MARY AT THE PREACHING OF JESUS.Part 3.
Some time after this, Jesus returned to Nazareth. Great was the joy of the Blessed Virgin. To see her Son seated on the same mat on which he sat in his childhood, eating the bread which he had broken as he blessed it; to take him stealthily to the bedside of some poor sick person, whom he restored to health, enjoining him secrecy; to see him powerful in words and works, he who had so long been the man of silence and labour; this was too much happiness in the cup of her existence! Accordingly God, who afflicts those whom he loves, soon mixed with it a drop of gall. On the Sabbath-day, the Son and the Mother went together to the synagogue. A great concourse of people had assembled there to see and hear Jesus ; but the eagerness of the Nazareans had not that character of confidence and respectful attention which Christ had so often met with elsewhere. There they were, scandalised already at what the Son of Mary was to say and do, and admirably disposed to stone him if opportunity offered.
There are countries decidedly hostile to all that does them honour, even till the grass grows upon the tomb of what they envy.
One of the ancients, however, handed to the Saviour of men the book of the prophet Isaias; and Jesus, unrolling the parchment, read this passage, with simple gracefulness and marvellous dignity,—" The Spirit of the Lord is upon me : wherefore he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the contrite heart; to preach deliverance to the captives, and sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of reward." Having closed the book, he sat down, and speaking with that animated and natural eloquence which made so strong an impression upon his hearers, he applied the oracle relating to the Messias to himself, and taught, not like a disciple of the synagogue, but as the actual master of the synagogue. A low murmur ran through the assembly. Some were in admiration at the power and gracefulness of his words: others, faithful to their system of contemptuous defamation, said aloud, " Is not this the carpenter's son ? " And Jesus, penetrating into their thoughts, and. reading as in an open book those false and envious hearts, hurled at them those words, so true, which have become proverbial, "A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.'' As he knew that they had a mind to ask him for prodigies, like those of which Capharnaum had been the theatre, he told them plainly that their unbelief had made them unworthy oi them, and that to obtain miracles, these must be solicited with faith. Thence, in allusion to the propagation of his gospel, and to that wild olive engrafted on the old trunk of the synagogue, which symbolised the vocation of the Gentiles: "In truth I say to you, there were many widows in the days of Elias in Israel, when heaven was shut up three years and six months: when there was a great famine throughout all the land: and to none of them was Elias sent, but to a widow at Sarepta of Sidon. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elias the prophet: and none of them were cleansed but Naaman the Syrian."
These last words were the drop of water which makes the vessel run over. Wounded in their national pride, in their hereditary antipathies, in their traditional expectations, all those of the synagogue were filled with anger which called for blood. " And they rose up and thrust him out of their city: and they brought him to the brow of the hill, whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down head-
Seated among the women of the people in a latticed tribune, the Virgin had observed, with anxiety mingled with fear, the increased progress of the storm. Beading the sinister projects of the Nazareans in their haggard eyes and furious gestures, she did not hesitate to brave danger to force a passage to her Son; but her strength deceived her courage. Those Jews ran,—they who had always light feet to shed blood; and Mary, trembling like a leaf, scarcely able to support herself, walked at a distance after them, as if in a dream. She sees Jesus on the top of the steep rock which overhangs a frightful precipice; she hears afar off cries for death; * her knees give way under her; a mist spreads over her sight; her voice expires in a sorrowful moaning; she falls, broken down like a blossomed bough which the tempest has torn off in its course, and remains stretched out with her face on the ground upon the hill. 1
Meanwhile the wolves, furious in pursuit of the lamb, had been deceived in their expectation; the hour of sacrifice had not yet struck for the Son of Man, and no one could take his life unless he gave it. Striking this murderous crew with blindness. 2 Jesus passed through the midst of his enemies without being known by them, and took again the road to Capharnaum, where his mother, Mary of Cleophas, and the sons of Alpheus came to rejoin him.
After having preached the gospel in the environs of the beautiful lake of Tiberias, the waves of which shine like light, and wrought the great miracle of the multiplication of the loaves in the desert of Bethsaida, Jesus reascended the Jordan with his disciples to go to Caesarea Philippi, the ancient Dan of Nephtali, the name of which Philip, the son of Herod, had lately changed; and he visited as he passed the towns and villages situated on his way.
It was probably at this time—for Euthymius, 3 who relates this traditionary fact, leaves the date undecided—that the waters of the Jordan, already sanctified, beheld an affecting ceremony. Jesus, the Virgin, and the apostles, directed their steps, one day at sunrise, towards this deeply-enclosed river, which runs through two lakes, says Tacitus, and rushes into the third. 4 Magnificent vegetation adorned its banks; islets rising here and there from its humid bosom, displayed themselves in the midst of its gilded waves, like graceful baskets of verdure, fruits, and flowers; blue herons hovered over these flowery isles, where ringdoves and white turtle doves still hung their nests of moss upon the branches of the wild pomegranate-trees. The dew sparkled upon the green branches of the willows, like a shower of pale diamonds; and the rashes of the Jordan, which sometimes conceal tigers, bent softly beneath the light breeze, which moved the tops of the palm-trees, from which hung fine bunches of dates of the colour of coral. In the distance, on the opposite bank, troops of gazelles were seen bounding on the declivities of high mountains, grey and streaked with fire; and in the sandy plain were flying along, on their coursers fleet as the wind, some wild sons of the desert, armed with those long lances of cane from the banks of the Euphrates, which they used from the times near to the deluge, if we believe the legends of Persia. 5 Clouds of violet of the richest tint, or of delicate rose-colour paler at the edges, floated like flowers in the deep blue of the sky, and the nightingale was singing in the tall sycamores which overshadow the sacred river of Palestine: nature held a festival for the baptism of Mary.
The Virgin was dressed in white, according to the custom of the Hebrews when they individually took part in any religious ceremony, and she stood grave and profoundly recollected by the side of her Son and Saviour: they both went down into the river. Then, lifting up with his divine hand the Oriental veil of his fair and holy Mother, Christ looked upon her with his sweet and penetrating look of infinite tenderness; then he poured upon the Virgin's forehead the sacred water of regeneration, and baptized her in the name of the Trinity,— He who was himself one of the Three Divine Persons.
It was then that the Blessed Virgin broke through her solitary habits to follow her Son in his journeys. She had served him for thirty years, on a foreign soil and in the land of her fathers; she had worked for him, wept over him, suffered for him, and adored him without ever failing, night and morning in his cradle while he still slept there, as Albert the Great informs us. It was natural that following his persecuted fortunes, she should leave the peaceful roof which had witnessed her birth to walk in his blessed footsteps, while he preached the gospel to the Hebrews. Amid the agitations of this life of trouble and alarm, the Virgin was admirable as ever. Loving Jesus more than any mother ever loved her child, and alone able to carry this extreme love without sin to the farthest limits of adoration, she never intruded her presence, upon him to divert the short and precious moments of his mission of regeneration in favour of her own maternal tenderness; never did she speak to him of her fatigues, fears, sinister forebodings, or personal wants, Mary was not only a holy dove hiding in the clefts of a rock —a pure virgin called to feed with her milk, and cradle in her arms, a heavenly guest; she was a valiant woman, whom the Lord delighted to place in turn in every situation of life, in order to leave to the daughters of Eve an example to follow, and a model to imitate.
It would not have been proper for the Mother of God to follow Jesus and his apostles alone throughout Judea; therefore Mary of Cleophas, the mother of James, Simon, Joseph, and Jude, commonly called the brothers of the Lord; Salome, mother of the sons of Zebedee, whom the Lord especially loved; Joanna, wife of the steward of the tetrarch, and several/rich women of Galilee, who had made themselves poor for Jesus Christ, formed the companions of Mary. One among them, a Jewess, young, rich, of noble birth and remarkable beauty, was most affectionately attentive to the divine Mother of her Lord. This woman, whose heart, strong but assaulted by storms, like the waves of the Egean Sea, had burned with a thousand impure flames in the sight of the world, and defied public opinion with mockery and disdain, had come,.submissive and penitent, to lay down her proud head at the feet of Christ, and to beg of him whom she confessed to be her God, the core of the maladies of her soul. And the chaste love of the Lord had absorbed all her insane amours, all the worldly attachments of the young lady of Magdalum. She had trampled under her feet her collars of pearls, her chains of gold and precious stones; sold her country house, situated among the rose-laurels which fringe the beautiful Sea of Galilee, and now, with no other ornament than a dress of coarse cloth, and her fine* black hair, with which she had wiped the Lord's feet, the young patrician, rich in her alms-deeds, adorned with new virtues, shed her penitent tears on the pure and compassionate bosom of Mary. The immaculate Virgin had received in her arms and pressed to her heart the grievous sinner, and cultivated in this soil, fertile but long left waste, those flowers which expand for heaven.
After many sufferings, many terrors too long to relate, the Virgin entered Jerusalem, the fatal city, in company with Jesus Christ, to celebrate the last Passover which the Lord kept with his disciples. She saw the inhabitants of the city of kings come in crowds to meet the son of David, who came to them full of meekness, riding as the young princes of his race formerly did, and receiving with benignity the simple honours which this multitude, eager to behold their prophet, spontaneously offered him; for Jesus Christ never rejected the humble testimonies of gratitude and love which wore offered to him by his creatures. However small were these pledges of affection and gratitude, they were received with a divine goodness the moment that they proceeded from the heart.
Magdalen, examining by turns her Lord and that multitude of people who made the air resound with their hosannas, wept silently beneath her veil. Mary, too, had her eyes moist with tears ; but her look was turned to the north-west, in the direction of Calvary.
1 Between the steep mountain from which the Jews had formed the design to cast down Jesus Christ, and the town of Nazareth, " You perceive halfway," says F. de Geramb, " the ruins of a monastery formerly inhabited by religious, and those of a very fine church, built by St. Helen, and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, under the name of Our Lady del Tremore (of terror). According to some, Mary was already in this place when the Jews were dragging her son towards the top of the mountain to throw him down from it. According to others, at the news of the murderous project of these madmen, she had run thither in great haste, but had arrived too late: seized with terror, 1 she could proceed no farther.'"
2 The oldest heretics, opening the door to modern rationalism, which decks itself out in the old rags, without acknowledgment, insisted that our Lord had passed through, by means of an illusion produced by a fog, " illudere per caliginem." Tertullian strongly opposes this supposition.—(Adv. Marcion., 4, 8.)
3 According to St. Euthymius, our Lord baptized only the Blessed Virgin and St. Peter, who afterwards baptized the other apostles. "Some," says this abbot, who flourished in Palestine in the fourth century, "have written that Jesus Christ himself baptized the Virgin and Peter."
4 "Nec Jordanes pelago accipitur; sed unum atque alteram lacum integer perfluit; tertio retinetur."—(Taciti, Historiarum, lib. v.)
4 "Nec Jordanes pelago accipitur; sed unum atque alteram lacum integer perfluit; tertio retinetur."—(Taciti, Historiarum, lib. v.)
5 Reeds grow on the banks of the Euphrates which are almost equal to the bamboos of the Indies. From the earliest times, the Arabs and Assyrians have made lances of them.—(Firdousi, the Book of Kings.)