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It was not a ministry that elicited cordial response. Sometimes the teacher has to work with a conscious reluctance which disables him. There is a sense of weariness in the whole tone of this paragraph; it is discoverable even in the attitude and action of the Son of God. This, said he, is the synagogue, and this is the Sabbath day, and this is the sacred roll, historical, prophetical, poetical; but these people do not want to hear me. I know it by their countenances; every eye blinks with suspicion, every man is waiting for my halting; here I have to encounter a tremendous resistance of soul. Sometimes the teacher could encounter open hostility, and become eloquent under the pungent attack; but what can he do with the cold heart? what can any man do in the presence of indifference? Oppose the gospel, and the gospel will find its own replies: challenge it to combat, and its sword will flash out in the light instantly, and never be put back until the victory has been determined; but what could even the Son of God do with simple suspicion, unexpressed and unavowed dislike, prejudice, and distrust? Had there been open detestation the case would have been better. You can answer detestation, you cannot reply to prejudice; you do not know where it is, where it originates, how it develops, what colour it assumes, and what subtle courses it pursues in the whole intricacy of the human mind and heart. We have seen Jesus Christ in the presence of hostile throngs, but to see him in the presence of his own countrymen, and, so to say, townsmen and fellow-villagers, and to see him encountered by simple blank suspicion, is a new view of this Man, whose ministry comprehended every aspect and every necessity of human nature.
Yet it was difficult to repress opinion. The people said among themselves, "From whence hath this man these things?" He has no right to them; this wine ought not to have been in this goblet; the water is good, but how rough the vessel: could we not have had this same water in fine porcelain? It would have tasted better in a pure crystal; we do not like this man's way of giving it: we cannot deny what he says; he is wise, shrewd, penetrating; an able man, wonderful, striking, unique: but how is it that he can do these mighty works? He was never trained in this direction; he lacks the guinea-stamp of the schools; he has not been ordained by rabbi or learned man or authentic authority of any kind; there are the miracles, but how did he come to work them? If some high priest or scribe had worked these miracles we would have applauded them, the balance of things would have been equal; but how can the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda and Simon do these things? They, like many others, started the argument from the wrong end. They should have said: Seeing the works are so excellent, the worker himself must be good. If we would adopt that standard of reasoning, what prejudice would be dispelled, what new charities would be opened up and exercised and come to noble fruition! Let us say so with regard to sects, communions, denominations: why say, These people are rough, therefore they can do no beautiful thing? Why not say, contrariwise, The thing done is beautiful, therefore, under the rough exterior there must be some hidden, latent, divinely-originated loveliness? That would be right, that would be just; the spirit of charity would make such a criticism noble. We are apt to think that because the instruments are rude, therefore what the instruments are seeking to express must be rude also. That is false in reasoning, and it is unjust in morality: what is the thing being taught, what is the thing being done, what is the doctrine being declared, what are the results of the pursuit and the declaration? If men are made honest, sober, wise, honourable, if they are proved to be worthy of trust and all the honours of citizenship, the thing itself which has wrought out this issue must be credited with divinity, must be regarded as an aspiration. It must be a very difficult thing for persons who have known the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda and Simon, to believe anything that he says. Did Jesus resent this? When did he resent anything? He was the Son of man, he understood contempt, he knew the evil genius of suspicion. "They were offended at him," but he held himself ready to do mighty works on their account if by faith they would allow him to show his omnipotence. This seems to be the attitude of all good men towards suspicious and suspecting persons. Whatever others do, be sure you always act the gentleman. Poor men can do so; men who have had no advantages of a social, academic, or other kind, can by meekness and pureness of soul, sweetness and simplicity of disposition, be real aristocrats, gentlemen, knights. Whenever persons, therefore, mock you, or indulge and use mischievously prejudice against you, always show that you vindicate your position, not by your resentment, but by your gentleness, forbearance, magnanimity. Say, in sweet Christian monologue, They would not do so if they knew better; probably they only see me from an exterior point of view; they do not understand all my purpose, they only hear part of what I say, and they listen with too much credulity to what others say about me, and especially against me; perhaps if they knew me better they would not be resentful, prejudiced, unkind, hostile, and unamiable. That is the speech for a Christian to make; it is hard to compose, it is all but impossible to deliver; but even this miracle lies within the almightiness of the Holy Ghost, God the Holy Spirit. Let us ask him to make us gracious when others are ungracious, magnanimous when others are supercilious and petulant and unjust; and let us ask God to show us that there is after all no argument equal to a character. Silence may be a miracle; a closed mouth in the presence of evil imputation may be the best exculpation: "He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth": what if that silence were the consummation and expression of his omnipotence?
There is great comfort to be derived from the incident narrated by the evangelist. One would say, given a preacher, wise, gracious, sympathetic, lovely in personal character, and unquestionably supreme in ability, and known to be ineffably tender in disposition, and the people must recognise him, welcome him, believe what he says, and repronounce in action the doctrine of his lips. That theory is dissolved and annihilated by this incident. It was the Son of God that was contemned, disbelieved, rejected. We hear even upon platforms that where the gospel is faithfully presented the people are hungering and thirsting for it, and are prepared to respond to its appeals, and invitations, and challenges. That was not the case with Jesus Christ. He was the Gospel, yet he was called Beelzebub; he was the Son of God, and was stoned for making the claim; there was no guile in his soul, there was no blackness of iniquity upon his sweet sacred lips; the people wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth, and their wonder never rose into religion, trust, and praise. Let faithful men, therefore, be not too much discouraged. The reason of failure is not in you, necessarily; there is room enough for self-inquest, piercing examination of the heart, trying of the reins and thoughts and motives and purposes; you may hold continual self-assize; but the Son of God was despised and rejected of men; we hid, as it were, our faces from him; we spat upon his face, and plucked the hair from his cheeks. Say not, therefore, that if you had ideal beauty and loveliness and moral charm you would fall down in an attitude of piety, and accept the revelation as the very incarnation of God. History contradicts you, consciousness ought to restrain such an ebullition of impious pretension; we ought to know ourselves enough to know that men can go from temples to cesspools, can go from the altar where the blood of the Sacrament is drunk, and drink deeply out of the cup of devils. Human nature can do miracles of this kind. We ought by this time to be acquainted with the fact that impossibility is one of the easiest exercises we have ever to accomplish.
Jesus, like himself, generalised upon the incident; he said, "A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house." He did not say, I am suffering from a thorn that never pierced any other man; I am the victim of an unusual and unprecedented suspicion: he simply allied himself by sympathetic union with the great lines of history and said, Nothing has happened to me that is uncommon; this is but a repetition of the beginning, the very genesis of history is in this conduct. "A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house " because people will not look further than locality, visible characteristic, and limited uniqueness of speciality, infirmity, or other trait of disposition and relationship. Men will not listen to the music, they will handle the instrument; we have nothing to do with the organ, we have everything to do with the music. Not where Jesus came from but what he has to say should be our supreme inquiry: not the Nazarene but the Son of man can touch every point in the circumference of human relationship and human need. Judge every man by this standard; judge every Christian communion by this standard. If sects that you dislike are doing good, acknowledge it, and say, After all, there is something better in these people than I thought there was; I was wrong; by the fruit the tree shall be judged; good fruit never grew on bad trees: this fruit is sweet, therefore the tree cannot be bad. When we reason thus, I repeat, we shall get back to simplicity, trustfulness, charity, co-operation, and that wondrous exercise of mutual honour which results in mutual provocation to love and good works.
He was ready to do mighty works, but they would not allow him. You cannot drive the engine unless you light the fire. Many men have fuel enough. You have seen a grate full of fuel; was it a fire? Why do not you put your hands down to that grate and warm them? It is a grate. Your answer is simple, direct, and sufficient. The grate is there, the fuel is there; but where is the spark, the fire? So Jesus Christ himself was prepared to do many mighty works there, but there was no faith-spark, no love-fire, no answering heart, no cry that made him who heard it feel-that the urgency of human need was pleading with his all-sufficiency. It is right to fix the blame properly. If men are not saved, it is their own blame. Never can I believe that God has said to any man, I will not save you; I have made up my mind that you are not to be saved. God never said such words or thought such thoughts. He is the God and Father of us all: God so loved the world; Jesus Christ came to seek and to save the lost. If any man is not lost Christ had no mission to him; if a man can stand before Christ and say, I am perfectly well in body, soul, and spirit, Christ says, Then I came not to you, for you have no need of a physician. But first let the man be found. Jesus Christ does not retire from this sphere, saying, I could have done mighty works there, but I would not; he says in effect, I wanted to do mighty works, but the people would not allow me to do so because of their unbelief.
"He laid his hands upon a few sick folk "; they are always ready to take what they can get; they are always prepared to follow the suggestion and urgency of conscious pain and need. Jesus Christ was always welcomed to the sick-chamber after all other doctors had left; Jesus was never called first; after all the visitors had gone downstairs, saying, There is no hope, it is a case of dissolution, then they sent for the Son of God: a tribute, but not intended; a compliment, but not so expressed. Let us lay it down as a doctrine that may sober the mind and constrain the heart in right directions, that where men are not conscious of mighty works on the part of God, the reason is in their own unbelief. If we had believed more we should have enjoyed more; if our faith had been greater, then had our grace been larger and richer. Lord, increase our faith.
Now Jesus goes away. "He marvelled because of their unbelief." They marvelled at his mighty works; he marvelled at their want of faith. Why do not these people see that life is faith, and that faith is life, and that without faith life is a mockery, a transient dream? Why do they not comprehend the sublime philosophy which says that faith creates the universe and enjoys it? Faith builds new heavens, rolls new earths into place covered with summer and harvest, and faith enjoys as of right the creations of its splendid energy. Let us abide in the confidence of this doctrine. This will do more for us than any theory, suggestion, or possession of man. We cannot explain it; if we could explain it, it would be but a geometrical figure. Astronomy is never satisfied; it has its glasses, and it looks on the surface, but it says in its palpitating, discontented, resurgent heart, The worlds are beyond; these are outposts, spirit lamps: I want to be millions upon millions of miles beyond: all that height is crowded with stars, and this mean glass, this horrible mockery of optics, could only see a speck here and a speck there: and my astronomic record, what is it but an account of a phase of the moon, a throb in a cloud that means that there is another star there, pulsing, beating, waiting to be detected, weighed, measured, watched with astronomic reverence. Yet if we say the same theologically we are fanatics, enthusiasts, poor addle-brained little creatures. That is not so. Faith says, What you see is very little; that is the outside of the cloud; it is beautiful, but but but And in that sublime hope we endure all things; we purify ourselves.
Herod and Herodias
(1) Christian doctrine applicable to all classes of men; (2) Christian doctrine calculated to excite the pro foundest surprise; (3) Christian doctrine always conveying the impression of unique power; (4) Christian doctrine showing the insignificance of the personality of its teachers. Even Christ himself, according to the flesh, seemed poor and inadequate when viewed in the light of the wondrous revelations which he made to the world.
The questions put by those who heard Jesus Christ show (1) That even the greatest speakers cannot escape personal criticism. It is often suggested that earnest men succeed in drawing the attention of their hearers to the doctrine rather than to the speaker, but the life of Christ is a proof to the contrary; (2) that prejudiced hearers will sacrifice the truth because of the objectionableness of the instrument through which it is conveyed; (3) that such hearers actually dishonour God in their attempt to exalt him, because they deny his power to turn the humblest, poorest agency to the highest uses.
This incident may be treated as showing some of the difficulties of the Christian ministry: (1) The difficulty of locality, Jesus was now in "his own country;" (2) the difficulty of personality, ancestry, appearance, poverty, earnestness considered as indicative of presumption; all enter into this difficulty of personality. There is a still deeper truth underlying this difficulty: Individuality of spirit, claim, manner, always provokes criticism. The glory of the highest revelation of Christianity is that personality is superseded by spirituality. The speaker is to be forgotten in the speech. When both personality and doctrine are to be considered, the danger is that the former may be made to assume undue prominence. Instead of inquiring, What is said? the inquiry will be, Who said it? Personality is a mere question of detail in comparison with the truths which nourish and save the soul.
4. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.
(1) Jesus Christ taking his stand upon a great principle; (2) Jesus Christ claiming his prophetic character in the face of opposition.
This answer may be regarded as showing the true method of encountering difficulties and dealing with opponents. Jesus Christ might have defended his relatives against the sneers of the critics. He might also have availed himself of the tu quoque argument, and shown how little reason his censors had to make remarks about his social connections. Were the servants inspired with the spirit of the Master, they would show corresponding independence and courage. It is remarkable that the people should have so boldly condemned any part of Christ's ministry when they daily saw how great was his power in working miracles. They never, so far as can be discovered from the narrative, show any fear of his wonderful power. They appear to have treated him with as much freedom and insolence as if he had never shown his almighty influence over the laws of nature.
5. And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them.
6. And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching.
This statement (1) refutes the notion that where there is a true ministry there will be great success; (2) shows the tremendous difficulties which the human will can oppose to the highest purposes of God; (3) justifies the true worker in leaving the sphere in which he has been unsuccessful, to carry on his work under more favourable circumstances. The sphere has much to do with the development of the man. It is unreasonable to teach that a minister can be equally useful in all places. This remark must not be abused by the supposition that, because a man cannot get on where he is, he would infallibly get on somewhere else. Only in so far as Christ has called him to do his work will it be true of him that he will find a sphere in which he can work successfully.
7. And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;
8. And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse:
9. But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats.
10. And he said unto them, In what place soever ye enter into an house, there abide till ye depart from that place.
(1) Christ the originator of missionary effort; (2) Christ the source of missionary power; (3) Christ the provider of missionary wants. There is no detail too minute to escape the notice of the Master. He does not teach carelessness, he encourages dependence. It would be an abuse of the spirit of the text to insist that missionaries in our own day should go forth exactly according to these literal instructions. When the church is rich, the missionary should not be made an example of poverty. When the church is poor, the missionary who has Christ's spirit in him will not be deterred by a prospect of hard endurance. The one vital question relates not to the outward circumstances, but to the spirit in which missionary work is undertaken.
11. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.
(1) The servant should always carry in his heart the words of his Master. Those words are wanted in times of darkness and trial. The riches of Christ are spiritual. They are hidden in the heart. Ideas, promises, divine assurances, are better than weapons of war. (2) The servant can only be identified with the Master by spiritual sympathy. The servant must not only do the Master's work, he must do it in the Master's spirit, and for the Master's sake. (3) The tremendous responsibility of those who have gospel proposals made to them. If they reject them, "it shall be more tolerable for Sodom," etc. This is founded upon reason. It must be more criminal to shut out midday than to exclude dawn to reject the Son, than to neglect a prophet. (4) The solemn and awe-inspiring fact that all ages are to culminate in a day of judgment! Sodom, Capernaum, Egypt, England, shall confront each other at a common bar! "From them to whom much has been given," etc. (5) The infinite comfort to the good man of knowing from Christ's own lips that there is to be a day of judgment. He remits his cause to that day. He is relieved as to the vindication of character and service, and feels at liberty to do his holy work.
12. And they went out, and preached that men should repent.
13. And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.
Their work was divided into three parts: it was moral, intellectual, and physical.
(1) It was moral. They preached that men should repent. This was fundamental. The apostles addressed themselves to the heart. No ministry can be permanently useful and successful which proceeds upon a superficial estimate of human depravity. The ministry goes down in power when it modifies its demands for human repentance.
(2) It was intellectual. They cast out devils. They restored the use of reasoning faculties. Of course, this might include a great moral work, but not necessarily. To expel a devil is one thing, to bring men to repentance is another. Restored reason does not involve the sanctification of the heart In our ministry we may quicken mental power, we may enrich our hearers with many profound or brilliant ideas, we may elevate their thinking, and secure their highest admiration, yet may not lead them to repentance before God.
(3) It was physical. "They anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them." They never treated death as a blessing. They valued every form of life. Christ's whole gospel is constructive. Christianity is still the greatest of healing powers. Keep its laws, and you will walk in life, or if disease come upon you there will come also such views of God, of eternity, and truth, as will deliver from the dominion of death. Atheistic suffering is one thing, Christian suffering is another. If it is hard to suffer in the friendless desert, where no kind voice can speak one word of hope, what of suffering in the wilderness of atheism, and dying under unbroken gloom?
Beautiful is the picture of men sent forth on such an errand. Observe, this is what Jesus Christ is daily doing, seeking out men who warn, and teach, and heal. More: every man who feels that he is sent of Christ on this work will go to his Master for help, and rely upon his Master for success. Who sent me? What is his name? "I am that I am." It is enough! It is Omnipotence!
14. And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.
King Herod is supposed to have been a Sadducee, and therefore to have discredited the doctrine of resurrection. Under the torment of conscience, however, he asserted the very doctrine which, as a speculator, he denied! Learn that creeds should rest upon a moral, rather than upon an exclusively intellectual basis. In the long run conscience will put down all other voices.
15. Others said, That it is Elias. And others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets.
These men represent the speculators of society. Conscience is hardly concerned in their case. They give themselves to the consideration of mere problems or puzzles. They represent, too, the persons who can talk about religious subjects without having any religious feeling. Religion is to them only a topic of the day. It is something to be remarked upon, and then dropped in favour of something else. There are men around ourselves who suppose that to admire a preacher is to admire Christ, and that to be critical about sermons is to be concerned about truth.
16. But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead.
Here is the reply of conscience to the suggestion of fancy. Herod was not to be soothed by guess-work. There is a profound truth here, viz., that high moral excitement is beyond the control of merely intellectual skill. The gospel shows its divinity in the influence which it brings to bear upon the desires and sufferings of the self-accusing heart. Herod may be taken as the type of men who cannot be satisfied with fanciful theology or with flattering applications of partial truths. He wishes to get at realities, and to be faithful to himself, and to the facts which are around him. Earnest hearers make earnest preachers.
17. For Herod himself had sent forth, and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he had married her.
18. For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife.
19. Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not:
20. For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.
21. And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee;
22. And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee.
23. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.
24. And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist.
25. And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist.
26. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her.
27. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison,
28. And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother.
29. And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.
Man may be slain, but truth cannot be annihilated. John was buried, but the gospel was still making way in the world. It has been thought that Herod Antipas (son of Herod the Great) was a Sadducee, and that this exclamation respecting Jesus testified in a remarkable manner to the power of conscience in relation to theological belief. The Sadducees denied the resurrection of the dead; yet conscience rebelled against the theory, and forced the superstitious tetrarch into this confession. Whether it be true or not that Herod was a Sadducee, it is certainly true that the moral nature does, on great occasions, clear its way through all fanciful theories and speculations, and become authoritative as the voice of God in the soul. Man overlays his spiritual constitution, so to speak, with creeds which flatter his vanity and give false peace to his conscience; but crises supervene which effect a moral resurrection, and give man to feel the discrepancy between the wants of his nature and the promises of false creeds. There is a great quickening and educational force in the exceptional circumstances of life. Crises make history. Man cannot tell what he is until some special event makes his soul quake with fear, or brings upon him the light of a great joy. As with individuals, so with nations; monotony would kill them; all enthusiasm would die out, and corruption would become universal. God has so arranged his government that monotony is broken up by startling events, the thunderbolt, the pestilence, the mildew, come suddenly upon us, death teaches life, and the grave calls to heaven. In all great crises, both in individual and national life, there is an instinctive movement of the soul towards God. The temporary creed is subordinated to the normal constitution; and it is most solemn to watch the soul in its resurrectional moods how impatient it is of mere speculation, and how anxious for positive doctrine and assurance. It then lives double life; with frightful energy it clears the field of false friends, and with startling rapidity passes over the chasms of the past, and brings up all the sins which have weakened and deformed itself. When Herod heard of the fame of Jesus a species of resurrection occurred. The night of Bacchanalian revel came back; the holy prophet's blood dripped upon the palace floor again; and the soul said, This Jesus is the man whom I murdered! There is, so to speak, a moral memory as well as a memory that is merely intellectual. Conscience writes in blood. She may brood in long silence, but she cannot forget. All the universe helps her recollection. Every leaf of the forest contains her indictments, and every voice of the air prompts her remembrance. The revel passed, the dancing demon-hearted daughter of Herodias went back to her blood-thirsty mother, the lights were extinguished, and the palace relapsed into its accustomed order; but the prophet's blood cried with a cry not to be stifled, and angels with swords of fire watched the tetrarch night and day. All men are watched. The sheltering wing of the unseen angel is close to every one of us. The eye sees but an infinitesimal portion of what is around, we are hemmed in with God! This great truth we forget; but exceptional circumstances transpire which for a moment rend the veil, and give us to see how public is our most secret life, how the angels hear the throb of the heart, and God counts the thoughts of the mind.
We see how behind all such feeling as Herod's there are explanatory circumstances. Such feeling can be accounted for. Learn how life comes back upon a man, giving current events unexpected and even tragical meanings, and forcing him to look steadily at himself. This doctrine has, of course, two bearings: goodness will come up, as well as wickedness. The paragraph should be homiletically treated in its unity; still, several verses may afterwards be taken separately. For example, the 17th verse may be taken as the basis of a discourse upon the forcible putting away of good influences. A man can refuse to hear any more preaching; he can commit the printed Bible to the flames: he can avoid every company in which the divine name is honoured: and many other things he may do through sheer force or by dogged obstinacy. But the greatest things lie far beyond the reach of mere force.
The 19th verse may show the impiety of social resentments: showing (1) That social defiance does not necessarily arise from social justice. (2) That it is fallacious to suppose that in all quarrels both sides are wrong. Herodias had a quarrel with John, yet Herodias alone was wrong, and John was the servant of God. (3) That in some quarrels there are the purposes of murder. Herodias would have killed John; in effect, therefore, she was guilty of murder. Her heart had slain him, though he was beyond the reach of her hand.
The 20th verse shows the good points in a bad character. (1) Herod feared John; had respect for his moral qualities. (2) Herod recognised the excellences of John; acknowledged him to be "a just man and an holy." (3) Herod was interested in the ministry of John, he heard him gladly. All this may be found where there is no saving grace in the heart, and in the case of Herod was found in connection with a most reproachable life! Caress a mad dog, because of its silken hair; pet a murderer, because of his taste in dress; but never call him a saint whose morality is but an outward decoration.
30. And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught.
31. And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.
32. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately.
On the words "rest awhile," a sermon upon occasional rest might be founded. Look at the invitation (1) as given by Jesus Christ: he was careful even of men's physical energies; nothing escaped his attention; if we would trust him in physical and temporal matters he would do more for us. "Rest awhile" is a mother's gentle word; it is a sister's suggestion; it is most tenderly sympathetic. Look at the invitation (2) as relating to spiritual work. Great mistakes made about labour. Men may work without using their hands. Hardly any phrase is less correctly used than the expression "the working classes." Thought prostrates the thinker. Sympathy taxes every power. He who works with his hands has an easy life compared with him who works with his brain. He who gives ideas gives life. Look at the invitation (3) as limited as to time; rest awhile. It is not, Give up the work; abandon it in disgust; leave it to others; it is rest awhile. Rest should be a preparation for service. There is morality even in resting. Conscience should have something to do with holidays. It may be right to rest one hour, it may be immoral to rest two. There is morality in sleeping, in recreation, in all things.
33. And the people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him.
34. And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.
The great considerations which determine the conduct of Jesus Christ: (1) Earnestness on the part of people: they ran; they outwent the evangelistic company. When Jesus sees faith he never fails to reward it. (2) Destitution, "because they were as sheep not having a shepherd." Jesus proceeded upon the principle that men could not live without instruction. A shepherd is needed in all human societies. Men must be organised, taught, disciplined. There are men divinely qualified to interpret truth; they have insight, sympathy, and faculty of delicate and forcible expression. There are other men who can only receive what is given to them by God's ministry. They are as sheep, they need a shepherd. Curious things are occasionally done by the human flock: the sheep think themselves quite as good as the shepherd; the sheep often tell the shepherd that they are tired of him, and sometimes they break his heart!
35. And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed:
36. Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat.
37. He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat?
38. He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes.
39. And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass.
40. And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds and by fifties.
41. And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all.
42. And they did all eat, and were filled.
43. And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes.
44. And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men.
Jesus Christ calls upon his followers not only to discover social wants, but also to relieve them. Imagine the disciples coming to Jesus to suggest something in the way of compassion! The disciples were exceedingly quick in finding out that the day was waning, and that the place was not favourable to hospitality; but it never occurred to them that they themselves ought to feed the multitude. Some men are remarkably sharp in finding out difficulties, and pointing to external circumstances; yet they never dream that instead of merely indicating the want, they ought to supply it. They gave very cheap and easy advice to the Master; with sparkling neatness they said to him, "Send the multitude away." As if they cared more for the multitude than Jesus did! There are many excellent statisticians in the Church; men who can strike averages, and add up three columns of figures at a time, and show the multitude how to get away. Such men may, by a condescending and inscrutable Providence, be made some use of in the world; but from a human point of view it is not easy to clear up the mystery of their birth. Let it be carefully observed that the disciples were called by Jesus to do what may be described as a secular work. They were told to give the people bread. This work they undertook at Christ's bidding. Here is a great lesson. The Church does even its outside work, its physical and philanthropic service, immediately under Jesus Christ's hand. The holy Master orders every department of the household. We keep the Church door, because we are appointed thereunto by the Master himself. The preacher and the distributor of bread are both Christ's servants. The Church is called upon to deal with all questions which affect the wellbeing of society: with education, with pauperism, with emigration, with sanitary arrangements, with amusements; in short, with everything that is needful for the healthy development of human life. Some men have an extraordinary way of dividing and distributing themselves. For example, they go to church as religious men, they go to the town council merely as citizens, they go to the school-board simply as educationalists; when they buy and sell, they have no Christian creed. When they sit at the board of health, they think it irreverent to name the name of Christ; and as for opening the meeting of the town council with prayer, they would think him a madman who proposed anything so monstrous. Yet these very men are most pious on Sunday, and severely critical in estimating the theological soundness of their respective pastors. When we are filled with Christ's spirit, we shall do everything in his name, and for his sake; the state will be swallowed up in the Church, and the secular will be glorified by the spiritual.
It should be pointed out that the poorest resources, when religiously used, are more than sufficient to meet all demands. Look at the resources, five loaves and two fishes! Look at the demand, five thousand men! Look at the result, "they did all eat, and were filled." Use what you have, and it will grow. Use it religiously, and it will be more than sufficient: this doctrine applies to mind, to strength, to time. You have more mind than you supposed. Use it, and you will be surprised how it answers your appeal. Your strength will go much further than it has yet gone. "Put on thy strength." Call thyself up to the highest point of power. Most of us are living within our strength. We are afraid of exhausting ourselves, forgetting that in Christ's service exhaustion is recreation. As for time, make it! Sleep less, eat less, talk less, and you will find time enough. Observe particularly for this is the vital point of the argument that all our resources are to be used religiously "looking up to heaven, he blessed and brake." No man loses by the heavenward looks of his life. Some men say they have not time to pray. Nor have they time to die, but they must find it.
The Church ought to be the one inclusive society the sanctuary, the school, the hospital, the reformatory, the home of the whole world. "They need not go away: give ye them," that is the appeal of Christ to the Church.
45. And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people.
46. And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray.
When he had worked, he prayed! If the Master prayed, can the servant do without prayer? Whilst yet upon earth, Jesus Christ prayed for others, his intercession was not reserved for heaven. In this case, however, it is permissible to suppose that he prayed specially and exclusively for himself. We know from other sources that he did actually make his own circumstances the subject of repeated and most agonising prayer. All that he had done up to this time was indicative of the great thing which was yet to be done. It was in Christ's heart to bring to the maturity of the Cross all the germs of love and sacrifice which were present in his daily ministry. Have we not had experience of some such feeling as this: We have fed a multitude; it is enough; we may now be satisfied; our work is finished; and so our life has been in danger of falling short of a higher purpose? A man may do many great works, and yet never do the greatest: he may feed a multitude, yet never go to Gethsemane: he may suffer many to touch him, and yet at last may shun the Cross! So after every great work we should hasten to a mountain to pray, that our ideal may be kept steadily and clearly before us, and that our main work should not be evaded through our incidental service, however beautiful and useful that service may be.
47. And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land.
48. And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them.
49. But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out:
50. For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid.
51. And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered.
The subject may be regarded as showing the relation of Jesus Christ to the Church. (1) That relation sometimes appears to be very distant. In this case, for example, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and Jesus Christ was alone upon the land. There have been times when the Church has apparently drifted away from Christ; there are also times when the alienation seems to have begun on the part of Christ. Is the separation real or is it merely apparent? (2) That relation often discovers itself most substantially and pathetically under circumstances of trial and sorrow. See how this is proved in the incident: the circumstances were loneliness, danger, helplessness.
From this incident three things are clear: (1) That Christ himself may not be known by the Church; (2) that some fears which distress the Church are not altogether unfounded; (3) that a recovered sense of the presence of Christ brings with it complete and enduring calm and joy.
The incident may be regarded as showing some differences between Jesus Christ and his followers: (1) He was master of events; they were slaves of circumstances. (2) He was ever calm; they were often filled with fear. (3) He saw the whole of every case; they saw but part of it. (4) He had power to approach them; they had no power to move towards him.
52. For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.
The miracles are to be considered in their connection and unity. The miracles are to have a cumulative value; as also are providences. Life is thus to help life; yesterday is to be the hope and defence of the heart in relation to tomorrow. The unity of the divine power is to be realised by the believer; it is one with God whether he quiet a storm or feed a multitude, heal the sick or raise the dead. In proportion as we realise this, we are delivered from the tyranny of mere circumstances or appearances; we live under the dominion of the divine, not under the fear of the external and transient.
The uselessness of miracles as moral agents is painfully demonstrated by this circumstance: "For their heart was hardened." If any miracle could have softened the heart, a miracle of this particular nature would have done so; it was the expression of a compassionate feeling on the part of Christ, as well as a display of supreme power; yet it was immediately forgotten, and the selfishness of human nature re-asserted itself. Some aspects of the divine nature can only be truly seen through the heart. We degrade life by making it into a merely intellectual puzzle; it is elevated when regarded as a development of the moral nature.
53. And when they had passed over, they came into the land of Gennesaret, and drew to the shore.
54. And when they were come out of the ship, straightway they knew him,
55. And ran through that whole region round about, and began to carry about in beds those that were sick, where they heard he was.
56. And whithersoever he entered, into villages, or cities, or country, they laid the sick in the streets, and besought him that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment: and as many as touched him were made whole.
A repetition of an old fact. Men work in many cases from the lower to the higher; in many cases, indeed, they satisfy themselves with the lower only. The people in this instance were deeply concerned about their physical condition, but not one sign of concern about their spiritual relations did they exhibit. Jesus Christ might have made this circumstance a basis for the keenest and justest reproach. In addressing his own disciples, he constantly urged them not to think about the body, or meat, or raiment; all these things he treated with comparative indifference or contempt; yet in the instance of those who were not his disciples he was graciously willing to meet them on their own terms, and to do as much for their bodily welfare as if they had no souls. His great object was to lay hold upon the moral attention of the world. In some cases the proposition of Christian doctrine would have been a waste of energy and of time; in such cases Jesus Christ began with the physical condition and necessities of those who were around him, and so sought to quicken the ear of the heart to receive the doctrines which heal and bless the soul. The lesson to the Church is clear. The Church must begin wherever an opportunity is offered; it may be in relieving the necessitous, in giving education to the ignorant, in seeking the social improvement of the masses; Christ's injunction to the Church is, "Begin somewhere." From his own example we are to learn that the physical is but to be introductory to the spiritual; because to heal the body without seeking to relieve the soul is actually to aggravate the sinfulness of sin by giving the sinner a new lease of power in his evil way. The idea that the shadow of Christ passing over the sick would heal them is suggestive of the fact that there is no waste of power in the ministry of Jesus Christ. A look broke Peter's heart. A touch of the hem of his garment healed a poor woman. His shadow passing over the sick cooled the fevered and gave rest to weariness; truly the shadow of the Saviour is better than the lustre of all suns!
The action of the people is most suggestive: they seized the opportunity of Christ's presence to secure the blessings which they most desired. "Now is the accepted time," etc. "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found." The people were not excited about Christ's coming after he had been in the country; they were excited at the very time of his, presence, knowing that if they neglected the critical hour the opportunity might never recur. The argument is this: If men were so anxious promptly to seize a physical advantage, how intense should be their urgency in seeking the higher blessings of moral and intellectual redemption and sanctification?
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Mark 6". Parker's The People's Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27