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Discourse concerning ceremonial pollution. (Mark 7:1-23.)
Then. This is after the third Passover, which whether our Lord attended or not, has been a matter of some dispute. Moral considerations would make us infer that he was present, fulfilling all righteousness, though there is no direct statement in our narratives on the subject. Came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying. The Sinaitic, B, and some other manuscripts read, Came to Jesus from Jerusalem scribes and Pharisees. This, which is virtually the reading of the Revised Version, whether original or not, seems to represent the fact correctly. The bigoted rabbis of the capital, aroused to fresh action by the news of Christ's success in Galilee, send emissaries from Jerusalem to see if they cannot find some cause of offence in the words or actions of this rash Innovator which may give the desired opportunity of crushing him. An occasion offered itself, and was immediately seized.
Thy disciples. They had watched our Lord and his followers partaking of some meal, and doubtless Christ had acted in the same manner as his disciples. Open houses and food partaken of in public allowed this close observation without any infringement of Eastern courtesy. They come to Christ with the insidious question, because they consider him answerable for his disciples' doings (comp. Matthew 9:14; Matthew 12:2). They imply that his teaching has led to thee transgression on which they animadvert. Doubtless the apostles, from Christ's instruction and example, were learning to free themselves from the endless rules and restrictions which were no help to religion, and to attend more to the great realities of vital piety and holiness. The omission of the outward acts, rabbinically enjoined, was readily marked and censured. The tradition. This formed a vast collection of additions, explanations, etc., of the original Law, partly, as was affirmed, delivered orally by Moses, and handed down from generation to generation; and partly accumulated by successive expounders. St. Paul refers to this when he speaks of himself before his conversion as being "exceedingly jealous for the tradition or my fathers" (Galatians 1:14). From it, in the course of time. was formed the Talmud, with its text (Mishna) and its commentary (Gemara). It was not put into writing till after our Lord's time (hence called ἄγραφος διδασκαλία), but was taught authoritatively by accredited teachers who, while retaining the letter of the Law abrogated its spirit, nullifying the broad line of God's commandments by enforcing minute observances and puerile restrictions which were a burden and impediment to purity and devotion, rather than an aid and encouragement. The elders (τῶν πρεσβυτέρων); the ancients. The older expositors and rabbis, whose commentaries had been orally handed down.. Such traditions were regarded with more respect than the letter of Scripture, and the latter had to give way when it seemed to be antagonistic to the former. Wash not their hands when they eat bread. To eat bread means to take food of any kind. The fear of legal defilement led to a multitude of rabbinical rules of the most vexatious and troublesome nature, the infringement of any of which endangered a man's ceremonial purity. These frivolous regulations had been built upon the plain Mosaical enactments of Leviticus 11:1-47., etc. St. Matthew, writing for those who were well acquainted with these glosses, enters into no details; St. Mark is more explicit. It is to be remarked that the Pharisees were extending and enforcing these traditions just when the Law was to be superseded by something more spiritual and doing so in spite of the interdiction "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you" (Deuteronomy 4:2).
He answered. Christ does not formally defend his disciples, nor condemn the Pharisees for their ceremonial ablutions, but he turns to a matter of more importance, even a plain breach or evasion of a plain commandment. Ye also. If my disciples transgress a tradition of the ancients, ye too transgress, and that the commandment of God—an error of far graver character. His non-observance of these minutiae showed their unimportance, and called attention to the inward purity which they typified, and which could be maintained without these external ceremonies. At the same time, Jesus does not condemn such symbolical acts, even as he himself washed the disciples' feet before the last Supper. The evil in rabbinical teachings was that it superseded the spiritual view, and placed outward cleansing on a higher level than inward holiness. By (διὰ with accusative); on account of, in order to maintain. Your tradition. Tradition which is emphatically yours and not God's, a human gloss, not a revealed command. Jesus does not accept the assertion that these traditions are derived from the ancients; he gives them a more modern origin.
Christ proceeds to give an instance of the evacuation of the Law by means of tradition. God commanded. Mark, in the parallel passage, has, "Moses said," which may be taken, in conjunction with our text, as conveying our Lord's testimony to the Divine origin of the Mosaic code. Christ cites the fifth commandment, because it more especially appealed to the conscience of every one, and was emphasized by the solemn enactment of death as the penalty of its infringement (Exodus 20:12; Exodus 21:17). Honour (τίμα). This term includes the idea of succor and support, as in 1 Timothy 5:3, "Honour widows that are widows indeed;" and in 1 Timothy 5:17, where τιμὴ means "stipend." In Ecclesiasticus 38:1, "Honour a physician with the honours due unto him," the expression has reference to his proper fees, the honorarium paid for his services. In God's view honour to parents is not shown only in outward salutations, obedience, and respect, but also in material assistance, help provided for their needs, alms freely bestowed when necessary. This well known signification makes the tradition next given more inexcusable. Die the death. An Hebraism, equivalent to "shall surely be put to death". If words against parents are thus punished, shall not deeds be visited?
But ye say. In direct contradiction to what "God commanded" It is a gift, etc. This is better rendered, That wherewith, thou mightest have been benefited by me is Corban; i.e. is given, dedicated to God. The vow to consecrate his savings, even at death, to the temple absolved a man from the duty of succouring his parents. It was further ruled that if a son, from any motive whatever, pronounced any aid to his parents to be corban, he was thenceforward precluded from affording them help, the claims of the commandment and of natural affection and charity being superseded by the vow. He seems to have been allowed to expend the money thus saved on himself or any other object except his father and mother. So gross an evasion of a common duty could not be placed in the same category as the omission of unnecessary washings.
And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. The last clause is not in the Greek; it is supplied by our translators, as it was in Coverdale's version, to complete the apodosis. There are various methods of translating the passage. Retaining καὶ at the beginning of the sentence, some make these words the continuation of the gloss, "Whosoever shall say," etc., the apodosis being found in the sentence following. Others conceive an aposiopesis after "be profited by me," as if Christ refrained from pronouncing the hypocritical and indeed blasphemous words which completed the gloss. In this case the apodosis follows in Matthew 15:6, καὶ, then such a one will not honour (τιμήα ει, not τιμήσῃ), etc. The words are best taken as put into the Pharisees' mouth in the sense, "The man under those circumstances shall not honour," etc.; he is free from the obligation of helping his parents. The form of the sentence (οὐ μὴ with the future verb) is prohibitory rather than predictive, and implies, "he is forbidden to honour." Christ thus sharply emphasizes the contradiction between God's Law and man's perversion thereof. St. Mark has, "Ye no longer suffer him to do aught for his father." Thus; καὶ in the apodosis, removing the full stop before it in the Authorized Version. This is our Lord's own saying. Made … of none effect. Evacuated its real force and spirit. By; owing to, for the sake of, as St. Mark says, "that ye may keep your tradition." Our translators often mistake the meaning of the preposition διὰ with the accusative, which never signifies "by means of."
Ye hypocrites. He called them by this name because, while they pretended that zeal for God's glory led them to these explanations and amplifications of the Law, they were really influenced by covetousness and avarice, and virtually despised that which they professed to uphold. A Jewish proverb said that if hypocrites were divided into ten parties, nine of them would be found in Jerusalem, and one in the rest of the world. Well did Esaias prophesy of you (Isaiah 29:13). That is, their conduct fulfilled the saying of the prophet, as Matthew 13:14. Such "prophecies" were for all time, and were suitable for various circumstances, characters, and events. Christ is wont to fortify his arguments by the authority of Scripture, often rather explaining the mind of the Spirit than quoting the exact words.
The quotation is from the Septuagint Version, with a slight variation from the text at the end. The Hebrew also differs a little; but the general meaning is not affected. With their mouth. They use the prescribed forms of worship, guard with much care the letter of Scripture, observe its legal and ceremonial enactments, are strict in the practice of all outward formalities. But their heart. This is what the prophets so constantly object. Prayers, sacrifices, etc., are altogether unacceptable unless inspired by inward devotion, and accompanied by purity of heart.
But in vain, etc. The Hebrew gives, "And their fear of me is a commandment of men which hath been taught them," or "learned by rote" (Revised Version). Septuagint, "In vain do they worship me, teaching men's commandments and doctrines." Their worship is vitiated at its very root. Commandments of men. This is Christ's designation of rabbinical traditions (comp. Colossians 2:22).
He called the multitude. Jesus had now finally broken with the Pharisaical party; he had carried the war into their camp. It was necessary that those who had followed these false teachers should know, on the one hand, to what irreligion, immorality, and profanity their doctrines led, and, on the other, should learn the unadulterated truth, "pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father." So he calls around him the crowd of common people, who from respect had stood aloof during the previous controversy, and teaches them a great moral truth which concerns every human being. Hear, and understand. The distinction which he was about to enunciate was difficult for persons trained in Pharisaical dogmas to receive and understand; he therefore calls special attention to his coming words. The depreciation of ceremonial cleansings might easily be misunderstood. Jesus would say—There is indeed cleansing necessary for all men; but it does not consist in outward washings, but in inward holiness. In what follows, our Lord says nothing definitely about the distinction between clean and unclean meats laid down in the Mosaic Law; he would only show that impurity in the moral sense came from within. This is leading up to the principle enunciated by the apostle, "Every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it be received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified through the Word of God and prayer" (1 Timothy 4:4, 1 Timothy 4:5).
Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man. The word rendered "defileth" (κοινοῖ) means "renders common," in opposition to ἁγιάζειν, "to separate" for God's use; hence the verb, ethically applied, signifies "to contract guilt." The rabbis taught that certain meats of themselves polluted the soul, made it abominable in God's sight. This was a perversion of the law respecting clean and unclean food. The pollution or guilt arose, not from the nature of the meat, but from the eating of it in contravention of a positive command. It was the disobedience, not the food, which affected the soul. It is remarkable that these distinctions of meats still obtain among half the civilized inhabitants of the world—Buddhists, Hindoos, Mohammedans—and that one of the hardest tasks of Christian missionaries is to make men understand the non-importance of these differences. We do not see that Christ here abrogated the Levitical Law, but he certainly prepared the way for its supersession and transformation. But he made no sudden and violent change in the constituted order of things. Indeed, some distinctions were maintained in apostolical times, as we read in Acts 10:14; Acts 15:20, Acts 15:29; and it was only gradually, and as circumstances made their observation impossible, that such ceremonial obligations were regarded as obsolete. It is, perhaps, with the view of not shocking inveterate prejudice, that he does not say, "No food whatever defileth," but "That which goeth into the mouth" defileth not, referring especially to the notion adore reprehended, that eating with unwashen hands polluted the food taken and the soul of the person who con sumed it. Our Lord says nothing of excess, e.g. gluttony and drunkenness, which, of course, has a polluting and deteriorating effect on the moral nature (see Luke 21:34). But that which cometh out of the mouth. In the former sentence the mouth is regarded simply as the instrument for receiving food and preparing it for digestion; in this sentence it is considered as the organ of the heart, that which gives outward expression to inward thoughts and conceptions. Fillion distinguishes them as "la bouche physique, et la bouche morale." Philo has well said, "The mouth is that by which, as Plato puts it, mortal things enter, and whence immortal things issue. For therein pass meat and drink, the perishable food of a perishable body; but from it proceed words, immortal laws of an immortal soul, by which the rational life is directed and governed" ('De Mundi Opif.,' § 40). Defileth a man. Pollutes his soul, not with merely ceremonial defilement, but intrinsically and morally. Of course, our Lord is referring to evil words, etc., as he explains in Acts 15:19. For the mouth may give utterance to God's praise, words of love, sympathy, edification. But the evil in a man's heart will show itself in his mouth; and the open expression will react on the wicked thought, and make it more substantial, deadly, and operative.
Then came his disciples. Jesus had been speaking in some open spot; he now leaves the crowd, and, entering a house with his disciples, instructs them further in private (Mark 7:17). These had been greatly alarmed at their Master's antagonism to the popular party, and, on the first occasion that presented itself, expostulated with him on the danger incurred by this hostile attitude. This saying (τὸν λόγον); the word. What he had said to the multitude (Matthew 15:11). The Pharisees had cared less for the denunciation addressed to themselves (Matthew 15:3-9), but when he interfered with their doctrinal supremacy over the people, they were offended, they took exception to p the teaching, believing that they detected therein an insidious attack on the Law. In their view, spiritualization of any of its enactments was equivalent to its subversion. But, as St. Gregory observes, "If offence arises from the statement of the truth, it is more expedient that offence be permitted to arise than that the truth should be abandoned" ('Hom. 7. in Ezek.').
Every plant, etc. The answer of Christ signifies—Do not be alarmed by the displeasure of the Pharisees, and at my opposition to their teaching; the system which they support is ungodly and shall be soon destroyed. Christ, as often, puts the statement in a parabolic form, using two images, one derived from the vegetable kingdom in this verse, and one from human life in Matthew 15:14. Plant (φυτεία); plantation. The act of planting, and then by metonymy the thing planted. It here signifies the sect and doctrine of the Pharisees, the persons themselves, and that which they taught. The comparison of men and trees, plant and doctrine, is a common biblical metaphor (comp. Psalms 1:1-6.; Isaiah 5:7; Matthew 7:16-20; Luke 6:43, Luke 6:44, etc.). The traditions of the rabbis were plants which my heavenly Father hath not planted. They were of human, not Divine, growth; and the men themselves, even though originally planted in holy soil, had degenerated, and become not only unfruitful, but pernicious. So the Lord speaks by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 2:21), "I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?" Shall be rooted up. Our Lord is not referring to the judgment of the last day (Matthew 3:10), nor to any forcible destruction effected by human agency; he means that the system must pass away entirely to make room for a better growth, even the gospel. The Jews would not see that the Law was a schoolmaster to bring men to Christ; they deemed that their ceremonies and rites were to be permanent and universal; and this, more than anything, impeded the reception of Christ's claims, and made men utterly averse from his teaching. It was in vain that Jesus proclaimed, "If ye believed Moses, ye would believe me; for he wrote of me" (John 5:46). The very Law, as handled and obscured by the Pharisees, was made an obstacle to the truth.
Let them alone. Do not trouble yourselves about them; let them be offended, if they will. Blind leaders of the blind. Both teachers and taught are alike ignorant of the truth. The people had no spiritual light, and, applying to their appointed pastors, they learned nothing profitable from them; for these were as much in the dark as themselves. It was evident, then, that the rabbis ought not to be followed unreservedly. If the blind. A proverbial saying. Comp. Horat., 'Epp.,' I, Matthew 17:3—
"... ut si
Caecus iter monstrare velit."
And the Greek adage, Μήτε τυφλὸν ὁδηγόν, μήτε ἐκνόητον σύμβουλον. Nosgen calls attention to the order of the words, Τυφλὸς δὲ τυφλὸν ἐὰν ὁδηγῇ, "Blind blind if he lead," which, while it substantiates the advice, "Let them alone," forcibly expresses the fatal result of this guidance. The ditch (βόθυνον); a pitfall. The "ditch" in one sense is unbelief in Christ, to which rabbinical teaching undoubtedly led. In another sense it adumbrates the ruin in which these false principles would involve the Jewish polity and people. It is obvious that the rejection of the Messiah drew down the punishment which has made the Hebrew nation an astonishment to all the world.
Then answered Peter. The disciples could not understand the apparent depreciation of the external in religion; they did not see the meaning of what Christ had said. Peter, as their mouthpiece, asked for further explanation. Declare; φράσον: edissere. Explain. Parable. The word in an extended sense is used of any hard, enigmatical saying or figurative expression. The term here is applied to the statement in Matthew 15:11. The apostles did not comprehend the minimizing of the rules concerning purification, and the possibility of a man being defiled by what proceeded from his mouth. Inveterate prejudices die hard, and it is difficult to emancipate one's self from old modes of thought.
Are ye also yet without understanding? Even yet; ἀκμήν: adhuc. In spite of all that has passed—my teaching, my life, my miracles—do you not understand in what real purity consists? Often had Jesus to complain of the dulness of his disciples' intelligence, the slow appreciation of his meaning, the indifference to the spiritual side of his acts and doctrine. Up to the very last they failed to apprehend his mission; nor was it till the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured upon them, that they really and in fulness understood the Lord's teaching and their own duties and powers.
Whatsoever entereth in at the mouth, etc. Food taken into the mouth goes into the stomach, is assimilated into the bodily system, and its refuse passes away to the draught (ἀφεδρῶνα), the necessary house. It has nothing to do with the heart or the moral being; it affects only the material organization, and has no connection with the spiritual. Christ does not concern himself with questions, which modern philosophers would attempt to solve, concerning the mutual influence of soul and body, the animal and spiritual nature; he puts forth an argument which every one could receive, plain even to those "without understanding." This is the elucidation of the first part of Matthew 15:11. The further explanation follows in Matthew 15:18, Matthew 15:19.
Those things. He does not assert that everything which issues from a man's mouth defiles him; for, as was said above on Matthew 15:11, many good things may come from a man's mouth; but he means that the evil to which he gives utterance is fraught with pollution to his moral nature. From the heart. The heart stands for soul, mind, spirit, will, the whole inner man, that which makes him what he is, a conscious, intelligent, responsible being. Hence are attributed to it not only words, but acts, conceptions which issue in external actions, and the consequences which these involve.
Out of the heart proceed. The shameful catalogue which follows is less full than that in St. Mark, which contains thirteen items, while this consists of seven only. These are produced or created by the human will, of which the heart is the symbol. Evil thoughts (διαλογισμοὶ πονηροί). Some would translate the words, "evil machinations." But there is no need to change the usual rendering, which is very appropriate here. Evil thoughts are the preparation of all other sins, and have a pernicious influence on the character. We are very much what we think. That on which our minds are fixed, that which is the chief object presented to our inward sight, shapes our disposition and life. High and noble thoughts elevate and purify; low and mean thoughts debase and pollute. The wickedness in a man springs from within; he is guilty of it. If he admits the tempter, succumbs to his seductions, it is his own will that is in fault, encouraging the evil imagination, and not at once resisting, abhorring, and repelling it. Well may we pray, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalms 51:10); and remember the wise man's injunction, "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23). The enumeration follows more or less closely the second table of the Decalogue.
Thus Jesus sums up what has been said, and recalls the circumstance which led to the discourse, emphatically repeating his judgment on the Pharisaical gloss.
Healing of the daughter of the Canaanitish woman. (Mark 7:24-30.)
Went thence. Jesus left the place, probably Capernaum, where the above discourse had been held, and where it was no longer safe for him to remain. He had grievously offended the dominant party by his outspoken words concerning purity and defilement; therefore, to escape any premature violence, he departed to a more secure quarter. Into the coasts (τὰ μέρη, "the parts") of Tyre and Sidon. The word "coasts" here, Matthew 15:22, and elsewhere, does not mean "seacoasts," but "borders." The Authorized Version conveys a wrong impression by its use of the word. These two cities lay on the coast of Galilee, and had never been really conquered by the Israelites, though allotted to the tribe of Asher. There was no very exact limitation of territory between Phoenician (of which they were the capitals) and Jewish land, but there was a great moral distinction. The Phoenicians were sunk in the grossest idolatry; the worship of Baal and Ashtaroth reigned among them with all its depravity and pollution. Whether our Lord actually entered this district, or only approached its confines, is a matter of dispute. The language in the two extant accounts is ambiguous, and might be taken to imply either proceeding. But we cannot suppose that Christ betook himself to the close neighbourhood of those evil towns. His injunction to the apostles, when he sent them on their missionary tour, to abstain from going into any way of the Gentiles or entering any Samaritan city (Matthew 10:5), and his own declaration which shortly follows, that he was sent to the house of Israel, alike preclude the idea that he ever passed beyond the boundaries of the Holy Land. The woman, too, who appealed to him is said to have "come out away from those borders"—an expression which could hardly have been used if Christ had at this time been within them. And that he did no mighty work in these Phoenician cities may be gathered from his denunciation of Chorazin and Bethsaida for not showing the appreciation of his power and mercy which these centres of heathendom would have exhibited had they been equally favoured (see Matthew 11:21; Luke 10:13). If, as Chrysostom suggests, Jesus, by going to these partly Gentile districts, wished to give a practical commentary on the abrogation of the distinction between clean and unclean (breaking down the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile), this lesson was given equally well by the acceptance and commendation of the Gentile woman's faith, even though Christ himself was outside of pagan territory.
Behold. The word marks the sudden and unexpected character of the incident. A woman of Canaan. She belonged to the accursed race of Canaan, the ancient inhabitants of the land, doomed, indeed, to destruction, but never thoroughly extirpated. St. Mark calls her "a Greek," i.e. a Gentile, and "a Syro-Phoenician," which explains her proper nationality. Out of the same coasts. Some join these words with "a woman;" but came out would still imply that she left her own territory to meet Christ. Have mercy on me. She speaks as though she herself were the one that needed healing, identifying herself with her diseased daughter, as though the horrible incubus lay upon her own spirit and could not be relieved without the cure of the suffering girl. O Lord, thou Son of David. Living among a mixed population of Jews and Gentiles, she had heard this title applied to Jesus; she knew something of the hopes of the Hebrew nation, that they were expecting a Messiah, son of the great King David, who should preach to the poor and heal the sick, as she heard that Jesus had done. We know that the reputation of Jesus had spread into these parts, and that persons from this country had come to him to be healed (Mark 3:8; Luke 6:17). There is no reason to suppose that the woman was a proselyte; but evidently she was of a humble and religious spirit, open to conviction, and of an enlightened understanding, which needed only grace and instruction to ripen into faith. At present she saw in Christ only a merciful Wonder-worker—an error which he often combated, and which now by his conduct he corrected. My daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. She must have learned from her Hebrew neighbours to attribute her child's malady to demoniacal influence, as such an idea would not have naturally occurred to a heathen Greek. The power of the devil was shown more openly in heathen localities. We do not read of many bad cases of possession in strictly Jewish districts. It is in Gentile or semi-Gentile regions that the worst instances occur; and while the pagan inhabitants attributed the mysterious maladies to natural causes, the truer insight of believers assigned them, and often most justly, to spiritual agencies. In the present case, the possession must have been unconnected with any ethical relations. It was not that the child, by any act of her own, had put herself into the demon's power. We must regard it, like the sufferings of innocent infants, as a providential arrangement which God for wise purposes allows.
Answered her not a word. The woman made no specific request; she had not brought the sufferer with her, and entreated Christ to exorcise the evil influence; she did not urge him to go to her house, and by his gracious presence work a cure. Simply she tells her affliction, and lets the woeful tale plead for itself. But there was no response. The Merciful is obdurate; the Physician withholds his aid; in the face of misery, to the voice of entreaty, the Lord is silent. It is the discipline of love; he acts as though he hears not, that he may bring forth perseverance and faith. Send her away. There is some doubt concerning the feeling of the apostles in thus addressing Christ. Did they wish him to grant her virtual petition or not? On the one hand, it is urged that they were thoroughly annoyed at her importunity. They had sought for quiet' and privacy, and now this woman was bringing a crowd around them, and occasioning the very notoriety which they wished to avoid. Their Jewish prejudices, too, were aroused by this appeal from a Canaanite; they could not endure the idea that favour should be extended to this Gentile of an abhorred race; hence they desire Christ to dismiss her at once, give her a decided rejection. On the other hand, the answer of Christ to their request leads to another explanation, as if he understood them to be asking him to grant her prayer. And this is undoubtedly what they did want, though they did not presume to prescribe the manner or to beg for a miracle. They range themselves on the woman's side, not from any genuine compassion, but from mere selfishness. The ground of their appeal is, She crieth after us. The appeal had been first made in the open street, and the Canaanite had followed them, as they moved, continuing her piteous cry, and thus attracting attention to them and defeating their hope of retirement and rest. So they, for their own peace and comfort, ask Christ to grant the prayer of this obstinate suppliant: "Give her what she wants, and have done with her."
I am (was) not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Doubtless the woman had listened to the apostles' intercession, and thought her cause won; but the repulse is only repeated; this Gentile is beyond the sphere of his mission; he cannot help her without departing from the rule which he had set himself. Jesus says nothing here about the rejection of the Jews and the future ingathering of the Gentiles; he states merely that his personal mission while he was on earth was confined to the Hebrew nation. He was, as St. Paul calls him (Romans 15:8), "a Minister of the circumcision." Later, he would send others to evangelize those who were now aliens from the chosen commonwealth; at present he has come unto his own possessions. Lost sheep. There is a tenderness in this expression natural from the mouth of the good Shepherd. He had used it when he sent forth the twelve on their apostolical journey (Matthew 10:6); the metaphor is found in the Old Testament (see Jeremiah 50:6, etc.) It is appropriate here, where he is emphasizing his attitude towards the chosen people, and teaching the Canaanitish woman the relative position of Jew and Gentile.
Came she and worshipped him. Meantime, as we learn from St. Mark, Jesus had left the street and entered into a house. The woman, nothing daunted by her rebuff and the disregard with which her appeal was received, followed him persistently, and, growing bolder in her importunity, fell as a suppliant at his feet. While he still seemed to repulse her, she was learning fresh faith and hope. Lord, help me. She does not now call him "Son of David." She begins to feel that she has little claim upon him as the Jewish Messiah; she appeals rather to his mercy and his power. Still, she identifies herself, as at first, with her daughter; the only boon she wants for herself is her child's relief. "For she indeed (my daughter) is insensible of her disease, but it is I that suffer her innumerable woes; my disease is with consciousness, my madness with perception of itself".
But he answered and said. At length Jesus spoke directly to her; but his words were rough in sound, still enforcing the previous repulse. It is not meet; οὐκ ἔστι καλόν: non est bonum (Vulgate). Another reading of less authority is oboe ἔξεστιν, "it is not lawful." The question is rather of fairness and expediency than of lawfulness. To take the children's bread. "The children" are the chosen people, "the children of the kingdom" (Matthew 8:12), who held this high position by election, however individuals might forfeit it by an unworthy use of privileges. "Bread" is meant to signify the graces and favours bestowed by God in Christ. To cast it. An humiliating term; not to give it, as you would to your children, but to throw it away as valueless, fit only for animals. Dogs (κυναρίοις). A contemptuous diminutive, rendered by Wickliffe, "whelpies," or, as we might say, "curs." This was the term applied by the Jews to the Gentiles, even as Turks nowadays talk of "dogs of Christians,'' and as in later times, by a curious inversion, the Jews themselves were generally saluted with the opprobrious name of"dogs." Some have seen a term of endearment in the diminutive "little dogs," as though Christ desired to soften the harshness of the expression by referring, not to the prowling, unowned animals that act as scavengers in Oriental towns, but to the petted inmates of the master's house. But Scripture gives no warrant for thinking that the Hebrews ever kept dogs as friends and companions, in our modern fashion; and our Lord adopts the language of his countrymen, to put the woman in her right position, as one with whom Jews could have no fellowship. To take the blessings from the Church of Israel in order to give them to aliens was to throw them away on unworthy recipients.
And she said, Truth, Lord; or better, but she said, Yea, Lord (Revised Version). Christ's answer might have seemed the climax of rejection, and to have at once closed the matter forever. But her love for her daughter, and her growing faith in Jesus, overcame all seeming hindrances. With a woman's ready wit, quickened by urgency and affection, she seizes the opportunity, and turns Christ's own words against himself. Thou sayest truth, she means; the Jews are the children; we are the dogs; and as dogs we claim our portion. This we can receive without defrauding the children of any of their food. Yet; καὶ, or καὶ γὰρ, for even; nam et (Vulgate). The Authorized Version injures the significance of the mother's reply, as if there were something adversative in the particles, which really introduce the confirmation of her assent. The dogs eat of the crumbs, etc. Dogs in the East have access to the rooms, and live on what they can pick up or on what is thrown to them. The fragments at meals were naturally numerous, the abundance being occasioned by the nature of the food, the use of fingers instead of spoons and forks, and the employment of pieces of bread as platters and napkins. We may paraphrase the Canaanite's reply thus: By calling us dogs, you virtually grant what I desire. You can do what I wish without infringing your rule, in the justice of which I humbly acquiesce. I claim nothing as a daughter of Abraham; I look only for uncovenanted mercies; I ask only for that portion which falls to the lot of the creatures which hold the lowest place in the household, and the loss of which will never be felt. Truly by humbling her Jesus educated her, taught her that her real plea was her unworthiness, that in acknowledgment of her degradation lay the force of her appeal. And in asking for this one act of mercy she is doing no wrong to the sons of the house.
O woman, great is thy faith. Jesus had often to complain of unbelief in his hearers; at no man's faith did he ever express surprise, except in the case of another Gentile, the centurion of Capernaum (Matthew 8:10). Be it unto thee even as thou wilt. She had conquered; she gained her wish. But we must not think that Christ consented because his human feelings were overcome by her importunity, like the unjust judge in the parable, though the principle and teaching of that parable were here beautifully illustrated. He acted all the time as God, who foreknew what he would do. He had been leading her up to this climax; he had willed to give her an opportunity of exhibiting this trust and sell-command and unfailing confidence, and now he crowns her with his mighty eulogium, and grants her request, rewarding her great faith by a great mercy. Her daughter was made whole. St. Mark reports the words of Christ, "For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter." He does not say, "I will come and heal her;" he tells her that the cure is already effected. Without personal contact with the sufferer, without any command uttered to the possessing demon, by his silent will alone the wonder comes to pass. This blessing for the child was won by the mother's faith. The two points to be remarked in this marvellous history are—Christ's abnormal treatment of a suppliant, and that suppliant's astonishing faith and perseverance. Both of these subjects have been noticed in the course of the Exposition.
Healing of the sick, and feeding of the four thousand.
From thence. From the borders of Tyre and Sidon. We learn from St. Mark that Jesus, making a considerable circuit, traversed the territory of the ten free cities called Decapolis, situated chiefly on the east and south of the Sea of Galilee. A mountain (τὸ ὄρος); the mountain (as Matthew 14:23). The range of hills by which the lake is bounded on the east and northeast. No particular hill seems to be indicated. Sat down there. Rested awhile after his journeyings and labours.
The incidents in this and the following verse are mentioned only by St. Matthew. Great multitudes. The fame of Jesus attracted the Jews settled in this semi-Gentile district, and cut short the privacy which he had lately been enjoying in his apostles' company. The people seized the opportunity of listening to his teaching and profiting by his superhuman power. Having with them. The catalogue of sufferers that follows represents accurately the sight that meets one in Oriental towns and villages, where the absence of medical appliances and the general want of surgical treatment render slight maladies or injuries chronic and inveterate, and fill the streets with persons in all stages of disease. Maimed; κυλλούς: debiles (Vulgate). In Matthew 18:8 the word means "deprived of a member;" but it has been doubted whether our Lord ever exerted his creative power to replace an absent limb. In the case of Malchus the ear probably was not wholly severed from the skull, but was still attached thereto by a fragment of flesh or skin, and no fresh creation was needed. We may well understand the word to signify "deformed," or deprived of the use of hand or foot. The Arabic Version renders it "dried up," or "withered." Cast them down. The expression implies the precipitancy With which their friends offered the sufferers to Christ's notice, appealing to his mercy and relying on his power—not with careless abandonment, but with an earnest rivalry to be first attended to.
The maimed to be whole. This clause is omitted by א and some other manuscripts, the Vulgate and other versions, and some modern editors. Probably the difficulty mentioned above led to its being first obelized and then rejected. The God of Israel. Jehovah, whose covenanted mercies they were enjoying. St. Matthew is careful on all occasions to exhibit Jesus as the Messenger and Representative of the God of the Old Testament. The apostles, as Alford suggests, might joyfully contrast this abundance of acts of mercy with the great difficulty with which a Gentile's faith had lately obtained help. "Seest thou," says St. Chrysostom, "how the woman indeed he healed with so much delay, but these immediately? not because these are better than she is, but because she is more faithful than they. Therefore, while in her case he defers and delays, to manifest her constancy, on these he bestows the gift immediately, stopping the mouths of the unbelieving Jews, and cutting away from them every plea. For the greater favour one hath received, so much more is he liable to punishment, if he be insensible, and the very honour makes him no better."
Called his disciples unto him. Seeing the necessities of the multitude, Jesus, as it were, takes his disciples into council, treating them not as servants, but as friends. They were doubtless dispersed among the crowd, and Jesus summons them around him, and puts before them the special point to which his attention is turned. Thus he tries their faith, and shows that there were no human means available for feeding these famishing people. Thus God, so to speak, takes Abraham into his confidence before visiting the iniquity of Sodom: "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?" (Genesis 18:17). I have compassion (σπαλαγχνίζομαι) on the multitude. The human heart of Jesus felt for these distressed followers; his perfect sympathy was aroused in their behalf. We observe references to this tender feeling in many other instances. They continue with me now three days. The verb used here (προσμένειν) implies close attendance persevered in against obstacles; it is used in Acts 11:23 in a spiritual sense, "He exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they would cleave (προσμένειν) unto the Lord." The three days, according to the Hebrew formula of computation, would consist of one whole day and parts of two others. Thus constantly employed in healing and teaching, Jesus thinks not of himself; his whole care is centred on the people who, in their anxiety to see and hear him, forget their own necessities. There would be nothing strange in the people camping out for a night in Palestine. Men and women ordinarily lie down to rest in the clothes which they have worn during the day, and need no special preparation for sleeping. Thus a man covers himself with his heavy outer garment, lies on the dry ground, like Jacob at Bethel, with a stone or his arm for a pillow, and sleeps comfortably and safely till awakened by the morning sun. I wilt not send them away fasting. Like a good master of a household, in his tender pity, Christ takes the circumstances of the multitude into consideration, and cannot endure the idea of dismissing them wearied and unfed to find their way to their own homes, which, as St. Mark adds, were, in the case of many of them, at a long distance. Faint. Travellers tell us that out of the motley crowd of pilgrims that flock to Jerusalem at Easter-tide, many run short of provisions and perish on the road. Christ's thoughtful care regards the possibility of such disaster, and prepares the remedy. He had treated the sicknesses of the multitude; he had instructed their ignorance; now he will feed their bodies. They had sought nothing from him, nor begged for food; probably they had no idea of looking to him to supply their want. But they who follow Jesus shall never lack. They were seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and temporal blessings were added to them.
Whence should we have so much bread, etc.? Christ had said nothing to his disciples concerning his design of feeding the people, but his remarks pointed to the possibility of such a design, and the apostles at once throw cold water upon the project. They do not indeed, as they did before urge him to send the multitude away, that they may supply their own needs, but they emphasize the impossibility of carrying out the idea of feeding them. Their answer bristles with objections. The place is uninhabited; the multitude is numerous; the quantity of food required is enormous; and how can we, poor and needy as we are, help them? It seems to us incredible that they could return this answer, after having, net very long before, experienced the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. They seemed now to have forgotten the earlier marvel, and to be in utter doubt how the necessary food was to be provided on the present occasion. That Christ would display his miraculous powers appears not to have crossed their minds. Such surprising forgetfulness and slowness of faith have seemed to some critics so unlikely and unusual, that they have regarded the apostles' attitude as confirming their assumption of the identity of the two miracles of feeding. But really such conduct is true to human nature. Calvin, while he condemns in vehement terms the disciples' dulness—"nimis brutum produnt stuporem"—is careful to add that men are always liable to a similar insensibility, prone to forget past deliverance in the face of present difficulty. Immediately after the passage of the Red Sea, the people feared that they would perish of thirst in the wilderness; and when God promised to give them flesh to eat, even Moses doubted the possibility of the supply, and asked whence it could be provided (Exodus 17:1, etc.; Numbers 11:21, etc.). How often did Jesus speak of his sufferings, death, and resurrection! And yet these events came upon believers as a surprise for which they were altogether unprepared. Continually the disciples forgot what they ought to have remembered, drew no proper inferences from what they had seen and experienced, and had to be taught the same lessons repeatedly under different circumstances. Since the first miraculous meal many events had happened; often possibly they had been in want of food, as when on the sabbath day they appeased their hunger with ears of corn plucked by the way, and Christ had worked no miracle for their relief. It did not immediately suggest itself to them to have recourse to their Master in the emergency; they were very far from expecting Divine interposition at every turn. If they thought at all of the former miracle, they may have looked upon it as the outcome of an intermittent power, not always at command, or at any rate not likely to be exercised on the present occasion. They were slow to apprehend Christ's Divine mission and character. The acknowledgment of his Messiahship did net necessarily connote the realization of his Godhead. In the writings of this and the immediately preceding period we see that the great Prophet, Prince, Conqueror, who is to appear, is not God, but one commissioned by God, and at most a God-inspired man or angel. So the apostles were only in unison with the best of their contemporaries when at present they hesitated to believe in, and were incapable of apprehending, the Divine nature of Christ.
How many loaves have ye? Jesus gives no formal answer to the apostles' hesitating question, but by a new interrogation leads them to expect his interposition. This was the prelude to the miracle. Seven, and a few little fishes. They de not add, as on the former occasion, "But what are they among so many?" They have learned something from what had previously occurred. Whether this little store was what remained of their own supplies, or whether it was all they could find among the multitude, does not appear. From the indeterminate mention of the fish, we should suppose the latter to have been the case, as they would probably have mentioned the number of the fishes had they been their own. There may have been some contempt implied in the diminutive ἰχθύδια, "little fishes," as though these were scarcely worthy of notice. Dried fish was a staple commodity in the region.
To sit down (ἀναπεσεῖν) on the ground. At this time there was not "much grass in the place," the season being no longer early spring. Their seat was the bare ground, their meal of the plainest character. He who as man had pitied them was now feeding them as God, yet not with luxuries or dainties, but with food sufficient for their needs.
He took. The account differs little from that on the former occasion. Gave thanks (εὐχαριστήσας). This represents the blessing of the viands. Thanksgiving was a specially enjoined accompaniment of meals. The Talmud said, "He that enjoys anything without an act of thanksgiving is as one that robs the Almighty." The blessing here was the efficient cause of the multiplication of the food. Without any fresh creation Jesus used the materials ready to his hands, and only increased them by his Almighty power. Brake them, and gave (ἔκλασε καὶ ἐδίδου). Looking to the tenses used, we should say that Jesus brake the viands once, and then kept continually giving of them to the twelve for the purpose of distribution. We do not read how the multitude was arranged in the present case. Possibly the locality did not admit of methodical division into ranks and companies, or, on the other hand, its natural terraces may have obviated the necessity for any such formal arrangement, the company falling naturally into convenient sections.
Baskets (σπεύρδας); panniers. Large wicker receptacles, which were sometimes of such size as to hold a man. It was in such a basket that St. Paul was let down from the walls of Damascus (Acts 9:25). The number of the basketfuls corresponded to the original number of loaves; the increase of substance must therefore have been enormous.
The computation is made in the same way as in Matthew 14:21, the greatness of the miracle being thus enhanced.
Sent away the multitude. Having supplied their spiritual and material wants. He wished to avoid all disturbance or collision with constituted authorities; and the people dispersed quietly, being less excitable than the inhabitants of Bethsaida, and not so well acquainted with the Messianic claims. The number thus dismissed was less than on the previous occasion, though the provision was greater—a difference which distinguishes one incident from the other, and which no forger would have introduced, it being much more natural to make the second wonder transcend, instead of falling short of, the previous one. We mention this here, because some critics have assumed that the present is only an imperfectly remembered account of the feeding of the five thousand already narrated. There are, of course, many points of similarity in the two incidents. Being of identical character, they must naturally present the same general features. But careful survey of the two narratives discloses many differences, which quite preclude the notion that the latter is a traditional reproduction of the former. To one who believes in the honesty and good faith of the evangelists, the allusion which Christ makes to the two miracles is a sufficient argument for their separation. Our Lord pointedly calls to mind the two occasions when he multiplied food, and rebukes the apostles for their lack of apprehension in the face of these marvels. "Do ye not yet perceive, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets (κοφίνους) ye took up? Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets (σπυρίδας) ye took up?". Many of the essential points of difference between the two accounts are noticed in the Exposition, and they will be seen to dispart wherever divergence was possible, in time, scene, and detail. Magdala. The right reading is most probably Magadan, or Magedan (Vulgate), the better known Magdala having at an early date been substituted for it. Conder identifies one of the two with a mud and stone village called El Mejdel, a little north of Tiberius, a poor place without any gardens, situated in a plain of partially arable soil.
I. CONTROVERSY WITH SCRIBES AND PHARISEES.
1. They were of Jerusalem. It seems that a deputation had been sent by the leading inert in Jerusalem. The great discourse related in John 6:1-71. had probably been reported to them; they had heard that the scribes and Pharisees of Galilee were unable to cope with our Lord; and they now sent some of their own body to watch him and to find opportunity for accusing him. Mark the reception which he met with on his return from the eastern side of the lake. The people of Gennesaret knew his power and mercy. They brought their sick; they besought him that they might touch the hem of his garment. The poor and simple came in their simplicity, seeking help; the zealots, the learned students of the Scriptures, came, with malice and envy in their hearts, seeking to compass the ruin of the Saviour. The outward show of sanctity will not deceive God, will not save our souls. Let us see that we come to Christ in single-hearted earnestness, seeking only to know him who is the Saviour of the world.
2. Their question. They busied themselves, as formalists do, about the infinitely little. The Lord's holiness, wisdom, power, were of no interest to them in comparison with the small matters of ceremonial observance enjoined in their traditions. They thought that it was enough to secure salvation if a man lived in the land of Israel, if he ate his food with duly washed bands, and spoke the holy language, and recited his phylacteries morning and evening. They regarded these traditions of theirs as more sacred than the written Law. The Lord's disciples had, it seems, neglected these frequent washings. The Pharisees wished to fix the responsibility on him: "Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?" Strange perversity, to insist on these trivialities in the presence of that unearthly holiness; to ask these petty ensnaring questions of him who could teach them the way to heaven!
3. The Lord's answer.
(1) He answers as at other times, by another question, "Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?" His disciples had, indeed, transgressed the traditions of men; but their accusers had transgressed the commandments of God, and that, because of these traditions. They had dared to bring these traditions into direct opposition to the holy Law of God.
(2) The instance. They had contrived to evade the force of the fifth commandment. A man had only (they wickedly said) to pronounce the words, "It is a gift," to be freed from the duty of supporting his parents. It was good to give, and to give freely, for the service of the temple—the Lord commended the poor widow for doing so—but it was not right to neglect the nearer duty of caring for father or mother even for the temple's sake. And these hypocrites, it seems, held that the pronunciation of the word "corban" absolved a man from the duty of supporting his nearest relatives, even if he did not really give the property so dedicated to the service of God. Thus they made the commandment of God of none effect. They put these miserable traditions above the eternal laws of morality, above the written Word of God. Well might the Lord denounce them as hypocrites.; they were acting the part of religious men, but they knew not what religion was; they had no love for God, no care for his glory; they loved the praise of men.
4. His quotation from Isaiah. The Lord applies to the Pharisees what the prophet had said of his contemporaries. Prophecy is for all time; it is fulfilled again and again in the history of the Church. God's words spoken by Isaiah extended, in their prophetic range, to the scribes and Pharisees of our Lord's days. They honoured God with their lips, but their heart was far from him. Such worship is in vain. It is no true worship; it is false, counterfeit. Worship is the adoration of the heart when it loses sight of self in the contemplation of the glory of God. The worship of the Pharisees was full of self; they sought not the glory of God; they put the commandments of men above his holy Word. In truth, they worshipped themselves, and not God; for it was their own profit, their own advancement, their own honour, which they loved with all their heart. And that which we love with the whole heart is the object of our worship. Let us take heed to ourselves.
II. THE MULTITUDE.
1. The Lord called them. Perhaps they had stood aloof. They honoured the Lord; they had been taught to reverence the Pharisees; they were in perplexity. But now the Lord turned away from the Pharisees in holy indignation at their hypocrisy, their perversion of the truth of God. He called the multitude to come nearer; he would not have them lose the lesson. "Hear, and understand," he said. He bespoke their attention; for he was about to enunciate a great principle—a principle which seems simple enough to us; but it was new and startling then; it was contrary to accepted doctrines. It struck at the minute observances of the scribes and Pharisees; it swept them away by the application of one wide-reaching rule. And it did more than this; it pointed to the coming abrogation of the ceremonial law.
2. His teaching. "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man." The words might be understood, according to the well known Hebrew idiom, as meaning only that moral defilement was far more serious and important than ceremonial defilement (compare the twice-quoted passage of Hosea, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice;" or our Lord's words in John 6:27, "Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life"). But probably the Lord's meaning went further. It was an anticipation of the coming change. According to the reading of the most ancient manuscripts, as explained by Chrysostom and several modern commentators, St. Mark represents our Lord as saying this, "cleansing all meats" (Mark 7:19). If this be correct, the Lord anticipates here the Divine announcement made afterwards to St. peter, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common" (Acts 10:15). The Lord's utterance was not so decided now. The Jews were not yet able to bear a peremptory declaration of the abolition of the laws respecting meats. The distinction between clean and unclean was to them of immense importance and significance, one of the marked characteristics of their religious life, one of the barriers between them and the Gentiles. They could not have endured to see all this elaborate system swept away at once; the disciples themselves were not ripe for such a change. Long afterwards St. Paul found it necessary to deal very tenderly with consciences that might be troubled by similar scruples. The Lord now indicates the coming abolition of the Levitical rules; he does not insist upon it; he returns to the original topic of discussion, "To eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man." It was one of those sayings which the apostles could not receive in their full meaning at once, but which remained in their memory, and afterwards were understood and brought forth fruit.
III. THE DISCIPLES.
1. Their fears. The Pharisees were offended. The Lord's words were a stumbling block to them; he had struck so hard at their prejudices, their traditions—those traditions which were so deeply interwoven with their whole life; he had called them hypocrites, too; he had said that they were no better than actors of a part, and had applied to them the strong condemnation of Isaiah. Again, in his address to the multitude, reported doubtless to the Pharisees, perhaps heard by them, he seemed to set aside the plain teaching of the written Law. At all this the Pharisees stumbled; it was an offence to them; such teaching was in direct opposition to all that they esteemed most sacred. They thought it dangerous, heretical. They were offended, irritated, alienated. And evidently the Lord's disciples had not wholly divested themselves of their old reverence for the rabbinical system, and for the received. teachers of the nation, the Pharisees. They were troubled at their increasing hostility; perhaps they were in their hearts somewhat vexed with the Lord himself; his words, it may be, seemed to them so stern, so needlessly strong. They apprehended difficulties, dangers; they feared for their Master and for themselves. And now they came to him privately, into the house (Mark 7:17); they hinted at their anxieties; they sought to know what he would do. We must always come to Christ in our troubles; but we must trust him and yield up our wills to him; he doeth all things well.
2. The answer.
(1) The teaching of the Pharisees was not of God; it came from human tradition or from their own evil hearts. And all that is not of God must perish. The whole system of rabbinical teaching must pass away. It had wrought itself into the very nature of the Pharisees, as the good seed in the parable had filled the heart and determined the character of the true disciples. That system must perish, and its professors, alas! with it, if they would not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
(2) "Let them alone," the Lord said. They stood high in popular estimation; they sat in Moses'seat; but they were blind guides. "Let them alone." Christ is the one Master; we must follow him. They are blind who see not Christ, for Christ is the Light of the world. They who see not the light walk in darkness; the darkness hath blinded their eyes. Guides who see not the Christ and follow not; the Christ themselves are no guides for the Christian; he must let them alone. Such men may sometimes be set in places of authority; Judas was an apostle. We may not speak of them as the Lord spoke of the Pharisees; we have not the right; we have not his knowledge, his holiness; we must not speak evil of dignities. But let them alone; be not dazzled by their rank, their popularity, their intellectual power. They are blind, and those who follow them are blind also. This blindness is wilful; it is the result of spiritual sloth, or pride, or indulged sin of some sort. The blind who follow the blind must fall into the ditch; spiritual blindness must lead to spiritual ruin. Come to Christ with the prayer, "Lord, that I might receive my sight!" Follow those who follow him the closest; who, seeing him themselves with the vision of faith, are enabled by his grace to lead others nearer to the true Light that shineth upon them.
3. The request of Peter. He spoke in the name of all the disciples (Mark 7:17). But we know that long afterwards he clung to his old Jewish habits of life (Galatians 2:11-16); and at this time our Lord's words in verse 11 must have seemed a very hard saying to him. He called it a parable; it was very difficult for him with his Jewish training to receive it; he wanted to understand what was in our Lord's thoughts, the spiritual meaning of his words.
4. The Lord's reply. "Are ye also yet without understanding?" he said to the disciples. They had been with him long; they ought to have understood by this time the spiritual character of his teaching. But it was hard for them to throw aside the beliefs, the practices, of a lifetime; they needed the plainest teaching on a subject like this. And Christ gave it them. It is the inner life of thought and feeling which determines the true cleanliness or uncleanliness of a man, not the quality of his food. "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." "All things indeed are pure;" there may be good and holy reasons for abstaining from certain things under certain circumstances; but "there is nothing unclean of itself." Such was the teaching of St. Paul, inspired, as he tells us, by the Lord Jesus; the same Lord anticipates that teaching here. It is that which cometh out of the mouth which defileth a man; for out of the mouth come evil words, and evil words issue from the evil treasure of the heart. Evil words imply evil thoughts, and evil thoughts are wrought into the inner moral being of the man, into the very centre of his personality. The man, the true self, is defiled, not by things external, not by meats or by unwashen hands; these and such like matters have to do only with his bodily frame. Cleanliness is good; it may be next to godliness; there is, as a rule, a certain connection between them; there must be a certain connection between the outward life and the inward, as long as we remain in the flesh. But cleanliness is not godliness; the body may be clean, but the heart within full of all uncleanness. It was so with these Pharisees who blamed the Lord; they took the greatest pains to secure the exactest external cleanness; but the Lord said to them, "Your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness" (Luke 11:39). Let us remember the words of the wise man, "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life." Let us labour for that inner purification of the heart which is granted unto those who walk in the light, whom the blood of Jesus Christ is cleansing from all sin.
1. The Pharisees found fault with our Lord; men will find fault with the holiest of his servants. Remember the eighth Beatitude; be patient.
2. God is our King; he is to be obeyed; not men, when they would draw us from his commandments.
3. Follow those who follow Christ. There are blind guides; let them alone.
4. The pure in heart shall see God; seek earnestly that precious grace of purity.
Departure from the Holy Land.
I. THE JOURNEY NORTHWARDS.
1. The Lord leaves Galilee. He had been teaching there long, perhaps for two years. At first there had been a time of dazzling popularity. The strange dignity of his personality, the Divine authority of his words, the singular originality of his teaching, the pure holiness of his perfect life, his many deeds of love and mercy and power, had drawn multitudes around him. The world was going after him, the Pharisees said; their opposition seemed useless; they prevailed nothing. It seemed as if there would be no failures, no discouragements; but a steady progress, success after success, till he should be raised to the throne of his father David, and reign as the King Messiah with undisputed sway over his people Israel. But it was not to be so; a change was coming. The Lord's popularity had excited the intense hostility of the Pharisees; it threatened their influence, their authority. They conspired against him. They had apparently procured his exclusion from the synagogues of Judaea; they were now driving him from those of Galilee. Their opposition was gathering strength, bitterness, determination. The Lord's followers must not look for popularity; if it comes, they must not be dazzled with it, they must not count on its continuance; it comes and it goes. The multitude are uncertain, fickle; they soon weary of those whom they once admired. Christ, the beloved Master, was sometimes popular, sometimes despised and rejected of men; his servants must be content to share the Master's lot. There must be disappointments and discouragements in pastoral work; this mortal life is full of changes. Let the Christian seek, not success, not human praise, but righteousness and the praise which cometh from God to those who serve him with a single heart.
2. He departs into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. Driven from the Holy Land, he retires to the heathen countries of the north, not for mission work, but for safety, for rest, for quiet intercourse with the twelve. The end of his earthly life was drawing near; he was preparing his disciples to carry on the work; they needed much teaching, much undisturbed communion with the Lord. It was for this purpose, apparently, that our Lord, as St. Mark tells us (Mark 7:24), would have no man know where he was. It is a touching thought that the Lord found more safety in heathen lands than in his own country, among his own people.
II. THE WOMAN OF CANAAN.
1. Her circumstances. She was a Greek, St. Mark tells us, that is, a Gentile; not one of God's chosen people, but a Gentile by birth, and, apparently, by religion. She was a Canaanite, too, living in Phoenicia; she was descended from the ancient enemies of Israel. She had no claim either of kindred or religion.
2. Her trouble. Her young daughter had an unclean spirit; she was grievously vexed with a devil. The mother's heart was full of sorrow for her child. She knew not what to do; probably she had tried such modes of healing as were in vogue among her heathen neighbours—incantations, strange forms of exorcism. All was in vain. But she had heard of Christ; his fame had long ago gone throughout all Syria (Matthew 4:24). Now the great Healer had come into her neighbourhood; she took the opportunity at once; she left her daughter at home; she came out, and sought the Lord.
3. Her interview with Christ.
(1) She found him. She told him of her distress. She had heard something, even in that heathen land, of the Messiah, the Son of David, who was to sit on David's throne; she owned the Lord Jesus to be the long expected King; she cried after him with a loud shrill cry to have mercy on her and to heal her child. Her heart was full of anguish; her mother's love made her daughter's grief her own. "Have mercy on me," she cried. That cry had never before fallen in vain on the ears of the compassionate Redeemer. But now he was strangely silent. He had entered into a house, St. Mark tells us, and would have no man know it. The woman had followed him there. He sat still as if absorbed in meditation too sacred to be interrupted. It was unlike his usual custom. This long silence was distressing to the suppliant, perplexing to the disciples; they could not understand the reason of it. Often the Lord seems silent now when we come to him in earnest prayer; there is no voice, no answer. But we must pray on; he is surely listening, for he heareth prayer. There are reasons, unknown to us, for his silence; reasons full of thoughtful love and holy wisdom. He will answer in his own good time.
(2) The disciples. They interceded for her. "Let her go," they said; as Simeon had said, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart" (the Greek word is the same). They knew that the Lord was not wont to refuse the petitions of those who stood in need of his help; they wished him to grant her prayer at once. But their request was partly selfish, like the action of the unjust judge in the parable. The woman was crying after them; she was interrupting their intercourse with the Lord; she was drawing the attention of the multitude upon them—the very thing which at that time they wished to avoid. How often people give alms now from similar reasons, to escape trouble and importunity, not out of real charity!
(3) The Lord's answer. He did not at once act according to the wish of the disciples. Their intercession was not single hearted; it arose from mingled motives; it did not prevail. "I am not sent," he said, "but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." The Lord's personal mission was to the Jews; he was "a Minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers" (Romans 15:8). He was born in the ancient covenant; he was formally admitted into it by the rite of circumcision. He lived as a Jew; he preached to the Jews. But he himself had prophesied that many should come from the east and from the west, and should sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God. He had other sheep not of that fold; and here was one—one that had been lost—now coming to the good Shepherd, while many, alas! from his own special fold were wandering, and would wander further and further in the wilderness. Trouble brought her to him; trouble is a blessed thing when it brings us to the Lord. He seemed not to notice her; not even when the disciples drew his attention to her cries. It was, we may be sure, out of thoughtful mercy, for her sake and for theirs; for the more confirmation of her faith, and perhaps to prove to the apostles that she was, though a Canaanite, spiritually a child of Abraham; her faith brought her into the family of the father of the faithful. "They which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham."
(4) The woman's perseverance. She came nearer, and worshipped him. He had not as yet answered her a word; she had heard nothing from his lips, except, perhaps, the discouraging reply which he addressed to his disciples; but still she persevered. She threw herself at his feet in the intensity of her longing desire, saying, "Lord, help me." This time the Lord answered her; but, it seemed, with a cold and stern refusal. "It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs." He had never before so repelled a suppliant; he had never before used words apparently so harsh, so contemptuous. But still the Gentile woman persevered in her entreaty. She accepts the truth of the Lord's words. It was right, she owned, that the children should first be filled; it would not be meet to cast their bread to the dogs; and the Gentiles, she admits, were as dogs compared with the chosen people. But she understands the word, in its milder application, of the little dogs (τὰ κυνάρια) which play with the children and lie under the table, not of the wild savage packs which roam about Eastern cities. She is well pleased to be regarded as a little dog, for it gives her a claim to the Master's kindness. The Jews were wayward children; they had rejected the bread of life. The Gentiles would flock round the board. The Jews called them dogs; they would gladly, thankfully receive the bread which the Jews had spurned. She pleaded for her share; she asked only for the crumbs which fell from the table. They were the children's crumbs, she knew; but the children had let them fall. Might not she—no child, but a Gentile; no better, she owned, than a dog—might not she have her portion of those most precious crumbs? It was a beautiful humility, a touching holy perseverance. It was an illustration of the first Beatitude. This Syro-Phoenician woman was poor in spirit; she felt her spiritual poverty, and acknowledged it; and she obtained her share in the blessings of the kingdom of heaven, though not a child of the kingdom. Her prayer is a model for us. So ought we to pray; with the same humility, feeling and owning our own utter unworthiness; with the same importunity, urging our request in earnest continual supplication, though the Lord be silent and seem to heed us not. Sooner or later, ha always answers the prayer of faith. He answered now. "O woman," he said, "great is thy faith!" The Lord admired the faith of this Canaanite woman, as he had marvelled at the faith of the Gentile centurion. Sometimes those who have the fewest privileges, few opportunities, little knowledge, are nevertheless rich in faith, and live very near to Christ. Such shall receive the blessing of this Gentile woman, "Be it unto thee even as thou wilt." For the Christian's prayer is, "Thy will be done." He yields up his will to God's most holy will; and thus, willing such things as God willeth, he obtains his requests; for "all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." And now the mother's heart was glad; her child was healed. The Lord was distant in body, but his saving energy was present, as it is present now wherever men call on him in faithful prayer. He has taught us by his holy apostle to make prayers and supplications, and to give thanks for all men. Let us try to fulfil this great duty of intercessory prayer. Let ministers pray for their people, parents for their children, all Christians for one another. Let parents pray earnestly, perseveringly, for erring children. "It is impossible," it was said to the mother of St. Augustine, "that the child of so many tears should perish."
1. Do not value too highly the external signs of success; think more of duty than success.
2. "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint."
3. Be humble; to such God giveth grace.
I. THE JOURNEY.
1. The Lord leaves the borders of Tyre. He had sojourned for a short time in this heathen land. He had wrought one mighty miracle; one heathen woman had shown a strangely energetic and persevering faith—a faith that we Christians may well covet earnestly. Surely some heathen souls—two at least, one would think—must have been drawn to Christ and to salvation by that work of love and power. They may, perhaps, have been among the little company who, thirty years afterwards, "kneeled down on the shore, and prayed," when St. Paul left Tyre on his last journey to Jerusalem. But the borders of Tyre were not to be the scene of the Lord's personal labours. He departed, going northwards at first through Sidon. He looked on the great Phoenician cities, with their commerce, their magnificence, their idolatries. So now from heaven he looks down on our great towns, with their strange sharp contrasts of wealth and poverty, luxury and misery, with their unbelief and heathenism, with their drunkenness and uncleanness. His followers were to labour afterwards in those great centres of population. His own work lay not there.
2. He comes to the Sea of Galilee. He turned southeastwards, and came through the half-heathen Decapolis to the eastern coast of the well known lake. He went up into a mountain and sat down there, perhaps for prayer and meditation, perhaps for quiet intercourse with the twelve. But again he could not be hid; the healing of the deaf man who had an impediment in his speech (Mark 7:32-37) was soon noised abroad. Great multitudes came; they were rough, ignorant mountaineers, inhabiting a semi-pagan country; but they saw the works of Christ; they recgonized his power and love. They brought the sick and suffering from all the neighbourhood, and cast them down at Jesus' feet. We do not read of any words—they knew not how to pray; but in their intense eagerness and excitement they cast down their suffering friends before the Lord. The action was enough. The sick lay around him; their reverential attitude, their mute distress, pleaded with the compassionate Saviour; he healed them all.
3. The wonder of the multitude. These peasants of Decapolis were men of simple hearts; they had not been prejudiced against our Lord by the emissaries of the Pharisees; they saw the Lord's power, and they wondered. But they did more than wonder; they glorified the God of Israel. Possibly they had worshipped other gods; but it was the Prophet of the God of Israel who had wrought these marvellous cures; they recognized his majesty, as Naaman the Syrian had done ages before. It is a lesson to us. God's mercies should lead us on to adoration. Worship is what we owe to God, and worship is the prostration of the whole being, bowed low in adoring reverence before the glory of God. May the mercies of each day lead us to practise here on earth that holy unselfish worship which we hope hereafter to offer before the glory throne!
II. THE SECOND MIRACLE OF THE LOAVES.
1. The Lord's words. The disciples made no suggestion now, as they had done before under similar circumstances (Matthew 14:15). Their confidence in their Master was increasing; their reverence was deepening; they felt, it may be, that patient waiting was their most becoming attitude; it was not their place to offer advice. But he called them; he would teach them, and us through them, to care for the bodily wants of our fellow creatures. "I have compassion on the multitude." "These words," Stier well says, "in the mouth and from the heart of Christ, have called into existence all the institutions of philanthropy, unknown to heathenism, for all sorts of indigence and distress." The people were hungry; some of them (the Lord knew, as he knoweth all things) had come from far; they had continued with him three days. Their deep interest in the Lord's teaching, their wonder at his miracles, had so absorbed their thoughts that they had made no provision for their necessities, and their food was exhausted. Probably they were strangers from Decapolis; very possibly they had not heard of the feeding of the five thousand, who seem to have been gathered together on their way to the Passover. But these ignorant country people forgot themselves in attending upon the Lord. He cared for them. So he will care for us if we continue in his service, casting all our care on him.
2. The disciples. They must have remembered the former miracle; their question, indeed, as reported by St. Matthew, sounds almost like an allusion to it: "Whence should we have so much bread?" The Lord's words seemed to imply that they were to provide the food; whence should they obtain it? He could supply it—that they knew; they knew not yet certainly whether it would please him to do as he had done before; they did not presume to prescribe his course of action. Their stock of provisions was very small, somewhat larger than on the former occasion, but utterly inadequate for the wants of such a multitude.
3. The miracle. Again the Lord gave thanks, teaching us that we should never omit to acknowledge the bounty of God at every meal; again he brake the bread in that gracious manner so long and so well remembered (Luke 24:35); again the disciples were his ministers in conveying the food to the assembled crowds. "And they did all eat, and were filled." The seven loaves and the few little fishes satisfied the hunger of four thousand men. The evangelist reminds us that, though the men only were numbered, there were women and children also. The Lord provided liberally for all alike. In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female. Christianity has raised woman to her proper place in society. The Lord always loved the little children; he bade them come to him. He fed the whole multitude in his sovereign power and generous bounty, as now from day to day he feedeth us, fathers, mothers, children. "He satisfied them with the bread of heaven." There was enough, and more than enough; the disciples took up seven baskets full (and those baskets of large size; compare in the Greek, Acts 9:25)—more, apparently, than the little store which they had at first. So he will bless our basket and our store if we trust in him.
1. The multitudes brought their sick to Christ; let us commend our sick in faithful prayer to the mercy of the Lord.
2. They glorified the God of Israel; let us learn always to recognize his gracious hand, and to adore him who giveth all things.
3. He had compassion on the multitude; let us learn of him to feel for the needy and helpless.
4. Let us look to him for our daily bread; the Lord will provide.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
Matthew 15:2, Matthew 15:3
The mischief of tradition.
I. TRADITION COMES FROM AN INEXPERIENCED ANTIQUITY. The Pharisees and scribes showed reverence for it because it descended from the elders; but these elders were only men. It is common to attach the greatest weight to the oldest opinion. Yet it is not correct to look for wisdom in antiquity; because, as Bacon reminds us, we are the ancients, and they who lived before us belonged to the childhood of the race. Under the Divine education of man wisdom should be growing with the ages. We look back with amazement on a multitude of fantastic notions cherished by our forefathers which have become ridiculous in our eyes. There is one thought, however, to be set off against this. Ideas that have stood the test of time win a certain guarantee of their solidity in comparison with raw notions suddenly springing from the imagination of a new thinker. But that is only the case when those ideas are being constantly tested by experience and criticism; and it does not apply after tradition has become petrified and has attained the rank of a venerated idol
II. TRADITION IS MARKED BY HUMAN IMPERFECTION. The enemies of Christ greeted the elders with reverence; but our Lord replied by calling attention to a greater authority. They had honoured the elders, but they had dishonoured God. The tradition of the elders may deserve some reverence, but it cannot be compared with the commandment of God. Yet it was being preferred to that commandment. Tradition sometimes claims to be of Divine origin, handed down in the Church from the time of the apostles in a line of authorized teachers. If its claim could be proved, of course it would have an apostolic authority; but even then how could it be of superior value to the immediate utterances of the apostles recorded in the Scriptures? We have no warrant for believing, as the Gnostics taught, that an esoteric teaching of supreme importance has been thus handed down. The extravagant pretensions of Romanism, founded on the authority of tradition, which the Council of Trent declared to be of equal value with that of Scripture, warn us against the danger of trusting similar claims again.
III. TRADITION MAY BECOME AN EXCUSE FOR UNFAITHFULNESS TO DIVINE REVELATION. Thus it was with the Jews. The revelation they treated with contempt was that of the moral law. Parental claims were eluded on the plea of traditional usages. Nothing short of horrible hypocrisy was here practised. The plea that what was due to a needy parent could not be given because it had been already consecrated to God was quite false, inasmuch as the pretended consecration did not prevent the unnatural son from enjoying it himself. Thus tradition was a means of relaxing moral claims. The tendency to trust in tradition in the Christian Church has been sometimes associated with a casuistical treatment of simple obligations. The reason of this seems to be that while God's commandments are "exceeding broad" (Psalms 119:96), man's additions to them are dreadfully narrow. Thus tradition slides down to petty contrivances, and wastes its resources in miserable scruples. Christ would warn us to escape from the lowering and narrowing influence of this system of man's invention, by turning to the large, living, eternal, spiritual truth of the kingdom as he has revealed it to us.—W.F.A.
The source of defilement.
The religious people in the time of Christ were right in being anxious to avoid defilement, but they made a great mistake in their idea as to its source, and therefore they went wrong in their notions of the evil thing itself.
I. THE AWAKENED CONSCIENCE DESIRES TO BE FREE FROM DEFILEMENT.
1. On its own account. Children who have been brought up in the gutter have no idea of cleanliness and no desire for it; and souls that have habitually wallowed in filth do not perceive their own degradation until a new and better influence has been brought to bear upon them. Nevertheless, man, made in the image of God, cannot attain his true end while the Divine image is corrupted and befouled, and when a gleam of his better nature awakes he longs to be pure. The cultivation of the spiritual life brings a horror of defilement. For its own sake the soul then longs to be clean.
2. Because of the effects of defilement.
(1) Shame. The first perception of defilement seen side by side with purity sends a shock of shame through the awakened soul.
(2) Banishment from God. Without holiness no one can see God. Nothing unclean can enter heaven, i.e. the presence of God (Revelation 21:27).
(3) Blindness. The defiled soul is dark; it cannot perceive spiritual truth.
II. THE PERVERTED CONSCIENCE MISTAKES THE SOURCE OF DEFILEMENT. The root error of the Pharisees was externalism. The prim propriety of demeanour which characterized the professional saints of Jerusalem covered hearts as corrupt as any of the publicans' and sinners'. Yet the Pharisees thought themselves clean. They dreaded contact with a corpse, but they had little scruple in entertaining a corrupt thought. They would stop their ears at the sound of blasphemy, but they would give the reins to their tongues in malignant words. The evil of Pharisaism is by no means extinct today. Religious people dread to be found in association with questionable characters. They are anxious to be perfectly correct in the external observances of worship. They do not go to the extreme of the folly of the Pharisees, but they too often manifest the same spirit.
III. THE ENLIGHTENED CONSCIENCE PERCEIVES THE TRUE SOURCE OF DEFILEMENT WITHIN ITSELF. It is part of the work of Christ to arouse and guide the consciences of men. Thus he shows us that the real origin of defilement is in our own hearts. A black fountain will always pour out a black flood, do what we may to cleanse the stream; on the other hand, a spring of pure water will quickly wash away any casual defilement that falls into it. A man is not his environment. It is dangerous to be in the midst of corrupting influences; and yet a bed of lilies may grow out of foulest mire. A herd of swine will not be converted into a troupe of pure virgins by entering temple; they will only convert the sanctuary into a sty. The corruption of a bad heart will be detected in language and conduct. When these are unworthy they will reflect shame on the debased heart from which they come. It is the great lesson of Christ, needed much in our own day, that as the root of all evil in the world is the evil heart of man, the only radical cleansing must be that which washes the heart. We must have done with the superficial treatment of mere appearances. Christ's method is to renew the life within.—W.F.A.
"Blind leaders of the blind."
This is a startling image, vividly suggesting to our minds a most deplorable condition of society. While it was especially true of the official teachers of Israel in our Lord's time, it has never ceased to have an application to somewhat similar men. It may be applied to heathen priests, to the benighted leaders of superstition in mediaeval Europe, and, alas! to many in Christendom today who essay to guide others though they themselves cannot see the way of life.
I. THE BLIND LOOK FOR LEADERS. The consciousness of inability and the confession of it may not be recognized by superficial observers, because a certain surface pride tries to veil the deep diffidence and the yearning hunger for guidance that really inhabit the souls of men. The blindness of the multitudes that "knew not the Law" was but a shadow of the blindness of mankind generally. Ignorant of God, unable to comprehend itself, lost in the wilderness of thought, the mind of man seems to be eyeless, or at best dim-sighted and confused in its attempt to grasp spiritual truth.
II. THE BLIND MAY BE DECEIVED IN THEIR LEADERS. Their very blindness puts them under a disadvantage in judging of the worth of those who offer to guide them. Sounding words are no proofs of clear vision. Yet too often teachers have been accepted on their own terms and accredited by their self-assertions. Nevertheless, when one who sees arrives, it is possible for him and others to detect a mistake. The common people who heard Jesus gladly quickly perceived that his teaching had an authority which that of the scribes lacked.
III. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE LEADERS OF THE BLIND IS MOST SERIOUS. They are trusted men, and in proportion to their acceptance of confidence will be their responsibility. If they fail to carry out their promises their charges will suffer. But they too will fall into trouble. Men cannot guide others wrongly without going wrong themselves. Their fatal mistake is to pretend to be leaders of souls while they themselves are benighted, for it is possible to refuse the responsible function and to take the lower and humbler place of the blind who need guidance.
IV. IT IS MOST IMPORTANT THAT RELIGIOUS TEACHERS SHOULD KNOW THE TRUTH THEY ARE CALLED UPON TO TEACH. This idea is so obvious that it seems to be a waste of words to state it. Yet it is constantly ignored.
1. Special training is needed. In the present day the air is laden with questions concerning the foundations of the faith, and no one is fit to be a teacher of others who is not prepared to meet those questions. Though some of them may not be readily answered, at least the teacher must know how to give some guidance to the inquirer in his perplexity.
2. Divine light is needed. It is not enough for the teacher to have been trained in theological studies. These may have left him in a midnight darkness; and they will do so if he has not opened his soul to the light of God.
V. THE ONLY SAFE GUIDE IS JESUS CHRIST. He has clear vision, and he leads surely through all difficulties. We lean on the teaching of ignorant men when we might go straight to the teaching of Christ. With the Light of the world shining upon our path, we should be able to see, and yet this will not be possible if we are blind. Now, it is the great work of Christ not merely to guide the blind, but to give them sight, so that they may see their way and follow him by their own vision of truth.—W.F.A.
The triumph of a mother's love.
Jesus was beyond the borders of Palestine, on heathen soil. He had not extended his travels in order to carry his ministry to the heathen; but he was in retirement. He had left Galilee because the Galilaeans were in a restless state—many of them perplexed by his teaching and turning from him, and also because the official teachers were seriously impeding his work. After this our Lord never resumed his old open ministry by the seashore and on the hillside. Yet even during his retirement he could not resist the pleadings of a mother's love.
I. THE CONDUCT OF THE MOTHER. The vivid picture given to us by the evangelist sets before us a very remarkable character. Let us observe some of its most interesting features.
1. Devoted love. A mother is just absorbed in her devotion to her poor daughter. As is often seen, the very affliction of the child the more endears her to the mother. A mother's love is no mere sentiment, and it is not satisfied to expend itself in idle tears. It inspires a keen and energetic interest. The mother is lifted above her people, and is carried forward to attempt what others never thought of, because her love will not permit her to give up her hope and her effort.
2. Rare faith.
(1) The woman was a heathen. Yet, like the centurion of Capernaum, she had a faith greater than that of any Jew or Jewess. Thus, although our Lord's immediate ministry is to Israel, it is manifest, even while this is being carried out, that other peoples must share its benefits.
(2) She recognized the Messiahship of Christ. Though a heathen, she had learnt to share the hope of Israel. In the time of his exile, depression, and disappointment, she did not fail to recognize the very Christ of God.
3. Unyielding persistency. The wonder is that this woman would take no refusal; and yet shall we call it a wonder at all when we remember that she was a mother? Here is the greatest instance in all history of the victory of persevering prayer.
4. Quick inventiveness. Jesus was a Master of the fine art of repartee; but for once he gladly allows that his words are perfectly met and replied to, and he generously leaves the last word with his applicant, in this word there is a full admission of all Christ said, and no departure from perfect humility, and yet there is a brilliant shaft of wit as modest as it is effective. There is room for the quick intellect in the kingdom of heaven.
II. THE BEHAVIOUR OF CHRIST. On the surface this is mysterious and apparently ungenerous; but a fair consideration of the whole narrative will not leave any ground of complaint against it.
1. A true statement. The mission of Christ was to the Jews. This was a fact not to be gainsaid. Though he came for the salvation of the world, his method was to begin with Israel and to confine his personal labours on earth to the people who were to be his instrument for saving others.
2. A test of faith. Our Lord's discouragement of the applicant would have been unkind if she had been a weak and timorous person. But with his keen intuition of character he could see at a glance that she was a woman of courage and confidence. It was an acknowledgment of her good qualities that permitted the severe test to be applied to her.
3. A final blessing. In the end this eager mother got all she sought after, and therefore she had no complaint against Christ, but, on the contrary, good ground for thankfulness. Jesus Christ does not refuse any true applicant for his grace. He may seem to discourage at first, but in the end faith is always rewarded.—W.F.A.
The healing ministry.
After his retirement to the north, Jesus seems to have returned for a short time to the scenes of his earlier labours in Galilee. His open public ministry had almost ceased, and his miracles were now for the most part rare, and only performed in response to some special appeal. But we have here one last occasion of widespread healing, crowning the public beneficence of Christ's earthly life.
I. OUR LORD'S PURPOSE. He went up the well known mountain where he had taught the people during his earlier ministry, and there he seated himself in preparation for further teaching. This was his aim, as the deliberate sitting down implied. But this was not what the people wanted; they were anxious for bodily healing. Now, we do not find that Jesus discouraged applications for the cure of sickness; he encouraged them by his generous response. Nevertheless, it must have been painful for him to see how much more anxious the people were to receive earthly blessings than to secure those higher spiritual blessings which it was the great end of his life work to bestow. He is always thinking first of the kingdom of God, and only adding the other things to it as secondary boons. His true disciples should learn a sense of proportion, and seek first what Christ is most anxious to bestow.
II. THE PEOPLE'S TROUBLE.
1. Great bodily distress. It is noteworthy that all the cases here specified represent diseases or defects in some bodily organ. They are not like the instances of fever, leprosy, or general paralysis that we have met with earlier. It would seem that these cases would be difficult to treat.
2. Variety of need. Though a certain common character belongs to all these cases, they still differ from one another very considerably. Yet they are all brought to Christ. He is not a specialist able only to treat one class of complaints. He welcomes and helps people whose needs are infinitely various.
3. Brotherly sympathy. The people brought their afflicted friends, leading the blind and carrying the lame up the steep, broken mountain path. It was the Christ spirit that helped these poor sufferers to Christ. There is room for largo mutual helpfulness in the kingdom of heaven. If we cannot save our brothers, we can bring them to the Saviour.
III. OUR LORD'S GRACE. The response was ready and sufficient. It is stated in few words, "And he healed them;" yet this is enough. The very laconic phrase shows that there were no qualifications, limitations, exceptions.
1. Healing. This was the chief miracle work of Christ. It was the symbol of his spiritual ministry (Luke 4:18). He comes to give eyes to the soul, and the hearing of Divine voices, and strength for the service of God.
2. Feeding. This is recorded in the following paragraph. Some needed healing; all needed feeding. Now, Christ, who cures sick souls, also nourishes healthy souls with the bread of life. They who bring others to Christ are themselves blessed by Christ.
IV. THE PEOPLE'S JOY. It is occasioned by the wonderful sight of the results of Christ's miracle working. Christ is honoured by what he does in the world now. We can see his spiritual miracles, and they are his best credentials. The effect on the people was twofold.
1. Amazement. "The multitude wondered." Yet they had come to seek these very boons! The sight of the reality was greater than the previous hope. Christ is truly named "Wonderful" (Isaiah 9:6).
2. Praise. The people saw the hand of God in this, and a spontaneous outburst of praise followed. Thus the work of Christ glorifies the Name of God.—W.F.A.
HOMILIES BY MARCUS DODS
On hand washing.
The omission with which the Pharisees here charge the disciples was that of a ceremonial observance on which they laid immense stress. Certain washings for purification had been commanded by the Law of Moses, but to these countless additions of a minute and vexatious kind had been added by the rabbis. Even when no defilement had been consciously contracted, the washings must be observed because, unwittingly, a man might touch what would defile him. Wherever in religion such human inventions are accepted as binding, they tend to become more prominent than the fundamental moral law. It was so in this case, and it is to this our Lord's words point. "By your tradition," he says, "ye make the Word of God of none effect. You put aside his commandment that you may keep your own tradition. You accept as the important things such trifles as these, while the truly great things of the Law you utterly neglect." But the evil of Pharisaism lay even deeper than this. The Pharisees were not mere formalists; those of Paul's type could honestly say that, touching the Law, they were blameless. Their mistake was that they thought their good actions made them good men. Our Lord came to give men clear perception and hold of the real distinction between good and evil. Men were not to be allowed to suppose the distinction between good men and bad was a slight one, that could be bridged over by a few acquired habits or formal observances. They were to be made to see that the distinction was deep as humanity itself; that their goodness must be one that would be eternal; not being the result of a superficial imitation, or attempt to satisfy the expectations or win the applause of men, but springing from the man's inmost self. To illustrate the principle that respect to human tradition tends to disrespect of God's Law, our Lord cites an instance well known to them. Under the guise of extra devotion to God, a man could evade the first of human duties by merely saying over anything he wished to keep, "Corban"—"It is devoted." This was monstrous, and the system which encouraged it manifestly "a plant which his Father had not planted." The principle which lies at the root of our Lord's teaching here he enounces in the words, "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 a man." We may apply this in two ways.
1. To those who, under the guise of greater religiousness than that of other men, evade the common duties of life; who, in defending some trifle that hangs to the skirt of religion, do not scruple to transgress the broad laws of justice, truth, and charity which form its life. Every age has had its representatives of the Pharisees, the defenders of traditional religion, who have shown the same unscrupulousness and intolerance in defence of what they suppose to be religious truth. And when we consider the damage done to religion by such persons, and the difficulty of convincing them of their error, we do not wonder that no class was so frequently and so unsparingly denounced by our Lord. In every religious community there is a tendency to place the keeping of certain observances that are added to the Law above the Law itself; to consider these extra things as the marks of a religious man, and to call a man religious or irreligious according as he does or does not things that have as little to do with fundamental morality as the washing of hands before eating. We are apt, all of us, to pay attention to the means rather than to what is the great end of all religion; to wash our hands instead of our hearts. "These things ye ought to have done, but not to have left the others undone." All these things that are peculiar marks of religious people are good, but become enormous evils when out of proportion to the essential matters of the Law—of morality, of justice and truth between man and man, of love to God and to our fellows. Or:
2. We may consider the principle as enouncing the general truth that man's life is determined in all respects by what is within, not by what is without. Our Lord was sinless, not because he was not in circumstances of temptation, but because there was nothing on which temptation could fix. We lay the blame of our low spiritual condition, our actual fails, on our circumstances. But why is it these circumstances tempt us? Others pass through them without peril. The blame is within. We must seek for the remedy, also, within. The change that determines our destiny is a change in ourselves.—D.
The Syro-Phoenician woman.
The peculiarity of the incident here related is not the cure wrought, but the refusal with which the mother's petition was at first met. It did not need a sympathy such as our Lord's to urge him to dismiss this foul intrusion into the innocent and happy days of childhood; it did not need his hatred of evil to urge him to rebuke the Satanic malice, which could exult in attacking, not the aged sinner, but the pure child who knew nothing of the sources of disease and had no arguments to resist its terror. Who would not count it one of the best pleasures to be able to bring a suffering child from pain and terror to the sane and healthy joy of childhood? But our Lord answered never a word, and when urged to speak, his speech was more discouraging than silence. What is it, then, which justifies this conduct? It may have been his meaning from the first to grant the petition, and he put the difficulties in a harsh form that the woman might apprehend the value of what she asked. But what were the difficulties? His own reason was that he was not sent to any but Israelites. He sent his apostles to every creature, but his own ministry was confined to Israel. This people had been the object of a constant enriching care fur many generations, that at length the Messiah might come to them and through them bless the world; and to act in the end as if this made no difference would have been for God to stultify himself. It is only after the distinction between Jew and Gentile has been cordially accepted by the woman that her request is granted. In humbly and faithfully taking her place among the dogs, she took her place among the children of faithful Abraham. She had the faith which was the best possession of the Jew, and for the sake of which all their training had been given. Observe—
I. HER HUMILITY. Radically it was her humility which made her victorious. Quick in intellect and brilliant; resolute, capable, and even audacious, in obtaining what she set her heart on, she was yet humble. She was of the meek who inherit the earth.
II. IT WAS HER FAITH TO WHICH OUR LORD DREW ATTENTION. This woman alone was victorious over him in debate; but it is not her cleverness, but her faith, which delighted him when she snared him in his own words—her faith in his inability to refuse to do a kindness, and in his God-given power to do it.
III. WE SOMETIMES, LIKE THIS WOMAN, ASK GOD FOR SOMETHING WHICH HE MIGHT. TELL US IN THE FIRST INSTANCE IT WAS NOT LAWFUL FOR HIM TO DO. We break some natural law, physical or moral, and, broken hearted at the consequences, we cry to God. But he answers us never a word; there is no sign that we have spoken. We feel that we are receiving the wages of sin. Gradually and painfully and with deep humility we accept the position we have brought ourselves into, and learn to say, "It is better I should learn the rigour of this perfect and holy order of things than that I should at once have all I ask for."
IV. BEGINNING WITH THIS WOMAN BY LEARNING HOW LITTLE CLAIM WE HAVE, WE MUST WITH HER HOLD TO CHRIST TILL HE GIVES US ALL WE NEED. Can you have such reason to think you are not among Christ's people as this woman had? Did he not plainly tell her that he was not sent to her, and yet in the end yield all to her? You will find that by submitting yourself humbly to the laws you have broken, and to him whose laws they are, you do pass into a new condition, and other laws begin to work in your favour.
V. PARENTS MUST BE ENCOURAGED BY THE SUCCESS OF THIS MOTHER'S INTERCESSION. You may be able to make nothing of your child that strangely perplexes you by his conduct, but Christ can make something of him.
In conclusion, have you sufficiently considered the blessedness of succeeding with Christ, of getting from him what you desire? He assures you that importunate prayer prevails. Whatever great trouble, he bids you come to him. He knows human life well, and does not underrate its difficulty. He assures you he can help you. He asks for no certificate of character. If you feel no want he can relieve, is not this itself a reason for seeking him; a proof that you are benumbed in spirit, and need the life he offers?—D.
Feeding of the four thousand.
Matthew puts side by side with miracles of healing this miracle of feeding the four thousand, as if inviting us to read them in the light they reflect upon each other.
1. The first point of contrast is that, while the healing originated in the desire of the multitude who sought our Lord's help, the feeding originated with him, he being the first to notice the faint looks of many of the people. It were much to receive at Christ's hand all we ask for; but, in fact, we receive a great deal more. This miracle is a concrete proof that God knows what we have need of before we ask him, and that the Creator cares for his creature with a tenderness and sympathy which no human relationship rivals.
2. As the one class of miracles exhibits Christ's power to cure, the other reveals his power to prevent, human suffering. As it is a lowered vitality that gives disease its opportunity, so the only preservative against any form of sin is a strong spiritual life. Perhaps the gospel has come to be looked on too exclusively as a remedial scheme, and too little as the means of maintaining a healthy condition of spirit. It is men who have thirsted for righteousness all their lives who have served their generation best; and while we should not do less for the reclamation of the abandoned, we should rectify the balance by doing more to preserve the young from the misery of a wasted life. For every one our Lord healed, he fed ten. He presents himself not only and always as Medicine, but also as Food—as the Bread that nourishes true and eternal life. Bread a fit symbol, as showing—
I. THE UNIVERSAL NEED OF CHRIST AND HIS APPLICABILITY TO ALL. From the first God saw that so surely as we should all hunger and need bread, so surely should we need Christ if our souls were to live. In all that Christ calls us to, he is not putting a strain on our natures, but simply recalling us to that condition in which alone we can live with the ease and comfort of health, and in which alone we can finally and permanently delight.
II. CHRIST GIVES LIFE TO THE WORLD THROUGH HIS DISCIPLES. He distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down. It is a very grave truth that every one of us who has himself received spiritual life from Christ has thereby in possession what may give life to many human souls. We may give or withhold, but it is given not only to be consumed, but to be distributed. It is not the privilege of any one class of disciples, but of all.
III. FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST AS THE SOURCE OF LIFE IS REQUISITE BOTH FOR RECEIVING AND IMPARTING SPIRITUAL LIFE. That bread was offered was nothing; each man must use it for himself. Had any scoffed at the idea of our Lord's feeding the multitude with the few loaves he had before him, or refused to believe that bread so produced could have any nourishment in it, they must have remained unfed and faint. And it must have been trying to the disciples to do as they were bid, and advance each man to his separate hundred with his morsel of bread. But if they gave cautiously and sparingly to the first, they must soon have felt rebuked and their hearts enlarged. However slender our attainments or our power of influencing others, let us not be afraid of attempting to nourish some other soul; it is not what we have, but what Christ makes of it, that is to do good.
IV. CONSIDER THE ABUNDANCE AND THE ECONOMY OF CHRIST'S PROVIDING. Many might have despised to gather up the broken bread and bits of fish; have thought they must be hungry indeed who would use such food. Yes, and it is only the hungry soul God promises to satisfy. His food is plain, but it is nutritious, and they who must have fresh food or will take none will be disappointed.
V. THE CHARACTER IN WHICH CHRIST HERE APPEARS IS ONE WHICH WE MAY REMEMBER ALWAYS. Now, as then, he is considerate of our wants, mindful of our infirmities, quick to calculate our worldly prospects, and provide for us; simple, practical, earnest in his love. In his presence none need lack any good thing. "Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness."—D.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
The fame of the miracles and ministry of Jesus passed from Galilee to Jerusalem, whence came certain Pharisees and scribes, who were probably sent to watch him, and find matter of accusation against him (cf. Matthew 22:15, Matthew 22:16). "Jerusalem—the high school of hypocrisy. Rabbi Nathan says, 'If the hypocrites were divided into ten parts, nine would be found in Jerusalem, and one in the world beside'" (Stier). These zealots set up the traditions of the elders against the character and claims of Jesus. Their accusation is contained in the question, "Why do thy disciples," etc. 7 (Matthew 15:2). The reply takes the form of a retort, an admonition, and an exposition; the former being hurled at the accusers, and the latter given for the edification of disciples and the people.
I. THE RETORT. "Why do ye transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?"
1. The appeal was followed up by an example.
(1) The instance cited is their violation of the fifth commandment. This enjoined, under the terra "honour," a dutiful respect to parents in taking care of and supporting them (cf. Proverbs 3:9; Numbers 23:17; 1 Timothy 5:3, 1 Timothy 5:17). The neglect of parents is included under the expression cursing them, and was, according to the Law, a crime so heinous as to be punishable with death (cf. Matthew 15:4; Exodus 21:17). Let our youth remember this.
(2) Under pretext of zeal for God the casuists managed to release themselves from this obligation. The device was to make a vow to devote to the temple treasury that which their parents might otherwise claim from them. In this wickedness they sheltered themselves under the authority of their traditions, and thus made void the Law of God.
2. This was a triumphant defence of the disciples.
(1) It showed that the traditions in question were vicious, and therefore that no blame could justly be laid to the account of the disciples for disregarding them. It showed that they were, on the contrary, to be commended for protesting against them. If this was the worst thing alleged against them, they must have conducted themselves inoffensively.
(2) It was all the more incumbent upon the disciples to protest, since the Jewish doctors affirmed that the matter of their traditions had been originally delivered by God himself to Moses, and from him orally transmitted; that they are more excellent than, and consequently of superior obligation to, the Law itself.
(3) Note: The Council of Trent claims for the Romish traditions that "they are to be held with the same pious affection and reverence" as the Holy Scriptures. Brooks compares this addition of tradition to Scripture to putting paint upon a diamond. Luther likens the interpretation of Scripture by tradition to the straining of milk through a coal sack.
3. It was a heavy impeachment of the accusers.
(1) It put them to the worse. Whether or not the disciples had transgressed, their accusers are accused of being the chief transgressors. Those who have the beam in their own eye are not the persons to take the mote out of their brother's eye. Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. The Pharisees of every religious community take more pleasure in blaming others than in amending themselves.
(2) It branded them as hypocrites. What else are they who, under pretence of zeal for God, transgress his holy Law? They honoured him with the lip while their heart was far from him. Their heartless worship was "vain"—such as God could not approve. What vanity there is in the major portion of the religion of every age and clime (see James 1:26)!
II. THE ADMONITION. This was addressed to the disciples. "Then came the disciples," etc. (Matthew 15:12-14).
1. The doom of the hypocrite is declared.
(1) They were offended at the truth. This was obvious to the disciples. Their pride was mortified. They were silenced. They had no reply. They nursed their wrath. Plain speaking never fails to offend the sinner who is unwilling to repent.
(2) They were blinded by the light. Their blindness was not involuntary ignorance, but voluntary error. They shut their eyes against the Light of the world, and were in consequence judicially blinded. So it fell out according to the prediction in Isaiah (see context in the prophet, Isaiah 29:14).
(3) They were doomed to be rooted out of the Church of God. He would not own them as his planting (cf. Isaiah 41:19; John 15:2). The sect of the Pharisees did not survive the destruction of Jerusalem. Every spurious plant will be rooted out of the Church in the judgment of the great day (see Matthew 13:30).
(4) Their membership will be transferred to the Church of the devil. The blind guides will fall into a pit (see John 9:40; Romans 2:19, Romans 2:20). The well in the figure represents Gehenna. The pit of falsehood is the prelude to the pit of perdition.
2. Their dupes will share their doom.
(1) So it proved. The blinded nation were led on to crucify their King, and to blaspheme the Holy Ghost, and were, together with their guides, rooted out by the Romans (cf. Jeremiah 14:15, Jeremiah 14:16; Jeremiah 20:6). "How many men have ruined their estates by suretyship for others! But of all suretyship none is so dangerous as spiritual suretyship. He that pins his faith upon another man's sleeve knows not whither he will carry it" (Flavel).
(2) The crime and consequences of illegal impositions will be charged upon those who maintain as well as upon those who invent them (see Micah 6:16). God suffers one man to lead many to ruin.
(a) A rich profligate.
(b) An infidel.
(c) A man of learning.
(d) A politician.
(e) A teacher of heresy or of levity.
"If both fall together into the ditch, the blind leaders will fall undermost, and have the worst of it" (Henry). But that will be slender comfort to the sufferers in the crush that will follow.
(3) The moral, then, is, "Let them alone." Avoid false teachers. Have no communion with them. A literal attention to these words of Christ produced the Reformation (see Hosea 4:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:14, 1 Thessalonians 2:15). Be not satisfied with attending a place of worship. See that the teaching is of God (cf. 1 John 4:1). None but the blind will submit to be led by the blind.
III. THE EXPOSITION. This was given alike to the disciples and the people (verses 10, 11, 15-20).
1. It distinguishes between Moses and the elders.
(1) The traditions were human. "The precepts of men," not to be confounded with the "doctrines" of God. Moses made a distinction in meats—the clean and unclean—but prescribed nothing respecting the eating with unwashen hands. This was a refinement of the elders. The ground of it was the possibility of the hands having touched something that might communicate legal uncleanness, and the contention that, since the Jews, like other Orientals, made great use of their fingers in eating, the uncleanness would be communicated to the food; then the food, taken into the system and assimilated, would defile the whole body. Hence such precepts as this of the Rabbi Akiba: "He that takes meat with unwashen hands is worthy of death."
(2) With these refinements the disciples had no sympathy. They rejected the casuistry that would make void the law of the fifth commandment. They did not scruple to eat with unwashen hands.
(3) But the multitude still needed enlightenment on this point. And how many nowadays scruple to communicate with unwashed hands, but scruple not to communicate with unwashed consciences! (Quesnel).
2. It distinguishes between the letter and the spirit of the Law.
(1) In the letter those who ate of unclean meat were unclean; but then the uncleanness was that of the meat; not moral, but ceremonial. Moreover, the Mosaic distinction of meats was not instituted for its own sake, but to point out the distinction between morn/ good and evil. Hence, when the ceremonial law ceased to serve this purpose, it became useless.
(2) These principles were now enunciated by Christ, and so commenced that spiritual teaching respecting the war between the flesh and Spirit unfolded in the writings of Paul (cf. Romans 7:18, Romans 7:19; Romans 8:1, Romans 8:2; Galatians 5:16-21).
(3) This was what Peter could not understand when he "answered and said, Declare unto us this parable" (verse 15). He could scarcely believe his ears that a distinction in meats, in the abstract, availed nothing. His prejudices darkened his understanding; nor were they dispersed until nine years later, when he received the vision of the sheet (see Acts 10:15, Acts 10:28).
(4) The spirit of the Law, then, is the all-important matter. Not that which goeth into the mouth, but that which cometh out of the heart. In religion the heart is everything. Religion is the union of the heart with God. The teaching of Christ here
(a) recognizes original sin. "Temptations and occasions put nothing into a man, but only draw out what is in him before" (Dr. Owen).
(b) Before evil becomes sin it must have the sanction of the understanding (see 1 John 3:4).—J.A.M.
So the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman is described by the Lord. The elements of that great faith are evident in the narrative.
I. GREAT FAITH IS CLEAR SIGHTED.
1. In the discernment of evil.
(1) This woman saw that her daughter was possessed of a devil; that her faculties were under the power of an evil spirit. Her eyes were not blinded by maternal partiality. She clearly apprehended the terrible fact. Do Christian parents ever fail to discern that their unchristian children are vexed in spirit with a proud devil, an unclean devil, a malicious devil?
(2) She saw that her daughter was "grievously vexed." The demon, in this case, was of extraordinary malignity. Note: As in evil men, so in devils, there are varieties and degrees of malignity. Or the demon in this case had unusual scope allowed him for the exertion of his malignity.
2. In the discernment of the cure.
(1) This woman saw that the cure for her daughter was not within the ordinary physicians'skill. She may have come to this conclusion through experience. She may have come at it by reasoning. For devils are stronger than men.
(2) She saw it in the power of God. That power devils must acknowledge. That power she sought in Jesus. When she called him "Lord," she meant more than the complimentary Sir. She identified him as the Christ; for such is the meaning of the title "Son of David."
(3) She saw it in the mercy of God. The Messiah of prophecy is full of mercy. The fame of Jesus was in accordance with the promises. "Mercy," therefore, was her plea.
II. GREAT FAITH IS HUMBLE.
1. In conduct.
(1) This woman cried for "mercy." Here was no plea of right. Her hope was in the sympathy of a merciful heart. Nothing can touch that like the cry of misery.
(2) She cried "after" him (verse 23)—followed at a distance, as unworthy to come too near. As a daughter of Canaan, her behaviour accorded with the condition of a servant (see Genesis 9:26).
(3) When she did come near, "she came and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me." In her the humble attitude of worship expressed truly its humble spirit.
2. In temper.
(1) She consented to the appellation of "dog." "Truth, Lord," was her humble reply. "Dog" here is opposed to "sheep." The clean animal in the Law was the type of the Israelite; the unclean, of the Gentile. She was a "Greek" or Gentile, "a Syro-Phcenieian by race" (Mark 7:25). She does not seem to have been a proselyte.
(2) It does not hence follow, however, that she was an idolater. Hiram, a king of her nation, had a hand in building the temple of Solomon, and was a lover of David, and blessed the God of Israel (see 1 Kings 5:7). Zarephath, where dwelt the worthy widow in the days of Elijah, was in the land of Sidon (see 1 Kings 17:9; Luke 4:25). Many Gentiles in those parts respected Judaism, and looked for the promised Messiah.
(3) If she understood the spirit of the Law, and the force of the promise which makes clean the Gentile believer, and constitutes him the child of Abraham's faith, she did not plead this. She accepted the title of "dog" in its spiritual as well as in its ceremonial signification. Note: Modesty is no restriction to greatness of faith (cf. Matthew 8:8, Matthew 8:9).
III. GREAT FAITH IS EARNEST.
1. It will not miss an opportunity.
(1) Here was a golden opportunity. Jesus was "in the parts of Tyre and Sidon." He was "a Minister of the circumcision for the truth of God" (Romans 15:8), yet went to the limits of his commission to cast a look of pity over the boundary.
(2) Hearing of his vicinity she "came out." She did not wait until Jesus should cross over the border land. Had she done so, she would have missed her opportunity. Note: Many lose their souls by devising opportunities instead of accepting those provided for them by God.
(3) Abram had to come out of Ur in order to his inheriting Canaan. This woman had to come out of Phoenicia to inherit the blessing of Israel. So must the sinner leave his sins in order to find salvation. If he be in earnest he will not miss his opportunity.
2. Its heart is in its cause.
(1) This woman made her daughter's case her own. Her cry was, "Have mercy upon me." Her plea was as though she herself was sorely vexed with the demon that possessed her child. So she sought relief as for herself. "Lord, help me."
(2) Her importunity moved the disciples to plead for her: "Send her away; for she crieth after us." "O disciples! and does the voice of prayer trouble you? How little at present do ye resemble the Master! We never read of his being troubled with the cry of the poor and needy. And this is all that you have to urge, is it? Your charity amounts to just so much as that of some wealthy persons, who give a poor man a penny, not out of compassion, but in order to get rid of him!" (A. Fuller). But whether the motive of the disciples was that of the unjust judge or something more worthy of them, the earnestness of the woman cannot be mistaken.
IV. GREAT FAITH IS PERSISTENT.
1. It refuses discouragement.
(1) Jesus "answered her not a word;" still she cried. He knew the quality of her faith. We must not construe delay in answering our prayers into a refusal to answer them. It may be to draw out the quality of our faith. God proves that he may improve our faith.
(2) Jesus refused the intercession of his disciples for her; still she cried. "He answered her and said, I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." This silenced the disciples; not so the woman.
(3) Jesus "entered into a house, and would have no man know it," apparently to avoid her importunity. But "he could not be hid," for This woman followed him, and then "fell down at his feet".
(4) Jesus said, "It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to the dogs." This was the culminating point.
2. In the very heart of discouragement it finds encouragement.
(1) Never for a moment did she lose sight of her great argument, viz. that hers was the appeal of misery to Mercy itself. The more sensibly we feel the burden the more resolutely we pray for its removal. Christ himself in his agony prayed more earnestly. This plea of misery to Mercy remained in undiminished force.
(2) The quickness of her faith could even discover the presence of that mercy in the tenderness of tone behind the sternness of expression. Did not Jesus use the diminutive (κυνάρια), "little dogs"? Here was a leverage which she adroitly seized. The children are familiar with the little dogs, and have no objection to their eating the crumbs that fall from the table. "The spirit of faith suggests the best forms of prayer" (Bengel). It is, moreover, "their master's table." It cannot go ill with the dogs. "There is bread enough [for the children] and to spare" for the servants and the dogs (see Luke 15:17, Luke 15:19). A crumb of Christ's mercy is sufficient to expel a malignant devil.
(3) So faith triumphed. "It resembled the river, which becomes enlarged by the dykes opposed to it, till at last it sweeps them away" (A. Clarke). "O woman." By faith the dog is already transformed into the woman. "Great is thy faith." "Jesus admires this faith to the end we may admire and imitate it" (A. Clarke). "Be it done unto thee even as thou wilt." There is faith in willing. "And her daughter was healed from that hour." Healed at her home
Here was a gleam of that light which was to lighten the Gentiles; a presage of that mercy to be fully revealed after his death. Here also is a proof that the curse upon Canaan was only meant for those of his race who should follow his unbelief. The doom of corporate bodies does not necessarily fall upon all their individual members. True faith is saving evermore.—J.A.M.
The power of Christ.
In this narrative there is no word of Christ recorded; yet the scene is full of animation. It is the animation of power. We have in it—
I. CHRIST IN THE POWER OF HIS ATTRACTION.
1. He sat upon the mountain. (17 Possibly Tabor. "The mountain," meaning some particular mountain which he was accustomed to frequent; for whenever it is spoken of at a time when Jesus is in Galilee, it is always distinguished by the article (cf. Matthew 4:18; Matthew 5:1; Matthew 13:54; Matthew 14:23; Matthew 28:16). "I suppose it was Mount Tabor" (Wakefield).
(2) Mountains were symbols of powers. So they are put for kingdoms. Thus the powerful kingdom of Babylon is described as a "destroying mountain" to be devoted to destruction (see Jeremiah 51:25). Places of power and authority within a kingdom are also compared to mountains (see Amos 4:1). Powerful obstacles to the progress of the gospel are described as mountains which have to be removed (see Isaiah 40:4; Isaiah 41:5; Isaiah 49:11). The exaltation of the kingdom of Christ above the kingdoms of the world is called the establishing of the mountain of the Lord's house in the top of the mountains and its exaltation above the hills (see Isaiah 2:2; Mic 4:1-13 :17. And the kingdom of Christ is described as a little stone destined to swell into a great mountain which shall fill the whole earth (see Daniel 2:35).
(3) The attitude of Jesus, seated upon this mountain, silently asserted his enthronement above all power, material and spiritual, secular and sacred.
2. Great multitudes came to him.
(1) See them streaming out from the surrounding towns and villages. Yet are these but portents of the millions through the ages to be influenced by his attractive power (see John 12:32). Surely this is that Shiloh to whom shall be the gathering of the people (Genesis 49:10).
(2) Some came to him. These were the more healthy. It is a sign of spiritual health when a man can come to Jesus in faith. Conspicuous amongst those who came would be those upon whom, on former occasions, Jesus had shown miracles of healing.
(3) Others were brought. These were the diseased who could not come without help. It is the purest benevolence to bring to Jesus, the Healer, in faith those who are morally diseased. Perhaps many who now bring the sick were formerly themselves brought as sick. So the attractive power of Christ is ever multiplying.
II. CHRIST IN HIS POWER OF HEALING.
1. Physical maladies owned this power,
(1) The sick of all sorts were brought to him. Note: Sin has turned this world into a hospital.
(2) The spectacle moved his compassion as the accumulation of living misery was "cast down at his feet." The oratory of misery is eloquent in the ear of mercy.
(3) "And he healed them." Here was no case so malignant as to baffle the resources of this great Physician. As from the Mount of Beatitudes Jesus delivered in his memorable sermon lessons of wisdom, so now from this, probably the same mountain, he dispenses the blessings of his power.
2. The physical are typical of the spiritual.
(1) The lame. Lameness here is perhaps limited to the legs, and is thus distinguished from the maiming mentioned afterwards. Those are morally lame whose walk or conduct is irregular or inconsistent, or who cannot move in the ways of righteousness.
(2) The dumb. These are also generally deaf. And there are those who are deaf to the voice of God calling them to duty; and who have not the moral courage to confess the truth, or the moral disposition to praise God.
(3) The blind. Those the vision of whose understanding is blinded by prejudice. Those whose judgment is at fault through ignorance, error, or malignity. Moral blindness is voluntary, and therefore the more difficult of cure (see John 9:41).
(4) The maimed. These would include those who had lost a member; those who had lost the use of member, as by palsy; and those whose limbs were disabled by distortion through disease or accident. The morally maimed are those whose faculties are impaired or obliterated by sin.
(5) "Many others." As devils are legion, so are their possessions. The varieties of evil are legion as well as the number of their victims.
3. The miraculous is typical of the spiritual healing.
(1) See now the lame leaping for joy and walking steadily in the ways of God's commandments.
(2) Listen now to the dumb witnessing for Christ and singing the praises of the Saviour.
(3) Behold how the faculties and powers of the maimed have been restored. Is there not a new creation here?
(4) Witness how the blind eyes are opened to see the wonders of God's Law.
(5) All distortions of the soul are cured by the power of Jesus.
III. CHRIST THE POWER OF GOD.
1. The people glorified Christ as God.
(1) His healing power was undoubtedly the power of God. For here is the reproduction of a hand or foot at a word or touch. Is not this creative energy? What power short of omnipotence can create?
(2) But Jesus wrought his miracles immediately from himself. In this case he could not have wrought by delegated power. Omnipotence cannot be delegated, for there cannot be two Omnipotents.
(3) How otherwise, then, could the people who "wondered" at the miracles glorify God without discerning Christ to be the Power of God?
2. They glorified him as "the God of Israel."
(1) They identified him as the very God of Jacob, who in human form wrestled with that patriarch and changed his name to Israel (cf. Genesis 32:24-30).
(2) They identified him as the God of the covenant people. The same Miracle-Worker who brought Israel out of Egypt. The same who gave them the Law from Sinai. The same who established them in the land of promise. The same who in the Shechinah enthroned himself in the temple as in the palace of his kingdom. The same who will restore again to Israel the kingdom.—J.A.M.
The compassion of Jesus.
Having let fall that crumb under the table, in the parts of Tyre and Sidon, Jesus returns to make a full feast for the children. When he had here performed miracles of healing, he proceeds to the performance of a miracle of feeding. The removal of evil is a prelude to the communication of good.
I. THE COMPASSION OF JESUS IS READY.
1. Quick to discern a need.
(1) "I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat." Three hours, under ordinary conditions, would be a long service; especially so should the dinner hour be invaded. But here is a service of three days, in which dinner is the last thought with the congregation. The Minister, however, able, and withal considerate.
(2) "They have nothing to eat." This world is a desert, where nothing can be found to satisfy the soul of man, but the salvation which Christ has purchased.
(3) Christ suffered the multitude to hunger, as Israel of old, to teach them great lessons (see Deuteronomy 8:3). That is sweet to the hungry soul which the full soul loathes. Fasting precedes feasting. Hungering and thirsting after righteousness is the prelude to being satisfied with the bounties of God's table.
2. Quick to provide against calamity.
(1) "They may faint in the way." Note: It is fitting and religious to give due attention to the wants of the body. "Our prayers should be for a sound mind in a sound body" (Juvenal).
(2) The wants of the body restrain the desires of the spirit. "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." Jesus still, from the loftier elevation of the mount of glory, compassionately sees.
(3) The compassion of Jesus provides for the everlasting future. Through his merciful provisions we may avoid the hungering and thirsting of perdition. The spiritual body of the better resurrection will have no wants to impair the desires of the spirit. "They hunger no more, neither thirst any more" (see Rev 7:16 -18). So can they "serve God day and night in his temple."
II. THE COMPASSION OF JESUS IS POTENT.
1. Its potency had been evinced. Within the year or two of his public ministry how many miracles had Jesus wrought! Yet how few that were not miracles of mercy!
2. Some of these were recent. Within these "three days" how numerous were the "lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others," the healing of whom "astonished" this multitude (see Matthew 15:30, Matthew 15:31)]
3. The potency of the compassion of Jesus was now to receive additional illustration. Here are eight thousand hungry people. Four thousand men, "besides women and children," who were probably as many more. For the nourishment of these there are "seven loaves, and a few small fishes." But "they did all eat, and were filled;" and moreover of the fragments left there were seven hampers. The spyris was larger than the cophinus of the miracle. It seems to have been a load for a porter (see Acts 9:25). A hamper of fragments forevery loaf.
III. THE COMPASSION OF JESUS IS DISCRIMINATING.
1. The circumstances of the miracle are instructive.
(1) "He gave thanks." In the former miracle with the five loaves "he blessed." It comes to the same. Giving thanks to God is a proper way to ask the blessing of God. Thanks given before taking food (see Acts 27:35) acknowledges his past bounty, craves his blessing upon the present, anticipates the future. All good comes from God. His blessing makes little go far.
(2) He used all the provision he had. God works miracles only, and in so far as there is necessity. So are we to use the means Providence sets before us. When these fail, then trust God. What his ordinary providence denies his miraculous power will supply. All spiritual blessings are immediately from God, so miraculous.
(3) The multitude sat down in faith. They saw but little. Yet took advice and prepared themselves for a banquet. So they were all "filled." Those whom Jesus feeds he fills (see Psalms 65:4; Isaiah 55:2). Not only was Jesus from Bethlehem; he is Bethlehem himself, the House of bread.
(4) He then "sent the multitude away." Though he had twice fed them, they must not expect miracles to give them daily food. Meanwhile he himself entered the boat and came to Magdala. He generally withdrew after working a miracle, lest the people should attempt to raise a sedition and make him a King (cf. Matthew 14:22; John 6:15). How different from the conduct of a pseudo-Messiah!
2. There are lessons in the service of the disciples.
(1) To them he first expressed his tender sympathy for the people. This was a mark of his friendship. The disciples of Christ know most of his goodness. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him" (cf. Genesis 18:17-19; Psalms 25:14; Amos 3:7; John 7:17; John 15:15).
(2) The communication was also intended to quicken their compassions, to teach them generosity, and to strengthen their faith. Their answer showed that they needed the lesson, "Whence should we have so many loaves." etc.? (Matthew 15:33). "They walked in a world of wonders, spiritual and physical, where they felt strange, until the Holy Ghost came and brought to their minds all that Christ had done" (Olshausen,John 14:26; John 14:26). Forgetting former experience leaves us in present doubt. Here is no niggardliness of today in forethought for tomorrow.
(3) The disciples had the custody of the provisions. To them also is committed the custody of the bread of God's Word. They have had to shield it. from the vigilance of the anti-Christian destroyer.
(4) They are the dispensers of the Word of grace for the nourishment of the world. In their hands it multiplies both in the dispensing and in the store.—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Matthew 15:1, Matthew 15:2
The right to reproach others.
Though the address of these visitors is put in the form of a question, it is not really an inquiry, it is a reproach. Therefore it was properly met, not by an explanation, but by another question, which brought to others' view, if not to their own, their bad mind and intent. These Pharisees could see clearly enough what they thought was a "mote" in the eye of Jesus. They must be made to feel the "beam" that was in their own eye. Who were these men, and what right had they to reproach Jesus? The Sanhedrin at Jerusalem regarded itself as the supreme ecclesiastical authority in the land, whose approval every teacher should secure, and whose inquiries every would be teacher must look for. Both John Baptist and Jesus acted in perfect independence of this central authority. Both were subject to its official inquiries. Of John we are told (John 1:19), "The Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?" John answered their inquiries in a very patient fashion. Jesus was sterner in his dealings with them, and denied their right, or their fitness, to make any such inquiries, which were but veiled reproaches.
I. AUTHORITY MAY GIVE A RIGHT TO REPROACH. The natural authority of the parent; and the social authority of the master and the king. But the authority must be rightly grounded. It must not rest on mere self-assertion, and it must be duly recognized and accepted. What authority could such a council as the Sanhedrin have over one who was a Prophet, a heaven sent Messenger? By all Israelite principles, he had the authority, and they should have heeded him.
II. SUPERIORITY MAY GIVE A RIGHT TO REPROACH. Superior knowledge; superior character. The competent man may reproach us, the saintly man may reproach us. Then had these visitors from Jerusalem either of these forms of right to reproach? Were they superiors of Christ in the knowledge of Divine things? Were they superiors of Christ in holy living? This at least may at once be tested. If they were really holy they would be jealous of God's honour and God's claims. That they were only sham holy, our Lord made clear enough by his searching question to them. They cared for forms and ceremonies, they cared little or nothing for truth, or righteousness, or charity. They would reproach another; they should have reproached themselves.
III. LOVE MAY GIVE A RIGHT TO REPROACH. No man rightly reproaches unless he loves. No man well receives reproach save from those whom he is sure are full of love to him. The vital wrong in the reproach of the text is this—there is no love in it.—R.T.
Schemes for shirking obligation.
Human relationships involve obligations. Our relations with God bring the supreme obligations. But here is the patent fact—response to our obligations toward God always carries with it response to our natural obligations toward man. The pious man cannot be pious if he is unfaithful and unkind to his father and mother. All the professions men ever made would form no excuse for the neglect of our natural duties to our parents. And this tests the seeming religiousness of our Lord's time. Men might be very pious, but were they shirking their natural obligations? We can well imagine the indignation of our Lord when he found the misery that the shameless system of "corban" was working. A man wanted to shirk all responsibility for the well being of his parents, and yet keep the public repute of being a pious man; so he brought a gift to the priest, in presenting it used a particular formula, and wiped out all his obligations. The false religious sentiment of those times actually led to men's regarding such a man as extra pious. St. Paul is severe, with a very righteous severity, on such wickedness: "If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel" (1 Timothy 5:8).
I. SCHEMES DEVISED BY SELFISHNESS. These are specially hateful in relation to parents, because of their self-denials for our sakes in our earliest years. They take such forms as:
1. Leaving the neighbourhood or the country.
2. Spending all a man has on his own gratification.
3. Delaying present help under plea of the excuses that it will be wanted much more by and by. Selfish souls are marvellously clever at making excuses.
II. SCHEMES DEVISED BY TEMPER. There arise quarrellings and disputings in families, and these are made into reasons for refusing to fulfil natural obligations. It may even be that the conduct and character of parents make us angry, and lead us to threaten the withdrawal of our help. Character may make advisable readjustments of our ways of meeting our obligations, but even bad character cannot excuse our shirking them.
III. SCHEMES DEVISED BY SPURIOUS PIETY. Illustrate by a man who excuses his neglect of his father and mother by saying that he has had to give such a large subscription to the new church. Honourably meeting our human obligations is the sign and expression of piety. He deceives himself who claims to serve God while he is not doing his duty to his fellow men.—R.T.
The evil influence of man-made rules.
"Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition." Sincerely enough, and with a view to helping the people to apply the revealed principles of truth and duty, the national teachers had begun to supply commentaries on, and applications of, the Holy Scriptures. These became ever more and more elaborate; controversies were excited by them, and an authority was claimed for the minute, man-made rule rather than for the comprehensive and searching principle. One part of our Lord's mission was to liberate men from the painful and worryful pressure of these man-made rules, and recover for man the genuine unalloyed moral force on moral beings of God's commands. It was sometimes necessary for him to be severe in dealing with the claims made on behalf of traditions. We can but little conceive how religion was affected, in our Lord's time, by a mere ritual that was so comprehensive, so minute, and yet so ridiculous, that it must have made men hate the very name of religion.
I. MAN-MADE RELIGIOUS RULES ARE ATTRACTIVE TO MEN. It may be said, to all men. It can with confidence be said, to some men. There are, in every age and society, persons who prefer to have their religion done for them; who cannot, and will not, bear the burden of personal responsibility. They ask to have their conduct arranged by rules. And there have always been those who were willing to meet their requests, and to claim authority for so doing. It is a seemingly easy way in which to get through the difficult business of religion, if only it could be made satisfactory; but that it can never be. In all ages, and today, the man-made rules are sure to "make the Word of God of none effect." They are sure to push God out of those direct and personal relations which he bears to each one.
II. MAN-MADE RELIGIOUS RULES ARE RUINOUS FOR MEN. If they could keep them as mere helps and guides, all would be well. But that is just what man has never been able to do. Man-made rules are always pushing out of their place, and into a place which does not properly belong to them. The following points may be worked out and illustrated.
1. Man-made rules shift the basis of authority in religion from God to man, from the true authority to an altogether false one.
2. Man-made rules exaggerate the place of self in religion. For the authority of man is only the authority of idealized self.
3. Man-made rules substitute a religion of hand (conduct) for the religion of the heart.—R.T.
Sincerity the keynote of piety.
Formality is always imperilling piety. The representation of religious truths in ritual and ceremonial is a necessary condescension to the weakness of men, who want material aid in their effort to grasp spiritual things. But material things have a constant tendency to enslave men. And the enslaving work is done with so much subtlety that many a man who is a slave to his rituals, and to his rules, thinks himself to be a free man today. But, worse than that, and the thing that so much distressed our Lord, when a man knows that all his spiritual religion is gone, he will keep up his ritual, and be more exact in obeying his rules, and try to persuade himself that "formality" will do instead of "spirituality." Then the searching Lord pleads, "This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me."
I. RELIGION IS EXPRESSION. We ought to "draw nigh unto God with our mouth, and to honour him with our lip." Religion is holy worship, wise ordering of conduct, bearing honourable responsibilities, taking part in Christian activities, bringing the body into subjection. No man can wisely or safely restrain the expression of religion. A faith which says nothing is no real faith. A love that does nothing is no real love. If there is life in the seed, the blade will appear above the soil. Secret religion is self-delusion. If a man is religious, it will get expression in his life and relations.
II. RELIGION IS FEELING. It is something that can get expression. It is a state of mind and heart. It is a spiritual relationship with the Divine Spirit, into which man, the spirit, has been brought. It is the quickening of the soul's love, and setting it wholly on God. It is the redirection of the soul's trust, and fixing it on God. It is the sanctifying of the soul's will unto the choice of God's will. "The kingdom of God is within you." Piety is a soul affair. Religion is the expression of piety in conduct and relation.
III. SINCERITY IS THE RIGHT RELATION BETWEEN FEELING AND EXPRESSION. Sincerity Christ asked for. Insincerity Christ denounced. Sincerity psalmists prayed for and prophets pleaded for. Weakness, incompleteness, failure, can be patiently borne; insincerity cannot be borne; nothing can be done with it. To a man's own self he must be true. To his fellow men he must be true. To God he must be true. A man must say, by lip and act, what he feels, and only what he feels. The vice of modern external religion is its utterance of more and better things than are really in men's hearts.—R.T.
Matthew 15:11, Matthew 15:19, Matthew 15:20
The secret of human defilement.
It is quite possible to exaggerate in presenting the teachings of our Lord in these verses. We do so if we make too absolute the distinction between what goes into a man and what comes out of a man. Our Lord's illustration needs to be kept within its natural and proper limits. The Pharisees had objected to the disciples eating their bread with unwashen hands, their notion being that something causing ceremonial defilement might be upon their hands, and this taken in with the bread would make them ceremonially unclean. It was a ridiculous subtlety, and yet it had become quite an established notion. It was best met by such scorn as Jesus poured upon it. You cannot defile a man's soul by putting some dirt into his food; that may bring on disease in the man's body, but it cannot defile the man himself. Our Lord strikes hard at the insincerities of the Pharisee class, who were foul in speech, unclean in life, and self-seeking in relations, however anxious they were about ceremonial defilement. What came out of them—their speech, conduct, relations—these defiled them.
I. THE SECRET OF HUMAN DEFILEMENT IS THE WRONG INSIDE A MAN. A man is very largely responsible for the contents of his mind. True, he may have been placed in circumstances beyond his control which have brought evil associations; but the law is always working, that the things only are retained and effective on which attention is continuously and persistently fixed. Then we must have fixed our attention on what our minds now have in them, and so we must be responsible for their contents. Can we bear to look at the actual contents of our minds? How utterly unimportant ceremonial defilements seem in view of this real evil! A man is in a state of defilement, heart defilement, to begin with. From this may be shown the absolute need of regeneration.
II. THE FURTHER SECRET OF HUMAN DEFILEMENT IS THAT THIS INSIDE WRONG GETS STRENGTHENED BY EXPRESSION. If the foul things inside a man would just stay quiet, things would not be so serious. But they are persistently active, ever trying to get expression, to say something or to do something. And they become stronger and more active by every expression. How that which comes out of a man defiles him may be shown by indicating the way in which a foul thought, gaining utterance in a foul speech, becomes an act of the will; the man is made foul thereby.—R.T.
A claim on God's mercy.
"Have mercy on me." The woman was wiser than she knew. She could bring no claim; as a foreigner she had no sort of right to our Lord's help. She made no pretence of having any claim, save the claim which every sufferer and every sinner may have on God's mercy. But that is the best of all claims; the one to which response is always assured. The sufferer and the sinner may fully hope in God's mercy.
I. THE CLAIM OF THE SUFFERER ON GOD'S MERCY. Mercy includes interest, pity, sympathy, consideration, and desire to help. The good man feels merciful toward the suffering creature; the father is merciful to the suffering children. God is merciful to the suffering being he has made. But God's mercy is assured because, to him, all suffering is the fruitage of sin; and God knows how the suffering has to fall on those who have not committed the sin. If God saw only sin, he would respond with judgment. He sees so much suffering following on sin, to which he can only respond with mercy. The child pleaded for was not suffering directly for sin. The mother's suffering was part of the race burden, and not distinctively her own. So, here, suffering claimed mercy. We might be led on to indicate that God's mercy can be shown to sufferers by prolonging the suffering as truly as by removing it. Mercy in its operation is ever guided by an infinite wisdom.
II. THE CLAIM OF THE SINNER ON GOD'S MERCY. Not a natural claim. There is no reason why God should bear with sinners in the nature of things. Every notion of government shows demand for justice. Officially God must deal justly. Mercy brings in the qualification that belongs to God's character. We see this in the case of a human magistrate. As a magistrate he has no mercy; he is strictly to apply the law. As a man, and as a character, he can bring mercy in to qualify the strict applications of law. It is well to remember that God never deals with men simply as an official. He is always a character, a noble character, and therefore "merciful and gracious." Lead on to show that the supreme interest of the manifestation of Christ, the supreme interest of such a scene as is now before us, lies in its revelation of the character of God, and especially its disclosure of the fact that God's having a character gives both sufferers and sinners a claim upon his mercy.—R.T.
Importunity and quick wittedness.
Importunity: "Lord, help me." Quick wittedness: "Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." The strangeness of our Lord's dealing with this woman has often been pointed out. But the story needs to be read in the light of the fact that our Lord's supreme work was work in character. In doing anything for the bodies of men our Lord really worked for their souls, and tried to make his healing bear a gracious influence on the minds, hearts, and dispositions of those whom he healed. And he seems to have kept the further aim before him of making the manner in which his miracles were wrought parts of his training of his disciples for their future mission. Those disciples learned so much just by watching how their Master dealt with individuals, such as this woman of Canaan.
I. OUR LORD SOUGHT TO BRING OUT IMPORTUNITY. This explains delay and seeming refusal. Remember how much our Lord thought of importunity. He commends it in prayer, by his parables.
1. It is a valuable sign of character. There is something in a man who can persist; who can set an aim before him, and refuse to be discouraged. It is all the nobler when the aim concerns the well being of another.
2. It is one of the best expressions of faith. The woman could not have kept on her plea if she had not fully believed that the Lord both could and would help her. So Jesus, by his mode of dealing with her, brought out to view her faith.
3. It is one of the best indications of the value of the thing desired. If we do not care much about a thing, we soon give up our pursuit of it. If it is to us a "pearl of great price," we keep on until we get it. The woman had all her heart in this healing for her daughter. Then how importunate in seeking salvation we should be! "It is not a vain thing for you; it is your life."
II. OUR LORD WAS GRATIFIED WHEN HE BROUGHT OUT QUICK WITTEDNESS. The woman's answer is an exceedingly sharp and clever one. She skilfully turned our Lord's reason for refusing into a reason for granting. Her word for "dogs" was cleverly chosen; it meant the "pet dogs of the house." They have a claim on the children's crumbs. And she pleads just for the crumbs for her "little pet dog." It will not take anything from the "children" to send her a crumb of blessing. Jesus seemed really pleased with the woman; there was a most gracious tone in his final reply. See how his dealing brought her character out; and showed the disciples how to deal with people so as to be the fullest possible blessing to them.—R.T.
The praise of faith.
There were several occasions on which our Lord specially praised faith; we may note what were the peculiar features of the faith which received these unusual commendations. Olshausen says, "Overcome as it were by the humble faith of the heathen woman, the Saviour himself confesses, 'Great is thy faith,' and straightway faith received what it asked. This little narrative lays open the magic that lies in a humbly believing heart more directly and deeply than all explanations or descriptions could do. In this mode of Christ's giving an answer to prayer we are to trace only another form of his love. Where faith is weak, he anticipates and comes to meet it; where faith is strong, he holds himself far off in order that it may in itself be carried to perfection."
I. OUR LORD'S NOTICING THE SIGNS OF FAITH WITHOUT SPECIAL PRAISE. A specimen case is the act of the four friends who carried the helpless paralytic on to the roof to ensure his getting into the presence of Jesus. It is said of them, "Jesus seeing their faith." On another occasion it is said of Peter, looking on the lame man, "perceiving that he had faith to be healed." The apostles follow the Master in looking for and recognizing faith. And this we fully understand when we regard faith as the necessary state of spiritual recipiency for Divine help and blessing.
II. OUR LORD'S NOTICING THE SIGNS OF FAITH WITH SPECIAL PRAISE. Two illustrative cases may be given. And it is remarkable that they both concern aliens, and not Israelites. This probably accounts for our Lord's feeling surprise, and giving it expression. The first is the Roman centurion, who sought Christ's healing for a servant. Everybody then, even those who believed in Christ's power, thought it essential that Christ should touch the sufferer. The centurion had faith to believe that Jesus could act through a simple commanding word. So of him Jesus said, "Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." The other case is that associated with our text. The Canaanite woman showed her strong faith by her persistency in overcoming obstacles; and of her Jesus said, "O woman, great is thy faith."
In conclusion, the reasons for praising such faith may be given.
1. Full trust honours God.
2. Active and persistent faith reveals a state of heart that fits for receiving Divine healing and salvation.—R.T.
One effect of miracles of healing.
"They glorified the God of Israel." Two points may be unfolded and illustrated. This effect was good so far as it went. This effect fell far short of what Jesus desired.
1. THIS EFFECT WAS GOOD SO FAR AS IT WENT. In a general way they praised God, who had given such power unto men. And it is always good to recognize the hand of God in our guidances, deliverances, and restorations, he is the Healer and Restorer; and we should always turn to thank the Source of blessing before we thank the agent whom God has been pleased to use. But to class Jesus among God's prophets, to make of him only an Elisha, was to keep in the region of commonplace, when God would have them step up into the higher region of revelation. It was an effect, to "glorify the God of Israel," but it was not the effect. It was a good beginning, but a bad resting place. It did not reach to apprehend the special meaning of Christ's miracles. Show that men still treat Christ in the same way. They thank God for the example of his life, for the teaching of his inspiring truths, and for the gracious deeds recorded of him; and there they stop. That is all—"They glorify the God of Israel." That does not go far enough.
II. THIS EFFECT SHOULD HAVE PREPARED THE WAY FOR A BETTER. After turning to praise God, these healed people should have resolutely fixed their attention on Christ, and tried to understand the Man who could do such mighty works. And this not as a merely curious inquiry, but with the distinct feeling that such a man must have a message; that his work could not end with opening blind eyes and unstopping deaf ears. Such things were signs of authority and power to do greater things. Israel knew well, from its history, that miracles illustrate messages and authenticate messengers; so they ought to have said of Christ, "Who is he?" "What has he to say?" It would be a deeply interesting subject of inquiry—What would have been the moral effects of our Lord's mission if his miracles had been entirely concerned with the healing of bodily infirmities, sicknesses, and disabilities? We may well fear that the people would have used the kind Doctor's gifts freely enough, and just satisfied themselves with "glorifying the God of Israel."—R.T.
The mission of miracles of supply.
They were corrective of the influence that was actually produced by the miracles of healing. The differences in the spheres and the character of our Lord's miracles is not sufficiently observed, he was no mere Eastern Hakim, with a wonderful panacea for all forms of bodily woe. He is too often spoken of as if this were his description. More importance needs to be given to our Lord's walking the water, stilling the storm, raising the dead, and multiplying the food supplies. It is competent for any man to plead that the healing gift is, like the artistic gift, the special endowment of individuals; and Jesus was a Man with an unusual gift of the healing power. No such explanation can be found for the miracles of supply, or for the miracles of control over nature. And we shall come back upon the miracles of healing with new and worthier ideas when we have rightly apprehended the miracles of supply. We have seen, in the previous homily, that Christ's doctoring work rather directed men's attention to the "God of Israel" than to himself, "God manifest in the flesh."
I. THE MIRACLES OF SUPPLY SET THE PERSON OF JESUS IN PROMINENCE. Illustrate by the effect of the wine making at Cana. That miracle "manifested forth his glory." Also by the other feeding of the thousands, which set Christ's Person forth so prominently that the people wanted, then and there, to make him king. Miracles of supply are stranger things, more difficult to explain, and more impressively related to the individual, than miracles of healing. Forth teem miracles of supply men go, saving to their neighbours, "What think ye of Christ? whose Son is he?" Compare the remarkable direction of the thoughts of the disciples to the Person and mystery of Christ, when he came to them walking on the sea.
II. THE MIRACLES OF SUPPLY SET THE SPIRITUAL CHARACTER OF THE WORK OF JESUS IN PROMINENCE. They belong to another and more suggestive region. Removal of disabilities may be a great thing, but renewal of life is greater. Food, to be taken into a man's body, and turned into life, is a revelation of Christ's higher relation to men. He is soul food; taken in by faith and love, he is turned into the soul's life. "He that eateth me shall live by me."—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Matthew 15". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16