From The Book “COMING OF THE SAINTS” BY J. W. TAYLOR (1906 - NEW REVISED EDITION 1969)
THE CALLING OF THE SAINTS
'Awestruck I gazed as John, with lifted finger, Pointed and cried, "Behold the Lamb of God!"
Even then He drew me so I could not linger; Turned I and followed where His footsteps trod.
What was the spell, the charm, that led me to Him? -
Him, the despised of all the human race ? Rather I'd ask why men so coldly view Him.
I cannot tell, but I had seen His Face.
Word of the Father! Who before creation Dwelt in the light that no man can conceive.
Yet in our flesh has wrought our full salvation; What can we do but wonder and believe.
Rich men may boast their wealth and count it pleasure
Daily to revel in its stores unpriced; I have known that which sinks to nought their treasure -
Known the delight of being loved by Christ.'
St. John, by Mary Beale
THE HEBREW-PHOENICIAN and HOW IT AL STARTED
THE main theory that I propose to consider and develop in the following pages is one of Hebrew or Hebrew-Phoenician missions extending from Palestine to all the old Phoenician colonies in the very earliest years of Christendom.1
It is based on the records of Holy Scripture; it is supported by many old writings and traditions.
But it is more than this. It is a theory of missions conducted by the inner circle of disciples who were brought into immediate contact with Jesus at Capernaum and Jerusalem; men and women who were well known to have been the followers of Jesus, and who therefore,
1 From the earliest times, the ships of Israel sailed with the ships of Tyre, with the result that all, regardless of nationality, became known as Phoenicians. (Ed.)
in common with Lazarus John 12:10, 11) and with Saul (Acts 9:23), went about in danger of their lives, and were forced to escape from Jerusalem at the earliest opportunity.
It was the mission of a fugitive people to a disappearing race, and therefore but scant records, and these mostly traditional, are all that can be found of its beginning and history. But the results were unmistakable; for before St. Paul had fully set forth upon his later labours all the main Phoenician colonies and trading ports appear to have possessed their nucleus of Christians.
At Tyre, Antioch, and Tarsus, in Cyprus and Crete, at Cyrene and in Sicily, all over the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, we see the Phoenician colonies, where Jews and Phoenicians and their descendants had been working together for centuries, singled out as the initial outposts of Christian effort. And, without any recognition of this association, we find, in tradition, that at all the more distant Phoenician trading ports or colonies - at Marseilles, in Sardinia, in Spain and in Cornwall - traces may be found of Hebrew missionary effort long antecedent to anything which bears the stamp of actual history.
The power of Phoenicia as a nation had been waning for centuries before the coming of Christ, but from 65 B.C., when Phoenicia came under the definite protection of Rome, its commercial sea-power appears to have received a considerable access of vitality. From this date the ships of Tyre and Sidon could trade from port to port all over the Mediterranean, and even beyond it, with less danger than at any time, perhaps, since the acme of Phoenician prosperity. Undoubtedly the old colonies had lost much of their strict Phoenician character. Greeks and Romans, as well as Syrians and Canaanites, crowded the large towns and cities, but the Phoenicians still held a strong if not predominant position at all the main seaport towns, and these formed the first bridges by which the gospel of Galilee and Jerusalem passed from the Hebrew to the Pagan world.
Regarding this (Roman) period of Phoenician history Professor Rawlinson writes:
Tyre and Sidon were great commercial centres down to the time of the Crusades, and quite as rich, quite as important, quite as flourishing, commercially, as in the old days of Hiram and Ithobal.
Mela (de Situ Orbis, i, 12) speaks of Sidon in the second century after Christ as "still opulent". Ulpian, himself a Tyrian by descent (Digest Leg. de Cens, tit. 15), calls Tyre in the reign of Septimius Severus "a most splendid colony". A writer of the age of Constantine says of it (Exp. totius Mundi in Hudson's Georgr. Minores, iii, 6), "The prosperity of Tyre is extraordinary. There is no state in the whole of the East which excels it in the amount of its business. Its merchants are persons of great wealth, and there is no port where they do not exercise considerable influence."
St. Jerome (Hieronymus, Comment, ad. Exek, xxvi, 7), towards the end of the fourth century, speaks of Tyre as ‘the noblest and most beautiful of all the cities of Phoenicia’, and as ‘an emporium for the commerce of almost the whole world’ (Rawlinson’s Phoenicia, PP- 550.551).
In Galilee, on the very borders of Syro-Phoenicia, the Saviour lived during the greater part of His ministry. Many of the people from the sea-coasts of Tyre and Sidon listened to His teaching (Luke 6:17; Mark 3:8), and were healed of their diseases; and once, at least, He made a journey from Galilee into Phoenicia (Mark 7), healing there the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman who forced her way into His presence.
Phoenicians appear to have been found in all the chief towns of Palestine about this date and, together with Arabians and Egyptians, are described by Strabo as regular inhabitants (bk. xvi, c. ii, par. 34). The commercial influence of Tyre and Sidon formed one of the four great factors which moulded the special civilization of the epoch. The first in importance, perhaps, was the religious patriotism of the Hebrew, inseparable from the land and its associations; the second was the supremacy and occupation of Rome; the third was the learning of the Greek; and the fourth was the commerce of Tyre. All of these factors seem to have been strongly marked throughout the whole of Galilee.
Permanent garrisons of Roman soldiers were maintained in the larger cities to enforce authority and order; the great highway from Tyre to Damascus traversed the country and brought an unending stream of merchants and traffic, while travellers and colonists of Greek or Hebrew-Greek origin, deeply interested in philosophical and religious questions, studied the Jews, their religion and customs, often disputing hotly with them, but occasionally becoming, to some extent, proselytes and disciples. Of such must have been those early disciples of Ephesus who had been 'baptized unto John’s baptism5 (Acts 19 1-12).
Not infrequently the families of these different nations intermarried. The 'stranger that was within his gates' was often accepted as the husband of an Israelitish maiden, and occasional instances of mixed marriages are found in the history of the period.
Drusilla, a member of the Herod family, married a Roman, Claudius Felix; Eunice, a Jewess, married a Greek and became the mother of St. Timothy. Herod Antipas himself married the daughter of Aretas, King of Arabia, and (according to the History of Rabanus), Mary of Magdala (Mary Magdalene of the Gospels) was the daughter of a Syrian and a Jewess, her father, a Syrian prince or ruler, having married a Jewish maiden who traced her descent from the royal family of King David.
The international connections and sympathies formed by such relationships and interests received a yearly stimulus throughout the whole of Palestine when, at the greater festivals, men of Hebrew origin or faith from all parts of the Roman Empire, 'out of every nation under heaven', met together in Jerusalem for worship and rejoicing. Parthians and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphyha, in Egypt and in the parts of Lybia about Cyrene, strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians2 met together on such occasions in Jerusalem, and must have brought news to many a homestead, both in going and returning, of distant lands and absent friends.
But beneath this bright surface-appearance of harmonious, many-coloured life the restless, unsatisfied longing and ambition of the discontented Jew was a perennial source of difficulty.
Nowhere was the Jewish national sentiment so strong and so popular as in Galilee. 'In the days of the taxing', presumably in the year that Christ was born, Judas of Galilee headed a struggle for independence which probably involved many members of the various families who afterwards became followers of John the Baptist and of Jesus. All the early disciples were full of the same traditions and aspirations which had animated the followers of Judas. Like them, they were hoping for and expecting a Jewish deliverer and king who would lead them to victory against their conquerors and oppressors. This was their conception of the office of the promised Messiah; this formed the basis of their great hope in John the Baptist and afterwards in Jesus.
So deeply ingrained was this expectation of an earthly deliverer
2 All these regions were inhabited by Greek-speaking peoples of Israel's ‘dispersion’. (Ed.)
that long after the coming of Jesus, when they had already enjoyed many months, and even years, of teaching regarding the spiritual Kingdom He came to establish - after His passion on Calvary and the wonder of His resurrection - still the disciples came to Him with the ever-present question, not only in their hearts but on their lips, 'Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel ?' (Acts 1:6).
All of the Galilean disciples were at first and mainly patriotic Israelites, and it was only after years of experience and suffering that they finally understood and grasped the meaning of the Master, 'the Kingdom which was not of this world' - the victory to be gained not by conflict with Rome, but by constant conflict with sin and self, the Hope which belonged to the 'things not seen which were eternal'.
Herod Antipas - 'Herod the Tetrarch' - who was the ruler of Galilee from about A.D. 1-39, had no easy task to fulfil in governing the mixed races and peoples of which he was the titular head. He was brought into very close relationship on the one hand with Rome and on the other with some of the very men who became afterwards identified with Jewish national aspirations and early Christian teaching. His life, however, is a record of self-indulgence and of failure. With more honesty of purpose he might have ruled as a loyal and unbending servant of Rome; with more courage he might himself have raised the standard of revolt; with a higher conception of life and more spiritual earnestness he might have listened to and obeyed the teaching of the Baptist; but, crafty and unstable in all his ways, he lost the respect of his people; he literally murdered the religious force and love which might have saved him; and finally, losing the confidence of Rome, was banished, with his kinswoman and so-called wife Herodias, to the distant city of Lyons.
As a boy we are told that he was brought up with Manaen, who afterwards became one of the great Christian teachers of Antioch (Acts 13:1). This may have some historical significance, as Antioch (as well as Ephesus) is said to have sent missions to Gaul in apostolic times. He had visited Rome and the Imperial Court before assuming his delegated sovereignty, and it is perhaps more than probable that his steward Chuza and the centurion-governor (both mentioned in the Gospels) came with him on returning to his province.
Later on, he and his wife Herodias came into immediate and startling relation with John the Baptist. The latter reproved the king for taking Herodias as his wife, and was consequently cast into prison. Here he was beheaded by the order of Herod at the instigation of Herodias.
The crime was no secret one, but committed in the full light of a public festivity, and all the gruesome details must have been fully known to the officers of the household, the servants and the assembled guests. The memory of it seems to have darkened all the future life of the king; while his people, who honoured the Baptist as a prophet from God, must have regarded the murder as a sinister and ominous incident in the reign of their ruler.
Full of a superstitious remorse and fear, we read that when Herod heard of the ministry of the Saviour he said, 'This is John the Baptist who is risen from the dead' (Matt. 14:2). On his final banishment such a mind and temperament could hardly fail to carry into exile the memory of his sin and connect it in some way with the darkness and misfortune of his closing days.
Such was the ruler and such the people of Galilee at the coming of the Saviour. Such, broadly and briefly, is the Galilean frame or setting from which emerge, as from a picture, the faces of the earthly disciples 'called to be saints'.
JESUS FAMILY RELATIONS
At the coming of the Saviour we find all the known members of His 'family' already identified with the national party, and especially with that highest conception of it realized in the person and mission of John the Baptist.
St. John the Baptist was His second cousin, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were second cousins also, their mother Salome, or Mary Salome, being (like Elizabeth) first cousin to the Blessed Virgin, while, according to Hegesippus, Cleopas, who married another Mary ('Mary the wife of Cleopas') was the brother of St. Joseph, and though his children would have no direct or blood relationship with our Lord, in the eyes of the world around Him they would have the nearest relationship, and these - James the Less, Simon Zelotes, and Judas Lebbaeus, or Thaddeus - are sometimes more especially called 'His brethren'. In St. John's Gospel (John 19: 25) Mary, the wife of Cleopas, is directly called the sister of the Blessed Virgin.
Zacharias and Elizabeth, the parents of St. John the Baptist, and Joseph, the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, appear to have died before our Lord began His ministry; Zacharias, according to Arabic and Greek tradition, having been assassinated within the Temple courts because of his belief in the Miraculous Conception of Jesus by the Virgin Mary. According to the same tradition our Lord refers to him in the 35th verse of the 23rd chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew, 'From the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.' His son, St. John the Baptist, was at the height of his reputation and mission when the public life of our Saviour was just beginning.
JOHN THE BAPTIST AND OUR LORD AND FIRST DISCIPLES
At this time Andrew and another disciple (presumably John the Evangelist) were already disciples of St. John the Baptist, and on that memorable morning, when the Baptist saw our Lord, and pointed Him out to His disciples, saying, 'Behold, the Lamb of God!' (John 1 136), these followed Jesus, and at His invitation went home with Him and spent the day at His house. So at the very outset of His ministry we find our Lord surrounded first by the members and relatives of His own family, and secondly by their immediate friends, all, or nearly all, being known followers and disciples of St. John the Baptist. And of these friends the first to claim our attention are Peter and Andrew, who were partners with James and John, and Zebedee (their father) in a small fishing fleet on the Lake of Galilee. It is hardly correct, perhaps, to think and speak of them as 'poor fishermen'. They had at least two large boats, or 'ships' as these are termed in our Testaments, and in the first chapter of the Gospel of St. Mark, when Jesus called James and John to follow Him, we read, 'they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants and went after him'.
From the use made of these ships, too, for long journeys and for night fishing, it is evident that they must have been of considerable size, and that in all probability some of the most important fishing of the lake was done by the men of these two families and the fishermen they employed to assist them in their work.
These partners of the brothers James and John (Andrew and Peter) had their friends also, notably Philip and Nathaniel, and these soon joined the circle of disciples. To each one came the Divine call, clear and unmistakable, and each was obedient to the Voice that called him; but simple human ties of family love and friendship were, then as now, the cords by which their hearts were drawn to the Eternal Love who dwelt among them, and it was the illuminating power of the human love that was in them that opened their eyes to behold His glory - 'the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth'.
At the time the main narrative of the Gospel opens Andrew and Peter and Philip are living at Bethsaida (John 1 144, 45), one of the cities on the Lake of Galilee. James and John (the Evangelist) are almost necessarily their neighbours. Mary, the sinner (afterwards known as Mary Magdalene), is at her house in Magdala; St. John the Baptist is baptizing at Bethabara beyond Jordan; Nathaniel is probably living at Cana (John 21 :2), the little town of the wedding feast and first miracle, while our Lord is still living at Nazareth with His mother and brethren.
If we take a rough map of the Lake of Galilee with the River Jordan running through it, we see that Capernaum is seated towards the northern aspect of the lake, Magdala about midway on its western border, and Bethsaida between the two. Cana lies to the west, about twelve miles off, and Nazareth five miles farther still.
The exact locality of Bethabara (the House of the Ford), called Bethbarah in Judges, and Bethany by Edersheim, is uncertain; but it appears to have been below the southern boundary of the lake at the natural ford of the Jordan where the river can be crossed without a boat. It is not improbable, indeed, that there was more than one Bethabara - wherever there was a ford, the House of the Ford might rightly be termed Bethbarah - but the place certainly given this name was the village or resting-place exactly opposite Jericho, from which the Israelites started on their first entrance into the land of Canaan. It was probably here at the old fording-place (Bethabara) that John the Baptist began his ministry, and all classes appear to have been attracted by his preaching. It would even appear that his mission, although essentially a national one, did not altogether exclude those who belonged to another race, for there is some reason to believe that a few foreigners - and notably some Greeks from Ephesus - were admitted by St. John as his disciples. All who were so admitted, whether Jews or Gentiles, were 'baptized in Jordan confessing their sins'.
From the fact that it was at Bethabara beyond Jordan where John was baptizing - quite possibly at the old Bethbarah immediately facing Jericho, where the Israelites had crossed from the wilderness into Canaan, and where our Lord is described as 'going or coming up out of the water' when the Holy Ghost descended upon Him - one cannot help wondering if this baptism of St. John did not essentially consist (after solemn confession of sin) of a ceremonial passage of the Jordan and a re-entry into the land of Canaan. St. John the Baptist stood on the further or 'wilderness' side of Jordan, and those who came to him confessing their sins - not only their own sins but the sins of their nation - may have been solemnly encouraged and commanded by him (if fully intending to keep God's commandments) to pass through the waters of Jordan into the Holy Land, as their fathers had done at first, and claim from God all the blessings and promises given to their forefathers. If so, what memories and traditions would fill the minds of St. John's disciples as they cast off their sins, renewed their covenant with God, and solemnly crossed over into the Holy Land once more, as their forefathers had crossed under Joshua!
St. John remained on the farther or wilderness side 'beyond Jordan'. Who would be their second Joshua to lead them on their journey or fight beyond the passage? One cannot be surprised that after the announcement of St. John his disciples one by one turned their eager eyes from him to Jesus, and seemed almost to forget the Baptist in their expectancy and wonder of all that might grow out of the following of this greater Leader - this newer movement and further fellowship.
AFTER JOHN THE BAPTIST
For a time, during the whole of St. John's ministry, the residences of the little group of Master and disciples remained practically unchanged; but when John was cast into prison (Matt. 4:12), the necessity for greater nearness and communion between the disciples and our Lord became increasingly urgent, and so we find our Lord and His mother and the brethren of Jesus leaving their home at Nazareth and coming up to Capernaum, where they would be nearer to their relations, James and John, and to their friends, Peter and Andrew.3
Here they evidently took a house, for henceforth Capernaum is known as our Lord's own city. About the same time - perhaps it was because of this - Peter and Andrew, who had as we know been living at Bethsaida, left their old home and took a house for themselves at Capernaum. It must have been a large one, for James and John had rooms with them, while Peter was married, and we are told that his wife and his wife's mother lived with him. Whether it was in this house or His own that Christ healed the bedridden man who was sick of the palsy we cannot tell, but we can gather a good deal of information respecting such a house as that of Peter from the account of the miracle, and from the descriptions of similar old residences in the East. It appears to have been built - like many of our very old inns, colleges, or larger houses - in a quadrangular or four-sided form, containing therefore a court or open space in the centre. At that time staircases inside a house were quite unknown, but there were steps or stairways on the outside, leading to the flat roof of the house, and on the inside of the courtyard another shorter
3 Matt. 4:13, 9:1; Mark 2:1.
set of steps leading to a lightly covered gallery or veranda which went all round the inside of the building, and communicated with the rooms of the upper storey.
It is supposed to have been from this gallery or from the top of the steps leading up to it that our Lord taught the people who thronged the 'quad', or courtyard, to hear Him, and so when they not only filled this space, but the gateway out into the road or street, it was impossible for a visitor to find immediate entrance. In the case of the sick man mentioned by St. Mark (Mark 2:3), the only course for his friends to pursue was to carry him up the outside stairway to the roof of the house, to break up the light covering of the veranda and then lower him down to the gallery where Jesus was standing.
Shall we for a moment stop and try to imagine one of these evening teachings?
JESUS TEACHING IN THE EVENINGS
The news goes round the city that Jesus is at home, 'and straightway many are gathered together insomuch that there is no room to receive them - no, not so much as about the door, and Christ preaches the Word unto them' (Mark 2 :2). One sees our Blessed Lord standing at the top of the little steps facing the entrance of the house; around Him are grouped the four chief disciples, James and John and Peter and Andrew, and His brethren, James the Less, Jude and Simon. Behind Him is, perhaps, the open door of the guest-room, and within, the virgin Mother pondering the scene and all its meaning in her heart. Before Him, stretching out as far as He can see, are the upturned faces of the people, not only filling the courtyard but standing in the doorway directly facing Him, while over all is the roofing of the starlit heavens. There is hardly any twilight so far south: the summer sun sets quickly, and as the darkness gathers one can imagine James and John holding some kind of torch on either side, illuminating the face of Jesus, so that those in the distance can better see His face and understand what He is saying. The crowd is hushed and expectant; many are tired after the hard day's work, but not too tired to stand and look into the face of Jesus - that face touched with the feelings of our infirmities, yet shining with the Divine consciousness of power to heal them - and every ear open to receive the message as with hands outstretched the gracious words fall from the Master's lips:
'Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.'
It is about this Capernaum life that most is known. We are told that Capernaum was a Roman settlement with a castellated fort on a promontory overlooking the Lake of Galilee. It was the centre of Roman government and taxation in Galilee, and possessed a garrison with centurions and other officers.
Civil representatives of the Roman power were stationed there, and its position at the junction of four great roads from Arabia, Egypt, Tyre and Damascus made it an important centre of travel and commerce. The town was a large one, and by its wealth and the richness of its buildings must have held a very distinguished place in the adjacent country. Our Lord Himself spoke of it as 'exalted to heaven'; and although this may have had mainly a spiritual significance, it is not improbable that the height and magnificence of the architecture displayed in many of its public buildings may have suggested the exaltation to which our Lord referred.
At the time of the Roman occupation it had become a notable city, and of the somewhat extensive ruins that still are supposed to mark the ancient site, it is interesting to note that the most important appear to be the remains of a synagogue dating from the Roman period. The building was of white marble, with finely-carved Corinthian columns, and upon the stones which entered into its formation sculptured representations have been found of the seven-branched candlestick, the paschal lamb and the pot of manna. There can be no reasonable doubt that this was the synagogue built at his own charge by the Roman centurion and governor. He was evidently a man of very great wealth as well as of great influence. He was accustomed to say to one man, 'Go', and he went, and to his servant, 'Do this', and he did it; and in all probability his own palace was of marble, standing in spacious and well-cultivated grounds. This, and the barracks or forts where his soldiers lived, and the central synagogue, which he had given to the people among whom he dwelt, would doubtless dominate the city; and as one looked at the blue waters of the lake of Galilee washing the marble steps which led to the governor's house, flanked, perhaps, on either side by castellated forts of strength and beauty, the white stone gleaming in the brilliant tropic sunshine, and then looked farther at the grove of palm-trees surrounding the residency, and then still farther at the rising ground where the marble synagogue stood in all its clear-cut beauty of outline and of sculpture, the rows of Corinthian columns forming a delicate tracery against the deep blue background of the Eastern sky, one cannot be surprised that our Lord recognized its beauty, that He acknowledged its greatness and exaltation, and was profoundly moved as He foresaw its destruction.
Some may think perhaps that the picture I have drawn is somewhat fanciful and highly coloured, yet it rests on very fair foundation. In any country possessing a beautiful inland sea the banks of the lake would be naturally unusually fertile. The mountain streams running into the lake would provide an abundance of pure water, and the loveliness of the surroundings could not fail to attract the wealthier inhabitants of the country as well as the foreign rulers, both of whom would naturally build their houses at the margin of the lake. The word Gennesareth is said to mean 'Gardens of Princes', and Capernaum appears to be one of the most famous of these gardens.
THE CENTURION AT CAPERNAUM
The governor, centurion, or captain of the guard, quartered in Capernaum, and in the service of Herod Antipas, became, as we know, a friend and disciple of Jesus - a kind man who not only loved the Jews among whom he lived, but loved and took care of his humblest servants and dependants. We remember how his first introduction to our Lord was occasioned by his anxiety for a servant who was ill, and can imagine how Christ, who knew the heart as well as the outward bearing of the man, must have rejoiced to recognize this love and kind consideration.
A NOBLEMAN OF CAPERNAUM
JAIRUS, THE CHIEF RULER OF THE SYNAGOGUE
Another important resident of Capernaum was the nobleman whose son was healed by our Saviour. Some have identified him with Chuza, Herod's servant, whose wife Joanna followed our Lord and ministered to Him. However this may be, we are definitely told that 'himself believed and his whole house', so that all his family became disciples.
Another important resident was Jairus, the chief ruler of the synagogue. He had heard Jesus speak and teach in his synagogue, and had been astonished at His doctrine, for (we read) 'He taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes'. He had also witnessed the healing of the man who had an unclean spirit within the walls of the synagogue, but it was the illness and death of his little daughter, just grown into womanhood, that brought him a suppliant at the feet of Jesus. And when his daughter was given back to him, restored to life and health, after all the attendants ‘knew’ that she was dead, it seems that both father and mother could hardly believe it. We read that they were astonished, and Christ Himself had to remind them that she needed food to eat. Whatever knowledge, friendship, or faith existed before between the ruler of the synagogue and our Lord, this would increase it a thousandfold; and it is therefore not surprising that Jairus, who as ruler had superintendence of Divine service in the synagogue at Capernaum, who could choose the readers of the Law and of the Prophets, and the speaker, if any, to deliver the sermon or address, should hereafter welcome our Lord's ministry in the synagogue service, and ask Him to speak to the people on the Sabbath days. Some of these sermons have come down to us, and one of them is especially remembered as having been spoken by Jesus in this synagogue of Capernaum.
MATTHEW - TAX COLLECTOR
Another householder of the city whose house we read of was Matthew. He was, as we know, a revenue officer, one of the Jews, but in the employment of the Roman Government. As you walked down through the city to the border of the lake you would naturally come to the landing-stage or quay, where the ships of James and John and Peter would be lying moored when the disciples were at home. Close by would be the custom-house, and here the office of Matthew, whose duty it would be to collect the harbour charges for all boats coming in, and probably to levy duty on both exports and imports as they went or came across the lake. So, as we read in the Gospels, it was as Christ 'went forth by the sea-side' that He saw Matthew (or Levi) sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, 'Follow me'. 'And he left all, rose up, and followed him.'
Immediately afterwards we find in St. Luke that Matthew made our Lord a great feast in his own house, and gathered together a 'great company' to meet Him. As the stricter Jews would not associate with tax-collectors in Roman employ, this would be quite a different gathering from those our Lord might meet at the house of Jairus or of Peter or of the Roman governor, and we find it rather critically and contemptuously alluded to as a company of publicans and sinners!
Incidentally it is interesting to note how widespread was the influence of Jesus in Capernaum. No class was beyond it or outside of it. The wealthy and noble, with the governor at their head - the devout Jews under Jairus, the special commercial class among the friends of St. Matthew, the fishing interest brought by the sons of Zebedee, the poor and nameless who always seemed to follow Him, and the sick and maimed who were brought to Him by others - all, for a time in this town, seemed open to His teaching and His influence, and though we may not have realized it before, it was really here that Christendom began.
Shall we count up how many we know who either lived in Capernaum itself or within a walking distance from it ?
Jesus and the blessed virgin Mary.
Peter, Peter's wife, Peter's wife's mother.
Bartholomew or Nathaniel (Cana).
James the Less
Simon Cleopas and Mary, wife of Cleopas.
The Centurion, or Governor, and his servant.
Chuza and Joanna and their son.
Mary Magdalene (the woman who was a sinner, pardoned by
our Lord, and who afterwards followed Him through His ministry).
Jairus, his wife and his daughter. The man with the unclean spirit.
The sick of the palsy. The widow of Nain and her son (known afterwards traditionally as 'Maternus').
The man with the withered hand.
The scribe who said, 'Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.'
The woman who had the issue of blood and trusted and was made whole.
The two blind men who followed Him, after the raising of
Jairus's daughter, crying, 'Thou son of David, have mercy on us.'
MARY MAGDALENE’S MOTHER
In tradition we are told that the mother of Mary Magdalene was of the blood royal of the House of Israel, and therefore distantly related to St. Joseph and the blessed Virgin (see ‘Life of Rabanus’, cap. i). This woman is said by Eusebius to have been a native of Gaesarea Philippi, a town to the north of Capernaum. He states (E.H.B., vii, cap. 18): 'Her house is (still) shown in the city, and the wonderful monuments of our Saviour's benefit to her are still remaining. At the gates of her house, on an elevated stone, stands a brazen image of a woman on Tier bended knees with her hands stretched out before her like one entreating. Opposite her there is the image of a man, decently clad in a mantle and stretching out his hand to the woman. Before her feet and on the same pedestal there is a certain strange plant growing which, rising as high as the hem of the brazen garment, is a kind of antidote to all kinds of diseases. This statue, they say, is a statue of Jesus Christ, and it has remained even to our times; so that we ourselves saw it while tarrying in that city.'
Some thirty-four or thirty-five personally known to us besides the scribes and Pharisees who attended the synagogue; the people who thronged the courtyard at the evening teaching; the ‘great company’ of St. Matthew's feast; and the multitude who followed Him and desired to crown Him as an earthly king of the Jews.
A special scene of our Lord's Capernaum life, recorded for us by St. John, appears to have taken place at the end of His residence here. It is a notable one, clearly defined in word and act, and it marks a turning-point, a parting of the ways, in one sense a foretaste of the sorrow of the betrayal and crucifixion.
It was a Sabbath morning at Capernaum. The Sabbath began on Friday evening at sunset, and continued until sunset on Saturday. No servile work was done, the Sabbath was kept with the utmost strictness, and no Scottish or old English Sunday could probably give so utter a sense of quiet and calm as that which brooded over the day of rest by the Lake of Galilee. Jesus was preaching in the synagogue, and the synagogue would be crowded to the doors. It was Passover time, and only the day before our Lord had been feeding the five thousand with five barley loaves and two small fishes on the further or eastern side of the Lake of Galilee. Not only would nearly all the town try to come to the synagogue service, but many of those who had been miraculously fed came over the lake seeking Jesus. Through all the ages human nature has not varied much, and from every part we might watch the people thronging towards the central synagogue. Some are coming in boats across the water, others are streaming down from the hill country on the western side of the town, but all alike are full of expectation and of interest, and are probably talking of the great Teacher and of the miracle of yesterday.
To simple and holy hearts Heaven would be very close to earth at such a season, and as they go up to the House of God some are probably repeating the songs of degrees with which the devout were encouraged to draw near to the Temple at Jerusalem - ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.’ ‘He that keepeth Israel slumbers not nor sleeps.’ So, on that Sabbath morning, in many little companies and from all the country round, came throngs of worshippers streaming to the synagogue. In one of the descriptions of this synagogue it is said to have been peculiar in having the carving of the pot of manna over the entrance. While many of the other synagogues in Galilee (the remains of which have been discovered) appear to have possessed carvings of the seven-branched candlestick and paschal lamb, this is the only one on which there are traces of the third sign or emblem of the pot of manna or heavenly food with which the Israelites were fed in the wilderness; and it is definitely stated (Edersheim) that the lintel itself has been discovered, and that it bears not only the device of the pot of manna, but that this is ornamented with a flowing pattern of vine leaves and clusters of grapes.
So the season of the year (the Passover and the special eating of the paschal lamb), the miraculous feeding of the day before, and the carved device over the entrance of the synagogue, all would combine to suggest and enforce the subject of the morning's teaching. What this was we learn from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. John. It was Christ the Bread of Life. As in our imagination we follow the crowd within the entrance and stand against one of the pillars of the sanctuary we hear Him saying: 'Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. But the Bread of God is He that cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. I am the Bread of Life; he that cometh to Me shall never hunger, and he that beheveth on Me shall never thirst.'
An angry murmur runs round the seats of the elders. 'Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He saith, I came down from heaven?'
Again He speaks: the voice which had stilled the tempest on the Lake of Galiee, the voice that had raised the dead to life, the voice that had commanded and given food to the five thousand in the wilderness rises once more in conscious power and sovereignty! - 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.' 'These things said He in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.'
Let us take one last look at Jesus on this memorable Sabbath morning. He is standing on the synagogue steps, for the service is over. 'From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him.' Many of those who had been accustomed to stand beside Him and to offer Him outward deference and homage, many of those who had been half-inclined to follow Him - these have hurried away from the synagogue to their homes, and on His face one seems to see for the first time the bitter, pitying grief of the 'Man of Sorrows' who came to His own, and found that His own received Him not. Turning Himself about He sees His Apostles round Him, but even among them he recognizes that one of the last who has joined, Judas Iscariot, a native of Judaea, and not as all the rest from Galilee, is a traitor in his heart; and with that human affection which almost pleads for understanding and for sympathy, we hear Him say: ‘And will ye also go away?’ Then Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life, and we believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of God.’5
Many years afterwards another of those who were present - looking back on a long life and thinking of this and of all that followed - wrote quietly and confidently: “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God….which were born [begotten - Keith Hunt] not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God' (John 1 :12, 13).
TO BE CONTINUED