GSC – 24th March 2019
The Lord Jesus engages with the crowds, and various crowds, on a number of occasions according to the Gospels and such engagements reveal something of the nature of Jesus the Son of God and the purpose of his working before or with the crowds.
Until His baptism we find the Lord appears with relatively small numbers of people though, at the time of the Baptism, essentially a very personal happening, Jesus was here just one of a crowd seeking John the Baptist – the Lord himself for that particular reason and rather as one of a number though there is the revelation of the Blessed Trinity being present and we can read the account in Matthew Chapter 3 verses 14 to 17, in Mark 1, 9-11 and Luke 3, 21-22.
After the Baptism Jesus is led into the wilderness for Forty days and nights to be tempted by Satan and following this time of retreat , temptation and preparation, his active ministry begins when he chooses the first disciples, and preaching, teaching and healing ho goes throughout Galilee as we see in Mt. 4; 23-24. By verse 25 we find Jesus being followed by great crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and beyond Jordan! Chapters 5 – 7. teaches through the Sermon on the Mount where he teaches the great crowd The Beatitudes (all eight of them), showing how His teaching is related to and a fulfilment of Jewish Law in a very full way and then teaches at length, yet simply, on prayer and especially what we know as The Lord`s Prayer which embodies all that is essential in prayer. The sermon is finished at the end of this very long session we read: `And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at His teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority and not as their scribes.` The Sermon on the Mount is recorded in St. Luke as a Sermon on the Plain recorded in Chapter 6 in a much shorter form though aspects of what Matthew show as the Sermon on the Mount appear in other chapters of Luke`s Gospel and, notably, The Lord`s prayer in Chapter 11.
Chapter 8 tells us that he came down from the mountain, and great crowds followed Him and he performed many miracles throughout the area of His adopted new home town Capernaum. These include the healing of a leper, the Centurion`s servant and Simon Peter`s mother-in law. The healing of the leper is also recorded in Mark 1 and Luke 5.
Perhaps the best-known situation of where Jesus relates to crowds of people is in the Feeding of the Five Thousand which appears in all four Gospels: Matthew 14, 13 – 21 where Matthew tells us that as well as the five thousand men there were women and children present, Mark 6. 30 – 34 also records the story as does St. Luke in ch. 9 verses 10 – 17. St. John also records the story in ch. 6 verses 1 – 14 and here there s a significant difference for John records that the 5 barley loaves and two small fishes were the picnic lunch of a young lad. In the feeding of the Five Thousand it is recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John it is recorded that twelve basketfuls of the scraps left over were gathered up. Note the mystical number of 12 which both represents the 12 tribes of Israel, whom Jesus ad come to redeem, and the twelve apostles who were his work-team.
In Matthew 15, after the healing of the Canaanite Woman`s possessed daughter we find Jesus moving on to the hills of Galilee above the lake and sitting down to heal great crowds who were being brought to him , including the lam, the maimed, the blind, the dumb, and many others whom he healed. As before, with the records of the feeding of the five thousand, we find Jesus filled with compassion for the crowds because, in this case, they had been following him for three days without sustenance. On this occasion we are told that Jesus took seven small loaves and a few small fish and fed four thousand men beside women and children. St. Mark also records this miracle in Ch. 8 verses 1 – 10. In both accounts just seven baskets of scraps are gathered up after all present had eaten. Again 7 is a mystical number as in 7 Deadly Sins, 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit, 7 days of the week, 7 sacraments, the 7 “I am” sayings of Jesus.
Some scholars have considered that the two Feeding Miracles, the Five Thousand + and the Four Thousand + are differing accounts of the same miracle but there are such significant differences n the accounts that this is unlikely. The over-embracing quality concerning them all in all the accounts is the compassion of Jesus for those who seek to follow Him.
To look elsewhere to find the action of Jesus with surrounding or following clouds there are a number of outstanding facts that come to mind and, of course, we could have a whole series of detailed sermons looking at the various situations.
Unique to St. Luke, chapter 7 is the story of Jesus with his disciples and a crowd at the gate of the City of Nain, not far from Capernaum, where they witness a funeral procession of a young man, the only son of his widowed mother. Jesus, fllled with compassion, raised the young man back to life, restoring him to his distraught mother – the news, of course, spread like wildfire throughout Judea.
One of the obvious gathering is where Jesus performs his first miracle as recorded only by St. John: the Miracle of Water into Wine at the Wedding in Cana of Galilee found in John 2. Perhaps not a big crowd but a significant one – the whole town or village would have been present and this is a sign of the Lord`s humility, obedience, compassion and power.
In ch. 7 of St. John`s Gospel we find Jesus teaching numbers of people at the Feast of Tabernacles in the Temple at Jerusalem.
I have already indicated that after obvious teachings and feeding large groups as in the Sermon on the Mount, the Sermon on the Plain, the Feeding of the Five thousand and the Feeding of the Four Thousand we find that, although Jesus, with or without the disciples, tries to escape from the crowds, though they seek him out and follow him. According to St. John`s account, on the day after the feeding a great crowd caught up with Jesus and he taught them “I am the bread of life”. In the days of the Feast of Tabernacles, when he was teaching a crowd in the Temple he declared, “I am the light of the world.” Just a little later in 10.9 he says, “I am the gate” and at 10.11 he continues, “I am the Good Shepherd” and even foretells that he is to lay down his life.
Much else happens in the teaching of small groups, though Jesus whether in Galilee or Jerusalem is seldom free of the crowds who come to hear but often, too, he takes individuals aside, notably for his ministry of healing.
Other crowd scenes in the Life of Jesus are, of course, the Triumphal Entry in Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday as found in Matthew 21 where it is followed by the Cleansing of the Temple. See also Mark 11, 1-10, Luke 19, 28 – 46 where Jesus also weeps over Jerusalem before driving out the traders saying, “It is written, `My house shall be a house of prayer`; but you have made it a den of robbers”. John 12 tells of the entry into Jerusalem from a different slant and as his procession proceeds he says, as he sits on the young ass, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your king is coming, sitting on an ass`s colt” thus fulfilling the Prophecy of Isaiah 9.9.
There I must stop for much is to be dealt with in Passiontide.