|Jesus wasted no time responding to the Pharisees. Instead of immediately giving them an answer to their inquiry he asks them how THEY understand the laws of marriage and divorce. This seems to have rankled in their minds. Their main object evidently was to involve Christ in controversy with some of the Rabbinic Schools. This appears from the form in which they put the question, whether it was lawful to put away a wife 'for every cause. Mark, who gives only a very condensed account, omits this clause while Matthew includes it (Matthew 19:3). In Jewish circles the whole controversy between different teachers turned upon this point. All held that divorce was lawful, the only question being as to its grounds. We will not here enter on the unsavory question of 'Divorce' among the Jews, to which the Talmud devotes a special tractate. There can, however, be no question that the practice was discouraged by many of the better Rabbis, alike in word and by their example; nor yet, that the Jewish Law took the most watchful care of the interests of the woman. In fact, if any doubt were raised as to the legal validity of the letter of divorce, the Law always pronounced against the divorce. |
At the same time, in popular practice, divorce must have been very frequent; while the principles underlying Jewish legislation on the subject are most objectionable. These were in turn due to a comparatively lower estimate of woman, and to an unspiritual view of the marriage-relation. Christianity has first raised woman to her proper position, not by giving her a new one, but by restoring and fully developing that assigned to her in the Old Testament. Similarly, as regards marriage, the New Testament - which would have us to be, in one sense, 'eunuchs for the Kingdom of God,' has also fully restored and finally developed what the Old Testament had already implied. And this is part of the lesson taught in this Discourse, both to the Pharisees and to the disciples.
To begin with, divorce (in the legal sense) was regarded as a privilege accorded only to Israel, not to the Gentiles. On the question: what constituted lawful grounds of divorce, the Schools were divided. Taking their departure from the sole ground of divorce mentioned in Deuteronomy 24:1: 'a matter of shame [literally, nakedness],' the School of Shammai applied the expression only to moral transgressions, and, indeed, exclusively to unchastity. It was declared that, if a woman were as mischievous as the wife of Ahab, or [according to tradition] as the wife of Korah, it were well that her husband should not divorce her, except it be on the ground of adultery. At the same time this must not be regarded as a fixed legal principle, but rather as an opinion and good counsel for conduct. The very passages, from which the above quotations are made, also afford only too painful evidence of the laxity of views and practices current. And the Jewish Law unquestionably allowed divorce on almost any grounds; the difference being, not as to what was lawful, but on what grounds a man should set the Law in motion, and make use of the absolute liberty which it accorded him. Hence, it is a serious mistake on the part of Commentators to set the teaching of Christ on this subject by the side of that of Shammai.
But the School of Hillel proceeded on different principles. It took the words, 'matter of shame' in the widest possible sense, and declared it sufficient ground for divorce if a woman had spoiled her husband's dinner. Rabbi Akiba thought, that the words, 'if she find no favor in his eyes,' implied that it was sufficient if a man had found another woman more attractive than his wife. All agreed that moral blame made divorce a duty, and that in such cases a woman should not be taken back. According to the Mishnah, if they transgressed against the Law of Moses or of Israel. The former is explained as implying a breach of the laws of tithing, of setting apart the first of the dough, and of purification. The latter is explained as referring to such offenses as that of going in public with uncovered head, of spinning in the public streets, or entering into talk with men, to which others add, that of brawling, or of disrespectfully speaking of her husband's parents in his presence. A troublesome, or quarrelsome wife might certainly be sent away; and ill repute, or childlessness (during ten years) were also regarded as valid grounds of divorce.
Incomparably as these principles differ from the teaching of Christ, it must again be repeated, that no real comparison is possible between Christ and even the strictest of the Rabbis, since none of them actually prohibited divorce, except in case of adultery, nor yet laid down those high eternal principles which Jesus enunciated. But we can understand how, from the Jewish point of view, 'tempting Him,' they would put the question, whether it was lawful to divorce a wife ' for every cause. ' Avoiding their cavils, the Lord appealed straight to the highest authority - God's institution of marriage. He, Who at the beginning [from the first, originally] had made them male and female, had in the marriage-relation 'joined them together,' to the breaking of every other, even the nearest, relationship, to be ' one flesh ' - that is, to a union which was unity. Such was the fact of God's ordering. It followed, that they were one - and what God had willed to be one, man might not put asunder. Then followed the natural Rabbinic objection, why, in such case, Moses had commanded a bill of divorcement.
Our Lord replied by pointing out that Moses had not commanded divorce, only tolerated it on account of their hardness of heart, and in such case commanded to give a bill of divorce for the protection of the wife. And this argument would appeal the more forcibly to them, that the Rabbis themselves taught that a somewhat similar concession had been made by Moses in regard to female captives of war, as the Talmud has it, 'on account of the evil impulse.' But such a separation, our Lord continued, had not been provided for in the original institution, which was a union to unity. Only one thing could put an end to that unity - its absolute breach. Hence, to divorce one's wife (or husband) while this unity lasted, and to marry another, was adultery, because, as the divorce was null before God, the original marriage still subsisted - and, in that case, the Rabbinic Law would also have forbidden it.
The next part of the Lord's inference, found in Matthew's account, is,
"And I say to you, whoever shall divorce his wife, except it be for sexual immorality, and shall marry another, is committing adultery; and the one who marries her who has been divorced is committing adultery." (Matthew 19:9, HBFV)
Generally, it is understood as implying that a woman divorced for adultery might not be married. But it has been argued, that, as the literal rendering is, 'whoso marrieth her when put away,' it applies to the woman whose divorce had just before been prohibited, and not, as is sometimes thought, to 'a woman divorced [under any circumstances].' Be this as it may, the Jewish Law, which regarded marriage with a woman divorced under any circumstances as unadvisable, absolutely forbade that of the adulterer with the adulteress.
Whatever, therefore, may be pleaded, on account of their hard heart in modern society, in favor of the lawfulness of relaxing Christ's law of divorce, which confines dissolution of marriage to the one ground (of adultery), because then the unity of God's making has been broken by sin - such a retrocession was at least not in the mind of Christ, nor can it be considered lawful, either by the Church or for individual disciples. But, that the Pharisees had rightly judged, when tempting him, what the popular feeling on the subject would be, appears even from what His disciples afterwards said to Him. They waited to express their dissent till they were alone with Him in the house, and then urged that, if it were as Christ had taught, it would be better not to marry at all. To which the Lord replied that the saying 'it is not good to marry' could not be received by all men, but only by those to whom it was given.
For, there were three cases in which abstinence from marriage might lawfully be contemplated. In two of these it was, of course, natural; and, where it was not so, a man might, 'for the Kingdom of Heaven's sake' - that is, in the service of God and of Christ - have all his thoughts, feelings, and impulses so engaged that others were no longer existent. It is this which requires to be 'given' of God; and which 'he that is able to receive it' - who has the moral capacity for it - is called upon to receive. Again, it must not be imagined that this involves any command of celibacy: it only speaks of such who in the active service of the Kingdom feel, that their every thought is so engrossed in the work, that wishes and impulses to marriage are no longer existent in them.
Jesus blesses infants and children
The next incident is recorded by the three Evangelists. It probably occurred in the same house where the disciples had questioned Christ about His teaching on the Divinely sacred relationship of marriage. And the account of His blessing of 'infants' and 'little children' most aptly follows on the former teaching. It is a scene of unspeakable sweetness and tenderness, where all is in character - even the conduct of the 'disciples' as we remember their late inability to sympathize with the teaching of the Master. And it is all so utterly unlike what Jewish legend would have invented for its Messiah.
"Then they brought little children to Him so that He might touch them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. And after seeing it, Jesus was indignant, and said to them, "Allow the little children to come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever shall not receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall in no way enter into it." And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them and blessed them." (Mark 10:13-16, HBFV)
We can understand how, when One Who so spake and wrought, rested in the house, Jewish mothers should have brought their 'little children,' and some their 'infants,' to Him, that He might 'touch,' 'put His Hands on them, and pray.' What power and holiness must these mothers have believed to be in His touch and prayer; what life to be in, and to come from Him; and what gentleness and tenderness must His have been, when they dared so to bring these little ones!
For, how utterly contrary it was to all Jewish notions, and how incompatible with the supposed dignity of a Rabbi, appears from the rebuke of the disciples. It was an occasion and an act when, as the fuller and more pictorial account of Mark inform us, Jesus was not happy and said to the disciples,
"Allow the little children to come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God."
Then He gently reminded His own disciples of their grave error, by repeating what they had apparently forgotten, that, in order to enter the Kingdom of God, it must be received as by a little child - that here there could be no question of intellectual qualification, nor of distinction due to a great Rabbi, but only of humility, receptiveness, meekness, and a simple application to, and trust in, the Christ. And so He folded these little ones in His Arms, put His Hands upon them, and blessed them, and thus for ever consecrated that child-life, which a parent's love and faith brought to Him; blessed it also by the laying-on of His Hands - as it were, 'ordained it,' as we fully believe to all time, 'strength because of His enemies.'
As we near the goal, the wondrous story seems to grow in tenderness and pathos. It is as if all the loving condescension of the Master were to be crowded into these days; all the pressing need also, and the human weaknesses of His disciples. And with equal compassion does He look upon the difficulties of them who truly seek to come to Him, and on those which, springing from without, or even from self and sin, beset them who have already come. Let us try reverently to follow His steps, and learn of His words.
Rich man refuses to follow Jesus
It was 'a young man,' 'a ruler,' probably of the local Synagogue, who came running toward Jesus to ask an important question. Our Savior's response to the rich man's inquiry offers an important lesson on how ultimately we should prioritize our lives.
"And as He went out to the road, one came running up and knelt down before Him, and asked Him, "Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?"
"But Jesus answered him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except one; that is God. You know the commandments: 'You shall not commit adultery'; 'You shall not commit murder'; 'You shall not steal'; 'You shall not bear false witness'; 'You shall not defraud'; 'Honor your father and mother.' " And he answered and said to Him, "Master, I have kept all these from my youth."
"And Jesus, as He was looking upon him, loved him, and said to him, "There is one thing that you are lacking. Go and sell everything that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross and follow Me." But he was very sad upon hearing these words, and he went away grieving, because he had many possessions. And after looking around, Jesus said to His disciples, 'How difficult it is for those who have riches to enter into the kingdom of God!'" (Mark 10:17-23, HBFV)
The actual question of the young Ruler is one which repeatedly occurs in Jewish writings, as put to a Rabbi by his disciples. Amidst the different answers given, we scarcely wonder that they also pointed to observance of the Law. And the saying of Christ seems the more adapted to the young Ruler when we recall this sentence from the Talmud: 'There is nothing else that is good but the Law.' But here again the similarity is only of form, not of substance. For, it will be noticed, that, in the more full account by Matthew, Christ leads the young Ruler upwards through the table of the prohibitions of deeds to the first positive command of deed, and then, by a rapid transition, to the substitution for the tenth commandment in its negative form of this wider positive and all-embracing command:
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 19:19, HBFV)
Any Jewish 'Ruler,' but especially one so earnest, would have at once answered a challenge on the first four commandments by 'Yes' - and that not self-righteously, but sincerely, though of course in ignorance of their real depth. And this was not the time for lengthened discussion and instruction; only for rapid awakening, to lead up, if possible, from earnestness and a heart-drawing towards the master to real discipleship. Best here to start from what was admitted as binding - the ten commandments - and to lead from that in them which was least likely to be broken, step by step, upwards to that which was most likely to awaken consciousness of sin.
And the young Ruler did not, as that other Pharisee, reply by trying to raise a Rabbinic disputation over the ' Who is neighbor to me? ' but in the sincerity of an honest heart answered that he had kept - that is, so far as he knew them - 'all these things from his youth. ' On this Matthew puts into his mouth the question - ' What lack I yet? ' Even if, like the other two Evangelists, he had not reported it, we would have supplied this from what follows. There is something intensely earnest, genuine, generous, even enthusiastic, in the higher cravings of the soul in youth, when that youth has not been poisoned by the breath of the world, or stricken with the rottenness of vice.
The soul longs for the true, the higher, the better, and, even if strength fails of attainment, we still watch with keen sympathy the form of the climber upwards. Much more must all this have been the case with a Jewish youth, especially in those days; one, besides, like this young Ruler, in whose case affluence of circumstances not only allowed free play, but tended to draw out and to give full scope to the finer feelings, and where wealth was joined with religiousness and the service of a Synagogue. There was not in him that pride of riches, nor the self-sufficiency which they so often engender; nor the pride of conscious moral purity and aim after righteousness before God and man; nor yet the pride of the Pharisee or of the Synagogue-Ruler.
What he had seen and heard of the Christ had quickened to greatest intensity all in him that longed after God and heaven, and had brought him in this supreme moral earnestness, lowly, reverently, to the Feet of Him in Whom, as he felt, all perfectness was, and from Whom all perfectness came. He had not been first drawn to Christ, and thence to the pure, as were the publicans and sinners; but, like so many - even as Peter, he had been drawn to the pure and the higher, and therefore to Christ. To some the way to Christ is up the Mount of Transfiguration, among the shining Beings of another world; to some it is across dark Kedron, down the deep Garden of Gethsemane with its agonies. What matters it, if it equally lead to Him, and equally bring the sense of need and experience of pardon to the seeker after the better, and the sense of need and experience of holiness to the seeker after pardon?
And Jesus saw it all: down, through that intense upward look; inwards, through that question, ' What lack I yet? ' far deeper down than that young man had ever seen into his own heart - even into depths of weakness and need which he had never sounded, and which must be filled, if he would enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus saw what he lacked; and what He saw, He showed him. For, 'looking at him' in his sincerity and earnestness, 'He loved him' - as He loves those that are His Own. One thing was needful for this young man: that he should not only become His disciple, but that, in so doing, he should 'come and follow' Christ.
We can all perceive how, for one like this young man, such absolute and entire coming and following Christ was needful. And again, to do this, it was in the then circumstances both of this young man and of Christ necessary, that he should go and part with all that he had. And what was an outward, was also, as we perceive it, an inward necessity; and so, as ever, Providence and Grace would work together. For, indeed, to many of us some outward step is often not merely the means of but absolutely needful for, spiritual decision. To some it is the first open profession of Christ; to others, the first act of self-denial, or the first distinct 'No'-saying; to some, it may be, it is the first prayer, or else the first act of self-consecration. Yet it seems, as if it needed not only the word of God but a stroke of some Moses'-rod to make the water gush forth from the rock. And thus would this young Ruler have been 'perfect;' and what he had given to the poor have become, not through merit nor by way of reward, but really 'treasure in heaven.'
What he lacked was a heart fully set on following Christ: and this could only come to him through willing surrender of all. And so this was to him alike the means, the test, and the need. To him it was this; to us it may be something quite other. Yet each of us has a lack - something quite deep down in our hearts, which we may never yet have known, and which we must know and give up, if we would follow Christ. And without forsaking, there can be no following. This is the law of the Kingdom - and it is such, because we are sinners, because sin is not only the loss of the good, but the possession of something else in its place.
We need scarcely here recall the almost extravagant language in which Rabbinism describes the miseries of poverty; we can understand his feelings without that. Such a possibility had never entered his mind: the thought of it was terribly startling. That he must come and follow Christ, then and there, and in order to do so, sell all that he had and give it away among the poor, and be poor himself, a beggar, that he might have treasure in heaven; and that this should come to him as the one thing needful from that Master in Whom he believed, from Whose lips he would learn the one thing needful, and who but a little before had been to him the All in All! It was a terrible surprise, a sentence of death to his life, and of life to his death. And that it should come from His lips, at Whose Feet he had run to kneel, and Who held for him the keys of eternal life! Rabbinism had never asked this; if it demanded almsgiving, it was in odious boastfulness; while it was declared even unlawful to give away all one's possessions - at most, only a fifth of them might be dedicated.
And so, with clouded face he gazed down into what he lacked - within; but also gazed up in Christ on what he needed. And, although we hear no more of him, who that day went back to his rich home very poor, because 'very sorrowful,' we cannot but believe that he, whom Jesus loved, yet found in the poverty of earth the treasure of heaven.
Nor was this all. The deep pity of Christ for him, who had gone that day, speaks also in his warning to his disciples. But surely those are not only riches in the literal sense which make it so difficult for a man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven - so difficult, as to amount almost to that impossibility which was expressed in the common Jewish proverb, that a man did not even in his dreams see an elephant pass through the eye of a needle. But when in their perplexity the disciples put to each other the saddened question: Who then can be saved? He pointed them onward, then upward, as well as inward, teaching them that, what was impossible of achievement by man in his own strength, God would work by His Almighty Grace.
The blessing of following Jesus
"Then Peter began to say to Him, "Behold, we have left everything and have followed You." And Jesus answered and said, "Truly I say to you, there is not one who has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My sake and for the gospel's, Who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time: houses, and brothers, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the age that is coming, eternal life. But many of the first shall be last, and the last shall be first." (Mark 10:28-31, HBFV)
It almost jars on our ears, and prepares us for still stranger and sadder to come, when Peter seems to remind the Lord that they had forsaken all to follow Him. Matthew records also the special question which Simon added to it: "What then shall be for us?" For, that reply really bore on two points: on the reward which all who left everything to follow Christ would obtain; and on the special acknowledgment awaiting the Apostles of Christ. In regard to the former we mark, that it is twofold.
They who had forsaken all ' for His sake ' 'and the Gospel's,' ' for the Kingdom of God's sake ' - and these three expressions explain and supplement each other - would receive 'in this time' 'manifold more' of new, and better, and closer relationships of a spiritual kind for those which they had surrendered, although, as Mark significantly adds, to prevent all possible mistakes, ' with persecutions. ' But by the side of this stands out unclouded and bright the promise for ' the world to come ' of ' everlasting life. ' As regarded the Apostles personally, some mystery lies on the special promise to them. We could quite understand, that the distinction of rule to be bestowed on them might have been worded in language taken from the expectations of the time, in order to make the promise intelligible to them.
But, unfortunately, we have no explanatory information to offer. The Rabbis, indeed, speak of a renovation or regeneration of the world which was to take place after the 7,000 or else 5,000 years of the Messianic reign. Such a renewal of all things is not only foretold by the prophets, and dwelt upon in later Jewish writings, but frequently referred to in Rabbinic literature. But as regards the special rule or 'judgment' of the Apostles, or ambassadors of the Messiah, we have not, and, of course, cannot expect any parallel in Jewish writings. That the promise of such rule and judgment to the Apostles is not peculiar to what is called the Judaic Gospel of Matthew, appears from its renewal at a later period, as recorded by Luke. Lastly, that it is in accordance with Old Testament promise, will be seen by a reference to Daniel 7:9, 10, 14, 27; and there are few references in the New Testament to the blessed consummation of all things in which such renewal of the world, and even the rule and judgment of the representatives of the Church, are not referred to.
However mysterious, therefore, in their details, these things seem clear, and may without undue curiosity or presumption be regarded as the teaching of our Lord: the renewal of earth; the share in His rule and judgment which He will in the future give to His saints; the special distinction which He will bestow on His Apostles, corresponding to the special gifts, privileges, and rule with which He had endowed them on earth, and to their nearness to, and their work and sacrifices for Him; and, lastly, we may add, the preservation of Israel as a distinct, probably tribal, nation. As for the rest, as so much else, it is 'behind the veil,' and, even as we see it, better for the Church that the veil has not been further lifted.
The reference to the blessed future with its rewards was followed by a Parable, recorded, as, with one exception, all of that series, only by Matthew. It will best be considered in connection with the last series of Christ's Parables. But it was accompanied by what, in the circumstances, was also a most needful warning. Thoughts of the future Messianic reign, its glory, and their own part in it might have so engrossed the minds of the disciples as to make them forgetful of the terrible present, immediately before them. In such case they might not only have lapsed into that most fatal Jewish error of a Messiah-King, Who was not Savior, the Crown without the Cross, but have even suffered shipwreck of their faith, when the storm broke on the Day of His Condemnation and Crucifixion. If ever, it was most needful in that hour of elation to remind and forewarn them of what was to be expected in the immediate future. How truly such preparation was required by the disciples, appears from the narrative itself.
There was something sadly mysterious in the words with which Christ had closed His Parable, that the last should be first and the first last - and it had carried dark misgivings to those who heard it. And now it seemed all so strange! Yet the disciples could not have indulged in illusions. His own sayings on at least two previous occasions, however ill or partially understood, must have led them to expect at any rate grievous opposition and tribulations in Jerusalem, and their endeavour to deter Christ from going to Bethany to raise Lazarus proves, that they were well aware of the danger which threatened the Master in Judea. Yet not only ' was He now going up to Jerusalem, ' but there was that in His bearing which was quite unusual. As Mark writes, He was going 'before them' - we infer, apart and alone, as One, busy with thoughts all engrossing, Who is setting Himself to do His great work, and goes to meet it.
"And they were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus went in front of them; and they were amazed at this; and as they followed Him, they were afraid. Then He again took the twelve and began to tell them the things that were about to happen to Him: 'Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be delivered up to the chief priests and the scribes; and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him up to the Gentiles; And they shall mock Him, and shall scourge Him, and shall spit on Him, and shall kill Him; and on the third day He shall rise again.'" (Mark 10:32-34, HBFV)
Jesus took the Apostles apart, and in language more precise than ever before, told them how all things that were written by the prophets shall be accomplished on the Son of Man - not merely, that all that had been written concerning the Son of Man should be accomplished, but a far deeper truth, all-comprehensive as regards the Old Testament: that all its true prophecy ran up into the sufferings of the Christ. As the three Evangelists report it, the Lord gave them full details of His Betrayal, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. And yet we may, without irreverence, doubt whether on that occasion He had really entered into all those particulars. In such case it would seem difficult to explain how, as Luke reports,
"But they understood none of these things, and this saying was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend what was said." (Luke 18:34, HBFV)
and again, how afterwards the actual events and the Resurrection could have taken them so by surprise. Rather do we think, that the Evangelists report what Jesus had said in the light of after-events. He did tell them of His Betrayal by the leaders of Israel, and that into the hands of the Gentiles; of His Death and Resurrection on the third day - yet in language which they could, and actually did, misunderstand at the time, but which, when viewed in the light of what really happened, was perceived by them to have been actual prediction of those terrible days in Jerusalem and of the Resurrection-morning. At the time they may have thought that it pointed only to His rejection by Jews and Gentiles, to Sufferings and Death - and then to a Resurrection, either of His Mission or to such a reappearance of the Messiah, after His temporary disappearance, as Judaism expected.
But all this time, and with increasing fierceness, were terrible thoughts contending in the breast of Judas; and beneath the tramp of that fight was there only a thin covering of earth, to hide and keep from bursting forth the hellish fire of the master-passion within.
Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
"'The kingdom of heaven shall be compared to a man, a master of a house, who went out early in the morning to hire workmen for his vineyard. And after agreeing with the workmen on a silver coin for the day's wage, he sent them into his vineyard. And when he went out about the third hour, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; And he said to them, 'Go also into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' And they went. Again, after going out about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did likewise. And about the eleventh hour, he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all the day?' They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'Go also into my vineyard, and whatever is right you shall receive.'
"'And when evening came, the lord of the vineyard said to his steward, 'Call the workmen and pay them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.' And when those who were hired about the eleventh hour came, they each received a silver coin. But when the first ones came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a silver coin. And after receiving it, they complained against the master of the house, Saying, 'These who came last have worked one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who have carried the burden and the heat of the day.' "'But he answered and said to them, 'Friend, I am not doing you wrong. Did you not agree with me on a silver coin for the day? Take what is yours and go, for I also desire to give to the last ones exactly as I gave to you. And is it not lawful for me to do what I will with that which is my own? Is your eye evil because I am good?' So the last shall be first, and the first shall be last; for many are called, but few are chosen.'" (Matthew 20:1-16, HBFV)
Of this the Parable of the laborers is an illustration. It teaches nothing beyond this. But, while illustrating how it may come that some who were first are 'last,' and how utterly mistaken or wrong is the thought that they must necessarily receive more than others, who, seemingly, have done more - how, in short, work for Christ is not a ponderable quantity, so much for so much, nor yet we the judges of when and why a worker has come - it also conveys much that is new, and, in many respects, most comforting.
We mark, first, the bearing of
' the householder, who went out immediately, at earliest mor, to hire laborers into his vineyard. '
That he did not send his steward, but went himself, and with the dawn of morning, shows both that there was much work to do, and the householder's anxiety to have it done. That householder is God, and the vineyard His Kingdom; the laborers, whom with earliest morning He seeks in the market-place of busy life, are His Servants. With these he agreed for a denarius a day, which was the ordinary wages for a day's labor, and so sent them into the vineyard; in other words, He told them He would pay the reward promised to laborers. So passed the early hours of the morning. About the third hour (the Jewish working day being reckoned from sunrise to sunset), that is, probably as it was drawing towards a close, he went out again, and, as he saw 'others' standing idle in the market-place, he said to them, ' Go ye also into the vineyard. '
There was more than enough to do in that vineyard; enough and more to employ them. And when he came, they had stood in the marketplace ready and waiting to go to work, yet 'idle' - unemployed as yet. It might not have been precisely their blame that they had not gone before; they were 'others' than those in the market-place when the Master had first come, and they had not been there at that time. Only as he now sent them, he made no definite promise. They felt that in their special circumstances they had no claim; he told them, that whatsoever was right he would give them; and they implicitly trusted to his word, to his justice and goodness. And so happened it yet again, both at the sixth and at the ninth hour of the day. We repeat, that in none of these instances was it the guilt of the laborers - in the sense of being due to their unwillingness or refusal - that they had not before gone into the vineyard. For some reason - perhaps by their fault, perhaps not, they had not been earlier in the market-place. But as soon as they were there and called, they went, although, of course, the loss of time, however caused, implied loss of work. Neither did the Master in any case make, nor they ask for, other promise than that implied in his word and character.
These four things, then, stand out clearly in the Parable: the abundance of work to be done in the vineyard; the anxiety of the householder to secure all available laborers; the circumstance that, not from unwillingness or refusal, but because they had not been there and available, the laborers had come at later hours; and that, when they had so come, they were ready to go into the vineyard without promise of definite reward, simply trusting to the truth and goodness of him whom they went to serve.
We think here of those 'last,' the Gentiles from the east, west, north, and south; of the converted publicans and sinners; of those, a great part of whose lives has, alas! been spent somewhere else, and who have only come at a late hour into the market-place; nay, of them also whose opportunities, capacity, strength, or time have been very limited - and we thank God for the teaching of this Parable. And if doubt should still exist, it must be removed by the concluding sentences of this part of the Parable, in which the householder is represented as going out at the last hour, when, finding others standing he asks them why they stood there all the day idle, to which they reply, that no man had hired them. These also are, in turn, sent into the vineyard, though apparently without any expressed promise at all. It thus appears, that in proportion to the lateness of their work was the felt absence of any claim on the part of the laborers, and their simple reliance on their employer.
And now it is even. The time for working is past, and the Lord of the vineyard bids His Steward [here the Christ] pay His laborers. But here the first surprise awaits them. The order of payment is the inverse of that of labor: ' beginning from the last unto the first. ' This is almost a necessary part of the Parable. For, if the first laborers had been paid first, they would either have gone away without knowing what was done to the last, or, if they had remained, their objection could not have been urged, except on the ground of manifest malevolence towards their neighbors. After having received their wages, they could not have objected that they had not received enough, but only that the others had received too much. But it was not the scope of the Parable to charge with conscious malevolence those who sought a higher reward or deemed themselves entitled to it. Again, we notice, as indicating the disposition of the later laborers, that those of the third hour did not murmur, because they had not got more than they of the eleventh hour. This is in accordance with their not having made any bargain at the first, but trusted entirely to the householder.
But they of the first hour had their cupidity excited. Seeing what the others had received, they expected. to have more than their due. When they like wise received every man a denarius, they murmured, as if injustice had been done them. And, as mostly in like circumstances, truth and fairness seemed on their side. For, selecting the extreme case of the eleventh hour laborers, had not the Householder made those who had wrought only one hour equal to them who had ' borne the burden of the day and the heat? ' Yet, however fair their reasoning might seem, they had no claim in truth or equity, for had they not agreed for one denarius with him? And it had not even been in the general terms of a day's wages, but they had made the express bargain of one denarius. They had gone to work with a stipulated sum as their hire distinctly in view. They now appealed to justice; but from first to last they had had justice. This as regards the 'so much for so much' principle of claim, law, work, and pay.
But there was yet another aspect than that of mere justice. Those other laborers, who had felt that, owning to the lateness of their appearance, they had no claim - and, alas! which of us must not feel how late we have been in coming, and hence how little we can have wrought - had made no bargain, but trusted to the Master. And as they had believed, so was it unto them. Not because they made or had any claim - ' I will, however, to give unto this last, even as unto thee ' - the word 'I will' being emphatically put first to mark 'the good pleasure' of His grace as the ground of action. Such a Master could not have given less to those who had come when called, trusting to His goodness, and not in their deserts. The reward was now reckoned, not of work nor of debt, but of grace.
But if all is to be placed on the new ground of grace, with which, indeed, the whole bearing of the later laborers accords, then (as Paul also shows) the laborers who murmured were guilty either of ignorance in failing to perceive the sovereignty of grace - that it is within His power to do with His own as He willeth - or else of malevolence, when, instead of with grateful joy, they looked on with an evil eye - and this in proportion as 'the Householder' was good. But such a state of mind may be equally that of the Jews, and of the Gentiles. And so, in this illustrative case of the Parable, 'the first shall be last, and the last first.' And in other instances also, though not in all -
'many shall be last that are first; and first that are last.'
But He is the God, Sovereign in grace, in Whose Vineyard there is work to do for all, however limited their time, power, or opportunity; Whose laborers we are, if His Children; Who, in His desire for the work, and condescension and patience towards the workers, goeth out into the market-place even to the eleventh hour, and, with only gentlest rebuke for not having earlier come thither and thus lost our day in idleness, still, even to the last, bids us come; Who promises what is right, and gives far more than is due to them who simply trust Him: the God not of the Jews nor of the Gentiles only, but our Father; the God Who not only pays, but freely gives of His own, and in Whose Wisdom and by Whose Grace it may be, that, even as the first shall be last, so the last shall be first.
Another point still remains to be noticed. If anywhere, we expect in these Parables, addressed to the people, forms of teaching and speaking with which they were familiar - in other words, Jewish parallels. But we equally expect that the teaching of Christ, while conveyed under illustrations with which the Jews were familiar, would be entirely different in spirit. And such we find it notably in the present instances. To begin with, according to Jewish Law, if a man engaged a laborer without any definite bargain, but on the statement that he would be paid as one or another of the laborers in the place, he was, according to some, only bound to pay the lowest wages in the place; but, according to the majority, the average between the lowest and the highest. Again, as regards the letter of the Parable itself, we have a remarkable parallel in a funeral oration on a Rabbi, who died at the early age of twenty-eight. The text chosen was: ' The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, ' and this was illustrated by a Parable of a king who had a vineyard, and engaged many laborers to work in it. One of them was distinguished above the rest by his ability. So the king took him by the hand, and walked up and down with him. At even, when the laborers were paid, this one received the same wages as the others, just as if he had wrought the whole day. Upon this the others murmured, because he who had wrought only two hours had received the same as they who had labored the whole day, when the king replied:
'Why murmur ye? This laborer has by his skill wrought as much in two hours as you during the whole day.'
This in reference to the great merits of the deceased young Rabbi.
But it will be observed that, with all its similarity of form, the moral of the Jewish Parable is in exactly the opposite direction from the teaching of Christ. The same spirit of work and pay breathes in another Parable, which is intended to illustrate the idea that God had not revealed the reward attaching to each commandment, in order that men might not neglect those which brought less return. A king - so the Parable runs - had a garden, for which he hired laborers without telling them what their wages would be. In the evening he called them, and, having ascertained from each under what tree he had been working, he paid them according to the value of the trees on which they had been engaged. And when they said that he ought to have told them, which trees would bring the laborers most pay, the king replied that thereby a great part of his garden would have been neglected. So had God in like manner only revealed the reward of the greatest of the commandments, that to honor father and mother, and that of the least, about letting the mother-bird fly away - attaching to both precisely the same reward.
To these, if need were, might be added other illustrations of that painful reckoning about work, or else sufferings, and reward, which characterizes Jewish theology, as it did those laborers in the Parable.
The special request for power
One other incident, more strange and sad than any that had preceded, and the Perean stay is for ever ended. It almost seems, as if the fierce blast of temptation, the very breath of the destroyer, were already sweeping over the little flock, as if the twilight of the night of betrayal and desertion were already falling around. And now it has fallen on the two chosen disciples, James and John - 'the sons of thunder,' and one of them, 'the beloved disciple!' Peter, the third in that band most closely bound to Christ, had already had his fierce temptation, and would have it more fiercely - to the uprooting of life, if the Great High-Priest had not specially interceded for him. And, as regards these two sons of Zebedee and of Salome, we know what temptation had already beset them, how John had forbidden one to cast out devils, because he followed not with them, and how both he and his brother, James, would have called down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans who would not receive Christ.
"Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Him with her sons, worshiping Him and asking a certain thing from Him. And He said to her, "What do you desire?" She said to Him, "Grant that these my two sons may sit one at Your right hand and one at Your left hand in Your kingdom."
"But Jesus answered and said, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They said to Him, "We are able." And He said to them, "You shall indeed drink of My cup, and shall be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit at My right hand and at My left hand is not Mine to give, but shall be given to those for whom it has been prepared by My Father." And after hearing this, the ten were indignant against the two brothers.
"But Jesus called them to Him and said, "You know that the rulers of the nations exercise lordship over them, and the great ones exercise authority over them. However, it shall not be this way among you; but whoever would become great among you, let him be your servant; And whoever would be first among you, let him be your slave; Just as the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:20-28, HBFV)
It was essentially the same spirit that now prompted the request which their mother Salome preferred, not only with their full concurrence, but, as we are expressly told, with their active participation. There is the same faith in the Christ, the same allegiance to Him, but also the same unhallowed earnestness, the same misunderstanding - and, let us add, the same latent self-exaltation, as in the two former instances, in the present request that, as the most honored of His guests, and also as the nearest to Him, they might have their places at His Right Hand and at His Left in His Kingdom. Terribly incongruous as is any appearance of self-seeking at that moment and with that prospect before them, we cannot but feel that there is also an intenseness of faith and absoluteness of love almost sublime, when the mother steps forth from among those who follow Christ to His Suffering and Death, to proffer such a request with her sons, and for them.
And so the Savior seems to have viewed it. With unspeakable patience and tenderness, He, Whose Soul is filled with the terrible contest before Him, bears with the weakness and selfishness which could cherish such thoughts and ambitions even at such a time. To correct them, He points to that near prospect, when the Highest is to be made low. The King is to be King through suffering - are they aware of the road which leads to that goal? Those nearest to the King of sorrows must reach the place nearest to Him by the same road as He. Are they prepared for it; prepared to drink that cup of soul-agony, which the Father will hand to Him - to submit to, to descend into that baptism of consecration, when the floods will sweep over Him? In their ignorance, and listening only to the promptings of their hearts, they imagine that they are. In some measure it would be so; yet, finally to correct their mistake: to sit at His Right and at His Left Hand, these were not marks of mere favor for Him to bestow - in His own words: "(it) is not Mine to give, but shall be given to those for whom it has been prepared by My Father."
But as for the other ten, when they heard of it, it was only the pre-eminence which, in their view, James and John had sought, which stood out before them, to their envy, jealousy, and indignation. And so, in that tremendously solemn hour would the fierce fire of controversy have broken out among them, who should have been most closely united; would jealousy and ambition have filled those who should have been most humble, and fierce passions, born of self, the world and Satan, have distracted them, whom the thought of the great love and the great sacrifice should have filled. It was the rising of that storm on the sea, the noise and tossing of those angry billows, which He hushed into silence when He spoke to them of the grand contrast between the princes of the Gentiles as they 'lord it over them,' or the 'great among them' as they 'domineer' over men, and their own aims - how, whosoever would be great among them, must seek his greatness in service - not greatness through service, but the greatness of service; and, whosever would be chief or rather 'first' among them, let it be in service.
And had it not been thus, was it not, would it not be so in the Son of Man - and must it not therefore be so in them who would be nearest to Him, even His Apostles and disciples? The Son of Man - let them look back, let them look forward - He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. And then, breaking through the reserve that had held Him, and revealing to them the inmost thoughts which had occupied Him when He had been alone and apart, going before them on the way, He spoke for the first time fully what was the deepest meaning of His Life, Mission, and Death, which was to give his life as a ransom for many.
Once more, and now for the last time, were the fords of Jordan passed, and Christ was on the soil of Judea proper. Behind Him were Perea and Galilee; behind Him the Ministry of the Gospel by Word and Deed; before Him the final Act of His Life, towards which all had consciously tended. Rejected as the Messiah of His people, not only in His Person but as regarded the Kingdom of God, which, in fulfilment of prophecy and of the merciful Counsel of God, He had come to establish, He was of set purpose going up to Jerusalem, there to accomplish His death. And He was coming, not, as at the Feast of Tabernacles, privately, but openly, at the head of His Apostles, and followed by many disciples - a festive band going up to the Passover Feast, of which Himself was to be 'the Lamb' of sacrifice.
The first station reached was Jericho, the 'City of Palms,' a distance of only about six hours from Jerusalem. The ancient City occupied not the site of the present wretched hamlet, but lay about half an hour to the north-west of it, by the so-called Elisha-Spring. A second spring rose an hour further to the north-north-west. The water of these springs, distributed by aqueducts, gave, under a tropical sky, unsurpassed fertility to the rich soil along the 'plain' of Jericho, which is about twelve or fourteen miles wide. The Old Testament history of the 'City of Palms' is sufficiently known. It was here also that King Zedekiah had, on his flight, been seized by the Chaldeans, and thither a company of 345 men returned under Zerubbabel. In the war of liberation under the Maccabees the Syrians had attempted to fortify Jericho. These forts were afterwards destroyed by Pompey in his campaign. Herod the Great had first plundered, and then partially rebuilt, fortified, and adorned Jericho. It was here that he died. His son Archelaus also built there a palace. At the time of which we write, it was, of course, under Roman dominion.
Long before, it had recovered its ancient fame for fertility and its prosperity. Josephus describes it as the richest part of the country, and calls it a little Paradise. Antony had bestowed the revenues of its balsam-plantations as an Imperial gift upon Cleopatra, who in turn sold them to Herod. Here grew palm-trees of various kinds, sycamores, the cypress-flower, the myrobalsamum, which yielded precious oil, but especially the balsam-plant. If to these advantages of climate, soil, and productions we add, that it was, so to speak, the key of Judea towards the east, that it lay on the caravan-road from Damascus and Arabia, that it was a great commercial and military center, and lastly, its nearness to Jerusalem, to which it formed the last 'station' on the road of the festive pilgrims from Galilee and Perea - it will not be difficult to understand either its importance or its prosperity.
We can picture to ourselves the scene, as our Lord on that afternoon in early spring beheld it. There it was, indeed, already summer, for, as Josephus tells us, even in winter the inhabitants could only bear the lightest clothing of linen. We are approaching it from the Jordan. It is protected by walls, flanked by four forts. These walls, the theatre, and the amphitheatre, have been built by Herod; the new palace and its splendid gardens are the work of Archelaus. All around wave groves of feathery palms, rising in stately beauty; stretch gardens of roses, and especially sweet-scented balsam-plantations, the largest behind the royal gardens, of which the perfume is carried by the wind almost out to sea, and which may have given to the city its name (Jericho, 'the perfumed'). It is the Eden of Palestine, the very fairyland of the old world. And how strangely is this gem set! Deep down in that hollowed valley, through which tortuous Jordan winds, to lose his waters in the slimy mass of the Sea of Judgment.
The river and the Dead Sea are nearly equidistant from the town, about six miles. Far across the river rise the mountains of Moab, on which lies the purple and violet coloring. Towards Jerusalem and northwards stretch those bare limestone hills, the hiding-place of robbers along the desolate road towards the City. There, and in the neighboring wilderness of Judea, are also the lonely dwellings of anchorites, while over all this strangely varied scene has been flung the many-colored mantle of a perpetual summer. And in the streets of Jericho a motley throng meets: pilgrims from Galilee and Perea, priests who have a 'station' here, traders from all lands, who have come to purchase or to sell, or are on the great caravan-road from Arabia and Damascus - robbers and anchorites, wild fanatics, soldiers, courtiers, and busy publicans - for Jericho was the central station for the collection of tax and custom, both on native produce and on that brought from across Jordan. And yet it was a place for dreaming also, under that glorious summer-sky, in those scented groves - when these many figures from far-off lands and that crowd of priests, numbering, according to tradition, half those in Jerusalem, seemed fleeting as in a vision, and (as Jewish legend had it) the sound of Temple-music came from Moriah, borne in faint echoes on the breeze, like the distant sound of many waters.
It was through Jericho that Jesus, 'having entered,' was passing. Tidings of the approach of the festive band, consisting of His disciples and Apostles, and headed by the Master Himself, must have preceded Him, these six miles from the fords of Jordan. His Name, His Works, His Teaching - perhaps Himself, must have been known to the people of Jericho, just as they must have been aware of the feelings of the leaders of the people, perhaps of the approaching great contest between them and the Prophet of Nazareth. Was He a good man; had He wrought those great miracles in the power of God or by Satanic influence - was He the Messiah or the Antichrist; would He bring salvation to the world, or entail ruin on His own nation? Conquer or be destroyed? Was it only one more in the long list of delusions and illusions, or was the long-promised morning of heaven's own day at last to break?
Close by was Bethany, where Lazarus was raised from the dead, so well known to all in that neighborhood. And yet the Sanhedrin - it was well known - had resolved on His death! At any rate there was no concealment about Him; and here, in face of all, and accompanied by His followers - humble and unlettered, it must be admitted, but thoroughly convinced of His superhuman claims, and deeply attached - Jesus was going up to Jerusalem to meet His enemies!
It was the custom, when a festive band passed through a place, that the inhabitants gathered in the streets to bid their brethren welcome. And on that afternoon, surely, scarce any one in Jericho but would go forth to see this pilgrim-band. Men - curious, angry, half-convinced; women, holding up their babes, it may be for a passing blessing, or pushing forward their children that in after years they might say they had seen the Prophet of Nazareth; traders, soldiers, a solid wall of onlookers before their gardens was this 'crowd' along the road by which Jesus 'was to pass.' Would He only pass through the place, or be the guest of some of the leading priests in Jericho; would He teach, or work any miracle, or silently go on His way to Bethany? Only one in all that crowd seemed unwelcome; alone, and out of place. It was the 'chief of the Publicans' - the head of the tax and customs department. As his name shows, he was a Jew; but yet that very name Zacchaeus, 'Zakkai,' 'the just,' or 'pure,' sounded like mockery.
Jesus and the Tax Collector
We know in what repute Publicans were held, and what opportunities of wrong-doing and oppression they possessed. And from his after-confession it is only too evident, that Zacchaeus had to the full used them for evil. And he had got that for which he had given up alike his nation and his soul: 'he was rich.' If, as Christ had taught, it was harder for any rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, what of him who had gotten his riches by such means?
"Then Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, a man named Zaccheus was there. Now he was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he was seeking to see Jesus, Who He was; but he was not able because of the multitude, for he was a man of small stature. But after running ahead, in front of the multitude, he climbed up into a sycamore tree so that he might see Him; for He was about to pass that way.
"And when He came to the place, Jesus looked up and saw him, and said to him, "Zaccheus, make haste to come down, for today it is necessary for Me to stay at your house." And he came down in haste and received Him joyfully. But after seeing this, everyone began to criticize, saying, "He has gone in to lodge with a sinful man."
"Then Zaccheus stood and said to the Lord, "Behold, the half of my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I return fourfold." And Jesus said to him, 'Today, salvation has come to this house, inasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man has come to seek and to save that which is lost.'" (Luke 19:1-10, HBFV)
And yet Zacchaeus was in the crowd that had come to see Jesus. What had brought him? Certainly, not curiosity only. Was it the long working of conscience; or a dim, scarcely self-avowed hope of something better; or had he heard Him before; or of Him, that He was so unlike those harsh leaders and teachers of Israel, who refused all hope on earth and in heaven to such as him, that Jesus received - nay, called to Him the publicans and sinners? Or was it only the nameless, deep, irresistible inward drawing of the Holy Spirit, which may perhaps have brought us, as it has brought many, we know not why or how, to the place and hour of eternal decision for God, and of infinite grace to our souls? Certain it is, that, as so often in such circumstances, Zacchaeus encountered only hindrances which seemed to render his purpose almost impossible.
The narrative is singularly detailed and pictorial. Zacchaeus, trying to push his way through 'the press,' and repulsed; Zacchaeus, 'little of stature,' and unable to look over the shoulders of others: it reads almost like a symbolical story of one who is seeking 'to see Jesus,' but cannot push his way because of the crowd - whether of the self-righteous, or of his own conscious sins, that seem to stand between him and the Savior, and which will not make room for him, while he is unable to look over them because he is, so to speak, 'little of stature.'
Needless questions have been asked as to the import of Zacchaeus' wish to see who Jesus was. It is just this vagueness of desire, which Zacchaeus himself does not understand, which is characteristic. And, since he cannot otherwise succeed, he climbs up one of those wide-spreading sycamores in a garden, perhaps close to his own house, along the only road by which Jesus can pass -' to see Him. ' Of all persons in that crowd the least noted, the most hindered in coming - and yet the one most concerned, was the Chief Publican. It is always so - it is ever the order of the Gospel, that the last shall be first.
Yet never more self-unconscious was Zacchaeus than at the moment when Jesus was entering that garden-road, and passing under the overhanging branches of that sycamore, the crowd closing up behind, and following as He went along. Only one thought - without ulterior conscious object, temporal or spiritual - filled his whole being. The present absolutely held him - when those wondrous Eyes, out of which heaven itself seemed to look upon earth, were upturned, and that Face of infinite grace, never to be forgotten, beamed upon him the welcome of recognition, and He uttered the self-spoken invitation in which the invited was the real Inviter, the guest the true Host.
As bidden by Christ, Zacchaeus hurried down off of tree. Nothing was as yet clear to him, and yet all was joyous within his soul. But now the murmur of disappointment and anger ran through the accompanying crowd - which perhaps had not before heard what had passed between Jesus and the Publican, certainly, had not understood, or else not believed its import - because He was gone to be guest with a man that was a sinner.
Standing forth, not so much before the crowd as before the Lord, and not ashamed, nay, scarcely conscious of the confession it implied - so much is the sorrow of the past in true repentance swallowed up by the joy of the present - Zacchaeus vowed fourfold restoration, as by a thief, of what had become his through false accusation, as well as the half of all his goods to the poor. And so the whole current of his life had been turned, in those few moments, through his joyous reception of Christ, the Savior of sinners; and Zacchaeus the public robber, the rich Chief of the Publicans, had become an almsgiver.
The Evangelistic record passes with significant silence over that night in the house of Zacchaeus. It was in the morning, when the journey in company with His disciples was resumed, that the next public incident occurred in the healing of the blind by the wayside.
"And as they were going out of Jericho, a great multitude followed Him. And behold, two blind men sitting beside the road, when they heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, saying, "Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!" Then the multitude rebuked them, so that they would be silent. But they cried out all the more, saying, "Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!"
"And Jesus stopped and called them, and said, "What do you desire that I do for you?" They said to Him, "Lord, that our eyes may be opened." And being moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed Him." (Matthew 20:29-34, HBFV)
Little need be said of the incident itself: it is so like the other Deeds of His Life. Once more the crowd was following Jesus, as in the morning He resumed the journey with His disciples. And, there by the wayside, begging, sat the blind men - there, where Jesus was passing. As they heard the tramp of many feet and the sound of many voices, they learned that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. It is all deeply touching, and deeply symbolical. But what must their faith have been, when there, in Jericho, they not only owned Him as the true Messiah, but cried - in the deep significance of that special mode of address, as coming from Jewish lips: 'Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!'
It was quite in accordance with what one might almost have expected - certainly with the temper of Jericho, as we learned it on the previous evening, when 'many,' the 'multitude,' 'they which went before,' would have bidden that cry for help be silent as an unwarrantable intrusion and interruption, if not a needless and meaningless application. But only all the louder and more earnest rose the cry, as the blind felt that they might for ever be robbed of the opportunity that was slipping past. And He, Who listens to every cry of distress, heard this. He stood still, and commanded the blind to be called. Jesus then laid his hands on their eyes and healed them.
Wednesday, March 29th, 30 A.D.
The arrival of the Passover band from Galilee and Perea was not in advance of many others. In truth, most pilgrims from a distance would probably come to the Holy City some days before the Feast, for the sake of purification in the Temple, since those who for any reason needed such - and there would be few families that did not require it - generally deferred it till the festive season brought them to Jerusalem. We owe this notice, and that which follows, to John, and in this again recognize the Jewish writer of the Fourth Gospel. It was only natural that these pilgrims should have sought for Jesus, and, when they did not find Him, discuss among themselves the probability of His coming to the Feast. His absence would, after the work which He had done these three years, the claim which He made, and the defiant denial of it by the priesthood and the Sanhedrin, have been regarded as a virtual surrender to the enemy. There was a time when He need not have appeared at the Feast - when, as we see it, it was better He should not come. But that time was past.
"Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up out of the country to Jerusalem before the Passover, so that they might purify themselves. Then they were watching for Jesus, and were saying to one another while standing in the temple, "What do you think, that He will not come to the feast at all?" For both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a command that if anyone knew where He was, he should reveal it, so that they might seize Him." (John 11:55-57, Holy Bible in Its Original Order - A Faithful Version (HBFV))
Without concealment Christ came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom He had raised from the dead. He came there six days before the Passover - and yet His coming was such that they could not take him. They might as well take Him in the Temple; nay, more easily. For, the moment His stay in Bethany became known, 'much people of the Jews' came out, not only for His sake, but to see that Lazarus whom He had raised from the dead. And, of those who so came, many went away believing. And how, indeed, could it be otherwise? Thus one of their plans was frustrated, and the evil seemed only to grow worse. The Sanhedrin could perhaps not be moved to such flagrant outrage of all Jewish Law, but 'the chief priests,' who had no such scruples, consulted how they might put Lazarus also to death.
Yet, not until His hour had come could man do aught against Christ or His disciples. And, in contrast to such scheming, haste and search, we mark the majestic calm and quiet of Him Who knew what was before Him. Jesus had arrived at Bethany six days before the Passover - that is, on Wednesday, March 29th in 30 A.D.
"Now six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had died, and whom He had raised from the dead. There they made a supper for Him, and Martha served; and Lazarus was one of those who sat with Him.
"Mary then took a pound of pure spikenard ointment worth a great price and anointed Jesus' feet, wiping His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the aroma of the ointment. As a result, one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, who was about to betray Him, said, "Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred silver coins, and given to the poor?" Now he said this, not because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and carried what was put in it.
"Then Jesus said, 'Let her alone; she has been keeping it toward the day of My burial. For you have the poor with you always, but you do not always have Me.' "Then a great crowd of the Jews found out that He was there. And they came, not only because of Jesus, but also that they might see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests took counsel in order that they might kill Lazarus also; Because by reason of him, many of the Jews were leaving them and believing in Jesus." (John 12:1-11, HBFV)
The words of John seem to indicate that the meal was a public one, as if the people of Bethany had combined to do Him this honor, and so share the privilege of attending the feast. In point of fact, we know from Matthew and Mark that it took place 'in the house of Simon the Leper' - not, of course, an actual leper - but one who had been such. Perhaps his guest chamber was the largest in Bethany; perhaps the house was nearest to the Synagogue; or there may have been other reasons for it, unknown to us - least likely is the suggestion that Simon was the husband of Martha, or else her father. But all is in character. Among the guests is Lazarus: and, prominent in service, Martha; and Mary (the unnamed woman of the other two Gospels, which do not mention that household by name), is also true to her character. She had a certain amount of spikenard ointment, which was very precious.
It is, at least, not unreasonable to suppose - remembering the fondness of Jewish women for such perfumes - that Mary may have had that container of very costly ointment from olden days, before she had learned to serve Christ. Then, when she came to know Him, and must have learned how constantly that Decease, of which He ever spoke, was before His Mind, she may have put it aside, 'kept it,' 'against the day of His burying.' And now the decisive hour had come. Jesus may have told her, as He had told the disciples, what was before Him in Jerusalem at the Feast, and she would be far more quick to understand, even as she must have known far better than they, how great was the danger from the Sanhedrin. And it is this believing apprehension of the mystery of His Death on her part, and this preparation of deepest love for it - this mixture of sorrow, faith, and devotion - which made her deed so precious, that, wherever in the future the Gospel would be preached, this also that she had done would be recorded for a memorial of her.
And the more we think of it, the better can we understand, how at that last feast of fellowship, when all the other guests realized not - no, not even His disciples - how near the end was, she would anoint him for his burial. Her faith made it a twofold anointing: that of the best Guest at the last feast, and that of preparation for that Burial which, of all others, she apprehended as so terribly near. And deepest humility now offered, what most earnest love had provided, and intense faith, in view of what was coming, applied. And so she poured the precious ointment over His Head, over His Feet - then, stooping over them, wiped them with her hair, as if, not only in evidence of service and love, but in fellowship of His Death.
Judas knew the nearness of Christ's Betrayal, and hated the more; she knew of the nearness of His precious Death, and loved the more. It was not that he cared for the poor, when, taking the mask of charity, he simulated anger that such costly ointment had not been sold, and the price given to the poor. For he was essentially dishonest, 'a thief,' and covetousness was the underlying master-passion of his soul. The money, claimed for the poor, would only have been used by himself. Yet such was his pretence of righteousness, such his influence as 'a man of prudence' among the disciples, and such their sad weakness, that they, or at least 'some,' expressed indignation among themselves and against her who had done the deed of love, which, when viewed in the sublimeness of a faith, that accepted and prepared for the death of a Savior Whom she so loved, and to Whom this last, the best service she could, was to be devoted, would for ever cause her to be though of as an example of loving.
There is something inexpressibly sad, yet so patient, gentle, and tender in Christ's rebuke to Judas to let her alone. Surely, never could there be waste in ministry of love to Him! That He, Who was ever of the poor and with them, Who for our sakes became poor, that through His poverty we might be made rich, should have to plead for a last service of love to Himself, and for Mary, and as against a Judas, seems indeed, the depth of self-abasement.