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Ch. 7:1 10. Healing of the Centurion’s Servant
1 . in the audience ] i. e. in the hearing .
he entered into Capernaum ] See Matthew 8:5-13 . This was now His temporary home. The incident occurred as He was entering the town.
2 . a certain centurion’s servant ] Literally, “ slave .” The word used by St Matthew ( pais ) might mean son, but is clearly also used for servant (like the Latin puer ). A centurion is a captains under him is a sergeant ( dekadarch ), and above him a colonel ( chiliarch ), and general ( hegemōn ). Jos. B. J. v. 12, § 2. All the centurions in the N. T. are favourably mentioned (23:47; Acts 27:43 ).
dear ] Rather, precious . The love of the captain for his servant was a good example for the Jews themselves, who in the Talmud forbade mourning for slaves.
sick ] St Matthew says, “stricken with paralysis, and in terrible pain” (8:6). St Luke, as a physician, may have omitted this specification because the description applies rather to tetanus than to the strict use of “ paralysis .”
ready to die ] Rather, was on the point of death .
3 . when he heard of Jesus ] Rather, having heard about Jesus .
he sent unto him the elders ] Rather, elders ( Zekānim ), with no article. These ‘elders’ were doubtless some of the ten functionaries, whom the Jews also called Parnasim , ‘shepherds.’ Their functions were not in any respect sacerdotal.
4 . instantly ] i. e. urgently, as in the phrase “continuing instant in prayer.”
5 . he loveth our nation ] This shews that the centurion was a Gentile, probably a proselyte of the gate (though the term was invented later), i. e. one of those who embraced Judaism on the whole, but without becoming a ‘proselyte of righteousness’ by accepting circumcision. It is not impossible that he may have been a Roman, though there is no direct proof that Romans ever held such offices under Herod Antipas. More probably he was some Greek or Syrian, holding a commission under the tetrarch.
he hath built us a synagogue ] Rather, our Synagogue he himself built for us . The expression, “the synagogue,” does not necessarily imply that there was only one synagogue in Capernaum, but only that he had built the one from which this deputation came, which was probably the chief synagogue of Capernaum. If Capernaum be Tel Hum (as I became convinced on the spot itself), then the ruins of it shew that it probably possessed two synagogues; and this we should have conjectured beforehand, seeing that Jerusalem is said to have had 400. The walls of one of these, built of white marble, are of the age of the Herods, and stand just above the lake. It may be the very building here referred to. This liberality on the part of the Gentiles was by no means unfrequent. Wealthy Gentile proselytes not seldom sent splendid gifts to the Temple itself. The Ptolemies, Jos. Antt. xii. 2, § 5; Sosius, id. xiv. 16, § 4; Fulvia, id. xviii. 3, § 5, &c. See on 21:5.
6 . when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him ] Here the narrative of St Luke is much more detailed, and therefore probably more exact, than that of St Matthew, who represents the conversation as taking place between our Lord and the centurion himself. We see from St Luke that he had been prevented from coming in person by deep humility, and the belief that the elders would be more likely to win the boon for him. Meanwhile, he probably stayed by the bedside of his dying slave. St Matthew’s narrative is framed on the simple and common principle, qui facit per alium facit per se .
Lord ] The word in itself may mean no more than “Sir,” as in John 4:19 , John 4:12 :21; Acts 16:30 , &c. It was, in fact, like the Latin dominus , an ordinary mode of address to persons whose names were unknown (Sen., Ephesians 3:0; Ephesians 3:0 ); but the centurion’s entire conduct shews that on his lips the word would have a more exalted significance. In a special sense Κύριος is a name for God ( Adonai ) and Jehovah (1 Thessalonians 5:2 , &c.).
trouble not thyself ] The word skullo (Matthew 9:30 ) would in classical Greek be a slang word. ‘Bother not,’ or ‘worry not thyself.’ But in Hellenistic Greek, both slang words ( hupopiazo , 18:5; katanarkao , 2 Corinthians 12:13 ) and purely poetic words (see 2:35) had become current in ordinary senses.
under my roof ] The emphasis is on the my , as is shewn by its position in the Greek. “I am not worthy” Dicendo se indignum praestitit dignum non in cujus parietes sed in cujus cor Christus intraret . Aug.
7 . say in a word ] The centurion had clearly heard how Jesus, by His mere fiat , had healed the son of the ‘courtier’ at Capernaum (John 4:46-54 ). The attempt to make these two miracles identical is to the last degree arbitrary and untenable.
my servant ] The centurion here uses the more tender word, pais , ‘son.’
shall be healed ] Perhaps the better reading is let him be healed . The faith of the centurion was “an invisible highway for the saving eagles of the great Imperator.” Lange.
8 . For I also ] This assigns the reason why he made the request. He was but a subordinate himself, “under authority” of his chiliarch and other officers, and yet he had soldiers under him as well as a servant, who at a word executed his orders. He inferred that Jesus, who had the power of healing at a distance, had at His command thousands of the “Heavenly Army” (2:13; Matthew 26:53 ) who would
“at His bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest.”
9 . he marvelled at him ] The only other place where the astonishment of Jesus is recorded is astonishment at unbelief . Mark 6:6 .
I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel ] Rather, Not even in Israel found I so great faith . These words are preserved with similar exactness in St Matthew. “He had found,” says St Augustine, “in the oleaster what He had not found in the olive.” Nothing can be more clear than that neither Evangelist had seen the narrative of the other, and, since St Matthew is the less exact, we infer that both Evangelists in this instance drew from some cycle of oral or written apostolic teaching. The words added by St Matthew (8:11, 12) are given by St Luke in another connexion (13:28 sq.).
10 . found the servant whole ] Rather, convalescent , a medical word which is found also in 15:27 (and in a metaphorical sense in Titus 1:13 ; 1 Timothy 1:10 , 1 Timothy 1:6 :3; 2 Timothy 1:13 , 2 Timothy 4:3 ).
that had been sick ] These words should probably be omitted.
11 17. The raising of the Son of the Widow of Nain
11 . the day after ] If the reading τῇ be right we must understand ἡμέρᾳ , ‘day.’ Some MSS. (A, B, L, &c.) read τῷ , which would give a wider limit of time. St Luke alone, with his characteristic tenderness, preserves for us this narrative.
into a city called Nain ] In the tribe of Issachar. The name means ‘lovely,’ and it deserves the name from its site on the north-west slope of Jebel el Duhy, or Little Hermon, not far from Endor, and full in view of Tabor and the hills of Zebulon. It is twenty-five miles from Capernaum, and our Lord, starting in the cool of the very early morning, as Orientals always do, would reach it before noon. It is now a squalid and wretched village still bearing the name of Nein.
many of his disciples went with him, and much people ] More literally, ‘there were accompanying Him His disciples, in considerable numbers, and a large multitude.’ In this first year of His ministry, before the deadly opposition to Him had gathered head, while as yet the Pharisees and leaders had not come to an open rupture with Him, and He had not sifted His followers by ‘hard sayings,’ our Lord was usually accompanied by adoring crowds.
12 . came nigh to the gate ] All ordinary Jewish funerals are extramural. Nain is approached by a narrow rocky path, and it must have been at this spot that the two processions met. They were perhaps going to bury the dead youth in one of the rock-hewn sepulchres which are still visible on the hill side.
the only son of his mother ] See on 8:42, 9:38.
much people of the city ] Compare the public sympathy for the family of Bethany (John 11:19 ); and on the bitterness of mourning for an only child, see Jeremiah 6:26 ; Zechariah 12:10 ; Amos 8:10 .
13 . when the Lord saw her ] “The Lord” is far more frequent as a title of Jesus in St Luke (7:31, 10:1, 11:1, 12:42, 17:5, 6, 19:8, 22:61) than in the other Evangelists except St John. The fact is a sign of the spread of Christian faith. Even though St Luke’s Gospel may not have been published more than a year or two after St Matthew’s, yet St Luke belongs so to speak to a later generation of disciples.
he had compassion on her ] Jesus, who was always touched by the sight of human agony (Mark 7:34 , Mark 8:12 ), seems to have felt a peculiar compassion for the anguish of bereavement (John 11:33-37 ). The fact that this youth was “the only son of his mother and she a widow” would convey to Jewish notions a deeper sorrow than it even does to ours, for they regarded childlessness as a special calamity, and the loss of offspring as a direct punishment for sin (Jeremiah 6:26 ; Zechariah 12:10 ; Amos 8:10 ).
weep not ] Rather, Be not weeping , i. e. ‘dry thy tears.’
14 . touched the bier ] Rather, ‘the coffin.’ Here again, as in the case of the leper (v. 12), our Lord sacrificed the mere Levitical ceremonialism, with its rules about uncleanness, to a higher law. Jewish coffins were open, so that the form of the dead was visible.
Arise ] Probably the single monosyllable Kûm ! Compare 8:54; John 11:43 ; Acts 9:40 . How unlike the passionate tentative struggles of Elijah (1 Kings 17:21 ) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:35 )!
16 . a great prophet ] The expectation of the return of Elijah, Jeremiah, or “one of tie Prophets” was at that time widely spread. See on 9:8, 19.
God hath visited his people ] Compare 1:68; John 3:2 .
17 . throughout all Judœa ] The notion that St Luke therefore supposed Nain to be in Judæa is quite groundless. He means that the story of the incident at Nain spread even into Judæa.
18 35. The Message from the Baptist
19 . John calling unto him two of his disciples ] The Baptist was now in prison (Matthew 11:2-6 ), but was not precluded from intercourse with his friends.
to Jesus ] The reading of B and some other Uncials is “to the Lord.”
Art thou he that should come? or look we for another ?] Rather, Art thou the coming [Messiah], or are we to expect another ? “The Coming (One)” is a technical Hebrew term for the Messiah ( Habba ). This brief remarkable message is identical with that in St Matthew, except that St Luke uses allon (‘another’) and St Matthew heteron (‘a second,’ or ‘different one’). Probably however there is no significance in this variation, since the accurate classical meaning of heteros was partly obliterated. Probably too the messengers spoke in Aramaic. “ The coming ” is clearer in St Matthew, because he has just told us that John heard in prison the works of “ the Christ ,” i. e. of the Messiah. Those who are shocked with the notion that the faith of the Baptist should even for a moment have wavered, suppose that (1) St John merely meant to suggest that surely the time had now come for the Messiah to reveal himself as the Messiah , and that his question was one rather of ‘increasing impatience’ than of ‘secret unbelief;’ or (2) that the message was sent solely to reassure John’s own disciples; or (3) that, as St Matthew here uses the phrase “the works of the Messiah ” and not “of Jesus,” the Baptist only meant to ask ‘Art thou the same person as the Jesus to whom I bore testimony?’ These suppositions are excluded, not only by the tenor of the narrative but directly by vs. 23; (Matthew 11:6 ). Scripture never presents the saints as ideally faultless, and therefore with holy truthfulness never conceals any sign of their imperfection or weakness. Nothing is more natural than that the Great Baptist to whom had been granted but a partial revelation should have felt deep anguish at the calm and noiseless advance of a Kingdom for which, in his theocratic and Messianic hopes, he had imagined a very different proclamation. Doubtless too his faith like that of Elijah (1 K. 19:4), of Job in his trials (Job 3:1 ), and of Jeremiah in prison (Jeremiah 20:7 ), might be for a moment drowned by the tragic briefness, and disastrous eclipse of his own career; and he might hope to alleviate by this message the anguish which he felt when he contrasted the joyous brightness of our Lord’s Galilean ministry with the unalleviated gloom of his own fortress-prison among the black rocks at Makor. ‘If Jesus be indeed the promised Messiah,’ he may have thought, ‘why am I, His Forerunner, suffered to languish undelivered, the victim of a wicked tyrant?’ The Baptist was but one of those many glorious saints whose careers God, in His mysterious Providence, has suffered to end in disaster and eclipse that He may shew us how small is the importance which we must attach to the judgment of men, or the rewards of earth. “We fools accounted his life madness, and his end to be without honour: how is he numbered among the children of God, and his lot is among the saints!” Wisd. 5:20. We may be quite sure that “in the fiery furnace God walked with His servant so that his spirit was not harmed, and having thus annealed his nature to the utmost that this earth can do, He took him hastily away and placed him among the glorified in Heaven.” Irving.
20 . John Baptist ] Rather, The Baptist .
21 . in that same hour ] Omit ‘same,’ which has no equivalent in the Greek.
plagues ] Literally, “ scourges .”
22 . what things ye have seen ] Our Lord wished His answer to be the announcement of facts not the explanation of difficulties. His enumeration of the miracles involves an obvious reference to Isaiah 29:18 , Isaiah 35:4-6 , Isaiah 60:1-3 (see 4:17 19), which would be instantly caught by one so familiar with the language of “the Evangelical Prophet” as the Baptist had shewn himself to be.
to the poor the Gospel is preached ] Thus the spiritual miracle is placed as the most convincing climax. The arrogant ignorance and hard theology of the Rabbis treated all the poor as mere peasants and nobodies. The Talmud is full of the two contemptuous names applied to them ‘people of the earth’ and ‘laics;’ and one of the charges brought against the Pharisees by our Lord was their attempt to secure the monopoly of knowledge, 11:52.
23 . shall not be offended ] i. e. caused to stumble. For instances of the stumbling-block which some made for themselves of incidents in our Lord’s career, see Matthew 13:55-57 , Matthew 13:22 :42; John 6:60 , John 6:66 ; and compare Isaiah 8:14 , Isaiah 8:15 ; 1 Corinthians 1:23 , 1 Corinthians 1:2 :14; 1 Peter 2:7 , 1 Peter 2:8 . The word skandalon (Latin offendiculum , Hebr. mokesh ‘snare,’ and mikshol ‘stumbling-block’) means anything over which a person falls (e. g. a stone in the road) or on which he treads and is thrown.
24 . when the messengers of John were departed ] We notice here the exquisite tenderness of our Lord. He would not suffer the multitudes who had heard the question of John to cherish one depreciatory thought of the Baptist; and yet he suffers the messengers to depart, lest, while hearing the grand eulogy of their Master, they should be pained by its concluding words. It is natural to suppose that the two disciples carried back to John some private message of peace and consolation.
A reed ] John was not like the reeds which they had seen waving in the wind on the banks of Jordan, but rather, as Lange says, ‘a cedar half uprooted by the storm.’
25 . A man clothed in soft raiment ?] A contrast to the camel’s hair mantle and leathern girdle of the Baptist; Matthew 3:4 .
they which are gorgeously apparelled and live delicately ] Rather, they who are in glorious apparel and luxury . The Herods were specially given both to ostentation in dress (Acts 13:21 ) and to luxury, Mark 6:21 ; Jos. B. J. I. 20, § 2; Antt. xix. 8, § 2; 18, § 7.
in king’s courts ] Rather, in palaces . Such as the palaces of the Herods which they had seen at Tiberias, Caesarea Philippi, and Jerusalem. We might almost fancy an allusion to Manaen the Essene, who is said in the Talmud to have openly adopted gorgeous robes to shew his allegiance to Herod. To the Herodians generally, and to all whose Judaism was a mere matter of gain and court favour, might have been applied the sneering nickname of the Talmud ‘Proselytes of the royal table’ ( Gere Shulchan Melachim. Kiddushin , f. 65. 2; Grätz, iii. 308). John had been in palaces, but only to counsel and reprove. Our Lord on the only two occasions on which He entered palaces on the last day of His life was mocked by “ bright apparel ” (23:11), and a purple or scarlet robe (Matthew 27:28 ).
26 . A prophet ?] “All accounted John as a prophet,” 21:26.
more than a prophet ] Namely, an actual personal herald and forerunner; the Angel or Messenger of of Malachi, 3:1, and so the only Prophet who had himself been announced by Prophecy.
27 . Behold, I send my messenger ] Compare 1:76; Mark 1:2 . In the parallel passage of St Matthew our Lord adds that the Baptist is the promised Elias, Matthew 11:11 , Matthew 11:14 , 17:Matthew 11:10-13 ; Luke 1:17 (Malachi 4:5 ). The quotation is from Malachi 3:1 , “Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me .” The words are varied because, in the original, God is speaking in His own person, and here the words are applied to Christ.
28 . there is not a greater than John the Baptist ] “He was the lamp, kindled and burning,” John 5:35 . ‘Major Prophetâ quia finis Prophetarum,’ S. Ambr. He closed the former Aeon and announced the new, Matthew 11:11 , Matthew 11:12 .
he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he ] See by way of comment Matthew 13:16 , Matthew 13:17 ; Colossians 1:25-27 , and compare Hebrews 11:13 . The simple meaning of these words seems to be that in blessings and privileges, in knowledge, in revealed hope, in conscious admission into fellowship with God, the humblest child of the new kingdom is superior to the greatest prophet of the old; seeing that, as the old legal maxim says, “the least of the greatest is greater than the greatest of the least.” The smallest diamond is made of more precious substance than the largest flint. In the old dispensation “the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified, John 7:39 . Of those ‘born of women’ there was no greater prophet than John the Baptist, but the members of Christ’s Church are “born of water and of the Spirit.” This saying of our Lord respecting the privileges of the humblest children of His kingdom has seemed so strange that attempts have been made to give another tone to the meaning by interpreting “ he that is least ” to mean “the younger,” and explain it to mean our Lord Himself as “coming after” the Baptist.
29 . justified God ] i. e. they bore witness that God was just; see ver. 35, comp. Psalms 51:4 , “that Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest, and be clear when Thou art judged,” and Romans 3:26 . St Luke has already made prominent mention of the publicans at the baptism of John, 3:12.
30 . rejected the counsel of God against themselves ] i. e. nullified (Galatians 2:21 ; Proverbs 1:24 ) the purpose of God, to their own ruin, or better, ‘with reference to themselves.’ The “purpose of God” (Acts 20:27 ) had been their salvation (1 Timothy 2:4 ).
being not baptized of him ] They seem to have gone to the ministry of John partly out of curiosity, partly as spies (Matthew 3:7 ); and they consistently refused to recognize him as a Prophet, although they were prevented from shewing open hostility by fear of the people (Mark 11:32 ).
31 . And the Lord said ] These words are almost certainly spurious, being omitted by all the best uncials.
Whereunto then shall I liken ] Our Lord seems more than once to have used this formula to arrest attention for His parables. Mark 4:30 .
32 . They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace ] Our Lord constantly drew His deepest instruction from the commonest phenomena of nature, and the everyday incidents of life. Such a method gave far greater force to the delivery of His Gospel “ to the poor ,” and it was wholly unlike the arid, scholastic, technical, and second-hand methods of the Rabbis.
calling one to another, and saying ] This interesting comparison was doubtless drawn from the games which Jesus had witnessed, and in which perhaps He as a child had taken part, in Nazareth. Eastern children are fond of playing in groups at games of a very simple kind in the open air. Some have supposed that the game here alluded to was a sort of guessing game like that sometimes played by English children, and called ‘Dumb Show.’ This is not very probable. The point of the comparison is the peevish sullenness of the group of children who refuse to take part in, or approve of, any game played by their fellows, whether it be the merry acting of a marriage, or the imitated sadness of a funeral. So the men of that generation condemned the Baptist for his asceticism which they attributed to demoniacal possession; and condemned Christ for His genial tenderness by calling Him a man fond of good living. The difficulties and differences of explanation found in this simple parable are only due to a needless literalness. If indeed we take the language quite literally, ‘ this generation ’ is compared with the dancing and mourning children who complain of the sullenness of their fellows; and if this be insisted on, the meaning must be that the Jews complained of John for holding aloof from their mirth, and of Jesus for discountenancing their austerities. But it is the children who are looking on who are blamed, not the playing children, as is clearly shewn by the “ and ye say ” of vss. 33, 34. In the explanation here preferred our Lord and the Baptist are included in this generation, and the comparison (just as in the Homeric similes) is taken as a whole to illustrate the mutual relations between them and their contemporaries. So in Matthew 13:24 , “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a sower, &c.,” where the comparison is more to the reception of the seed .
33 . neither eating bread nor drinking wine ] “His meat was locusts and wild honey,” Matthew 3:4 . Being a Nazarite he drank no wine, 1:15; see 2 Esdr. 9:24.
He hath a devil ] They sneered at him for a moody or melancholy temperament which they attributed to an evil spirit. This in fact was their coarse way of describing any peculiarity or exaltation which struck them as strange. At a later period they said the same of Christ, John 7:20 , John 10:20 .
34 . The Son of man is come eating and drinking ] The title explains the reason of our Lord’s practice. He came as the Son of man, and therefore He came to shew that the common life of all men could be lived with perfect holiness, and that seclusion and asceticism were not necessary as universal conditions.
Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber ] These words are too strong. Rather, an eater, and a drinker of wine . Phagos does not occur in the LXX. or N. T.; oinopotēs only in Proverbs 23:20 .
a friend of publicans and sinners ] Thus His divinest mercy was turned into His worst reproach.
35 . But ] Literally, “ And ,” but the Greek kai often has the force of ‘and yet.’
wisdom ] The personification of God’s wisdom was common in the later Jewish literature, as in the Book of Wisdom. It is also found in the Old Testament (Proverbs 1:20 , Proverbs 1:9 , &c.).
is justified of all her children ] Rather, was justified by , i. e. has from the first been acquitted of all wrong and error, receives the witness of being just, at the hands of all her children. The “children of wisdom” generally (Proverbs 2:1 , Proverbs 2:3 :1, &c.) are those who obey God, and here are those of that generation who accepted the baptism of John and the ministry of Jesus, without making a stumbling-block of their different methods. The Jews, like the petulant children, refused to sympathise either with John or Jesus the one they condemned for exaggerated strictness, the other for dangerous laxity: yet the Wise, Wisdom’s true children once for all declare that she is righteous, and free from blame: for they know that wisdom is polupoikilos , ‘richly-variegated,’ ‘of many colours,’ Ephesians 3:10 . The world’s wisdom was foolishness; those whom the world called fools were divinely wise, John 3:33 . Wisdom is thus justified by her children both actively and passively; they declare her to be just and holy, and the world ultimately sees that her guidance as exemplified by their lives is the best guidance (Wisd. 5:5, 4; Psalms 51:4 ; Romans 3:4 ). The reading ἔργων ‘works’ for τέκνων ‘children’ in א may be derived from the variant reading in Matthew 11:19 .
36 39. Jesus in the House of Simon
36 . one of the Pharisees ] This exquisite narrative is peculiar to St Luke, and well illustrates that conception of the universality and free gift of grace which predominates in his Gospel as in St Paul. To identify this Simon with Simon the Leper in Mark 14:3 is quite arbitrary. It was one of the commonest Jewish names. There were two Simons among the Twelve, and there are nine Simons mentioned in the New Testament alone, and twenty in Josephus. There must therefore have been thousands of Simons in Palestine, where names were few. The incident itself was one which might have happened frequently, being in close accordance with the customs of the time and country. And with the uncritical attempt to identify Simon the Pharisee with Simon the Leper, there also falls to the ground the utterly improbable identification of the woman who was a sinner with Mary of Bethany. The time, the place, the circumstances, the character, the words uttered, and the results of the incident recorded in Matthew 26:7 ; Mark 14:3 ; John 12:3 are all entirely different .
that he would eat with him ] The invitation was clearly due to a patronising curiosity, if not to a worse and hostile motive. The whole manner of the Pharisee to Jesus was like his invitation, ungracious. But it was part of our Lord’s mission freely to accept the proffered hospitality of all, that He might reach every class.
sat down to meat ] Rather, reclined at table . The old method of the Jews had been that of the East in general, to sit at table ( anapiptein , 11:37; anakeisthai , 7:37; anaklinesthai , 12:37) generally cross-legged on the floor, or on divans (Genesis 27:19 ; 1 Samuel 20:5 , 1 Samuel 20:18 ; Psalms 128:3 ; Song of Solomon 1:12 , &c.). They had borrowed the custom of reclining on couches ( triclinia , comp. ἀρχιτρίκλινος , John 2:8 ) from the Persians (Esther 1:6 , Esther 7:8 ), the Greeks and Romans, after the Exile (Tobit 2:1; 1 Esdr. 4:10; Judith 12:15). The influence of the Greeks had been felt in the nation for three hundred years, and that of the Romans for nearly a hundred years, since the conquest of Jerusalem by Pompey, b. c. 63.
37 . a woman in the city ] The harsher reading of A, B, L, is “who was a sinner in the city.” No city is named, but if the Christian church is right in identifying this woman with Mary Magdalene, we may assume that the city implied is Magdala, which appears at that time to have been a flourishing place, though now it is only a mud village El Mejdel. It cannot of course be regarded as indisputable that this woman was the Magdalene, but it is, to say the least, possible ; and there is no sufficient reason to disturb the current Christian belief which has been consecrated in so many glorious works of art. See further on 8:2.
which was a sinner ] It was the Jewish term for a harlot, and such had come even to John’s baptism, Matthew 21:32 .
when she knew that Jesus sat at meat ] Literally, getting to know . She had not of course received permission to enter, but the prominence of hospitality as the chief of Eastern virtues led to all houses being left open, so that during a meal any one who wished could enter and look on. “To sit down to eat with common people” was one of the six things which no Rabbi or Pupil of the Wise might do; another was “to speak with a woman.” Our Lord freely did both.
an alabaster box ] The word alabastron meant originally a vase or phial of alabaster, such as were used for perfumes and unguents ( unguenta optime servantur in alabastris , Plin. xiii. 3), but afterwards came to mean any phial used for a similar purpose (just as our box originally meant a receptacle made of box-wood).
of ointment ] This was doubtless one of the implements of her guilty condition (Proverbs 7:17 , Isaiah 3:24 ), and her willingness to sacrifice it was a sign of her sincere repentance (comp. Song of Solomon 4:10 ).
38 . stood at his feet behind him ] This is explained by the arrangement of the triclinia , by which the guest reposed on his elbow at the table, with his unsandalled feet outstretched on the couch. Each guest left his sandals beside the door on entering. Literally the verse is, “And standing behind beside His feet weeping, with her tears she began to bedew His feet, and with the hairs of her head she wiped them off, and was eagerly kissing His feet, and anointing them with the perfume.” As she bent over His feet her tears began to fall on them, perhaps accidentally at first, and she wiped them off with the long dishevelled hair (1 Corinthians 11:15 ) which shewed her shame and anguish, and then in her joy and gratitude at finding herself unrepulsed, she poured the unguent over them. The scene and its moral are beautifully expressed in the sonnet of Hartley Coleridge.
“She sat and wept beside His feet. The weight
Of sin oppressed her heart; for all the blame
And the poor malice, of the worldly shame
To her were past, extinct, and out of date:
Only the sin remained the leprous state.
She would be melted by the heat of love,
By fires far fiercer than are blown to prove
And purge the silver ore adulterate.
She sat and wept, and with her untressed hair
Still wiped the feet she was so blest to touch;
And He wiped off the soiling of despair
From her sweet soul, because she loved so much.”
No one but a woman in the very depths of anguish would have violated all custom by appearing in public with uncovered head (1 Corinthians 11:10 ).
weeping ] Doubtless at the contrast of His sinlessness and her own stained life. She could not have done thus to the Pharisee, who would have repelled her with execration as bringing pollution by her touch. The deepest sympathy is caused by the most perfect sinlessness. It is not impossible that on that very day she may have heard the “Come unto me” of Matthew 11:28 .
kissed ] The word means ‘was earnestly’ or ‘tenderly kissing,’ as in Acts 20:37 .
39 . This man ] The word in the original expresses the supercilious scorn which is discernible throughout in the bearing of the speaker.
who and what manner of woman ] ‘Who,’ because the particular offender was notorious for her beauty and her shame. This rather strengthens the inference that the woman was Mary of Magdala, for the legends of the Jewish Talmud respecting her shew that she was well known.
that toucheth him ] Rather, “who is clinging to him.” Simon makes a double assumption first that a prophet would have known the character of the woman, and next that he would certainly have repelled her. The bearing and tone of the Rabbis towards women closely resembled that of some mediaeval monks. They said that no one should stand nearer them than four cubits. But Jesus knew more of the woman than Simon did, and was glad that she should shed on His feet the tears of penitence. A great prophet had declared long before that those which say, “Stand by thyself, come not near to me, for I am holier than thou,” were “a smoke in my nose.” Isaiah 65:5 .
40 . answering ] “He heard the Pharisee thinking.” S. Aug.
unto thee ] The emphasis is on these words, You have been thinking evil of me: I have something to say to thee .
Master ] Rather, Teacher , or Rabbi .
41 . a certain creditor ] Rather, money-lender .
five hundred pence ] A denarius was the day’s wages of a labourer and is usually reckoned at 7½d., but really represents much more. Hence 500 denarii would certainly represent as much as £ 50 in these days. The frequency of our Lord’s illustrations from debtors and creditors shews the disturbed and unprosperous condition of the country under Roman and Herodian oppression.
42 . he frankly forgave them ] In the original, the one word ἐχαρίσατο , ‘he remitted,’ involving the idea of that free grace and favour ( charis ) on which St Luke, like St Paul, is always glad to dwell. See Romans 3:24 ; Ephesians 2:8 , Ephesians 2:9 , Ephesians 2:4 :32.
43 . I suppose ] ‘I imagine;’ ‘I presume.’ The original word has a shade of supercilious irony (comp. Acts 2:15 ), as though Simon thought the question very trivial, and never dreamt that it could have any bearing on himself.
rightly ] There is a touch of gentle sarcasm in the use of this word, which involves Simon’s self-condemnation. It is the word so often adopted by Socrates as one of his implements of dialectic irony.
44 . Seest thou this woman ] Rather, Dost thou mark ? Hitherto the Pharisee, in accordance with his customs and traditions, had hardly deigned to throw upon her one disdainful glance. Now Jesus bids him look full upon her to shew him that she had really done the honours of his house. Her love had more than atoned for his coldness.
We notice in the language here that rhythmic parallelism, which is often traceable in the words of our Lord, at periods of special emotion.
Into thine house I entered:
Water upon my feet thou gavest not,
But she with her tears bedewed my feet,
And with her tresses wiped them.
A kiss thou gavedst me not:
But she, since I entered, ceased not earnestly kissing my feet.
My head with oil thou anointedst not,
But she anointed my feet with perfume.
Wherefore I say to thee, Her sins, her many sins, have been forgiven, because she loved much.
But he to whom little is being forgiven loveth little.
“As oft as I think over this event,” says Gregory the Great, “I am more disposed to weep over it than to preach upon it.”
thou gavest me no water for my feet ] Thus Simon had treated his guest with such careless indifference as to have neglected the commonest courtesies and comforts. To sandalled travellers on those burning, rocky, dusty paths, water for the feet was a necessity; John 13:4 , John 13:5 . “ Wash your feet , and rest yourselves under the tree.” Genesis 18:4 . “Tarry all night, and wash your feet ,” Genesis 19:2 . “He brought them into his house, and they washed their feet,” Judges 19:21 . “If she have washed the saints’ feet,” 1 Timothy 5:10 .
hath washed ] Rather, bedewed or wetted .
with tears ] “The most priceless of waters.” Bengel. “She poured forth tears, the blood of the heart.” S. Aug.
45 . no kiss ] The ordinary salutation of respect in the East, where the first thing when two friends meet and wish to do each other honour is to try to kiss each other’s hands. The kiss on the cheek is between equals and also to superiors. Absalom, to gain favour, kissed every man who came near him to do him obeisance; 2 Samuel 15:5 . “The king kissed Barzillai,” id. 19:39. Hence this was a natural signal of recognition for the traitor to give; Matthew 26:49 . See Acts 20:37 . Hence the osculum pacis , Romans 16:16 , &c.
I came in ] There is another reading, εἰσῆλθεν , ‘she came in’ (L and some versions), which is probable, for the woman only ascertained that Jesus was at the house after He had entered it.
46 . My head with oil thou didst not anoint ] This would have been an exceptional mark of honour, though not uncommon. “Let thy head lack no ointment,” Ecclesiastes 9:8 ; Amos 6:6 ; Psalms 23:5 . Here it is only mentioned to contrast it with the still higher honour of which the sinful woman had thought Him worthy. To anoint the feet was regarded as an extreme luxury (Pliny, H. N . xiii. 4), but the love of the sinner thought no honour too great for her Saviour.
47 . for she loved much ] Rather, because . No doubt, theologically, faith, not love, is the means of pardon (vs. 50); hence, some interpret the ‘ because’ a posteriori , and make it mean ‘she is forgiven,’ as you may conclude from the fact that she loved much. It is more than doubtful whether this was intended. Her love and her forgiveness were mingled with each other in mutual interchange. She loved because she was forgiven; she was forgiven because she loved. Her faith and her love were one; it was “faith working by love” (Galatians 5:6 ), and the love proved the faith. Spiritual things do not admit of the clear sequences of earthly things. There is with God no before or after, but only an eternal now.
to whom little is forgiven ] The life of conventional respectability excludes flagrant and open transgressions; cold selfishness does not take itself to be sinful. Simon imagined that he had little to be forgiven, and therefore loved little. Had he been a true saint he would have recognised his debt. The confessions of the holiest are also the most heartrending, because they most fully recognise the true nature of sin. What is wanted to awaken ‘much love’ is not ‘much sin’ for we all have that qualification but deep sense of sin . “Ce qui manque au meilleur pour aimer beaucoup, ce n’est pas le péché; c’est la connaissance du péché .” Godet.
48 . are forgiven ] Rather, have been forgiven . The is forgiven of the previous verse is in the present, “ is being forgiven .” Both in the Old and New Testaments the readiness of God to forgive the deepest and most numerous sins is dwelt upon (Isaiah 1:18 , Isaiah 55:7 ), and also the absoluteness of the forgiveness (Romans 5:20 ; 1 John 4:10 , 1 John 4:19 ). There is an obvious analogy between the little parable of the debtors and that of the uncompassionate servant (Matthew 18:23-27 ).
49 . began to say within themselves ] His words caused a shock of surprised silence which did not as yet dare to vent itself in open murmurs.
50 . he said to the woman ] Our Lord would not on this, as on the previous occasion, rebuke them for their thoughts, because the miracle which He had worked was the purely spiritual one of winning back a guilty soul, a miracle which they could not comprehend. Further, He compassionately desired to set the woman free from a notice which must now have become deeply painful to her shrinking penitence.
Thy faith hath saved thee ] The faith of the recipient was the necessary condition of a miracle, whether physical or spiritual, Mark 5:34 , Mark 5:9 :23; Matthew 9:2 , Matthew 9:13 :58, Matthew 9:15 :28; John 4:50 ; Acts 3:16 , Acts 14:8 .
go in peace ] Rather, to or into peace a translation of the Hebrew leshalôm , “for peace,” 1 Samuel 1:17 . “Peace” ( shalom ) was the Hebrew, as ‘ grace ’ ( χαίρειν ) was the Hellenic salutation. See on 2:29, and Excursus VII.
Notice that St Luke omits the anointing of Jesus by Mary of Bethany from a deliberate “economy of method,” which leads him to exclude all second or similar incidents to those which he has already related. Thus he omits a second feeding of the multitude, and healings of blind, dumb, and demoniac, of which he severally gives a single specimen. The events of Mark 7:24-26 and 9:12 14 are probably excluded by St Luke on this principle to avoid repetition. It is a sign of what German writers call his Sparsamkeit . Nor must we forget that the records of all the manifold activity which at times left the Lord no leisure even to eat, are confined to a few incidents, and only dwell on the details of a few special days.
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"Commentary on Luke 7". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13