"Therefore, the Pharisees in turn also asked him how he had received sight . . . Then some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God because He does not keep the Sabbath (note: does not keep the Sabbath based on our JEWISH traditions)"
"They said to the blind man again, "What do you say about Him since He opened your eyes?" And he said, "He is a prophet." . . . they called the parents of the one who had received sight. And they asked them, saying, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" His parents answered them and said, '"We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind. But how he now sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know . . .'
"Therefore, they called a second time for the man who had been born blind, and said to him, "Give glory to God. We know that this man (Jesus) is a sinner." Then he answered and said, "Whether He is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know, that I was blind, and now I see." And they said to him again, "What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?" He answered them, "I have already told you . . .
"'We (the Pharisees) know that God spoke to Moses. As for this man, we do not know where He has come from." The man answered and said to them, "This is truly an amazing thing, that you do not know where He has come from, yet He has opened my eyes."
"They answered and said to him, "You were born wholly in sin, and you are teaching us?" AND THEY CAST HIM OUT (of the synagogue)." (John 9:1-3, 6-8, 11, 13, 15-21, 24-27, 29-30, 34, Holy Bible in Its Original Order - A Faithful Version (HBFV))
As the Master and His disciples passed the blind beggar, Jesus 'saw' him, with that look which they who followed Him knew to be full of meaning. Yet, so thoroughly Judaised were they by their late contact with the Pharisees, that no thought of possible mercy came to them, only a truly and characteristically Jewish question, addressed to Him expressly, and as 'Rabbi:' through whose guilt this blindness had befallen him - through his own, or that of his parents.
Many instances could be adduced, in which one or another sin is said to have been punished by some immediate stroke, disease, or even by death; and we constantly find Rabbis, when meeting such unfortunate persons, asking them, how or by what sin this had come to them. But, as this man was 'blind from his birth,' the possibility of some actual sin before birth would suggest itself, at least as a speculative question, since the 'evil impulse' might even then be called into activity. At the same time, both the Talmud and the later charge of the Pharisees, 'In sins wast thou born altogether,' imply that in such cases the alternative explanation would be considered, that the blindness might be caused by the sin of his parents. It was a common Jewish view, that the merits or demerits of the parents would appear in the children. In fact, up to thirteen years of age a child was considered, as it were, part of his father, and as suffering for his guilt.
More than that, the thoughts of a mother might affect the moral state of her unborn offspring, and the terrible apostasy of one of the greatest Rabbis had, in popular belief, been caused by the sinful delight his mother had taken when passing through an idol-grove. Lastly, certain special sins in the parents would result in specific diseases in their offspring, and one is mentioned as causing blindness in the children. But the impression left on our minds is, that the disciples felt not sure as to either of these solutions of the difficulty. It seemed a mystery, inexplicable on the supposition of God's infinite goodness, and to which they sought to apply the common Jewish solution. Many similar mysteries meet us in the administration of God's Providence - questions, which seem unanswerable, but to which we try to give answers, perhaps, not much wiser than the explanations suggested by disciples.
But why seek to answer them at all, since we possess not all, perhaps very few of, the data requisite for it? There is one aspect, however, of adversity, and of a strange dispensation of evil, on which the light of Christ's Words here shines with the brightness of a new morning. There is a physical, natural reason for them. God has not specially sent them, in the sense of His interference or primary causation, although He has sent them in the sense of His knowledge, will, and reign. They have come in the ordinary course of things, and are traceable to causes which, if we only knew them, would appear to us the sequence of the laws which God has imposed on His creation, and which are necessary for its orderly continuance. And, further, all such evil consequences, from the operation of God's laws, are in the last instance to be traced back to the curse which sin has brought upon man and on earth.
With these His Laws, and with their evil sequences to us through the curse of sin, God does not interfere in the ordinary course of His Providence; although he would be daring, who would negative the possibility of what may seem, though it is not, interference, since the natural causes which lead to these evil consequences may so easily, naturally, and rationally be affected. But there is another and a higher aspect of it, since Christ has come, and is really the Healer of all disease and evil by being the Remover of its ultimate moral cause. This is indicated in His words, when, putting aside the clumsy alternative suggested by the disciples, He told them that,
"rather, this blindness came so that the works of God might be manifested in him"
They wanted to know the 'why,' He told them the 'in order to,' of the man's calamity; they wished to understand its reason as regarded its origin, He told them its reasonableness in regard to the purpose which it, and all similar suffering, should serve, since Christ has come, the Healer of evil - because the Savior from sin. Thus He transferred the question from intellectual ground to that of the moral purpose which suffering might serve. And this not in itself, nor by any destiny or appointment, but because the Coming and Work of the Christ has made it possible to us all. Sin and its sequences are still the same. But over it all has risen the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings.
To make this the reality to us, was 'the work of Him' Who sent, and for which He sent, the Christ. And rapidly now must He work it, for perpetual example, during the few hours still left of His brief working-day. This figure was not unfamiliar to the Jews, though it may well be that, by thus emphasising the briefness of the time, He may also have anticipated any objection to His healing on the Sabbath. But it is of even more importance to notice, how the two leading thoughts of the previous day's Discourse were now again taken up and set forth in the miracle that followed. These were, that He did the Work which God had sent Him to do, and that He was the Light of the world. As its Light He could not but shine so long as He was in it.
Once more we notice, how in His Deeds, as in His Words, the Lord adopted the forms known and used by His contemporaries, while He filled them with quite other substance. It has already been stated, that saliva was commonly regarded as a remedy for diseases of the eye, although, of course, not for the removal of blindness. With this He made clay, which He now used, adding to it the direction to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam, a term which literally meant 'sent.' A symbolism, this, of Him Who was the Sent of the Father. For, all is here symbolical: the cure and its means. If we ask ourselves why means were used in this instance, we can only suggest, that it was partly for the sake of him who was to be healed, partly for theirs who afterwards heard of it.
For, the blind man seems to have been ignorant of the character of his Healer, and it needed the use of some means to make him, so to speak, receptive. On the other hand, not only the use of means, but their inadequacy to the object, must have impressed all. Symbolical, also, were these means. Sight was restored by clay, made out of the ground with the spittle of Him, Whose breath had at the first breathed life into clay; and this was then washed away in the Pool of Siloam, from whose waters had been drawn on the Feast of Tabernacles that which symbolized the forthpouring of the new life by the Spirit. Lastly, if it be asked why such miracle should have been wrought on one who had not previous faith, who does not even seem to have known about the Christ, we can only repeat, that the man himself was intended to be a symbol, 'that the works of God should be made manifest in him.'
And so, what the Pharisees had sought in vain, was freely vouch-safed when there was need for it. With inimitable simplicity, itself evidence that no legend is told, the man's obedience and healing are recorded. We judge, that his first impulse when healed must have been to seek for Jesus, naturally, where he had first met Him. On his way, probably past his own house to tell his parents, and again on the spot where he had so long sat begging, all who had known him must have noticed the great change that had passed over him. So marvellous, indeed, did it appear, that, while part of the crowd that gathered would, of course, acknowledge his identity, others would say: 'No, but he is like him;' in their suspiciousness looking for some imposture. For there can be little doubt, that on his way he must have learned more about Jesus than merely His Name, and in turn have communicated to his informants the story of his healing. Similarly, the formal question now put to him by the Jews was as much, if not more, a preparatory inquisition than the outcome of a wish to learn the circumstances of his healing. And so we notice in his answer the cautious desire not to say anything that could incriminate his Benefactor. He tells the facts truthfully, plainly; he accentuates by what means he had 'recovered,' not received, sight; but otherwise gives no clue by which either to discover or to incriminate Jesus.
Presently they bring him to the Pharisees, not to take notice of his healing, but to found on it a charge against Christ. Such must have been their motive, since it was universally known that the leaders of the people had, of course informally, agreed to take the strictest measures, not only against the Christ, but against any one who professed to be His disciple. The ground on which the present charge against Jesus would rest was plain: the healing involved a manifold breach of the Sabbath-Law. The first of these was that He had made clay. Next, it would be a question whether any remedy might be applied on the holy day. Such could only be done in diseases of the internal organs (from the throat downwards), except when danger to life or the loss of an organ was involved. It was, indeed, declared lawful to apply, for example, wine to the outside of the eyelid, on the ground that this might be treated as washing; but it was sinful to apply it to the inside of the eye. And as regards saliva, its application to the eye is expressly forbidden, on the ground that it was evidently intended as a remedy.
There was, therefore, abundant legal ground for a criminal charge. And, although on the Sabbath the Sanhedrin would not hold any formal meeting, and, even had there been such, the testimony of one man would not have sufficed, yet 'the Pharisees' set the inquiry regularly on foot. First, as if not satisfied with the report of those who had brought the man, they made him repeat it. The simplicity of the man's language left no room for evasion or subterfuge. Rabbinism was on its great trial. The wondrous fact could neither be denied nor explained, and the only ground for resisting the legitimate inference as to the character of Him Who had done it, was its inconsistence with their traditional law. The alternative was: whether their traditional law of Sabbath-observance, or else He Who had done such miracles, was Divine? Was Christ not of God, because He did not keep the Sabbath in their way? But, then, could an open transgressor of God's Law do such miracles?
There is something very peculiar, and, in one sense, most instructive, as to the general opinion entertained even by the best-disposed, who had not yet been taught the higher truth, in his reply, so simple and solemn, so comprehensive in its sequences, and yet so utterly inadequate by itself: 'He is a Prophet.' One possibility still remained. After all, the man might not have been really blind; and they might, by cross-examining the parents, elicit that about his original condition which would explain the pretended cure. But on this most important point, the parents, with all their fear of the anger of the Pharisees, remained unshaken. He had been born blind; but as to the manner of his cure, they declined to offer any opinion. Thus, as so often, the machinations of the enemies of Christ led to results the opposite of those wished for. For, the evidential value of their attestation of their son's blindness was manifestly proportional to their fear of committing themselves to any testimony for Christ, well knowing what it would entail.
For to persons so wretchedly poor as to allow their son to live by begging, the consequence of being put outside the congregation - which was to be the punishment of any who confessed Jesus as the Messiah - would have been dreadful. Talmudic writings speak of two, or rather, we should say, of three, kinds of 'excommunication,' of which the two first were chiefly disciplinary, while the third was the real 'casting out,' 'un-Synagoguing,' 'cutting off from the congregation.' The general designation for 'excommunication' was Shammatta, although, according to its literal meaning, the term would only apply to the severest form of it. The first and lightest degree was the so-called Neziphah or Neziphutha; properly, 'a rebuke,' an inveighing. Ordinarily, its duration extended over seven days; but, if pronounced by the Nasi, or Head of the Sanhedrin, it lasted for thirty days.
In later times, however, it only rested for one day on the guilty person. Perhaps Paul referred to this 'rebuke' in the expression which he used about an offending Elder. He certainly adopted the practice in Palestine, when he would not have an Elder 'rebuked' although he went far beyond it when he would have such 'entreated.' In Palestine it was ordered, that an offending Rabbi should be scourged instead of being excommunicated. Yet another direction of Paul's is evidently derived from these arrangements of the Synagogue, although applied in a far different spirit. When the Apostle wrote that a heretic after the first and second admonition should be rejected, there must have been in his mind the second degree of Jewish excommunication, the so-called Niddui. This lasted for thirty days at the least, although among the Babylonians only for seven days. At the end of that term there was 'a second admonition,' which lasted other thirty days.
If still unrepentant, the third, or real excommunication, was pronounced, which was called the Cherem, or ban, and of which the duration was indefinite. Any three persons, or even one duly authorized, could pronounce the lowest sentence. The greater excommunication - which, happily, could only be pronounced in an assembly of ten - must have been terrible, being accompanied by curses, and, at a later period, sometimes proclaimed with the blast of the horn. If the person so visited occupied an honorable position, it was the custom to intimate his sentence in a euphemistic manner, such as: 'It seems to me that thy companions are separating themselves from thee.' He who was so, or similarly addressed, would only too well understand its meaning.
Henceforth he would sit on the ground, and bear himself like one in deep mourning. He would allow his beard and hair to grow wild and shaggy; he would not bathe, nor anoint himself; he would not be admitted into an assembly of ten men, neither to public prayer, nor to the Academy; though he might either teach, or be taught by, single individuals. Nay, as if he were a leper, people would keep at a distance of four cubits from him. If he died, stones were cast on his coffin, nor was he allowed the honor of the ordinary funeral, nor were they to mourn for him. Still more terrible was the final excommunication, or Cherem, when a ban of indefinite duration was laid on a man. Henceforth he was like one dead. He was not allowed to study with others, no intercourse was to be held with him, he was not even to be shown the road. He might, indeed, buy the necessaries of life, but it was forbidden to eat or drink with such an one.
We can understand, how everyone would dread such an anathema. But when we remember, what it would involve to persons in the rank of life, and so miserably poor as the parents of that blind man, we no longer wonder at their evasion of the question put by the Sanhedrin. And if we ask ourselves, on what ground so terrible a punishment could be inflicted to all time and in every place - for the ban once pronounced applied everywhere - simply for the confession of Jesus as the Christ, the answer is not difficult. The Rabbinists enumerate twenty-four grounds for excommunication, of which more than one might serve the purpose of the Pharisees. But in general, to resist the authority of the Scribes, or any of their decrees, or to lead others either away from 'the commandments,' or to what was regarded as profanation of the Divine Name, was sufficient to incur the ban, while it must be borne in mind that excommunication by the President of the Sanhedrin extended to all places and persons.
As nothing could be elicited from his parents, the man who had been blind was once more summoned before the Pharisees. It was no longer to inquire into the reality of his alleged blindness, nor to ask about the cure, but simply to demand of him recantation, though this was put in the most specious manner. Thou hast been healed: own that it was only by God's Hand miraculously stretched forth, and that 'this man' had nothing to do with it, save that the coincidence may have been allowed to try the faith of Israel. It could not have been Jesus Who had done it, for they knew Him to be 'a sinner.' Of the two alternatives they had chosen that of the absolute rightness of their own Sabbath-traditions as against the evidence of His Miracles. Virtually, then, this was the condemnation of Christ and the apotheosis of traditionalism. And yet, false as their conclusion was, there was this truth in their premisses, that they judged of miracles by the moral evidence in regard to Him, Who was represented as working them.
But he who had been healed of his blindness was not to be so betrayed into a denunciation of his great Physician. The simplicity and earnestness of his convictions enabled him to gain even a logical victory. It was his turn now to bring back the question to the issue which they had originally raised; and we admire it all the more, as we remember the consequences to this poor man of thus daring the Pharisees. As against their opinion about Jesus, as to the correctness of which neither he nor others could have direct knowledge, there was the unquestionable fact of his healing of which he had personal knowledge. The renewed inquiry now by the Pharisees, as to the manner in which Jesus had healed him, might have had for its object to betray the man into a positive confession, or to elicit something demoniacal in the mode of the cure. The blind man had now fully the advantage. He had already told them; why the renewed inquiry? As he put it half ironically: Was it because they felt the wrongness of their own position, and that they should become His disciples? It stung them to the quick; they lost all self-possession.
Of the Divine Mission of Moses they knew, but of the Mission of Jesus they knew nothing. The unlettered man had now the full advantage in the controversy. 'In this, indeed,' there was 'the marvellous,' that the leaders of Israel should confess themselves ignorant of the authority of One, Who had power to open the eyes of the blind - a marvel which had never before been witnessed. If He had that power, whence had He obtained it, and why? It could only have been from God. They said, He was 'a sinner' - and yet there was no principle more frequently repeated by the Rabbis, than that answers to prayer depended on a man being 'devout' and doing the Will of God. There could therefore by only one inference: If Jesus had not Divine Authority, He could not have had Divine Power.
The argument was unanswerable, and in its unanswerableness shows us, not indeed the purpose, but the evidential force of Christ's Miracles. In one sense they had no purpose, or rather were purpose to themselves, being the forthbursting of His Power and the manifestation of His Being and Mission, of which latter, as applied to things physical, they were part. But the truthful reasoning of that untutored man, which confounded the acuteness of the sages, shows the effect of these manifestations on all whose hearts were open to the truth. The Pharisees had nothing to answer, and, as not unfrequently in analogous cases, could only, in their fury, cast him out with bitter reproaches. Would he teach them - he, whose very disease showed him to have been a child conceived and born in sin, and who, ever since his birth, had been among ignorant, Law-neglecting 'sinners'?
But there was Another, Who watched and knew him: He Whom, so far as he knew, he had dared to confess, and for Whom he was content to suffer. Let him now have the reward of his faith, even its completion; and so shall it become manifest to all time, how, as we follow and cherish the better light, it riseth upon us in all its brightness, and that faithfulness in little bringeth the greater stewardship.
There were those who still followed Christ - not convinced by, nor as yet decided against Him - Pharisees, who well understood the application of His Words. Formally, it had been a contest between traditionalism and the Work of Christ. They also were traditionalists - were they also blind? But, nay, they had misunderstood Him by leaving out the moral element, thus showing themselves blind indeed. It was not the calamity of blindness; but it was a blindness in which they were guilty, and for which they were responsible, which indeed was the result of their deliberate choice.
The Good Shepherd
"Truly, truly I say to you, the one who does not enter the sheepfold through the door, but climbs up some other way, that one is a thief and a robber. But the one who enters through the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he brings the sheep out, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger for they will flee from him because they do not know the voice of strangers." Jesus spoke this parable to them, but they did not understand what He was saying to them.
"Therefore, Jesus again said to them, "Truly, truly I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and shall find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.
"I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. But the one who is a hireling, and who is not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep, and flees. And the wolf seizes the sheep and scatters them. . Now the hireling flees because he is a hireling and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good Shepherd, and I know those who are Mine, and am known of those who are Mine. Just as the Father knows Me, I also know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring those also, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one flock and one Shepherd. On account of this, the Father loves Me: because I lay down My life, that I may receive it back again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have authority to lay it down and authority to receive it back again. This commandment I received from My Father."
"Therefore, there was a division again among the Jews because of these words. And many of them said, "He has a demon and is crazy. Why do you listen to Him?" Others said, 'hese sayings are not those of one who is possessed by a demon. Does a demon have the power to open the eyes of the blind?'" (John 10:1-21, HBFV)
The closing words which Jesus had spoken to those Pharisees who followed Him breathe the sadness of expected near judgment, rather than the hopefulness of expostulation. And the Discourse which followed, ere He once more left Jerusalem, is of the same character. It seems, as if Jesus could not part from the City in holy anger, but ever, and only, with tears. All the topics of the former Discourses are now resumed and applied. They are not in any way softened or modified, but uttered in accents of loving sadness rather than of reproving monition. This connection with the past proves, that the Discourse was spoken immediately after, and in connection with, the events recorded in the previous chapters. At the same time, the tone adopted by Christ prepares us for His Perean Ministry, which may be described as that of the last and fullest outgoing of His most intense pity. This, in contrast to what was exhibited by the rulers of Israel, and which would so soon bring terrible judgment on them. For, if such things were done in 'the green tree' of Israel's Messiah-King, what would the end be in the dry wood of Israel's commonwealth and institutions?
It was in accordance with the character of the Discourse presently under consideration, that Jesus spake it, not, indeed, in Parables in the strict sense (for none such are recorded in the Fourth Gospel), but in an allegory in the Parabolic form, hiding the higher truths from those who, having eyes, had not seen, but revealing them to such whose eyes had been opened. If the scenes of the last few days had made anything plain, it was the utter unfitness of the teachers of Israel for their professed work of feeding the flock of God.
The Rabbinists also called their spiritual leaders 'feeders,' Parnasin - a term by which the Targum renders some of the references to 'the Shepherds' in Ezekiel 34 and Zechariah 11: The term comprised the two ideas of 'leading' and 'feeding,' which are separately insisted on in the Lord's allegory. As we think of it, no better illustration, nor more apt, could be found for those to whom 'the flock of God' was entrusted. It needed not therefore that a sheepfold should have been in view, to explain the form of Christ's address.
It only required to recall the Old Testament language about the shepherding of God, and that of evil shepherds, to make the application to what had so lately happened. They were, surely, not shepherds, who had cast out the healed blind man, or who so judged of the Christ, and would cast out all His disciples. They had entered into God's Sheepfold, but not by the door by which the owner, God, had brought His flock into the fold. To it the entrance had been His free love, His gracious provision, His thoughts of pardoning, His purpose of saving mercy. That was God's Old Testament-door into His Sheepfold. Not by that door, as had so lately fully appeared, had Israel's rulers come in. They had climbed up to their place in the fold some other way - with the same right, or by the same wrong, as a thief or a robber. They had wrongfully taken what did not belong to them - cunningly and undetected, like a thief; they had allotted it to themselves, and usurped it by violence, like a robber. What more accurate description could be given of the means by which the Pharisees and Sadducees had attained the rule over God's flock, and claimed it for themselves? And what was true of them holds equally so of all, who, like them, enter by 'some other way.'
How different He, Who comes in and leads us through God's door of covenant-mercy and Gospel-promise - the door by which God had brought, and ever brings, His flock into His fold! This was the true Shepherd. The allegory must, of course, not be too closely pressed; but, as we remember how in the East the flocks are at night driven into a large fold, and charge of them is given to an under shepherd, we can understand how, when the shepherd comes in the morning, 'the doorkeeper' or 'guardian' opens to him. In interpreting the allegory, stress must be laid not so much on any single phrase, be it the 'porter,' the 'door,' or the 'opening,' as on their combination.
If the shepherd comes to the door, the porter hastens to open it to him from within, that he may obtain access to the flock; and when a true spiritual Shepherd comes to the true spiritual door, it is opened to him by the guardian from within, that is, he finds ready and immediate access. Equally pictorial is the progress of the allegory. Having thus gained access to His flock, it has not been to steal or rob, but the Shepherd knows and calls them, each by his name, and leads them out. We mark that in the expression: ' when He has put forth all His own ' - the word is a strong one. For they have to go each singly, and perhaps they are not willing to go out each by himself, or even to leave that fold, and so he 'puts' or thrusts them forth, and He does so to 'all His own.' Then the Eastern shepherd places himself at the head of his flock, and goes before them, guiding them, making sure of their following simply by his voice, which they know. So would His flock follow Christ, for they know His Voice, and in vain would strangers seek to lead them away, as the Pharisees had tried. It was not the known Voice of their own Shepherd, and they would only flee from it.
We can scarcely wonder, that they who heard it did not understand the allegory, for they were not of His flock and knew not His Voice. But His own knew it then, and would know it for ever. 'Therefore,' both for the sake of the one and the other, He continued, now dividing for greater clearness the two leading ideas of His allegory, and applying each separately for better comfort. These two ideas were: entrance by the door, and the characteristics of the good Shepherd - thus affording a twofold test by which to recognize the true, and distinguish it from the false.
Christ was the door and the entrance into God's fold and to God's flock was only through that, of which Christ was the reality. And it had ever been so. All the Old Testament institutions, prophecies, and promises, so far as they referred to access into God's fold, meant Christ. And all those who went before Him, pretending to be the door - whether Pharisees, Sadducees, or Nationalists - were only thieves and robbers: that was not the door into the Kingdom of God. And the sheep, God's flock, did not hear them; for, although they might pretend to lead the flock, the voice was that of strangers. The transition now to another application of the allegorical idea of the 'door' was natural and almost necessary, though it appears somewhat abrupt. Even in this it is peculiarly Jewish. We must understand this transition as follows: I am the Door; those who professed otherwise to gain access to the fold have climbed in some other way. But if I am the only, I am also truly the Door. And, dropping the figure, if any man enters by Me, he shall be saved, securely go out and in (where the language is not to be closely pressed), in the sense of having liberty and finding pasture.
Christ, the Good Shepherd, in contrast to others who falsely claimed to be the shepherds. Their object had been self, and they had pursued it even at the cost of the sheep, of their life and safety. He ' came ' for them, to give, not to take, 'that they may have life and have abundance. ' The Good Shepherd Who layeth down His life for His Sheep!
Those sheep who are his, they are not only 'of this fold,' not all of the Jewish 'fold,' but also scattered sheep of the Gentiles. They have all the characteristics of the flock: they are His; and they hear His Voice; but as yet they are outside the fold. Them also the Good Shepherd 'must lead,' and, in evidence that they are His, as He calls them and goes before them.
And thus is the great goal of the Old Testament reached, and 'the good tidings of great joy' which issue from Israel 'are unto all people.' The Kingdom of David, which is the Kingdom of God, is set up upon earth, and opened to all believers. We cannot help noticing - though it almost seems to detract from it - how different from the Jewish ideas of it is this Kingdom with its Shepherd-King, Who knows and Who lays down His Life for the sheep, and Who leads the Gentiles not to subjection nor to inferiority, but to equality of faith and privileges, taking the Jews out of their special fold and leading up the Gentiles, and so making of both 'one flock.' Where did Jesus of Nazareth obtain these thoughts and views, towering so far aloft of all around?
But, on the other hand, they are utterly un-Gentile also - if by the term 'Gentile' we mean the 'Gentile Churches,' in antagonism to the Jewish Christians, as a certain school of critics would represent them, which traces the origin of this Gospel to this separation. A Gospel written in that spirit would never have spoken on this wise of the mutual relation of Jews and Gentiles towards Christ and in the Church. The sublime words of Jesus are only compatible with one supposition: that He was indeed the Christ of God. Nay, although men have studied or cavilled at these words for eighteen and a half centuries, they have not yet reached unto this: ' They shall become one flock, one Shepherd. '
And this, all this, in order to be the Shepherd-Savior - to die, and rise for His Sheep, and thus to gather them all, Jews and Gentiles, into one flock, and to be their Shepherd. This, neither more nor less, was the Mission which God had given Him; this, 'the commandment' which He had received of His Father - that which God had given Him to do. It was a noble close of the series of those Discourses in the Temple, which had it for their object to show, that He was truly sent of God.
And, in a measure, they attained that object. To some, indeed, it all seemed unintelligible, incoherent, madness; and they fell back on the favorite explanation of all this strange drama - He hath a demon! But others there were - let us hope, many, not yet His disciples - to whose hearts these words went straight. And how could they resist the impression? 'These utterances are not of a Demonized' - and, then, it came back to them: 'Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?' And so, once again, the Light of His Words and His Person fell upon His Works, and, as ever, revealed their character, and made them clear.
The Temple Tax (Tribute)
It is well known that, on the ground of the injunction in Exodus 30:13, etc. every male in Israel, from twenty years upwards, was expected annually to contribute to the Temple Treasury the sum of one half-shekel of the Sanctuary, that is, one common shekel, or two Attic drachms. Whether or not the original Biblical ordinance had been intended to institute a regular annual contribution, the Jews of the Dispersion would probably regard it in the light of a patriotic as well as religious act.
Let us take a look at the Bible verses regarding Jesus' payment of the temple tribute or 'tax.'
"Now after coming to Capernaum, those who received the tribute money came to Peter and said, "Does not your Master pay tribute?" And he said, "Yes." And when he came into the house, Jesus, anticipating his question, said, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth receive custom or tribute? From their own children, or from strangers?" Peter said to Him, "From strangers." Jesus said to him, 'Then the children are indeed free. Nevertheless, so that we may not offend them, go to the sea and cast a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you have opened its mouth, you shall find a coin. Take that, and give it to them for Me and you.'" (Matthew 17:24-27, Holy Bible in Its Original Order - A Faithful Version (HBFV))
To the particulars previously given on this subject a few others may be added. The family of the Chief of the Sanhedrin (Gamaliel) seems to have enjoyed the curious distinction of bringing their contributions to the Temple Treasury, not like others, but to have thrown them down before him who opened the Temple Chest, when they were immediately placed in the box from which, without delay, sacrifices were provided. Again, the commentators explain a certain passage in the Mishnah and the Talmud as implying that, although the Jews in Palestine had to pay the tribute money before the Passover, those from neighboring lands might bring it before the Feast of Weeks, and those from such remote countries as Babylonia and Media as late as the Feast of Tabernacles.
Lastly, although the Mishnah lays it down, that the goods of those might be distrained, who had not paid the Temple tribute by the 25th Adar, it is scarcely credible that this obtained at the time of Christ, at any rate in Galilee. Indeed, this seems implied in the statement of the Mishnah and the Talmud, that one of the 'thirteen trumpets' in the Temple, into which contributions were cast, was destined for the shekels of the current, and another for those of the preceding, year. Finally, these Temple contributions were in the first place devoted to the purchase of all public sacrifices, that is, those which were offered in the name of the whole congregation of Israel, such as the morning and evening sacrifices. It will be remembered, that this was one of the points in fierce dispute between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and that the former perpetuated their triumph by marking its anniversary as a festive day in their calendar. It seems a terrible irony of judgment when Vespasian ordered, after the destruction of the Temple, that this tribute should henceforth be paid for the rebuilding of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.
It will be remembered that, shortly before the previous Passover, Jesus with His disciples had left Capernaum, That they returned to the latter city only for the Sabbath, and that, as we have suggested, they passed the first Passover days on the borders of Tyre. We have, indeed, no means of knowing where the Master had tarried during the ten days between the 15th and the 25th Adar, supposing the Mishnic arrangements to have been in force in Capernaum. He was certainly not at Capernaum, and it must also have been known, that He had not gone up to Jerusalem for the Passover. Accordingly, when it was told in Capernaum, that the Rabbi of Nazareth had once more come to what seems to have been His Galilean home, it was only natural, that they who collected the Temple tribute should have applied for its payment. It is quite possible, that their application may have been, if not prompted, yet quickened, by the wish to involve Him in a breach of so well-known an obligation, or else by a hostile curiosity. Would He, Who took so strangely different views of Jewish observances, and Who made such extraordinary claims, own the duty of paying the Temple tribute? Had it been owing to His absence, or from principle, that He had not paid it last Passover season? The question which they put to Peter implies, at least, their doubt.
We have already seen what motives prompted the hasty reply of Peter. He might, indeed, also otherwise, in his rashness, have given an affirmative answer to the inquiry, without first consulting the Master. For there seems little doubt, that Jesus had on former occasions complied with the Jewish custom. But matters were now wholly changed. Since the first Passover, which had marked His first public appearance in the Temple at Jerusalem, He had stated - and quite lately in most explicit terms - that He was the Christ, the Son of God. To have now paid the Temple tribute, without explanation, might have involved a very serious misapprehension. In view of all this, the history before us seems alike simple and natural. There is no pretext for the artificial construction put upon it by commentators, any more than for the suggestion, that such was the poverty of the Master and His disciples, that the small sum requisite for the Temple tribute had to be miraculously supplied.
We picture it to ourselves on this wise. Those who received the Tribute money had come to Peter, and perhaps met him in the court or corridor, and asked him: 'Your Teacher (Rabbi), does He not pay the didrachma?' While Peter hastily responded in the affirmative, and then entered into the house to procure the coin, or else to report what has passed, Jesus, Who had been in another part of the house, but was cognisant of all, 'anticipated him.' Addressing him in kindly language as 'Simon,' He pointed out the real state of matters by an illustration which must, of course, not be too literally pressed, and of which the meaning was: Whom does a King intend to tax for the maintenance of his palace and officers? Surely not his own family, but others. The inference from this, as regarded the Temple tribute, was obvious. As in all similar Jewish parabolic teaching, it was only indicated in general principle: 'Then are the children free.' But even so, be it as Peter had wished, although not from the same motive. Let no needless offense be given; for, assuredly, they would not have understood the principle on which Christ would have refused the Tribute money, and all misunderstanding on the part of Peter was now impossible. Yet Christ would still further vindicate His royal title. He will pay for Peter also, and pay, as heaven's King, with a Stater, or four-drachma piece, miraculously provided.
Thus viewed, there is, we submit, a moral purpose and spiritual instruction in the provision of the Stater out of the fish's mouth. The rationalistic explanation of it need not be seriously considered; for any mythical interpretation there is not the shadow of support in Biblical precedent or Jewish expectancy. But the narrative in its literality has a true and high meaning. And if we wished to mark the difference between its sober simplicity and the extravagances of legend, we would remind ourselves, not only of the well-known story of the Ring of Polycrates, but of two somewhat kindred Jewish Haggadahs. They are both intended to glorify the Jewish mode of Sabbath observance. One of them bears that one Joseph, known as 'the honorer' of the Sabbath, had a wealthy heathen neighbor, to whom the Chaldaeans had prophesied that all his riches would come to Joseph. To render this impossible, the wealthy man converted all his property into one magnificent gem, which he carefully concealed within his head-gear. Then he took ship, so as for ever to avoid the dangerous vicinity of the Jew. But the wind blew his head-gear into the sea, and the gem was swallowed by a fish. And lo! it was the holy season, and they brought to the market a splendid fish. Who would purchase it but Joseph, for none as he would prepare to honor the day by the best which he could provide. But when they opened the fish, the gem was found in it - the moral being: 'He that borroweth for the Sabbath, the Sabbath will repay him.'
Who is the greatest?
The event next recorded in the Gospels took place partly on the way from the Mount of Transfiguration to Capernaum, and partly in Capernaum itself, immediately after the scene connected with the Tribute money. It is recorded by the three Evangelists, and it led to explanations and admonitions, which are told by Mark and Luke, but chiefly by Matthew. This circumstance seems to indicate, that the latter was the chief actor in that which occasioned this special teaching and warning of Christ, and that it must have sunk very deeply into his heart.
As we look at it, in the light of the then mental and spiritual state of the Apostles, not in that in which, perhaps naturally, we regard them, what happened seems not difficult to understand. As Mark puts it, by the way they had disputed among themselves which of them would be the greatest - as Matthew explains, in the Messianic Kingdom of Heaven. They might now the more confidently expect its near Advent from the mysterious announcement of the Resurrection, which they would probably connect with the commencement of the last Judgment, following upon the violent Death of the Messiah. We find a parellel account of the dispute in Matthew, Mark and Luke.
"At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And after calling a little child to Him, Jesus set him in their midst, And said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, there is no way that you shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-4, HBFV)
" Then He came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He asked them, "What were you discussing among yourselves on the way here?" But they were silent because, while on the way, they had discussed who would be the greatest. And after sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all." Then He took a little child and set it in their midst; and after taking it in His arms, He said to them, '"Whoever shall receive one of such little children in My name receives Me; and whoever shall receive Me does not receive Me only, but Him Who sent Me.'" (Mark 9:33-37, HBFV)
"Then an argument arose among them which was this: who would be the greatest among them. And when Jesus perceived the thoughts of their hearts, He took hold of a little child and set it by Him, And said to them, 'Whoever shall receive this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever shall receive Me receives Him Who sent Me. For the one who is least among you all shall be great.'" (Luke 9:46-48, HBFV)
Of a dispute, serious and even violent, among the disciples, we have evidence in the exhortation of the Master, as reported by Mark, in the direction of the Lord how to deal with an offending brother, and in the answering inquiry of Peter. Nor can we be at a loss to perceive its occasion. The distinction just bestowed on the three, in being taken up the Mount, may have roused feelings of jealousy in the others perhaps of self-exaltation in the three. Alike the spirit which John displayed in his harsh prohibition of the man that did not follow with the disciples, and the self-righteous bargaining of Peter about forgiving the supposed or real offenses of a brother, give evidence of anything but the frame of mind which we would have expected after the Vision on the Mount.
In truth, most incongruous as it may appear to us, looking back on it in the light of the Resurrection, the Apostles were still greatly under the influence of the old spirit. It was the common Jewish view, that there would be distinctions of rank in the Kingdom of Heaven. It can scarcely be necessary to prove this by Rabbinic quotations, since the whole system of Rabbinism and Pharisaism, with its separation from the vulgar and ignorant, rests upon it. But even within the charmed circle of Rabbinism, there would be distinctions, due to learning, merit, and even to favoritism. In this world there were His special favorites, who could command anything at His hand, to use the Rabbinic illustration, like a spoilt child from its father. And in the Messianic age God would assign booths to each according to his rank.
On the other hand, many passages could be quoted bearing on the duty of humility and self-abasement. But the stress laid on the merit attaching to this shows too clearly, that it was the pride that apes humility. One instance, previously referred to, will suffice by way of illustration. When the child of the great Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai was dangerously ill, he was restored through the prayer of one Chanina ben Dosa. On this the father of the child remarked to his wife: 'If the son of Zakkai had all day long put his head between his knees, no heed would have been given to him.' 'How is that?' asked his wife; 'is Chanina greater than thou?' 'No,' was the reply, 'he is like a servant before the King, while I am like a prince before the King' (he is always there, and has thus opportunities which I, as a lord, do not enjoy).
How deep-rooted were such thoughts and feelings, appears not only from the dispute of the disciples by the way, but from the request proffered by the mother of Zebedee's children and her sons at a later period, in terrible contrast to the near Passion of our Lord. It does, indeed come upon us as a most painful surprise, and as sadly incongruous, this constant self-obtrusion, self-assertion, and low, carnal self-seeking; this Judaistic trifling in face of the utter self-abnegation and self-sacrifice of the Son of Man. Surely, the contrast between Christ and His disciples seems at times almost as great as between Him and the other Jews. If we would measure His Stature, or comprehend the infinite distance between His aims and teaching and those of His contemporaries, let it be by comparison with even the best of His disciples. It must have been part of His humiliation and self-examination to bear with them. And is it not, in a sense, still so as regards us all?
We have already seen, that there was quite sufficient occasion and material for such a dispute on the way from the Mount of Transfiguration to Capernaum. We suppose Peter to have been only at the first with the others. To judge by the later question, how often he was to forgive the brother who had sinned against him, he may have been so deeply hurt, that he left the other disciples, and hastened on with the Master, Who would, at any rate, sojourn in his house. For, neither he nor Christ seem to have been present when John and the others forbade the man, who would not follow with them, to cast out demons in Christ's name.
Again, the other disciples only came into Capernaum, and entered the house, just as Peter had gone for the Stater, with which to pay the Temple-tribute for the Master and himself. And, if speculation be permissible, we would suggest that the brother, whose offenses Peter found it so difficult to forgive, may have been none other than Judas. In such a dispute by the way, he, with his Judaistic views, would be specially interested; perhaps he may have been its chief instigator; certainly, he, whose natural character, amidst its sharp contrasts to that of Peter, presented so many points of resemblance to it, would, on many grounds, be specially jealous of, and antagonistic to him.
Quite natural in view of this dispute by the way is another incident of the journey, which is afterwards related. As we judge, John seems to have been the principal actor in it; perhaps, in the absence of Peter, he claimed the leadership. They had met one who was casting out demons in the Name of Christ - whether successfully or not, we need scarcely inquire. So widely had faith in the power of Jesus extended; so real was the belief in the subjection of the demons to Him; so reverent was the acknowledgment of Him. A man, who, thus forsaking the methods of Jewish exorcists, owned Jesus in the face of the Jewish world, could not be far from the Kingdom of Heaven; at any rate, he could not quickly speak evil of Him. John had, in name of the disciples, forbidden him, because he had not cast in his lot wholly with them. It was quite in the spirit of their ideas about the Messianic Kingdom, and of their dispute, which of His close followers would be greatest there. And yet, they might deceive themselves as to the motives of their conduct. If it were not almost impertinence to use such terms, we would have said that there was infinite wisdom and kindness in the answer which the Savior gave, when referred to on the subject.
To forbid a man, in such circumstances, would be either prompted by the spirit of the dispute by the way - or else must be grounded on evidence that the motive was, or the effect would ultimately be (as in the case of the sons of Sceva) to lead men 'to speak evil' of Christ, or to hinder the work of His disciples. Assuredly, such could not have been the case with a man, who invoked His Name, and perhaps experienced its efficacy. More than this - and here is an eternal principle: ' He that is not against us is for us; ' he that opposeth not the disciples, really is for them - a saying still more clear, when we adopt the better reading in Luke, 'He that is not against you is for you.'
There was reproof in this, as well as instruction, deeply consistent with that other, though seemingly different, saying: 'He that is not with Me is against Me.' The distinction between them is twofold. In the one case it is 'not against,' in the other it is 'not with;' but chiefly it lies in this: in the one case it is not against the disciples in their work, while in the other it is - not with Christ. A man who did what he could with such knowledge of Christ as he possessed, even although he did not absolutely follow with them, was 'not against' them. Such an one should be regarded as thus far with them; at least be let alone, left to Him Who knew all things. Such a man would not lightly speak evil of Christ - and that was all the disciples should care for, unless, indeed, they sought their own. Quite other was it as regarded the relation of a person to the Christ Himself. There neutrality was impossible - and that which was not with Christ, by this very fact was against Him. The lesson is of the most deep-reaching character, and the distinction, alas! still overlooked - perhaps, because ours is too often the spirit of those who journeyed to Capernaum. Not, that it is unimportant to follow with the disciples, but that it is not ours to forbid any work done, however imperfectly, in His Name, and that only one question is really vital - whether or not a man is decidedly with Christ.
Such were the incidents by the way. And now, while withholding from Christ their dispute, and, indeed, anything that might seem personal in the question, the disciples, on entering the house where He was in Capernaum, addressed to Him this inquiry (which should be inserted from the opening words of Matthew's narrative): ' Who, then, is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?' It was a general question - but Jesus perceived the thought of their hearts; He knew about what they had disputed by the way, and now asked them concerning it.
The account of Mark is most graphic. We almost see the scene. Conscience-stricken 'they held their peace.' As we read the further words: 'And He sat down,' it seems as if the Master had a first gone to welcome the disciples on their arrival, and they, 'full of their dispute,' had, without delay, addressed their inquiry to him in the court or antechamber, where they met Him, when, reading their thoughts, He had first put the searching counter-question, what had been the subject of their dispute. Then, leading the way into the house, 'He sat down,' not only to answer their inquiry, which was not a real inquiry, but to teach them what so much they needed to learn. He called a little child - perhaps Peter's little son - and put him in the midst of them.
Not to strive who was to be greatest, but to be utterly without self-consciousness, like a child - thus, to become turned and entirely changed in mind: 'converted,' was the condition for entering into the Kingdom of Heaven. Then, as to the question of greatness there, it was really one of greatness of service - and that was greatest service which implied most self-denial. Suiting the action to the teaching, the Blessed Savior took the happy child in His Arms. Not, to teach, to preach, to work miracles, nor to do great things, but to do the humblest service for Christ's sake - lovingly, earnestly, wholly, self-forgetfully, simply for Christ, was to receive Christ - nay, to receive the Father. And the smallest service, as it might seem - even the giving a cup of cold water in such spirit, would not lose its reward. Blessed teaching this to the disciples and to us; blessed lesson, which, these many centuries of scorching heat, has been of unspeakable refreshing, alike to the giver and the receiver of the cup of water in the Name of Christ, in the love of Christ, and for the sake of Christ.
These words about receiving Christ, and 'receiving in the Name of Christ,' had stirred the memory and conscience of John, and made him half wonder, half fear, whether what they had done by the way, in forbidding the man to do what he could in the name of Christ, had been right. And so he told it, and received the further and higher teaching on the subject. And, more than this, Mark and, more fully, Matthew, record some further instruction in connection with it, to which Luke refers, in a slightly different form, at a somewhat later period. But it seems so congruous to the present occasion, that we conclude it was then spoken, although, like other sayings, it may have been afterwards repeated under similar circumstances. Certainly, no more effective continuation, and application to Jewish minds, of the teaching of our Lord could be conceived than that which follows.
For, the love of Christ goes deeper than the condescension of receiving a child, utterly un-Pharisaic and un-Rabbinic as this is. To have regard to the weaknesses of such a child - to its mental and moral ignorance and folly, to adapt ourselves to it, to restrain our fuller knowledge and forego our felt liberty, so as not 'to offend' - not to give occasion for stumbling to 'one of these little ones,' that so through our knowledge the weak brother for whom Christ died should not perish: this is a lesson which reaches even deeper than the question, what is the condition of entrance into the Kingdom, or what service constitutes real greatness in it. A man may enter into the Kingdom and do service - yet, if in so doing he disregard the law of love to the little ones, far better his work should be abruptly cut short; better, one of those large millstones, turned by an ass, were hung about his neck and he cast into the sea!
We pause to note, once more, the Judaic, and, therefore, evidential, setting of the Evangelic narrative. The Talmud also speaks of two kinds of millstones - the one turned by hand, referred to in Luke 17:35; the other turned by an ass, just as the Talmud also speaks of 'the ass of the millstone'. Similarly, the figure about a millstone hung round the neck occurs also in the Talmud - although there as figurative of almost insuperable difficulties. Again, the expression, 'it were better for him' is a well-known Rabbinic expression. Lastly, according to Jerome, the punishment which seems alluded to in the words of Christ, and which we know to have been inflicted by Augustus, was actually practised by the Romans in Galilee on some of the leaders of the insurrection under Judas of Galilee.
And yet greater guilt would only too surely be incurred! Woe unto the world! Occasions of stumbling and offense will surely come, but woe to the man through whom such havoc was wrought. What then is the alternative? If it be a question as between offense and some part of ourselves, a limb or member, however useful - the hand, the foot, the eye - then let it rather be severed from the body, however painful, or however seemingly great the loss. It cannot be so great as that of the whole being in the eternal fire of Gehenna, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. it hand, foot, or eye - practice, pursuit, or research - which consciously leads us to occasions of stumbling, it must be resolutely put aside in view of the incomparably greater loss of eternal remorse and anguish.
Here Mark abruptly breaks off with a saying in which the Savior makes general application, although the narrative is further continued by Matthew. The words reported by Mark are so remarkable, so brief, we had almost said truncated, as to require special consideration. It seems to us that, turning from this thought that even members which are intended for useful service may, in certain circumstances, have to be cut off to avoid the greatest loss, the Lord gave to His disciples this as the final summary and explanation of all: ' For every one shall be salted for the fire ' - or, as a very early gloss, which has strangely crept into the text, paraphrased and explained it, 'Every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. '
No one is fit for the sacrificial fire, no one can himself be, nor offer anything as a sacrifice, unless it have been first, according to the Levitical Law, covered with salt, symbolic of the incorruptible.' Salt is good; but if the salt, ' with which the spiritual sacrifice is to be salted for the fire, ' have lost its savor, wherewith will ye season it?' Hence, 'have salt in yourselves,' but do not let that salt be corrupted by making it an occasion of offense to others, or among yourselves, as in the dispute by the way, or in the disposition of mind that led to it, or in forbidding others to work who follow not with you, but 'be at peace among yourselves. '
To this explanation of the words of Christ it may, perhaps, be added that, from their form, they must have conveyed a special meaning to the disciples. It is well-known law, that every sacrifice burned on the Altar must be salted with salt. Indeed, according to the Talmud, not only every such offering, but even the wood with which the sacrificial fire was kindled, was sprinkled with salt. Salt symbolized to the Jews of that time the incorruptible and the higher. Thus, the soul was compared to the salt, and it was said concerning the dead: 'Shake off the salt, and throw the flesh to the dogs.' The Bible was compared to salt; so was acuteness of intellect. Lastly, the question: 'If the salt have lost its savor, wherewith will ye season it?' seems to have been proverbial, and occurs in exactly the same words in the Talmud, apparently to denote a thing that is impossible.
Most thoroughly anti-Pharisaic and anti-Rabbinic as all this was, what Matthew further reports leads still farther in the same direction. We seem to see Jesus still holding this child, and, with evident reference to the Jewish contempt for that which is small, point to him and apply, in quite other manner than they had ever heard, the Rabbinic teaching about the Angels. In the Jewish view, only the chiefest of the Angels were before the Face of God within the curtained Veil, or Pargod, while the others, ranged in different classes, stood outside and awaited his behest. The distinction which the former enjoyed was always to behold His Face, and to hear and know directly the Divine counsels and commands. This distinction was, therefore, one of knowledge; Christ taught that it was one of love. Not the more exalted in knowledge, and merit, or worth, but the simpler, the more unconscious of self, the more receptive and clinging - the nearer to God. Look up from earth to heaven; those representative, it may be, guardian, Angels nearest to God, are not those of deepest knowledge of God's counsel and commands, but those of simple, humble grace and faith - and so learn, not only not to despise one of these little ones, but who is truly greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven!
This, His greatest condescension when He became the Babe of Bethlehem, is also His greatest exaltation. He Who is nearest the Father, and, in the most special and unique sense, always beholds His Face, is He that became a Child, and, as the Son of Man, stoops lowest, to save that which was lost. The words are, indeed, regarded as spurious by most critics, because certain leading manuscripts omit them, and they are supposed to have been imported from Luke 19:10. But such a transference from a context wholly unconnected with this section seems unaccountable, while, on the other hand, the verse in question forms, not only an apt, but almost necessary, transition to the Parable of the Lost Sheep. It seems, therefore, difficult to eliminate it without also striking out that Parable; and yet it fits most beautifully into the whole context. Suffice it for the present to note this. The Parable itself is more fully repeated in another connection, in which it will be more convenient to consider it.
Yet a further depth of Christian love remained to be shown, which, all self-forgetful, sought not its own, but the things of others. This also bore on the circumstances of the time, and the dispute between the disciples, but went far beyond it, and set forth eternal principles. Hitherto it had been a question of not seeking self, nor minding great things, but Christ-like and God-like, to condescend to the little ones. What if actual wrong had been done, and just offense given by a 'brother'? In such case, also, the principle of the Kingdom - which, negatively, is that of self-forgetfulness, positively, that of service of love - would first seek the good of the offending brother.
We mark, here, the contrast to Rabbinism, which directs that the first overtures must be made by the offender, not the offended; and even prescribes this to be done in the presence of numerous witnesses, and, if needful, repeated three times. As regards the duty of showing to a brother his fault, and the delicate tenderness of doing this in private, so as not to put him to shame, Rabbinism speaks the same as the Master of Nazareth. In fact, according to Jewish criminal law, punishment could not be inflicted unless the offender (even the woman suspected of adultery) had previously been warned before witnesses. Yet, in practice, matters were very different: and neither could those be found who would take reproof, nor yet such as were worthy to administer it.
Quite other was it in the Kingdom of Christ, where the theory was left undefined, but the practice clearly marked. Here, by loving dealing, to convince of his wrong, him who had done it, was not humiliation nor loss of dignity or of right, but real gain: the gain of our brother to us, and eventually to Christ Himself. But even if this should fail, the offended must not desist from his service of love, but conjoin in it others with himself so as to give weight and authority to his remonstrances, as not being the outcome of personal feeling or prejudice - perhaps, also, to be witnesses before the Divine tribunal. If this failed, a final appeal should be made on the part of the Church as a whole, which, of course, could only be done through her representatives and rulers, to whom Divine authority had been committed. And if that were rejected, the offer of love would, as always in the Gospel, pass into danger of judgment. Not, indeed, that such was to be executed by man, but that such an offender, after the first and second admonition, was to be rejected. He was to be treated as was the custom in regard to a heathen or a publican - not persecuted, despised, or avoided, but not received in Church-fellowship (a heathen), nor admitted to close familiar intercourse (a publican). And this, as we understand it, marks out the mode of what is called Church discipline in general, and specifically as regards wrongs done to a brother.
Discipline so exercised (which may God restore to us) has the highest Divine sanction, and the most earnest reality attaches to it. For, in virtue of the authority which Christ has committed to the Church in the persons of her rulers and representatives, what they bound or loosed - declared obligatory or non-obligatory - was ratified in heaven. Nor was this to be wondered at. The incarnation of Christ was the link which bound earth to heaven: through it whatever was agreed upon in the fellowship of Christ, as that which was to be asked, would be done for them of his Father Which was in heaven. Thus, the power of the Church reached up to heaven through the power of prayer in His Name Who made God our Father.
It is bitterly disappointing that, after such teaching, even a Peter could - either immediately afterwards, or perhaps after he had had time to think it over, and apply it - come to the Master with the question, how often he was to forgive an offending brother, imagining that he had more than satisfied the new requirements, if he extended it to seven times. Such traits show better than elaborate discussions the need of the mission and the renewing of the Holy Spirit. And yet there is something touching in the simplicity and honesty with which Peter goes to the Master with such a misapprehension of His teaching, as if he had fully entered into its spirit. Surely, the new wine was bursting the old bottles.
It was a principle of Rabbinism that, even if the wrongdoer had made full restoration, he would not obtain forgiveness till he had asked it of him whom he had wronged, but that it was cruelty in such circumstances to refuse pardon. The Jerusalem Talmud adds the beautiful remark: 'Let this be a token in thine hand - each time that thou showest mercy, God will show mercy on thee; and if thou showest not mercy, neither will God show mercy on thee.' And yet it was a settled rule, that forgiveness should not be extended more than three times. Even so, the practice was terribly different. The Talmud relates, without blame, the conduct of a Rabbi, who would not forgive a very small slight of his dignity, though asked by the offender for thirteen successive years, and that on the Day of Atonement - the reason being, that the offended Rabbi had learned by a dream that his offending brother would attain the highest dignity, whereupon he feigned himself irreconcilable, to force the other to migrate from Palestine to Babylon, where, unenvied by him, he might occupy the chief place!
And so it must have seemed to Peter, in his ignorance, quite a stretch of charity to extend forgiveness to seven, instead of three offenses. It did not occur to him, that the very act of numbering offenses marked an externalism which had never entered into, nor comprehended the spirit of Christ.