A modern English blending of the New Testament

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Jesus - A blending of the New Testament - Ch. 12 - The commisioning of the Apostles
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The commissioning of the apostles  -  the beheading of John the Baptist  -  Jesus feeds the 5,000  -  the move to make Jesus king  -  he walks on the water  -  Jesus, "the bread of life"  -  some disciples desert.


Jesus went on another tour of some of the cities and towns in Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing a variety of illnesses. Everywhere he went, great crowds gathered. Their obvious aimlessness and confusion moved him so deeply - they seemed to him like sheep without a shepherd - that at one point he turned to the disciples and exclaimed, "What a harvest! But what a lack of helpers to reap it. When you pray ask the Lord of the harvest to send more help."

He was ready now to send the apostles out on their own. He called them apart, invested them with the authority to drive out devils and heal disease and gave them their instructions.

"You're to go only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel," he told them. "Stay away from Gentiles and Samaritans. Here are your duties: Preach that the kingdom of heaven has arrived, heal the sick, raise the dead, cure lepers, and rid people of devils. And remember, you paid nothing for what you have received, so charge nothing for what you do.

"You're to go out empty-handed. Take neither money nor food. Don't take even a knapsack or a walking-stick. As for clothes; take only the sandals you’re wearing and the cloak on your back. The good workman need not fear that he won't be recompensed.

"When you first go into a strange town, ask about until you learn the name of some worthy there, and stay with him until you're ready to leave. When you first go into his house, bless it. If it's a good home your blessing will return to you. If someone refuses you lodging or a town rejects your message, leave. As you go stamp your feet to shake off the dust of the place and to let the people know how you were treated. You may be sure of this: things will go better for Sodom and Gomorrah on judgment day than for them.

"I'm sending you out with no more defenses than a sheep would have in a pack of wolves, so be as wary as a snake and as guileless as a dove. Be on your guard; there are men who will have you arrested and brought to trial or hauled into the synagogue to be flogged. Indeed, because of your allegiance to me, you will be dragged before governors and kings - which, incidentally, will give you the opportunity to tell them about your mission and your faith. When you're arrested, don't plan your defense. When the time comes you'll know what to say - God's spirit will give you the words.

"Because of me, brother will betray each other, fathers will betray their children and children will turn against their parents, even if by doing so they bring about their death. Because you are disciples of mine you are going to be hated on all sides, but stay true to the end and you'll be delivered. If you are persecuted in a city, leave it and go on to the next, and, believe me, before you've gone through the cities of Israel, the son of man will have returned.

"A student is not superior to his teacher nor is a slave superior to his master," he continued. "It's enough that they become like them. So, if they call me - the head of God's house - Superdevil, what will they call you? But don't let that frighten you: ever secret will be told and everything covered up will be brought into the light. I'm telling you things in the dark; you're to tell them in the daylight. I'm whispering things to you; you're to broadcast them.

"Don't be afraid of those who can kill you but who have no power to kill your soul. The one to fear is he who can destroy body and soul in hell.

"Two sparrows sell for a penny, right? Yet not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Father knowing it. He even knows how many hairs there are on your head! So don't be a worrier: keep what I've been saying in mind and remember how much more valuable you are than a flock of sparrows. If you acknowledge publicly that you are one of my followers, I'll do the same for you in the presence of the Father in heaven: repudiate me here, and I'll do the same to you in heaven.

"Let it be understood: I'm not here on earth to bring peace. On the contrary, my coming will create dissension, dissension between a son and his father, between a daughter and her mother and between in-laws. Some will find themselves opposed within their own homes. If your loyalty to your parents comes before your loyalty to me, you don't deserve to be a member of my family. The same is true if you prefer a son or daughter over me. Nor are you worthy of me if you aren't willing to go with me to the death. clutch too tightly that life of yours and you'll lose it, but stand ready to lose it for me and you'll find it.

"Anyone who welcomes you is welcoming me, and to welcome me is to welcome the God who sent me. It works this way: if a man welcomes a prophet because he's a prophet he'll earn a prophet's reward. If he welcomes a good man because he's a good man he'll get the same reward as the good man. In the same way, anyone who gives you - insignificant as you may seem to the world - as little as a drink of water because you're one of my followers, you may be sure of it, he'll be rewarded."

He sent them out in pairs and they traveled about, preaching the good news of God's kingdom, telling men to quit their sins, healing the sick, and driving out devils. And Jesus went off preaching, too.

His fame spread swiftly, and he was the subject of discussion in King Herod's court. There was much speculation: some thought he was John the Baptist resurrected. ("How else could he have such powers?") Others argued that he was a resurrected Elijah and others that he was a new prophet.

"No," said Herod. "It's the John I beheaded, back from the grave."

Herod had indeed beheaded John. This is how it happened: In his preaching John had denounced the King for marrying Herodias, his sister-in-law (she had previously been married to his half-brother, Philip). For her sake, Herod had John arrested and imprisoned. He would not, however - though Herodias urged him to - have John executed. Not only was he afraid of public reaction, he was intimidated by John's godliness. So he kept him safe, under close guard. Sometimes he went and talked with John. Herod enjoyed talking to John, even though it left him perplexed.

Herodias saw her chance on Herod's birthday. To celebrate it, he threw a party, inviting the leading citizens of Galilee, his courtiers, and his senior army officers. While they were feasting, Herodias' daughter danced for them. Herod was entranced, as were his guests. He called the girl before him.

"What would you like as a gift?" he said. "Name it and it's yours. I swear it - anything you ask up to half of my kingdom." The girl slipped out of the banqueting hall and went to her mother.

"What should I ask for?" she said.

"John the Baptist's head on a platter."

She ran back to the hall.

"What will it be?" said Herod.

"Here and now," she answered, "John the Baptist's head on a platter."

The king was sobered by the request, but he had sworn an oath and did not want to go back on his word in front of his guests, so he summoned one of his guards and gave the order. The soldier went off, beheaded John in his cell, put the head on a great platter, carried it to the banqueting hall, and presented it to the girl. She took it to her mother.

News of John's death came to his disciples. They went to the prison and got his body and buried it.

Word of John's death came to Jesus just when the apostles returned, full of reports about their experiences. The situation at the time was chaotic: with the crowd milling about, people coming and going, and no opportunity to eat. So Jesus said to the apostles, "Let's leave here. We'll go somewhere in the desert and take a brief holiday."

They slipped away and took a boat to Bethsaida, but the crowd had seen them leave. Some had managed to find out where they were going, and they ran round the shore of the lake and were waiting when Jesus and the Twelve arrived.

As he stepped ashore he saw the crowd milling about aimlessly and his heart went out to them. He spoke to them about the kingdom and healed those who were sick. As the sun began to set, he climbed a hill and the apostles followed.

"It's getting late," one of them said to Jesus, "and this is a deserted place. You'd better send the crowd away so they can go into the countryside or into the villages to buy themselves food and find a place to spend the night."

"There's no need for that," he said. "Give them something to eat." He turned to Philip and asked, "Where can we buy some food, Philip?" Jesus knew what he was going to do. but he wanted to test Philip.

"It would take a year's wages to buy enough food for this many people," Philip said.

"Somebody see how much food we have." Jesus said.

"We don't have any," Andrew said, "but there's a boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good's that with a crowd this big?" There were five thousand men, plus women and children.

"Bring it here," Jesus said. "Have the people sit down on the grass in groups of hundreds and of fifties."

He took the bread and the fish, raised his eyes and blessed them. Then he broke up the loaves and the fish and gave the pieces to the disciples to distribute. Everyone ate and everyone had enough.

"Gather up the leftovers," he said. "Let's not waste anything."

The disciples gathered up twelve baskets full of scraps.6

Some of the men in the crowd held a hurried conference. "It's obvious," they said. He's the prophet we've been looking for."

Jesus realized what was happening; that they were planning to put him on their shoulders, carry him off, and proclaim him king. He wasted no time. Waving aside any discussion, he instructed the apostles to take a boat and cross to Capernaum while he remained behind to dismiss the crowd. When the disciples had sailed, he said good-by to the crowd and climbed the mountain. When darkness fell he was there alone, praying.

Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble. For hours they had been fighting a mounting storm and a strong headwind. As the night wore on the wind increased and the waves rose higher. It was now about three in the morning. Jesus could see them and saw that they had progressed no more than three or four miles, and that they were exhausted from rowing.

Then they saw him - Jesus - walking on the water! They were overwhelmed with terror, certain that they were seeing a ghost. He had almost passed by when he heard their cries of fear. Immediately, he spoke to them.

"Take heart," he said. "Don't be afraid. It's me."

Peter shouted to him above the wind. "If it really is you, Teacher, order me to come to you."

"Come on, then." he said.

Peter climbed out of the boat and started toward him. He was almost there when he became aware of the strength of the wind and grew frightened.

"Save me, Teacher!" he shouted as he began to sink.

Jesus reached out and grabbed him. "How little faith you have, Peter," he said. "You should have trusted me."

With Peter, Jesus crossed to the boat. They climbed aboard and the wind fell off. The disciples were astounded. In the callousness of their hearts they had not grasped the significance of the miracle of the loaves, but now it all dawned on them and they knelt at his feet and said, "You are indeed God's son."

They beached the boat at Gennesaret. Jesus had no sooner stepped ashore than he was recognized. The people ran home and returned with their sick, some still on their beds, and they laid them on the ground around him.

"All we want is to touch the hem of your robe," they cried. Those who did were healed.

On the other side of the lake, the crowd had not dispersed, and some of the men had been searching for him. They recalled that there had been only one boat and that he had not gone with the apostles when they sailed, yet he was nowhere to be found in the area. A short distance down the shore there were some boats from Tiberias, so some of the men went aboard them and sailed for Capernaum to search for Jesus. They found him in the synagogue.

"When did you arrive here?" they asked.

"Never mind that," he said. "You didn't follow me here because the things you saw revealed who I am. You're here because your stomachs were filled. Don't waste your time in a quest for perishable food, hunger instead for the food that lasts, the spiritual food that I can give you. It sustains forever."

"Tell us what God requires of us?"

"He wants you to believe in the one he sent."

"We're ready to believe. just show us some proof: the kind of proof our ancestors received when they were given manna to eat in the desert. The manna was not only a sign from God, it also fulfilled the prophecy: He will give them heaven's bread to eat."

Let's get things straight," he said, "Moses didn't provide the manna, my Father did - the same one who now provides the real 'heaven's bread,' the bread that has come from heaven to feed the world."

"Give us that bread. . . every day."

"I am that bread. Look to me and you'll never be hungry, trust me and you'll never thirst. But then I've told you that before, and here I am and there you are and still you don’t believe.

"Everyone given to me by my Father will come to me," he said. "When they do, not one will be turned away. I'm here to do God's will not mine, and it is his will that I should not lose a single one of those he has given me but, rather, should raise them on earth's final day. It is his will that anyone who trusts me should live forever and be raised by me on the last day."

Part of the crowd began to mutter among themselves.

"What does he mean, he's heaven's bread?"

"Heaven's bread, indeed! He's Jesus, Joseph's son. We know his parents."

"Exactly. So what does he mean, he came from heaven?"

"Enough of that," Jesus said. "Nobody will come to me who isn't drawn by the Father. The prophet said: God will teach them all, which means that anyone who listens to the Father will come to me. 'Don't misunderstand: I'm not saying that anyone except for me has seen the Father. What I am saying most solemnly is this: believe in me and you'll be alive forever.

"I am the very bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the desert and later died. The bread I'm talking about is 'heaven's bread' - eat it and you will never die. And this bread with which I shall sustain the world is my body."

The crowd got into a heated argument at these words. "What ever is he talking about - our eating his body!"

"The truth is," Jesus said, "that unless you eat my body and drink my blood you aren't really alive. But if you do, you're alive forever, and I will raise you from the grave on the final day. My body is the true food, my blood is the true drink. Eat and drink of me and you'll share with me and I with you. Just as the living God sent me, just as I am alive because of him, so the person who partakes of me is alive because of me.

"What I'm talking about here is the real 'heaven's bread.' Unlike the manna - which couldn't keep your forebears from dying - 'heaven's bread' is that food which, having been eaten, gives life forever."

The disciples, who had been listening carefully, said to each other, "This is an incredible doctrine! Who could possibly accept it?"

Jesus knew what they were thinking. "Is it too much for you?" he asked. "Then what would you think if you saw me ascend to heaven? Don't worry, the Spirit will make it all comprehensible to you: human reason is useless here. The things I've been saying are of the spirit and of the essence of life. The trouble is that some of you don't believe." (He had known from the beginning who they were, even as he knew who the traitor was.) "That's why I told you that no one could come to me unless he was moved to do so by my Father."

This was too much for many of his disciples and they deserted him. He watched them leave and turned to the apostles.

"Are you going, too?"

"To whom would we go?" Simon peter said. "You’re the one who has the words of everlasting life. We believe. We're convinced that you are God's holy son."

"And yet," Jesus added, referring to Judas Iscariot, "Didn't I choose all twelve of you. . . and isn't one of you a devil?"

(6)   See also Mark 8:1-9 and Matthew 15:32-38 for the story of the feeding of the four thousand.

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