom they had repudiated, and remembered that the sequel of all those gracious words which had proceeded out of His lips had been the "woe" which their obduracy called forth.
There could not but be sorrow in such a parting from such a scene. And yet the divine spirit of Jesus could not long be a prey to consuming sadness. Out of the tenebrous influences cast about it from the incessant opposition of unbelief and sin, it was ever struggling into the purity and peace of heaven, from the things seen and temporal to the things unseen and eternal, from the shadows of human degradation into the sunlight of God's peace. "In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit," and what a joy; what a boundless, absorbing exultation, as He thought no longer of judgment but of compassion; as He turned not with faint trust but perfect knowledge to "the larger hope;" as He remembered how that which was hidden from the wise and prudent had been revealed unto babes; as He dwelt upon the thought that He was sent not to the rich and learned few, but to the ignorant and suffering many; as He told His disciples, that into His, yea, into His own loving hands, had His Father committed all power, and that in Him they would see and know the spirit of His Father, and thereby might see and know that revelation for which many kings and prophets had sighed in vain. And then, that even in the hour of denunciation not one of them might doubt His own or His Father's love, He uttered, in that same hour of rapt and exalted ecstasy, those tenderest words ever uttered in human language as God's message and invitation to His children in the suffering family of man, "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me: for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls."
So, over a temporary sorrow there triumphed an infinite and eternal joy. There are some who have dwelt too exclusively on Jesus as the Man of Sorrows; have thought of His life as of one unmitigated suffering, one almost unbroken gloom. But in the Biblethough there alonewe find the perfect compatibility, nay, the close union of joy with sorrow: and myriads of Christians who have been "troubled on every side, yet not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed," can understand how the Man of Sorrows, even in the days of His manhood, may have lived a life happier, in the true sense of happinesshappier, because purer, more sinless, more faithful, more absorbed in the joy of obedience to His Heavenly Fatherthan has been ever granted to the sons of men. The deep pure stream flows on its way rejoicing, even though the forests overshadow it, and no transient sunshine flickers on its waves.
And if, indeed, true joythe highest joybe "severe, and chaste and solitary, and incompatible," then how constant, how inexpressible, what a joy of God, must have been the joy of the Man Christ Jesus, who came to give to all who love Him, henceforth and for ever, a joy which no man taketh from thema joy which the world can neither give nor take away.