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(1) Here, again, the order of the facts narrated varies so much in the three Gospels that the labours of the harmonist are baffled.
(1.) The Paralytic, Matthew 9:1-8.
The call of Matthew, &c., Matthew 9:9-17.
Jairus, and the woman with an issue of blood, Matthew 9:18-26.
The two blind, Matthew 9:27-31.
The dumb, Matthew 9:32-34.
It will be seen that (1) and (2) are grouped together in all three, as are the two events in (3), but beyond this we cannot trace any systematic order, and the apparent notes of sequence are so far misleading. In this case. St. Matthew makes the return to Capernaum follow the healing of the Gadarene demoniacs. St. Mark and St. Luke place it after that of the leper, but as if they were uncertain as to its exact position, “after certain days,” or “on one of the days.”
Into his own city.—St. Mark states definitely Capernaum, which had become His “own city” since His departure from Nazareth (Matthew 4:13). That city, though the home of His childhood, is never so described.
(2) Behold, they brought to him.—From the other Gospels we learn:—(1) That He was teaching (Luke 5:17) in a house (apparently, from what follows, from the upper room of a house), while the people stood listening in the courtyard. (2) That the court-yard was crowded, so that even the gateway leading into the street was filled (Mark 2:2). (3) That among the hearers were Pharisees and Doctors of the Law, who had come, not only from “every village of Galilee and Judæa,” but also “from Jerusalem.” The last fact is important as one of the few traces in the first three Gospels of an unrecorded ministry in Jerusalem, and, as will be seen, throws light on much that follows. They had apparently come to see how the new Teacher, who had so startled them at Jerusalem, was carrying on His work in Galilee, and, as far as they could, to hinder it. (4) That “the power of the Lord was present to heal them” (Luke 5:17), i.e., that as He taught, the sick were brought to Him, and, either by word or touch, were cured.
A man sick of the palsy.—St. Matthew and St. Mark use the popular term “paralytic;” St. Luke, with perhaps more technical precision, the participle of the verb, “who was paralysed.” The man was borne on a couch (St. Mark uses the Greek form of the Latin grabatum, the bed or mattress of the poor) carried by four bearers (Mark 2:3). They sought to bring him through the door, but were hindered by the crowd; and then going outside the house, they got upon the roof, removed part of the roof (the light structure of Eastern houses made the work comparatively easy), let him down with ropes through the opening into the midst of the crowd, just in front of the Teacher (Mark 2:4; Luke 5:19). This persistency implied faith in His power to heal on the part both of the sick man and the bearers.
Son, be of good cheer.—Better, child. The word implies, perhaps (as in Luke 2:48), comparative youth, or, it may be, a fatherly tone of love and pity on the part of the speaker. Here, as elsewhere, pity is the starting-point of our Lord’s work of healing, and He looked with infinite tenderness on the dejected expression of the sufferer, who had lost heart and hope.
Thy sins be forgiven thee.—The English is to modern ears ambiguous, and suggests the thought of a prayer or wish. The Greek is, however, either the present or the perfect passive of the indicative, “Thy sins are” or “have been forgiven thee.” The words were addressed, we must believe, to the secret yearnings of the sufferer. Sickness had made him conscious of the burden of his sins, perhaps had come (as such forms of nervous exhaustion often do come) as the direct consequence of his sin. The Healer saw that the disease of the soul must first be removed, and that then would come the time for restoring strength to the body.
(3) This man blasphemeth.—The words were but an echo of the charge that had been brought at Jerusalem, that “He made Himself equal with God” (John 5:18), and may well have come from some of the same objectors. St. Mark and St. Luke give the grounds of their accusation: “What is this that this Man thus speaks? Who can forgive sins but One, that is, God?” Speaking abstractedly, they were affirming one of the first principles of all true religious belief. All sins are offences against God, and therefore, though men may forgive trespasses as far as they themselves are concerned, the ultimate act of forgiveness belongs to God only; and for a mere man, as such, to claim the right of forgiving thus absolutely, was to claim a divine attribute, and therefore to blaspheme—i.e., to utter words as disparaging as open profaneness to the majesty of God. What they forgot to take into account was the possibility (1) that God might so far delegate His power to His chosen servants that they, on sufficient evidence of that delegation, might rightly declare sins to be forgiven; or (2) that the Teacher might Himself be one with God, and so share in His perfections and prerogatives. On either of these suppositions the charge of blasphemy was fully answered, and the sin of the scribes lay in their ignoring the fact that He had given sufficient proof of the former, if not of the latter also.
(4) Knowing their thoughts.—The better MSS. give “seeing,” as with an immediate act of intuition. St. Mark adds his usual “immediately,” and both he and St. Luke use the word which implies fulness of knowledge.
Wherefore think ye evil?—Literally, evil things. The thoughts were evil because, in face of the mighty works and the divine wisdom of the Teacher, they were assuming that He had wantonly spoken words that involved the most extreme of all forms of sin against the God in whose name He taught.
(5) Whether is easier, . . .?—The form of the question implies what we call an argument à fortiori. It was easier to say, “Thy sins are forgiven thee,” for those words could not be put to any outward test, and only the consciousness of the sinner could attest their power. It was a bolder and a harder thing to risk the utterance of words which challenged an immediate and visible fulfilment; and yet He was content to utter such words, without fear of the result. Measured in their true relation to each other, the spiritual wonder was, of course, the greater; but here, as so often elsewhere, He puts Himself, as it were, on the level of those who hear Him, and vouchsafes to speak to them according to their thoughts.
(6) That ye may know that the Son of man hath power.—Better, authority, as in John 5:27. The two passages are so closely parallel that we can hardly be wrong in thinking that the words now spoken were meant to recall those which some, at least, of those who listened had heard before. This view, at any rate, brings out the fulness of their meaning. As they stand here, they seem to include both the two hypotheses mentioned in the Note on Matthew 9:3. The Father had given Him authority to “forgive sins” and to “execute judgment” because He was the Son of Man, the representative of mankind, and as such was exercising a delegated power. But then, that discourse in John 5:0 showed that He also spoke of Himself as the Son of God as well as the Son of Man (John 5:25), and as such claimed an honour equal to that which was rightly paid to the Father (John 5:23). Ultimately, therefore, our Lord’s answer rests on the higher, and not the lower, of the two grounds on which the objectors might have been met.
Arise, take up thy bed.—As St. Mark gives the words we have the very syllables that had been spoken to the “impotent man” at Bethesda (John 5:8), and in any case words identical in meaning; and the natural inference is that our Lord meant to recall what the scribes from Jerusalem had then seen and heard.
(7) He arose, and departed to his house.—St. Mark adds his usual “immediately”; St. Luke, that he went “glorifying God.” We can picture to ourselves the exultant joy of the soul freed from the burden of its sins, and rejoicing in the new vitality of the body.
(8) They marvelled.—The better reading, adopted by most editors, gives they were afraid. This agrees better with St. Mark’s “they were amazed, and glorified God,” and St. Luke’s “they were filled with fear.” St. Mark gives the words they uttered, “We never saw it after this fashion;” St. Luke, “We saw strange things to-day.”
Which had given such power unto men.—It was natural that this should be the impression made on the great body of the hearers. They rested in the thought of a delegated authority, a “power given to men,” as such, without passing on to the deeper truth of the union of the manhood with God.
(9) As Jesus passed forth from thence.—All three Gospels agree, as has been noticed, in the sequence of the two events. And the sequence was probably, in part at least, one of cause and effect. The sympathy and power shown in healing the paralytic impressed itself on the mind of one who, as a publican, felt that he too had sins that needed to be forgiven.
A man, named Matthew.—St. Mark and St. Luke give the name as Levi, the former adds that he was the “son of Alphæus.” The difference may be explained by assuming that in his case, as in that of “Simon who is called (or named) Peter” (Matthew 10:2), a new name was given that practically superseded the old. The meaning of Matthew—which, like Theodore, Dorotheus, and the like, means “the gift of God,” or, more strictly, “the gift of Jehovah”—makes a change of this kind in itself probable. If he were the son of Alphæus, he would be (assuming identity of person and of name) the brother of the James whose name appears with his own in the second group of four in the lists of the Twelve Apostles.
Sitting at the receipt of custom.—Literally, at the custom-house, the douane of the lake. The customs levied there were probably of the nature of an octroi on the fish, fruit, and other produce that made up the exports and imports of Capernaum.
And he saith unto him, Follow me.—St. Mark (Mark 2:13) makes the call follow close upon an unrecorded discourse addressed to the whole multitude of Capernaum. In the nature of the case it was probable that there had been, as in the analogous call of the sons of Jona and Zebedee, a preparation of some kind. A brother had been converted, his own heart had been touched, he had felt (see Note on Matthew 4:13) the presence of the new Teacher as light in the shadow of death.
He arose, and followed him.—St. Luke adds, “he left all.” There was not much to leave—his desk at the custom, his stipend or his percentage; but it was his all, and no man can leave more than that.
(10) As Jesus sat at meat in the house.—The Greek runs, as he sat at meat. The insertion of the name Jesus in this part of the sentence injures the sense. What seems to have been meant is, that while Matthew sat (i.e., reclined after Roman fashion), many publicans and sinners came and reclined with Jesus and His disciples. On the assumption of St. Matthew’s authorship of the Gospel, there is a noticeable humility in his omission of the fact that he had made “a great feast” (Luke 5:29). It was apparently a farewell feast to old friends and neighbours before he entered on his new calling. They were naturally mostly of his own class, or on a yet lower level. The publican was the pariah of Palestine, and no decent person would associate with him. The term “sinners” may have included Gentiles, but does not necessarily designate them. So far as the context goes, as in Matthew 9:13, the term is used in its simple and natural sense.
(11) When the Pharisees saw it.—“Scribes of the Pharisees” (Mark 2:16). These were probably those who had been present at the healing of the paralytic. the scribes who had come from Jerusalem. They, of course, would not enter the publican’s house, but they stood outside and watched the mingled guests with wonder, and asked their two-fold question, “Why do ye eat and drink . . . (Luke 5:30)?” “Why doth your Master . . .?”
(12) They that be whole.—Literally, They that are strong. St. Luke gives, with a more professional precision, “They that are in health.” That, speaking from the thoughts and standpoint of those addressed (which in another than our Lord we might term grave irony), which enters so largely into our Lord’s teaching, appears here in its most transparent form. Those of whom He speaks were, we know, suffering from the worst form of spiritual disease, but in their own estimation they were without spot or taint, and as such. therefore, He speaks to them. On their own showing, they ought not to object to His carrying on that work where there was most need of it. The proverb cited by Him in Luke 4:23 shows that it was not the first time that He had referred to His own work as that of the Great Physician.
(13) Go ye and learn.—The words of Hosea 6:6—cited once again by our Lord in reference to the Sabbath (Matthew 12:7)—asserted the superiority of ethical to ceremonial law. To have withdrawn from contact with sinners would have been a formal “sacrifice,” such as Pharisees delighted to offer, and from which they took their very name; but the claims or “mercy” were higher, and bade Him mingle with them. It was the very purpose of His coming, not to call “righteous men” (again with studied reference to their own estimate of themselves), but “sinners,” and to call them, not to continue as they were, but, as St. Luke adds (the words are wanting in the best MSS. here and also in St. Mark), “to repentance.” We may, perhaps, infer further, that when the scribes were told to consider what the prophet’s words meant, there was also some reference to the context of those words. They would find their own likeness in the words, “Your goodness is as a morning cloud; . . . they . . . have transgressed the covenant; there have they dealt treacherously against me” (Hosea 6:4; Hosea 6:7).
(14) The disciples of John.—The passage is interesting as showing (1) that the followers of the Baptist continued during our Lord’s ministry to form a separate body (as in Matthew 11:2; Matthew 14:12); and (2) that they obeyed rules which he had given them, more or less after the pattern of those of the Pharisees. They had their own days of fasting (the context makes it probable that the feast in Matthew’s house was held on one of them), their own forms of prayer (Luke 11:1). They, it would seem, acting with the Pharisees, and perhaps influenced by them, were perplexed at conduct so unlike that of the master they revered, and came therefore with their question. But they were, at least, not hypocrites, and they are answered therefore without the sternness which had marked the reply to their companions.
(15) Can the children of the bridechamber mourn?—The words were full of meaning in themselves, but they only gain their full significance when we connect them with the teaching of the Baptist recorded in John 3:29. He had pointed to Jesus as “the Bridegroom.” He had taught them that the coming of that Bridegroom was the fulfilling of his joy. Would he have withdrawn from the outward expression of that joy?
The children of the bridechamber—i.e., the guests invited to the wedding. The words implied, startling as that thought would be to them, that the feast in Matthew’s house was, in fact, a wedding-feast. His disciples were at once the guests of that feast individually; and collectively they were the new Israel, the new congregation or Ecclesia, which was, as our Lord taught in parable (Matthew 22:2), and St. Paul directly (Ephesians 5:25-27), and St. John in apocalyptic vision (Revelation 19:7; Revelation 21:2), the bride whom He had come to make His own, to cleanse, and to purify.
The days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them.—Noteworthy as the first recorded intimation in our Lord’s public teaching (that in John 3:14 was less clear until interpreted by the event, and was addressed to Nicodemus, and perhaps to him only, or, at the furthest, to St. John) of His coming death. The joy of the wedding-feast would cease, and then would come the long night of expectation, till once again there should be the cry, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh” (Matthew 25:6).
Then shall they fast.—The words can hardly be looked on as a command imposing fasting as a formal obligation, but, beyond all doubt, they sanction the principle on which fasting rests. The time that was to follow the departure of the Bridegroom would be one of sorrow, conflict, discipline, and at such a time the self-conquest implied in abstinence was the natural and true expression of the feelings that belonged to it. So the Christian Church has always felt; so it was, as the New Testament records, in the lives of at least two great apostles, St. Peter (Acts 10:10) and St. Paul (2 Corinthians 11:27). So far as it goes, however, the principle here asserted is in favour of fasts at special seasons of sorrow rather than of frequent and fixed fasts as a discipline, or meritorious act. In fixing her days of fasting, the Church of England, partly guided perhaps by earlier usage, has at least connected them with the seasons and days that call specially to meditation on the sterner, sadder side of truth.
(16) No man putteth a piece of new cloth.—There is a closer connection between the three similitudes than at first sight appears. The wedding-feast suggested the idea of the wedding-garment, and of the wine which belonged to its joy. We may even go a step further, and believe that the very dress of those who sat at meat in Matthew’s house, coming as they did from the lower and less decently-habited classes, made the illustration all the more palpable and vivid. How could those worn garments be made meet for wedding-guests? Would it be enough to sew on a patch of new cloth where the old was wearing into holes? Not so He answers here; not so He answers again when He implicitly makes the king who gives the feast the giver also of the garment (Matthew 22:2);
New cloth—i.e., cloth that has not passed through the fuller’s hands—new and undressed, in its freshest and strongest state. Such a patch sewn upon a weak part of the old cloak would, on the first strain, tear the cloth near it.
The rent is made worse.—Better, there comes a worse rent. St. Luke adds another reason, “the piece put in agrees not with the old.”
The meaning of the parable in its direct application lies very near the surface. The “garment” is that which is outward, the life and conversation of the man, which show his character. The old garment is the common life of sinful men, such as Matthew and his guests; the new garment is the life of holiness, the religious life in its completeness; fasting, as one element of that life, is the patch of new cloth which agrees not with the old, and leads to a greater evil, a “worse rent” in the life than before. No one would so deal with the literal garment. Yet this was what the Pharisees and the disciples of John were wishing to do with the half-converted publicans. This, we may add, is what the Church of Christ has too often done in her work as the converter of the nations. Sacramental ordinances or monastic vows, or Puritan formulæ, or Quaker conventionalities, have been engrafted on lives that were radically barbarous, or heathen, or worldly, and the contrast has been glaring, and the “rent” made worse. The more excellent way, which our Lord pursued, and which it is our wisdom to pursue, is to take the old garment, and to transform it, as by a renewing power from within, thread by thread, till old things are passed away, and all things are become new.
(17) Neither do men put new wine into old bottles.—The bottles are those made of hides partly tanned, and retaining, to a great extent, the form of the living animals. These, as they grew dry with age, became very liable to crack, and were unable to resist the pressure of the fermenting liquor. If the mistake were made, the bottles were marred, and the wine spilt. When we interpret the parable, we see at once that the “new wine” represents the inner, as the garment did the outer, aspect of Christian life, the new energies and gifts of the Spirit, which, as on the day of Pentecost, were likened to new wine (Acts 2:13). In dealing with men, our Lord did not bestow these gifts suddenly, even on His own disciples, any more than He imposed rules of life for which men were not ready. As the action of organised churches has too often reproduced the mistake of sewing the patch of new cloth on the old garment, so in the action of enthusiastic or mystic sects, in the history of Montanism, Quakerism in its earlier stages, the growth of the so-called Catholic and Apostolic Church, which had its origin in the history of Edward Irving, we have that of pouring new wine into old bottles. The teaching of our Lord points in both instances to gradual training, speaking the truth as men are able to bear it; reserving many truths because they “cannot bear them now.”
St. Luke adds, as before, a new aspect of the illustration: “No man having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.” See Note on Luke 5:39.
(18) While he spake these things.—The sequence seems so clear as, at first, hardly to admit of doubt; and yet it is no less clear that St. Mark and St. Luke represent what is told as following close upon our Lord’s return to the western side of the lake after the healing of the Gadarene, and place many events between it and the call of Levi. Assuming St. Matthew’s own connection with the Gospel, we may justly, in this case, give greater weight to his order than to the arrangement of the other two, who derived the account from others.
A certain ruler.—St. Mark and St. Luke give the name Jairus, and state that he was “a ruler of the synagogue,” probably an elder, or one of the Parnasim or “pastors.” The fact is interesting as suggesting a coincidence between this narrative and that of the centurion’s servant. As a ruler of the synagogue, Jairus would probably have been among the elders of the Jews who came as a deputation to our Lord, and would thus have been impressed with His power to heal in cases which seemed hopeless.
My daughter is even now dead.—St. Luke adds, as one who had inquired into details, that she was the ruler’s only child, was twelve years old, and that she “lay a dying,” agreeing with St. Mark’s “is at the point of death,” literally, in extremis, “at the last gasp;” and both add that the crowd that followed “thronged” and “pressed” our Lord as He went.
(20) Behold, a woman . . .—The “issue of blood” was probably of the kind that brought with it ceremonial uncleanness (Leviticus 15:26), and this accounts for the sense of shame which made her shrink from applying to the Healer openly, and from confessing afterwards what she had done. It is significant that the period of her sufferings coincided with the age of the ruler’s daughter. His sorrow was sudden after twelve years of joyful hope; hers had brought with it, through twelve long years, the sickness of hope deferred. St. Mark and St. Luke add (though in the latter some MSS. omit the words) that she “had spent all her substance on physicians, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse;” and the former states (what is, of course, obvious) that she came because she had “heard of the things concerning Jesus.”
Touched the hem of his garment.—The incidental notice is interesting as making up, together with Matthew 14:36, John 19:23, all that we know as to our Lord’s outward garb. There was first, nearest the body, the coat or tunic (χίτων) without seam, woven from the top throughout; then, over that, the garment or cloak (ίμάτιον), flowing loosely after the manner of the East; and this had its “border or fringe,” probably of a bright blue mingled with white, that on which the scribes and Pharisees laid stress as being in accordance with the Law (Numbers 15:38), and which they wore, therefore, of an ostentatious width (Matthew 23:5). Later tradition defined the very number of the threads or tassels of the fringe, so that they might represent the 613 precepts of the Law.
(21) She said within herself.—The words indicate a faith real but not strong. She believed, as the leper did, in the power to heal, but did not trust the love, and shrank from the thought lest the Healer should shrink from her. And she thought not of a will that seeks to bless and save, but of a physical effluence passing from the body to the garments, and from the garments to the hand that touched them. Yet weak as the faith was, it was accepted, and outward things were endowed with a “virtue” which was not their own. So afterwards, where a like belief prevailed, the “handkerchiefs and aprons” that were brought from St. Paul’s flesh became means of healing (Acts 19:12).
(22) Be of good comfort.—The same word of tenderness is spoken to her as had been spoken to the paralytic. What each needed, she the most of the two, was the courage, the enthusiasm of faith.
Thy faith hath made thee whole.—Literally, thy faith hath saved thee. The rendering of the Authorised version is not wrong, and yet it represents but part of the full meaning of the word. Her faith had saved her, in the higher as well as in the lower sense. The teaching of the narrative lies almost on the surface. There may be imperfect knowledge, false shame, imperfect trust, and yet if the germ of faith be there, Christ, the Healer both of the souls and bodies of men, recognises even the germ, and answers the longing desire of the soul to be freed from its uncleanness. Other healers may have been sought in vain, but it finds its way through the crowd that seems to hinder its approach, and the “virtue” which it seeks goes forth even from the “hem of the garment,” even through outward ordinances (for thus we interpret the miracle, which is also a parable), which in themselves have no healing power. Eusebius, in his Church History (vii. 13), states that the woman belonged to Cæsarea Philippi, and that, in thankfulness for her cure, she set up two statues in bronze—one of herself in the attitude of supplication, and the other of our Lord standing erect and stretching forth His hand to her—and that these were shown in his own day, in the early part of the fourth century. In the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus (v. 26) she is called Veronica.
The other Gospels relate more fully that the issue of blood ceased; that “she felt in her body that she was healed of her plague;” that Jesus perceived that “virtue had gone out of Him,” and asked the question, “Who is it that touched Me?” that the disciples answered—Peter as usual foremost (Luke 8:45)—“The multitude throng Thee and press Thee, and askest Thou, Who touched Me?” that our Lord then give His reason for the question. He had felt a touch, the touch of faith and unspoken prayer, which was very different from the pressure of the eager, curious crowd.
(23-26) The other Gospels fill up the gap. While our Lord was speaking the words of promise to the woman, messengers came from the house of Jairus, reporting that the child was dead. They whisper to him, using the self-same words as had been used by the friends of the centurion, “Why troublest thou the Teacher any further?” And Jesus turns, and speaks words of comfort to the father’s heart: “Be not afraid, only believe.” They come to the house, and He suffers none to enter but the father and mother, and Peter, James, and John, who now, for the first time, are chosen from among the chosen, for the special blessedness of being with Him in the greater and more solemn moments of His ministry; and as they enter, the preparations for the funeral—always following in the East a few hours after death—are already begun. Minstrels are there, with a crowd of real or hired mourners, raising their wailing cries. And then, in the calmness of conscious power, He bids them withdraw, “for the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth.” To Him the death, though real, was yet but as a sleep, for He, as afterwards in the case of Lazarus (John 11:11), had come to awaken her even out of that sleep. And then, with the heartlessness and unbelief natural to hireling mourners, they “laughed Him to scorn.” They were too familiar with many forms of death to be mistaken as to its outward signs. And then He entered, with the five, as before, into the chamber of death, where the body was laid out for the burial, and grasped her hands, and uttered the words, of which St. Mark gives the Aramaic form, Talitha cumi, “Damsel, I say to thee, Arise,” and “immediately she arose, and walked.” St. Luke, again with a touch of medical precision, reports the fact in the form, “her spirit,” or “her breath, returned,” and, with St. Mark, records that our Lord commanded that “something should be given her to eat.” The restored life was dependent, after the supernatural work had been completed, upon natural laws, and there was the risk of renewed exhaustion. As in other cases, He charged the parents that they should not make it known. It was not good for the spiritual or the bodily life of the girl that she should be the object of the visits of an idle curiosity; and yet, in spite of the command, the fame of the act spread abroad through all that country.
(27) Two blind men.—The two narratives that follow are peculiar to St. Matthew. The title by which the blind address our Lord as “the Son of David,” was that which expressed the popular belief that He was the expected Christ. It is used afterwards by the woman of Canaan (Matthew 15:22), and again by the blind at Jericho (Matthew 20:30-31; Mark 10:47; Luke 18:38-39).
(28) Into the house.—The article indicates the house in which He sojourned at Capernaum, probably that of St. Peter.
Believe ye that I am able to do this?—The cry, “Have mercy on us,” had implied the request that He would restore their sight. In this case, as in others, faith was the antecedent condition of the miracle.
(29) Then touched he their eyes.—This is the first recorded instance of the method which our Lord seems always to have adopted in the case of the blind, and, in part also, in that of the deaf. Others might have their faith strengthened by the look of sympathy and conscious power which they saw in the face of the Healer. From that influence they were shut out, and for them therefore its absence was supplied by acts which they would naturally connect with the purpose to heal them. (Comp. the later instances in Matthew 20:34; ‘John 9:6.)
(30) Straitly charged them.—The word, implying originally the panting breath of vehement emotion, is one of the strongest used by the New Testament writers (Mark 1:43; Mark 14:5; John 11:33; John 11:38) to express repugnance, displeasure, or the command that implies annoyance. It is as if our Lord saw the garrulous joy on the point of uttering itself, and sought by every means in His power to restrain it. The reasons may be sought, as elsewhere, either (1) in its being good for the spiritual life of the men themselves that they should show forth their praise of God, not with their lips, but in their lives; or (2) in the shrinking from mere notoriety, from the gaze of crowds drawn together to gaze on signs and wonders, and ready to make the Wonder-Worker a king because He wrought them, which St. Matthew, at a later stage, notes as characteristic of our Lord’s ministry (Matthew 12:16-21).
(31) They . . . spread abroad his fame.—As in other cases, so in this, the command was not obeyed. The question has been raised, whether the zeal which thus showed itself was or not praiseworthy; and, curiously enough, has been answered by most patristic and Roman Catholic commentators in the affirmative, some even maintaining that the command was not meant seriously; and by most Protestant commentators in the negative. There can be no doubt that the latter take that which is ethically the truer view. “To obey is better than sacrifice,” better even than unrestrained emotion, better certainly than garrulous excitement.
(32) A dumb man possessed with a devil.—This narrative also is given by St. Matthew only. Referring to the Note in the Excursus on Matthew 8:28 for the general question as to “possession,” it may be noted here that the phenomena presented in this case were those of catalepsy, or of insanity showing itself in obstinate and sullen silence. The dumbness was a spiritual disease, not the result of congenital malformation. The work of healing restored the man to sanity rather than removed a bodily imperfection. Comp. the analogous phenomena in Matthew 12:22, Luke 11:14. The latter agrees so closely with this that but for the fact of St. Matthew’s connecting our Lord’s answer to the accusation of the Pharisees with the second of these miracles, we might have supposed the two identical.
(33) The verse is obviously intended to stand in contrast with that which follows. The “multitude” gave free expression to their natural wonder, which, though it did not actually amount to faith, was yet one step towards it. The Pharisees stood aloof, not denying the facts, but having their own solution of them.
(34) Through the prince of the devils.—In Matthew 12:24-30 the charge reappears, with the addition of the name of “Beelzebub,” as the prince of the devils; and, together with our Lord’s answer to it, will be better discussed in the Notes on those verses. Here it will be enough to note the coincidence with Matthew 10:25, which shows that the accusation had been brought before the mission of the Twelve, related in the following chapter.
(35) And Jesus went about.—The verse is all but identical with Matthew 4:23, and may be described as recording our Lord’s second mission circuit in Galilee, in which He was accompanied probably by His disciples, whom, however, He had not as yet invested with a delegated authority as His “apostles,” or representatives. It is manifestly the beginning of the section which contains the great discourse of Matthew 10:0, and was intended to lead up to it.
Every sickness and every disease—i.e., every variety or type, rather than every individual case. The work of healing was, we must believe, dependent, as before, on the faith of those who came seeking to be healed. Of the two words, the former is in the Greek the stronger, and, though the relative significance of the English words is not sharply defined, it would, perhaps, be better to invert the renderings.
(36) He was moved with compassion.—The words that follow are so vivid and emphatic that we may well believe them to have had their starting-point in our Lord’s own expression of His feelings. We find Him using the identical words in Matthew 15:32, and Mark 8:2 : “I have compassion on the multitude.”
They fainted.—The English represents the received printed text of the Greek Testament at the beginning of the seventeenth century. There is, however, an immense preponderance of authority in favour of another reading, which gives the passive participle of the verb translated “trouble” in Mark 5:35, Luke 7:6, and meaning literally “flayed,” and thence figuratively “tormented, worried, vexed.” They were not merely as sheep that have grown weary and faint, hungry, looking up and yet not fed, but were as those that have been harassed by the wolf—the prey of thieves and robbers. (Comp. John 10:8-12.)
(37) Then saith he unto his disciples.—No where in the whole Gospel record is there a more vivid or more touching instance of the reality of our Lord’s human emotions. It is not enough for Him to feel compassion Himself. He craves the sympathy of His companions and disciples, and needs even their fellowship in prayer. A great want lies before Him, and He sees that they are the right agents to meet it, if only they will pray to be made so; or, to put the case more clearly, if only they will pray that the work may be done, whether they themselves are or are not the doers of it.
The harvest truly is plenteous.—This is the first occurrence in the record of the first three Gospels of the figure which was afterwards to be expanded in the two parables of the Sower and the Tares, and to reappear in the visions of the Apocalypse (Revelation 14:14-19). We find, however, from the Gospel of St. John—which here, as so often elsewhere, supplies missing links and the germs of thoughts afterwards developed—that it was not a new similitude in our Lord’s teaching. Once before, among the alien Samaritans, He had seen the fields white as for the spiritual harvest of the souls of men, and had spoken of him that soweth and him that reapeth (John 4:35-36).
(38) The Lord of the harvest—i.e., the Father who had sent Him to be the Sower of the divine seed, and who, through Him, was about to send forth the labourers.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Matthew 9". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany