Immagini della pagina

Was it a summons from the heavenly Father? If so, surely the voice would have spoken more plainly, as it had spoken to the great prophets of old. If God's purpose had only been to strengthen him in his course, why was the message so phrased as to fall in with his own most secret thoughts? For, in very truth, all the time on Jordan's bank he had been comparing himself with the man who was baptizing there, wondering whether John's aspect and John's words could really be pleasing to the Lord. In his musings, he had fancied himself in John's place, had thought how differently he would himself perform the rite of baptism. Had he not felt twinges of jealousy, to see the multitude swarming round the haggard anchorite, who probably had no better insight into the faith than himself? Moreover, when he was coming up out of the river, had he not asked himself why he, unconstrained by the law, should for the first time have put himself into the hands of another? God had been watching him, then; God had known what was hidden from mortal eyes! But why had the Father chosen this moment of supreme moral weakness in which to send a first direct message, in which to strengthen him!

There must be more meaning in it than that. The voice must have given him a charge. Was he to follow the Baptist's example; preach repentance; wander through the country, teaching? Was he bidden to forsake his handicraft, his birthplace, his nearest and dearest, the peaceful life of home; to take up a career of action? Was he to do everything in John's way-only

in John's way? Was not John merely setting up a new ceremonial in place of the old? Why this asceticism and flight into the wilderness; why these fastings and this mortification of the flesh? Were not such injunctions akin to the sacrifices which the Baptist himself rejected? Why did he talk of punishments and disasters, instead of dwelling on the Father's grace? What was the use of trying to force people to their knees by frightening them with threats? Fear does not strengthen faith. It would be more pleasing in God's sight were he to raise them up, the poor and the heavyladen who were kneeling round him on the river bank; to visit them one by one in their homes or work places; then to assemble them near their villages in a meadow or on the hillside, and in quiet words to tell them about the feelings and the wishes of the Father of us all!

Nevertheless, how great John was! How the lightnings of his gaze had flashed round those priests! How he had emptied the vials of his scorn over them, speaking of Abraham's children, and implying that a converted heathen could be as good a man as they! He did not urge a fight against the Romans; he did not preach revolt. Self-communing, poverty, humilitythat was the essence of his teachings. He would not accept the name of prophet.

"One mightier than I cometh!" Suppose that Jesus had himself been chosen? Suppose that it was for this reason that his Father's voice had spoken to him after the baptism? What? Was he to succeed, perhaps to supplant, John? With horror he tried to thrust away

the thought which so persistently returned, feeling that to supplant the Baptist would mean the betrayal of the man who, yesterday, had laid kindly hands on his head.

In this state of mental anguish, he begins to fast, as John had fasted in the wilderness before him. It is his first trial at mortification of the flesh, for never before has he known so fearful a perplexity; never before has he needed a test, a sign, as he needs them now, when he has had a sign which he does not understand. Day by day, the nerves and the senses of the fasting anchorite grow weaker, and day by day his thoughts become more lucid. His mood alternates between exaltation and exhaustion. Now come visions such as he has never known, or never heeded, before. Hunger weakens the resistances of his body. Thereupon temptations assail him, striving to catch him unawares.

The longing to be singled out, to be chosen, spurs him forward to make unwonted demands on himself; his self-confidence grows hour by hour. A voice within him asks mockingly why he does not command the stones to become bread, even as John had said that of the stones God could raise up children. He refrains from the attempt, for another voice speaks, saying: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God." Waking from a half-sleep, he is convinced that he has been tempted of the devil, whom he has often seen raging in the possessed; and he arms himself


Then, in a dream, he feels himself carried to a pin

nacle of the temple, uplifted above all the people. There the seductive voice of ambition, the same voice that had beguiled him when he was contemplating the Baptist, adjures him once again: "If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence, for it is written: 'He shall give his angels charge concerning thee, to guard thee. And on their hands they shall bear thee up, lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone."". How alluring is the golden roof at his feet, and the wide city which he has not yet seen with his bodily eyes! Could he, but for a moment, become prophet in Jerusalem! Then he hears the promptings of the better voice, which makes answer within him: "It is also written, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." " Yet, wave after wave, fresh temptations come. yearns for home. What has become of the quietude which filled his mind when he dwelt in his father's place, had nothing to refuse, and coveted nothing? Why should he become a fighter? The fever of imagination returns. The solitary in the wilderness, fainting with hunger, must resist a third assault of temptation. This time he feels himself borne to the summit of a lofty mountain, whence he can see the kingdoms of the earth; and the devil says to him: "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." Thereupon Jesus summons up his forces, and cries out: "Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve!" "


With his own voice ringing in his ears, he flees from

this region of terror, even more distraught than when he had entered it; haunted by the vision of horrible faces; agonized, despairing. He will return home, back to his own cottage, back to the carpenter's bench, back to the little village on the western slope of the mountain, back to the peaceful world where grass grows on the hillside.

As he draws near to the river, he is determined to make a circuit, and thus avoid the region of John's ministrations. But his progress is stayed by a multitude in confusion, as if running away from a stricken field. Far off he sees a company of soldiers, marching eastward. With anxious forebodings, he asks some of the fugitives what has happened. They are amazed that Jesus has not heard the news. The Baptist has been taken prisoner! Herod Antipas, the tetrarch, has sent hirelings to seize him! There go the soldiers, still visible in the light of the setting sun! They have with them John, heavily fettered, on his way to a prison. whence the only release will be death!

The sign! Jesus stands petrified. God has decided, and the conflict that has been ringing in Jesus' mind is stilled. He may, he can, he must! That is why his Father's voice has spoken! That is why he has been tempted of the devil! All to strengthen his weakness; to steel him in the resolve to follow in John's footsteps, to take John's place! "One mightier than I cometh!" His gentle features stiffen into a mask. Those who have given him the tidings, look at him in astonishment and alarm. Some who have known him of old,

« IndietroContinua »