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This chapter shows us how very different men may be from one another. It also shows us the point of union by which all men are kept together, notwithstanding their contrariety to make and fire and purpose. There is no monotony in human nature; yet human nature is one. It will be interesting to give speciality of position in the eye of our imagination to some of the typical men who are so graphically described in this chapter.
First of all, here is the perplexed man:
"Now Herod the tetrarch [see note, p. 252] heard of all that was done by him: and he was perplexed" ( Luk 9:7 ).
This is a singular word. When we have a pictorial dictionary we shall see a very graphic illustration of the meaning of this term. We use another set of words which are very homely but quite memorable; words which are often quoted, and which are not always fully understood in their etymological references. This word διηπόρει ( dieporei ) imports that the man who was in this condition was perplexed, really stuck in the mud. That is the literal import of the word. He could not move easily, and in all his movement he was trying to escape, now he was moving to the right, then he was moving to the left; now forward, now backward, now sideward; he was making all kinds of motion with a view to self-extrication, and he could not deliver himself from this mood of hesitancy and incertitude. Herod was perplexed about Christ, and curiously perplexed; for his instinct put down his dogma, his conscience blew away as with a scornful wind his theological view of life and destiny.
Why was Herod perplexed?
"Because that it was said of some, that John was risen from the dead; and of some, that Elias had appeared; and of others, that one of the old prophets was risen again" ( Luk 9:7-8 ).
Why did Herod trouble himself about these dead men? As a Sadducee he did not believe in spirit or in resurrection. If he had been quite faithful and steadfast to his creed, he would have said in answer to all these rumours, Whoever this man may be, he has nothing whatever to do with another world, for other world there is none: as to resurrection, dismiss the superstition and forget it. But Herod had never been in this situation before. Circumstances play havoc with some creeds. They are admirable creeds whilst the wind is in the south-west, and the way lies up a green slope, and birds are singing around us, and all heaven seems inclined to reveal its glories in one blaze; then we can have our theories and inventions and conjectures, and can play the little tricky controversialist with many words: but when the wolf bites us, how is it then? When all the money is lost; when the little child lies at the last gasp; when the doctor himself has gone away, saying it will be needless for him to return, how then? Men should have a creed that will abide with them every day in the week without consulting thermometer or barometer; a creed that will sing the most sweetly when the heart most needs heaven's music; a great faith, an intelligent, noble, free-minded faith, that says to the heart in its moods of dejection, All will come well: hold on, never despair, never give up; one more prayer, one more day, in a little while. A faith of this kind saves men from perplexity; it gives the life of man solidity, centralisation, outlook, hope. It is an awkward thing to have a creed that will not bear this stress. Herod's Sadduceeism went down when a tap came to the door by invisible fingers. We can do what we will with matter; if the fingers are of bone and flesh, they can be smitten and broken: but who can touch invisible fingers! Then what have we to take down by way of comfort? We have declared that we know nothing, and have taken quite lofty pride in our boundless ignorance; but here is a hand at the door, and the door must be answered, and you must answer it. Herod was perplexed, hesitant, now on this side, now on that side; he could not tell what to do. So are men perplexed about Christ to-day who do not believe in him. It is one of two things in regard to this Son of man: cordial, loving, positive trust, the whole heart-love poured out like wine into a living flagon; or it is now belief, now unbelief, now uncertainty, now a prayer breathed to the very devil that he would come and take possession of the mind so as to drive out all perplexity and bewilderment. The latter course ends in deepening confusion and darkness. The only thing that will bear the stress of every weight, the collision of every conflict, is Faith simple, loving, grateful faith. Lord, increase our faith.
Here is the helpless and despairing man:
"Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear: and he went up into the ship, and returned back again. Now the man out of whom the devils were departed besought him that he might be with him: but Jesus sent him away, saying, Return to thine own house, and show how great things God hath done unto thee. And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus hath done unto him. And it came to pass, that, when Jesus was returned, the people gladly received him: for they were all waiting for him. And, behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue: and he fell down at Jesus' feet, and besought him that he would come into his house: for he had one only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she lay a dying. But as he went the people thronged him" ( Luk 8:37-42 ).
Why did not the man help himself? Why did not his friends help him? Why did not the disciples come to his assistance? Luke takes note of many particular incidents. His narrative is distinguished by points of observation which we do not find in the other evangelists; he alone says "for he had one only daughter." So with regard to the widow of Nain; speaking of her son, he says, "the. only son of his mother, and she was a widow." There are men who see little pathetic points in history. They sprinkle their history with the dew of tears. Other men see nothing but hurrying events, a rush and a tumult. Blessed are they who see heartbreak, and signs of sorrow on the cheek, and channels wrought in the flesh by flowing grief. Why did not this man heal his child? The clamour of twelve children was not in his ears; he had but one daughter: why did he not make her immortal? Alas, we are limited; we soon come to the last bottle of medicine, the last prescription; even the pharmacopoeia may be emptied. Does this man represent those who only come to Christ in extremity? Whilst there is another recipe in the house they will not pray; whilst there is another draught that may be taken they will not lift up their eyes appealingly to kind heaven. We cannot tell. There are men who do just so. They come to prayer at last, they end where they ought to have begun. There is no medicine that prayer will not sweeten; there is no application that prayer will not assist the working of. It has a magical influence upon the life. If it does not take away the burden, it increases the strength; if it does not enlarge the print, it increases the light by which we read it. This is the testimony of men strong men, wise, shrewd, penetrating men, who know the value of words; and they are prepared to stand up and say that but for the power of prayer the night would have been too dark for them, and the wind would have blown them over the brink.
The disciples could do nothing in the case. It is right that there should be limitation on that side. It would never do for the Church to be omnipotent. It would never do for us to reach an ideal faith, because then confusion would follow: If ye had faith as a grain of mustard-seed ye should say to this mountain, Depart, be removed into the sea, and instantly it would plunge into the deep like a stone thrown by the hand. That is ideal, that touches another region, and falls into the action of another gravitation; but it is along that line that men must climb. See what confusion would arise if every man could say to a mountain, Depart! Because, therefore, it is literally impossible, it is spiritually educative and inspiring. But we must not reason from that circumstance that therefore little faith would do, a crippled Christianity would be enough: Jesus Christ rebuked the disciples, and traced their failure not to their modesty, but to their perversity and faithlessness. We might do more miracles than we accomplish. Where is there a man who might not sit up five minutes later at night to finish the appeal, to complete the letter, to add a last touch to the tender entreaty? Where is there a giver who might not have added something to his donation? Where is the preacher who might not have reached a higher level of inspired eloquence, exposition, and appeal? Where is any life that is not conscious of shortcoming? We might do more. And it would be helpful to us if, having given our last loaf away, we were obliged by a common hunger all to go to Christ together. Our appearance would be a prayer, and his look would be an answer. Take heart, poor suffering one; at the core of things there is Love. It does not always appear; sometimes, indeed, the appearance is quite to the contrary; sometimes we feel as if we were under discipline that is penal and almost excessive; then we cry out, and no answer comes from the wind that bears our cry away into oblivion: but at other times we get revelations, we see light, and we ought to put down such occurrences and read them as we read the Bible. The Bible does not end upon any given age; it continues itself into the experience of mankind; so much so that a man should come back and say, Isaiah, thou art my companion to-day, I understand thee now. Ezekiel, I have got some hint of thy wheels and colours, thy flashing light, thy mysterious imagery Job, I will cry with thee to-day; let us lean upon one another and pour out our love in a common psalm. Psalmist, Asaph, David, I can sing to your harps; oh, accompany me whilst I sing the goodness of God. So every life ought to be a comment upon the Scripture. We cannot all comment upon the same book. Some do not understand the book of Genesis, or the book of Revelation; others can make nothing of the historical books, because they are filled with long names, and apparently have no home music in all their polysyllables; but other men can touch even the deepest parts of the Bible, the most mysterious instances of revelation, and all can gather around the Cross.
Here is the ambitious man:
"Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest" ( Luk 9:46 ).
How shall the hierarchy be formed? Who shall be first? Which of us shall stand bracketed as equals? Who shall speak the determining word, who shall give the casting vote? Who shall be crowned? When men are left to themselves we see the kind of questions they ask. These are the inquiries men put when they lose hold of the spiritual, the immaterial, the immortal. What conflict then arises, what petty controversy, what contention battling against contention! We need eternity to keep us up to the true level. That is the great use of religious thinking and religious worship. We cannot always explain the mystery, but we can feel its elevating influence. Whatever enlarges our veneration, quiets our spirit, turns our wonder into a telescope that can search the heavens, does the soul real good: it is not fanaticism, it is instruction; it is not sentiment, it is the beginning of conduct. When Jesus Christ enters into any conversation, the conversation instantly rises to another level. We know his voice; there is none like it. We all speak much in the same tone, but when Jesus joins the conversation he makes us ashamed of all we have said, and teaches us the beauty, the utility, and the dignity of silence. Whoever multiplies the ceremonial officers of the Church, departs from the spirit of Christ. All high-sounding titles, all ambitious distinctions, all differences in status and in function that imply inferiority on the part of others, were never learned at the Cross of Christ. Whoever makes the ministry a profession, and speaks of a minister as if he were separate from the people, having access to sealed secrets, having a key that can open the arcana of God, does not understand the spirit of Christ. "One is your Master"; all ye are brethren. What distinguishes one brother from another will soon be evident to the brethren themselves, and men have that instinct of recognition and justice which will soon settle all classifications; but purple, and velvet, and crimson, and gold, and gem, and staff of office are unknown to the Cross of Christ.
Quickly following is the sectarian man.
"And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us" ( Luk 9:49 ).
He thought he had a great message to deliver, and that the Lord would be exceedingly pleased with the news which he brought that day. John did not understand anything about the kingdom of heaven at that time, or he never would have done what he did. Yet still it enables a man to increase his stature by standing upon his toes when he can forbid some other man. Where is there a man who does not enjoy his food all the more since he has the consciousness that he has exercised a little brief authority? There is a pleasure in snubbing other people. There is a subtle comfort in telling another man to sit down. That is what the sects are doing to one another all the week long. I am not now speaking of denominations, for we must have them to the end of the chapter, as we must have families, households, separate communes; I am speaking now of the sectarian spirit which says, Because you do not worship under my roof, therefore you are not of Christ; because you do not accept my credenda, therefore you are without faith; because you do not call yourself by my name, therefore you cannot be going to the kingdom above. That is the spirit of hate, the spirit of illiberality; let us renounce it with detestation. It is beautiful to see what different views men can entertain. These differences of opinion ought to occasion us delight, when they are held with reverence, and when they are defended with reason. The idea that a man can see differently from me ought to enlarge me, in my thinking, my faith, my hope. When two men pursue the same text and each comes with a conclusion of his own, we should not think of the petty differences between the two men, but of the greatness of the text. It is because Christianity, as we have often said, is so large that men have so many different opinions about it. There are more differences of opinion about a firmament than about a gasometer. It is wonderful how sectarian some people can be. They never travel, and that is an infinite disadvantage. Always to live in the same street, mingling with the same people, going out at the same hour, returning at the same time, speaking always the same language, reading only one class of literature, why, but what angel could endure it? It is destruction. Men should travel; they should go into countries where they cannot speak a word of the language, to learn how ignorant they are; into countries that are established upon novel lines, and yet are as solid as rocks, to see that things can be done in other lands that are not done at home. Men should often turn themselves as to all their thinking upside down, so as to get hold of a larger view. The artist will tell you that in order to lay hold of the real image and colour of a landscape he puts his head down and looks at the landscape as from below. Any person coming behind him, not understanding art, would of course remark upon the eccentricity of the individual for some people cannot be eccentric. To the artist it is needful to see the landscape just from that angle; he sees what cannot be seen from any other angle, and he gets colour and lights that are otherwise impossible of recognition. To think that a man boasts of never having been absent from his own church for forty years! What a ridiculous little man he must be! How exceedingly uncomfortable to live with! I believe in all churches, in all forms of life, in all variations of music. We may pride ourselves on that which ought to be our humiliation; we may belittle the Christianity which we have undertaken to patronise.
Following the sectarian man comes in due sequence the religiously vindictive man:
"And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?" (Luke 9:51-54 .)
You cannot make Eliases. You may do just the very thing that Elias did, and so make the greater fools of yourselves. Elias is sent when the world needs him, son of thunder, son of consolation, each will be sent from heaven at the right time, and be furnished with the right credentials. But how delightful it is to set fire to somebody else! The dynamitard is a character in ancient history. Would it not be convenient for the Church always to have in its pocket just one little torpedo that it could throw in the way of somebody who differed in opinion from somebody else? The Lord Jesus will not have this; he said, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of." The spirit of Christianity is a spirit of love, a spirit of sympathy, a spirit of felicity, a spirit that can weep over cities that have rejected the Son of man.
Then said he, or said the historian the words might be his, for they are part of his very soul
"For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them" ( Luk 9:56 ).
Tell this everywhere. Go ye into all the world and say to every creature, "The Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." The strongest man amongst us might devote his life to that sweet, high task. The brightest genius that ever revelled in poem or picture might devote all its energies to the revelation of that sacred truth. There are destroyers enough. Nature itself is often a vehement and unsparing destroyer. We are our own destroyers. There needs to be somewhere a saviour, a loving heart, a redeeming spirit, a yearning soul, a mother-father that will not let us die.
"Tetrarch ( τετράάρχης ). Properly the sovereign or governor of the fourth part of a country. In the later period of the republic and under the empire, the Romans seem to have used the title (as also those of ethnarch and phylarch ) to designate those tributary princes who were not of sufficient importance to be called kings. In the New Testament we meet with the designation, either actually or in the form of its derivative τετραρχεῖν , applied to three persons: "(1) Herod Antipas (Matthew 14:1 ; Luke 3:1 , Luke 3:19 ; Luke 9:7 ; Act 13:1 ), who is commonly distinguished as 'Herod the tetrarch,' although the title of 'king' is also assigned to him both by St. Matthew ( Mat 14:9 ) and by St. Mark (Mark 6:14 , Mar 6:22 sqq .). St. Luke, as might be expected, invariably adheres to the formal title, which would be recognised by Gentile readers. Herod is described by the last-named Evangelist ( Luk 3:1 ) as 'Tetrarch of Galilee'; but his dominions, which were bequeathed to him by his father Herod the Great, embraced the district of Peræa beyond the Jordan (Joseph. Ant. 17:8, §1): this bequest was confirmed by Augustus (Joseph. B.J. 2:6, §3). After the disgrace and banishment of Antipas, his tetrarchy was added by Caligula to the kingdom of Herod Agrippa I. ( Ant. 18:7, § 2).
"(2) Herod Philip (the son of Herod the Great and Cleopatra, not the husband of Herodias), who is said by St. Luke ( Luk 3:1 ) to have been 'tetrarch of Ituræa, and of the region of Trachonitis.'
"(3) Lysanias, who is said ( Luk 3:1 ) to have been 'tetrarch of Abilene,' a small district surrounding the town of Abila, in the fertile valley of the Barada or Chrysorrhoas, between Damascus and the mountain-range of Antilibanus." Smith's Dictionary of the Bible.
Almighty God, thou hearest the prayer of men when spoken in the Name that is above every name, which Name alone do we now breathe in approaching the throne of the heavenly grace. We come by the new and living way, henceforward the only way, and we humbly beseech thee to grant unto us such blessings as our hearts require. We pray for the forgiveness of our sins. God be merciful unto us sinners! We come to the Cross of Jesus Christ our infinitely sufficient Saviour, and there confess our sins, and humbly seek the pardon of God. If we confess our sins, thou wilt surely forgive us. We now make confession of our iniquity, we now speak of our transgressions, that they may be taken away by the blood of the one Sacrifice. Create within us a clean heart, renew within us a right spirit, and give us to know the meaning of holiness as thou dost know it. Purify us by the blood of Jesus, and there shall be no stain upon our hearts or upon our life. Put within us thy Holy Spirit, so as to enlighten the understanding, to regenerate the heart, and sanctify the whole nature; then shall we grow in grace, and shall become beautiful with the purity of God. Let the Holy Ghost descend upon us! Now may we know that he is here by the warmth of our affections, by the loftiness and purity of our desires, and by a holy resolution to give ourselves, body, soul and spirit, to the service of the living Lord. Prepare us to hear the messages of the gospel. May we receive them as good seed cast into good ground. May no word of all the message of thy love escape us. May every tone of the music of the gospel enter into the ear of our hearts and charm our life. May we know thy truth more perfectly, and love it more truly, that men, noting our behaviour, may wonder concerning the sources of our power. We would live in God, we would live according to the law of Jesus Christ. Daily would we carry, with unmurmuring patience and cheerful hope, the Cross of our Lord and Saviour. Direct all the way of our life. Suffer none of our steps to slide; when the wicked, even our enemies and our foes, would come upon us to devour and to destroy, save us in the time of peril. Set our feet upon a rock and hide within our hearts thy word, that we may not sin against thee. We now await thine answer, O living One! We have spoken our prayer at the Cross; we now abide the answer of God. Let it be an answer of peace and love and tender mercy, and our hearts shall burn within us: Now unto him that is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Luke 9". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24