Mysteries of the Bible

"Unanswered Questions of the Bible"

How Did Jesus Reveal His Mission?

Posted by foryourfaith on February 8, 2010

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When Jesus was in the wilderness of the Jordan with John the Baptist, he was not far from Qumran, where the Essenes sought to prepare for the kingdom of God by living in a rigorously structured monastic community, admitting only those who had undergone years of demanding probation.  but in spite of speculations about links between Jesus and the Essenes aroused by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, there is no real evidence that Jesus ever made contact with that desert community, and neither the Essenes nor Qumran is ever mentioned in the New Testament.

It could be that Jesus had heard of the rigorist community at Qumran or had known Essenes who lived in the towns of Israel, but if he did, his ministry makes it clear that he rejected the Essene pattern for his own ministry.  Jesus, as he characterized himself, was practically the opposite of the Essene ideal:  “The Son of man has come eating and drinking; and you say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Luke 7:34).  A kind of community that was withdrawn from society was clearly not what Jesus intended.

But just as Jesus did not follow the pattern of the Essenes, neither did he follow the example of John the Baptist.  Though baptized by John, he did not continue John’s practice of summoning, the people out into the wilderness of the Jordan to renew their commitment to God; rather he went among the people, in the villages and towns of Israel, ministering to them and preaching the kingdom of God in their midst.

The beginning of Jesus’ ministry is described in three distinct ways in the Gospels.  Luke begins by telling of Jesus’ return to his hometown of Nazareth.  After his baptism and 40 days of fasting, which were followed by the temptation in the wilderness, Jesus returned home:  “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the Sabbath day” (Luke 4:16).  All was as it had been before, except Jesus had been changed and now acted “in the power of the Spirit,” Luke says (4:14).

In those familiar surroundings and among his acquaintances, Jesus participated in the synagogue service by reading a selection from the prophets.  Jesus was handed the scroll of Isaiah, found the passage he wanted, and read to the assembly.  The passage included most of Isaiah 61:1-2 combined with a phrase from Isaiah 58:6 and summarized both the mysterious power and the public work of Jesus:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).

Jesus rolled the scroll and handed it to the hazzan, or attendant, and sat down.  Luke emphasizes a sense of expectation that filled the room as “the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him,” awaiting his interpretation of the Scripture.  He tells how Jesus explained the text with a single remarkable and unexpected sentence:  “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).  Luke writes that those who knew him were amazed.  Luke wanted his readers to see, however, that it was the Spirit that made Jesus the “anointed,” the “Messiah,” and set him on his ministry of proclamation, healing, and relief to the poor and the suffering.  The passage becomes a keynote for Jesus’ whole life.

Luke’s account takes a remarkable turn at this point.  One of the worshippers asks, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”, as if to question the validity of Jesus’ divine mission by pointing to his humble origins.  Rather than trying to answer the implicit criticism, Jesus began to challenge them.  Jesus used two proverbs, that suggested that they would reject him as a healer and prophet, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country.”  He then told two stories from Scripture that described how the great prophets Elijah and Elisha were sent to minister to people outside Israel.  The people perhaps felt insulted by teh implication that they would reject God’s will, and that Jesus intended to take his message to the Gentiles.  They quickly turned against Jesus, even to the point of trying to kill him.

This incident embodies the contradictory reception that Jesus encountered in his own ministry and in the time of the early church.  From the beginning, Jesus both fulfilled and contradicted the expectations that people had of a Messiah, and thus brought forth both acceptance and rejection.

Both Matthew and Mark record this incident at Nazareth, but at a later point in their Gospels.  Instead they begin the story of Jesus’ ministry with another incident in which Jesus summons two pairs of brothers to be his disciples.  The story is told in a spare style that adds to the mystery.

In Mark, the story appears near the beginning of the Gospel.  Mark has described Jesus’ returning to Galilee proclaiming.  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  Then, as Jesus walked along the Sea of Galilee, he saw two fishermen, Simon and Andrew, casting nets into the sea.  Mark’s words are simple and brief:  “Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.’  And immediately they left their nets and followed him”  (Mark 1:17-18).  The scene was soon repeated a little farther down the beach with James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who left not only their nets but also their father, boat, and hired servants.

There is not the slightest hint in the Gospels of Mark or Matthew that these men had ever heard of Jesus before, listened to his teaching, or seen his deeds, but some scholars believe that they may have.  However, the story highlights the authority of Jesus’ word.  He calls; they respond; their lives are transformed.  fishermen no longer, they become “fishers of men.”  The reader wonders what it means to be a disciple to one who calls with such authority.

The Gospel of John begins Jesus’ ministry with a different incident.  When Jesus returned from the Jordan to Galilee, he and his mother were invited to a wedding in the village of Cana.  The host of the wedding banquet ran out of wine for the party – hardly an incident, one would think, calling for supernatural intervention.  The reader’s sense of curiosity is aroused when Jesus’ mother remarks to him, “They have no wine,” to which Jesus answers mysteriously, “O woman, what have you to do with me?  My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4).  Why does he talk this way to his own mother?  Does she expect something of him?  What does he mean about his “hour”?  The questions accumulate as the story continues.  In spite of Jesus’ strange response, Mary tells the servants to follow Jesus’ instructions.  He asks them to fill 6 stone jars, holding perhaps 120 gallons, with water, and then instructs them to draw out some and take it to the master of ceremonies.  By the time the water reaches his lips, it has become wine, indeed better wine than had yet been served at the feast.

How did it happen?  Why?  Did anyone besides the servants know?  What is this story all about?  At the moment John chooses to answer very few of these questions.  He wants the reader’s sense of mystery to grow.  The event, he says, is a “sign” that points to Jesus’ “glory” that the remainder of the Gospel will reveal.


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