|Devotion to Our Lady||
Is Your Picture Foggy?
Very few people have a clear picture or general overview of the last six months of Christ's life. The Gospels do not always list things chronologically and most persons are too lazy or disinterested in seeking out and purchasing books that give an accurate chronological account of Christ's life on Earth. Thus we are left with a very hazy and sketchy idea of what happened when!
It is neither possible nor desired to give a full and detailed account of all that happened in the last six months of His life, and, sadly, you are either not interested in such a thing, or do not have time to read such an account. Therefore, below, you will the shortest possible account, based on the works of reputable Catholic scholars and historians on the journeys undertaken by Christ in the last six months leading up to His death. For those who time the time and inclination, the Gospel chapters have been referenced, in which you will find everything fleshed-out in greater detail.
Please note that the abbreviation A.U.C. is a standard for measuring time and was used in the ancient world by the Romans, A.U.C. stands for Ab urbe condita, Latin for “from the founding of the city” (of Rome), and is used for calculation of dates in ancient times. Therefore the year 1 A.U.C. was the year in which Rome was founded. Christ was born in the 700's A.U.C.
The Catholic scholars and historians divide Christ's public ministry into Nine Journeys, We shall give a brief overview of the last three, which take us up to Holy Thursday in what we now call "Holy Week".
September, 781 to December, 781 A.U.C. (Cf. Luke chapters 9-13; Mark chapter 10; Matthew chapters 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 24; John chapters 7-10).
Jesus now “steadfastly set His face to go Jerusalem”, and as the Samaritans refused Him hospitality, He had to take the east of the Jordan.
While still in Galilee, He refused the discipleship of several half-hearted candidates, and about the same time He sent other seventy-two, two by two, before His face into every city and place whither He Himself was to come.
Probably in the lower part of Peraea, the seventy-two returned with joy, rejoicing in the miraculous power that had been exercised by them.
It must have been in the vicinity of Jericho that Jesus answered the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbour?” by the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Next Jesus was received in the hospitable home of Mary and Martha, where He declares Mary to have chosen the better part. From Bethania He went to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, where he became involved in discussions with the Jews.
The Scribes and Pharisees endeavored to catch Him in the sentence which they asked Him to pronounce in the case of the woman taken in adultery. When Jesus had avoided this snare, He continued His discussions with the hostile Jews. Their enmity was intensified because Jesus restored sight to a blind man on the Sabbath day.
Jesus appears to end His stay in Jerusalem with the beautiful discourse on the Good Shepherd.
A little later He teaches His Apostles the Our Father, probably somewhere on Mt. Olivet.
On a subsequent missionary tour through Judea and Peraea He defends Himself against the charges of Pharisees, and reproves their hypocrisy. On the same journey Jesus warned against hypocrisy, covetousness, worldly care; He exhorted to watchfulness, patience under contradictions, and to penance. About this time, too, He healed the woman who had the spirit of infirmity.
The Eighth Journey
December, 781 to February, 782 A.U.C. (Cf. Luke chapters 13-17; John chapters 10:11)
The Feast of Dedication brought Jesus again to Jerusalem, and occasioned another discussion with the Jews. This is followed by another missionary tour through Peraea, during which Jesus explained a number of important points of doctrine: the number of the elect, the choice of one’s place at table, the guests to be invited, the parable of the great supper, resoluteness in the service of God, the parables of the hundred sheep, the lost groat, and the prodigal son, of the unjust steward, of Dives and Lazarus, of the unmerciful servant, besides the duty of fraternal correction, and the efficacy of faith.
During this period, too, the Pharisees attempted to frighten Jesus with the menace of Herod’s persecution; on his part, Jesus healed a man who had dropsy, on a Sabbath day, while at table in the house of a certain prince of the Pharisees.
Finally Mary and Martha send messengers to Jesus, asking Him to come and cure their brother Lazarus; Jesus went after two days, and resuscitated His friend who had been several days in the grave. The Jews are exasperated over this miracle, and they decree Jesus must die for the people. Hence He withdrew “into a country near the desert, unto a city that is called Ephrem”.
The Ninth Journey
February, 782 to the Passover of 782 A.U.C. (Cf. Luke 17-22; Mark 10, 14; Matthew 19-26; John 11, 12).
This last journey took Jesus from Ephrem northward through Samaria, then eastward along the border of Galilee into Peraea, then southward through Peraea, westward across the Jordan, through Jericho, Bethania on Mt. Olivet, Bethphage, and finally to Jerusalem.
While in the most northern part of the journey, He cured ten lepers; a little later, He answered the questions raised by the Pharisees concerning the kingdom of God.
Then He urged the need of incessant prayer by proposing the parable of the unjust judge; here too belong the parable of the Pharisee and Publican, the discourse on marriage, on the attitude of the Church towards the children, on the right use of riches as illustrated by the story of the rich young ruler, and the parable of the laborers in the vineyard.
After beginning His route towards Jerusalem, He predicted His Passion for the third time; James and John betray their ambition, but they are taught the true standard of greatness in the Church.
At Jericho Jesus heals two blind men, and receives the repentance of Zacheus the publican; here He proposed also the parable of the pounds entrusted to the servants by the master.
Six days before the Pasch we find Jesus at Bethania on Mt. Olivet, as the guest of Simon the Leper; Mary anoints His feet, and the disciples at the instigation of Judas are indignant at this seeming waste of ointment.
A great multitude assembles at Bethania, not to see Jesus only but also Lazarus; hence the chief priests think of killing Lazarus too. On the following day Jesus solemnly entered Jerusalem and was received by the Hosanna cries of all classes of people. In the afternoon He met a delegation of Gentiles in the court of the Temple.
On Monday Jesus curses the barren fig tree, and during the morning He drives the buyers and sellers from the Temple.
On Tuesday the wonder of the disciples at the sudden withering of the fig tree provokes their Master’s instruction on the efficacy of faith. Jesus answers the enemies’ questions as to His authority; then He proposes the parable of the two sons, of the wicked husbandmen, and of the marriage feast.
Next follows a triple snare: the politicians ask whether it is lawful to pay tribute to Caesar; the scoffers inquire whose wife a woman, who has had several husbands, will be after resurrection; the Jewish theologians propose the question: Which is the first commandment, the great commandment of the law?
Then Jesus proposes His last question to the Jews: “What think you of Christ? Whose Son is He?” This is followed by the eightfold woe against the Scribes and Pharisees, and by the denunciation of Jerusalem.
The last words of Christ in the Temple were expressions of praise for the poor widow who had made an offering of two mites in spite of her poverty. Jesus ended this day by uttering the prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, His second coming, and the future judgement; these predictions are interrupted by the parable of the ten virgins and the talents.
On Wednesday Jesus again predicted His Passion; probably it was on the same day that Judas made his agreement with the Jews to betray Jesus.
Tragically, there are few souls who are prepared to read through the Scriptural passages of these last days of Jesus. This reminds us of the terrible, yet true, words of St. Therese of Lisieux, who said that Jesus is so little loved because He is so little known.
As the philosophical axiom says: "We cannot love what we do not know!" How much more would love Our Lord if we spent much more time in getting to know Our Lord! Why is it that we are satisfied with the bare minimum of knowledge about Him? What answer will we give to Him on this matter on the Day of Judgment?
Let us wake up to our deficiencies and lukewarmness and strive to put things right, beginning with Holy Week, but then carrying on in the same vein for the rest of our lives.
His Enemies Decide Jesus Must Be Eliminated
Throughout all his nine journeys, the antipathy increasingly grew between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees (who were the supposed upholders of tradition) as well as the Sadducees (the liberal Jewish priests of the day, who had become worldly by imbibing the Greek culture of the day).
Throughout the whole period of His ministry in Judea, we can follow the long debate between hatred of the Pharisees and charity of Christ, between pitilessness and pity, as the Early Fathers expressed it. Against the background of hostile intrigues and murderous intent, Christ relentlessly unfolds those lessons and parables in which He reveals the immensity of His love and mercy for mankind—but which was to be ultimately rejected by most.
He was always aware the intentions of His enemies. Several times He unmasked and denounced them in terrible words, warning the Jews of the consequences of their willful and criminal blindness (see chapter 23 of St. Matthew). It is not the duped sentimentalist who is the true lover of mankind, but he who, having sounded the depths of their baseness and depravity, can yet discover the gleam of gold in the sea of slime―which is what God sees as He tries to bring good out of evil. However, the evil has to allow God to work uninhibitedly and freely—which is what most of the Scribes and Pharisees refused to do, and they drew many other Jews into that same pit along with themselves.
The Fight for Power
Four groups in Israel sought and fought to lead the people.
(1) The Pharisees resided in Jerusalem. They attempted to shape religious life in Israel through their traditions. Jesus had many run-ins with these legalistic Jews, who led astray the people of God (cf. Matthew, chapter 23).
(2) Sadducees opposed the strict legalism of the Pharisees, and only embraced Moses law (the Torah, or the five first books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy). They rejected the resurrection, belief in angels, but still had an influential place in the temple and law courts.
(3) The Essenes, who lived in a commune near Qumran–they were the scribes who penned and preserved the Dead Sea Scrolls–lived an especially pure life. They devoted themselves to God, and prayed for God’s overthrow of Rome.
(4) The Zealots were a band of brothers who did not pray for change so much as they sought violent means of overthrowing Roman rule.
The result of these four competing sects in Judaism led to constant friction, only increased by the oppressive rule of Rome. Riots were common. Tension was unceasing. Darkness permeated Judaism.
The Upholders of Religious Law and Tradition
The Scribes and the Pharisees, who were self-professed upholders of law and tradition and judges of religious matters, were not afraid to judge, but their judgment was merely superficial and biased. In fact, they judged those who were better than themselves and those who were worse than themselves in the same way—because neither was like themselves. They judged Our Lord as being possessed by a devil, in the same way as they judged the adulteress (St. Mary Magdalen), a whore who actually was really possessed by seven devils. Yet both the innocent Jesus and the guilty Mary Magdalen were accepted by God, whereas the Pharisees and their middle of road lukewarmness were rejected and cursed (cf. Matthew chapter 23) with Our Lord imprecating one woe after another in His tirade of indignation against them.
We remember well the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican: “The Pharisee standing, prayed thus with himself: ‘O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican! I fast twice in a week: I give tithes of all that I possess!’ And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards Heaven; but struck his breast, saying: ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ ... I say to you, this man went down into his house justified rather than the other: because every one that exalteth himself, shall be humbled: and he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted” (Luke 18:11-14).
The ‘Good-Bad’ Pharisee
The Pharisee was doing nothing wrong externally. It was in his soul that the problem lay. All the things that he was doing externally were good things. It is good to pray, it is good to give alms. But he was complacent, self-satisfied and proud. He was like the man that Jesus spoke of in this parable: “The land of a certain rich man brought forth plenty of fruits. And he thought within himself, saying: ‘What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?’ And he said: ‘This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and will build greater; and into them will I gather all things that are grown to me, and my goods. And I will say to my soul: “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years take thy rest; eat, drink, make good cheer!”’” (Luke 12:16-19).
Jesus Spoke Against Their Hypocrisy
Jesus was never going to win many friends among the Scribes and the Pharisees, especially when He “called them out” over so many things. If they had been willing to change, then all would have been fine—but they did not want to change. The only change they wanted was removing Jesus from the scene.
The expressions and words, that Jesus used against them, only served to fuel the fire of their hatred. In speaking with the Pharisees, He says:“Hypocrites, well hath Isaias prophesied of you, saying: ‘This people honoureth Me with their lips: but their heart is far from Me!’” (Matthew 15:7-8). “Either make the tree good and its fruit good: or make the tree evil, and its fruit evil. For by the fruit the tree is known. O generation of vipers, how can you speak good things, whereas you are evil?” (Matthew 12:33-34). Our Lord denounced the Pharisees, saying: “Woe to you blind guides … Ye foolish and blind … Thou blind Pharisee … which outwardly appear to men beautiful, but within are full of dead men’ s bones, and of all filthiness. So you also outwardly indeed appear to men just; but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matthew chapter 23). “Then came his disciples, and said to him: ‘Dost thou know that the Pharisees, when they heard this word, were scandalized?’ But he answering them, said: ‘Let them alone: they are blind, and leaders of the blind! And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit!’” (Matthew 15:12-14).
Jesus Not the Kind of Messias They Wanted
The Pharisees expected a Messias who would be powerful according to the evaluation of this world: a conqueror, a monarch, a revenger of the injuries of Israel; one who would restore them to liberty, and bless them with temporal goods and prosperity. Neither in His infancy, nor in His adult life could the Jews see In Jesus anything that corresponded to these attributes and qualities; they saw nothing that corresponded to these magnificent hopes; and therefore they would ask Him, by way of insult and reproach, when this kingdom of God would come (Luke 17:20), of which He so often talked of and announced to His disciples. He answered them, that the manifestation of the Messias, and the establishment of his kingdom, shall not be manifested in a conspicuous, splendid manner.
Of course, to prove that He came from God and to prove that He was God Himself, Jesus had to show the identity card of God: miracles and prophecies. For only God can perform true miracles and only God can predict a future that depends precariously on the free-will of man. He performed many miracles in His lifetime and also made prophecies that came true in His lifetime, and others cane true after He had ascended into Heaven. But He did not use the power of miracles to gain political power, to gain wealth, or to destroy His enemies.
Politically, he overthrew nobody even though He could have—He even fled when they sought to take Him by force and make Him king: “Jesus therefore, when He knew that they would come to take Him by force, and make Him king, fled again into the mountain Himself alone” (John 6:15). As regards wealth, He gave away what came His way, and lived in deliberately willed poverty. His enemies, though He avoided them, He did not destroy them—he even restored the amputated ear to Malchus, one of those who had come to arrest Him in Gethsemane, and begged God to forgive His enemies as He died on the Cross. Jesus was the opposite of what the world was.
Today’s modern vocabulary would be tempted to describe Jesus as “radical”, “extreme”, “anti-establishment”, “anti-social”, “rebellious”, “guilty of hate crimes” against the Pharisees (Matthew 23) and other Jews. Already in His own day some of the things they said of him were along the same lines: “These words are hard to accept” — “This saying is hard, and who can hear it?” (John 6:61) is the readction when He says “eat my flesh” (6:55); “Thou hast a devil!” (John 7:20; 8:52); “Thou art a Samaritan!” (John 8:48); “He hath blasphemed!” (Matthew 26:65); “How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles?” (John 9:16); “He seduceth the people!” (John 7:12). He “maketh Himself a king, [and] speaketh against Caesar!” (John 19:12); “We have found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar!” (Luke 23:2).
It seems that Jesus did not live up to the expectations of His contemporaries! Do we live up to the expectations of our contemporaries? If we do, then Heaven help us! For Jesus said: “Remember My word that I said to you: The servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20) ... “If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated Me before you” (John 15:8) ... “And you shall be hated by all men for My Name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22) ... “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall put you to death: and you shall be hated by all nations for My Name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9).
Poor Jesus! That persecution already started for Him at His birth! He was rejected at the doors of Bethlehem; He was envied and hated by Herod, who even tried to kill Him, forcing Him to have to be exiled from His own country and nation as He fled into Egypt! He was increasingly hated and persecuted throughout His public ministry. Truly His life was “radical” and “extreme”, provoking extreme love or extreme hatred or extreme indifference from His contemporaries. How is the world treating you these days? We are all called to the Imitation of Christ!
The Feast of the Tabernacles is ending and Jesus is manifesting Himself more and more. This, in turn, brings out more and more hatred from the Pharisees towards Him. Jesus cures the blind man on the Sabbath day and this stirs up a hornets nest. He gives the parable of the Good Shepherd, calling Himself the “Good Shepherd” and thereby insinuation that the Pharisees and Sadducees were the mercenaries or ‘Bad Shepherds’—something which further riled the Pharisees. The result is that they decide that Jesus must go!
The Man Born Blind
St. John’s account of the healing of the man born blind is a masterpiece of dramatic description in which each actor plays his part with captivating verve and spontaneity. The merciful kindness of Jesus, the blind man’s shrewdness and spirit, his parents’ caution, the Pharisees’ anger and spite, the vigorous dialogue—all contribute to the mounting interest of the plot.
It was probably near the Temple, on the south side, that Jesus came across the blind man as he sat and begged one Sabbath day. The disciples noticed the beggar and asked: “Rabbi, who has sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?”
Their question stemmed from the conviction, common among the Jews and ancient peoples in general, that every physical affliction was an effect of, or a punishment for, sin. The argument between Job and his friends is a case in point. It was also generally believed that children were punished for the sins of their parents, and the Apostles, on seeing the blind young man, concluded immediately that some sin had caused his affliction; the only doubt they had was whether he himself or his parents had committed the sin that had cost him his sight.
Our Lord’s reply was in flat contradiction to this false conception, which the prophet Ezechiel had already vigorously opposed: “Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents, but the works of God were to be made manifest in him. . . .” Then, spitting on the ground, He mixed His saliva with the dust to form clay, which He spread over the man’s sightless eyes. When He had done this, He said to the blind man: “Go, wash in the pool of Siloe. . . .”
The pool was not far from the Temple, and the man was easily able to make his way thither by going down the Tyropoeon valley, or along one of the streets that then crossed the now-deserted hill of Ophel.
The pool had been built by King Ezechias at the end of the seventh century BC; it was, and still is, supplied with water by the Fountain of Gihon (now called the Fountain of the Virgin), through a channel which St. John calls “sent” and which we would term a conduit. In commemoration of the miracle of the blind man’s regaining his sight, the Empress Eudoxia built there, in the fifth century, a basilica whose ruins are still preserved. The pool built by Ezechias was the successor to another which was, perhaps, the work of the Jebusites, and which today has been converted into a garden.
The blind man, doing as Jesus told him, went to the pool, washed the clay from his eyes, and returned with his sight restored. Then followed a delightful scene which St. John has recorded for us, complete with vivid dialogue.
When the cured man returned, his neighbors, who had so often seen him begging alms, exclaimed in wonder: “Is not this he who used to sit and beg?”
Some said: “It is he,” while others disagreed: “By no means, he only resembles him.”
The man himself settled the dispute by interjecting: “I am he!”
Immediately, he was besieged with questions: “How were thy eyes opened?”
He replied very simply: “The Man, who is called Jesus, made clay and anointed my eyes, and said to me, `Go to the pool of Siloe and wash.’ And I went and washed, and I see.”
“Where is he?”
“I do not know.”
Because the occurrence was so extraordinary and had some bearing on religious affairs, the crowd decided to bring it to the notice of the doctors of the Law, who would determine how the matter should be regarded. Therefore the beggar’s neighbors brought him to the Pharisees, who asked him how he had regained his sight. Ingenuously he replied: “He put clay upon my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”
Completely disregarding the obvious miracle, some of the Pharisees seized on the one point that seemed to give them a case against Jesus. “This Man is not from God, for He does not keep the Sabbath.”
But others, less prejudiced, objected: “How can a man who is a sinner work these signs?” Turning again to the once-blind man, they asked: “What dost thou say of Him who opened thy eyes?”
Unhesitatingly he answered: “He is a prophet.”
If the facts of the case were as they had been represented, then an evident miracle had occurred. There was, however, the possibility that the man had never really been blind at all, and the Pharisees eagerly grasped at the chance to escape their dilemma. Summoning the man’s parents, they asked them: “Is this your son, of whom you say that he was born blind? How then does he see?”
The cautious parents did not wish to compromise themselves, for they knew that the Scribes and Pharisees hated Jesus, and had threatened to excommunicate anyone who showed favor to Him.
Therefore they kept out of danger by answering only the first question, and neatly side-stepping the second: “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees we do not know, or who opened his eyes we ourselves do not know. Ask him; he is of age, let him speak for himself.”
The irrefutable testimony of the man’s own parents put an end to the Pharisees’ hopes of an easy escape and drove them to resort to intimidation. They would still save face if they could frighten the man into denying the miracle. Calling him before them again, they brought the full force of their authority to bear on him: “Give glory to God! We ourselves know that this Man is a sinner.”
This they meant as a denial of Christ’s power to work miracles. But the young man did not retreat from his position. Pointedly, and not without a touch of irony, he answered: “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know, that whereas I was blind, now I see.”
His reply was so unexpected that it left even the crafty Pharisees at a loss. Not knowing what to say, they took to repeating themselves: “What did He do to thee? How did He open thy eyes?”
The question was completely superfluous, and the young man, perceiving the embarrassing position in which his judges found themselves, answered impudently: “I have told you already and you have heard. Why would you hear again?” Then, with gleeful malice, he added: “Would you also become His disciples?”
His shaft struck home, enraging the pompous Pharisees, and stinging them into bandying insults with him: “Thou art His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God spoke to Moses; but as for this Man, we do not know where He is from.”
The beggar, instead of backing down before their anger, took up the challenge implied in their words. If the haughty doctors had unbent so far as to argue with him, then he would show himself a worthy opponent.
“Why, herein is the marvel, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes. Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshipper of God, and does His will, him He hears. Not from the beginning of the world has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.”
The Pharisees had had enough of the exasperating beggar’s insolence; but what galled them most was that they were unable to answer him. Boiling with rage and at a complete loss for a reply, they gave vent to their anger and wounded pride by shouting at him: “Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us?”
And with that, they turned him out. But this scene of violence and hate was to have a sequel full of peace and love. When Jesus came across the young man who had proved himself such a spirited and skilled apologist for Him, and who had been excommunicated for his pains, He asked him: “Dost thou believe in the Son of God?”
With touching obedience, the man replied: “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?”
And Jesus said: “Thou hast both seen Him, and He it is who speaks with thee.”
The fortunate young man, enlightened from on high, cried out: “I believe, Lord.”
And prostrating himself before Jesus, he worshiped Him.
The Good Shepherd
When the passers-by, some Pharisees included, saw Christ again speaking to the cured man, they gathered around Him, and He, seeing Himself surrounded by this audience, said: “For judgment have I come into this world, that they who do not see may see, and they who see may become blind.”
His reference was obvious: the beggar, blind in body and soul, had received both corporal and spiritual sight, while the Pharisees, regarded by all as wise and learned in the things of God, had been blinded by their stubborn pride. The Pharisees who were present caught the allusion and demanded indignantly: “Are we also blind?”
To which Our Lord replied sternly: “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say―We see!’―your sin remains.”
These words of Christ’s silenced them; and when they did not answer, He proposed to them a parable to show them that they were false guides of the people and that their conduct was unjust and cruel, as was evident from the case of the poor blind man whom they had excommunicated and cast off. He charged them with being mercenaries, while He, who had received the wretched beggar with loving solicitude, was the true shepherd, the Good Shepherd.
This parable of the good shepherd is closely connected with the preceding episode of the cure of the man born blind, as can be seen from John 10:6, where Jesus is depicted as addressing the same audience, and from verse 21 in the same chapter, where explicit reference is made to the miracle.
Although at first glance the line of thought in the parable seems totally distinct from that of chapter 9, a closer examination shows that the parable is really a spontaneous continuation of the incident of the blind man. Then, too, as Prat rightly remarks, the expression “Amen, amen” used in chapter 10, verse 1, never occurs in St. John at the beginning of a discourse but is employed only to insist on something already said, a fact that goes to show further that chapter 10 is a continuation of chapter 9.
The parable unfolds simply and naturally in three short phases: (1) the telling of the narrative itself (vv. 1—5), which the crowd did not understand (v. 6) ; (2) elaboration and explanation of the parable (vv. 7–18) ; (3) its effect on the listeners, who had been growing more numerous all the time and who now began to argue among themselves, some saying that Jesus was possessed by the devil and was mad, to which others replied that His words were not those of a demoniac, and that the devil could not restore sight to a blind man (vv. 19–21).
Our Lord’s beautiful description of the good shepherd is a faithful picture of the prevailing customs, which have remained almost unchanged down to the present day.
At nightfall the flocks are driven to a common fold surrounded by a low stone wall surmounted by thorn-branches and used by several shepherds at a time. Each fold has but one gate, purposely made narrow so that the sheep may be the more easily counted as they enter one by one.
Jeremias (33:13) makes a clear reference to this custom. Speaking about the future restoration of Israel and foretelling that the day would come when the pastures, then deserted, would be covered with flocks, the prophet says: “. . . and in the cities of Juda shall the flocks pass again under the hand of him that numbered them, saith the Lord.” He was alluding to the diligent shepherd who, standing in the evening at the entrance to the sheepfold, touched each of the sheep with his crook to make sure that none was missing.
In Ezechiel (20:37), where the prophet is foretelling the return of the exiles and the separation of the good from the bad, there is an even more explicit reference when Yahweh says: “I shall make you pass under my crook.” And in Leviticus 27:32, in connection with the tithes, we read that: “Of all the tithes of oxen, and sheep, and goats, that pass under the shepherd’s rod, every tenth that cometh shall be sanctified to the Lord.”
One of the shepherds remains on guard during the night to defend the flock from thieves and wolves. In the morning, when the other shepherds arrive to start the day’s work, the gate of the sheepfold is opened by the night watchman, and each shepherd calls to his sheep. The animals know their keeper’s voice, and upon hearing it, they break away from the others and gather around him. Then, when his flock has assembled, each shepherd starts down the road towards the pasture, and his sheep follow him docilely.
A characteristic of the good shepherd, that is, of him who owns the flock he tends, is the interest he takes in them: because they are his own, he will defend them even at the risk of his life. But when the hireling sees the wolf coming, he thinks only of seeking his own safety in flight, leaving the flock unprotected.
“Amen, amen, I say to you, he who enters not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbs up another way, is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is shepherd of the sheep. To this man the gatekeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them forth. And when he has let out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. But a stranger they will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers. . . .
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. But the hireling, who is not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees. And the wolf snatches and scatters the sheep. . .
“I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, even as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep. And other sheep I have that are not of this fold. Them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it up again. Such is the command I have received from my Father.”
Our Lord’s words, clear and consoling though they were, started a new argument among His hearers, many of whom shouted: “He has a devil and is mad. Why do you listen to him?” while others defended Him by retorting: “These are not the words of one who has a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?”
For us who are His followers, Christ’s words are light for the mind and balm to the heart, for in them we find His lofty teaching on the Church. The shepherd is he who has been lawfully delegated to give the faithful the nourishing food of true doctrine; the gate is Christ; the sheep are the faithful, and the sheepfold is the Church.
Sending Out the Seventy-Two Disciples
(Luke 10:1–24; cf. Matt. 11:20–30)
After the feast of Tabernacles had ended, Jesus remained several days in Jerusalem and then left the Holy City, going, very probably, in the direction of Galilee. We know little or nothing about the two months that intervene between this journey and the feast of Dedication, when we find Our Lord once again in Jerusalem (John 10:22 ff.).
Yet it seems that the sending of the seventy-two disciples should be placed in this period, although it is not possible to tell exactly either where the incident took place, or which district was visited by the disciples. We do know, however, that they must have covered an extensive territory, for we are told that they went in pairs, and therefore, considering their number, we can conclude that they preached in many towns and villages.
The instructions which Jesus gave to the seventy-two disciples are very similar to, and, in the main, even identical with, those He gave the Apostles (cf. Matt. 10:1 ff.; Mark 6:7 ff.; Luke 9:1 ff.). But this is not reason enough for regarding the two sendings as one and the same incident. Furthermore, St. Luke speaks of the two as completely distinct episodes. And seeing that the purpose and conditions were the same in each case, it is not surprising that Our Lord’s two sets of instructions were almost identical.
Yet there is one prominent part of the sending of the seventy-two disciples that does not appear in that of the Apostles. After having declared that it would go easier with Sodom on the Day of Judgment than with any town that refused to receive His disciples, Jesus launched a terrible anathema against Corozain, Bethsaida and His own adopted city, Capharnaum, all of which had rejected the good tidings:
“Woe to thee, Corozain! woe to thee, Bethsaida! For if in Tyre and Sidon had been worked the miracles that have been worked in you, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And thou, Capharnaum, shalt thou be exalted to Heaven? Thou shalt be thrust down to hell.” Then, addressing His disciples directly, He concluded: “He who hears you, hears me; and he who rejects you, rejects me; and he who rejects me, rejects him who sent me.”
We do not know where Our Lord received the seventy-two upon their return from their missionary expedition, but we are told about the happy outcome of their apostolate. In particular, the wonders they had worked filled them with enthusiasm, not unmixed with some self-complacency, as was to be expected in men who were still imperfect. Thus it was that on returning to report to Jesus, they burst out joyfully: “Lord, even the devils are subject to us in Thy Name!”
But according to the interpretation given by many Fathers, our Savior dampened their enthusiasm a little by giving them a grave warning which could well have been directed against vainglory: “I was watching Satan fall as lightning from Heaven. Behold, I have given you power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. But do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; rejoice rather in this, that your names are written in Heaven.”
However, it seems that the first sentence: “I was watching Satan fall as lightning from Heaven,” should be taken as referring to the triumphant expansion of the kingdom of God, symbolized by the power of the Name of Jesus over Satan.
Then, as if in an ecstasy of gratitude to the Eternal Father, and overflowing with joy in the Holy Spirit, Our Lord exclaimed: “I praise thee, Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and prudent, and didst reveal them to little ones. Yes, Father, for such was Thy good pleasure. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and Who the Father is except the Son, and him to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Turning once more to His disciples, He said lovingly to them: “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I say to you, many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and they have not seen it; and to hear what you hear, and they have not heard it.”
As St. John Chrysostom paraphrases: The Scribes and the wise men, who thought themselves prudent, had ended by falling into miserable blindness on account bf their pride. If, then, such great mysteries were hidden from them for that reason, you ought to fear for yourselves and be careful to remain always among the “little ones.”
Then, penetrating the future and contemplating humanity groaning under the pressing weight of the world’s sin and pain, Jesus tenderly invited all sufferers to have recourse to Him in their affliction: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden light.”
St. John Chrysostom again paraphrases beautifully: I do not call only one or two, but all of you who groan beneath the weight of anxiety, sorrow or sin. Come, not in order that I may exact from you the penalty that you have deserved, but so that I may free you from sin. Come, not because I need your praise, but because I thirst for your salvation. . Do not be afraid when you hear me mention a yoke, for it is easy; nor need you fear when I speak of a burden, for it is light.16
(Matt. 19:1; Mark 10:1; cf. Map IV)
Jesus remained but a short time in Galilee. It could be said that He had gone there merely to say His last farewells, for after only a few weeks, probably in the month of November, He left Galilee for Perea, never to return again during His mortal life.
This journey from Galilee to Perea is the one mentioned in Matthew 19:1 and Mark 10:1: “He departed from Galilee and came to the district of Judea beyond the Jordan.” The Evangelists, however, give not the slightest hint as to the route He took, but it is probable that He went south along the Jordan valley, either following the right, or western, bank of the river, passing by the springs of Aennon and through the cities of Phasaelis and Archelais, or more probably, perhaps, along the left bank, skirting the height upon which stood the city of Pella, later the refuge of the Christians when Titus besieged Jerusalem, and crossing the valley “Amethan” and the mouth of the Jabbok, the river at which Jacob stopped on his return from Mesopotamia. From there Jesus could have ascended into the mountainous region, or gone farther south along the Wadi Nimrin, but perhaps He remained on the plain, which formed part of the territory of Perea.
From this point on, He confined His ministry to this district, leaving it only twice; once to go to Jerusalem for the feast of Dedication, and once to make the short journey to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead. We know nothing of His work between the time of His arrival in Perea and the feast of Dedication, for the narrative found in Matthew 19:2 ff. and Mark 10:1 ff. is concerned with the period subsequent to the feast.
The Feast of Tabernacles
The feast of Tabernacles was celebrated from the 15th to the 22nd of the month of Tishri, which corresponds to the end of September and the beginning of October, so that the celebration lasted roughly from September 30th to October 7th. It had been instituted to commemorate the Israelites' wandering in the desert and to give God thanks for the harvest (cf. Leviticus 23:33–43; Deuteronomy 10:13–16).
This used to be one of the most solemn feasts, yet at the same time one of the most joyous. It was the occasion for a great gathering, for the crowds that came to celebrate it were larger than for any other feast. In fact, Jews and proselytes used to flock to Jerusalem from the most distant territories to partake in the festivities and to pay their Temple tax.
The solemnity and drama of the religious ceremonies were as breath-taking as the crowds were numerous. At midnight of the first day, the gates of the Temple were opened wide, and all the sacred precincts were ablaze with lights. On the fifteen steps of the staircase that led down from the Court of Israel to the Court of the Women, the Levites made their harps, lyres and cymbals resound joyfully.
Although it had been a long time since Jesus had allowed Himself to be seen in Jerusalem, the people of the city had not forgotten Him. Apart from everything else, the Galileans who had preceded Him to the feast (cf. John 7:10) probably refreshed the citizens' memory. But be that as it may, we do know that at that moment in the capital, and particularly in the environs of the Temple, there was lively interest in Him and a diversity of feelings about Him.
St. John (7:2–10:21), to whom we owe the narrative, paints a masterly series of pictures which allows us to sense vividly the atmosphere which surrounded Jesus, the inner dispositions of those who came in closest contact with Him, the diversity of opinion and feeling about Him, and, in particular, the marked contrast between the cold, often actively hostile attitude of the Jewish leaders and the favorable, even enthusiastic temper of the people. The clash between the forces of good and evil, the alternation of brilliant light and deep shadow, make this period a tensely dramatic one.
The religious leaders had hoped that Jesus would come to the feast, not because they wished to listen docilely to His teaching, but because they wanted to spy on Him and find some pretext for accusing Him. Therefore, disappointed at not finding Him among the pilgrims, they asked one another: “Where is He?”
The people at large were of two minds concerning Jesus, some saying, “He is a good man,” while others protested, “No, rather he seduces the crowd.” There were also those who, upon hearing His teaching and recalling the miracles He had worked, declared themselves openly on His side: “When the Christ comes will he work more signs than this man works? . . . This is truly the Prophet.”
When the feast was already half over, Jesus entered the Temple and began to teach. But His enemies interrupted Him constantly, and there ensued a lively exchange of argument and rebuttal.
Certain Scribes and Pharisees who had joined Our Lord's audience in order to spy on Him, murmured aloud in feigned, ironical surprise: “How does this man come by learning since he has not studied?”
To which Jesus replied : “My teaching is not my own, but his who sent me.” Fully aware of their evil intentions, He asked: “Why do you seek to put me to death?”
Some of the crowd answered: “Thou hast a devil. Who seeks to put Thee to death?” Others murmured: “Is not this the man they seek to kill? And behold, He speaks openly and they say nothing to Him. Can it be that the rulers have really come to know that this is the Christ?” But they added: “Yet we know where this Man is from; but when the Christ comes, no one will know where He is from.”
They passed these last remarks among themselves, not intending Jesus to hear them. But He replied as if their observations had been addressed to Him directly: “You both know Me, and know where I am from. Yet I have not come of Myself, but He is true Who has sent Me, Whom you do not know.”
On hearing this, His enemies wished to seize Him there and then, but no one laid hands on Him, for His hour had not yet come. Yet not everyone was against Him, for many of the people believed in Him, admired Him and spoke in His favor. The fact that they did so gave the priests and Pharisees new cause for alarm, so that they decided to strike the final blow, and sent their guards to seize Him immediately. When the guards returned without Him, the Jewish leaders demanded angrily: “Why have you not brought Him?”
The guards replied: “Never has man spoken as this man.”
In angry frustration, the Pharisees asked sarcastically: “Have you also been led astray? Has any one of the rulers believed in Him, or any of the Pharisees? But this crowd, which does not know the Law, is accursed.”
At this point Nicodemus, who was present, observed sagely: “Does our Law judge a man unless it first give him a hearing, and know what he does?”
The remark was a very just one, and the others could find no answer except the ironic rejoinder: “Art thou also a Galilean? Search the Scriptures and see that out of Galilee arises no prophet.”
On this note of obstinate ill will, they dispersed, each one returning to his house.
The Woman Taken in Adultery (John 8:3–11)
The incident of the adulterous woman is lacking in numerous manuscripts; the Greek Fathers do not mention it, and apparently some of the Latin Fathers, St. Cyprian, for example, did not know of it, although others among them, such as St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, regarded it as authentic. At all events, whether or not the passage comes from the pen of St. John, a point upon which critics and exegetes are divided, it is certainly canonical and, consequently, it is inspired and forms an integral part of Sacred Scripture.
After the intense apostolic labor of the day, rendered all the more fatiguing by the constant attacks of His enemies, Jesus retired to the Mount of Olives, while His listeners returned to their homes. It does not seem that He went as far afield as Bethany, for the evangelist would very likely have mentioned it if He had done so. Instead, He probably spent the night in a tent or a cave, perhaps in the grotto which many regarded as the place of the Agony, or in the one near the top of the mount, which tradition has venerated as the scene of His teaching, and over which St. Helena built a basilica. From either place, He could reach the Temple in a short time through the Eastern Gate.
At dawn the following day, He was again in the Temple. Soon He was surrounded by a crowd, and, sitting down, He began to teach, as was His custom. The Scribes and Pharisees, always on the lookout for a chance to accuse Him, came to ask His opinion on the interpretation of the Law in a problem of moral theology. The case was concerned with Moses' command that an adulterous woman be condemned to death (Deuteronomy 22:22; Lev. 20:10), and that a betrothed woman who had yielded to seduction be stoned (Deuteronomy 22:23 f.) .
The Scribes and Pharisees had brought with them a woman who, a short while ago, had been taken in adultery, and placing her before Jesus, they said to Him: “Master, this woman has just now been caught in adultery. And in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such persons. What, therefore, dost Thou say?”
On the surface their question was a respectful one, and they seemed to be honoring Christ by asking His opinion, but in reality they were trying to trap Him. If He favored punishing the woman according to the letter of the Law, they would accuse Him of harshness, and if He advocated letting her go unpunished, they would say that He was breaking the Law. The trap seemed so escape-proof that, behind their obsequious demeanor, they were already gloating over their victory.
But Jesus did not answer their barbed question. Seated as He was, He was easily able to reach the ground without changing position, and, bending down, He began to write in the dust with His finger. Impatiently, His enemies continued to insist on an answer.
Straightening up, He said indifferently to them: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her.” Then stooping down again, He continued to write as before. Such an unexpected reply disconcerted them; they suddenly found themselves changed from accusers to accused. No longer did they have the courage to insist, but with heads lowered in shame and acutely conscious of the crowd's mocking glances, they slipped away as unobtrusively as possible, beginning with the eldest, as the evangelist tells us.
What did Our Lord write on the ground? St. Jerome thinks that He wrote the sins of the woman's accusers; other commentators suggests that He wrote the passage from Jeremias (17:13): “They that depart from thee shall be written in the Earth: because they have forsaken the Lord, the vein of living waters.” Perhaps the most probable opinion is the one favored by Maldonatus, Prat and Goma, namely, that He did not write letters or words, but only drew meaningless designs, as a man does when he is thinking over something, or does not wish to grant a request that has been made, or has no interest in what is going on around him. It was as if He wished to show the woman's accusers that He had nothing to do with the case and that it was not His business to pass sentence.
When He finally broke silence, His words were very consoling. Turning to the woman, he said: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned thee?”
“No one, Lord.”
“Neither will I condemn thee. Go thy way, and from now on sin no more.”
What a perfect example of how our compassionate and most holy Lord deals with sinful men, showing Himself merciful to the sinner but implacable to the sin!
The Fountain of Living Water, and the Light of the World
In His magnificent discourse to the people during the feast of Tabernacles, Jesus referred to Himself as “the light of the world” and the “fountain of living water.” It was very fitting that He should have stressed these two Messianic characteristics precisely during the feast of Tabernacles, for water and light played an important part in the solemnities.
The Mishnah's description of this feast is very interesting. On each of the seven days there was a procession down through the Tyropoeon valley to the pool of Siloe. There the priest filled a golden vessel with water, and the procession reformed to ascend to the Temple. When they arrived at the Water Gate, three blasts, one sustained, one quavering and the third sustained, were blown on the shofar or trumpet, and entering the Temple, the priest sprinkled the altar with the water from the pool.
In conformity with the prescriptions of Leviticus 23:40, during the procession to and from the pool everyone carried a lulab, a palm frond entwined with branches of myrtle and willow, in his right hand, and a citron fruit in his left. As they walked they waved the branches and the fruit in the air, and sang the Hallel, i.e., our Psalms 112-117. As can be seen, the whole ceremony centered around the water which was brought from the pool and sprinkled on the altar.
The same prominence was given to the symbolism of light. On the evening of the first day of the feast, a procession went down from the Court of Israel to the Court of the Women, where huge golden candlesticks had been placed. Four young men of the priestly caste ascended four ladders to fill and light the lamps on the candlesticks, and the resultant radiance was so intense that “there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that did not reflect the light,” as the Mishnah says.
Singing hymns and songs of praise and holding lighted torches in their hands, devout Jews danced around the candlesticks, while a great number of Levites, standing on the fifteen steps that led from the Court of Israel to that of the Women, accompanied them with harps, lyres, cymbals and trumpets.
When we consider this historico-liturgical background, we can see how appropriate and striking were the two symbols of light and water which Jesus used when speaking of Himself. It was as if He said to the people: “You light your torches and candelabra to illuminate the Temple and the city: but I am the true light, not only for Jerusalem, but for the whole world. I am the light of life which illuminates, not the eyes of the body, but those of the soul. You go to seek water at the pool of Siloe, but I am the true fountain of living water, the only one capable of quenching thirst.”
The people's wonder, curiosity and admiration at the young Prophet's new doctrine are well brought out in the vivid dialogue which St. John has recorded for us.
On the last day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out in a loud voice: “If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture says, `From within Him there shall flow rivers of living water.'”
He was referring to the Holy Spirit, whom those who believed in Him would receive, and His words made such a deep impression on some of the crowd that they exclaimed, “This is truly the Prophet,” while others said, “This is the Christ.” But there were also skeptics who met their companions' enthusiasm with the objection: “Can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that it is of the offspring of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David lived, that the Christ is to come?”
Thus there arose dissensions and disputes among the people concerning Him, some being for Him, others against Him. Some of the more fanatical even wished to seize Him, but in the end no one dared lay hands on Him.
Again He spoke to the crowd: “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me does not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.”
The Pharisees, always ready to contest any statement of His, retorted: “Thou bearest witness to Thyself. Thy witness is not true.”
Jesus replied: “Even if I bear witness to Myself, my witness is true, because I know where I came from and where I go. But you do not know where I came from or where I go. . . . It is I who bear witness to Myself, and He Who sent Me, the Father, bears witness to Me.”
When they heard the Father mentioned, the Pharisees asked Him: “Where is Thy father?”
“You know neither Me nor My Father,” replied Jesus. “If you knew Me, you would then know my Father also. . . . I go, and you will seek Me, and in your sin you will die. Where I go you cannot come.”
The Jews, disconcerted, whispered to each other: “Will He kill himself, since He says, `Where I go you cannot come' ?”
Without taking any heed of the whispering, Jesus continued, revealing further His true Nature: “You are from below, I am from above. You are of this world, I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am he [i.e., he who is to come, the Messias; cf. Mark 13:6], you will die in your sin.”
Spontaneously there burst from His hearers' lips the vital question: “Who art Thou?”
“Why do I speak to you at all! I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you; but he who sent Me is true, and the things that I heard from Him, these I speak in the world. . . . When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that of Myself I do nothing: but even as the Father has taught Me, I speak these things. And He Who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, because I do always the things that are pleasing to Him.”
This was indeed a sublime exposition of the intimate union between Jesus and His Eternal Father, an implicit affirmation of His divinity.
Then addressing the Jews who had believed in Him He said: “If you abide in My word, you shall be My disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
His hearers resented these last words, which, they thought, made them out to be slaves who needed liberation, and they protested: “We are the children of Abraham, and we have never yet been slaves to anyone. How sayest thou, `You shall be free'?”
In clarification of what He had said, Our Lord went on: “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. . . . I speak what I have seen with the Father; and you do what you have seen with your father.”
The Jews retorted: “Abraham is our father.”
“If you are the children of Abraham,” Jesus answered, “do the works of Abraham. . . . The father from whom you are, is the devil, and the desires of your father, it is your will to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has not stood in the truth. . . .”
Indignantly, they exclaimed: “Are we not right in saying that Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?”
“I have not a devil,” answered Jesus, “but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me!”
The interchange had been getting sharper all the time, and Our Lord's questioners were becoming more wrathful with every word He spoke. But He did not take back one syllable of what He had said. Instead, He went further: “Amen, amen, I say to you, if anyone keep my word, he will never see death.”
The Jews, now thoroughly enraged and scandalized, shouted: “Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets, and thou sayest, `If anyone keep my word he will never taste death.' Art thou greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Whom dost thou make thyself?”
Serenely Jesus replied: “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say that he is your God. And you do not know him, but I know him. . . . Abraham your father rejoiced that he was to see my day. He saw it and was glad.”
With heavy sarcasm the Jews inquired: “Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast Thou seen Abraham?”
Tranquilly and with great solemnity, He assured them: “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I am.”
That was the last straw! The Galilean had arrogated a divine attribute to Himself; therefore He had committed blasphemy and deserved to be stoned. Accordingly the people took up stones to cast at Him, but with the same serene majesty which He had shown while speaking, Jesus withdrew from them and from the Temple, leaving His enemies standing with the stones in their hands.
What Was the Feast of the Tabernacles?
The Feast of Tabernacles was among the most solemn of the many feasts of the Jewish calendar. “Exceedingly holy and great,” Josephus, the famous Jewish historian, calls it. The crowds which came to Jerusalem in October to celebrate it, although not comparable with the Passover, were none the less considerable. For the agricultural year was completed, the harvests gathered in, and the civil year also began on October first in accordance with the cycle of vegetation.
Five days earlier, the people celebrated the solemn feast of the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, when the symbolical scapegoat, charged with the sins of Israel, was driven out into the desert. But the week of the Feast of Tabernacles was one of rejoicing; it commemorated the days when the people of Israel, delivered by Moses from Pharaoh's yoke, dwelt in the desert awaiting their future glory, the revelation of their tremendous destiny.
The Tent of the Lord
The word “tabernacle” comes to us from the Latin “tabernaculum“, which means “tent”. The Feast of Tabernacles therefore could be called the “Feast of Tents” In memory of their forty-year wanderings in the desert and of the tents in which they had lived and, more importantly, the tent under which the Ark of the Covenant was housed during those wanderings in the desert and in which was kept the Ten Commandments, the manna, and the rod of Aaron―which we could say represent God the Father, who gave the Commandments; God the Son who gave us His Body and Blood as manna in the Eucharist; and the guiding staff of the Holy Ghost, who guides us to Heaven.
Millions Under Tents
In the desert wandering days, the Israelite encampment must have been a sea of tents—for, as the historians estimate, there must have been anywhere from 2 million to 5 million people sleeping under those tents—for the Bible tells us that 600,000 men (not counting women and children) left Egypt. T
hus, in Our Lord’s day, the town of Jerusalem was transformed. In accordance with the instructions laid down in Leviticus (ch.23) , every Jew had to leave his house and live in a tent, or in a hut made of branches; for eight days. So the balconies of houses and public buildings, the grounds of the Temple and the slopes of the hills around the city were covered with these fragile edifices made of pine, myrtle, olive and palm branches. It was pleasant enough to rest here, with a watchful eye on the produce of the fields and the vineyards, while as for the pilgrims from remote countries, the days in the open air, coming as they did when the weather was mild, were a pleasant relaxation from the hardships of the journey.
Naturally, from the beginning of the day until the end, that is from nine in the morning when the ritual day opened with the morning sacrifice until half-past three in the afternoon, when it closed with the evening sacrifice, the blood of beasts stained the sacred forecourt and the sickening odor of burning fat, supposed to be pleasing to Jehovah, rose continually from the altars.
Branches and Boughs Foreshadow Palm Sunday
Those who attended the ceremonies had to bear green branches: “Ye shall take the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees and the boughs of thick trees and willows from the brook and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.” And so, all along the streets, might be seen pilgrims bearing in their right hand the loulab, a sheaf of green branches, and in the other, the ethrog, or “fruit of Persia,” the citron. There are many representations of this in the Jewish catacombs, and apparently the larger the sheaf and the heavier the citron, the greater the devotion. Some of the Pharisees were almost bowed down by the branches they carried.
The Ceremonies of the Feast
During the rites, the people waved the branches in the direction of the four points of the compass, to the accompaniment of the ritual chant, “Glory to God, Hallelujah.” It was on the occasion of this feast that the relatives of Jesus, and perhaps some of His disciples, implored Him to go to Jerusalem―those disbelieving Him, would have said so mockingly, wishing to be rid of Him. At first He refused, and sent them on alone, ahead of him.
Undoubtedly He wished to avoid any attempt at a triumphal entry, which would arouse illusory hopes that His mission was that of the “glorious Messias.” But He did come up to the city during the feast, in secret without fuss or proclamation, and He started to preach.
So, in the middle of the happy, excited crowd, excited by religious enthusiasm, He began His mission in Judea. Like all the pilgrims, He slept beneath the traditional tent or hut of branches. The hut was situated on the Mount of Olives, a little way outside the city.
He went to the nightly ceremonies, which took place during the Feast of Tabernacles ― perhaps He participated in that dignified rite, in which a procession of the men of Israel, with the High Priest at the head, followed by the officers of the Temple, all in their magnificent vestments, went to the Holy Well of Siloam to draw the water which was used in the sacred washings or libations.
He would see the Temple illuminated by flares, stretching out toward Heaven, from the two giant candelabra, each more than seventy-five feet high, while the thousands of torches, carried by those taking part in the ceremonies, united in a blaze of light which made the sky somber by comparison, even though the moon was full.
He would hear, just before daybreak, four blasts on the silver trumpets; the first at cock-crow, the second at the tenth degree of light; the third from the Court of the Women and the fourth swelling as the trumpeter-priests marched toward the threshold of the Holy of Holies.
No one certainly would have joined in more fervently than He in the prayer at the dawn: “As our fathers of old turned toward the East to salute the sun rising, so, O Lord, we turn to Thee, for we are Thy people, O God.” To the Jews, there was an obvious symbolism in all this―the ceremony of the waters was a token of the rain, which would fall on the parched Earth, the seventy oxen ordained for the sacrifice recalled the seventy nations of the Earth, over which it was prophesied that Israel should reign. But for Jesus these things held another interpretation.
Jesus Finds the Seed of Hate in Jerusalem
His arrival in Jerusalem was not entirely unnoticed. The miraculous cure of the paralyzed man at the well by the five Courts of the Temple only a few months previously would not have been forgotten and Galilee was, after all, not so far off that rumors of His doings would not have been brought to the city by the provincial pilgrims who swelled the crowds in the Temple.
St. John records with great exactitude the reactions which His presence provoked (John 7:11-12). “Then the Jews sought of Him at the feast and said: 'Where is He?' And there was much murmuring among the people concerning Him; for some said: 'He is a good man!' Others said: 'Nay, but He deceiveth the people!'“
Doubtless as in Galilee, the Pharisees reiterated their complaints about Him, that He did not fast, that He was careless about the ritual ablutions, that He frequented the society of pagans, tax gatherers and women of ill-repute; that He took unwarrantable liberties in the observance of the Sabbath. But, as soon as He began to speak, just as in Galilee, people were astonished at His wisdom: “How knoweth this Man letters, having never learned?” (John 7:15).
The Word of God Accepted and Rejected
Jesus spoke at the gates of the Temple, where the people were gathered around him. “My doctrine is not Mine, but His that sent Me. If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of Myself” (John 7:16-17). He had already said, in His sermon on the Bread of Life, that he, who would seek God, must come to Christ and he alone knew the word, which was given to Jesus.
Every incident of the feast must have enlarged His meaning; every detail carried its own particular symbolism for Him. The water which the High Priest drew in a golden ewer from the Well of Siloam, with which he would sprinkle the altar of sacrifice, would remind Him of those “living waters” of which He had spoken to the Samaritan woman, and which Jeremias had accused an unfaithful people of abandoning ( Jeremiah ii, 13). “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the Scriptures have said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38).
Perhaps it was the light of a thousand torches blazing up to Heaven which gave Him the image for those famous words: “I am the light of the world; he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 7:12).
The more He spoke, the more argument He provoked. “Many of the people therefore said: 'Of a truth, this is the Prophet!' Others said: 'This is the Christ!' But some said: 'Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the Scripture said, that Christ cometh of the seed of David and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?' So there was a division among the people, because of Him” (John 7:40-43). But many believed in Him and said: “When Christ cometh, will He do more miracles than those which this Man hath done?” ( John vii, 7:31).
It was at this time that the High Priests, warned by the Pharisees, began to feel uneasy. Jesus had not been three days in Jerusalem before His enemies began to close their ranks against Him. In the course of John's vivid and detailed narrative we can almost see them, sending out their spies among the crowds who listened to Him to take notes of what He said and what He did, gathering it together to compose what all the police forces of the world call “a dossier.” At first they dared not use force, either out of regard for public opinion, or even perhaps through moral scruples, for there must have been some just men, even among the Pharisees.
But their machinations soon began to do harm. Rumor ran through the streets of Jerusalem: “Is this not He, whom they seek to kill. But, lo, he speaketh boldly, and they say nothing unto Him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ?” (John 7:25-26).
They began to consider arresting Him, dispatching guards to mingle with the crowds and seize the first opportunity which presented. But they came back empty-handed. “Why have you not brought Him?” asked the scribes and Pharisees. “Never man spoke like this man,” replied the Temple officers. If the very custodians of the Temple were to attach themselves to the rising star of this Galilean.
And so, almost as soon as Jesus set foot in Judea, the elements of opposition began to draw together. He was to be “the sign that shall be spoken against,” from the first He was to sow discord. It was only six months before the murderous hatred He aroused would bring his tragedy to its dire conclusion.
Toward the Last Days
According to the most probable chronology of His life, Jesus left Galilee in the Autumn or Fall before His Passion and Death in the Spring of the following year. He was never to return. From now on, the scene of His mission was to be Judea―the harsh country with its ancient loyalties, the bastion of the ancestral faith. No prophet could fulfill his destiny except in Jerusalem.
This, certainly, was the fundamental reason why Jesus left His native province. Ever since David, a thousand years before, had chosen for his city that outstanding site, in the center of the hill country, at the meeting place of the principal roads, Jerusalem had been not merely the political capital but the very heart of Israel. Here David had installed the Ark of the Covenant and around it Solomon had raised his sumptuous Temple, to the glory of God and his own temporal power.
What Paris is to France and Rome to every Catholic, Jerusalem was to the humblest Jew of the most widely dispersed community. By the waters of Babylon, in the dark days of exile, the People of the Promise had sung this hymn: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.” Jesus must have known that His message could not assume its full significance until he gave a new meaning to the old Covenant, there in the hills of Sion.
Walking Into The Lion’s Den
There may have been lesser contributory causes, such as the growing hostility of the Scribes and Pharisees. But this would certainly not be lessened by going to the place where they were practically all-powerful. He was, in a sense, walking into the ‘lion’s den’. Was Jesus disappointed because all His efforts in Galilee had not succeeded in changing the hearts of men? This is to suppose Him to be incredibly naive and unacquainted with the human soul. In any case, if He had received a check or a setback in the north, would He be likely to succeed any better in the south? We recall the urgent, perhaps malicious, injunctions of His relatives: “Depart hence and go into Judea, that Thy disciples also may see the works which Thou doest. For there is no man that doeth anything in secret and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, show thyself to the world” (John 7:3-4).
Not Yet The Time
But the promptings of ambition, the impatience of his kindred with what they considered to be hesitation or reluctance, did not influence Jesus at all. His reply reveals the real reason: “My time is not yet come, but your time is always ready.” At the beginning of the chapters of St. Luke's Gospel describing Christ's mission in Judea, we read these words: “And it came to pass, when His time was come that He should be received up, He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51.)
Jesus Knows His Fate
The words--”When He should be received up”—strike an ominous note. From now on, the coming sacrifice is the dominant note; everything that Jesus has said and is to say anew, everything that He has done and is to do again, becomes invested with the aura of tragedy. As the Judean mission unfolds, far off at first, but daily coming closer and clearer, is a figure that we recognize. He knows what His mission is—He knows the terrible sufferings He will have to undergo and the brutal death that awaits Him.
Jesus Reveals His Fate
We know this from the prophetic words He spoke to His own disciples: “He said to His disciples: ‘Lay you up in your hearts these words, for it shall come to pass, that the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men!’” (Luke 9:44). “Then Jesus took unto Him the Twelve, and said to them: ‘Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things shall be accomplished which were written by the prophets concerning the Son of man. For He shall be delivered to the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and scourged, and spit upon. And after they have scourged Him, they will put Him to death; and the third day He shall rise again!’ And they understood none of these things, and this word was hid from them” (Luke 18:31-34). Likewise is the word of God concerning living a true Catholic Faith hidden from us; or, if we see it, then we see it only to grow discouraged, disheartened and depressed.
The Countryside Reflects the Soul
There is a deep symbolic harmony between the most tragic episodes of the life of Christ and the land where they took place, a land so different from fertile, fortunate Galilee. Perhaps the following describes our soul, too! The landscape of Judea, barren, rocky and arid, conveys such a forcible impression of disquiet, that it is astonishing to remember that it is forever associated with the memory of the love of God.
The configuration of the land is three roughly parallel ridges, with sharp contours through which mountain torrents cut deep gorges, and bare summits from which the earth has been eroded. A pitiless blue sky parches the meager infertile soil and the violent winter rainstorms tend to wrench up the poor vegetation rather than to foster it.
In March it is beautiful. The roads are bordered by clumps of iris and by those huge purple anemones which are probably the “lilies of the field” instanced by Jesus as a model of the heedless beauty of nature. But by May, everything is yellowed and withered; only the asphodel, hardly distinguishable from the pebbles among which it grows, displays its pallid foliage and black and white florets. It is a sad landscape, dominated by two colors, ochre and mauve; the perfection of coloring enchants the eye yet its very splendor has a desperate and inhuman quality.
Grouped around the well heads, at long distances, the white villages bearing names renowned in history indicate their presence by the green clumps of their fig trees and their sycamores. The more fertile hills had their western slopes covered with olive groves and above them, encircled by its walls and bristling with its towers, was Jerusalem, rose and gold with the patina of the centuries, the rock and the fortress where the Lord would shelter those who trusted in Him.
Stony Ground—Stony Hearts
In the parable of the Sower (Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8), Jesus had spoken of the seed which fell upon stony ground, where it withered away, because there was no earth to sustain it. The land of Judea is wary of giving, and the seed to be sown here, unlike the seed sown in Galilee, would need not water, but blood!
From this time on, in the Gospel narrative, we rely less on St. Matthew and St. Mark―who until now have supplied most of the information―and more on St. Luke and St. John. St. John, who is evidently writing from first-hand knowledge, reports this period with admirable clarity and in minute detail. St. Luke is vaguer here than in his account of the Galilean days, but he shows great power in evoking the scenes and the people. He seems dominated by the tragedy which is to come, absorbed in expectation of the final revelation.
It is not easy to understand why St. Matthew and St. Mark should not have reported a good many events which make plain the final drama. Nor is it easy to reconcile the accounts of St. John and St. Luke, which are absolutely independent of each other.
Jesus’ Comings and Goings
According to St. John’s chronology, Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, in October then returned to Galilee. In December He once again went to Jerusalem for the ceremony of the Dedication, after which we have an account of His movements almost day by day, beyond Jordan, then to Bethany, to Ephraim and then to those early April days when He went up to Jerusalem for the Passover feast of His final destiny.
Jerusalem Will Not See The Homely Jesus
Jesus is in the center of the picture, always unmistakably Himself, and during these six months we have His most moving sayings, the words and the parables which go most profoundly to our hearts. He seems, perhaps, a little more remote from everyday life than when He was in Galilee. We do not see Him performing such homely and endearing miracles as the multiplication of the loaves and the miraculous draught of fishes.
The Light of World Will Be Extinguished
The God in Him is becoming more and more evident. Not for nothing does He say so often during this period: “I am the light of the world.” His charity is, as always, inexhaustible; so also is His power, to which even death is subject. But the seed falls on the stony ground of a disunited, disputatious people, caught-up in the rigidity of rites and ceremonies. He could win over some souls from among them, but He was adding also to the armory of His enemies.
The drama of this period lies in the contrast between the magnificent, the supernatural stature of the figure of Jesus and the undercurrent of mean hatreds, jealousies and foul cowardice, which the Gospel narratives reveal at every turn. Finally His enemies will triumph, or will believe that they have triumphed, over one who had never used His powers to save Himself, and, at the end, the sacrifice will be accomplished. On the bare hill, outside the city walls, we can already see the shadow of the cross.
Jesus Leaves Galilee For The Last Time
For what lay between the departure from Galilee in October, just before the October Feast of the Tabernacles and before the later raising of Lazarus from the dead―which, more than any single thing, triggered the catastrophe of Good Friday and the death of Jesus, we rely almost entirely upon four chapters of Saint John (8-11) and ten chapters of Saint Luke (9-18).
Some little of what Luke has Jesus saying or doing, Matthew and Mark give in other contexts—the Our Father, for instance, is given by Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount. But Matthew and Mark take up the story again, only when the Pharisees question Jesus about divorce and remarriage, and that is very near the end of His life.
We study, therefore, Luke and John to obtain an insight into what went on during the last 6 months, or 24 weeks, or around 170 remaining days of His life. We cannot always be sure of the order of happening and let us not expect more than can be reasonably expected from studying the meager accounts of Holy Scripture.
John, indeed, keeps a straight line, from the Feast of Tabernacles in mid-October, to the Feast of Dedication in late December, then to the going to Perea (Herod's other province), then to the raising of Lazarus. But Luke is not concerned with the order of time. Four times he has Jesus set out for Jerusalem, but only on the fourth does he bring him there.
Evidently, from the people he tells us he consulted, Luke had learned of things done and said in this period; his informants either did not remember the when and the where, or perhaps differed among themselves. He simply recorded all of it. These things were said and done, that was what mattered.
As it happens, while vast things were said, there is not a great deal of actual incident. John has one single miracle, and the incident of the woman caught in adultery (though this may not have been originally John's: it reads like Luke); and he tells of twice when his enemies wanted to stone Jesus.
Between the first and the second of these, Luke has the sending out of the seventy-two disciples, the visit to Bethany when Martha got the meal and Mary just sat, and the incident of the woman in the crowd who cried out, "Blessed is the womb that bore thee."
After the second he gives us the healing of the ten lepers, the mothers who brought their children to Christ, and the rich young man. But what matters throughout this period is the teaching—especially the discourses in the Temple, the answers to opponents, and some dozen parables.
Tension between Jesus and His Cousins
Saint John (8:2) begins the story of the last six months with a dialogue between Jesus and his cousins—not James and Jude, who were among the Twelve, but the rest, who seem to have stayed on in Nazareth. We have already met them (Mark 3:30); it was probably they who had wondered about the Carpenter's sanity and thought He ought to be put under restraint in His own interests. That was eight months ago. Now John tells us that they still did not believe in Him (John 7:5).
They knew that He could work miracles: but they did not believe He was sent by God: above all, they still assumed that they knew, better than He Himself, what was best for Him. It was a pity, they felt, to waste His gift of miracles in a backwater like Galilee. They urged Him to go down into Judea, where He might exploit His power to some purpose—after all, they can hardly have been expected to have a deeper understanding of the true nature of the Kingdom He might found, than the Twelve had. If He was ever to have a sensational success in Jerusalem, the Feast of Tabernacles provided the ideal setting.
The answer He gave, they must have found as irritating as His whole attitude. He said that He would not go up to celebrate the feast, giving a reason which they could hardly have found enlightening— “My time is not accomplished.” What did He mean by His time? He had told them, but they had had no mind to understand. The world hated Him, He said, because He told it so openly that its works were evil: men would kill Him, therefore; but they would kill Him in God’s time, not theirs. So the cousins went up without him for the October Feast of the Tabernacles, and were there for the solemn inauguration. Four days later Jesus himself went up to the feast secretly.
“After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He would not walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him. Now the Jews’ feast of tabernacles was at hand. And His brethren said to Him: ‘Pass from hence, and go into Judea; that Thy disciples also may see thy works which thou dost. For there is no man that doth anything in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If Thou do these things, manifest Thyself to the world!’ For neither did His brethren believe in Him.
“Then Jesus said to them: ‘My time is not yet come; but your time is always ready! The world cannot hate you; but Me it hateth―because I give testimony of it, that the works thereof are evil. Go you up to this festival day, but I go not up to this festival day: because My time is not accomplished!’ When he had said these things, He Himself stayed in Galilee. But after His brethren were gone up, then He also went up to the feast, not openly, but, as it were, in secret” (John 7:1-10).
Lesson to be Learned
We have a very instructive lesson to learn and keep in mind from this state of affairs. Our Lord not only had external enemies, but also enemies among the so-called "nearest and dearest"! It was in vain that He preached that we would enemies within our own household and that even family members would betray each other—this is what He Himself was experiencing. Here are the appropriate texts from Holy Scripture:
“Think ye, that I am come to give peace on Earth? I tell you, no; but separation! Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword! For there shall be from henceforth five in one house divided: three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against his father, the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother, the mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law … And a man’s enemies shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me!” (Matthew 10:34-37; Luke 12:51-53).