THE STORY OF YESHUA
by miriam berg
Bethsaida is a fishing village on the northeast shore of the
sea of Galilee, in the tetrarchy of Philip. Philip was a
brother of Herod Antipas and another son of Herod the Great,
and was sycophantic toward the Romans; he had renamed Bethsaida
Julias after Julia, the daughter of Tiberius Caesar, and had
built a city on the slopes of Mount Hermon which he had named
Caesarea. But there was also a seaport named Caesarea on the
coast of Palestine south of Mount Carmel; so Philip had added
the name Philippi to his own Caesarea in honor of himself.
Perhaps Yeshua decided to come to Bethsaida in the wake of
Herod's execution of Yohanan; he was apprehensive that
Herod's repression might extend to himself, and against
his disciples. Luke tells us that about this time certain of
the Pharisees came to Yeshua and warned him to get out of
Galilee, because Herod wanted to have him killed. Yeshua was
concerned enough to leave Galilee, but still gave a sharp
answer to be sent back to Herod:
Go and tell that sly fox, You see me curing sick people
and mad people yesterday and today;
nevertheless, I shall go my way today and tomorrow
and the day following.
For it cannot be that a prophet perish
outside of Jerusalem.
Once again he labels himself as a prophet, and not as a messiah.
He tells Herod that he intends to go on as he has been doing,
and here he states his first allusion to his death.
Then the disciples arrived in Bethsaida between three and
six in the morning, they were surprised to find that Yeshua
was already there, walking along the shore. How did he get
here, they wondered among themselves; he must have walked on the
water! In the dim morning light their imaginations ran away with
them, and they began to believe that they did actually see him
walking on the water. In an access of faith Simon climbed out of
the boat and tried to walk on the water himself, and Yeshua had
to pull him out when he started to sink.
Mark and Matthew incorrectly tell us that they moored their
boat at Gennesaret, back near Kephar-Nahum. But it must
have been at Beth-Saida, where Yeshua had instructed them to
come. But Yeshua's reputation was here also; they all ran about
and brought all their sick people to Yeshua to be cured. Once
again we can hear his sigh as he found himself sought after
primarily as a faith healer rather than as a prophet. And in the
narrative we hear an echo of the healing of the woman on the way
to Jairus' house: that all who touched his garment were cured.
Here too he found himself harassed by the critical scribes
and Pharisees. Now they came to Yeshua and demanded to
know why his disciples did not follow all the rituals of
the haberim in preparing themselves and their utensils
for meals. Mark scornfully describes the practices of the Jews:
"except they wash themselves, they eat not; and many other
things there be, which they have received to hold, washings of
cups, and pots, and brazen vessels." Now Leviticus does give
many such rules, but it can be clearly seen that most of them
are for hygienic reasons: to prevent the spread of leprosy, and
consumption, and other infections. But in the centuries after
Moshe had given them they had become sacrosanct, and were seen
as God's commandments, with all the force of moral law.
Yeshua's retort is the harshest yet towards his legalistic
opponents; he cites some of their own practices, and he
quotes from the book of Isaiah in condemnation of them:
Why do you also break God's commandment?
For God said on Mount Sinai, Honor your father and mother;
and, Anyone that curses their father or mother
shall be put to death.
But you all say, If a man say to his father
or mother, Whatever money I have by which I might take care
of you, is consecrated to God, then he does not have
to take care of his father and mother.
And this is your way of getting around
God's commandment to honor your parents.
And many such like things you do.
Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, as it is written:
This people honors me with their lips,
But their heart is far from me;
Falsely do they worship me,
Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men.
After this scathing criticism of the Pharisees themselves,
he turns to the crowds and calls out:
Hear me all of you, and understand:
there is nothing going into a man from the outside
which can defile him, or make him unclean;
but the things which come out of a man are those
which can defile him.
Matthew reports him as also saying further,
I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak,
they must give account of before God.
For by your words you shall be justified,
and by your words you shall be condemned.
This is similar to the teaching in the Great Sermon about
bringing forth good treasure out of a good heart, and evil
treasure out of an evil heart.
His caustic answer shocked even his disciples, and they
came to Yeshua and asked him if he realized how much he
had offended and angered the Pharisees. Yeshua replied
with one of his most ironic thrusts, which must have drawn a
laugh from the crowd:
Let them alone; they are blind guides.
And if the blind lead the blind,
they shall both just fall into a pit.
He delivers one more sarcastic barb against the Pharisees:
For them it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away,
than it is for one dot on an "i" or cross on a "t"
of the law to pass away.
This did not entirely reassure the disciples, however; Simon
came and asked him again to please explain what he meant.
Yeshua asked him,
Don't you understand either? Don't you see
that whatever you eat cannot defile you,
for it does not go into your heart, but into your stomach,
and passes through your digestive system and out?
But that which comes out of your mouth;
comes from your heart, and that is what will defile you:
evil thoughts, thefts, murders, adulteries, covetings,
wickednesses, deceit, lasciviousness, railing, pride,
foolishness; these come from inside you,
and will defile you.
Can anything be more commonsense? Over and over again
we have seen Yeshua using simple household words to make
his point: It is the people who are sick that need a physician;
no one puts new wine into old bottles; anyone would pull their
sheep out of a pit, even on a sabbath; be like a man who builds
his house upon the rock, and not upon the sand; don't expect
to pick grapes from thorns; whoever loves much will be forgiven
much; a house which is split in two will fall down. The sabbath
was made for man. A strong man cannot be robbed. Seeds falling
on rocky places and thorny places cannot be expected to grow.
No prophet is accepted in his own country, even me. Share your
food. We are all God's family. Yohanan was the greatest person
ever born of a woman. The reign of God is like a seed growing
in the earth, and yeast growing invisibly, and a treasure hidden
in a field. Herod is a sly fox. It is a person's faith which
heals them. The harvest is plentiful. Whoever labors is worthy
of being paid. You are all blessed, even if you are poor, and
hungry, and persecuted. No mysticism, no supernaturalism,
no signs and wonders, no proclamations of his own person.
He says it plainly in the Great Sermon: Don't worship me;
keep the commandments.
He emphasizes this upon another occasion, when he speaks to
the multitudes about the signs of the times, using an old
proverb about the changing of the weather, contrasting their
ability to read the clouds with their inability to understand
When you see a cloud rising in the west,
then you say, It will rain tomorrow, and it does.
And when you feel a south wind blowing, you say,
It will be scorching tomorrow, and it is.
You simpletons, you know how to
interpret the face of the earth and of the sky;
but how is it that you do not know how to interpret the time?
He does not say, Believe because I command you, or Do this
because I command you; he refers to their own daily experience
for their answers. This is evident in another quotation which
Luke ascribes to him:
And why of yourselves do you not judge
what is right?
But what is he up to? we too can wonder, as well as Herod.
He has angered the priests by his use of power, and the
Pharisees by his independence; he has opposed the Zealots
in their hatred of Rome and desire for violence; he has extended
Yohanan's teaching and stretched Judaic thought to the ultimate,
the law of universal love for all people. Herod fears him to be
another Yohanan, and Yeshua has told him that he will continue
teaching in spite of Herod's threats. Still, he must have felt
it prudent to go outside of Palestine altogether, because he
decides to leave even the tetrarchy of Philip, and he heads
northward to Phoenicia, the coastal part of Syria.