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Luke 7:1. In the audience.—Lit. “in the ears of the people” (R.V.).
Luke 7:2. Servant.—I.e. slave. Who was dear unto him.—Or, “who was in much esteem with him.” This is peculiar to St. Luke. Sick,—“Sick of the palsy, grievously tormented” (Matthew 8:6). Ready to die.—Rather, “at the point of death” (R.V.).
Luke 7:3. He sent unto Him the elders of the Jews.—Omit “the” (R.V.). St. Matthew represents the centurion as coming to Jesus; the discrepancy may be accounted for on the principle qui facit per alium, facit per se. The mission of the elders (elders, no doubt, of the synagogue built by the centurion) is peculiar to St. Luke.
Luke 7:4. Instantly.—I.e. “urgently,” “earnestly” (R.V.).
Luke 7:5. Built us a synagogue.—Not necessarily the only synagogue in the town, but the synagogue to which the speakers belonged. In the ruins of Tel Hum, which is perhaps to be identified with Capernaum, the remains of two synagogues are to be seen, one of them apparently belonging to the time of Herod. Generosity of this kind is frequently mentioned by Josephus. It is almost certain from this verse and from Matthew 8:11-12 that this centurion, though favourably disposed towards the Jewish people and their religion, was not a proselyte. “The existence at this time of the persons who are called in Rabbinical writings Proselytes of the Gate is very doubtful” (Speaker’s Commentary).
Luke 7:7. Say in a word.—It is interesting to notice that Jesus had already wrought a miracle of this kind; by His word, spoken at a distance, the son of the nobleman (or “courtier”) at Capernaum had been healed (John 4:46-54). The two miracles are quite distinct events, though some critics have endeavoured to prove that they are one and the same.
Luke 7:8. For I also, etc.—“Being myself under authority, I know what it is to obey; having soldiers under me, I know how they obey my commands. I know, then, from my own experience, that the powers of disease which are under Thy command will obey Thy word” (Speaker’s Commentary).
Luke 7:9. Marvelled.—The only other time when Jesus is said to have been astonished is in Mark 6:6, when He marvelled because of unbelief.
Luke 7:10. That had been sick.—Omitted from the best MSS.; omitted in R.V.
Luke 7:11. The day after.—A better reading, followed by the R.V., is “soon afterwards.” There is just the difference of a single letter between the two phrases in the original. Nain.—This is the only place in the Bible where the village is mentioned. It has been identified with the small village of Nein, at the foot of the Lesser Hermon. The name means “lovely.” It is twenty-five miles distant from Capernaum.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 7:1-11
The Faith of the Centurion.—That upon which the Son of God fastened as worthy of admiration was not the centurion’s benevolence, nor his perseverance, but his faith. And so speaks the whole New Testament, giving a special dignity to faith. By faith we are justified. By faith man removes mountains of difficulty. As the divinest attribute in the heart of God is love, so the mightiest, because the most human, principle in the breast of man is faith: love is heaven, faith is that which appropriates heaven. Faith is that which, when probabilities are equal, ventures on God’s side, and on the side of right, on the guarantee of a something within which makes the thing seem true because loved.
I. The faith which was commended.—
1. First evidence of its existence—his tenderness to his servant. Of course this good act might have existed separate from religion. But we are forbidden to view it so, when we remember that he was a spiritually-minded man. Morality is not religion, but it is ennobled and made more delicate by religion. Instinct may make a man kind to his servant as to his horse or dog. But the moment faith comes, dealing as it does with things infinite, it throws something of its own infinitude on the persons loved by the man of faith; it raises them. Consequently you find the centurion “building a synagogue,” “caring for our (i.e. the Jewish) nation,” as the repository of the truth—tending his servants. And this last approximated his moral goodness to the Christian standard; for therein does Christianity differ from mere religiousness, that it is not a worship of the high, but a lifting up of the low—not hero-worship, but Divine condescension.
2. His humility. “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest enter under my roof.” Christ calls this faith. How is humility the result of, or rather identical with, faith? Faith is trust. Trust is dependence on another; the spirit which is opposite to independence or trust in self. Hence where the spirit of proud independence is, faith is not. There was no servility in this, but true freedom. The centurion chose his master. He was not fawning on the emperor at Rome, nor courting the immoral ruler at Cæsarea, who had titles and places to give away; but he bent in lowliest homage of heart before the Holy One. His freedom was the freedom of uncoerced and voluntary dependence, the freedom and humility of faith.
3. His belief in an invisible living will. “Say in a word.” He asked not the presence of Christ, but simply an exertion of His will. He looked not like a physician to the operation of unerring laws, or the result of the contact of matter with matter. He believed in Him who is the Life indeed. He felt that the Cause of causes is a person. Hence he could trust the living Will out of sight. This is the highest form of faith. Through his own profession he had reached this truth. Trained in obedience to military law, accustomed to render prompt submission to those above him, and to exact it from those below him, he read law everywhere; and law to him meant nothing unless it meant the expression of a personal will.
II. The causes of Christ’s astonishment.—
1. The centurion was a Gentile; therefore unlikely to know revealed truth.
2. A soldier, and therefore exposed to a recklessness, idleness, and sensuality which are the temptations of that profession. But he turned his loss to glorious gain. There are spirits which are crushed by difficulties: others would gain strength from them. The greatest men have been those who have cut their way to success through difficulties. And such have been the greatest triumphs of art and science; such, too, of religion. Moses, Elijah, Abraham, the Baptist, the giants of both Testaments, were not men nurtured in the hothouse of religious advantages. Many a man would have done good if he had not had a superabundance of the means of doing it. Religious privileges are necessary especially for the feeble, as crutches are necessary; but, like crutches, they often enfeeble the strong. For every advantage which facilitates performance, and supersedes toil, a corresponding price is paid in loss. The place of religious might is not the place of religious privileges. But where amid manifold disadvantages the soul is thrown upon itself, a few kindred spirits, and God, there grow up those heroes of faith like the centurion, whose firm conviction wins admiration even from the Son of God Himself.
III. This incident testifies to the perfect humanity of Christ.—The Saviour “marvelled”: that wonder was no fictitious semblance of admiration. It was genuine wonder. He had not expected to find such faith. The Son of God increased in wisdom as in stature. He knew more at thirty than at twenty. In all matters of eternal truth His knowledge was absolute. But it would seem that in matters of earthly fact, which are modified by time and space, His knowledge was like ours, more or less dependent on experience. Now we forget this—we are shocked at the thought of the partial ignorance of Christ, as if it were irreverence to think it: we shrink from believing that He really felt the force of temptation; or that the forsakenness on the cross and the momentary doubt have parallels in our human life. In other words, we make that Divine life a mere mimic representation of griefs that were not real, and surprises that were feigned, and sorrows that were theatrical. But thus we lose the Saviour. For if we lose Him as a brother, we cannot feel Him as a Saviour.—Robertson.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 7:1-16
Luke 7:1-10. The Centurion of Great Faith.—The character of the man comes out in his affection for his slave, his reverence for such religious light as he had already attained, his modesty and reticence. Jesus marvelled at his faith. It delighted the heart of the Son of man with a rare joy. He gave it the palm over all such faith as He had already met with, and responded to it even beyond the soldier’s expectation. Wherein consisted the greatness of the faith so signally praised?
I. It was great when we consider the man in whom it was found.—How favourably he contrasts with those who saw many miracles, and yet did not believe. This stranger’s faith was based on the report of others. He had not been present at any of the healings done in the city.
II. It was great in its view of Christ’s power.—His argument is one from less to more. Though it be not all the truth, it goes to the heart of the truth about the power of Christ. It puts the crown of the universe on His head, and the sceptre of universal dominion into His hand. In so thinking and speaking faith acts just as it ought.
III. It was great in its sole dependence upon Christ and His will.—It needed no help from sight or sense. It made nothing of difficulty or distance. In this it was unparalleled in the experience of Jesus.
IV. It was great in its self-forgetting humbleness.—There was not a vestige of desire for honour to himself. Indeed, there was the fullest expression of the opposite. Most striking humility! Men said, “He is worthy.” He says, “I am unworthy.” He would have the Lord get all the honour, and the thing be so done as to keep himself out of sight altogether. How hard it is to be simple, unconscious, and humble in our faith! But this is faith’s true mark: None but Christ!—Laidlaw.
Strong Faith rewarded.
I. The centurion of Capernaum.—a. A good man. b. A good master.
II. The centurion’s humility.
III. The centurion’s faith.
IV. The centurion’s reward.—Watson.
Luke 7:1-16. Power and Compassion.—Why are these two incidents recorded? The first, because of the centurion’s faith; the second, because of the Saviour’s pity.
I. Where was the faith?—It was in the obedience. Obedience is faith. The centurion knew—felt that Jesus was a captain who had but to issue the word, and be obeyed. There is no faith that is not surrender, no faith that does not say, “Bid me do this, Lord, and I will do it.”
II. The meeting of the Prince of life and of the victim of death.—Jesus and His followers stood aside to let the procession pass. But when He saw the twice-bereaved woman, “He had compassion on her.” He said, “Weep not.” He restored the young man to life, and to his mother. It is a little anecdote. It has its “moral.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” Natural death is not the worst calamity. To be “dead in sins” is worse. And Christ has power over spiritual death as well. His power over physical death is only an illustration of His greater power.—Hastings.
Healing the Sick: Raising the Dead.
I. The dying slave healed.—
1. The good soldier.
2. The soldier’s slave.
3. The soldier’s friends.
4. The soldier’s faith.
5. The soldier’s reward.
II. The dead son raised.—
1. The dead Song of Song of Solomon 2:0. The weeping mother.
3. The loving Saviour.—W. Taylor.
Luke 7:1. “Entered into Capernaum.”—The miracle recorded in this section was one of those “mighty works done in Capernaum” (Matthew 11:23) which failed to produce repentance. The unbelief of the inhabitants of that city, as Christ solemnly declared, rendered them more guilty than the people of Sodom. Three lessons may be drawn from this:
1. That it is foolishness to think that faith would necessarily have been excited in us, or would be stronger than it is, if we had been witnesses of Christ’s life and miracles.
2. That we may shudder at the sins of others and at the punishment they may have incurred, and yet be far more guilty ourselves.
(3) According to the measure of light against which we have sinned will be our punishment.
Luke 7:2. “Servant who was dear unto him.”—Luke thus anticipates a doubt which might have arisen in the mind of the reader; for we know that slaves were not held in such estimation as to make their masters so solicitous about their life, unless by extraordinary industry, or fidelity, or some other virtue, they had secured their favour. By this statement Luke means that this was not a low or ordinary slave, but a faithful servant, distinguished by many excellencies, and very highly esteemed by his master; and that this was the reason why he was so anxious about his life, and recommended him so earnestly.—Calvin.
Master and Slave.—This mutual affection of master and slave is very touching, especially when we consider the brutality that so often marked the slavery of the ancients. We may safely conclude that the piety, love, faith, and humility that were so prominent in the character of the centurion had been a good influence upon one who had been for long in daily intercourse with him, and had called forth all the better qualities of the slave. Surely the same holy influence should produce like effects in our own society more frequently than it appears to do.
Master and Man.—The whole mass of men may be classed in two divisions:
(1) we are employers of others, or
(2) we are employed by others. The first may learn—
I. To exercise considerateness and kindliness to those who work for them.
II. The employed may learn to earn respect and attachment by faithful service—no eye-service, no slipshod work—to be loyal, faithful, and true. The employer is not to regard his workman as a mere machine, to be used up and tossed aside; the employed is not to regard his master as a bloodsucker, to be watched and guarded against, lest he should suck blood too freely. Let us adorn our stations, remembering our common origin, our common salvation, our common responsibility.—Hiley.
Luke 7:3. “Sent … the elders of the Jews.”—The respect manifested by the centurion towards Jesus is emphatically marked.
1. He chose the most honourable persons, and those whom he was accustomed to reverence, to convey his message to the Lord.
2. He sent a second deputation composed of his own personal friends (Luke 7:6). A false humility often leads a man to be guilty of real disrespect: true humility is punctilious in the matter of doing honour to the superior.
Luke 7:4. “Besought Him instantly” (i.e. earnestly).—The duty of making intercession for others is commended to us by what is here told of the earnestness with which these elders besought Christ to grant the boon desired by the centurion.
Imperfect Faith effectual.—These elders, although they were not without faith, had, nevertheless, less faith than he who sent them (Luke 7:9). Yet do they not entreat in vain for him.—Gerlach.
Luke 7:5. “He loveth our nation.”—Before Christ healed his servant the centurion had been healed by the Lord. This was itself a miracle. One who belonged to the military profession, and who had crossed the sea with a band of soldiers, for the purpose of accustoming the Jews to endure the yoke of Roman tyranny, submits willingly, and yields obedience to the God of Israel.—Calvin.
Blessings won by the Centurion.—The centurion was attracted by the Jewish religion. The religion of heathen Rome had failed (as well it might!) to supply the wants of such a spirit as his. He had been guided to embrace the purest system of all which existed in his day; and “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” left him not without further light, but first guided him to the knowledge, and now brought him into the very presence of Him who is the Light itself.—Burgon.
Luke 7:6. “Then Jesus went with them.”—It is noticeable that on another occasion Jesus had a similar request offered to him. A certain nobleman besought him to come and heal his son who was at the point of death (John 4:46-47). Jesus did not go, but spoke the word by which the child was healed. His action in abstaining to go to the bedside of the nobleman’s son, and in acceding to the request to come to heal the centurion’s slave, may have some special significance in it. The greater faith of the centurion may explain our Lord’s procedure. In the case of the nobleman His course of action was calculated to strengthen weak faith.
“Trouble not Thyself.”—See note on Luke 8:49. The phrase here used might be translated, “Don’t worry yourself,” and is closely akin to that kind of colloquial expressions which we describe as “slang.” In the two cases where we find it in this Gospel, it is used by plain, ordinary people, by the servants of Jairus, and by the centurion, a man who possibly had risen from the ranks. To say that such a slang use of the word is unworthy of the New Testament is only to say that the evangelists were bound to polish up the diction of servants and soldiers, instead of reporting it in the most lifelike way possible.—R. Winterbotham.
“Not worthy.”—As one who not only contrasted his own sinfulness with the perfect holiness of Jesus, and who regarded Jesus as a superior being, but who remembered that he was himself somewhat of an alien to the race to which Jesus belonged, and to whom He so largely confined Himself.
Yet counted worthy.—Counting himself unworthy that Christ should enter into his doors, he was counted worthy that Christ should enter into his heart.—Augustine.
Luke 7:7. “Say in a word.”—If the Lord Jesus had been a mere creature, could He have suffered such views of Himself to pass uncorrected? But instead of this—as on every other occasion—the more exalted were men’s views of Him, ever the more grateful it war to His spirit.—Brown.
Two Reasons why Christ need not Come.—The centurion gave two reasons why Christ need not take the trouble of entering his house: the first was based upon his own unworthiness to receive so great a guest; the second was based upon the power which he believed that Christ possessed—it was needless for Him to come in person, He had but to speak the word and the servant would be healed.
Luke 7:8. “I also am a man set under authority.”—The faith of the centurion was childlike in its character, but essentially true in the spiritual insight it manifested. He argues from the less to the greater. “Though I am only a subordinate officer, with limited powers’ (“set under authority”), “I can yet give commands to servants and be obeyed. Much more art Thou able to send an angel to heal my servant, or to bid the disease depart.” He had learned from his own life as a soldier a true idea of the Divine government of the world, and saw in the power entrusted to him as an officer an emblem of the power which God exercises over the world. As truly as he could execute his will, did God, as he believed, who is the source of all power, carry into effect beneficent purposes towards mankind.
“Do this,” etc.—Oh that I could be but such a servant to mine heavenly Master! Alas! every one of His commands says, “Do this,” and I do it not: every one of His inhibitions says, “Do it not,” and I do it. He says, “Go from the world,” and I run to it: He says, “Come to Me,” and I run from Him. Woe to me! this is not service, but enmity. How can I look for favour while I return rebellion?—Hall.
Luke 7:9. The Nature of Faith.—This is the first time that faith is mentioned in this Gospel; and it is in accordance with the purpose of St. Luke to lay special emphasis upon the manifestation of this virtue by one who was outside the circle of the chosen people—it was an earnest of the acceptance of the Saviour by the nations of the world. Faith is to be distinguished from “sight” or knowledge: it is a moral quality rather than an intellectual faculty—a laying hold of that which is unseen—a venturing to believe upon evidence which satisfies the heart rather than convinces the reason. It is produced by love, and not by argument.
Spontaneous and Intense Faith.—This was the greatest exhibition of faith which had as yet come under the observation of Christ. Two things distinguish it and give it special value.
I. Its spontaneousness.—It had sprung up without special cultivation: God’s dealings with the Jewish people had been of such a marked character that it was comparatively easy for one of that nation to have faith in Him, but the centurion had been born and brought up in heathen society.
II. Its intensity.—The centurion did not, as the Jews so often did, demand a sign to convince him of Christ’s power: he was fully persuaded that Jesus could with a word perform this mighty deed, whether He chose to exercise His power or not.
“In Israel.”—The name is a significant one (“He who striveth with God”):it was given to the patriarch Jacob in memorial of the faith which gave him power over the angel and enabled him to prevail. With the prevailing unbelief of the Jewish people the strong faith of their great ancestor is, therefore, tacitly contrasted. By a heathen, and not by a son of Abraham, is faith shown in all its strength and beauty. “Christ found in the oleaster what He had not found in the olive” Augustine).
Humility pleasing to God.—As haughtiness is an abomination unto the Lord, so humility is pleasing to Him. “Though the Lord be high, yet hath He respect unto the lowly: but the proud He knoweth afar off” (Psalms 138:6).
Roman Soldiers mentioned in the New Testament.—Everything connected with the centurion is remarkable—for a master to have such love to his slave, for a Roman to show such humility, for a heathen to show such reverence to the religion of an alien and subject people. It is interesting to notice that in the New Testament we have various other instances of piety and goodness in the cases of Roman soldiers. There was the centurion at the cross, who confessed that Jesus was the Son of God (Mark 15:39); Cornelius, distinguished by his prayers and alms-giving (Acts 10:1-2); and Julius, who treated Paul courteously and interfered to preserve his life (Acts 27:3; Acts 27:42-43). Probably, it has been remarked, these cases prove that, in the general decay of morals at this time, the Roman army, by its order and discipline, tended to foster some of the primitive virtues which had distinguished the nation at an earlier period.
Luke 7:10. “They that were sent.”—From a comparison of the various narratives of this miracle, it would appear that, after sending two deputations, one of Jewish elders and one of his own friends, the centurion himself came and deprecated any further trouble being taken by Jesus than His merely speaking the word. If this be the case, this verse would imply that he remained with Jesus: “they that were sent returned to the house, and found the servant whole.” This perhaps gives us another indication of the centurion’s faith.
Intercession.—If the prayers of an earthly master prevailed so much with the Son of God for the recovery of a servant, how shall the intercession of the Son of God prevail with His Father in heaven for us that are His impotent children and servants upon earth!—Hall.
The Power of Christ.—The power of Christ to heal bodily sickness by a word may well be taken as a pledge of His power to heal the soul. “So also He rebukes the diseases of the soul, and they are gone. Oh, if we did but believe this, and put Him to it! For faith doth, in a manner, command Him—as He doth all other things” (Leighton).
Luke 7:12. Carried out.—Places of burial were outside the towns, to avoid ceremonial defilement.
Luke 7:13. The Lord.—This title for Jesus is much more frequently found in the third and fourth Gospels than in the first and second, and is perhaps an indication of their having been written when Christianity was somewhat widespread.
Luke 7:14. The bier.—An open coffin.
Luke 7:15. He delivered.—This is closely connected with what is said in Luke 7:13, “He had compassion on her.” Cf. 1 Kings 17:23; 2 Kings 4:36.
Luke 7:16. There came a fear on all.—Rather, “fear took hold on all” (R.V.).
Luke 7:17. Judæa.—“It is evident that the miracle of Nain, as being a greater marvel of power than any which Jesus had previously exhibited, raised His fame to the highest pitch. His name was spread abroad, not only in the immediate neighbourhood of the town in which the miracle was wrought, but throughout Judæa also. It was upon this that news of our Lord’s wonder-working power reached the Baptist in his prison” (Speaker’s Commentary). A comparison has often been drawn between the miracles of raising the dead which are recorded in the Gospels. The daughter of Jairus was newly dead, the widow’s son was being borne to the grave, while Lazarus had been dead four days and his body was in the grave, at the time of the working of the respective miracles by which they were recalled to life.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 7:11-18
The Compassionate Lord of Life.—Observe—
I. The meeting of the two processions.—Jesus is coming up to the city, with a considerable crowd following, and meets the funeral coming out of the gate. Face to face stand the Prince of life with His attendants and the waiters on death. The dead man, dead in his youth, and when most needed, the lonely mother, the sympathising or gossiping crowd—these show the ravages of death, the sorrow that shadows all human love and every home, and the unavailing, though well-meant, consolation which men can give. That procession is going one way, and He and His the other. They come in contact, and His power arrests the march, sends the dead back living, and the mourner glad. That meeting may stand for a symbol of His whole coming and work. Why this widow should have been chosen out of all the mourners that laid their dead to rest that day we do not know. The reasons for the distribution of His gifts are generally beyond us.
II. Christ’s unasked pity.—The sight of the extreme grief of the poor mother, whom He knew to be reduced to utter loneliness, and probably to poverty, by the death of her only bread-winner and object of love, went straight to Christ’s heart. Misery appealed to Him even if it was dumb. His perfect manhood was perfectly compassionate, and was hindered from the freest flow of pity by no selfishness. One great glory of this miracle is spontaneousness. Neither request nor faith precedes it. How should they? Death was a final and inexorable evil, and none of the three recorded raisings from the dead was in answer to prayers or belief in His power. The last thing that could have occurred to that weeping mother was that this Stranger, whom she was too much absorbed to notice, could give her back her son. But if there was no prayer, there was sorrow and there was need; and sorrow which He could soothe, and need which He could supply, never made their moan in His hearing in vain. Most of His miracles had some measure of faith in some persons concerned as a precedent condition. But that was a condition established for our sakes, not for His. His love and power were tied to no one manner of working, and unasked, untrusted, probably unobserved, He feels the impulse of pity, which is love turned towards misery, and the impulse moves His all-powerful will. While ordinarily He is still wont to be found of those that seek Him, He still finds and blesses some who seek Him not.
III. Christ the compassionate immediately becomes the consoler.—Very beautiful is it that the soothing words “Weep not” are said before the miracle, as if He would not wait even for a moment before seeking to calm the sorrow. But words which are impotent on other lips, and only make tears run faster, are of sovereign power when He speaks them. Nothing is emptier than the usual well-meant attempts to comfort. What is the use of telling not to weep when all the cause of weeping remains? But if we know that He is with us in trouble, and can hear His whisper of comfort, the sharpness of pain is lulled, though the wound remain. He comforted the widowed heart by the utterance of His sympathy before He gave her back her dead, and therein He reveals Himself to all as the compassionate, and therefore the Consoler even of sorrows that will last as long as life. His “Weep not” is not rebuke nor a vain attempt to stop the expression without touching the source of grief, but is a specimen of His continual work, and a prophecy of the time when “there shall be no more sorrow, nor crying.”
IV. To compassion and comforting succeeds the stupendous act of life-giving.—Christ’s look and word to the mother showed His heart, if not His purpose, and so the bearers halt in silent obedience and expectation. Jesus spake two words—“Young man, arise”—as if waking him from sleep, and the young man “sat up.” How bewildered he would be, finding himself there on the bier, in the blazing light, and with this crowd around him! He “began to speak”—some confused exclamations, probably, like those of a suddenly awakened man, not knowing where he was or how he came there. Like the other cases of resurrection, this one suggests many questions—Was return to life a kindness to the young man? how did the experience during death fit in with that of earth? and others which might be raised but not answered. As to the first of these, no doubt, this and all the cases are presented as done out of compassion for the mourners; but we cannot suppose that that motive is irreconcilable with regard for the persons raised, and we may be assured that the gain to the mother was not attained by loss to the son. Probably the restoration of his bodily life was the beginning of his spiritual life.
The whole incident may be regarded as a revelation of Christ’s power, or as a revelation of death’s impotence. Christ stands forth as the Prince and Giver of life. His word is enough. Wherever that dead man was, he heard and obeyed. The ease with which the miracle is done contrasts with the effort of Elijah and Elisha in their analogous acts. The assumption of authority by Christ is of a piece with all His tone. The whole is His proclamation that He is “Lord both of the dead and living.” It is prophetic too, for it foreshadows the day when they that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God. The miracle also teaches the impotence of death, which is but His servant, and vanishes at His bidding. It demonstrates the partial operation of death, as affecting not the person, but only the body. It shows that when a man dies he is not ended, but that personality, consciousness, and all that make the man are wholly unaffected thereby. “He gave him to his mother.” Who can paint that reunion? May we not venture to see in Christ’s action here some dim forecast of the future, when, amid the joy of heaven, we too may hope to be reunited to our dear ones, lost awhile. Surely He who brought this young man back from the dead to soothe a widow’s sorrow, and found joy in giving him back to a mother’s arms, will do the like with us, and let lonely and yearning hearts clasp again their beloved.—Maclaren.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 7:11-17
Luke 7:11-17. At the Gate of Nain.—In this most touching story we see Jesus as a true friend. From a true friend we expect compassion, comfort, help.
I. A friend needed.
II. A friend found.—He offers to the widow pity, comfort, help.
III. A friend still needed and still near.—Jesus is the same. Heaven has made no change in His friendship. He by His spirit still raises the spiritually dead, and by His mighty word will yet raise the physically dead.—Spence.
I. The compassion of Jesus.
II. The pains taken by Jesus in all that He did.
III. The power shown by Jesus.—Brown.
The Lord of Life.
I. Two crowds (Luke 7:11-12).—In the midst of the one a dead man. In the midst of the other the Life of the world. In the first death in its hardest, cruelest form; for the dead man was just entering on man’s life, and his only real mourner was his widowed mother.
II. The meeting.—The pity of Jesus—pity of sight, of speech, of touch, a whole body of pity. The power of Jesus—power brought forth by pity. A true picture this of the Saviour.—Lindsay.
I. The Saviour’s tender sympathy.
II. The Saviour’s words of power.
III. The Saviour’s spreading fame.—W. Taylor.
The Divine Consoler.
I. The widow mourning.
II. The widow comforted.—By
(1) a word of compassion;
(2) a word of power.—Watson.
Luke 7:11. The Beauty of the Narrative.—The exquisite literary skill of St. Luke is nowhere more clearly manifested than in telling of this incident; it and the walk to Emmaus will stand comparison with the masterpieces of literary style in any language. Abundant particulars are given which serve to call up a very vivid picture: the city, the gate, the multitude that followed Jesus, the long funeral procession that met them, the open bier, the man’s age and circumstances, his mother’s condition, the feeling manifested by Christ, His actions and words, His gestures, the eager attention of the bystanders, the astonishment at the miracle, and the excited comments passed upon it, are all touched upon. Yet there is no wearisome elaboration of details and no height of colouring. The story is told without using adjectives—the great resource to which modern word-painters betake themselves. So far from St. Luke’s work being of the word-painting order, it is simply a clear conception of the whole scene with all its details, expressed in a perfectly simple, natural manner.
Luke 7:12. “The only son.”—The special circumstances of this bereavement are carefully noted:
1. The man was young.
2. He was an only Song of Song of Solomon 3:0. His mother was a widow. In several places in Scripture grief for an only son is taken as the very type of grief—as an expression of the keenest distress the soul can feel. “O daughter of My people, gird thee with sackcloth, and wallow thyself in ashes: make thee mourning, as for an only son, most bitter lamentation” (Jeremiah 6:26). Cf. also Zechariah 12:10; Amos 8:10. Indeed, to a Jewish mind this form of bereavement was specially grievous, since it was regarded as often a direct punishment for sin.
“And she was a widow.”—St. Luke has told us the sum of her misery in a few words. The mother was a widow, with no further hope of having children; nor with any upon whom she might look in the place of him that was dead. To him alone she had given suck. He alone made her home cheerful. All that is sweet and precious to a mother, was he alone to her! A young man (Luke 7:14)—that is in the flower of his age; just ripening into manhood; just entering upon the time of marriage; the scion of his race; the branch of succession; the sight of his mother’s eyes; the staff of her declining years.—Gregory of Nyssa.
Luke 7:13. “Had compassion.”—In some cases Christ wrought a miracle when asked by a sufferer, in some cases when asked by their friends, and in some cases, as here, of His own accord. No request was presented to Him—the only appeal was that of the sorrow which filled the mother’s heart, and touched the spectators with sympathy. What comfort there is in this thought—that our needs, our helplessness, our grief, speak louder than our prayers and fill the heart of Christ with compassion. Some sought blessings from the Saviour; but this was a case in which He sought out the sufferer, with the purpose of stanching her sorrow. The purpose for which Christ wrought miracles is often unwisely said to have been to attest His mission by displaying the Divine power which He possessed. But clearly this was not His motive on the present occasion: His one idea was to do good—to comfort the sorrowful.
“Weep not.”—He felt authorised to administer consolation; in the unexpected, almost accidental, meeting with the funeral procession, He recognised a signal given Him by the Father to put forth His power to comfort human sorrow and to overcome death.
This Case a Special Appeal to Christ’s Pity.—It is not wonderful that Christ had compassion in sorrow like this. Could He forget, as He looked at this weeping mother, that He was Himself the son of a widow, and the stay of her widowhood? or fail to foresee the day, only some months distant, the noon of which would see His own mother’s heart pierced with the sword as she stood by His dolorous cross, of which the eve should weep over her as she followed His body to its rocky grave? But forasmuch as He Himself must die that dead men may live, and forasmuch as His mother was soon to weep over His grave that all mourning mothers might thenceforth weep less bitterly, therefore He went forward to this widow, and with a voice in which there must have trembled a strange tenderness said unto her, “Weep not!”—Dykes.
An Authoritative Summons.—Here is something quite unusual. A man at once compassionate and wise does not try to check natural grief. He rather endeavours to find some consideration that will abate and moderate it. But here is no argument, no consolatory words; only a simple, weighty, authoritative summons, “Weep not!” This arouses attention, stirs expectation of something to come.—Laidlaw.
Luke 7:14. “Touched the bier.”—The gesture of touching the bier was a very significant one: it was symbolical of His power to arrest with His finger the triumph of death, and revealed almost unconsciously the majesty with which He was clothed. “Life had met death, wherefore the bier stopped.”
“Young man, I say to thee.”—By this word Christ proved the truth of the saying of Paul, that “God calleth those things which are not as though they were” (Romans 4:17). He addresses the dead man, and makes Himself be heard, so that death is changed into life. We have here:
(1) a striking emblem of the future resurrection, as Ezekiel is commanded to say, “O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord” (Ezekiel 37:4); and
(2) we are taught in what manner Christ quickens us spiritually by faith. It is when He infuses into His word a secret power, so that it enters into dead souls, as He Himself declares, “The hour cometh, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they who hear shall live” (John 5:25).—Calvin.
Sleep and Death.—In sleep as in death there is a sundering of the connection between soul and body, though in the one case it is but temporary, while in the other it is permanent. Yet just as the sound of the human voice is sufficient to restore the connection in the case of one buried in sleep, so the Saviour’s word avails to restore connection, even in the case of the dead.—Godet.
The Lord of Life and Death.—There is incomparable majesty in the phrase, “I say unto thee.” He to whom it was addressed seemed to have passed away beyond the reach of the human voice; no lamentations of his mother and friends could reach his ear. Yet the Saviour spoke as one whose words resounded through the world of the grave and could give commands which even the dead must hear and obey. “The Lord of life and death speaks with command. No finite power could have said so without presumption or with success. That is the voice that shall one day call up our vanished bodies from those elements in which they are resolved, and raise them out of their dust. Neither sea, nor death, nor hell can offer to detain their dead when He charges them to be delivered” (Hall).
The Compassionate Heart, Mouth, Feet, and Hand.—Here was a conspiration of all parts to mercy: the heart had compassion, the mouth said “Weep not,” the feet went to the bier, the hand touched it, the power of the Deity raised the dead.—Ibid.
Luke 7:15. “Sat up and began to speak.”—The return of life is marked by movement and speech: the rigid corpse resumed its vital functions, the mute tongue was loosened. The young man thus restored by the creative power of Christ became as it were His possession—he belonged by the gift of life for a second time to the Saviour. But Christ gives him over to his mother.
A Spiritual Resurrection also.—The feeling of sympathy expressed by our Saviour for the mother is put forth as the motive which created the resolution in Jesus to raise up the person reposing on the bier. But this does not exclude the idea of this action having a reference also to the resuscitated person. Man as a sentient being can never be only a means, as would here be the case were we to regard the joy of the mother as the only object of the raising of the youth from the dead. Her joy, on the contrary, is only the immediate but more unessential result of this action, recognisable by those who were present; the secret result of this resuscitation was the spiritual raising up of the youth to a more exalted state of existence, through which only the joy of the mother assumed a true and everlasting character.—Olshausen.
Luke 7:16. “Fear.”—This effect is often mentioned in connection with the miracles of Jesus. Cf. Luke 5:26; Luke 8:37; Mark 4:41. It is the natural shrinking of sinful human nature from the evident presence of the power of an all-holy God. Like feeling is recorded in the case of almost all appearances of angels recorded in Holy Scripture. Cf. also Simon Peter’s words and action in Luke 5:8.
“Prophet.”—The use of this name in connection with the work wrought by Jesus indicates the true idea of the prophetic office. The prophet is not a mere predictor of future events: he is the representative of God and spokesman for God; he brings benefits from God to man, and proofs of the Divine interposition in the government of the world.
“Visited His people.”—After a long interval of silence and apparent inactivity (cf. Luke 1:68-69). The miracle now wrought reminded the people of those of Elijah and Elisha. Yet there was a notable difference between the two. For though these prophets raised the dead, they did so laboriously; Jesus immediately and with a word: they confessedly as servants and creatures, by a power not their own; Jesus by that inherent “virtue which went out of Him” in every cure which He wrought. “Elijah, it is true, raises the dead; but he is obliged to stretch himself several times upon the body of the child whom he raises, he struggles, he feels his limited power, he is agitated; it is very evident that he invokes another power to help him, that he recalls from the kingdom of death a soul that is not altogether subject to his word, and that he is not himself the controller of death and of life. Jesus Christ raises the dead in the same way that He does the most ordinary of actions: He speaks with authority to those who are plunged in an eternal sleep; and it is very evident that He is the God of the dead as of the living, never more tranquil than when He does the greatest deeds” (Massillon).
The Three Miracles of raising the Dead.—The comparison of the three miracles of raising the dead (referred to above in the Critical Notes), as illustrating various degrees of spiritual deadness from which Christ can awaken the soul, has often been made by the older writers. It is strikingly expressed by Doune: “If I be dead within doors (If I have sinned in my heart), why suscitavit in domo, Christ gave a resurrection to the ruler’s daughter within doors, in the house. If I be dead in the gate (If I have sinned in the gates of my soul), in my eyes, or ears, or hands in actual sins, why suscitavit in portâ, Christ gave a resurrection to the young man at the gate of Nain. If I be dead in the grave (in customary and habitual sins), why suscitavit in sepulchro, Christ gave a resurrection to Lazarus in the grave too.”
Luke 7:19.—The message sent by John the Baptist to Jesus has been the subject of much discussion. Though in form questions, his words are virtually an appeal to Christ to declare Himself and to hasten His kingdom. The fact that John was dissatisfied with the character of the work in which Jesus was engaged and wished to suggest a new departure indicates a defective faith. In view of the words in Luke 7:23 we can scarcely doubt that some measure of blame attached to the Baptist for failing to appreciate the work of Christ at its true value. Still, this was but a temporary lapse from faith. John’s was not a fickle and wavering character, as Christ Himself here declares (Luke 7:24). The depression of spirits caused by his imprisonment must be taken into account in extenuation of his doubts and fears. He that should come.—I.e. the expected Messiah, a kind of title (cf. Hebrews 10:37).
Luke 7:21.—Omit “same,” which should have been in italics, as there is no word in the original corresponding to it. Plagues.—Lit. scourges.
Luke 7:22.—The description given of the works done by Christ is taken from Isaiah 61:1; Isaiah 35:5-6, with the exception of the detail, “the dead are raised.” This last had special significance in view of the raising of the widow’s son from the dead, and was perhaps suggested by that miracle. Christ’s reply is virtually that He is the Messiah, and is engaged in the work which it had been foretold that the Messiah would do.
Luke 7:23. Offended.—I.e. caused to stumble (see R.V.).
Luke 7:24.—Depreciatory thoughts of the Baptist might have been excited in the minds of those present by the words of Christ, and therefore our Lord proceeds to set the character and work of His forerunner in their true light and to lay stress upon that in them which was great and unique. The question in this verse might be taken to mean, “It was not to see some trifling thing, such as the reeds, that you went out into the wilderness.” The expression “shaken by the wind,” however, seems to indicate that the words are metaphorical—that the stern, unbending character of the Baptist is suggested by contrast with the reeds.
Luke 7:25. Soft raiment.—Contrast with this the Baptist’s actual dress (Matthew 3:4).
Luke 7:26. More than a prophet.—Namely, an actual, personal herald and forerunner; the angel or messenger of Malachi 3:1, and so the only prophet who had himself been announced by prophecy.
Luke 7:27. Before Thy face.—In Malachi 3:1 it is Jehovah who speaks, and His words are, “Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me.” Here, as well as in Matthew 11:10 and Mark 1:2, we have the quotation given us, “before Thee, before Thy face.” In other words, that which is said by Jehovah of Himself is applied by Christ to Himself—a very striking indication of Christ’s eternal and co-equal Godhead.
Luke 7:28. A greater prophet.—The best MSS. omit “prophet”; omitted in R.V. It is probably a gloss explaining and limiting the use of “greater,” i.e. as a prophet. He that is least.—“Rather, ‘he that is less,’ i.e. inferior to John, in gifts and power, yet being ‘in the kingdom’ is in a higher state. He that holds but a small place in the Christian Church is greater as regards his office than he who prepared the way for its founding. This is said not of the personal merits but of the official position of the two” (Speaker’s Commentary).
Luke 7:29-30 are evidently a parenthetical description of the impression produced by our Lord’s words upon those who heard them, and not a continuation of His discourse. This seems to have been understood at a very early time, as we can see from the insertion of the gloss in Luke 7:31, “And the Lord said,” which was intended to indicate our Lord’s resumption of His discourse.
Luke 7:29. Justified God.—I.e. declared their belief in the wisdom of God’s procedure, or acknowledged and commended the purpose of God in calling them to repentance by John.
Luke 7:30. Rejected.—Rather, “frustrated,” or “made of none effect.” Against themselves.—Rather, “for themselves” (R.V.), or, “with reference to themselves.”
Luke 7:31. And the Lord said.—These words are absent from all the best MSS., and are rejected by modern editors. See above. It is possible that they may have got into the text from a Lectionary; but even if this were so, the historical character of Luke 7:29-30 is sufficiently marked to distinguish them from Christ’s own words.
Luke 7:31-35.—The general meaning of this passage may be given as follows: “Those who pipe are the Jews condemning the asceticism of John, and complaining that he will not respond to their demand of a more lax mode of life. Those who mourn are the same Jews complaining of our Lord as not exhibiting the severity of life befitting a prophet. But in both cases alike wisdom is justified of her children; the foolish children are discontented with both; the children of wisdom acknowledge the Divine wisdom manifest in both, their different modes of life befitting their different missions. The simile is taken from children imitating in games a marriage or a funeral, with the accompaniments of merry or mournful music” (Speaker’s Commentary).
Luke 7:34. Eating and drinking.—A reference to our Lord’s practice of attending entertainments and feasts, e.g. the marriage at Cana, the feast in the house of Levi, etc. This incident is not identical with that recorded in Matthew 26:6-7; Mark 14:3, and John 12:3—the anointing at Bethany in the house of Simon the Leper. “The two occurrences have little in common but the name of the host (Simon) and the anointing. In this case the woman was ‘a sinner,’ showing her penitence, in the other a pious, loving disciple, preparing Him for burial; here the feet are anointed, there the head; here the objection arose from the woman’s character, there from the waste; here the host objects, there Judas, while the lessons our Lord deduces are altogether different” (Popular Commentary).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 7:18-35
John’s Doubt of Jesus, and Jesus’ Praise of John.—In the first part of this paragraph we have an account of the faltering faith of the great witness, and of Christ’s gentle treatment of the waverer; in the second, the witness of Christ to John, exuberant in recognition, notwithstanding his momentary hesitation.
I. John’s doubts.—It is quite improbable that this message was sent for the sake of strengthening his disciples’ faith in Jesus as Messiah, or as a hint to Jesus to declare Himself. The question is John’s. The answer is sent to him; it is he who is to ponder the things which the messenger saw, and to answer his own question thereby. It would have been wiser if commentators, instead of trying to save John’s credit at the cost of straining the narrative, had recognised the psychological truth of the plain story of his wavering conviction, and had learned its lessons of self-distrust. There is only one Man with whom it was always high-water; all others have ebbs and flows in their religious life and in their grasp of truth. John seems to have wondered if after all he had been premature in his recognition of Jesus as Messiah. Perhaps this Jesus was but a precursor, as he himself was, of the Messiah. Evidently he continues firm in the conviction of Christ’s being sent from God; but he is puzzled by the contrariety between Jesus’ deeds and his own expectations. He asks, “Art Thou He that cometh,”—a well-known name for the Messiah,—“or are we to expect another?” and it should be noted that the word for “another” means not merely a second, but a different kind of person, who should present the aspects of the Messiah as revealed in prophecy, and as embodied in John’s own preaching, which Jesus had left unfulfilled. We may well take to heart the lesson of the fluctuations possible to the firmest faith, and pray to be enabled to hold fast that we have. We may learn, too, the danger to right conceptions of Christ, of separating the two elements of mercy and judgment in His character and work. John was wrong in stumbling at the gentleness, just as many to-day, who go to the opposite extreme, are wrong in stumbling at the judicial side of His work. Both halves are needed to make the full-orbed character. Our Lord does not answer Yes or No. To do so might have stilled, but would not have removed, John’s misconception. A more thorough cure is needed. So Christ attacks it in its roots by referring him back for answer to the very deeds which had excited his doubt. He points to prophetic writings which foretell the character of His work. It is as if He had said, “Have you forgotten that the very prophets whose words have fed your hopes, and now seem to minister to your doubts, have said this and this about the Messiah?” It is not Christ’s work which is wanting in conformity to the Divine idea; it is John’s conceptions of that idea that need enlarging. A wide principle is taught us here. The very points in Christ’s work which may occasion difficulty will, when we stand at the right point of view, become evidences of His claims. What were stumbling-blocks become stepping-stones. Further, we are taught here that what Christ does is the best answer to the question who He is. Still He is doing these works among us. We look for no second Christ, but we look for that same Jesus to come the second time to be the Judge of the world of which He is the Saviour. The benediction on him who finds none occasion of stumbling in Christ is at once a beatitude and a warning. It rebukes in the gentlest fashion John’s temper, which found difficulty in even the perfect personality of Jesus, and made that which should have been the “sure foundation” of his spirit a stone of stumbling. Our Lord knows that “there is none occasion of stumbling in Him,” and that whoever finds any brings it or makes it. He knows and warns us that all blessedness lies for us in recognising Him for what He is—God’s sure foundation of our hopes, our peace, our thoughts, our lives.
II. The witness of Christ to John.—Such a eulogium at such a time is a wonderful instance of loving forbearance with a true-hearted follower’s weakness, and of a desire, which, in a man, we should call magnanimous, to shield John’s character from depreciation on account of his message. The world praises a man to his face, and speaks of his faults behind his back. Christ does the opposite. “When the messengers were departed,” He begins to speak of John
1. He praises John’s great personal character. He recalls the scenes of popular enthusiasm when all Israel streamed out to see and hear him. A small man could not have made such an upheaval. What had given him such attractive power? His heroic firmness, and his manifest indifference to material ease. John was the same man then as they had known him to be.
2. Our Lord next speaks of John’s great office. He was a prophet. The dim recognition that God spoke in his fiery words had drawn the crowds, weary of teachers in whose endless jangle and jargon of casuistry was no inspiration. The voice of a man who gets his message at first hand from God has a ring in it which even dull ears detect as something genuine.
3. Jesus goes on to declare that John is more than a prophet, because He is His messenger before His face—that is, immediately preceding Himself. Nearness to Jesus makes greatness. The closer the relation to Him, the higher the honour.
4. Next we have the limitations of the forerunner and his relative inferiority to the least in the kingdom of heaven. Another standard of greatness is here from that of the world. In Christ’s eyes greatness is nearness to Him and understanding of Him and His work. Neither natural faculty nor worth is in question, but simply relation to the kingdom and the King. He who had only to preach of Him who should come after him, and had but a partial apprehension of Christ and His work, stood on a lower level than the least who has to look to a Christ who has come and has opened the gates of the kingdom to the humblest believer. The truths which were hid from ages, and but visible as in morning twilight to John are clear as day to us. What a place, then, does Christ claim! Our relation to Him determines greatness. To recognise Him is to be in the kingdom of heaven, Union with Him brings the fulfilment of the ideal of human nature; and this is life, to know and trust Him, the King.—Maclaren.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 7:18-35
Luke 7:18-35. The Messengers of John.—The King’s forerunner was in perplexity, because Christ did not set up an earthly kingdom.
I. The message of the servant to the King.—
1. When, and why sent?
2. How answered.
II. The testimony of the King to the servant.—
1. His character strong, self-denying.
2. His office.
3. His position.
4. His work. These words were a sort of funeral sermon for the Baptist.—Spence.
Luke 7:19. Christ the Great Counsellor.—John was in perplexity, and sent to Christ to ask about his doubts. So should we carry our perplexities straight to Jesus. Jesus understands all, and understands us all. Tell Jesus then. Leave all in His hands, that He may manage, unravel, clear it up for us. It is not easy. The taking it to Jesus is easy. Leaving it is the hardest part. But faith not only takes to Jesus, but leaves with Him. Thus only do we find peace.—Miller.
John’s Misconception of Christ’s Work.—The Baptist had heard in his prison of the works of Christ, and was perplexed by them, since they were not of the kind he had expected them to be. He had spoken of the Coming One as having a fan in His hand with which to purge His threshing-floor, and of the axe being laid at the root of the tree. Nothing Christ had yet done corresponded with these anticipations and prophecies. His preconceived ideas hindered him from understanding Christ’s procedure. This is still a most fruitful cause of spiritual ignorance and misconception. Those whose minds are under the influence of prejudice fail to understand the truth, since they seek not so much to be instructed as to justify the beliefs and opinions which they at present hold. John for the time occupied the position of those scribes and Pharisees who approached Christ as critics and not as learners. The question revealed a measure of impatience. “It seemed, no doubt, hard to him that his Master should let him lie so long in prison for his fidelity—useless to his Master’s cause, and a comparative stranger to His proceedings—after having been honoured to announce and introduce Him to His work to the people. And since the wonders He wrought seemed only to increase in glory as He advanced, and it could not but be easy for Him who preached deliverance to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that were bound, to put it into the heart of Herod to set him at liberty, or to effect his liberty in spite of Herod, he at length determines to see if, through a message from the prison by his disciples, he cannot get Jesus to speak out His mind, and at least set his own at rest” (Brown).
“He that should come,” etc.—The Jews expected more than one Divine messenger—Elijah, “that prophet” (Deuteronomy 18:15), and the Messiah.
Alternations of Mood.—These alternations of moods of wonderful elevation and of sudden and deep depression are to be traced in all the men of the Old Testament—raised for a moment above themselves, but not being transformed in spirit, they quickly fall back to their natural level.—Godet.
Loss of Faith.—The temporary loss of a bright faith. It was natural, but unnecessary. Do not many Christian people get more despairing over the loss of a few pounds, or over a little pain, than John did in his great trials? And yet how unnecessary was John’s doubt. Jesus was indeed the Messiah. John’s active work was now done. So needless, too, is all anxiety of Christian people in their times of darkness. The true way is never to doubt Jesus. Though there are clouds, the sun shines behind them undimmed.—Miller.
Luke 7:21. “He cured many of their infirmities.”—The mistake into which John had fallen was in not seeing that the beneficent works done by Christ were precisely those ascribed to Him by the prophets who foresaw His coming. Cf. Isaiah 35:4-6; Isaiah 61:1 ff.
Luke 7:22. “Tell John what things ye have seen.”—The reply to John was a significant narrative of what Jesus had been heard and seen to say and do, and not a bare “Yes” or “No.” The legend of Tarquinius Superbus and the messenger from Sextus supplies us with a similar mode of reply. “Sextus sent a messenger to his father for further instructions. On his arrival it happened that the king was walking in his garden. To the inquiries of the envoy the king made no reply, but continued striking off the heads of the tallest poppies with his stick, and then bade the messenger relate to his son what he had seen him do. Sextus comprehended his father’s meaning. On false charges he either banished or put to death all the principal men of the city,” etc.
Christ’s Miracles Emblematical.—The works of bodily healing, beneficent as they were in themselves, were also emblematical of Christ’s power to heal the souls of men—to give spiritual sight, vigour, cleansing, etc., to those blinded, weakened, and defiled by error and sin. It is therefore appropriate for the spiritual side of His work to be mentioned in connection with these miracles: “to the poor the gospel [or good tidings] is preached.” There can scarcely be said to be a climax in the works enumerated; but the last of them is that which is specially characteristic of the Messiah (according to Isaiah 61:1). “That which made this feature in our Lord’s ministry so remarkable was the contemptuous manner in which the Jewish doctors had been wont to treat the humbler sort of people (cf. John 7:49; John 9:34). By ‘poverty,’ however, doubtless the same thing is intended in this as in other places in the Gospel—namely, that condition of heart which is usually found to belong to persons endued with a very slender portion of this world’s goods” (Burgon).
Luke 7:23. “Blessed is he,” etc.—Rara felicitas.—Bengel.
Christ an Occasion of Stumbling—The same prophet to whose predictions Christ had just referred had foretold that some would find occasion of stumbling in Him. “And He shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (Isaiah 8:14). Jesus warns both John and those who now hear Him of this danger.
The Difference between the Spirit of the Old Testament and of the New.—It is a striking argument for the great difference between the Old and the New Testament that even the greatest of the prophets can, at the beginning, accommodate himself only with difficulty to the Saviour’s way of working. Among all those lofty and brilliant expectations which had been excited by the prophetic word, the meek, still spirit of the gospel could only gradually break a way for itself. John must continually take secret offence against Jesus before he had become in spirit a disciple of the best Master.—Lange.
Luke 7:24-27. “Began to speak unto the people.”—Jesus replies to the thoughts of the crowd. They might imagine from St. John’s message and the words in which it was delivered that the Baptist wavered in his faith, and that his imprisonment had shaken his constancy. Our Lord, therefore, reminds them of what John was, how he had acted, and how they themselves had behaved to him. “What went ye out for to see? Not an inconstant and vacillating man; not a reed shaken by the wind; but a man of inflexible resolution and invincible courage. What went ye out into the wilderness to see? Not a man of effeminate temper; not a sycophant who would flatter any for hope of gain. No; his rigorous fare, his simple garb, the very place in which you found him, refute this notion. If he had been such, he would have been in the court, and not in the desert. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet; yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet: and He then refers to their own Scripture for the true character and office of John.—Wordsworth.
“What went ye out … to see?”—There is a climax in the words
(1) a reed,
(2) a man,
(3) a prophet. It was something great and wonderful in the person and mission of John the Baptist that drew the multitudes to him; but it was a spiritual and not a worldly greatness. Worldly greatness does not come into conflict with the opinions of the world, but bows before them: it seeks to dazzle the eye, and to impress the imagination of spectators.
Luke 7:26. “Much more than a prophet.”—John’s superiority consists in the facts,
(1) that he was himself the subject of prophecy (Malachi 3:1);
(2) that he both saw and pointed out the fulfilment of his predictions;
(3) that he was “the porter” who opened the door for the Shepherd of the sheep (John 10:3).
Luke 7:27. “I send My messenger.”—The exceptional greatness of John arose from his connection with Christ, the true source of all spiritual greatness.
Luke 7:28. “Born of women.”—As distinguished from those who are born of God—born again of water and of the Spirit (John 1:12-13; John 3:5; Titus 3:5).
The Old Order and the New.—“The old order of things and the new are divided from each other by such a deep gulf that he who is least in the latter occupies a higher place than John himself. The most feeble disciple has a more spiritual insight into Divine things than had the forerunner. He enjoys in Jesus the privilege of sonship, while John is still only a servant. The humblest believer is one with that Son whom John announced” (Godet). This reflection is not given to depreciate the Baptist, but to explain and excuse his lapse from faith or his being offended in Christ.
Luke 7:30. “Rejected the counsel of God.”—I.e. rejected for themselves the counsel of God. Men cannot overthrow God’s purpose, but they can defeat it or make it of none effect in their own case.
Unbelief, a Thwarting God’s Purpose.
I. I remark, first, that the sole purpose which God has in view in speaking to us men is our blessing.—I need not point out to you that “counsel” here does not mean advice, but intention. In regard of the manner immediately in hand, God’s purpose or counsel in sending the forerunner was, first of all, to produce in the minds of the people a true consciousness of their own sinfulness and need of cleansing, and so to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah, who should bring the inward gift which they needed, and so secure their salvation. The intention was, first, to bring to repentance, but that is a preparation for bringing to them full forgiveness and cleansing. Now, by the gospel, which, as I say, thus has one single design in the Divine mind, I mean, what I think the New Testament means, the whole body of truths which underlie and flow from the fact of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, which are these in brief: man’s sin, man’s helplessness, the incarnation of the Son of God, the death of Christ as the sacrifice for the world’s sin; faith, as the hand by which we grasp the blessing, and the gift of a Divine Spirit which follows upon our faith, and bestows upon us sonship and likeness to God, purity of life and character, and heaven at last. That, as I take it, is in the barest outline what is meant by the gospel of Jesus Christ. God meant His word to save your soul. Has it done so? It is a question that any man can answer if he will be honest with himself. We shall never understand the universality of Christianity until we have appreciated the individuality of its message to each of us. God does not lose thee in the crowd: do not thou lose thyself in it, nor fail to apprehend that thou art personally meant by its broadest declarations. Then, further, God is verily seeking to accomplish this purpose even now, by my lips, in so far as I am true to my Master and my message.
II. Secondly, this single Divine purpose, or “counsel,” may be thwarted.—“They frustrated the counsel of God.” Of all the mysteries of this inexplicable world, the deepest of all is, that, given an infinite will and a creature, the creature can thwart the Infinite. Now I said that there was only one thought in the Divine heart when God sent His Son, and that was to save you and me and all of us. But that thought cannot but be frustrated, and made of none effect, as far as the individual is concerned, by unbelief. For there is no way by which any human being can become participant of the spiritual blessings which are included in that great word “salvation,” except by simple trust in Jesus Christ. How can any man get any good out of a medicine if he locks his teeth and will not take it? How can any truth that I refuse to believe produce any effect upon me? And so I remind you that the thwarting of God’s counsel is the awful prerogative of unbelief. Then note that, in accordance with the context, you do not need to put yourselves to much effort in order to bring to naught God’s gracious intention about you. “They thwarted the counsel of God, being not baptized of him.” They did not do anything. They simply did nothing. And that was enough. There is no need for violent antagonism to the counsel. Fold your hands in your lap, and the gift will not come into them. Further, the people that are in most danger of frustrating God’s gracious purpose are not men and women steeped to the eyebrows in the stagnant pool of sensuous sin, but the clean, respectable, church-and-chapel-going, sermon-hearing, doctrine-criticising Pharisees.
III. Lastly, this thwarting brings self-inflicted harm.—A little skiff of a boat comes athwart the bows of a powerful steamer. What will become of the skiff, do you think? You can thwart God’s purpose about yourself, but the great purpose goes on and on. And “who hath hardened himself against Him and prospered”? You can thwart the purpose, but it is kicking against the pricks. Consider what you lose when you will have nothing to do with that Divine counsel of salvation! Consider not only what you lose, but what you bring upon yourself, how you bind your sin upon your hearts.—Maclaren.
Luke 7:31-34. Children at Play.—The bearing of their contemporaries towards the Baptist and Christ had been childish and petulant. The ascetic life of the first had offended them; the gracious social deportment of Jesus was equally unwelcome. The illustration employed gives point to Christ’s comparison. The generation which surrounded our Saviour were like ill-humoured children who would neither play at marriage nor funeral. Nothing pleased them. Though a pleasant comparison, it was a sharp rebuke. To be childlike is good: it is evil to be childish. This childish unreason often repeats itself. Put the matter as you will, many will find fault with Christ and Christianity. The gospel is too hard or too easy. Prejudice can always find some objection. Christians also are complained of. They are too unsocial or too social, too gloomy or too happy, too cautious or too bold. Be not disconcerted or discouraged by such criticisms. Bear yourselves as becomes disciples of the criticised Christ.—Fraser.
The Humour of the Illustration.—As we scrutinise these words the humour of our Lord breaks out like rippling light over the page. Broadly regarded, how delicious is the taking down of the Rabbis and other dignitaries of the synagogue by the likening them to a parcel of little children! It could not fail to be infra dig. to these super-exalted representatives of official Judaism to have their conduct illustrated and reprimanded by the capricious changeableness of children.—Grosart.
Luke 7:31. “Whereunto then shall I liken?”—The double question seems to imply a difficulty in finding an appropriate figure to represent the unbelief and waywardness which found excuses for rejecting two messengers from God whose modes of procedure differed so widely from each other as did those of Jesus and John the Baptist. Conduct so unreasonable and perverse can scarcely find any parallel in the ordinary actions of men: only the folly and peevishness of children can supply an adequate simile for it. “You were angry with John because he would not dance to your piping, and with me because I will not weep to your dirge. Yet the children of wisdom, the truly wise, approve all the various methods of Divine wisdom, and profit by them, and press into the kingdom of heaven.”
Severity and Graciousness.—John the Baptist is regarded as a type of the law, which brought men to Christ, and prepared His way accordingly. There were natures which neither the severity of the law nor the graciousness of the gospel could win over. Yet had Christ (Wisdom) His faithful children—His true disciples—under either dispensation.—Burgon.
Remarkable Circumstances in connection with John.—A number of very remarkable facts concerning John the Baptist are given in the Gospels, which no inventor of legendary matter would have thought of fabricating.
1. One would have expected the ministry of the Baptist to come to an end when Christ began His; but as a matter of fact both continued for some time the same work of preaching and baptizing.
2. After the declaration of John (John 3:25-36) one would have thought that all his disciples would have immediately attached themselves to Christ; but they kept separate for some time, and only after the death of John seem, as a body, to have joined Christ.
3. It is remarkable that Jesus sent no message to John during His imprisonment, and that this reply to the question put by the Baptist should have contained no personal matter.
4. And even when tidings are brought to Jesus of John’s violent death He utters not a word upon the subject.—Brown.
Luke 7:35. “Wisdom is justified of all her children.”—Our Lord’s saying grows naturally out of the comparison which He has just made. The children sitting in the world’s market-place suggest to Him another sort of children, the children of Wisdom. Wisdom is represented as a parent; a certain number of human beings are children of Wisdom; and children, as a rule, may be expected to understand their parents, and to do them justice, when the world at large finds fault with them. A child, it may be presumed, is more or less like his parent. He has a sympathy with him, arising out of common character and mental constitution, which enables him to understand what his parent means. He is familiar, from long association and habit, with his parent’s ways of looking at things. He is in the secret of his parent’s mind. He can anticipate with confidence where to others all is dark or meaningless. Then, our Lord says, if Wisdom is misunderstood by men at large, there is no such misunderstanding in Wisdom’s family circle; there, at least, the dull and ill-natured world is shut out, while bright and loving faces gaze upon the parent’s countenance with a certainty that all is well. The true children of the eternal Wisdom were not even in those days shocked because John the Baptist came as an ascetic, or because the Son of man came “eating and drinking.”—Liddon.
Luke 7:36. One of the Pharisees.—The invitation given by one of the Pharisees to Jesus would seem to belong to an early period of His ministry, before the enmity of that party against our Lord had grown intense. A certain coldness or ungraciousness seems to mark the conduct of this Pharisee in spite of his proffer of hospitality, as shown in the omission of acts of courtesy ordinarily rendered by host to guest. He may not have made up his mind about the Divine mission of Jesus, and may have given the invitation with a view of forming a definite opinion on the matter after intercourse with Him. Sat down.—Lit. “reclined.” The guests lay on couches with their heads towards the table in the centre and their feet towards the side of the room. This gave opportunity for the anointing of the feet that took place on this occasion.
Luke 7:37. A woman, etc.—A better reading (followed by the R.V.) is, “and, behold, a woman which was in the city, a sinner.” This lays greater stress upon her notoriety as a person of abandoned character. There is no ground whatever for identifying her with Mary Magdalene, as is done in the heading of this chapter and in Christian art. Mary Magdalene was delivered by Jesus from the state of demoniacal possession; but there is no reason for believing that there was any connection between that state and a vicious life. In Eastern houses, even at the present time, it is not uncommon for strangers to enter at the hour of meals, and to take part in conversation with the guests at table. Alabaster box.—Rather, “alabaster cruse” (R.V.), or “flask.”
Luke 7:38. His feet.—The sandals were put off on entering the room, and so the feet were bare. Her purpose, doubtless, was to anoint His feet; but her tears began to fall ere she began her task, and so she first wiped away her tears from His feet with her hair, then kissed His feet and anointed them. Weeping.—No doubt at the contrast between His holiness and her sinfulness. Kissed.—Lit. “kissed earnestly.”
Luke 7:39. If He were a prophet.—The question as to whether Jesus was a prophet sent from God was evidently pressing upon the mind of Simon. He decides it in the negative; he was sure a prophet would in virtue of his supernatural insight have known “who and what manner of woman it was that touched him,” and that he would instinctively have repelled a sinner.
Luke 7:40. I have somewhat, etc.—A courteous mode of bespeaking attention. Master.—. I.e. Teacher, or Rabbi.
Luke 7:41. Five hundred pence … fifty.—About £15 12s. 6d. and £1 11s. 3d. of our money.
Luke 7:42. Frankly forgave.—There is only one word in the original—“remitted,” but it involves the idea of free grace and favour.
Luke 7:44. Turned.—The woman was standing behind Him. Water for My feet.—The feet defiled on dusty roads, being only partially covered with sandals. It was customary to bring water to wash the feet of guests: see John 13:5.
Luke 7:44-46.—Observe the contrasts between the commonplace courtesies Simon had omitted and the extraordinary acts of reverence and devotion the woman bad done: water and towel contrasted with her tears and her hair, the kiss of welcome and the kisses lavished by her upon His feet, anointing-oil for the head and the precious ointment she poured upon His feet.
Luke 7:47. For she loved much.—“Not, because she loved much, as though her love was the cause of her forgiveness. This sense is directly opposed to the parable (Luke 7:42), which represents the debtors as unable to pay, and the forgiveness as free; to the next clause, which plainly makes the forgiveness the ground of the love, not the reverse; and also to Luke 7:50, which represents faith, not love, as the antecedent of forgiveness, on the side of the person forgiven. The clause is to be explained: ‘since she loved much,’ i.e. her sins which are many are forgiven (as you may conclude from your own judgment, that much forgiveness produces much love), since she loved much (as these manifestations indicate)” (Popular Commentary).
Luke 7:48. Thy sins are forgiven.—Her faith had virtually secured forgiveness, but her conscience still needed assurance of the fact, and this assurance Christ now gives.
Luke 7:49. Forgiveth sins also.—Rather, “even forgiveth sins” (R.V.).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 7:36-50
The Pharisee’s Mistake.—The picture of this sinful woman, with Christ and the Pharisee on either hand, is another of those instances which show the Gospel to be a book for all time. The two ways of dealing with sin are still to be met with—the hard repulsion of formal righteousness, and the sympathy of Divine love. Sympathy has wonderful eyes, but nothing is so blind as spiritual pride. Let us look at the mistake this Pharisee made—
I. As it regarded Christ.—He could not read Christ’s nature, and undervalued it. He imagined that Christ’s accessibility to this woman arose from want of knowledge, when it came from the greatness of His compassion. The forbearance of Christ had its source, not in ignorance, but in the deep, far-reaching vision of infinite Love, which wills not the death of any sinner, but that he should turn and live, and which made Him ready not only to rescue the lost and wipe away their tears, but to pour out His own soul unto the death to save them. But every man reads another by the heart in his own bosom; and the hard, self-righteous Pharisee is utterly unable to comprehend Him who does not break the bruised reed, and who has a joy greater than all the angels of heaven over one sinner that repenteth. “As the heavens are high above the earth, so are God’s thoughts higher than man’s thoughts.” He mistook also Christ’s way of rescuing from sin. If it entered into the Pharisee’s thought at all to rescue from sin, it would be by keeping the sinner back from him, thanking God, and even feeling a selfish kind of thankfulness, that he was not like him. The sinner must be made fully sensible of his exclusion from the sympathy of all good men, and no door of access can be opened till purity is restored. Any other way would seem encouragement to transgression. Christ’s way is the very reverse of this. His way was to come from an infinite height into this world, that He might be near sinners, able to touch them and ready to be touched. It was to take their nature upon Him in the very likeness of sinful flesh, that they might feel Him closer still, and that “He might not be ashamed to call them brethren.” It was “to become sin for them, though He knew no sin”—that He might bear it, first by pity, then by sacrifice, and at last by pardon. And now He carries out His plan in one of its applications when He draws the sinner near Him, and suffers her to clasp His feet that she may feel she is in contact with God’s infinite and saving mercy.
II. As it regarded the woman.—The Pharisee thought that as a sinner she was to be despised. He saw only what was repulsive in her, and had he confined his view to the sin his feeling had right with it. But he included the sinner. It was a look of pride without any pity; and pride, above all spiritual pride, without pity is as cold and blind as the polar ice. Such pride could not see a human soul with infinite destinies, though degraded, a precious gem incrusted with miry clay, yet capable of reflecting the brightest rays of the Divine glory. Surely we ought to feel that in every fellow-man, however degraded, there is a kindred and immortal nature which can never be cut off in this world from the possibility of the highest rise. Should not the thought of this community of nature melt our hearts when we look upon poor outcast humanity? and shall we ever think ourselves more pure than the Son of God, and seek to shake ourselves free from its touch? The Pharisee did not see that a new life had entered into the woman’s heart. A man who is so blind as not to perceive the deep capacity of the old nature will not discover the dawning tokens of the new. Was it nothing to find her pressing close to Christ, clinging to His feet, bathing them with weeping? The outward signs were before him, if he had known how to read them, of the greatest change that can befall a human soul. These sobs and tears, and this irrepressible emotion, are the cries of the new creature in Christ Jesus, which must find its way to Him who is its life and joy. Penitence was there, too deep for words, the broken and contrite heart which God will not despise, a loathing of sin which this Pharisee cannot understand, and a glowing love that made his frown forgotten in the irresistible attraction to a Saviour’s feet.
III. As it regarded himself.—The Pharisee showed that he did not know his own heart. Had he been better acquainted with it, he would have found sufficient there for dissatisfaction. If not committing the sins which he condemned, he might have known that he had the seeds of them in his nature. If he was keeping them down by inward struggle, this should have made him lenient; and if cherishing the love of them, he was a publican wearing a cloak. Every unrenewed heart has the fire of corruption smouldering, though it may not show the flame. The grace of God alone can extinguish the fire of any one sin, and even then the man is a brand plucked from the burning, ready to be rekindled, and therefore bound to humility. The man who is saved from sin by love is softened by the love which saves him; but the man who is kept from sin only by pride is made more hard. He may be as near the sin in his real heart as ever, but he maintains a false outward character, and builds an unsafe barrier in his nature against open sin by being very severe upon sinners. This is the reason why a mere external reformation brings in vanity and pride and all uncharitableness, sins which, if not so disreputable in the sight of men, are as hateful in the view of God. He did not see that in condemning this woman he was rejecting the salvation of Christ. If he could have established his point that it was unworthy of the Saviour to hold intercourse with sinners, what hope would there have been for him? Publican and Pharisee, open transgressor and moral formalist, can only enter heaven by the same gate of free unconditional mercy. Nay, had the Pharisee seen it, he was further from the kingdom of God than she with all her sins about her, and it was not so wonderful that Christ should permit this poor woman to touch His feet as that He should sit down as a guest at the Pharisee’s table. This, too, was in the way of His work, to bring in a contrite sinner with Him, and touch, if it might be, the hard, self-righteous heart. If the Pharisee had known himself and who it was that spoke to him, he would have taken his place beside her he despised. “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof.” He would have rejoiced in her reception as the ground of hope for himself, and as a proof that Christ is “able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God through Him.” Let us trust that he learned this lesson.—Ker.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 7:36-50
Luke 7:36-50. “In the house of Simon.”—The love in religion makes it valuable. Religion without love is valueless. In this guest-chamber of Simon’s we see—
I. A want of love.—(l) In the host.
(2) In the reception.
II. An abundance of love.—On the part of one who was no guest. How does she show her love?
III. The reason of love.—She had been forgiven. Forgiveness produces love.
IV. The reward of love.—The assurance of forgiveness. The remission of sins. The gift of peace.—Spence.
I. The penitent sinner.—
1. Her sorrow.
2. Her faith.
3. Her love.
II. The proud Pharisee.
III. The Divine Saviour.—Stock.
Forgiveness and Love.—Let those who cry out that there is no originality in the Gospels find a parallel to this story in any of the religions or philosophies of the world. Pardon for a notorious sinner was an unheard-of thing, and is so still outside of the Bible. Even the Pharisees of Christ’s day did not believe in it. But this was Christ’s very mission. All need forgiveness; and if we think we have been forgiven little, it only shows our little sense of sin.—Hastings.
The Greater the Forgiveness, the Greater the Love.—That Jesus called the sinful because He expected converts from that class to make the best citizens, we learn from this parable viewed in connection with its historical setting. On this occasion also He was on His defence for His sympathetic relations with social reprobates, and the gist of His apology was—the greater the forgiveness, the greater the love, and therefore the better the citizen, the test of good citizenship being devotion. Christianity believes in the possibility of the last becoming first, of the greatest sinner becoming the greatest saint. Jesus hints at this, “To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little,” suggesting the correlative doctrine, that to whom much is forgiven, the same loveth much; in other words, that from among the children of passion, prone to err, may come, when their energies are properly directed, the most devoted and effective citizens and servants of the Divine kingdom. It seems a bold and hazardous assertion, but it is one, nevertheless, which the history of the Church has fully justified.—Bruce.
Forgiveness the Cause and Measure of Love.
I. The outpouring of love which has grasped forgiveness.
II. The snarl of self-righteousness which has never been down into the depths.
III. The vindication, by forgiving love, of forgiven love.—Maclaren.
Luke 7:36. Wisdom justified of her Children.—The incident related in this section is an illustration of the truth of the principle laid down in Luke 7:35. “But wisdom is justified of all her children.” It tells of one who was attracted by the graciousness of Christ, which gave offence to many of the Pharisees, and whose penitence was rewarded by the forgiveness of her sins.
“One of the Pharisees desired Him.”—The state of this Pharisee’s feelings towards Christ is revealed in Luke 7:39. There was a conflict in his mind between reverence for Jesus as a possible prophet and prejudice against Him on account of some of His modes of procedure. He seems, too, to have received some benefit from Christ (Luke 7:42), and to have loved Him on that account, though his love was far from ardent (Luke 7:47). Probably his character and conduct are painted too black in popular sermons upon this incident. Jesus speaks to him in such a friendly manner that we can scarcely believe that Simon cherished any malevolent feelings towards Him.
“He went into the Pharisee’s house.”—The action of Jesus in acceding to the request to eat with the Pharisee is an illustration of the method followed by Him, as contrasted with that followed by the Baptist (Luke 7:34). We often read of His receiving invitations of this kind, but never of His refusing. He showed the same genial, kindly willingness to enter into social intercourse with Pharisees, as in the case of publicans and sinners.
Luke 7:37. “A sinner.”—The special sin of inchastity is implied in the designation. “She was a sinner; up to this time (in Pharisaic language) she had been so; and she was still a sinner before the eyes of the world, although before God the sanctifying change had already begun to take place, through repentance, forgiveness, and love in return for forgiveness” (Stier).
A Typical Case of Penitence.—Her name is not given, so she may be thought of as a typical case of penitence: each one who reads the story may think of himself or herself as standing in her place. She came to anoint Jesus in token of her gratitude to Him as her Saviour. Love does not need to be instructed how to express itself; it is skilful in finding out appropriate methods. Cf. Luke 17:15; Luke 19:35-37.
Luke 7:38. “Stood at His feet … weeping.”—As she stood behind Jesus her tears began to flow, perhaps involuntarily; they bedewed His feet; with her hair dishevelled in token of grief she wiped His feet, and finding she was not repulsed, she kissed them over and over again (Luke 7:45), and anointed them with the ointment she had brought. “Her eyes, which once longed after earthly joys, now shed forth penitential tears; her hair, which she once displayed for idle ornament, is now used to wipe the feet of Christ; her lips, which once uttered vain things, now kiss those holy feet; the costly ointment, with which she once perfumed her body, is now offered to God” (Wordsworth). See Romans 6:19, “As ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness, so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.”
Why she came to Christ.—The purpose of her coming was
(1) to show her love for Christ;
(2) to testify her sorrow for sin; and
(3) to obtain forgiveness. Her penitence was public, as her sin had been. Others sought bodily health from Christ; but we do not read of another who came to obtain from Him pardon of sin. Hers was a striking example of faith, love, and penitence, and she received a special reward. It would appear from a comparison of this chapter with Matthew 11:0 that Jesus had just issued the gracious invitation, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, … and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Luke 7:28-29). Perhaps it was these words that gave her courage to act as she did.
Public Acknowledgment of Penitence.—A public acknowledgment of repentance and faith in Christ in some cases, as in this, is a trying ordeal: there is
(1) the opposition of evil associates to be overcome—their solicitations, attempts to dissuade, and their mockery to be resisted; and
(2) the contempt and distrust of those who have been upright and virtuous to be encountered, and their confidence to be won. This latter trial is the harder to be borne.
A Theme for Artists and Poets.—The scene so exquisitely described by St. Luke has inspired both painters and poets, and given them a subject excelling most others in human and religious interest. The sonnet by Hartley Coleridge is well known:
“She sat and wept beside His feet. The weight
Of sin oppressed her heart; for all the blame
And the poor malice of the worldly shame
To her were past, extinct, and out of date:
Only the sin remained—the leprous state.
She would be melted by the heat of love,
By fires far fiercer than are blown to prove
And purge the silver ore adulterate.
She sat and wept, and with her untressed hair
Still wiped the feet she was so blest to touch;
And He wiped off the soiling of despair
From her sweet soul, because she loved so much.”
Dante G. Rossetti, who was both a poet and a painter, has taken the same subject and handled it with great power, though he follows the opinion that the woman was Mary Magdalene. In the drawing by which he has illustrated the incident, Mary has left a procession of revellers, and is ascending by a sudden impulse the steps of the house where she sees Christ. Her lover has followed her, and is trying to turn her back. The poet represents her as saying:
“Oh, loose me! Seest thou not my Bridegroom’s face
That draws me to Him? For His feet my kiss,
My hair, my tears He craves to-day: and oh!
What words can tell what other day and place
Shall see me clasp those blood-stained feet of His?
He needs me, calls me, loves me: let me go!”
Nature of Repentance.—Repentance as exemplified by this woman is characterised
(1) by deep grief and self-loathing;
(2) by wisdom in applying to the true source of forgiveness;
(3) by love to the Saviour; and
(4) by courage in braving the scorn of others and in overcoming false shame.
Luke 7:39. “If He were a prophet.”—An ordinary prophet might be unacquainted with the previous character and conduct of the woman; but such a prophet as the people took Jesus to be, and as He gave Himself out to be, could not. So far Simon was right in his surmise. To Simon it appeared clear
(1) that such a prophet would have known, and
(2) would have repulsed, one so sinful. He made three mistakes:
(1) he imagined that the holy must necessarily shun all intercourse with the sinful;
(2) that this woman was still “a sinner”; and
(3) that he himself was holy. The attitude he took up was that described in Isaiah 65:5, “Stand by thyself: come not near to me; for I am holier than thou”—an attitude and language hateful to God “as smoke in the nostrils.” The Pharisee, in fact, mentally put the Lord into this dilemma—either He does not know the true character of this woman, in which case He lacks that discernment of spirits which pertains to a true prophet; or, if He knows, and yet endures her touch, and is willing to accept a service at such hands, He lacks that holiness which is no less the note of a prophet of God: such, therefore, in either case He cannot be” (Trench.)
“Which touched Him.”—Touching—this is all that the Pharisee fixes on: his offence is merely technical and ceremonial.—Alford.
A Third Alternative.—The Pharisee omitted a third alternative—viz. that Jesus both knew what the woman was or had been, and permitted her action; and that it was possible for Him to justify His procedure.
Luke 7:40-43. Important Truths and Warnings.—This parable and the narrative in which it is found contain truths which we are very apt to neglect, and suggest warning of which we stand in constant need.
I. For observe, first, that flagrant sinners are much more likely to discover that they are sinners than moralists and ritualists.
II. Observe, secondly, that the much and the little of sin are for the most part measures of conscience, not of iniquity.
III. Observe, thirdly, that Christ does not teach us to run into sin, but to hate hypocrisy—the worst of sins.
IV. Finally, Christ specially warns us against forming those hard judgments of our brethren which of all men the “unco guid” are most apt to form.—Cox.
Luke 7:40. “I have somewhat to say unto thee.”—Christ adopts the same mode of rebuke as that made use of by Nathan to David. He tells an apologue, and asks a question which leads to Simon’s pronouncing judgment against himself (cf. 2 Samuel 12:1-7). Jesus “answers” him—i.e. answers his thoughts, which were revealed by his very looks.
Luke 7:41. “Five hundred pence and … fifty”—We must beware of understanding by the two debtors persons who differed from each other in positive sinfulness—the one, say, with five hundred accumulated offences, the other with but fifty. They were persons with differing consciousness of sin—the one of whom knew that his guilt was very heinous, the other having no such impression of himself. As a matter of fact it often happens that the debtor owing five hundred pence is in outward conduct more blameless than the other; for those who strive to serve God faithfully have an acuter sense of their sinfulness than others who make no such endeavour. In the present case the debtor owing the five hundred pence (the woman) was more guilty than the one owing fifty (Simon). Sense of guilt is a feeling we may all experience: our actual guilt or the number of our offences is known only to God.
The Aim of the Parable.—The aim of the parable was
(1) to explain the strange behaviour of the woman,
(2) to turn the tables on the fault-finder,
(3) to defend the course of conduct which excited the Pharisee’s sensoriousness.
Luke 7:42. “Frankly forgave them both.”—Forgiveness is the free gift of God. It is not the woman’s love that wins forgiveness; but that love springs from the consciousness of having been forgiven.
Luke 7:43. “I suppose.”—There is a touch of superciliousness in Simon’s reply, “I suppose.” His phrase implies that he thought the question one easily answered, and did not perceive how the decision he gave condemned himself. In like manner there is a strain of sarcasm in the words of Jesus—“Thou hast rightly judged.” It is a phrase used by Socrates when he has entangled his adversary in discussion.
Luke 7:44-46. “I entered into thine house.”—Christ contrasts the love manifested by the penitent woman with the coldness and discourtesy of him who thought himself her superior. In the one case there was exceptional and almost extravagant manifestation of devotion, in the other an omission of the ordinary civilities shown by hosts to guests.
1. The woman washed His feet with tears (“the most priceless of waters,” “the blood of the heart”), and wiped them with her hair; Simon had not offered the customary water and towel for washing and wiping the feet of guests.
2. The Pharisee had given no kiss of welcome, but she had passionately and often kissed His very feet.
3. Simon had not given even common oil for the head, but she had anointed His feet with precious ointment.
Dignity and Humility.—The Lord Jesus receives the expressions of love and honour with equal dignity and humility; He would have suffered Himself to be kissed even by the cold-hearted Simon, as He does not withdraw His feet from the tears of the woman who was a sinner. He is so humble in His majesty, and so majestic in His humility, that—shall we say like a child or like a sovereign?—He complains before a whole company of men, who were watching His words, that certain marks of respect had been culpably withheld from Him; and every one must be made to feel that He does this, not for His own sake, but for the sake of men.—Stier.
The Rebuke of Simon’s Under-breeding.—There was something deeper than humour here, but humour there also was. Spoken in semi-public, how it must have taken down the rich and patronising Pharisee to have it flashed in upon him that the seeming-humble carpenter and peasant of Nazareth knew what a gentleman meant, and who was not a gentleman. And not only so, but it was inevitable that the “odious comparison” to her advantage with “the woman” would draw down on Simon alike the observation and laughter of all who heard.—Grosart.
The Explanation of Simon’s Discourtesy.—If we should say that Simon thought that he was a gentleman, and that our Lord was not, we run the risk of offending our own sense of propriety; but we are probably not far from the truth. Simon treated our Lord with personal rudeness just because He was poor. And our Lord felt it, and called attention to it plainly and pointedly.—Winterbotham.
The Pharisee Unconscious of Sinfulness.—The Saviour might come into that house of the Pharisee—and no signs of peculiar honour shall greet or repay His presence—no water for His feet—no anointing of oil—no reverent kiss of welcome. This is natural, for Simon feels himself no sinner, nor counts it, therefore, any great thing to be privileged to entertain the sinner’s Friend.—Vaughan.
Simon made to reprove Himself.—Jesus with tact first asks leave to speak, when He has to administer reproof, puts that reproof into a parable, and makes Simon thus administer his own reproof.—Blaikie.
Luke 7:47. Love and Forgiveness.—We have here three persons who represent for us the Divine love that comes forth amongst sinners, and the twofold form in which that love is received.
I. Christ here stands as a manifestation of the Divine love towards mankind.
1. This love is not at all dependent upon our merits or deserts—“He frankly forgave them both.”
2. It is not turned away by our sins: the self-righteous man had contempt for the sinner, the holy Saviour had love.
3. It manifests itself first in the form of forgiveness—only on this ground can there be union between the loving-kindness of God and the emptiness and sinfulness of our hearts.
4. It demands service: that rendered by the woman is accepted, Simon is reminded of his omissions.
II. The woman here stands as a representative of the penitent lovingly recognising the Divine love.
1. All true love to God is preceded in the heart by a sense of sin and an assurance of pardon. Gratitude to God as the Giver of blessings can scarcely be called love, if there be not along with it a recognition of His holiness and mercy towards the penitent.
2. Love is the gate of knowledge—it led her to truer knowledge of Christ than the Pharisee possessed, and it revealed to her her own state.
3. Love is the source of all obedience. Love prompted her expressions of devotion to Christ, love justified them, His love interpreted them and accepted them.
III. Simon here stands as a representative of the unloving and self-righteous man, all ignorant of the love of Christ. He is a fair specimen of his class: respectable in life, rigid in morality, unquestionable in orthodoxy; intelligent and learned, high up among the ranks of Israel. Yet the want of love made his morality and orthodoxy dead and dry encumbrances. The Pharisee was contented with himself; and so there was no sense of sin in him, therefore there was no penitent recognition of Christ as forgiving and loving him, therefore there was no love to Christ. Hence there was neither light nor heat in his soul; his knowledge was barren notions, and his laborious obedience to the law led him to a fatal self-righteousness.—Maclaren.
Luke 7:47. “For she loved much.”—The difficulty in connection with the interpretation of this verse all depends upon the meaning to be given to the word “for”—“for she loved much.” Does this mean “she has been forgiven because she loved much”? To hold that it does would violate the statement in Luke 7:42, that the debtor had nothing wherewith to pay his debt—i.e. no ground on which he could claim forgiveness. “For” here means that Jesus is arguing from the effect to the cause: her great love shows that she is conscious of having been forgiven a great debt. It is the same kind of statement as if we were to say—“The sun must have shone, for the day is bright.” The majesty of Jesus is displayed in the manner in which He accepts the adoration and love of the penitent, and in the exercise of the Divine prerogative of forgiving sins which He does not hesitate to employ. The great lesson is commended to all who are penitent to show their gratitude by loving much.
Luke 7:48. “Be of good comfort.”—By simple decree given as He sat at the table He blotted out the record of this woman’s sins; His knowledge of her sincere penitence being absolute, and His authority to act in God’s name supreme.
Luke 7:49. “Who is this that forgiveth sins also?”—The astonishment shown by those who were present, at the claim to forgive sin, was most natural, for the majority of those there evidently hesitated to regard Him as the penitent woman did. We need not credit them with malignant unbelief: they were amazed at a claim which doubtless many of them soon came to see was fully justified. The answer to their question would have been, “It is the Son of man” (cf. Luke 5:24).
Luke 7:50. “Thy faith hath saved thee.”—“Thy faith which anticipated pardon from Me, and brought thee to Me with public signs of penitence and love, hath saved thee.” Christ mercifully ascribes to faith those benefits which are due to Himself as the efficient and meritorious cause, and are apprehended by the hand of faith as the instrument on our part by which they are supplied.—Wordsworth.
“Go in peace.”—Lit. “into peace”—the state of mind to which she might now look forward. Four great blessings were therefore bestowed by Jesus upon this penitent:
1. He accepted the expressions she gave of love and devotion;
2. He approved her conduct and defended her cause;
3. He assured her of forgiveness;
4. He dismissed her with a word of benediction. The whole incident is one calculated to comfort the penitent, and to assure them of the love of Christ for them in spite of their deep unworthiness. Yet we need to keep in mind that there is a higher blessing attaching to those who are consecrated in life to Christ from the first than can be known by those who have sunk deeply in the mire of sin. None need, therefore, think lightly of the evil courses from which this woman was redeemed. “Though the love of the reclaimed profligate may be and is intense of its kind (and how touching and beautiful its manifestations are, as here!), yet that kind is not so high or complete as the sacrifice of the whole life—the bud, blossom, and fruit—to His service to whom we were in baptism dedicated” (Alford).
Peace with Pardon.—“Saved!” This poor, shame-soiled, sin-ruined thing that the Pharisee would have thrust out of his house into the street—saved! No return to the old life. An heir of heaven. Christ touched the sinful soul, and it was transformed into beauty. The woman has been in glory for eighteen centuries. This is what Christ can do, will do, for all who creep to His feet in penitence and faith. Peace came with the forgiveness. No peace till forgiven. No peace for uncancelled sin. But when Christ has forgiven, we should be at peace. What is there to fear now or ever? With our King’s pardon we need not be afraid.—Miller.
“Saved.”—The cheering word meant much. The expression “saved” is not to be restricted to the one blessing of forgiveness of sins, though that is specially included, as it was expressly mentioned just before. Jesus meant to say that faith would do, had already done in principle, for the sinful woman, all that needed to be done in order to a complete moral rescue.—Bruce.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Luke 7". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25