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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Mark 12

Verses 1-44

Jesus Christ's Methods of Teaching

Mark 12:0

Instead of telling men their faults in so many words, Jesus Christ often set forth a parable which avoided personality, and yet vividly represented the features which he wished to correct or condemn; not only so, he drew men into a condemnation of themselves by showing their own conduct at such a distance as brought a new light upon it. The parable before us is a case in point. The people having heard the parable, "knew that he had spoken it against them." There is a moral interpreter in every man's heart.

In this parable we have

(1) A striking way of teaching the highest truths. For the moment Jesus Christ turns aside from what is distinctively religious, and assumes a case which might occur in ordinary life. Here are men in certain business relations: they act in such and such a manner: what do you think of their conduct under such circumstances? Jesus thus begins on common ground. There is not a word of what is ordinarily known as religion in his statement, and yet his inferences are directed to the highest spiritual ends. This is a striking way of teaching truth. Begin with men on their own ground; force them to apply their own conclusions; show them that they must either accept Christianity or give the lie to their own reason. Thus: Men complain that without faith it is impossible to please God; but why should they so complain when, as a matter of fact, it is just as impossible to please themselves without faith? Or again: Men say, why does not God give us all we need without our having to pray? when they act daily on this very principle of prayer in relation to their own children! So throughout the whole scheme: if men would but narrowly look into their own way of doing things, they would find in the human a germ of the divine. Christianity completes and glorifies human reason, and never impairs or dishonours it This striking way of teaching the highest truths is open to all Christian teachers. They must study human nature, and show men the full meaning of the partial moralities which are too often mistaken for perfect righteousness.

(2) A vindication of the simple justice of God's claim upon mankind. Look at the reasonableness of the case as shown in the figure of the vineyard. The vineyard belonged to the man; he did all that was necessary for its protection and cultivation; and at the season he sent for the fruit. On these simple lines God finds foundation enough for his claim upon the homage and love of the world. (1) Here is proprietorship: "All souls are mine." (2) Here is culture: "What more could I have done for my vineyard that I have not done?" "He maketh his sun to rise," etc. (3) Here is reasonable expectation: "At the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard." This is God's case in relation to ourselves. We cannot get out of it. We are imprisoned by our own reason, and the measure of our sanity is the standard of our obligation.

(3) A gracious view of malignant behaviour. The owner of the vineyard did not take vengeance at first. He gave the husbandmen the benefit of every doubt. The servant might have acted unwisely, so he sent another; the second might have brought himself under just condemnation, so he sent a third; and so on until the bitter end. God is slow to anger. Judgment is his strange work. Is he quick to mark our iniquities, and eager to bring down upon us his terrible sword? But see how bad behaviour encourages and strengthens itself in wickedness! The husbandmen beat the first, they wounded the second, they killed the third! Vice emboldens itself quickly. The youth who laughs at an oath to-day will himself blaspheme openly tomorrow. There is a lesson here to those who neglect sermons, or undervalue opportunities, or treat slightingly all good advice. See the culmination! The men who began by beating a servant ended by killing the Son! This is not exceptional. It is the natural and necessary course of sin.

(4) An assurance of just vengeance upon all bad men. The Lord of the vineyard will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others. According to the account given by Matthew, the men who heard the parable pronounced the judgment themselves. When Christ asked what the Lord of the vineyard would do, the people answered, "He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him their fruits in their seasons." This is a solemn fact, viz., that men will judge themselves, and pronounce the heavenly vengeance just. The wicked will say Amen to their own condemnation! In the long run the sense of justice that is in every man will assert itself, and acknowledge the righteousness of God.

13. And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words.

14. And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Cæsar, or not?

15. Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it.

16. And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Cæsar's.

17. And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they marvelled at him.

(1) Flattery missing its aim. Sin of all kinds always misses its aim; its apparent successes are all momentary and unsatisfactory. Sincerity can see through flattery. When a man is right in his own heart the words of other men cannot do him any harm. Flattery is poison to the weak, but it has no effect upon the strong. (2) Patriotism directed by righteousness. "Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's." Be honest. Whenever there is a claim honestly made it must be honestly met. (3) The twofold duty of man pointed out: to Cæsar, to God. He who fulfils his obligations to God fulfils them also of necessity to man. The greater includes the less. Religion does not hold political obligations in contempt. Prayer and taxation must go together so long as we are citizens and subjects as well as saints. (4) Insincerity turned into reality. "And they marvelled at him." There was no pretence about this wonder. The answer stunned the flatterers, and brought to their cheeks every drop of real blood that was in them. Who can stun like the Almighty!

18. Then come unto him the Sadducees which say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying,

19. Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man's brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.

20. Now there were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed.

21. And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed: and the third likewise.

22. And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also.

23. In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? for the seven had her to wife.

24. And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the Scriptures, neither the power of God?

25. For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.

26. And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?

27. He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.

This is the case of men who spend their time in getting up little neat arguments. They think their cases complete. They feel quite sure that such instances must carry conviction to every mind. Such men, too, are fond of the reductio ad absurdum , their logical recreations. It amuses them. They chuckle hilariously over the feats of their nimble wit. Look what a case the Sadducees had! A woman had seven husbands on earth, which of them will she choose as her one husband in the next world; and are the remaining six men to have no wives hereafter? "Ha! ha!" said they, "how ridiculous he must look when we put such a case to him! Come, we have caught him now, and the public shall see how we pluck his stolen feathers." Away they went. On the road they stopped a moment here and there that they might laugh just once more by way of anticipation. The man who had undertaken to state the case declared that he could not keep his gravity, the thing was so infinitely amusing, and so dazzlingly self-evident as an argument. One woman: seven husbands: resurrection: all the seven putting in a claim: the woman bewildered and unable to make a choice: ha! ha! The man who reported the case was regarded as having found a pearl beyond price. Lucky dog! it had fallen to his lot to puncture the Christian balloon. So away they went, merry enough, and sure enough of an easy and brilliant victory. They stated the case. The Saviour was not agitated. As soon as they ceased he said to them, in effect, "You fools, in the resurrection there is no marriage: unities are established on a new basis: you are wrong in your fundamental position: go home and learn common-sense before you put any more riddles to a Christian teacher." Jesus Christ will show that all objectors are fundamentally wrong. They have no ground to stand upon. Their cases are all bubble-like. The wittiest objector will find that his blade has no handle. Every objector forgets the one thing which makes all the difference between genius and insanity.

The reference which Jesus Christ made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is very suggestive. He showed the Sadducees that if they gave up belief in the spiritual state, they must also give up belief in God himself; forasmuch as God called himself the God of Abraham, who had long been absent from earth, so God was the God of the living. It is even so. We cannot surrender one part of Christ's teaching without surrendering the whole. If we. break one commandment we break all. If we subtract we destroy. Tender is the life of Truth! And yet how gentle its corrections, "ye do greatly err." Solemn, even to sadness, are some of the rebukes of the Saviour.

28. And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?

29. And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:

30. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.

31. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

32. And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:

33. And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.

34. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.

This incident shows that indirect influence may be exerted by Christian teaching. Even if the scribe had not proposed this inquiry he would have received advantage from the answer which Jesus Christ returned to the Sadducees. He was evidently impressed with the wisdom, self-control, and high spiritual claims of Jesus Christ. Ministers should take a lesson from this. Besides the persons who are immediately interested in our ministry, there are others who are quietly and almost under concealment looking on, and forming their opinion of our temper and competence. We know not where the influence of a sermon may penetrate. Our preaching should always be such as to encourage serious listeners to ask such questions as may be secretly engaging their thoughts. The scribe was evidently clearer-minded and more earnest than either the Herodians or the Sadducees. The Herodians put a political question, the Sadducees proposed a speculative question; but the scribe made a profound and spiritual inquiry, "Which is the first commandment of all?" This is the kind of question which is worthy of the most anxious consideration. Life should not be spent in paltry disputes about tribute money, or in studying questions of barren speculation, but in finding out the principles which are at the very centre of things and shall abide for ever.

Jesus Christ answered the scribe in the scribe's own spirit a spirit of the deepest solemnity and veneration. The words of the commandments as pronounced by Jesus Christ are simply majestic. Without exposition, paraphrase, or enlargement, Jesus Christ repeated the words of eternal life. There is a scriptural answer to every great spiritual question. Ho who returns answers in the words of Scripture will most satisfy the desire of every earnest heart. Jesus attempted no philosophical exposition of law, obligation, judgment, or any related subject; he pronounced the commandments with the authority of the Lawgiver. Man needs two commandments because his life has two aspects. The one aspect is upwards towards God, the other aspect is lateral towards society. Both commandments have a common root, viz., love. True love is a compound feeling. It is more than mere admiration, fancy, prejudice, or esteem based upon superficial qualities and attractions. It comprises the assent of the judgment, the approbation of the conscience, and the fervent sanction of the best feelings. We may reverence God without loving him. For our neighbour we may have admiration without affection. We are to try ourselves by the severity and comprehensiveness of the divine requirement.

The answer which the scribe returned to Jesus Christ shows that in the heart of man there is a voice which confirms the claim of God. "Well, Master, thou hast said the truth." We should speak so as to compel those who hear us to acknowledge that our word is true. We can do this by our tone as well as by our reasoning. The tone of the ministry is quite as important as its argument. A hard, dry, dogmatic method of stating the truth will repel: a solemn, sympathetic, tender tone will constrain and persuade. We lose half our power as ministers of Christ if we neglect to appeal to the spirit of man as itself the best witness of God. "There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding." It is the highest prerogative of man to be able to distinguish the false from the true, and to discover in the moral chaos of society the line of rectitude and order. Let ministers appeal to that prerogative, and they will put many to silence who are too obstinate to be convinced.

Jesus Christ recognises every particle of good that is in a man. He told the scribe that he was not far from the kingdom of God. Jesus Christ recognised good directions and tendencies, as well as successful results. We should tell men when they are setting themselves upon a right course, even though they may have gone but a few steps upon it. Encouragement is as food to the soul. Do not let us be afraid of telling any man that we see some good in him. Point it out rather, and urge him to persevere in the holy way, walking by the same rule, and minding the same thing. Men may be so told of their excellences as to abash and humble them, as well as so told as to encourage self-exaggeration. The scribe was a type of men who require a word of encouragement. They have great questions to ask, and already in their own hearts there is an answer to such questions, but they wish that answer to be pronounced by some outward authority that may come back upon themselves as a revelation and an appeal. There is much in our own hearts which we would be glad to hear other people say, for we could then rest upon it with a redoubled sense of security.

35. And Jesus answered, and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David?

36. For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.

37. David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly.

This gives us some insight into one of Jesus Christ's methods of teaching. He raised great questions for discussion. He did not always stop to explain the difficulties which he suggested, but rather left them to create a healthful excitement in the minds of his hearers. Ministers are often urged to be simple in their preaching, and there is undoubted wisdom in the exhortation; at the same time we ought to take license from the example of Jesus Christ to propound inquiries, and suggest courses of thinking, which seem to lie somewhat afield from the line of simple gospel preaching. Every mind is the better for having some great theological question constantly before it. A sense of awe comes over the traveller when he enters the primeval forest, stands within the shadow of inaccessible heights, or feels his loneliness in the midst of the great sea: there is something analogous to this in some departments of theological inquiry, we are perplexed, awed, overwhelmed; and in many a scene we are constrained to exclaim, "How dreadful is this place!" Jesus Christ raised great scriptural questions. He went back to Moses, the prophets, the Psalms, and found in the whole range of inspired statement bases on which to ground inquiries relating to his own person and mediation. He found himself everywhere. How is it that some of us see so little of him in the great sanctuary of his own revelation?

Notwithstanding these great problems, "the common people heard him gladly." The common people know a great deal by sympathy, which they do not receive through the medium of their understanding. It is unwise to suppose that every word has to be broken up into simple meanings for the sake of the common people. They can read the countenance, they can understand the tone, they can interpret all the feeling which pervades Christian discourse; and whilst three parts of the statement may be perfectly simple in an intellectual point of view, they can enter with deep appreciation into those portions which are far-reaching and sublime.

38. And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces,

39. And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts:

40. Which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.

The Saviour here returns to the great practical line of his ministry. He who had just proposed a solemn theological inquiry, utters a word of caution regarding some of the men who were immediately around him. Every honest minister is called upon to point out the false men and the false influences which are in society. This is a part of our ministry in which many of us fail. Who is courageous enough to lay his hand upon the vices which are immediately before him, presented in some of the members of his own congregation, and to condemn them specifically and vehemently? No word is hard which is true. To call a man a hypocrite because he has in some way disappointed or offended us is mere spite; but to call him a hypocrite when we know that such a term is deserved by his conduct is not to speak severely. We find in the Scriptures such words as vipers, hypocrites, whited walls, liars; and these words have no harshness in them: employed in passion or in ill-nature they would recoil upon the speaker, and constitute a charge against his judgment and honour; but employed righteously they justify themselves, and do their proper work in human speech. No man used hard words, commonly so-called, so specifically and tellingly as Jesus Christ; the danger is, that with less wisdom and less authority some of his followers may abuse the holiness of his example. Jesus Christ condemned persons as well as actions. There is a shallow policy which says, Condemn the sin, but let the sinner alone: this was not Jesus Christ's method; he pointed out the sinner, and openly set upon him the mark of his righteous disapprobation. Long clothing, salutations in the marketplaces, chief seats in the synagogues, uppermost rooms at feasts, did not hide from Jesus Christ the fact that men bearing sacred names were devouring widows' houses, and for a pretence making long prayers. So terrible in penetration and judgment is the word and gospel of God I

41. And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.

42. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.

43. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in than all they which have cast into the treasury:

44. For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

A story without an equal in the whole history of human beneficence. It abounds in practical points. Take a few of them:

(1) There is a treasury in the Church. Treasury may stand for all means of doing good: supporting the ministry; spreading the gospel; teaching the ignorant; visiting the sick, etc. Into this treasury some may cast money, some time, some influence, others may cast the whole of these. The treasury, taken in this large sense, is one severe test of the piety and consecration of the Church. The treasury is not spoken of here as if it were an exceptional institution, or brought into occasional use. It was a permanent fact. It was part of temple-worship. So it must ever be. When the Church ceases to give it will cease to live.

(2) Jesus Christ himself presides over the treasury. He did so, virtually, in this case. This fact redeems the treasury from all sordid and vulgar associations. What we give we give not to this man or to that, but to Jesus Christ himself. This consideration turns the act of giving into a holy service. When a shilling is given to a poor man it is given to Jesus Christ; when money is given to any Christian object it is handed to the Saviour himself. Work from any lower action, and giving will become a vexation; work from this high level, and it will become a sacrifice of joy. Jesus Christ is the Treasurer of the Church. Every farthing, every cup of cold water, every gentle service, he puts down in his book. All human officers are but sub-treasurers and sub-secretaries: the Saviour holds everything in his own hand.

(3) To this treasury men are to give as God has prospered them. Uniform rates of gift are unnatural, unreasonable, and unjust. It is scandalous that the great merchant and his clerk should be asked to give the same amount to Christian service. Pew-rents, as defining the final line of giving, ought not to be known in the church. They may be tolerated as bearing upon certain fixed expenses, but as a channel of love and gratitude they are infinitely worse than ridiculous. Love is the only sufficient law of giving. What has God done for us? What have we benefited from his word, his providences, his manifold ministries? These questions will settle the measure of our gifts to the consecrated treasury.

(4) Jesus Christ pronounces judgment upon the gifts of men. He knew what the rich had given; he knew what the widow gave; he knew how much was left behind in the hands of the rich, and he knew that the widow had parted with her whole living. Our judgment, then, is with God. Mutual criticism loses all sting when we bring ourselves immediately to the divine bar. Nothing that we have ever done shall be forgotten! "God is not unrighteous to forget our work of faith and labour of love." The poor will not be lost sight of in the judgment. What if they who gave most in quantity gave least in quality?

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Bibliographical Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Mark 12". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. 1885-95.