THE STORY OF YESHUA
by miriam berg
On his way through Galilee, now that he is determined to go
to Jerusalem, Yeshua and his companions stopped in Kephar-Nahum
for one final visit. When they arrived, they were met
at the city's gate by the temple collectors, and asked to pay the
tax for the maintenance of the temple. This was an annual tax on
each Jewish person prescribed in the book of Ezekiel. Yeshua
directed a question to Simon:
What do you think, Simon? from whom do the kings
of the earth receive tribute, from their sons,
or from strangers?
Simon answered, "From strangers, Master." Then Yeshua told him:
Therefore the sons are free.
Is Yeshua refusing to support the temple? It is possible; he
has spoken against the temple sacrifices, in his quotation from
Hosea, and he has said that you should enter into your closet
and pray in secret, rather than in public. He has told his
disciples that they do not have to follow the customary fasts,
nor do they need to keep the Kosher laws. He has asserted
repeatedly that what you do is more important than what you
profess. He pays no attention to sabbath restrictions, and
cites the Hebrew scriptures to prove his point. He has said
that the reign of God is inward and invisible, not outward and
embodied in external brass and velvet and jewels. But even so,
we cannot conclude that he was planning to overthrow the temple
practices, because he then tells Simon:
But lest we cause them to become upset over nothing,
give the collector a portion of the money you received
for the fish which you caught yesterday, enough for all of us.
This story appears only in Matthew, who tells us that the coin
was found in the mouth of the fish which Simon had caught.
On the way to Simon's house, Yeshua noticed that his disciples
were wrangling about something. After they were all seated
within, he asked them what it was all about. But they all
looked sheepish, and would not answer. Yeshua could tell that
they had been arguing about which of them would hold higher rank
in the government when the new Jewish kingdom came. So again
he sighed, and said to them:
If any man would be first among you,
he must put himself last,and must be the servant
Another paradoxical utterance! Here, though, he does not
connect being first and last with the reign of God, but only
and sensibly with the station to which you should aspire. We
shall find that he tells other parables on this point on his
way to Jerusalem.
There must have been some families visiting too, either
traveling with them, or while they were staying in Kephar-Nahum.
Yeshua picked up one of the children, and holding
it in his arms, he said to his stupefied disciples:
Whosoever shall humble himself like a little child,
the same is great in the reign of God.
And whosoever treats a little child
as they would me has received my teaching,
and the teaching of Yohanan, because the same God
is within us all.
Is it not so? every human being is a child of God; and every
child is as important to God as any other child, else God is
not even as loving as a human parent.
Yohan then told Yeshua, "Master, we saw a person there
who was casting out demons in your name! We stopped
him, and told him that he must not do that, because he
was not in our following." Once again, Yeshua had to scold
Do not forbid him; for no one can work cures
using my name, and at the same time be able
to speak evil of us.
For he that is not against us is for us.
Luke and Matthew also report this sentence in the opposite
sense: He that is not with me is against me. But it seems
clear that Yeshua meant it the way it is reported in Mark.
Then Yeshua adds:
For if someone shall give you only a cup of water to drink,
in Yohanan's name, or in the name of the Father,
I say unto you,
that person will receive a righteous man's reward.
But if someone hinders another person
from finding the kingdom of God, it would be better
for that person if a great millstone were hung
around his neck, and he was tossed into the sea.
Nothing can be worse than this: to keep someone outside of the
reign of universal love which he has been preaching. Here, at
least, Yeshua does not seem to be forgiving. He goes on with
some other images which are intended to teach his disciples
the need for not being attached to things, even your body:
And if your hand offends you, cut it off; it is better to
live under the reign of God maimed, than having two hands
to be thrown into the fires of the valley of Hinnom.
And if your foot offends you, cut it off also;
it is better to live under God lame, than to have both feet
and to be thrown into Gehinnom.
Again, if your eye offends you, cast it out;
it is better to be in the kingdom of God with only one eye,
than with both eyes to be tossed into Gehinnom.
Gehinnom was the valley outside Jerusalem, where the city's
refuse was burned, and the corpses of criminals were thrown.
This gruesome image Yeshua uses as the complete opposite
of living under the reign of God. It is better to live maimed
or halt or half-blind, but with love in your heart, than it
would be to be physically perfect and be without love in your
heart. Finally, Yeshua tells his disciples to quit arguing
about rank, and just to take care of each other:
Salt is good; but if salt loses its flavor,
how will you season anything? Be seasoning
unto yourselves, and be at peace one with another.
But now it was time to begin the long journey to Jerusalem,
in order to be there in time for the Passover celebration,
the most important holiday in the Jewish calendar. It is
sad, because he knows he is going to his death. The gospels
tell us that he is now resuming his teaching the multitudes,
but no occasions are given. Luke tells us that he "resolutely
set his face" towards Jerusalem.
We wonder if he made any farewell speeches in the town of
Kephar-Nahum, or along the way; he might have told the
crowds that he would never pass that way again. One
instance is told where a man came to him and said, "I will
follow you everywhere." But Yeshua responded:
The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air
have nests; but the son of man has no place
to lay his head.
Another man said, "I will follow you, but first give me leave
to go and bury my father." Yeshua tells him:
Leave the dead to bury their own dead.
In other words, let those who are not interested in the kingdom
of God take care of such details. Another man pleaded to go
first and bid farewell to his family and relatives; but Yeshua
No man, having put his hand to the plough,
and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
He may have been thinking more of himself when he said this,
in view of his determination to carry the message to Jerusalem,
in spite of the fact that he knows he will be killed. He also
says to them all:
If you are coming with me, but you love your
father or mother more than me, then it is better
that you do not come; if you love your son or
daughter better than me, or even your own life,
you should not become my disciple.
He is doing more than going into the lion's den, or into the
fiery furnace; so he wants to be surrounded by people who
believe in him with all their heart. He tells a parable
about counting the costs:
Which of you, desiring to build a tower,
doesn't sit down first, and count the cost,
to see if you have the wherewithal to finish it?
Otherwise, when you have laid a foundation,
but are not able to complete the job, everyone
will laugh at you, saying, This man began to
build, and was not able to finish.
Or what king, preparing to engage in battle
with another king, will not sit down with his
advisors to determine whether he is able to meet
the other who may have twice as many soldiers?
If not, then before they reach the battlefield,
he will send an embassy to parley, and ask
conditions of peace.
Therefore, whosoever of you does not give up
everything he has should not come with me; for
that man will only dream of returning to his
goods or his family.
Finally, he gives the sternest intimation possible about the
danger into which they would be going:
Be not afraid of them that can kill the body,
and after that have no more than they can do.
But I will warn you whom you should fear: Fear
him, who after he has killed you has the power
to cast your body into Gehinnom.
Who are these people he is referring to? The chief priests
could kill them, for breaking Jewish laws; but the Romans could
execute them as rebels, and throw their corpses into the valley
of Hinnom. So it seems that he must be telling them to fear
the Romans, and not to be rebels. He also says, in a reference
to himself and his disciples,
If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub,
how much more shall they despise them of his household!
So the fateful journey was begun; with his most faithful
followers, he departed from Kephar-Nahum, from Galilee,
and entered into Judea. Mark and Matthew say that he
went "beyond Jordan", which is usually taken to mean that his
trip was on the eastern side of the Jordan, through Perea;
but the place names reported by Luke, and also by John, make
it more probable that he travelled in a southward direction
from the sea of Galilee, through Samaria, and the countryside
that had once been the land of Ephraim, and Benjamin, the
home of the tribe of Saul, the first king of Israel.
Before they cross the border into the land governed by the
Roman, Pontius Pilate, Yeshua turns and looks northward,
and vents his frustration and despair that he was not able
to rouse the cities of Galilee from their worldly stupor:
Woe unto you, Chorazin! woe unto you also,
Beth-Saida! for if the mighty works which were
done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon,
they would have repented long ago, sitting in
sackcloth and ashes, even as Nineveh! It shall
be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the
times that are coming, than for you.
And you too, Kephar-Nahum, do you think
that you will be exalted unto the skies? you shall
fall down into Sheol; for if the mighty works
had been done in Sodom which were done in you,
it would have remained unto this day. And it
shall also be more tolerable for the land of
Sodom in the times that are coming, than for you.
Sheol, from the Hebrew word for "cave", was the place beneath the
earth where the souls of the dead went; it was neither a place of
punishment nor of bliss. So Yeshua's distress over the impending
fate for the Jews because of their lack of understanding of the
things of peace leads him to express the bleakest future possible
for the cities which had failed to understand his message.
After looking on Galilee for the last time, he turns back
toward the south, looking over the great plain of the
Qishon river, called the Esdraelon, the ridge called
Mount Gilboa on his left, Mounts Ebal and Gerizim bluish in
the distance, twenty-five miles away, and utters a lament
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which kills the prophets,
and stones those who are sent unto her! how often
would I have gathered your children together,
even as a hen gathers her own brood under her
wings, and you would not allow me! Behold, your
house is left unto you desolate; and I tell you,
you shall not know me until you are ready to say,
Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.
The last is a traditional mode of greeting a prophet in ancient
Hebrew times. Such love and sadness for his people and the
great city pierce us through this plaint, however! He begins
to walk down the slopes of the terrain with his disciples, and
continues to express his tension over his mission:
I came to fire up the earth to do God's will,
and what can I do, until it be kindled? I have
yet another baptism to be baptized with, even as
Yohanan said, a baptism by fire; and how am I
constrained until it be accomplished!
So he sees his facing death in Jerusalem as baptism by fire for
himself. Then he speaks sadly of the effects of his mission:
Are you thinking that I came to bring peace
in the earth? I tell you, No indeed, I have
brought division instead.
For I tell you there shall be from henceforth
five in one house divided, three against two,
and two against three. The son shall turn against
the father, the daughter against her mother, and
the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and a man's foes shall be those of his own household.
A gloomy prospect! he wants to save the Jewish people, but he
discovers that he is dividing his people rather than uniting
them. The last is a quotation from the prophet Micah, who
was writing just before the fall of Judea to Nebuchadrezzar,
when the Jewish leaders were urging armed resistance to the
power of Assyria. In those days also there was the voice of
Jeremiah raised against such resistance, but Micah's verse
shows that his was not the only one, and that families were
split over the question.