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The first sentence of this verse is better rendered thus: And when he entered again (εἰσελθῶν πάλιν) into Capernaum after some days; literally, after days (δι ̓ ἡμερῶν). It is probable that a considerable interval had taken place since the events recorded in the former chapter. It was noised that he was in the house (ὅτι εἰς οἶκόν ἐστὶ); or, if the ὅτι be regarded as recitative, it was noised, He is in the house, at home, in his usual place of residence at Capernaum.
Many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them (ὥστε μηκέτι χωρεῖν), no, not even about the door. The description is very graphic. The house could not contain them, and even its courtyard and approaches were inconveniently thronged. This is one of the many examples of minute observation of details, so observable in St. Mark's Gospel. And he preached (ἐλάλει)—more literally, was speaking—the word unto them. This little sentence indicates the great object of his ministry. The exercise of miraculous power was subordinated to this; the miracles being simply designed to fix the attention upon the Teacher as One sent from God.
Mark 2:3, Mark 2:4
And they come, bringing unto him a man sick of the palsy, borne of four. Here again the minuteness of detail is very observable. It is also interesting to notice how the three writers of the synoptic Gospels supplement and illustrate one another. St. Matthew gives the outline, St. Mark and St. Luke fill up the picture. St. Luke (Luke 5:18) tells us how they sought means to bring the paralytic into Christ's presence. They carried him on his bed up the flight of steps outside the house, and reaching to the roof; and then both St. Mark and St. Luke tell us how, having first removed a portion of the tiling and broken up the roof, they then let him down through the opening thus made into the midst before Jesus. The chamber into which he was thus abruptly lowered was most probably what is elsewhere called the "upper chamber," a large central room, convenient for the purpose of addressing both those who filled it and also the crowd that thronged the outer court below.
Son, thy sins be forgiven thee; literally, thy sins are forgiven. The word "son" is in the Greek the more endearing word (τέκνον) "child." St. Luke uses the word "man." St. Matthew adds the words "Be of good cheer." It is here to be carefully observed that the spiritual gift, the gift of forgiveness, is first conveyed; and we must also notice the authoritative character of the address, "Thy sins are forgiven." Bede observes here that our Lord first forgives his sins, that he might show him that his suffering was ultimately due to sin. Bede also says that he was borne of four, to show that a man is carried onwards by four graces to the assured hope of healing, namely, by prudence, and courage, and righteousness, and temperance. Jesus seeing their faith. Some of the Fathers, as Jerome and Ambrose, think that this faith was in the behavers of the sick man, and in them only. But there is nothing in the words to limit them in this way. Indeed, it would seem far more natural to suppose that the paralytic must have been a consenting party. He must have approved of all that they did, otherwise we can hardly suppose that it would have been done. We may therefore more reasonably conclude, with St. Chrysostom, that it was alike their faith and his that our Lord crowned with his blessing. Thy sins are forgiven. These words of our Lord were not a mere wish only; they were this sick man's sentence of absolution. They were far more than the word of absolution which Christ's ambassadors are authorized to deliver to all those who "truly repent and unfeignedly believe." For Christ could read the heart, which they cannot do. And therefore his sentence is absolute, and not conditional only. It is not the announcement of a qualified gift, but the assertion of an undoubted fact. In his own name, and by his own inherent power, he there and then forgives the man his sins.
Mark 2:6, Mark 2:7
The words, Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? in accordance with the altered reading (βλασφημεῖ for βλασφημίας), should stand thus: Why doth this man thus speak? he blasphemeth. It is evident that the scribes, who were secretly amongst themselves finding fault with our Lord's words, understood that, by the use of these words, our Lord was assuming to himself a Divine attribute. And if he had been a mere man; if he had not really been, as he assumed to be, Divine, the only begotten Son of the Father,—then no doubt they would have been right in supposing that he blasphemed. But their error was that they could not perceive in him the glory of the only begotten Son. The light was shining in the darkness, and the darkness apprehended it not.
It does not clearly appear whether these murmurers communicated their thoughts audibly to one another. At all events, their words were evidently not heard beyond themselves. But Jesus perceived in his spirit their reasonings. He knew their thoughts, not by communication from another, as the prophets of old had things made known to them by revelation, but by his own Spirit pervading and penetrating all things. From this the Christian Fathers, against the Arians, infer the divinity of Christ, that he inspected the heart, which it is the prerogative of God alone to do. St. Chrysostom says, "Behold the evidences of the divinity of Christ. Observe that he knows the very secrets of your heart." Nor did Christ only perceive their thoughts. He perceived also the direction in which these thoughts were moving. Their feeling was no doubt this: "It is an easy thing to claim the power of forgiving sin, since this is a power which cannot be challenged by any outward sign." Now, it is to this form of unbelief that the next words of our Lord are the answer. It is as though he said, "You accuse me of blasphemy. You say that I am usurping the attributes of God when I claim the power of forgiving sin. You ask for the evidence that I really possess this power; and you say it is an easy thing to lay claim to a power which penetrates the spiritual world, and which is therefore beyond the reach of material proof. Be it so. I will now furnish that evidence. I will prove, by what I am now about to work upon the body, that what I have just said is effectual upon the spirit. I have just said to this paralytic, 'Thy sins are forgiven.' You challenge this power; you question my authority. I will now give you outward and sensible evidence that this is no fictitious or imaginary claim. You see this poor helpless, palsied man. I will say to him in presence of you all, ' Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thy house.' And if simply at my bidding his nerves are braced, and his limbs gather strength, and he rises and walks, then judge ye whether I have a right to say to him, 'Thy sins are forgiven.' Thus, by doing that which is capable of proof, I will vindicate my power to do that which is beyond the reach of sensible evidence; and I will make manifest to you, by these visible tides of my grace, in what direction the deep under-current of my love is moving."
The words are spoken, and the paralytic arose, and straightway took up the bed (ἠγέρθή καὶ εὐθὺς ἄρας)—such is the most approved reading—and went forth before them all. There is a spiritual application of this miracle which it is well to notice. The paralytic lifting up himself is a figure of him who, in the strength of Christ, has lifted himself up from the lethargy of sin. He has first applied to Christ, perhaps by his own sense of his need, perhaps with the help of others. He may have had difficulty in approaching him. A multitude of sinful thoughts and cares may have thronged the door. But at length, whether alone or with the kind assistance of faithful friends, he has been brought to the feet of Jesus, and has heard those words of love and power, "Thy sins are forgiven thee." And then he will rise and walk. He will take up that whereon he lay. He will carry away those things whereon he has hitherto found satisfaction—his love of ease, his self-indulgence. His bed, whatever it may have been whereon he lay, becomes the proof of his cure. When the intemperate man becomes sober, the passionate man gentle, and the covetous man liberal, he takes up that whereon he lay. Thus does each penitent man begin a new life; setting forward with new hopes and new powers towards his true home, eternal in the heavens.
We are not informed of the effect of this miracle upon the scribes and Pharisees. But it is too evident that, though they could not deny the fact, they would not acknowledge the power; while the mass of the people, more free from prejudice, and therefore more open to conviction, united in giving glory to God. Faith in Christ as sent by God was in fact increasing amongst the mass of the people; while unbelief was working its deadly result of envy and malice amongst those who ought to have been their guides and instructors.
Mark 2:13, Mark 2:14
It is probable that our Lord remained some time at Capernaum before he went forth again. The word "again" refers to his former going forth. When he went forth on this occasion he appears to have traveled southwards along the sea-shore. There, not far from Capernaum, he saw Levi, the son of Alphseus, sitting at the receipt of custom (ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον); more literally, at the place of toll. This place would be in the direct line for traders from Damascus to Accho, and a convenient spot for the receipt of the duties on the shipping. It is observable that in St. Matthew's own Gospel (Matthew 9:9) he describes himself as "a man named Matthew." St. Luke, like St. Mark, calls him Levi. The same person is no doubt meant. It is most likely that his original name was Levi, and that upon his call to be an apostle he received a new name, that of Matthew, or Mattathias, which, according to Gesenius, means "the gift of Jehovah." In his own Gospel he names himself Matthew, that he might proclaim the kindness and love of Christ towards him, in the spirit of St. Paul, where he says, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" (1 Timothy 1:15). Follow me; me, that is, whom you have already heard preaching the gospel of the kingdom in Capernaum, and confirming it by many miracles, and especially by that conspicuous miracle spoken of by all, the healing of the paralytic. St. Chrysostom says that "our Lord called Matthew, who was already constrained by the report of his miracles." The condescension of Christ is shown in this, that he called Matthew the "publican," who on that account was odious to the Jews, not only to be a partaker of his grace, but to be one of his chosen followers, a friend, an apostle, and an evangelist.
It has been urged against the truth of Christianity, by Porphyry and others, that the first disciples followed Christ blindly, as though they would have followed without reason any one who called them. But they were not men who acted upon mere impulse and without reason. The miracles, no doubt, produced an impression upon them. And then we may reasonably suppose that their moral faculties perceived the majesty of Deity shining through the countenance of the Son of God. As the magnet attracts the iron, so Christ drew Matthew and others to himself; and by this attractive power he communicated his graces and virtues to them, such as an ardent love of God, contempt of the world, and burning zeal for the salvation of souls.
And it came to pass—ἐγένετο seems the best reading—as he was sitting at meat in his house. This was the house of Matthew. St. Matthew (Matthew 9:10) modestly says, "in the house," keeping himself as much as possible in the background. St. Luke, with greater fullness, says (Luke 5:29) that "Levi made him a great feast in his house." From this it appears that Matthew at once marked the occasion of his call by inviting his associates, publicans and sinners, that they too, being won by the example and teaching of Christ, might be led in like manner to follow him. Good is ever diffusive of itself; and Christian love prompts those who have experienced the love of Christ to draw others to the same fountain of mercy. We find publicans and sinners constantly associated together; for, although there is nothing necessarily unlawful in the office of a tax-gatherer, yet, since men frequently followed that calling because it offered the opportunity for fraud and extortion, hence the "publicans" were, generally speaking, odious to the Jews, and regarded as nothing better than "sinners." More-over the Jews of old maintained that they were Abraham's seed, and protested that as a people dedicated to God, they ought not to be subject to the Romans, who were Gentiles and idolaters. They considered that it was contrary to the liberty and dignity of the children of God that they should pay tribute to them, a view which increased their prejudice against the tax-gatherers. And indeed this was one main cause of the rebellion of the Jews, which led finally to their overthrow by Titus and Vespasian.
According to the most approved readings, this verse should run thus: And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with the sinners and publicans, said unto his disciples, He eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners. The words "publicans and sinners" are thus inverted in their order in the two clauses, as though they were convertible terms. Of course, the scribes and Pharisees had not sat down at this feast, but some of them had probably found their way into the chamber in which the feast was going on, where they would comment freely upon what they saw, and condemn our Lord's conduct as inconsistent with his character. It is as though they said, "By this conduct he transgresses the Law of God and the traditions of the elders. Why, then, do you follow him?"
Jesus heard their murmurings, and his answer was, They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick. As the physician is not infected by the disease of the patient, but rather overcomes it and drives it from him, so it is no disgrace but rather an honor to the physician to associate himself with the sick, and so much the more, the greater the sickness. So that it is as though Christ said, "I who am sent from heaven by the Father, that I might be the Physician of the souls of sinners, am not defiled by their sins and spiritual diseases when I converse with them; but rather I cure and heal them, which is alike for my glory and for their good, and so much the more, the greater their sins. For I am the physician of sinners, not their companion. But you, scribes and Pharisees, are not the physicians but the companions of sinners, and so you are contaminated. Nevertheless, you desire to be thought righteous and holy; and therefore I do not associate with you,
(1) because the whole, such as you think yourselves to be, need not the spiritual Physician; and
(2) because your insincerity and pocrisy are an offense to me."
The first sentence of this verse should be rendered thus: And the disciples of John and the Pharisees were fasting (ἧσαν νηστεύοντες). In all the synoptic Gospels we find this incident following closely upon what goes before. It is not improbable that the Pharisees and the disciples of John were fasting at the very time when Matthew gave his feast. This was not one of the fasts prescribed by the Law; had it been so, it would have been observed by our Lord. There were, however, fasts observed by the Pharisees which were not required by the Law; there were two in particular of a voluntary nature, mentioned by the Pharisee (Luke 18:12), where he says, "I fast twice in the week." It was a custom, observed by the stricter Pharisees, but not of legal obligation. It was not correct to say, but thy disciples fast not. They fasted, no doubt, but in a different spirit; they did not fast to be seen of men—they followed the higher teaching of their Master. It is remarkable to find the disciples of John here associated with the Pharisees. John was now in prison in the fort of Machaerus. It is possible that jealousy of the increasing influence of Christ may have led John's disciples to associate themselves with the Pharisees. The point of this particular attack upon Christ was this: It is as though they said, "You claim to be a new teacher sent from God, a teacher of a more perfect religion. How is it, then, that we are fasting, while your disciples are eating and drinking?" The disciples of John more especially may have urged this out of zeal for their master. Such an unworthy zeal is too often seen in good men, who love to prefer their own leader to all others, forgetting the remonstrance of St. Paul, "While there is amongst you strife and contention, are ye not carnal, and walk after the manner of men?"
The Bridegroom here is Christ, because he espoused the human nature, and, through it, the Church to himself in his holy incarnation. This holy union he began by his grace on earth, and he will consummate it gloriously with his elect in heaven, when "the marriage of the Lamb shall have come, and his wife shall have made herself ready." Hence John the Baptist calls himself the friend of the Bridegroom, that is, of Christ. The sons (υἱοὶ) of the bridechamber are the special friends of the Bridegroom, those who are admitted into the closest fellowship with him. The expression is a Hebraism, like "the children of disobedience," and many other similar forms of expression. So long, then, as the bridegroom is with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast. It is as though our Lord said, "It is not surprising that they should not care to fast as long as they enjoy my presence; but when I am taken from thegn, then shall they fast."
This is the first occasion on which our Lord alludes to his removal from them. The bridegroom shall be taken away from them. The Greek word (ἀπαρθῇ) conveys the idea of a painful severance. And then will they fast in that day (ἐν ἐκείνῇ τῇ ἡμέρα). This is the true reading. After our Lord's death, his disciples frequently fasted as of necessity, and went through much privation and trial. And so it must be for the most part with all who will live godly in Christ Jesus, until he returns to take to himself his kingdom, when there will be a glad and everlasting festival.
No man seweth a piece of new cloth—the Greek is (ῥακους ἀγνάφου) undressed cloth, cloth newly woven, and before it has been dressed by the fuller—on an old garment. The latter part of this verse is better rendered, as in the Revised Version, thus: Else that which should fill it up taketh from it, the new from the old; and a worse rent is made. The meaning of the words is this: An old garment, if it be torn, should be mended by a patch of old material; for if a patch of new material is used, its strength or fullness takes away from the old garment to which it is sewn; the old and the new do not agree, the new drags the old and tears it, and so a worse rent is made.
"Bottles" in this verse is better rendered literally wine-skins (ἀσκούς). And no man putteth new wine (οἶνον νέον) into old wine-skins; else the new wine will burst the skins, and the wine perisheth, and the skins; but they put new wine into fresh wine-skins (ἀσκοὺς καινοὺς). The sense is this: New wine, in the process of fermentation, will burst old bottles made of wine-skins not strong enough to resist the strength of the fermenting fluid; so that there is a twofold loss—both that of the bottles and that of the wine. And therefore new wine must be poured into bottles made of fresh wine-skins, which, by reason of their strength and toughness, shall be able to resist the fermenting energy of the new wine. And by these very apt illustrations our Lord teaches us that it is a vain thing to attempt to mingle together the spiritual freedom of the gospel with the old ceremonies of the Law. To attempt to engraft the living spiritual energy of the gospel upon the old legal ceremonial now about to pass away, would be as fatal a thing as to piece an old garment with new material, or to put new wine into old wineskins. There is here, therefore, a valuable lesson for the Christian Church, namely, to treat new converts with gentleness and consideration.
If there is a rapid sequence in this part of the narrative, the fasting referred to in the last verses may have taken place the day before. St. Luke (Luke 6:1) here adds to St. Mark's account the words, "and did eat, rubbing them [that is, the ears of corn] in their hands;" an incidental evidence of a simple life, that they did not here eat prepared food, but the simple grains of wheat, which they separated from the chaff by rubbing the ears of corn in their hands. This passage marks with some nicety the time of the year. The corn in that district would be ripening about May. It would, therefore, be not long after the Passover. The difficult expression in St. Luke 6:1, ἐν σαββάτῳ δευτεροπρώτῳ, and which is rendered in the Authorized Version "on the second sabbath after the first," is reduced by the Revisers of 1881 to the simple phrase (ἐν σαββάτῳ), "on a sabbath," there not being sufficient evidence to persuade them to retain the word δευτεροπρώτῳ. But other evidences seem to show that the incident occurred earlier than as recorded by St. Matthew. The Fathers are fond of spiritual applications of this rubbing of the ears of corn. Bede, in remarking upon the fact of the disciples plucking the ears of corn, and rubbing them until they get rid of the husks, and obtain the food itself, says that they do this who meditate upon the Holy Scriptures, and digest them, until they find in them the kernel, the quintessence of delight; and St. Augustine blames those who merely please themselves with the flowers of Holy Scripture, but do not rub out the grain by meditation, until they obtain the real nourishment of virtue.
That which is not lawful. The supposed unlawfulness was not the plucking of the ears of corn with the hand, which was expressly permitted by the Law (Deuteronomy 23:25), but the plucking and eating on the sabbath day.
Mark 2:25, Mark 2:26
David … and they that were with him. This seems opposed to what we read in 1 Samuel 21:1-15., where David is stated to have been alone. But the facts appear to have been these, that David, fleeing from Saul, went alone to Ahimelech the high priest, and sought and obtained five loaves of the "shewbread," which he carried away with him to his companions in flight, and shared with them; for he says (1 Samuel 21:2), "I have appointed my servants to such and such a place." This incident actually happened in the high priesthood of Ahimelech the father of Abiathar. Bede says that they were both present when David came in his distress and obtained the shewbread. But Ahimelech having been slain, together with eighty-six priests, by Saul, Abiathar fled to David, and became his companion in his exile. Moreover, when he succeeded to the high priesthood on the death of Ahimelech, he did far more good service than his father had done, and so was worthy of being spoken of with this special commendation, and as though he was actually high priest, even though his father was then living. The words may properly mean "in the days when Abiathar was living who became high priest, and was more eminent than his father." The shewbread; literally, the bread of the face, that is, of the Divine presence, symbolizing the Divine Being who is the Bread of life. It was directed by the Law that within the sanctuary there should be a table of shittim (or acacia) wood; and every sabbath twelve newly baked loaves were placed upon it in two rows. These leaves were sprinkled with incense, and then remained there until the following sabbath. They were then replaced by twelve newly baked loaves, the old loaves being eaten by the priests in the holy place, from which it was unlawful to remove them. These twelve loaves corresponded to the twelve tribes. The force of our Lord's reasoning is this: David, a man after God's own heart, when sorely pressed by hunger, applied to the high priest and took some of these sacred loaves, loaves which under ordinary circumstances it was not lawful for the lay people to eat, because he wisely judged that a positive law, forbidding the laity to eat this bread, ought to yield to a law of necessity and of nature; which intimates to us that in a grave necessity of famine, life may be lawfully preserved by eating even sacred bread which has been dedicated to God. Therefore, in like manner, nay, much more, was it lawful for Christ and his disciples to pluck the ears of corn on the sabbath day, that by rubbing them in their hands they might pick out the good grain and satisfy their hunger.
The sabbath was instituted for the benefit of man, that he might refresh and renew his body, fatigued and worn by six days' labour, with the restful calm of the seventh; and that he might have leisure to apply his mind to the things which concern his everlasting salvation; to consider and meditate upon the Law of God; and rouse himself, by the remembrance of the Divine greatness and goodness, to true repentance, to gratitude, and to love. The force of the argument is this: The sabbath was made on account of man, not man on account of the sabbath. The sabbath, great and important as that institution is, is subordinate to man. If, then, the absolute rest of the sabbath becomes hurtful to man, a new departure must be taken, and some amount of labour must be undergone, that man may be benefited. Therefore was Christ justified in permitting to his disciples a little labour in plucking these ears of corn on the sabbath day, in order that they may appease their hunger. For it is better that the rest of the sabbath should be disturbed, though but a little, than that any one of those for whose sake the sabbath was instituted should perish.
Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath. "The sabbath was made for man." It is the inferior institution, man being the higher, for whose sake the sabbath was appointed. But the Son of man is Lord of all men, and of all things that pertain to man's salvation; therefore he must of necessity be Lord even of the sabbath; so that when he sees fit he can relax or dispense with its obligations. It is true that for us Christians the first day of the week, the Lord's day, has taken the place of the ancient Jewish sabbath; but the principle here laid down by our Lord is applicable to the "first" day no less than to the "seventh;" and it teaches us that our own moral and religious advancement and that of our brethren is the object which we should all aim at in the manner of our observance of the Christian Sunday; while we strive to "stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free."
Christ's authority to pardon.
Our Lord's miracles of healing were, upon the surface and obviously, designed to relieve from suffering and to restore to health. They, at the same time, directed the attention of both those benefited, and of spectators, to the supernatural power and to the benevolence of the Divine Physician. But no Christian can fail to see in them a moral significance. Disorders of the body were symbolical of spiritual disease. And the great Healer, who pitied and relieved physical suffering, nevertheless had regard to the more serious affections of the soul, and designed by his works of healing to direct attention to himself, to excite faith in himself, as able and willing to save sinners. It was in the miracle recorded in the passage before us that the Saviour first openly avowed the spiritual purpose of his ministry and the spiritual authority he possessed to pardon and to save.
I. THE CASE IN WHICH THIS AUTHORITY WAS EXERCISED. A paralytic is in a condition both helpless and hopeless. Deprived by the disease of the command of his limbs, his case is one beyond the power of medical skill to deal with. This palsy may, therefore, be regarded as symbolical of the sinner's pitiable condition and gloomy prospects. With regard to the paralytic's state of mind, we are to presume that he was sensible of his sinfulness and of his need of pardon and acceptance; otherwise our Lord could never have treated him as he did. To the sufferer, his bodily malady was indeed afflictive; but he must have had such a "conscience of sin" as to regard his spiritual disorder as more oppressive and more pitiable still. The case, then, in which the Lord Jesus will exercise his prerogative of pardon, is the case of the sinner whose sin is a felt burden, and who brings that burden to the Divine Saviour.
II. THE CONDITIONS PRESENT WHEN CHRIST THUS EXERCISED HIS AUTHORITY TO PARDON. There was a general interest and appreciation in the community; multitudes crowded to hear the Master's words, and many applicants were urgently seeking his healing mercy. There were sentiments of pity and kindliness on the part of the sufferer's friends, leading to practical interposition on his behalf. What these friends could do, they did; they brought the sufferer to Christ. There was faith, both in the paralytic and in his friends—faith, which took a practical form in the approach to Jesus, in the conjoined effort to bring the sufferer beneath the notice of the Healer, and especially in the perseverance so ingeniously and strikingly displayed. All these were conditions which the Saviour evidently regarded as peculiarly favorable to the public exercise of his prerogative to pardon.
III. THE AUTHORITATIVE MANNER AND LANGUAGE IN WHICH THE ASSURANCE OF PARDON WAS GIVEN. There was no inquiry into the state of the paralytic's mind; for Jesus knew what was in man, and needed not to be told. There was no assertion of a delegated power; for the Son of man had authority on earth to forgive sins. There was no hesitation, or delay, or qualification. Nor was Christ's language a mere statement that the sins of the paralytic were forgiven; it was an actual pardon and absolution—nothing less. When Christ forgives, he forgives freely, fully, absolutely. He came to "save his people from their sins." He retains the same power still, and exercises it from the throne of his glory.
IV. THE SUPPORT AND VINDICATION OF SPIRITUAL BY MIRACULOUS AUTHORITY. We can hardly wonder at the captious spirit in which Christ's claim was received, at the cavillings of unbelief. Unless they believed the speaker to be more than a prophet, more than human, they must have stumbled at his words. Their general principle a as correct and sound: "Who can forgive sins, but God only?" What was passing in their minds was, in the circumstances, natural enough. "It is easy to say, 'Thy sins are forgiven;' but what assurance have we that the words are anything beyond words? This is ground upon which the speaker cannot be refuted, and yet upon which the hearers cannot be convinced." These reflections, which were passing in the minds of the scribes, were known to Christ. There was only one way of meeting the objection, of overcoming the difficulty. Jesus must descend to common ground, and appeal to the senses and the understanding of the bystanders. He accordingly wrought a miracle in support of his claims. In doing this, he both relieved the sufferer and vindicated his own authority in the spiritual realm. He bade the paralytic arise, take up his couch, and return home, sound and well.
V. THE EFFECT PRODUCED BY THIS TWOFOLD EXERCISE OF POWER. The patient was at once pardoned and cured. With rejoicing heart, with restored powers of limb, he arose and departed to his house, free from burden of guilt, and free from the pains and infirmities of disease. The scribes were silenced; some may have been convinced, and few could have been unimpressed. The witnesses of the miracle were amazed at this exhibition of twofold authority by the Lord of nature and of spirits. They are recorded to have received the lessons aright; for they glorified God as the Author of healing and salvation in the person of his Son, and they recognized the unique authority entrusted to One human in form, in feeling, and in voice, but of authority supernatural, beneficent, Divine!
1. The sinner may learn from this narrative in what manner, and in what spirit, to come to Jesus.
2. And he may be encouraged by the representation here given of Christ's willingness and authority to save.
Levi's discipleship and hospitality.
The story of Matthew illustrates the part of improbabilities in human life. Some would see in it the irony of fate; we would recognize the mystery of Providence. The evangelists tell us of a man who occupied the humble and even despised position of collector of Roman dues or customs by the shores of the little Lake of Gennesaret, who was summoned to leave this lowly occupation, for what seemed the yet humbler office of attendant and scholar to a peasant Teacher, but who, in course of time, became the chronicler of his Master's life and teachings, and thus the writer of a treatise which stands first in the New Testament—a volume which has been more widely circulated and read than any other composition in any language spoken by man! Looking back upon the call of Matthew, we can see in it an importance which none of the bystanders could possibly have surmised. The narrative yields instructive lessons, whether we consider the conduct of Levi himself, or study the action and the very memorable language used on this occasion by our Lord.
I. Taking first THE CONDUCT OF THIS TOLL-TAKER or tax-gatherer of Gennesaret, we remark in him an instance of:
1. A man forsaking a lucrative occupation in order to follow Christ. Matthew had no doubt found time, amidst his many and exacting avocations, to resort to the Saviour's society and to listen to his public teaching. In this he furnishes us with an example of the effort and the self-denial which business men may find to be profitable to them, if they will, at some loss of time and gain, take advantage of opportunities of Christian fellowship and instruction. And when the time and the call came, the same spirit of self-sacrifice led this devout man to relinquish his secular occupation and emoluments, and to attend upon the Prophet of Nazareth, to learn his mind and to qualify for his service. Are none such called to a similar surrender to-day? See also:
2. A man using his social influence to bring his companions under the teaching of the Saviour. The feast to which Matthew invited his old associates was not merely complimentary or convivial. There can be no question that he was actuated by a high motive in inviting people of this class to meet Jesus. Probably it was the best, possibly it was the only, way in which this peculiar class could be brought into contact with the great Teacher. How well it is that those who have the means of doing so should use their hospitality for benevolent and truly Christian purposes—should bring together those who need and those who are prepared to impart some spiritual blessing, and should thus instrumentally bring together the sinner and the Saviour!
II. But we have here also lessons derivable from THE CONDUCT OF CHRIST.
1. Christ's disregard and defiance of public opinion. This is evident
(1) in his selection of disciples and apostles. He not only chose the lowly and the obscure; he, in this instance especially, chose the despised. The collectors of the Roman revenue were, among the Jews, the mark of general obloquy and contempt. The Son of man, who himself came from the despised Nazareth, selected his friends from the mean and unlettered; and in the case of Matthew he took a man from a sordid and repulsive calling to be an apostle of the greatest religion of the world. It is the wont of Divine wisdom to rise "things which are not to bring to nought things which are."
(2) In his companionship and social intercourse. That Jesus should eat and drink with publicans and sinners excited the surprise and the hatred of the "scribes of the Pharisees," who accounted the common people as accursed. But the rule of Jesus was to go where he could do the Father's will, and pluck men as brands from the burning. It is not well to be a "companion of fools," yet there are occasions upon which the mature and established Christian will do well to seek the society of the ignorant and debased, with the view of instructing and elevating them by the gospel of salvation.
2. Christ's vindication of this disregard and defiance. He had a reason for acting as he did.
(1) Jesus recognized men's spiritual need. To the scribes, the guests at Levi's house were simply contemptible sinners, but to the holy Lord they were the spiritually sick; he saw upon them the marks of a dire disorder, the promise of approaching death. This is the just and Divine light in which to look at the misled and erring children of men. When we regard them thus, not contempt, but pity, will fill our hearts.
(2) Jesus asserted his own power to heal and save and bless. He was the Divine Physician, in whom alone is help and hope for man. Bad as was the case of the "sinners," it was not beyond the power of his skill and kindness. He had purposes of mercy and power to save. And from the ranks of the sinners Jesus won over many to be soldiers of righteousness; from the pest-houses of the plague-stricken he drew forth many who, restored to spiritual health, became in turn amongst their sinful fellow-men, "ministers to minds diseased."
1. Let preachers and teachers of the gospel regard none as so base in condition, or so depraved in character, as to be beyond the power of Christ to save.
2. Let those who are humbled beneath a sense of sin and ill desert be encouraged to come to Jesus, who will both welcome them into his presence, and confer upon them all the priceless blessings of salvation and of eternal life.
Christianity and asceticism.
Strange as it seems, it is unquestionable that the very humanity of Jesus, his truly broad and human sympathies, were an offense to the religious leaders of his time. The Pharisees fasted oft; John came neither eating nor drinking; Jesus, who came that he might live among men and who associated with them in all their innocent occupations and enjoyments, excited the displeasure and malice of those who were too superficial and ceremonial to understand his large-heartedness and spirituality. Accordingly, when our Lord joined the festive party at Levi's house, there arose questionings which issued in the explanations given in this passage of the relation between the old religion and its asceticism, and the new religion and its cheerfulness and Divine breadth.
I. A personal and temporary reason why the disciples of Jesus should not be ascetic. Like a true Leader and Master, Jesus defends his followers, whereinsoever their conduct admits of defense. The figure which he employs is one which John had already used, designating his Divine successor the Bridegroom who should possess the bride. The true ground of Christian joy is, in this passage, figuratively but beautifully explained. The Jewish wedding was an occasion for festivity, rejoicing, music, and society. The companions of the bridegroom—"children of the bride-chamber "—were his choicest and most trusted and beloved friends. They were happy in their friend's society, and rejoiced with him in his joy, and took a prominent part in the festivities appropriate to the occasion. The Lord Jesus honors his disciples by describing them as sustaining such a relationship to him, the Divine Bridegroom. Whilst he was with them, how could they be sad? how could they fast? how could they refrain from holy mirth and pious songs? There is no ground of joy so just, so sacred, as the friendship of Jesus. To have him with us alway, to hear his voice, to be assured of his interest and love,—this is the purest satisfaction and the highest gladness known to human hearts. "I have," says he to his own—"I have called you friends." "Your sorrow shall be turned into joy." Christ's defense, then, is, that at the time and in the circumstances a-joyful spirit was natural and blameless in his companions and disciples. And this was evidently, at this period at all events, the case. To the reader of the Gospels (although M. Renan has, no doubt, exaggerated the facts), it is clear that, in their earlier "progresses" through Galilee, our Lord and his followers led a cheerful, bright, and joyous existence. Time enough to mourn when their Lord, the Bridegroom, should be taken away from them. Then, at his approaching departure, sorrow filled their hearts. Yet this was but for a season; with his return at Pentccost, the joy of the Church returned.
II. A GENERAL AND ENDURING REASON WHY THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS SHOULD NOT BE ASCETIC, True, Christ has gone; so, if his personal presence alone restrained the disciples from mourning, sadness and fasting would be appropriate in the Church of the Redeemer, as the customary habit and sentiment. But the case is otherwise; our Lord himself ,has justified, in this passage, a lasting antagonism between his religion and practices of asceticism. Not that, under the Christian dispensation, fasting is unlawful; but that it Should be rather exceptional and special than distinctive of the new life. The fact is, as Christ shows in these two parables, that there is a want of harmony between the old practices and the new faith, the old garment and the new cloth, the old skins and the new wine.
1. Christianity is a religion of the spirit rather than of the form. Our Lord teaches that it is better not to appear unto men to fast; it is better to humble ourselves in secret, because of our sins and the sins of our time, before our God. There is much danger of regarding fasting as in itself, because a mortification of the flesh, acceptable to God. This is a mistaken conception, as may be learned even from some passages of Old Testament Scripture.
2. Christianity is a religion of love rather than of fear. Those who are in dread of justice may seemingly be justified in their attitude of mind, when they so give way to sentiments of abject self-abasement that they cover themselves with sackcloth and ashes, and deprive themselves of necessary food. But those who are conscious that, through Christ, they are living in the enjoyment of the Divine favor, can scarcely be expected—at least, as an habitual exercise—to mourn and fast. They "rejoice evermore;" the "joy of the Lord is their strength;" his "statutes are their song in the house of their pilgrimage." For them, "perfect love casteth out fear."
3. Christianity is a religion rather of hopefulness than of gloom. It teaches us to look forward to the future with bright anticipation, ardently to desire the return of the Lord in triumph, and cheerfully to prepare for a glorious future. The Bridegroom will return and claim his own; how can the spiritual spouse do other than look forward, hopefully and joyfully, to the glad and festive day?
III. The general principle underlying our Lord's reply is this: THE FORM OF RELIGION, WITHOUT THE REALITY AND SPIRITUAL SUBSTANCE, IS ALTOGETHER VAIN, All religious observances have a tendency,—such is the weakness of human nature,—to harden into dead formalities. At first they are good, for they are the expression of sincere feeling and conviction. But by-and-by the spiritual disappears, and the mere ceremony remains. And the unspiritual mistake the form for the substance, and come to flatter themselves that they are religious and that it is well with them, when they are simply by ceremonial excuses justifying themselves for a heart and life profoundly irreligious. Thus it was with multitudes of the Jews, in the time of our Saviour and of the apostles. What stress they laid upon circumcision, upon sacrifices, upon ceremonial purity, upon tithes, upon alms, upon sabbath-keeping, upon observing sacred festivals, upon fasts appointed and traditional, upon the customs and superstitions received from their fathers! And how, at the same time, they neglected the weightier matters of the Law! Hence our Lord's frequent upbraidings of the scribes and Pharisees. They deceived themselves, they deluded others, they hindered the hearts of men from receiving the gospel. When Christianity was established, it was threatened by the same disastrous tendency. First, the Judaizers endeavored to overlay the spirituality of the gospel with Jewish rites and customs. And afterwards, when Christianity was in the act of vanquishing paganism, it submitted to assume much that was heathen. The great system of sacerdotalism, with its sacramentarianism, its saint-worship, and its mortifications and asceticism, was acquired from heathenism. And how much of this survives even to the present day, we have only to look around us that we may see. Now, Christ in his answer supplies the true corrective and safeguard against the action of this evil tendency. Why should his disciples fast, when (as a matter of fact)they were happy and jubilant? It would have been mere formality and hypocrisy, than which nothing was more repugnant to his spiritual doctrines and the character of his religion.
1. Let those who fast, fast in spirit, and afflict the soul, and place no confidence in the flesh.
2. Let those who feast, feast as the children of God and the friends of Christ.
3. Let the demeanour of Christians be such, so glowing with sincere and hopeful cheerfulness, as to commend the glorious gospel.
The grounds upon which the Pharisees and scribes took offense at our Lord and his ministry were various. Some of these—as, e.g., his claim to pardon sin—were very serious; for in such a case Jesus was either an impostor and blasphemer, or he was the Son of God. Others were very trivial, as, e.g., his neglect of some unauthorized traditions, or his preference of moral duty to observance of the ceremonial law. In this and in the following incident, the sabbath was the ground of misunderstanding, and Christ's preference of humanity to ceremonial compliance occasioned, on the part of his adversaries, hatred, enmity, and conspiracy. Still, the malice of Christ's foes furnished opportunities for the assertion of great religious principles. From this narrative we learn that human need should take precedence of ceremony and tradition. There is ever a danger lest the outward husk of religion should be mistaken for the precious kernel. Nowhere is this danger more stringently guarded against than in the conduct and the discourses of Christ. The principle is vindicated—
I. BY AN APPEAL TO OLD TESTAMENT HISTORY. It was a master-stroke of controversy on the part of the great Teacher to appeal to the Scriptures, which the Pharisees professed to hold in such reverence. The conduct of David, one of the great heroes and saints of their national history, was quoted in justification of the conduct of the disciples of Jesus. To eat is a necessity of human nature, and some kind of action, of rudimentary labour, is necessary in order to eating. The disciples of Jesus had plucked cars of corn, had rubbed the grain free from husk in their hands, and had eaten, in order to satisfy their hunger. Possibly in so doing they had violated the tradition of the elders, which maintained that anything approaching to labour on the sabbath day was an infraction of the Divine command. However, the Lord vindicated them by the example of David, who, for the purpose of providing food for himself and his companions, had not hesitated to take the shewbread of the sanctuary, which was reserved for the use of the priests alone; and this probably also on the sabbath day. Punctiliousness of observance must give way before those necessities which the Creator has impressed upon our human nature.
II. BY THE ASSERTION THAT THE SABBATH IS THE MEANS TO WHICH HUMAN WELFARE IS THE END. HOW blessed an institution is the weekly day of rest! The importance of the sabbath to man's bodily and spiritual welfare is very much overlooked by many advocates for the employment of labour on that day, and by many Christians who, in their zeal for men's instruction and salvation, labour seven days a week instead of six. Yet, as we are here taught, we are not to make an idol of even so precious an institution. The day of rest was designed for man's good; and it must be maintained that man's good comes first, and the sabbath next. Thus it is allowable and it is required to perform "works of necessity and mercy" on the sabbath, and even on the Lord's day, which may be regarded as the higher sabbath of the Christian. Those who preach and teach, who visit the sick and the afflicted, although their doing these things may make them labour seven days in the week, may make them "sabbath-breakers," are held guiltless by the application of the great principle of the text.
III. BY THE CLAIM OF CHRIST TO LORDSHIP OVER THE SABBATH DAY, Christ is indeed Lord of all. He uses his lordship not so much to institute as to abrogate ceremonies, not so much to burden the religious life with observances as to set it free from such trammels. He imparts the true sabbatic spirit; he gives the rest of heart, which is even more important than bodily repose. He sanctifies all days by his Spirit, making every day to the Christian better and more sacred than the holiest festival or the most solemn fast to the Jew of old. If the day be begun, continued, and ended in him, and if all our works be done under his lordship and by his inspiration, life itself will be a true sabbath, filled with the rest of his love and with the music of his praise.
1. Guard against a merely external, ceremonial religion, which is ever prone to degenerate into superstition.
2. Consider the preciousness of the weekly day of rest; it was given for our advantage; it should be used for the glory of God, in the welfare of those for whom Christ lived and died.
3. Think aright of him who, without presumption, could claim a prerogative so lofty as lordship over the sabbath. To be filled with his spirit, to yield ourselves to his authority,—this is the best means of fulfilling the spiritual law of the God who is a Spirit, and who asks for spiritual homage and service.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Cure of the paralytic.
I. DIFFICULTIES ARE READILY OVERCOME WHERE THERE IS FAITH. The house was probably a poor one, roofed with mud and shingle. It would be easy, therefore, to dig a hole and obtain entrance in that way. But doing it required a certain amount of ingenuity and effort, which proved that the man and his friends were resolved to get to Jesus and obtain the cure. All this trouble and thoughtfulness was the outcome of faith in Christ. Their boldness was the confidence of faith. Where the heart is right, difficulties in the way of seeking or following the Saviour will only call forth keener ingenuity and higher resolution.
II. FAITH EVER SECURES THE SYMPATHY AND ENCOURAGEMENT OF CHRIST. Christ's first words were not chiding, but a welcome. He said, "Son [child], thy sins are forgiven." There would be tenderness and sympathy in the tone as well as in the words. He spoke as a father or an elder brother. The sick man may have been young. But in the midst of all the kindness the guilty past of the man is not forgotten. He had been a sinner, and probably his malady was but the fruit of his misdoing. A thrill of wonder and fear, mingled with more hopeful feelings, would pervade him as he listened. Here was one who knew all about him, and yet had compassion on him! The faith of the patient and his bearers (possibly relatives) was thus rewarded beyond their hopes. A greater boon was conferred than they sought. Christ is never satisfied with half measures. He goes at once to the root of the evil, and seeks to save a man altogether, in soul as well as in body and fortune.
III. IN SHOWING MERCY CHRIST ASSUMES THE HIGHEST AUTHORITY. Whilst the nature of the case before him demanded that the cure should be thus radical, the mere utterance of the words, "Thy sins are forgiven," involved a claim which those looking on were not ready to acknowledge.
1. Faith in being taxed is rewarded. The believing men were required to believe more, and more definitely, than they had already done. And to him chiefly concerned there were already inward witnesses in favor of the new claim. That Christ should have divined the secret source of the bodily weakness and mental unrest was a presumption that he was what he professed implicitly to be. Doubtless, with the rising of his spirit to the new duty of recognizing the authority of Jesus, the sick man's conscience would receive sudden and unlooked-for relief. The tide of life would turn again in the glad flush of peace and happiness. Christ's demands upon men to believe more than they already do are intended as conditions of his bestowing greater blessings.
2. In order to do all that he was sent to do, Christ required to be Divine. The argument was perfectly sound, which the scribes carried on "in their hearts." Only God can, in the ultimate, forgive sins. Yet his power is sometimes delegated according to fixed principles and appointments. But probably they included in their reasoning the unspoken evidence given in Christ's manner, that he forgave out of and from himself. The entire circumstances of the case show that he must have done this. And so ever, when men come to him, it is that he may exercise this authority and power. What they did not think of was the possibility of him whom they accused being "very God of very God."
IV. DIFFICULTIES ARE CREATED WHERE FAITH IS ABSENT. The simple soul of the paralytic grasped the secret of Divinity which escaped the subtlety of the scribes. Their very knowledge stood in their way, because it was not spiritually acquired and employed.
V. THE POWER OF CHRIST IS A PRACTICAL DEMONSTRATION OF HIS AUTHORITY.
1. Strictly speaking, healing the paralysis of the man was not, when taken by itself, on the same level with the forgiveness of his sins; but the two actions are distinctly declared to be in connection with one another. They both appealed to the same Divine power. If, therefore, the pretension to this power made in the former utterance was blasphemous, the ability to perform the consequent miracle would not have been forthcoming. It is also possible that the visible fact of the cure may have been meant as a making good of the invisible transaction declared in the first words. They were shown thereby not to be mere words.
2. And similarly, but even more cogently, is the proof of our Lord's divinity furnished by the spiritual experience of those whom he redeems. That they are forgiven is witnessed to in the subsequent power given to live righteously, and to continue in fellowship with a reconciled God. To those who are conscious of this inward result ("kept by the power of God through faith, unto salvation") there is no other evidence so conclusive.—M.
Levi's feast: the moral questions it occasioned. 1.
(Mark 2:13-17.) Eating with publicans and sinners. In calling Matthew (Levi) from the receipt of custom, our Saviour made him relinquish all his old pursuits and companions, and conferred upon him an unexpected honor. The feast given by him was, therefore, partly a farewell, partly a celebration. In overstepping the boundary line of Jewish religious and social etiquette, the Lord performed an act of great significance, which was sure to call forth remark.
I. SUPERFICIAL KNOWLEDGE, WHEN LINKED WITH MALICE, WILL PUT THE WORST CONSTRUCTION UPON THE BEST ACTIONS. Conventional morality was invoked to condemn Christ in mingling with the publicans. No trouble was taken to ascertain the true character of the feast. By their criticism the Pharisees exposed their own hollowness and unspirituality. They condemned themselves in seeking to condemn Christ. For such judgments men are responsible. The greatest care and most spiritual view should be taken ere judgment is passed upon the actions of others, especially when their character is known to be good.
II. IT IS THE MOTIVE WHICH IS THE TRUE KEY TO THE NATURE OF ACTIONS.
1. This applies absolutely in the case of actions in themselves indifferent, or only conventionally forbidden; but in all actions it is an indispensable canon of ultimate judgment. Even where the external nature of an action is unmistakable, the utmost care should be taken in forming an opinion. Absolute and unqualified judgment is for God alone.
2. When challenged for our conduct it is well to explain the principles upon which we act. Christ at once makes known his motives, and with no anger. Yet in so doing he judged his accusers, They pretended to be whole, and so could not object to him doing good to those who required his aid. Why were they dissatisfied, if not from secret disquietude with their own condition and attitude? Irony proceeding from deepest spiritual discernment!
III. THE HOLIEST SOUGHT OUT AND COMPANIED WITH SINNERS THAT HE MIGHT MAKE THEM HOLY. It is only by sympathy, and by appeals to their highest nature, that sinful men can be won to God.—M.
Levi's feast: the moral questions it occasioned. 2.
(Mark 2:18-22.) The rationale of fasting.
I. THE ORIGIN OF THE QUESTION. This seemed to be natural enough. A real perplexity was created which required to be removed. There is no malice or bitterness in the inquiry. Amongst spiritual associates all such difficulties ought to be frankly faced and kindly discussed.
1. The feast of Levi was coincident with a traditional fast. The Pharisees and the disciples of John both observed the fast, were observing it at the time the others were feasting. Now, within the band of Christ's disciples were two sections-one formerly wholly, and still to a great extent, identified with the doctrines and observances of John; the other following without question the spiritual guidance of Christ. The contrast would, therefore, be very marked. A schism seemed to discover itself within the circle of the brethren.
2. The general life of the disciples of Christ was not so ascetic as that of John's, and the traditional fasts of Judaism were not so strictly observed by them. The special occasion was only a striking instance of general divergence. In answering the question, then, the key would be given to the entire life which Christ desired men to lead.
II. ITS SOLUTION. The answer was prompt and kindly, and it seemed to justify the question. It goes to the very root of the subject. No attention is given to the circumstance of fasting being a positive or conventional enactment. Its meaning and purpose are at once referred to, as alone determining the validity or otherwise of its claims to being observed.
1. Subjective conditions and aims are stated to be of chief consequence in regard to such a question. This was a new departure, a rationalizing of positive law and observance. Institutions and practices of religion are to stand or fall according to their spiritual adaptation to the needs of the human soul.
2. Circumstances which determine spiritual states are, therefore, decisive as to the obligation or otherwise of fasting. The Jews under the Law were without Christ; now he had come, and the spiritual experience of men who received him was wholly altered. Fasting would be out of keeping, because the mood of those who discerned and believed Christ (the Bridegroom) was festive and joyous. A feast rather than a fast was therefore the fitting ceremony.
3. A fundamental distinction exists between Judaism and Christianity. The one was old and ready to vanish away; the other was new and instinct with fresh, vigorous life. Any confusion of them would therefore be mutually injurious. This distinctive character of each is represented in two illustrations, viz.
(1) The old garment and the new piece of cloth. It would be foolish to employ Christianity merely to make good the defects of Judaism. The combination would not only be motley; it would be disastrous, because of the difference of spiritual force in the two systems. Judaism was antiquated, full of holes and rottenness, and ready to vanish away. To patch it up with the gospel would, therefore, only hasten its destruction. Fasting was representative of the legalistic or external rites of Judaism; Christianity was as new and "unfulled" cloth, which would shrink when put upon the old garment, and make the rent worse. This is one side of the truth; and in
(2) the new wine and the old bottles, we have the other. Legal forms and observances are inadequate to contain and express the fresh, spiritual, ever-expanding life of the Christian. Spiritual truth and life must create their own ritual, and dictate their own ideal of morality.—M.
The sabbath made for man.
I. The purpose of The sabbath IS TO BE KEPT IN VIEW IN INTERPRETING ITS OBLIGATIONS.
II. RULES WHICH DO NOT HAVE REGARD TO THIS MAY VIOLATE WHAT THEY PROFESS TO PRESERVE.
1. The disciples were within the written permission of the Law. "To pluck and rub with the hand ears from the field of a neighbor was allowed; Moses forbade only the sickle (Deuteronomy 23:25). But the matter belonged to the thirty-nine chief classes (fathers), each of which had its subdivisions (daughters), in which the works forbidden on the sabbath were enumerated. This was their hypocritical way, to make of trifling things matters of sin and vexation to the conscience" (Braune).
2. "Men see that others neglect rules, when they see not their own violation of principles" (Godwin).
III. THE BEST INTERESTS OF MAN ARE TO SERVED BY THE SABBATH.
1. "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath." This is proved by an incident from the life of David. As they revered David, the allusion was an argumentum ad hominem as well as an illustration of a general principle. By that occurrence it was shown that even the sanctities of the temple were subordinated to the welfare of God's anointed and his followers. If, then, these things bent to the highest interests of man, so must the sabbath.
2. "The Son of man is Lord of the sabbath." This is an inference from the foregoing principle. For Christ claimed this authority not merely as a man, but as "the Son of man in his inviolable holiness, and in his mysterious dignity (intimated in Daniel) as the holy Child and Head of humanity appearing in the name of God" (Lange). He summed up in his own person the highest interests of the race. And as Lord of the sabbath he uses it ever for the advancement of holiness and the development of spiritual freedom in his saints.—M.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
The pardon of the paralytic.
This miracle is recorded also by Matthew and Luke. The former indicates its chronological position as occurring after the return from Gadara. Our gracious Lord "again entered into Capernaum," so slow is he to leave the most undeserving. The news of his arrival quickly spread; indeed, whenever he enters a home or a heart, he cannot be hid. True love and eager faith will surely find him, and in this passage we find an example of that truth.
I. THE COMING OF THE PARALYTIC is full of teaching for those who are now seeking the Saviour.
1. He had friends who helped him. Powerless to move, he was peculiarly dependent on their kindness. A sufferer from palsy not only needs much patience and resignation himself, but creates a demand for it in others, and so may prove by his presence in the home to be a means of grace to those called on to minister to him. To serve and help those who are permanent invalids is a holy service, to which many are secretly called, who therein may prove themselves good and faithful servants of the Lord. Such ministration needs a gentle hand, a patient spirit, a courageous heart, and a noble self-forgetfulness. Above all, we should endeavour to bring our sick ones to the feet of Jesus, that they may rejoice in his pardoning love. Our counsels, our example, and our prayers may do for them what these people did for their paralyzed friend.
2. He found difficulties in approaching Christ. The crowd was impassable. They ascended the staircase outside (Matthew 24:17), and so reached the fiat roof. Then they broke up the covering of the roof and let down the bed on which the sick of the palsy lay. These obstacles tried their faith, proved and purified it. There are difficulties in the way of our approach to Christ; some of which may be removed by our friends, others of which can only be overcome by our own faith and courage. Prejudices, easily besetting sins, evil companions, are examples.
3. The difficulties were victoriously surmounted. The fact that they were so was a manifest proof of the faith which animated this man and his friends. Some way is always open to those eager for salvation, though it may be one that seems unusual to onlookers.
II. THE GRACIOUSNESS OF THE SAVIOUR.
1. He knew the man's deepest wants. Probably the paralytic was more troubled about his sin than about his sickness, although his friends did not know it. We ought to be more anxious about the soul than about the body. Christ Jesus reads our secret thoughts. "He knew what was in man." He noticed and exposed the unexpressed anger of his enemies (verse 8). But while he discovers the secret sin, far more readily does he discern the silent longing for pardon.
2. He was willing and waiting to bless. There was no delay. The strange interruption to teaching was not resented but welcomed. At once he spoke the word of pardon for which the man's heart was hungering, although he foresaw the indignation and scorn which would follow on the declaration, "Thy sins be forgiven thee." Divine love is not to be restrained by human narrowness, whether in the Church or outside it.
3. He showed himself ready and able to forgive. Possibly our Lord saw a connection between this illness and some special sin. He guards us, however, against supposing that it is always so (Luke 13:15; John 9:3). Perhaps the secret pangs of conscience were in the way of physical restoration here. Sometimes pardon was given after cure (Luke 17:19; John 5:14). The scribes were right in their declaration that none but God can forgive sins. The Levitical priests, under the old dispensation, were authorized to announce Divine forgiveness, as God's representatives, after the offering of appointed sacrifices; but the scribes very properly recognized that Jesus claimed to do far more than that. He admitted that it was so, and as the Son of man (Daniel 7:13) he claimed the power they denied him, and at once gave a proof that the power was actually his. They might have argued that there was no evidence that the man's sins were forgiven; that Jesus was making a safe claim, which could not be tested. In order to meet this he said in effect, "I will now claim and exercise a power the result of which you can see; and it shall either brand me as an impostor, or else it shall be a sign that my former utterance had effect." Then said he to the sick of the palsy, "Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house." Like that man, may our recovered and redeemed powers be instantaneously used in obedience to Christ.—A.
Mark 2:14, Mark 2:15
Levi's call from dishonor to discipleship.
All the sacred Scriptures serve to show that God's redemption is meant for those who are conscious of their sin, however grievous have been their offenses. Promises prove this. Isaiah's description of a people whose head was faint and whose heart was sick is followed by the invitation, "Come now, and let us reason together," etc., and this is intensified by the gracious words of Christ, "Come unto me, all ye that labour," etc. Facts suggest the same truth, e.g. God's dealing with Adam, the call of idolatrous Abram, and the pardon of Manasseh; and all such evidences are concentrated in Christ. Descended through Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, and David, he chose no spotless ancestry according to the flesh, but was from the first "numbered with the transgressors." His life-work touched the sinful—the woman who was a sinner, the adulteress of Samaria, the thief on the cross, etc. No wonder that his gospel was received by publicans and by sinners, in the house of Herod, in the court of Nero, among the idolatrous Ephesians and the profligate Corinthians. He came "not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Levi the publican was an example of these. Let us consider—
I. THE POSITION LEVI OCCUPIED "Levi" was the original name borne by the evangelist and apostle who was known in the Church as "Matthew," equivalent to "God's gift," he being so named because in him the Lord had a fulfillment of his own words, "All that the Father hath given me shall come to me, and him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out." Levi was a tax-gatherer, a rate collector, employed by the richer publicans (of whom Zacchaeus was an example) to collect dues levied on the lake fishery or on the traffic passing through the district to Damascus; and consideration of what that involved may encourage the despondent.
1. He was low in the social scale. As a standing emblem of the authority of Roman tyranny, the tax-gatherer, especially when, like Levi, he was a renegade Jew, was intensely hated and despised; none of his fellow-countrymen would speak or eat with him. From the first Christ set himself against this prejudice and social distinction. As the "Son of man," as the King of men, he would have no narrow circle from which to draw his followers. His blessings were for the most despised and poor, as are God's air and sunshine.
2. He was an outcast from religious men. As patriots, the Jews hated him; as upholders of the ancient faith, they excommunicated him. Hence Matthew the apostle would seem to be a marvel of grace. The excommunicated man was to build up the communion of the Christian Church, the apostle was to become a pillar of Divine truth, the instrument of oppression was to proclaim true liberty, the byword was to become a burning and a shining light. God chose despised things to bring to nought those which were great and honored. The Church's judgment is not always right, therefore "judge not, that ye be not judged." Christ saw in Levi one who was seeking higher things, and he said to him, "Follow me."
3. He was subject to grievous temptations. The bad reputation of the publicans was doubtless, to a large extent, deserved. The vicious system of raising revenue adopted by Rome, and still practiced in Turkey, would tend to make men avaricious, hard, and unscrupulous. Large sums of money passed through their hands, and were loosely collected and accounted for; bribes were frequently offered and universally accepted, in order to obtain exemptions and privileges; and a publican, from the mere fact of being one, had no reputation to lose, so that if he had been more scrupulous than others he would get no credit for it. In that position Christ saw Levi and pitied him, and thence in his love he called him, teaching us that none are so low, or have circumstances so adverse, as to be beyond the reach of his pity and salvation.
II. THE SERVICE LEVI ATTEMPTED.
1. He freely gave up all to follow Jesus. It was a lucrative position, but he felt called to something nobler, for the sake of which any sacrifice should be made. Suggest certain trades and occupations which am now such a hindrance to the Divine life that for Christ's sake they ought to be abandoned by his followers. Indicate the call which sometimes comes to Christians to give up even innocent employments, for the higher work of preaching Christ.
2. He invited others to see and hear his Master. Luke (Luke 5:27) speaks of this as a "great feast" which Levi made in honor of his Lord; to which he invited his old comrades, who like himself would be popularly ranked among "the publicans and sinners." The feast was an occasion for speaking his farewell, and giving reasons for the change in his life. He wished to show that he was about to serve One greater than Caesar, and to do a nobler work. At his request Jesus became his guest. May that gracious Lord appear in our homes, at all our festive gatherings, and so show himself through us to those around us, that they too may find joy in his service!—A.R.
Weak brethren too often do the work of evil men. The disciples of John, who were not hostile to our Lord, were made on this occasion the tools of the Pharisees, whose great object was to damage our Lord's reputation amongst the people, and to weaken the allegiance of his followers. The Baptist had never forbidden his disciples to observe the customary fasts, and his own ascetic life had taught them such lessons of self-denial that they readily observed them, especially at a time like this, when he was languishing in prison. Sore and sensitive in heart as they were, it was easy for the Pharisees to suggest that Jesus owed much to their teacher's testimony; that he had professedly been John's Friend and Fellow-worker; that he was doing nothing whatever to effect his deliverance; that he did not even fast for grief because of his imprisonment, but was enjoying social festivity in the house of a publican. But although the design of the Pharisees was to convict our Lord of disregard of national tradition and pious custom, and to condemn him for forgetfulness of his imprisoned friend, they only succeeded in educing a complete justification of his conduct, and the announcement of a noble principle which we have to consider, viz. that religious observances are only acceptable to God when they are the natural outcome of the religious life of him who offers them. In this passage we see the following facts:—
I. HYPOCRISY IS CONDEMNED. John's disciples were not guilty of this offensive sin. No doubt their fasting was, at this time, a true expression of inward grief; and was on other occasions used by them as a means of spiritual discipline. Our Lord does not imply that they were hypocritical, but asserts that his own disciples would be, if they outwardly joined in a fast which would be an untrue representation of their present feeling. Hopeful and jubilant in the presence of their Lord, his disciples could not fast, and would be wrong to do so. This tacitly condemns all fasts which arise from improper or untrue motives, or which are outwardly kept at the dictation of others. The principle, however, is of general application, teaching us that, under the new dispensation, no outward manifestation of devotion is acceptable to God, except as it is true to the inward feeling of the worshipper. The sin of unreality was often rebuked by the prophets, and still more vigorously by John the Baptist and by our Lord; indeed, the sternest words ever uttered by Christ were levelled against the unreal, insincere, and hypocritical Pharisees. From that sin he would save his disciples, and therefore asserted that as their inward condition did not lead them to fasting, a fast would at that time be unnatural and perilous. Be you who or what you may, be real and true before God and man. "If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light."
II. EXTERNALISM IS REBUKED. By externalism we mean the putting of external religious ceremonies in the place of spiritual acts of worship. We distinguish this decisively from hypocrisy, as the words are by no means interchangeable—some of the Pharisees, for example, being thoroughly sincere. But many rites enjoined under the old dispensation, which were meant to have spiritual significance and to give utterance to soul-longings, had become mere husks in which the kernel had rotted. Sacrifices were offered without sense of guilt; washings were frequent, even to absurdity, but did not express conscious uncleanness of soul; alms were largely given, but without generosity; fasts were observed without any humiliation of soul before God. Religion had become mechanical and soulless, and from that curse Christ would save his disciples. Hence he commended the mite of the widow, and not the large gifts of the wealthy; he chose his friends not from the priests in the temple, but from peasants in Galilee; he discerned faith not in the long prayers recited by the Pharisees, but in the secret petition of the trembling woman who only durst touch the hem of his garment. To him the unuttered sigh was a prayer, the generous purpose an alms-deed, and a holy aspiration was an evening sacrifice. So here he taught that fasting was not a rite of any value in itself, and that self-inflicted penance was not as such pleasing to God. (Apply this to what is similar in our days.)
III. FREEDOM IS PROCLAIMED. He who condemned fasting and all other rites and ceremonies, when put in a wrong place, allowed any of these to be used by his disciples when they naturally and truly expressed their inward spiritual life. When, for example, the Bridegroom was taken away, when the shadow of Calvary's cross rested on them, they fasted; for they had no heart to do anything else. But when the Resurrection morning dawned, and the gates of the grave were opened, and the Bridegroom came back to his waiting bride, to fulfill the promise, "I am with you always," then, and on the day of Pentecost, they could not fast. If now there are times when to our doubting minds the heavenly Bridegroom seems far away; if now we ever feel that temporary abstinence from food, or from pleasure, or from work, would help our spiritual life,—then let us fast; but even then let us do so in remembrance of the words, "Thou when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face, that thou appear not unto men to fast." In regard to this and all other ceremonies, "Ye, brethren, are called unto liberty, only use not that liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another."
IV. JOYFULNESS IS INCULCATED. In this respect the practices of our Lord presented a striking contrast to those of John or of the Pharisees. Here he justifies his disciples, as formerly he had defended himself, against aspersions cast upon them for joining in social festivity. Appealing to the consciences of his questioners, and alluding to the last words of testimony their master had uttered concerning himself (John 3:29), he asked, "Can the sons of the bridechamber mourn, while the bridegroom is with them?" We ought to be so glad because of our relation to Christ, because of his constant presence and undying love, that, like Paul, we can be "joyful in tribulations also," and sing God's praise in the darkness of a prison.—A.R.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
I. THE PARALYTIC A TYPE OF HELPLESSNESS IN GENERAL. In this case both physical and moral. No malady is serious but that which attacks the freedom of the soul in its seat.
II. DIFFICULTIES ARE FOR THE TRIAL OF FAITH. The physical difficulty of getting to Christ's presence we may view as a parable or allegory of deeper moral difficulties. How hard to be a Christian—to reach the truth and live in the light of it! Argument breaks down; many gaps in our reasoning it is not easy to get over. But—
"What if the breaks themselves should prove at last
The most consummate of contrivances
To train a man's eye, teach him what is faith?"
III. THE SEAT OF HEALTH OFTEN LIES IN THE IMAGINATION. A man has a dark picture of himself, his sin, his doom, etc., constantly before him. He cannot be well or happy. Reverse this picture, and the whole nature, physical and moral, recovers its healthy working. Christ will not suffer men to despond or despair of themselves. Believe yourself condemned, a life-failure, and you remain a paralytic. Believe in your Divine possibility and future; you can rise and walk. When the gospel is truly preached, men are not crushed, but uplifted; not discouraged, but heartened about themselves.
IV. THE GIFT OF SYMPATHY AND OF POWER. Here was a signal example of the diagnosis of Jesus. He saw, as we say, what was the matter. He spoke to the point; and his word was an idea and a power. Never is true sympathy disjoined from power. To love our fellows is to enjoy the noblest power.—J.
I. THE SOCIALITY OF JESUS. He was found at ordinary dinner-parties and entertainments throughout his course, and to the last. He was a contrast in this to the ascetic Baptist. He was found in "questionable" company. But the company of Pharisees would have been as "questionable." With a clear conscience a man may go into the miscellany of people called "society." A free and open manner is certain to bring remark and censure upon him. But better to mix with others and be thought "no better" than they, than hold aloof and sour the heart with Pharisaic self-conceit. There is danger in general society, and danger in religious cliques.
II. LOVE; JUSTIFYING ALL ECCENTRICITIES. It was eccentric to mix with those common and tabooed people. The whole conduct of Jesus was eccentric, and brought about fatal consequences. To aim at singularity is a foppery; to follow love's impulse alone is graceful, generous, polite, refined. This is singular. Would there were more of such singularity!
III. NATURALNESS. The spirit of man is like the face of earth and sky. Clouds pass over it; the sun is hidden. Anon all is bright again, and birds sing. To follow the lead of joy is in the best sense natural. Let the face and manner reflect the inner mind; to reverse this is to act a part. The pure and lovely hypocrisy is that which tries to affect the mien of mirth, though the heart be heavy. To put on the mask of gloom for the sake of warning others is Pharisaic, not Christian. Jesus is the example of the perfect gentleman.
IV. THE PLACE AND TIME OF ASCETICISM. It is the reaction of the mind against certain sorrows. We must be true again to feeling and to fancy. It would be a violence to natural taste to put on wedding garments when a friend has passed away, however logical it might seem. There is a natural homeopathy of grief. Speaking of it and representing it outwardly tends to its relief; but to mimic a grief we feel not is to do a violence to ourselves. Be true to yourself: this is the only secret of moral beauty, from the lowest to the. highest moods, and is the lesson of Jesus.—J.
Love greater than law.
I. HUMAN LIFE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE MEANS OF LIVING. All laws, ceremonial or otherwise, may be regarded as means towards ends. What end do we know higher than human weal and bliss? Christ points out that this is the real end of legislation—man, his education, his good, physical and spiritual.
II. IT IS A GROSS FALLACY TO PUT THE MEANS BEFORE THE END. This the Pharisees did. They said, "Man for the sabbath." Christ said, "The sabbath for man." Ceremonies are all means of spiritual culture, Not so with moral ideals. They are our end.
III. LAW IS ROOTED IN LOVE. Christ is the representative of Divine love. If he by example or precept declares that a law is to be suspended or abrogated, this is in the interests of love. How absurd would it be, on a desert island, for a shipwrecked crew, almost starving, to refuse to avail themselves of food cast in their way, e.g. by a chance flight of birds, because it was a fast day! Analogous was the case mentioned by Christ (Mark 2:26). The sabbath had no meaning except as an expression of Divine love; and the rigid observance of it in defiance of love's dictates would be a mockery. Christ is Lord of love, and therefore Lord of law.—J.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
The sick of the palsy: the spiritual and physical healing.
The excitement having subsided, Jesus enters again into Capernaum. He, in the house, was teaching, "Pharisees and doctors of the Law sitting by," from all parts. The mighty "power of the Lord was with him to heal," as was made evident before, or as was to be proved by this event. It being "noised that he was in the house, many were gathered together," crowding "about the door." But attention is arrested by the bold deed of four men, who, carrying one sick of the palsy, and finding it impossible to get into the presence of Jesus, ascend to the low flat roof, "and let down the bed whereon the sick of the palsy lay," as men are wont to let down straw and other things to-day in similar houses. Instantly the whole event assumes a spiritual character, and Jesus, for all time, gives the spiritual its pre-eminence: "Jesus, seeing their faith." The spiritual must take precedence, the material must follow.
I. IN ORDER TO SPIRITUAL HEALING A SUITABLE CONDITION IS NEEDFUL. Here and elsewhere that condition is expressed by the one word faith. Faith, though a simple act or condition of mind, is the result of many—consciousness of need, desire of relief, self-distrust, some knowledge of Christ, appreciative confidence leading to assured persuasion. In faith the soul is already at one with the Saviour; it has come to him; it is united to him. The faith of others besides that of the sick is a favorable condition. Here it first arrests attention: "Jesus, seeing their faith." How many are dependent for their salvation upon the faith and effort of others! By their deed they declared their faith. It said, "Thou canst;" if not also," Thou wilt." Through their faith must be seen, however, that of the sufferer shining. For who urged them on to do even this for him? Would he have undergone the pain of this treatment had he not had faith? It is saying, as said another, "If I do but touch his garment, I shall be made whole." With the desire of the sufferer for relief the charity of his helpers mingled. Their acts of faith were so interwoven that they became one faith, it was this that Jesus saw.
II. WHERE THE SUITABLE SPIRITUAL CONDITION IS FOUND THE HEALING INEVITABLY TAKES PLACE. Yea, though the word declaring it be not uttered; and even when it is uttered, men, "reasoning in their hearts," believe not. Where Jesus to-day sees faith—and he is always on the look-out for it—there he heals. The faith of sufferers and helpers must have respect to his promise and his power to heal, and not busy itself so much with listening for the word which declares the healing to be done. "Jesus, seeing their faith," and knowing there was the suitable condition for the reception of spiritual blessing, even above and beyond that for which they asked, "saith, Son, thy sins are forgiven." So is faith rewarded; so are spirituals put in their rightful place before temporals; not really to hinder the temporal, but the better to prepare for it.
III. THE OPPOSITION OF ANTAGONISTS IS USED BY CHRIST FOR THE GREATER CONFIRMATION OF THE BELIEVING ONES; and, in mercy, also to awaken conviction in the unbelieving heart. "Perceiving in his [own] spirit that they so reasoned" within the dark chambers of their hearts, he graciously condescended to reason with them. "If I can do the harder of two works, surely I can the easier. That ye will not doubt. But 'whether is easier' in your view, to say, 'Thy sins are forgiven;' or to say, 'Arise, take up thy bed and walk'? This must not only be said; to prove itself a real word of power, it must be done. Of this ye can be judges. But that ye—even ye reasoning and unbelieving ones—may know the unlimited power of the Son of man in the spiritual realm, behold a proof of his power in the material! A word declares it. 'I say unto thee, arise.'" A word of power indeed; for "he arose and took up the bed, and went forth before them all"—a visible, undeniable testimony that the true kingdom of God had come, that the true King was amongst them; and they also were not only amazed, but "they glorified God," and confessed, "We never saw it on this fashion." So he who maketh "the wrath of man to praise him," maketh the thought of evil to turn to the greater good of them whom he would bless.
IV. THE WONDERFUL POWER FOR THE GOOD OF ALL THAT FAITH IN THE SON OF MAN CALLS INTO PLAY. Therefore let every one who has faith use it: in faith bringing the sin-stricken to Jesus; with strong faith encouraging all to seek him, to yield to him, to follow, and to trust in him. And let every worker work in faith; for the faith of the bearer of the sick is regarded. Let parents bring their children to Jesus in faith; and pastors bring their flocks before him in faith; and friends, friends; and lovers of men lay the world at his feet in lowly, loving, believing prayer. Unbelief stays the strong arm of Christ, because it presents the unsuitable conditions before him who always acts according to the "laws" of his own kingdom. Faith is not strength, but acknowledged feebleness. We can aid the consciously feeble, but the presumptuously strong put themselves beyond the power of men and the will of the Lord.—G.
"By the sea side" the great Teacher is heard by a listening multitude. Then passing near "the place of toll, his eye fell upon Levi, son of Alphseus," whose service he imperatively claims. Levi, already called to be a disciple, now called to be an apostle, with much sacrifice arises to follow his Lord and Master to the end, so teaching for all future apostles and servants that the claims of the kingdom of Heaven stand first in importance, and must first be met. The simple, brief, authoritative command, "Follow me," may seem to need an exposition and expansion. It is the consummation, doubtless, of many words of instruction; and, perhaps, the outward call corresponds to an inward conviction of duty and an inward preparedness for the sacrifice. The story of compliance is almost as brief as that of the call, "And he arose and followed him. But this does not shut out the possibility of the calm adjustment by Levi of his affairs, as would be necessary before setting out upon a new course of life. Only the impetuous need hurry lest they should change their minds. Then, as it would seem in commemoration of the great change, when the new name Matthew may have been assumed, he, called like Elisha, to the sacred office, like him he makes his feast to his neighbors—his fellow tax-gatherers and friends—and his sacrifice to his God. And Jesus and his disciples are there. Then the murmuring voice of "the scribes of the Pharisees" must needs accuse him to his disciples: "He eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners." Ah, happily for them and us he doth. He who did not always stoop to vindicate his ways, or tell wherefore or by "what authority" he did such and such things, now, however, vouchsafes to declare his reason. First parabolically: "The ' whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick.' If these are the sick and faulty, as your words imply, they indeed need me." But the word applies itself. The really "sick" may be the carping complainers. Then, more precisely, he declares his mission: "' I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.' My dealings are with sinners. How can I reach them if I avoid them?" Let every self-conscious sinner who, bruised and sick, desires healing, hear this word of the Lord, the Lord who comes to "call" and to "eat with" the sinner that he may "heal" him. For all time he is to be known as the Seeker of the sinner and the Healer of the sick. But other murmurers are at hand. The feasting of Jesus and his disciples contrasts with the sadness and fasting of John—then in prison—and his disciples, now left alone; and with the punctilious fasting of the Pharisees. How is this? The reply from the lips of the Master is given in three parables, of which the first only, and but partially, is explained. The reply is not temporal and local merely, relating solely to the circumstances of that hour. The true parable has always within it a principle of universal application. The principle here embodied is—
THE TRUE PURPOSE OF FASTING. This may be defined to be the honest expression of conditions proper to be represented by fasting. "There is a time to fast, and a time to feast;" and the outward ordinance must correspond with the inward spirit. The symbols of sorrow must not be assumed when the heart is merry. The song, not the sackcloth; the wine of joy, not the ashes,—is the more becoming. It is a lesson on congruity, or the true harmony or fitness of things; and the lesson is enforced by three parables.
1. "Can the sons of the bridechamber fast while the bridegroom is with them?" These words say, as plainly as words can," Men must fast when there is occasion to fast." Is any sad? let the signs of sorrow appear; but if the heart within is merry, let him declare it in song. "Is any cheerful? let him sing praise." Fasting by order, whatever may be the state of the heart at the time, is not in accordance with Christ's teaching. It is not in harmony with itself. It becomes a species of hypocrisy. The day of loneliness and exposure and sadness will come; "and then will they fast in that day."
2. The patch upon the "old garment," while confirming the former lesson, declares the uselessness of patching up the old, dry, effete formalism with a piece of new, earnest, vigorous life. This would make the faults all the more obvious. Christ's work was not a patch upon the old; it was a new garment. How often men seem to be sewing a patch of Christian propriety on a faulty life—a mere mending of the torn and useless; and how impressively does this teach the need of a new garment altogether—the white robe of righteousness, an entire change of heart and life, a new birth!
3. But yet more forcibly Christ would teach by another parable the need there was for outward ordinances suited to the new spirit which he came to infuse. The fervent, vital evangelical spirit would certainly rend the dry, hard formalities of legalism. The words seem to refer to the more elastic organization which the expansive spirit would require. As to-day, when a new spirit enters the Churches, it demands not the rigid, unyielding methods of the past, but new ones. Even the good and useful that have long ministered to the spiritual comfort and joy of the fathers, must give place to others which the fresh, vigorous, inventive life of the children demands. "New skins" for "new wine." Yet they must be skins—that which is suitable to the holding of wine that it may be preserved. If changes be made in organizations or methods to suit the constantly fermenting times, they must be such as will conserve the true spirit of devotion and Christian brotherhood. What a striking comment on these words is found in the employment, by many even of the most rigid Churches in our day, of methods which the new spirit within them has demanded! Each may learn for himself:
(1) The necessity for a strict correspondence between his outward religious performance and his inward religious state, and between all ordinances and the truths to which they relate.
(2) The insufficiency of merely mending the old life of sin by a few patches of new manners. A whole new garment may be had for the asking.
(3) The new reviving spirit should find its own appropriate means and ordinances, such as will preserve it from being dissipated and lost.—G.
The Lord and the law of the sabbath.
Jesus passed "through the cornfields," in the course of fulfilling his great mission of preaching, healing and blessing. His "disciples began as they went" to pluck the ears of corn growing in abundance and probably lying across their path. It was the day of delights, a day hallowed and blessed. The plentifulness of the Divine beneficence, the quiet of the sabbath calm, the glow of the bright light, would bring near to these self-sacrificing disciples thoughts of him who now most truly must provide for them their daily bread, the firstfruits of whose care they now gather. Gladly the lynx-eyed Pharisees arrest the great Teacher with their "Why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?" The direct reply is reserved, and the inquirers thrown back upon themselves and their carelessness in reading "what David did when he had need." The reply rests upon this word "need," and the following word "bungled," as in the second instance it rests upon "to do good, and to save a life." And we are reminded at once of the two classes of circumstances in which, as we have been accustomed to hear, the sabbath form may be broken without infringing the sabbath law, yea, even when that is done which at other times "it is not lawful" to do, viz. in works of necessity and works of charity. But underlying and overarching the whole is the law which the "Lord of the sabbath" now utters, a law wider in its application than the many details of sabbath observance—"The sabbath was made for man."
I. Let us first learn that THE SABBATH WAS MADE. It was a Divine institution. It was ordained of God. It was no mere accident that led men to mark the sabbath day with a special sanctity. From the many days, each laden with blessing, it pleased God to choose each seventh day for rest. To the toil-worn and weary how great an addition of blessing is this! The sabbath was not an imposition. It was designed to ease the heavily laden; to give time for song; to brighten the house by the presence of the father, who from morn till night was torn from his family by the necessities of labour; to minister to the demands of the higher nature; to bring all into closer alliance with things spiritual, by reflection and by worship. Truly this is to crowd it with blessing. It was not to be a dull day, for it was blessed; it was not to be a common day, for it was hallowed.
II. BUT THE SABBATH WHICH WAS MADE, WAS MADE FOR MAN, It was made in his interests, to promote his weal. Therefore, anything that can prove itself to be "for man"—for man at large—is in harmony with sabbath law and the sabbath spirit. And the strictest sabbath regulations must break down in presence of human necessities, provided they are indeed and of a truth necessities. Yea, the need of the ox or ass must be considered, whether it be the need of rest or deliverance from the pit. It is "lawful to do good," it is lawful "to save life," it is lawful to feed the hungry—even the sacred temple bread yielding service to needy men. The highest interest to be considered is the interest of human life. All must be sacrificed to it. The temple service itself must be stayed if the priest be needed to pluck one out of fire.
III. SINCE IT IS MADE FOR MAN, HE WHO, BEING SON OF ALL, IS LORD OF ALL, IS OF NECESSITY AND RIGHT LORD OF MAN'S SABBATH. Thus this great gift, the Divine preservation of which was always a sign of blessing, and the removal of which a sign of cursing,—this Lord's day and man's day, by the Lord's appointment and ordination, must, if men would be wise, be observed in such a way as to promote the highest interests of men, as they are interpreted by him who is Lord of them and Lord of their day. Oh, how well were it if the tight-laced, and the loose-laced also, would consider this great law, and make the sabbath a day over which its true Lord rules! Learn the sin of him who breaks the sabbath and who teaches men so.
1. He sins against God who made it to be a sabbath.
2. And he sins against man who needs it to be a sabbath, and for whom it was made. Is it a sabbath if the son of toil, after six long days of labour, is compelled to serve a seventh? This is contrary to the Law of the Lord. Far less is it a sabbath if all opportunities for religious worship, for spiritual refreshment, for family fellowship, are sacrificed; and still less if the day be spent in merely worldly amusements and pleasures; and least of all if it be devoted to evil. Then the day, designed for the good of body and soul, is spent to the injury or ruin of both. And so the Lord's day becomes the devil's day.—G.
HOMILIES BY J.J. GIVEN
Parallel passages: Matthew 9:2-8; Luke 5:17-26.—
The cure of the paralytic.
I. THE POPULARITY OF OUR LORD. After the cure of the leper, recorded at the close of the preceding chapter, our Lord, to avoid tumult or undue excitement on the part of the people, or an unseasonable precipitation of his plans, retired to and remained some short time in unfrequented places; but the crowds kept resorting (ἤρχοντο, imperfect) to him from all directions. After an interval of some days (δι ̓ ἡμερῶν) it was reported that he was back in Capernaum—that, having previously arrived (εἰς), he was now in the house. But what house? Some say Peter's; others, as Euthymius, that it was simply a house (εἰς οἶκόν τινα); better perhaps understand it indefinitely of a house which he used as an inn or place of temporary abode, or to which as a sort of home he usually resorted. The expression may thus, in a certain sense, be equivalent to the German zu Hause.
II. STRANGE METHOD OF APPROACH, Again multitudes flocked to him; the humble dwelling was soon filled to overflowing, and still the crowd pressed on towards the door—even the parts next to it became so thronged that they could no longer contain or afford them room. As was his wont, he was speaking, perhaps conversationally (ἐλάλει) the word, that is, of the kingdom or of his doctrine unto them. Just then a novel and curious incident added a new feature to the scene. On the outskirt of the crowd four men appeared, bearing a pallet between them, as St. Mark informs us—one at each corner probably; and on it lay a helpless invalid. But so intently were all eyes fixed on, or all necks stretched out towards, the great Teacher that the crowd paid no attention to the invalid and his bearers, or at least showed no disposition to make way for them. But, wherever there is a strong will, there is sure to be a way. They were not to be deterred from their purpose, nor to be kept back from him whose presence they sought. They mount the fiat roof of the house, whether by steps outside or otherwise. They remove a sufficient portion of the roof, or, as it is literally, they unroof the roof, digging out the tiling overlaid with earth, and so let down the couch on which the sick of the palsy lay, "into the midst before Jesus," as we learn from St. Luke.
III. ITS FEASIBILITY. The objections of infidel writers, who have shown much ignorance and wasted much strength in attacking the plan resorted to in bringing the paralytic into the presence of the Saviour, are sufficiently and satisfactorily refuted by the following plain statements of facts in 'The Land and the Book':—"Those (houses) of Capernaum, as is evident from the ruins, were, like those of modern villages in the same region, low, very low, with fiat roofs, reached by a stairway from the yard or court … Those who carried the paralytic … ascended to the roof, removed so much of it as was necessary, and let down their patient through the aperture. Examine one of these houses, and you will see at once that the thing is natural, and easy to be accomplished. The roof is only a few feet high, and by stooping down, and holding the comers of the couch—merely a thickly padded quilt, as at present in this region—they could let down the sick man without any apparatus of ropes or cords to assist them … The whole affair was the extemporaneous device of plain peasants, accustomed to open their roofs, and let down grain, straw, and other articles, as they still do in this country … The materials now employed are beams about three feet apart, across which short sticks are arranged close together, and covered with the thickly matted thorn bush called bellan. Over this is spread a coat of stiff mortar, and then comes the marl or earth that makes the roof. Now, it is easy to remove any part of this without injuring the rest They had merely to scrape back the earth from a portion of the roof over the lewan, take up the thorns and the short sticks, and let down the couch between the beams at the very feet of Jesus. The end achieved, they could speedily restore the roof as it was before. I have the impression, however," Dr. Thomson goes on to say, "that the covering at least of the lewan was not made of earth, but of materials more easily taken up. It may have been merely of coarse matting, like the walls and roofs of Turkman huts; or it may have been made of boards, or even stone slabs (and such I have seen), that could be quickly removed. All that is necessary, however, for us to know is, that the roof was fiat, low, easily reached, and easily opened, so as to let down the couch of the sick man; and all these points are rendered intelligible by an acquaintance with modern houses in the villages of Palestine." The frequency and force with which this portion of the miracle has been assailed must be our apology for quoting the above somewhat long extract.
IV. THE EVIDENCE OF THEIR FAITH. The evangelist Matthew informs us that Jesus saw their faith, but makes no mention of the circumstances just referred to, which arc so fully related by St. Luke, and with such particularity and minuteness of detail by St. Mark. The singularity of the effort which they made to reach the Saviour afforded ocular demonstration of their belief in his power to help and heal. The faith thus manifested was not restricted to the invalid, nor to those that bore him. It was shared by both alike. They would not have engaged in the friendly office unless they had had faith in the probable result, nor would they have undertaken it against the will or wish of the invalid; neither would he have consented to allow himself to be conveyed, as he did, without believing in the power of him from whom he hoped relief.
V. NATURE OF FAITH, AS SEEN IN THIS TRANSACTION, Two things, the exact counterpart of each other, are the love of the Saviour and the faith of the sinner; they exactly and mutually correspond; the latter is the cheerful response to the former. The Saviour is waiting to be gracious; the sinner, in the exercise of faith, is ready to accept that grace. The Saviour offers the much-needed forgiveness; the sinner, by faith, stretches out his hand to receive the boon. The true nature of faith, moreover, is taught us here; it is not merely belief in a dogma, it is dependence on a person; it is not merely belief in a doctrine, it is reliance on a living Saviour; it is thus not only assent to a Divine testimony, it is trust in a Divine person. Accordingly, it is sometimes represented in Scripture as a coming to Christ; sometimes it is the receiving of Christ; again, it is a looking to Christ; also a fleeing to him for refuge. It is exhibited by other figures all of which imply not only implicit belief in what the Scriptures report of Christ, but actual trust in him as being all that Scripture represents him, and willing to do all that Scripture declares him to be able and willing to do.
VI. THE DISEASE AND ITS REMEDY. The sufferer was a paralytic, or rather, as St. Luke with his usual professional accuracy characterizes him more strictly, paralyzed or palsy-stricken (παραλελυμένος). This disease, which assumed a very aggravated form in the East, was attended with great suffering, besides leaving its victim altogether helpless. If leprosy was typical of pollution, and demoniac possession of passion, this form of disease was a type of utter prostration. The mode of cure adopted by our Lord in this case was somewhat unusual. Generally he administered relief to the body before restoring health to the soul; in the case of the paralytic the process is just the converse of this. Whether it was that sinful indulgence or evil excesses of some kind had weakened the nervous system of this man, and left him in this state of pain and prostration; or whether he felt with peculiar keenness the burden of sin pressing on his conscience or whether some expression of penitence, though unrecorded, had escaped his lips; or whether it was only deep contrition of spirit of which our Lord alone was cognizant of whichever of these it was, he first removed the soul disease. The expression, as recorded by St. Luke, is merely "man;" but both St. Matthew and St. Mark report the tenderer word of address, "son" or "child," more on the ground of affection than because of the youth of the sufferer; while St. Matthew alone adds the word of cheering,—(θάρσει), "Be of good cheer "—an expression so calculated to relieve the burthened spirit and ease the aching heart.
VII. GROUND OF ENCOURAGEMENT. But the ground of this encouragement is in the words, "Thy sins are forgiven thee; "not, observe, "be forgiven thee," for ἀφῶνται is not for ἀφέωνται, the aorist subjunctive in a precative sense, but for ἀφεῖνται, perfect indicative in an affirmative sense—have been forgiven thee. The deed, in fact, was done, the blessing was bestowed, the sins of the man were, as the word implies, dismissed—sent away like the sins of Israel on the head of the scapegoat "into a land uninhabited," never again to return or be remembered.
VIII. HOSTILE ON-LOOKERS. In that surging crowd were some cold, unsympathetic hearts; there sat or stood there men who had come, if not as spies, yet through curiosity of a calculating, critical, sceptical kind. Not only had Galilee sent its contingent of such men from every village, but; several had come all the way from the southern province, and even from its capital—an indirect evidence, by the way, of what is directly recorded by St. John of ministerial work carried on in these parts, and of attention roused by it. In the parallel portion of St. Luke where we read that "the power of the Lord was present to heal them (αὐτούς)"—that is, of course, those who sought or needed healing—there is a tolerably well-supported variant which reads the pronoun in the singular αὐτόν after א, B, L, Ξ; the meaning in this case is, "the power of the Lord was in the direction of his healing," or more freely, "the power of the Lord [Jehovah] was present for his [work of] healing."
IX. A SECT AND A PROFESSION. St. Matthew and St. Mark both notice the presence of certain of the scribes. These were originally copyists, but afterwards textual critics, and subsequently expositors of the Law—in fact, the theologians of the nation. St. Luke, however, gives us the additional information that "there were Pharisees and doctors of the Law sitting by." The latter had to do with the Law of the Old Testament, just as the scribes, but in the capacity of jurists. Hence the lawyers and scribes commonly thought to have been identical. No doubt the same person might be both—a theologian and a jurist or ecclesiastical lawyer; while the Pharisees were the formalists—the religious sect that set such store by form and ceremony. The name is derived from parash, to separate, and thus signifies separatists. Now, these parties reasoned the matter out in their own minds (διαλογιζόμενοι), and were not long in coming to a conclusion that Jesus was guilty of a blasphemous assumption of an exclusively Divine attribute.
X. THE INTERPRETATION OF THEIR THOUGHTS. It was, "Why does this fellow thus speak blasphemies?' The "this" is contemptuous, and the" thus" implies" wickedly," or" as we have heard." If, however, we accept the text of the critical editors, Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, as well as that followed by the Revisers, it reads thus: "Why does this man thus speak? he blasphemeth." In the received text the plural denotes intensity, and is equivalent to "all this blasphemy;" or it refers to different expressions which they looked upon as blasphemous. It must be here observed that in Scripture language the word passes from the classical sense of speaking evil of or slandering a fellow-creature to the Hellenistic meaning of speaking impiously of God, or laying claim to a Divine attribute.
XI. DRIFT OF THEIR REASONING. "Who can forgive sins but one, that is, God, or God alone?" Such was the gist of their reasoning; the natural answer, of course, was that, unless in the exercise of delegated authority, or in a declarative sense, the thing transcended human power. God reserves to himself the power of pardon; Jesus, in his own name and by his own authority, claims to bestow forgiveness; therefore he blasphemeth, thus making himself equal to God. Both their premisses were correct and strictly logical; but the conclusion drawn from them was altogether erroneous—the very reverse of the fact. It should rather have been, not "he blasphemeth," arrogating to himself a Divine attribute, but, on the contrary, "he is truly Divine," really possessing Divine power.
XII. HELPS THEM TO THE RIGHT CONCLUSION. Our Lord knew at once and well (ἐπιγνοὺς) in his spirit their secret reasonings; for, though his soul was human, his spirit was Divine; while to the query latent in their minds, he accommodates the question which he addresses to them, as though he said," Ye ask, What right have I to speak thus? I reply, What right have ye to reason thus? Which claim is easier to make—that of forgiving sins, or that of curing palsy?" But the nature of proof in each of the two cases is widely different: in the one case it is obvious, in the other it is obscure; in the one it is patent, in the other latent. But our Lord proceeds to put them in the position of coming to a correct conclusion. He gives them sufficient data to guide them: of what is cognizable by the senses he gives sensible proof; what is spiritual he leaves them to infer. "Up," he says to the paralytic, if we adopt the reading ἔγειρε, approved of by Lachmann and Tischendorf, and to be taken as a particle of excitement, like ἀγε or ἀνα, or auf in German, rather than with σεαυτὸν understood; or "Arise," if we read ἐγείρου, with Tregelles; or "Arise at once," if we adhere to ἔγειραι of the received text, though Fritzsehe affirms that the middle voice signifies "to arouse or raise some one for one's self," while the passive is "to be aroused, raised up," and so "rise." Our Lord then adds, "Take up thy bed", "and go into thy house."
XIII. STRANGE CONTRAST. Immediately the command was obeyed, and the man, who was carried on a bed by four into the Saviour's presence was now raised up and carried his bed on his back in presence of them all. As Bengel has finely expressed it, "Sweet saying! the bed hath borne the man: now the man bore the bed."
XIV. POWER OF FORGIVENESS. Thus our Lord, by this visible, palpable, and undeniable exercise of Divine power in relieving the body, proved that he possessed the power, and not only the power but the legitimate authority (ἐξουσίαν), to restore the soul from the disease of sin.
XV. THIS POWER POSSESSED ON EARTH. Of himself he speaks as the "Son of man." This designation he applies no less than eighty times to himself; but it is only twice or thrice so applied by others, and in each instance of such application his exaltation is implied. He affirms that on earth the Son of man has power to forgive sins, how much more in heaven? In his humiliation, how much more in his exaltation? In his humiliation on earth, how much more in his glorification in heaven?
XVI. GOD GLORIFIED. NO wonder the man himself, as St. Luke tells us, glorified God! And no wonder that the multitude all likewise united with him in giving glory to God; while all, at the same time that they glorified God, expressed their own amazement in one way or other—some (as in St. Matthew) in reference to such power given unto men; others (according to St. Luke) because of the strange things—things beyond expectation (παράδοξα)—they had just seen; and some because they had never seen it on this fashion.—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 9:9-17; Luke 5:27-39.—
Call of Levi, Feasting, and Fasting.
I. THE CALL OF LEVI.
1. Publicans, who were they? The publicans proper, who paid a certain sum contracted for into the public treasury (publicum), were Roman knights, a wealthy class of citizens. These, again, had their agents who sublet, or acted as their owngents in subletting, the collection of the taxes, usually to natives of the country from which the taxes were to be collected. The correct name of these tax-collectors was portitores.
2. Objects of public odium. No class of men was so obnoxious to the Jews. They were looked on as unpatriotic, because they were in the service of a foreign government; they were regarded as irreligious, because they were engaged in an occupation suggestive of subjection to alien rule, and so derogatory to the high position of that people whom God had chosen fur his peculiar possession and honored with special privileges; in addition to all this, they were generally extortioners who by unjust exactions oppressed their countrymen. Thus regarded as traitors to their country and as apostates from the national faith, while at the same time they were exorbitant in their demands on their fellow-citizens, they were not without some reason subjects of odium and obloquy—men who had thus lost caste, both social and religious.
3. St. Matthew originally a publican. To this obnoxious class of men belonged the son of Alphaeus, called Levi by St. Mark and St. Luke, but in the first Gospel named Matthew, which means" gift of Jehovah," nearly the same as Theodore, or Dositheus or Dorotheus, in Greek. That Levi was identical with the evangelist Matthew scarcely admits of any reasonable doubt. Busily employed in this obnoxious trade, he sat one day as usual at the custom-house or place of toll on the shore of the Lake of Gennesaret.
4. His call. Capernaum, now, as we have seen, probably Tell Hum, was then a busy mart of merchandise and a commercial center, whence roads diverged, one to Damascus in the north-east; a second to Tyre in the north-west on the Mediterranean seaboard; a third ran southward to Jerusalem, the capital of the country; while a fourth led to Sepphoris or Dio-Caesarea, the Roman capital of the province. It was exactly the kind of place where one would expect to find a custom-house for collecting the tolls of the lake, harbour dues, and duties on exports and imports, or other taxes. As our Lord went past, he fixed his eyes on (St. Luke, ἐθεάσατο, equivalent to observed) the tax-gatherer, who sat as usual at his post, not slothful in his business such as it was, and addressed to him the plain, direct invitation, "Follow me." Strange to say, that simple utterance had more than magic effect on this once unscrupulous, perhaps hardened custom-house officer. We are far from affirming that this was the first time that Levi had come in contact with Jesus. Gospel light had shined through all that once dark district; there can be little doubt that he had heard some of his discourses and listened to the gracious words that so often fell from his lips, or he had witnessed some of those works of wonder which he performed. Perhaps he had mingled in that crowd of the Capernaumites, which St. Mark reports in the preceding section of his Gospel, and had been a silent spectator when the poor paralytic had been so benefited and blessed in both body and soul.
5. His love to Jesus. Be this as it may, he, at all events, immediately accepted the invitation, and without demur or delay rose up at once—left all, as St. Luke tells us—and followed Jesus. Nor was this all; he shows his love to Jesus in another way—by an entertainment given in his honor. He made a great feast in his own house, as St. Luke further informs us. From this circumstance we naturally infer that his means were respectable; that, if not very wealthy, he was at least in comfortable circumstances; that by consequence the sacrifice he made for the Master was very considerable, and that his attachment was proportionately great.
6. Further object of Levi's feast. This complimentary feast to the Saviour was at the same time a farewell feast to his former associates, and a feast, moreover, by which he brought them into close contact with all that was spiritually good, in hope, no doubt, that they too might share the benefit and enjoy some measure of the same blessing which he himself had received.
7. His humility. Besides the self-sacrificing generosity of Levi who, no doubt, assumed the name of Matthew on his conversion, and his love to the Saviour as also to the souls of his brethren, he manifests a beautiful humility and an entire absence of ostentation. Acting on this principle, "Let another praise thee and not thine own lips," he makes no mention of the feast, more especially of the fact that it was himself, in his own house (so St. Luke), that gave at his own expense this great feast or reception (δοχὴν μεγάλην), as St. Luke terms it; while in the list of the names of the twelve apostles St. Mattthew alone, in his Gospel, speaks of himself as the publican.
8. A seeming tautology. In the fifteenth verse of this second chapter there appears to be a redundancy, for first we read that many publicans and sinners sat at meat, or reclined (συνανέκειντο), with Jesus and his disciples; and then it is added, "for there were many, and they followed him." This seeming tautology is partially avoided by' the reading οἵ καί of codex D, or by the rendering qui of the Italic and Vulgate; while some understand the first part of the clause as a justification of the former statement about "many publicans and sinners," and a further affirmation of its being literally and exactly true, the expression "followed" being joined, as is done by some editors, to the next verse, that is, "And there followed him also scribes and Pharisees." These expedients are unnecessary, for if we take ἦσαν in the sense of παρἦσαν, which it sometimes has, the words assign an appropriate reason, or account properly for the large number referred to; thus, "Many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples, for many were present [i.e. in Levi's house], and had followed Jesus [viz. thither]."
9. Exception taken to such company. "How is it that he eateth with publicans and sinners?" rather," Why is it that he consorts with such?" the full expression being τί ἐστιν ὅτι, or τί γέγονεν ὅτι as in John 14:22. This complaint was addressed to the disciples, as though these separatists and sectaries still stood in salutary awe of the Master himself; but Jesus heard or overheard it, if the reading παρακούσας be admissible, and made reply by the aphorism, "They that are whole or strong," according to St. Matthew and St. Mark, but more precisely and perhaps professionally, according to St. Luke, "in sound health (ὐγιαίνοντες)" "have no need of the physician." He then applies the maxim to the particular case before him in the words, "I came not to call righteous [persons] but sinners to repentance."
10. The objects of the Saviour's mission. Theophylact understands by" the righteous" here those who think or speak of themselves as righteous, and imagines that our Lord terms them so by way of irony (κατ εἰρωνείαν). This explanation of Theophylact, and others who hold with him, that by "righteous" in this passage are meant those who think themselves righteous, who are so in their own estimation, presents only one aspect of the matter. While there are many degrees in unrighteousness, self-righteousness is but one of those degrees, and, as such, is not a characteristic of the class, viz. the righteous which our Lord excludes from the objects of his mission. The meaning is rather that, as there is none by nature righteous—none righteous till made so by the Saviour himself, none really and perfectly righteous—the unrighteous (and all in their natural state are such, notwithstanding certain differences in degree); the sinful (and all belong to this category, for all have sinned though in varying grades)—these are the very objects of his search and saving power. In a word, the morally unhealthy are those on whom the skill of the great Physician needs to be exercised, and who most require its exercise. Those that are such and feel themselves to be such are just the persons contemplated in his mission, and to whom on his errand of mercy he comes and calls.
11. The Saviour's proper place. Instead, then, of going out of his way, or his presence being found in the wrong place, our Lord, in consorting with publicans and sinners—sinners the vilest and the worst, as the objectors at least esteemed them—was just among those lost ones whom he came to seek and save, those sorely diseased ones whom he meant to restore to spiritual health and moral vigor. As in a hospital or lazar-house the physician's work is most abundant, so among such moral lazars the great Physician found the widest field of operation. We may not forget, however, that it is with much caution and certain restrictions that any mere man can so have intercourse with the degraded of his species; but Jesus, the God-man, ran no risk of moral taint, or of compromising character by associating freely and fully with such.
1. Fasting. In the former case just considered, the objectors shrank from directly assailing our Lord; they only took the disciples to task. Now, however, they have waxed bolder, and they attack the Master himself. The disciples of John imbibed the ascetic spirit of their master, who came neither eating nor drinking; the Pharisees, in addition to the one great annual fast appointed to be held on the Day of Atonement, and the four annual fasts observed after the Exile and enumerated by Zechariah 8:18 as "the fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth" (held in the same month, and probably the same as that on the Day of Atonement), observed also the two weekly fasts which superstition or will-worship had superadded, namely, Thursday, the day on which, as was alleged, Moses reascended the mount, and Monday, on which he returned. Holding a common principle, the disciples of John and the Pharisees make common cause, and question our Lord about the laxity of his disciples in this regard—not fasting, while they themselves were so strict in such observances.
2. The true nature of fasting. This is made manifest by our Lord's reply. Nor do we find any new doctrine here; it is the restatement of an old truth or rather principle. As rending the garments was a token of grief, so fasting was at once an effect and evidence of grief. But if the reality were absent, the former was meaningless and the latter hypocritical; hence the prophet warned his countrymen to rend their hearts and not their garments, and turn truly unto the Lord. So here the disciples of Jesus had not as yet any cause of grief. Why, then, indulge in empty pretense, employing the sign when the thing signified was absent, and when, in fact, no occasion existed for either, and when from the time and the circumstances both were uncalled for?
3. Allusion to an ancient custom. John the Baptist had spoken (Joh 2:1-25 :29) of Jesus as the Church's Bridegroom; our Lord accepts the name John thus gave him, and adopts the figure, identifying himself with the bridegroom. In "the children of the bridechamber" we have an expression of Hebraistic impress, and equivalent to the more classical παράνυμφοι or νυμφαγωγοί, who were the friends of the bridegroom—the groomsmen—and who sat or went beside him to fetch the bride, and conduct her from her home, with merry music, gay procession, bright torches, and festive joy, to the house of her husband. Thus we read, in Judges 14:10, Judges 14:11, "So his father went down unto the woman: and Samson made there a feast; for so used the young men to do. And it came to pass, when they saw him, that they brought thirty companions to be with him." The allusion makes the meaning manifest. "Can," asks our Lord by a particle (μὴ) which usually implies a negative answer, "the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them?" The answer was obvious. The presence of the bridegroom made it a time of feasting instead of fasting—of joy and not of grief; and so he returns answer to himself, "As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast." Here the ancient Syriac Version omits this clause altogether, and substitutes for it the bare negative "no," as our Lord's reply to his own question.
4. Our Lord's first intimation of his sufferings. Yet he points to a time suited to fasting, and we can well imagine how a cloud shaded his benignant brow as he pronounced the darkly ominous words: "But," he says, "days shall come, yea, days when" (such is the import of the καὶ ὅταν of St. Luke) the bridegroom shall be taken away from them; then will they fast in those days." The Revised Version renders perhaps more simply, though somewhat less significantly, we think, as follows:—"But the days will come; and when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, then will they fast in those days." This is the first public intimation which our Lord gives, of his future sufferings and death. He had indeed enigmatically hinted it to the Jewish rulers in the words, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19); and he had dimly alluded to it in his private conversation with Nicodemus in the words, "Even so must the Son of man be lifted up" (John 3:14). When that gloomy prospect should be realized, then it would be a time of real grief and consequently a suitable season for fasting.
5. Maxim teaching the avoidance of things incongruous. Our Lord takes occasion, from the notion of persons indulging sorrow when the occasion was festive and joyous, to enunciate a maxim of deep import and great significance, as also of far-reaching tendency and manifold applications. The new patch on an old garment is a sample of incongruity. The words in St. Mark read thus: "No man also seweth a piece of unfulled cloth on an old garment: else the new patch [or new piece that filled it up] taketh away something from the old, and the rent becomes worse;" or the second clause may be rendered as follows: "Else the patch [or piece that filled up] takes away the new from the old." Also in the Gospel of St. Luke the words as commonly read are, "No man putteth a piece of new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then beth the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taker, out of the new agreeth not with the old;" or if the reading (σχίσας) of א, A, B, D, L, Ξ, and the Syriac be adopted, the rendering may be, "No man having rent a piece from a new garment putteth it upon an old; if otherwise, he will both rend the new garment [i.e. by taking the ἐπίβλημα, or patch, out of it] and the piece from the new garment will not agree with the old." The word "unfulled," used by St. Mark, makes the meaning plainer, and implies that the unfulled patch, from its nature being stronger or more liable to shrink, works the mischief.
6. Ill effects of such incongruity. The following ill effects are produced:—
(1) The new garment is marred and rendered incomplete;
(2) the old is not made better, but worse, the rent becoming larger;
(3) the entire want of suitability or consistency; in other words, obvious unseemliness, as well as unsuitability. The Latins called a man "inept" (ineptus) who neglected what time, place, or circumstances demanded. Even a thing which may be proper enough in itself, if done out of season, is spoiled. On the contrary, everything that God makes is beautiful in its season; and everything that man does should aim at and imitate the same. Thus is it also when the proper requirements of place, and those of circumstances, are neglected.
7. Variety of applications. This parable or proverbial representation is capable of a great variety of applications, all showing the necessity of duly attending to the fitness of things and the exceedingly inconvenient consequences sure to result from the opposite course.
(1) The old dispensation and the new may not be mixed up together. Though they were one in essence, and though one vital principle pervaded them, yet the externals differed—the outward forms were distinct.
(2) The gospel was never meant to be used as a patch on the old threadbare garment of the Law. The old economy was not to be repaired in this way; it had to be renovated. The legal dispensation was not to be patched up with gospel grace. Christianity was never intended to be a patched-up Judaism; the old had served its day and died, the new came in to take its place. Nor is the new Christian life of individuals a purple patch here and there upon the old.
(3) More directly still to the present instance, the young life of new discipleship was not to be forced into conjunction and so crushed into conformity with Pharisaic asceticism, nor was their moral freedom to be hampered by such unnatural and unwelcome restrictions.
8. A close connection. Again, as the incompatibility of fasting with a time of feasting, of sorrow with a season of gladness, is exhibited by the comparison of a wedding feast, the wedding feast naturally suggested the wedding garment, and again, by a similar association of ideas, the wine in use at a wedding. Thus, too, the garment as an outer garb refers to externals, and the wine to something internal; so the principles of true freedom infused by the gospel must burst through the narrowness of mere ceremonial swathing-bands.—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 12:1-8; Luke 6:1-5.—
I. WORSHIP, NOT AMUSEMENT, SUITS THE SABBATH. The common heading of this section in the Gospels is, "The disciples pluck the ears of corn on the sabbath day," On this occasion our Lord and his disciples were out walking on the sabbath; but they were not walking for pleasure or even for health. They were on their way to the house of God, as we learn from the parallel passage in St. Matthew, where we read that "when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue." The two main ideas associated with the sabbath are rest and worship; the former held the first place in the old dispensation, the latter the second. In the gospel dispensation their position seems reversed; for, while never sundered and never to be separated, worship comes more to the front, holding a primary, while rest holds a secondary place. On the sabbath our Lord and his disciples attended the usual place of Jewish worship; on the sabbath the apostles, after our Lord's death and resurrection, met for the service of God; on the sabbath, thenceforth the first day of the week, the Holy Spirit descended in Pentecostal power and plenty, while by means of St. Peter's sermon three thousand were converted that same day; on the sabbath the primitive Christians, taught by apostles and following apostolic example, met together to break bread, to read God's holy Word, or hear it preached, as also for prayer and praise, and to contribute for the necessities of the saints. Refreshment for the spirit and rest for the body went hand in hand; but worldly amusement found no place on the sabbath, and worldly pleasure formed no part of its service.
II. WORKS OF NECESSITY ALLOWABLE ON THE SABBATH. Stretches of corn-land abound in the fertile plain of Gennesaret. A pathway frequently ran through these unfenced fields, and on these pathways seed often fell and grain grew, as was the case with the wayside in the parable of the sower. Our Lord was passing by one of these, through the fields of corn (literally, sown places), alongside the grain. The disciples were "plucking and eating," as St. Matthew tells us, or, as St. Mark more graphically describes it, they "made a way" for themselves by plucking the stalks that had sprung up on what had previously been a path, and being an hungred, that is, in a state of hunger—for St. Matthew adds this important fact of their being hungry (ἐπείνασαν) "they began to rub the ears of corn in their hand," as St. Luke informs us, and thus sought to appease the cravings of appetite. This was, of course, a work of necessity, and of urgent necessity, on the part of these hungry men. They had, however, only begun this operation (ἤρξαντο), when the Pharisees rudely checked them, administering the sharp rebuke recorded in this passage.
III. AS EXEGETICAL CONSIDERATION. The common English Version requires to make two assumptions in behoof of its rendering:
1. That ὁδὸν ποιεῖν is the same as ὁδὸν ποιεῖσθαι, though the former in reality is to make a path "viam sternere vel munire—einen Weg machen," as Fritzsche expresses it; while the latter is to go on one's way iter facere or progrcdi, which is the rendering of the Vulgate.
2. That the chief force here, as occasionally elsewhere, lies in the participle. In this way is reached
(1) the usual free rendering, "His disciples began as they went to pluck the ears of corn;" but
(2) the more correct translation is certainly that which is insisted on by the most accurate scholars, such as Fritzsche and Meyer, namely, "His disciples began to make a path [-or way] plucking the ears." Though the Revised Version follows the ordinary rendering, it gives, in a note on this passage, an approximation to what we consider the right rendering, viz. "began to make their way plucking."
IV. THE RIGOROUS SABBATARIANISM OF THE PHARISEES. The question of the Pharisees is explained, or indeed translated, by some
(1) as signifying, "Lo, what are they doing on the sabbath? That which is not lawful;" while by others it is rendered
(2) "Lo, why are they doing on the sabbath what is not lawful?" In neither case can it properly mean that the thing was unlawful in itself, and still more unlawful because of its being done on the sabbath day. The superstitious sabbatarianism of the Pharisees suggests the real gist of the question. The action in itself was perfectly allowable, according to the Law as it stands written in Deuteronomy 23:25, "When thou comest into the standing corn of thy neighbor, then thou mayest pluck the ears with thine hand." The Pharisees, guided by oral tradition, interpreted the law of the sabbath so rigorously as to identify the plucking, of the ears with reaping, and the rubbing of them in their hands with thrashing, so that the Law, as they explained it, was violated by both operations.
V. SABBATH DESECRATION FALSELY LAID TO THE CHARGE OF THE DISCIPLES. Our Lord undertakes the vindication of his disciples; he justifies their conduct by reminding their accusers of an incident in the life of David, when ceremonial observance yielded to moral necessity, and positive precept to the requirements of mercy. The occasion was that on which David found himself at Nob, a sacerdotal town to the north-east and within sight of Jerusalem, in a state of destitution—"he had need" (χρείαν ἔσχε), such is the general statement; and ready to perish with hunger—"was an hungred" (ἐπείνασεν), this is the particular specification. The "bread of the face" or presence, according to the Hebrew, or "the loaves of proposition," as rendered by the Vulgate, were twelve loaves—one for each tribe, placed in the presence of Jehovah as a symbol of the people's dependence on their heavenly Father for daily bread. None was permitted the use of these loaves but the priests; they were their perquisite. This rigid rule was relaxed in favor of David; and not only of David, whose eminence might be thought such as to entitle him to greater consideration, and sufficient to make his case exceptional, but in favor of those who were with him. Our Lord adduces this instance of violating the letter of the Law, asking the Pharisees, according to a formula of their own, but with scornful irony, or rather in a tone of severe reproof, "Did ye never read?" or, as it is expressed in St. Luke, "Did ye not even read this? "—ye who are such sticklers for the Law and adepts in Scripture knowledge.
VI. SOLUTION OF A DIFFICULTY. The name of Abiathar instead of Ahimelech has given trouble. Of the many attempted solutions, such as in the presence of Abiathar, afterwards high priest, for it was Ahimelech, father of Abiathar, who really gave the shewbread to David and his men; or that he had both names; or that the deed was done by Ahimclech in the pontificate of Abiathar his son, as Theophylact explains it; or in the section or paragraph of Abiathar the high priest; or that the insertion of the article distinguishes the lifetime from the pontificate of Abiathar, according to Middleton;—of all these it must be said that they either involve error or have the appearance of mere shifts or evasions. Of them all, Middleton's is perhaps best known, and has been adopted by not a few critical scholars. Thus, in the first edition of Scrivener's 'Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament,' we find the following statement:—"In Mark 2:26, ἐπὶ ἈΒ. ἀρχ, 'in the time that Abiathar was high priest,' would be historically incorrect; while ἐπὶ ἈΒ. τοῦ ἀρχ, 'in the days of Abiathar the high priest,' is suitable enough." But this insertion of the article is a matter of dispute, for though it is found in four respectable uncials, including A and C, as also in the following cursives:—1, 33, and 69, of which 33 is known as the "Queen of the cursives;" yet it is absent in this place from א, B, L, and many other uncials, and is rejected by most of the critical editors. We cannot, therefore, build an argument on it. We are inclined to Fritzsche's opinion, that the real removal of the difficulty appears to be effected by the position of the words ἐπὶ ἈΒ. ἀρχ, which implies that the transaction took place in the time of Abiathar, afterwards high priest; while ἐπὶ ἀρχ ἈΒ. would restrict the occurrence to the actual time of his priesthood, though it is admitted that with a participle, as ἄρχοντος or βασιλεύοντος, for example, the position does not thus alter the sense. For the mention of Abiathar instead of Ahimclech several reasons might be assigned. He was more celebrated than his father, as also better known to the readers of Old Testament Scripture; besides, the mention of him as being present, and a consenting party to the transaction, would be calculated to obviate the possible retort which the Pharisees might otherwise make, namely, that Ahimelech paid the penalty of his profanation by his being slain.
VII. THE CHARGE OF SABBATH-BREAKING BY THE DISCIPLES FURTHER REFUTED. Additional arguments are found in the Gospel of St. Matthew to disprove the charge of sabbath profanation, which these narrow, bigoted Pharisees' urged against the disciples. The rather labourious service of the priests on the sabbath, in sacrificing, removing the shewbread, and other duties, was an apparent profanation of the sabbath; but in their case the Law was relaxed, or rather the principle of God's love to man, which lay at the foundation of the Law, and was the animating spirit of the Law, took precedence of the letter. He taxes them with culpable and disgraceful, if not wilful, ignorance of such a plain Scripture as "I will have mercy and not sacrifice." If, then, the necessity of David and his men prevailed over the letter of the Law; if the sabbath services of the priests made sabbath labour to some extent a duty; and if the claim of mercy be prior to and higher than that of sacrifice, our Lord claims exemption for his hungry disciples from the unbending rigour of the Law, or rather from the harsh, superstitious misinterpretation of it by those cold, heartless, cavilling, censorious Pharisees.
VIII. THE SABBATH DESIGNED TO BE SUBSERVIENT TO MAN. Our Lord proceeds to take higher ground. The sabbath was made for the sake of man, Gentile as well as Jew; it originated for his benefit; it is only the means to an end, and man's interests are that end; it owes its existence to man, and has the reason of its existence in man. It is a memorial of his creation, a remembrancer of his redemption, and a foretaste as well as pledge of his future and everlasting rest. It is most valuable in its essential nature and right use; but if the circumstantial come into collision with the essential, or the ceremonial conflict with the moral, in either case the former, in the very nature of things, is bound to give place.
IX. THE SON OF MAN'S LORDSHIP WITH RESPECT TO THE SABBATH. The Son of man here mentioned is, in spite of all rationalistic quibbling, the Saviour, and he is Lord of the sabbath. In St. Mark and St. Luke καὶ stands before "sabbath;" it is likewise inserted in St. Matthew by some, but excluded by others. It may mean even or also. In the first of these two significations it implies that much as they valued the ordinance of the sabbath above all the other commandments of the Decalogue, and superstitious as was the veneration with which they regarded it, the Son of man was Lord even of the sabbath; and so he could make it elastic as the exigencies of any particular case might require; he could modify it according to any special emergency; he could determine the mode of its observance between the two limits of man's benefit on the one hand, and the Law's behest on the other. But if we take the meaning of the copulative to be also, then it signifies that, amid and in addition to his other lordships, the Son of man possesses this also—that he is Lord of the sabbath day. He is Lord of angels, for they worship him; he is the Lord from heaven, and all its hosts do acknowledge him; he is Lord of earth, for by him it was made, and through him it is upheld; he is the Lord of all creation, for he is the firstborn of every creature, that in all things he should have the pre-eminence; "he is Lord also of the sabbath." He vindicates his law from the lax observance of the worldling or pleasure-seeker on the one hand, and from the narrowness of Pharisaic superstition on the other. He manifests its true nature for the rest and refreshment—the physical, mental, moral, and spiritual blessing of mankind.
X. THE PERPETUAL OBLIGATION OF THE SABBATH. In proof of its perpetual obligation we may refer to its Divine appointment, so long prior to the division of Adam's family into the two great sections of Jew and Gentile—before the call of Abram and the existence of the Jewish nation; before the promulgation of the Law from Sinai and the establishment of the Jewish polity. We may trace the proof of its observance in the division of time into weeks among almost all nations and from the remotest antiquity; in certain incidental notices afforded by the history of the period between creation and the publishing of the Law; in the miraculous supply of a double portion of manna, which, even before the latter event, Israel received on the sixth day as a provision for the seventh; in the note of memory prefixed, implying at once its appointment and observance before the giving of the Law, and intimating not a new enactment merely national in its range, but the republication to a particular nation of an old one, that from the beginning had been binding on all. The latitude of its extent to the Gentile stranger, as well as to the Jew, may be argued from the terms of the command itself, "Nor the stranger that is within thy gates." Some importance, too, may be attached to its central position in the Decalogue, linking together the duties we owe our Father in heaven, and those which we owe our brother man on earth; while it blends, moreover, the joint memorials of creation and Calvary, and combines at the same time the creature's comfort and the Creator's glory in the words, "To you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the Lord." We must have in recollection, besides, that it was written, as well as the other precepts of the moral law, by the finger of God on the stone tablet, in token, it would seem, of its durability. Further, we may observe the tense of the verb used in the last verse of this chapter, viz. "the Son of man is"—that is, continues—"Lord of the sabbath;" consequently Lord, not of an obsolete or decaying ordinance, but of a present, ever-abiding institution. Thus, indeed, it appears that "the sabbath was made for man," for the species, coeval and coextensive with the race—"for man," as has been well observed, "from the beginning; for man till the end; for man generally, at all times, in all countries, and under all circumstances." And when, we may ask, or where, or how was this original sabbath law either repealed or relaxed?—J.J.G.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Mark 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27