Sunday, 24 January 2016

Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter - Part 7

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.

It is interesting to note how many critical judgements on the Gospels are made by Balleine. Aware that the Gospels were written when conflict with Rome was to be avoided, he suggests that the more political elements of Jesus teaching about the Kingdom were largely suppressed or toned down. That’s a very striking critical judgement to take.

One great change in perspective on Jesus studies came with Géza Vermes and his book "Jesus the Jew" in 1973, placing Jesus very much as a Jewish teacher, yet Balleine is doing this years before.

It is also striking to see how Balleine puts Jesus teaching into a framework in which it changed, depending on how it was received, so that the way the message was conveyed altered in the course of the ministry, especially as Jesus failed to get his message across! The more holistic overview is something we tend to lose with form criticism and its concentration on pericopes. 

Bailleine also brings out the inclusiveness of the message of the Kingdom. It is a kingdom for all, and God is a God for all, not a tribal god. There is still a strong tendency for the Church to make God into a tribal god, and this is a message that still needs to be heard today.

The Herald Of The Kingdom
by G.R. Balleine

JESUS was more than a Healer. He was a Man with a Message. `He came into Galilee,' says Mark, `proclaiming, "The Kingdom of God is at hand."' People considered Him a Prophet: `A great Prophet has appeared among us'; `This is Jesus, the Prophet of Nazareth.'

His teaching fell roughly into three periods. First, `He preached in their synagogues through all Galilee,' and congregations were eager to hear Him. Then, when Authority grew suspicious, He preached to crowds in the open air.

Later, as the Parable of the Sower shows, this mass-evangelism proved disappointing. Too much of the seed failed to bear fruit. So He devoted more and more time to the training of disciples.

Listening to Jesus revolutionized Peter's life; but to discover what Jesus taught is not always easy. Mark, our earliest Gospel, was not written till at least forty years after the crucifixion; and our other early authority, the lost document Q, from which `Matthew' and Luke made long extracts, cannot be much older; and in forty years much may happen to memories of a Prophet's teaching.

Part may be too dangerous to repeat; so it will be quietly dropped. Part may seem to have been contradicted by events; so it will be modified. Each group will naturally emphasize the points that appeal to it most. And maxims from other sources may be attributed to the Master. All these processes had been at work before our Gospels were written; so it is sometimes hard to decide what Jesus really said.

Did He say, `Blessed are ye poor' or `Blessed are the poor in spirit'? Did He expect the Day of Doom to come in the lifetime of His disciples, or did He look forward to years of quiet progress?

Every attempt to determine His message is beset by these bewilderments. Nevertheless on some points we can feel fairly certain. He was an orthodox Jew with no desire to impose a new religion on His nation. He attended the synagogues, went to Jerusalem for the Feasts, and wore the blue tassel, the badge of allegiance to Moses.

Years later, Peter, who had shared His meals, had never tasted any but kosher meat. One saying of Jesus must be authentic, for no one would have invented it after the Church had drifted apart from Judaism: `Think not that I have come to abolish the Law. So long as earth and sky endure, the tiniest stroke shall not pass from the Law, till its purpose is accomplished.'

He took little interest in the small technicalities which Rabbis loved to debate: Which were most binding, oaths sworn by the altar or those sworn by the gift on the altar? Was killing a flea on the Sabbath as sinful as killing a camel?

Jesus was more at home with the Prophets. Isaiah gave Him the programme with which He opened His mission, `The Lord has sent Me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release for captives, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and the coming of an Age acceptable to the Lord.'

Later He was constantly meditating on the prophecies of the Man of Sorrows, `led like a lamb to the slaughter', and on Daniel's vision of `one like unto a son of man', who `would come in the clouds of heaven'.

He was an orthodox Jew; but He felt He had something to add to His nation's knowledge, something so vital that it could not be cramped in the old, traditional forms. It was fatal to pour fermenting wine into stiff, old wineskins. His central thought was the Malkuth. `He went through the towns and villages proclaiming the good news about the Kingdom.'

In Chapter 7 we saw how this hope arose. To Peter and every Jew the Malkuth was definitely political. It meant dethroning bad kings, annulling bad laws, creating a new social order. Jesus must to some extent have shared these hopes, for without them the Malkuth would be meaningless. One could not picture a Kingdom of God, in which Tiberius reigned.

If the Evangelists say nothing of this, the reason is obvious. When they wrote, Rome was eyeing the Church with suspicion, and apologists were asserting that it was absurd to fear that the Church was politically dangerous. It would have been folly to publish the more revolutionary side of the Master's message. Through this discretion we have lost all details of His Malkuth teaching.

But this is not our only difficulty. The disciples themselves cannot have remembered all His teaching accurately, for they passed on to the Evangelists sayings that contradict one another. Some declare that the Kingdom might flash on the world at any moment, `at even or midnight, at cock-crow or dawn'. `Some standing here will not taste death, till they see the Kingdom come.' 

But other sayings imply a long process of development. The Kingdom would expand like a seed, first a blade, then the ear, then the full-grown grain, or like leaven quietly transforming three measures of meal. We are told that the Parable of the Pounds was spoken because some `supposed that the Kingdom of God would immediately appear'.

Certain points may be doubtful; but others are not. Jesus gave no support to one widely accepted belief. Galileans assumed that the first step towards establishing the Kingdom must be armed revolt against Rome. In A.D. 6 Galilee had sprung to arms when a Judas had declared that God would not establish His Kingdom till His People showed their eagerness by shedding their blood for it. But Jesus warned Jerusalem that insurrection would be madness: `Your foes will surround you with earthworks, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground and your children within you, not leaving one stone on another.'

Moreover revolt showed lack of faith. When God saw that the moment was ripe, He would intervene. Till then, while God allowed Rome to rule, Jesus would pay Caesar's tribute.

On another point Jesus must have horrified many of His hearers. Men like Peter expected the Malkuth to be a nationalist triumph. Some Prophets had allowed the best of the Gentiles to share its blessings; but grimmer views were more popular. The Gentiles would be wiped off the face of the earth! Jesus, however, realized that His race might prove unworthy of the promises.

Vineyards are taken from bad tenants and given to more deserving ones. If guests refuse to come to a banquet, their seats will be filled by others. `From east and west, north and south, men will come and sit down in the Kingdom,' while `the heirs of the Kingdom are cast into the outer darkness'. But Peter's nationalism had too thick a shell for this idea to penetrate. It needed a special vision later to convince him of its truth.

A third point also Peter had to unlearn. He expected the Judgement to usher in the Kingdom. In Daniel the Ancient of Days sat on his fiery throne, and the books were opened, and the wicked judged, and then the Kingdom began. In the older part of Enoch, too, the order is the same, first the judgement, then the Kingdom.

Later sections, however, thought the Kingdom too wonderful to be pent up in this world. It must begin here; but it will need all Heaven for its consummation. So the judgement was postponed, till the Kingdom should pass to its higher plane.

Jesus accepted this thought. The Kingdom would begin on earth; but its members would be sifted before its transference to Heaven. It was a net that gathered fish of many kinds; but, when drawn up on the beach, the bad would be thrown away.

To Jesus nothing was more important than the Malkuth. His disciples must make it their first and foremost interest. `Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.' Pray daily, `Thy Kingdom come.' It was like buried treasure, for which a man will sacrifice his all; like a precious pearl, for which a merchant will pay his last penny. It demands and deserves the surrender of every rival aim. It had already begun. `If I by God's help am driving out demons, the Kingdom of God must have reached you.' Wherever men accept God as their King, there is the Kingdom in embryo.

But what must its citizens be like? Every Jewish Rabbi was a teacher of ethics, a consultant on everyday conduct; and Jesus, too, regarded this as a matter of grave importance. No Kingdom of God is possible till men behave correctly. The standard of Jesus was exacting. `Unless you set your target higher than the Scribes, you will never enter the Kingdom.' Start with the simple rule in Leviticus, `Love thy neighbour as thyself.' Do as you would be done by. And notice: since love is God's chief demand, the worst sin is hate.

The Old Testament spoke with two voices on this point. Some texts countenanced hate-'Let his children be fatherless'; others taught, `If your enemy hunger, feed him.' Jesus appealed from the lower to the higher: `You have heard the saying, "Love your neighbour; hate your enemy." I say, "Love your enemies." '

Love must include forgiveness. Once Peter asked, `How often should I let my brother wrong me, and be forgiven?' The Rabbis taught that a man should be forgiven three times. So Peter expected praise when he suggested, `Seven times?' But Jesus answered, `Not seven times, but seventy times seven.' So wide was the gulf between the standard of Jesus and the standard of the Scribes.

Another sin against love is selfishness. The Gospel according to the Hebrews, the oldest apocryphal Gospel, brings Peter into the story of the Rich Young Ruler. `Jesus said, "Sell all you have and give to the poor, and follow Me." And he began to scratch his head, for this pleased him not. Jesus said, "It is written in the Law, `Love thy neighbour as thyself', and many of thy brethren are covered with filth and dying of hunger, while thy house is full of good things." And He said to Peter, "A camel can pass through a needle's eye more easily than a rich man can enter the Kingdom." ' Peter had to learn that the Law demanded more than he had ever imagined.

A point that Jesus constantly stressed was that His disciples must be dead in earnest. `He who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is useless for the Kingdom.' Following Jesus was from the first a perilous adventure. An ancient homily, attributed to Clement of Rome, states that, when Jesus said, `I send you like sheep among wolves,' Peter asked, `What if the wolves devour the sheep?' The answer was, `He who is not willing to shoulder a cross is not worthy of Me.' The cross under Roman rule was the rebel's doom. Like any other innovator who tries to reform Society, Peter must expect supporters of the status quo to clamour for his blood.

The great attraction of the programme of Jesus was its simplicity. Everyone must work for the Kingdom. And the best definition of the Kingdom was, `Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.' Every disciple must strive to do God's Will, and to get others to do it. Every new recruit pledged to do God's Will brought the Kingdom a little nearer. When everyone on earth was doing God's Will, the Kingdom would have come.

Such was the message that day by day Peter heard from Jesus. `The Malkuth is at hand, the Kingdom not of a tribal God, but of the Father of all. If you want to feel at home in it, you must share the Father's point of view. If you get a glimpse of what it means, you will sacrifice everything for it.'

Peter, who had long looked for this Kingdom, now felt that nothing could ever tear him away from Jesus. Once, when others were falling off, Jesus asked the Twelve, `Are you too going to desert Me?' Peter answered: `To whom should we go? You have the words of eternal life.'

No comments: