Christ"s Sustenance Accounted for
We have wondered how Jesus Christ subsisted. The explanation would seem to be given here. There are with him not only the twelve, but also "certain women," some of whose names are given, "which ministered unto him of their substance." We are not wholly unfamiliar with that species of action; we have read in the ancient books of a woman who "said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth "by us continually. Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, in the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick; and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither." It was not unusual in Bible times, and even down to New Testament days, for the richer women to keep a Rabbi or a prophet out of their income, sustaining the good man in his educational and evangelistic works. Here we find the Son of God subsisting by similar means. "There were with him many others, which ministered unto him of their substance." Yet the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. And yet both statements are open to the most perfect reconciliation. Thus we work in different ways—the divine Minister who does everything, the Christ of God; and the lesser ministers who do their work on a small scale, but whatever is done is taken, and is magnified and glorified by the living God. Some of the names are given. We ought always to be thankful for what is written, not only because it shows itself within its own boundaries so vividly, but because it enables us to draw inferences regarding many things which are not explained. "And certain women, which had been healed." What a key is there! Jesus Christ does not want any others to follow him than those to whom he himself has first ministered. It is possible so to read the passage as to omit the fact that Jesus Christ"s ministry was first. The mind comes suddenly upon the statement that certain women ministered unto him of their substance, and the mind is apt to dwell upon that circumstance with magnifying emphasis; whereas we ought to read the narrative so carefully as to get out of it all its music, and so reading it we shall find that Jesus was first, for the women who followed him "had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities," and, as we shall presently see, their attachment to him was grounded upon a still wider basis.
"Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils." Some have said, seven evil spirits or dispositions; unwilling to recognise what is termed demoniacal possession, they have regarded these as seven evil tempers, bad dispositions, wicked desires. Practically, it comes to the same thing: whatever they were, devils or dispositions, they were cast out by the Son of God; there is the working of the divine power; there is the miracle of wisdom and grace, of human compassion and divine ability. "And Joanna"—do we know anything of her? She was "the wife of Chuza, Herod"s steward." Some have traced her by critical processes to be the mother of the nobleman"s son who, when at the point of death, was healed by the Son of God. Out of her there was cast no evil spirit, and she was not cured of any personal infirmity: why, then, did she follow this Nazarene? Ask her. Try to detach her from his following, and she will tell you, with tears of gratitude and joy, that Jesus Christ was the resurrection and the life in her house; say of him what others may, she knows that he cured her Song of Solomon, and from that point she cannot be dislodged by any evil suggestion or by any sophism. Hers was a personal gratitude for personal favours. Jesus Christ thus is followed by people who have understood him at some point. It is not necessary that all who follow Jesus Christ should understand every phase of his personality, and be able to explain every section of his ministry, and to answer all the questions which may be put concerning him; the people who followed Jesus Christ knew him at some point, and that became emphatically their point, and one of them gave expression to the sentiment of the whole when he said, "One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see."
How much has Christianity itself suffered from the delusion that those who profess it must be able to answer the questions; that every Christian must be a theologian, a man of science, a profound philosopher, an accurate logician, and an eloquent speaker. Nothing of the kind. It is for every Christian to have his own view of Christ, his own particular song of praise concerning what the Son of God has done; and so long as men keep to that personal testimony their utterance will be unbroken as to emphasis, and direct and unanswerable as to practical appeal. "And Joanna"—do we ever hear of her again? The time came when Jesus Christ was in the tomb, and certain women went to see where the Lord lay. "It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them." Here is constancy. The names do not appear upon great occasions of triumph; the women were not ornamental pillars who came out on state occasions; they were not sun-flowers that could live only in all their freshness at midday: they were with the Son of God, ministering unto him, and when he was dead they still thought they could do something for him. Who can allow the dead to go without some last touch, or kiss, or flower reverently laid on the door of the black prison? There is always some other little thing that can be done. This is how Jesus Christ subsisted then—taking nothing from any one to whom he had not himself first ministered.
This is the only way of sustaining Christianity. It lives by the enthusiasm of its followers. It is not to be mechanically buttressed and supported and patronised. Jesus Christ, so long as the earth exists and his Church abides, must be ministered unto by those out of whom he has cast devils, whose children he has blessed, whose houses he has lighted up from the very fountain of the sun. Christianity lives upon enthusiasm, or it does not live at all. Christ has a right to look to those who bear his name, because if they bear it honestly they bear it on account of what he himself has done for them. Men do not come and take up Christianity for the purpose of doing it some favour, saying, We have looked at you from a distance, and the more we have looked the better we have been pleased with your banners, and now we are about to show you some regard for your general respectability, and therefore we will speak of you wherever we have suitable opportunities. Christianity disdains the paltry patronage. Christianity must be spoken about because it is in a Prayer of Manasseh, and will not allow him to be dumb; it is a new spirit, the eloquent spirit, the burning spirit, and it must declare its presence in the soul by touching the tongue with eloquence, and leading the hand forth into constant and generous service. When we are asked why we minister to Christ, we reply, Because he first ministered unto us: we love him because he first loved us.
That is one view of Jesus Christ which this chapter supplies. Now we have another aspect of the Son of God in relation to his teaching. He taught positively, and he taught negatively. How did he teach positively? By fact and by parable, and by giving the larger meanings of things. He found a man sowing, and he said, That is my text. He found a woman putting leaven into three measures of meal, and he said, That is my subject. He found men selling all that they had for the purpose of buying one particular gem, and said, That is what you have to do in your spiritual education, if you are wise. Sometimes all things must go for the sake of one thing. To the eye of Jesus Christ all men were revealing the kingdom of heaven in some aspect, although they were doing it unconsciously: the sower did not know that he was supplying the Son of God with the basis of a parable. We limit ourselves too severely by excluding the poetry and the apocalyptic view and issue of things, supposing that when we lift a hand we do nothing more; when we utter a word we have simply uttered a vocable, and there is an end of the exercise: whereas, if we were wise, we should find that our outgoing, our incoming, our downsitting, our uprising—yea, every breath of our respiratory system,—all things—are parabolic and suggestive, the beginnings and the germs of great spiritual thoughts and possibilities. So Jesus came to give the great meanings of things. In explanation he said, "The parable is this: The seed is the word of God." What a key is here, as in the former instance! Jesus Christ seems always to deliver up the key to men when they are in a right mood of mind and heart. Once Peter gave such a great answer to a question put to him by the Son of God, that Jesus Christ took the keys and gave them to him at once. Thus he rewards faith, the genius of love, the passion of enthusiasm. We should have more keys if we had more qualification for sustaining them and using them aright. Not only was this a key to a particular instance, it is a key which opens a thousand locks. The seed is the word of God; the leaven is the spirit of truth; the pearl of great price is truth itself; the returning prodigal is the returning soul; the music and dancing in the father"s house is heaven"s rapture when heaven"s number is increased. Oh that we had eyes to see and hearts to understand I then all the world would come with its spring lessons and summer and autumn and winter lessons, and the snow would be as eloquent as the blossoms, and the hard ice would have its gospel as well as all the rains of summer. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear!
Not only did he teach thus positively, but he exhorted; he said, "Take heed therefore how ye hear" ( Luke 8:18). In Jesus Christ"s sermons there is always a line of exhortation. We ought to notice more and more that without exhortation a sermon is not complete, and is little worth. The preacher must come down upon the hearer with all the power he can command of appeal, persuasion, entreaty; he should beseech men to be reconciled to God. Here, again, is a key. "Never man spake like this man!" He begins by pronouncing a number of beatitudes, and we listen with delight to his mellifluous voice; his lips were formed for eloquence, his eye was set in his head for illumination, for it assists the tongue to make his meaning plain: but presently we are awakened out of this intellectual reverie, and are withdrawn from this spiritual luxury, by an exhortation sharp as a crack of thunder, and we are called to be, to do, to stand, to go, to die! How many of us leave Christ at the point of exhortation! In exposition we like to hear him, because then we can partly contradict him, and contend our own opinion after he is exhausted as to speech; in poetry we love to listen to him, for the words know one another, and recognise their mutual kinship, and the whole speech flows like a deep and all but silent river; but when he comes to bid us follow him, take up our cross, deny ourselves, take heed, we begin to feel that he is imposing upon us discipline, and discipline is never acceptable to a nature that loves indulgence. But Christianity is discipline. Christianity is a commandment as well as a theology. Some can obey who cannot fully understand, and, alas, many have great understanding who never attempt to obey.
Not only did Jesus Christ teach positively, but he taught negatively. There was an occasion upon which he went into a ship with his disciples; and "he said unto them, Let us go over unto the other side of the lake. And they launched forth. But as they sailed he fell asleep." Can he teach in sleep? He always teaches. Every look is a lesson; every word a condensed volume. How will Jesus Christ teach by falling asleep? He will teach by showing the disciples what they can do without him. This is the only way, if we may so put it, that Jesus Christ can awaken us to true self-consciousness. So long as we have the sun in the heavens we expect him to return; we treat him as in some sense a hired servant: he is looked for, and if he does not do his duty we complain of his neglect: but we cannot restore him to his place; we have no power over the clouds, and we must wait until the sun reappears. It is so with the Sun of Righteousness; Jesus Christ must withdraw from us to teach us of what value he has been. We do not know sometimes that a prophet has been amongst us until the prophet is dead. Then we feel a strange vacancy; we miss a personality, an influence, a presence, an effect, a blessing; then we ask questions, and then we discover that the King has passed by, and we failed to recognise his crown and sceptre. Jesus Christ might have lived with his disciples so long that they imagined they could do very well with him or without him; they had seen his method, they knew the lines which he traversed, and they could supply what was lacking if he himself was not present. Such was their infatuation upon some occasions that they attempted to work miracles when Jesus was not there, and they said to devils, Depart, and the devils mocked them with bitter laughter, and tore their subjects with still greater strength, and inflamed and excited them by still more appalling paroxysms. Then Jesus himself drew nigh and said, What is it? And the man most in question as a sympathiser said, I brought my son to thy disciples that they might heal him, and they cannot. Thus Jesus Christ teaches by withdrawment, by falling asleep, by simply standing aside, by becoming an onlooker, instead of an active worker. Thus he teaches. The withdrawment is not an arbitrary Acts, the sleep is not merely a natural necessity; out of these things must come lessons, showing how true it is that without Christ we can do nothing. Evil spirits utter their scorn at our incantations, and the waters pour their billows upon our little craft, heedless of our impotent cry. Do not let us have any Christianity without Christ, any mechanism that is not wrought from within by a dynamic agency, a spiritual inspiration; then every wheel will roll smoothly, and the whole machinery (which we are obliged to have for the execution of religious purposes) will move on, each part answering the other part as with intelligent obedience and co-operation. We may retain the altar without Christ, but there can be no sacrifice upon it; we may retain the Church, but it will be but a set of gilded walls, not a centre of power and a fountain of refreshment, if Jesus Christ himself be not in it.
Then see not only how he subsisted and how he taught, but how he healed. A man representing the uttermost distress had come under his attention, and Jesus had renewed the Prayer of Manasseh, and the issue is thus stated—"Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the Prayer of Manasseh, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind." These are the tests, and we cannot alter them; we cannot lower the standard; these alone, and standards equal to them, are the tests by which Christ"s work in society must be judged. Let us judge ourselves by them. What was the man doing? He was "sitting at the feet of Jesus." Then he was subdued, chastened, refined, docile. Has the same miracle been wrought in us? sitting as a learner; not as an equal, not as a dictator, not as a critic, but sitting at the feet of Jesus to hear what the Master had to say, and to embody it in beautiful and generous life. "Sitting at the feet of Jesus." If I may but touch the hem of his garment I shall be healed; if I may sit at his feet it will be heaven enough for me; if I might but just feel his shadow passing over me I shall ask for no other benediction. Thus we begin. To what heights we may ascend none can tell; but Jesus Christ himself says that if we overcome, being faithful unto death, we shall sit with him on his throne. Meanwhile, it is enough to be led into the city like the blind Saul; in after years he will be blind again, but it will be in the third heaven. "Clothed," that is a common expression to us, but in this instance it was a most uncommon circumstance. The man who had been healed had not been clothed a long time—"A certain Prayer of Manasseh, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs," is the description we read of him in the27th verse. Now he is renewed in habit, civilised, part of a commonalty; no longer a rude solitary Prayer of Manasseh, but tesselated socially, related civically, and now part of organised society.
Sometimes little things show what has been wrought in a Prayer of Manasseh,—sitting in a new place, sitting in a new attitude, sitting in the house of God reverently; not looking at other people and wondering what they are doing, but looking to the centre with an eye that cannot be diverted. For some men to sit still is a miracle; for some poor light heads to listen betokens that God has been at work with them; such their natural frivolity that they cannot maintain an attitude of reverence and dignity in the house of God, and when you see them in such attitude then know that Omnipotence has not failed. "And in his right mind": the clouds all gone, the trance broken, the madness subsided, ruled like an angry sea that has been tranquillised by a divine fiat; now looking squarely at men, the eye no longer unsteady, fiery, wandering, but fixed and calm as a planet. These are the standards by which we must judge. Are we sitting at Christ"s feet? Have all our habits been changed, and are we in our right mind—humble, modest, self-distrustful, dependent upon God every moment, saying to him, "Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe: do not leave me for a single instant to myself, or I shall commit suicide, and go to hell"? These are the tests; not our little power of criticising one another, and distinguishing between Christian sects and denominations, and playing the artificial theologian, and talking unintelligible metaphysics; but these practical standards—seated as scholars at the great Teacher"s feet, part of the great society and brotherhood of Prayer of Manasseh, with a steady, calm, aspiring mind that has realised its dignity, and is endeavouring to discharge its obligations.
How many ways there are all leading to Christ! Here are the women who have been healed doing something for him according to their resources and their opportunities; here are others coming in through the gate of parable, having had the kingdom of heaven revealed to them by signs and by things which are being done in common life, and by spiritual interpretations of the commonplaces of the day; and here are others being taught by feeling how nothing and less than nothing they are when Jesus Christ is not actively present—how they bungle over their work, how they begin at the wrong end, sow in the wrong field, reap nothing but darkness in the harvest-time, and at winter are left in desolation and poverty; and here are others who are healed from great extremities—drunkards, who had been given up as losses, turned into sober citizens; madmen, who never spoke but irrationally, subdued and chastened into a docile spirit; wanderers on the face of the earth set in their right places in society. Let us go to Christ in some way. It is not for any man to say, This is the only way by which you can come. The chariots of God are twenty thousand, yea, thousands of thousands, and men may go to God in twenty thousand different ways; and provided they wish to go to God with their whole love, they will realise their desire. "While he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and ran." That is how God does towards us. Whilst we are yet a great way off, wrong in our thinking, mistaken in our intellectual conceptions, hesitating as to certain moral positions, poor and ignorant and weak, he sees us, and has compassion upon us, and runs toward us, lest another step should turn us backward, lest the foe should prevail were he himself to tarry too long. The question which each man has to ask himself is this, Can I get to the Son of God in any way? I cannot understand the preachers, the theologians, the churches, the literature religious, and therefore I feel that I am kept outside; but here is an opportunity given to me, because a preacher says, Come to Christ in some way—your own way—only insist upon seeing Christ Then perhaps some poor heart may say, I will go in this way—broken-hearted, contrite, desolate, ashamed; I will go at night, when everybody is asleep, and I will utter my first prayer when the house is quiet as a cemetery: I think I dare go in that way. Then—Go!
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Luke 8". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany