Monday, January 18, 2010

It's Monday morning and I am picking up all the bits and pieces from the weekend.  At long last the building work that we have been engaged with here at Christ Church is coming to completion.  The hardest thing is getting the finishing touches completed.  It can take as long to get the builders to come back to fix a window that won't open as it did to arrange the project in the first place, but I am beginning to look forward to life without builders - for a  short while at least!

The First Phase of Jesus' Ministry

All the Gospel writers are agreed that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.  What is not totally clear is what the relationship was between them.  The general understanding is that Jesus turned up at the Jordan, was baptized by John, and then got on with his own ministry.  An impression, it has to be said, that is reinforced by the way the Gospel writers present it.  That it is more complicated than that is suggested by a closer reading of the Gospels.

Firstly, St Luke tells us that there was a family relationship between Mary and Elizabeth (Luke 1:36).  We don't know exactly what the relationship was, but if Mary did stay with Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56), it at least suggests they were on reasonably close terms.  Did Jesus and John meet as they were growing up?

Secondly, the Synoptics give the impression, at first sight, that Jesus originally called his disciples by the Sea of Galilee, meeting them for the first time as they tended to their nets (Mark 1:16-20).  St John, however, tells us that Andrew and another unnamed disciple were originally disciples of John the Baptist.  There is the suggestion that Peter and Philip are also, and perhaps Nathaniel as well. (John 1:35-45)

The Synoptic Gospels begin their account of Jesus' ministry in Galilee, basically after John had been arrested.  St John, however, suggests that there was a period of ministry before this, which certainly included a visit to Cana and Capernaum in Galilee, but also involved time spent in Jerusalem and Judea as well.

This earlier period of ministry saw Jesus continuing John's ministry by baptizing people in the Judean countryside while John was baptizing people at Aenon near Salim, although as St John tells us it was Jesus' disciples who baptized rather than John (John 3:22-24).  This is what you would expect if they had previously been disciples of John assisting him in his baptism of people.  This should not seem strange.  Jesus, by being baptized by John, identified himself both with John's ministry and with John's practice of baptizing people.  It is only when he begins to overtake John in popularity that Jesus moves back to Galilee to begin his own distinctive ministry. (John 4:1-3)

St John tells us: 'When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the festival; for they too had gone to the festival.  Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine ...' (John 4:45-46)  This then would be where the Synoptics take up the story.

It is impossible to be too neat and precise about the order of events and no doubt the Evangelists were more concerned to communicate the truth about Jesus than to give a precise chronology.  Nevertheless, if we take St John as giving accurate historical information, then we get the following impression of the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, which might even be called the Baptizing Phase!

1.  Jesus who knows John the Baptist and agrees with his message and ministry identifies with it by being baptized himself.

2.  Some of John's disciples join Jesus and they go to Cana of Galilee where one of them, Nathaniel, comes from (John 21:2).  At a wedding there with his mother, Jesus performs his first miracle.

3.  After the wedding, Jesus, his mother, brothers and disciples go to Capernaum before Jesus sets off for the Passover in Jerusalem.

4.  After the Passover in Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples continue John's ministry of baptizing in the Judean countryside while John baptized further north, at Aenon near the Sea of Galilee.

5.  When his ministry gains attention and popularity, Jesus moves back to Galilee.  It is then at this point that the Synoptics take up the story.

The reading for this coming Sunday in St Luke's Gospel gives an account of some of what happened during the following few months in Galilee.

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