It was several days later that Jesus called a halt near a little white Syrian village not far from the new Roman town of Caesarea Philippi. A morning’s trudge along the dusty road had made the party hot and thirsty and a rivulet purling down a green valley among the wooded hills was too tempting to be ignored.
After slaking their thirst and washing their faces, hands and feet in the clear brown water, they opened their sacks and proceeded to satisfy their hunger on the frugal fare which they had bought in the village where they had spent the night.
Until they were well north of Galilee, Jesus had thought it wiser not to ask about the gossip in the lakeside towns. But he did wish to know how far this corresponded with what he had heard from Luke and Chuza.
“You have had the chance,” he began, “of hearing what people are saying about me now in Capernaum and Bethsaida. I hope most of the frothy excitement has died down by this time. But who do they say that I am?”
“Well, Master,” volunteered Matthew, “some are saying that Elijah has returned to the world.”
“Not necessarily Elijah,” put in Thomas, “all sorts of names are being mentioned; I myself have heard people suggest Jeremiah or Amos.”
“Any of the old prophets will do for them,” laughed Simon of Cana; “but the general belief is that you are one of the well-known prophets in a new existence.”
“I heard one very extraordinary theory put forward,” said Nathaniel slowly, “that you are John the Baptiser risen from the dead. Of course we all know that’s nonsense; but you did start your work just at the time John was imprisoned by Herod and I suppose that’s how the idea started. Curiously enough, it seems to have had its origin in Court circles.”
“Well, which of all these opinions do you yourselves favour?” asked Jesus in a matter-of-fact tone. “Who do you say that I am?”
Quick as a flash Peter gave the answer.
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
There was a moment’s silence. Peter looked a little abashed, almost as if he had uttered something too sacred to be put into words.
At last Jesus replied. He spoke quietly and seriously.
“I am very glad you have come to that conclusion, Simon, son of John. Do you remember when we first met, you refused point-blank to believe Andrew, when he told you he had found the Messiah. So it is not because you have been told it by any other human person that you now believe it. It has been borne in on you by the revelation of the Father.”
After a moment he went on.
“You see, Andrew, with the best intentions, made a mistake in telling you what he believed at once.”
“Peter’s an obstinate old thing,” his brother remarked. “But I do see I just put him of by blurting it out as I did.”
“Yes,” said Jesus, “and that’s the hint I want you all to take. Don’t go publishing it about that I am the Messiah; either you’ll put people off and they won’t believe you or worse still, they’ll get worked up into a state of excitement, as they did that day when we fed the crowd on the hillside, and ruin everything I am trying to do.”
As he said this, he purposely avoided looking at Judas who was watching him gloomily.
“You see,” Jesus went on, “the whole trouble is that for hundreds of years our people have had the idea that the Messiah is to be a heaven-born leader to free them from foreign enemies; first it was the Syrian Greeks, then the Romans. But that’s all a mistake. If you read the writings of the prophets they say nothing about the Messiah saving our nation from invaders; the Messiah is to be a Saviour, yes—but a Saviour of the world from evil and misery and injustice. On the other hand these same old prophets said a great deal about the Messiah having to undergo suffering and disgrace. And that’s what you’ve got to face up to. Peter has just told me he believes I am the Messiah; he was right. But do try to get into your heads what that means. Some of the prophets speak of the Messiah as the Son of Man, because he is the human representative of God here on earth. Now this Son of Man is to suffer much; he is to be rejected by the Chief Priests and elders and scribes; he is to be put to death.”
A chill silence fell on the group. They felt the cold shadow of the angel of Death engulfing their loved Master, without whom they would be like lost children.
“But on the third day,” he added very quietly, “he will rise again.”
To this astounding remark none of them appeared to pay much attention. Their minds were filled with the tragedy of separation; with death they were familiar; it awaited each one of them, but in the distant future: Jesus’ words had brought the Spectre very close to him. What was it he had said afterwards? It did not seem to matter.
Not a word more was spoken till Jesus gave the signal to move by standing up and strapping up his pack. Gloomily they proceeded along the sunlit road, the Master a little way in advance. Hardly a word was exchanged.
After a while Peter caught him up and took his arm. “Master,” he said urgently, “you mustn’t say things like that. Look how you’ve depressed us all. It’s because you feel depressed yourself, I expect. Nothing of that sort is going to happen to you; we know you’ll triumph over all dangers and difficulties.”
Jesus glanced over his shoulder; the rest were very close behind. Judas was watching his reaction warily, straining his ears to catch his reply.
He stopped in the middle of the road and faced Peter. “Peter, you old devil,” he said with mock severity; “you are just behaving like the devil, you know, tempting me to shirk what lies ahead. Don’t you dare to talk like that and look me in the face. You still judge everything by human standards; you have no perception of the purposes of God. I told you I should have to suffer. In just the same way anyone who tries to follow me must be ready every day to face suffering and danger, perhaps even death. It’s like a prisoner, wearily carrying his heavy cross up to Skull Hill, knowing that death awaits him at the end of the road. But what does all that matter if God’s work is done and the world is saved. If you are following me for your own interest or advancement, you are wasting your lives; but if you forget yourselves altogether and devote all your energies to my service and to spreading the message I have brought to the world, without any self-pity or desire for fame, then you are making the best use of yourselves. No one’s life is very long; you can give nothing in exchange for your lives. So make the best use of them.”
Their eyes were fixed on him as he paused. Here was a leader worth following; he promised them no rewards, no glory, nothing but danger and weariness and pain. Yet they felt elated, enthusiastic, ready to follow wherever he pointed the way. This was a call to service, rousing them like the blast of a trumpet.
Jesus’ eyes were fixed on the line of blue hills which shut in the distant horizon. In them was a look of prophetic ecstasy, as though he saw the realisation of his hopes in the future. He seemed hardly conscious of the presence of the Twelve when he spoke to them again. “Most of you will live to see the fulfilment of part, at least, of my purposes. In your time will be laid the foundation of God’s Kingdom on earth.”
From Caesarea Philippi they struck north east into the hills. On the sixth day they decided to halt at a small mountain hamlet perched on a spur of Mount Hermon. In the early afternoon most of the Twelve were enjoying a rest; Jesus proposed a walk to James and John. They readily agreed. He sought out Peter.
“Peter,” he said, “James and John are coming with me for a walk in the hills. Will you come with us?”
“Well, Master,” Peter began, “I’m not much of a walker, as you know,—”
“I should like you to join us,” was Jesus’ reply.
“In that case,” answered Peter, “of course I’ll come.”
He grinned rather ruefully as he rose to his feet.
Three hours’ steady walking brought them to within easy reach of the summit. The air was clear and exhilarating.
“Well, Peter,” said Jesus, “what about it? Had enough?”
Peter laughed. “Pity to turn back when we’re so near the top,” he said.
Half an hour later they had achieved their goal and the three fishermen flung themselves on the grass. Jesus sat down a little distance away with his back against a smooth rock. Instinctively they felt that he did not wish to be disturbed; perhaps he was praying, holding one of his strange intimate communions with the Father. The climb had made them curiously drowsy; they dozed off.
Peter woke suddenly; it was already twilight. He looked up at the rock where Jesus had been sitting; the Master was standing now, talking with two strangers. Peter rubbed his eyes; he knew that Jesus was wearing his ordinary workaday clothes; but now they gleamed white in the semi-darkness. It must be some trick of the light, the last rays of the setting sun illuminating his figure. But no, it was already too dark for that. And the unearthly radiance seemed to come from within, shining from his face as well as from his garments, lighting up the two companions with whom he talked. Peter could see them clearly and it was borne in on him that these were no ordinary men, but beings from another plane.
Fear gripped him. He found himself speaking, without knowing what he said.
“Master, it is a good thing we’re here.” He recalled the words afterwards. “Let us build three huts; one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Moses and Elijah? How did he know the strangers?
Even as he spoke, the three were swallowed up in a cloud of light; Peter heard words issuing from the radiance, “This is my much loved son. Hear and believe in him.”
The next thing he knew was that the Master was tapping him on the shoulder.
“Come along, Peter. It’s time we were starting back.”
Half-dazed he glanced up. Jesus looked just as usual, spoke in his ordinary voice.
John was rising to his feet.
“I’ve had a most extraordinary dream,” he said in an awed voice. James interrupted him; “Nothing like mine. I saw Jesus glistening with light,—”
“And talking to Moses and Elijah,” added John.
“Did you hear the voice?” asked Peter.
“This is my much loved son,” replied James.
“Then we weren’t dreaming at all,” said John slowly; “it actually happened.”
“No,” said Jesus, “it was not a dream. But tell no one what you have seen, until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”
In the moonlight they made their way down the mountain slopes, the Master leading with unerring certainty.
The three behind were talking together in undertones.
“What does he mean,” said James, “by the Son of Man rising from the dead?”
“He said the same thing a week ago,” replied John, “that time when Peter said we all believed he was the Messiah.”
“After what we’ve seen tonight,” added Peter, “that’s more certain than ever. But what I can’t understand is this; how can the Messiah succeed, if he’s not acknowledged by the Priests? Still more, how can he possibly succeed if he’s put to death by the Romans?”
“What’s that you are saying, Peter?” Jesus called back to him. “Well Master,” said Peter outspokenly, “You told us the other day the Messiah must suffer and die.”
“I told you the truth,” was the quiet reply.
“Then how can your work succeed?” objected Peter.
“Just through suffering and death,” Jesus answered, “and by what follows afterwards.”
“There’s one thing I don’t understand, Master,” said James; “people say that Elijah must come before the Messiah, to make things ready for him. Is that why we saw Elijah tonight? Or what does it mean?”
“Don’t you remember, James,” explained Jesus, “who it was who said, ‘I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Prepare ye the way of the Lord?’ Oh yes, Elijah has indeed returned. And a tyrant’s whim has caused his death, just as another tyrant persecuted the Elijah of old.”
“John the Baptiser,” said James thoughtfully; “yes, I see.”
Rounding a cliff before the last steep descent, they saw the glare of torches moving about in the village. A confused hum of voices reached their ears on the still night air.
“We are wanted down there,” said Jesus; “let us hurry.”
It was Thaddaeus who first spotted them in the flickering torchlight. Pushing his way through the crowd of villagers who were clustered round the rest of the Twelve, he hurried up the slope to meet Jesus.
“Thank God you’ve come, Master,” he said, hardly keeping back the tears, “we can do nothing.”
“What’s the trouble?” asked Jesus.
“I was talking to a man in the village,” Thaddaeus explained; “his son is dumb—and has fits. I advised him to tell you about it, but you weren’t there. We’ve done all we could, but it’s been no use.”
“Tell the father to come here,” was Jesus’ reply.
Thaddaeus ran back and in a few moments returned with a rough-looking fellow, who looked harassed and distressed.
“Sir,” he blurted out, “I brought my boy to you. He’s dumb and has got a devil in him; it’s always dashing him on the ground; when he gets these fits, he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth. He’s been worse lately, can’t take his food and is losing all his strength. As you weren’t here, I told your friends about it. But they couldn’t do anything.”
Jesus smiled a little wearily.
“People nowadays have no trust in God,” he said. “How long have I got to put up with your failures? Where’s the boy now?”
“I took him home again,” said the father, “he was getting over-excited. I was afraid it could bring on another fit.”
“Bring him to me,” ordered Jesus.
The silent crowd parted and the man hastened back to his cottage. Nobody spoke until he reappeared with his wife, a thin, anxious-looking woman. Between them they led a boy of about fifteen, whose restless eyes turned this way and that in bewilderment. As they approached the boy suddenly stopped. He pointed a trembling fore-finger straight at Jesus. A strangled cry escaped his lips. He collapsed on the ground and lay there writhing. His teeth were fast clenched and little blobs of froth appeared at the corners of his lips. His mother knelt beside him and loosened the scarf about his neck.
The light of the torches played fitfully on the faces of the bystanders craning forward to watch the afflicted boy. Jesus thrust his way through them. They moved back a few paces, leaving the little group alone in the centre.
Jesus spoke to the father: “How long has he been like this?”
“From a child,” the man said in a dull voice. “We can’t leave him alone. When these fits come on him, he sometimes tries to throw himself into the fire or to drown himself. But if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us.”
“If you can!” said Jesus quietly. “Anything is possible if one has belief in the love of God.”
“I believe,” cried the distracted father. Jesus looked straight at him; his eyes fell.
“You must help my unbelief,” he muttered.
Jesus spoke; there was power and authority in the calm tones.
“You dumb and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him! And never again enter into him.”
An unearthly scream from the boy followed the words. He twitched convulsively and lay still.
The mother watched him anxiously. A sob escaped her. “Is he dead?” whispered someone in the crowd.
“Looks like it,” was the answer.
But Jesus bent down and took the lifeless hand. The boy shuddered and rose to his feet.
“Take him home and put him to bed,” Jesus said to the mother. “Before I leave in the morning, I’ll look in and see him. What he needs is a good sleep.”
There was no sleep for the Twelve that night. They were disheartened by their failure. It was Nathaniel who put their feelings into words.
“Master, why couldn’t we cast it out?”
“Epilepsy is one of the most difficult diseases to cure,” was the answer. “It is only possible for those who have mastered the art of prayer—for those who have established perfect contact with the Father and can draw on his power at any moment.”
They were again approaching the borders of Galilee. Jesus was walking ahead.
It was young Simon who spoke. “I wish the Master would cheer up a bit. He’s got the enmity of the leaders on his mind with a vengeance. Did you hear him again this morning?”
“About his having to suffer and die?” replied Matthew, “Yes; just the same as he told us that day up north when Peter told him we knew he was the Messiah.”
“It’s all this inaction that’s doing it,” Judas broke in; “this waiting about is getting on his nerves. It is getting on mine too,” he added with a quizzical smile. “I want to be up and doing; and that’s what Jesus needs too—something to take him out of himself. I’m sick of pottering about from village to village, watching him heal a labourer’s son here and some paralytic old woman there. Oh, I know that sort of thing was necessary at first; he had to make his name. But now—well, he could rouse the whole of Galilee in a couple of days if he’d only see that the time is ripe.”
“Do you think he wants to rouse the whole of Galilee?” ventured Thaddaeus diffidently.
“God knows what he wants,” was the impatient reply.
“But why all this talk about suffering and death?” persisted Matthew. “And what does he mean by saying, ‘After three days I shall rise again?’”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about that,” continued Judas, “and it strikes me he’s just warning us that there’s a pretty stiff time ahead. Perhaps he wants to test us out, to see if any of us is likely to show the white feather. You know his exaggerated way of putting things; when he talks of suffering and death, he means there’s danger of these things for all of us. Well, anyone can see that; but some people won’t use their eyes.”
Philip struck into the conversation. “That still doesn’t explain what he means by rising again.”
“That seems to me obvious,” retorted Judas. “He marches on Jerusalem at the head of a strong force from Galilee; right. On his entry into Jerusalem there’s bound to be a clash with the priests and their supporters. Two or three days of tumult and danger; then the whole rotten system will collapse into ruins. Jesus will rise to the top in triumph; we shall crown him and overpower the Roman garrison. The rat Pontius Pilate will desert the sinking ship; he’s got no guts, they say. And by the time the Emperor decides to send a punitive expedition, the Kingdom of Israel will be firmly established and we shall have the whole country at our backs and all the strings in our hands.”
Judas spoke with fanatical enthusiasm; his dark eyes glittered.
“The country at the Master’s back and the strings in the hands of Judas of Kerioth, that means,” said Philip quietly.
There was a burst of laughter. Judas’ pride in his own organising ability was a standing joke. He flushed.
“It’s all very well laughing about it,” he began hotly; “but someone’s got to do the routine work. Jesus himself may be the right man to found a kingdom, but he is no more capable of running one than a child; anybody can see that. So someone will have to do it for him.”
“And Judas is the man for the job,” remarked Matthew with some sarcasm.
“Seems to me,” suggested Thaddaeus mildly, “the Master’s making it pretty obvious who he means to take the lead. He depends more and more on Peter and Zebedee’s sons; and quite right too. Those three have got more in them than all the rest of us put together.”
“They’ll be good men in the opening scrap,” agreed Judas grudgingly. “But to organise a kingdom you need more than a strong arm and experience in managing a boat. A country run by a pack of fishermen wouldn’t command much respect abroad.”
“What’s that about fishermen?” sang out Peter, who was walking a little way behind with his brother and their partners.
“Judas says he can manage a kingdom better than a pack of fishermen,” Thomas called in reply.
“He wants to have control of the treasury I suppose,” said John with some ill nature.
The shaft went home. There had been occasional doubts about Judas’ accounts; the party so often seemed to be running out of funds that there was never enough to help the poor. And Judas kept the communal purse.
“If you doubt my honesty, John,” returned Judas angrily, “you’d better choose a new treasurer. Matthew’s the man; a publican can always be trusted to keep accounts.”
Matthew did not rise.
“If the Master wants to make a change,” he remarked calmly, “he’ll make one. It’s up to him.”
“And it’ll be for him to appoint the officials in the kingdom,” added the elder James, “so there doesn’t seem much point in squabbling about it.”
“That’s right,” Andrew agreed, “and the Master doesn’t make mistakes.”
“No. He favours fishermen,” was the retort.
“Steady, Judas,” put in Peter solidly; “we don’t mean to quarrel with you; so it’s no use trying to make us.”
“The Master’s got quite enough to worry him,” added Thaddaeus soberly, “without hearing us bickering like a pack of bad-tempered kids.”
Judas threw a malevolent glance at the last speaker. The little man wisely held his tongue and contented himself with a covert wink at his friend James.
For the next quarter of a mile nothing was heard save the shuffling of feet in the dusty road.
It was Thomas who reopened the conversation. “What’s your beat for the preaching tour?” he inquired of Philip.
“West coast, I believe,” was the reply, “probably Caesarea.”
“I’m not trusted in Galilee,” put in Judas; “I’m to be sent off to some God-forsaken hole in Samaria. The Samaritans have no wish to see the coming of the Kingdom, as patriotic Jews have. But there are plenty of ways of working for the Kingdom which the Master himself has never thought of. Last time I was a bit too successful, so this time I’m not to be given a chance. Well, we shall see; the Master’s always rubbing it in that we should make the best use of our opportunities. He shall find that Judas of Kerioth is an apt pupil.”
No one made any comment on this astonishing speech. To change the subject, Matthew asked: “is the Master going on this tour himself?”
“I gather not,” replied Nathaniel; “I think he means to start work in Judaea.”
Judas looked at him sharply.
“Judaea, eh?” he remarked; “that looks more like business. But what makes you think that?”
“There’s no secret about it,” replied Nathaniel; “He was talking quite openly of his plans this morning. He’s staying with people I know near Bethany.”
“Perhaps I’m not too badly placed after all,” he said reflectively; “Syria is halfway to Judaea.”
And with this cryptic remark he relapsed into silence.
Later in the day, Jesus surprised them all with a sudden change of plan.
“We’ll stay tonight at Capernaum,” he announced, “and push on in the early morning to Cana. No one need know we have been in Capernaum; Isaac’s house is outside the town. He is expecting us.”
After an early supper Jesus found himself alone with the Twelve in the garden. Their host had remained in the house to give final instructions to his wife and the bailiff about the management of the estate during his absence on the preaching tour. Little Joab was playing by himself under one of the giant cedars whose dense shadows sprawled to an immense length across the grass as the sun sank westwards.
“What was the argument about on the way?” Jesus asked. The question was lightly put, but the Twelve sensed his disapproval. They looked uncomfortable; no one volunteered an explanation.
“Well, did you decide the point?” he pressed.
Again there was a pause of embarrassment. At last Peter spoke.
“What point do you mean, Master?” he ventured.
“Who is to run my kingdom for me,” was the abrupt reply. “You needn’t look so surprised; you didn’t make much effort to control your voices.”
Without waiting for an answer, he called to the child: “Joab!”
“Half a minute,” the child’s voice rang clear through the still evening air, “I’m just fixing the doorway.”
A smile passed over Jesus’ face. He turned again to the Twelve.
“Unless you become as childlike in heart, and as single in aim as that little boy,” he observed, “there’s no place for you in my kingdom. Look at the earnest concentration with which he’s building that hut; that’s just the spirit I want in all of you. There must be no rivalry, no fighting for the first place, no thought of which is doing better than the other, nothing but a sincere determination to do the job in hand to the best of one’s ability. That’s what you can learn from a child.”
Joab came scampering over the grass. “My hut’s finished,” he shouted breathlessly. “Come and look at it.”
“All right,” was the reply, “climb up on my shoulder and we’ll make a tour of inspection.”
The child’s gaiety had dispelled the feeling of awkwardness. It was a cheerful party which followed Joab and his mount to the cedar.
“I’m afraid the door’s hardly big enough for you,” the boy apologised as he scrambled to the ground. “But you can look in if you bend down.”
Jesus stooped and examined the interior.
“It’s a very well built house,” he commented quite seriously; “but I don’t think I should like to live in it. There are no windows.”
“Ah,” said Joab, “but, you see, it’s not a house. It’s a shepherd’s hut. Shepherd’s huts are only for the lambs to be born in. They don’t have windows, do they? Do you remember when I said you’d make a good shepherd?”
“I remember it very well.”
“I was thinking of that only this afternoon while I was building my hut. I often play at being a shepherd, you see,” he added in explanation. “That’s why I wanted a hut for my lambs to be born in, like old Jeremiah’s; he’s our head shepherd. I like going to see the lambs with Jeremiah.”
The child’s name floated across the lawn.
“Hello, Mum,” he shouted in reply. “My hut’s finished. Come and look at it.”
“I’ll see it in the morning,” called his mother. “It’s bedtime now.”
“All right! Coming!” he shouted. “Goodnight, Jesus; goodnight everybody.”
And he raced off to the house.
“Nice kid, that,” remarked John.
“Pity all children aren’t like him,” said young Simon with a laugh.
“All children have it in them to be like Joab,” observed Jesus quite seriously. “The trouble is that they are not given the chance to grow up as he is doing. Some parents ill treat their children or disregard them; far more are over indulgent and spoil them. Yet all children have by nature the same freshness and simplicity of outlook. Any kindness you show to a child is a service to me; and every service to me is a service to the Father who sent me.”
He paused for a moment and sighed.
“The innocence of childhood,” he went on, “must vanish as the years pass. But woe to the man who wilfully destroys a child’s innocence or robs him of the simple happiness which is his heritage! It would be better for that man to have a great millstone hung round his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
“What are you all talking about so solemnly?” The child’s clear voice came to them from an open window.
“Never you mind,” was the bantering answer. “It’s time you were in bed.”
“It’s not,” came the pert rejoinder; “I’m having my milk. And I’ve not said my prayers yet.”
“Say one for me, Joab,” said his friend.
“I always do—ever since that day we went round the farm. I ask God to take care of the Good Shepherd; that’s my nickname for you. Goodnight, Good Shepherd!”
And the child’s head disappeared from the window.
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