Palestine Calling
by
W. M. Christie

Chapter XIX

Allusions in the Gospel Narrative


With all our studies in psychology, we have not passed a single step in methods of teaching beyond those employed by the Lord Jesus. Every good teacher to-day links up the eye, the ear, and the mind, and that is just what Christ did. All through the Gospels we find allusions to things that were actually present, or in some way in the thoughts of the hearers, and a close study of the narratives in this connection enables us to make indisputable inferences as to the time and place of certain sayings.

Look at the Sermon on the Mount. There we find the allusion to making "one hair white or black." There cannot be a doubt that in the crowd that day there were men from the village of Magdala, a whole quarter of which was devoted to dyeing (J. Erub. v. 7), and the workers from which moved about, as even in our day, with arms "black to the elbows"; but there was no permanency as the colour disappeared in a very few weeks after such toil was abandoned.

Then again on that same day there was mention of "a city set upon a hill." During the last hundred years Safad was looked upon as that city, but then Kurn Hittin was regarded as the mount of the sermon. "Rome," however, has now abandoned her own tradition, dating, we believer, from 1263, and adopted our identification, nearer the lake, so we must rather think of Hippos of Decapolis, or Gadara, on the hill top, about twenty-five miles away, or even Aphek (1 Kings 20:26), all of which are visible from the ground on which Christ must have stood.

And from the bay, by Capernaum (Christ's amphitheatre), where the sermon from the boat must have been preached, we have present until this day all the material of the parables--the good ground, the wayside, the rocky ground, the thorns, the mustard and the tares; and to us there came a sudden flash of fresh light when we discovered that the words of Matthew 13 read on the shore, were quite audible at a distance of 150 yards, and the Lord had repeatedly uttered, "Who hath ears to hear, let hm hear." Hearing there was simply a matter of the will.

At Jacob's Well, too (John 4), the whole teaching is based on the allusion to the collected waters to be drawn thence (it is now asserted that, through further digging, a spring--living water has been found there) from which the Lord Jesus led on to "the water of life." Then we have the allusion to the "four months to the harvest" (this is no proverb, but a time note), apparent from the state of the fields, enables us to date the incident in December, 27 A.D. And it was the felt absence of the water, the ceremonial of the Joy of the Water-drawing being omitted, that led Christ to present Himself on the last--the great day of Tabernacles with the invitation, "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink."

And the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, and the invitation to accept Christ's yoke can be quite definitely associated with what would be seen in the Jordan Valley as the Lord Jesus passed along with the caravan on His last journey to Jerusalem at the end of March, 30 A.D. A few months earlier we have the previous journey to the Feast of Tabernacles (Oct. 29, A.D.), and on the passage through Samaria we have the expressed desire of James and John to bring fire down from Heaven to consume those who would not receive the Lord. Though "as Elias did" is not the best reading, we cannot dissociate this with the action of Elijah (2 Kings 1), and so we believe there was visible the site then associated with his action, somewhere near Samaria, but on the road to Ekron, and that on this journey the Plain of Sharon was visited. Apart from that, we have no evidence of Christ's having ever, during His ministry, touched this portion of the Holy Land, though as a child, He may have been carried over it on the return from Egypt.

We feel very much inclined, too, to fix the parable of the Good Samaritan on the 21st November, 29 A.D., that being the Jewish Thanksgiving Day for the destruction of Samaria, by John Hyrcanus, in 109 B.C. The Jews in crowds in the Temple Court were priding themselves over that victory, but Christ comes forward and practically says, "There is another aspect of this business," and gives the world His beautiful teaching. And the request for a "sign from Heaven" (Matt. 12:38; Luke 11:16) may very well have been suggested to the Scribes and Pharisees by the eclipse of the 24th November, 29 A.D., visible in Palestine at 11 a.m.

We close with some very definite allusions that we can look upon and test to-day. It was in the synagogue at Capernaum that, after feeding the 5000 on the eastern side of the lake, the Lord Jesus sought to lead men from that day's bread to the "Bread of Life." Three times there is mention in the narrative of the fathers (John 6:22-59) eating manna in the wilderness. What was it that so emphasised that word in the spring-time of the year (April, 29 A.D.) in the midst of a beauty that has nothing of the desert about it? A visit to the old synagogue solves the problem for us. On the lintel of the western doorway there was cut on the stone the picture of a manna pot, and every worshipper who entered by that doorway that morning had looked upon it. It was in the minds of all, and so became linked with lessons for all ages and nations, and to give us joy when these earthly scenes have passed away. What an unspeakable joy we have from time to time in gazing upon that very stone upon which our Lord must often have looked!

That manna pot might in itself be taken as almost a complete proof that we have here the veritable synagogue (the later additions of a women's gallery and a school omitted) built by the Roman centurion (Luke 7:5). But we have still further evidence in the symbol on what was the keystone of the arch over the central door. There we find two defaced forms of Roman eagles. Jews never built a synagogue for themselves and set up practically as "a coat of arms" such a symbol. Only a Roman could have done that. And there is still another "speaking sign," a Roman civic crown, which indicates that the man who placed it there was a Roman soldier, and that he had "saved the life of a fellow-soldier in battle." Think of the light that throws on the life and character of this man to whom the elders in Capernaum testified, "He loveth our nation, and hath built us the synagogue." Truly little things are great when Christ is in them.

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