Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chapters 1-3: Getting Scriptures Wrong...What If...Jesus Afoot

8/14/2008 2:52 PM
chapter one
Ways to Get the Scriptures Wrong

The Bible is the world’s best selling book—and the least read. Well, having it nearby at least makes for one less excuse. But there are plenty more: too long, too old, too familiar, too complicated, too foreign (all those strange names)….Plus on my own?
Reading the Good Book strikes many as dangerous—almost as dangerous perhaps as leaving it unread.
Yet in a matter promising deliverance and happiness, maybe even hereafter, can one afford not to peek at least? We all know the Bible consists of two testaments. Aren’t we the least bit curious to see what, if anything, has been willed to us? Over so many centuries, any inheritance must certainly have accrued lots of compound interest by now.
Shying away from the Bible, even just the Gospels as in our case, usually stems from exaggerated anxiety that its contents may overturn our lives and loves. On the other hand, encouragement to find hidden rewards there can pander to other leanings, such as wishful thinking (as perhaps in the preceding paragraph). Skeptical or credulous…what will it be? But is there no approach that skirts both extremes, plus any other inadequate slants?
For all their brevity, simplicity and duplication, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have met with an out-and-out zoo of responses, leaving in their wake no little confusion, when not worse. Divinely inspired? Hoax? Just beautiful poetry or sublime moral utopias? When authored? By whom? A clever re-invention by Paul? Error-free, down to the last detail? Etc. High-sounding and occasionally scholarly theories cover the whole spectrum. Seemingly everybody has an interpretation. Things have so gotten out of hand that many doubt the authenticity of any passages that don’t agree with their pet bias.
How did this impasse come about?
On the basis of bits and drabs from Sundays past, many people think they know what the Bible is about and so leave the tome to gather dust. Others, after a sulfurous whiff or two, try to put as much distance between themselves and its threatening pages.
Bible scholars, usually with Germanic last names, also come in various flavors. Some like to indulge in mystical flights of fancy. Others drain the story of suspense when they minimize any human role in the text and assume that Christ is God himself. Still others try to remake Jesus into their own image and likeness—about the highest compliment those Herr Professors can bestow on a mere man.
Sprouting denominations at almost every turn, the past 2000 years of Christianity have likewise offered their own interpretations, usually discordant. Result? A Babel that puts the original one to shame.
It’s hard to make Christ out through the clouds and clutter. I’m not alone in asking, “What, after all, did Jesus say and do?” To find out, why not start all over again? Let’s read the Gospels, at least one of them, from stem to stern. And then, how about some investigative reporting, trying to reconstruct his sayings and doings? That’s where this book comes in. So, then let’s hold off on the interpretations till we’ve factually determined what all the text can tell us, warts and all. A whole lot of homework awaits us, before we can intelligently take or leave the Gospels’ messenger and his message. With some belated diligence, however, we should be able to answer the question: is it more reasonable to believe than to doubt and even deny?
Once the record has been pieced together as best it can, prospectors can then decide whether to trust Jesus and his word. Believers may also benefit by finding, or making more explicit, the grounds for their faith. Whatever they can do to reinforce their beliefs—and weaken the contrary case—will decrease both mood swings and temptations to unbelief.
The New Testament’s Christ is to be our main focus. We’ll concentrate on the four sketches of him that are the Gospels. If we don’t get Jesus right, at least in the main, the rest of the New Testament (not to mention the Old) will likely make little sense. The 23 latter documents need to be interpreted in view of the former four—and not vice versa. Many prematurely conclude that the Gospels are too “naïve,” “disjointed” and “concrete,” certainly not spiritual enough. They then pounce on speculative St. Paul and so give up mining the Gospel text. But that’s a trap heading apparently in the opposite direction to that of Jesus. Instead let’s keep at the painstaking detective work till it’s done. Let’s also keep an open mind, ignoring meanwhile any preconceptions or presuppositions. No little task.
Here are some things that need looking into:
· Mesh the four sketches into one chronological narrative;
· Peer into Christ’s so-called hidden life (10 times longer than his barely 3 years of public life);
· Explore Jesus’ relatives and parents, especially his mother;
· Tally and classify the “miracles” wrought by the Messiah and his followers (there are many more than the three dozen specifically named);
· Plumb the 38 parables: 21 offer novel and often fetching insights to the new kingdom and its king; the rest contrast the new with the existing legalistic establishment or simply expose the latter;
· Assemble and rank his moral teachings, both explicit and implicit;
· Study the prompts either to think or to believe;
· Profile the degrees of discipleship and its costs;
· Determine Jesus’ enemies and how much he provoked them;
· Lay out the kingdom’s rules on keeping quiet or proclaiming from housetops;
· Identify forerunners and predictions, mostly persecutions;
· Explain the roles of prayer;
· Detail Christ’s character, personality and “levels”;
· Interpret Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection: both failure and triumph?
· Make the acquaintance of God, the angels and other spirits;
· Examine the prospects and contours of heaven and hell. [#16]

Trying to map out Christ will occupy the lion’s share of this volume. But beforehand, let’s take up a preliminary consideration. There may be far deeper reasons affecting the search for the real Jesus. If the Messiah is the answer, what then is the question? And who wants to know? Hmm….
Over the past 2,000 years attempts to ask the right question have spawned hundreds of answers, some better than others. Had there, however, been among them an exact fit, the search would be over, crowned with a perfect ending. That doesn’t seem to be the case. What good is any savior unless it’s clear what or whom he’s to save us from? A recent example that may shed some light is found in Latin America’s recent flirtation with liberation theology. There have-nots exploited by a heartless upper class are told by frustrated, radicalized clerics they must topple their oppressors in a Marxist revolution and forcible re-distribution of wealth. And Christ, obviously no friend of the establishment, is to be their Generalissimo. A more common instance of trimming God to suit demand involves those obsessed with their seemingly irremediable sinning. Many of these are in the market for a doddering, grandfatherly, see-no-evil God who looks the other way or otherwise imputes no blame. At all events, let me first guess at what for most people today, myself included, is the most burning question or need.
Does anyone out there really care? In fact, is there even anyone out there? So ask, however unconsciously, all those milling, malling Little Orphan Annies. Some even come up with their own formula: “I don‘t know whether God exists or not, but if he does, he’s surely written me off by now.” These questions are of relatively recent origin. But “recent” doesn’t necessarily mean superficial. They had simply not been raised before, not at least on such a broad scale as today. Through the ages, pampered, privileged rich kids may have suffered varieties of identity crisis. But the rest have been too busy staving off hunger and purchasing with no little blood, sweat and brawn a plot of security. They were left with too little oomph or hope to indulge in the luxury of such queries or cravings.
Not so the past two or three generations: the spoiled-rich-kid malaise seems to have metastasized. That dubious honor we owe to near-universal education, freedom and wealthy trappings and conveniences, if not wealth. Few if any green plots or gratifications remain to be sampled. Theirs, if not ours, is the jadedness of “been there, done that.” Waning fast besides is the psychic stuff of envy, materialism, hope, passion, idealism and romance. Many today can lay claim to the complaints found in Memoirs of a Superfluous Man. Who or what would suffer if, say, suburban Sally were to return to the pages of Cosmo and to disappear for good? Does anything likewise stand or fall by perpetual adolescent Paul’s presence or absence—a mere blip at most in the Gross National Product?
Not too far into the 20th century things used to be different. Couples today are told each child comes with a half-million dollar price tag—and that’s before college. Yet even a century ago children were prized as assets: relatively free hands to work the family farm or cottage industry. Before the advent of social security and other welfare programs, a large family was also seen as an insurance policy against old age, premature deaths and catastrophic sicknesses. Back then no one felt unneeded or unwanted. There was plenty of work to be done, and a division of labor willy-nilly assigned to each a calling. When life and even survival were no distant threats, love between the couple themselves and between the parents and kids barely entered into the calculus.
When I was growing up on the Great Plains, of an evening we’d pile into the truck to cool off by driving about. On one such excursion mom pointed out which homesteads had begun thanks to mail-order brides. By most indications such couples seemed to have fared as well as those born of more traditional courtships. Usually under a sepia photograph of the available belles, the publication would list her skills and other qualities. If the farming pioneer liked what he saw and read, he’d drop her (or them) a line expressing his interest and background. If in response the prospective bride concurred, he would send her money for a one-way train fare. The usual custom was for the couple to make up their minds within 24 hours of her arrival. Time was of a premium; backbreaking harvest was bearing down on them; summer would soon be over.
We can imagine a prospective husband thinking along these lines: “OK, OK, she may be a good looker and even skilled in social ways, but can she cook, sew, nurse, teach the 3 Rs, keep a big garden, feed the flocks and herds, milk the cows, cut the logs…besides bringing a baby into the world every year and a half?” Such as they saw marriage not unlike a business partnership wherein each supplied what the other lacked. Mutual understanding and affection were more in the nature of extras to this mutual-help pact. Amid such straitened circumstances, children were rarely presented as optional such duties as doing chores and homework or contributing with their meager earnings to the single family “pot.” So long as the family was barely scraping by, rare is the child that could get tied up in psychological knots over the question of being loved conditionally. Whoever told them things could be different?
Yet beware of nostalgically mooning over the values of some past golden ages. Let’s keep in mind that our forebears, more than choosing a no-frills, resourceful life, were actually quite adept at making of necessity however many virtues they apparently sported. There just weren’t all that many chances to go wrong—not with another mortgage payment coming due and a drought peeping around the corner. This rather sweeping claim is borne out by how soon and thoroughly those good habits began to fray, when after WWII the Yankee cornucopia really started to churn out goods and goodies galore.
And what a scene it has been—and will be. The technological updraft has continued to soar, with all kinds of unsettling consequences. Consider advances of these: transportation, communication, medicine and health, contraception, computerization and automation, social and geographical mobility, proliferation of education and specialization. As entertainment and sports coverage has expanded to 24/7, tribal, family and church ties have frayed, along with morals and mores. Plus what hasn’t been psychologized these days?
Interestingly enough in roughly the same period, organized religion underwent similar changes. The sheep-tending vocabulary nearly says it all. The congregation was called “flock”; the minister, “pastor”; his job, “to shepherd”; lay religionists were known as “sheep” and even “lambs.” Scarcely versed in matters doctrinal and liturgical, the lay folk knew their job to be docility and submission: “Just tell us what to believe and do.” They didn’t aspire to more—which neatly dovetailed with their reverends’ expectations. So long as America was in the main rural and small-town, the formula worked. Roles were largely clear and accepted; the net cooperative effect was one of harmony and familiarity. But with the rising tide of education, wealth and freedom, the flock became a restless body hankering for independence. “Why can’t we think for ourselves?” Men of the cloth also began to doubt many of the traditional mores, beliefs and pieties.* “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” often has seemed the mantra of their ministerial shrinkage. One’s relationship with God, moreover, was often exposed as a contractual thing, resting largely on enlightened self-interest, if that.
With an anemic character and hazier goals, moderns have consequently found themselves misbehaving and sinning more often. What to do? Catholics used to stand in line on Saturday evenings headed to the confessional where their transgressions would be voided. But that periodic brush with personal wretchedness has largely disappeared. Rote, mechanical confession was unmasked and dubbed useless; meanwhile serious sin had been explained away. The same conversion of wine into water had earlier infested the Protestant camp, thanks to wave after wave of soothing but lying secular humanism: “I’m OK, you’re OK.” Prayer had also fallen into disuse, as emancipated people have found themselves with all kinds of other resources. Moreover, their half-hearted petitions never seemed to get answered anyway (surprise!). The result compounds the pervasive sense of a massive identity crisis.
But that’s not all. Most of us seem to be sinking, some for the third and final time, in a vast ocean of conditional love. So long as we behave, others’ allegiance is a good, necessary thing. We all need affirmation and understanding. There’s nothing wrong with this love, which boils down to the golden rule. But what happens, as so often is the case, when we’re neither loving nor lovable? When we misbehave, the welcome mat sooner or later is whisked away. Then to probe the fickleness of others’ shallow commitment, we rebel in no uncertain terms. Found wanting, this conditional affection is soon enough revoked entirely. Whereupon the rebellion is confirmed, to the detriment of however many parties. For instance, unreflective parental fondness pretty much gives out when the solitary first child (an experiment in fulfillment at least on the mother’s part?) begins to sass them back. Others, more cynical, foreswear the whole parenting business in the light of how others’ kids turn out. “Who the hell wants to be cooped up with a monster or two for some 20-30 years?”
What a huge, huge difference the past century has wrought! Can Humpty-Dumpty be epoxied back together? Is it even worth a try? Probably not, given the unlikelihood of turning the clock back. But all of the above zeroes may have largely stemmed from half-hearted stabs at the game of life anyway. Isn’t it a bit ridiculous to cry over spilt milk that was already turning bad on its own? Rather, see all those dead-ends as belated wisdom. We’re not to go there again. The decks are being cleared. People are beginning to see themselves as their worst enemy—instead of their supposed best friend. Sooner or later we all need to come clean. What we’re to be saved from is our own lying, cheating selves. And in this uncertain project, we may stand in need of some outside help. That may sum up the chastened mindset of those who may just be able to recognize and even resonate to some Good News and even the Best News: the prospect of an absolutely Unconditional Lover.
There you have the question for which the Messiah may be the answer. But only those who are sick and tired of the “bad olds” can appreciate the contrary. Otherwise the proverbial pearls will find themselves being tossed to and trampled by unwitting swine (see Mt 7:6). Didn’t Christ say that only those who are sick need a physician (see Mt 9:12 Mk 2:17, Lk 5:31)? So, by acknowledging ourselves to be moral pygmies, we may finally be able to get Christ right, however many times we’ve failed in the past.
Are we justified in raising the question of subjective dispositions and readiness? Yes, where do you think all those misinterpretations and misunderstandings come from? A story is told about the comic W. C. Fields, not particularly known to be fond of religion. Sick and bedridden, Fields is visited by a friend surprised to see him leafing through the Bible. “What’s this, W. C., have you found religion in your old age?” “No,” ran the reply, “just looking for loopholes.” We usually find what we look for. None of us is a stranger to misjudgments, both coming and going. Sometimes we rashly, impatiently, kid ourselves. At others we just don’t feel like digging for what makes others tick. In our regard others answer in kind. When, moreover, life-or-death issues come up, then we’re more likely to be especially defensive and truth-bending.
Just ask Christ, a communications failure through the ages. Had he unfurled a program as limited, say, as Dale Carnegie’s, most people would have ignored and dismissed him. That he was rejected so fiercely and nearly unanimously may testify to the depth of his message, mission and character. So many mistakes by others accumulated in fact that they spelt his death. We can’t therefore be surprised that most attempts to read scripture, sooner or later, also peter or short out. The Gospels cannot be taken up lightly or, at the other extreme, too ponderously. Both may be defense mechanisms. Success and peace, however, are promised to those of “good will” (see Lk 2:14).

So, what kind of a book is this? I have few credentials. But the absence of letters after my name may end up being a plus. Most of the “higher biblical critics” like to speak in code to the like-minded: at most 200 of them the world over. For starters then, I’m nobody’s mouthpiece but my own. And I largely agree with whoever once said, approximately: “Any religious formulation at which my cleaning lady turns up her nose I view with deep suspicion.”
One last word. In drawing close to Christ in the Gospel pages, beware also of shallow dreams and stunted expectations—or their opposites. We’re more likely to shipwreck by harboring too few hopes than too many. To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, most people claim they’ve tried Christ and found him wanting, whereas in truth they’ve barely got their big toe wet. C. S. Lewis points up the same danger in our calling upon God as Mr. Fixit to make our little cottage snug and cozy. Thank you. He may help us to curb our lust, shrink our gossiping, overcome our inveterate laziness. Yes, he may do so at times and in part, plus grant some of our prayers—but only to get our attention for the main act.
How we may gyp God (and ourselves) in seeing him as a mere but prissy schoolmarm—or thundering tyrant! That something much, much greater and better and deeper and rapturously ecstatic may just be the reward for heeding Jesus’ absolutely outlandish and uncompromising demands to fling away our lives and all worlds to possess it.…Him?

Chapter 2
10/24/2008 12:08 PM; 4955ww
What If…?

Albert Einstein credited the imagination for the deepest and most permanent insights into reality, in physics to be sure, but elsewhere as well. In conversation one day with Saint-John Perse, he asked the poet what sparked his work. Perse: intuition and imagination. “It’s the same for a man of science” was Einstein’s delighted response.* Maybe it’s similar for Scripture gleaners also.
We’re also embarked on a research project: the more facts, the better. But that’s not an end in itself. Eventually we hope to draw some conclusions supported by the data. Meanwhile the imaginative mind is trying out all kinds of hunches—something over which we seem to have lit­tle control. (Similarly, we never stop dreaming about a happiness better than our current lot; oth­erwise we simply wouldn’t budge.) We’re on the lookout for patterns (hypotheses) to fit the most possible observations into something approximating a whole: “If that’s so, does this follow or that—or what?” As the composite image grows richer, we discard interpretations that do violence to the mounting data. Otherwise, we’re not likely to get to the batter’s box, let alone first base.
So, let’s first try to imagine implausible scenarios for Jesus’ presence in Palestine some 2,000 years ago. Then perhaps the settings he did appear in may not seem so arbitrary.
Let’s suppose Christ were born into an upper-class, moderate Pharisee family. We’re told there may have been 1,000 such in all Judea and Galilee, largely in Jerusalem. His hidden life would take place amid leisure and things of the mind. Unacquainted with toil, at most he might have been a source of pithy axioms, however insightful and elevated. As an adult, would he have contrasted all that much from, say, Socrates or Confucius? Any followers might then be something akin to Boy Scouts or to guru groupies. His self-manifestation would likewise have been limited and muted. To establish his mission, from an early age his departures from the Pharisee ethos would have had to be quite frequent, inviting rising criticism. Had, further, his Pharisee family been of the stricter stripe, he would have been entangled even earlier by both rigid legalism and vo­ciferous disquisitions of the Law. In any case he would still clash with the establishment, leading the teacher to his persecution, passion and death—a collision the “odd ball” provoked, in part.
However, with no toe-hold amid the populace, wouldn’t such a Jesus have remained largely an intramural alien, somewhat elitist to boot? In those days some nine out of ten Jews are esti­mated to have been poor. Such lack of solidarity would hardly be a good platform for launching a new world religion to address the spiritual needs of most everybody. Moreover, without there being anything more at stake, his death too would have been sheared of any liberating purpose. No­body has ever claimed some sort of deliverance as a consequence of Socrates’ poisoning via hemlock at the hands of Athens’ authorities.
A good moral teacher and leader, especially one acting in God’s name like the Jewish prophets, would bolster his case with the further sanction of cures and miracles. Such an envoy might help his peers to have a fuller grasp of human nature and its goals, plus offering them clearer notions of God. But would that have been enough stimulus for the Jews to fight free of their moral and religious morass? Probably not. As John Henry Newman once pointed out in so many words: no one will ever die a martyr for an argument, however air­tight. Nor would such a super-prophet himself likely escape a super-execution, given the Jews’ custom of dispatching those sent to them.
What if the Teacher had come on the scene as a total adult stranger? Imagine some sort of itin­erant preacher and do-gooder, à la the protagonist of Joshua Tree. But wouldn’t an en­shrouded origin greatly add to the troubles of deciphering an already mysterious Christ? If a new revelation is to be trumpeted once for all, an uncertain sound may be worse than nothing. What­ever else he may be, a clear genealogical descent would help to establish the human reality of any envoy.
What if Jesus had militated with the zealots, steeped in animus towards the Romans? Such a politically-obsessed mien is so distant from a mere sketch derived from the Gospels that it hardly deserves consideration.
Consequently, it seems unlikely that Jesus would stem from any of Jewry’s religious or politi­cal parties. It might help, however, if he, paradoxically, came laden with wisdom but hail­ing from a lowly socio-economic rank. If indeed he claims to be some sort of ambassador from God, this could be best backed by many miracles in his wake. The Messiah would likely fulfill the requirements of a prophet—and then some. Yet somehow his influence would have to be greater and go deeper than that attending earlier prophets, while not departing from the sum of their traditions.
Now our imaginings of a possible deliverer can’t take place in a vacuum. If there are strong hints that in the past God may have shown himself in part, such unveilings merit our attention. You don’t have to be­lieve that the Bible is God’s very word to accord it some authority. Is there any other religious foundational document that has been so prized and exalted, even at the cost of some of its defenders’ lives?
The Old Testament, viewed here as a trustworthy historical document, is a repetitious story of Hebrew waywardness, partially arrested time and again by some conspicuous divine interven­tion. Such godly displays include, among others, the delivery of the Ten Commandments, Joshua’s miraculous military battles, the daily advent of Manna, the universal Flood, and a suc­cession of prophetic utterances. Then, regardless, the once repentant Jews would grow weary of heeding God’s directions or envious of their neighboring tribes’ manifold deities, soon falling away in any case. Thereupon God would generate a wake-up call in the form of some punish­ment or prophet—or both—and try to renew his covenant. This up-and-down pattern had been going on for some 2,000 years, dating from Abraham’s vocation, when not from the primal days of Eden. In the main the chosen people entrusted with monotheism reacted in monotonously similar ways.
Can the same be said of the Lord of the Old Alliance? As the centuries went by, God seems to have grown less warring and tribal. He also seems to have prompted Jewry ever so slowly to evolve from a collective and external religion to one that is more personal and internal. Just compare the flavor and thrust of, say, the Old Testament’s Chronicles with the book of Isaiah, penned some thousand years later in and around the Babylonian exile. Each refinement, however, made the proposal less attractive to the vast majority. God seemed to be choosing successively a smaller and smaller remnant of faithful souls who will apparently pave the way for the Gentiles, as Jewish apostates fell by the wayside. Even God seemingly abides by the adage: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” He doesn’t seem deterred by the Jews’ disloyalty. Precedents abound, therefore, for God’s sending more prophets and maybe even a definitive one. Did he? Let’s turn to the immediate historical con­text.
At the time of Christ, the Jews had been missing prophets for some 500 years. The reason surely was not that they had finally digested the prophetic messages and were acting on them. Yet there were a few people back then on the lookout for a new revelation to enlighten and console them, even non-Jews such as the Roman poets Virgil and Horace, the Wise Men out of Persia, the Ethiopian eunuch baptized by Philip….Especially among the Jews, Messianic ex­pectancy was running high 2,000 years ago. Bible students had found in the Old Testament at least 150 Messianic prophecies, most of them literal, whetting the long-thwarted Jewish appetite for some sort of redemption.
Coincidentally, even external circumstances for spreading a fuller disclosure of the divine im­age were favorable. First Greek, then Roman armies had conquered the known world, from Great Britain to the gates of India. There had never been more facility for travel and the ex­change of thought—nor less facility for an armed insurrection by the Jews, given the grim, im­placable Roman legions. And through this world of Greek speech and culture, of Roman roads and institutions, the Jewish people, till then so clannish and conservative, had been dis­persed as little colonies in Rome, Alexandria, Ephesus, Antioch, Corinth and many other cities. These Jews of the Diaspora could serve as centers for the propagation of any new Jewish mes­sage. There were, we might say, conscious need and practical opportunity. But could anything new and universal stem from this most backward, poor and forlorn corner of the world?
Yet is there anything provincial in a God disclosing himself at one time instead of another, in one place rather than an­other? Palestine was admittedly a tiny coun­try and hidebound besides. However, its religious dogmas and history were, even apart from any fu­ture Christian considerations or elaborations, something unique among re­ligious histories. Even were the Christian relig­ion to be proved fraudulent, aren’t we tugged to admit that, of all the great world religions, Ju­daism was the purest in its method of worship and the truest in its theo­logical principles? Further, from what little we might know of God, somehow mightn’t we expect him to use inadequate instruments and settings? Otherwise the essence and strength of any revelation might be lost amid the use of an astounding, piercing megaphone.
What if behind the scenes God had been orchestrating events and people to pave the way for a special envoy? Short of bending and curtailing human freedom, any God worth his salt, so to speak, could presumably stack the deck somewhat. Had you been in God’s almighty shoes, might you not have acted similarly? Wouldn’t you thus have arranged the social-political cir­cumstances and interiorly readied enough individu­als at any rate to make viable the reception and spread of any new divine message? Try to come up with any more initiatives God could have possibly authored. Indeed the attempt to improve upon the actual scenario is a healthy exer­cise: a cobweb-cleansing process of discovering and discarding dead-end streets. What better way to appreciate what may indeed have happened?
That humans were dangerously marooned without some sort of divine invasion doesn’t prove anything of God, not even whether he exists. It may have been “bad luck” for the human race to be left to construct its own religion, consid­ering how faltering are our mind, will and stabs at fulfillment. The human plight might seem almost to demand a revelation. But that es­tablishes no claim that God was bound to reveal himself. Only if he’s good, should we have ex­pected him to do so. But are we justified in assuming he is? This wouldn’t be the first time the human race has engaged perhaps in some wishful thinking.
Would it have ever occurred to humanity to love God or vice versa, had something not hap­pened in the first century A.D.? Most unlikely, claims Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). The gods of Greek and Roman mythology were heartless, making men and women their mere playthings. Earlier and even later formulations of theology at most called for honoring and respecting the reigning gods. Aristotle perhaps scaled higher than anybody when he postulated an Unmoved Mover. But this “God” was eter­nally caught up in admiring his utmost excellence and beauty. At most he let himself be known and de­sired by whoever might get his moral-intellectual house in order. Thus would he spur distant in­feriors to their limited perfection without bestirring himself.
The ancients, including Athens’ philosophers, had no notion of creation. They viewed the cosmos as something eternal, without beginning or end. Human history at most was something circular, cyclical. For them, any golden age was in the past. It was the Jews alone who bet on the future, a deliverance promised from on high. Whatever relationship the Gentiles saw as ob­taining between the deity and humanity was one of power, analogous to that found between kings and their subjects. None of them dared to liken it to that arising between parents and their children.
Even the Old Testament, evidently the body of God’s self-revelation, is shy about proposing an exchange of love be­tween God and the individual human soul. One of its oldest books, Deu­teronomy, talks of loving God a dozen times; Sirach (never officially part of the Jewish Bible canon), eight times; only 13 times in the rest of the Old Testament. The prophets tell you to fear God, to seek God, to come back to God, little about loving him. Mankind was then apparently still learning the spiritual alphabet. Only with a fuller reve­lation could humans come to abound in a sense of di­vine intimacy. Since then, however, such love has been taken for granted. Even your “half-Christian­ities,” so called by Ronald Knox, which dislike the ideas of revela­tion, historical facts and mira­cles, insist loudly that God’s love is the only thing that mat­ters. Yet without ac­knowledging God’s factual interference in human affairs, how can one cer­tainly know that God is supremely loving and lovable?
Etymologically, revelation means drawing aside a veil, letting us see something that was there all the time, possibly even at work unbeknown to us. And the most staggering demand such disclosing could make on our powers of belief would be to assure us that God loves us, wretched and unrequiting though we be. It’s noteworthy that every time humans devise a religion, they write the human role as servants of God. Incredible though it be, when God authors a religion, he starts off, and ends up, serving his rebellious creatures. No wonder there are so few takers of the God-given version. Yet somehow the Remnant, through prayer, integrity, reflection and imagination, was gaining on this conclusion, no matter how haltingly. Those who dwelled on God’s disinterested decision to create and his fondly holding creatures in existence, despite their waywardness, seemingly had less distance to go. For such the Creator-creature relationship stemmed, not from power, but from fatherhood.
Whatever or whoever brought it about, a blindness had apparently descended on nearly all the human race. It obscured ultimate questions. The upshot was that humans had lost sight of their true face and no less of God’s. Accordingly, most men and women saw themselves reflexively as their best friends. And God, when seen at all, was viewed as someone close to their worst enemy. So long as this inverted proposition held sway, would there be any need to right themselves or to rectify their relationship with God? Consequently they’d need some outside corrective action to galvanize their engaging in some serious truth therapy on the inside. Humans had brought on their own blindness; they must strive to undo it. But clenched fists and gritted teeth might not be enough, not at least for the vast majority. On the other side of the equation, almighty God didn’t have exactly a free hand either, unless he was uncharacteristically to bulldoze human freedom.
Another related point to clarify: what’s the origin and purpose of any God-given moral proscriptions and prescriptions, say, the Ten Commandments? The vast majority of people, both then and now, tend to see them as a rather arbitrary obstacle course athwart human strivings and aspirations. The Creator lays them down to keep us in submission and to enshrine his sovereignty. Accordingly, to transgress them is wrong largely because such sinning offends God’s imperial anger. We see as much in the second Psalm, where the kings of the earth rebelled “against the Lord and his anointed,” for having saddled humanity with oppressive chains and gratuitous yokes. When men were learning their moral ABCs, perhaps it was necessary to make behavioral rules an authoritative matter, when not an authoritarian imposition. So in any case do we deal with children. But with the reflection and experience that make up maturity, one might be able to see that the main victim is neither God nor any wronged peer but the miscreant himself. Why? Each misdeed frustrates both the human mind and the aim of human nature. Because erring backfires on its author, God thus brands it wrong. Much as does a good parent.
Note that we did not say a doting grandfather, who may choose to look the other way. Some self-serving people tend to think that they can attain to an afterlife’s final reward without undeceiving their mind and “disinfatuating” their will. But how can a misdirected nature find fulfillment by landing on a conveyor belt headed in the opposite direction? The ensuing dislocation and distortion strike the author as coming close to spelling hell, unless one’s fundamental intention has at least shifted out of reverse.
Earlier in this chapter we imagined some unlikely settings for any divine envoy. Then we aimed for a bird’s-eye view of God’s apparent disclosures to the Jews. We also asked whether circumstances were ripe for a definitive prophet and the likelihood of God’s taking such a step. We’ll conclude this chapter spelling out the plausible needs and ways for such a divine invasion and rescue. What, in other words, should we be looking for in surveying the New Testament? What are the probable tasks and truths any savior and deliverer would have to undertake and proclaim, if his mission is to be viable and even successful?
First is the unfinished business of the old covenant.
As promised, the prophetic call to repentance and salvation has to reach most of the Jews (an estimated million in some 2,000 towns and hamlets in Judea and Galilee). Since the unassisted human voice is lucky if it can reach the fringes of a crowd of 200, the consequent crisscrossing of Palestine adds up to lots of time, sweat and sandal-leather.
Won’t cures and miracles—the more, the better and the wider-spread, the better—be the best certification that Jesus is at least a special divine envoy?
Moreover, nearly 700 religious, moral and ritual precepts binding the Jews had accumulated over the prior 1500 years. Most were man-made and proscribed ahead of time by the Lord. Will the envoy have enough authority to simplify and rank the oppressive, when not impossible, burden of duties galore?
How satisfactorily will the Messiah match up with a hundred or so prophecies foretelling his deeds and sufferings? These bloody passages are found in Isaiah (all of chapter 53).
Then there was the need to show up the Scribes and Pharisees. In effect they had a seeming monopoly on the Jewish religion. Not only was theirs stifling external legalism, but a full-time occupation. On both counts did they scare away the weak and work-laden.
Most Jews perhaps saw their liberation in terms of the yoke imposed on them by their pagan overlords. Gradually, the Messiah must rather convince them their worst enemy is closer to home.
But, much more important, how will the new revelation address the nagging question of how to generate enough steam just to fulfill the Ten Commandments? Ever since these precepts were entrusted to Moses circa 1500 B.C., Jews had been struggling, some manfully, to measure up…and largely failing in the attempt. In this regard the times haven’t changed all that much. Ultimately, the question boils down to one of strength and motivation. Seemingly the Jews simply weren’t sold enough on the Lawgiver to heed his Decalogue more than fitfully. Making Yahweh* more attractive and loveable would thus seem to be a paramount challenge of the envoy.
What features might the fuller revelation display?
To compensate for earlier collective shortcomings, we’re likely to see greater emphasis on the personal and spiritual. To that end we would expect any definitive message to make fuller allowance for both thinking and praying as pathways to greater knowledge of God, plus more intimate communion with him. Those same exercises would also likely lead to enhanced self-knowledge and personal responsibility.
Conversely, God’s not likely to make up for human sloth by mystically revealing himself to each and every human being—theoretically, one of his strategic options. Therein would lie dangerous subjectivism, confusion and wishful thinking, especially when private revelation is not joined to moral reform.
However superior the new theology might be, we can’t expect it to do away magically with the hindrances and indispositions thrown in God’s way by unreceptive, unrepentant human beings. Even God can’t override human freedom, abusive or not. If throughout the Old Covenant, let’s say, one or two percent were open to God’s overtures and revelations, in the best of cases we can’t expect more than 10-20 percent to be newly and effectively responsive. The new envoy will likewise be a probable failure, though perhaps eventually to a lesser extent than his predecessors.
Now this “failure” may not befall the new superior prophet unexpectedly. He might foresee and foretell such a bloody end. Further, might he not make such a fate, especially if willingly undergone and desired, somehow an integral part of some sort of saving tableau?
These spiritual and emotional needs might point to a new theology wherein God’s fatherhood is emphasized. Even imperfect parents have been known not to give up on their errant children. This would be somewhat of a Copernican revolution with respect to the chosen people’s rather stern image of God. In all of the Old Testament God is called “father” only seven times, not so much to point to his bowels of mercy as to use another word equivalent to “lord.”#
The problem with the scribes and Pharisees was that they equated holiness with external obser­vances and sacred things: a matter of nouns and verbs. But what if the new message were all about eliciting a new disposition, a change of heart to underlie and stimulate all things and deeds? What if the new convocation were all about how and why—adverbs both? And wouldn’t such a shift fling open the doors equally to everyone, regardless of circumstances, talents, age, learning, health and so on? If so, the switch would go from chosen people to everyone chosen.
Most Jews knew themselves to be sinners for disobeying divine decrees. And if past be prologue, they were pessimistic about any future improvements. (Neither here have things changed much.) Was there any escape from divine disfavor? God’s justice and his mercy did not co-exist all that well in the Old Covenant, at least in the eyes of the human partner. Dare Jews hope for any reconciliation in the new revelation? To keep them (and any Gentiles) from going haywire both morally and psychologically, nothing short of God’s unconditional love would seem to be required. How could this be best expressed?
Except for the not totally convincing case of Job, the Old Testament does little to assuage the doubts and despairs of those undergoing or witnessing undeserved suffering and even death. How could an almighty and all-loving Creator allow such calamities to ravage the good and innocent? Somehow or other the new revelation must address this mystery more satisfactorily. Otherwise foxholes might well prove to be breeding grounds for agnostics and atheists.
Here’s a question we often overlook, much to our impoverishment: All our knowledge, philosophers tell us, begins in the senses. If something does not engage one or more of these portals to the physical world, it simply cannot be known (inferred) or desired. This limitation, when ignored, points to big troubles for the human race.* For example: if you were born into a den of thieves and had never moved beyond their reach, you would likely think that one of the essential traits of human nature was thievery. Or maybe the question had never arisen, since you neither had seen nor heard of someone bereft of sticky fingers. You’d likely follow suit yourself without much scruple or forethought.
But then one day you stumble across an obvious non-filcher who was apparently more fulfilled than you or your buddies. After rejecting denials and other bogus explanations, you come around and conceive a hankering and longing for whatever it is that makes Petunia enviably contented. One thing leads to another, and before too long, your grasp on stealing (and much else of a questionable nature) begins to weaken. Perhaps you even start making up for your earlier sleights of hand. But then Petunia moves away to take care of a dying relative. With a swiftness that nearly takes your breath away, you soon find yourself back to old pinching ways. Lessons: first, we need to see goodness incarnated to know that it really exists and beckons. We also need to keep rubbing elbows with our betters. We all in fact hail from Missouri. If anyone, God the Creator should surely be aware of this dependency and act accordingly.
Could God send himself? It would probably solve a lot of problems and would pose no insurmountable new problems. Obviously, he couldn’t walk among us as someone manifestly divine. That smells of too much too soon and would likely backfire. Would there be anything inherently dishonest in God’s fully assuming a human nature? No, not if he didn’t deny his divinity. In fact, if God really wanted to help his stranded, stunted children, wouldn’t his embodiment be practically the best way to do so?
Wouldn’t humans be offered thereby a burnished image of an ever encouraging God to see them through tons of repeated backslidings? Mightn’t then our bad news (miseria), paradoxically, be the best medium to magnify his Good News (misericordia)?
What if, also thereby, the human race were presented with a compelling example of a fully enriched human nature? This might persuade them that their labors to hone intellectual and moral virtues were worth while and ultimately rewarding, especially to others.
What if, in answer to those two needs, the Envoy were both God and man projecting the two faces at once, though ever so gradually? Otherwise God’s children might be scared off from drawing the due conclusions. Thus might we imagine a musing of one of the apostles: “What if the leader-friend on the other side of the campfire, now drinking from the wineskin, now squirting Jake alongside, now contributing his rich baritone to a rousing chorus of ‘Hava Nagila,’ were also God?”
And what would be the greatest proof that God remains in the human corner always, regardless? What if, to bolster the reasonable hope that the Creator cannot stop loving his children, the Envoy were factually to die and resurrect for his executioners? Wouldn’t that unilateral, unconditional pledge be the supreme proof that, while we, more or less consciously, can kill his love, we can’t keep it killed?
An unknown, incarnate God operating on the basis of “baby steps” seems to be a winning scenario because it so accommodates how we’re built. First, doesn’t it facilitate God’s weaving an ever escalating friendship with his children? Second, if God wants to show that his children needn’t engage in extraordinary or sacred activities to make him the center of their loves, what better example could there be than of Jesus’ humdrum hidden life? The first reason perhaps calls for some clarification.
Growing (or shrinking) by “leaps and bounds” is not the usual way humans conduct their moral lives. That’s why we often take a huge conversion (or collapse) as largely emotional exaggeration. Moreover, for us to confront utter, unalloyed goodness would likely resemble the blindness an owl experiences when exposed all at once to bright sunlight. Our tempo is poco a poco. We’re won over progressively to loving goodness by ever greater manifestations thereof and no less by our better understanding thereof, especially of tough love. First, like little children, we seek the giver’s gifts, then the gifts’ giver. All of which presupposes intimacy over a goodly length of time. The first lessons in love are best learned in a family setting. Later, deeper lessons are likely learned most readily in something like a spiritual family. We should consequently be on the lookout for the Envoy’s choosing some companions and lavishing on them his endearing favors. On the other hand, the challenges and requisites of love’s growing all but shut the door on those who try to go it alone.
Thus, the permanent human condition seems to call for God stealthily to incarnate himself and to knit a sufficiently strong friendship with closer followers able to weather any future persecutions and other trials. Should the enfleshed God decide to return to his native invisibility, we’d expect him then to leave behind men and women saintly enough to resemble him and somehow to echo his unconditional self-giving. Even better would be for these aspirant saints to be spread throughout the nooks and crannies of everyday secular life. That would diminish the chances of people justifiably claiming they were denied such potentially saving encounters.
To instill and leave behind such loving dedication (and all it presupposes) in his apostolic successors would seem to be the prime reason for God’s incarnation. While this was necessary, it might not be sufficient. Even at the risk of allowing the defects of the Jewish establishment to crop up, God would probably also set up an organized church body to defend and declaim the new revelation and to offer certain sacraments as guaranteed channels of illuminating and invigorating divine help. But note that this clerical superstructure should rather act more like an infrastructure: to midwife at least friendship between God and each of his children. It must resemble and echo its founder. In fact, would it be too much to ask that he choose so to act through others?

3/10/2009 1:35 PM; 9347ww
Chapter 3: Jesus Afoot

Too often readers and hearers of Christ’s life are left with disjointed frag­ments. They run the same risk of misun­derstand­ing Jesus as did many Jews 20 centuries ago. Even if they try to assemble the puz­zle, there are still many pieces missing. Plus some people may have dis­carded certain uncomfort­able teachings. But even with an open mind it’s still difficult to follow chrono­logi­cally and knowingly in Christ’s foot­steps. One con­sequently may lose out on the drama and pro­gressive suspense of the Savior’s mis­sion.
Offered here are both a framework to help in connecting and structuring Gospel facts and the background to un­derstanding the drama that was Christ. Before doing so, however, some guideposts may help readers to make more of the 4 Gospel ac­counts, starting with this digest (about one-tenth of the Gospels’ combined length).
1. None of the Gospels is complete, nor strict­ly chronological. While various attempts have been made to merge the accounts to form one narrative, I favor the Knox-Cox ar­range­ment.[1] I have followed their sequence in at­tempting to highlight background information and digest key events for the pe­riods making up Jesus’ public life.
2. Geographical references are helpful. Judea is that part of Pal­estine surrounding Jerusalem, reli­gious capital and home of the Temple. It also houses most of the sticklers for the law—scribes, lawyers and Pharisees, plus the compromising Sad­ducees. They all feel most threatened by Christ’s person and mes­sage.
Galilee is northern Palestine, the hill country bordering on Syria and surrounding the fish-rich lake of the same name (also re­ferred to as “sea,” “Tiberias,” “Gennesaret”). It contains such towns as Nazareth, Capernaum, Cana, homes to the holy family and the apos­tles (with the possible excep­tion of Judas, who may have been Ju­dean, if not a former Pharisee). Gali­leans are largely unsophisticated (country bump­kins in the eyes of many Judeans) and, perhaps consequently, more receptive to the mas­ter’s teach­ings and mir­acles. Here Christ launches his ministry.
Samaria, central-west Palestine, is home to a Gentile people sent into Palestine by the Assyr­ians to replace Jew­ish tribes carried into captivity in the 8th century B.C. While con­verts to the Jewish relig­ion, they were not recog­nized by either Ju­d­eans or Galileans. The hos­til­ity was re­ciprocated. In his various treks to Jerusa­lem Je­sus and his disciples sometimes pass through Samaria. Jews were gener­ally indignant when­ever Christ favor­ably com­pared Samaritans to his fellow Jews. Perea, also known as Transjordan, is the arid country east of Jerusalem and, more general­ly, east of the Jor­dan. Here inter­sect many Mideastern trade routes, leaving behind no little wealth. Here also Jesus some­times retired when Jeru­salem and, more generally, Judea prove in­hospitable.
3. Basing themselves on messianic predictions, all Jews, even the Samaritans, await a king, a de­liv­erer under one of sev­eral usual titles: Messiah (Hebrew, meaning Christ or the anoint­ed one) or Son of David, for ex­ample. Pre­sumably the savior is to be a man, but one very close to and favored by God. Through­out his public life Je­sus seems to em­phasize his human nature and frater­nity with mankind by almost always re­fer­ring to himself as the Son of Man (82 times), skirting the above 2 more common terms. Je­sus, the personal Hebrew name given by the an­gel at the annunciation, is so called “for he will save his people from their sins.” Moses had much earlier changed the name of Osee (“salvation”) to Josue (very probably a contrac­tion with Yahweh, which therefore means “Yahweh is salva­tion”). Jesus is the Greek form of Josue. It was a rela­tively common name among the Heb­rews. Other variants: Josiah, Jesua or Jeshua, Jes­se....
4. 30 A.D. is the most probable year for Jesus’ death; thus he be­gins his public period in 27 A.D., when “about thirty years of age,” ac­cording to Luke. In keeping with this estimate, our Gregorian cal­en­dar there­fore un­der­states by 3 years the year of his birth. Thus 2010 A.D. is in effect 2013 A.D.
5. Jesus’ public life runs for 26 months from March of what we’ll call year one to April of year 3. In keep­ing with the To­rah, Je­sus observes 3 paschs in Jerusalem, the last one ending in his death (what Chris­tians call Holy Week). The Gospels men­tion at least one other rit­ual visit to the Holy City; there may have been more. During the last 6 months of his ministry, Jesus is found large­ly in Ju­dea and Perea, again vis­iting towns and vil­lages as ear­lier in Galilee. Both chronolog­i­cal and geographical referen­ces are scarce for this period; doubtless he at least passed through Jerusalem on more than one occasion.
6. Overall Peter is named 122 times; John the Baptist follows with 82 mentions; next comes John the evangel­ist, who’s named 23 times.
7. According to an ancient writer, Galilee at the time of Jesus’ ministry contained 204 cities and towns. Presuma­bly Judea had more; Perea, fewer. Therefore it seems im­probable that each and every population cluster in the 2 main provinces was the ob­ject of Christ’s preach­ing. His disciples, however, in 2 prepara­tory swings, prob­ably announced the king­dom’s advent in more vil­lages and towns than those actually vis­ited by the master. In any case it’s safe to assume that all Jews of the time, whether in Pales­tine or in the Dias­pora, heard tell of Jesus, thus fulfilling the “Father’s will”—apparently Jesus’ moti­vation for his public life.
8. Dating from the time of the Jews’ Babylonian captivity, Malachi was the last prophet until John the Bap­tist came along: a bar­ren span lasting over 5 centuries. A prophet was under­stood by the Jews to have re­ceived a special in­spired teaching to be conveyed to Israel, whether or not its contents foretold future events. Thus they were, and knew themselves to be, chan­nels of revela­tion. Later proph­ets, including the Baptist, wore distinctive penitential garb.
9. Originally God gave the old law to Moses on Mount Sinai, most notably the 10 Commandments. Torah is the Hebrew word for law. It regulated every detail of Jew­ish life, con­taining 365 pro­hibi­tions and 248 positive com­mands. As if those were not enough, countless man-made, derivative burdens had been added to the Torah, resulting in the most deadening of casuistries.
10. The word Gospel derives from the Anglo-Saxon coupling of “good” (god can mean either good or God) and “spell” (tidings, news).
11. The following digests of periods of Jesus’ public life are not intended to summa­rize his teachings or high­light his mir­acles. We will note all 37 of his specified mir­acles with [M#] and slightly more parables (42) with [P#]. In fact those 2 ele­ments are here shrunk to empha­size the story line. Otherwise it would be easy to equate Jesus with a moral­izer or mere teacher or even a miracle-worker. What Jesus teaches may be merely the fore­ground to what he is really teach­ing. And let’s keep in mind Christ is more likely to teach by showing and manifesting. The following therefore should be used to imagine how and what Christ seeks to pre­sent of himself, principally by deeds, to his various listeners. Special emphasis will be given to Jesus’ reactions to single persons or groups and their reactions to him.


The preceding fall the prophet John, Jesus’ second cousin, begins to call publicly for conversion, rein­forced by symbolic baptism in the Jordan’s waters. Many flock to him, including Pharisees, whom he calls a “brood of vipers.” Some hail him as Messiah; he denies it but claims the anointed one is in their midst. He also delivers himself of unspecified prophecies to identify the Christ. In Janu­ary Jesus overcomes John’s reluc­tance to baptize him. At its conclu­sion at least John hears the Father’s voice. At mid-month Jesus leaves for the desert to pray and fast.
At Jesus’ return 2 months later John identifies him to his closest disciples as the “Son of God.” An­drew and John follow Christ and stay “with him that day.” Both Andrew and John introduce their brothers: Simon, renamed Peter (meaning “Rock”), and James. Philip, a townsman of An­drew and Peter, is also introduced to the Gali­lean master. On their way to Galilee Philip recruits Nathaniel whose skepticism is overcome when Je­sus claims to have seen him un­der a “fig tree.” Nathaniel: “You are the Son of God, you are King of Is­rael.” Jesus: “Greater than these shall you see.” How would these 6 for­mer Bap­tist re­cruits in­terpret “Son of God” or “King of Is­rael”? They don‘t necessarily mean or imply divinity.
In Cana of Galilee at Mary’s request Jesus worked “the first of his signs” by converting water into wine [M1], thus antici­pat­ing the on­set of his miracle-working by 2 months. “...[H]is disci­ples be­lieved in him.” They walk from Cana to Capernaum and then to Jerusalem for the pas­chal feast. Jesus expels money-changers and merchants from the Temple, for mak­ing “the house of my Father” into a den of thieves. His warrant? “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Many believe in him, “seeing the [unspecified] signs that he was working.”
Jesus usually stays at Bethany, on the eastern slope of Mt. Olivet, during his visits to Jerusa­lem. There Ni­code­mus, a leading Phari­see, visits him at night to inquire about the kingdom: “We know that you have come a teacher from God, for no one can work the signs you work unless God be with him.” Among other things, Jesus tellingly says there is “one who has de­scended from heaven: the Son of Man who is in heaven.”
There are few such good-willed observers in Judea. Some 50 or 60 years later in his Gospel John writes: “Now this is the judgment: The light has come into the world, yet men have loved darkness rather than light, for their works were evil.” Jesus and his disciples baptize on the other side of the Jordan from where the Precur­sor is still baptizing. The latter’s followers com­plain: “All are coming to [Jesus].” When the Baptist is imprisoned, Jesus leaves for Galilee, accompanied by no more than a few of his still unofficial followers.


This period occupies 18 of the 26 months of his public life: a year and a half of miracles, par­ables, crowds and apostles. Here at least in­itially the Mes­senger meets with enthusiastic acceptance; this phase cli­maxes in Peter’s stated belief in Jesus’ special status. Some 80 miles north of Jerusalem, Capernaum will be Jesus’ base for this stage.
Passing through Samaria, Jesus sits next to Jacob’s well, “wearied as he was from the jour­ney.” Again clair­voyant: he tells Sa­maritan woman facts of her past life, and more: “I who speak with you am he” [Messiah]. In Cana of Galilee one of Herod’s royal officials beseeches Jesus to cure his son. “Unless you see signs and wonders, you do not believe....Go your way, your son lives” [M2: first miracle from a distance]. “And he taught in their synagogues [first in­doors and probably only on Sab­baths], and was honored by all.” Repent and believe.
In Nazareth where he grew up, Jesus in the synagogue applies Messianic passage from Isaiah to himself. “And the eyes of all were gazing on him....” He settles in Capernaum, on shores of Lake Galilee. “And they were aston­ished at his teaching; for he was teaching them as one having author­ity, and not as the scribes.” During one such session he drives out from a man an un­clean spirit [M3]. Later he cures Peter’s mother-in-law [M4]. But he com­mands sil­ence. Si­mon and others track down Jesus praying early in morn­ing: “They are all seeking you.” Jesus sets out to visit the whole of Galilee, “preaching in their synagogues...and casting out dev­ils.”
One day Jesus preaches from Peter’s boat to the crowd “pressing upon him to hear the word of God.” There follows a mirac­ulous catch of fish [M5]. To Simon and Andrew: “Come follow me; henceforth you will catch men.” He extends the same invita­tion to James and John, who also leave every­thing behind: the first permanent discip­les. Moved with “compassion,” Jesus heals a leper [M6]. “See you tell no one.”
Back in Capernaum, because of the crowds, a par­alytic is low­ered through a hole made in the roof by his bearers. Phari­sees from Je­ru­salem are present: the first time they’re seen in Galilee. First Je­sus forgives paralytic’s sins; critics: only God can for­give sins. To show them “Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” [the most expli­cit claim during the Galilean ministry], Jesus re­stores paralytic [M7]. “They were all amazed, and glorified God, say­ing, ‘Never did we see the like.’” The above deeds probably all fall in May; in early June Je­sus teaches alongside the lake. Spying Mat­thew collecting taxes [thus a black sheep], Christ says, “Follow me.” With Matthew’s call Je­sus completes the num­ber of his closest followers. All may be Gal­ileans; most were probably the Baptist’s disciples. New wine is not for old wine­skins [P1].
Capernaum June: Again on the Sabbath Jesus teaches in the synagogue before scribes and Phari­sees. “‘Is it law­ful on the Sab­bath to do good...to save a life?’....And looking round upon them with an­ger [only such mention], and being grieved at the blindness of their hearts, he said to the man, ‘Stretch forth your hand.’ And he stretched it forth, and his hand was restored [M8]. But the Phari­sees went out and immediately took counsel...how they might do away with him.”
Jesus withdraws from towns, but huge crowds follow him from every Jewish province, even from the Dias­pora. “And he told his disciples to have a small boat in readiness” for fear the crowd would press too much on him; “he healed many.” Jesus prays all night; then he ap­points the 12 apos­tles. At lakeside the people were eager to touch him, because power went out from him and healed them.
On this occasion Jesus goes up the mountain and, seated, speaks to the crowd below; it is the king­dom’s in­augu­ral ad­dress: the ser­mon on the Mount with its 8 paradoxical beatitudes. Again he claims equality with, if not su­periority to, original lawgiver; 6 times he uses the formula: “it was said...but I tell you....” Interior holi­ness, but also salt to sa­vor and preserve; golden rule, pure intent and secret vir­tue; enemies to be loved; narrow path, beware of false guides (“ravenous wolves within”); build house on rock. “I have not come to destroy [the law], but to ful­fill” it by due emphasis on love for God and neighbor. Thrice Jesus assails the hypocrites (=Phari­sees), whom he also calls “false prophets.” Blind themselves, they try to lead the blind [P2]. Moreover, a kingdom divided against itself cannot last [P3].
Jesus cures a Jewish servant of hum­ble centurion (Gentile) from afar [M9]. “…[N]ot even in Israel have I found such great faith.’” Outside Naim Jesus “had compassion on” a widow whose only son is being taken for burial. Unasked, he resuscitates the young man—the might­iest miracle [M10] yet worked.
Nothing is said regarding the months of July and August; very possibly Jesus concentrated on in­structing his apostles away from the crowds. Again at the lakeside in Septem­ber Jesus speaks of the Baptist….Je­sus takes dinner with Si­mon the Pharisee, where a sinful woman [Mary Magdalene] washes, kisses and perfumes his feet. “‘He to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are for­given’....‘Who is this man, who even forgives sins?’”
With the coming of fall Jesus begins journeying from one town to another “preaching and spread­ing the good news of God’s king­dom.” Accompanying him are the 12 and certain women “who ministered to them with the means they had.” At one point some of Je­sus’ relatives seek to restrain him because “he has gone mad.”
One-third through his Galilean ministry Jesus turns to instructing with parables. The truth is there, but hidden. While seek­ing to right mis­taken notions of the kingdom, Je­sus in this more oblique way avoids falling into traps laid by pharisaical enemies from Jerusa­lem. Parable of candle [P4]. Parable of the sower [P5]: most seed unpro­duct­ive, but good soil yields. Why does Jesus speak only in par­ables? “To you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those outside, all things are treated in parables....”
The kingdom of heaven is like sown seed that sprouts and grows on its own [P6]. It is also like the wheat and weeds or like the dragnet [P7-8]: good and evil to coexist in kingdom; fi­nal damnation of the Sa­tan-led wicked. Then parables of mustard seed and leaven [P9-10]: only start inconspic­uous; of hidden treasure and pearl [P11-12]: the kingdom handsomely repays sacri­fices. “Privately he ex­plained all things to his disciples.”
To escape from the crowds he sets out to cross the lake with the apostles. The boat seems about to founder in a great storm. By stilling the wind [M11], Jesus’ power extends itself to forces of na­ture. Next the apostles see how com­pletely he also con­trols the world of spirits by driving a legion of devils out of the crazed Gera­sene man and into a herd of 2000 swine [M12].
Jesus returns by boat to Capernaum; it is now December. Awaiting him is a large crowd, includ­ing Jairus, who pleads for his dy­ing daughter. On his way Jesus asks, “Who touched my cloak?” Many had, for the crowd was closely packed. It is the woman in­stantly cured of a hemorrhage of 12 years’ standing [M13]. Then he pro­ceeds to Jairus’ house….Only the girl’s par­ents and the closest apostles (Peter, James and John) witness this second resusci­tation [M14]. Still in Capernaum Jesus rewards the faith of 2 blind men by cur­ing them [M15]; then a possessed dumb man [M16].
Nazareth: Jesus again preaches in his home syna­gogue, but now to a hostile audi­ence, jealous perhaps of Capernaum where so many wonders have been performed. They seek to kill him. “But he, passing through their midst, went his way.”
“And Jesus was going about all the towns and villages…seeing the crowds, he was moved with com­passion for them….” In March he sends out the 12 in pairs to teach and heal in Galilean towns and villages. John the Baptist is be­headed. Upon returning after a month, the apostles tell Jesus “all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, ‘Come apart into a desert place and rest a while.’ For there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure, even to eat.”
Their rest thwarted by a very great crowd, he spoke to them “of the kingdom of God, and those in need of cure he healed.” After some 6 hours, the apostles tell the Lord: dismiss them. Jesus: you give them food to eat. The master multi­plies the bread and fish [M17]; the apos­tles distribute to the 5000 men (not reckoning women and children).
After a year’s instruction the crowd’s outlook has not changed; they still seek a liberator from the Roman yoke. The apostles cross over the lake, while he dismisses the crowd. Once again a storm buffets the boat; Jesus comes to them on the water [M18]. The wind dies; the boat at once reaches the shore [M19].
The crowds embark on boats to Capernaum “seeking Jesus.” For the first time Christ claims he is life-giving food, bread from heaven, the life of the soul. Jesus is bread to be eaten; his flesh, in fact. The Jews are dumbstruck it all smacks of cannibalism. A crisis is upon them. “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. Jesus therefore said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter therefore answered, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of ever­lasting life….’”
Jesus thereupon goes to Jerusalem for the pasch. On a Sabbath he cures a cripple at a pool [M20]. Brouhaha with Jewish leaders: “This, then, is why the Jews were the more anxious to put him to death; be­cause he not only broke the Sabbath, but also called God his own Fa­ther, making himself equal to God.” Jesus wants Jews to think and carefully weigh the evidence for his claims. He appeals to 4 wit­nesses: 1) the Baptist; 2) mir­acles of heal­ing and exor­cism; 3) the old testa­ment’s messi­anic references; 4) Moses.
After this, Jesus returned to Galilee to avoid those out to kill him. But the spying Pharisees track him to Caper­naum to trap him. What about eating with unwashed hands [P13]? Jesus up­braids them for their onerous casuistry, added to and falsifying God’s law. “When he had entered the house away from the crowd, his dis­ciples began to ask him about the par­able. ‘Are you also, then, without un­der­standing? Do you not real­ize....’”
It is June; Jesus goes north, beyond Israel’s borders for the first time since his flight into Egypt. In part Jesus de­sires to complete his in­struction of the apostles. Jesus heals the daugh­ter of the persistent Syrophoenician woman [M21]. Still great crowds come to him; many cures take place, including that of a deaf and dumb man [M22]. On the north­eastern shore of the lake Jesus again multi­plies loaves and fishes [M23] to feed more than 4000 men (again not counting women and children), but there’s no messianic enthusiasm this time.
Pharisees and Sadducees dispute with Jesus and ask for a sign from heaven. Jesus: if only they could reason from mir­acles and teaching as well as they can foretell rain. In the boat he again scolds the apostles: “You of little faith, why do you argue among your­selves....Do you not yet under­stand...?” In 2 stages Jesus cures a blind man [M24].
Then Jesus went with his disciples into the villages round Cae­sarea Philippi. He asked, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter an­swered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” [Did thereby Peter con­fess Jesus to be God incarnate? Not necessarily, since these 2 names are ambigu­ous. This did, however, repre­sent some sort of break­through as we see from Jesus’ reply:] “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church....” [This is the first of 2 mentions of a “church.”]
A change now comes over the Gospel story; a change in direction. Jesus now turns his eyes to­wards Jerusalem; there he is to die. Je­sus speaks for the first time of the cross and of his death thereon. Where­upon the newly dubbed prince of the apos­tles chides Jesus: “Far be it from you, O Lord; this will never hap­pen to you.” Then Jesus rebukes the Rock: “Get be­hind me, Satan, you are a scandal to me; for you do not mind the things of God, but those of men.”
Six days later Jesus takes Peter, James and John up Mt. Hermon, where the master is transfigured [M25]. Down from the mountain, Jesus encounters a “great crowd,” with scribes disputing with the apos­tles, who had failed to cure an epileptic boy. “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you?” Jesus exorcises the boy [M26]. Alone with Jesus, the apostles ask why they had failed. “This kind can be cast out in no way except by prayer and fasting.”
August, north Galilee: “He did not wish anyone to know it, for he was teaching his disciples.” Sec­ond proph­ecy of pas­sion and death. “But they did not understand this saying….” Absent 3 months, Jesus and the apostles return to Capernaum. On the way the 12 had disputed over who should be the greatest in the kingdom. Greatest, counters Jesus, is he who abases himself like the little child he gath­ers to his breast. Alone with the apostles the Teacher overflows in infor­mal instruc­tion that ranges from tolerance to scandal, from guardian angels to dig­nity of disci­pleship, from mortification to unity....Peter asks about forgiveness. Je­sus answers with parable of the forgiven servant unforgiv­ing in turn [P14]. Peter catches fish with coin in its mouth to pay the Temple tax [M27].
September of Year 2: Jesus says farewell to Galilee, re­proach­ing “the towns in which most of his miracles were worked, because they had not repented. ‘And you, Capernaum, shall you be exalted to heaven? You shall be thrust down to hell! For if the miracles had been worked in Sodom that have been worked in you, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.’”


The final 6 months are focused on Jerusalem, where Jesus is to consummate his mission. In Judea and neighbor­ing Perea Jesus ech­oes his Galilean ministry; the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary in Bethany be­comes his head­quarters. Here there is less incident, more in­struction; many par­ables (most of these look to in­te­rior world and commitment as opposed to earlier ones that largely dealt with the king­dom), few miracles. The tone is som­ber; time is running out for Israel. Jesus repeatedly warns the apostles of impending per­secutions, his and theirs—similar to those Je­sus is now trying to head off.
Jesus goes with his disciples to the feast of Tabernacles, “not publicly, but as it were pri­vately.” He sends messen­gers ahead to a Sa­maritan village to make things ready; they refuse to receive him. Everyone in Jerusalem is whispering about him; out of fear of the authori­ties “no one spoke openly of him.” Midway through the festi­val Je­sus goes to the Temple to teach. “Why do you seek to put me to death?” Phar­isees dispute publicly with him; Jesus insists: weigh the evi­dence. At­tempts are made to arrest him. Why do offi­cers come back empty-handed? “Never has man spoken as this man.” A woman apprehended in adultery, Jesus ad­monishes her: “Go and sin no more.” More teaching and disput­ing with Phari­sees: “I am the light of the world....If you knew me, you would then know my Father also.” “...[T]hey did not under­stand how he could call God his Father.” “When he was speaking these things, many be­lieved in him.”
Still at the Temple Jesus makes his most explicit claim so far: “Before Abraham came to be, I am.” [This may be the turning point in his Jerusalem ministry as Jesus tries to get audience be­yond both monothe­ism and exclusive na­tionalism.] “They there­fore took up stones to cast at him; but Jesus hid himself….” Jesus heals a man born blind [M28], re­sulting in Pharisees’ grilling man and his par­ents. “Why would you hear again?” asks the cured man. “Would you also become his disciples?...Jesus heard that [Jewish leaders] had turned him out, and when he found him said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ ‘Who is he, Lord,’ he answered, ‘that I may believe in him?’ ‘You have seen him,’ Jesus told him; ‘he it is who speaks with you.’”
November, Bethany: The good shepherd [P15] freely lays down his life for his sheep. After this the Lord appoint­ed 70 others, “and sent them forth two by two into every [southern] town and place where he him­self was to come.” To reject these envoys is to reject God himself. They return: “Even the devils were subject to us in your name.” Parable of good Sa­maritan [P16]. Busy Martha is reproved, con­templative Mary praised. Jesus be­takes himself to garden on Mt. Olivet to pray. Dis­ciples: Teach us to pray. The master lays out the Our Father. Two more parables il­lus­trat­e the need for per­severing prayer [P17-18].
Jesus cures a possessed man who is both blind and dumb [M29]. All the crowds were amazed: nothing similar was ever seen in Is­rael. Could this be no other than the Son of David? Phari­sees allege Jesus’ power comes from prince of devils. Among other things, the Naza­rene accuses them of sinning against Holy Spirit. Crowd: we want a sign. Jesus: there’s to be no sign but that of Jonah, thus pointing to his resur­rection. A Pharisee hosts Jesus at dinner. Why does he not wash before eating? “You Phari­sees....Fools....Woe to you....” Jesus directs 3 woes against Phari­sees, 3 against law­yers. Soon after, the scribes and Phari­sees resolve to browbeat and hunt him down. They lay in wait, hoping to catch some word from his lips.
“Now when immense crowds had gathered together...they were treading on one another.” The time and place are probably Decem­ber in Perea (a relatively wealthy area, prompting much teaching on vir­tuous de­tachment). But Jesus first must warn discip­les about the Phari­sees and their enmity, plus advising and encour­aging them in their fu­ture work. They also will be houn­ded: “Fear not.” Par­able of rich, foolish, un­wary farm owner [P19]. To disciples: trust God’s provi­dence, “you of little faith.” Where your treasure is, there your heart. How ser­vants are to await their master’s return: vigilant and prayer­ful [P20]. [A glimpse into Christ’s in­ner life]: “I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and what will I but that it be kin­dled....I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how dis­tressed I am until it is accomplished!” Jesus brings a sword.
To the crowds: interpret the signs of the times; repent before night comes. Parable of fruitless fig tree [P21]. Jesus will do his utmost to make Israel bear fruit in the short time left. He cures a crippled woman [M30] in his last synagogue appear­ance. Pharisees object. “...[A]ll his adver­sar­ies were put to shame; and the entire crowd rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.”
Jerusalem, December, Dedication feast: Jesus is walking and teaching in the Temple. Jewish lead­ers: “If you are the Christ, tell us openly.” Only alone with his dis­ciples does Jesus ever speak of himself as “the Christ.” [He does his ut­most to keep it a secret because of the false political meaning given to the Messianic kingdom by the Jews.] Jesus points to previous evidence and then makes the plainest of self-descriptions, even to his enemies: “I and the Father are one.” Some listeners pick up stones. Why? “Not for a good work do we stone you, but for blas­phemy...because you, being a man, make your­self God.” Again Jesus reasons with them, but to no avail. He es­capes and goes to where the Baptist had first preached. There he stays; many come to see him; he heals; once more he teaches them. “‘...All things, however, that John said of this man were true.’ Many be­lieved in him.”
The Lord, now clearly in Perea and in January, echoes warn­ings to re­pent, lest divine chastisement overtake them. Par­able of the house master [P22] to those knocking at door: “I know you not, nor whence you come.” References to hell: weeping, darkness, gnash­ing of teeth. Last will be first, and first last. On a Sabbath Je­sus again dines with a Pharisee [the last of 4 such meals]; he cures a man with dropsy [M31]. Par­able of invit­ees who excuse themselves from great sup­per [P23]: Jews to be re­placed by Gen­tiles.
On the east side of Jordan: “Now great crowds were going along with him.” Disciples must count the cost and re­nounce all. Par­ables [P24-25] of tower builder and warring king. In his kingdom pov­erty alone is currency. To Pharisees indig­nant at the public­ans and sinners sur­rounding Jesus: parables [P26-27] of lost sheep and lost coin. Christ here offers glimpse of God’s merci­ful heart: he searches, finds and re­joices. Story of the prodigal son [P28]: in the finest of all par­ables God’s love is shown to be affectionate, human, warm, personal, pater­nal. Parable of the unjust steward [P29]. “Now the Pharisees, who were fond of money, heard all these things, and they began to sneer at him.” Jesus adds fuel to the fire: parable of Dives [rich man] and Lazarus [P30]. “If they do not hearken to Moses and the proph­ets, they will not believe even if someone rises from the dead.”
Privately to the apostles: “If you have faith...you will say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be up­rooted and be planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” Besides greater faith, Christ asks them for a deeper humility (worthless servants). At this point (February) Jesus crosses over the Jordan and begins to go south to Je­rusalem. The 10 lepers cleansed [M32]: how little do the Jewish lepers profit from it; only 1 Sa­maritan outcast returns to thank him. Asked by Pharisees about the king­dom’s ad­vent, which was said, first by John and then by Jesus, to be “near at hand,” Christ speaks about its sudden­ness, but also its hiddenness: “God’s king­dom is here, among you.” God’s children must act as though it’s always at the door: be prepared.
Pray continually without discouragement: parable of unjust judge brought around by pestering woman [P31]. “Yet when the Son of Man comes, will he find, do you think, faith on the earth?” Parable of Pharisee and publican [P32]: he who hum­bles himself will be ex­alted. Pharisees ask about indissolubility of marriage: no divorce; celibacy is even better, but only through special grace. Disciples try to pre­vent mothers from pre­senting their babes to Je­sus, which makes him “indignant.” To the child­like does the king­dom belong. The rich young man, apparently so ea­ger to be perfect, balks at selling every­thing and goes away “sad.” That, de­spite the fact that earlier Jesus, “looking upon him, loved him.” [The disciples are dismayed at the need to renounce riches; isn’t that what the kingdom is all about?] Then Jesus promises them a hun­dredfold in this life (but with perse­cu­tions) and life everlasting.
March: early spring is a time for frenzied work in the vineyards. Jesus so tailors his next parable [P33]: la­borers hired at different times: God dispenses his mercy as he wills. Martha and Mary send a courier to tell Jesus: “Lord...he whom you love is sick.” “Jesus loved Martha, and her sister Mary, and Laz­arus.” The dis­ci­ples object to returning to Judea. Jesus claims no harm can befall him until the time set by the Father. Lazarus is dead. Thomas: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” To Bethany, then.
Jesus comforts Martha and Mary. But who will comfort Christ? “Jesus...groaned in spirit and was trou­bled....And Jesus wept....The Jews therefore said, ‘See how he loved him’....Jesus, there­fore, again groaning in him­self, came to the tomb.” Res­ur­rection of Lazarus [M33], the third such resuscita­tion, the most dramatic and con­spicu­ous. “Many therefore of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen what he did, believed in him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees, and told them the things that Jesus had done.” In council Caiaphas rec­ommends the death penalty. “...[F]rom that day forth their plan was to put him to death. Jesus therefore no longer went about openly among the Jews, but with­drew to...Ephraim; and there he stayed with his disciples” [1-2 weeks].


Jesus shows himself resolute and eager to reach Jeru­salem, unlike his followers, submerged as they are in dark fore­bod­ings. Despite 2 earlier predictions, apostles still can’t realize that the Messiah must suffer and die; on the road they lag behind....
Just outside Jericho Jesus again, even more explicitly, fore­tells his passion, death and resurrec­tion. Salome, mother of James and John and perhaps one of Jesus’ regular women followers, asks that her sons be seated next to the King, once the kingdom is estab­lished. The other apostles wax indignant. Jesus re­stores harmony by insisting again on humility: “[T]he Son of Man also has not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Many pil­grims from Galilee are also on their way to Jerusa­lem for the pasch; they have not seen Jesus for 6 months. They add themselves to the master’s group, while also forming something like a screen. Their ad­dition im­mediately raises the spirits of the mer­curial apostles. Outside Jericho’s north gate sits the blind man Bar­timeus, whose decibel level, insist­ence and faith win from Jesus one of his last miracles [M34]. Christ, “moved with com­passion,” restores the man’s sight.
Now within Jericho proper, Zacchaeus the publican, short and stocky, climbs a sycamore to be able to catch sight of Je­sus. He wins not only a conversion but a golden opportunity: “Zacchaeus [how does Jesus know his name?], make haste and come down; for I must stay in your house to­day.” Parable of 10 servants [P34], each en­trusted with a pound and told to trade with it in the king’s absence: one earns 10, another 5, while the slothful, fool­ish ser­vant, none at all. Jesus and the 12 skirt Jerus­alem and go to Be­thany, where 2 weeks earlier Lazarus had been notori­ously re­turned to life. It is 6 days before the paschal feast. Simon the leper offers another feast at his home, where Lazarus is a guest, Martha serves table and Mary anoints. So precious was the spike­nard she “wasted” on Christ that, so the purse-keeping Judas claims, it could have fetched 300 silver pieces. Parable of 2 sons [P35].
SUNDAY: triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Many Galilean pil­grims and some locals es­cort Je­sus into the holy city. [Jesus has a surprise for those who had wit­nessed his earlier escapes from crowds seeking to hail him as king. Pub­licly and unmis­takably now he will claim to be their Mes­siah, though mounted on a young donkey. No mat­ter that the “kingdom” envisioned by the noisy acclaimers and what Je­sus is about to in­augurate de­finitively are worlds apart. His think­ing seems to be: to believer and unbe­liever alike, then and now, Je­sus finally owes the truth that he is indeed their king, although the op­posite to that sought by the wild crowd: a very meek king of hearts.]
To the Pharisees protesting the acclaim, Jesus says: “[I]f these keep silence, the stones will cry out.” The Phari­sees sound de­feated: “Do you see that we avail nothing? Behold, the entire world has gone af­ter him!” On cat­ching sight of Jerusalem, “...he wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known, in this your day, even you, the things that are for your peace!...[B]ecause you have not known the time of your visitation.’”
Jesus goes to the Temple. “The whole city was in a stir.” Blind and lame people he healed. The chief priests and scribes, despite wit­nessing the miracles, protest. To no immediate avail. To Greeks seeking an audience, Christ predicts his imminent death. “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself.” A voice from heaven? “[A]s it was already late, he went out to Bethany [2 miles distant] with the twelve,” where he spent the night.
Members of the plotting Sanhedrin have no more than 4 days before the Passover to do Jesus in. Since the pas­chal holiday lasts for a full week, during which repose is mandated, Jesus must be killed beforehand. Another reason for ur­gency was his growing ap­proval by the “people”: “The chief priests and Scribes...found nothing that they could do to him, for all the people hung upon his words.”
MONDAY: On their way back to Jerusalem “at daybreak” Jesus is hungry and goes to a fig-tree “to see if he might find any­thing on it.” While not the season for fruit, still Jesus curses the tree for having only leaves. “He taught in the Temple daily.”
TUESDAY: The fig-tree is with­ered from its roots [M35]. Jesus tells an apostle he’ll do much greater things, if “he does not waver in his heart, but be­lieves....” At the Temple awaiting Jesus is an imposing dele­gation of enemies; their only aim is to dis­credit him with the crowd. Jesus turns the ta­bles. “Believe me, the publi­cans and the harlots are fur­ther on the road to God’s kingdom than you.” Parable of the unfaithful vinedressers [P36]: They maltreat ser­vants sent by the rich owner to collect his share, who don’t even scruple to kill the owner’s well-beloved son. The chief priests and Phari­sees “knew that he was speaking about them. And though they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the people, because they re­garded him as a prophet.”
Jesus retells an earlier banquet parable with a new twist [P37]: one of the guests is without a proper wedding gar­ment and is ejected: not all the saved will be Jews, nor will all the Jews be saved. Seeking to make him betray him­self in his talk, the Pharisees raise a ques­tion of trib­ute to Caesar. “Jesus saw their malice….Give to Cae­sar....And they said no more; they were full of admira­tion at his answer, finding no means of discredit­ing his words in the eyes of the people.” Disbelievers in immortality, the Sad­ducees ask about a woman mar­ried succes­sively to 7 broth­ers. Whose will she be in heaven? “You under­stand neither the scriptures nor the power of God.” In that other world none will marry, for all will be like angels. “This the crowds heard, and were amazed by his teach­ing.”
A Pharisee asks which is the greatest commandment. Love of God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength, and love of neigh­bor as much as oneself. No one dared “after that day, to try him with further ques­tions.” Again Jesus warns crowd to be wary of scribes and Pharisees, pitiful carica­tures of holiness. Above all shun the Pharisees‘ vain, ostentatious display of piety. Je­sus then turns to those who will replace the rabbis and insists on humility: the greatest of all is to be the ser­vant of all. Je­sus ends his last discourse in the Temple by pronoun­cing 7 woes upon the hypo­critical Jew­ish leaders. He con­cludes:
“‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets, and stone those who are sent to you! How of­ten would I have gathered your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you would not. Behold, your house is left to you desolate.’ So much Je­sus told them and then went away.” Read signs of future times [P38].
After the crowd dispersed, Jesus continues to instruct his fol­low­ers, probably as they return to Bethany. The widow’s mite; ques­tions related to the end of Jerusalem and end of world. “Watch then, pray­ing at all times....” He recasts earlier par­a­bles: “The kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins” [P39]. Im­itate the provi­dent wise—not the 5 foolish ones. Another: 10 talents distributed to 3 (instead of one to each); thrust is more spiritual: reward is for faithful­ness in little things [P40]. A sentence of condemnation is passed on the un­profitable servant. That leads to a descrip­tion of the last judgment: corporal works of mercy done to “least of my brethren” are done “to me”—just as, when omitted, they are denied to Jesus. The former will pass on to “eternal life”; the latter “to eter­nal punish­ment” [P41].
WEDNESDAY: Jesus spends most of the next 2 days at Be­thany resting and gathering strength for the upcoming tri­als. “You know that after 2 days the Passover will be here; and the Son of Man will be deliv­ered up to be cruci­fied.” [To Judas these words smack of de­feat; there is no hope now for the kingdom; he must save his own skin as best he can. Jesus’ re­peated warn­ings about the dan­ger of riches have left him bit­ter, resentful. The final break had oc­curred when he was rebuked for complain­ing about the wasted spikenard.] The Jewish leaders have only today and tomorrow to rid themselves of Jesus—for good. Both urgency and secrecy weigh on them. Judas guaran­tees both in prom­ising to betray Jesus. “And they, when they heard it, were glad.” He seeks opport­unity to hand him over “without any com­mo­tion.”
THURSDAY: Early, Jesus sends trusted Peter and John to town to make ready for eating the paschal meal. The mysterious in­structions as to where serve to respect the possibly secret disci­ple­ship of the house’ owner and to keep Ju­das in the dark. Because of com­plicated calendar consid­erations, Galileans were accus­tomed to eat the paschal meal on Thursday, a day before the Judeans. So do Jesus and his immediate follow­ers.
The Cenacle 6 to 9:30 p.m.: Their most solemn meal ever does not stop the apostles from argu­ing, yet again, about who is to be the greatest. In response Jesus washes their feet, even Judas’, as “an ex­am­ple.” The Lord tells them the traitor is there. Jesus is at the bot­tom of the U-shaped table. Prompted by Peter, John, “leaning back upon the bosom of Jesus,” asks who the traitor is; Jesus identi­fies Judas, who thereupon leaves. The sup­per’s sec­ond course is the paschal lamb; the third consists of unleav­ened bread, followed by a 4th cup of wine. At this point Jesus institutes the Eucha­rist, portraying himself as the sac­ri­ficial victim of the new cove­nant; he gives his body and blood to the 11. “Do this for a com­memo­ration of me” perhaps makes them priests, to perpetuate the sacrifice. New com­mandment of love: tell­tale sign of discipleship. Boast­ful Pet­er’s denials are foretold. Fury is just around the corner.
Jesus’ hour-long farewell discourse: he must go, they will join him later; trust him, love him; obey him. He re­veals the deepest mys­tery of the Godhead: the mutual love of Father and Son is the Holy Spirit, soon to be sent them. Peace...vine and branches [P42]...no longer servants: “friends”...persecu­tions...courage: victory certain. Jesus’ priestly prayer: for him­self, for them, pillars of kingdom; avoid disunity.
Garden of Gethsemane 10 p.m. to midnight: The olive grove out­side Jerusalem: a customary halt­ing-place for the group. With both pil­grims and Jerusalemites safely asleep, what better place for Judas to find Je­sus, after not finding him in the Cenacle? For Jesus too, nighttime makes it easier for the apos­tles to es­cape, if they so desire; he won’t force them to be co-vic­tims. Christ’s in­ternal ag­ony (“dread...troubled...sad”) may surpass any im­pending phys­ical tor­ments. How human he ap­pears as con­trasted with the trans­fig­ura­tion; the same apos­tles witness both. In­structed to “watch and pray,” the 3some soon snore away, while Jesus sweats blood. Judas seals trea­son with a kiss; Jesus knowingly and freely embraces his fate. “I have told you that I am he. If, therefore, you seek me, let these go their way.” Arrest. Jesus restores Malchus’ severed ear [M36]. The Gal­i­leans? Para­lyzed by fear and inde­cision. When Jesus does not resist, their courage vanishes, as do they.
FRIDAY: Interrogation 2-4 a.m.: First to Annas, then to his son-in-law Caiaphas, currently the head priest. Je­sus is unofficially exam­ined in the hope of extracting damning self-incrimination. Je­sus claims to have taught openly; no secrets. He’s struck by an officer. Peter thrice denies knowing the Master.
Jewish trial 5-6 a.m.: While Caiaphas rehearses witnesses, for an hour the blindfolded Jesus is buf­feted, slapped, de­rided. Jesus is brought before 70-member Sanhedrin; 2 concordant wit­nesses are re­quired for each accusation; all fail this procedural test and so are re­jected. Exasperated, chief priest adjures Jesus “to tell us whether you are the Christ, the Son of God.” “I am.”...“Your own lips have said it....He is liable to death.” Meanwhile Judas, despair­ing, re­turns sil­ver and hangs him­self.
Roman trial 7-8 a.m.: Pilate goes out to receive Jewish leaders, who thus avoid defile­ment by not treading on Ro­man prop­erty. Jesus meets the heathen ruler on whom the ap­parent malefactor leaves a deep impression. Pi­late to leaders: Judge him your­self. Since Jews had lost right to inflict capital punish­ment (stoning), the execution Je­sus “deserves” can only be carried out by Romans. When Pilate disallows charge of blas­ph­emy, Jews change it to treason: he claims to be king. “I can find no fault in him.” The pris­oner, because of Gali­lean roots, is then sent to Herod. Jesus says nothing; after mocking, he is sent back to Pilate. Jesus or Barabbas? “I will scourge him and then he shall go free.” He’s whip­ped (Jewish law restricted lashes to 39; Romans had no such ceil­ing). Soldiers make fun of this native ri­val of their illus­tri­ous emperor: thorns driven in; taunted, beaten, spit upon....
Twice before in his tenure Pilate had provoked the Jews into the makings of a revolt; both cases had been ap­pealed to Rome and were de­cided against him. Another mistake could end the career of this very rational, detached, dispassionate Ro­man. Sens­ing Pilate’s weak char­acter, the crowd turns on him, threatening an­other appeal to Rome. What can Pilate do but wash his hands and pro­nounce the death sentence? Anything for a bit of peace.
Way of cross 11 a.m. to noon: Golgotha lies 600 yards beyond Je­rusalem’s west gate; the first 200 down into a deep valley; the last 400 up a steep incline. Crucifixion is the standard Ro­man form of execution. Simon of Cyrene forcibly helps Jesus. Ordinar­ily only the crossbeam (some 100 lbs.) was car­ried, on the shoul­ders with hands tied to the ends; the up­right was al­ready in place. Jesus sips a drugged drink; he wants to feel the full w8 of his pains.
Crucifixion and death, noon to 3 p.m.: Stripped, Jesus is affixed with nails through each wrist; the cross­beam is then raised by ropes and bolted to the upright; the feet are then nailed with a single blow (no foot support or seat). “They know not what they do.” Crucif­ixion is one slow torture of nauseating pains, cramps and suffoc­ation. To speak, Jesus must straighten his sag­ging body by resting all his w8 on the foot nail.
Witnesses and passers-by jeer at the bogus prophet; where now are his vaunted miraculous pow­ers? To the Good Thief: “Today you shall be with me in paradise.” Darkness for 3 hours. Conscious to the very last, Jesus cries out: “It is consummated” [nothing more to do or suffer, to show or say]. “‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Then he bowed his head, and yielded up his spirit.”


In life Jesus had said 5 times that he would rise from the dead “on the third day.” While his body was in the tomb lit­tle more than 36 hours, Jews would call the span 3 days. Jesus rises from the dead with apparently no physi­cal needs, but able to move at will and to pass through solid objects. His current state seems inter­medi­ate be­tween his pre-resurrection materiality and his later disappearance into invis­ibil­ity, at the ascension. Is he thus training the apos­tles to get used to an all-spiritual world? Jesus does not now re­sume his former way of life. He helps the apos­tles to understand what he had previously taught, concen­trating largely on the king­dom. Most of his teach­ing and appearances during these 40 days are not rec­orded in the Gospels; only 7 appearances are mentioned.
Much has been made of the scrambled, and even con­tradictory, accounts of the first Easter. Be­cause of their mi­nor dis­crep­ancies, first the credibility of the Gospel texts and then the central event have been put in question. Some commentators seem almost ob­sessed with establish­ing that Jesus resur­rected only in the apostles’ de­sires and imagi­nation. As for why the risen Jesus ap­pears only to his loyal followers, Jesus apparently anticipated the question in the parable of Lazarus and Dives. If they didn’t heed the initial evidence in Moses and the prophets, nei­ther will they ac­cept any latter-day resur­rection of whomever. Two things come through most clearly from the relevant texts. Everywhere there’s so much refer­ence to touch­ing that these chapters almost seem a riot of fingers. The sec­ond is the apostles’ skepticism and hardness of belief.
Ac­cord­ing to Mark, whose Gospel is largely based on Peter’s teaching, the apos­tles “would not be­lieve it,” when Mary Magdalene passes on to them a message from the resur­rected Jesus. Neither are they per­suaded by the 2 dis­ciples recently returned from Emmaus after having been in­structed by the unrecog­nized Jesus: “they did not be­lieve them.” Moreover, the con­fused details may have a very simple explana­tion: Both the women who go first to the tomb and the foot-dragging, mournful apostles are doubtless so filled with ex­cite­ment, fear and befud­dlement that it was impos­sible for them to come up with a single re­con­struc­tion of events. There is, be­sides, such helter-skelter movement on the part of both sides to an even­tual rendezvous that actual events take place in a verit­able whirl of dust. While the apostles initially keep see­ing what they take to be a ghost, Christ seems bent on proving his corporeality. At least he makes the point on one occasion by eating half of their breakfast. Then, he guides Thomas’ hand (the first apostle to call him “my God”) to the gash in his side and into the wounds through his hands. It is apparently the same body as of yore, but more.
On their way to Emmaus, a veiled Jesus appears to 2 dejected disciples whose dreams have van­ished. “O fool­ish ones and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things before entering into his glory?” During the 7-mile trek Je­sus interprets for them those scrip­tures referring to his redemption through suffering.[2] When the 2 men recognize Je­sus, he disappears. As with the other early appearances, he only shows himself to restore their faith, not to resume his usual ways.
Sea of Galilee: Events of the past 2 weeks have altered the shape of the apostles’ lives com­pletely; yet they have not adjusted them­selves to an existence without Jesus to counsel and strengthen them. So we find Pe­ter, Na­thaniel, James and John back fishing. Af­ter a second miraculous catch of fish [M37], youthful, clear-eyed John recog­nizes Jesus in the man who had just told them where to find fish. Now on the shore, Jesus cooks their breakfast. Alone with Peter, Jesus in­vites the fisher of men to make amends for his 3fold denial by a triple declaration of af­fection. To this new, humble, con­trite Pe­ter, Je­sus entrusts his sheep and lambs. He promises the head apostle that he will not only live Jesus’ life, but he will also die his death.
Mount of Beatitudes in May: The very mountain in Galilee, where 2 years earlier Jesus had se­lected his apos­tles and promul­gated the full Good News, now witnesses Jesus’ giving them his au­thoritative commission to estab­lish the kingdom the world over (till now it had been restricted to Jews, except for al­lusions in some parables). “Go...preach...make disciples of all na­tions...baptizing them...teach the command­ments...Behold I am with you all through the days that are coming, until the consum­mation of the world.”
Mount Olivet Thursday May 18—the Ascension: At Jesus’ com­mand the apostles have returned to Jerusalem to pre­pare for the Jew­ish feast of Pentecost. “[W]ait here in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high....You shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence.” As he led them out towards Bethany be­yond Gethsemane, the apostles again show how much they need the Holy Spirit when they ask: “Lord, will you at this time re­store the kingdom to Is­rael?”
“He lifted up his hands and blessed them. And it came to pass as he blessed them, that he parted from them...and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing up to heaven as he went, behold, 2 men stood by them in white gar­ments, and said to them, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand look­ing up to heaven?’” As if to say: Get back to Jerusalem and pray. “All these with one mind con­tin­ued steadfastly in prayer with the women and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.”
“And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord aiding them, and attesting his word by the miracles that went with them.”

* Throughout the Catholic and Protestant world, for example, the first grudging permission of contraception, “but only in the most severe cases,” dates just from a conclave of the Anglican Church in the 1930s.
* Walter Isaacson, Einstein: his life and universe (New York 2007). This is no solitary assertion; hundreds more can be found throughout this biography.
* This is the name God gives himself on Mount Sinai, to be hallowed and revered such that it was never to be said or written, except in the abbreviated form of what is called the tetragrammaton: YHWH.
# Here are the references: Tob 13:4; Ps 68:6; Ps 89:27; Wis 14:3; Sir 23:1, 4; Mal 2:10.
* There are also certain advantages: a piecemeal mind and a tentative heart also lessen somewhat both freedom and responsibility. Our choices and commitments are necessarily partial and therefore revocable.
[1] Ronald Knox and Ronald Cox, The Gospel Story (New York, 1958).
[2] Among the Messianic pas­sages in the Old Testament, those allusive to his suffer­ing are: Gen 3:15; Ex 12; Lev 16; Num 21; Ps 15, 21, 30, 39, 40, 54, 68, 108; es­pecial­ly Is 42:1-7, 49:1-7l, 50:4-9, 52:13-53:12; Zac 12:10, 13:7-9.

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