Who would Jesus preach to?
December 4th, 2001
Received by H.
My dear H___, as I told you yesterday, I intend to discuss another topic that exercised a great influence on Jesus’ attitude. It is about Jesus’ relationship to the cities.
Many specialists on the New Testament have pointed out with astonishment that Jesus practically never ventured into the cities, but preferred to travel through the Palestinian countryside, visiting people with whom he seemed to have had a very good communication. Certainly, he visited Jerusalem, but in general, the gospels seem to indicate some kind of rejection of the cities by Jesus.
Like so many things in life, that appreciation is both correct and incorrect at the same time. In his childhood and youth, Jesus frequently visited cities. He learned to know Jerusalem, Caesarea Maritima, Jericho, and of course the city of Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee, a short distance from his home in Nazareth. We have already mentioned that Joseph worked on the reconstruction of Sepphoris, and Jesus, as would be natural, accompanied him.
But seven years before the beginning of the Master’s public ministry, the tetrarch Herod Antipas decided to build a new capital. He no longer found Sepphoris appropriate to his status. It was a city in the Greco-Roman style. It had every kind of comfort, but basically it continued to be a city of military barracks. But Antipas had known another kind of opulence during his stay in Rome. He had been fascinated by Rome’s frivolous life, and in that he was definitely different from Philip. Htherefoe thought that his status as the governor, or as the king — because he used to call himself king, although he was not entitled in any way to this designation — demanded a capital of greater splendor.
Full of enthusiasm, he put hands to the new work, choosing a place at the western bank of Lake Genesaret, a place in a geologic depression, much below the Mediterranean Sea level, with a warm climate and with nearby thermal springs.
Antipas hired an army of workers and artisans, and initiated the great construction task. But immediately a problem arose that almost led the undertaking to fail. The workers, digging foundations for the buildings, found the remains of an ancient Hebrew cemetery. It was therefore an impure place and the orthodox Jews refused to continue working.
But Antipas insisted, hiring new people, using thousands of slaves, and finally his masterpiece was completed.
The name of the new city was Tiberias, in honor of the Roman emperor. The design of the city was not that of a stronghold, but it was rather a luxurious complex of buildings, resembling one of those spas for the Roman nobility. Antipas’ own palace was adorned by pagan-style decorations, quite in the style of the Roman rulers, which caused the indignation of the Jewish orthodoxy, but nobody dared to protest. Even the powerful Temple hierarchy of Jerusalem kept silent. Of course, the Temple priests had neither the power nor the political right to change things in Galilee, but they did have the religious authority, such as to put Antipas under pressure. But they didn’t do so. As I have already mentioned, the Sadducees tried to maintain a very fragile balance between political power and the ever more discontented masses.
Now, you wonder what all this has to do with Jesus and his development?
Well, the answer is the following: When a boy grows up, at the beginning he believes that adults that are so much bigger and stronger, that they only tell the truth, that they know everything, that they are able to do anything. But later, there come moments of disillusion. In the case of Jesus, he realized that he would rarely find people willing to listen to him in the cities. For example, in Tiberias, orthodox Jews refused to live in the city, at least during the first decades of its existence. Therefore, Antipas populated the place with Greeks, Phoenicians, pagans in general, with Jews who had already lost their roots, and with local peasants. It was not the appropriate place for the Master’s teachings. In the beginning, during his youth, Jesus had thought of presenting himself to the authorities, as the prophets of the Sacred Writings did, but seeing how things were managed, he changed his opinion.
Even today, you realize that country people are more open, in some ways more honest, without pretending to be what they are not, and less corrupt. Also in this sense, times have not changed much.
What was valid in the case of Tiberias was also valid for Caesarea Maritima, for Sebaste or Samaria, and for Jericho. Jerusalem was the great exception, because it constituted the spiritual center of Judaism.
Jesus would find his followers mainly among country dwellers, in Galilee, Samaria and Judea, but a few also in Jerusalem. Even the peasants of the pagan areas, such as Phoenicia and the totally hellenized Dekapolis, proved to be more open to the Master’s teachings than the refined Jews of the big cities.
As to the ruling class, the aristocrats, Jesus realized that it was useless to try to speak to them. The only thing that they cared about was power — and money, of course. Their participation in religious rites was only a screen, presenting themselves in public as pious men, leading a completely different life in reality.
Jesus knew that the Glad Tidings of the availability of God’s Love had to come to all mankind. He also knew that he could not achieve this during his own life, even if he had lived a hundred years. It was also well-known to him that a great part of humanity would reject this teaching. He had to choose the field of his action, people’s social stratum, which he would address. And he chose well.
We have already spoken a lot of the economic, social and political environment during the time when Jesus was preparing for his ministry. What we have not yet dealt with thoroughly are the frictions and conflicts that arose within his own family, because of the total incomprehension of the revolutionary ideas that the Master little by little presented.
With this I finish my message. You have received it well. If you allow it, I would like to deliver another message later on a completely different topic.
Until then, I give you my blessings and I say goodbye. Have a happy day.
Your brother in Christ,
© Copyright is asserted in this message by Geoff Cutler 2013