Jesus Begins His Ministry

Not long afterwards came news that John the Baptist had been arrested by order of King Herod Antipas, the son of the Herod who had ordered the massacre of the children in Bethlehem. The king had taken away the wife of his brother Philip and married her, in defiance of the law of Moses, and John had criticised him boldly. The king was angry, and ordered his arrest.

That seemed to be a signal for Jesus, and he began at once to preach and teach in Capernaum and the nearby towns around the Sea of Galilee. Like John, he warned people to repent of their sins, and told them that the Kingdom of God was very near and would be coming soon. Many people were impressed by his words, but some thought he was reckless, because the Roman authorities would not be pleased to hear such inflammatory words, and neither would the leaders of the Jews.

And soon Jesus began to attract followers. As he was walking along the shore of the lake one day he fell into conversation with two brothers, fishermen called Peter and Andrew, who were casting a net into the water.

'Come with me,' he said, 'and help me catch men and women instead of fish.'

Seeing these two go with him, some other fishermen called James and John, the sons of Zebedee, left their father and followed him too.

Before long Jesus was renowned in the district not only for his words but also for the remarkable events that were said to happen wherever he was. For example, he went to Peter's house one day, and found Peter's mother-in-law sick with a fever. Jesus went in to speak to her, and presently she felt well again and got up to serve them all food. This was said to be a miracle.

Another time, he was in the synagogue at Capernaum on the Sabbath, when a man began shouting, 'Why have you come here, Jesus of Nazareth? What d'you think you're doing? Leave us alone! Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are! You call yourself the Holy One of God ¨C is that who you are? Is it?'

The man was a harmless obsessive, one of those poor creatures who shout and scream for reasons even they don't understand, and hear voices and talk to people who aren't there.

Jesus looked at him calmly and said, 'You can be quiet now. He's gone away.'

The man fell silent and stood there abashed, as if he had just woken up to find himself in the middle of the crowd. After that he cried out no more, and people said that it was because Jesus had exorcised him and driven away a devil. So the stories began to spread. People said he could cure all kinds of diseases, and that evil spirits fled when he spoke.

When he returned to Nazareth he went to the synagogue on the sabbath, as he always did. He stood up to read, and the attendant handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.

'Isn't this the son of Joseph the carpenter?' someone whispered.

'I hear he's been preaching around Capernaum, and working miracles,' whispered someone else.

'If he's from Nazareth, why does he go and perform miracles in Capernaum?' whispered another. 'He'd do better to stay here and do some good in his home town.'

Jesus read the words from one part of the book and from another:

'The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.

'He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.

'To proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.' He gave the scroll back. All eyes were fixed on him, because everyone was eager to hear what he would say.

'You want a prophet,' he said. 'More than that: you want a miracle-worker. I heard the whispers that ran around the synagogue when I stood up. You want me to do here the things you've heard about from Capernaum ¨C well, I've heard those rumours too, and I have more sense than to believe them. You need to think a bit harder. Some of you know who I am: Jesus, the son of Joseph the carpenter, and this is my home town. When has a prophet ever been honoured in his home town? Consider this, if you think you deserve miracles because of who you are: when there was a famine in the land of Israel, and no rain fell for three years, whom did the prophet Elijah help, by God's command? An Israelite widow? No, a widow from Zarephath in Sidon. A foreigner. And again, were there lepers in the land of Israel in Elisha's time? There were many. And whom did he cure? Naaman the Syrian. You think being what you are is enough? You'd better start considering what you do.'

Christ was listening to every word his brother spoke, and watching the people carefully, and he wasn't surprised when a great wave of anger rose among them. He knew these words would provoke them; it was exactly what he would have warned Jesus about, if he'd been asked. This was no way to get a message across.

'Who does this man think he is?' said one. 'How dare he come here and speak to us like this!' said another.

'This is scandalous!' said a third. 'We shouldn't have to listen to this man running down his own people, right here in the synagogue!'

And before Jesus could say any more they rose to their feet and seized him. They dragged him to the hill above the town, and they would have hurled him from the top; but in the confusion and the struggle ¨C for some of Jesus's friends and followers were there too, and they fought the townspeople ¨C Jesus managed to get away unharmed.

But Christ had watched it all, and considered the significance of what he'd seen. Wherever Jesus went there was excitement, enthusiasm, and danger too. It surely wouldn't be long before the authorities took an interest.

The Stranger

Now at about that time a stranger came to Christ and spoke to him privately.

'I'm interested in you,' he said. 'Your brother is attracting all the attention, but I think you are the one I should speak to.'

'Who are you?' said Christ. 'And how do you know about me? I have never spoken in public, unlike Jesus.'

'I heard a story about your birth. Some shepherds saw a vision that led them to you, and some magicians from the East brought you gifts. Isn't that so?'

'Why, yes,' said Christ.

'And I spoke to your mother yesterday, and she told me of what happened when John baptised Jesus. You heard a voice speaking from a cloud.'

'My mother should not have spoken of that,' said Christ modestly.

'And some years ago, you confounded the priests in the temple at Jerusalem when your brother got into trouble. People remember these things.'

'But ¨C who are you? And what do you want?'

'I want to make sure that you have your rightful reward. I want the world to know your name as well as that of Jesus. In fact I want your name to shine with even greater splendour. He is a man, and only a man, but you are the word of God.'

'I don't know that expression, the word of God. What does it mean? And again, sir ¨C who are you?'

'There is time, and there is what is beyond time. There is darkness, and there is light. There is the world and the flesh, and there is God. These things are separated by a gulf deeper than any man can measure, and no man can cross it; but the word of God can come from God to the world and the flesh, from light to darkness, from what is beyond time into time. Now I must go away, and you must watch and wait, but I shall come to you again.'

And he left. Christ had not found out his name, but the stranger had spoken with such knowledge and clarity that Christ knew, without having to ask, that he was an important teacher, no doubt a priest, perhaps from Jerusalem itself. After all, he had mentioned the incident in the temple, and how else would he have heard about it?

Jesus and the Wine

After being thrown out of the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus found crowds following wherever he went. Some people said that his words showed he had gone out of his mind, and his family tried to speak to him and restrain him, for they were worried about what he would do.

But he took little notice of his family. Once, at a wedding in the village of Cana, his mother said to him, 'Jesus, they've run out of wine.'

Jesus answered, 'What's that got to do with me, or with you? Are you like my brother, that you want me to perform a miracle?'

Mary did not know how to answer that, so she simply said to the servants, 'Just do as he says.'

Jesus took the chief steward aside and spoke to him, and soon afterwards the servants discovered more wine. Some said Jesus had created it out of water by means of magic, but others said that the steward had hidden it, hoping to sell it, and Jesus had shamed him into honesty; and yet others only remembered the rough way Jesus spoke to his mother.

Another time, when he was speaking to a group of strangers, someone came and told him, 'Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.'

Jesus replied: 'My mother and my brothers and sisters are right here in front of me. I have no family except those who do the will of God, and whoever does the will of God is my mother and my brother and my sister.'

Word of that got back to his family, and they were dismayed. That only added to the scandal that was beginning to surround his name, of course, and gave the people something else to spread stories about.

Jesus was aware of the way people were talking about him, and he tried to discourage it. Once, a man whose skin was covered in boils and running sores came to him privately, and said, 'Lord, if you choose to, you can cure my disease.'

The usual ritual for cleansing a leper (as those with skin diseases were commonly called) was lengthy and expensive. This man might simply have been trying to avoid the cost, but Jesus saw the trust in his eyes, and reached out to embrace him, and kissed his face. And at once the man felt better. Christ, who was nearby, was the only person who was watching, and he saw Jesus's gesture with astonishment.

'Now go to the priest, as Moses commanded,' Jesus told the leper, 'and get a certificate of cleanliness. But say nothing about this to anyone else, you hear me?'

However, the man disobeyed him and spoke about his cure to everyone he met. Naturally, this made Jesus even more in demand, and wherever he went people came to him both to hear his preaching and to be cured of their sicknesses.

Jesus Scandalises the Scribes

The local teachers and religious lawyers, the scribes, who were alarmed by his fame, thought they should take steps to deal with him, so they began to attend whenever Jesus was teaching. On one occasion the house where he was speaking was crowded, and some men who had carried a paralysed friend there in the hope that Jesus would heal him found they could not get in at the door; so they carried him up to the roof, scraped off the plaster, removed the beams, and lowered the sick man on a mat down in front of him.

Jesus saw that the man and his friends had come in honest hope and faith, and that the crowd was excited and tense with expectation. Knowing the effect it would have, he said to the paralysed man, 'Friend, your sins are forgiven.'

The scribes ¨C village lawyers most of them, men of no great skill or learning ¨C said to one another, 'This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins. This man is asking for trouble!'

Jesus saw them whisper, and knew what they would be saying, so he challenged them.

'Why don't you come out with it?' he said. 'Tell me this: which is easier, to say "Your sins are forgiven", or to say "Take up your mat and walk"?'

The scribes fell into the trap he'd set, and said, 'To say "Your sins are forgiven", of course.'

'Very well,' said Jesus, and turning to the paralysed man, he said, 'Now, take up your mat and walk.'

The man was so strengthened and inspired by the atmosphere Jesus had created that he found himself able to move. He did just what Jesus had told him to do: he got to his feet, picked up his mat, and went to join his friends outside. The people were scarcely able to believe what they'd seen, and the scribes were confounded.

Soon after that, they had something else to be scandalised about. Jesus was walking past a tax office one day, and he stopped to talk to the tax-collector, who was a man called Matthew. Just as he'd done to the fishermen Peter and Andrew, and to James and John the sons of Zebedee, Jesus said to Matthew, 'Come and follow me.'

At once Matthew left his coins, his abacus, his files and records, and stood up to go with Jesus. In order to mark his new calling as a follower, he gave a dinner for Jesus and the other disciples, and invited many of his old colleagues from the tax department. That was the scandal: the scribes who heard about it could hardly believe that a Jewish teacher, a man who spoke in the synagogue, would share a meal with tax-collectors.

'Why is he doing this?' they said to some of the disciples. 'We have to speak with these people from time to time, but to sit and eat with them!'

Jesus didn't find that charge difficult to answer. 'Those who are not sick need no doctor,' he said. 'And there's no need to call righteous people to repent. To speak with sinners is exactly why I've come.'

Naturally, Christ was following all this with great interest. Obeying the stranger's instruction to watch and wait, he was careful not to draw any attention to himself, but stayed in Nazareth, living quietly. He didn't find that hard to do; although he resembled his brother, of course, he had the sort of face that few people remember, and his manner was always modest and retiring.

Nevertheless, he took care to listen to all the reports that came back to the family about what Jesus was doing. It was a time when political feeling in Galilee was beginning to stir; groups such as the Zealots were urging the Jews to active resistance against the Romans, and Christ was anxious in case his brother should attract the wrong sort of attention, and become a target of the authorities.

And he waited every day in hope of meeting the stranger again, and hearing more about his task as the word of God. Copyright 2016 - 2024