TO THE DISCIPLES
TWO EVENTS AND THEIR MORAL
The record of Christ’s last warning to the Pharisees, and of the feelings of murderous hate which it called forth, is followed by a summary of Christ’s teaching to His disciples. The tone is still that of warning, but entirely different from that to the Pharisees. It is a warning of sin that threatened, not of judgment that awaited; it was for prevention, not in denunciation. That such warnings were most seasonable, requires scarcely proof. They were prompted by circumstances around. The same teaching, because prompted by the same causes, had been mostly delivered, also, on other occasions. Yet there are notable, though seemingly slight, divergences, accounted for by the difference of the writers or of the circumstances, and which mark the independence of the narratives.
After all, hypocrisy was only self-deception. 7 ‘But, 8 there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed.’ Hence, what they had said in the darkness would be revealed, and what they had spoken about in the store-rooms 9 would be proclaimed on the housetops. Nor should fear influence them. 10 Fear of whom? Man could only kill the body, but God held body and soul. And, as fear was foolish, so was it needless in view of that wondrous Providence which watched over even the meanest of God’s creatures. 11 Rather let them, in the impending struggle with the powers of this world, rise to consciousness of its full import – how earth’s voices would find their echo in heaven. And then this contest, what was it! Not only opposition to Christ, but, in it inmost essence, blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Therefore, to succumb in that contest, implied the deepest spiritual danger. 12 Nay, but let them not be apprehensive; their acknowledgment would be not only in the future; even now, in the hour of their danger, would the Holy Ghost help them, and give them an answer before their accusers and judges, whoever they might be – Jews or Gentiles. Thus, if they fell victims, it would be with the knowledge – not by neglect – of their Father; here, there, everywhere, in their own hearts, before the Angels, before men, would He give testimony for those who were His witnesses.
Before proceeding, we briefly mark the differences between this and the previous kindred address of Christ, when sending the Apostles on their Mission. 14 There (after certain personal directions), the Discourse began 15 with what it here closes. There it was in the form of warning prediction, here in that of comforting reassurance; there it was near the beginning, here near the close, of His Ministry. Again, as addressed to the Twelve on their Mission, it was followed by personal directions and consolations, 16 and then, transition was made to the admonition to dismiss fear, and to speak out publicly what had been told them privately. On the other hand, when addressing His Peræan disciples, while the same admonition is given, and partly on the same grounds, yet, as spoken to disciples rather than to preachers, the reference to the similarity of their fate with that of Christ is omitted, while, to show the real character of the struggle, an admonition is added, which in His Galilean Ministry was given in another connection. 17 Lastly, whereas the Twelve were admonished not to fear, and, therefore, to speak openly what they had learned privately, the Peræan disciples are forewarned that, although what they had spoken together in secret would be dragged into the light of greatest publicity, yet they were not to be afraid of the possible consequences to themselves.
With but slight variations the Lord had used the same language, even as the same admonition had been needed, at the beginning of His Galilean Ministry, in the Sermon on the Mount. 22 Perhaps we may here, also, regard the allusion to the springing flowers as a mark of time. Only, whereas in Galilee this would mark the beginning of spring, it would, in the more favoured climate of certain parts of Peræa, indicate the beginning of December, about the time of the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple. More important, perhaps, is it to note, that the expression 23 rendered in the Authorised and Revised Versions, ‘neither be ye of doubtful mind,’ really means, ‘neither be ye uplifted,’ in the sense of not aiming, or seeking after great things. 24 This rendering the Greek word (metewrizein) is in accordance with its uniform use in the LXX., 25 and in the Apocrypha; while, on the other hand, it occurs in Josephus and Philo, in the sense of ‘being of a doubtful mind.’ But the context here shows, that the term must refer to the disciples coveting great things, since only to this the remark could apply, that the Gentile world sought such things, but that our Father knew what was really needful for us.
Of deepest importance is the final consolation, to dismiss all care and anxiety, since the Father was pleased to give to this ‘little flock’ the Kingdom. The expression ‘flood’ carries us back to the language which Jesus had held ere parting from Jerusalem. 26 Henceforth this designation would mark His people. Even its occurrence fixes this Discourse as not a repetition of that which St. Matthew had formerly reported, but as spoken after the Jerusalem visit. It designates Christ’s people in distinction to their ecclesiastical (or outward) organisation in a ‘fold,’ and marks alike their individuality and their conjunction, their need and dependence, and their relation to Him as the ‘Good Shepherd.’ Small and despised though it be in the eyes of men, ‘the little flock’ is unspeakably noble, and rich in the gift of the Father.
These admonitions, alike as against covetousness, and as to absolute trust and a self-surrender to God, which would count all loss for the Kingdom, are finally set forth, alike in their present application and their ultimate and permanent principle, in what we regard as the concluding part of this Discourse. 27 Its first sentence: ‘ Sell that ye have, and give alms,’ which is only recorded by St. Luke, indicates not a general principle, but its application to that particular period, when the faithful disciple required to follow the Lord, unencumbered by worldly cares or possessions. 28 The general principle underlying it is that expressed by St. Paul, 29 and finally resolves itself into this: that the Christian should have as not holding, and use what he has not for self nor sin, but for necessity. This conclusion of Christ’s Discourse, also, confirms the inference that it was delivered near the terrible time of the end. Most seasonable would be here the repetition – though in slightly different language – of an admonition, given in the beginning of Christ’s Galilean Ministry, 30 to provide treasure in heaven, which could neither fail nor be taken away, for, assuredly, where the treasure was, there also would the heart be.
The ‘Parable’ now passes into another aspect of the case, which is again referred to in the last Discourses of Christ. 34 Conversely – suppose the other case, of people sleeping: the house might be broken into. Of course, if one had known the hour when the thief would come, sleep would not have been indulged in; but it is just this uncertainty and suddenness – and the Coming of the Christ into His Kingdom would be equally sudden – which should keep the people in the house ever on their watch till Christ came. 35
It was at this particular point that a question of Peter interrupted the Discourse of Christ. To whom did this ‘Parable’ apply about ‘the good man’ and ‘the servants’ who were to watch: to the Apostles, or also to all? From the implied – for it is not an express – answer of the Lord, we infer, that Peter expected some difference between the Apostles and the rest of the disciples, whether as regarded the attitude of the servants that waited, or the reward. From the words of Christ the former seems the more likely. We can understand how Peter might entertain the Jewish notion, that the Apostles would come with the Master from the marriage-supper, rather than wait for His return, and work while waiting. It is to this that the reply of Christ refers. If the Apostles or others are rulers, it is as stewards, and their reward of faithful and wise stewardship will be advance to higher administration. But as stewards they are servants – servants of Christ, and ministering servants in regard to the other and general servants. What becomes them in this twofold capacity is faithfulness to the absent, yet ever near, Lord, and to their work, avoiding, on the one hand, the masterfulness of pride and of harshness, and, on the other, the self-degradation of conformity to evil manners, either of which would entail sudden and condign punishment in the sudden and righteous reckoning at His appearing. The ‘Parable,’ therefore, alike as to the waiting and the reckoning, applied to work for Christ, as well as to personal relationship towards Him.
Thus far this solemn warning would naturally be afterwards repeated in Christ’s Last Discourses in Judæa, as equally needful, in view of His near departure. 36 But in this Peræan Discourse, as reported by St. Luke, there now follows what must be regarded, not, indeed, as a further answer to Peter’s inquiry, but as specifically referring to the general question of the relation between special work and general discipleship which had been raised. For, in one sense, all disciples are servants, not only to wait, but to work. As regarded those who, like the professed stewards or labourers, knew their work, but neither ‘made ready,’ 37 nor did according to His Will, their punishment and loss (where the illustrative figure of ‘many’ and ‘few stripes’ must not be too closely pressed) would naturally be greater than that of them who knew not, though this also involves guilt, that their Lord had any will towards them, that is, any work for them. This, according to a well-understood principle, universally, almost instinctively, acted upon among men. 38
What was it? Even that he had told them before in Galilee, 51 for the circumstances were the same. What common sense and common prudence would dictate to every one whom his accuser or creditor hauled before the magistrate: to come to an agreement with him before it was too late, before sentence had been pronounced and executed. 52 Although the illustration must not be pressed as to details, its general meaning would be the more readily understood that there was a similar Rabbinic proverb, 53 although with very different practical application.
The first records two circumstances not mentioned by the Jewish historian Josephus, 54 nor in any other historical notice of the time, either by Rabbinic or other writers. This shows, on the one hand, how terribly common such events must have been, when they could be so generally omitted from the long catalogue of Pilate’s misdeeds towards the Jews. On the other hand it also evidences that the narrative of St. Luke was derived from independent, authentic sources – in other words, the historical character of his narrative – when he could refer as well known to facts, which are not mentioned in any other record of the times; and, lastly, that we are not warranted in rejecting a notice, simply because we find no other mention of it than on the pages of the Third Gospel.
It appears that, just then, or quite soon afterwards, some persons told Christ about a number of His own Galileans, whom Pilate had ordered to be cut down, as we infer, in the Temple, while engaged in offering their sacrifices, 55 so that, in the pictorial language of the East, their blood had mingled with that of their sacrifices. Clearly, their narration of this event must be connected with the preceding Discourse of Jesus. He had asked them, whether they could not discern the signs of the terrible national storm that was nearing. And it was in reference to this, as we judge, that they repeated this story. To understand their object, we must attend to the answer of Christ. It is intended to refute the idea, that these Galileans had in this been visited by a special punishment of some special sin against God. Two questions here arise. Since between Christ’s visit to Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles and that at the Dedication of the Temple no Festival took place, it is most probable that this event had happened before Christ’s visit to Jerusalem. But in that case it seems most likely – almost certain – that Christ had heard of it before. If so, or, at any rate, if it was not quite a recent event, why did these men tell Him of it then and there? Again, it seems strange that, although the Jews connected special sins with special punishments, they should have regarded it as the Divine punishment of a special sin to have been martyred by a Pilate in the Temple, while engaged in offering sacrifices.
All this becomes quite plain, if we regard these men as trying to turn the edge of Jesus’ warning by a kind of ‘Tu quoque’ argument. Very probably these Galileans were thus ruthlessly murdered, because of their real or suspected connection with the Nationalist movement, of which Galilee was the focus. It is as if these Jews had said to Jesus: Yes, signs of the times and of the coming storm! These Galileans of yours, your own countrymen, involved in a kind of Pseudo-Messianic movement, a kind of ‘signs of the times’ rising, something like that towards which you want us to look – was not their death a condign punishment? This latter inference they did not express in words, but implied in their narration of the fact. But the Lord read their thoughts and refuted their reasoning. For this purpose He adduced another instance, 56 when a tower at the Siloam-Pool had fallen on eighteen persons and killed them, perhaps in connection with that construction of an aqueduct into Jerusalem by Pilate, which called forth, on the part of the Jews, the violent opposition, which the Roman so terribly avenged. As good Jews, they would probably think that the fall of the tower, which had buried in its ruins these eighteen persons, who were perhaps engaged in the building of that cursed structure, was a just judgment of God! For Pilate had used for it the sacred money which had been devoted to Temple-purposes (the Qorban), 57 and many there were who perished in the tumult caused by the Jewish resistance to this act of profanation. But Christ argued, that it was as wrong to infer that Divine-judgment had overtaken His Galilean countrymen, as it would be to judge that the Tower of Siloam had fallen to punish these Jerusalemites. Not one party only, nor another; not the supposed Messianic tendency (in the shape of a national rising), nor, on the other hand, the opposite direction of absolute submission to Roman domination, was in fault. The whole nation was guilty; and the coming storm, to the signs of which He had pointed, would destroy all unless there were spiritual repentance on the part of the nation. And yet wider than this, and applying to all time, is the underlying principle, that, when a calamity befalls a district or an aggregation of individuals, we ought not to take to ourselves judgment as to its special causation, but to think spiritually of its general application – not so much seek to trace what is the character of its connection with a district or individuals, as to learn its lessons and to regard them as a call addressed to all. And conversely, also, this holds true in regard to deliverances.
Having thus answered the implied objection, the Lord next showed, in the Parable of the Fig-tree, 58 the need and urgency of national repentance.
The second event recorded by St. Luke in this connection recalls the incidents of the early Judæan and of the Galilean Ministry. We observe the same narrow views and externalism as before in regard to the Sabbath on the part of the Jewish authorities, and, on the part of Christ, the same wide principles and spiritual application. If we were in search of evidence of the Divine Mission of Jesus, we would find it in this contrariety on so fundamental a point, since no teacher in Israel nor Reformer of that time – not the most advanced Sadducee – would have defended, far less originated, the views as to the Sabbath which Christ now propounded. Again, if we were in quest of evidence of the historical truthfulness of the Gospel-narratives, we would find it in a comparison of the narratives of the three Sabbath-controversies: in Jerusalem, in Galilee, and in Peræa. In all the spirit was the same. And, although the differences between them may seem slight, they are characteristic, and mark, as if they pointed to it with the finger, the locality and circumstances in which each took place. In Jerusalem there is neither reasoning nor rebuke on the part of the Jews, but absolute persecution. There also the Lord enters on the higher exposition of His action, motives, and Mission. In Galilee there is questioning, and cunning intrigue against Him on the part of the Judæans who dogged His steps. But while no violence can be attempted against Him, the people do not venture openly to take His part. But in Peræa we are confronted by the clumsy zeal of a country-Archisynagogos (Chief Ruler of a Synagogue), who is very angry, but not very wise; who admits Christ’s healing power, and does not dare to attack Him directly, but, instead, rebukes, not Christ, not even the woman who had been healed, but the people who witnessed it, at the same time telling them to come for healing on other days, not perceiving, in his narrow-minded bigotry, what this admission implied. This rustic Ruler had not the cunning, nor even the courage, of the Judæan Pharisees in Galilee, whom the Lord had formerly convicted and silenced. Enough, to show this obscure Peræan partisan of Pharisaism and the like of him their utter folly, and that by their own admissions. 66 And presently, not only were His adversaries ashamed, while in Galilee they went out and held a council against Him, 67 but the people were not afraid, as the Galileans had been in presence of their rulers, and openly rejoiced in the glorious working of the Christ.
Little more requires to be added about this incident in ‘one of the Synagogues’ of Peræa. Let us only briefly recall the scene. Among those present in this Synagogue had been a poor woman, who for eighteen years had been a sufferer, as we learn, through demoniac agency. It is quite true that most, if not all, such diseases were connected with moral distemper, since demoniac possession was not permanent, and resistance might have been made in the lucid intervals, if there had been moral soundness. But it is ungrounded to distinguish between the ‘spirit of infirmity’ as the moral and psychical, and her being ‘bent,’ as indicating the physical disease, or even to describe the latter as a ‘permanent curvature of the spine.’ The Greek word here rendered ‘infirmity’ has passed into Rabbinic language, and there means, not any particular disease, but sickliness, sometimes weakliness. In fact, she was, both physically and morally, not sick, but sickly, and most truly was hers ‘a spirit of infirmity,’ so that ‘she was bowed together, and could in no wise lift herself up.’ For, we mark that hers was not demoniac possession at all – and yet, though she had not yielded, she had not effectually resisted, and so she was ‘bound’ by ‘a spirit of infirmity,’ both in body and soul.
We recognise the same ‘spirit of infirmity’ in the circumstances of her healing. When Christ, seeing her – probably a fit symbol of the Peræans in that Synagogue – called her, she came; when He said unto her, ‘Woman, thou hast been loosed 70 from thy sickliness,’ she was unbound, and yet in her weakliness she answered not, nor straightened herself, till Jesus ‘laid His Hands on her,’ and so strengthened her in body and soul, and then she was immediately ‘made straight, and glorified God.’
As for the Archisynagogos, we have, as already hinted, such characteristic portraiture of him that we can almost see him: confused, irresolute, perplexed, and very angry, bustling forward and scolding the people who had done nothing, yet not venturing to silence the woman, now no longer infirm – far less, to reprove the great Rabbi, Who had just done such a ‘glorious thing,’ but speaking at Him through those who had been the astounded eye-witnesses. He was easily and effectually silenced, and all who sympathised with him put to shame. ‘Hypocrites!’ spake the Lord – on your own admissions your practice and your Law condemn your speech. Every one on the Sabbath looseth his ox or ass, and leads him to the watering. The Rabbinic law expressly allowed this, and even to draw the water, provided the vessel were not carried to the animal. If, as you admit, I have the power of ‘loosing’ from the bonds of Satan, and she has been so bound these eighteen years, should she – a daughter of Abraham – not have that done for her which you do for your beasts of burden?
The retort was unanswerable and irresistible; it did what was intended: it covered the adversaries with shame. And the Peræans in that Synagogue felt also, at least for the time, the blessed freedom which had come to that woman. They took up the echoes of her hymn of praise, and ‘rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.’ And He answered their joy by rightly directing it – by setting before them ‘the Kingdom,’ which He had come both to preach and to bring, in all its freeness, reality, power, and all-pervading energy, as exhibited in the two Parables of the ‘Mustard-seed’ and ‘the Leaven,’ spoken before in Galilee. These were now repeated, as specially suited to the circumstances: first, to the Miracle they had witnessed; then, to the contention that had passed; and, lastly, to their own state of feeling. And the practical application of these Parables must have been obvious to all.