by miriam berg
Chapter V

Up to this point the authorities had paid little attention to Yeshua; he was probably seen as a preacher who could not cause any real problem. The priestly party, called the Sadducees, after Zadok, the Levite who became chief priest in the reign of Solomon, may have been upset at his acting like a priest in making the ritual gesture and telling the man with leprosy he was cleansed; but, beyond a little grumbling, they may have felt they couldn't do anything, because, after all, he had told the man he needed to go see a priest and to do all the things which Moshe commanded. Still, they were concerned about this man who was causing so much excitement, so they came up to Kephar-Nahum to check up on him.

The other party in Palestine were the Pharisees, from the Hebrew Perushim, which meant "separated ones". They were called that because they believed that the Jews must keep themselves separate from all other peoples. But they were the liberal party; they followed not only the Torah, which was the Law or the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures attributed to Moshe, but also other writings and oral traditions that had grown up in interpreting and applying it, what today we would call "common law". The Sadducees accepted only the Torah itself, and applied it very literally; they held wealth and power, and were collaborators with the Roman government. The Perushim were staunch and fierce defenders of the Jewish identity, and keeping it different from the peoples around them; they called themselves the haberim, which means "the companions." But the Pharisees also wanted to check out this new preacher, who came from the working class and did not apparently have any education.

There was another group in Palestine, called the sopherim, or the scribes, whose business it was to make copies of the scriptures, and they had become experts also in the minutiae of the rules and requirements of Judaism. Some of them were aligned with the Sadducees, and some with the Pharisees. They were all over Palestine; and some of them also began to tag along after Yeshua as his fame grew, in order to see whether he followed all those rules or not.

Yeshua returned into Kephar-Nahum after the buzz caused by his healings had died down. But once people heard he was back, they all flocked to Simon's house again, crowding in; Mark tells us that there wasn't even standing room left. And Yeshua preached to them again, but we are still not told what he said; but it must have been a continuation of Yohanan's message with his own additions, such as the following summary of the Jewish law and the great ethical prophets:

First there was the Torah, the Law, given to us by Moshe. You all know that in it we are commanded to worship God alone, and to love our neighbor, and to care for the poor and needy, and to love the stranger, and to help our enemies when they are suffering.
      Then there came the N'viim, the prophets. They reminded us continually to obey God, and to exercise righteousness, justice, and mercy upon the earth and not to oppress widows, or orphans, or strangers, or the poor. They are the great treasure of Judaism; they poured forth the words of God for all people.
      Now Yohanan has come to us, pointing out that we have strayed from these ways; and that we must go back to them, we must change our actions, in order to bring about the reign of God in the world, by first bringing it about in our hearts. Even as Jeremiah said, My people have become lost sheep; they have turned away from me; and he asked, Will you steal, and murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and worship idols, and then come and stand in the temple and say, We are absolved of all this evil?
      Thus, if you hope for justice, you must do justly; if you hope for mercy, you must be merciful. Therefore I say unto you, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; for this is the law and the prophets.
This last saying is known as the Golden Rule; it is found also in Chinese and Indian teachings, and in the teachings of Hillel, a famous rabbi who lived a generation before Yeshua, and said: "That which is hurtful to thee, do not to thy neighbor; this is the whole law."

But the Perushim, who could not understand that Yeshua was talking about conduct, and not about kingdom and power and glory, asked him, "But when will the kingdom of God come?" Yeshua said to them:

The kingdom of God is not coming visibly; it is inward and invisible, for the reign of God happens within you.
      So the coming is within your reach right now; it can come to you any time.
      But it cannot be brought about by force and violence, as men like the Zealots are seeking to do today.

The Greek word entos used by Yeshua in this saying can be translated either as "within you" or "within your reach". In either case, it shows that Yeshua's concept of the kingdom was not a political one, nor even a governmental one, although we can be sure that Yeshua would have supported a government which looked after the welfare of its people; his concept was of a rule over the heart and soul, governance by the teachings of the Torah and the prophets. And he sums them up in the Golden Rule, just as Rabbi Hillel had before him.

Then a dramatic incident is reported to have happened. A man crippled with cerebral palsy was brought before Yeshua, carried on his bed by four friends. How did they get in, if it was so crowded? They came in through the ceiling! When Yeshua saw them, he was deeply moved at this expression of their faith in him, and he spoke to the man, "Son, your sins are forgiven; you do not need to lie here sick." He said this because it was the common belief at that time that sickness and disease were punishments sent by God because of the wrongs a persons had committed, or the ritualistic rules they had broken.

When the scribes and Pharisees who had crowded in with the others heard this, they gasped. They whispered to each other, "This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins! Why does this man take the name of God in vain?" But Yeshua could see that that was what they were thinking, and he said to them, "Why do you whisper among yourselves? Don't you realize that what really cures a person is not to say, Get up and walk, but to tell them that they are not being punished by God?"

No doubt it was the crowd that gasped this time, when they heard his sharp retort to the religious leaders. Yeshua continued, "But man is made in God's image, and the son of man has the power to forgive his own sins; so therefore I say unto this man, Get up, take up your bed, and go back to your house." And we are told that the man did so, and that the crowds were once again astonished: "Never before has such a thing been seen in Israel!"

This is the first time Yeshua uses the term "son of man" in his sayings, and perhaps there is no term more controversial in the gospels. The Aramaic is bar nasha, which means literally, the son of a man, or the son of a human. It is used frequently in the book of Ezekiel to refer to himself, in contrast to God; it is used in other books as well, Numbers, Job, the Psalms, always to refer to man or the spirit of man. It appears to have been Yeshua's favorite way of referring to himself; but because of its ancient usage in the Hebrew scriptures, we can be sure that he did not mean "son of God", especially as he has always sharply rebuked this term.

Soon after this, Yeshua called Mattaniah the publican to be his follower, whose name has come down to us as Matthew. Mark and Luke tell us he was called Levi, and that his father's name was Alphaeus; it is not known for certain who he was, or whether he was the author of the gospel which bears his name. But Levi or Matthew, he went home and caused a great feast to be prepared to celebrate his becoming a follower of Yeshua, and we are told that many other "publicans and sinners" came to the feast.

A  publican was a tax-collector, in the pay of the Romans. They collected taxes from the Jews, and turned them over to the Roman rulers; this caused them to be vilified and hated by the Jews, even though they were Jewish themselves. It seemed like a traitorous thing to do. The "sinners" were those who because of ignorance or poverty did not follow all the many rules of the Jewish religion that were so important to the sopherim and haberim; they were called amme ha-eretz, "men of the soil" in Aramaic, and were looked upon with scorn by the religious leaders. These were the people that the gospels tell us were attracted to Yeshua; today they would probably have been called "commoners" or "rabble" or "street people"; they were working-class themselves, and mostly loyal Jews, despite their ignorance of scribal laws.

Then the scribes and the Pharisees, who must have been standing outside of Levi's house peeping in the windows, unless they themselves had joined the feast, carped at Yeshua's followers, "Your master is breaking the Kosher laws, by thus eating and drinking with tax-gatherers and street people." But Yeshua heard them, and again put them in their place, saying,

If people are well, they do not need a doctor; I have not come out of the wilderness to call those who know Torah and the prophets, but to teach those who do not.
Matthew tells us that Yeshua also told his critics that they should study the words of Hosea and learn what he meant when he said that God wants mercy and not sacrifice. That is, one of the greatest of the prophets had himself declared that men caring for each other was more important to God than rules and ritual.

Later the Pharisees, and also some of Yohanan's disciples, complained that Yeshua and his followers were not fasting according to the Law. Yeshua brushed this aside, and compared himself and his followers to the friends of a bridegroom at a wedding-feast. How can they fast, Yeshua asked the Pharisees, on such a joyous occasion? He also pointed out that people do not put a piece of new cloth on an old garment, nor do they pour new wine into old bottles, thus comparing his teaching with something new and their practices with something old. He concluded with a lament for their sakes: "Nor does anyone who has drunk old wine want new wine; for he says, The old is good enough." He might have quoted Isaiah III, from chapter 58, where God says, "The kind of fast which I want is to feed the hungry, and care for the poor, and to remove heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free."

There is a legend of a marriage in Cana, which is several miles to the west of the sea of Galilee, where Yeshua is said to have turned water into wine, told in the gospel of John only, as the first thing Yeshua did when he left the wilderness. This may have been embroidered upon these simple retorts to the Perushim about fasting--"new wine in old bottles". But John's story is proved legendary by the fact that Yeshua refused to give a sign, as he declared in the wilderness, and as he tells the Perushim explicitly later.

Then they criticized him for working on the sabbath, even though all his disciples did was to gather food; they picked corn as they were going through the fields. Now this allows us to decide the season when this happened; it must have been around the Feast of Succoth, when all the harvests were ripe. But Yeshua retorted,

Don't you remember how king David himself and his men went into the temple and ate the bread which was only supposed to be eaten by the priests?
      Or how the priests themselves profane the sabbath by necessary labor?
      Why have you not studied the scripture I gave you from Hosea? I tell you, the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.

Then soon afterward, he was back in the synagogue, and we are told that a man whose hand was withered was also present. All of the punctilious scribes and Pharisees watched Yeshua, to see what he would do; he had healed before, and would he again? But Yeshua asked them,

Is it better on the sabbath day to do good, or to do harm? to save a life, or to kill?
And what man of you wouldn't pull your sheep out of a pit on the sabbath?
This shut them up; and after looking around at all of them with anger and indignation because they were so concerned with law and so little with the man's condition, he told the man to stretch out his hand. We are told that it was healed; perhaps it was because of the man's great relief at being spoken to by Yeshua; perhaps it was only the action of stretching it out, which he had been afraid to do before, which showed him and all the crowd that his hand still had life in it.

But after this the Pharisees went out raging and began conspiring with the Herodians, the political party which supported Herod Antipas, to get rid of Yeshua. He must have been out of the wilderness only a few days, or a few weeks, at most a few months; but already the authorities wanted to kill this man who taught on his own authority, who healed without priestly help, and went around breaking the rules of their religion.

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