It will be remembered, that previously the authorities had been afraid to interfere with Him. In silence they had witnessed, with impotent rage, the expulsion of their traffic-mongers; in silence they had listened to His teaching, and seen His miracles. Not till the Hosanna of the little boys - perhaps those children of the Levites who acted as choristers in the Temple - wakened them from the stupor of their fears, had they ventured on a feeble remonstrance, in the forlorn hope that He might be induced to conciliate them. But with the night and morning other counsels had come. Besides, the circumstances were somewhat different.
It was early morning, the hearers were new, and the wondrous influence of His Words had not yet bent them to His Will. From the formal manner in which the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders are introduced, and from the circumstance that they so met Christ immediately on His entry into the Temple, we can scarcely doubt that a meeting, although informal, of the authorities had been held to concert measures against the growing danger. Yet, even so, cowardice as well as cunning marked their procedure. They dared not directly oppose Him, but endeavoured, by attacking Him on the one point where he seemed to lay Himself open to it, to arrogate to themselves the appearance of strict legality, and so to turn popular feeling against Him.
For, there was no principle more firmly established by universal consent than that authoritative teaching required previous authorisation. Indeed, this logically followed from the principle of Rabbinism. All teaching must be authoritative, since it was traditional - approved by authority, and handed down from teacher to disciple. The highest honor of a scholar was, that he was like a well-plastered cistern, from which not a drop had leaked of what had been poured into it. The ultimate appeal in cases of discussion was always to some great authority, whether an individual Teacher or a Decree by the Sanhedrin. In this manner had the great Hillel first vindicated his claim to be the Teacher of his time and to decide the disputes then pending. And, to decide differently from authority, was either the mark of ignorant assumption or the outcome of daring rebellion, in either case to be visited with 'the ban.' And this was at least one aspect of the controversy as between the chief authorities and Jesus. No one would have thought of interfering with a mere Haggadist - a popular expositor, preacher, or teller of legends. But authoritatively to teach, required other warrant.
In fact there was regular ordination (Semikhah) to the office of Rabbi, Elder, and Judge, for the three functions were combined in one. According to the Mishnah, the 'disciples' sat before the Sanhedrin in three rows, the members of the Sanhedrin being recruited successively from the front-rank of the Scholars. At first the practice is said to have been for every Rabbi to accredit his own disciples. But afterwards this right was transferred to the Sanhedrin, with the proviso that this body might not ordain without the consent of its Chief, though the latter might do so without consent of the Sanhedrin. But this privilege was afterwards withdrawn on account of abuses. Although we have not any description of the earliest mode of ordination, the very name - Semikhah - implies the imposition of hands. Again, in the oldest record, reaching up, no doubt, to the time of Christ, the presence of at least three ordained persons was required for ordination. At a later period, the presence of an ordained Rabbi, with the assessorship of two others, even if unordained, was deemed sufficient. In the course of time certain formalities were added.
The person to be ordained had to deliver a Discourse; hymns and poems were recited; the title 'Rabbi' was formally bestowed on the candidate, and authority given him to teach and to act as Judge [to bind and loose, to declare guilty or free]. Nay, there seem to have been even different orders, according to the authority bestowed on the person ordained. The formula in bestowing full orders was: 'Let him teach; let him teach; let him judge; let him decide on questions of first-born; let him decide; let him judge!' At one time it was held that ordination could only take place in the Holy Land. Those who went abroad took with them their 'letters of orders.'
At whatever periods some of these practices may have been introduced, it is at least certain that, at the time of our Lord, no one would have ventured authoritatively to teach without proper Rabbinic authorisation. The question, therefore, with which the Jewish authorities met Christ, while teaching, was one which had a very real meaning, and appealed to the habits and feelings of the people who listened to Jesus. Otherwise, also, it was cunningly framed. For, it did not merely challenge Him for teaching, but also asked for His authority in what He did, referring not only to His Work generally, but, perhaps, especially to what had happened on the previous day. They were not there to oppose Him; but, when a man did as He had done in the Temple, it was their duty to verify his credentials. Finally, the alternative question reported by Mark: 'or' - if Thou hast not proper Rabbinic commission - 'who gave Thee this authority to do these things?' seems clearly to point to their contention, that the power which Jesus wielded was delegated to Him by none other than Beelzebul.
The point in our Lord's reply seems to have been strangely overlooked by commentators. As His words are generally understood, they would have amounted only to silencing His questioners - and that, in a manner which would, under ordinary circumstances, be scarcely regarded as either fair or ingenuous. It would have been simply to turn the question against themselves, and so in turn to raise popular prejudice. But the Lord's words meant quite other. He did answer their question, though He also exposed the cunning and cowardice which prompted it.
To the challenge for His authority, and the dark hint about Satanic agency, He replied by an appeal to the Baptist. He had borne full witness to the Mission of Christ from the Father, and 'all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed.' Were they satisfied? What was their view of the Baptism in preparation for the Coming of Christ? No? They would not, or could not answer! If they said the Baptist was a prophet, this implied not only the authorisation of the Mission of Jesus, but the call to believe on Him. On the other hand, they were afraid publicly to disown John! And so their cunning and cowardice stood out self-condemned, when they pleaded ignorance - a plea so grossly and manifestly dishonest, that Christ, having given what all must have felt to be a complete answer, could refuse further discussion with them on this point.
Parable of the Two Sons
Sunday April 2nd
"But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first one and said, 'Son, go work in my vineyard today.' And he answered and said, 'I will not'; but afterwards he repented and went. Then he came to the second son and said the same thing. And he answered and said, 'Sir, I will go'; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of the father?" They said to Him, 'The first one." Jesus said to them, "I tell you truly, the tax collectors and the harlots are going into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him. Yet you, after seeing this, did not afterwards repent and believe him.'" (Matthew 21:28-32, HBFV)
The second Parable in this series - or perhaps rather illustration - was spoken within the Temple. The Savior had been answering the question of the Pharisees as to His authority by an appeal to the testimony of the Baptist. This led Him to refer to the twofold reception of that testimony - on the one hand, by the Publicans and harlots, and, on the other, by the Pharisees.
The Parable, which now follows, introduces a man who has two sons. He goes to the first, and in language of affection (teknon) bids him go and work in his vineyard. The son curtly and rudely refuses; but afterwards he changes his mind and goes. Meantime the father, when refused by the one, has gone to his other son on the same errand. The contrast here is marked. The tone is most polite, and the answer of the son contains not only a promise, be we almost see him going: 'I, sir! - and he did not go.' The application was easy.
The first son represented the Publicans and harlots, whose curt and rude refusal of the Father's call was implied in their life of reckless sin. But afterwards they changed their mind - and went into the Father's vineyard. The other Son, with his politeness of tone and ready promise, but utter neglect of obligations undertaken, represented the Pharisees with their hypocritical and empty professions. And Christ obliged them to make application of the Parable. When challenged by the Lord, which of the two had done the will of his father, they could not avoid the answer. Then it was that, in language equally stern and true. He pointed the moral. The Baptist had come preaching righteousness, and, while the self-righteous Pharisees had not believed him, those sinners had. And yet, even when the Pharisees saw the effect on these former sinners, they changed not their minds that they might believe. Therefore the Publicans and harlots would and did go into the Kingdom before them.
Parable of the Vineyard
Sunday, April 2
"Hear another parable: There was a certain man, a master of a house, who planted a vineyard, and put a fence around it, and dug a winepress in it, and built a tower, and then leased it to husbandmen and left the country. Now when the season of the fruits was drawing near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen to receive his fruits. But the husbandmen took his servants and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first time; and they did the same thing to them. Then at last he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will have respect for my son.'
But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us murder him and gain possession of his inheritance.' Then they took him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and murdered him. Therefore, when the lord of the vineyard shall come, what will he do to those husbandmen?" They said to Him, "Evil men! He will utterly destroy them, and he will lease his vineyard to other husbandmen, who will render to him the fruits in their seasons." Jesus said to them, 'Have you never read in the Scriptures, 'The Stone that the builders rejected, this has become the head of the corner. This was from the Lord, and it is wonderful in our eyes'? Because of this, I say to you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and it shall be given to a nation that produces the fruits of it. And the one who falls on this Stone shall be broken; but on whomever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.'" (Matthew 21:33-44, HBFV)
Closely connected with the two preceding Parables, and, indeed, with the whole tenor of Christ's sayings at that time, is that about the Evil Husbandmen in the Vineyard. As in the Parable about the laborers sought by the Householder at different times, the object here is to set forth the patience and goodness of the owner, even towards the evil. And as, in the Parable of the Two Sons, reference is made to the practical rejection of the testimony of the Baptist by the Jews, and their consequent self-exclusion from the Kingdom, so in this there is allusion to John as greater than the prophets, to the exclusion of Israel as a people from their position in the Kingdom, and to their punishment as individuals. Only we mark here a terrible progression. The neglect and non-belief which had appeared in the former Parable have now ripened into rebellion, deliberate, aggravated, and carried to its utmost consequences in the murder of the King's only and loved Son. Similarly, what formerly appeared as their loss, in that sinners went into the Kingdom of God before them, is now presented alike as their guilt and their judgment, both national and individual.
The Parable opens with a description of the complete arrangements made by the Owner of the Vineyard, to show how everything had been done to ensure a good yield of fruit, and what right the Owner had to expect at least a share in it. In the Parable, as in the prophecy, the Vineyard represents the Theocracy, although in the Old Testament, necessary, as identified with the nation of Israel, while in the Parable the two are distinguished, and the nation is represented by the laborers to whom the Vineyard was 'let out.' Indeed, the whole structure of the Parable shows, that the husbandmen are Israel as a nation, although they are addressed and dealt with in the persons of their representatives and leaders. And so it was spoken 'to the people,' and yet 'the chief priests and Pharisees ' rightly 'perceived that He spake of them.'
This vineyard the owner had let out to husbandmen, while he himself 'travelled away' [abroad], as Luke adds, 'for a long time.' From the language it is evident, that the husbandmen had the full management of the vineyard. We remember, that there were three modes of dealing with land. According to one of these, 'the laborers' employed received a certain portion of the fruits, say, a third or fourth of the produce. In such cases it seems, at least sometimes, to have been the practice, besides giving them a proportion of the produce, to provide also the seed (for a field) and to pay wages to the laborers. The other two modes of letting land were, either that the tenant paid a money rent to the proprietor, or else that he agreed to give the owner a definite amount of produce, whether the harvest had been good or bad. Such leases were given by the year or for life: sometimes the lease was even hereditary, passing from father to son. There can scarcely be a doubt that it is the latter kind of lease which is referred to in the Parable, the lessees being bound to give the owner a certain amount of fruits in their season.
Accordingly, ' when the time of the fruits drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen to receive his fruits ' - the part of them belonging to him, or, as Mark and Luke express it, ' of the fruits of the vineyard. ' We gather, that it was a succession of servants, who received increasingly ill treatment from them evil husbandmen. We might have expected that the owner would now have taken severe measures; but instead of this he sent, in his patience and goodness, 'other servants' - not 'more,' which would scarcely have any meaning, but ' greater than the first, ' no doubt, with the idea that their greater authority would command respect. And when these also received the same treatment, we must regard it as involving, not only additional, but increased guilt on the part of the husbandmen. Once more, and with deepening force, does the question arise, what measures the owner would now take.
But once more we have only a fresh and still greater display of his patience and unwillingness to believe that these husbandmen were so evil. As Mark pathetically put it, indicating not only the owner's goodness, but the spirit of determined rebellion and the wickedness of the husbandmen: 'He had yet one, a beloved son - he sent him last unto them, ' on the supposition that they would reverence him. The result was different. The appearance of the legal heir made them apprehensive of their tenure. Practically, the vineyard was already theirs; by killing the heir, the only claimant to it would be put out of the way, and so the vineyard become in every respect their own. For, the husbandmen proceeded on the idea, that as the owner was 'abroad' 'for a long time,' he would not personally interfere - an impression strengthened by the circumstance that he had not avenged the former ill-usage of his servants, but only sent others in the hope of influencing them by gentleness. So the laborers. ' taking him [the son], cast him forth out of the vineyard, and killed him ' - the first action indicating that by violence they thrust him out of his possession, before they wickedly slew him.
The meaning of the Parable is sufficiently plain. The owner of the vineyard, God, had let out His Vineyard - the Theocracy - to His people of old. The covenant having been instituted, He withdrew, as it were - the former direct communication between Him and Israel ceased. Then in due season He sent 'His Servants,' the prophets, to gather His fruits - they had had theirs in all the temporal and spiritual advantages of the covenant. But, instead of returning the fruits meet unto repentance, they only ill-treated His messengers, and that increasingly, even unto death. In His longsuffering He next sent on the same errand 'greater' than them - John the Baptist. And when he also received the same treatment, He sent last His own Son, Jesus Christ. His appearance made them feel, that it was now a decisive struggle for the Vineyard - and so, in order to gain its possession for themselves, they cast the rightful heir out of His own possession, and then killed Him!
And they must have understood the meaning of the Parable, who had served themselves heirs to their fathers in the murder of all the prophets. who had just been convicted of the rejection of the Baptist's message, and whose hearts were even then full of murderous thoughts against the rightful Heir of the Vineyard. But, even so, they must speak their own judgment. In answer to His challenge, what in their view the owner of the vineyard would do to these husbandmen, the chief priests and Pharisees could only reply:
"Evil men! He will utterly destroy them, and he will lease his vineyard to other husbandmen, who will render to him the fruits in their seasons."
The application was obvious, and it was made by Christ, first, as always, by a reference to the prophetic testimony, showing not only the unity of all God's teaching, but also the continuity of the Israel of the present with that of old in their resistance and rejection of God's counsel and messengers. The quotation, than which none more applicable could be imagined, was from Psalm 118:22, 23, and is made in the (Greek) Gospel of Matthew - not necessarily by Christ - from the Septuagint Version. The only, almost verbal, difference between it and the original is, that, whereas in the latter the adoption of the stone rejected by the builders as head of the corner is ascribed to Jehovah, in the Septuagint its original designation as head of the corner (previous to the action of the builders), is traced to the Lord. And then followed, in plain and unmistakable language, the terrible prediction, first, nationally, that the Kingdom of God would be taken from them, and 'given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof;' and then individually, that whosoever stumbled at that stone and fell over it, in personal offense or hostility, should be broken in pieces, but whosoever stood in the way of, or resisted its progress, and on whom therefore it fell, it would 'scatter Him as dust.'
Once more was their wrath roused, but also their fears. They knew that He spake of them, and would fain have laid hands on Him; but they feared the people, who in those days regarded Him as a prophet. And so for the present they left Him, and went their way.
Parable of the Wedding Feast and Garment
Sunday, April 2nd
"And again Jesus answered and spoke to them in parables, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is compared to a man who was a king, who made a wedding feast for his son, And sent his servants to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast; but they refused to come. Afterwards he sent out other servants, saying, 'Say to those who have been invited, "Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and the fatted beasts are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding feast." ' But they paid no attention and went away, one to his farm, and another to his business. And the rest, after seizing his servants, insulted and killed them. Now when the king heard it, he became angry; and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding feast indeed is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy; Therefore, go into the well-traveled highways, and invite all that you find to the wedding feast.'
"'And after going out into the highways, those servants brought together everyone that they found, both good and evil; and the wedding feast was filled with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not dressed in proper attire for the wedding feast; And he said to him, 'Friend, how did you enter here without a garment fit for the wedding feast?' But he had no answer. Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind his hands and feet, and take him away, and cast him into the outer darkness.' There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.'" (Matthew 22:1-14, HBFV)
If Rabbinic writings offer scarcely any parallel to the preceding Parable, that of the Marriage-Feast of the King's Son and the Wedding Garment seems almost reproduced in Jewish tradition. In its oldest form it is ascribed to Jochanan ben Zakkai, who flourished about the time of the composition of the Gospel of Matthew. It appears with variety of, or with additional details in Jewish commentaries. But while the Parable of our Lord only consists of two parts, forming one whole and having one lesson, the Talmud divides it into two separate Parables, of which the one is intended to show the necessity of being prepared for the next world - to stand in readiness for the King's feast; while the other is meant to teach that we ought to be able to present our soul to God at the last in the same state of purity in which we had (according to Rabbinic notions) originally received it. Even this shows the infinite difference between the Lord's and the Rabbinic use of the Parable.
In the Jewish Parable a King is represented as inviting to a feast, without, however, fixing the exact time for it. The wise adorn themselves in time, and are seated at the door of the palace, so as to be in readiness, since, as they argue, no elaborate preparation for a feast can be needed in a palace; while the foolish go away to their work, arguing there must be time enough, since there can be no feast without preparation. (The Midrash has it, that, when inviting the guests, the King had told them to wash, anoint, and array themselves in their festive garments; and that the foolish, arguing that, from the preparation of the food and the arranging of the seats, they would learn when the feast was to begin, had gone, the mason to his cask of lime, the potter to his clay, the smith to his furnace, the fuller to his bleaching-ground.) But suddenly comes the King's summons to the feast, when the wise appear festively adorned, and the King rejoices over them, and they are made to sit down, eat and drink; while he is wroth with the foolish, who appear squalid, and are ordered to stand by and look on in anguish, hunger and thirst.
The other Jewish Parable is of a king who committed to his servants the royal robes. The wise among them carefully laid them by while the foolish put them on when they did their work. After a time the king asked back the robes, when the wise could restore them clean, while the foolish had them soiled. Then the king rejoiced over the wise, and, while the robes were laid up in the treasury, they were bidden go home in peace. 'But to the foolish he commanded that the robes should be handed over to the fuller, and that they themselves should be cast into prison.' We readily see that the meaning of this Parable was, that a man might preserve His soul perfectly pure, and so enter into peace, while the careless, who had lost their original purity (no original sin here), would, in the next world, by suffering, both expiate their guilt and purify their souls.
When, from these Rabbinic preversions, we turn to the Parable of our Lord, its meaning is not difficult to understand. The King made a marriage for his Son, when he sent his Servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding. Evidently, as in the Jewish Parable, and as before in that of the guests invited to the Great Supper, a preliminary general invitation had preceded the announcement that all was ready. Indeed, in the Midrash on Lament. 4:2, it is expressly mentioned among other distinctions of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that none of them went to a feast till the invitation had been given and repeated. But in the Parable those invited would not come. It reminds us both of the Parable of the laborers for the Vineyard, sought at different times, and of the repeated sending of messengers to those Evil Husbandmen for the fruits that were due, when we are next told that the king sent forth other servants to tell them to come, for he had made ready his 'early meal', and that, no doubt with a view to the later meal, the oxen and fatlings were killed. These repeated endeavors to call, to admonish, and to invite, form a characteristic feature of these Parables, showing that it was one of the central objects of our Lord's teaching to exhibit the longsuffering and goodness of God. Instead of giving heed to these repeated and pressing calls, in the words of the Parable:
' but they (the one class) made light of it, and went away, the one to his own land, the other unto his own merchandise. '
So the one class; the other made not light of it, but acted even worse than the first.
' But the rest laid hands on his servants, entreated them shamefully, and killed them. '
By this we are to understand, that, when the servants came with the second and more pressing message, the one class showed their contempt for the king, the wedding of his son, and the feast, and their preference for and preoccupation with their own possessions or acquisitions - their property or their trading, their enjoyments or their aims and desires. And, when these had gone, and probably the servants still remained to plead the message of their Lord, the rest evil entreated, and then killed them - proceeding beyond mere contempt, want of interest, and preoccupation with their own affairs, to hatred and murder. The sin was the more aggravated that he was their king, and the messengers had invited them to a feast, and that one in which every loyal subject should have rejoiced to take part. Theirs was, therefore, not only murder, but also rebellion against their sovereign. On this the King, in his wrath sent forth his armies, which - and here the narrative in point of time anticipates the event - destroyed the murderers, and burnt their city.
But the condign punishment of these rebels forms only part of the Parable. For it still leaves the wedding unprovided with guests, to sympathize with the joy of the king, and partake of his feast. And so the narrative continues.
We remember that the Parable here runs parallel to that other, when first the outcasts from the city-lanes, and then the wanderers on the world's highway, were brought in to fill the place of the invited guests. At first sight it seems as if there were no connection between the declaration that those who had been bidden had proved themselves unworthy, and the direction to go into the crossroads and gather any whom they might find, since the latter might naturally be regarded as less likely to prove worthy. Yet this is one of the main points in the Parable. The first invitation had been sent to selected guests - to the Jews - who might have been expected to be 'worthy,' but had proved themselves unworthy; the next was to be given, not to the chosen city or nation, but to all that travelled in whatever direction on the world's highway, reaching them where the roads of life meet and part.
We have already in part anticipated the interpretation of this Parable. 'The Kingdom' is here, as so often in the Old and in the New Testament, likened to a feast, and more specifically to a marriage-feast. But we mark as distinctive, that the King makes it for His Son, Thus Christ, as Son and Heir of the Kingdom, forms the central Figure in the Parable. This is the first point set before us. The next is, that the chosen, invited guests were the ancient Covenant-People - Israel. To them God had sent first under the Old Testament. And, although they had not given heed to His call, yet a second class of messengers was sent to them under the New Testament. And the message of the latter was, that 'the early meal' was ready (Christ's first coming), and that all preparations had been made for the great evening-meal (Christ's Reign).
Another prominent truth is set forth in the repeated message of the King, which points to the goodness and longsuffering of God. Next, our attention is drawn to the refusal of Israel, which appears in the contemptuous neglect and preoccupation with their things of one party, and the hatred, resistance, and murder by the other. Then follow in quick succession the command of judgement on the nation, and the burning of their city - God's army being, in this instance, the Romans - and, finally, the direction to go into the crossways to invite all men, alike Jews and Gentiles.
With verse 10 begins the second part of the Parable. The 'Servants' - that is, the New Testament messengers - had fulfilled their commission; they had brought in as many as they found, both bad and good: that is, without respect to their previous history, or their moral and religious state up the time of their call; and ' the wedding was filled with guests ' - that is, the table at the marriage-feast was filled with those who as guests 'lay around it'. But, if ever we are to learn that we must not expect on earth - not even at the King's marriage-table - a pure Church, it is, surely, from what now follows. The King entered to see His guests, and among them he described one of who had not on a wedding garment. Manifestly, the quickness of the invitation and the previous unpreparedness.
As the guests had been travellers, and as the feast was in the King's palace, we cannot be mistaken in supposing that such garments were supplied in the palace itself to all those who sought them. And with this agrees the circumstance, that the man so addressed 'was speechless'. His conduct argued utter insensibility as regarded that to which he had been called - ignorance of what was due to the King, and what became such a feast. For, although no previous state of preparedness was required of the invited guests, all being bidden, whether good or bad, yet the fact remained that, if they were to take part in the feast, they must put on a garment suited to the occasion. All are invited to the Gospel-feast; but they who will partake of it must put on the King's wedding-garment of Evangelical holiness. And whereas it is said in the Parable, that only one was described without this garment, this is intended to teach, that the King will only generally view His guests, but that each will be separately examined, and that no one - no, not a single individual - will be able to escape discovery amidst the mass of guests, if he has not the 'wedding-garment.'
In short, in that day of trial, it is not a scrutiny of Churches, but of individuals in the Church. And so the King bade the servants -not the same who had previously carried the invitation, but others - evidently here the Angels, His 'ministers,' to bind him hand and foot, and to 'cast him out into the darkness, the outer' - that is, unable to offer resistance and as a punished captive, he was to be cast out into that darkness which is outside the brilliantly lighted guest-chamber of the King. And, still further to mark that darkness outside, it is added that this is the well-known place of suffering and anguish.
And here the Parable closes with the general statement, applicable alike to the first part of the Parable - to the first invited guests, Israel - and to the second, the guests from all the world: 'For' (this is the meaning of the whole Parable) 'many are called, but few chosen.' For the understanding of these words we have to keep in view that, logically, the two clauses must be supplemented by the same words. Thus, the verse would read: Many are called out of the world by God to partake of the Gospel-feast, but few out of the world - not, out of the called - are chosen by God to partake of it. The call to the feast and the choice for the feast are not identical. The call comes to all; but it may outwardly accepted, and a man may sit down to the feast, and yet he may not be chosen to partake of the feast, because he has not the wedding-garment of converting, sanctifying grace. And so one may be thrust from the marriage-board into the darkness without, with its sorrow and anguish.
Thus, side by side, yet wide apart, are these two - God's call and God's choice. The connecting-link between them is the taking of the wedding-garment, freely given in the Palace. Yet, we must seek it, ask it, put it on. And so here also, we have, side by side, God's gift and man's activity. And still, to all time, and to all men, alike in its warning, teaching, and blessing, it is true: ' Many are called, but few are chosen! '
Spies are sent to entrap Jesus with difficult question
Sunday, April 2nd
"And they kept Him under surveillance, and sent out secret agents who pretended that they were righteous, so that they might catch Him in His words, in order to deliver Him up to the power and authority of the governor. And they questioned Him, saying, "Master, we realize that You speak and teach rightly, and do not accept any man's person, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?"
"But perceiving their craftiness, He said to them, "Why do you tempt Me? Show Me a silver coin. Whose image and inscription does it have?" And they answered and said, "Caesar's." Then He said to them, "Render therefore the things of Caesar to Caesar, and the things of God to God." And they were not able to catch Him in His speech in the presence of the people. But being filled with amazement by His answer, they were silent." (Luke 20:20-26, HBFV)
Foiled in their endeavor to involve Him with the ecclesiastical, they next attempted the much more dangerous device of bringing Him into collision with the civil authorities. Remembering the ever watchful jealousy of Rome, the reckless tyranny of Pilate, and the low artifices of Herod, who was at that time in Jerusalem, we instinctively feel, how even the slightest compromise on the part of Jesus in regard to the authority of Caesar would have been absolutely fatal. If it could have been proved, on undeniable testimony, that Jesus had declared Himself on the side of, or even encouraged, the so-called 'Nationalist' party, He would quickly perished, like Judas of Galilee. The Jewish leaders would thus have readily accomplished their object, and its unpopularity have recoiled only on the hated Roman power. How great the danger was which threatened Jesus, may be gathered from this, that, despite His clear answer, the charge that He prevented the nation, forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, was actually among those brought against Him before Pilate.
The plot, for such it was, was most cunningly concocted. The object was to 'spy' out His inmost thoughts, and, if possible, 'entangle' Him in His talk. For this purpose it was not the old Pharisees, whom He knew and would have distrusted, who came, but some of their disciples - apparently fresh, earnest, zealous, conscientious men. With them had combined certain of 'the Herodians' - of course, not a sect nor religious school, but a political party at the time. We know comparatively little of the deeper political movements in Judea, only so much as it has suited Josephus to record. But we cannot be greatly mistaken in regarding the Herodians as a party which honestly accepted the House of Herod as occupants of the Jewish throne. Differing from the extreme section of the Pharisees, who hated Herod, and from the 'Nationalists,' it might have been a middle or moderate Jewish party - semi-Roman and semi-Nationalist.
We know that it was the ambition of Herod Antipas again to unite under his sway of the whole of Palestine; but we know not what intrigues may have been carried on for that purpose, alike with the Pharisees and the Romans. Nor is it the first time in this history, that we find the Pharisees and the Herodians combined. Herod may, indeed, have been unwilling to incur the unpopularity of personally proceeding against the Great Prophet of Nazareth, especially as he must have had so keen a remembrance of what the murder of John had cost him. Perhaps he would fain, if he could, have made use of Him, and played Him off as the popular Messiah against the popular leaders. But, as matters had gone, he must have been anxious to rid himself of what might be a formidable rival, while, at the same time, his party would be glad to join with the Pharisees in what would secure their gratitude and allegiance. Such, or similar, may have been the motives which brought about this strange alliance of Pharisees and Herodians.
Feigning themselves just men, they now came to Jesus with honeyed words, intended to disarm His suspicions, but, by an appeal to His fearlessness and singleness of moral purpose, to induce Him to commit Himself without reserve. Was it lawful for them to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? were they to pay the capitation-tax of one drachm, or to refuse it? We know how later Judaism would have answered such a question. It lays down the principle, that the right of coinage implies the authority of levying taxes, and indeed constitutes such evidence of de facto government as to make it duty absolutely to submit to it. So much was this felt, that the Maccabees, and, in the last Jewish war, Bar Kokhabh, the false Messiah, issued a coinage dating from the liberation of Jerusalem.
We cannot therefore doubt, that this principle about coinage, taxation, and government was generally accepted in Judea. On the other hand, there was a strong party in the land; with which, not only politically but religiously, many of the noblest spirits would sympathize, which maintained, that to pay the tribute-money to Caesar was virtually to own his royal authority, and so to disown that of Jehovah, Who alone was Israel's King. They would argue, that all the miseries of the land and people were due to this national unfaithfulness. Indeed, this was the fundamental principle of the Nationalist movement. History has recorded many similar movements, in which strong political feelings have been strangely blended with religious fanaticism, and which have numbered in their ranks, together with unscrupulous partisans, not a few who were sincere patriots or earnest religionists.
It has been suggested in a former part of this book, that the Nationalist movement may have had an important preparatory bearing on some of the earlier followers of Jesus, perhaps at the beginning of their inquiries, just as, in the West, Alexandrian philosophy moved to many a preparation for Christianity. At any rate, the scruple expressed by these men would, if genuine, have called forth sympathy. But what was the alternative here presented to Christ? To have said No, would have been to command rebellion; to have said simply Yes, would have been to give a painful shock to keep feeling, and, in a sense, in the eyes of the people, the lie to His own claim of being Israel's Messiah-King!
But the Lord escaped from this 'temptation' - because, being true, it was no real temptation to Him. Their knavery and hypocrisy He immediately perceived and exposed, in this also responding to their appeal of being 'true.' Once more and emphatically must we disclaim the idea that Christ's was rather an evasion of the question than a reply. It was a very real rather, when pointing to the image and inscription on the coin, for which He had called, He said,
' What is Caesar's render to Caesar, and what is God's to God. '
It did far more than rebuke their hypocrisy and presumption; it answered not only that question of theirs to all earnest men of that time, as it would present itself to their minds, but it settles to all time and for all circumstances the principle underlying it. Christ's Kingdom is not of this world; a true Theocracy is not inconsistent with submission to the secular power in things that are really its own; politics and religion neither include, nor yet exclude, each other; they are, side by side, in different domains. The State is Divinely sanctioned, and religion is Divinely sanctioned - and both are equally the ordinance of God. On this principle did Apostolic authority regulate the relations between Church and State, even when the latter was heathen. The question about the limits of either province has been hotly discussed by sectarians on either side, who have claimed the saying of Christ in support of one or the opposite extreme which they have advocated. And yet, to the simple searcher after duty, it seems not so difficult to see the distinction, if only we succeed in purging ourselves of logical refinements and strained references.
It was an answer not only most truthful, but of marvellous beauty and depth. It elevated the controversy into quite another sphere, where there was no conflict between what was due to God and to man - indeed, no conflict at all, but Divine harmony and peace. Nor did it speak harshly of the Nationalist aspirations, nor yet plead the cause of Rome. It said not whether the rule of Rome was right or should be permanent - but only what all must have felt to be Divine. And so they, who had come to 'entangle' Him, 'went away,' not convinced nor converted, but marvelling exceedingly.