John the Baptist as a child.
November 14th, 2001
Received by H.
I commented yesterday that John the Baptist’s father, Zacharias, was a Temple priest in Jerusalem. And as you have also been told already, he belonged to the Pharisee sect. To be even more precise, he was a follower of the House of Hillel. Zacharias certainly had a very important input into Joseph’s decision to also join this religious movement.
All that seems contradictory. I am aware that people who study the history of Second Temple Judaism think that the priests were Sadducees, belonging therefore to another religious group in competition with the Pharisees. And there is some truth in this. The more influential priests of higher rank, and of course the High Priests, were Sadducees. But it is also true that there were many Pharisees in the priestly ranks.
There is also the impression that the Jewish aristocrats belonged to the Sadducees, and in general terms, this is correct, but there were also exceptions. As to the aristocracy, it is necessary to point out that in many cases this affiliation had very base causes, namely furthering ideas of political order.
Over the course of time, the Pharisees had developed a complicated system of practical laws and of rules of behavior. They cherished the idea that the Law as it appeared in Moses’ books, didn’t provide enough accuracy for applying them with certainty in daily life. For that reason they formed the so-called “oral law,” which simply constituted the regulations accompanying the Law. For example, if the Mosaic Law determined that men should not work on Saturday, then it was imperative to determine what the word “to work” meant. Was it allowable for the physician to heal on the Day of the Lord? And so this system, against which Jesus later on would fight, grew. It was a system that fixed even the number of steps people could walk on Saturday. And simultaneously, as usual, a tradition also developed to avoid the strictness of this system, and the resulting hair-splitting disputes constituted a great part of what they called their spirituality.
In contrast, the Sadducees, among them the High Priest, expressed their wholesale rejection of this oral law. And not only that, they exclusively recognized the five books of Moses, the Pentateuch or Torah, as the only inspired Scriptures, rejecting all other books of the prophets, the history books, etc. With that, they had much in common with the Samaritans, although they fought so much with them.
Yes, I know, you have a great number of questions on the Samaritans. I will answer them all, but not today. Everything in due course.
As for the Pharisees and Sadducees, I would just like to add that both groups believed in the afterlife. I say this because there is the impression, caused by the writings of the historian Josephus Flavius, that the Sadducees didn’t believe in the survival of the soul. But that is absurd. Their ideas certainly were very vague and not very defined. The Pharisees at least had some idea of a retribution in the beyond, of a system of punishment and reward. But there was not a lot of clarity in all that either. But that is not surprising. Just ask any Christian about the afterlife, and you will be surprised. Their ideas are no less hazy than those ideas of two thousand years ago.
By what I have said you can see that John the Baptist, as well as Jesus, grew up in a pharisaical atmosphere governed by a rigid code of behavior. And I may add that both felt the same rejection of this way of seeing God and His Laws.
Therefore, human behavior within the framework of God’s Laws, often constituted the subject of their discussions.
As they grew and their character formed, as they reached a certain wisdom, fed by their spiritual experiences, and they also discussed the role that each of them had to perform. John recognized that Jesus would be Israel’s Messiah, but he could not grasp what this meant. Jesus certainly tried to put forth his still not very solid ideas, but without success. And the independent development of their character, of their opinions and visions of the world, would later be reflected in their completely different approach to their respective missions: The one living among the people, eating and drinking, without rejecting any opportunity to have a good time with friends, enjoying life and radiating happiness, with a deep message of Love; the other one, withdrawn into the desert, receiving disciples and visitors, but fleeing civilization, restricting his food in the style of oriental hermits and ascetics, preaching remorse, punishment, and sobriety. John awoke his disciples’ consciousness by throwing buckets of the cold water of divine threat over them, Jesus inebriated his followers with the sweet wine of Love.
Each man’s life consists of a long chain of decisions. To make decisions means to live, to escape decisions means to vegetate. And usually, when we face decisions, we don’t have only one choice between two alternatives, but there is often a wide spread of possibilities amongst which we may choose. I have already told you previously that there are very good options, and others that are neither bad, nor excellent, and there are frankly bad options. God gives us a lot of freedom in our development. John was not forced to live an austere life in the desert. That lifestyle was his choice.
In many cases it is not so important what we opt for. The important thing is that we follow the chosen way with perseverance and resolution. And, it is worthwhile saying, with a lot of love.
This is all for now, my brother. Thank you for the time you have given me, and thank you for not forgetting me during the day. Sometimes we are only remembered when people are in trouble. And it is a pleasure to come to them with helping hands. But it is also comforting to discover that you not only consider me your helper, but also your friend and brother.
I give you my blessings and say good-bye. See you soon,
Your brother in Christ,
© Copyright is asserted in this message by Geoff Cutler 2013