Your relating of these Sabbath events fascinates me—not necessarily because I am interested in the Sabbath, a foreign concept to which I am grateful for helping me get time off work, but rather because you talk about Jesus’ efforts to change the hearts of people. I have known many religious people over the years, and their efforts always seem to be focused on actions, but much like our not-so-beloved Pharisees in these tales. Religious leaders seem to be constantly focused on the actions of the people, believing, I suppose, that the hearts of the people will follow later. That, or they simply aren’t concerned with the hearts but are content with proper actions.
I wonder how many people will debate this over the years—the difference between the heart and the hands in the work of faith. Obviously, one can’t have a heart committed to God and hands committed to a life of deviance and crime. Well, at least I suppose they can’t. It makes sense to me to think that the work of one’s life, the usage of the hands, would follow the leadership of the heart—and if the heart is fully focused on God, then what is produced in the life of the believer will be a fitting tribute to one’s God.
Jesus doesn’t try to coerce anyone by guilt, or remonstrate them for what others would call sinful lives. He calls them back with gentleness, not necessarily using guilt like I might, but rather pointing out an alternative way and encouraging them to see its superiority. It makes sense what he says, judging by the number of followers he has. I’d just like to hear what he would have to say to me today—how would my life change, and would it necessarily be better? Can he guarantee what he promises, or am I left to blind faith and hope?
In short, Theophilus, I understand why so many followed him, and I understand why those in power didn’t like him. He would have been so refreshing after generations of leaders rebuking individuals for not toeing the line set down in accordance with the laws. He’s like a wind that rushes down and upsets the religious landscape, and when people manage to get their heads around what Jesus is saying, they recognize his brand of religious teachings as far more palatable, and so they rush after him. The leaders, on the other hand, see crowds flocking to hear him teach what they consider to be violations of the law, or at least very loose interpretations of it, and they are irate that they’d chase after this new thing, rejecting their staunchly conservative values and teachings. They love the structures, but the people strain to see the value in them, and fall in love with a new type of religion.
I think it’s impressive that Jesus went out to pray by himself in the mountains. I have so little trust in religious and secular leaders today who seem so interested in forwarding their own brand—they’re always on, always seeking out some new growth strategy, and it’s hard to trust them. Jesus, alternatively, seems so comfortable with who he is. He seems grounded, and he takes this time off to further ground himself, to make sure that he is being consistent, living with integrity. He must have turned his back on the crowds to go invest this time in prayer, and while I don’t know what he was praying for, I have to imagine that some would have drifted off after finding him unable to keep up a constant level of amusement for the crowds. It doesn’t seem to be about the entertainment for Jesus, but rather about seeking a new level of relationship, about teaching the crowds something meaningful, something worth doing.
After spending an entire night in prayer with God (Someday, Theophilus, I’d love to hear how you might do this. How do you spend a whole night talking with someone you can’t see or hear or sense? What do you say for hours on end to a being that you’re not even sure is there? How do you know that you’re not just wasting your time, talking to the air while assuring yourself that someone is listening? Do you ever feel like a fool for praying?), Jesus called his disciples together and chose twelve. I don’t know how big the crowd was—it might have been fifteen, or it could have been two hundred. With all of the miracles Jesus performed, I would guess it’s on the larger end, but it couldn’t have been easy to follow Jesus, between the constant travel and the threatening presence of the Pharisees, hanging like a black cloud over all that Jesus did. Surely, some potential disciples would have felt threatened by the heavy hand of power, be it the religious leaders or the never-distant Roman empire. I wouldn’t want to find myself in an outlying, controversial group in those days. Death was never too distant. The twelve, who were called apostles, were Simon, whose name was changed to Peter, and Andrew, his brother, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, James (son of Alphaeus), and Simon (called the Zealot) and Judas (the son of James) and another Judas Iscariot, about whom we will hear much more later, who will live in infamy as a traitor.
After singling out these twelve, they stood in a level place, and the remainder of the disciples and thousands from Judea, Jerusalem and the coast of Tyre and Sidon gathered around him. What a sight it must have been! Jesus held the attention of the masses who had gathered to hear him, to watch him perform miracles. Many were healed of diseases, and others had spirits cast out of them. The crowd would surge as he performed these great acts, trying to touch him whenever they senses power breaking out. He healed them all, each one who came, and the ones who left were replaced by ten more crying out for his presence, for his power, to change them, to make them whole.
It would have been a scene from a movie, with some trying to control the crowd and others willing to risk everything just to be near him. I doubt those Pharisees and other scoundrels went far, but probably stayed near the edge, shaking their heads and discounting the passion of the people. It would have left an impression, and Jesus would have been the center of everyone’s attention, minding each soul that appeared before him, paying attention to their needs.
What incredible stories circulate about this man! His celebrity is larger than any I can imagine, and even I find myself drawn to the story, to the man. I do not have record of what he said—perhaps it is lost to the pages of history, recorded in some dusty hall and then never seen again. Or perhaps your records complete the account I have related? I eagerly await word.