Mark 7:1, Mark 7:2
These verses, according to the Greek construction, should run thus: And there are gathered together unto the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of his disciples ate their bread with defiled, that is, unwashen, hands. The word ( ἐμέμψαντο) translated in the Authorized Version, "they found fault," does not appear in the best authorities. It seems to have been interpolated to help the construction. St. Mark explains the meaning of the word κοιναῖς (literally, common), by the word ( ἀνίπτοις) "unwashen." The disciples, doubtless, washed their hands, but they abstained from the multiplied ceremonial washings of the Pharisees, which they had received by tradition and punctiliously observed. The scribes and Pharisees, who had come from Jerusalem, were doubtless sent as spies, to watch and to report in no friendly spirit the proceedings of the great Prophet of Nazareth.
Except they wash their hands oft. The Greek word here rendered "oft" is πυγμῇ: literally, with the fist, i.e. with the closed hand, rubbing one against the other. This word has caused a vast amount of criticism; and the difficulty of explaining it seems to have led to the adoption of a conjectural reading ( πυκνῷς or πυκνῇ) rendered "oft;" crebro in the Vulgate. But the Syriac Peshito Version renders the Greek word by a word which means "diligently," and it is interesting and helpful, as a matter of exegesis, to know that it also renders the Greek word ( ἐπιμελῶς) in Luke 15:8 by the same Syriac synonym, "diligently." The "clenched fist" implies vigor and resolution, and points to "diligence,'' and there are very high authorities in favor of this rendering, as, Epiphanius, Isaac Casaubon, and Cornelius a Lapide, to say nothing of our best modern expositors. It is also adopted in the Revised Version. Holding the tradition of the elders. The Pharisees pretended that this tradition had been orally delivered by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, and then transmitted orally down to their time. These oral precepts were afterwards embodied in the Talmud.
And when they come from the market ( ἀπὸ ἀγορᾶς); literally, and from the market-place; there is no verb in the principal manuscripts, although the Cambridge Codex has ὅταν ἔλθωσιν, and the old Latin gives redeuntes. In the market-place there would be every kind of men and things, clean and unclean, by contact with which they feared that they might be polluted; and so they considered that they had need to cleanse themselves from this impurity by a more careful and complete ablution. Another Greek word is used here, namely, βαπτίσωνται. In the former verse the word is νίψωνται, a more partial and superficial kind of washing than that implied in βαπτίζω. It should, however, be added that two of the great uncials, Vatican and Sinaitic, have ῥαντίσωνται, "sprinkle themselves," instead of βαπτίσωνται—an authority sufficient to justify the Revisers of 1881 in putting it into the margin. The washing of cups, and pots, and brasen vessels, and of tables. The words ( καὶ κλινῶν) wrongly rendered, "and of tables"—because they could only mean "couches"—have not sufficient authority to be retained in the text. "Cups" ( ποτηρίων) mean "drinking vessels." The "pot" ( ξεστὴς) is a Roman word, sextarius, a small liquid measure, the sixth part of a congius, corresponding nearly to the English gallon, so that ξεστὴς would be rather more than a pint measure. Brasen vessels. These would probably be copper vessels, such as are still used in Syria for cooking purposes. These are particularly mentioned. Earthenware vessels would be broken. Which they have received to hold ( ἂ παρέλαβον κρατεῖν); literally, which they received to hold: observe the aorist.
The Law of Moses prohibited contact with many things deemed to be unclean; and if any one had touched them he was counted unclean, so that he might not approach the temple until he had cleansed himself by the washing prescribed in the Law; the design being that by means of these ceremonial and bodily washings the Jews might be awakened to the necessity of spiritual cleansing. Hence the Jews, and especially the Pharisees, who wished to be esteemed more righteous than others, placing their whole religion in these external ceremonies, frequently washed themselves before their meals, and even at their meals. At the marriage feast in Cana of Galilee we read that there were placed "six waterpots of stone ( λίθιναι ῦδρίαι)" for these purifying purposes; so that if any Jew had by accident come into contact with any unclean thing, and so had contracted any ceremonial impurity, he might remove it. This, however, was only a custom, and not a thing of legal obligation until it was exalted into a law by the Pharisees. Now, this punctilious observance of traditions by the Pharisees and other Jews yielded little or no religious profit; for it occupied their time with external purifications, and so drew away their attention from the duty of far greater moment—the cleansing of the soul from sin. They made clean "the outside of the cup and platter," but neglected the inward cleansing of the heart. Therefore our blessed Lord, who came to put an end to the old ceremonial law, and to these vain and frivolous traditions which now overlaid it, and who wished to direct all the care of his disciples to the making of the heart clean, cared not to enforce these external washings upon his disciples, although he did not say this in so many words to the Pharisees, lest he should provoke their envy and their malice. He therefore meets their question in another way.
Mark 7:6, Mark 7:7
Our Lord quotes against them a prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 29:13), This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men. The prophet here gives the cause of the blindness of the Jews, because they honored God with their lips, while their heart was far from him; and their worship of him (for that is the meaning of "their fear") was the commandment of men, which they had been taught; that is, they worshipped God, not according to that spiritual worship which he had commanded, but after the traditions of men and of their own scribes, partly futile, partly perverse, and contrary to God's Law. So he says, Well did Isaiah prophesy of you. The word is καλῶς, "excellently—beautifully—did he prophesy concerning you ( τῶν ὑποκριτῶν), the hypocrites." Not that the prophet had the hypocrites of our Saviour's time in his mind when he uttered these words, but that the Spirit of God which was within him enabled him to describe accurately the character of those who seven centuries afterwards would be doing the same things as their forefathers. And observe how they were punished. For as they gave a lip-service only to God, praising him with their mouth indeed, but giving their heart to vanity and the world; so God on his part would give them the words only—the shell, so to speak, the letter which killeth; but take away from them the kernel the spirit and the life, so that they might not lay hold of it nor taste it.
Here the word καλῶς is repeated. Full well ( καλῶς) do ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your tradition. It is as though our Lord said, "Your traditions are not instituted by God, or by his servants the prophets, but they are modern inventions, which you desire to defend, not out of love or reverence for them, but because you are the successors of those who invented them, and arrogate to yourselves the power of adding to them and making similar new traditions.
Our Lord now gives an example of one of these human traditions. Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother;—that is, obey and love them, and succor them, if they need it; for here "honor" means not only reverence and love, but support, as is clear from Mark 7:12—and, He that speaketh evil of father or mother, let him die the death; that is, let him "surely die," without any hope of pardon. Our Lord means this: "That if he who by words only speaks evil of his father or his mother is, by law, guilty of death, how much more is he guilty of death who wrongs them by deed, and deprives them of that support which he owes them by the law of nature; and not only so, but teaches others so from Moses' seat, as you scribes and Pharisees do when you say, 'It is Corban.'"
But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or his mother, That wherewith thou mightest have been profited by me is Corban, that is to say, Given to God—these words, "that is to say, Given to God," are St. Mark's explanation of "corban"—ye no longer suffer him to do aught for his father or his mother; making void the word of God by your tradition, which ye have delivered. Now, this the scribes and Pharisees did for their own covetous ends. For most of them were priests, who received offerings made to God as his ministers, and then converted them to their own uses. In this they greatly erred; because the obligation of piety by which children are bound to support their parents when they need it, is a part of the law of nature, to which every vow, every oblation, ought to yield. Thus, if any one had devoted his goods to God, and his father or his mother became needy, those goods ought to be given to his parents and not to the temple. The word "corban" is a Hebrew word, meaning "that which is brought near," "a gift or offering to God." Hence, figuratively, the place where these offerings were deposited was called the "corbanas," or, "sacred treasury" (see Matthew 27:6, κορβανᾶν). Hence to say of anything, "It is Corban," was to say that it had a prior and more sacred destination. And when it was something that a parent might need, to say, "It is Corban," i.e. it is already appropriated to another purpose, was simply to refuse his request and to deny him assistance, and so to break one of the first of the Divine commandments. Thus the son, by crying "Corban" to his needy parents, shut their mouths, by opposing to them a scruple of conscience, and suggesting to them a superstitious fear. It was as much as to say, "That which you ask of me is a sacred thing which I have devoted to God. Beware, therefore, lest you, by asking this of me, commit sacrilege by converting it to your own uses." Thus the parents would be silenced and alarmed, choosing rather to perish of hunger than to rob God. To such extremities did these covetous scribes and Pharisees drive their victims, compelling a son to abstain from any kind offices for his father or his mother. St. Ambrose says, "God does not seek a gift wrung out of the necessities of parents." Making void ( ἀκυροῦντες); literally, depriving it of its authority, annulling. In Galatians 3:17 the same word is rendered "disannul." By your traditions; the traditions, that is, by which they taught children to say "Corban" to their parents. Observe the words, "your tradition" ( τῇ παρδόσει ὑμῶν); your tradition, as opposed to those Divine traditions which God has sanctified, and his Church has handed down from the beginning. And many such like things ye do. This is added by St. Mark to fill up the outline, and to show that this was only a sample of the many ways in which the commandment of God was twisted, distorted, and annulled by these rabbinical traditions.
Mark 7:14, Mark 7:15
In the Authorized Version the beginning of this verse runs thus: "And when he had called all the people unto him, he said." But according to the best authorities, the adverb πάλιν should be inserted, and the words will run as follows:—And he called to him the multitude again. It is probable that he had waved them from him while he held this discourse with the scribes from Jerusalem. But now he calls the people near to him again, that all might hear that which concerned all alike. It is probable, indeed, that this discussion with the scribes may have taken place in the house, into which he again returned after having made this authoritative declaration to the multitude. The words are given with more emphasis here than as recorded by St. Matthew. Every one was solemnly invited to hearken and understand, while he announced a principle of the highest importance. Our Lord did not intend to disparage the difference between clean and unclean meats as it had been laid down in the Levitical Law. His object rather was to clear that teaching from the obscurities in which it had been involved by the scribes and Pharisees, who laid stress only on external acts. His object was to show that all impurity springs from the heart; and that, unless the heart is cleansed, all external washings are in vain. It is as though he said, "The scribes teach you that it is not lawful to eat with unwashen hands because unwashen hands make the food clean, and unclean food defiles the soul. But in this they err; because not that which enters from without into the mouth, but that which proceeds from within through the mouth, and so from the heart, if it be impure,—this defiles the man;" as he more fully explains at verse 21.
This verse has some good authority, but not sufficient to be retained in the text. The Revisers of 1881 have placed it in the margin.
Our Lord, having proclaimed this great principle to the multitude in the presence of their teachers, the scribes and Pharisees, returned into the house (the true reading is here εἰς οἶκον, without the article). It means, of course, the house where he was lodging. And then his disciples asked of him the parable. St. Matthew (Matthew 15:15) says that the question was put to him by St. Peter speaking in the name of the other disciples—another instance of the reserve main-rained in this Gospel with reference to this apostle.
Mark 7:18, Mark 7:19
Our Lord had already, in his sermon on the mount, taught his disciples fully wherein purity or impurity of heart consists, and he might, therefore, with good reason, ask them how it was that they, even they who had been so favored by being constantly with him, had forgotten or misunderstood him. Our Lord's illustration is physically accurate. The portion carried off is that which by its removal purifies what remains. The part which is available for nourishment is, in its passage through the system, converted into chyle, the matter from which the blood is formed. What is not available for nourishment passes away into the ἀφεδρών, or draught, Purging all meats. The most approved reading here is undoubtedly the masculine ( καθαρἰζων), and not the neuter ( καθαρίζον). This change of reading compels a somewhat different construction. Accepting, therefore, the masculine as the true reading, the only possible rendering is that which makes this last clause a comment by the evangelist upon our Lord's previous words, in which he indicates to the reader that our Lord intended by this illustration to show that no food, of whatever kind, when received with thanksgiving, can make a man unclean. The clause must, therefore, be connected with the preceding words, by the introduction of the words, in italics, "This he said, making all meats clean." The passage, thus rendered, becomes a very significant exposition of what has gone before. It is well worthy of notice that this explanation is to be found in St. Chrysostom (Homily on St. Matthew 15:1-39.): ὁ δὲ ΄άρκος φησὶν ὅτι καθαρίζων τὰ βρώματα ταῦτα ἔλεγεν: "But Mark affirms that he said these things, making the meats clean." It may be added that this explanation agrees finely with the words in Acts 10:15, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common."
From within, out of the heart of men; that is, from the reason and the will, of which the heart is the symbol and the labouratory. For the heart ministers the vital fore to the intellect to enable it to understand, and to the will to enable it to live, although the seat of the intellect is in the brain. St. Mark's enumeration of evil things is in a somewhat different order from that of St. Matthew; and he adds to St. Matthew's list ( ἀφροσύνη), foolishness, showing how all evil terminates in the loss of all moral and intellectual illumination. All these evil things proceed from within: and defile the man. Dr. Morison, in his admirable commentary on St. Mark, well observes here that "these things have an inward origin, and are vomited forth from the crater of the heart or soul;" and further on he says, "In a little sphere of things, and as regards acts, though not as regards substances or essences, men may be spoken of as creators. Men, that is to say, are the efficient causes of their own choices. If they were not, they would not be really free. If it was not so, there would be no real responsibility." St. Matthew (Matthew 15:20) adds here, "But to eat with unwashen hands defileth not the man." This is the end and scope of the parable, which is to show that unwashen hands and unclean meats defile not a man, but only an impure and depraved will. It seems almost needless to observe that our Lord does not condemn the washing of the hands before meats as a thing in itself in any way wrong. All nations approve of ablutions as tending to cleanliness and health.
"Dant famuli manibus lymphas, Cereremque canistris
Expediunt, tousisque ferunt mantelia villis."
"It was thought sordid and mean to sit down to meals with unwashen hands. Whence not the clergy only, but the people, washed their hands before prayer." The moral of all is this, how carefully is the heart to be guarded, instructed, and adorned, seeing that it is the instrument and labouratory of all evil and all good, of all vice and all virtue! "Keep thy heart with all diligent,'' so that nothing may enter therein and nothing go out therefore and you not be conscious of it, and your reason may not approve; "for out of it are the issues of life."
Our Lord now passes out of Galilee into a heathen country, Syro-phoenicia, into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, that he might begin to impart his miracles and his doctrine, which the scribes and Pharisees had rejected, to the Gentiles. There is not sufficient authority for omitting "Sidon" from the text. Both these cities were renowned for their extensive commerce and for their wealth. It is probable that the true reading in Mark 7:31, which will be noticed presently, may have led to the omission by some authorities of "Sidon" here. But there is really no inconsistency in retaining the words "and Sidon" here; and accepting the reading" through Sidon" there. Tyro, which was the capital of Phoenicia, lay to the south, bordering on Judaea; Sidon to the north: and multitudes flocked to Christ from these parts. He entered into a house, and would have no man know it: and he could not be hid. He would have no man know it, partly for the sake of quiet, and partly lest he should rouse the Jews more bitterly against him, and give them occasion to cavil that he was not the Messiah promised to the Jews, because, having left them, he had turned to the Gentiles. St. Mark (Mark 3:8) has already informed us that his fame had spread to those about Tyro and Sidon.
The construction of this verse is Hebraistic (see Acts 15:17). Instead of ἀκούσασα γὰρ, the approved reading is ἀλλ εὐθὺς ἀκούσασα: But straightway a woman, whose young daughter literally, little daughter; St. Mark is fond of diminutives—had an unclean spirit. All ages were liable to this incursion of unclean spirits. The woman seems to have come from a distance. She was a Greek—that is, a Gentile—a Syro-phoenician by race, as distinguished from the Libyan Phoenicians, of Carthage. She was a descendant from those seven nations of Canaan which had been driven out by God's command. They were called in their own language "Canaanites," And she besought him ( ἠρώτα); literally, asked him. St. Matthew (Matthew 15:22) says that "she cried ( ἐκραύγασεν), have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David." Aristotle says that "parents love their children more than their children love them; because love descends, and because parents desire that their children should survive them, that they may live on in their children, as it were, after death; that they become, so to speak, immortal through their children, and possess that eternity, which they cannot have in themselves, in their children and their children's children." St. Matthew (Matthew 15:23) tells us that at first "he answered her not a word," and he does not record the remarkable saying, Let the children first be filled, which in St. Mark precedes the words, it is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it to the dogs. Dogs abound in Palestine and the surrounding districts, but they are not cared for. They go about in packs, with no particular masters and no particular homes. They seem to be chiefly useful as scavengers. Nevertheless, the dog of the East is amenable to kindness shown him by man, and there, as in England, children and young dogs soon become friendly. It is of ( κυνάρια) "little dogs" that our Lord here speaks. Our Lord here speaks after the manner of the Jews, who called the Gentiles dogs, as distinguished from themselves, the children of the kingdom. Let the children first be filled. Suffer me first to heal all the Jews who need my help. Our Lord makes at first as though he would refuse her request; and yet it is not an absolute denial. There might be hope for her when the children were filled. Thus Christ oftentimes deals with holy souls, namely, by humbling and mortifying them when they desire anything at his hands, in order that with yet greater importunity and humility they may seek and obtain it. St. Chrysostom says, "Whether we obtain that which we seek for, or whether we obtain it not, let us ever persevere in prayer. And let us give thanks, not only if we obtain, but even if we fail to obtain. For when God denies us anything, it is no less a favor than if he had granted it; for we know not as he does what is most expedient for us."
In this verse there is a slight change of reading, causing a change of rendering; namely, thus: Yea, Lord: even— καὶ instead of καὶ γὰρ the dogs τὰ κυνάρια the little dogs—under the table eat of the children's crumbs. Observe the antithesis: "the children" (the little daughter) sitting at the table; the "little dogs" under the table. It is as though she said, "Give me, most gracious Lord, only a crumb (a small mercy compared with thy greater mercies), the healing of my little daughter, which may fall as it were obiter from thee upon us Canaanites and Gentiles, and be gratefully picked up as one of thy lesser benefits.'' Cornelius a Lapide enlarges beautifully upon this: "Feed me, then, as a little dog. To me, a poor Gentile, let a crumb of thy grace and mercy be vouchsafed; but let the full board, the plentiful bread of grace and righteousness, be reserved for the Jewish children. I cannot leave the table of my Lord, whose little dog I am. No; if you spurn me away with your foot, or with a blow, I will go away; but I will come back again, like a little dog, through another door. I will not be driven away by blows. I will not let thee go until thou hast given me what I ask of thee.' For this Canaanite constrains Christ, arguing her case from his own words, prudently, modestly, forcibly, and with a humble faith which perceives that he is not unwilling to be overcome by petition and by reason. Indeed, she entangles him in the meshes of his own words. So great is the plenteousness of his table, that it shall abundantly suffice for her if she may but partake of the crumbs which fall from the table of his children."
St. Matthew says here (Matthew 15:28), "O woman, great is thy faith: be it done unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was healed from that hour." If we suppose St. Mark's words to come in after St. Matthew's words "be it done unto thee even as thou wilt," the two narratives are perfectly consistent. Our Lord could no longer restrain himself, or resist these wonderful appeals of faith. Overcome by the skillful reasoning and importunity of the Canaanite, he gives her that which she asks, and more. tie heals her daughter, and he sets a crown of gold upon her head. It is here obvious to remark that this child vexed by the unclean spirit represents the soul tempted by Satan and polluted by sin. In such a condition we must distrust our own strength, and rely only on Christ, and call upon him with humility and repentance; acknowledging ourselves to be but as dogs in his sight; that is, miserable sinners; yet not such as that we should despair of pardon, but rather that we should hope for the mercy of Christ the greater we feel our misery to be. For it is worthy of a great Saviour to cleanse and save great sinners. Again, this Gentile daughter represents the Church of the Gentiles, which, shut out from salvation by the justice of God, enters the kingdom of heaven through the door of mercy. Here was a great conversion indeed; for now the Jews through their unbelief change places with the Gentiles, and, like them, can only be admitted through the same gate of Divine mercy.
There is an inversion in the order of the clauses in this verse, according to the best authorities. The words should run thus: And she went away unto her house, and found the child ( τὸ παιδίον) laid upon the bed, and the devil gone out. She found her little daughter set free from the possession, but exhausted by the convulsions which he caused in departing from her; weary with the violence of the struggle, but restful and composed. So the sinful soul, set free from sin by the absolution of Christ, rests upon the couch of a conscience pacified by the blood of Christ, and at peace with God.
According to the most approved authorities this verse should be read thus: And again he went out from the borders of Tyre, and came through Sidon unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the borders of Decapolis. St. Matthew (Matthew 15:29) simply says that he "departed thence, and came nigh unto the sea of Galilee." But from the more full statement of St. Mark we learn that he made a circuit, going first northwards through Phoenicia, with Galilee on his right, as far as Sidon; and thence probably over the spurs of Libanus to Damascus, mentioned by Pliny as one of the cities of the Decapolis. This would bring him probably through Caesarea Philippi to the eastern coast of the Sea of Galilee. Here, according to St. Matthew, he remained for a time in the mountainous district above the plain; choosing this position apparently for the sake of quiet and retirement, as also that, being conspicuous to all from the mountain, he might there await the multitude coming to him, whether for instruction or for healing.
They bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech ( πωφὸν καὶ μογιλάλον). The radical sense of κωφός (from κόπτω) is "blunt" or "dull;" and so it is used to represent both deafness and dumbness. But in St. Mark it means deafness as distinguished from dumbness. This patient, however, was not ἄλαλος absolutely, but μογιλάλος, i.e. he spoke with difficulty. Long-continued deafness is apt to produce imperfect utterance.
And he took him aside from the multitude privately. This was done, no doubt, to fix the attention of the afflicted man upon himself, and upon the fact that he was about to act upon his ears and his tongue. And he put ( ἔβαλε)—literally, cast or thrust—his fingers into his ears. The action was very significant. It was as though he said, "I am about to open a passage for hearing through these ears." And he spat, and touched his tongue; that is, he touched his tongue with saliva from his own sacred lips. These symbolical actions must have had a great meaning for the afflicted man. They were a tableau vivant, an acted metaphor, teaching him what he might expect from the mercy of Christ. The analogy of the miracle recorded in St. John (John 9:6) should be noticed here. It is an interesting circumstance (noticed in the 'Speaker's Commentary') that, in the Latin Church, the officiating priest touches the nostrils and ears of those who are to be baptized, with saliva from his own mouth. We may be assured that, in the case before us, these signs used by our Lord were intended to awaken the afflicted man's faith, and to stir up in him the lively expectation of a blessing.
Mark 7:34, Mark 7:35
And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. He looked up to heaven, because from thence come all good things—words for the dumb, hearing for the deaf, healing for all infirmities; and thus he would teach the infirm man by a manifest sign to what quarter he was to look for the true source of his cure. he sighed ( ἐστέναξε); literally, he groaned. Why did our Lord sigh at such a moment? We know indeed that he was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;" hut now we might almost have expected a momentary smile of loving joy when he was about to give back to this afflicted man the use of these valuable instruments of thought and action. But he sighed even then; for he was touched with the feeling of human infirmity, and no doubt his comprehensive eye would take in the vast amount of misery, both bodily and spiritual, which has come upon the world through sin; and this, too, immediately after having looked up to heaven, and thought of the realm of bliss which for a time he had left "for us men, and for our salvation." Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. This word is, of course, addressed to the man himself; and the evangelist has retained the original Syro-Chaldaic word, as he has retained "Talitha cumi" elsewhere: so that the actual word which passed through the Saviour's lips, and restored speech and hearing to the afflicted, might be handed on, as doubtless it will be, to the end of time. The word applies of course, primarily, though not exclusively, to the ear; for not only were his ears opened; but the bond of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.
Mark 7:36, Mark 7:37
He charged them ( διεστέλλετο). The word is a strong one: "he gave them clear and positive orders." The injunction seems to have been given, both to the deaf and dumb man, and to those who brought him. And it was given partly, no doubt, for his own sake, and for reasons connected with his gradual manifestation of himself to the world, and partly for the instruction of his disciples, and to show that he did not desire by his miracles to win the vain applause of men. St. Augustine says that "our Lord desired, by putting this restraint upon them, to teach how much more fervently they ought to preach him, whom he commissions to preach, when they who were forbidden could not be silent." He hath done all things well. He did nothing that the Pharisees, captious and envious as they were, could reasonably find fault with. St. Matthew (Matthew 15:30, Matthew 15:31) intimates that at this time our Lord exhibited a vast number of miracles, a bright galaxy of wonders, amongst which this shone out conspicuously, as a very prominent and instructive one. But, indeed, "he went about doing good." His whole life on earth was one connected, continued manifestation of loving kindness.
Ceremonialism and spirituality.
The teaching of our Lord Jesus was often in opposition to that of the religious leaders of his age and nation. The Pharisees and scribes were most religious, but their religion was of a bad type. They themselves practiced, and they inculcated upon the people, the observance of religious forms and ceremonies; whilst, generally speaking, they were negligent of the weightier matters of the Law. They laid great stress upon the outward, but they were careless of the spiritual. Our Lord's teaching, on the contrary, exalted the spiritual, and insisted upon the supreme importance of a true, a pure, a reverent heart. The contrast between ceremonialism and spirituality is exhibited in this passage in several particulars.
I. CEREMONIALISM SUBSTITUTES WASHING WITH WATER FOR PURITY OF HEART. Ablutions occupied an important place in the system of ritual. In addition to the washings and sprinklings required by the Law, many others were invented by the superstitious. It was a religious duty to wash the hands before eating and upon returning from market; to sprinkle and cleanse ceremonially cups and pots, vessels and furniture. In contradistinction from all these ritual purifications, our Lord laid stress upon the true baptism, the washing and purifying of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
II. CEREMONIALISM SUBSTITUTES THE TRADITIONS OF THE ELDERS FOR THE COMMANDS OF GOD. The Jews were a nation highly conservative in character and habit. They cherished their history, they revered the memory of their heroes, they treasured and superstitiously honored their sacred books, and any doctrines or practices which came down from antiquity were, by that fact, commended to their respect. Their fault here was in magnifying the precepts of men rather than the commands of God. Human interpretations, human additions, human corruptions of the Word, were put in the place of the Word itself. The Lord Jesus came not to destroy, but to fulfill the Law; yet with mere tradition he would have no truce.
III. CEREMONIALISM SUBSTITUTES THE WORSHIP OF THE LIPS FOR THE WORSHIP OF THE HEART. This was an old error and fault. The prophet Isaiah had seen reason to complain of its prevalence among the Hebrews of his time; and, as it is the product of sinful human nature, it need not surprise us if we meet with instances of the working of the principle of formality in any nation and in any age. Our Lord Jesus had frequent occasion to censure the vain repetitions, the prayers in the market-places, which he knew were in many cases the proof, not of a devout but of a hypocritical nature. "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth."
IV. CEREMONIALISM SUBSTITUTES A SUBTLE EVASION FOR FILIAL DUTY. Natural piety concurs with the revealed commandment, in requiring of children honor and reverence towards their parents. To support them when in old age and poverty has ever been deemed a plain duty and, indeed, a true privilege. The way in which the unrighteous but religious Jews evaded this obligation is characteristic. Whatever a parent needed, the son declared to be dedicated to God, and therefore not applicable to the relief of the parent's wants. Such a device was hateful in the eyes of the holy and affectionate Saviour, who not only condemned unfilial conduct, but still more the mean hypocrisy which could use religion for its cloak.
V. CEREMONIALISM SUBSTITUTES AVOIDANCE OF UNCLEAN FOOD FOR AVOIDANCE OF IMPURE AND MALICIOUS THOUGHTS. Even Christ's disciples found it difficult to understand their Master's position with regard to clean and unclean food. The distinction was in itself recognized by the Law, but additions were made by human ingenuity, and the distinction itself was exaggerated, so as to imply more than was divinely intended. In the exercise of his authority, he "made all meats clean." He taught that sin works not from without inwardly, but from within outwardly; that the heart of man needs to be guarded against sinful thoughts and desires, in order that the life may be just, peaceful, and pure.
APPLICATION. It is possible to be, in a sense, religious, and yet, in a deeper sense, sinful, and out of harmony with the mind and will of God. It is a temptation from which none is wholly free, to substitute the external, the formal, the apparent, for what God requires—the faith, love, and loyalty of the heart. Hence the need of a good heart, which must be a new heart—the gift and the creation of God by his Spirit. The religion of the New Testament both enjoins this and provides for its acquirement. He who is "in Christ" is a new creation; and having the fountain cleansed, sends forth pure and purifying streams.
The alien's faith.
In quest of repose and retirement, the Lord Jesus often, even during the busiest periods of his ministry withdrew from crowded cities and busy shores to some accessible seclusion. On this occasion he traveled to the borders of Phoenicia, but though so far from his accustomed resorts, he was known and sought and followed. From Tyre and Sidon people had already, attracted by his fame, found their way to the neighborhood of Capernaum, to hear his discourses and to behold his works. No wonder that now, even in these distant regions, though desiring retirement, the Divine Prophet "could not be hid." Hence the application recorded in this touching and encouraging narrative. We observe here—
I. FAITH ARISING IN UNFAVOURABLE CIRCUMSTANCES. A woman—described as a Canaanite, a Gentile—appealed to Jesus for help. Probably a heathen, she yet had confidence in the power of the Hebrew Rabbi and Prophet to bring her some relief. It is singular that two conspicuous instances of faith in Christ during his ministry—this, and that of the centurion—should be displayed by Gentiles. And this when many of cur Lord's own countrymen despised and rejected the Son of David! Yet every preacher of the gospel has met with cases which show us that faith springs up where it is least expected, and in circumstances the least favorable. An inducement this for the Christian sower to "sow beside all waters."
II. FAITH PROMPTING TO INTERCESSION. Personal faith will lead to pleading prayer. This was the faith of a mother, concerned for her afflicted daughter, possessed by an unclean spirit. Maternal love incited to the appeal, and sustained under discouragement and rebuffs. True faith will ever lead to action, and will impel the anxious soul to lay its anxieties before a mighty and compassionate Lord. We cannot be satisfied to come to Christ for ourselves alone; for those dear to our hearts some true request will be preferred, some petition will be urged. The heart's compassionate impulse the Lord of the heart will not despise.
III. FAITH REPULSED AND SORELY TRIED. The language addressed by Jesus to this woman was certainly unlike what he was wont to address to suppliants. His mission was to Israel; the bread he brought for Israel's sons; Canaanites and all Gentiles were but as dogs, having no claim upon the provision made for the household of the favored. It is mysterious, yet it is unquestionable, that it seems good to God to "try ' the faith of men. So Jehovah had tried Abraham, and so Jesus now tried this poor, pitiable woman. He will try your faith; but misunderstand not his treatment of you.
"Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head."
IV. FAITH TRIUMPHANT. The woman neither resented the Lord's comparison nor did she, disheartened by the reception she met with, turn away without a blessing. She took the Lord at his word, and followed out his figure. "Be it so; let the bread, the loaf, be for the children; let the dogs keep their proper place; yet, even there, surely there is some provision even for them. There are crumbs, and with these the dogs may be content; for these the dogs may be grateful." This is the way to plead with Heaven. God will have earnestness and persistency and perseverance in prayer. Christ's grace is ever for those who seek, and who seek not fitfully, but resolutely and enduringly.
V. FAITH RECOGNIZED AND REWARDED. Christ was pleased because the applicant cast herself upon his compassion, because she was willing to receive the boon desired upon his own terms. "For this saying go thy way." It was a saying expressing so much humility, so much earnestness, so much faith, that the heart from which it came might not remain unsatisfied, unblest. The evangelist tells, in a way very picturesque and affecting, how, upon her return to her house, the poor woman found that the power had been exercised, that the demon had departed, and that her daughter was healed.
APPLICATION. The narrative
The deaf hears; the dumb speaks.
In this incident is much of the dramatic. It could not well be otherwise. Our Lord's teaching was usually by speech, but this was a case in which oral language was needless and useless. Christ accordingly employed the language of gesture and action. He thus adapted himself and his ministry to the necessities of this poor man, who was doubly afflicted with privation of hearing and of speech. The condition of the sufferer and the conduct of the Healer are alike symbolical of spiritual facts and suggestive of spiritual lessons.
I. A PICTURE OF THE SINNER'S STATE.
1. Here is an insight into the nature of human depravity. It is a distortion of, a departure from, the proper, the higher, and original nature. Man, in his true bodily constitution, possesses hearing and speech, and in his true spiritual constitution he has faculties which bring him into communion with the Divine. The privation of such capacity by sin is pictured by the state of this sufferer.
2. Here is insensibility to Divine realities. Voices, music, thunder, are all to the deaf as though they were not. So with the sinner; he hears not the tones of the Divine voice; the Word of God is nothing to him—has neither authority nor charm. The dumb cannot speak or sing; whatever the occasion for utterance, the occasion appeals to him in vain. So with the sinner; he has no witness to offer to the God of creation, providence, and grace.
3. Here is deprivation of the highest joys. How much of happiness is inaccessible to those who are afflicted with deafness! Nature, art, and friendly voices have no message for their ears. And, similarly, sin closes the approaches of highest spiritual joys to the spiritual nature of the children of sinful men.
4. Here is helplessness and hopelessness. It is not a pleasant or a flattering picture; but is it net true?
II. A VIEW OF THE SAVIOUR AND OF THE PROCESS OF SALVATION. Remark:
1. The individual character of salvation. As Jesus took this deaf man apart from the crowd, that he might deal with him privately and by himself, so the Lord ever singles out each individual whom he saves. Sometimes he lays such a one aside by affliction, quietly to converse with him and work upon his nature.
2. Salvation is through Christ's personal contact with the soul. When Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears and anointed his tongue with spittle, this was a striking and effective lesson to one who could not be reached by the usual channel of articulate speech. It was the touch of Christ, and the communication of his virtue, that healed. A lesson to us flint restoration to spiritual capacity and health is the effect of an immediate contact of the soul with Christ, the soul's Saviour.
3. A profoundly compassionate Saviour. "He sighed;" not simply because of this instance which he encountered of human misery and need, but doubtless also because of all the world's sin and misery. His was a heart moved at the spectacle of the wretchedness of this fallen race. His work of redemption was inspired by pity and by love.
4. An authoritative Saviour. The word of Jesus, "Be opened!" reminds us of the original and authoritative utterance of the Creator, "Let there be light!" It is thus that the Lord of light and vision ever speaks: he utters his royal command as one who is certain to be obeyed.
III. A REPRESENTATION OF THE RESULTS OF SALVATION. Simple as is the record of the mandate and summons of Immanuel, equally simple is the record of the success which attended his word. The response to the command was immediate. Similarly with the release which it is the prerogative of our Redeemer to effect for the soul of man. The nature which Christ renews becomes sensitive to those heavenly voices to which it has so long been deaf, and finds delight in holy and grateful utterances to which it has before been utterly strange.
IV. AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE IMPRESSION PRODUCED BY THE EXERCISE OF CHRIST'S POWER.
1. Astonishment; for who but he can work such marvels?
2. Publication; for the healed, and the beholders of the spiritual change, are unable to restrain them-selves—are impelled to tell the story of redemption and deliverance.
3. Witness and praise; for such must needs be offered to him of whom it is said, "He hath done all things well."
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Externalism versus righteousness.
In Mark 7:3, Mark 7:4 of this chapter we are furnished with an interesting piece of antiquarianism. The daily life of the devout Jew is set before us in its ceremonial aspect; not as Moses had originally ordered it, but as custom and human casuistry had gradually transformed it. The light thrown upon several questions is very searching and full of revelation, viz. the various senses in which baptism seems to have been understood by the contemporaries of Christ, and the punctilio, vigor, and detail with which ceremonial purifications were carried out. It is only as we realize the background of daily Jewish life, against which the life to which Jesus called his disciples stood out so prominently, that we are in a position to appreciate the current force of the objections raised by Pharisee and scribe. We have here—
I. CHRISTIANITY CRITICIZED FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF RELIGIOUS TRADITION.
(Mark 7:1-5.) The exaggerated form the latter assumed brought out the more strikingly the peculiarity and essential character of Christ's teaching.
1. It was an age in which Jewish ceremonalism had reached its highest. The doctrine of Pharisaism had penetrated the common life of the people. They might be said to have fallen in love with it. The distinctions are artificial and super-refined, e.g. between "common," "profane," or "defiled" hands, and hands ceremonially clean. They washed "diligently" (a paraphrase of the original substituted by our revisers for "oft" of the Authorized Version, and apparently the best rendering of the difficult word in the original), "carefully," or the "many other Amongst the respectable Jews ceremonial strictness and nicety held a place very similar to what "good manners," or polite behavior and refinement, occupy with ourselves, having, of course, an additional supernatural sanction from association with the Law. Thus to-day the customs and observances of nations amongst whom civilization has long existed might equally serve as a foil for the Christian moralist; and all casuistries or secondary, customary moralities.
2. The objectors were the leaders and representatives of the religious life of the time. "Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which had come from Jerusalem." They were the leaders and teachers of metropolitan fanatical ritualism. It is well when Christianity is judged that such men appear on the bench; there can then be no question as to the representative and authoritative character of the criticism. It would be a splendid thing if the representatives of modern political, social, and ecclesiastical life could be convened for such a purpose.
3. What, then, is the objection thus raised? It concerned an observance of daily life. Christians are now judged on the same arena. In small things as in large the difference will reveal itself. It depended upon an abstract distinction: the hand might be actually clean when it was not ceremonially so. It was, in the eyes of those who made it, the worst accusation they had it in their power to make. The moral life of the disciples was irreproachable; they "had wronged no man, corrupted no man, taken advantage of no man." The Christians of to-day ought to emulate this blamelessness; infidels can then fire only blank cartridge.
II. THE TABLES TURNED. (Mark 7:6-23.) The critics are themselves reviewed. Trifling captiousness must be summarily dealt with, especially when it wears the garb of authority. The character of the objectors is of the first consequence in judging of Christ's tone. Grave issues were at stake. The ground of the fault-finding was superficial and untrustworthy, and a truer criterion must be discovered. "Deceivers may be denounced, that the deceived may be delivered" (Godwin). The essential nature of rectitude—the grand moral foundations must be laid bare.
1. Christ begins with an appeal to Scripture. He is careful to show that the distinction between righteousness and ritualism is a scriptural one, and not of his own invention. At the same time, he gives the reference a satirical or ironical turn by making a prophetic identification! We don't know how much is lost in ignoring the written Word of God. It is "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness."
2. He next pointed out the opposition that existed between their traditions and the Law. The instance selected is a crucial one, viz. that of the fifth commandment—"the first commandment with promise." Others might have been given, but that would be sufficient. Family obligations are the inner circle in which religion most intensely operates; if a man is wrong there, he is not likely to be very righteous elsewhere. To prove their opposition to the Law was to strip them of all pretense to religion.
3. Lastly, common sense and conscience were appealed to as regarded rites and ceremonies. The "multitude" is here addressed; it is a point which the common man is supposed able to decide. There are many weapons that may thus be supplied to the evangelical armoury. If philosophy was rescued from barrenness by this method in the hands of a Socrates or a Reid, may we not hope for greater things with regard to a common-sense religion? The great foundation of all religious definitions and obligations is the true nature of man. The essential being of man is spiritual; the body is only the garment or case in which he dwells. Purity or its opposite must therefore be judged of from that standpoint. If the soul, will, spirit, inner thought of a man is pure, he is wholly pure. Spiritual and ceremonial cleanness must not be confounded. Religion is not a matter of forms, ceremonies, or anything merely outside; but of the heart. Yet the thought and will must influence the outward action, habit, and life. The spiritual is the only eternal religion (John 4:23, John 4:24). The private question of the disciples is worthy of notice. A "parable" seems to have been their common name for a difficult saying of Christ's. Their incapacity was not intellectual but spiritual. Professed Christians themselves often require to be more fully instructed. The progressive life of the true Christian will itself solve many problems. "Had our Saviour been speaking as a physiologist, he would have admitted and contended that many things from without, if allowed to enter within, will corrupt the functions of physical life, and carry disorder and detriment into the whole fabric of the frame. But he was speaking as a moralist, and hence the antithetic statement of the next clause" (Morison).—M.
The prayer of the Syro-phoenician woman.
An atmosphere of publicity about Christ: crowds follow him wherever they hear of his presence, and even in strange regions his fame anticipates him. The many who took advantage of his power to heal are forgotten in the special ease which now presented itself. This may have been the spiritual result of many unsatisfactory cases in which the cure only affected the body; the rumor of them awoke at least one heart to a new sense of spiritual power. Speaking about Jesus and his work in this place or that, to one soul or another, may be a blessing in unthought-of quarters. Jesus "could not be hid" for other reasons; his disciples were with him, and, more than all, he carried about in himself a revelation of love and pity that spoke to every heart. Spiritual influence is a mysterious thing, and yet there are some conditions of its exercise which are only too plainly declared. Matthew has a fuller account, but our evangelist gives us the chief details. The Saviour was touching the great world outside of Judaism, the scene of his greater ministry in the future through the Holy Spirit. The incident is remarkable, as suggesting this universal relation of him who as yet was but a Jewish Rabbi. It tells us the nature of the limitation which hemmed in his work, and how that limitation was to be removed, when he "should open the door of faith to the Gentiles."
I. AT THE DOOR OF MERCY. (Verses 25, 26.)
1. The motive. It was not for herself, but her child, whose distress she sought to relieve. The nature of this "unclean spirit." Moral parallels. A mother's instinct: how near the human affections and family obligations bring us to the gospel! The instinct is a natural one, but tending to the spiritual. She was in the school of sorrow, noble and unselfish sorrow, which searches the heart and awakens the latent forces of the spiritual nature. How many have been brought by such sentiments and experiences to the cross!
2. The attraction. She had heard of him and his merciful works. We all stand in need of mercy, and are insensibly affected as we hear of its exercise upon others. Make known the Saviour, and proclaim his saving grace! The most unlooked-for will come. "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." But now she saw and heard himself. Her great yearning, grieving heart read the lineaments of his countenance, and the character they expressed. "He will not turn me away." Christ, by his spiritual presence in the Word, ever touches human hearts thus, awaking by what he is the deepest longings and most instinctive trust.
II. THE DOOR AJAR. (Verse 27.)
1. It sounds like a rebuff. What claims has she upon him? But:
2. Is really a trial of her faith. It sounds logically conclusive, yet is it intended to call forth the inmost spiritual nature. Delays and adverse experiences in prayer should not all at once be accepted as final Prayer is not a mere asking; it is a discipline. Remember Abraham's importunity.
3. Encouragement is given even under the appearance of refusal. Matthew: tells us of a silence that preceded this; for Christ to speak was itself an omen not to be despised. "First" is a word that hints at postponement, not ultimate rejection. And the picture he sketches is not to be taken literally, but is for the spiritual imagination. As the reasoner, in making an induction, introduces an clement into his reasoning that is not in the facts in themselves, so the petitioner at Heaven's throne must learn to interpret his experiences, and to sift the rejections that he may discover the elements of hope. Here the petitioner answers the objection by completing the picture in which it is couched. True, it would be wrong to cast the children's "loaf" to the dogs; but that is not the only conceivable way in which the dogs may be fed. Her Greek experience comes to her assistance. Whilst the Jews hated dogs as "unclean," and could not tolerate them in their houses, the Greeks had a peculiar affection for them, and tamed and trained them to feed from the band. In many a Greek home the dog had its place beside the table or beneath it. And the "crumbs' found their way there in various ways, either by intention or accident. The term she uses is a diminutive of endearment. The twenty-eighth verse is full of dimmutives—"little dogs," "little children's," and "little crumbs"—which are full of subtle, tender appeal. This is her argument, then. It is a self-humiliating one, for she is willing to take the dogs' place. She is not a Jewess—a "child;" she is only a Gentile, and her daughter is "a little dog." And here is the children's loaf—the Bread of life—at the very edge of the table. May not some "little crumbs" fall over? To such humility, such faith, there can be no refusal; and there was never intended to be one. This is how we must all come to Heaven's door—vile, miserable sinners, with no claim save upon the mercy of God!
III. THE DOOR OPENED. (Verses 29, 30.)
1. It is opened to faith. "For this saying." It was an inspiration of faith. She had found the master-key for all time, and as she used it the door flew open. If we but "ask in faith, nothing wavering," all our petitions will be granted.
2. It is opened by Divine grace. We are not to suppose the request granted because the feeling of Christ was wrought upon. The yielding has only a superficial appearance of being due to constraint. In reality the delay was but interpolated that the faith of the woman might be developed in her own soul and manifested to the Jewish spectators; and so the final answer would be justified on every hand, and prove a blessing to others beside the recipient. The cure is already effected when she returns home.
3. It stands open for ever to such petitioners. The ground of assent to her appeal having been "evidently set forth," she becomes a precedent for all believers to plead. She is the pioneer of all who, not being Jews according to the flesh, are nevertheless children of faithful Abraham according to the spirit. To all who thus believe the invitation is given, "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."—M.
A rest, then a fresh journey ("again"). How long the interval we cannot determine. To free him from embarrassment, perhaps danger, and allow time for spiritual meditation. "Tyre and Sidon." The best manuscripts have "through Sidon," which was north of Tyre. "Decapolis:" ten cities, east and southeast of Sea of Galilee; named by the Romans b.c. 65. A favourite scene of our Lord's labours (cf. Matthew 4:25). In Matthew 15:29-31 a multitude of cases is mentioned. Here one is singled out as an illustration.
I. THE CASE. Familiar and ordinary; comparatively helpless; difficult to educate, mentally and spiritually.
II. THE CURE.
1. The manner of the great Physician. "They beseech him to lay his hand upon him"—a grand expression.
2. The means employed.
III. THAT WHICH IS SYMBOLIZED. The shut heart of the world, dead to spiritual things. Which is worse? Only the compassion of Christ can save us.—M.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
Mark 7:24 (first part)
The seclusion of Jesus.
Our Lord, during his ministry, frequently sought retirement, and the text mentions one of these occasions. Seclusion is sometimes coveted by his disciples from improper motives, but these found no lodgment in the heart of the sinless One. We sometimes withdraw from active service for God because a feeling of indolence creeps over us, but he constantly found it to be his meat and drink to do the will of his Father in heaven. We sometimes shrink back from suspicions and reproaches in a spirit of cowardice, whereas in Christ there was no trace of the fear of man, that brings a snare. Nor did he ever exhibit the slightest indication of the selfishness which leads us to shut ourselves up in the narrow circle of our petty personal interests. On the contrary, his whole life, the fact of his living here at all, the death which he could easily have averted, conclusively showed that he "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." We may at once and confidently set aside any explanation of Christ's withdrawal from a place or people which is drawn from some supposed imperfection in him who was absolutely sinless. At the same time, we must remember that we cannot always discover with certainty the reasons for our Lord's actions, not only because these are not mentioned by the evangelists, who never try to explain or justify what may be open to misrepresentation, but also because his nature transcended ours, and his acts had issues not only here but in an unseen world. So that whenever we suggest explanations of his conduct, we must say to ourselves, "Lo, these are parts of his ways: but how little a portion is heard of him!"
I. OCCASIONAL SECLUSION WAS GOOD FOR THE LORD HIMSELF. He was as truly the Son of man as the Son of God. His life would not have been complete, it would not have touched ours at so many points, if he had always worked and never waited. Hence, though he had to do a work so stupendous that it would affect the destinies of the world, and of the unseen universe of God, there are no signs in his life of bustle or impatience. He waited thirty years before he preached the gospel; and although he allowed himself only three short years for public ministry, he broke off from it again and again; and when at work he was so unhurried that he could stop in his progress to Jerusalem to heal a blind beggar, or halt on his way to save a dying child in order to heal and teach a poor woman in the crowd that thronged him. What a lesson to us in this fast-living age! What a rebuke to our feverish anxiety and excitement! Doubtless we should have to sacrifice something to break off from work as our Master did; indeed, this is one modern form of taking up our cross to follow him. It will be a fatal mistake to let business hustle prayer out of our life. The busy Christ could sometimes be alone, and he could not have been all he is to us if he had not been so. In the wilderness of temptation he was alone, and the real struggle of every human life is fought out and won in the presence of him who sees in secret. The greatest agony of Christ was endured in solitude; and in our Gethsemane friends fail us, but our God is near. It is good to be alone, if only we are alone with God, as Jesus was.
II. THE OCCASIONAL SECLUSION OF OUR LORD WAS GOOD FOR OTHERS. It was well for the disciples that they should be sometimes withdrawn, with their Master, from circumstances in which they would be harmed by men's applause or overwrought by nervous excitement; but besides this, Christ's withdrawal would benefit some who were not his disciples.
1. It was a possible means of grace to his foes. When the rage of the Pharisees was intensely aroused (and no anger is more unreasoning and devilish than that which professedly bases itself on religious conviction), it was well for them that the object of their wrath should disappear for a time. Christ's withdrawal saved them again and again from the awful crime which they committed at last on Calvary; it allowed for the subsidence of hasty excitement, which prejudiced them, and gave them time and opportunity for recovering better and wiser thoughts about the Lord. The loving Saviour would fain have helped even those who hated him.
2. It was for the advantage of the mass of his hearers. They saw his miracles, marvelled at them, discussed them, crowded to see more—without the least perception of their spiritual significance; so that if the series of miracles had been unbroken they would have failed of their purpose.
3. It was for the good of those who needed him that he should be sought. This is clearly exemplified in the experience of this woman of Syro-phoenicia. The disciples tried to drive her away. But Jesus meant her to come, had gone thither partly that she might come, gave her rebuffs which aroused yet more her apprehension of want; and so tested and developed her faith as to make her ready to receive the great blessing he longed to give. If Christ does not reveal himself so unmistakably to us as we wish, it is because he sees that we may win a higher benediction when we obey his command, "Seek, and ye shall find."—A.R.
Mark 7:24 (latter part)
He could not be hid.
On several occasions when Jesus sought retirement it was denied him, either by the enthusiastic zeal of his followers or by the pressing need of those who had heard of his fame. Still he seems to hide himself, and yet from no earnest seeker can he be hidden. In respect to many things besides the saving knowledge of Christ, it may be said they can only be discovered by diligent search. Our present knowledge of the physical world has come to us through those who would not be denied in their eager exploration. The forces of nature, too, have not obtruded themselves in their various uses, but have been won to our service by costly experiments and diligent thought. Speaking broadly, all life is an experiment—a discovery. A child learns to judge distances by trying to grasp what is within reach; he discovers the limit of strength by falls and hurts; he prattles before he talks. Very little of what we know has come intuitively. It sought to hide itself, but because we could not do without it we strove after it, and from us it "could not be hid." If in regard to other good things these words are true, it is not unreasonable that they should be true of him who is the highest good our souls can have or eternity can reveal. Our text implies, what other verses explicitly assert, that Christ, in the full plenitude of his salvation, does not come to us when we are spiritually inert, but that when the Holy Spirit has shown us that we need him, and when we seek him, he must be found of us. But if we spurn him he will hide himself, till he will have to say of us, concerning the things that would give us peace, "But now they are hid from thine eyes." The truth on which we wish to lay stress is this—that even in the days of his earthly ministry, whether Jesus was found as a Saviour or not depended on the condition of those who sought him. It was not a question of place, but of purpose. Contrast this story with the incident narrated in the first part of the preceding chapter. There we read of his visit to Nazareth, his own city, where we should expect he would be most eagerly sought after and most rich in blessings; but he could not reveal himself there as he wished to do, "because of their unbelief." Now, on the borders of a heathen district, the inhabitants of which had been shut out from the blessings of the covenant, there was a certain woman, a Gentile by birth, a heathen by religion, who wanted to find him, and from her "he could not be hid." Character may be, but circumstances cannot be, a barrier between the soul and Christ.
I. CHRIST CANNOT BE HID, BECAUSE GREAT NEED WILL SEEK HIM OUT. It was so with her who, poor and ill, crept into the crowd and touched the hem of his garment; with the sisters of Bethany, who sent the message, "He whom thou lovest is sick;" with the woman who was a sinner, who ventured into the Pharisee's house to find him; and with this Canaanite, who made her way to the Jewish Teacher, who, so far as she knew, had never before blessed one outside the house of Israel. It is God's design in our bodily illnesses, in our bereavements, in our grief about children going wrong, to lead us to the feet of him who never has said, "Seek ye my face in vain."
II. CHRIST CANNOT BE HID, BECAUSE TRUE LOVE WILL SURELY FIND HIM. True love in a parent or lover will give persistence and hope in the search for one who is lost. So will love to him who is worthy of the highest affection lead us to his presence.
III. CHRIST CANNOT BE HID, BECAUSE EARNEST FAITH WILL EVER LEAD TO HIM. The shepherds of Bethlehem who heard the angels' song believed its message, and found the holy Child. The wise men from the East, being faithful to the light they had, at last bowed at the feet of the Light of the world. Let us not suffer our doubts to prevent the outgoings of our soul to the Lord.
IV. CHRIST CANNOT BE HID, BECAUSE HIS OWN HEART WILL BETRAY HIM. Recall the pathetic story of Joseph. When He was the lord of Egypt, and his brethren came as suppliants to him, his heart could scarce contain itself, and at last the strength of his love forced him to avow himself and to welcome them to his heart. But that is only a faint emblem of the nobler love which filled the heart of the Son of God. Heaven could not hold it; the cross could not check it; the grave could not keep it back from his people. All through his life you see the outgoings of that mighty love. If his disciples are toiling in rowing, He will walk right over the raging waves to comfort them. If after his resurrection He stands as a stranger beside Mary, it can only be for a moment, for, like the good shepherd, he will soon call her by name, that she may be glad in his love. Still he stands among his disciples, and there his heart bewrays itself.
V. CHRIST CANNOT BE HID, BECAUSE HIS DISCIPLES WILL MAKE HIM KNOWN. In spite of the unfaithfulness of many, he has never been without his witnesses. The healed demoniac went hack to his home to tell what Jesus had done for him; Andrew no sooner found the Messiah than he went to tell his own brother Simon. So the witness-bearing is to continue till the whole earth is filled with his glory.—A.R.
Deaf and dumb.
Christ's acts of healing were very often performed while He was passing from place to place. This occurred on his way from the borders of Tyre and Sidon to the eastern side of the Lake of Galilee. His life was like a river, which not only, when it reaches the sea, bears mighty fleets on its bosom, but carries blessings all along its course through secluded pastures and quiet corn-fields. The case of this man was one of physical infirmity and not of demoniac possession. He was deaf, and had an infirmity in his speech. In considering the spiritual significance of a miracle, we must not overlook or underrate the physical blessing. Such an act of healing as this is the germ whence innumerable good works have come. Institutions for the deaf, hospitals for the sick, homes for the crippled, are the smiling harvest arising from this scud-sowing; and the signs by which the deaf and dumb are now taught find their principle in the signs which our Lord, in loving condescension, used in dealing with this afflicted man. The spirit of Christ reigns over and blesses the bodies of men still. If we have the use of all our faculties, and know nothing of the irritability of the deaf, the loneliness of the blind, and the agony of the dumb, let us not only be thankful, but let us remember our responsibility for their use, lest we fall into condemnation because we close our ears against the truth and refuse to move our lips in prayer. Let us also learn to cultivate pity for those who are not so richly endowed, allowing for the irritability of those who can only partly hear, and the cynicism to which the dumb and blind are tempted, and seeking to become eyes to the blind and cars to the deaf. "Be merciful, as your Father in heaven is merciful." Be pitiful and gentle, as he who sighed over and then blessed the sufferer. The spiritual significance of this act of healing is the more important, because deafness to God's voice and dumbness in his praise are more general, and less manifest to others than the physical privations which are their counterparts. In this light regard the sufferer and observe—
I. THAT HE WAS DESTITUTE OF TWO OF OUR NOBLEST FACULTIES. In those days there existed none of the mitigations of such distress with which we are familiar, and which are the products of patient and skillful training. He could not hear his children's voices, nor the cry of warning, nor the whisper of love. All that transpired in the synagogue was but dumb-show to him. He could not take refuge from loneliness in reading, as we can do. His wants he could not articulately express. when we see a child as yet unable to talk we are glad that his wants are limited, simple, well known, and easily supplied. But this sufferer had the thoughts and feelings of a man, yet could not utter them. In our congregations, and outside them, multitudes fail to hear God's voice. The preacher speaks of sin, but there is no consciousness of it stirred in their hearts; he proclaims free pardon, yet there is no sense of grateful acceptance. Voices around are eloquent of the Father's love to a Christian, but by these they are unheard. Meanwhile their voices are inarticulate on God's side. If a word of warning ought to be spoken, if the cause of Christ is to be defended, if there are vices which a God of sobriety and purity would destroy, these are dumb, or are as men who have an impediment in their speech.
II. THAT THESE FACULTIES WERE MUTUALLY DEPENDENT. He was not absolutely dumb, but was inarticulate in utterance; therefore, after his cure, it is said "he spake plain." It is true he had some physical defect, for we read, "the string of his tongue was loosed;" but it is evident that he could not speak aright, partly because he could not hear—perversion of speech being a general accompaniment of total deafness, for a deaf person cannot detect and alter his malpronunciations. There is a connection in spiritual life between the similar faculties of the soul. If we try to teach others, we must be taught of God. The ears must be opened before the mouth speaks plainly, and unless they be, the fluent talker is but a poor stammerer in spiritual utterance. Right speaking is conditioned by right hearing. If, therefore, the habit of evil or foolish talk has been acquired, it is not enough to vow that it shall be broken off, for it is "out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaketh." The fountain wants change, not the channel. Such a one must give up light reading for a time of earnest reflection, must keep clear of vain and idle companionships, and, above all, cultivate fellowship with God, the Source of all wise and holy thought.
III. THAT HE WAS BROUGHT TO THE TRUE PHYSICIAN. Satan is the great destroyer and damager, and Christ is the great Repairer and Redeemer. Let us bring our friends to him by counsel, by sympathy, and by prayer.
IV. THAT HE LEFT HIMSELF IS THE LORD'S HANDS. Friends asked the Lord to lay his hands on the sufferer, probably because they had seen him do this before. But Christ was divinely free, was far broader in method than their expectations, and he took him by the hand—not to cure him by that touch, but to lead him apart; and with this Stranger the helpless man was satisfied trustfully to go. Let us leave our Lord to do with us and with our dear ones as seems good to him. Though he may deal with us differently from his dealing with others, his choice is wisest and best.—A.R.
A typical cure.
In our Lord's different acts of healing there were markable variations of method. We should expect this of the Son of the Creator, whose variety in nature is infinite. No two leaves in the forest are alike—no two faces in a flock of sheep; and even the same sea changes in its aspect from hour to hour. This variety is greater as we go higher in the scale of creation, and is most conspicuous in man, whether considered individually or collectively. And Christ Jesus was the Image of the invisible God, who is omniscient. He knew the avenue to every heart, and how best to win affection or arouse praise. If there was one string in the harp which could be made tuneful, he could touch it. Hence the variety in his method of dealing with those who came to him. One was called upon for public avowal, and another was charged to tell no man; one was cured by a word, another by a touch; the servant of the centurion was healed at a distance, but of the lunatic boy Jesus said, "Bring him hither unto me." Bartimaeus was suddenly restored, but this man was gradually given his speech and hearing. This change in merle was not from outward hindrance to the Lord's power, nor because that power was intermittent, but because he put restraint on himself for the sake of the sufferer or of the observers. Mark appears to have taken special interest in cases of gradual restoration. It is not because he would minimize the miraculous element, as some suggest, but possibly because, seeing in all miracles types of what was spiritual, he saw his own experience more clearly in these. He had been brought up under holy influences. As a lad he had heard the Word in the house of his mother Mary, and had been gradually enlightened, like the blind man at Bethsaida; or like this man, without abrupt suddenness, had his ears opened and his tongue loosed to glorify the God of Israel. The method of this sufferer's cure is given in detail, and deserves consideration.
I. JESUS LED HIM APART FROM OTHERS, dealing with him as with the blind man, whom he also took by the hand and led out of the town. This, we think, was not "to avoid ostentation," nor to prevent distraction in his own prayer, but for the man's good. Christ would be with him alone, and so concentrate attention on himself. He took him into solitude that he might receive deeper spiritual impressions, and that the first voice he heard might be the voice of his Lord. It is always good for men to be alone with God, as was Moses in Midian, David watching his flock at Bethlehem, Elijah in the cave at Horeb, and others. Our quietest times are often spiritually our most growing times—illness, bereavement, etc.
II. JESUS BROUGHT HIM INTO VITAL CONTACT WITH HIMSELF. "He but his fingers," etc. We must remember that the man could not speak nor hear, but he could feel and see, and therefore what was done met the necessities of his affliction. With his finger Jesus touched his ear, as if to say, "I am going to cure that;" then, with finger moistened with saliva, he touched his tongue, to show that it was a going out of himself which would restore him. The man was brought into vital contact with Christ, as the child was brought close to the prophet who stretched himself upon him. Our Lord seeks that personal contact of our spirit with his, because the first necessity of redemption is to stir faith in himself. The man yielded to all the Saviour did—watched his signs and expected his word of power; and it is for that expectant faith he so often waits.
III. JESUS RAISED HIS THOUGHTS TO HEAVEN. He looked up to heaven. Watching that loving face, the sufferer saw the Lord look up with ineffable earnestness, love, and trust; and the effect of this would be that he would say to himself, "Then I also should pray, 'O God of my fathers, hear me!'" We are called upon, in the light of Christ's example, to look above the means we use for discipline or instruction, and away from ourselves and outward influences to the heavenly Father, who is neither fitful nor indifferent to our deepest needs.
IV. JESUS MADE HIM CONSCIOUS OF PERSONAL SYMPATHY. "He sighed." It was not a groan in prayer, but a sigh of pity, that escaped him when he gazed on this sufferer, and realized, as we cannot do, the devastation and death wrought by sin, of which this was a sign. Even with us it is the one concrete case of suffering which makes all suffering vivid. With that feeling we must undertake Christian work. Sometimes we are busy, but cur hands are cold and hard; and when our heads are keen to devise, our hearts too often are slow to feel. But when we, followers of Christ, lock on those deaf and indifferent to God, who never repent or pray, and who are sinking into irreligion and pollution, we should yearn over them and pray for them with sighs and tears. If our hearts are heavy with pity, God will make our hands heavy with blessings. After the sighing and prayer came the word of power, "Ephphatha!"—" Be opened!" and the sealed ear opened to his voice and the stammering tongue proclaimed his praise. See Keble's lines—
"As thou hast touched our ears, and taught
Our tongues to speak thy praises plain,
Quell thou each thankless, godless thought
That would make fast our bonds again," etc.
CONCLUSION. Henceforth this man would be a living witness to Christ's power. Though it was expressly forbidden to blaze abroad his cure, all who saw him at home or at work would say, "That is the man whom Jesus healed." So let us go forth to live for Jesus, resolving that our words shall utter his praise and that our lives shall witness to his holiness, till at last another "Ephphatha!" shall be heard, and we pass through the golden gates, into the land where no ears are deaf and no tongues are mute.—A.R.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The ritual and the reality of purification.
I. THE MOST NATURAL ACT MAY BE PERVERTED INTO A RITUAL SIN. The disciples were seen eating with unholy hands, that is, unwashed! How this came about we are not told; probably it was a case of necessity: there was no water to be had. Probably it was a choice between going without food and being ritually correct, or being ritually incorrect and supplying the wants of nature.
II. THE MEANING AND USE OF RITUAL IS CONSTANTLY LOST SIGHT OF BY SMALL MINDS. "The Pharisees and all the Judaeans, unless for a pygmy's length they wash the hands and arms, do not eat." The Talmud (Lightfoot) directs that the hands be washed to the elbow—a rule like that here hinted at; "pygmy" denoting the arm and hand. The custom went beyond what the original ritual required. And so the associations or the market-place were thought peculiarly profane. They carried the rule out in application to cups, jugs, copper vessels, and couches; things which cannot feel, which are not spiritual, and which therefore are no subjects of "baptism." The root of the error was:
1. Blind respect for custom. Custom commands our respect; but a blind respect defeats its end and meaning.
2. The reversal of the spiritual order. That order is: first the spiritual, then the material; the body for the soul. The Pharisaic order was: first the material, and the spiritual through the material.
3. The postponement of the present to the past. What tradition of the fathers can make it a duty to neglect the welfare of the sons? The rules of the past conserved the privileges of the present; if they block the way and tend to hurt human life, they must give way. We must study the perspective of duties if we do not desire to become narrow in intelligence, and defeat the spirit of law.
III. ATTACHMENT TO RITUAL MAY ACTUALLY OBSCURE THE VIEW OF RELIGIOUS DUTY. Religion begins in the heart. Unless we love our God and our fellow-man, we shall miserably blunder in our construction of duties. Great teachers have always placed us at this moral center; face to face with God, in immediate relation to his universal imperative.
1. Isaiah (Isaiah 29:13). He taught that the lips might readily be made to do duty for the heart; and that invented obediences might distract from the genuine, natural obedience of the right and loving heart.
2. Moses. To go back further in the stream of sacred tradition: no name more honored than that of the great lawgiver of the desert. He distinctly enunciated the duty of filial reverence, founded on the instincts of the heart. How were the Pharisees carrying this out? The way in which Christ refers to this is keenly ironical.
3. Christ himself. The Pharisees can and do actually evade the great command of filial piety under the show of obedience to the ceremonial Law. "By a general consecration to the temple of whatever might be useful to parents, it was made sacrilege to give anything to them, because whatever was given to them was included in the vow." A miserable trickery, cheating God of his due while seeming to obey him! Tradition may be so followed as to subvert its very essence; for there is no tradition respectable which does not enshrine Divine commands.
IV. THE TRUE VIEW OF PURITY RESTORED.
1. Impurity is not from without but from within. The external defilement may be cleansed away. It is not part of the man. The moral impurity is. It is only what the imagination conceives and the will affirms that is real for us. "In morals and in religion the conscious mind is everything" (Godwin).
2. This true view may require an effort to attain. Strange! the disciples "could not quite see it!" "And he said to them, Are you also so inconsiderate?" And Christ must explain to them the lesson as to a class of tyros. Want of thoughtfulness in the mind is like want of stirring and raking to the garden-ground. The weeds and mosses soon creep. The man's thought is soon overrun by the trash of opinion and empty practice, if he will not think for himself.
3. The human source of evil. It lies in the thought, the fancy, or imagination. Lust "conceives "a thought of pleasure, clashing with the thought of right. The conception germinates, and brings forth a deed. But a splash of mud that we receive on our garments in crossing the street has no effect on our conscience. And generally, what we do not adopt as part of ourselves, cannot be imputed to us as sin. "What does not affect the moral character, cannot affect the relation of man to God" (Godwin).—J.
The heathen mother.
I. THE HEATHEN AND THE JEW.
1. In general, no relation could be more bitter; no estrangement more wide. No modem analogy can well enable us to realize this. They were "wide as the poles asunder."
2. Jesus the Reconciler. In him there is neither Jew nor heathen. This sublime truth was first to be made clear by his own conduct. All truths must be represented in practice if the world is to receive them. Christ did not deal in the sentiment of unity. He did not propound a theory of humanity, nor of enthusiasm for humanity; he took the hand of the sufferer; he healed the sickness; he made reconciliation a fact. "Go thou and do likewise!"
II. THE IRONY OF CHRIST. We have all heard of the irony of Socrates. It was the jesting way the great master had of hinting the truth to the mind, which was concealed in words. Irony is often the disguise of sensitive and keenly truth-loving minds. Here he conceals tenderest compassion for the poor woman under the mask of sarcasm. It has the effect of eliciting her deep feeling—profound humility and trust. All methods of the teacher are good which love prompts, and which subserve the ends of love. "Faith always finds encouragement and obtains reward" with Christ. To take the remark of Jesus in Mark 7:27 as seriously meant, would be contrary to his spirit. It is the echo of the harsh feeling of the bigoted Jew, and really illustrates by implicit contrast the tenderness and benignity of Christ.—J.
The deaf and dumb.
I. THE GREAT PRIVATION OF SUCH A SUFFERER. Deafness cuts the person off from society more than blindness. He is not blessed by that music which expresses the soul of things. He cannot hear that sound of the human voice, which is the most delicious of all music. One sense needs the sisterly help of another. Sight tantalizes without hearing. To be full of thought and feeling, yet not to be able to speak,—than this sense of restraint upon the noblest part of our nature, nothing may seem more hard.
II. THE CURE IS SYMBOLIC OF THE NATURE OF CHRIST'S MISSION.
1. The mode of the cure. The symbolic action was appropriate. Ordinary language could not be understood by the sufferer. Jesus employs gesture instead. There are special institutions for teaching the deaf and dumb. Consider how holy a work it is, and how consecrated by his example. The up-looking denoted internal prayer. So let prayer be the soul of all our action on others and for others (Mark 6:41; John 11:41; John 17:1).
2. The cure itself as symbolic. Christ's love entering the heart enlarges the intelligence, opens the world of music and harmony. As love opens the gate into a sphere of unearthly beauty to the lover, so to the soul captivated by the love of God all things have become new. There is a "sacred silence, offspring of the deeper heart;" and dumbness has its sanctity, for here is "the finger of God." But sacred is the eloquence of the tongue, set free by the larger life of mind and heart. God made us for utterance, as he made the streams to flow.—J.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
The tradition of men in competition with the commandments of God.
Pharisees and scribes of Jerusalem had detected some of the disciples of Jesus eating bread "with defiled, that is, with unwashen, hands." "Holding the tradition of the elders" with great tenacity themselves, they demand of the new Teacher a reason for his disciples' departure from the old paths. It was a favorable opportunity for exposing the error of substituting human for Divine precepts, and for placing the external in its right relation to the internal and spiritual. Christ here appears as the authoritative Interpreter of the Divine commands; and, as a true Teacher, discriminating between the "commandment of God" and "the tradition of men." Of old time it was well said, "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart." Here the men who "sit on Moses' seat," alike in what they "bid" and in what they "do," lay great stress on the "washings of cups, and pots, and brasen vessels," and of hands. Truly great matters! But the searching eye Divine discerns the hidden "heart" that is "far from" God, and whose many evils send forth a thick stream of pollution in unholy practices, defiling not merely the hands but the whole life. Jesus rebuts their accusation against his disciples, first by a justly merited rebuke, and then by readjusting the relative authority of the commandment of God and the tradition of men, which, in the practice of these accusers, through their selfish, grasping covetousness, had been so greatly distorted. He teaches once and for ever that no commandment of men, no tradition of elders, must be allowed to make "void the Word of God." Thus Jesus, who is so often erroneously spoken of as despising "mere commands," redeems the very "word," and pays his utmost tribute to the letter of the command. In the conflict between the Church and the sacred relationships of common life, to the latter must be assigned the pre-eminence. The necessities of the temple, of its services or its servants, must not be met at the expense of filial faithfulness. The sin of the Pharisees and scribes was—
I. A GROSS PERVERSION OF THE RELATIVE CLAIMS OF THE PARENT AND THE CHURCH.
II. A WICKED INTERFERENCE WITH THE FIRST COMMANDMENT WITH PROMISE.
III. A CRUEL UNDERMINING OF FILIAL AFFECTION AND FIDELITY, AND AS CRUEL AN EXPOSURE OF THE AGED AND ENFEEBLED PARENTS TO A FALSELY JUSTIFIED NEGLECT. And it was—
IV. AS UNWARRANTED USURPATION OF AUTHORITY TO WEAKEN THE OBLIGATION OF A DIVINE LAW. Christ's words, whilst correcting these errors,
The real and the imaginary defilement.
The question of "the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes which had come from Jerusalem," yet remains to be answered, Jesus having turned aside to weaken the force of "the tradition of men." The answer is given in the ears of "the multitude." It is simple. "There is nothing from without the man that can defile him:" defilement is of that which proceeds "from within out of the heart of man." The man's heart is the fountain of evil; it is his heart, not his hands, that needs washing. No wonder that "the Pharisees were offended, when they heard this saying." Then, having "entered into the house from the multitude," the disciples "asked of him" what is to them as yet "the parable;" for so are they "without understanding also." In few words he distinguishes the true nature and source of defilement from the untrue, leaving for all time these lessons hidden in his words—
I. ALL POLLUTION IS MORAL POLLUTION. From this all mere ceremonial defilement must be distinguished. Such uncleanness is not moral impurity, nor is ceremonial correctness to be regarded as the testimony of moral purity. The stainless externalist may harbour "within" all "evil things." The perversion of a wise teaching on the necessity for personal cleanliness and of instructive ceremonials had led to the foolish supposition that a touch of the dead, or the diseased, or the decaying matter, conveyed moral impurity. This is once for all contradicted. Whatsoever is "without the man" conveys not the defilement. It is a moral condition. The heart can defile all things. As that which is from without the man cannot defile, so let it be known "there is nothing from without the man that going into him can" cleanse "him."
II. THE SOURCE OF ALL IMPURITY IS NOT IN GOD'S WORKS, BUT IN MAN'S HEART. "All these evil things proceed from within." Thus Jesus, with his just judgment, traces evil to its hidden source. The heart, not the flesh, is the seat of defilement. This is the fountain which can corrupt God's good and pure gifts. How marked a contrast does he make between a possible ceremonial uncleanness—a very trifle at most (as to moral uncleanness it is nil)—and the greatness, the multiplicity, and the foulness of the "evil things which proceed from within"! Material things cannot in themselves convey moral impurity. Even the excess in the use of the food, which destroys life, comes from within. That the good things of God may be turned into occasions of evil all know, but it is only the heart that can so turn them. Whatsoever is "without the man cannot defile him, because it goeth merely into his body, not into his heart; "and the heart, not the body, is "the man," the true man, the very man.
III. FROM THE THRALDOM OF A FALSE CEREMONIALISM CHRIST REDEEMS HIS DISCIPLES, "MAKING ALL MEATS CLEAN." How needful not only to say what is sin, but to say also what is not sin! From many a yoke which the fathers were not able to bear Christ sets his people free! From child's play to serious work he calls them. From a mere adjustment of articles of dress and of furniture; from punctilios of ritual observance having in themselves no moral significance, and liable to withdraw men from great works and great truths, he turns them aside. He exposes the true evilness in the long catalogue of "evil things" of which the heart, not the flesh, is capable; and be, without many words of exhortation, directs men to seek the cleansing of their unholy hearts, that their lives, their whole man, may be clean also.—G.
The Syro-phoenician woman.
Now, in prudence, not in fear, Jesus withdraws from the districts under Herod's jurisdiction, where he had created sufficient excitement to expose him to hindrance both by friends and foes. He fain would hide himself in secret. "He entered into a house, and would have no man know it;" but it was unavailing—"he could not be hid." One at least sought him out with an eager intrusiveness which was only justified by the greatness and pressing nature of her need—"a little daughter grievously vexed with a devil"—and the brilliancy of her faiths which, while it wrought so great good for her home, secured so high commendation from her Lord. On that faith our eye must be fixed.
I. The DEMAND for faith on the part of the stranger was very great. Not one of "the children," but one of "the dogs," she had not been trained in the hope of Israel; though, living in neighbourly relation with the Jews, she was not wholly uninformed. Yet the very name given to the "Lord," of whom "mercy" is sought—"thou Son of David "—was an excluding term for her who could claim no relationship to the sacred family. She belonged not to the house; she was a village dog. Truly it needed great faith on her part to burst through the barriers and ask for "the children's bread." But she shared the common humanity; she had heard of the many healings—even "as many as touched but the border of his garment," though no appeal were made; and the keen eye of need and maternal anxiety saw the largeness of the compassion of him who had not yet denied any.
II. Strangely, however, that faith is TESTED by absolute silence, by apparent indifference. "He answered her not a word." The disregarded prayer, even though she "besought him" to help her, returned to chill the heart of hope and faith. Her continued appeal, "she crieth after us," engages the intercession of the disciples, who, evidently for their own relief, add their beseeching to hers. Still the appeal is unavailing, and on high and unassailable grounds, with which no personal consideration mingles. "I was not sent" to the heathen. But the struggling faith braves difficulties, and casts this mountain into the sea. Prostrate at his feet she fails with the plea, soon to be effectual, "Lord, help me." Yet even this appeal fails to conquer. He who always acts according to what is right and just declares, "it is not meet"—it is contrary to all propriety and right—" to take the children's bread and cast it to dogs."
III. The parabolic or figurative argument has its weak place, which quick-sighted faith, untiring and unfainting, detects and thereby secures its TRIUMPH. "'Yea, Lord.' Yea, it is true; they are the children; yea, I am but a dog; truly it is not right to give the children's bread to dogs; yet in every house the dog is not wholly forgotten." The argument has its (intended) flaw, for God cares for dogs; and from every well-supplied table something goes to them. Give me that—"the crumbs that fall." Give me "the children's crumbs;" what they need not, what they despise, what I may have without robbing them.
IV. It is enough; the patient, triumphant faith at length finds its REWARD. It shall be written for future generations of needy ones to learn how to succeed in presence of difficulties and hindrances and impossibilities. The Lord's honor is upon thee. "Great is thy faith." And more, thy suit is gained, thy word is mighty. For "this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter." It was even so. Let every suffering one, even though outcast from the holy, happy community, and every one within that community, learn from this little story that it men have faith as a grain of mustard seed, it shall be even as they will. And let every timid, unbelieving child bend lowly before this "dog," and learn the power of living, hopeful, resolute faith.—G.
The healing of the deaf and dumb man.
Another case of healing, the record of which is peculiar to St. Mark, throws into prominence both the pitifulness of men and the power of the Lord. It is that of one unable to speak for himself, and unable to hear of the many wonderful works which are being done around. "They bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to lay his hand upon him." Ah, they have gained faith in the power of that hand. Jesus "took him aside from the multitude privately." Thus the man, at least, would know the work was the work of Jesus only. Then, for reasons that are not assigned, possibly as signs to him who could not hear, he "put his fingers into his ears,… spat,… touched his tongue," and looked "up to heaven," and "sighed" and spake, and "saith"—saith "to him" the first word he should hear, "Ephphatha!" Then "his ears were opened, and the bond of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain." Thus is presented to us a typical example of the redemption of the disorganized life.
I. One of the disorganizing effects of evil is that it closes the ear. It stops the avenues to the soul by which the word of truth and love may enter. The wicked man is deaf to the appeals of righteousness. Its gentle, winning tones fall unheeded on the inattentive, unmoved heart, which is as insensible to them as is a stone. How great is the injury thus inflicted! The man is shut out from the elevating, ennobling, the satisfying, sanctifying influence of truth. The words which minister grace to the hearers can convey none of their treasures to his heart; the way is not open. The human or Divine voice, so rich in its ministries to the ignorant, to the inquirer, to the hungry, is powerless here. The corrections of wisdom, the lofty motive, the noble aim, the calming, comforting voice of truth, guiding and blessing wherever it is heard, has no power here. All is lost. Not more is he to be pitied who, by physical infirmity, hears not the voice of friends, the songs of birds, the harmonies of sweet sounds. Sin robs the life of its truest, its highest enrichment. Christ's greatest ministries to the world were by his lips. Though the words were of earth, they were vessels holding heavenly treasure. But the deaf hear them not. So truly is a state of sinfulness typified in deafness.
II. But sin equally impedes the free and profitable service of the life of its victim. It closes his mouth. The mouth, which may be a fountain of wisdom, if unsealed. The life, which might be a spring of blessing to many, is as a dry and parched land, or as a well having no water. That beneficent ordination by which one life—even every life—is designed to be a source of blessing to every other, is, by evil, frustrated; and it becomes, instead, a cause of injury.
III. It is here Christ appears to bless the race by opening the eyes of the blind, by unstopping the ears of the deaf, by loosing the tongue of the dumb. His holy work stands over against the evil of sin. He unstops the deaf ear. Awaking the attention of the sleeper, he gives to the receiving soul the words of eternal life. His heavenly teaching renews, exalts, ennobles. The ignorant one becomes wise in his school. His truth raises the beggar from the dunghill. Righteousness puts the soul en rapport with all that is good, and beautiful, and wise, and holy. It makes a man to be at one with all the kingdom of God, with all truth and all life.
IV. But the redeemed life becomes a source of blessing to others—a fountain of living waters. The unsealed lips speak forth the heavenly wisdom. The psalm of praise, the song of thanksgiving, the word of truth, of peace, and of blessing, and the activities of the good life, are all serviceable. The life now becomes an active power for good. Each, when he has "turned again," is able to strengthen his brethren. The first effect of the eviction of evil from the life is that the eyes are opened, that all that surrounds may enter to enrich the life. The second effect is, the lips are opened, the life becomes a center of useful influence. It is a new acquisition to the world, a new joy. So from without flows into the redeemed life all that is calculated to minister to it, to nourish, to purify, to exalt, to gladden and perfect it; while back again from the nourished, purified, and gladdened life, new sentiments, new emotions, new aims, and new efforts proceed. The effect of which reciprocal influence is that each becomes a point of light, a form of loveliness; each a stream of holy, useful influence, refreshing this weary desert and making it glad. Truly, of him who" maketh even the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak," it may be said, "He hath done all things well." It is no less well said, "And they glorified the God of Israel."—G.
HOMILIES BY J.J. GIVEN
Parallel passage: Matthew 15:1-20.—
Exposure of Pharisaism: its errors and evils.
I. DOCTRINE OF DEFILEMENT.
1. Contents of this chapter. This chapter contains three principal sections. The first section treats of defilement; the second gives an account of a demon being expelled from the daughter of a Syro-phoenician woman; and the third narrates the cure of a deaf mute. The first section, again, contains the following:—The charge of defilement which the Pharisees preferred against the disciples; the evangelist's digression for the purpose of explaining to his Gentile readers the Jewish notions and usages in this matter; Christ's applying to the Jews of his day a description of their fathers by Isaiah; the reason of this application in the displacement by them of God's Law to make room for the traditionary teachings of man; a much graver delinquency in nullifying the Law of God not merely with respect to ceremonial washings, but in regard to moral duties; a specific example of this in a glaring and most culpable neglect of filial obligation; our Lord's exposition, publicly in the presence of the assembled people and privately to the disciples, of the true nature of real, that is, moral defilement; and a reference to the distinction of clean and unclean in the matter of meats, which formed a main partition between Jews and Gentiles. The way was thus prepared for, and an easy transition made to, the subject of the second section, which narrates our Lord's only recorded visit to the Gentile world, and the miracle there wrought in the case of the Gentile maiden who was dispossessed under singularly interesting circumstances. The third section records a miracle which is only mentioned by St. Mark, and so peculiar to his Gospel. Our Lord, having just returned from the cities of Phoenicia, was making his way through the midst of the region of the Ten Cities, when he cured the dent' mute or dumb man of Decapolis in a very remarkable manner, and by a method of external application not employed hitherto in the miracles wrought by our Lord.
2. Linguistic peculiarities in the first section.
(a) oft, and in the margin
(b) diligently, which is adopted in the Revised Version. The former is supported by the Vulgate, which has crebro, and depends on the analogy of similar but not really related words, such as πυκνῇ or πυκνῶς; while the marginal rendering has the support of the Peshito Syriac b'tiloith. Some of the older interpreters understand it as
(c) a measure of length, and so Euthymius has μέχρι τοῦ ἀγκῶνος, "as far as the elbow;" and Theophylact similarly, adding that it is the space from the elbow to the knuckles; the water poured out into the hollow of the hand would thus, by the elevation of the same, flow down to the elbow. The more natural explanation seems to be that which takes it
(d) in the primary signification of the word, which is clenched hand or fist; not in the sense of the closed hand being raised so as to allow the water to flow down to the elbow; nor yet in the sense of rubbing the closed hand or fist with the hollow of the other hand, which, as Fritzsche suggests, would require the words to be τῇ παλαμῇ νίψωνται τὴν πυγμήν; but in the sense of washing the hand with the fist, that is, by rubbing one hand with the other closed or clenched or with the fist, in the sense of vigorously. This explanation, which corresponds with that of Beza, amounts to the idea of diligence conveyed by the Syriac. This verb νίπτω, it may be observed in passing, generally refers to "washing the hands or feet," as πλύνω signifies to "wash clothes," and λούω to "wash," usually the body, and therefore in the middle voice "to bathe."
3. Additional baptisms. These washings, which the Pharisees and indeed all the Jews practiced, were not confined to their hands or whole persons; but, besides such personal ablutions, there were baptisms of cups and pots, of brazen vessels, and of couches. Of these domestic utensils the first are named from the use to which they are applied, namely, for drinking, as is expressed by its root; the second, corresponding to the Roman sextarius, from which, and not from ξέω, to polish, is the word derived, are named from their size, and contain a pint, or sixth part of a congius (somewhere about a gallon); the third are called from the material copper of which they are made; the fourth get their name like the first, from their use, to wit, of reclining on, either for the purpose of sleep or at meals.
4. The origin of these washings. Several chapters of Leviticus (12-15.) contain a tolerably full account of the ablutions enjoined in the Law, and employed for Levitical purifications. These purifications were resorted to for the purpose of ceremonial cleansing. They had generally respect to certain states or conditions of the body, symbolical of the defiling nature of sin. In some of these cases we read that the person to be cleansed "shall wash his clothes, bathe his flesh in running water, and shall be clean." But Pharisaism extended these washings far beyond the limits of the Law—applied them to cases neither contemplated by, nor comprehended in, the Law, and multiplied them to an absurd amount. Persons, before engaging in the commonest acts of domestic or social life, were compelled to a strict observance of such washings; nay, the very articles of household furniture, including those here enumerated, had to be subjected to them. God had, for good and wise purposes, instituted certain temporary means of ceremonial cleansing; but man perverts and pollutes, or, when he does not pollute, he perverts the wisest means to the worst ends. The perversions in the case before us, besides being excessively burdensome and extremely inconvenient from their multiplicity, were perfectly contemptible from their very puerility and triviality, and positively sinful from the seemingly magical efficacy with which they invested mere mechanical operations.
5. Ceremonialism. Ceremonies of human invention, especially when multiplied and perverted from their legitimate or appointed use, like the ablutions referred to, instead of being helps, become hindrances to devotion. They promote irreligion at the same time that they foster pride. Their tendency is to put outward purifying in the place of inward purity, to substitute external cleansing for internal cleanness, to prefer clean hands to a clean heart, and to rest in "the righteousness which is of the Law" instead of "the righteousness which is of God by faith." True religion, under whatever dispensation, beans with the heart. Thus the psalmist prays so beautifully, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me." The promise here is limited to such, as when it is said, "Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart;" the prospect hereafter is for them, and for them alone; for it is only "the pure in heart" that shall "see God." No amount of outward observances or ceremonial ablutions could constitute real religion or supply its place, nor entitle the person that performed them to the privileges of a true child of God. The apostle insists on this when he says, "He is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."
6. Tradition. Tradition in general is that which is handed down from father to son, or from one generation to another. The word is sometimes used in a good sense, and signifies instructions, whether relating to doctrine or duty, faith or practice, and whether the delivery be oral or written; but, and this is the main thing, consisting of truths immediately delivered by inspired men. Such is its signification in 1 Corinthins Leviticus 11:2, where the apostle commands or exhorts the Corinthians to "hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you;" also in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle;" and again in the same Epistle (2 Thessalonians 3:6), "Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." But it has another sense also in Scripture, and is employed to denote what is merely human and untrustworthy, as when St. Paul speaks of himself as he was in his original sinful, unconverted state, and says, "I profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers;" and again, when he warns the Colossians, saying, "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." It is in this latter sense that it is used in verse 6 of the present chapter, when "the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders?" The Jewish theory of tradition was that, along with the written Law, Moses received at Sinai a second or oral law, and that this latter law was handed down through succeeding generations. This law, consisting of traditional interpretations and gradual additions, was at length embodied in the text of the Talmud, called "Mishna," or "second law." This oral law held a higher rank, and was more highly esteemed than the written Law. It not only supplemented the written Law by large additions, but was employed as the key to its interpretation. Thus in the end it was used in instances innumerable to supplant, or supersede, or set aside, the written Law at pleasure. We do not despise tradition in the proper and legitimate sense which, as we have seen, the word sometimes has, nor in its present ordinary sense of something handed down—ordinance or ceremony—pro-vided it be agreeable to the Divine Word; but we must not set up tradition side by side with the written Word of God, nor bring God's Word into conformity with tradition; on the contrary, whenever God's Word and human tradition clash, the latter must be corrected by the former. One example of this kind we have in relation to the Apostle John, about whom the saying went abroad that he should not die. Jesus had said, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" This was in the first instance misinterpreted, then the misinterpretation spread from mouth to mouth as a regular tradition, till the apostle himself felt called upon to correct it by the specific statement, "Yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me."
7. Isaiah's prediction as applicable to the Pharisees as to their fathers. The statement of Isaiah, though not in the strict and specific sense a prediction concerning our Lord's contemporaries, was a description so all-embracing and so pregnant with meaning, that it exhibited with striking exactness the chief features of their religious life, or rather of their irreligious, soulless formality. Isaiah foretold it ( προεφήτευσεν aorist) in the past, but it stands written from then till now, and so our Lord, in this case, uses the perfect ( γέγραπται) What was said then, so long before, was equally true in the Saviour's day; it was as true of the children, or remote descendants, as of their ancestors, as though the traits of character referred to had become stereotyped.
8. Practical remarks on the preceding. We cannot fail to notice
9. Moral obligation set aside through Pharisaism. Our Lord proceeds to expose the practical and pernicious effect of Pharisaic traditionalism in the domain of ethics. He had shown the hollowness of its teaching in cases of ceremonial cleansings; but he now advances from the ceremonial to the moral. For this purpose he selects the fifth commandment, and proves that the antagonism between the written Law, or Law of God, and the oral, or human law, in respect to this commandment, is complete. He quotes the prescriptive part of the commandment, and omits the promissory as not required by the object he has in view; instead of the promissory clause attached to obedience, he substitutes the punitive sentence pronounced on the person guilty of a breach of the commandment in question. "Moses said"—and here it will be observed that the commandment of God, who spake by Moses, is identified with the commandment of his inspired servant, so that what was really said by God is here attributed by our Lord to his servant Moses—"Honour thy father and thy mother." These words were graven by the finger of the Almighty on the stone tablet at Sinai, and the precept thus solemnly delivered at first was enforced by the awfully severe sanction which follows:—"Whoso curseth"—that is, speaketh ill of or revileth—"father or mother, let him die the death."
(a) as an instance of the figure aposioposis, by which our Lord, as if with inexpressible indignation at the thought of conduct so unnatural and reprehensible, breaks off without completing the sentence; while the supplied words of the English version express the acquittal conceded in the case by Pharisaic casuistry. Another way
(b) of evading the difficulty was suggested by Fritzsche, who supplies here the closing words of verse 10 with a negative—that is, μὴ θανάτῳ τελευτάτω—so that this verse would read as follows:—"But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatseover thou mightest be profited by me, let him not die the death." The Revised Version,
(c) however, cuts the knot by adopting the reading which excludes καὶ from the beginning of verse 12; thus, "But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or his mother, That wherewith thou mightest have been profited by me is Corban, that is to say, Given to God; ye no longer suffer him to do aught for his father or his mother."
10. Farther development of our Lord's retort. The word "corban" meant anything brought near to the altar or to the God of the altar for presentation, and applied, like the cognate verb hikrib, to bring near, to any offerings, whether bloody or unbloody, animal or vegetable. The evangelist, as is his custom, explains it by a Greek word denoting a glint in general, but more particularly, according both to Homeric and Hellenistic usage, a gift to God, or a votive offering. It is thus a correct equivalent of the word which the evangelist explains by it. When, then, a Jewish child wished to discard, and entirely free himself from, filial obligation, he had only to pronounce this mystic word of potent meaning, and the traditional law of Pharisaism gave him a full release. whenever a man said of any part of his property or of his whole possessions, "It is Corban," that is," given to God," he was bound by his vow, and the property was devoted to the service or support of the altar or temple or national religion; it was made over for religious purposes, though the time of fulfilling such vow was left to his own option, and so its fulfillment because discretionary, or was evaded. To revile or curse father or mother was surely bad enough and wicked enough; but to refuse to supply the wants of a parent when reduced to poverty, or to support a parent in old age and when needing such support, or to withhold from an indigent parent the necessaries of life, on the plea that the means or resources out of which such could be supplied were devoted to religious uses, was a refinement of unnatural and inhuman wickedness almost incapable of being expressed in words. And thus, as the next verse informs us, they suffered him no longer to do anything for his parents, even if he would; or, if he would not, they suffered him to have his way, conniving at his sin and overlooking his shame, nay, putting words into his mouth to enable him to perpetrate in the name of religion such abominable villainy. If, from a spirit of greedy avarice, or miserable meanness, or detestable stinginess I or in a fit of spiteful passion; or under the influence of superstition, a wicked Jew pleased to say to either parent suffering from disease, or labouring under age and poverty," That whereby I might have helped, or relieved, or in any way benefited,, you, is devoted to the service of God and religion, and cannot now be withdrawn, the oral law of the Pharisee granted full liberty to do so, taught him its formula for that very purpose, and salved his conscience that he might withal feet at ease. Now, to those censorious Pharisees who watched our Lord and his disciples with such lynx-eyed vigilance and malign intent, and who had seen, not all the disciples, but some of them, partaking, not of a regular repast, but eating a morsel of bread with hands common, that is, in the ordinary or general state—clean, it may be, but not ritually cleansed—our Lord may be supposed to say, Ye blame my hungry disciples for snatching the fragment of a hurried meal without ceremonial ablution, and censure them for neglecting a silly ceremony enjoined no doubt, by your traditional law, which is only of human origin, and, in such a case as that just referred to, of most nefarious tendency; but ye teach your disciples to violate, not a trivial ceremonial observance for which only human authority can be pleaded, and from which no benefit can be derived, but a moral duty, based on closest human relationship, written by God's own finger, recorded in his written law, and enforced by the most solemn sanction! Is not this to establish man's law and set aside God's Law; to adhere punctiliously to the miserable tradition of miserable or wicked men, but to invalidate and even abrogate the Law of an infinitely pure and holy God—a Law, too, like its Author, holy and just and good! To wash the hands before a regular meal, or any meal, may be proper enough as a custom, or for cleanliness, or as a matter of delicacy, yet can never be exalted into a religious act or rite; but to trifle with or trample underfoot the law of natural affection, of filial piety, of common humanity—a law specially honored with a most gracious promise, and sternly hedged in with the severest sanction—must bring down the vengeance of Heaven on the guilty head of its transgressor. Thus our Lord left them to look at this picture and on that.
II. DISTINCTION BETWEEN CLEAN AND UNCLEAN.
1. Statement of a principle. After our Lord had put to silence and covered with confusion these intermeddling, faultfinding, censorious, and cavilling Pharisees, he proceeds to state a great and fundamental principle, which covered the whole ground and went to the very root of the matter. Before doing so, he requests the particular attention of the multitude. Whether they had withdrawn to a respectful distance during our Lord's interview with the Pharisees and triumphant answer to their objection, or whether, from indifference to their obtrusive questionings the malevolent intention of which was obvious, they had sunk into a state of listless inattention, does not appear. They required, from whatever cause, to have their attention stimulated. For this purpose he calls on all and each, not only to listen attentively, but to reflect, with intelligence wide awake and active, on the great principle he is about to enunciate. Having thus gained their intelligent attention and roused their powers of reflection, he states the important distinction that "there is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man." After making this statement, he again appeals to them to give it their careful consideration.
2. Important distinction. Our Lord, in the principle stated, distinguishes between the physical and spiritual natures of man, as also between ceremonial and moral defilements; between positive regulations and moral requirements; and thus between precepts given for a particular purpose and obligations for a limited time, and those laws that were unvarying in their nature and perpetual in their obligation. The principle in question our Lord propounds in the form of an antithetic paradox. The first part of it seemed to collide with the distinction between meats clean and unclean, which God himself had appointed and minutely specified; and, if taken in a ceremonial sense, so it did; but understood morally, as our Lord had intended, it pointed not obscurely to the purpose for which such distinctions had been instituted. That purpose was temporary in its duration, and for the segregation of the chosen people from the mass of mankind, as well as for the symbolic intimation of the difference that should exist between 'the holiness to which the people of God were! called, and the heathenism that prevailed around. Our Lord meant to correct an injurious error under which the people of the Jews in general then laboured. He had rebuked their superstitious punctiliousness about certain ceremonial washings, and their sinful regardlessness of moral obligations. This naturally leads him to expose the grave mistake they made when they foolishly supposed that meats of themselves exercised any moral efficacy or possessed any moral potency. That they defiled ceremonially, and exposed to disabilities of a ceremonial kind and entailing purification, was not doubted; but that they had any power of themselves either to cleanse or purify is here most positively denied. The cause of defilement was man's fallen nature; the source of it was within; the seat of it was the heart; the stagnant pool from which such polluted waters issued was deep down in the very depths of his being. Thence proceeded defilements of speech through the mouth, defilements of work in the conduct, defilements of thoughts in the character and conversation. The disciples had shared the errors and prejudices of their race to a very large extent, and not understanding the strange paradoxical statement, sought an explanation in private. After a gentle reprimand for their dulness of apprehension, they were favored by their Master with a full explanation.
3. Moral impurity. The belly is the stomach and viscera, or organs of digestion generally; the heart is used for both the intellect and affections—the whole soul. These are totally distinct; what enters the former does not and cannot reach the latter. There is no connection between these parts of man's nature, and no compatibility between the objects that affect them. Meats only enter the stomach and intestines, and minister to man's life and strength; even the exclusion, of their refuse tends to purification rather than defilement. But the things that do defile proceed out of the heart; and they are sins against God's Law, or dispositions that incline to those sins, and incentives that prompt to them. Those sins are against the commandments in the so-called second table of the Law. According to a rough classification that has been made, some are sins against the sixth commandment, as murders, wickedness, and an evil eye; some against the seventh, as fornication, adultery, and lasciviousness; some against the eighth, as theft and deceit; some against the ninth, as blasphemies, or evil-speaking, and false witness (in St. Matthew's enumeration); and some against the tenth, as covetousness, or, literally, "reachings after more." But of the evil dispositions that lead to overt acts of sins, the chief place is occupied by evil thoughts, whether the reference is to evil thoughts in general, or to such vicious reasonings as those in which the Pharisees were accustomed to indulge. While such inward thoughts or reasonings ( διαλογισμοὶ) are the seminal principles from which sinful actions proceed—the bitter roots from which they shoot up and grow—a leading motive to sin is specified: it is pride ( ὑπερηφανία, a desire to appear above others), the wish for conspicuous elevation. In pride itself the predominant clement is selfishness—that selfishness that prompts men to seek the pre-eminence in all things, and to prefer self to all other persons or interests, in contrariety to the scriptural precept which directs us" in honor to prefer one another." Pride implies that overbearing demeanour and haughtiness of carriage that make men look down on others, supposing themselves so much superior. Pride centres all in self, disregarding others' interests whenever they seem to stand in the way; at the same time proud persons, male or female, "sacrifice to their own net, and burn incense to their own drag." Pride is thus a most powerful motive to sin, to selfish indulgence, to self-aggrandizement, to supercilious speech in regard to others, and to self-interest, whatever form it may assume, and however much detriment may be done to the rights of others. Further, one characteristic of all sin, and a name frequently used in Scripture as synonymous with "sin," is "folly" ( ἀφροσύνη). This senselessness denies God the glory that pertains to him, for "the fool has said in his heart, There is no God." While it thus robs God, it refuses to man his due. In the cud it ruins the individual himself. "This their way is their folly." Oh, the folly of sin! The enumeration of the things which defile a man, as given here by St. Mark, is fuller than that given by St. Matthew. The latter mentions only seven; while St. Mark specifies thirteen. The cause of this additional number by the latter may be found in the vices that commonly prevailed among the Romans, for whom in the first instance St. Mark wrote, as compared with those to which the Jews, whom St. Matthew more especially kept in view in his Gospel, were addicted. A comparison also of the catalogue of crimes, which St. Paul, in writing to the Romans, gives at the close of his first chapter, will probably confirm the same conclusion, that the cause of the difference in the enumeration is connected with the different classes of sins to which persons belonging to these different nationalities were respectively addicted. Judaism at its worst, if this theory be correct, had greatly the advantage of paganism; so the lowest type of Christianity is superior to heathenism.—J.J.G.
Parallel passage: Matthew 15:21-28.—
Daughter of a Syro-phoenician woman healed.
I. OUR LORD'S WITHDRAWAL INTO THE REGION OF TYRE AND SIDON, Our Lord's retirement at this time into the region indicated was probably occasioned by a desire to avoid the further attention and inquiries of Herod, and perhaps his presence also there in his tetrarchy, which comprised Galilee and Peraea; while it may have been a symbolic intimation of the mercy in store for, and ere long to be extended to, Gentile lands; or it may have been simply for the purpose of seclusion and rest after a time of toil, and to escape from the cavils of scribes and Pharisees. The territory here described as "the borders of Tyro and Sidon" was not a district interjacent between Tyre and Sidon, as Erasmus understood it; nor yet the territory proper of Tyre and Sidon, as Fritzsche explained it; or the neighborhood of the former city, as Alford took its meaning to be; but originally a tract of border-land or neutral ground which separated Palestine from Phoenicia, subscquently ceded by Solomon to the King of Tyre and incorporated with Phoenecia, yet still retaining its ancient name of borderland.
II. THE APPLICANT, AND HER WRETCHEDNESS. This applicant is called by St. Matthew a Canaanitish woman, and by St. Mark a Syro-phoenician. Phoenicia, in which the old and famous commercial, cities, of Tyre (from Tzor, "a rock," now Sur) and Sidon (from Tsidon, "fishery," now Saida, twenty miles further north) were situated, was part of ancient Canaan, and so inhabited by a remnant of that doomed race. But, as the Phoenicians were the great seafarers and colonizers of ancient times, they had sent out and founded many settlements. One of these was in Africa, and the colonists were distinguished by the appropriate name of Liby-phoenicians, from the parent stock which went by the name of Syro-phcenicians. Horace has the expression," Uterque Poenus servint uni," and Juvenal twice employs the word "Syro-phoenix." It is probable that, while the coast-line retained the name Phoenicia, the more inland parts, where Syrian and Phoenician intermingled, got the name of Syro-phoenicia. But, while this woman was a Syro-phccnician by race, she was a Greek, that is, a Gentile: for the name Greek was used generally for all Gentiles, as distinguished from Jews, just as Frank is employed in the East for all Europeans; thus, we read in Romans 1:16, "To the Jew first, and also to the Greek." Thus Greek was the same as Gentile, and the inhabitants of the world were distributed into Greeks and Jews. The applicant, then, in the narrative under consideration, belonged to a different nationality from the Jews, for she was a Syro-phoenician, and to a different religion, for she was a heathen. This poor woman, born and bred amid the darkness of heathenism, with little to sustain and comfort her in this world, and without hope for a better, had her full share of the miseries of mortal life. She appears from the narrative to have been a widow, as there is no mention or notice of her husband. If so—and we have no reason to doubt it—she had to bear the hardships and fight the battle of life alone, without the head of her little household, without the bread-winner of her family, and without a partner to share and so divide the current of her grief. She had a daughter, probably an only daughter, mayhap an only child; but that one daughter, that only child, instead of being a source of comfort or support to the widowed mother, was the cause of the great grief that pressed upon and crushed her heart. That beloved child—that dear daughter, round whom alone, in the absence of other objects, the mother's affections were now all entwined—was an invalid, and an invalid whom no medical skill and no human power could relieve. It was not merely disease under which she laboured; if that had been all, however bad the case or severe the distemper, it might, even after medical appliances had proved unavailing, have exhausted itself, as is sometimes known to happen, or even the vis medicatrix naturae might have effected a cure. But no, it was something worse, much worse, than any ordinary disease, however Virulent; it was demoniac power—diabolical possession. The girl had "an unclean spirit," and was "grievously vexed with a devil," so that the case was taken out of the common category of diseases, and entirely hopeless. The poignancy of the mother's grief, the bitterness of her sorrow for a daughter so dear to her, and yet so hopelessly, helplessly afflicted, we can well imagine. Indeed, we seem to hear the echo of her wail in the pathetic cry for mercy: "Have mercy upon me, O Lord, thou Son of David!"
III. HER APPLICATION. What led her to think of Jesus at all? In the first instance, no doubt, it was her misery on account of her daughter's distressed condition. She had, we are persuaded, tried many means before this; she had left nothing undone, we are very sure; but all was in vain! Her wretchedness had found no relief; her misery remains without alleviation. She is now ready to do or to dare anything that may hold forth the slightest hope of relief. But while it was the feeling of misery in the first instance, and that strong maternal affection which the sufferings of her daughter roused into such active exercise, there was, besides, a rumor that had somehow reached her ears of the great Jewish Teacher, who was Prophet and Physician both in one. His fame had reached that distant heathen land. He wished, indeed, that no man should know of his journey thither or of his being there; he meant to travel incognito. But that he soon found to be impossible, for, as the evangelist expresses it, "he could not be hid;" there was that about him, conceal it as he might, which revealed his majesty and bespoke the greatness and dignity of his person. This Canaanitish woman has heard, moreover, that this powerful Healer has quitted the holy city, and left the Galilean hills, the flowery slopes, the glancing waters of the lovely lake; and that he is at present travelling in that remote north-west. Now she feels that her opportunity is come, that the time for trying another remedy has arrived, and that a Physician, greater than any she had ever applied to or heard of before, is now accessible. A load is lifted off her heart; her hopes are raised, and with buoyant, spirit she sets out to where she heard he was. But she has not been long on the road till hope and fear begin to alternate. Had she not been buoyed up with similar hopes before, and yet those hopes had ended in disappointment? May it not be so again? May it not be so now? Still she feels that the object of all this solicitude can scarcely be worse, and may perhaps be better. At all events, she is determined to make the trial, if it should be the last. She has heard of multitudes of cures he has performed, of wonderful cures—cures of demoniacs as well as those afflicted with diseases; and so she plucks up heart anew, and again resumes her journey. Here were two strong motives impelling her to take the course she was doing—her sense of misery, and the reports about Jesus. And yet there was, we think, a third impelling power; for what suggested the resolution she came to in view of the wretchedness of her own and her daughter's condition, and on the ground of the reports that had reached her? What or who empowered her to make up her mind at once and form the resolution? What it was we are not told in so many words; it is not expressly stated, perhaps not even dearly implied; and yet such an impulse must have been given to her will. We speak of God putting this or that thought into the heart; and so we believe that it was God that opened her eyes to see her real condition, that opened her ears to hear the report—the good news about One who was mighty to heal and cure; that quickened the seed of thought thus sown in her soul, making it fructify, blossom, and bear fruit; in other words, that produced the resolution and prompted to action in carrying it out. It is exactly thus with the sinner; his eyes are opened to see his sin and consequent misery; his ears are opened to hear, and his heart to believe, the report of a Saviour; and he is persuaded and enabled to form the right resolution of applying at once to Jesus for pardon and peace—made willing, in fact, in the day of God's power.
IV. HER RESPECTFUL ADDRESS, The respectful mode of her address, and the earnest petition which she prefers, are calculated to surprise and even astonish us. We must presuppose some knowledge of the Saviour, from whatever source it came. She had obtained in some way, and to some extent, knowledge of Jesus—how or whence we have not sufficient information to enable us to say. The terms of her address, when we consider her heathen antecedents and surroundings, are truly wonderful. "O Lord, thou Son of David"—these are marvellous words to come from heathen lips; "have mercy on me!" are words easily read between the lines of her misery, and easily accounted for by the sympathetic chord which her daughter's affliction had touched in her heart. The former words are not so readily accounted for. "O Lord," she said, and thus she acknowledged his power and his providence. She confesses her faith in his power as almighty, and in his providence as universal; she owns a providence which extends to, and is employed about, all the affairs of the world and men, and a power that regulates and controls all events. Nor are we sure that this term, as it was uttered by the lips of this woman, did not embrace more than matters of mundane interest. But whether or not it comprehended authority over things in heaven as well as things on earth—celestial as well as terrestrial concerns—one thing is certain, that the expression immediately following clearly embraced Messianic hopes and prospects. "Son of David" is a name or title of Messiah in Old Testament Scripture. He was to be the Son of David according to the flesh, as well as "the Son of God with power;" David's Son as well as David's Lord, according to the Saviour's own words. She thus acknowledged him as Lord, and so possessed of unlimited power over all beings, human, angelic, and demoniac; over all agencies of every order; and over all ailments, whether diseases proper or diabolic possession. She acknowledged him also as the Christ of God, whose very mission was to impart prophetic instruction, to make priestly satisfaction, and to exercise kingly authority in, over, and on behalf of his people. There was thus a whole creed, at least in germ, contained in the words of this woman's address to the Saviour. How had she attained such knowledge? Had the Spirit of God enlightened her? Had the Saviour been made known to her, as afterwards to Saul, by direct and special revelation? We believe that there was the agency of the Spirit in making application, but that there had been human instrumentality in conveying instruction. We read in the third chapter of this Gospel, at the eighth verse, that, in addition to the great multitude that followed Jesus from Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem, Idumaea, and beyond Jordan, also "they about Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they had heard what great things he did, came unto him." Was it not most likely that from some of these, on their return home, this woman had heard something about the Saviour—who he was, what he was, as well as about the great things he was doing? The Spirit's agency was needed to make application to her heart of the fragmentary truths she may have gleaned in the way indicated. Here, again, the sinner's case is similar. He hears about Christ, he reads about him, he is taught many facts in relation to his life, death, resurrection, ascension, saving power, and second coming to judgment; but yet "no man can call Jesus Lord, but by the Holy Ghost." We need the instruction, it is true, but we require also the illumination of the Spirit. That we may derive real benefit from Scripture truth, and spiritual profit from the facts of Christ's history, the Spirit must "guide us into all truth," even the "truth as it is in Jesus."
V. HER EARNEST PLEADING. In her earnestness she makes her daughter's ease her own; she regards the affliction of so near a relative as personal; in her daughter's affliction she was afflicted. "Have mercy on me!" she said—on me, who feel myself so identified with my daughter, who suffer in her suffering, who am distressed in her distress, whose life is bound up in her life. Again," Have mercy on me!"—a wretched woman, a sorely tried and almost broken-hearted mother. Then she repeats the petition with a slight variation, saying, "Lord, help me!" How touching this repeated request! how pathetic! How eloquent as well as earnest! It is, indeed, this earnestness that forms the chief element of its eloquence.
VI. THE TRIAL OF HER FAITH. She had been sorely afflicted, and now her faith is sorely tried. In the Gospel of St. Matthew the recital is fuller, and these trials stand out more conspicuously. The first trial of her faith is our Lord's silence. "He answered her not a word." What can this strange silence mean? Is it indifference or neglect? Is it want of sympathy with her own distress and her daughter's affliction? Or is it dislike and contempt for a descendant of a sinful and accursed race? And yet she must have heard of his compassionate kindness and tender pity, as also of the ready relief he was in the habit of granting to every son and daughter of affliction. She must have heard, from all who told her of him, that no applicant had ever met with repulse or refusal at his hand. Is she to be an exception? Will he not condescend to take the slightest notice of her? Another sore discouragement arose from the inconsiderate and unsympathetic conduct of the disciples, who came forward and actually besought him to dismiss her. "Send her away," they said, "for she crieth after us"—send her away at once ( ἀπόλυσον, aorist imperative), and get rid of her annoyance; it is troublesome and even indecorous to have her following us, and painful to have to listen to her crying after us in this fashion. Either dismiss her summarily or grant her request, that, one way or other, we may get rid of her. Even if we understand the disciples in this latter sense, as asking their Master to give her what she wanted and let her go, it was a cold selfishness that prompted it, and an ungracious spirit that thus wished to be done with her importunity as speedily as possible. Their interference, however, had only the effect of drawing forth in reply a reason for refusal When our Lord did break silence, it was only to indicate the circumscribed sphere of his present mission, and thus to imply her exclusion: "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." It appears to some that even in this refusal there was a faint gleam of hope, and that this despised woman of Canaan might have replied,—Though not of the house of Israel, yet I am a lost sheep, and greatly need the Good Shepherd's care; and though he has not come specially on an errand of mercy to my race or me, yet I am come in quest of him and to seek his favor. But another obstacle, seemingly more formidable, bars the way. There had been silence and seeming indifference; there had been a refusal, and that backed by a reason—a strong reason, and one that did not admit of any questioning; and now there is reproach—apparent reproach. This sorrowful woman, in this her direst extremity and the darkest hour of her misery, summoned up all her strength of resolution to make one final effort; and coming closer to the Saviour, and with still greater reverence as well as earnestness, she "worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me." And yet, the reply to all this profound respect and unflagging importunity appeared at least to be of the most discouraging character, and in fact the unkindest cut of all: "It is not meet to take the children's bread, and cast it to dogs."
VII. HER PERSEVERANCE AND HUMILITY. Her perseverance was truly wonderful, and her humility was equal to her perseverance. She turns the seeming slight into an argument. Our Lord, in the similitude he employs, does not refer to the wild, ferocious, gregarious dogs of the East, that are owned by no master, but prowl about for food, and that supply, in some sort, the place of street-scavengers. He refers to young or little dogs ( κυνάρια), and to children, or little children ( παιδίων), and the friendly relations that are well known to exist between them, denying the propriety of defrauding the children of food in order to feed even their canine pots—to take their bread and cast it to dogs (where observe the paronomasia in λαβεῖν and βαλεῖν). "Yes, Lord: for indeed the little dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs." The proverbial expression implied
VIII. THE REWARD OF HER PERSEVERANCE AS AN EXAMPLE AND ENCOURAGEMENT. we have seen how, in the face of what seemed contemptuous silence, of positive refusal—a refusal made more positive by the strong reason alleged in its support—of apparent reproach and depreciation, this woman kept to her purpose, converting a slight into a sound argument. By firmness of purpose, by strength of will, by great humility, by astonishing earnestness, above all by vigorous faith, she held on, and, like Jacob with the angel, she did not let the Saviour go until she obtained the blessing which she sought. What a pattern of faith and patience combined this woman exhibits! She had made probably a long journey, undergone much fatigue, spared no pains, shrunk from no toil, till she reached Jesus; and, after going so far and doing so much to reach him, she seems doomed to disappointment; and is treated with silence, with sternness, and with something like scorn; and yet by a quick instinct she makes that scorn helpful to her suit. And now at last she has her reward. Not only does she gain the object about which she was so earnestly solicitous, but she receives the cordial commendation of our Lord. "For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter;" or, as St. Matthew has it, "O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour."
IX. PRACTICAL LESSONS.
1. We learn from this most interesting and encouraging narrative the power of faith and its prevalence. If "all things are possible with God"—and we are sure they are—"all things are possible to him that believeth." It was faith brought her to Christ; it was faith kept her close to Christ, in spite of so many and so great discouragements; it was faith obtained the blessing from Christ; it was faith called forth the commendation of Christ, for in that faith he recognized the gracious principle he had himself implanted in her soul. Accordingly, it was her faith he so commended. He did not say, "Great is thy humility," and yet she displayed the grace of humility in an eminent degree; nor "Great is thy fervency," and yet she was uncommonly fervent in her petitions; nor "Great is the love thou bearest thy child," and yet she was a model at once of womanly tenderness and motherly affection; nor "Great is thy patience," and yet her patience had few parallels; nor "Great is thy perseverance," and yet her perseverance commands our admiration, even across the centuries. No; but "Great is thy faith." It was the mother grace and parent of all the rest. Lord, grant each of us like precious faith!
2. Our duty to our children, and to the young in general, is strikingly taught us here. Taking this woman for a pattern, we should plead with God frequently, fervently, and faithfully on behalf of our children, until Christ be formed in their heart. And oh, if any of them should be a victim of the evil one, and possessed by some evil passion, some sinful propensity, some destructive lust—in case any should be thus "grievously vexed with a devil"—how anxious, how labourious, how perseveringly prayerful we should be on their behalf! and how we should imitate this woman's importunity, and, like her, make their case our own until we obtain for them the blessing!
3. A further lesson is to go to Christ in every season of distress, nor despair, however long he is pleased to keep us waiting. Here are two lessons put together, for they properly go together. Whatever be our distress—whether personal affliction or domestic trial, whether the undutifulness of children or the godlessness of their lives, whether it be hostility of foes or the coldness of friends, whether it be worldly loss or sore bereavement—we should go and tell Jesus, acknowledging his all-sufficiency, spreading the whole case before him, confessing our great unworthiness, and pleading earnestly with him for mercy and help. And here another and a kindred lesson suggests itself, and that is firmness and freedom from despondency in trial. It pleased the Saviour to try the woman of Canaan severely and long; but it was for her good, for the glory of his grace in her, and for a pattern to ourselves. He proved her faith, but his object was to improve and strengthen it; he meant to exhibit its sterling qualities as a pattern to his disciples. Many a one, tried as this woman was, would have sunk down into sullen silence, or hurried off in a fit of passion, and given up her suit. It might have been so with some of ourselves; but he will humble us before he exalts us; he will have us trust in him, though he slay us. Some token will be vouchsafed for our encouragement, even in the sorest testing-time. It was probably so with this woman. She may have discerned a tenderness in the tone of the Saviour's voice, or a gentleness in his look, that encouraged her to persevere. But, even in the absence of such, we must impress on ourselves the conviction that there "may be love in Christ's heart while there are frowns on his face," as it is quaintly expressed by an old divine. Further, we may be kept long waiting, but we shall not wait in vain, any more than this poor woman. Our prayers may not be favored with an immediate answer; but, though not answered at once, they will be accepted at once, and answered at the time most expedient for us, as well as most conducive to the Divine glory.
"For though he prove our patience,
And to the utmost prove,
Yet all his dispensations
Are faithfulness and love."
A miracle of restoration.
I. THE DEAF MUTE HEALED.
1. A difference of reading. According to the common text we learn that our Lord, "departing from the coasts [borders] of Tyre and Sidon, came unto the Sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts [borders] of Decapolis; but according to the best critical authorities "through Sidon" must be substituted for "and Sidon;" and then the sentence reads as it stands in the Revised Version: "Again he went out from the borders of Type, and came through Sidon unto the Sea of Galilee, through the midst of the borders of Decapolis.' This reading is unquestionably the more difficult, but exceedingly interesting, as it shows the extent of our Lord's tour through those Gentile lands. Proceeding twenty miles northward from Tyre, he came to Sidon, the great seat of Phoenician worship and of the idols Baal and Astarte; and then passing along the foot of Lebanon, and crossing the Leontes or Litany, the largest river of Syria, he came to the sources of the Jordan, whence he descended along the eastern bank into the region of Decapolis. The probable object of this detour was to gain privacy, instruct more thoroughly his disciples, escape his enemies, and visit the many towns and villages dotting this rotate.
2. An interesting though practically unimportant question. Was the subject of this miracle deaf, with an impediment in his speech, or both deaf and dumb; in other words, a deaf mute? If he was deaf and had
3. Nature of this privation. This affliction was twofold. Two Organs were virtually wanting, two senses were sealed, two channels of communication with the external world were closed. The case of this person, if not actually identical with that of a man deaf and dumb, is illustrative of it. And oh, how great this double privation! How difficult for those, whom God has blessed with the free use of all their bodily organs, to appreciate the privation of one who is deaf and dumb! These twin calamities are, it is true, physiologically reducible to one. They stand related as cause and effect. Deafness at birth, or loss of hearing soon after, usually involves dumbness. Deafness is the radical defect, dumbness is its natural result. This man is said to be κωφὸς, which expresses the primitive want; while μογιλάλος (the root is μογ equivalent to μεγ as in μοχ- θος, labour, equivalent to something great laid ( θε) on one) expresses the natural and necessary consequence—the great obstacle to speech. This latter word, therefore, is wrongly rendered "stammering," and rather denotes one unable to utter articulate words. Hearing, like sight, and as much as sight, is an inborn faculty; but speaking is a learnt art. Man of himself can utter sounds, and that is all, but not speak words. The latter he learns by hearing; but how can he learn without hearing, and how can he hear if he is born deaf? Further, in deafness the organ is wanting or defective; in dumbness the organ is present, but it might as well be absent, as it is disabled and incapable of use. When the ear is stopped, silence seals the tongue. But, though the cause may thus be one, the calamity affects two senses, and debars the use of both.
4. Extent of this privation. On due consideration, it will be found that these "children of silence," as they have been called, are doomed to as severe deprivations as any to be found in the whole catalogue of human woes. By nature they are excluded from all those pleasures which the ear drinks in and the tongue gives out. Nor do we refer merely or mainly to the melody of sweet sounds—to the thrilling tones of harmony, to the witching spell of minstrelsy, to the rapturous delights of music, as it is heard from the birds that make the woodland vocal with their notes, or from the itinerant musicians that stay for a few moments' space the step of the man of business, or cheer the spirit of the downcast; or as it swells in the concert, or sweeps so grandly in the oratorio, or is wafted aloft from a thousand voices on the open air of heaven. The deaf are excluded from other joys more homely, but not less hearty. They are shut out from the pleasant voice of childish prattle, from domestic or friendly converse, from intellectual interchange of thought, from literary amusement, scientific research, or political intelligence. From all these sources of information, instruction, and enjoyment they are by nature shut out. And here we come to the worst phase of their condition—the blank it leaves the mind. When sound is shut cut, a chief entrance of knowledge is barred. The exclusion of sound is the exclusion of all that knowledge and of all that multitude of ideas that sounds convey or suggest to the mind.
5. Contrast between the respective privations of the deaf and blind. We deeply commiserate the condition of the blind, from whom the fair face of nature is shrouded in darkness, whose eyes are never gladdened by the light of the sun by day or of the moon and stars by night, from whom the beauty of the human countenance and the loveliness of the landscape scenery are alike hidden, while "the shadow of death" rests "upon their eyelids." And yet the deaf mute is in a worse condition than even they. You can talk with that blind man, and tell him many things. He has an ear to hear, and learns much from your lips. You can read to him, and he listens, to the lessons of heavenly, wisdom, or human philosophy, or every-day experience, which you thus communicate. He is entertained at the same time that he lays up a store of useful knowledge. Not so the deaf mute; he is unimproved by all you say or read. Your speech does not instruct him, for he cannot hear. Books are useless to him, for he cannot read because he is ignorant of sounds made visible. He learns not, for thus the key of knowledge is taken away. Deaf mutes are, therefore, shrouded in deeper than midnight gloom; they grope in a "darkness that may be felt." Thus one of the great inlets of knowledge is taken away; one of the main sources of enjoyment is hermetically sealed; one of the chief links that bind men in social intercourse is snapped; one of the silken bands that unite men in intercommunion is severed. Thus the deaf mute stands apart, and in lonely isolation from his fellow-men; thus one of the sweetest streams of human-happiness is frozen up. We have thus looked at the condition of the deaf mute of our own day, as closely resembling, if not quite the same with, that of the man that was brought to our Lord, as it is here written, "They bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech."
II. THE SIGNS WHICH THE SAVIOUR USED.
1. What these signs were. After taking him aside, he "put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue." These signs which he employed did in no way contribute to the cure he effected, and yet they were significant of what he was about to do. They were far from meaningless manoeuvres or purposeless displays of power. They were no empty make-believes. Our Lord meant to arrest the man's attention and excite his expectations. He did so with the impotent man when he said, "Wilt thou be made whole?" He did so with the blind men when he asked them, "What will ye that I should do unto you?" and when he added, "Believe ye that I am able to do this?" He does the same in the case before us. But as this man knew nothing of the language of sounds, our Lord addressed him in the language of signs. He touched the parts affected to apprise him of his intention to reach the seats of the infirmities and remove the maladies. He put his fingers into the ears to signify that he would take away the obstructions that were therein, and open up the way for sound to enter—that he would penetrate every opposing barrier, and bestow a new acoustic power. He touched the tongue with moisture from his own mouth to lubricate the stiffened member, to loosen whatever impediment confined its and restore its agility of motion. Thus by signs he gave the man some indication of what he meant to do. But by these signs he taught him another lesson. The second lesson was one of faith in our Lord himself as the Author of his recovery, as the Source from which healing power flowed, and as able to do all and accomplish all fully and perfectly which he had signified. A third thing, perhaps, he meant to convey was that he sanctions the use of those means which he himself appoints. Here the means are all his own. His own fingers he inserted into the deaf man's ears; with his own saliva he moistened his tongue. The power of healing is all his own. He can work without means, or against means, or by means; he here directs to the use of means, but only such means as he himself devises. These he sanctions, these he consecrates, sanctifies, and crowns with success. Further, our Lord adapts his sirens to the source of the ailment, and accomplishes a perfect cure. It might seem sufficient to insert his finger into the deaf ear without touching the tongue with saliva; and likewise, in the account of the cure, it might be thought enough to say "his ears were opened," without adding that "the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain." The touching and consequent opening of the ear would undoubtedly have reached the origin of the ailment, and cured the defect at its source; but there would not have been a complete cure. The sufferer would only have been put into the condition of one learning to speak; but the cure, in the very mode of it, was meant to save him this trouble, and to secure to him the ability to speak at once. Hence it is not only said of him ἐλάλει, "he spake," that is, had now the power of speaking, but the term ὀρθῶς is subjoined, from which we learn that, without any loss of time, and without any process of educating the ear, he spake correctly and normally, as if he had been accustomed to do so from his youth, and not as one exercising a power just bestowed. The distinction between the sense of hearing and the organ of heating in this passage is noticeable: the former is ακοὴ, and the latter ὦτα.
2. Symbolic actions. Another and a different symbolic action follows the signs we have been considering. The Saviour turned his eyes to heaven. By this time the Saviour had familiarized the sufferer to the use of signs, and accustomed him to the language which they conveyed. He guards him against any misinterpretation of the fore-mentioned signs. He turns his mind from those signs, as though by themselves they were in any way conducive to his cure. He raises his thoughts to heaven, to remind him that all relief was to be looked for from thence; that the blessing which made the means effectual came from above; that every good gift and every perfect boon is from above, coming down from the Father of lights;" that the power to cure in this case was Divine; and that, as the Lord from heaven, he himself had brought that power down to earth. While, on the one hand, he showed that the power emanated from himself, he, on the other hand, acknowledged the Father who had sent him to put forth such power. While he was manifesting by certain signs or one kind of symbolic action that power proceeded from his own person, he was proving by another kind that in that person divinity was shrined; that "it pleased the Father that in him"—the Son—"should all fullness dwell; "that "all power in heaven and on earth" was entrusted to his hands. He was indicating, moreover, the unity of purpose and of plan that subsisted between the Father and the Son; that he was doing the will of the Father, and accomplishing the work with which he had been commissioned. "The Father," he said, "worketh hitherto, and I work;" "It is my meat and my drink to do the will of him that sent me." He sought thereby the Father's glory, as he himself said, "Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him;" and again he says, "I have glorified thee on earth: I have finished the work that thou gavest me to do." Thus here and now, as always) he sets forth his mediatorial dependence on the Father, and the eye he had to his praise: "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me;" "He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory; but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him."
3. Duty of imitating the Master. As it was with the Master, so in measure is it with the disciple still. Ever and anon we must turn our eyes to heaven. While our hands are duly employed in the daily occupations of our calling upon earth, our hearts must mount upward on the wings of faith, in praise for mercies received and in prayer for the blessing to be bestowed: "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth." Otherwise our most strenuous efforts will be frustrated, our most fondly cherished hopes blasted, and our highest aspirations doomed to disappointment; for "except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain." While we thus lean on an Almighty arm, and depend for everything on God, we must have a single eye to his praise, ever keeping his glory as our chief end in view, and ever seeking from himself grace and strength and steady purpose to do his will.
"To do thy will! take delight,
O thou my God that art;
Yea, that most holy Law of thine
I have within my heart."
4. The significance of the Saviour's sigh. "He sighed;" and no wonder, when he thought of the ruin that sin had wrought, and of the wreck which man had in consequence become. The Saviour sighed when he looked abroad on suffering humanity, when he reflected on the miseries of a fallen race, and when especially he contemplated the living example of that misery that then stood before him. He sighed in sympathy with our sufferings, "for we have not an High Priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities." Blessed be God for such "a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God." He sighed in sorrow for our sins. In them he saw the cause of all; in them he saw the bad and bitter fountain-head; in them he saw the fruitful source of so much woe; in them he saw that fearful thing that darkened heaven above us, opened hell beneath us, and cursed the earth on which we tread; in them he saw that fell infection that has disordered, in a certain sense and to a certain extent, all the members of the body and all the faculties of the soul, so that "the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint;" in them he saw the prolific germ of all those "ills that flesh is heir to," and of all those pangs that make the heart of humanity ache: for "by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin," and not only death, but with it all our woe; in them he saw, too, the grievous load he was himself one day to bear, when he" bare our sins in his own body on the tree," so that it has been truly as tersely said—
"With pitying eyes, the Prince of peace
Beheld our helpless grief;
He saw, and oh! amazing love!
He came to our relief."
He sighed when he thought of the works of the devil and his malice against man, and how human weakness had given him power to deform the body by disease, and deface the image of the Creator in the soul of his creature. Perhaps, too, he sighed when, as has been shrewdly suggested by an old divine, he saw the new temptation to sin that the man's renewed powers would expose him to—the evil things the ear would hear, the idle things the tongue would speak, the wicked things in which both organs might be made instrumental. "Therefore," said the psalmist, "I Will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked are before me." The explanation of the Saviour's sigh by a German writer on the miracles, though ingenious, is not sufficiently comprehensive, when he traces its cause to" the closed ear of the world" of which the deaf man was the symbol," which does not perceive his Word, and therefore does not receive it;" and thinks his view commended, if not confirmed, by St. Mark's numerous exhortations to spiritual hearing by maxim, parable, and symbol. The maxim is, "If any man have ears to hear, let him hear;" and connected with it is the parable of the earth's producing fruit after the reception of the seed, or salvation attained by right hearing of the word, while the present symbol corroborates the same truth.
"The deaf may hear the Saviour's voice,
The fettered tongue its chain may break;
But the deaf heart, the dumb by choice,
The laggard soul, that will not wake,
The guilt that scorns to be forgiven—
These baffle e'en the spells of Heaven:
In thought of these, his brows benign
Not e'en in healing cloudless shine.
The correct explanation, while not exclusive of this view, is inclusive of much more.
5. The single word spoken by the Saviour. "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened," was the single utterance after the heavenward look and inward sigh. The root of this word is the Hebrew pathach, to open; from a similar Syriac root comes ethpatach, the imperative of the passive conjugation Ethpael; then, by assimilation of theta and aspiration, we get ephphatha. And no sooner had he spoken that word than its omnific power appeared. The dull ear was endowed with a power it had never known before, or to which it had been long a stranger. The hindrance that prevented the free passage of the air, or deadened its undulations, was removed; the defect in its organism was remedied. The pleasure of drinking in sweet sounds and of listening to the music of human speech came with all the freshness of a new faculty. The man felt as though he had found himself in a new world, or had entered on a new and improved existence, or had risen many steps higher in the scale of being. And so, in truth, he had. But this was not all; the tongue was freed completely and at once from whatever it was that had fettered it, the impediment was quite gone, and the articulation was, notwithstanding the long disease, immediately perfect. He could now tell to all around the happy change he had undergone—the perfect nature of the cure, the pleasure that filled his soul, the gratitude that glowed in his heart and which then flowed from his lips.
6. The cure a cause of adoring wonder. Here we must admire, and, while we admire, adore, the power of Christ, for it is the power of God. Nothing short of Almighty power could have accomplished this wonder-work of mercy, for "Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord?" And none, surely, save the Lord could thus unmake what sin and Satan had marred, removing all deficiencies, and renewing the afflicted with more than original powers. Here, too, we trace distinct proofs of his Messiahship. Blind as the multitude so frequently were, they could not shut their eyes on this fact.; they were so astonished that they could not help admitting it. They said, "He maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak;" they evidently had an eye to the words of the prophet, and the works he predicted the Messiah would do, when he said, "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing."
III. PRACTICAL INSTRUCTION.
1. Inferences. This miracle, like others of our Lord's miracles, warrants three inferences:
(3) what is of personal and practical importance, the inference of the Saviour's ability to do for the soul what he so often and so effectually did for the body. The impediments of the body are but dim shadows of the worse impediments of the soul. By nature the ear is deaf to the Divine commands, the tongue dumb when it should celebrate his praise; while the heart is hard, the affections frozen, the mind shrouded in darkness—the man in a state of isolation, without fellowship with God or communion with the saints. Christ says, "Ephphatha," and oh, what a change ensues! The ear is opened to hear God's Word, the heart, like Lydia's, to receive his grace, the tongue untied to praise his name and call upon him in prayer.
2. His due need of praise. In view of all this we must join with the multitude and say," He hath done all things well." It was well for the man that was healed, because in his case it was next to life from the dead; it was well for his relations, for their trouble was all but over; it was well for his friends, because their enjoyment of him and pleasure with him were unspeakably increased; it was well for mankind, that the Son of man had authority to exercise such power upon earth; it was well for each of us, because herein we have an earnest of what he will do for the soul, a pledge of the renovation of soul and body, an assurance of the future and final perfection of both. He did all things well, for he "did no iniquity, neither was guile found in his mouth;" he did all things well, for he went about continually, doing good. More particularly, he did all things well, for whatever he did he did largely and liberally, modestly and humbly, generously, graciously, gratuitously, and yet gloriously. Like the first creation, when God saw everything that he had made, "behold, it was very good;" so, when the works of Christ are contemplated, the concurrent testimony of heaven and earth will be, that "he hath done all things well." Saints on earth will say it, for they are the trophies of his mercy, the triumphs of his grace, the memorials of his goodness, and the monuments of his power; saints in heaven will say it, adding, He opened our ears by his power, our hearts by his spirit, our tongues by his grace; he washed us from our sins in his blood, making us kings and priests unto God. Multitudes when he was on earth said it; multitudes yet unborn will say it. We ourselves are entitled to say it, for his healing power has reached us; he has removed our maladies, renewed our souls, made us to delight in his Word and rejoice in his love.
"He speaks, and, listening to his voice,
New life the dead receive;
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
The humble peer believe.
"Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ;
Ye blind, behold your Saviour come;
And leap, ye lame, for joy."
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Mark 7". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany