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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Matthew 15

 

 


Verses 1-20

Chapter63

Defilement Spiritual Not Ceremonial

Matthew 15:1-20

Not often did Jesus Christ lose his patience, but when that circumstance did occur, it was marked by the utterance of very memorable words. We are sometimes warned not to provoke quiet men. Nor was this loss of patience in the case of Jesus Christ in any sense one of mere irritation or peevishness—it was rather a sense of moral indignation. The answer which he made to the Scribes and Pharisees who came from the metropolis was an instance of high, noble, moral resentment: it was not anger of a merely personal and selfish kind, it was a grave and solemn judgment. That the leading men of the day, the scholars and the clerks of the time, should be putting such trivial questions, should be mocking the spirit of progress by such frivolous inquiries, should be making such mountains out of such molehills, roused the divinest anger of an earnest soul.

Consider how this answer of the Saviour carries with it some profound suggestion of the supreme purpose of his life. He had not come down to make nice things, to arrange a ritual, to propose encroachments upon a ceremonial descended from the seniors—he came to save the world. Hence his flashing anger, his burning, scorching retort upon men who wanted to bind down his attention to the meanest frivolities that could engage the attention of the meanest intellects. From his answers to his opponents always learn something of Jesus Christ"s main object in life.

The difference between the Scribes and Christ was that they lived in ceremony, and he lived in truth. Their religion was a trick in ritual—all religious observances and duties had been reduced to a mechanical standard and arrangement. With the Son of God religion was life, spirit, it was a vital principle, a divine inspiration, a continual drawing down from heaven of the energy and the grace needful for the work and the suffering of life. Observe therefore that the difference between them was not literal and measurable in words; it was vital, final, and indestructible.

This is what Jesus Christ has to say to all opposing parties. He does not come as one of many, saying, "Let us see where the exact point of rest Isaiah , as between us, controversialists as we are, each entitled to an equal hearing with the other." He holds no parley, he has no rivals, he makes no compromises—never does he approach any opponent in the spirit of reconciliation. Everything must go before the spirituality and the splendour of his kingdom. The Scribes and Pharisees proposed a quasi friendly conversation upon differences. Quoth they, "We do thus, and thy disciples do so; why should there be this striking difference in our ritualistic practices? Can we not arrange matters better than they at present stand? We have the seal and the sanction of the elders, and surely something is due to seniority in the Church and in the ages. Thy disciples are guilty of what appears to us to be a violent encroachment upon old usages—let us talk the matter over." Jesus Christ never talked matters over upon equal terms. Remember this in considering the sovereignty and the completeness of the claim which he laid to the attention and the confidence of the world. How Jesus Christ might have popularized himself by compromise, by gracious approach, by an attitude of conciliation, by suggesting that he was not infallible, nor was he above receiving a hint from those who had been in the world before him. He dominated in men, and therefore over men. No other domination is worth having. To rule over men may be a transient supremacy; the true rule, the everlasting primacy, is that of ruling in a Prayer of Manasseh , in his thoughts, feelings, convictions, and in the whole range of his noblest nature.

If Jesus Christ were with us today, he would alter the religious standpoint of many men, and thunder upon their closed ears the solemn words that Christianity is not an affair of meats and drinks, of bell-ringing and magic, of church-going and hymn-singing, but of life, love, pureness, sanctity of heart and completeness of consecration. Cheap indeed is the religion of hand-washing. Who would not wash his hands all day long as the price of heaven? "A Prayer of Manasseh ," says Jesus Christ, "may wash his hands all day long, and in every act of ablution he may be adding new guilt to his heart." So with our solemn exercises to-day—they go for nothing except according to the inspiration which directs and ennobles them. We may go to church and yet not be there at all in spirit, sympathy, fervent and vehement desire after God. Men can sing a hymn, and in the singing of it can add a crueler wrath to their hate. Men can pay pew-rent, that they may have room to grumble in. What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, O Prayer of Manasseh , but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God? This is not an affair of hand-washing, hair-combing, clothes-wearing, attitude, mechanism or manual service. The religion of the kingdom of heaven is a condition of the heart. What a man"s heart Isaiah , that is also the man himself. As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.

Does Jesus Christ then do away with all outward observances, with church-going and with hymn-singing, with religious engagements and duties of various kinds? Most certainly not. He approves them every one, if kept in their right place. "You must understand," says the Saviour, "that religion is not an affair of mechanism but of spirit, and that it is possible to do everything that is written upon the register with puristic punctuality and completeness, and yet not to have a heart filled with the spirit of sacrifice. Where the heart is not so filled and ruled, all your bead-counting, your Paternosters and Ave Marias go for nothing—they beat themselves against the ceiling under which they are breathed: they never touch God"s distant sky." We must have our Church framework. We are exhorted not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. We have the distinct promise that where two or three are gathered together, Christ is there to bless them. We have Christ"s own example for holy rest and honest searching of the Scriptures, to give mutual fellowship in all godly concerns, but unless the whole of these come out of the heart and with the heart"s meaning upon them, however good relatively, they are worthless intrinsically.

Well for the Church, even a day of triumph and coronation, when nothing more can be said against it than the metropolitan Scribes and Pharisees said against the disciples. Is this their noble impeachment? does their charge sharpen itself into this piercing question? What a mighty assault—what a tremendous burst of feebleness. Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders, for they wash not their hands when they eat bread? Have the Scribes and the Pharisees, metropolitan and provincial, of our own day, anything graver to bring against us. Some charges answer themselves by their own absurdity, and require no greater confusion than is brought upon them by their palpable feebleness. How is it with the Church just now?

Mark the strength of the Saviour"s reply. This man brings his answers from afar: in his arm is an infinite leverage—when he strikes, all things fall before the fist of his almightiness. Hear the piping voice of the metropolitan critics—"Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?" Hear the solemn accusatory retort—"Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God?" Now the issue is sharply joined. That is exactly how the Church ought to stand in all ages. The world may be able to bring against the Church the charge of not attending to ancient usages and peculiar ceremonies, but the Church ought always to have it in its power justly to hurl back the accusation in the tremendous inquiry—"Whilst we may not have washed our hands, ye have steeped and soaked your hearts in the devil"s pollution." We must not use the words in the absence of solemn proof. We are only now indicating the ideal state of things and the real state of relations, if we speak of Jesus Christ rather than of Jesus Christ"s nominal Church. Whosoever says to Jesus, "I think I find an omission in thy teaching and practice," will have for his answer all this thunder and lightning of personal accusation of the gravest guilt. That we might be able to return such a tu quoque, such a "Thou also" should be the burden of incessant prayer.

Consider the condition of the metropolitan Scribes and Pharisees, when they heard Jesus Christ"s answer. People who find fault must expect to have fault found with them. That is the one thing which the critic always forgets; the critic always forgets that he exposes himself to criticism. How is it that the critic always forgets this? He sits at his desk, he reclines in his pew, he rests on his pillow, he walks his garden paths, he sits under the shadow of his broad trees, and shakes his head in sober judgment upon all other men, forgetting that all other men, did they think it worth their while, might find a thousand faults where he could supply a thousand actions. It never occurred to the Scribes and Pharisees from the metropolis that there could be any answer to them. Everybody had always yielded to their criticism and judgment, and had gone, probably with secret fee, to find out what they ought to do, from the great interpreters of the law. Here is a Man who confronts them and challenges their purity. They thought they had found a weak place in the armour of the disciples, and having pointed to the open crevice, and looked as only such critics could look, Jesus also put forth his hand and said, "Is this your breast-plate?" "Yes." "Why, "tis a rag of tinder; if I touch it, it crumbles into black dust." They ought to have very strong and complete armour, who point out the weak places in the panoply of other people.

This instance illustrates the law of declension. There is an inward collapse first,—a Revelation -installation of the spirit of selfishness; and then there is an attempt to find in framework what only can be found in spiritual reality and completeness. Men keep up the framework of appearances to the last: the anxiety of many minds is to save appearances. Jesus Christ never attempted to save appearance at the expense of truth. Are we endeavouring to keep up appearances by church-going, by continuance in customary ways, by habits and usages for which we have really no heart, but which we must appear to respect, or other people will begin to imagine the real state of our spirit? The Lord"s lightning smite all mere appearances and pretences. We are killed by our pretensions, when they are not supported by an inward reality. What are we in our heart—what is our meaning, what our purpose? These are the vital questions which men must put to themselves and answer, if they would have real depth of life and healthiness and enjoyment of being.

This answer was indeed a long thunder-storm. The clouds were, so to say, gathered from distant skies. Not content with merely accusing them of violating the commandment of God, he said, "Well did Esaias prophesy of you." There are men who are anxious to find out when prophecy terminated: they are most eager to discover the precise points upon which the prophecy took effect, and was accomplished, and became like a gate shut because the king had passed on. Jesus Christ gave terrific applications of prophecy again and again. Turning upon the leading men of his age he said, "You are meant when Esaias said, "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth and honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me."" When we are searching into apocalyptic visions and suggestions, and are digging deeply into prophetic mines and are wishing to know when times and seasons accomplish themselves, it may be well to remind our own hearts that probably Jesus would fix the great moral accusations of prophecy upon us. Whilst we are seeking to read some difficult hieroglyphic and to apply some marvellous suggestion or combination of dates to some pope or king or mighty warrior, Jesus might lay his hand upon us and say, "Thou fool, when the prophet thunders against wrong, all his thunders beat upon thine own head."

Surely this plan would give us a new scheme of Bible reading, and instead of making enigmas and finding Napoleon the Greats and mighty popes distant, some dead and some coming a thousand years hence, we should feel that the prophets foresaw our day, and laid up for our guilt, the judgments of God.

"Ye hypocrites." Other men called them Scribes and Pharisees, Rabbi, Lord, Master, Great One, Prince. Looking at them as he only could look, he said, "Ye hypocrites." That was plain speaking. Jesus Christ could make no progress in society unless he spoke with the utmost plainness of words, which nobody could possibly misunderstand. We make no advancement because we are the victims of euphemism—that Isaiah , a style of speaking which calls things by their wrong names—bad things by good definitions, and which covers over the evil with a handful of stolen flowers. You must get at the very core of the disease if you are to make any progress. Not that we are to call one another hypocrites, for that would lead but to mutual recrimination of the severest and most unprofitable kind, but no man can call his brother a hypocrite without possibly exposing himself to a just retort; but we are to remember that God sees us as we are: we are to be faithful with ourselves: instead of calling other people bad names, we are to attach the right label to our own actions and not to shrink from the solemn fact that our life is often based on a lie and directed to the consummation of the hypocrisy. When men talk thus, it may be roughly, but with solemn, urgent plainness, to themselves, we may have some hope that, feeling the acuteness of the disease, they may be impelled to cry to heaven for the remedy.

Jesus Christ does not change the subject when he proceeds to tell the multitude what the true law of defilement is. He found the age imagining that what a man took into him defiled him. Jesus Christ said, "That is not the law of pollution"—Jesus Christ laid down this grand law, that no man can defile another; every man defiles himself. "Away then with your trumpery excuses," he would say, "as to circumstances and conditions and contagious surroundings. That law will bear amplification into the fuller law that no man can injure another permanently; it is the man alone who injures himself. As no man can defile you, so no man can injure you in any profound, vital, and lasting sense. You may indeed have much thrown at you that is of a nature most disagreeable—you may be defiled outwardly—so you may be encountered by misrepresentations, sneers, harsh criticisms, untrue and vile aspersions of every kind—but they do not touch the man. When you are really injured, you have injured yourself. There is no case of Prayer of Manasseh -slaughter, in the higher region of interpretation, but there are innumerable cases of suicide. You are not defiled by your circumstances, by the conversation you hear, by the duties you may be compelled to undertake, you are defiled when you have in you a mean thought, a bad desire, an ignoble impulse, a motive that will not bear the scrutiny of light."

Cheer ye then. Fear not any assault and battery, any fierce assault by which others would seek to drag you down: it is as the beat of a bird"s wing against the eternal granite. A man may be wrong in opinion yet right in heart. When this doctrine is accepted, the Church will enter upon a new era of influence. I am not, of course, speaking of moral opinion, but of opinion of a speculative kind, even speculative opinion upon speculative subjects. The Church too eagerly embarks in speculative controversy, and cannot support her conduct by our quotation from her Lord. Even speculative opinion is not to be undervalued. So long as it is held as opinion and not forced upon men as final dogma or infallible proposition, it may be held with advantage.

As to moral questions, there must be no light assumption of opinion. There must not indeed be two opinions upon moral questions—there our understanding must with one another be unanimous, complete, without halt or reservation of any kind whatever; but upon those questions which are speculative, doubtful, let us have charity one with another. Let us take care that no wrong uses are made of speculative opinion: it may be made a standard of orthodoxy and heterodoxy, and men may be ostracised and condemned and undervalued and suspected, and may be open to all kinds of social disaster because of their speculative opinions upon purely speculative questions. I would wish my own course to be this: to have a heart thoroughly at one with itself as to God"s moral requirements, the hideousness of sin, the abominableness of iniquity, the beauty of righteousness, the necessity of sanctity of heart. Upon all such questions there must be no dispute, no compromise, no trifling or tampering. When I enter into other regions of the Holy Book, I desire to be quiet where I cannot speak wisely, to accept with modesty where I cannot explain with a luminousness equal to the mystery I undertake to elucidate. God allows me to ask questions, to make propositions, and to change my mind oftentimes in the course of one day respecting opinions and matters which are either speculative or are too high for me. He judges me by the condition of my heart: where it is broken, contrite, penitential, he will not rebuke me because of the poverty or the erroneousness of my speculative opinions. Were Jesus Christ amongst us now, he would surely set a fire upon all those controversies which divide and sunder men, about things as relatively unimportant to his central purpose as was the washing of hands to the commandment of God.

Now comes the solemn question, vital, final, all-inclusive. Seeing that Jesus Christ attached such value to the condition of the heart, how is the heart to become such as he will accept? He himself must do the whole work herein. The cleansing of the heart is from on high, and is by the mysterious process of blood. Do not think of blood in any low, common, or merely physical sense of the term. The blood of Christ means more than the mere blood of the body: that was its needful symbol; without that shedding of blood we could have got no hint of the higher meaning of the great and tragical type of its quality and reality. We are saved by blood, we are redeemed by blood; without the shedding of blood there is no remission. We have erred in the life, and only by life can we be saved. Life for life, blood for blood. We made the tragedy necessary: had we sinned skin deep, some skin deep remedy would have been found for us, but having sinned in the soul, having collapsed in the inner sanctuary of the nature, having done wrong with the innermost thought of our heart, nothing can meet the infinite collapse but God"s sacrifice of himself in his Son. You are not saved because you can explain this, but because you believe it. I am not asked how I account for my salvation, I am saved because of my faith in the Son of God. If it has pleased God to make this revelation of the method of acceptance as between himself and me, it is not for me to find critical fault with the terms, or to make a metaphysical puzzle of a grand moral proposal, but to fall into his hands, and to await the explanation as the ages of eternity unfold themselves, and give opportunity for profounder study of divine things.

The disciples were not as the master. They came to him and said—so like them it was, for even his disciples formed part of his disfigurement and humiliation: he was betrayed by the very men whom he elected to the discipleship—they were to drag him down, they were to form the elements and materials of some of the bitterest mockery that was heaped upon him. They came and said, "Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?" Just what is said to faithful ministers today. Who does not hear that offence was given, that this man or yonder woman was never coming to church again because of this saying or of that? What does the poor minister do? I would that we might follow the Lord, who said, when he heard about the offended Pharisees, "Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind, and if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch." He had given offence, and when told about it, calmly stood upon the rock of the divine election, and found peace in the sanctuary of the divine defence.


Verses 21-31

Chapter64

Christ Surprised By Faith

Matthew 15:21-31

Our Lord is now touching upon half-heathen countries, and about to give forecasts of his universal empire. Up to this time he has moved within given geographical limits, now he looks, and almost steps, over the dividing lines. It belonged to the religious genius of Matthew in particular to see beyond Hebrew boundaries, and to note every sign of the universality of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. It was Matthew who brought the Magi from the far east with their presents of gold and frankincense and myrrh. A man like Matthew could not have omitted that incident from his story, though the other evangelists take no notice of it. Not St. Luke but St. Matthew notes the case of the Canaanitish woman. Matthew is a silent man; there was next to nothing said about him: again and again he shows us in his noble Gospel how great and noble were the thoughts that moved and ruled his mind. There is nothing little in Matthew"s conception of the kingdom of heaven. He does not beat off the men from the far east, saying, "You have nothing to do with this birth;" nor does he rebuke the Canaanitish woman—he rather rejoices in those openings which show him light through their welcome rents, and Matthew says in effect, "This Master of mine shall rule from the east to the west, from the north to the south, and his house shall be large as his universe." Who knows but that as Mary was the mother of Jesus in the sense of bringing him into the world, so this Canaanitish woman may be the mother of Christ as introducing him into Gentile lands?

It is thus that individual names are lifted up in importance, and that small events are charged with infinite meaning. We know not what shall be the limit of the Amen to this prayer of hers. This supplication may mark the agony of a birth time. Jesus Christ is now very near the dividing lines: will this Canaanitish woman succeed in taking him over the boundary, and bringing to Gentile necessity, and sin, and pain, all the sweet gospel of heaven? Let us see.

The woman was both right and wrong, in her simple prayer. That indeed may be said about all our prayers,—mostly wrong, however, in many instances. Her prayer was conceived in the wrong name, in this instance arising no doubt from her courteous recognition of historical facts, but she appealed to the Son of David. By no such narrow name can Jesus enter into Gentile lands. If Christ was not more than the Son of David, he had no message to heathen countries. Mark , therefore, how the story develops the life and purpose of the Holy Christ. How keenly the Saviour listens to every word that is addressed to him, and note how he will not answer prayers in the lump and gross, and how he will come to the human heart, along certain defined lines. There is no roughness in his method, there is no tumultuousness in the plan of this all-redeeming and all-healing Christ. When addressed by a Gentile suppliant as "Son of David," he is deaf. In other instances Jesus Christ had readily answered prayers that were addressed to him as Son of David, but the prayers in those instances were spoken by Jews. A Gentile, as such, knows nothing about the Son of David; some greater, broader name must be found, and what know ye but that now he will take upon him, in some sense hitherto not adequately realized, a name that shall enter into every language, and be at home in the prayers of the whole world?

Jesus Christ answered the woman not a word. In truth she had not spoken a word to him in his proper capacity. There were some things which Jesus Christ could not do in his hereditary capacity or merely local and ancestral name. There were divisions of kingdoms and properties which he could not attend to. Men must be brought to learn the exact scope and purpose of the mission of Jesus Christ in the world. We know what it is amongst ourselves for men to be limited in their official capacity: they can do certain things for us in their personal capacity which they could not do in their official function. As officers they cannot speak to us, whereas in their capacity as fellow citizens and sympathisers, they could address us the whole day long, and spare nothing of the language and music of their pitying and full love. When we address Jesus Christ as "Son of David," we must not rest there. To that local and limited title we must add some designation worthy of the purposes of his heart. We belong to the Gentile race. From the house of David we are excluded: Abraham knows us not: we must not therefore walk up Jewish staircases to these heavenly heights, but other ways must be found, and other ways have been opened for us, and as Gentiles we must move to the cross by methods which have been indicated from heaven.

In the light of these suggestions read our Saviour"s reply,—"I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, as the Son of David." In other words—"If this woman addresses me as the Son of David I have nothing to say to her. If that is all she knows about me, if she comes to me as a great Jew and a great descendant of an illustrious sire, I have no reply to make to her plaint." Whether there is any other way of coming, we shall see.

The bitterness of her trial gives the right tone to the woman"s prayer. She prayed a second time. Jesus Christ himself amended his own prayer upon one memorable occasion. He allows us to amend, enlarge, simplify our supplications. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, "Lord, help me." Sorrow abbreviates our prayers, sorrow teaches us true eloquence. When the heart is in the grip of a deadly agony, it knows how to pray. In our ordinary, and more or less conventional public worship, we must, have order and method, by which the public can be guided. Beyond all such arrangements there lie the innumerable plans and methods of approach to heaven, known only to the heart in its keenest pangs. There are times in which no man can teach another how to pray. Bursting out of his throbbing heart will fly the great desire, in appropriate speech and tone. Unless we have had experience of that kind we are not in a proper mood to discuss the possible prevalence of prayer: questions to which this inquiry respecting prayer belongs, are not to be discussed with cold intellectualism. When your child has been grievously vexed with a devil, when the last hope of your life has been blown out by a sudden and most cruel wind, when you are climbing up steep places and the loose stones are giving way in your hand, you will know whether prayer is a necessity of life or a recreation of the religious fancy.

Our prayers are forced out of us, and being forced out of us by some mighty impulsion which cannot be adequately described in words, they seem to take the Kingdom of Heaven by violence. When men feel the bitterness of sin, they will find right names for Christ. Understand more and more clearly that Jesus Christ is not to be approached as an intellectual or historical problem with any hope of solving the great enigma to the content of the mind. Herein is much time wasted, and temper often greatly exasperated, that men think they can subject the Son of God to arbitrary vivisection. We see him only now and then. We may speak about him in the deepest sense and with proper tone only occasionally. He is with us always as a vision of the heart and an inspiration of the will, but for the purposes of explanation in words to others, it is only seldom in a lifetime that a man has the responsibility of such an occasion. We must feel Christ rather than understand him, we must wait for his coming rather than surprise him by our intellectual agility and resoluteness. When we feel the bitterness and the burden of sin, we see the cross, as in the darkness we see the stars. No man should speak about Christ except from the point of earnest conviction of sin and an impelling necessity of the soul to find out who he is and what he can do. He is not a subject for essays and for deliberate and clever discussions; he cannot be subjected to the scrutiny of criticism to which historical characters of another kind easily yield themselves. Christ is the angel that comes to the heart, the Messenger that finds his way to us along the intricacies and difficulties of our sorrow, the Saviour that visits us in the midnight of our hopeless guilt.

He is always born in the nighttime. Under the pressure of penitence and broken-heartedness you will know by what names to address Jesus Christ—then you will know whether he is God or Man; you will never be able to settle that question by dry intellectual processes, but when the heart wants him, cries for him, must die without him, it will dictate to the head the appellation which is worthy of his dignity and his power. All these mighty cries of blind men, troubled souls, needy women, show what kind of man is expected in one who claims to be the King. Jesus Christ was promised as a King, a Ruler and a Mighty One, who should have the nations under his feet and sway them with omnipotent majesty. When he came along the common lines of human history, entering into cities and habitations, men who were in great need and distress, showed by their prayers what a true king must be. He must bring with him something more than a crown, something more than royal regalia, something more than court and pomp: he must bring help. A king is an irony if he be not beneficent above all other men. A king mocks our social helplessness and our social poverty if he be not the princeliest giver, the man whose heart is a great treasure-house, out of which are handed, night and day, donations to make life richer and gladder. Thus do we learn from sorrow what we never could learn from mere genius. The world felt the kingship of Jesus before it could assign that royalty its technical name. Early in the pages of his history, the lame, the halt, the maimed, the blind, the deaf, the dumb, were crowding around him, saying, in mute eloquence, "A king must help, or he is not a king." So is sorrow an expositor, and so is agony one of the world"s greatest preachers.

Jesus Christ abased this Canaanitish woman, but we never find him subjecting any human creature to abasement without his disclosing a gracious purpose of exaltation. Jesus answered, "It is not meet to take the children"s bread and cast it to dogs." This is one of the passages which no criticism can explain. We ought to have heard the tone in which Jesus Christ himself delivered the words. To feel their import properly, we should have seen the expression of his face when he uttered the rugged and severe reply. The printed page is poor when it undertakes to make representations of this kind—the illuminating smile, the explanatory tone, the subtle music, the step towards, the help nearly given—what can the printed page make of these? Was he quoting a proverb, was he reminding the woman of one of her own sayings, was he bringing to her memory something she had said about other people? It is thus that Christ takes the sword out of our hand, and gives us to feel the sharpness of its point. Happily, though we cannot enter into the whole atmosphere of the reply, and thus find out its mitigations, we know what happened immediately afterwards, and that subsequent action must be taken as the light and exposition of all that went before.

How will the woman reply? She will stand upon her dignity. No heart that is filled with agony has any dignity of a petty kind to stand upon. She will be offended. She might have been if her child had not been grievously vexed with a devil, but love keeps the temper sweet. She will be struck dumb, having no reply to words so clear and final. We look from Christ to the woman, wondering what she can possibly reply. Her answer is before us, and is it possible for any answer to be keener in its wit, tenderer in its pathos, more hopeful in its sentiment? She said, "Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master"s table." He inspired that answer himself: that eloquent reply was part of the exaltation which he meant to assure and confirm. No grander answer was every returned by human lips. There is nothing in the eloquence of Christ himself superior to this flash of the heart"s wit, This illustrates what is meant by inspiration, How did Jesus Christ reply to this method of putting the case? He replied instantly, with the whole gospel in his tone, with all the love of his heart beaming, burning in his transfigured face, "O woman, great is thy faith." He always recognised the operation of faith in human life. Nothing seemed to surprise the Son of God so much as the exercise of faith. We cannot define faith in any adequate terms: it is not a dictionary word. Faith is the sixth sense, faith is the religious faculty, faith is the power that takes all other senses and glorifies them, faith is the step into the invisible which the soul takes in its supreme moments of inspiration. We have lowered the word faith by trying to intellectualise it: it has come within the purpose of some men to attempt to explain faith—the explanation had better have been left alone, for it does but spoil what it attempts to illumine. We know what faith is when the heart is in the right condition. With the heart man believeth unto righteousness. This is not a merely intellectual process, and does not therefore come under the laws of merely intellectual inquiry or anatomy. Faith is the supreme act of the heart, and is not to be explained until after it has been done. When a man has given himself wholly to the Son of God in some great passion of sacrifice, the minister it may be, or a friend, stands near him and says, "Now, that is faith."

It is a word that comes after the action and not before it. Wit is a partial gift, eloquence belongs to but a few, poets are born, not made—but faith is the universal possibility. Herein is the one word which belongs to all languages. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. Men are saved by faith that is in Christ. The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith on the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Lord, increase our faith. Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

Can we believe for others? Is there an operation of proxy in the kingdom of heaven? This woman is not praying for herself alone, she is principally praying for her absent child who is grievously vexed with a devil. Where the child cannot herself believe, does the Lord Jesus accept the mother"s faith as the child"s act? Into questions so difficult we cannot enter with any hope of complete illumination—still the heart says that we can almost believe for other people. Your mother wants to stretch her godly faith round about your blasphemy, so that you may be saved. Your father wants to include you within the amplitude of his faith, for he calls your unbelief a devil, and in many a secret prayer to heaven he says, "My son is grievously vexed with the demon of unbelief." It is impossible to resist the operation of this law of inclusion: we cannot question that we all receive benefits from heaven because of the religion of other people. Ten righteous men spare the city, the house of Potiphar is blessed for Joseph"s sake, the ship tossed upon the sea is spared because of the prisoner Paul who is on board, and many of us are today reaping the crops which our fathers sowed in seed. Pray for your child: be yours the big faith that surprises God—then who can tell what answers may be returned? for Jesus answered and said unto the Canaanitish woman, "Be it unto thee even as thou wilt." He gave her the keys of the kingdom and said, "Use them after thy liking."

Then he passed on, and came nigh unto the sea of Galilee, and went up into a mountain and sat there. And the people allowed him to sit there, combining ease with dignity, taking rest, and contemplating the city with all its sin and pain, from a distance. It is not so that the tragic story reads. No sooner had he sat down than great multitudes came to him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at the feet of Jesus. We belong to him most when we are in our deepest, most abject helplessness. He does not say, "Take away these burdens and leave the mountain free for my enjoyment"—no, he was king, and a king must give, a king must identify himself with his subjects, royalty must sympathise. And Jesus healed them, so that they who were borne up the mountain as burdens, left it with agility and delight and thankfulness. Then was there great rejoicing among the multitude: they could not deny the wonderful works that had been done. When we see dumb men speaking, lame men walking, maimed men whole, and the blind seeing, it is surely impossible for us to betake ourselves to some mean intellectual explanation of these marvellous and astounding disclosures of power. The people yielded to the natural instinct, and the mountain throbbed again with the resounding song and shout and jubilance of those who beheld the revelation of the kingdom of gracious power.

Jesus Christ is doing greater works today, and today the world should be filled with the music of gratulation and thanksgiving unto God. Were not some of us blind and do we not now see? How few years separate between our present condition and one that we dare scarcely recall because of its humiliation. We were as sheep going astray, but we are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. We were defiled and unclean and polluted and corrupt, but we are washed, we are cleansed, we are sanctified. If it is a great thing—and no man would question its greatness—to see the maimed made whole, and the dumb made to speak, it is a greater thing to see a bad heart turned to righteousness, and to hear blaspheming lips opened in loyal prayer. Such are the continual miracles of the grace of Christ.


Verses 32-39

Chapter65

Christ the Satisfaction of Hunger

Matthew 15:32-39

All orthodox critics regard this miracle as totally distinct from the strikingly similar one recorded in the fourteenth chapter. There can, indeed, be no doubt about it, if we believe what Jesus Christ himself is reported to have said in the sixteenth chapter, wherein he asks the people if they have forgotten the five loaves of the five thousand, and the seven loaves of the four thousand. This is one of the repetitions which are necessary in beneficent life. We must not find fault with the miracles because we have experienced something very like them before. Our life is a continual miracle; repetitions ought not to be monotonous to us, our love ought to be so intelligent and lively as to discern in every repeated miracle some new phase and tone of the divine mind and purpose.

Amidst all his thinking, which must have been of the most trying nature, Jesus Christ"s acute and passionate sympathy was never suppressed. With such problems pressing for solution, with the purposes of eternity about to accomplish themselves in his agony and death, with the cross daily acquiring new definiteness of outline and weight, who could wonder if all that was merely sympathetic should be forgotten or suspended? Are not we absorbed in the solution of our intellectual problems, are we not sometimes so taken up with great questions, that we cannot attend to domestic affairs, or household anxieties, or to the Song of Solomon -called petty troubles of our passing life? Here is a man who was slain from before the foundation of the world, who is now to be seen in heaven by faith"s vision, as a lamb slain, who was a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief always, who had the wall salvation pressing upon his attention and crushing the strength of his heart, and yet he has time to bestow attention upon the hunger and thirst of the multitude. Wherein then is our reasoning wrong, when we think that great intellectual and moral considerations might have excluded the action of sympathy? It is wrong in the fact that we do not understand the real nature and scope of sympathy, when properly interpreted and understood. But for his sympathy the cross would have been an impossibility; intellect cowered before it, love took it up and bore it onward until its very gloom was carried into glory.

So shall it be with all crosses that are rightly borne. If we carry our crosses in Christ"s spirit and according to the measure of Christ"s will, we shall force our troubles beyond the dark point at which they would bind us down, and make those troubles contribute to the very satisfaction which they were meant to destroy. Intellect soon drops its crosses, love bears them on to the happy consummation. We are too impatient with our crosses: we try to cut them down; we should let them alone until they take root and blossom and bear fruit for our soul"s satisfaction. Herein is the lesson of Christ broad and gracious to us in all its application of wisdom and of comfort. You want to cut the cross into small pieces of wood and to burn them in the fire and so destroy the tree of crucifixion: Jesus Christ shows us how we are to treat the cross—we are to carry it forward from step to step until we cause the extreme of trouble to touch the beginning of joy. Let us consider then the High Priest of our profession, let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God. The joy that is beyond should give strength to bear the cross which is the immediate portion of the passing day. If we omit from our recollection the coming, the necessary joy, what wonder if our souls be cast down as under the pressure of an intolerable burden? Our light affliction is but for a moment, whilst we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. We are to be constrained to nobler heroism of endurance and sweeter gentleness of patience, by the power of an endless life. Take in more field, cast your eyes abroad upon a bolder horizon, recognise the ulterior purpose and the sure consummation of divine love, and then the cross will begin to bud, and to have upon it green leaves, and then coloured blossoms, and then rich sweet fruit; and the soul will know that it was a glad time when that rough cross was planted in the soil of the life.

Hear this sweet music, which rises with the might of gentleness, in the desert. It comes upon us suddenly, and yet there ought not to be any suddenness in such a strain. Jesus says, "I have compassion." This is the key-word of the Saviour"s life, the surname of Christ is Compassion. Why should such a speech startle one? He refers to his compassion as if it were a new feature in the day"s proceedings: he indicates the rising of compassion as though it were a new emotion of his life. What was the Saviour doing all the time but having compassion? The feeling never ceased: it touched with its own gentleness everything that Christ did—he might have prefaced every day"s work with "I have compassion," he might every night have fallen asleep to the music of his own words, "I have compassion." It gave a wondrous expression to his eyes, caused the subtlest tones to enter into his gentle yet all-pervasive and all-penetrating voice, it lifted him up above his burdens and made him face the devil with a new energy—it was the secret and the very inspiration of his life and ministry.

If you read the life of Jesus Christ under this suggestion that compassion is the key-word of it all, you will find everything Jesus Christ did taking on a new colour and bearing a new attitude and general relation to all history and to all providences. When he preached, he preached as one who had compassion, and preaching without compassion is not preaching the gospel in a gospel tone. He who would preach Christ must preach him yearningly, tearfully—there must throughout his sermons be great gushes of tenderest desire for the souls of men. This is the secret of apostolic power: Paul besought those who heard him night and day with tears; the apostle punctuated some of his letters with weeping. Jesus Christ was a preacher whose words were steeped in feeling; every sermon therefore came from his heart, belonged to his heart, expressed his heart"s uppermost feeling and purpose. When Jesus Christ denounced, he denounced in the spirit of compassion, his curses were the emphasis of his pity and his love, not in relation to those on whom they fell like thunderbolts, but in relation to those on whose behalf he poured out the maledictions of his righteous and solemn anger. When he denounced the Pharisees because they would not touch the burdens they laid upon men with so much as the tips of their fingers, it was because he had compassion upon those who were oppressed by the tyranny of those who sought to override and over-drive them. When he called men hypocrites, liars, actors, it was because they were deluding and misleading people, and because he had compassion upon the dupes and victims of priestly cunning and wicked purpose.

Why then should we be surprised when Jesus Christ says, "I have compassion"? Sometimes he had to express his compassion in the very lowest and commonest forms. He accommodated himself to human weakness in the ways in which he made his revelations. We ought to have known that his very cunning was the expression of a passionate feeling, we ought to have heard tones of compassion in every beatitude he pronounced and in every thunder of denunciation which he launched; but seeing that we were not spiritually sympathetic enough so to do, he had actually to come down and express his compassion to us in the feeding of our physical hunger. He has, so to say, to force himself by vulgarest miracle upon the rude stupidity of those who cannot follow the subtler music and diviner passages of his ministry. Not until he clothes some of us do we understand that he cares about us. He has, so to say, to build up, brick by brick, our very houses, and not until he has roofed them in and furnished them and made them glow with comfort do we begin to see that possibly there may be a Father and a Saviour in the universe. When our spiritual education is more advanced, when our sympathies are more eager and sensitive and are illuminated with divine intelligence, we shall see God in other directions and in other relations, and shall not need the miracle of bread to convince us that the very hairs of our head are all numbered and the very beatings of our heart are heard in heaven. Meanwhile we are rude, coarse, impervious, and he has to treat us according to the impenetrableness of our moral condition.

"I have compassion." How did he say that word? With what richness of tone, how broadly yet penetratingly he pronounced the word. He expounded it in its very enunciation, it warmed the wilderness when he uttered it, a new glow of hope pervading the breasts of all who heard that ineffable music. The compassionate man is the one whom we need oftenest and longest. The clever man amuses us for a moment, the entertaining man comes happily into the life now and again on sundry numerable occasions, the argumentative man troubles and vexes the intellect with many a hard proposition which he labours to solve and settle according to his own conceptions, but we tire of them all—we cannot live upon cleverness, entertainment sates its dupes, argumentativeness wears the brain which it challenges to high controversy, but pity, gentle compassion, noble all-including sympathy—it is the everlasting necessity, it is the divinest expression of interest.

This is Christ"s power over the world—not the splendour of his intellect, not the witchery and fascination of his simple crystal eloquence, but his love, care, pity, patience, hopefulness, the heavenly way he has of stooping down to us and reconstructing our life when it has been shattered by rude blows, by whispering into our ear the word of hope which we dare not whisper to ourselves lest we should provoke the sword of conscience or bring to bear upon our souls the sting of outraged memory. By his love he wins, by his compassion he stands foremost among the world"s redeemers, not one of many but one alone, and they are broken parts of him.

In such miracles as this we see how Jesus Christ includes the whole life in his purview and intent, and how nothing is too lowly for him to do that will bring into our hearts quietness and rest and satisfaction. The clever man will abandon you when you enter the chamber of affliction: his voice would be harsh there. The entertaining man cannot go with you into the sanctuary of sorrow: his laughter would offend the genius of the place, his jokes would be blasphemies in that solemn place. The argumentative man even would vex the soul by his problems and propositions, his hypotheses and clever conjectures, when the soul is ill at ease and is the subject of such afflictions as can be known only by those who have been transfixed by the accusations of God"s law.

Who then can enter the chamber or be at home in the great darkness or take up the speech of the new land and utter it so that the soul can understand its whole meaning? He only who trod the winepress, who sweat, as it were, great drops of blood, who spake seven times on the accursed tree, who said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," and who added, "It is finished." He goes with us everywhere, he is with us at the wedding feast, he will find wine enough for the guests. Wherever he goes he takes the wine of gladness with him, and when we come to die, he will be the principal guest in the chamber, and will then give us the same wine, the wedding wine. He only goes everywhere and is equally strong at every point.

Now we come to a point which for ever separates Jesus Christ from all other men, even the most tender-hearted and compassionate. It can be said of Christ alone that his resources were equal to his compassion. Our compassion outruns our resources: we are so often utterly helpless we might as well have no senses at all. What we would do, if we could: we would lift up the sick and the weary and make them well in a moment if it lay within our power so to do. We would take up the languishing and the death-stricken and make them glad in the summer light, and cause them to laugh with new energy, and because of new earthly hopes. We would cover up the grave, filling it with flowers, and smooth down the green face of the earth, so that it would be a shame to rip it up again for the purpose of hiding away the life of man. But though this would be the expression of our ignorant compassion, we are left without resource.

Jesus Christ always startled his disciples by the completeness of his proposals. "Feed the multitude," said Hebrews , and the disciples instantly answered "How?" "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature"—the same completeness and the same compassion, the same determination to meet the necessity of the whole case; and truly from a human point of view there is as little apparently in the one case as in the other—that is to say, in the case of preaching the gospel to every creature, and feeding the multitude with a few loaves and small fishes. What is there in this gospel to preach to every creature? what is there of sufficiency to meet the wants of the human family in all lands in all times? Yet it grows as it is spoken: this message never ends: it halts for a moment to accommodate the weakness of the speaker, but it tarries for him, it makes the air throb and burn till he returns to his work, itself is. never expressed in final speech. Let those testify to the sufficiency of the gospel to meet every want, who have known the gospel longest.

Notice the reason which Jesus Christ gives for his action—"lest they faint in the way." Here is the preventive ministry of the Saviour: he does not wait until the people do faint, he will run before them to prevent them fainting. Who can estimate this aspect of the Saviour"s ministry amongst us? We know the accidents which actually occur, and we magnify them into tragedies, but who knows the accidents which we narrowly escape, the accidents, so to say, which might have happened, the perils which surround us on the right hand and on the left and yet which do not express themselves in their ultimate form? The physiologists tell us that every day we have ten thousand narrow escapes from death: you do not know how near you were dying five minutes ago—death, so to say, brushed you, and there was not room for a breath between the monster and the possible victim. We only know the rude accident, the actual fainting fit; but the accidents from which we are spared, the fainting fits that are kept off, the perils that are commanded to stand aside, who can estimate all these? Yet in this instance Jesus Christ invites our attention to his broadly preventive ministry; the action in which he goes before us to make ready against every contingency that could give us trouble.

"I go that I may prepare a place for you." He is always running before: if he go away, he says, when we cling to him as if we would detain him on the earth, "It is expedient for you that I go away." He never did anything for himself; he saved others, himself he could not save. To-day he is pleading for us, making our poor prayers into great prevalent intercessions, lifting up our little ministry of supplication into his own broad and grand priesthood, and giving gifts unto men as the answers to his own great prayers. We do not know all that Jesus is doing for us, we do not even know all that the summer does. Add up and tell me in plain speech what the summer does. You will speak of gardens and meadows, blossoms, foliages of a thousand tints, ripening fruits, singing-birds, great breadths of blue sky, height on height, an infinite immensity—is that all? You do not tell me how the summer climbed up into the poor man"s one paned window and looked at him and told him he should be well again. You do not tell me how the summer subtly affected the souls of men who were depressed, and caused them to believe that even yet they would have a few cheerful hours before they passed away and were no more. You cannot follow all the ministry of light; it is always speaking, always working miracles, always recalling hope, always showing ways out of difficulties—light, a word of one syllable, but of all syllables in one.

Christ did not say that he wished to perform a miracle; Jesus Christ had no wish to show signs and wonders, and to display mere power. Had the bread been equal to the compassion, no miracle would have been performed. Compassion is the secret of every miracle; there are no instances of Jesus Christ exerting mere power for the sake of its display: he never sought to do anything by the exhibition of mere omnipotence. Read the miracles in the light of this suggestion, and you will find that every miracle Isaiah , so to say, the expression of his tears, the utterance of his love, the form of his compassion. Think of all his healing, and see in all the wondrous cures which he wrought, how he had compassion on the multitude. See him raising the dead, and as the dead rise in obedience to his word, hear him say, "I have compassion on the living because they are so lonely and cold in the absence of the loved one." See him walking on the sea, and hear him saying to the cold night wind, roused into storms that affrighted the poor voyagers, "I have compassion on the storm-tossed disciples because they are alone and know not what to do." And hear him say on the cross, "I have compassion on the multitude."

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 15:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/matthew-15.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, October 30th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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