Image: From bust of Vespasian, Roman Emperor
The crowd warmed to what Jesus said. He had an interesting way of noticing what was going on around him and he taught with a sense of authority.
Death in public was something everyone had to face up to in Jesus’ time. The occupying Roman army had one solution for rebellion – crucifixion - in a public place, in front of a crowd. Widespread community grumblings and complaints were growing at such a rate that within a few decades, in this area, the Roman General Vespasian would crush a Jewish uprising with such force that the nearby towns of Gamla and Jotapata were completely destroyed. Galilee was considered a hotbed of political unrest. Add to this, the disease that thrived on the malarial plains of the Hula swamps immediately north of Lake Galilee, and there was plenty of opportunity for death to be observed or experienced.
Not long after he started healing and teaching, a local ruler came to Jesus because his daughter had just died. He requested that Jesus come and place his hand on her so that she might be revived. When Jesus reached the ruler’s house he dismissed the crowd of noisy mourners with the comment that the girl was not dead but asleep. They laughed at him. Eventually they went away; Jesus entered the house, took her hand, and she recovered. His fame as a healer spread all over the country after that.
Death came even closer to Jesus soon afterwards. His cousin, John the Baptist was imprisoned by the ruler Herod Antipas for daring to criticize him for living with his sister-in-law Herodias, the wife of his brother, Philip. At his birthday party, Herodias’s daughter, Salome, danced so appealingly that Herod foolishly offered her anything she requested. Prompted by her mother, she asked for, and was given, John the Baptist’s head on a plate. When Jesus heard this news from his disciples, his grief was so great that he withdrew privately by boat to mourn in a solitary place.
It would only take a glimpse of a small funeral party winding around the outside of the crowd for Jesus to feel compassion for the family and mourners involved. On a number of occasions he seemed to sense that he himself would not die from natural causes and that his death would be a matter of great significance not only for Jews, but for all people. Maybe he was talking just as much to himself as to the crowd when he said: Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. I wonder what kind of comfort he expected for himself? Would the male disciples stay around if they were needed? Surely the two Marys would not leave him.
The people who listened to Jesus were amazed and wondered where his wisdom and his ability to perform miracles came from. After all, isn’t he just a carpenter’s son, and isn’t his mother Mary, whom we know lives over the hills nearby, and are not James and Joses and Simon and Judas his brothers? His sisters, are they not all with us? Good grief! This guy may be some kind of short-term wonder, but if he doesn’t watch out he’ll get too big for his boots. But Jesus replied that a prophet is ‘not without honour, except in his own country’. At times, he felt largely unaccepted by the very people who could have been his closest friends.
Song: Death is just around the corner
Tune: minor key version of A-roving. Fairly slow and rather sadly
The Israelites in Galilee were often faced with death.
As Northern rebel country folk, they diced with every living breath.
When crucifiction’s public sport - it’s hard to cope.
Oh bless me don’t depress me, I may be sad but it isn’t so bad,
I’m happy to sing to Christ my King, for me there’s hope.
Disease and death and funeral rites thrived in the swamps of Hula
The fear of death for friends and foe engulfed their normal ‘Hallelujah.’
The climb to freedom, faith, and joy - is one big slope.
Comfort words are turned to bread with tasty extra dishes
Of wine and meat, with herbs complete, and camp-fire, smoke-cooked, fresh-caught fishes;
A Kingdom meal is a Royal deal - ‘no pig in a poke’.