The Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) does a ‘Hajj’

We are all familiar with Hajj since it is celebrated every year when Muslims perform the required acts of devotion in the pilgrimage to Mecca.  What is less known is that the Sharia law of Musa (PBUH), received 3500 years ago, also required Jewish believers of that time to make sacred pilgrimages to Jerusalem (Al-Quds) every year.  One such pilgrimage was called the Feast of Tabernacles (or Sukkot).  This pilgrimage ordered by the prophet Musa (PBUH) has many similarities to that of the Hajj today.  For example, both of these pilgrimages were on a specific week of the calendar, both involved sacrifices of animals, both involved obtaining special water, both involved sleeping outdoors, and both involved marching around a sacred structure seven times.  In a sense, the Feast of Tabernacles was like a Hajj for Jews.  Today, in fact, Jews still celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles but do it a little differently since their Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

The Injil records how the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) did the pilgrimage for this Feast one year – his ‘Hajj’.  I reproduce the account with some explanations when appropriate.

Jesus Goes to the Festival of Tabernacles (John 7)

After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him.

Here his brothers were treating the prophet with sarcasm since they did not believe in him.  But something happened later which caused a change in his brothers because two of his brothers, James and Jude, later wrote letters (called James and Jude) that are part of the New Testament (Injil).

Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee.

10 However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. 11 Now at the festival the Jewish leaders were watching for Jesus and asking, “Where is he?”

12 Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.”

Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” 13 But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders.

Jesus Teaches at the Festival

14 Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. 15 The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”

16 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. 17 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.

18 Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. 19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”

20 “You are demon-possessed,” the crowd answered. “Who is trying to kill you?”

21 Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all amazed. 22 Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath. 23 Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? 24 Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”

Division Over Who Jesus Is

25 At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? 26 Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Messiah? 27 But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.”

As you can see, the discussion in that time among the Jews was whether the Prophet Isa (PBUH) was the Masih (Messiah) or not.  The Jewish people believed that the place where the Masih would come from would be unknown.  Since they knew where Isa came from they thought that he could therefore not be the Masih.  So where did they get this belief that the origin of the Masih would not be known?  From Taurat?  Writings of Prophets?  Not at all!  The prophets had clearly stated where the Masih would come from.  The prophet Micah (PBUH) in 700 BC had written in Zabur that

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

This prophecy (see article here for more details on this) had stated that the ruler (= Masih) would come from Bethlehem.  We saw in the birth of the Masih that he was indeed born in Bethlehem as that prophecy had predicted 700 years before his birth.

It was simply religious tradition of the time that said that the place where the Masih came from would be unknown.  They made an error because they did not judge by what the prophets had written but instead judged by opinion on the street, the ideas of their day.  We need to be careful that we do not make the same mistake.

The account continues…

28 Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, 29 but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.”

30 At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. 31 Still, many in the crowd believed in him. They said, “When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?”

32 The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him.

33 Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me. 34 You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.”

35 The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? 36 What did he mean when he said, ‘You will look for me, but you will not find me,’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

On this day of the Festival the Jews would take water from a special spring on the south of Jerusalem and enter into the city through the ‘water gate’ and take the water to the altar in the temple.  It was while they were doing this sacred water ceremony that the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) cried out, as he had said before, that he was the source of ‘Living Water’.  In saying this he was reminding them of the thirst in our hearts leading to sin that the prophets had written about, as well as the promise of the coming Spirit who would be given to those who believed in him to satisfy this thirst so that they need not longer be slaves to sin.

40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.”

Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

Back then, just like today, people were divided about the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH). As we saw above, the prophets had predicted the birth of the Masih to be in Bethlehem (where Isa was born).  But what about this question of the Masih not coming from Galilee?  Isaiah the prophet (PBUH) had written in 700 BC that

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9: 1-2)

So the prophets had predicted that the Masih would begin his teaching (a light has dawned) in ‘Galilee’ – the very place where Isa had indeed begun his teaching and did most of his miracles.  Again the people were mistaken because they had not carefully studied the prophets and instead only believed what was commonly taught by their teachers.

Unbelief of the Jewish Leaders

45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.

47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”

52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

We can see that the experts in the Law were completely wrong since Isaiah had prophesied that the enlightening would come from ‘Galilee’.

Two lessons come to me from this account.  First it is very easy to perform our religious activities with much zeal but with little knowledge.  As we approach Hajj we need to be careful that the following is not true of us

For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. (Romans 10:2)

We need to learn what the prophets have written so we are properly informed.

Second, we see here that the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) makes an offer.  He said at their Hajj that

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.

This offer is given to ‘anyone’ (thus not only to Jews, or Christians, or Muslims etc.) who ‘is thirsty’.  Are you thirsty?  (See here for what the prophets meant by this).  It is good to drink from the zamzam well.  Why not also drink from the Masih who can satisfy our inner thirst?

The Kingdom of God: Many are Invited but…

We have seen how the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) had a Word of Authority such that diseases and even nature obeyed his command.  He also spoke at length on the Kingdom of God.  Remember that several of the prophets of Zabur had written about a coming Kingdom of God.  Isa built on their prophecies to teach that the Kingdom was ‘near’.

At first he taught the Sermon on the Mount, showing how future citizens of this Kingdom of God were expected to behave and treat each other.  He taught a radical principle of loving even your ‘enemy’.  Think about how much misery, death, injustice and horror is experienced today (just listen to the news to be reminded) because so many do not listen to his teaching about love.  If life in the Kingdom of God is to be different than the sometimes hellish life we have in this world then we need to treat each other differently – with love.

Parable of the Great Banquet

Since so few live in the way that the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught you would think that very few would be wanted or invited into the Kingdom of God.  But this is not so.  The prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught a parable of a great banquet to illustrate how wide and far the invitation to come into the Kingdom goes.  The Injil recounts his teaching:

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”  (Luke 14:15-24)

Our accepted understandings are turned upside down – many times – in this teaching.  In the first place we might assume that Allah will not invite many into His Kingdom (which is the Banquet in the House) because he does not find many worthy people, but that assumption is shown to be wrong.  The invitation to come to the Banquet goes to many, many people.  The Master (who is Allah in this parable) wants the Banquet to be full.  That is encouraging.

But we soon learn there is another unexpected twist in His teaching.  Very few of the guests actually wanted to come, instead they made excuses so they would not have to go!  And look at how unreasonable the excuses are!  Who would buy oxen without trying them out for a test before he bought them?  Who would buy a field without already looking it over first?  No, these excuses revealed the true intentions of the hearts of the guests – they were not interested in entering the Kingdom of God but had other interests instead.

Just when we think that perhaps the will of the Master will be frustrated with none or few attending the banquet there is yet another twist.  Now the ‘unlikely’ people, those who we all dismiss in our minds as being unworthy of being invited to a great celebration, those who are in “streets and alleys” and far-away “roads and country lanes”, who are “poor, crippled, blind and lame” – the very people we often stay away from – they get invitations to the banquet.   The invitations to this banquet go much further, and cover more people than you and I would have thought possible.  The Master of the Banquet wants people there and will even invite those we ourselves would not invite into our house.

And these people come!  They have no other competing interests like fields or oxen to distract their love so they come to the banquet.  The Kingdom of God is full and the Master’s will is accomplished!

The prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) told this parable to get us to ask a question: “Would I accept an invitation to the Kingdom of God if I got one?”  Or would a competing interest or love cause you to make an excuse to turn down the invitation?  The truth is that you are invited to this Kingdom Banquet, but the sober reality is that most of us will decline the invitation for one reason or another.  We would never say ‘no’ directly so we offer excuses to cover our rejection. Deep down inside we have other ‘loves’ that are at the roots of our rejection.  In this parable the root of the rejection was love of other things.  Those who were first invited loved the things of this world (which was represented by the ‘field’, ‘oxen’ and ‘marriage’) more than the Kingdom of God.

Parable of the Unjustified Religious Teacher

Some of us love things in this world more than the Kingdom of God and so we will refuse this invitation.  Others of us love or trust our own righteous merit.  The prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) also taught about this in another story:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18: 9-14)

Here we meet a Pharisee (a religious teacher like an imam) who seemed to be perfect in his religious effort and merit.  His fasting and zakat was even more than required.  But he placed his confidence in his own righteousness.  This was not what the prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) had shown so long before when he had obtained righteousness simply by humble trust in the promise of Allah.  In fact the tax collector (an immoral profession at that time) humbly asked for mercy, and trusting that he had freely been given this mercy he went home ‘justified’ – right with God – while the Pharisee, who we assume is ‘right with God’ has his sins still counted against him.

So the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) speaking again with authority, asks you and me if we really desire the Kingdom of God, or if it is just an interest among lots of other interests.  He also asks us what we are trusting in – our merit or God’s mercy.

It is important to honestly ask ourselves these questions because otherwise we will not recognize his teaching which we look at next – that we need Inner Cleanliness.