5. The First Disciples
he Public Life of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, Vol. 1 by Bishop Alban Goodier, SJ;
It was now two months, as we have said, since Jesus had appeared by the Jordan, during all which time John had patiently waited for the next sign that was to guide him. He had gone on preaching as before, but with even more assurance; now that the Lord had definitely appeared he was able to speak of His presence with greater emphasis. As for the rest he was content to wait; he had already waited long, and had learnt to abide the moment of God.
At length one day, the day after the examination by the priests and Levites, Jesus again was seen, walking towards him on the other side of the Jordan, the side of Jerusalem and Jericho.
'The next day
John saw Jesus coming to him.'
There was nothing at all about Him to distinguish Him from any other man, as there had been nothing to distinguish Him during all these eighteen years. He walked down the bank of the river as He had walked down the streets of Nazareth, so like others that after thirty years not a neighbour had discovered in Him anything of note. He came down the riverside as one might who took a walk, apparently with no special aim, occupied with His Own thoughts, interfering with, intruding Himself on, no one; so that, had John not observed Him, He might have passed by and none would have noticed.
Such is His first appearance when He opens His campaign.
But John recognized Him, and could not let Him so pass by. He was there to be the witness to Him, and he knew the time was come to declare Him. He must point Him out to those around him; yet to do so he chose a singular description. Hitherto he had spoken of Him in terms that inspired awe and fear---'the Lord', 'the wrath to come', 'the axe laid to the root', 'the mightier than I Whose shoes I am not worthy to bear,' 'Whose fan is in His hand', 'Who will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire'. Now on a sudden all is changed. He harks back to that lamb of Moses, whose blood was shed for the redemption of his people. As he spoke, there would have been some in whom the words he used must have awakened memories, not least that prophecy of Isaias, that the future Messias would one day be led
'As a lamb to the slaughter
Not opening his mouth.'
John knew that the announcement he made, concerning such a man as he pointed out, would be well nigh incredible to any who heard him. He had spoken of the Messias as a great King to come, for Whom the valleys were to be filled up and the crooked ways made straight; he had spoken of himself as the forerunner of all this pomp and greatness; how then could it be that the countryman across the river, from His dress evidently a Galillean, from His manner no one in particular, should be the King for Whom they were looking and longing? Even to John himself the paradox had been overwhelming; even he at first had failed to recognize Him in this garb; with all his knowledge; and interior perception he had needed a Divine revelation to enable him to understand. All the more, then, must he emphasize the fact; that man, even that seemingly plain man Who passed by them, was in very truth the Lamb of God, was all that the prophet Isaias included in the term 'Son of God'; impossible as it seemed, nevertheless he had it on the same authority as he had his own commission to baptize.
'And he saith
Behold the Lamb of God
Behold Him Who taketh away
The sin of the world
This is He of Whom I said
After me cometh a man
Who is preferred before me
Because He was before me
And I knew Him not
But that He may be made manifest in Israel
Therefore am I come
Baptizing in water
And John gave testimony saying
I saw the Spirit
Coming as a dove from Heaven
And He remained upon Him
And I knew Him not
But He Who sent me to baptize in water
Said to me
He upon Whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending
He it is
That Baptizeth with the Holy Ghost
And I saw
And I gave testimony
That this is the Son of God.'
At times the words read almost as if John had spoken them in self-defence, to justify his own bold action. Incredible as it seemed, over this man and no other the signs had appeared; and he had obeyed the signs, he had listened to the voice of faith instead of to the voice of human reason, let the consequences be what they might.
Jesus passed on His way down the riverside, and the shrubs and willows soon hid Him from sight. He had given to John no sign of recognition; He had made no effort to be known. As before, as everywhere, He would intrude Himself on no one; before He began He would wait for man to make the first advance. The next day He would come again, and again and again if need be; in the end, if only out of curiosity, someone would take notice of the Baptist's repeated witness. And as for John, he too would wait in patience. What more he should do was not made manifest to him; he was to be a witness and no more, and with that for the present he would be content.
But the very next day the change came. It was well on in the afternoon, when the sun was still high overhead and the road was quiet. John was at the ford, but was resting; With him were a few followers, members of a chosen group which had gathered round the Baptist and which, as disciples from a master, had begun to receive from him a special training. To this group John had already given
lessons in prayer; he had taught it the practice of penance; he had prepared it that its members, should the need come, might go forth and preach and baptize. As of old the prophet Elias had built up a school of prophets, so did John lay the foundations of a school that should carry on his work until the Messias definitely appeared.
While, then, these were seated beside the river, the same figure came walking towards them on the other side; the figure of a working man, remarkable in nothing, save perhaps that He was deeply occupied with His Own thoughts. Again John looked up at Him, watching Him intently but doing nothing more; again he uttered the same words:
'Behold the Lamb of God.'
This time he did not speak in vain. Two men of the group,---they were both from Galilee, which would imply that they had already definitely thrown in their lot with John,---could not but be struck by the repetition of their master's words. Whoever He was, whatever His appearance, the Man that walked down the opposite bank was in John's mind someone of importance. It was the afternoon, there was nothing to detain them; they would follow this Man and see what they could discover about Him.
They let Him go forward; then they crossed the river, and walked down the narrow path behind Him; unknown to themselves the first followers of Christ. They followed Him in silence till the very distance betrayed them. The way they were going was no ordinary route; it led nowhere in particular; no one would go along that path but for a purpose; hitherto He had always gone that way alone. Obviously, therefore, they were tracking Him; clearly He was justified in speaking to them. He slackened His pace; He let them come nearer; as a stranger who speaks to a stranger in a lonely place, the loneliness making them companions, He turned about and accosted them.
'And Jesus turning
And seeing them following Him
Saith to them
What seek you?'
Such are the first words that Jesus spoke to men at the beginning of His mission. They are a key to all that followed after; they might be taken as the motto of His life.
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