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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Luke 7

 

 

Verses 1-10

Chapter 12

THE FAITH OF THE CENTURION.

Luke 7:1-10

OUR Evangelist prefaces the narrative of the healing of the centurion’s servant with one of his characteristic time-marks, the shadow upon his dial-plate being the shadow of the new mount of God: "After He had ended all His sayings in the ears of the people, He entered into Capernaum." The language is unusually weighty, almost solemn, as if the Sermon on the Mount were not so much a sermon as a manifesto, the formal proclamation of the kingdom of heaven. Our word "ended," too, is scarcely an equivalent of the original word, whose underlying idea is that of fullness, completion. It is more than a full-stop to point a sentence; it is a word that characterizes the sentence itself, suggesting, if not implying, that these "sayings" of His formed a complete and rounded whole, a body of moral and ethical truth which was perfect in itself. The Mount of Beatitudes thus stands before us as the Sinai of the New Testament, giving its laws to all peoples and to all times. But how different the aspect of the two mounts! Then the people dare not touch the mountain; now they press close up to the "Prophet like unto Moses" to hear the word of God. Then the Law came in a cluster of restrictions and negations; it now speaks in commands most positive, in principles permanent as time itself; while from this new Sinai the clouds have disappeared, the thunders ceased, leaving a sky serene and bright, and a heaven which is strangely near.

Returning to Capernaum-which city, after the ejection from Nazareth, became the home of Jesus, and the center of His Galilean ministry-He was met by a deputation of Jewish elders, who came to intercede with Him on behalf of a centurion whose servant was lying dangerously ill and apparently at the point of death. The narrative thus gives us, as its "dramatis personae," the Sufferer, the Intercessor, and the Healer.

As we read the story our thought is arrested, and naturally so, by the central figure. The imposing shadow of the centurion so completely fills our range of vision that it throws into the background the nameless one who in his secret chamber is struggling vainly in the tightening grip of death. But who is he who can command such a service? Around whose couch is such a multitude of ministering feet? Who is he whose panting breath can throw over the heart of his master, and over his face, the ripple marks of a great sorrow, which sends hither and thither, as the wind tosses the dry leaves, soldiers of the army, elders of the Jews, friends of the master, and which makes even the feet of the Lord hasten with His succor?

"And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick and at the point of death." Such is the brief sentence which describes a character, and sums up the whole of an obscure life. We are not able to define precisely his position, for the word leaves us in doubt whether he were a slave or a servant of the centurion. Probably-if we may throw the light of the whole narrative upon the word-he was a confidential servant, living in the house of his master, on terms of more than usual intimacy. What those terms were we may easily discover by opening out the word "dear," reading its depths as well as its surface-meaning. In its lower sense it means "valuable," "worthy" (putting its ancient accent upon the modern word). It sets the man, not over against the tables of the Law, but against the law of the tables, weighing him in the balances of trade, and estimating him by the scale of commercial values. But in this meaner, worldly mode of reckoning he is not found wanting. He is a servant proved and approved. Like Eliezer of old, he has identified himself with his master’s interests, listening for his voice, and learning to read even the wishes which were unexpressed in words. Adjusting His will to the higher will, like a vane answering the currents of the wind, his hands, his feet, and his whole self have swung round to fall into the drift of his master’s purpose. Faithful in his service, whether that service were under the master’s eye or not, and faithful alike in the great and the little things, he has entered into his master’s confidence, and so into his joy. Losing his own personality, he is content to be something between a cipher and a unit, only a "hand." But he is the master’s right hand, strong and ever ready, so useful as to be almost an integral part of the master’s self, without which the master’s life would be incomplete and strangely bereaved. All this we may learn from the lower meaning of the phrase "was dear unto him."

But the word has a higher meaning, one that is properly rendered by our "dear." It implies esteem, affection, transferring our thought from the subject to the object, from the character of the servant to the influence it has exerted upon the master. The word is thus an index, a barometrical reading, measuring for us the pressure of that influence, and recording for us the high sentiments of regard and affection it has evoked.

As the trees around the pond lean towards the water which laves their roots, so the strong soul of the centurion, drawn by the attractions of a lowly but a noble life, leans toward, until it leans upon, his servant, giving him its confidence, its esteem and love, that golden fruitage of the heart. That such was the mutual relation of the master and the servant is evident, for Jesus, who read motives and heard thoughts, would not so freely and promptly have placed His miraculous power at the disposal of the centurion had his sorrow been only the selfish sorrow of losing what was commercially valuable. To an appeal of selfishness, though thrown forward and magnified by the sounding-boards of all the synagogues the ears of Jesus would have been perfectly deaf; but when it was the cry of a genuine sorrow, the moan of a vicarious pain, an unselfish, disinterested grief, then the ears of Jesus were quick to hear, and His feet swift to respond.

It is impossible for us to define exactly what the sickness was, though the statement of St. Matthew that it was "palsy," and that he was "grievously tormented," would suggest that it might be an acute case of inflammatory rheumatism. But whatever it might be, it was a most painful, and as every one thought a mortal sickness, one that left no room for hope, save this last hope in the Divine mercy. But what a lesson is here for our times, as indeed for all times, the lesson of humanity! How little does Heaven make of rank and station! Jesus does not even see them; He ignores them utterly. To His mind Humanity is one, and the broad lines of distinction, the impassable barriers Society is fond of drawing or setting up, to Him are but imaginary meridians of the sea, a name but nothing more. It is but a nameless servant of a nameless master, one, too, of many, for a hundred others are ready, with military precision, to do that same master’s will; but Jesus does not hesitate. He who voluntarily took upon Himself the form of a servant, as He came into the world "not to be ministered unto, but to minister," now becomes the Servant of a servant, saying to him who knew only how to obey, how to serve, "Here am I command Me; use Me as thou wilt." All service is honorable, if we serve not ourselves, but our fellows, and it is doubly so if, serving man, we serve God too. As the sunshine looks down into, and strews with flowers, the lowest vales, so the Divine compassion falls on the lowliest lives, and the Divine grace makes them sweet and beautiful. Christianity is the great leveler, but it levels upwards, and if we possess the mind of Christ, His Spirit dwelling and ruling within, we too, like the great Apostle, shall know no man after the flesh; the accidents of birth, and rank, and fortune will sink back into the trifles that they are; for however these may vary, it is an eternal truth, though spoken by a son of the soil and the heather-

"A man’s a man for a’ that."

It is not easy to tell how the seed-thought is borne into a heart, there to germinate and ripen; for influences are subtle, invisible things. Like the pollen of a flower, which may be carried on the antennae of some unconscious insect, or borne into the future by the passing breeze, so influences which will yet ripen into character and make destinies are thrown off unconsciously from our common deeds, or they are borne on the wings of the chance, casual word. The case of the centurion is no exception. By what steps he has been brought into the clearer light we cannot tell, but evidently this Pagan officer is now a proselyte to the Hebrew faith and worship, the window of his soul open towards Jerusalem while his professional life still looks towards Rome, as he renders to Caesar the allegiance and service which are Caesar’s due. And what a testimony it is to the vitality and reproductive power of the Hebrew faith, that it should boast of at least three centurions, in the imperial ranks, of whom Scripture makes honorable mention-one at Capernaum; another, Cornelius, at Caesarea, whose prayers and alms were had in remembrance of Heaven; and the third in Jerusalem, witnessing a good confession upon Calvary, and proclaiming within the shadow of the cross the Divinity of the Crucified. It shows how the Paganism of Rome failed to satisfy the aspirations of the soul, and how Mars, red and lurid through the night, paled and disappeared at the rising of the Sun.

Although identifying himself with the religious life of the city, the centurion had not yet had any personal interview with Jesus. Possibly his military duties prevented his attendance at the synagogue, so that he had not seen the cures Jesus there wrought upon the demoniac and the man with the withered hand. The report of them, however, must soon have reached him, intimate as he was with the officials of the synagogue; while the nobleman, the cure of whose sick son is narrated by St. John, [John 4:46] would probably be amongst his personal friends, an acquaintance at any rate. The centurion "heard" of Jesus, but he could not have heard had not some one spoken of Him. The Christ was borne into his mind and heart on the breath of common speech; that is, the little human word grew into the Divine Word. It was the verbal testimony as to what Jesus had done that now led to the still greater things He was prepared to do. And such is the place and power of testimony today. It is the most persuasive, the most effective form of speech. Testimony will often win where argument has failed, and gold itself is all-powerless to extend the frontiers of the heavenly kingdom until it is melted down and exchanged for the higher currency of speech. It is first the human voice crying in the wilderness, and then the incarnate Word, whose coming makes the wilderness to be glad, and the desert places of life to sing. And so, while a sword of flame guards the Paradise Lost, it is a "tongue" of flame, that symbol of perpetual Pentecost, which calls man back, redeemed now, to the Paradise Restored. If Christians would only speak more for Christ; if, shaking off that foolish reserve, they would in simple language testify to what they themselves have seen, and known, and experienced, how rapidly would the kingdom come, the kingdom for which we pray, indeed, but for which, alas, we are afraid to speak! Nations then would be born in a day, and the millennium, instead of being the distant or the forlorn hope it is, would be a speedy realization. We should be in the fringe of it directly. It is said that on one of the Alpine glaciers the guides forbid travelers to speak, lest the mere tremor of the human voice should loosen and bring down the deadly avalanche. Whether this be so or not, it was some unnamed voice that now sent the centurion to Christ, and brought the Christ to him.

It was probably a sudden relapse, with increased paroxysms of pain, on the part of the sufferer, which now decided the centurion to make his appeal to Jesus, sending a deputation of Jewish elders, as the day was on the wane, to the house to which Jesus had now returned. They make their request that. "He would come and save the servant of the centurion, who was now lying at the point of death." True advocates, and skilful, were these elders. They made the centurion’s cause their own, as if their hearts had caught the rhythmic beat of his great sorrow, and when Jesus held back a little-as He often did, to test the intensity of the desire and the sincerity of the suppliant-"they besought Him earnestly," or "kept on beseeching" as the tense of the verb would imply, crowning their entreaty with the plea, "He is worthy that Thou shouldest do this, for he loveth our nation, and himself built us our synagogue." Possibly they feared-putting a Hebrew construction upon His sympathies-that Jesus would demur, and perhaps refuse, because their client was a foreigner. They did not know, what we know so well, that the mercy of Jesus was as broad as it was deep, knowing no bounds where its waves of blessing are stayed. But how forceful and prevalent was their plea! Though they knew it not, these elders do but ask Jesus to illustrate the words He has just spoken, "Give, and it shall be given unto you." And had not Jesus laid this down as one of the laws of mercy, that action and reaction are equal? Had He not been describing the orbit in which blessings travel, showing that though its orbit be apparently eccentric at times, like the boomerang, that wheels round and comes back to the hand that threw it forward, the mercy shown will eventually come back to him who showed it, with a wealth of heavenly usury? And so their plea was the one of all others to be availing. It was the precept of the mount evolved into practice. It was, "Bless him, for he has richly blessed us. He has opened his hand, showering his favors upon us; do Thou open Thine hand now, and show him that the God of the Hebrews is a God who hears, and heeds, and helps."

It has been thought, from the language of the elders, that the synagogue built by the centurion was the only one that Capernaum possessed; for they speak of it as "the" synagogue. But this does not follow, and indeed it is most improbable. They might still call it "the" synagogue, not because it was the only one, but: because it was the one foremost and uppermost in their thought, the one in which they were particularly interested. The definite article no more proves this to be the only synagogue in Capernaum than the phrase "the house" [Luke 7:10] proves the house of the centurion to be the only house of the city. The fact is that in the Gospel age Capernaum was a busy and important place, as shown by its possessing a garrison of soldiers, and by its being the place of custom, situated as it was on the great highway of trade. And if Jerusalem could boast of four hundred synagogues, and Tiberias-a city not even named by the Synoptists-fourteen, Capernaum certainly would possess more than one. Indeed, had Capernaum been the insignificant village that one synagogue would imply, then, instead of deserving the bitter woes Jesus pronounced upon it, it would have deserved the highest commendation, as the most fruitful field in all His ministry, giving Him, besides other disciples, a ruler of the Jews and the commandant of the garrison. That it deserved such bitter "woes" proves that Capernaum had a population both dense and, in the general, hostile to Jesus, compared with which His friends and adherents were a feeble few.

In spite of the negative manner Jesus purposely showed at the first He fully intended to grant all the elders had asked, and allowing them now to guide Him, He "went with them." When, however, they were come near the house, the centurion sent other "friends" to intercept Jesus and to urge Him not to take any further trouble. The message, which they deliver in the exact form in which it was given to them, is so characteristic and exquisitely beautiful that it is best to give it entire: "Lord, trouble not Thyself: for I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof: wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto Thee: but say the word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having under myself soldiers: and I say to this one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it."

The narrative of St. Matthew differs slightly from that of St. Luke, in that he omits all reference to the two deputations, speaking of the interview as being personal with the centurion. But St. Matthew’s is evidently an abbreviated narrative, and he passes over the intermediaries, in accordance with the maxim that he who acts through another does it per se. But both agree as to the terms of the message, a message which is at once a marvel and a rebuke to us, and one which was indeed deserving of being twice recorded and eulogized in the pages of the Gospels.

And how the message reveals the man, disclosing as in a transparency the character of this nameless foreigner! We have already seen how broad were his sympathies, and how generous his deeds, as he makes room in his large heart for a conquered and despised people, at his own cost building a temple for the exercises of their faith. We have seen, too, what a wealth of tenderness and benevolence was hiding beneath a somewhat stern exterior, in his affection for a servant, and his anxious solicitude for that servant’s health. But now we see in the centurion other graces of character, that set him high amongst those "outside saints" who worshipped in the outer courts, until such time as the veil of the Temple was rent in twain, and the way into the Holiest was opened for all. And what a beautiful humility is here! What an absence of assumption or of pride! Occupying an honored position, representing in his own person an empire which was world-wide, surrounded by troops of friends, and by all the comforts wealth could buy, accustomed to speak in imperative, if not in imperious ways, yet as he turns towards Jesus it is with a respectful, yea, a reverential demeanor. He feels himself in the presence of some Higher Being, an unseen but august Caesar. Nay, not in His presence either, for into that audience-chamber he feels that he has neither the fitness nor the right to intrude. All that he can do is to send forward his petition by the hands of worthier advocates, who have access to Him, while he himself keeps back out of sight, with bared feet standing by the outer gate. Others can speak well and highly of him, recounting his noble deeds, but of himself he has nothing good to say; he can only speak of self in terms of disparagement, as he emphasizes his littleness, his unworthiness. Nor was it with him the conventional hyperbole of Eastern manners; it was the language of deepest, sincerest truth, when he said that he was not worthy even to speak with Christ, or to receive such a Guest beneath his roof. Between himself and the One he reverently addressed as "Lord" there was an infinite distance; for one was human, while the Other was Divine.

And what a rare and remarkable faith! In his thought Jesus is an Imperator, commanding all forces, as He rules the invisible realms. His will is supreme over all substances, across all distances. "Thou hast no need, Lord, to take any trouble about my poor request. There is no necessity that Thou shouldest take one step, or even lift up a finger; Thou hast only to speak the word, and it is done"; and then he gives that wonderfully graphic illustration borrowed from his own military life.

The passage "For I also am a man set under authority" is generally rendered as referring to his own subordinate position under the Chiliarch. But such a rendering, as it seems to us, breaks the continuity of thought, and grammatically is scarcely accurate. The whole passage is an amplification and description of the "word" of ver. 7 [Luke 7:7-8], and the "also" introduces something the centurion and Jesus possess in common, i.e. the power to command; for the "I also" certainly corresponds with the "Thou" which is implied, but not expressed. But the centurion did not mean to imply that Jesus possessed only limited, delegated powers; this was farthest from his thought, and formed no part of the comparison. But let the clause "I also am a man set under authority" be rendered, not as referring to the authority which is above him, but to that which is upon him-"I also am vested with authority," or "Authority is put upon me"-and the meaning becomes clear. The "also" is no longer warped into an ungrammatical meaning, introducing a contrast rather than a likeness; while the clause which follows, "having under myself soldiers," takes its proper place as an enlargement and explanation of the "authority" with which the centurion is invested.

The centurion speaks in a soldierly way. There is a crispness and sharpness about his tones-that Shibboleth of militarism. He says, "My word is all-powerful in the ranks which I command. I have but to say ‘Come,’ or ‘Go,’ and my word is instantly obeyed. The soldier upon whose ear it falls dare not hesitate, any more than he dare refuse. He ‘goes’ at my word, any whither, on some forlorn hope it may be, or to his grave." And such is the obedience, instant and absolute, that military service demands. The soldier must not question, he must obey; he must not reason, he must act; for when the word of command-that leaded word of authority-falls upon his ear, it completely fills his soul, and makes him deaf to all other, meaner voices.

Such was the thought in the centurion’s mind, and from the "go" and "come" of military authority to the higher "word" of Jesus the transition is easy. But how strong the faith that could give to Jesus such an enthronement, that could clothe His word with such superhuman power! Yonder, in his secluded chamber, lies the sufferer, his nerves quivering in their pain, while the mortal sickness physicians and remedies have all failed to touch, much less to remove, has dragged him close up to the gate of death. But this "word" of Jesus shall be all-sufficient. Spoken here and now, it shall pass over the intervening streets and through the interposing walls and doors; it shall say to these demons of evil, "Loose him, and let him go," and in a moment the torturing pain shall cease, the fluttering heart shall resume its healthy, steady beat, the rigid muscles shall become pliant as before, while through arteries and veins the life-blood-its poison all extracted now-shall regain its healthful, quiet flow. The centurion believed all this of the "word" of Jesus, and even more. In his heart it was a word all-potent, if not omnipotent, like to the word of Him who "spake, and it was done," who "commanded, and it stood fast." And if the word of Jesus in these realms of life and death was so imperative and all-commanding, could the Christ Himself be less than Divine?

To find such confidence reposed in Himself was to Jesus something new, and to find this rarest plant of faith growing up on Gentile soil was a still greater marvel, and turning to the multitude, which clustered thick and eager around, He said to them, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." And commending the centurion’s faith, He honors it too, doing all he requested, and even more, though without the "word." Jesus does not even say "I will," or "Be it so," but He works the instant and perfect cure by a mere volition. He wills it, and it is done, so that when the friends returned to the house they found the servant "whole."

Of the sequel we know nothing. We do not even read that Jesus saw the man at whose faith He had so marveled. But doubtless He did, for His heart was drawn strangely to him, and doubtless He gave to him many of those "words" for which his soul had longed and listened, words in which were held, as in solution, all authority and all truth. And doubtless, too, in the after-years, Jesus crowned that life of faithful but unnoted service with the higher "word," the heavenly "Well done."


Verses 18-23

Chapter 16

THE MIRACLES OF HEALING.

IT is only natural that our Evangelist should linger with a professional as well as a personal interest over Christ’s connection with human suffering and disease, and that in recounting the miracles of healing He should be peculiarly at home; the theme would be in such thorough accord with his studies and tastes. It is true he does not refer to these miracles as being a fulfillment of prophecy; it is left for St. Matthew, who weaves his Gospel on the unfinished warp of the Old Testament, to recall the words of Isaiah, how "Himself took our infirmities and bare our diseases"; yet our physician-Evangelist evidently lingers over the pathological side of his Gospel with an intense interest. St. John passes by the miracles of healing in comparative silence, though he stays to give us two cases which are omitted by the Synoptists-that of the nobleman’s son at Capernaum, and that of the impotent man at Bethesda. But St. John’s Gospel moves in more ethereal spheres, and the touches he chronicles are rather the touches of mind with mind, spirit with spirit, than the physical touches through the coarser medium of the flesh. The Synoptists, however, especially in their earlier chapters, bring the works of Christ into prominence, traveling, too, very much over the same ground, though each introduces some special facts omitted by the rest, while in their record of the same fact each Evangelist throws some additional coloring.

Grouping together the miracles of healing-for our space will not allow a separate treatment of each-our thought is first arrested by the variety of forms in which suffering and disease presented themselves to Jesus, the wideness of the ground, physical and psychical, the miracles of healing cover. Our Evangelist mentions fourteen different cases, not, however, as including the whole, or even the greater part, but rather as being typical, representative cases. They are, as it were, the nearer constellations, localized and named; but again and again in his narrative we find whole groups and clusters lying farther back, making a sort of Milky Way of light, whose thickly clustered worlds baffle all our attempts at enumeration. Such are the "women" of chap. 8. ver. 2 [Luke 8:2], who had been healed of their infirmities, but whose record is omitted in the Gospel story; and such, too, are those groups of cures mentioned in [Luke 4:40; Luke 5:15; Luke 6:19; Luke 7:21], when the Divine power seemed to culminate, throwing itself out in a largesse of blessing, fairly raining down its bright gifts of healing like meteoric showers.

Turning now to the typical cases mentioned by St. Luke, they are as follows: the man possessed of an unclean demon; Peter’s wife’s mother, who was sick of a fever; a leper, a paralytic, the man with the withered hand, the servant of the centurion, the demoniac, the woman with an issue, the boy possessed with a demon, the man with a dumb demon, the woman with an infirmity, the man with the dropsy, the ten lepers, and blind Bartimaeus. The list, like so many lines of dark meridians, measures off the entire circumference of the world of suffering, beginning with the withered hand, and going on and down to that "sacrament of death," leprosy, and to that yet further deep, demoniacal possession. Some diseases were of more recent origin, as the case of fever: others were chronic, of twelve or eighteen years’ standing, or lifelong, as in the case of the possessed boy. In some a solitary organ was affected, as when the hand had withered, or the tongue was tied by some power of evil, or the eyes had lost their gift of vision. In others the whole person was diseased, as when the fires of the fever shot through the heated veins, or the leprosy was covering the flesh with the white scales of death. But whatever its nature or its stage, the disease was acute, as far as human probabilities went, past all hope of healing. It was no slight attack, but a "great fever" which had stricken down the mother-in-law of Peter, the intensive adjective showing that it had reached its danger point. And where among human means was there hope for a restored vision, when for years the last glimmer of light had faded away, when even the optic nerve was atrophied by the long disuse? And where, among the limited pharmacopoeias of ancient times, or even among the vastly extended lists of modern times, was there a cure for the leper, who carried, burned into his very flesh, his sentence of death? No, it was not the trivial, temporary cases of sickness Jesus took in hand; but He passed into that innermost shrine of the temple of suffering, the shrine that lay in perpetual night, and over whose doorway was the inscription of Dante’s "Inferno," "All hope abandon, ye who enter here!" But when Jesus entered this grim abode He turned its darkness to light, its sighs to songs, bringing hope to despairing ones and leading back into the light of day these captives of Death, as Orpheus is fabled to have brought back to earth the lost Eurydice.

And not only are the cases so varied in their character, and humanly speaking, hopeless in their nature, but they were presented to Jesus in such a diversity of ways. They are none of them arranged for, studied. They could not have formed any plan or routine of mercy, nor were they timed for the purpose of producing spectacular effects. They were nearly all of them impromptu, extemporary, events, coming without His seeking, and coming often as interruptions to His own plans. Now it is in the synagogue, in the pauses of public worship, that Jesus rebukes an unclean devil, or He bids the cripple stretch out his withered hand. Now it is in the city: amid the crowd, or out upon the plain; now It is within the house of a chief Pharisee, in the very midst of an entertainment; while at other times He is walking on the road, when, without even stopping in His journey, He wills the leper clean, or He throws the gift of life and health forward to the centurion’s servant, whom He has not seen. No times were inopportune to Him, and no places were foreign to the Son of man, where men suffered and pain abode. Jesus refused no request on the ground that the time was not well chosen, and though He did again and again refuse the request of selfish interest or vain ambition, He never once turned a deaf ear to the cry of sorrow or of pain, no matter when or whence it came.

And if we consider His methods of healing we find the same diversity. Perhaps we ought not to use that word, for there was a singular absence of method. There was nothing set, artificial in His way, but an easy freedom, a beautiful naturalness. In one respect, and perhaps in one only, are all similar, and that is in the absence of intermediaries. There was no use of means, no prescription of remedies; for in the seeming exception, the clay with which He anointed the eyes of the blind, and the waters of Siloam which He prescribed, were not remedial in themselves; the washing was rather the test of the man’s faith, while the anointing was a sort of "aside," spoken, not to the man himself, hut to the group of onlookers, preparing them for the fresh manifestation of His power. Generally a word was enough, though we read of His healing "touch," and twice of the symbolic laying on of hands. And by the way, it is somewhat singular that Jesus made use of the touch at the healing of the leper, when the touch meant ceremonial uncleanness. Why does He not speak the word only as He did afterwards at the healing of the "ten?" And why does He, as it were, go out of His way to put Himself in personal contact with the leper, who was under a ceremonial ban? Was it not to show that a new era had dawned, an era in which uncleanness should be that of the heart, the life, and no longer the outward uncleanness, which any accident of contact might induce? Did not the touching of the leper mean the abrogation of the multiplied bans of the Old Dispensation, just as afterwards a heavenly vision coming to Peter wiped out the dividing-line between clean and unclean meats? And why did not the touch of the leper make Jesus ceremonially unclean? For we do not read that it did, or that He altered His plans one whir because of it. Perhaps we find our answer in the Levitical regulations respecting the leprosy. We read in [Leviticus 14:28] that at the cleansing of the leper the priest was to dip his right finger in the blood and in the oil, and put it on the ear, and hand, and foot of the person cleansed. The finger of the priest was thus the index or sign of purity, the lifting up of the ban which his leprosy had put around and over him. And when Jesus touched the leper it was the priestly touch; it carried its own cleansing with it, imparting power and purity, instead of contracting the defilement of another.

But if Jesus touched the leper, and permitted the woman of Capernaum to touch Him, or at any rate His garment, He studiously avoided any personal contact with those possessed of devils. He recognized here the presence of evil spirits, the powers of darkness, which have enthralled the weaker human spirit, and for these a word is enough. But how different a word to His other words of healing, when He said to the leper, "I will; be thou clean," and to Bartimaeus, "Receive thy sight!" Now it is a word sharp, imperative, not spoken to the poor helpless victim, but thrown over and beyond him, to the dark personality, which held a human soul in a vile, degrading bondage. And so while the possessed boy lay writhing and foaming on the ground, Jesus laid no hand upon him; it was not till after He had spoken the mighty word, and the demon had departed from him, that Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up.

But whether by word or by touch, the miracles were wrought with consummate ease; there were none of those artistic flourishes which mere performers use as a blind to cover their sleight of hand. There was no straining for effect, no apparent effort. Jesus Himself seemed perfectly unconscious that He was doing anything marvelous or even unusual. The words of power fell naturally from His lips, like the falling of leaves from the tree of life, carrying, wheresoever they might go, healing for the nations.

But if the method of the cures is wonderful, the unstudied ease and simple naturalness of the Healer, the completeness of the cures is even more so. In all the multitudes of cases there was no failure. We find the disciples baffled and chagrined, attempting what they cannot perform, as with the possessed boy; but with Jesus failure was an impossible word. Nor did Jesus simply make them better, bringing them into a state of convalescence, and so putting them in the way of getting well. The cure was instant and complete; "immediately" is St. Luke’s frequent and favorite word; so much so that she who half an hour ago was stricken down with malignant fever, and apparently at the point of death, now is going about her ordinary duties as if nothing had happened, "ministering" to Peter’s many guests. Though Nature possesses a great deal of resilient force, her periods of convalescence, when the disease itself is checked, are more or less prolonged, and weeks, or sometimes months, must elapse before the spring-tides of health return, bringing with them a sweet overflow, an exuberance of life. Not so, however, when Jesus was the Healer. At His word, or at the mere beckoning of His finger, the tides of health, which had gone far out in the ebb, suddenly returned in all their spring fullness, lifting high on their wave the bark which through hopeless years had been settling down into its miry grave. Eighteen years of disease had made the woman quite deformed; the contracting muscles had bent the form God made to stand erect, so that she could "in no wise lift herself up"; but when Jesus said, "Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity," and laid His hands upon her, in an instant the tightened muscles relaxed, the bent form regained its earlier grace, for "she was made straight, and glorified God." One moment, with the Christ in it, was more than eighteen years of disease, and with the most perfect ease it could undo all the eighteen years had done. And this is but a specimen case, for the same completeness characterizes all the cures that Jesus wrought. "They were made whole," as it reads, no matter what the malady might be; and though disease had loosened all the thousand strings, so that the wonderful harp was reduced to silence, or at best could but strike discordant notes, the hand of Jesus has but to touch it, and in an instant each string recovers its pristine tone, the jarring sounds vanish, and body, "mind and soul according well, awake sweet music as before."

But though Jesus wrought these many and complete cures, making the healing of the sick a sort of pastime, the interludes in that Divine "Messiah," still He did not work these miracles indiscriminately, without method or conditions. He freely placed His service at the disposal of others, giving Himself up to one tireless round of mercy; but it is evident there was some selection for these gifts of healing. The healing power was not thrown out randomly, falling on any one it might chance to strike; it flowed out in certain directions only, in ordered channels; it followed certain lines and laws. For instance, these circles of healing were geographically narrow. They followed the personal presence of Jesus, and with one or two exceptions, were never found apart from that presence; so that, many as they were, they would form but a small part of suffering humanity. And even within these circles of His visible presence we are not to suppose that all were healed. Some were taken, and others were left, to a suffering from which only death would release them. Can we discover the law of this election of mercy? We think we may.

(1) In the first place, there must be the need for the Divine intervention. This perhaps goes without saying, and does not seem to mean much, since among those who were left unhealed there were needs just as great as those of the more favored ones. But while the "need" in some cases was not enough to secure the Divine mercy, in other cases it was all that was asked. If the disease was mental or psychical, with reason all bewildered, and the firmaments of Right and Wrong mixed confusedly together, making a chaos of the soul, that was all Jesus required. At other times He waited for the desire to be evoked and the request to be made; but for these cases of lunacy, epilepsy, and demoniacal possession He waived the other conditions, and without waiting for the request, as in the synagogue [Luke 4:34] or on the Gadarene coast, He spoke the word, which brought order to a distracted soul, and which led Reason back to her Jerusalem, to the long-vacant throne.

For others the need itself was not sufficient; there must be the request. Our desire for any blessing is our appraisement of its value, and Jesus dispensed His gifts of healing on the Divine conditions, "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find." How the request came, whether from the sufferer himself or through some intercessor, it did not matter; for no request for healing came to Jesus to be disregarded or denied. Nor was it always needful to put the request into words. Prayer is too grand and great a thing for the lips to have a monopoly of it, and the deepest prayers may be put into acts as well as into words, as they are sometimes uttered in inarticulate sighs, and in groans which are too deep for words. And was it not truest prayer, as the multitudes carried their sick and laid them down at the feet of Jesus, even had their voice spoken no solitary word? And was it not truest prayer, as they put themselves, with their bent forms and withered hands right in His way, not able to speak one single word, but throwing across to Him the piteous but hopeful look? The request was thus the expression of their desire, and at the same time the expression of their faith, telling of the trust they reposed in His pity and His power, a trust He was always delighted to see, and to which He always responded, as He Himself said again and again, "thy faith hath saved thee." Faith then, as now, was the sesame to which all Heaven’s gates fly open; and as in the case of the paralytic who was borne of four, and let down through the roof, even a vicarious faith prevails with Jesus, as it brings to their friend a double and complete salvation. And so they who sought Jesus as their Healer found Him, and they who believed entered into His rest, this lower rest of a perfect health and perfect life; while they who were indifferent and they who doubted were left behind, crushed by the sorrow that He would have removed, and tortured by pains that His touch would have completely stilled.

And now it remains for us to gather up the light of these miracles, and to focus it on Him who was the central Figure, Jesus, the Divine Healer. And

(1) the miracles of healing speak of the knowledge of Jesus. The question, "What is man?" has been the standing question of the ages, but it is still unanswered, or answered but in part. His complex nature is still a mystery, the eternal riddle of the Sphinx, and Oedipus comes not. Physiology can number and name the bones and muscles, can tell the forms and functions of the different organs; chemistry can resolve the body into its constituent elements, and weigh out their exact proportions; philosophy can map out the departments of the mind; but man remains the great enigma. Biology carries her silken clue right up to the primordial cell; but here she finds a Gordian knot, which her keenest instruments cannot cut, or her keenest wit unravel. Within that complex nature of ours are oceans of mystery which Thought may indeed explore, but which she cannot fathom, paths which the vulture eye of Reason hath not seen, whose voices are the voices of unknown tongues, answering each other through the mist. But how familiar did Jesus seem with all these life-secrets! How intimate with all the life-forces! How versed He was in etiology, knowing without possibility of mistake whence diseases came, and just how they looked! It was no mystery to Him how the hand had shrunk, shriveling into a mass of bones, with no skill in its fingers, and no life in its clogged-up veins, or how the eyes had lost their power of vision. His knowledge of the human frame was an exact and perfect knowledge, reading its innermost secrets, as in a transparency, knowing to a certainty what links had dropped-out of the subtle mechanism, and what had been warped out of place, and knowing well just at what point and to what an extent to apply the healing remedy, which was His own volition. All earth and all heaven were without a covering; to His gaze; and what was this but Omniscience?

(2) Again, the miracles of healing speak of the compassion of Jesus. It was with no reluctance that He wrought these works of mercy; it was His delight. His heart was drawn towards suffering and pain by the magnetism of a Divine sympathy, or rather, we ought to say, towards the sufferers themselves; for suffering-and pain, like sin and woe, were exotics in His.

Father’s garden, the deadly nightshade an enemy had sown. And so we mark a great tenderness-in all His dealings with the afflicted. He does, not apply the caustic of bitter and biting words. Even when, as we may suppose, the suffering is the harvest of earlier sin, as in the case of the paralytic, Jesus speaks no harsh reproaches; He says simply and kindly, "Go in peace, and sin no more." And do we not find here a reason why these miracles of healing were so frequent in His ministry? Was it not because in His mind Sickness was somehow related to Sin? If miracles were needed to attest the "Divineness of His mission, there was no need of the constant succession of them, no need that they should form a part, and a large part, of the daily task. Sickness is, so to speak, something unnaturally natural: It results from the transgression of some physical law, as Sin is the transgression of some moral law; and He who is man’s Savior brings a complete salvation, a redemption for the body" as well as a redemption for the soul. Indeed, the diseases of the body are but the shadows, seen and felt, of the deeper diseases of the soul, and with Jesus the physical healing was but a step to the higher truth and higher experience, that spiritual cleansing, that inner creation of a right spirit, a perfect heart. And so Jesus carried on the two works side by side; they were the two parts of His one and great salvation; and as He loved and pitied the sinner, so He pitied and loved the sufferer; His sympathies all went out to meet him, preparing the way for His healing virtues to follow.

(3) Again, the miracles of healing speak of the power of Jesus. This was seen indirectly when we considered the completeness of the cures, and the wide field they covered, and we need not enlarge upon it now. But what a consciousness of might there was in Jesus! Others, prophets and apostles, have healed the sick, but their power was delegated. It came as in waves of Divine impulse, intermittent and temporary. The power that Jesus wielded was inherent and absolute, deeps which knew neither cessation nor diminution. His will was supreme over all forces. Nature’s potencies are diffused and isolated, slumbering in herb or metal, flower or leaf, in mountain or sea. But all are inert and useless until man distils them with his subtle alchemies, and then applies them by his slow processes, dissolving the tinctures in the blood, sending on its warm currents the healing virtue, if haply it may reach its goal and accomplish its mission. But all these potencies lay in the hand or in the will of Christ. The forces of life all were marshalled under His bidding. He had but to say to one "Go," and it went, here or there, or any whither; nor does it go for naught; it accomplishes its high behest, the great Master’s will. Nay, the power of Jesus is supreme even in that outlying and dark world of evil spirits. The demons fly at His rebuke; and let Him throw but one healing word across the dark, chaotic soul of one possessed, and in an instant Reason dawns; bright thoughts play on the horizon; the firmaments of Right and Wrong separate to infinite distances; and out of the darkness a Paradise emerges, of beauty and light, where the new son of God resides, and God Himself comes down in the cool and the heat of the days alike. What power is this? Is it not the power of God? Is it not Omnipotence?


Verses 24-28

Chapter 15

THE KINGDOM OF GOD.

IN considering the words of Jesus, if we may not be able to measure their depth or to scale their height, we can with absolute certainty discover their drift, and see in what direction they move, and we shall find that their orbit is an ellipse. Moving around the two centers, sin and salvation, they describe what is not a geometric figure, but a glorious reality, "the kingdom of God." It is not unlikely that the expression was one of the current phrases of the times, a golden casket, holding within it the dream of a restored Hebraism; for we find, without any collusion or rehearsal of parts, the Baptist making use of the identical words in his inaugural address, while it is certain the disciples themselves so misunderstood the thought of their Master as to refer His "kingdom" to that narrow realm of Hebrew sympathies and hopes. Nor did they see their error until, in the light of Pentecostal flames, their own dream disappeared and the new kingdom, opening out like a receding sky, embraced a world within its folds. That Jesus adopted the phrase, liable to misconstruction as it was, and that He used it so repeatedly, making it the center of so many parables and discourses, shows how completely the kingdom of God possessed both His mind and heart. Indeed, so accustomed were His thoughts and words to flow in this direction that even the Valley of Death, "lying darkly between" His two lives, could not alter their course, or turn His thoughts out of their familiar channel; and as we find the Christ back of the cross and tomb, amid the resurrection glories, we hear Him speaking still of "the things pertaining to the kingdom of God."

It will be observed that Jesus uses the two expressions "the kingdom of God" and "the kingdom of heaven" interchangeably. But in what sense is it the "kingdom of heaven?" Does it mean that the celestial realm will so far extend its bounds as to embrace our outlying and low-lying world? Not exactly, for the conditions of the two realms are so diverse. The one is the perfected, the visible kingdom, where the throne is set, and the King Himself is manifest, its citizens, angels, heavenly intelligences, and saints now freed from the cumbering clay of mortality, and forever safe from the solicitations of evil. This New Jerusalem does not come down to earth, except in the vision of the seer, as it were in a shadow. And yet the two kingdoms are in close correspondence, after all; for what is the kingdom of God in heaven but His eternal rule over the spirits of the redeemed and of the unredeemed? What are the harmonies of heaven but the harmonies of surrendered wills, as, without any hesitation or discord, they strike in with the Divine Will in absolute precision? To this extent, then, at least, heaven may project itself upon earth; the spirits of men not yet made perfect may be in subjection to the Supreme Spirit; the separate wills of a redeemed humanity, striking in with the Divine Will, may swell the heavenly harmonies with their earthly music.

And so Jesus speaks of this kingdom as being "within you." As if He said, "You are looking in the wrong direction. You expect the kingdom of God to be set up around you, with its visible symbols of flags and coins, on which is the image of some new Caesar. You are mistaken. The kingdom, like its King, is unseen; it seeks, not countries, but consciences; its realm is in the heart, in the great interior of the soul." And is not this the reason why it is called, with such emphatic repetition, "the kingdom," as if it were, if not the only, at any rate the highest kingdom of God on earth? We speak of a kingdom of Nature, and who will know its secrets as He who was both Nature’s child and Nature’s Lord? And how far-reaching a realm is that! From the motes that swim in the air to the most distant stars, which themselves are but the gateway to the unseen Beyond! What forces are here, forces of chemical affinities and repulsions, of gravitation and of life! What successions and transformations can Nature show! What infinite varieties of substance, form, and color! What a realm of harmony and peace, with no irruptions of discordant elements! Surely one would think, if God has a kingdom upon earth, this kingdom of Nature is it. But no; Jesus does not often refer to that, except as He makes Nature speak in His parables, or as He uses the sparrows, the grass, and the lilies as so many lenses through which our weak human vision may see God. The kingdom of God on earth is as much higher than the kingdom of Nature as spirit is above matter, as love is more and greater than power.

We said just now how completely the thought of "the kingdom" possessed the mind and heart of Jesus. We might go one step farther, and say how completely Jesus identified Himself with that kingdom. He puts Himself in its pivotal center, with all possible naturalness, and with an ease that assumption cannot feign He gathers up its royalties and draws them around His own Person. He speaks of it as "My kingdom"; and this, not alone in familiar discourse with His disciples, but when face to face with the representative of earth’s greatest power. Nor is the personal pronoun some chance word, used in a far-off, accommodated sense; it is the crucial word of the sentence, underscored and emphasized by a threefold repetition; it is the word He will not strike out, nor recall, even to save Himself from the Cross. He never speaks of the kingdom but even His enemies acknowledge the "authority" that rings in His tones, the authority of conscious power, as well as of perfect knowledge. When His ministry is drawing to a close He says to Peter, "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven"; which language may be understood as the official designation of the Apostle Peter to a position of pre-eminence in the Church, as its first leader. But whatever it may mean, it shows that the keys of the kingdom are His; He can bestow them on whom He will. The kingdom of heaven is not a realm in which authority and honors move upwards from below, the blossoming of "the people’s will"; it is an absolute monarchy, an autocracy, and Jesus Himself is here King supreme, His will swaying the lesser wills of men, and rearranging their positions, as the angel had foretold: "He shall reign over the house of David for ever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end." Given Him of the Father it is, [Luke 22:29, Luke 1:32] but the kingdom is His, not either as a metaphor, but really, absolutely, inalienably; nor is there admittance within that kingdom but by Him who is the Way, as He is the Life. We enter into the kingdom, or the kingdom enters into us, as we find, and then crown the King, as we sanctify in our hearts Christ as 1 Peter 3:15.

This brings us to the question of citizenship, the conditions and demands of the kingdom; and here we see how far this new dynasty is removed from the kingdoms of this world. They deal with mankind in groups; they look at birth, not character; and their bounds are well defined by rivers, mountains, seas, or by accurately surveyed lines. The kingdom of heaven, on the other hand, dispenses with all space-limits, all physical configurations, and regards mankind as one group, a unity, a lapsed but a redeemed world. But while opening its gates and offering its privileges to all alike, irrespective of class or circumstance, it is most eclective in its requirements, and most rigid in the application of its test, its one test of character. Indeed, the laws of the heavenly kingdom are a complete reversal of the lines of worldly policy. Take, for instance, the two estimates of wealth, and see how different the position it occupies in the two societies. The world makes wealth its summum bonum; or if not exactly in itself the highest good, in commercial values it is equivalent to the highest good, which is position. Gold is all-powerful, the goal of man’s vain ambitions, the panacea of earthly ill. Men chase it in hot, feverish haste, trampling upon each other in the mad scramble, and worshipping it in a blind idolatry. But where is wealth in the new kingdom? The world’s first becomes the last. It has no purchasing-power here; its golden key cannot open the least of these heavenly gates. Jesus sets it back, far back, in His estimate of the good. He speaks of it as if it were an encumbrance, a dead weight, that must be lifted, and that handicaps the heavenly athlete. "How hardly," said Jesus, when the rich ruler turned away "very sorrowful," "shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God"; [Luke 18:24] and then, by way of illustration, He shows us the picture of the camel passing through the so-called "needle’s eye" of an Eastern door. He does not say that such a thing is impossible, for the camel could pass through the "needle’s eye," but it must first kneel down and be stripped of all its baggage, before it can pass the narrow door, within the larger, but now closed gate. Wealth may have its uses, and noble uses too, within the kingdom-for it is somewhat remarkable how the faith of the two rich disciples shone out the brightest, when the faith of the rest suffered a temporary eclipse from the passing cross-but he who possesses it must be as if he possessed it not. He must not regard it as his own, but as talents given him in trust by his Lord, their image and superscription being that of the Invisible King.

Again, Jesus sets down vacillation, hesitancy, as a disqualification for citizenship in His kingdom. At the close of His Galilean ministry our Evangelist introduces us to a group of embryo disciples. The first of the three says, "Lord, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest". [Luke 9:57] Bold words they were, and doubtless well meant, but it was the language of a passing impulse, rather than of a settled conviction; it was the coruscation of a glowing, ardent temperament. He had not counted the cost. The large word "whithersoever" might, indeed, easily be spoken, but it held within it a Gethsemane and a Calvary, paths of sorrow, shame, and death he was not prepared to face. And so Jesus neither welcomed nor dismissed him, but opening out one part of his "whithersoever," He gave it back to him in the words, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head." The second responds to the "Follow Me" of Christ with the request that he might be allowed first to go and bury his father. It was a most natural request, but participation in these funeral rites would entail a. ceremonial uncleanness of seven days, by which time Jesus would be far away. Besides, Jesus must teach him, and the ages after him, that His claims were paramount; that when He commands obedience must be instant and absolute, with no interventions, no postponement. Jesus replies to him in that enigmatical way of His, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead: but go thou and publish abroad the kingdom of God"; indicating that this supreme crisis of his life is virtually a passing from death to life, a "resurrection from earth to things above." The last in this group of three volunteers his pledge, "I will follow Thee, Lord; but first suffer me to bid farewell to them that are at my house"; [Luke 9:61] but to him Jesus replies, mournfully and sorrowfully, "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God". [Luke 9:62] Why does Jesus treat these two candidates so differently? They both say, "I will follow Thee," the one in word, the other by implication; they both request a little time for what they regard a filial duty; why, then, be treated so differently, the one thrust forward to a still higher service, commissioned to preach the kingdom, and afterwards, if we may accept the tradition that he was Philip the Evangelist, passing up into the diaconate; the other, unwelcomed and uncommissioned, but disapproved as "not fit for the kingdom?" Why there should be this wide divergence between the two lives we cannot see, either from their manner or their words. It must have been a difference in the moral attitude of the two men, and which He who heard thoughts and read motives detected at once. In the case of the former there was the fixed, determined resolve, which the bier of the dead father might hold back a little, but which it could not break or bend. But Jesus saw in the other a double-minded soul, whose feet and heart moved in diverse, opposite ways, who gave, not his whole, but a very partial, self to his work; and this halting, wavering one He dismissed with the words of forecasted doom, "Not fit for the kingdom of God."

It is a hard saying, with a seeming severity about it; but is it not a truth universal and eternal? Are any kingdoms, either of knowledge or power, won and held by the irresolute and wavering? Like the stricken men of Sodom, they weary themselves to find the door of the kingdom; or if they do see the Beautiful Gates of a better life, they sit with the lame man, outside, or they linger on the steps, hearing the music indeed, but hearing it from afar. It is a truth of both dispensations, written in all the books; the Reubens who are "unstable as water" can never excel; the elder born, in the accident of years, they may be, but the birthright passes by them, to be inherited and enjoyed by others.

But if the gates of the kingdom are irrevocably closed against the halfhearted, the self-indulgent, and the proud, there is a sesame to which they open gladly. "Blessed are ye poor," so reads the first and great Beatitude: "for yours is the kingdom of God"; [Luke 6:20] and beginning with this present realization, Jesus goes on to speak of the strange contrasts and inversions the perfected kingdom will show, when the weepers will laugh, the hungry be full, and those who are despised and persecuted will rejoice in their exceeding great reward. But who are the "poor" to whom the gates of the kingdom are open so soon and so wide? At first sight it would appear as if we must give a literal interpretation to the word, reading it in a worldly, temporal sense; but this is not necessary. Jesus was now directly addressing His disciples, [Luke 6:20] though, doubtless, His words were intended to pass beyond them, to those ever-enlarging circles of humanity who in the after-years should press forward to hear Him. But evidently the disciples were in no weeping mood today; they would be elated and joyful over the recent miracles. Neither should we call them "poor," in the worldly sense of that word, for most of them had been called from honorable positions in society, while some had even "hired servants" to wait upon them and assist them. Indeed, it was not the wont of Jesus to recognize the class distinctions Society was so fond of drawing and defining. He appraised men, not by their means, but by the manhood which was in them; and when He found a nobility of soul-whether in the higher or the lower walks of life it made no difference who stepped forward to recognize and to salute it. We must therefore give to these words of Jesus, as to so many others, the deeper meaning, making the "blessed" of this Beatitude, who are now welcomed to the opened gate of the kingdom, the "poor in spirit," as, indeed, St. Matthew writes it.

What this spirit-poverty is, Jesus Himself explains, in a brief but wonderfully realistic parable. He draws for us the picture of two men at their Temple devotions. The one, a Pharisee, stands erect, with head uplifted, as if it were quite on a level with the heaven he was addressing, and with supercilious pride he counts his beads of rounded egotisms. He calls it a worship of God, when it is but a worship of self. He inflates the great "I," and then plays upon it, making it strike sharp and loud, like the tom-tom of a heathen fetish. Such is the man who fancies that he is rich toward God, that he has need of nothing, not even of mercy, when all the time he is utterly blind and miserably poor. The other is a publican, and so presumably rich. But how different his posture! With heart broken and contrite, self with him is a nothing, a zero; nay, in his lowly estimate it had become a minus quantity, less than nothing, deserving only rebuke and chastisement. Disclaiming any good, either inherent or acquired, he puts the deep need and hunger of his soul into one broken cry, "God be merciful to me a sinner". [Luke 18:13] Such are the two characters Jesus portrays as standing by the gate of the kingdom, the one proud in spirit, the other "poor in spirit"; the one throwing upon the heavens the shadow of his magnified self, the other shrinking up into the pauper, the nothing that he was. But Jesus tells us that he was "justified," accepted, rather than the other. With nought he could call his own, save his deep need and his great sin, he finds an opened gate and a welcome within the kingdom; while the proud spirit is sent empty away, or carrying back only the tithed mint and anise, and all the vain oblations Heaven could not accept.

"Blessed" indeed are such "poor"; for He giveth grace unto the lowly, while the proud He knoweth afar off. The humble, the meek, these shall inherit the earth, aye, and the heavens too, and they shall know how true is the paradox, having nothing, yet possessing all things. The fruit of the tree of life hangs low, and he must stoop who would gather it. He who would enter God’s kingdom must first become "as a little child," knowing nothing as yet, but longing to know even the mysteries of the kingdom, and having nothing but the plea of a great mercy and a great need. And are they not "blessed" who are citizens of the kingdom-with righteousness, peace, and joy all their own, a peace which is perfect and Divine, and a joy which no man taketh from them? Are they not blessed, thrice blessed, when the bright shadow of the Throne covers all their earthly life, making its dark places light, and weaving rainbows out of their very tears? He who through the strait gate of repentance passes within the kingdom finds it "the kingdom of heaven" indeed, his earthly years the beginnings of the heavenly life.

And now we touch a point Jesus ever loved to illustrate and emphasize, the manner of the kingdom’s growth, as with ever-widening frontiers it sweeps outward in its conquest of a world. It was a beautiful dream of Hebrew prophecy that in the latter days the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of the Messiah, should overlap the bounds of human empires, and ultimately cover the whole earth. Looking through her kaleidoscope of ever-shifting but harmonious figures, Prophecy was never weary of telling of the Golden Age she saw in the far future, when the shadows would lift, and a new Dawn, breaking out of Jerusalem, would steal over the world. Even the Gentiles should be drawn to its light, and kings to the brightness of its rising; the seas should offer their abundance as a willing tribute, and the isles should wait for and welcome its laws. Taking up into itself the petty strifes and jealousies of men, the discords of earth should cease; humanity should again become a Unit, restored and regenerate fellow-citizens of the new kingdom, the kingdom which should have no end, no boundaries either of space or time.

Such was the dream of Prophecy, the kingdom Jesus sets Himself to found and realize upon earth. But how? Disclaiming any rivalry with Pilate, or with his imperial master, Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world," so lifting it altogether out of the mould in which earthly dynasties are cast. "This world" uses force; its kingdoms are won and held by metallic processes, tinctures of iron and steel. In the kingdom of God carnal weapons are out of place; its only forces are truth and love, and he who takes the sword to advance this cause wounds but himself, after the vain manner of Baal’s priests. "This world" counts heads or hands; the kingdom of God numbers its citizens by hearts alone. "This world" believes in pomp and show, in outward visibilities and symbols; the kingdom of God cometh not "with observation"; its voices are gentle as a zephyr, its footsteps noiseless as the coming of spring. If man had had the ordering of the kingdom he would have summoned to his aid all kinds of portents and surprises: he would have arranged processions of imposing events; but Jesus likens the coming of the kingdom to a grain of mustard cast into a garden, or to a handful of leaven hid in three sata of meal. The two parables, with minor distinctions, are one in their import, the leading thought common to both being the contrast between its ultimate growth and the smallness and obscurity of its beginnings. In both the recreative force is a hidden force, buried out of sight, in the soil or in the meal. In both the force works outward from its center, the invisible becoming visible, the inner life assuming an outer, external form. In both we see the touch of life upon death; for left to itself the soil never would be anything more than dead earth, as the meal would be nothing more than dust, the broken ashes of a life that was departed. In both there is extension by assimilation, the leaven throwing itself out among the particles of kindred meal, while the tree attracts to itself the kindred elements of the soil. In both there is the mediation of the human hand; but as if to show that the kingdom offers equal privilege to male and female, with like possibilities of service, the one parable shows us the hand of a man, the other the hand of a woman. In both there is a consummation, the one par perfect work, an able showing us the whole mass leavened, the other showing us the wide-spreading tree, with the birds nesting in its branches.

Such, in outline, is the rise and progress of the kingdom of God in the heart of the individual man, and in the world; for the human soul is the protoplasm, the germ-cell, out of which this world-wide kingdom is evolved. The mass is leavened only by the leavening of the separate units. And how comes the kingdom of God within the soul and life of man? Not with observation or supernatural portents, but silently as the flashing forth of light. Thought, desire, purpose, prayer-these are the wheels of the chariot in which the Lord comes to His temple, the King into His kingdom And when the kingdom of God is set up within you the outer life shapes itself to the new purpose and aim, the writ and will of the King running unhindered through every department, even to its outmost frontier, while thoughts, feelings, desires, and all the golden coinage of the hear bear, not, as before, the image of Self, but the image and superscription of the Invisible King-the "Not I, but Christ."

And so the honor of the kingdom is in our keeping, as the growths of the kingdom are in our hands. The Divine Cloud adjusts its pace to our human steps, alas often far too slow! Shall the leaven stop with us, as we make religion a kind of sanctified selfishness, doing nothing but gauging the emotions and staging its little doxologies? Do we forget that the weak human hand carries the Ark of God, and pushes forward the boundaries of the kingdom? Do, we forget that hearts are only won by hearts? The kingdom of God on earth is the kingdom of surrendered wills and of consecrated lives. Shall we not, then, pray, "thy kingdom come," and living "more nearly as we pray," seek a redeemed humanity as subjects of our King? So will the Divine purpose become a realization, and the "morning" which now is always "somewhere in the world" will be everywhere, the promise and the dawn of a heavenly day, the eternal Sabbath!


Verses 36-50

Chapter 13

THE ANOINTING OF THE FEET.

Luke 7:36-50

WHETHER the narrative of the Anointing is inserted in its chronological order we cannot say, for the Evangelist gives us no word by which we may recognize either its time or its place-relation; but we can easily see that it falls into the story artistically, with a singular fitness. Going back to the context, we find Jesus pronouncing a high eulogium upon John the Baptist. Hereupon the Evangelist adds a statement of his own, calling attention to the fact that even John’s ministry failed to reach and influence the Pharisees and lawyers, who rejected the counsel of God and declined the baptism of His messenger. Then Jesus, in one of His brief but exquisite parables, sketches the character of the Pharisees. Recalling a scene of the marketplace, where the children were accustomed to play at "weddings" and "funerals"-which, by the way, are the only games at which the children of the land play today-and where sometimes the play was spoiled and stopped by some of the children getting into a pet, and lapsing into a sullen silence, Jesus says that is just a picture of the childish perversity of the Pharisees. They respond neither to the mourning of the one nor to the music of the other, but because John came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, they call him a maniac, and say, "He hath a devil"; while of Jesus, who has no ascetic ways, but mingles in the gatherings of social life, a Man amongst men, they say, "Behold a gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners." And having recorded this, our Evangelist inserts, as an appropriate sequel, the account of the supper in the Pharisee’s house, with its idyllic interlude, played by a woman’s hand, a narrative which shows, how Wisdom is justified of all her children, and how these condescensions of Jesus, His intercourse with even those who were ceremonially or morally unclean, were both proper and beautiful.

It was in one of the Galilean towns, perhaps at Nain, where Jesus was surprised at receiving an invitation to the house of a Pharisee. Such courtesies on the part of a class who prided themselves on their exclusiveness, and who were bitterly intolerant of all who were outside their narrow circle, were exceptional and rare. Besides, the teaching of Jesus was diametrically opposed to the leaven of the Pharisees. Between the caste of the one and the Catholicism of the other was a wide gulf of divergence. To Jesus the heart was everything, and the outflowing issues were colored by its hues; to the Pharisees the hand, the outward touch, was more than the heart, and Contact more than conduct. Jesus laid a Divine emphasis upon character; the cleanness He demanded was moral cleanness, purity of heart; that of the Pharisees was a ceremonial cleanness, the avoidance of things which were under a ceremonial ban. And so they magnified the jots and tittles, scrupulously tithing their mint and anise, while they overlooked completely the moralities of the heart, and reduced to a mere nothing those grander virtues of mercy and of justice. Between the Separatists and Jesus there was therefore constant friction, which afterwards developed into open hostility; and while they ever sought to damage Him with opprobrious epithets, and to bring His teaching into disrepute, He did not fail to expose their hollowness and insincerity, tearing off the veneer with which they sought to hide the brood of viperous things their creed had gendered, and to hurl against their whited sepulchers His indignant "woes."

It would almost seem as if Jesus hesitated in accepting the invitation, for the tense of the verb "desired" implies that the request was repeated. Possibly other arrangements had been made, or perhaps Jesus sought to draw out and test the sincerity of the Pharisee, who in kind and courteous words offered his hospitality. The hesitation would certainly not arise from any reluctance on His part, for Jesus refused no open door; he welcomed any opportunity of influencing a soul. As the shepherd of His own parable went over the mountainous paths in quest of his lone lost sheep, so Jesus was glad to risk unkind aspersions, and to bear the "fierce light" of hostile, questioning eyes, if He might but rescue a soul, and win some erring one back to virtue and to truth.

The character of the host we cannot exactly determine. The narrative lights up his features but indistinctly, for the nameless "sinner" is the central object of the picture, while Simon stands in the background, out of focus, and so somewhat veiled in obscurity. To many he appears as the cold and heartless censor, distant and haughty, seeking by the guile of hospitality to entrap Jesus, hiding behind the mask of friendship some dark and sinister motive. But such deep shadows are cast by our own thoughts rather than by the narrative; they are the random "guesses after truth," instead of the truth itself. It will be noticed that Jesus does not impugn in the least his motive in proffering his hospitality; and this, though but a negative evidence, is not without its weight, when on a similar occasion the evil motive was brought to light. The only charge laid against him-if charge it be-was the omission of certain points of etiquette that Eastern hospitality was accustomed to observe, and even here there is nothing to show that Jesus was treated differently from the other invited guests. The omission, while it failed to single out Jesus for special honor, might still mean no disrespect; and at the most it was a breach of manners, deportment, rather than of morals, just one of those lapses Jesus was most ready to overlook and forgive. We shall form a juster estimate of the man’s character if we regard him as a seeker after truth. Evidently he has felt a drawing towards Jesus; indeed, ver. 47 [Luke 7:47] would almost imply that he had received some personal benefit at His hand. Be this as it nay, he is desirous of a closer and a freer intercourse. His mind is perplexed, the balances of his judgment swinging in alternate and opposite ways. A new problem has presented itself to him, and in that problem is one factor he cannot yet value. It is the unknown quantity, Jesus of Nazareth. Who is He? what is He? A prophet-the Prophet-the Christ? Such are the questions running through his mind-questions which must be answered soon, as his thoughts and opinions have ripened into convictions. And so he invites Jesus to his house and board, that in the nearer vision and the unfettered freedom of social intercourse he may solve the great enigma. Nay, he invites Jesus with a degree of earnestness, putting upon Him the constraint of a great desire; and leaving his heart open to conviction, ready to embrace the truth as soon as he recognizes it to be truth, he flings open the door of his hospitalities, though in so doing he shakes the whole fabric of Pharisaic exclusiveness and sanctity. Seeking after truth, the truth finds him.

There was a simplicity and freeness in the social life of the East which our Western civilization can scarcely understand. The door of the guest-chamber was left open, and the uninvited, even comparative strangers, were allowed to pass in and out during the entertainment; or they might take their seats by the wall, as spectators and listeners. It was so here. No sooner have the guests taken their places, reclining around the table, their bared feet projecting behind them, than the usual drift of the uninvited set in, amongst whom, almost unnoticed in the excitements of the hour, was "a woman of the city." Simon in his soliloquy speaks of her as "a sinner"; but had we his testimony only, we should hesitate in giving to the word its usually received meaning; for "sinner" was a pet term of the Pharisees, applied to all who were outside their circle, and even to Jesus Himself. But when our Evangelist, in describing her character, makes use of the same word, we can only interpret the "sinner" in one way, in its sensual, depraved meaning. And with this agrees the phrase "a woman which was in the city," which seems to indicate the loose relations of her too-public life.

Bearing in her hand "an alabaster cruse of ointment," for a purpose which soon became apparent, she passed over to the place where Jesus sat, and stood directly behind Him. Accustomed as she had been to hide her deeds in the veil of darkness, nothing but the current of a deep emotion could have carried her thus through the door of the guest-chamber, setting her, alone of her sex, full in the glare of the lamps and the light of scornful eyes; and no sooner has she reached her goal than the storm of the heart breaks in a rain of tears, which fall hot and fast upon the feet of the Master. This, however, is no part of her plan, they were impromptu tears she could not restrain; and instantly she stoops down, and with the loosened tresses of her hair she wipes His feet, kissing them passionately as she did so. There is a delicate meaning in the construction of the Greek verb, "she began to wet His feet with her tears"; it implies that the action was not. continued, as when afterwards she "anointed" His feet. It was momentary, instantaneous, checked soon as it was discovered. Then pouring from her flask the fragrant nard, she proceeded with loving, leisurely haste to anoint His feet, until the whole chamber was redolent of the sweet perfume.

But what is the meaning of this strange episode, this "song without words," struck by the woman’s hands as from a lyre of alabaster? It was evidently something determined, prearranged. The phrase "when she knew that He was sitting at meat" means something more than she "heard." Her knowledge as to where Jesus was had not come to her in a casual way, in the vagrant gossip of the town; it had come by search and inquiry on her part, as if the plan were already determined, and she were eager to carry it out. The cruse of ointment that she brings also reveals the settled resolve that she came on purpose, and she came only, to anoint the feet of Jesus. The word, too, rendered "she brought" has a deeper meaning than our translation conveys. It is a word that is used in ten other passages of the New Testament, where it is invariably rendered "receive," or "received," referring to something received as a wage, or as a gift, or as a prize. Used here in the narrative, it implies that the cruse of ointment had not been bought; it was something she had received as a gift, or possibly as the wages of her sin. And not only was it prearranged, part of a deliberate intention, but evidently it was not displeasing to Jesus. He did not resent it. He gives Himself up passively to the woman’s will. He allows her to touch, and even to kiss His feet, though He knows that to society she is a moral leper, and that her fragrant ointment is possibly the reward of her shame. We must, then, look behind the deed to the motive. To Jesus the ointment and the tears were full of meaning, eloquent beyond any power of words.

Can we discover that meaning, and read why they were so welcome? We think we may.

And here let us say that Simon’s thoughts were perfectly natural and correct, with no word or tone that we can censure. Canon Farrar, it is true, detects in the "This man" with which he speaks of Jesus a "supercilious scorn"; but we fail to see the least scorn, or even disrespect, for the pronoun Simon uses is the identical word used by St. Matthew, [Matthew 3:3] of John the Baptist, when he says, "This is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias," and the word of the "voice from heaven" which said, "This is My beloved Son". [Matthew 3:17] That the woman was a sinner Simon knew well; arid would not Jesus know it too, if He were a prophet? Doubtless He would; but as Simon marks no sign of disapproval upon the face of Jesus, the enigmatical "if" grows larger in his mind, and he begins to think that Jesus has scarcely the prescience-the power of seeing through things-that a true prophet would have. Simon’s reasoning was right, but his facts were wrong. He imagined that Jesus did not know "who and what manner of woman" this was; whereas Jesus knew more than he, for He knew not only the past of shame, but a present of forgiveness and hope.

And what did the tears and the ointment mean, that Jesus should receive them so readily, and that He should speak of them so approvingly? The parable Jesus spoke to Simon will explain it. "Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee," said Jesus, answering his thoughts-for He had heard them-by words. And falling naturally into the parabolic form of speech-as He did when He wanted to make His meaning more startling and impressive-He said, "A certain money-lender had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. When they had not wherewith to pay, he forgave them both. Which of them therefore will love him most?" A question to which Simon could promptly answer, "He, I suppose, to whom he forgave the most." It is clear, then, whatever others might see in the woman’s deed, that Jesus read in it the expression of her love, and that He accepted it as such; the tears and outpoured ointment were the broken utterances of an affection which was too deep for words. But if her offering-as it certainly was-was the gift of love, how shall we explain her tears? For love, in the presence of the beloved, does not weep so passionately, indeed does not weep at all, except, it may be, tears of joy, or tears of a mutual sorrow. In this way: As the wind blows landward from the sea, the mountain ranges cool the clouds, and cause them to unlock their treasures, in the fertile and refreshing rains; so in the heart of this "sinner" a cloud of recollections is blown up suddenly from her dark past; the memories of her shame-even though that shame be now forgiven-sweep across her soul with resistless force, for penitence does not end when forgiveness is assured; and as she finds herself in the presence of Infinite Purity, what wonder that the heart’s great deeps are broken up, and that the wild storm of conflicting emotions within should find relief in a rain of tears? Tears of penitence they doubtless were, bitter with the sorrow and the shame of years of guilt; but they were tears of gratitude and holy love as well, all suffused and brightened by the touch of mercy and the light of hope. And so the passionate weeping was no acted grief, no hysterical tempest; it was the perfectly natural accompaniment of profound emotion, that storm of mingled but diverse elements which now swept through her soul. Her tears, like the dew-drops that hang upon leaf and flower, were wrought in the darkness, fashioned by the Night, and at the same time they were the jewels that graced the robe of a new dawn, the dawn of a better, a purer life.

But how came this new affection within her heart, an affection so deep that it must have tears and anointings for its expression-this new affection, which has become a pure and holy passion, and which breaks through conventional bonds, as it has broken through the old habits, the ill usages of a life? Jesus Himself traces for us this affection to its source. He tells us-for the parable is all meaningless unless we recognize in the five-hundred-pence debtor the sinning woman that her great love grows out of her great forgiveness, a past forgiveness too, for Jesus speaks of the change as already accomplished: "Her sins, which were many, are (have been) forgiven." And here we touch an unwritten chapter of the Divine life; for as the woman’s love flows up around Jesus, casting its treasures at His feet, so the forgiveness must first have come from Jesus. His voice it must have been which said, "Let there be light," and which turned the chaos of her dark soul into another Paradise. At any rate, she thinks she owes to Him her all. Her new creation, with its deliverance from the tyrannous past; her new joys and hopes, the spring-blossom of a new and heavenly existence; the conscious purity which has now taken the place of lust-she owes all to the word and power of Jesus. But when this change took place, or when, in the great transit, this Venus of the moral firmament passed across the disc of the Sun, we do not know. St. John inserts in his story one little incident, which is like a piece of mosaic dropped out from the Gospels of the Synoptists, of a woman who was taken in her sin and brought to Jesus. And when the hands of her accusers were not clean enough to cast the first stone, but they shrank one by one out of sight, self condemned, Jesus bade the penitent one to "go in peace, and sin no more." Are the two characters identical? And does the forgiven one, dismissed into peace, now return to bring to her Savior her offering of gratitude and love? We can only say that such an identification is at least possible, and more so far than the improbable identification of tradition, which confounds this nameless "sinner" with Mary Magdalene, which is an assumption perfectly baseless and most unlikely.

And so in this erring one, who now puts her crown of fragrance upon the feet of Jesus, since she is unworthy to put it upon His head, we see a penitent and forgiven soul. Somewhere Jesus found her, out on the forbidden paths, the paths of sin, which, steep and slippery, lead down to death; His look arrested her, for it cast within her heart the light of a new hope; His presence, which was the embodiment of a purity infinite and absolute, shot through her soul the deep consciousness and conviction of her guilt; and doubtless upon her ears had fallen the words of the great absolution and the Divine benediction, "thy sins are all forgiven; go in peace," words which to her made all things new-a new heart within, and a new earth around. And now, regenerate and restored, the sad past forgiven, all the currents of her thought and life reversed, the love of sin turned into a perfect loathing, her language, spoken in tears, kisses, and fragrant nard, is the language of the Psalmist, "O Lord, I will praise Thee; for though Thou wast angry with me, Thine anger is turned away, and Thou comfortedst me." It was the "Magnificat" of a forgiven and a loving soul.

Simon had watched the woman’s actions in silence, though in evident displeasure. He would have resented her touch, and have forbade even her presence; but found under his roof, she became in a certain sense a guest, shielded by the hospitable courtesies of Eastern life. But if he said nothing, he thought much, and his thoughts were hard and bitter. He looked upon the woman as a moral leper, an outcast. There was defilement in her touch, and he would have shaken it off from him as if it were a viper, fit only to be cast into the fire of a burning indignation. Now Jesus must teach him a lesson, and throw his thoughts back upon himself. And first He teaches him that there is forgiveness for sin, even the sin of uncleanness; and in this we see the bringing in of a better hope. The Law said, "The soul that sinneth, it shall surely die"; it shall be cut off from the people of Israel. The Law had but one voice for the adulterer and adulteress, the voice which was the knell of a sharp and fearful doom, without reprieve or mercy of any kind. It cast upon them the deadly rain of stones, as if it would hurl a whole Sinai upon them. But Jesus comes to man with a message of mercy and of hope. He proclaims a deliverance from the sin, and a pardon for the sinner; nay, He offers Himself, as at once the Forgiver of sin and the Savior from sin. Let Him but see it repented of; let Him but see the tears of penitence, or hear the sighs of a broken and contrite heart, and He steps forward at once to deliver and to save. The Valley of Achor, where the Law sets up its memorial of shame, Jesus turns into a door of hope. He speaks life where the Law spoke death; He offers hope where the Law gave but despair; and where exacting Law gave pains and fearful punishment only, the Mediator of the New Covenant, to the penitent though erring ones, spoke pardon and peace, even the perfect peace, the eternal peace.

And Jesus teaches Simon another lesson. He teaches him to judge himself, and not either by his own fictitious standard, by the Pharisaic table of excellence, by the Divine standard. Holding up as a mirror the example of the woman, Jesus gives to Simon a portrait of his own self, as seen in the heavenly light, all shrunken and dwarfed, the large "I" of Pharisaic complacency becoming, in comparison, small indeed. Turning to the woman, He said unto Simon, "Seest thou this woman?" (And Simon had not seen her; he had only seen her shadow, the shadow of her sinful past). "I entered into thine house; thou gavest Me no water for My feet: but she hath wetted My feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. Thou gavest Me no kiss: but she, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss My feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but she hath anointed My feet with ointment." It is a problem of the pronouns, in which the "I" being given, it is desired to find the relative values of "thou" and "she." And how beautifully does Jesus work it out, according to the rules of Divine proportions! With what antithetical skill does He make His comparison, or rather His contrast. "Thou gavest me no water for My feet; she hath wetted My feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. Thou gavest me no kiss: she hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not. anoint: she hath anointed My feet with ointment."

And so Jesus sets over against the omissions of Simon the loving and lavish attentions of the: woman; and while reproving him, not for a lack of civility, but for want of heartiness in his reception of Himself, He shows how deep and full run the currents of her affection, breaking through the banks and bounds of conventionality in their sweet overflow, while as yet the currents of his love were intermittent, shallow, and somewhat cold. He does not denounce this Simon as having no part or lot in this matter. No; He even credits him with a little love, as He speaks of him as a pardoned, justified soul. And it was true. The heart of Simon had been drawn toward Jesus, and in the urgent invitation and these proffered hospitalities we can discern a nascent affection. His love is yet but in the bud. It is there, a thing of life; but it is confined, constrained, and lacking the sweetness of the ripened and opened flower. Jesus does not cut off the budding affection, and cast it out amongst the withered and dead things, but sprinkling it with the dew of His speech, and throwing upon it the sunshine of His approving look, He leaves it to develop, ripening into an after-harvest of fragrance and of beauty. And why was Simon’s love more feeble and immature than that of the woman? First, because he did not see so much in Jesus as she did. He was yet stumbling over the "if," with some lingering doubts as to whether He were "the prophet"; to her He is more than a "prophet, " even her Lord and her Savior, covering her past with a mantle of mercy, and opening within her heart a heaven. Then, too, Simon’s forgiveness was not so great as hers. Not that any forgiveness can be less than entire; for when Heaven saves it is not a salvation by installments-certain sins remitted, while others are held back uncancelled. But Simon’s views of sin were not so sharp and vivid as were those of the woman. The atmosphere of Phariseeism in its moral aspects was hazy; it magnified human virtues, and created all sorts of illusive mirages of self-righteousness and reputed holiness, and doubtless Simon’s vision had been impaired by the refracting atmosphere of his creed. The greatness of our salvation is ever measured by the greatness of our danger and our guilt. The heavier the burden and weight of condemnation, the deeper is the peace and the higher are the ecstasies of joy when that condemnation is removed: Shall we say, then, "We must sin more, that love may more abound?" Nay, we need not, we must not; for as Godet says, "What is wanting to the best of us, in order to love much, is not sin, but the knowledge of it." And this deeper knowledge of sin, the more vivid realization of its guilt, its virulence, its all-pervasiveness, comes just in proportion as we approach Christ. Standing close up to the cross, feeling the mortal agonies of Him whose death was necessary as sin’s atonement, in that vivid light of redeeming love even the strict moralist, the Pharisee of the Pharisees, could speak of himself as the "chief" of sinners.

The lesson was over, and Jesus dismissed the woman-who, with her empty alabaster flask, had lingered at the feast, and who had heard all the conversation-with the double assurance of pardon: "thy sins are forgiven; thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace." And such is the Divine order everywhere and always-Faith, Love, Peace. Faith is the procuring cause, or the condition of salvation; love and peace are its after-fruits; for without faith, love would be only fear, and peace itself would be unrest.

She went in peace, "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding"; but she left behind her the music of her tears and the sweet fragrance of her deed, a fragrance and a music which have filled the whole world, and which, floating across the valley of death, will pass up into heaven itself!

There was still one little whisper of murmuring, or questioning rather; for the guests were startled by the boldness of His words, and asked among themselves, "Who is this that even forgiveth sins?" But it will be noticed that Simon himself is no longer among the questioners, the doubters. Jesus is to him "the Prophet," and more than a prophet, for who can forgive sins but God alone. And though we hear no more of him or of his deeds, we may rest assured that his conquered heart was given without reserve to Jesus, and that he too learned to love with a true affection, even with the "perfect love," which "casteth out fear."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Luke 7:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/luke-7.html.

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