Chapter 7

Jesus of Galilee

 

JOHN'S WITNESS

 

After Nicodemus' visit, Jesus remained for some time in Judea, but he moved away from the treacherous city area and went toward the north where open country afforded him more freedom of action -- away from the suspicious gaze of the Sadducees and Pharisees. The place where he stayed was in a cove along the Jordan, and here we find that Jesus' disciples began baptizing after the manner of John.

 

John, too, was still baptizing farther north at Aenon, near Salim, because water was plentiful in that region, and people were constantly coming to him for baptism, for this was before John's imprisonment.

Some of John's disciples had fallen into a dispute with the Jews about purification; so they came to John and said, "Rabbi, there was a man with you on the other side of the Jordan, to whom you bore witness. Now he is baptizing here, and crowds of people are flocking to him."

 

John's answer to them was, "A man can have only what God gives him. You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Messiah; I have been sent as his forerunner.' It is the bridegroom to whom the bride belongs. The bridegroom's friend, who stands by and listens to him, is overjoyed at hearing the bridegroom's voice and this joy, this perfect joy, is now mine. As he grows greater, I must grow less."

 

The Gospel of St. John declares: He who comes from above is above all others; he who is from the earth belongs to the earth and uses earthly speech. He who comes from heaven bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his witness.

 

To accept his witness is to attest that God speaks true. For he whom God sent utters the words of God, so measureless is God's gift of the spirit.

 

The Father loves the Son and has entrusted him with all authority. He who puts his faith in the Son has hold of eternal life, but he who disobeys the Son shall not see that life; for God's wrath rests upon him.

 

One speaks most of what he knows, and Jesus Christ knows God and the life of heaven, so he is qualified as none other to talk about it. John was with many exhortations appealing to the people to repent; and by his speech he was on God's behalf, also scourging the rulers of Israel. He belonged to no party or sect and spoke freely his judgment. The religious rulers seemed to find no reason for stopping him, but Prince Herod, rebuked by John over the affair of his illegal wife, added this greater misdeed to a long list of evils by shutting John up in prison in the dungeons of Macherus.

 

It is probable that the Pharisees had some share, directly or indirectly, in the imprisonment of John. Disquieted by his exceeding popularity with the people, and anxious to be rid of this annoying reformer, the Pharisees shrewdly played upon the resentment toward him in Herod's court. John's placement in the remote military stronghold of Macherus in the extreme south of Perea seemed intended to remove this menacing instigator of the Messianic movement as far as possible from the multitudes who flocked to hear him.

 

For Herod sent and had John seized and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, whom he had married unlawfully. For John had told Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." And Herodias held a grudge against him and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and so he kept him safe.

 

At John's speech he was much perplexed, and yet he enjoyed conversing with the prophet and heard him gladly. Rascal that he was, Herod was loath to harm this man of God, whose fiery zeal together with the supreme purity and austerity of his life made him seem superhuman to the king whose own life was of such opposite extremes.

 

About this time there reached the ears of the Pharisees another report which said, "Jesus is winning and baptizing more disciples than John," although in fact it was only the disciples who were baptizing and not Jesus himself. Now when he heard this story and that of John's arrest, Jesus withdrew from Judea and set out once more for Galilee, knowing what that sort of popularity would expose him to and needing all the time possible to accomplish his full ministry, which was only just begun. His hour had not yet come, and it was needful to retire from the first warning of strife. So he directed his journey towards Galilee, taking the road through Samaria, with Capernaum as his destination.

 

Thus ended the witnesses of John to the coming of our Lord. For this he had come and would live on awhile in prison, but his work was now finished. He had performed a function like that of gathering storm clouds and early sprinkles of rain which herald a storm and warn the populace to prepare themselves; but when the deluge comes down, it absorbs in itself the preliminary shower and takes over the whole with great thunderings and lightnings. Thus had Jesus begun baptizing, absorbing the preliminary work of John, baptizing even more than John (not he, but his disciples, to show the distinction). And then after John's imprisonment, to quote St. Matthew: "From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.' "

 

Galilee, toward which Jesus now bent his footsteps, is at the northern end of Palestine and was occupied in Jesus' time by a much smaller group of Jews than was Judea in the southern part where Jerusalem was located.

 

Modes of Travel

 

The most common means of land travel in those days was on foot. Jesus walked continuously during his ministry and so did his disciples; later Paul made many long journeys on foot. The people were accustomed to traveling at least once each year to Jerusalem, so this trip was very common. The roads were worn smooth by heavy travel, by pilgrims, soldiers, students, merchants and message-bearing couriers, even caravans, so they were not difficult to follow, nor particularly lonely.

 

Donkeys were also commonly used. The Near Eastern Donkey is a strong, sure-footed animal, good-natured and inexpensive, and he travels at a comfortable gait. They were used either to ride upon or to carry burdens. Mary probably used one in her youthful journeys.

 

Camels were well-known too, but more expensive, and they served better for long journeys into other countries, or for commercial purposes, as they could carry heavy loads for long distances through regions where food and water were scare. They were not docile or very reliable for personal use.

 

Horses were costly, so their use was limited mainly to persons of wealth or high office, or military personnel.

 

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The Element Water

 

Because we are moving from the consideration of Water in its use on the outside of man for washing away his sins to a consideration of its inward use as spiritual water welling up from within, let us look at some of the mystical meanings of this element.

 

Water is a primordial element, not enumerated among the works of Creation, and thus its existence was presupposed. God brought floods of water to wash the whole earth of its evils in the time of Noah. And Moses, which means "taken out of the water," was so-named because the Egyptian princess drew him from the river.

 

Water is the symbol of the great feminine Principle, the substance of which the universe is formed. It is the solvent of all things, wherewith all are melted together in common bond.

 

Water is a conductor of electricity, and the water-bearer is the symbol of the Aquarian or electrical age. Jesus told the disciples to follow a man with a pitcher of water when they sought the upper room to celebrate the Passover.

 

Water is also a symbol of the psychic, or astral, of the Soul and of the waves of emotion. It we keep all these things in mind, it will help us to understand some of the actions of Jesus as he taught.

 

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