Sunday, 3 January 2016

Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter - Part 5

For the next weeks, my Sunday postings will be a transcript of the book "Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter" by the Jersey historian, the Reverend G.R. Bailleine (1873 – 1966).

Most of Balleine's books are either currently in print - as for example his History of Jersey - or online in the form of PDF versions. This book is not, so this is something different. As well as being a Jersey historian, Balleine was also a priest in the Church of England, and Ministre Deservant at St Brelade's Church for a time.

A Fisher of Men
By G.R. Balleine

JESUS also was due back in Galilee for a family wedding, and, when it was over, He came to Capernaum, and stayed there `a few days', perhaps as Simon's guest. But then He went to Jerusalem for the Passover. Simon, apparently, stayed at home.

Life in Capernaum went on as usual. Jair, the synagogue ruler, made arrangements for the weekly services. Simon the Pharisee gave his supper-parties to the unto quid. Matthew the toll-collector gathered Herod's custom-dues. Tongues wagged at the scandalous life of the `woman who was a sinner'. Simon and Andrew hauled nets, and wondered when the call would come. Rumours reached them that Jesus was making no small stir in Jerusalem. But He did not proclaim Himself the Messiah, nor did He send any summons to His friends in Galilee.

Then came startling news. Herod had arrested the Baptist. The Prophet had denounced his adultery with his half-brother's wife, and the Tetrarch had imprisoned him in the frontier fortress of Machaerus.

On hearing this, Jesus made a splendid gesture of defiance. He left the comparative safety of Pilate's province, and came to live in Capernaum in the heart of Herod's dominion, and took up the work from which John had been torn away. Now the cry, `The Kingdom is at hand', was no echo from the distant desert. It rang through the streets of Herod's cities. It began to unsettle the minds of his soldiers and civil servants. But on Jesus' lips the word had a new accent. To John the Malkuth was a fearsome thought. To Jesus it was a glorious hope. He preached `the glad tidings of the Kingdom'.

Early one Friday morning Simon and Andrew were throwing their casting-nets close to the shore, when they saw Jesus watching them. `Follow Me,' He said, `and I will train you to be fishers of men.' `Immediately' they waded ashore to join Him. Not far away their partners were mending a torn net. James and John had heard much about Jesus in the last few weeks. Simon was not the man to keep silent if he thought he had found the Messiah.

When Jesus called them, they too obeyed. On one point all our evidence agrees. There was something strangely authoritative about Jesus. Angry mobs let Him pass through. Madmen grew calm at His word. Those who heard Him said, `He teaches with authority.' His call was hard to resist.

The fishermen followed, little dreaming what this would lead to. It was a daring act for neighbours of Herod; for everyone expected a Messiah to lead an armed revolt, and the tyrant who had seized the Baptist would think nothing of beheading a few fishermen. For Simon it was an act of faith. He knew little of Jesus, except that John had hailed Him as Messiah, and that his own heart had been strangely stirred when he met Him. He was eager to help Him in Capernaum and took Him to his home; but he had no idea that Jesus was going to claim his whole life.

Simon's house now became Jesus' headquarters. It was only a one-roomed cottage, its flat roof barely eight feet from the ground. It had neither chimney nor windows. A wooden chest held the household's clothes. The beds were rush mats, rolled up by day and spread on the floor for sleep. At meals the family lay on the ground round a table four inches high, and helped themselves with their fingers from a wooden bowl. A tub for washing, a cauldron for cooking, a pitcher for water from the well, a small clay lamp on the wall-this was almost all the furniture. But Jesus asked no more.

At sunset Sabbath began; and Jesus, Simon, and Andrew went to the synagogue. What happened there, we will discuss in the next chapter.

Let us first finish the gathering of the group of which Simon became the leader. Next day Jesus said to the four fishermen, `Let us go to the neighbouring towns, that I may preach there also.' This took them by surprise. They were anxious to help Him in Capernaum; but a preaching tour of indefinite length-this was more than they had bargained for! They let Him go alone. Mark says, `He' (not they) `went through all Galilee preaching.'

Luke tells how they were finally won. Weeks passed, and one night Simon had a bad night's fishing. He caught nothing; and in the morning he was rinsing his net, when he again saw Jesus. An excited crowd, eager to hear Him, was jostling Him almost into the lake. He called to Simon, `Will you lend Me your boat?' and Simon rowed Him a yard or two from the shore, and He taught the people from the boat. (Here we get a small addition to our portrait of Jesus. He must have had the strong, clear voice of an open-air speaker.)

We are not told what He said; but at the close He noticed something that the fishermen had missed, a large shoal of fish. `Push out into deep water,' He said, `and lower your nets.' Half reluctantly Simon obeyed-'If you say so, I will' -doubting whether a carpenter could teach him anything about fishing; but he made such a catch that his net began to break, and he had to beckon to James and John for help.

This impressed them deeply. All through the sermon Simon's conscience had been pricking. Jesus was working so hard for the Kingdom, and Simon had done nothing! In his impulsive, oriental way he flung himself at Jesus' feet. `Master, leave me! I'm a worthless disciple.' But Jesus said: `Cheer up! Henceforth you shall catch men.'

By that catch of fish Jesus finally caught the four fishermen. That day they decided to leave all and follow Him.

The next to be called was Matthew, a Capernaum toll-collector, whom Mark and Luke call Levi, though in their lists of Apostles they use the name Matthew. Perhaps he was a renegade Levite, who had deserted the Temple for a more lucrative trade. These `Publicans', collectors of public revenue, were loathed by every patriot, whether they worked for Herod or the Romans. They were traitors, collaborating with the enemy, and often rogues as well, demanding more than the legal tax and pocketing the surplus. It was work in which even the small fry quickly grew rich. But they had to pay the penalty. No decent person would associate with them. They were outcasts and pariahs. So there were aching hearts among the money-grubbers.

Matthew had watched Jesus. If his toll-booth was near the landing-place of the boats, he may have heard some of His sermons. When the new Prophet flouted public opinion by calling him to be a disciple, he closed his ledgers and obeyed. In this way Jesus gained another pair of brothers. Matthew is described as `the son of Alphaeus', and so is James the Little.

But Alphaeus is a rare name in Jewish records.' It is most unlikely that two Alphaeuses each had a son who was an Apostle. Matthew and James the Little were almost certainly brothers. And all the Synoptists in their lists of Apostles link Thomas with the sons of Alphaeus.

In Mark and Luke, Thomas is wedged between Matthew and James. And `Thomas' was not a name in those days. (All the Thomases in later history were called after this Apostle.) `Thomas' was then simply the Aramaic word for `twin'. `Matthew and Thomas' would mean `Matthew and his twin'. If so, we probably have here three brothers, Matthew, Thomas and James the Little.

Another disciple was Philip, whom Jesus had won on His way back from the Jordan. From his name we can guess his background. No strict Jew would call his son Philip, for it means `Lover of horses', and Rabbis considered the horse a forbidden animal. Only one thing would lead a Jewish father to choose that name, and that was Herodian sympathies, for Philip was a favourite name with the Herods. So Philip probably came from an Herodian family.

Very different had been the background of Simon the Zealot, a rebel from the hills, who had risked his life in desperate efforts to drive out Herod and the Romans. His young manhood had been spent in ruthless guerrilla warfare, in which no quarter was given or received. Perhaps he had come to feel that this violence was leading nowhere. When Jesus said, `Follow Me,' he could not resist the call.

The most tragic figure in the group was Judas Ish-Kerioth, the man of Kerioth. In Joshua's days there had been a Kerioth in the south of Judea; but it is doubtful whether this survived till New Testament times. There was however a Moabite Kerioth, east of the Dead Sea. `I will send fire upon Moab,' said Amos, `and devour the palaces of Kerioth.'

On the Moabite Stone King Mesha boasts that he has dragged the Israelite spoils before his god in Kerioth; and this city was still standing in A.D. 320. The Moabites like the Galileans had been converted by the sword.

The Maccabees had forced them to accept Judaism, and many like Judas now bore Old Testament names. The problem of Judas's character will be discussed later; but, when he joined Jesus, he must have been sincere.

Simon must have felt surprised at the company in which he found himself, a publican and his relations, an Herodian, an ex-terrorist, and perhaps a Moabite, not at all the type of men he would normally have chosen as friends; but their devotion to Jesus bound them together. Gradually their number increased.

As Jesus moved about, He kept His eyes open, and called one here, one there. Sometimes He was disappointed, and received a polite excuse. But the little band grew, till Luke can speak of the `great crowd of His disciples'. Many of them failed to understand Jesus, and soon fell away; but some remained to the end, men like Matthias and Joseph bar-Sabbas, of whom we are told in Acts that they had companied with Him from the beginning.

Then one morning, after a night of prayer, out of this larger group Jesus chose twelve, `that they might be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach'. Twelve had come to suggest completeness. Twelve months make the year; twelve hours make the day and the night; twelve signs make the Zodiac; twelve tribes comprised Israel. And Jesus selected Twelve to be the inner core of His Movement. Others might come and go; these would remain.

The first chosen was Simon; then the other three fishermen, Andrew, James and John; then the family of Alphaeus; then Philip, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas of Kerioth, and two more, of whom we know nothing, Bartholomew and Judas `not Iscariot'.

These became known as `the Twelve'. They accompanied Him on His travels, they listened to all His public teaching, and questioned Him afterwards about what they did not understand. Moreover, there is a saying, `You must live with a man before you know him.' By living with Jesus they got to know Him as no outsiders could. His motives and methods became clear, and their admiration made them unconsciously imitate these. Personality is more penetrating than any other influence. Religion is caught, not taught. It was a wonderful education.

As we have seen, it is not quite clear when Simon became Peter. But Mark, our best witness, whose Gospel is based on Peter's teaching, puts it at the appointment of the Twelve-`Simon He surnamed Peter'-and Luke agrees. So we will accept this timing. This rules out `Matthew's statement that the name was given later, after Peter's confession that Jesus was the Messiah; but Note B gives reasons for doubting Matthew's story.

Actually, since Jesus would be speaking Aramaic, the name given was Kaipha, which the Gospels reproduce as Kephas; but, as this in Aramaic meant `Rock', the Evangelists, writing for Greek-speaking readers, substituted the Greek word for `rock', Petros, which we English as Peter. The interpretation of the name is puzzling, for as Note B suggests, Peter's temperament was far from rock-like.

But Jesus had a jesting way of giving nicknames to His friends. He called Peter's loud-voiced fishing-partners Boanerges, Sons of Thunder; and Simon's nickname may have been as playful. It may have referred to something rugged and craggy in his appearance. Or it may have been a smiling criticism of his tendency to contradict-'Not so, Lord!' `You are Obstinacy with a big O, as hard to move as a rock.' But, if we drop Matthew's interpretation, `On this rock I will build My Church', the meaning remains uncertain.

A second reason why Jesus chose the Twelve was `that He might send them forth to preach'. Josephus says that Galilee had two hundred and forty villages. Jesus could not visit all. So, as soon as He thought the Twelve could be trusted, He sent them out two by two to cry, `Repent! the Malkuth is at hand!' Their instructions were very definite: `Take no food, no money, no extra clothing. Trust the villagers' hospitality.' (Twelve hundred years later St. Francis gave the same rule to his friars.)

Contrary to the age long custom of the East, they were to salute no one by the way. They were pioneers, not preachers, like the Highland runners carrying the fiery cross. For Peter and all the group this was splendid training. Good impressions fade, unless they find expression. Now they had to put into action the thoughts that living with Jesus had impressed on their minds. And their work had results. It roused wide interest in Jesus. It was apparently their campaign that first made Herod take serious notice of this new Movement.

Notes: A Chalphi is mentioned in 1 Maccabees, which may be the Hebrew form of Alphaeus, but no other Chalphi or Alphaeus is found in the Bible, the Septuagint, the Apocrypha, the Talmud, or Josephus.

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