What Jesus did in Capernaum

Gospel of John 2:12-25

12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. NIV

Up and down always references terrain. From Cana to Capernaum, the walk was downhill, straight east, but downhill. Capernaum was home base for Jesus. Peter and Andrew grew up in Bethsaida but moved to Capernaum, along with their fishing boats, after joining Jesus. Simeon Kephes—generally Latinized as Simon Peter—moved his whole family; his wife and her mother and however many of his four daughters had been born then.

With his mother and brothers. While it is never directly stated, it seems from this and statements in the four Gospels that Mary and Jesus’ brothers also lived in Capernaum. If so, then Jesus’ unmarried sisters likely remained in the Capernaum home instead of going to the wedding. We do not know any of their names or even how many there were.

The brothers were James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. They were all likely in their twenties, but one or two could have been teens. There is no way to know the birth order that includes the girls. However, boys are (nearly) always listed in birth order in ancient documents; Jesus, James, Joseph (after his father), Simon, and Judas. If they had as many girls, that’s a big family, but not unusual at that time. Neither do we know how many children may have been still-born or died young.

Concerning the Roman church position that Mary never birthed anyone except Jesus and that Joseph and Mary never had sexual relations, I think this passage and several others should be hard to ignore. I do not buy the theory that those four boys and the girls were nieces and nephews. The Greek word used is adelphos, brother (based on the idea of coming from the same womb).

Mark has an interesting passage in chapter 3.  21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” ESV The idea that this tells us Mary was opposed to Jesus’ ministry is taking the passage well beyond its meaning. The Greek word esexistemi means astound, amaze, insane, be beside self, bewitch, wonder. It seems to be an all-purpose word. Perhaps Peterson has the meaning. They went to rescue him, by force if necessary. They suspected he was believing his own pressMSG Also, the Greek translated in 21 as family can also mean friends.

While this one sentence suggests that Mary and the boys may not have been early followers, I believe the weight of Gospel evidence sides with them being regular followers. It is also possible that sometime after Mary’s husband Joseph died, the whole family moved to Capernaum, and it is equally likely that they made the move before his death.

The near-poverty of Jesus, the poor carpenter’s son, is a constant message. That myth is based on many misperceptions. A carpenter worked in stone and wood; they did not have a separate name for ‘stonemason.’ Nazareth was a short three-mile walk away from Sepphoris, where new buildings went up every year; there was always good work to be had. As that construction slowed down, the family may have decided to move to Capernaum with enough money to buy a large house there.

Another myth is that Jesus had to work in the poor carpenter’s shop until he went off to preach. It is more likely that he worked for a few years, at least until James settled in to replace him. Both Joseph and Mary knew that Jesus was the Son of God. If they ever doubted that over the years, they need only look at the other four boys and see how they acted compared to the perfection even of the young Jesus. There was no reason to keep Jesus at home; I believe they allowed him to find the rabbi God wanted to have teach him.

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. NIV

This is the first of eleven times GJohn speaks of the Passover, compared to four each for Matthew and Mark and seven for Luke. He mentions Moses 13 times, with the other three writers not far behind. The Passover is important in this Gospel. Also, by keeping track of all the feasts mentioned by GJohn, we can calculate a three-year ministry; the Synoptics do not help in that count.

From Capernaum, Jesus and the disciples would have walked downhill along the eastern bank of the Jordan River—to avoid Samaria—until they reached Jericho on the west side. Only from there did they go up to Jerusalem. But Jews living in Rome would say they traveled up to Jerusalem.

14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. NIV

Very few people had a problem with this practice. Thousands of tourists depended on the sellers to have the animals they needed for several sacrifices, including the Passover lamb. As for the money changers, every man had to pay the Temple tax in the one accepted silver coin—the Tyrian shekel issued by the trading city of Tyre in Lebanon. Since few people had those coins, the money changers made a profit by taking enough coins to more than equal the value of the shekel. So, what is the problem?

15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. NIV

This may be a little exaggeration. The Temple grounds took up 37 acres of land. The pens holding the sheep, goats, and cattle took up five to ten acres. There were likely more than a hundred sellers and money men. That said, one man could do a lot of damage before the Temple guards caught up with him.

We must note that this is reported by GJohn on Jesus’ first visit to Jerusalem during his ministry. Our question should be, did Jesus attack the Temple more than once? The firm answer is, maybe.

One important difference is that GJohn does not record that anyone was cheating or stealing as the Synoptics did.

16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” NIV 

The dove sellers received a special reprimand because it was not practical for Jesus to open all the cages. To them he gives us the reason for his outburst, ‘this is not a market.’ Decades earlier, all the animals were kept across the Kidron Valley; no commercial activity was allowed even in the Court of Gentiles. I think it is safe to say the Temple charged rent.

17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me. NIV

This quote comes from Psalm 69:9. It gives us one of the most depressing psalms ever. While the Psalm is dedicated to David it was probably written after the Babylonian exile when they were struggling over whether to rebuild the Temple. The first line is, Deliver me, God, because the water has come up to my neck. Verses 8-9 read; I’ve become a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my mother’s children. Because passion for your house has consumed me; the words of reviling with which people have reviled you have fallen on meThe First Testament

To say that Jesus’ disciples remembered that Psalm says to me that John personally witnessed Jesus attempting to return his Father’s House to its intended use. But it also says that the disciples were well versed in the Scriptures. Psalm 69 is not Psalm 23. I suspect that only young men with at least some education would recognize Psalm 69. This is only one small point, but it is in a collection of similar points indicating that John, and likely all of the Twelve, could read, write, and had studied scripture. There are quotations of Scripture that seem to have come from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture. If that is the case, it suggests that at least some of the disciples could read Greek. That is better than the average American high school graduate.

18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” NIV

At that point Jesus had only turned water into wine. That is no proof for chasing livestock out of the Temple. Over three years Jesus will heal thousands, forgive hundreds, offend many, and raise a few from death. But not at this time.

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” NIV

If Jesus were in a modern court of law, that statement would do nothing for him. It is his opinion, even if it is absurd that anyone could think of rebuilding in one day what took 46 years to complete. The only thing this statement ‘proves’ is that Jesus may be crazy.

So why did Jesus give that response? For sure we believers know that he was talking about himself as the Son of God. He also knew that the Temple would be destroyed soon, some forty years later. More important, Jesus knew in the first days of his ministry that his whole ministry would end soon.

God the Son, living as a human with a human brain, was given knowledge from God the Father—as needed. I believe that Jesus know his time was short but he did not know the details.

Jesus threw down the gauntlet; I will raise it again.

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. NIV

The words that Jesus spoke that day had to rest in the brains of his Twelve for three years before they understood that is was proof. Jesus could tell them the future. Jesus was not attempting to please the Temple authorities, only to teach an important lesson for his pupils.

23 Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person. NIV

After the ‘incAfter the ‘incident,’ Jesus begins healing and teaching, giving signs as John says it. We need to remember in the Synoptics that Jesus usually said the person’s faith was the reason for being healed. All we must do—or can do—is believe.

Now Jesus is becoming famous. All kinds of people are starting to follow him. Many will turn away, but others will not. It is hard to maintain faith in uncertain times.

Why did Jesus not trust the people? The phrase, he knew all people, explains the reason. Every person who came near to Jesus was an open book. Jesus could see into their minds and hearts, or God could relay the knowledge to His Son. He knew most of them were impressed with the miracles but did not understand what they meant. They saw him as the son of David coming to take the throne in Jerusalem and to drive out the hated Romans.

The small band of true believers seems to have been at least a hundred and perhaps more. For the first few centuries, the Church spoke of three groups surrounding Jesus, the Twelve, the seventy-two, and others. We know the Twelve, the seventy-two is based on Luke’s account of Jesus sending the group out much as he had done the Twelve, and they reported back how well it went.1After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. …  17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”  NIV 

It seems most likely that the seventy-two received the Pentecostal Spirit baptism. As to the rest of the followers, there is only educated guessing.

Be Righteous and do Good

Mike Lawrence

Jesus’ Chemistry Class

View of Nazareth, with the Basilica of the Annunciation at the center

Gospel of John 2:1-11

1 Two days later there was a wedding in the Galilean village of Cana. Jesus’ mother was there and he and his disciples were invited to the festivities. Phillips  

We must start with a translation issue. The Greek text reads, And on the day third a wedding…. I cannot explain why Phillips calls it two days later when nearly every other translation has three. If we return to chapter 1 and follow the timeline, then add three days, we still do not know when the wedding occurred because we do not know the starting day. For John, that was unimportant.

When we first read these two verses, it seems simple enough, Mary, Jesus, and his disciples (however many there were by then) end up at a wedding. But GJohn packs in a lot. Cana may have been about eleven miles north of Nazareth, with the wealthy city of Sepphoris about halfway between. Those three towns were about halfway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee. Today, the location of Cana is still in doubt. Many excavations have failed to match all the written evidence identifying it. Jerome visited Nazareth about 400 CE and reported that he could see Cana, so it may have been much closer to Nazareth than eleven miles.

Today Nazareth is a city of about 80,000 people, about 24,000 are Christian and the rest are Muslims. It is the largest city in northern Israel. See the picture above.

Galilee has always been a farming region, dotted with small villages in ancient times housing the farm owners and workers. Nazareth and Cana were such villages.

Jesus’ mother was there, possibly because she knew or was related to someone in the wedding party. At any rate, she had enough authority to boss around the servants.

Jewish weddings were required to take place on the third day of the week—Tuesday for us. But weddings lasted at least a week. The ceremony came after a long feast, without going into detail, and then the newlyweds were carried through town so everyone could give them best wishes. Here’s the fun part; the couple lived in their new house, wearing crowns as ‘king’ and ‘queen’ and receiving guests all day for a week. And we wonder that they ran out of wine.

3 Then it happened that the supply of wine gave out, and Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.” “Is that your concern, or mine?” replied Jesus. “My time has not come yet.” So his mother said to the servants, “Mind you do whatever he tells you.” Phillips

Most water was dangerous to drink, so wine mixed with water was the main drink. Even among the Romans, drunkenness was rare and frowned on by all, and a drunk Jew was nearly unheard of. Because they drank wine to avoid sickness, they mixed it with at least as much water, even at weddings.

More importantly, wine, like bread, was essential. No one could allow a guest to leave without having their fill of both. They might run out of lamb or the fatted calf, but not wine and bread. For a wedding, that was enough wine and bread for the entire village for a week.

We cannot know from this text why Mary became involved with the wine issue. To me, it suggests that she was close to the wedding party or the master of ceremonies (modern planner). The quick exchange only muddles the issue. Jesus seems to suggest, “Mom, just leave it to the man in charge.” She responds by rounding up several servants.

Something is missing in the Phillips translation; he may have wanted to soften the response. Jesus literally said (in Greek), What to Me and to you, woman? That last Greek word is gune, wife or woman. There are only two other Greek words GJohn could have used, eleutheros—not a slave—and thelus—female. Understand that this exchange occurs behind the scenes, with only the servants possibly hearing what was said. Of course, he could have said, ‘Mother’ or left woman off altogether. Again, this scene rings the bell for John the disciple being there and remembering for six decades. If that is true, John would have been a follower for a week or less; he would hardly know Jesus, and the exchange would have seemed strange at best.

“My time has not come yet.” Jesus has already selected some of his disciples and has probably decided to leave for Jerusalem to kick off his ministry. But his mother asked, so he said, ‘sure.’

In the room six very large stone water-jars stood on the floor (actually for the Jewish ceremonial cleansing), each holding about twenty gallons. 7 Jesus gave instructions for these jars to be filled with water, and the servants filled them to the brim. Phillips

Several things to note here. Large stone jars held purification water because clay jars could cause contamination. The jars stood about four to five feet tall, carved from a solid block of stone. They held water for purification before prayers and meals. Neither the wedding couple nor their families likely owned six jars; they were on loan for something as important as a wedding. Twenty gallons is a rough figure since each jar was a different size.

Notice Jesus does not argue with his mother. He may be thirty years old, but he knows when to back down.

Jesus ordered each jar to be filled to the brim, not to leave any space. The Greek is metretes duo ay treis, measures two or three. They had a standard bucket to measure the quantity of water, and it would take two or three of them for each jar. We do not know the details, but we can be sure that the servants walked to the town well with some easily carried water jar holding perhaps five gallons. In case you are wondering, that job fell to the women servants. No one would ask even the lowest male slave to carry water. If you do the math, 120 gallons would be a lot of trips, to use the technical term.

8 Then he said to them, “Now draw some water out and take it to the master of ceremonies”, which they did. Phillips

At this point, what had been water is now wine. The well water was perhaps 90% H2O, the rest a mix of things we would not want to drink. But now, in addition to H2O, there is a large concentration of carbon, several acids—tartaric and citric—and tannins formed after some months-to-years of aging. We just watched the servants fill each jar to the tippy-top. Jesus did not slip anything into the water. How does Jesus do something even Houdini could not do?

Jesus did not do it. His Father, who created a universe of a trillion-trillion stars, did the chemistry. That would not have been much of a challenge for the Creator.

Do not forget; John is standing there with his mouth hanging open. Sixty years later, he dares to finally record what he witnessed to be a witness to you and me. It is all these personal touches that make GJohn so unique. Matthew, Mark, and Luke were lucky enough thirty years earlier to write from notes collected from hundreds of interviews of first-hand witnesses. John was the only one of the four to be a first-hand witness.

9 When this man tasted the water, which had now become wine, without knowing where it came from (though naturally the servants who had drawn the water knew), he called out to the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everybody I know puts his good wine on first and then when men have had plenty to drink, he brings out the poor stuff. But you have kept back your good wine till now!” Phillips

KKeep in mind that the master of ceremonies did not even know there was a shortage of wine. He had done several weddings and had never seen anyone be so generous with the good stuff. This wine might be equal to someone opening a bottle of Cheval Blanc St-Emilion, 1947, costing $135,125 per bottle for a Tuesday lunch. Or maybe for Sunday Eucharist.

11 Jesus gave this, the first of his signs, at Cana in Galilee. He demonstrated his power and his disciples believed in him. Phillips

This is the first of his signs. GJohn never calls them miracles, nor are all the signs miracles.

This last sentence is the key to the story. It is the reason GJohn opens with what seems to many people today to be a bit trivial. He does not heal anyone or bring anyone back from the dead. It’s a party.

Look again at the last five words. His disciples believed in him. This explains why John remembered that day for six decades. It is what compelled GJohn and the other eleven to stick with a man who seemed at times to have lost his good sense. It is the drop-jawed, brain-frying vision that none of them could forget. Yet, the only disciples named at this point were Simon, Andrew, Philip, and Nathanael, but almost certainly, James and John were there, even if GJohn never mentions either by name.

We should not forget that they were all new boys. They responded to his call and almost immediately walked from Capernaum to Cana to a wedding of people they probably did not know. Jesus may have talked with them some along the way, but, hey, it was party time. Jesus saved the momentous messages for later.

We need to look ahead three years to the night of Jesus’ arrest, but we must go to Matthew to find it. Matthew 26. 26While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” NIV

GJohn does not include this because he places Jesus’ arrest the day before Passover. Nonetheless, today’s sign is connected. The wine of the wedding reminds us of the marriage coming between the Groom, Jesus, and the Bride, the Church. The wine reminds us of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. The wine, symbol of life, connects to eternal life through Jesus. The whole of the Gospel of John is rooted in this sign.

The transition from this sign to attacking the Temple must have shocked the new believing disciples.

Be Righteous and do Good

Mike Lawrence