It was like a dream.
Simon rested on the oars and mustered the people on the shore.
The gathering reminded him of those that gathered around John at the Jordan, but those were nothing compared to the masses that thronged here. Every inch of the steep shoreline was full of people. They sat on all the stone blocks. They had climbed out onto the rocks in the lake. They stood barefoot in the water, and they sat in row after row on the slopes until the last of them disappeared behind the steep bank. The crowd was so huge that the Master had to go out in a boat. And now he sat there speaking to them from the thwart in the aft.
A light breeze blew in from the lake, and Peter took the oars to prevent the boat from being driven inland. It was already evening, the banks on the shore were shaded, and the heat was no longer suffocating.
The Master spoke. The wind caught his strong voice and carried it high up on the hills. One could see them listening up there. As always, he spoke about the kingdom. The more Simon listened, the better he understood that there was nothing in all the Master said that did not deal with the kingdom. He blessed those who would receive the kingdom. It was the poor and the oppressed, those who hungered for righteousness that they didn’t have, those who were small and humble at heart, those who forgave and wanted to be forgiven, those who suffered injustice without revenge, those who felt their sins and did not cheat them away when God came to rebuke them. To his own amazement, Simon had begun to believe that the Master really meant that the kingdom was precisely for these poor and small people that the Pharisees never acknowledged, all these who worked and slaved, who acknowledged that God’s commandments were right, but who knew that they were not such as the law demanded. The Pharisees were inexorable on that point. They always said that the sort of people who did not know the law were damned. And it was not easy for a poor wretch to know all the statutes of the elders, and still less easy was it to keep them.
The Master was also strict on the law. Not a jot shall be lost, but all would be fulfilled. He even said that righteousness that did not surpass that of the scribes was not good enough for the kingdom of God. He could lay out the law so that one wondered if he was any better than the worst publican. But it was different than with the scribes. One never stayed with them when they were at their strictest. One only became indignant when they said that it was breaking the Sabbath to draw a line in the sand with his sandal because it was a manner of plowing or when they admonished people to sew up all the loose cords on their Sabbath clothes because one carried a burden if one carried a loose cord on him. But when the Master was strict, one didn’t contradict anything. When he said that it was adultery to look with lust on one’s neighbor’s wife, then men were ashamed of themselves.
Though the Master could cut like a razor straight into a person’s most hidden sins in such a manner that there wasn’t a single living person that could consider himself righteous, he was incredibly merciful at the same time. There was a predominance of great joy in everything he said. There was power and glory and beauty, something particularly great and overwhelming that blotted out sins and invited wretches and bunglers to come and be guests at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This was what the people felt when they came. Simon could see them up there on the shore: all these poor, quiet, timid and sinewy men with tanned skin and cracked nails and worn-out peasant wives with dirt on their clothes, carrying small children in their skinny arms.
Did they understand this? Sometimes they carried themselves in an infuriating manner. Like just now with that leper! He had rushed forward without bothering to warn anyone that he was unclean. He had cast himself down upon his knees and stretched his hands out to the Master. They were white with sores and sluffing skin, and the Master had mercy on him and made him clean. But then he had been told, strictly and earnestly, that he should not say a word to anyone but go directly to Jerusalem and sacrifice in the temple as the law demanded. It was as if the Master had wanted to get him away from Galilee as soon as possible so he thought to send the man to the temple which he loved. But instead of obeying, the leper ran around to all the villages and showed himself. He meant well, but for the Master it meant that there wasn’t a town he could even show himself in. Rather, he had to go up into the hills and farther and farther away from the people. But they even came for him there. Rumors flew like swallows, and they came immediately, all the people in the villages and strangers who came from the farthest reaches of the land, from Hebron and Jerusalem, from the Decapolis and from cities by the sea.
It was like a dream.
All power and authority seemed to lie in the Master’s hands. Nothing was impossible for him. The lame threw off their crutches and walked away. The blind could see. Evil spirits departed, and the craziest lunatics regained their wits and became calm.
When there were so many people by the lake that they couldn’t even find time to eat, they had gone over to the other side. It was in the night, and the Master had slept in the boat. Then the stormy winds came blowing from the mountain. The winds created one of those really dangerous storms that turned the lake into a boiling pot of froth and foam. Fear took hold of them when the boat began to fill, and they woke the Master. He rose and rebuked the storm like a man rebukes a howling dog, and instantly it was completely quiet and calm. He asked them why they didn’t have faith, why were they so afraid. They bailed out the boat and rowed farther, looking at each other in amazement. They all had the same question: Who is this?
And was this not the same question that must occupy everyone who heard the Master speak from the boat?
“You have heard it said of old. But I say to you . . . Not all who say to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into heaven . . . Therefore everyone who hears these my words . . .”
Who was he who could say such things? He said it with an authority that was obvious. But who had such authority—but God alone? Who was this man?