It is not our purpose here to construct a connected discourse on the being of Christ. With love, reverence, open eyes, and sentient hearts, we are trying to penetrate to the image of His figure in life; to look at a number of times over, first from one viewpoint, then from another, in order to examine each trait separately, and to bring them together in a synthesis in the hope that we will find the essential reality, like a gift that has been given to us.
So now let us ask what effect He had upon the people, how they responded to Him, and what sort of commotion was created around Him.
People must have felt there was something very special about this man. Their attention was aroused. They were held fast. They were agitated, upset, deeply stirred. They valued Him and did Him honor. They also felt irritated, became mistrustful, hostile, and grew to hate Him.
All this has great meaning — most of all because none of the positions people took concerning Him originated in the intelligence alone, but all derived from a direct motion of the heart. There was something particular about Him which gripped people, radiating from Him, a force that made itself felt all around Him. This meant that all who saw Him were involved in a special way, passionately aroused to love or hate — to very special love, or very special hate.
Let us try to find out more about this.
Right at the beginning of His mission, after the Sermon on the Mount, we read, “Afterward, when Jesus had finished these sayings, the multitudes found themselves amazed at His teaching. For He taught them, not like their scribes and Pharisees, but like one who had authority.”
Now, the scribes were well-instructed people. They reflected a lot, and worked hard. Their sayings were learned and to the point. But their words were cold and hard, rigid, oppressive. And now here stood one whose words were warm, full of power. Jesus’ power derived from what He said, from the depth and the truth of the spoken word — but not from that alone.
More than anything else, it came from the vitality sounding through His speech, from the vital energy of Him who spoke. Everything about Him was genuine, strong, and straight from the mind and heart. It was candid, rang true, had radiance, and contained an effective principle of life. It sent out a call; it wakened, lifted up, cleared the mind, and clutched at the heart. And there was warranty behind it, an assurance of salvation.
Once at Passover time in Jerusalem, He went into the temple. It was a time of pilgrimage. Believers came from all over the world to pay homage to God in His glory. The same sort of fair that always springs up around pilgrimages was going on here too: sellers’ booths; dealers in every kind of merchandise; sacrificial animals, so that anyone could buy one and offer it and thus fulfill his obligation as a pilgrim. Moneychangers were on hand who accepted foreign coins in exchange for the currency of the country. Haggling and greed and the smell of money were everywhere the order of the day.
All of this filled Jesus with anger, and there followed a scene such as there had been in the days of Elijah and Elisha, when the Spirit of God came over the prophets and, with the suddenness of divine inspiration like a flash of lightning, did wondrous things beyond ordinary human understanding. “It is written,” He cried, ‘My house shall be known for a house of prayer,’ and you have made it into a den of thieves.”54 He made a whip by binding cords together and drove everything and everyone out, people and animals. There is a note of gentleness in the midst of this divine whirlwind, when He spared the doves, saying only, “Take these away!” He overturned the tables of the moneychangers; everything was in an uproar. But in all the heat of that moment, among the mob there, collected from all the corners of the earth, no voice was raised against Him, not one hand. As St. Jerome writes, “Something like a star shone from His countenance,” transfixing them all.
There was another occasion in Nazareth, in the synagogue. He asked for the book and read aloud this passage from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has anointed me and sent me out to preach the gospel to the poor, to restore the broken-hearted; to bid the prisoners to go free and the blind to have sight; to set the oppressed at liberty, to proclaim a year when men may find acceptance with the Lord, a day of retri-bution.” He rolled up the scroll text and gave it back to the temple servant. The eyes of all present fastened on Him, and He then said, “The scripture which I have read in your hearing is today fulfilled.”
He made known the message of this fulfillment. They heard; they felt the overmastering power, but they shut themselves against it. He noticed the resistance. He laid bare before them what they were thinking: “If Thou art the Promised One, prove Thyself. Perform the miracles the Promised One is to do! Right now, here before us. If Thou art the ‘physician,’ why dost Thou not ‘heal Thyself’ — that is to say, us, the people of Thine own country?” But instead He spoke to them of the mystery of how those standing closest by could be unseeing and cast out, while those a distance away could understand and be made whole.
Then their wrath was kindled against Him. They drove Him out of the city, led Him to the top, the “brow,” of the hill on which their city was built, to the place where it drops down abruptly, in order to cast Him over the precipice to the bottom. And then — we know today how a mob like that behaves in such a situation — comes the incredible sentence: “But He passed through the midst of them and went on His way.”
Not a word, not a gesture. An unspoken self-confidence in almighty power.
He taught by the seaside, and said to Peter, whom He had shortly before made one of His followers, “Stand out into the deep water, and let down your nets for a catch.” Peter knew the sea. The time to fish was at night. “Master, we have toiled all the night, and caught nothing, but at Thy word, I will let down the net.” And they cast out the nets, and their boats nearly sank with the weight of the catch. Peter was overcome, and he threw himself down on his knees: “Leave me to myself, Lord. I am a sinner!”
We must not interpret this as some sort of tame humility. It is quite another thing. The fear of God came over him. The same thing that happened so often in the history of Israel, the awful reality of God overwhelming someone and the fright of it casting him to the ground — this is what happened here: The quivering, sinful creature shrieks out, “Go! Go away!”
The true spirit of a man shows itself in the sort of people who feel drawn to Him.
The children must have loved coming to Him; otherwise their mothers would never have brought them. Nor would He have wanted to see them, all fatigued as He must have been in the late afternoon. Anyone whom children like to be with understands how to get along with them and knows what to say to them; anyone good with children and animals — for He loved animals, too; it showed in the metaphors He used — is a person with a breath of Paradise hovering over him.
The sick came streaming to Him. It reveals a great deal about a man if the suffering press themselves upon Him because they feel they are welcome to do so. It is generally otherwise; the painfully ill most often feel that they are being shunned. Has it not always been so that the sick are cared for according to the best principles of science and charitable administration in order that suffering may be abolished? But how about the one who suffers: does he feel warmly received in this process? It would seem there is less and less room in the world for suffering. A modern city does everything possible so that misery of any kind will no longer be encountered within its gates. Suffering is ever more and more discreetly eliminated. There is something extraordinary, beautiful, and frightening about a man upon whom the suffering press themselves. Such a thing will devour him. The relief of suffering is paid for with the stuff of blood and heart. They kept coming to Jesus, from every corner. From the side streets and hovels, from all sides, this dark, embittered army pressed upon Him. He laid His hands upon them, raised them up, touched them, cleansed them, and made them whole.
There is an account of an episode that can affect one deeply. It happened in the district of the Gerasenes. A man possessed was in a fit, naked and distraught, terrifying everyone, and tormenting himself. The man caught sight of Jesus from afar; drawn as by force, he stumbled along toward Him, and while he was still some distance off, a voice cried out from him, “Why dost Thou meddle with me, Jesus, Son of the most High God? I pray Thee, do not torment me!” But Jesus subdued the powers of darkness, quieted the man down, and by the time people had gathered around to see, the unfortunate fellow was sitting at Jesus’ feet, decently dressed, peaceable, and talking perfectly sensibly from a mind that had been cured. Jesus tried to send him away, but he wanted to stay. He felt protected where he was; nothing sinister had any power near this Man, so he resisted until Jesus to him, “Return to thy home, and recount all that God hath done for thee.”
Such incidents abound.
Around Jesus there was life stirring. Something worked within Him: in the words He spoke, giving them life, power over mind and heart; in the commands from His lips, through the gestures of His hand; and no could resist. It radiated from His frame and His head, and made people draw back. It came driving out of His being, unnerving people. It drew to Him everyone with an open and a clean heart, so that when they were together with Him, they felt they had come home. This power within Him spoke out some message wherever there was suffering and tribulation, making people come to Him and find relief. It brought peace and drove away the powers of darkness.
What words can we find for it? It must have been the very thing that is meant by His message from the kingdom of Heaven: the holy immanence of the living God. It means that God is here present, filling a heart to its deepest recesses, overwhelming a will completely, the one and the all of a living soul. It means that here is a being for whom God represents total blessedness, a being completely permeable by Him; so that He can speak through Him, address anyone who approaches — that is what is meant by the immanence of the holy, living God.
And more yet than mere immanence — but there will be another occasion to dwell on that.
Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from Guardini’s Meditations on The Christ: Model of All Holiness and is available from Sophia Institute Press.