« Prev Chapter X. Preachings on the Lake. Next »

CHAPTER X.

PREACHINGS ON THE LAKE.

Such was the group which, on the banks of the Lake of Tiberias, surrounded Jesus. The aristocracy was represented there by a customs-officer and the wife of a steward. The rest were composed of fishermen and common people. They were extremely ignorant; their intellect was feeble. They believed in apparitions and ghosts. Not one particle of Greek culture had penetrated this chief circle. Moreover, their Jewish instruction was 96very imperfect, but they were full of heart and good will. The beautiful climate of Galilee rendered the existence of these honest fishermen a perpetual enjoyment. They were a true prelude to the kingdom of God—simple, good, happy—rocked gently on their charming little lake, or sleeping at night on its banks. One cannot realise the intoxication of a life which thus glides away under the canopy of heaven; the feelings, now gentle, now ardent, produced by this continual contact with nature; the dreams of those starry nights, under the infinite expanse of the azure dome. It was during such a night that Jacob, with his head resting on a stone, beheld in the stars the promise of an innumerable posterity, and the mysterious ladder reaching from earth to heaven, by which the Elohim ascended and descended. At the time of Jesus heaven was not shut nor the earth grown cold. The cloud still opened above the Son of Man; the angels ascended and descended upon his head; visions of the kingdom of God were reported everywhere, for the reason that man carried them in his heart. The clear and mild eyes of those simple souls contemplated the universe in its mythic origin. The world probably discovered its secret to the divinely enlightened consciences of these happy children, whose purity of heart merited that one day they should see God.

Jesus lived with his disciples almost always in the open air. Sometimes he entered a boat and taught the multitudes assembled on the shore. Sometimes he sat upon the mountains which skirted the lake, where the air was so pure and the sky so luminous. The faithful band led thus a gay and roaming life, receiving the inspirations of the Master fresh from his lips. An innocent doubt was now and then started, some mildly sceptical question raised. A smile or a look from Jesus 97sufficed to silence the objection. At each step—in the passing cloud, in the sprouting seed, in the ripening corn—they descried a sign of the kingdom which was at hand. They believed they were about to see God, and to become the masters of the world. Tears were turned into joy—it was the advent of “peace on earth” (universelle consolation). “Blessed,” said the Master, “are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which, are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. v. 3-10).

His preaching was unimpassioned and pleasing, redolent of nature and of the perfume of the fields. He loved the flowers, and drew from them his most charming lessons. The birds of the air, the sea, the mountains, the frolics of children, were introduced by turn into his discourses. His style had nothing of the Greek period about it, but resembled much more the turn of the Hebrew parabolists, and in particular the sentences of the Jewish doctors, his contemporaries, which are to be found in the Pirke Aboth. His expositions were not very extended; they formed a species of sorites after the manner of the Koran, which, being put together, constituted later on those long discourses which were written by Matthew. No note of transition linked together these diverse fragments. In general, however, the same inspiration pervaded them all and gave them unity. It was in the parable, especially, that the 98Master excelled. Nothing in Judaism could have served him as a model for that charming style. It was a creation of his. No doubt there are to be found in Buddhist books some parables precisely of the same tone and of the same form as the Gospel parables. But it is hard to allow that a Buddhist influence had any effect on them. The spirit of meekness and of deep sentiment which animated equally primitive Christianity and Buddhism is sufficient to explain these similarities.

A total indifference to exterior things, and for vain superfluities as regards manners and customs, which our colder climates render imperative, were the outcome of the innocent and sweet lives passed in Galilee. Cold climates, by bringing man and the outer world into perpetual conflict, have caused too much store to be set by researches after comfort and luxury. On the other hand, the climates which awaken fewer desires are the countries of idealism and of poetry. The accessories of life are there insignificant as compared to the pleasure of living. The adornment of dwellings is there superfluous, for people remain within doors as little as possible. The strong and regularly-served food of less generous climates would be looked upon as heavy and disagreeable. And, as for the luxury of clothing, what can equal that which God has given to the earth and to the birds of the air? Labour, in climates of this description, seems useless; what it affords is not worth what it costs. The animals of the field are better clothed than the most opulent of men, and they toil not. This contempt, when it does not proceed from idleness, greatly assists to elevate the souls of men, and inspired Jesus with some charming apologues. “Lay not up for yourselves,” said he, “treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal; for where your treasure is, there will 99your heart be also. No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed ? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek): for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matt. vi. 19-34).

This essentially Galilean sentiment had a decisive influence upon the destinies of the primitive sect. The happy band, trusting to its Heavenly Father to supply its wants, held, as a fundamental principle, the cares of life to be an evil, which extinguished in man the germ of all that was good. Each day it 100asked of God the bread for the morrow. Wherefore lay up treasure? The kingdom of God is at hand. “Sell that ye have and give alms,” said the Master; “provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not.” What more nonsensical than for one to heap up treasures for heirs one shall never see! As an example of human folly, Jesus loved to cite the case of a man who, when he had enlarged his barns and laid up goods for many years, died before having enjoyed them. Brigandage, which was deeply rooted in Galilee, added much force to this point of view. The poor, who could not suffer from it, came to regard themselves as the favoured of God, whilst the rich, whose possessions were so unsafe, were the people actually disinherited. In our communities, established upon a very rigorous idea in regard to property, the position of the poor is wretched; they have not the right to a spot under the sun. There are no flowers, no grass, no shade except for the one who possesses the earth. In the Orient these are the gifts of God, which belong to no one. The landlord has but a slender privilege; nature is the patrimony of all.

Further, primitive Christianity in those things was only following in the footsteps of the Jewish sects who practised the monastic life. A communistic element pervaded all those sects (Essenians, Therapeutæ), which were looked upon with disfavour equally by Pharisees and Sadducees. The Messianic beliefs, which among the orthodox Jews wore a wholly political aspect, had for the two sects just named a purely social meaning. By means of an easy, regulated, and contemplative mode of life, leaving to each individual freedom of action, these small churches, which were supposed (not wrongly, perhaps) to be an imitation 101of the neo-pythagorian institutes, thought to inaugurate on earth the kingdom of Heaven. Dreams of a blessed life, founded upon the fraternity of man and the worship of the true God, engrossed exalted intellects, which resulted in bold and sincere attempts being made everywhere, but to no purpose.

Jesus, whose relations with the Essenes it is very difficult to make out (resemblances in history do not always imply relations), was in this unquestionably at one with them. Community of goods was for some time the rule in the new society. Avarice was the cardinal sin. Now, it is necessary to remark that the sin of “avarice,” against which moral Christianity has been so severe, was then the mere attachment to property. The first condition of being a perfect disciple of Jesus was to sell one's property and give the proceeds to the poor. Those who recoiled from that step were not admitted into the community. Jesus often repeated that he who finds the kingdom of God must buy it at the sacrifice of all his goods, and that in doing so he makes an advantageous exchange. “Again: The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again: The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant-man seeking goodly pearls: who, when he hath found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matt. xiii. 44-46). But, alas! The inconveniences of this method were not long in making themselves felt. A treasurer was required. Judas of Kerioth was chosen for the office. Rightly or wrongly, he was accused of stealing from the common purse; a great antipathy was raised against him—he came to a bad end. Sometimes the Master, better versed in things pertaining 102to Heaven than in those belonging to earth, taught a political economy yet more remarkable. In a fanciful parable, a steward is praised for having made friends amongst the poor at the expense of the rich, so that the poor in turn might introduce him into the kingdom of Heaven. The poor, in fact, having become the dispensers of this kingdom, would not admit anyone to it unless those who had given them something. A discreet man, thinking of the future, had, therefore, to seek to win their favour. “And the Pharisees, also, who were covetous,” says the Evangelist, “heard all these things; and they derided him.” Did they also hear the remarkable parable which follows?—“There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table; moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom: and he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented” (Luke xvi. 19-25). What could be more just? Later on this was denominated the parable of the “wicked rich man.” But it is purely and simply the parable of the rich man. He is in hell because he is rich, because he does not give his goods to the poor, 103because he dines well, whilst others at his door fare badly. Finally, Jesus, in a less extravagant moment, does not insist on the obligation of selling one's goods and of giving them to the poor, except as suggesting perfection; but he nevertheless makes this terrible declaration:—“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

In all this a very admirable sentiment dominated the mind of Jesus as well as the minds of the band of joyous children which accompanied him, and made him the true source of the peace of the soul for eternity, and the grand consoler of life. In disengaging men from what he called “the cares of this world,” Jesus may have gone to excess, and struck at the conditions essential to human society; but he founded that high spirituality which has during centuries filled souls with joy in passing through this vale of tears. He saw quite clearly that man's inattention, his want of philosophy and morality, proceeded most often from the amusements he indulges in, from the cares which assail him, and which are multiplied beyond measure by civilisation. The Gospel, in some sort, has been the supreme remedy for the weariness of ordinary life, a perpetual sursum corda, a powerful distraction from the miserable cares of the world, a gentle appeal like that of Jesus to the ear of Martha: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things; but one thing is needful.” Thanks to Jesus, existence the most gloomy, the most absorbed by sad and humiliating duties, has been cheered by a glimpse of heaven! In our troublous civilisations, the recollection of the free life led in Galilee is like perfume from another world, like the “dew of Hermon,” which has prevented barrenness and vulgarity from pervading entirely the field of God.

104
« Prev Chapter X. Preachings on the Lake. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection