Wednesday, May 31st, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Barclay's Daily Study Bible Daily Study Bible
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Matthew 9". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ dsb/ matthew-9.html. 1956-1959.
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Matthew 9". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://studylight.org/
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THE GROWTH OF OPPOSITION ( Matthew 9:1-34 )
We have repeatedly seen that in Matthew's gospel there is nothing haphazard. It is carefully planned and carefully designed.
In Matthew 9:1-38 we see another example of this careful planning, for here we see the first shadows of the gathering storm. We see the opposition beginning to grow; we hear the first hint of the charges which are going to be levelled against Jesus, and which are finally going to bring about his death. In this chapter four charges are made against Jesus.
(i) He is accused of blasphemy. In Matthew 9:1-8 we see Jesus curing the paralytic by forgiving his sins; and we hear the scribes accusing him of blasphemy because he claimed to do what only God can do. Jesus was accused of blasphemy because he spoke with the voice of God. Blasphemia ( G988) literally means insult or slander; and Jesus' enemies accused him of insulting God because he arrogated to himself the very powers of God.
(ii) He is accused of immorality. In Matthew 9:10-13 we see Jesus sitting at a feast with tax-gatherers and sinners. The Pharisees demanded to know the reason why he ate with such people. The implication was that he was like the company he kept.
Jesus was in effect accused of being an immoral character because he kept company with immoral characters. Once a man is disliked, it is the easiest thing in the world to misinterpret and to misrepresent everything he does.
Harold Nicolson tells of a talk he had with Stanley Baldwin. Nicolson was at the time starting out on a political career and he went to ask Mr. Baldwin, a political veteran, for any advice he might care to give. Baldwin said something like this: "You are going to try to be a statesman, and to handle the affairs of the country. Well, I have had a long experience of such a life, and I will give you three rules which you would do well to follow. First, if you are a subscriber to a press-cutting agency, cancel your subscription at once. Second, never laugh at your opponents' mistakes. Third, steel yourself to the attribution of false motives." One of the favourite weapons of any public man's enemies is the attribution of false motives to him; that is what his enemies did to Jesus.
(iii) He is accused of slackness in piety. In Matthew 9:14-17 the disciples of John ask Jesus' disciples why their Master does not fast. He was not going through the orthodox motions of religion, and therefore the orthodox were suspicious of him. Any man who breaks the conventions will suffer for it; and any man who breaks the religious conventions will suffer especially. Jesus broke the orthodox conventions of ecclesiastical piety, and he was criticized for it.
(iv) He is accused of being in league with the devil. In Matthew 9:31-34 we see him curing a dumb man, and his enemies ascribe the cure to an association with the devil. Whenever a new power comes into life--it has been said, for instance, of spiritual healing--there are those who will say, "We must be cautious; this may well be the work of the devil and not of God." It is the strange fact that when people meet something which they do not like, and which they do not understand, and which cuts across their preconceived notions, they very often ascribe it to the devil and not to God.
Here then we see the beginning of the campaign against Jesus. The slanderers are at work. The whispering tongues are poisoning truth and wrong motives are being ascribed. The drive to eliminate this disturbing Jesus has begun.
Get Right With God ( Matthew 9:1-8)
9:1-8 Jesus embarked on the boat, and crossed to the other side, and came to his own town. And, look you, they brought to him a paralysed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralysed man, "Courage, child, your sins are forgiven." And, look you, some of the scribes said to themselves, "This fellow is blaspheming." Jesus knew their thoughts. "Why," he said, "do you think evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier--to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or, to say, 'Rise and walk'? But to let you understand that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins--" then he said to the paralysed man, "Rise; lift your bed; and go to your house." And he rose and went away to his house. When the crowds saw this, they were moved to awe, and glorified God because he had given such power to men.
From Mark 2:1 we learn that this incident took place in Capernaum; and it is interesting to note that by this time Jesus had become so identified with Capernaum that it could be called his own town. At this stage in his ministry Capernaum was the centre of his work.
A paralysed man was brought to him, carried on a bed by some friends. Here is a wonderful picture of a man who was saved by the faith of his friends. Had it not been for them he would never have reached the healing presence of Jesus at all. It may well be that he had become dully resigned and defeatedly hopeless, and that they had carried him almost against his will to Jesus. However that may be, he was certainly saved by the faith of his friends.
W. B. Yeats in his play, The Cat and the Moon, has a sentence: "Did you ever know a holy man but has a wicked man for his comrade, and his heart's darling?" It is the very characteristic of a really holy man that he clings to a really bad or an entirely thoughtless man, until he has brought that man into the presence of Jesus. If any man has a friend who does not know Christ, or who does not care for Christ, or who is even hostile to Christ, it is his Christian duty not to let that man go until he has brought him into his presence.
We cannot force a man against his will to accept Christ. Coventry Patmore once said that we cannot teach another religious truth; we can only point out to him a way whereby he may find it for himself. We cannot make a man a Christian, but we can do everything possible to bring him into Christ's presence.
Jesus' approach to this man might seem astonishing. He began by telling him that his sins were forgiven. There was a double reason for that. In Palestine it was a universal belief that all sickness was the result of sin, and that no sickness could ever be cured until sin was forgiven. Rabbi Ami said, "There is no death without sin, and no pains without some transgression." Rabbi Alexander said, "The sick arises not from his sickness, until his sins are forgiven." Rabbi Chija ben Abba said, "No sick person is cured from sickness, until all his sins are forgiven him." This unbreakable connection between suffering and sin was part of the orthodox Jewish belief of the time of Jesus. For that reason there is no doubt at all that this man could never have been cured, until he was convinced that his sins had been forgiven. It is most probable that he had indeed been a sinner, and that he was convinced that his illness was the result of his sin, as it may very well have been; and without the assurance of forgiveness healing could never have come to him.
In point of fact modern medicine would agree whole-heartedly that the mind can and does influence the physical condition of the body, and that a person can never have a healthy body when his mind is not in a healthy state.
Paul Tournier in A Doctor's Case Book, quotes an actual example of that: "There was, for example, the girl whom one of my friends had been treating for several months for anaemia, without much success. As a last resort my colleague decided to send her to the medical officer of the district in which she worked in order to get his permission to send her into a mountain sanatorium. A week later the patient brought word back from the medical officer. He proved to be a good fellow and he had granted the permit, but he added, 'On analysing the blood, however, I do not arrive at anything like the figures you quote.' My friend, somewhat put out, at once took a fresh sample of the blood, and rushed to his laboratory. Sure enough the blood count had suddenly changed. 'If I had not been the kind of person who keeps carefully to laboratory routine,' my friend's story goes on, 'and if I had not previously checked my figures at each of my patient's visits, I might have thought that I had made a mistake.' He returned to the patient and asked her, 'Has anything out of the ordinary happened in your life since your last visit?' 'Yes, something has happened,' she replied. 'I have suddenly been able to forgive someone against whom I bore a nasty grudge, and all at once I felt I could at last say, yes, to life!'" Her mental attitude was changed, and the very state of her blood was changed along with it. Her mind was cured, and her body was well on the way to being cured.
This man in the gospel story knew that he was a sinner; because he was a sinner, he was certain that God was his enemy; because he felt God was his enemy, he was paralysed and ill. Once Jesus brought to him the forgiveness of God, he knew that God was no longer his enemy, but his friend, and therefore he was cured.
But it was the manner of the cure which scandalized the scribes. Jesus had dared to forgive sin; to forgive sin is the prerogative of God; therefore Jesus had insulted God. Jesus did not stop to argue. He joined issue with them on their own ground. "Whether," he demanded, "is it easier to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'?" Now remember that these scribes believed that no one could get up and walk unless his sins were forgiven. If Jesus was able to make this man get up and walk, then that was unanswerable proof that the man's sins were forgiven, and that Jesus' claim was true. So Jesus demonstrated that he was able to bring forgiveness to a man's soul and health to a man's body. And it remains eternally true that we can never be right physically until we are right spiritually, that health in body and peace with God go hand in hand.
The Man Whom All Men Hated ( Matthew 9:9)
9:9 As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man called Matthew seated at the tax-collector's table. "Follow me," he said to him; and he arose and followed him.
There was never a more unlikely candidate for the office of apostle than Matthew. Matthew was what the King James Version calls a publican; the publicani were tax-gatherers, and were so called because they dealt with public money and with public funds.
The problem of the Roman government was to devise a system whereby the taxes could be collected as efficiently and as cheaply as possible. They did so by auctioning the right to collect taxes in a certain area. The man who bought that right was responsible to the Roman government for an agreed sum; anything he could raise over and above that he was allowed to keep as commission.
Obviously this system lent itself to grave abuses. People did not really know how much they ought to pay in the days before newspapers and radio and television, nor had they any right of appeal against the tax-collector. The consequence was that many a tax-collector became a wealthy man through illegal extortion. This system had led to so many abuses that in Palestine it had been brought to an end before the time of Jesus; but taxes still had to be paid, and there were still abuses.
There were three great stated taxes. There was a ground tax by which a man had to pay one-tenth of his grain and one-fifth of his fruit and vine to the government either in cash or in kind. There was income tax, which was one per cent of a man's income. There was a poll-tax which had to be paid by every male from the age of fourteen to the age of sixty-five, and by every female from the age of twelve to sixty-five. These were statutory taxes and could not well be used by tax-collectors for private profit.
But in addition to these taxes there were all sorts of other taxes. There was a duty of anything from 2.5 per cent to 12.5 per cent on all goods imported and exported. A tax had to be paid to travel on main reacts, to cross bridges, to enter market-places and towns or harbours. There was a tax on pack animals, and a tax on the wheels and axles of carts. There were purchase taxes on goods bought and sold. There were certain commodities which were government monopolies. For instance, in Egypt the trade in nitrate, beer, and papyrus was entirely in government control.
Although the old method of auctioning the taxes had been stopped, all kinds of people were needed to collect these taxes. The people who collected them were drawn from the provincials themselves. Often they were volunteers. Usually in any district one person was responsible for one tax, and it was not difficult for such a person to line his own pockets in addition to collecting the taxes which were legally due.
These tax-gatherers were universally hated. They had entered the service of their country's conquerors, and they amassed their fortunes at the expense of their country's misfortunes. They were notoriously dishonest. Not only did they fleece their own countrymen, but they also did their best to swindle the government, and they made a flourishing income by taking bribes from rich people who wished to avoid taxes which they should have paid.
Every country hates its tax-gatherers, but the hatred of the Jews for them was doubly violent. The Jews were fanatical nationalists. But what roused the Jews more than anything else was their religious conviction that God alone was king, and that to pay taxes to any mortal ruler was an infringement of God's rights and an insult to his majesty. By Jewish law a tax-gatherer was debarred from the synagogue; he was included with things and beasts unclean, and Leviticus 20:5 was applied to them; he was forbidden to be a witness in any case, "robbers, murderers and tax-gatherers" were classed together.
When Jesus called Matthew he called a man whom all men hated. Here is one of the greatest instances in the New Testament of Jesus' power to see in a man, not only what he was, but also what he could be. No one ever had such faith in the possibilities of human nature as Jesus had.
A Challenge Issued And Received ( Matthew 9:9 Continued)
Capernaum was in the territory of Herod Antipas, and in all probability Matthew was not directly in the service of the Romans but in the service of Herod. Capernaum was a great meeting place of roads. In particular the great road from Egypt to Damascus, the Way of the Sea, passed through Capernaum. It was there that it entered the dominion of Herod for business purposes, and no doubt Matthew was one of those customs officers who exacted duty on all goods and commodities as they entered and left the territory of Herod.
It is not to be thought that Matthew had never seen Jesus before. No doubt Matthew had heard about this young Galilean who came with a message breathtakingly new, who spoke with an authority the like of which no one had ever heard before, and who numbered amongst his friends men and women from whom the orthodox good people of the day shrank in loathing. No doubt Matthew had listened on the outskirts of the crowd, and had felt his heart stir within him. Perhaps Matthew had wondered wistfully if even yet it was not too late to set sail and to seek a newer world, to leave his old life and his old shame and to begin again. So he found Jesus standing before him; he heard Jesus issue his challenge; and Matthew accepted that challenge and rose up and left all and followed him.
We must note what Matthew lost and what Matthew found. He lost a comfortable job, but found a destiny. He lost a good income, but found honour. He lost a comfortable security, but found an adventure the like of which he had never dreamed. It may be that if we accept the challenge of Christ, we shall find ourselves poorer in material things. It may be that the worldly ambitions will have to go. But beyond doubt we will find a peace and a joy and a thrill in life that we never knew before. In Jesus Christ a man finds a wealth surpassing anything he may have to abandon for the sake of Christ.
We must note what Matthew left and what Matthew took. He left his tax-collector's table; but from it took one thing--his pen. Here is a shining example of how Jesus can use whatever gift a man may bring to him. It is not likely that the others of the Twelve were handy with a pen. Galilean fishermen would not have much skill in writing or in putting words together. But Matthew had; and this man, whose trade had taught him to use a pen, used that skill to compose the first handbook of the teaching of Jesus, which must rank as one of the most important books the world has ever read.
When Matthew left the tax-collector's table that day he gave up much in the material sense, but in the spiritual sense he became heir to a fortune.
Where The Need Is Greatest ( Matthew 9:10-13)
9:10-13 He was sitting at table in the house, and, look you, many tax-gatherers and sinners came and sat at table with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax-gatherers and sinners?" He heard this. "Those who are well," he said, "do not need a doctor, but those who are ill. Go and learn what the saying means: 'It is mercy I wish, and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to invite the righteous, but sinners."
Jesus did not only call Matthew to be his man and his follower; he actually sat at table with men and women like Matthew, with tax-gatherers and sinners.
A very interesting question arises here--where was this meal Jesus ate with tax-gatherers and sinners? It is only Luke who definitely says that the meal was in the house of Matthew or Levi (compare Matthew 9:10-13; Mark 2:14-17; Luke 5:27-32). As far as the narrative in Matthew and Mark goes, it could well have been in Jesus' house, or in the house where Jesus was staying. If the meal was in Jesus' house, Jesus' saying becomes even more pointed. Jesus said, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."
The word that is used for to call is the Greek word kalein ( G2564) , which is in fact the technical Greek word for inviting a guest to a house or to a meal. In the Parable of the Great Feast ( Matthew 22:1-10; Luke 14:15-24) we well remember how the invited guests refused their invitation, and how the poor, and the lame, and the halt, and the blind were gathered together from the highways and the byways and the hedgerows to sit at the table of the King. It may well be that Jesus is saying, "When you make a feast you invite the coldly orthodox and the piously self-righteous; when I make a feast I invite those who are most conscious of their sin and those whose need of God is greatest."
However that may be, whether this meal was in the house of Matthew or in the house where Jesus was staying, it was to the orthodox Scribes and Pharisees a most shocking proceeding. Broadly speaking, in Palestine people were divided into two sections. There were the orthodox who rigidly kept the Law in every petty detail; and there were those who did not keep its petty regulations. The second were classed as the people of the land; and it was forbidden to the orthodox to go on a journey with them, to do any business with them, to give anything to them or to receive anything from them, to entertain them as guests or to be guests in their houses. By companying with people like this Jesus was doing something which the pious people of his day would never have done.
Jesus' defence was perfectly simple; he merely said that he went where the need was greatest. He would be a poor doctor who visited only houses where people enjoyed good health; the doctor's place is where people are ill; it is his glory and his task to go to those who need him.
Diogenes was one of the great teachers of ancient Greece. He was a man who loved virtue, and a man with a caustic tongue. He was never tired of comparing the decadence of Athens, where he spent most of his time, with the strong simplicities of Sparta. One day someone said to him, "If you think so much of Sparta and so little of Athens, why don't you leave Athens and go and stay in Sparta?" His answer was, "Whatever I may wish to do, I must stay where men need me most." It was sinners who needed Jesus, and amongst sinners he would move.
When Jesus said, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners," we must understand what he was saying. He was not saying that there were some people who were so good that they had no need of anything which he could give; still less was he saying that he was not interested in people who were good. This is a highly compressed saying. Jesus was saying, "I did not come to invite people who are so self-satisfied that they are convinced they do not need anyone's help; I came to invite people who are very conscious of their sin and desperately aware of their need for a saviour." He was saying, "It is only those who know how much they need me who can accept my invitation.'
Those Scribes and Pharisees had a view of religion which is by no means dead.
(i) They were more concerned with the preservation of their own holiness than with the helping of another's sin. They were like doctors who refused to visit the sick lest they should be injured by some infection. They shrank away in fastidious disgust from the sinner; they did not want anything to do with people like that. Essentially their religion was selfish; they were much more concerned to save their own souls than to save the souls of others. And they had forgotten that that was the surest way to lose their own souls.
(ii) They were more concerned with criticism than with encouragement. They were far more concerned to point out the faults of other people than to help them conquer these faults. When a doctor sees some particularly loathsome disease, which would turn the stomach of anyone else to look at, he is not filled with disgust; he is filled with the desire to help. Our first instinct should never be to condemn the sinner; our first instinct should be to help him.
(iii) They practiced a goodness which issued in condemnation rather than in forgiveness and in sympathy. They would rather leave a man in the gutter than give him a hand to get out of it. They were like doctors who were very much concerned to diagnose disease, but not in the least concerned to help cure it.
(iv) They practiced a religion which consisted in outward orthodoxy rather than in practical help. Jesus loved that saying from Hosea 6:6 which said that God desired mercy and not sacrifice, for he quoted it more than once (compare Matthew 12:7). A man may diligently go through all the motions of orthodox piety, but if his hand is never stretched out to help the man in need, he is not a religious man.
Present Joy And Future Sorrow ( Matthew 9:14-15)
9:14-15 Then the disciples of John came to him. "Why," they said, "do we and the Pharisees fast frequently, while your disciples do not fast?" Jesus said to them, "Surely the bridegroom's closest friends cannot mourn while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast."
To the Jew almsgiving, prayer and fasting were the three great works of the religious life. We have already fully described Jewish fasting when we were dealing with Matthew 6:16-18. A. H. McNeile suggests that this incident may have taken place when the autumn rains had not fallen, and a public fast had been ordained.
When Jesus was asked why he and his disciples did not practice fasting, he answered with a vivid picture. The King James Version speaks of the children of the bridechamber, which is a correct literal translation of the Greek. A Jewish wedding was a time of special festivity. The unique feature of it was that the couple who were married did not go away for a honeymoon; they spent their honeymoon at home.
For a week after the wedding open house was kept; the bride and bridegroom were treated as, and even addressed as, king and queen. And during that week their closest friends shared all the joy and all the festivities with them; these closest friends were called the children of the bridechamber. On such an occasion there came into the lives of poor and simple people a joy, a rejoicing, a festivity, a plenty, that might come only once in a lifetime.
So Jesus compares himself to the bridegroom and his disciples to the bridegroom's closest friends. How could a company like that be sad and grim? This was no time for fasting, but for the rejoicing of a lifetime. There are great things in this passage.
(i) It tells us that to be with Jesus is a thing of joy; it tells us that in the presence of Jesus there is a sheer thrilling effervescence of life; it tells us that a gloom-encompassed Christianity is an impossibility. The man who walks with Christ walks in radiance of joy.
(ii) It also tells us that no joy lasts for ever. For John's disciples the time of sorrow had come, because John was already in prison. For Jesus disciples that time of sorrow would most certainly come. It is one of the great inevitabilities of life that the dearest joy must come to an end.
Epictetus said grimly: "When you are kissing your child, say to yourself: 'One day you must die.'" That is why we must know God and Jesus Christ. Jesus alone is the same yesterday, today and for ever; God alone abides amidst all the chances and the changes of life. The dearest human relationships must some day come to an end; it is only the joy of heaven which lasts for ever, and if we have it in our hearts, nothing can take it away.
(iii) This also is a challenge. It may be that at the moment the disciples did not see it, but Jesus is saying to them: "You have experienced the joy that following me can bring; can you also go through the trouble, the hardship, the suffering of a Christian's cross?" The Christian way brings its joy; but the Christian way also brings its blood and sweat and tears, which cannot take the joy away, but which, none the less, must be faced. So Jesus says, "Are you ready for both--the Christian joy and the Christian cross?"
(iv) Enshrined in this saying is the courage of Jesus. Jesus was never under any illusions; clearly at the end of the road he saw the Cross awaiting him. Here the curtain is lifted, and there is a glimpse into the mind of Jesus. He knew that for him the way of life was the way of the Cross, and yet he did not swerve one step aside from it. Here is the courage of the man who knows what God's way costs, and who yet goes on.
The Problem Of The New Idea ( Matthew 9:16-17)
9:16-17 "No one puts a patch of unshrunken cloth on an old garment, for, if he does, the patch which he uses to fill in the hole tears the garment apart, and the rent is worse than ever. No one puts new wine into old wine-skins. If he does, the wine-skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins perish; but they put new wine into new skins, and both are preserved."
Jesus perfectly conscious that he came to men with new ideas and with a new conception of the truth, and he was well aware how difficult it is to get a new idea into men's minds. So he used two pictures which any Jew would understand.
(i) "No one," he said, "takes a piece of new and unshrunken cloth to patch an old garment. If he does, on the first occasion the garment becomes wet, the new patch shrinks, and as it shrinks, it tears the cloth apart, and the rent in the garment gapes wider than ever."
The Jews were passionately attached to things as they were. The Law was to them God's last and final word; to add one word to it, or to subtract one word from it, was a deadly sin. It was the avowed object of the Scribes and Pharisees "to build a fence around the Law." To them a new idea was not so much a mistake as a sin.
That spirit is by no means dead. Very often in a church, if a new idea or a new method or any change is suggested, the objection is promptly raised, "We never did that before."
I once heard two theologians talking together. One was a younger man who was intensely interested in all that the new thinkers have to say; the other was an older man of a rigid and conventional orthodoxy. The older man heard the young man with a kind of half-contemptuous tolerance, and finally closed the conversation by saying, "The old is better."
Throughout all its history the Church has clung to the old. What Jesus is saying is that there comes a time when patching is folly, and when the only thing to do is to scrap something entirely and to begin again. There are forms of church government, there are forms of church service, there are forms of words expressing our beliefs, which we so often try to adjust and tinker with in order to bring them up to date; we try to patch them. No one would willingly, or recklessly, or callously abandon what has stood the test of time and of the years and in which former generations have found their comfort and put their trust; but the fact remains that this is a growing and an expanding universe; and there comes a time when patches are useless, and when a man and a church have to accept the adventure of the new, or withdraw into the backwater, where they worship, not God, but the past.
(ii) No one, said Jesus, tries to put new wine into old wine-skins. In the old days men stored their wine in skins, and not in bottles. When new wine was put into a skin, the wine was still fermenting. The gases it gave off exerted pressure on the skin. In a new skin there was a certain elasticity, and no harm was done because the skin gave with the pressure. But an old skin had grown hard, and had lost all its elasticity, and, if new and fermenting wine was put into it, it could not give to the pressure of the gases; it could only burst.
To put this into contemporary terms: our minds must be elastic enough to receive and to contain new ideas. The history of progress is the history of the overcoming of the prejudices of the shut mind. Every new idea has had to battle for its existence against the instinctive opposition of the human mind. The motor car, the railway train, the aeroplane were in the beginning regarded with suspicion. Simpson had to fight to introduce chloroform, and Lister had to struggle to introduce antiseptics. Copernicus was compelled to retract his statement that the earth went round the sun, and not the sun round the earth. Even Jonas Hanway, who brought the umbrella to this country, had to suffer a barrage of missiles and insults when he first walked down the street with it.
This dislike of the new enters into every sphere of life. Norman Marlow, an expert on railways, made many journeys on the footplate of locomotives. In his book Footplate and Signal Cabin he tells of a journey he made not long after the amalgamation of the railways. Locomotives which had been used on one branch of the railways were being tested out on other lines. He was on the footplate of a Manchester to Penzance express, a "Jubilee" class 4-6-0. The driver was a Great Western Railway driver who had been used to driving locomotives of the "Castle" class. "The driver did nothing but discourse with moody eloquence on the wretchedness of the engine he was driving" as compared with the "Castle" engines. He refused to use the technique necessary for the new engine, although he had been instructed in it, and knew it perfectly well. He insisted on driving his "Jubilee" as if it had been a "Castle" and grumbled all the way that he could not get better speed than 50 miles an hour. He was used to "Castles" and with him nothing else had a chance. At Crewe a new driver took over, a man who was quite prepared to adopt the necessary new technique, and soon he had the "Jubilee" travelling at 80 miles per hour. Even in engine-driving men resented new ideas.
Within the Church this resentment of the new is chronic, and the attempt to pour new things into old moulds is almost universal. We attempt to pour the activities of a modem congregation into an ancient church building which was never meant for them. We attempt to pour the truth of new discoveries into creeds which are based on Greek metaphysics. We attempt to pour modern instruction into outworn language which cannot express it. We read God's word to twentieth century men and women in Elizabethan English, and seek to present the needs of the twentieth century man and woman to God in prayer language which is four hundred years old.
It may be that we would do well to remember that when any living thing stops growing, it starts dying. It may be that we need to pray that God would deliver us from the shut mind.
It so happens that we are living in an age of rapid and tremendous changes. Viscount Samuel was born in 1870, and he begins his autobiography with a description of the London of his childhood. "We had no motor-cars, or motor-buses, or taxis, or tube railways; there were no bicycles except the high 'pennyfarthings'; there were no electric light or telephones, no cinemas or broadcasts." That was just a century ago. We are living in a changing and an expanding world. It is Jesus' warning that the Church dare not be the only institution which lives in the past.
The Imperfect Faith And The Perfect Power ( Matthew 9:18-31)
Before we deal with this passage in detail, we must look at it as a whole; for in it there is something wonderful.
It has three miracle stories in it, the healing of the ruler's daughter ( Matthew 9:18-19; Matthew 9:23-26); the healing of the woman with the issue of blood ( Matthew 9:20-22); and the healing of the two blind men ( Matthew 9:27-31). Each of these stories has something in common. Let us look at them one by one.
(i) Beyond doubt the ruler came to Jesus when everything else had failed. He was, as we shall see, a ruler of the synagogue, that is to say, he was a pillar of Jewish orthodoxy. He was one of the men who despised and hated Jesus, and who would have been glad to see him eliminated. No doubt he tried every kind of doctor, and every kind of cure; and only in sheer desperation, and as a last resort, did he come to Jesus at all.
That is to say, the ruler came to Jesus from a very inadequate motive. He did not come to Jesus as a result of an outflow of the love of his heart; he came to Jesus because he had tried everything and everyone else, and because there was nowhere else to go. Faber somewhere makes God say of a straying child of God:
"If goodness lead him not;
Then weariness may toss him to my breast."
This man came to Jesus simply because desperation drove him there.
(ii) The woman with the issue of blood crept up behind Jesus in the crowd and touched the hem of his cloak. Suppose we were reading that story with a detached and critical awareness, what would we say that woman showed? We would say that she showed nothing other than superstition. To touch the edge of Jesus' cloak is the same kind of thing as to look for healing power in the relics and the handkerchiefs of saints.
This woman came to Jesus with what she would call a very inadequate faith. She came with what seems much more like superstition than faith.
(iii) The two blind men came to Jesus, crying out: "Have pity on us, you Son of David." Son of David was not a title that Jesus desired; Son of David was the kind of title that a Jewish nationalist might use. So many of the Jews were waiting for a great leader of the line of David who would be the conquering general who would lead them to military and political triumph over their Roman masters. That is the idea which lies behind the title Son of David.
So these blind men came to Jesus with a very inadequate conception of who he was. They saw in him no more than the conquering hero of David's line.
Here is an astonishing thing. The ruler came to Jesus with an inadequate motive; the woman came to Jesus with an inadequate faith; the blind men came to Jesus with an inadequate conception of who he was, or, if we like to put it so, with an inadequate theology,; and yet they found his love and power waiting for their needs. Here we see a tremendous thing. It does not matter how we come to Christ, if only we come. No matter how inadequately and how imperfectly we come, his love and his arms are open to receive us.
There is a double lesson here. It means that we do not wait to ask Christ's help until our motives, our faith, our theology are perfect; we may come to him exactly as we are. And it means that we have no right to criticize others whose motives we suspect, whose faith we question, and whose theology we believe to be mistaken. It is not how we come to Christ that matters; it is that we should come at all, for he is willing to accept us as we are, and able to make us what we ought to be.
The Awakening Touch ( Matthew 9:18-19 ; Matthew 9:23-26 )
9:18-19,23-26 While he was saying these things, look you, a ruler came and knelt before him in worship; "My daughter," he said, "has just died. But come and lay your hand upon her, and she will live:" Jesus rose and went with him, and his disciples came too. ... And Jesus came to the house of the ruler, and he saw the flute-players and the tumult of the crowd. "Leave us:" he said, "for the maid is not dead; she is asleep:" And they laughed at him. When the crowd had been put out, he went in and took her hand, and the maid arose. And the report of this went out to the whole country.
Matthew tells this story much more briefly than the other gospel writers do. If we want further details of it we must read it in Mark 5:21-43 and in Luke 8:40-56. There we discover that the ruler's name was Jairus, and that he was a ruler of the synagogue ( Mark 5:22; Luke 8:41).
The ruler of the synagogue was a very important person. He was elected from among the elders. He was not a teaching or a preaching official; he had "the care of the external order in public worship, and the supervision of the concerns of the synagogue in general." He appointed those who were to read and to pray in the service, and invited those who were to preach. It was his duty to see that nothing unfitting took place within the synagogue: and the care of the synagogue buildings was in his oversight. The whole practical administration of the synagogue was in his hands.
It is clear that such a man would come to Jesus only as a last resort. He would be one of those strictly orthodox Jews who regarded Jesus as a dangerous heretic; and it was only when everything else had failed that he turned in desperation to Jesus. Jesus might well have said to him, "When things were going well with you, you wanted to kill me; now that things are going ill, you are appealing for my help." And Jesus might well have refused help to a man who came like that. But he bore no grudge; here was a man who needed him, and Jesus' one desire was to help. Injured pride and the unforgiving spirit had no part in the mind of Jesus.
So Jesus went with the ruler of the synagogue to his house, and there he found a scene like pandemonium. The Jews set very high the obligation of mourning over the dead. "Whoever is remiss," they said, "in mourning over the death of a wise man deserves to be burned alive." There were three mourning customs which characterized every Jewish household of grief.
There was the rending of garments. There were no fewer than thirty-nine different rules and regulations which laid down how garments should be rent. The rent was to be made standing. Clothes were to be rent to the heart so that the skin was exposed. For a father or mother the rent was exactly over the heart; for others it was on the right side. The rent must be big enough for a fist to be inserted into it. For seven days the rent must be left gaping open; for the next thirty days it must be loosely stitched so that it could still be seen; only then could it be permanently repaired. It would obviously have been improper for women to rend their garments in such a way that the breast was exposed. So it was laid down that a woman must rend her inner garment in private; she must then reverse the garment so that she wore it back to front; and then in public she must rend her outer garment.
There was wailing for the dead. In a house of grief an incessant wailing was kept up. The wailing was done by professional wailing women. They still exist in the east and W. M. Thomson in The Land and the Book describes them: "There are in every city and community women exceedingly cunning in this business. They are always sent for and kept in readiness. When a fresh company of sympathisers comes in, these women make haste to take up a wailing, that the newly-come may the more easily unite their tears with the mourners. They know the domestic history of every person, and immediately strike up an impromptu lamentation, in which they introduce the names of their relatives who have recently died, touching some tender chord in every heart; and thus each one weeps for his own dead, and the performance, which would otherwise be difficult or impossible, comes easy and natural."
There were the flute-players. The music of the flute was especially associated with death. The Talmud lays it down: "The husband is bound to bury his dead wife, and to make lamentations and mourning for her, according to the custom of all countries. And also the very poorest amongst the Israelites will not allow her less than two flutes and one wailing woman; but, if he be rich, let all things be done according to his qualities." Even in Rome the flute-players were a feature of days of grief. There were flute-players at the funeral of the Roman Emperor Claudius, and Seneca tells us that they made such a shrilling that even Claudius himself, dead though he was, might have heard them. So insistent and so emotionally exciting was the wailing of the flute that Roman law limited the number of flute-players at any funeral to ten.
We can then picture the scene in the house of the ruler of the synagogue. The garments were being rent; the wailing women were uttering their shrieks in an abandonment of synthetic grief; the flutes were shrilling their eerie sound. In that house there was all the pandemonium of eastern grief.
Into that excited and hysterical atmosphere came Jesus. Authoritatively he put them all out. Quietly he told them that the maid was not dead but only asleep, and they laughed him to scorn. It is a strangely human touch this. The mourners were so luxuriating in their grief that they even resented hope.
It is probable that when Jesus said the maid was asleep, he meant exactly what he said. In Greek as in English a dead person was often said to be asleep. In fact the word cemetery comes from the Greek word koimeterion (compare koimao, G2837) , and means a place where people sleep. In Greek there are two words for to sleep; the one is koimasthai ( G2837) , which is very commonly used both of natural sleep and of the sleep of death; the other is katheudein ( G2518) , which is not used nearly so frequently of the sleep of death, but which much more usually means natural sleep. It is katheudein ( G2518) which is used in this passage.
In the east cataleptic coma was by no means uncommon. Burial in the east follows death very quickly, because the climate makes it necessary. Tristram writes: "Interments always take place at latest on the evening of the day of death, and frequently at night, if the deceased have lived till after sunset." Because of the commonness of this state of coma, and because of the commonness of speedy burial, not infrequently people were buried alive, as the evidence of the tombs shows. It may well be that here we have an example, not so much of divine healing as of divine diagnosis; and that Jesus saved this girl from a terrible end.
One thing is certain, Jesus that day in Capernaum rescued a Jewish maid from the grasp of death.
All Heaven's Power For One ( Matthew 9:20-22 )
9:20-22 And, look you, a woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years came up behind him, and touched the tassel of his cloak. For she said to herself, "If I only touch his cloak, I will be cured." Jesus turned and saw her. "Courage, daughter!" He said. "Your faith has brought you healing." And the woman was cured from that hour.
From the Jewish point of view this woman could not have suffered from any more terrible or humiliating disease than an issue of blood. It was a trouble which was very common in Palestine. The Talmud sets out no fewer than eleven different cures for it. Some of them were tonics and astringents which may well have been effective; others were merely superstitious remedies. One was to carry the ashes of an ostrich-egg in a linen bag in summer, and in a cotton bag in winter; another was to carry about a barleycorn which had been found in the dung of a white she-ass. When Mark tells this story, he makes it clear that this woman had tried everything, and had gone to every available doctor, and was worse instead of better ( Mark 5:26).
The horror of the disease was that it rendered the sufferer unclean. The Law laid it down: "If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness; as in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean. Every bed on which she lies, all the days of her discharge, shall be to her as the bed of her impurity; and everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her impurity. And whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the evening ( Leviticus 15:25-27).
That is to say, a woman with an issue of blood was unclean; everything and everyone she touched was infected with that uncleanness. She was absolutely shut off from the worship of God and from the fellowship of other men and women. She should not even have been in the crowd surrounding Jesus, for, if they had known it, she was infecting with her uncleanness everyone whom she touched. There is little wonder that she was desperately eager to try anything which might rescue her from her life of isolation and humiliation.
So she slipped up behind Jesus and touched what the King James Version calls the hem of his garment. The Greek word is kraspedon ( G2899) , the Hebrew is zizith, and the Revised Standard Version translates it fringe.
These fringes were four tassels of hyacinth blue worn by a Jew on the corners of his outer garment. They were worn in obedience to the injunction of the Law in Numbers 15:37-41 and Deuteronomy 22:12. Matthew again refers to them in Matthew 14:36 and Matthew 23:5. They consisted of four threads passing through the four corners of the garment and meeting in eight. One of the threads was longer than the others. It was twisted seven times round the others, and a double knot formed; then eight times, then eleven times, then thirteen times. The thread and the knots stood for the five books of the Law.
The idea of the fringe was two-fold. It was meant to identify a Jew as a Jew, and as a member of the chosen people, no matter where he was; and it was meant to remind a Jew every time he put on and took off his clothes that he belonged to God. In later times, when the Jews were universally persecuted, the tassels were worn on the undergarment, and today they are worn on the prayer-shawl which a devout Jew wears when he prays.
It was the tassel on the robe of Jesus that this woman touched.
When she touched it, it was as if time stood still. It was as if we were looking at a motion-picture and suddenly the picture stopped, and left us looking at one scene. The extraordinary, and the movingly beautiful thing, about this scene is that all at once amidst that crowd Jesus halted; and for the moment it seemed that for him no one but that woman and nothing but her need existed. She was not simply a poor woman lost in the crowd; she was someone to whom Jesus gave the whole of himself.
For Jesus no one is ever lost in the crowd, because Jesus is like God. W. B. Yeats once wrote in one of his moments of mystical beauty: "The love of God is infinite for every human soul, because every human soul is unique; no other can satisfy the same need in God." God gives all of himself to each individual person.
The world is not like that. The world is apt to divide people into those who are important and those who are unimportant.
In A Night to Remember Walter Lord tells in detail the story of the sinking of the Titanic in April, 1912. There was an appalling loss of life, when that new and supposedly unsinkable liner hit an iceberg in the middle of the Atlantic. After the tragedy had been announced, the New York newspaper, The American, devoted a leader to it. The leader was devoted entirely to the death of John Jacob Astor, the millionaire; and at the end of it, almost casually, it was mentioned that 1,800 others were also lost. The only one who really mattered, the only one with real news value, was the millionaire. The other 1,800 were of no real importance.
Men can be like that, but God can never be like that. Bain, the psychologist, said in a very different connection that the sensualist has what he calla "a voluminous tenderness." In the highest and the best sense there is a voluminous tenderness in God. James Agate said of G. K. Chesterton: "Unlike some thinkers, Chesterton understood his fellow-men; the woes of a jockey were as familiar to him as the worries of a judge. . . Chesterton, more than any man I have ever known, had the common touch. He would give the whole of his attention to a boot-black. He had about him that bounty of heart which men call kindness, and which makes the whole world kin." That is the reflection of the love of God which allows no man to be lost in the crowd.
This is something to remember in a day and an age when the individual is in danger of getting lost. Men tend to become numbers in a system of social security; they tend as members of an association or union to almost lose their right to be individuals at all. W. B. Yeats said of Augustus John, the famous artist and portrait painter: "He was supremely interested in the revolt from all that makes one man like another." To God one man is never like another; each is His individual child, and each has all God's love and all God's power at his disposal.
To Jesus this woman was not lost in the crowd; in her hour of need, to him she was all that mattered. Jesus is like that for every one of us.
Faith's Test And Faith's Reward ( Matthew 9:27-31 )
9:27-31 And, as he passed on from there, two blind men followed him, shouting. "Have pity on us," they said, "you Son of David." When he came into the house, the blind men came to him. Jesus said to them, " Do you believe that I am able to do this?" "Yes, Lord," they said. Then he touched their eyes. "Be it to you," he said, "according to your faith." And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly commanded them, "See, let no one know of this." But they went out and spread abroad the story of him all over the country.
Blindness was a distressingly common disease in Palestine. It came partly from the glare of the eastern sun on unprotected eyes, and partly because people knew nothing of the importance of cleanliness and hygiene. In particular the clouds of unclean flies carried infections which led to loss of sight.
The name by which these two blind men addressed Jesus was Son of David. When we study the occurrences of that title within the gospels, we find that it is almost always used by crowds or by people who knew Jesus only, as it were, at a distance ( Matthew 15:22; Matthew 20:30-31; Mark 10:47; Mark 12:35-37). The term Son of David describes Jesus in the popular conception of the Messiah. For centuries the Jews had awaited the promised deliverer of David's line, the leader who would not only restore their freedom, but who would lead them to power and glory and greatness. It was in that way that these blind men thought of Jesus; they saw in him the wonder-worker who would lead the people to freedom and to conquest. They came to Jesus with a very inadequate idea of who and what he was, and yet he healed them. The way in which Jesus dealt with them is illuminating.
(i) Clearly he did not answer their shouts at once. Jesus wished to be quite sure that they were sincere and earnest in their desire for what he could give them. It might well have been that they had taken up a popular cry just because everyone else was shouting, and that, as soon as Jesus had passed by, they would simply forget. He wanted first of all to be sure that their request was genuine, and that their sense of need was real.
After all there were advantages in being a beggar; a man was rid of all the responsibility of working and of making a living.
There are advantages in being an invalid.
There are people who in actual fact do not wish their chains to be broken. W. B. Yeats tells of Lionel Johnson, the scholar and poet. Johnson was an alcoholic. He had, as he said himself, "a craving that made every atom of his body cry out." But, when it was suggested that he should undergo treatment to overcome this craving, his answer quite frankly was: "I do not want to be cured."
There are not a few people who in their heart of hearts do not dislike their weakness; and there are many people, who, if they were honest, would have to say that they do not wish to lose their sins. Jesus had first of all to be sure that these men sincerely and earnestly desired the healing he could give.
(ii) It is interesting to note that Jesus in effect compelled these people to see him alone. Because he did not answer them in the streets, they had to come to him in the house. It is the law of the spiritual life that sooner or later a man must confront Jesus alone. It is all very well to take a decision for Jesus on the flood tide of emotion at some great gathering, or in some little group which is charged with spiritual power. But after the crowd a man must go home and be alone; after the fellowship he must go back to the essential isolation of every human soul; and what really matters is not what a man does in the crowd, but what he does when he is alone with Christ. Jesus compelled these men to face him alone.
(iii) Jesus asked these men only one question: "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" The one essential for a miracle is faith. There is nothing mysterious or theological about this. No doctor can cure a sick person who goes to him in a completely hopeless frame of mind. No medicine will do a man any good if he thinks he might as well be drinking water. The way to a miracle is to place one's life in the hands of Jesus Christ, and say, "I know that you can make me what I ought to be."
The Two Reactions ( Matthew 9:32-34)
9:32-34 As they were going away, look you, they brought to him a dumb man who was demon-possessed; and, when the demon had been expelled from him, he spoke. And the crowds were amazed. "Nothing like this," they said, "was ever seen in Israel." But the Pharisees said, "He casts out the demons by the power of the prince of the demons."
There are few passages which show better than this the impossibility of an attitude of neutrality towards Jesus. Here we have the picture of two reactions to him. The attitude of the crowds was amazed wonder; the attitude of the Pharisees was virulent hatred. It must always remain true that what the eye sees depends upon what the heart feels.
The crowds looked on Jesus with wonder, because they were simple people with a crying sense of need; and they saw that in Jesus their need could be supplied in the most astonishing way. Jesus will always appear wonderful to the man with a sense of need; and the deeper the sense of need the more wonderful Jesus will appear to be.
The Pharisees saw Jesus as one who was in league with all the powers of evil. They did not deny his wondrous powers; but they attributed them to his complicity with the prince of the devils. This verdict of the Pharisees was due to certain attitudes of mind.
(i) They were too set in their ways to change. As we have seen, so far as they were concerned not one word could be added or subtracted from the Law. To them all the great things belonged to the past. To them to change a tradition or a convention was a deadly sin. Anything that was new was wrong. And when Jesus came with a new interpretation of what real religion was, they hated him, as they had hated the prophets long ago.
(ii) They were too proud in their self-satisfaction to submit. If Jesus was right, they were wrong. The Pharisees were so well satisfied with themselves that they saw no need to change; and they hated anyone who wished to change them. Repentance is the gate whereby all men must enter the Kingdom; and repentance means the recognition of the error of our ways, the realization that in Christ alone there is life, and the surrender to him and to his will and power, whereby alone we can be changed.
(iii) They were too prejudiced to see. Their eyes were so blinded by their own ideas that they could not see in Jesus Christ the truth and the power of God.
The man with a sense of need will always see wonders in Jesus Christ, The man who is so set in his ways that he will not change, the man who is so proud in his self-righteousness that he cannot submit, the man who is so blinded by his prejudices that he cannot see, will always resent and hate and seek to eliminate him.
THE THREEFOLD WORK ( Matthew 9:35 )
9:35 And Jesus made a tour of all the towns and villages, teaching in synagogues, and heralding forth the good news of the Kingdom, and healing every disease and every illness.
Here in one sentence we see the threefold activity which was the essence of the life of Jesus.
(i) Jesus was the herald. The herald is the man who brings a message from the king: Jesus was the one who brought a message from God. The duty of the herald is the proclamation of certainties; preaching must always be the proclamation of certainties. No church can ever be composed of people who are certain, as it were, by proxy. It is not only the preacher who must be certain. The people must be certain too.
There never was a time when this certainty was more needed than it is today. Geoffrey Heawood, headmaster of a great English public school, has written that the great tragedy and problem of this age is that we are standing at the cross-roads, and the signposts have fallen down.
Beverley Nichols once wrote a book composed of interviews with famous people. One of the interviews was with Hilaire Belloc, one of the most famous of English Roman Catholics. After the interview Nichols wrote: "I was sorry for Mr. Belloc because I felt that he had nailed at least some of his colours to the wrong mast; but I was still sorrier for myself and for my own generation, because I knew that we had no colours of any kind to nail to any mast."
We live in an age of uncertainty, an age when people have ceased to be sure of anything. Jesus was the herald of God, who came proclaiming the certainties by which men live; and we too must be able to say, "I know whom I have believed."
(ii) Jesus was teacher. It is not enough to proclaim the Christian certainties and let it go at that; we must also be able to show the significance of these certainties for life and for living. The importance and the problem of this lie in the fact that we teach Christianity, not by talking about it, but by living it. It is not the Christian's duty to discuss Christianity with others, so much as it is to show them what Christianity is.
A writer who lived in India writes like this: "I remember a British battalion, which like most battalions came to parade service because they had to, sang hymns they liked, listened to the preacher if they thought him interesting, and left the Church alone for the rest of the week. But their rescue work at the time of the Quetta earthquake so impressed a Brahmin that he demanded immediate baptism, because only the Christian religion could make men behave like that."
The thing which taught that Brahmin what Christianity was like was Christianity in action. To put this at its highest: our duty is not to talk to men about Jesus Christ, but to show him to them. A saint has been defined as someone in whom Christ lives again. Every Christian must be a teacher, and he must teach others what Christianity is, not by his words, but by his life.
(iii) Jesus was healer. The gospel which Jesus brought did not stop at words; it was translated into deeds. If we read through the gospels, we will see that Jesus spent far more time healing the sick, and feeding the hungry, and comforting the sorrowing than he did merely talking about God. He turned the words of Christian truth into the deeds of Christian love. We are not truly Christian until our Christian belief issues in Christian action. The priest would have said that religion consists of sacrifice; the Scribe would have said that religion consists of Law; but Jesus Christ said that religion consists of love.
THE DIVINE COMPASSION ( Matthew 9:36 )
9:36 When he saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion to the depths of his being, for they were bewildered and dejected, like sheep who have no shepherd.
When Jesus saw the crowd of ordinary men and women, he was moved with compassion. The word which is used for moved with compassion (splangchnistheis, G4697) is the strongest word for pity in the Greek language. It is formed from the word splangchna ( G4698) , which means the bowels, and it describes the compassion which moves a man to the deepest depths of his being. In the gospels, apart from its use in some of the parables, it is used only of Jesus ( Matthew 9:36; Matthew 14:14; Matthew 15:32; Matthew 20:34; Mark 1:41; Luke 7:13). When we study these passages, we are able to see the things which moved Jesus most of all.
(i) He was moved to compassion by the world's pain.
He was moved with compassion for the sick ( Matthew 14:14); for the blind ( Matthew 20:34); for those in the grip of the demons ( Mark 9:22). In all our afflictions he is afflicted. He could not see a sufferer but he longed to ease the pain.
(ii) He was moved to compassion by the world's sorrow.
The sight of the widow at Nain, following the body of her son out to burial, moved his heart ( Luke 7:13). He was filled with a great desire to wipe the tear from every eye.
(iii) He was moved to compassion by the world's hunger.
The sight of the tired and hungry crowds was a call upon his power ( Matthew 15:32). No Christian can be content to have too much while others have too little.
(iv) He was moved to compassion by the world's loneliness.
The sight of a leper, banished from the society of his fellow-men, living a life which was a living death of loneliness and universal abandonment, called forth his pity and his power ( Mark 1:41).
(v) He was moved to compassion by the world's bewilderment.
That is what moved Jesus on this occasion. The common people were desperately longing for God; and the Scribes and the Pharisees, the priests and the Sadducees, the pillars of orthodox religion of his day, had nothing to offer them. The orthodox teachers had neither guidance, nor comfort, nor strength to give. Milton, in Lycidas, describes almost savagely the religious leaders who have nothing to offer:
"Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to hold
A sheep-hook, or have learnt aught else the least
That to the faithful herdsman's art belongs!
... Their lean and flashy songs
Grate on their scrannel pipes of wretched straw,
The hungry sheep took up and are not fed."
The words that are used to describe the state of the common people are vivid words. The word that we have translated bewildered is skulmenoi ( G4660; compare G4661) . It can describe a corpse which is rayed and mangled; someone who is plundered by rapacious men, or vexed by those without pity, or treated with wanton insolence; someone who is utterly wearied by a journey which seems to know no end. The word that we have translated dejected is errimenoi. It means laid prostrate. It can describe a man prostrated with drink, or a man laid low with mortal wounds.
The Jewish leaders, who should have been giving men strength to live, were bewildering men with subtle arguments about the Law, which had no help and comfort in them. When they should have been helping men to stand upright, they were bowing them down under the intolerable weight of the Scribal Law. They were offering men a religion which was a handicap instead of a support. We must always remember that Christianity exists, not to discourage, but to encourage; not to weigh men down with burdens, but to lift them up with wings.
THE WAITING HARVEST ( Matthew 9:37-38 )
9:37-38 Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is great, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest."
Here is one of the most characteristic things Jesus ever said. When he and the orthodox religious leaders of his day looked on the crowd of ordinary men and women, they saw them in quite different ways. The Pharisees saw the common people as chaff to be destroyed and burned up; Jesus saw them as a harvest to be reaped and to be saved. The Pharisees in their pride looked for the destruction of sinners; Jesus in love died for the salvation of sinners.
But here also is one of the great Christian truths and one of the supreme Christian challenges. That harvest will never be reaped unless there are reapers to reap it. It is one of the blazing truths of Christian faith and life that Jesus Christ needs men. When he was upon this earth, his voice could reach so few. He was never outside Palestine, and there was a world which was waiting. He still wants men to hear the good news of the gospel, but they will never hear unless other men will tell them. He wants all men to hear the good news; but they will never hear it unless there are those who are prepared to cross the seas and the mountains and bring the good news to them.
Nor is prayer enough. A man might say, "I will pray for the coming of Christ's Kingdom every day in life." But in this, as in so many things, prayer without works is dead. Martin Luther had a friend who felt about the Christian faith as he did. The friend was also a monk. They came to an agreement. Luther would go down into the dust and heat of the battle for the Reformation in the world; the friend would stay in the monastery and uphold Luther's hands in prayer. So they began that way. Then, one night, the friend had a dream. He saw a vast field of corn as big as the world; and one solitary man was seeking to reap it--an impossible and a heartbreaking task. Then he caught a glimpse of the reaper's face; and the reaper was Martin Luther; and Luther's friend saw the truth in a flash. "I must leave my prayers," he said, "and get to work." And so he left his pious solitude, and went down to the world to labour in the harvest.
It is the dream of Christ that every man should be a missionary and a reaper. There are those who cannot do other than pray, for life has laid them helpless, and their prayers are indeed the strength of the labourers. But that is not the way for most of us, for those of us who have strength of body and health of mind. Not even the giving of our money is enough. If the harvest of men is ever to be reaped, then every one of us must be a reaper, for there is someone whom each one of us could--and must--bring to God.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)