"I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also," He said, "for therefore am I sent." And He took his disciples and started on a journey from village to village through Galilee. There were about two hundred of these towns, and they were near together. It was the springtime, and the fields and hills between the villages were beautiful with flowers and growing grain. Sometimes He taught in their churches, and sometimes under their trees or trellises, and wherever He went the common people heard him gladly.
Once as He drew near a town a leper followed Him. He followed Him into the town, which was against the law, for the leper was not allowed to live inside a town, or to come near the people, as the touch of a leper would give the disease to another. But so earnest was he to see Jesus that he came through the crowd and fell on his face before Jesus, saying,
"Lord if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean."
Jesus put forth His hand and touched him, saying, "I will; be thou clean."
Suddenly the leprosy left the man, and his dead and filthy skin became as healthy as a child's, and Jesus sent him to the priest to offer that which the law commanded for the cleansing of lepers. It was a long, and often costly process that a leper must pass through to be cleansed from his disease, but the word of Jesus was with power, and brought divine life to take the place of death, for leprosy was a slow death.
[Illustration: Jesus healing the sick]
When the Lord came back to Capernaum the people thronged Him, and when He rested in the shaded court of a friend's house it was soon filled with the eager people who longed to hear His word, or be healed by His touch.
Once it was so crowded in the court that some men, who were bringing a friend to Jesus who was helpless with palsy, took him up by the outside stairs to the housetop. There, by taking up a few tiles, they made an opening just over the place where Jesus sat, and the people soon saw the man lying on his mat before Jesus, for they had let it down by cords through the opening.
Jesus saw the faith of the four men who had let their sick friend down at His feet, and it touched His heart. He also saw the longing in the soul of the sick man to be good and pure, and He said,
"Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee."
The Scribes, who were always copying the Scriptures -- for there was no printing done in those days -- were always watching to hear Jesus say something contrary to the Law of Moses, that they might tell it to the priests, and some who were sitting there looked at each other and said in their hearts,
"Who can forgive sins but God only?"
Jesus heard their thoughts and asked them why they reasoned in this way with themselves, and which seemed to them the easier, to forgive sins or to heal the body.
But that they might know that He had power over the body as well as the soul He said to the sick man,
"Arise; take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house."
The man rose and rolled up his mat and carried it out, the people falling back astonished to let him pass, for his palsy had left him and he walked out strong and well.
"We have seen strange things to-day," the people said among themselves for they could not understand how a man could forgive sins or heal disease.
When Jesus left the house to go down to the sea-shore He passed the Custom-house, where the tax-gatherers, or "publicans," gathered money from the Jewish people to pay to their conquerors, the Romans.
The Romans were very hard in their dealings with the Jews, and made themselves rich by taking money from the poor of their provinces.
The people did not like the tax-gatherer, and his was not a pleasant office.
Levi, also called Matthew, was a rich tax-gatherer at Capernaum, and as he sat in his office looking out upon the market-place he saw Jesus passing by. Perhaps he had often heard Jesus teach by the shore and in the market-place, and longed to follow Him. He saw the Teacher stop at his open door, and heard Him say,
That was enough; Matthew left all, rose up and followed Jesus. He had a business that made him rich, but he was ready to leave it all to be a disciple of Jesus.
He wanted all to know that he had chosen a new life, and so he gave a great dinner to his friends, and invited Jesus and His five disciples that he might confess before them all his faith in Jesus.
The Pharisees looked down upon the publicans and thought them a people unfit to associate with, and when they passed by and saw Jesus sitting in Matthew's house at the feast they asked His disciples as they went in and out why their Master ate with "publicans and sinners," a thing they felt themselves too good to do.
Jesus Himself answered them in words that have helped many sinful people to come to Him since.
"They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."
And then He turned to talk with Matthew and his friends, who listened to every word that fell from His lips, and did not try to find fault with Him as the Pharisees did.
Matthew had made a rich feast, and his table was no doubt piled with the beautiful fruits of the plain of Gennesaret, but the eyes of all and the thoughts of all were fixed upon the wonderful Teacher, and Matthew, the publican, who had become His disciple.