Sunday, 6 March 2016

Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter - Part 10

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 see the critical decisions Balleine makes into reading the text, of how the stories remain, but they get muddled up sometimes, and even folk tales may enter the narrative (as in the story of the fish). He makes critical decisions to resolve the narrative of the differences between the Synoptics and John over the anointing of Jesus, rather than trying to harmonise them and thereby not doing justice to either story.

The older route, that of harmonisation, led to the Gregory the Great's identification of the penitent harlot with Mary of Bethany, conflating her with Mary Magdalene to make the image of Mary Magdalene that seems into modern culture with Jesus Christ Superstar. It remains a potent image, but it is a false conflation nonetheless.

Jerusalem Must Decide
by G.R. Balleine

WE Now reach the last attempt of Jesus to win Jerusalem. It was by no means the first. The cry, `O Jerusalem, how often I have longed to gather your children round Me, and you would not!' implies many previous appeals. Every male Jew was expected to attend the three great Feasts of Obligation: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

If Jesus had not appeared at these, His absence would have been noted. His slightest breach of Sabbath tradition was cast in His teeth. Far more deadly would have been the charge, `He neglects the Feasts and the Temple'. But of these earlier visits the Synoptists say nothing, and John only mentions a healing at an unnamed Feast.'

But now Tabernacles was approaching, and His brothers, who disbelieved in Him, twitted Him with remaining in the North. `No one who aims at public recognition does his work in secret. Let the world see what You are doing.' They were right. It was in the Holy City that His claims must be either proved or rejected. So `He set His face resolutely to go to Jerusalem.' He did not mean deliberately to throw His life away. The prophecies of the Suffering Servant might not refer to the Messiah. No Rabbi had ever affirmed that they did. And He laid His plans so skilfully that, if Judas had not played the traitor, He might have foiled His enemies. But He knew the risk He was running. The sepulchres of the Prophets showed how many of God's messengers that stiff-necked city had slain. Yet the venture must be made. Till Jerusalem accepted its Messiah, the Kingdom of God could not come.

The first risk was that, to reach Jerusalem, He had to cross Herod's tetrarchy. The Twelve did not hang back; but their loyalty was largely due to the fact that they did not believe His forebodings. The vision on Hermon had convinced Peter that Jesus was bound to win. They passed through Galilee by unfrequented paths, and `He would not that any should know it'. 

When they reached Capernaum, He asked an awkward question, `What were you discussing on the way?' He had been walking ahead, and they had thought He was out of earshot; but angry voices carry far. There was an embarrassed silence; for they had been disputing who would be greatest in the Kingdom. So He took a little child in His arms. If the house was Peter's, it was probably his small son or daughter. And He said, `Unless you become like this little child, you will never enter the Kingdom.'

Here `Matthew' inserts a story about Peter, that fifty years later was current in Antioch. Every male Jew paid half a shekel yearly to the Temple Treasury. The collectors, hearing that Peter had come home, called for his contribution, and asked, `Does not your Rabbi pay?' Peter said, `Yes'; and Jesus agreed, `Yes, lest we give offence,' and added: `You are a fisherman. Catch a fish, and pay what we both owe.'

But, by the time this story reached Antioch, a folk-tale' had been tacked on to it, which assumed that the coin needed was found in the fish's mouth. This may have happened in Capernaum, or, as I will suggest, the whole incident may be a vision seen later by Peter at Antioch.

At this point Mark fails us, telling us nothing more for about six months. `Matthew', too, has a long gap; and Luke only takes the story one step further, telling how Jesus was rebuffed by a Samaritan village, and then fills the void with what commentators call `the Great Interpolation', an omnium gatherum of miscellaneous incidents, some of which happened in Galilee and some in Jerusalem. In these nine chapters Peter is only mentioned once, when a question of his led to the Parable of the Unfaithful Steward, which apparently was really spoken three days before the crucifixion. In `John' Peter does not reappear till the Last Supper.

His absence from the story cannot be explained merely by the fact that we have lost Mark's help, for Peter was always so much to the front, that Q, on which 'Matthew' and Luke relied, and the sources behind 'John', could hardly have helped mentioning him. For some reason, which is nowhere explained, during that autumn and winter Peter was not with Jesus. Did the Apostles, perhaps, form part of the Seventy, whom Luke says that Jesus sent out as His messengers, when He went up to Jerusalem?

'John', however, tells us what Jesus did during Peter's absence, and this can be summarized briefly. He reached Jerusalem in October during the Feast of Tabernacles, and at once met with opposition. When He taught in the Temple precincts the police were sent to arrest Him; but they returned awed, saying, 'No one ever spoke like this man.' Once the crowd tried to stone Him; but He slipped away unobserved. He got into fresh trouble by curing a blind beggar on the Sabbath; but He was still in Jerusalem at the end of December for the Dedication Festival of the Temple.

In January He continued teaching, using, as the weather was cold, a cloister called Solomon's Porch.

Here another attempt was made to stone Him, and the Priests issued a fresh order for His arrest. So He withdrew beyond the Jordan.

He stayed there unrecognized for perhaps ten weeks. The Priests could not discover His retreat, though they gave orders 'that anyone, who knew where He was, should report it.' He was waiting for Passover to fill Jerusalem again with pilgrims. Towards the end of this time the Twelve rejoined Him full of extravagant hopes, for 'they supposed the Kingdom of God would immediately appear'. If Jesus was to become World Ruler, important political posts would have to be filled. Everyone was wondering who would get what.

Peter now reappears. When a local synagogue ruler was invited by Jesus to join them, and 'went away sorrowful, because he had great possessions', and Jesus said, 'How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom!' Peter blurted out: 'We have left all to follow You. What shall we get?' Jesus replied, 'Those who leave home and family for My sake will be repaid a hundredfold.'

He meant in the friends they would find in the fellowship of the Church. But here the Evangelists add words which must be misreported. A hundredfold return of lands and houses would surely degrade discipleship into a good commercial speculation!

And Mormons point out that `Matthew's' version offers Christians a hundred wives! Peter, however, did not escape without a rebuke for his question: `Take care! Some who think themselves very important may get only back seats in the Kingdom.'

Peter was not the only person wondering, `What shall I get?' James and John approached Jesus, `May we sit, one on Your right hand and one on Your left in Your Kingdom?' If, as seems possible, their mother and the mother of Jesus were sisters, they were trying as the Messiah's cousins to bespeak the places of honour. Jesus crushed all such hopes. `My Father,' He said, `will decide to whom those posts will be given.' 

The brothers' request infuriated the others. Peter was probably the spokesman, for he may well have felt their prayer an attempt to steal a march on himself. But Jesus included them all in His reprimand: `Rulers of the heathen lord it over them; but it must not be so among you. Whoever wants to be first among you, must be everyone's slave.'

Long caravans of Passover pilgrims were now streaming towards Jerusalem, and a group of Galileans recognized Jesus. They had forgotten the sorcerer-slander, and only remembered Him as the Prophet, Who had healed the sick. By the time He reached Jericho `a great multitude' escorted Him. But, just when He seemed to be regaining His lost popularity, He shocked everyone by spending the night with a tax-collector. Zacchaeus, the Romans' chief Inland Revenue officer, had climbed a wayside tree to see the Prophet.

Anything boyish and unconventional seems to have appealed to Jesus, and the sight of this middle-aged business-man swarming up a tree prompted Him to say: `Come down. I must stay in your house tonight.' A gasp of horror arose. `He is going to be the guest of a Sinner!' But Jesus had His reward. At supper Zacchaeus stood up and vowed to reform his business methods. `I will give half my wealth to the poor, and, if I have overcharged anyone, I will repay him fourfold.'

Next morning, as Jesus left the city, a blind beggar wailed, `Son of David, pity!' This title was definitely Messianic. The crowd tried to silence him, but, the more they scolded, the louder he cried, `Son of David, pity!' Jesus stopped and asked, ‘What do you want?' `Sir,' he replied, `my sight.' `Your faith has cured you,' Jesus said. And the man discovered he could see.

This revival of miracles rekindled the excitement that the visit to Zacchaeus had damped. With a large following Jesus went towards Jerusalem. At all this Peter was present. Jesus left Jericho on a Friday morning, and reached Bethany, two miles from Jerusalem, before sunset ushered in the Sabbath.

Here He spent the Sabbath with His friends Martha and Mary. On Saturday night, when the Sabbath ended, they prepared a supper in His honour in the house of Simon the leper, perhaps a leper who owed his healing to Jesus; and at this supper Mary anointed Jesus. He was anointed twice. Once at Capernaum a penitent harlot had anointed His feet, the only part of Him she could reach as He lay at the table, and then brushed away with her hair her tears that had fallen on them. Now Mary of Bethany anointed Him again.

But, by the time `John' wrote, the stories had got mixed. He makes Mary anoint Christ's feet, an act entirely meaningless, and then wipe the ointment off with her hair, which would be queerer still.

What probably happened was this. While Martha, good housewife, was arranging the meal, Mary, the romantic, was preparing her own special offering. She brought a flask of pure nard, the most costly of ancient perfumes, and poured its contents over Jesus' head (as Mark and `Matthew' say), `and the whole house was filled with the fragrance'.

To anoint a guest's head was a common form of Eastern courtesy; and, if this was all her meaning, the compliment lay in the costliness of the nard. But she may have had a deeper motive. The word `Messiah' meant `the Anointed One'. Kings were not Kings till the oil had been poured on their heads, and God's Messiah must be hallowed by the chrism, before His reign began.

Perhaps with girlish eagerness she wished to anoint the King of Kings on the eve of His entry to the city. It was a dangerous moment. Had Pilate heard of it, he would have arrested Jesus that evening. But Peter and his colleagues missed this possible meaning. Their practical, peasant minds were merely shocked at her extravagance. `What wicked waste! That might have been sold for ten guineas and the money given to the poor.' 

This criticism may have reduced Mary to the verge of tears. But Jesus came to her rescue. `That was a lovely act,' He said, `which will be remembered wherever the Good News is told.' And He hastened to give it a less dangerous meaning. `She knows this visit may cost Me My life, and she has anointed My body to prepare it for its burial.'

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