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NOTE TO PAGE 248.
PROF. SCHMIEDEL has kindly allowed me to add a note to his remarks on p. 248, and to make them a subject for discussion. In doing so, I am breaking through my general principle as Editor of these Volksbücher, which is not to express any opinion upon disputable passages.
Personally it does not seem possible to me that at this decisive hour when Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples for the last time, he should have thought more of the bodily needs of his followers than of the needs of their souls. He himself said, “Fear not those who kill the body, but those who can kill the soul,” &c. And are we to suppose that in face of that calamity which was about to rush upon them through his death, he thought these words no longer applied? It seems to me that Jesus would be going against the spirit of his own words, if, when he took that pathetic farewell of his disciples, he was silent about the importance of his death for their souls, and in his kindly anxiety thought only of the safety of their bodies. When Socrates went to death, he explained to his disciples that he could not try to escape it, since his death was necessary for the welfare of their souls—and can Jesus at this supreme moment have thought only of the bodily welfare of his followers?
The saying of Jesus (Mt. x. 28 = Lk. xii. 4 f.) quoted by the Editor of the present series must not be taken by itself. It must be read in connection with the following words: “but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” We see from this that Jesus was thinking only of cases in which people are exposed either to death at the hands of men or to eternal punishment at the hands of God. For instance, in the Christian persecutions those who denied their faith because they were afraid of the death which threatened them from men if they confessed Christ, incurred the punishment of God.
To whom then can the saying of Jesus apply? Schiele’s objection is to the idea that Jesus wished the disciples to be protected from the death of the body. But, considering the position of the disciples at the time, the saying which he has quoted cannot in any way apply to them. They are not yet face to face with the question, whether they ought to flee from or resign themselves to death at the hands of men. The authorities would not feel obliged to lay hands upon them, until Jesus’ public ministry assumed such a character as to threaten the security of the State. The advice to surrender the body rather than escape by violating the will of God, was therefore, as far as the disciples were concerned, not required by the circumstances of the case; consequently there would be no question of Jesus “going against the spirit of his own words,” if he did not give it.
Nor can the saying quoted have applied to Jesus himself. If he had tried to avoid death by flight or by denying his belief in his Messiahship, he would thus have violated the will of God which clearly showed him that the moment had come to prove the truth of his cause by resigning himself to death. But there would only be a question of “going 263against the spirit of his own words” if, as far as he himself was concerned, he disregarded the advice, not if he does not require the disciples to follow it, to whom indeed the advice was not appropriate.
But if Schiele’s meaning be that Jesus ought to have told the disciples simply that he had decided, as far as he himself was concerned, to act in the spirit of this saying and resign himself to death, it seems to me quite obvious that he did this, and, to strengthen their minds, added to this explanation all the consequences which it necessarily implied, even if we are not told that he did so, Indeed, it will be seen that this is implicit in what our records tell us about Jesus’ words on this evening.
Let us therefore leave the words of Jesus which have been quoted, and the citation of which does not seem to me to throw any light on the question, and turn to Schiele’s real objection.
First, however, I will print in full, with his permission, an explanation of the above note, which, at my request, he was kind enough to give me. He writes as follows:
Whatever Jesus may have hoped to achieve by all that he did for his disciples, now at any rate they were directly confronted by a very serious mental crisis; within a few hours they will all be offended with him, they will all be doubtful about him, when they see that he will allow him self to be killed. How shall they survive this mental crisis? Jesus himself had already overcome the same crisis in his own mind, when he submitted to the will of his Father and accepted death as an obligation which could not be refused. Legend, making a justifiable use of poetry, has represented Jesus as going through this struggle quite alone in the hour of agony in Gethsemane—after the Passover meal 264and immediately before the arrest. But who can doubt that Jesus, having conquered himself and decided to face death, must already have prayed, “not as I will, but as thou wiliest,” before he prepared to eat the last Passover with his disciples? That very thing which helped Jesus himself in his agony, when his soul was troubled to the point of despair, his death—submission to the will of God by dying—must in the end have helped and saved the disciples also in their soul’s distraction—his divinely willed and self-willed death.
For if Jesus does not struggle successfully and resolve to die, he—and with him his cause—must be inwardly ruined. That is Jesus’ own idea. His death means salvation to him, and therefore to his cause also—salvation to his disciples.
As the death of the Passover lamb means salvation to the Israelites in a critical hour, so in like manner in another critical hour the death of Jesus means salvation to his disciples.
He who will preserve the life of his body, shall lose it; he who loses it, as Jesus now wills to lose it, will save it. By thus deciding in favour of death and saving his own soul, Jesus’ death is the salvation of his cause and of his disciples.
You will see from what I have said that I intentionally refrain from championing any specific interpretation of the death of Jesus, or from trying to maintain that it is possible to know in what special sense Jesus attached importance to his death as a means of salvation. All that I would claim is that, as Jesus thought of himself as the preacher and bringer of salvation, he definitely decided to reconcile him self to his death as an act of saving power.
And naturally when we speak of this salvation, we must 265think of salvation of the body as well as of the soul. If not, why should Jesus have saved so many sick persons from bodily suffering? But there can be no doubt that the significance of the salvation of the body as compared with the salvation of the soul is secondary, and that, especially, where it is a question of “care,” care for the body will bear no comparison with the cares that affect the soul: care for its salvation, for forgiveness of its sins, for its child-like nature, for its blessedness in the kingdom of God. So that in my opinion the meaning also of Mt. x. 28a (whether with or without 28b) is simply: he who is a disciple of Jesus, should not have any fear for his body. This is Schiele’s explanation.
For my own part I can see no need to confine myself to such indefinite statements and to base my answer to the question, What had Jesus in mind when he celebrated the Supper? upon conjectures concerning such a general term as salvation. The words spoken by Jesus have in fact been handed down to us, and in a more reliable way than pretty well anything else. For when Paul became a Christian a year or a few years after Jesus’ death, he already found that this ceremony was in existence and that the words of Jesus relating to it were continually repeated. And although changes, especially additions, forced their way into this language, it is still so concise, that what Jesus himself said can hardly have been briefer. As regards the meaning of his words, however, the sanctity in which they were held protected them against any serious alteration.
Now if Jesus spoke them at a Paschal meal, it would be strange indeed if he did not think of his death as being like that of a paschal lamb. And Schiele does not dispute this. But according to the Old Testament, by which we 266must certainly be guided here, the dying of the paschal lamb does not involve salvation in such a general sense as he states, but, as I have explained on p. 248 f., exemption from bodily death. Is this idea really so unworthy of the mind of Jesus as Schiele supposes?
If, by trying to escape from death, Jesus had at the same time brought upon his disciples the risk of persecution, his whole cause might easily have perished with them; but Jesus was absolutely sure that God could not wish this, for he was convinced that this cause of his was the cause of God. As soon, therefore, as Jesus saw reason to hope that by dying himself he might save his followers from a similar fate—and the whole situation justified this hope—he must have felt that it was God’s will also that he should do this. But if it was God’s will, it was something sacred to him, and he could not by any means regard it as a matter of such slight importance as Schiele supposes—even if nothing more profound, nothing of an essentially religious nature, was included.
Jesus’ first task must have been to keep the disciples from that despair which they would be only too likely to fall into as soon as he was removed; this purpose was a great one, and was in accordance with the divine plan as he understood it, even if no word of Jesus is given us about the way in which it was to be carried out, apart from the assurance that Jesus’ death would preserve the bodily life of the disciples. But is something more profound, something of an essentially religious nature, really lacking? I have not thought it necessary to say in so many words that when Jesus wished to preserve his disciples from death, he did not do so in the sense that they did not need after his death to remain faithful to his cause. He must therefore earnestly have admonished them to continue faithful and to realise the 267magnitude of the task that confronted them in the future. It is self-evident that Jesus cannot have spoken only the two lines which have been preserved to us. But even if we were to suppose that he did not add a single word, must not Jesus mere announcement that he wished by going to his death to preserve their lives, if apart from this they really loved him, have served to ripen the idea which Paul expressed concisely (2 Cor. v. 15) at a later date, when he said that those who live no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for their sake?
Thus I cannot really think that my meaning is correctly represented by the words, “Jesus thought only of the bodily welfare of his followers, in his kindly anxiety he thought only of the safety of their bodies.” Salvation of the body (or rather, preservation of bodily life) and salvation of the soul are, I think, in the present case inseparably united.
Moreover, Schiele could not have written the twofold “only,” if he had also given due consideration to the words which immediately follow the passage to which he has added his note. One who thinks that the idea of a sacrifice like that of the paschal lamb is not deep enough for Jesus, might very well, I think, discover the profundity, which he misses here, in the idea which I have there tried to find in the words of Jesus as preserved to us, namely, that his death was the sacrifice offered at the making of a covenant by which the disciples were to be united to God more closely than ever before.
I think therefore that my explanation, which closely follows the records, is, as regards the religious value of the character of Jesus, by no means inferior to that of Schiele, and, moreover, that it is really not so very different from his.
In particular, I agree with him when he says that care for the soul must always take precedence of care for the 268body. Only, care for the preservation of the disciples lives was of the utmost importance, since, without it, there was danger that, when his followers were extirpated, his cause would perish with them.
And as for the forgiveness of the sins of the disciples, which Schiele includes amongst the absolutely important objects of care, in my opinion Jesus cannot in any case have thought his death necessary for this, for he had previously on many occasions assumed, and even declared, that God would forgive sins without this (p. 247).
Nor would I venture to declare that the account according to which Jesus’ prayer that he might be saved from death, and his resignation to the will of God which followed subsequently, first took place in Gethsemane and so after the celebration of the Supper, is a legend. True, even at the Supper, Jesus looked upon his death as the will of God, but only in the event of the authorities laying hands on him. If they omitted to do this, he on his part would not only have had no reason to bring it about, but would even have been obliged to think that his death was contrary to the will of God. For, according to all the assumptions that were made with regard to the Messiah, it was the will of God that he should establish the divine rule triumphantly upon earth, and not at the price of suffering and death. Thus even while Jesus was in Gethsemane he may at first have been filled with the desire to be preserved from death, and there is no need to think that this involved the danger that his cause would be inwardly ruined. It is enough that Jesus succeeded in gaining such self-control that, when the authorities really interfered, he submitted with resignation.
Once more then I have no reason to dissent from the Gospels here and to reverse the order of the two events, the 269Supper and the prayer of Jesus. The fact as to when and where they heard Jesus utter that prayer must have stamped itself indelibly on the memory of the disciples. If, however, as Schiele assumes at the end of p. 263, after the Supper Jesus again uttered that earnest petition, that the cup of death might pass from him, when he had before this meal already won his victory over the fear of death and prayed “not as I will, but as thou wiliest,” his figure hardly gains that completeness which is meant to be gained for it by the whole of this assumption.
Moreover, a legend which arose in the first instance amongst worshippers of Jesus would never have assigned this wavering attitude of Jesus in his prayer to so late an hour as that of Gethsemane, since it might so easily cast a shadow upon him. In this matter the feeling of the Fourth Evangelist was correct; see above, p. 27.
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