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The Public Life of Christ

1. When Christ was thirty years old, He was baptized by John in the Jordan (Matt. iii. 13), and fasted forty days in the desert, where He was tempted by the devil (Matt. iv.).

All apostolic men have sought retirement before entering on their mission, e.g., Moses, John the Baptist, and the apostles before the coming of the Holy Spirit. By His fasting and His victory over the devil Christ would satisfy for Adam’s self-indulgence and defeat in the garden of paradise. The number forty has a special significance; it rained forty days on earth at the Flood, Moses and Elias fasted forty days, the Ninivites had forty days in which to repent, Christ dwelt on earth forty days after His resurrection, the Jews wandered forty years in the desert. The forty days of Lent are in tended to commemorate the fasting of Christ; they begin with Ash Wednesday and continue till Easter. During this time those who are of age should take only one full meal a day, and all Christians should avoid boisterous amusements and meditate on the sufferings of Christ. Thus sermons are preached on the sufferings of Christ; on Passion Sunday the images in the church are veiled and the priest says Mass in purple vestments. The three days before Ash Wednesday are called Shrovetide, and in order to divert the faithful from vicious pleasures it is usual in some places to have Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.

2. Christ taught for about three and a half years, gathered some seventy-two disciples, and from these chose twelve apostles.

His first miracle was at the wedding-feast of Cana, to teach man kind that the heaven to which He would lead us is a wedding-feast (Matt. xxii. 2). He often addressed large crowds, counting four or five thousand, as in the case of the miraculous multiplication of loaves; thus Zacheus had to climb a tree in order to see Him among the crowd. The constant companions of Christ were the apostles and disciples, who heard His words and saw His deeds and published them later to the world. The bishops of the Church are prefigured in the apostles, and the priests in the seventy-two disciples. The teaching of Christ is rightly called Evangelium, “good tidings,” or by our English name Gospel, i.e., God’s spell or narrative. Christ is the Master among teachers. He taught as one having power, so that the people marvelled at His doctrine (Mark i. 22; Matt. vii. 29).

Christ taught so that all might understand Him without difficulty; He used plain, homely words, and illustrated His teaching with signs and parables and by references to natural objects.

Christ’s teaching is likened to the treasure buried in a field (Matt. xiii. 44). The language of apostolic men has always been simple, their object not so much to please as to be understood and to be useful. The signs which Christ made use of were breathing on the apostles when He gave them the Holy Spirit, lifting up His hands (Luke xxiv. 50) when He gave thempower to teach and baptize, spitting on the earth and making clay, with which He touched the eyes of the man born blind (John ix. 6), and sending him to wash in the pool of Siloe. All this signified that the living doctrine which is imparted to man, the creature of earth, from the mouth of God, is to clear his spiritual sight, and even after that the washing of baptism is still necessary. The parables used were, for example, the prodigal son, the Good Samaritan, Dives and Lazarus, the wise and foolish virgins, the good shepherd, the lost sheep, the lost groat, the fig tree, the laborers in the vineyard, etc., and the seven figures of the kingdom of heaven, such as the pearl of great price, the buried treasure, the seine, the grain of mustard-seed, the cockle and wheat, the sower, the leaven. The objects in nature on which He drew for illustration were, among others, the shepherd with his sheep, the lilies of the field, the crops, the vineyards, etc. It is only reasonable that nature and religion should have many resemblances, coming as they do from the same God.

The poor were the especial objects of Christ’s mission.

His own words to the disciples of John were: “The poor have the Gospel preached to them” (Matt. xi. 5). And in the synagogue at Nazareth He applied to Himself as the Messias (Luke iv. 18), the words of the prophet: “to preach the Gospel to the poor He hath sent Me.”

The leading idea in the teaching of Christ was: “Seek the kingdom of God.”

His own words in the Sermon on the Mount were: “Seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt. vi. 33). The Evangelists sum up His teaching in the words: “Do penance and believe the Gospel, for the kingdom of heaven is nigh” (Matt. iv. 17; Mark i. 15).

Christ taught a new rule of faith, gave new commandments, and established a new system of means of grace.

For example He taught the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, His own divinity, the Last Judgment; He gave the two precepts of love, and extended the Ten Commandments (forbidding rash anger and harsh words). He instituted the Mass and the seven sacraments and taught us the Our Father.

3. Christ proved His divine mission and the truth of His, doctrine by many miracles, by His knowledge of all things, and by the holiness of His life.

Christ Himself appealed to His miracles: “Though you will not believe Me, believe the works” (John x. 38). Nicodemus was convinced of the divine mission of Christ by His miracles: “No man can do these signs which Thou dost, unless God be with Him” (John iii. 2). Christ of His own power worked miracles; others in the name of God or of Christ. Christ knew all things the most hidden sins of men, those of the Samaritan woman, those of the Pharisees who dragged before Him the woman taken in adultery; Pie knew of Judas plot against Himself, of Peter’s coming denial, and related many incidents of His Passion just as they afterwards happened. We see in Christ the highest holiness; never were seen before or since, such patience, gentleness, love, etc. How could such a one say anything but the truth?

The Scribes and Pharisees hated and persecuted Him because He failed to realize their carnal views of the Messias, and because He publicly rebuked their sins; after the raising of Lazarus they resolved to seek His death.

They tried to stone Him in the Temple (John x. 31), and at Nazareth to cast Him over the cliff; they calumniated Him, calling Him an agent of the devil (Matt. xii. 24), a leader of revolt, a Sabbath- breaker; they tried to catch Him in His speech, as in the case of Caesar’s coin. The Jews thought that the Messias was to be an earthly being, who would free them from the Roman yoke, and raise them above the nations of the earth. Instead of which Pie came in poverty and lowliness and taught self-denial, mercy, etc. Besides He accused the Pharisees of hypocrisy, calling them whitened sepulchres (Matt. xxiii. 27), and children of the devil (John viii. 44).


This article, The Public Life of Christ is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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