A Jewish View of Jesus
1. The Jewish Element in the Teachings of Jesus
Hyman Gerson Enelow
2. Jesus and His Contemporaries
1. The Jewish Element in the Teachings of Jesus
The Jewish Element in the Teachings of Jesus
Latter-day lives of Jesus have brought out one point above all othersthe universal readiness to treat Jesus as a spiritual and ethical teacher, if nothing else. Even those who decline to accept the figure of Jesus as drawn by traditional Christianity, are ready to pay him tribute as a unique teacher. Indeed, there are such as affirm that the true greatness of Jesus can be appreciated only when dissociated from the dogmas and peculiar concepts gathered by the churches. Be that as it may, the modern disposition is certainly to treat Jesus less as a metaphysical personage than as a religious and ethical teacher. Regarding him thus, we cannot fail to realize how much of the Jewish element pervaded the teaching of Jesus, particularly that part of it which is permanent and not merely a reflex of the circumstances of his time.
In order to understand the teaching of Jesus, we must abandon, first of all, the common notion that the purpose of Jesus was to overthrow the Jewish religion, or the old law, and to found a new one. This notion he himself sought to uproot when first it cropped up among his contemporaries. The words in which he tried to do it now form part of the Sermon on the Mount, and probably were spoken early in his ministry."Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law, till all be fulfilled."What do these words mean? If anything, it is this: first, that Jesus does not mean to say or to do anything that might destroy or damage the inherited law and doctrine of his people; then, that the welfare of the world depends upon the observance and the fulfillment of those teachings; and, finally, that it is his purpose and conscious mission to advance the fulfillment of the old law and the old Prophets.
But what does he mean by fulfillment? That we must seek to understand in order to grasp the relation of Jesus to those prophecies and precepts. By fulfillment he does not mean merely a mechanical fulfillment; he means a spiritual fulfillment; he means a grasp of the full content and aim of the Law, an absorption and application of its spirit, an inward apprehension of its content, and the unfoldment of its purpose in actual life.
That this is what fulfillment of the Law meant to Jesus, we are moved to believe by the general Jewish attitude. This the best Jewish teachers sought to teach at the time of Jesus, as well as before and after it.
It is commonly said that the life of the Jewish people in the age of Jesus was governed by the Law. Of course, it was; but the Law that did so govern it, was not a dead law. It was a living law, though come down from the past, and all the efforts of the teachers were directed toward discovering the ethical contents and the spiritual implicates of the Law. That formed the chief task of the teachers, and gave birth to the enormous literature of the age. For the rabbis, as for Jesus, the letter did not suffice. What lay behind and within the letter their eyes sought continually, and every teacher tried to find in it more than his predecessors and colleagues had found. There was rivalry among them in the discovery of the ethical and spiritual implications of traditionso much so that they came to regard wisdom as the result of the rivalry of Scribes (or teachers). Mechanical conformity was not enough. The Law demanded spiritual discernment and realization.
No doubt, this is what Jesus meant when he spoke about having come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, and when he admonished his hearers not only to fulfill every tittle and iota of the Law, but to do more; to go farther and deeper than all formal teaching and academic interpretation."Except your righteousness shall exceed the Scribes and the Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."Such teaching was Jewish. It was founded on Jewish precepts and precedents. Its effort to penetrate and amplify the Law was in harmony with the practice and methods of Jewish teachers. Its motive as well as its aims were Jewish. Even where Jesus offered something in a new form or in a new way, it accorded with his general aim to disclose the ethical and spiritual contents of the old Law.
This idea underlies two of the most pregnant parables of Jesus.
First, we have it in the parable of the new wine and the old bottles. Questioned as to why his disciples violated some old forms, Jesus replies that the new wine of Religion requires new bottles. This parable is often cited as indicative of Jesus' hostility to the old forms of Judaism. It is accepted as authentic. But there is another parable which is not quoted so frequently, and yet supplements it, nor is there any reason for regarding it as less authentic. After explaining his parables to the disciples, it is related that he asked, "Have ye understood all these things?" "Yes," they answered. Then he said unto them:"Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasures things new and old" (Matt 13:51-52).In other words, the wise teacher of spiritual and ethical truth, like the good householder, will use and cherish both new things and old, according to their worth to the promotion of his aim.
There is no more reason for denying the authenticity of this parable than of the one about the new wine and the old bottles. On the contrary, it represents the very spirit of the method of teaching used by Jesus. It is the more comprehensive, though not the more familiar, of the two parables. Out of his spiritual treasures Jesus brought forth things old and new, as they served the great purpose of his ministry. In this respect, he did what every great Jewish teacher of his time sought to do.
What formed the essential teaching of Jesus? We may sum it up briefly. He began with the idea of the Divine judgment that was at hand. That led on to the idea of repentance, as the one great need of his people. From that he was led to an affirmation of the essential character of religionthe spiritual fulfillment of the law, rather than mere outward conformity. And from that he pushed on, quite naturally, to an exposition of how the spiritual side of religion can be expressed in conductin the particulars of everyday conduct. These latter points are developed in his various parables and sentences on love and forbearance and faith and humility, on service and godliness. But the quintessence of his teaching is summed up pithily in the opening chapter of Mark."After that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel."Now, it means no denial of the power, nor of the originality, of Jesus to recognize in this teaching a new expression of what the religious leaders of Israel, and particularly the Prophets, had sought to teach. The Prophets time and again spoke of the coming of the Divine judgmentthe Doom. "Hear, ye peoples," cried Micah,Again and again the Prophets pleaded for repentance, as a means of moral improvement and of recovery of relationship with God; and namely, for spiritual, rather than outward, repentance. "Yet even now," we read in Joel,
"Hear, ye peoples, all of you;
Hearken, O earth, and all that therein is;
And let the Lord God be witness against you,
The Lord from His holy temple.
For, behold, the Lord cometh forth out of His place.
And will come down, and tread upon the high places of the earth.
And the mountains shall be molten under Him.
And the valleys shall be cleft,
As wax before the fire,
As waters that are poured down a steep place.
For the transgression of Jacob is all this,
And for the sins of the house of Israel.""Yet even now, saith the Lord,Without ceasing the Prophets pointed out the uselessness of a mere formal religion and the paramountcy of the spiritual and ethical element in all religious profession and practice. Who does not recall Isaiah's burning words concerning it?
Turn ye unto Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, and with weeping and with lamentation;
And rend your heart, and not your garments,
And turn unto the Lord your God;
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Long-suffering, and abundant in mercy,
And repenteth Him of the evil.""Hear the word of the Lord,Conditions may have changed from age to age, but the idea and the purpose of the Prophet remained ever the same.
Ye rulers of Sodom;
Give ear unto the law of our God,
Ye people of Gomorrah.
To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me?
Saith the Lord;
I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams,
And the fat of fed beasts;
And I delight not in the blood
Of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats.
When ye come to appear before Me,
Who hath required this at your hand,
To trample my courts?
Bring no more vain oblations;
It is an offering of abomination unto Me;
New moon and sabbath, the holding of convocations
I cannot endure iniquity along with the solemn assembly.
Your new moons and your appointed seasons
My soul hateth;
They are a burden unto Me;
I am weary to bear them.
And when ye spread forth your hands,
I will hide Mine eyes from you;
Yea, when ye make many prayers,
I will not hear;
Your hands are full of blood.
Wash you, make you clean,
Put away the evil of your doings
From before Mine eyes,
Cease to do evil;
Learn to do well:
Seek justice, relieve the oppressed,
Judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.""By a prophet the Lord brought Israel up out of Egypt,That is the common link between Elijah and Amos and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and the rest: they all have the same ideal. And the same purpose, under new conditions, animated the teachings of Jesus, and found in them a new expression.
And by a prophet was he kept."
Yet, there were certain things which formed the unique power and fascination of Jesus' teaching, and the secret of his popularity.
First, Jesus put the personal element into the heart of his teaching. He did not teach in mere academic fashion, as did others. He taught in a personal way, by means of personal appeal and through personal experience. He identified himself with his teaching. He and his doctrine were one. He was part of the truth he felt and sought to spread. It was of the very essence of his outlook. Of course, other teachers also made direct appeals and used personal experience. But in their case it was accidental, a mere illustration of their teaching. In the case of Jesus it was part of his very being.
The truth with which he was concerned formed his sole passion, to which he sacrificed, paradoxically, even his closest relations. "Kinship," says Philo, the Jewish philosopher of the first century, "is in truth not reckoned merely by blood; it is rather doing the same actions and seeking the same ends." We hear little about Jesus' association with his own family. Dearest to him were those that felt and toiled with him, and understood him.And there came his mother and his brethren; and, standing without, they sent unto him, calling him. And a multitude was sitting about him; and they say unto him, Behold thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee! And he answered them, and saith, Who is my mother and my brethren? And looking round on them which sat round about him, he saith, Behold, my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother" (Mark 3:31-35).Similarly, those who would become his friends, had to sacrifice everything to the ideal he taught."And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? None is good save one, and that is God. Thou knowest the commandments; Do not commit adultery; do not kill; do not steal; do not bear false witness; honor thy father and thy mother. And he said, all these have I kept from my youth up. Now, when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him: Yet, lackest thou one thing. Sell all that thou hast and distribute it unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come follow me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful, for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God, for it is easier for a camel to go through the needle's eye than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they that heard it said, Who, then, can be saved? And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God. And Peter said later, We have left all and followed thee. And he said unto them, Verily, I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house or parents or brethren or wife or children for the Kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time and in the world to come life everlasting" (Luke 16:18-30).Jesus beheld everything under the aspect of the personal, as part of himself, and as related to himself: God, Nature, and his fellowmen. It was inevitable, therefore, that all his teaching should be permeated with his personality. His chief concern was not discussion of academic questions, nor participation in learned disputes, but to help men in the actualities of life by opening up to their vision the world of spiritual truth.
Then, Jesus appealed with special force to the poor, the lonely, the forlorn, and particularly to those who had gone astray. Here, again, it was not so much a matter of novelty: the teaching was not new; the Prophets were friends of the poor, defenders of the oppressed, and so were the rabbis; but the personal relation made a difference. Jesus not only championed the poor, he lived their life; he not only pitied sinners, but mingled with them; he not only praised penitents, as did every conventional rabbi, but he showed his love for them in personal contact."And he went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the place of toll, and he saith unto him, Follow me! And he arose and followed him. And it came to pass, that he was sitting at meat in his house, and many publicans and sinners sat down with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with the sinners and publicans, said unto his disciples, He eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners! And when Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:13-17).Jesus did not preach on the problems of poverty and of penitence; he dealt tenderly, lovingly, with the penitent and the poor.
As we study the ethical and religious teaching of Jesus, we cannot help recognizing the Jewish element in it, its Jewish authenticity, its relationship to the best prophetic traditions and ideals. The merit of Jesus lay in giving to those traditions and ideals a new expression, a new emphasis, and in endowing them with the perennial appeal of a fascinating personality. That he himself regarded his teaching as a pure expression of the Jewish religious ideal as a fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets one can hardly doubt. Indeed, we have it from his own lips. When asked by a scribe what were the essentials of Religion, he answered, it is said, with citations from the Jewish Law. The scribe assented and evoked from Jesus the remark: "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God!""And one of the scribes came, and heard them questioning together, and knowing that he had answered them well, asked him, What commandment is the first of all? Jesus answered, The first is, Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God, the Lord is one: and thou shalt love thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. The second is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. And the scribe said unto him, Of a truth, Master, thou hast well said that He is one; and there is none other but He; and to love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God" (Mark 12:28-34).
Jesus and His Contemporaries
A man's greatest treasures are his ideals. They are the thoughts, the aims, the dream by which his life is fashioned and directed. They are his inward treasure, the light by which he lives. A man's life is according to his ideals, and according to their hold upon him. When we speak of an idealist, we mean a man to whom his ideals are the most precious thing in life, and on whom they have a hold above everything elseabove material possession and advancement, even life itself."The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in the field; which a man found and hid; and in his joy he goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.Like other treasures, then, ideals cannot be gotten nor held without a certain cost. The idealist must be ready to pay the price of his ideals, and usually it means facing the opposition and misunderstanding of his fellowmen. There is hardly an idealist who has not been forced to endure the antagonism of the world, and particularly the unhappiness of being misunderstood by it. Had the world understood its idealists, and had it sought to put into effect their teachings and visions, it would be different than it is. But the world has hardly ever really grasped what its ideal teachers meant to convey and to accomplish. This has formed the tragedy of idealists. Sooner or later it is the fate of every idealist to realize the distance between himself and the world, the difficulty of making himself understood, and the remote chance of his words and visions finding fulfillment.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a merchant seeking goodly pearls: and having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it" (Matt 13:44-45).
To this rule Jesus, the arch-idealist, was no exception. If ever man spurned the material and devoted himself to the promotion of the spiritual, it was he, and it would have been truly miraculous had his contemporaries received his doctrine with unanimous comprehension and approval.
We cannot read the life of Jesus, however, without concluding that very early in his ministry he realized the difficulty of his task. It did not take him long to learn that it was one thing to have discovered for oneself the spiritual character of Religion, and quite another thing to bring the truth home to others, and particularly to the mass of the people. Did all those that heard him really grasp the purpose and the inwardness of His words? His outward acts, his helpful performances, the multitude understood; they made him popular; but did they understand his doctrine, which to him was the chief thing, the real bread of life? The loaves they appreciated; but how about the spiritual food? Worst of all, Jesus was not long in recognizing that even those closest to him, his chosen disciples, could not be depended upon for a real comprehension of what he was trying to do and say. "Are ye so without understanding also?" he demands. "Hear and understand!" This is his constant plea, and "Have ye understood all these things?" is the question he is repeatedly moved to ask his disciples, in one form or another. Time and again he has sought to make his purpose clear; but whether they have really understood is quite doubtful. It makes for the sadness of Jesusfor the sad undercurrent in many of his teachings and experiences.
The longer Jesus taught, the more convinced he grew of this futilityof this difficulty to communicate his spirit to others, fully to share his ideal with others, to flood with the light of his doctrine those souls that had not received it themselves from the Father. "No man can come to me except the Father who hath sent me draw him."
In the early days of his teaching he certainly felt that it was possible for him, the son, to make known God, the Father. He conceived it his mission to do this. It is erroneous to think that Jesus was the first to introduce into the vocabulary of Israel the designation of God as Father. This appellation goes back to the Jewish Bible, and to Jesus it had become familiar from the Bible and many another Jewish writing, as well as from the prayers that were in every day use among his people. "Our Father who art in heaven" was part of many a Jewish prayer of his day. But the designation of God as Father was Jesus' favorite form, expressing his basic and most intimate conception of his own and other men's relationship to God. He was convinced that there was no such efficacious way of knowing God as through His child, Man, and no such certain way of knowing Man as through his Father, God. The conception was not new; it was common among his people; but it was personalized in him and became his profound conviction.
This conviction came to him from his own experience, and, in his enthusiasm, he dreamed of making this truth known to others, felt by others. But the longer he taught, the more deeply he realized that while the truth was there, it was not easy to make it clear to those to whom the Father God Himself had not revealed it. "Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath." Jesus became more and more silent. Even his speech was half-silence. He spoke in halfwords. He was convinced of the futility of explanation to people who could not understand, who could not perceive for themselves, who were blind to the light.
Nowhere do we find this confirmed more strongly than in the closing scenes of his life. In his trial before the high-priest, in his stand before Pilate, on the very crosshe does nothing so little as explain. "Jesus held his peace." He is the man of silence throughout. "He gave no answer, not even to one word." He is the man who has learnt the folly of trying to explain the incomprehensible, who has learnt the sorrow of misunderstanding. "Thou hast said." "Thou sayest." His final cry betrays it. It is addressed not to man, but to Godwith whom he has been communing, sharing his thoughtsthe Father whom it had been his aim to make known to others. "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" It is a cry out of the depths of a silent soula soul forced into the regions of silence by the misunderstanding, the incomprehension, of the world.
What we should bear in mind, however, is that it was natural for Jesus to have been misunderstood and opposed by his contemporaries, allowing for those peculiarities of human nature which have always existed and have not yet ceased.
At first, the public appearance of Jesus created surprise among those that knew him."Coming into his own country, he taught them in their Synagogue inasmuch that they were astonished and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom and these powers? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary and his brethren James and Joseph and Simon and Judas, and his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence, then, hath this man all these things? And they were surprised in him (Matt 13:54-57).Presently however, surprise turned to resentment and antipathy. Jesus stood for something that differed radically from the conventional religion of the masses: he stood for prophetic religion as against mechanical religion, for a spiritual and not a material faith: he stood for Jewish mysticism rather than for Jewish politics. What more natural than that he should have aroused all kinds of discussion and opposition (which is the natural offspring of discussion)? "Some said he is a good man; others said nay, he deceiveth the people." To some he was a prophet, to others an imposter. Some thought him inspired, others queer. Some considered him a saint, others a doubtful character, a glutton and wine-bibber, hardly respectable, because he associated with publicans and was charitable to sinners."Whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the market places which call unto their fellows and say: We piped unto ye and ye did not dance, we wailed and ye did not mourn. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say he hath a devil. The son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold, a gluttonous man and a wine bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!" (Matt 11:16-19).As for the various leaders of the people, it was, again, quite natural for them to treat him either with aloofness or with hostility. The heads of the schools, who were Pharisees, no doubt regarded him as an enthusiast, a detached preacher of ethical and spiritual religion, which in itself coincided with the ethical and spiritual purposes of the authorized teachers, notwithstanding his occasional attacks on old and commonly accepted laws. And as for the priestly class and the aristocrats, they treated him with the suspicion and hostility which his attitude to them, and his utterances, could not but provoke.
Since Jesus sought to teach and to do what he did, I say, it was natural that he should have encountered misunderstanding, suspicion, and hostility. But we ought not to forget that in this regard Jesus shared what thus far has proved the inevitable fate of all idealists, and what particularly had to be endured by most, if not all, the Prophets of Israel. Amos, Jeremiah, Elijah, Moses, and many others had to face no less a measure of misunderstanding and abuse. Jeremiah depicts their common experience when he laments his own."O Lord, Thou hast enticed me, and I was enticed,Yet, it is just here that we witness one of the paradoxes of Jewish history, and, perhaps, of Jewish character. While, the Jews persecuted and tormented their Prophets, they none the less, by some peculiar proclivity or predestination, respected them and their mission. There was always enough regard for the Prophet to make it possible for him to proclaim his message, no matter how bitter a denunciation of the people it carried. The Jews were accustomed to the freedom of prophesying, and they preserved the prophetic castigations as part of their sacred literature.
Thou hast overcome me, and hast prevailed;
I am become a laughing-stock all the day,
Every one mocketh me.
Because the word of the Lord is made
A reproach unto me, and a derision, all the day,
And if I say: 'I will not make mention of Him
Nor speak any more in His name'
Then there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
Shut up in my bones,
And I weary myself to hold it in,
This Jewish toleration of the Prophet, and of the ethical critic, attended Jesus. It made it possible for him to go about teaching in the synagogues and the Temple, and arguing with scribes and priests, despite the opposition he aroused. As a teacher of religion and morality, no one could interfere with him, even had his teachings been more revolutionary than they were. If later on Jesus died for his utterances or enterprises, it was certainly not because of anything he taught in connection with religion or ethics.
But Jesus was not merely tolerated by his Jewish contemporaries. By many of them he was treated with love, friendship, and tenderness.
One of the great errors usually committed is the assumption that from his Jewish contemporaries Jesus received nothing but hatred and perescution. The Jews are supposed to have made his life miserable and continually to have plotted to kill him. Of course, this peculiar notion dates back to the age of the Gospels. It is a strange peculiarity of the Gospels that the word "Jews" is constantly used in contrast to Jesus and his followers. But were not the latter also Jews? It betrays the anti-Jewish bias of the Gospels, the fact that they received their present form when antagonism already existed between the churches and the Jews, as well as an effort to please the non-Jewish world, for whom the Gospels were chiefly written, at the expense of the Jews. This peculiar notion has been perpetuated to this day. The Jews are all supposed to have been arrayed against Jesus.
As a matter of fact, the contrary is true. For an idealist, Jesus found more than the common measure of appreciation among his Jewish contemporaries. As a teacher, he was not merely tolerated. By many he was loved. First, there were the crowds of which we hear repeatedly as thronging to him and hailing him as teacher and friend. They were all Jews. Then, there were his disciples: they were Jews. Then, there were his intimate friends, apart from those said to have been officially appointed as apostles. And, finally, there were the women who were devoted and ministered to him, and brought their children to be touched and blessed by him.
Was any teacher ever surrounded by so large a number of loving and loyal friends? And that in spite of the complete surrender he exacted. To be his disciple one had to give up everything, even kith and kin. Everything had to be sacrificed to the ideal."Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?"Notwithstanding the severe test, the circle of Jesus' friends, apart from his official disciples, is both varied and interesting: Lazarus, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Zaccheus; and among the women, Mary and Martha (sisters of Lazarus), Mary of Magdala (out of whom went seven devils), Joanna (wife of Herod's steward), Susanna, Salome: surely an array of friends, loyal and true, as has seldom been excelled; and they were all Jews. To think of this is to realize the foolishness of the assumption that Jesus failed to receive appreciation and love from his Jewish contemporaries.
"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven."
"If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. Whosoever doth not bear his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple."
"There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or lands, for my sake, and for the gospel's sake, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.""And Jesus went about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness among the people. And the report of him went forth into all Syria; and they brought unto him all that were sick, holden with diverse sicknesses and torments, possessed with devils, and epileptics, and palsied, and he healed them. And there followed him great multitudes from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan."Nor is it strange that Jesus should have gained such a following.
It was due, first of all, to the personal character of his teaching and work. Jesus differed in this respect from the majority of Jewish teachers. The latter, as a rule, were interested in principles, in doctrines, in ideals; they taught impersonally: this is true from the Prophets down. Some regard it as the special merit of the Jewish methodthis spiritual and ethical objectivity. Jesus taught personally. He pointed to himself not merely as an illustration of his teaching, but as an incarnation of it. When Moses addressed the Israelites, and wished to bring the thought of God home to them, he said: "The God of your fathers has sent me unto you!" Jesus, on the other hand, always spoke of his own God, his own Father. It was not a different idea; it was a change of emphasis, and the change was toward the accentuation of the personal element, Jesus' own personal interfusion with his teaching. The natural consequence was his personal appeal to his hearers, and the personal response of not a few.
There must be added, of course, the helpful healing power which Jesus exercised, and which gained for him the gratitude and good will of many, as well as the ultimate reputation of a worker of miracles.
Moreover, that such a teacher should have won the friendship of Jewish women is also easy to understand, particularly if one thinks of the remarkable part that women played in the Jewish life of the time.
Some think that the presence of women in the story of Jesus marks a complete change in the position of woman in Israel. That, of course, is an error. One must not forget the great women of the Old Testament, nor of the Talmud, nor the fact that the pages of Josephus are crowded with references to women, and to their conspicuous part in the religious and political agitations of the time. Jewish women took part in the activity of Jesus, because they were accustomed to take part in the religious and political life of the people.
It is these friendships, of both men and women, that put sweetness and satisfaction into the life of Jesus. Always humble and unpretentious, always tolerant and human, always sensible of the mixture of frailty and divinity in human nature, he was grateful for signs of friendship, whatever their form. The hardest thing Jesus had to bear, as Padraic Pearse, the Irish poet, has pointed out, was the scattering of his friends. "Is it not a sad thing," asks the poet, "that every good fellowship is broken up? Even that little league of twelve in Galilee was broken full soon." Having learnt that it is the lot of the idealist to be misunderstood by most, Jesus was the more grateful for the few who were likely to understandwhose soul was likely to prove a good and fertile soil for the seed he was seeking to sow."Behold, the sower went forth to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the birds came and devoured them: and others fell upon the rocky places, where they had not much earth: and straightway they sprang up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And others fell upon the thorns; and the thorns grew up, and choked them: and others fell upon the good ground, and yielded fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He that hath ears, let him hear" (Matt 13:3-9).In the parable of the sower, we have a complete picture of the reception Jesus expected and found among his contemporaries. "Know ye not this parable, and how shall ye know all the parables?""Hear then ye the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the evil one, and snatcheth away that which hath been sown in his heart. This is he that was sown by the way side. And he that was sown upon the rocky places, this is he that heareth the word, and straightway with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but endureth for a while; and when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, straight way he stumbleth. And he that was sown among the thorns, this is he that heareth the word; and the care of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. And he that was sown upon the good ground, this is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; who verily beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty" (Matt 13:18-23).
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