The Lord speaks the two parables on prayer—the importunate widow, and the Pharisee and publican.
And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint. The formnla ἕλεγε δὲ καί, literally, "and he spake also," calls attention to the fact that the parable-teaching immediately to follow was a continuation of what had preceded. Indeed, the connection between the first of the two parables, which urges restless continued prayer, and the picture which the Lord had just drawn of men's state of utter forgetfulness of God, is obvious. "The Son of man has been rejected; he has gone from view; the masses are plunged in gross worldliness; men of God are become as rare as, in the days of Abraham, they were in Sodom. What, then, is the position of the Church? That of a widow whose only weapon is incessant prayer. It is only by means of this intense concentration that faith will be preserved. But such is precisely the disposition which Jesus fears may not be found even in the Church at his return" (Godet).
There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man. Probably enough the whole scene was a sketch from life; under such a rule as that of Herod Antipas there were, doubtless, judges of the character here portrayed.
And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. The petitioner was a woman and a widow, the latter being in the East a synonym for helplessness. With no one to defend her or plead her cause, this widow was ever a prey to the covetous. Not once nor twice in the noble generous words of the chivalrous Hebrew prophets we find this readiness on the part of those in power to neglect, if not to oppress these helpless widow-women, sternly commented upon. So in Isaiah we read (Isaiah 1:23), "They judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them." While Jesus (Matthew 23:14) includes this cowardly sin among the evil deeds of the rulers of the Israel of his day: "Ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer." A more desperate situation, as regards any hope of obtaining the object of her earnest prayer, could not well be pictured—a careless, corrupt judge of the lawless Herod period for the tribunal in Israel, and a poor helpless widow for the suppliant. The forlorn woman of the parable represents the Church or people of God in dire straits, overborne by an unbelieving world and seemingly forgotten even of their God. The story is a reminder that there is hope even in that extreme situation sketched in the parable, if the petitioner only continues persistent in her prayer. The argument which lies on the surface of the parable, teaching is obvious: if such a judge will in the end listen to the prayer of a suppliant for whom he cares nothing, will not God surely listen to the repeated prayer of a suppliant whom he loves with a deep, enduring love? Such is the argument of the story. Importunity, it seems to say, must inevitably triumph. But underlying this there is much deep teaching, of which, perhaps, the most important item is that it insists upon the urgent necessity for us all to continue in prayer, never fainting in this exercise though no answer seems to come. "The whole limb of the faithful," as Origen once grandly said, "should be one great connected prayer." That is the real moral of the story; but there are a number of minor bits of Divine teaching contained in this curious parable setting, as we shall see. Avenge me of mine adversary. We must not suppose that mere vengeance in the vulgar sense is what the widow prayed for; that would be of no use to her; all she wanted was that the judge should deliver her from the oppression which her adversary exercised over her, no doubt in keeping from her the heritage to which she was lawfully entitled. Of course, the granting her prayer would revolve loss and possibly punishment to her fraudulent oppressor.
And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him? The Master tells us that God permits suffering among his servants, long after they have begun to pray for deliverance. But we are counselled here to cry day and night unto him, and, though there be no signor reply, our prayers shall be treasured up before him, and in his own good time they will be answered. Though he bear long with them. With whom does God bear long? With the wrong-doers, whose works and words oppress and make life heavy and grievous to the servants of God; with these who have no claim to consideration will God bear long. And this announcement gives us some clue to the meaning of the delay we often experience before we get an answer to many of our prayers. The prayer is heard, but God, in the exercise of mercy and forbearance, has dealings with the oppressors. It were easy for the Almighty to grant an immediate answer, but only at the cost often of visiting some of the oppressors with immediate punishment, and this is not his way of working. God bears long before his judgments swift and terrible are sent forth. This has ever been his way of working with individuals as with nations. Was it not thus, for instance, that he acted towards Egypt and her Pharaohs during the long period of the bitter Hebrew bondage? We who would he God's servants must be content to wait God's time, and, while waiting, patiently go on pleading, sure that in the end "God will avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him."
I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. "Non bientot, mais bien rite" (Godet). It means that God will act in accordance with his servant's prayer, not soon, but suddenly; sure and sudden at the crisis the action of Divine providence comes at the last "as a thief in the night." Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? These difficult words seem to point at least to a fear lest, the second coming being long delayed, true faith would have died out of the hearts even of the godly. Such a fear might be Jesus'; for we know, from his own lips, that to him, while on earth and wearing the body of humiliation, the day and hour of the second advent was not known. Was not our Lord speaking with the same sad onlook in his parable of the virgins, when he said, "they all slumbered and slept," wise virgins as well as foolish (Matthew 25:5)? "It is often the case that God's action as a Deliverer is delayed until his people have ceased to hope for deliverance. So it was with Israel in Egypt; so was it with her again in Babylon. ' Grief was calm and hope was dead' among the exiles when the word came that they were to return to their own land; and then the news seemed too good to be true. They were 'like them that dream' when they heard the good tidings. This method of Divine action—long delay followed by a sudden crisis—so frankly recognized by Christ, is one to which we find it hard to reconcile ourselves. These parables help us so far, but they do not settle everything. They contain no philosophy of Divine delay, but simply a proclamation of the fact, and an assurance that, in spite of delay, all will go well at the last with those who trust in God" (Professor Bruce).
And he spake this parable. With this parable, "the Pharisee and the publican,'' St. Luke concludes his memories of the last journeyings toward Jerusalem. The incidents which directly follow took place close to Jerusalem; and here St. Luke's narrative rejoins that of SS. Matthew and Mark. No note of time or place assists us in defining exactly the period when the Master spoke this teaching; some time, however, in these last journeyings, that is, in the closing months of the public ministry, the parable in question was certainly spoken.
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. This parable constitutes an important chapter in Jesus' apology or defence—if we may dare use the word—for loving the sinful, for consorting with publicans and sinners. It tells men, in very simple language, how they are saved; not by works of righteousness which they have done, but of grace; in other words, by God's free mercy. Jewish religious society in the time of our Lord, as represented by the great Pharisee sect, totally misunderstood this Divine truth. They claimed salvation as a right on two grounds:
Upon these two grounds they claimed salvation, that is, eternal blissful life. Not content with this claim of their own, they condemned, with a sweeping, harsh condemnation, all other peoples, and even those of their own race who neglected rigidly to observe the ordinances and ritual of a law framed in great measure in the schools of their own rabbis. Two extreme instances are here chosen—a rigid, exclusive, self-satisfied member of the religious society of Israel; and a Jewish officer of the hated Roman government, who knew little or nothing of the Law, but yet who longed after a higher life, and craved for an inward peace which he evidently was far from possessing. These two, the Pharisee and the publican, both went up to God's holy house, the temple, with a view of drawing near to the eternal King.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are. How closely drawn from the life is this picture of a Pharisee will be seen by a comparison of the prayer here with the prayer of a rabbi contained in the Talmud. When Rabbi Nechounia Ben Hakana left his school, he used to say, "I thank thee, O Eternal, my God, for having given me part with those who attend this school instead of running through the shops. I rise early like them, but it is to study the Law, not for futile ends. I take trouble as they do, but I shall be rewarded, and they will not. We run alike, but I for the future life, while they will only arrive at the pit of destruction" (from the treatise 'Berachath').
I fast twice in the week. There was no such precept in the Law of Moses. There only a single fast-day in the year was enjoined, the Day of Atonement (Le Luke 16:29). By the time of Zechariah the prophet (viii. 19) the one fast-day had grown into four. But this fasting twice every week was a burthensome observance imposed in the later oral Law. Thursday and Monday were the appointed fasting-days, because tradition related how, on those days, Moses ascended and descended from Sinai. Compare the Talmud (treatise 'Bava Khama,' fol. 82. 1). I give tithes of all that I possess. Here, again, the Mosaic ordinance only enjoined tithes of corn, wine, oil, and cattle. The later rabbinic schools directed that everything should be tithed, down to the mint and anise and cummin. And so this poor deluded Pharisee dreamed he had earned his eternal salvation, forgetting that the tithes he so prided himself on paying were merely tithes of goods of which he was steward for a little time, tithes, too, given back to their real Owner—God. Could this be counted a claim upon God? He boasted, too, that he was no extortioner: did he forget how often he had coveted? He was no adulterer: what of those wicked thoughts which so often found a home in his heart? He rejoiced that he was not like the publican and others of that same class: did he think of the sore temptations to which these and the like were exposed, and from which he was free? He gloried in his miserable tithes and offerings: did he remember how really mean and selfish he was? did he think of his luxury and abundance, and of the want and misery of thousands round him? did his poor pitiful generosity constitute a claim to salvation? All this and more is shrined in the exquisite story of Jesus, who shows men that salvation—if it be given to men at all—must be given entirely as a free gift of God.
And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner! Utterly sad and heart-broken, the publican neither recounts nor thinks of good kind deeds done, or special sins committed; no thoughts came into that poor heart, such as, "I have done some fair deeds; I am not altogether vile and sinful." He felt that with him evil so far overbalanced good that he could make no plea for himself, and yet he, too, longed for salvation, so he threw himself wholly upon God's mercy and love in his sad prayer, "God be merciful to me the sinner!" for so the words should be rendered. Different to the Pharisee, who thought himself better than his neighbours, this man, in his sad humility, evidently thought other men better than himself, but still he so trusted in God that he felt even for him, the sinner, there might be mercy.
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. And the publican was right; there was mercy even for him, all sin-stained though he was. The words with which the Lord closes his teaching are full of comfort. That prayer he tells us was heard and granted. The "I tell you" of Jesus here means, as Stier well puts it, "I tell you, for I know, I have seen, I have heard all this in many such a case, and in many such prayers." With this example of prayer favourably heard, there is surely no sin-burthened soul on earth who may not take courage in seeking God's face. One great object of this parable, we may believe, was to suggest some such thoughts, to embolden sorrowful, heart-broken sinners simply to go to God, trusting in his great pitying love. It should not be forgotten that the publican's prayer was heard in the temple; a silent approval seems given to his having thus sought out the appointed consecrated place of prayer.
Jesus and the children. The young ruler refuses to give up his riches. The Lord speaks of the reward of them that leave all for his sake.
And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them. Our Lord's noticing children is several times alluded to in the Gospels. There was something evidently in his look and manner which singularly attracted little ones to him. SS. Matthew and Mark both recount this blessing of the children immediately after the teaching on divorce. Our Lord thus sanctifies the bond of marriage and its legitimate offspring. It was a silent but powerful reply to the mistaken inference which his disciples had drawn from his words. They had said, "It is not good to marry" (Matthew 19:10). But when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them. Something of what the Master had said concerning the marriage state affected the disciples. Had he not just (see Matthew 19:10-12) been claiming high honour for the solitary life where there were no family ties to claim attention? Surely, then, these women and their children had better stand aloof: what had that grave and earnest Teacher of theirs to do with these? He had higher and more important matters on his mind f
But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. St. Mark, who gives us here the memories of a faithful eye-witness—St. Peter—records how much displeased Jesus was when he saw them pushing back the mothers and their little ones, eager to win a smile or perhaps a touch from him whom the people justly regarded as the children's Friend. It seems also to have been the practice for Jewish mothers to bring their babes to famous rabbis, and to ask these teachers to bless their little ones. Christ's "interest in the little children was real, and for their own sakes. It was primary; not merely secondary, and because of the childlikeness of his subjects. If they who are like little children belong to the kingdom of heaven, why should we for a moment doubt that the little children themselves belong to the kingdom? Doubtless they all do. And if that change which men call death happen to them while they are still little children, we may rest assured that it will be to the little ones bye everlasting. They will not be shut out from the higher province of the kingdom of heaven when they are snatched away from the lower" (Dr. Morrison). St. Mark's account, being that of an eye-witness, is fuller and more graphic. It is read in the Office of the Church of England for the Baptism of Infarcts, wherein young children are in like manner presented to Christ. It is considered that the Master's words and act here justify the Church in commending infants, as such, to the blessing of their Father. Surely if little ones were capable of spiritual blessings then, they are so now. It is noticeable that these children were not brought to the Lord to be taught, but "that he should put his hands upon them, and bless them" (Mark 10:16).
Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein. Jesus here reminds men that if they hope to enter the kingdom, it must be in the spirit of children, who never think of putting forward any claim of merit or paying any price for kindness showed them. His late parable of the Pharisee and publican was evidently in the Master's mind when he said this.
And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life! This incident is related in the three synoptical Gospels. St. Matthew speaks of him as the young man. St. Luke here styles him a ruler; by some the title is supposed simply to denote that he was the ruler of a synagogue or congregation; others, however, consider that it denotes that the subject of the narrative was a ruler of the Jews, and possibly, but this is of course doubtful, a member of the Sanhedrin. His youth (Matthew 19:20) is not at variance with this inference. Youth is defined by Philo as including the period between twenty-one and twenty-eight. All the three evangelists mention his great wealth. Dean Plumptre suggests that his large possessions and evident devotion had probably opened to him, at a comparatively early age, a place in the great council. His question concerning eternal life indicates that he was a Pharisee, and he evidently represented the noblest phase of this religious party. Ire had sedulously followed out the precepts of the best rabbinic schools of his day, but there was something lacking, he felt, and his intercourse with Jesus and the influence of the Master's words led him to take this question point-blank to the famous Teacher, who he felt—alone of any master whom he had met—was able to satisfy this longing desire of his heart.
And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. The title "good" was a singular one for the young ruler to have used. It was never used to the most famous rabbis by their pupils. It implied an intense reverence, but nothing more. The young man distinctly did not then believe the Master was Divine, else he had never made the great refusal recorded directly afterwards. "To be a good man is impossible … God alone could have this honour" (Plate, 'Phaed.,' 27). "You are looking at me," said the Master, "as a man: why give me this strange, lofty title? You are looking on me only as an earthly Teacher." The great Heart-reader was reading the young man's thoughts, thoughts which soon crystallized, as we shall see, into the refused to do what he, whom he chose to style "good," directed him to carry out.
Thou knowest the commandments. The report in St. Matthew is somewhat fuller. There the ruler, when directed to the commandments, replies by asking "which?" expecting most likely to be referred to some of the elaborate traditional laws of the rabbinic schools, which were difficult to keep even by men in the position of a wealthy Pharisee; but to his surprise Jesus mentions the most general and best-known of the ancient ten.
And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. He listens to the Master with something like impatient surprise. There is a ring of concealed indignation in his "All these have I ever kept. What do you take me for? I am a religious, God-fearing Jew; from my child-days have I kept these." Kept these! How little the poor questioner knew the secrets of his Own heart! Yet he had answered Jesus in the true spirit of a Pharisee trained carefully in the rabbinic schools. We read, for instance, in the Talmud how "when Rabbi Chaninah was dying, he said to the angel of death, 'Go and fetch me the book of the Law, and see whether there is anything in it which I have not kept.'"
.—Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing. St. Mark (Mark 10:21), who had St. Peter's memories to draw from, adds here a very touching detail. "Jesus beholding him [looking earnestly at him] loved him." There was something noble and true in that life, struggling in the imperfect light of the rabbinic teaching after eternity and heaven, and feeling that in all its struggles some element was surely wanting; and Jesus, as he gazed on the young earnest face, loved him, and proceeded to show him how far removed his life was as yet from the perfect life he dreamed of attaining to. He would show him in a moment how selfish, how earthly, were his thoughts and aims; how firmly chained to earth that heart of his, which he thought only longed for heaven. Sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me; "Well," the Master said, "I will test you. You say you have from your child-days kept your whole duty to your neighbour; you say that you hunger after the higher righteousness. Do you really? Will you indeed be perfect (Matthew 19:21)? Then I will tell you what you lack. Go, sell those great possessions which I know you love so dearly, and give all to the poor, and come, take up the cross (Mark 10:21), and follow me, the homeless, landless Teacher whom you call by the Divine title 'good.'" The "cross" of St. Mark only Jesus understood then in all its dread significance. It was coming then very near; and the great Teacher saw that his true servants, if they would indeed follow him, must follow him along that lonely road of suffering he was then treading. "Via crucis, via lucis." The young ruler, with his great wealth, thought he had from his youth done his whole duty to his neighbour. The Galilaean Master, whom he so reverenced and admired, reminded him that out of those wide domains, those stored-up riches, out of the mammon of unrighteousness, he had forgotten to make to himself friends who, when he died, should receive him into the eternal tents of heaven. This is what he lacked, lie had probably heard the Lord's teaching in the parables of the unjust steward and of Lazarus.
And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. St. Mark adds (a memory of Peter's) that when he heard this the ruler went away frowning, with a lowering look. This was too much. He could not, even at the bidding of that loved Teacher, give up the pleasant life he loved so well, the things he prized so highly; so silently and sadly he turned away. The 'Gospel of the Hebrews,' a very ancient document, dating from the first days of the faith, a few fragments only of which have come down to us in quotations in the Fathers, thus describes the scene: "Then the rich man began to scratch his head, for that was not to his mind. And the Lord said to him, How then canst thou say, I have kept the Law; for it is written in the Law, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; and, lo! many of thy brethren, children of Abraham, live in the gutter, and die of hunger, while thy table is loaded with good things, and nothing is sent out to them?" (quoted by Origen, in Matthew 19:1-30.). Dante calls this "The Great Refusal," and represents the shade of the young ruler among the throng of the useless, of those who faced both ways (' Inferno,' 10.27). It is worthy of notice that there was no angry retort from the wealthy ruler, no scornful, cynical smile of derision, as we read of among the covetous, wealthy Pharisees (Luke 16:14). Still, in the heart of this seeker after the true wisdom there was a sore conflict. Grieving, sorrow-stricken, with gloomy looks, he turned away in silence.
And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! The temptations which beset a rich man are so many and so various. The poor, indeed, with all their trials, stand fairer for the kingdom than do their envied richer brothers and sisters.
For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. This simile, taken in its plain and obvious sense, appears to many an exaggerated one, and various explanations have been suggested to soften it down. The best is found in Lord Nugent's 'Lands Classical and Sacred,' who mentions that in some modern Syrian towns the narrow gate for foot-passengers at the side of the larger gate by which waggons, camels, and other beasts of burden enter the city, is known as the "needle's eye." It is, however, very uncertain whether this term for the little gate was known in ancient times. But the simile was evidently a common one among the Jews. The Talmud, for instance, gives us the parallel phrase of an elephant passing through a needle's eye. The Koran repeats the very words of the Gospel. it is the object of the proverb to express human impossibility.
"I would ride the camel,
Yea leap him flying, through the needle's eye
As easily as such a pampered soul
Could pass the narrow gate."
It seems strange that the three evangelists, SS. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, who tell this story of the young questioner and the Master's conversation with him, do not mention his name. And yet he must have been a conspicuous personage in the society of the time. First of all, his riches were evidently remarkable. One account tells us that he was" very rich." Two of the Gospels mention his "great possessions." St. Luke tells us that he was "a ruler." He was, then, certainly a very wealthy Jew holding a high official position, not improbably a member of the Sanhedrin council. Why is he nameless in the three Gospels? Dean Plumptre has a most interesting theory that the young wealthy ruler was Lazarus of Bethany. He bases his hypothesis upon the following data: He begins by stating that "there is one other case in the first two Gospels which presents similar phenomena. ]n the narrative of the supper at Bethany, St. Matthew and St. Mark record the passionate affection which expressed itself in pouring the precious ointment of spikenard upon our Lord's head as the act of 'a woman', leaving her unnamed. In John 12:3 we find that the woman was Mary, the sister of Lazarus. The train of thought thus suggested points to the supposition that here also there may have been reasons for suppressing in the records a name which was familiar to the narrator. What if the young ruler were Lazarus himself? The points of agreement are sufficiently numerous to warrant the conjecture. The household of Lazarus, as the spikenard ointment shows, were of the wealthier class. The friends who came to comfort the bereaved sisters were themselves, in St. John's language, 'of the Jews,' i.e. of the chief rulers (John 11:19). The young ruler was obviously a Pharisee, and the language of Martha (John 11:24) shows that she, too, believed in eternal life and the resurrection of the dead. The answer to the young ruler, ' One thing thou lackest', is almost identical with that to Martha, 'One thing is needful' (Luke 10:42). In such a case, of course, nothing can be attained beyond conjectural inference; but the present writer must avow his belief that the coincidences in this case are such as to carry the evidence to a very high point of probability."
And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved? This hard saying appeared to the disciples to be terribly comprehensive in its scope; the longing to be rich was confined to no one class or order, it was the universal passion. Were theft guiltless here? Were they not looking for riches and glory in the Messianic kingdom of the immediate future? And of all peoples the Jews in every age have been credited with the blindest devotion to this idol, wealth. In St. Mark (Mark 10:24) we find certainly an explanatory statement: "How hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!" But this explanatory and softened statement is not found in the older authorities; these read instead, in Mark 10:24, simply the words, "How hard is it to enter the kingdom of God!' Hard alike, the Master meant, for rich and poor, though harder for the former.
And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God. Yes, impossible, the Divine Teacher repeated, from a man's point of view; impossible from the platform of legal obedience on which the young ruler (Luke 18:21) had taken his stand, or the Pharisee in his prayer (Luke 18:11, Luke 18:12); but it was not impossible with God. He might give this salvation as a perfectly free gift, utterly undeserved, perfectly unmerited, as he did to the prodigal son when he returned, or to the publican when he beat his breast in almost voiceless mourning, or still more conspicuously, not many days later, to the penitent thief dying on the cross.
Then Peter said, Lo, we hays left all, and followed thee. Again the question of Peter, evidently acting as spokesman of the twelve, is repeated by the first three evangelists. Strangely faithful in their accounts of their own dealings with their adored Master, they never veil or hide any human weakness or error of their own which led to an important bit of teaching from their Lord. Now, in this place, they, in the person of Peter, gave utterance to a very worldly, but a very natural, thought. The ruler had failed when the test was applied to him; he was a conspicuous example of failure in the rich to enter the kingdom. But they had not failed when the test had been applied to them; they had given all up for his sake: what would be their reward?
Luke 18:29, Luke 18:30
And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting. Evidently, from the reports of the three evangelists, the reply of Jesus was a lengthy one, and contained much deep teaching. St. Luke only gives us, however, one section, so to speak, of the great discourse which followed upon Peter's question. Here and in St. Mark Peter and the twelve receive a quiet rebuke in this general promise. The Master seems to say, "My promises are not especially to you, my first followers, but to all who, not for any selfish hope of recompense or reward, but for the kingdom of God's sake, give up what they hold dearest; there will be real, true happiness for them even in this world, and in the world to come unspeakable joy will be their portion; theirs will be the life that knows no ending." St. Mark adds, with rare truth, that the happiness which his faithful are to enjoy in this world will be accompanied with persecutions. It is the same beautiful thought which the Master had put out before, only the gem now is set in different words. "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10; see, too, Matthew 5:11, Matthew 5:12), St. Matthew deals especially with another division of the Lord's discourse. Here Jesus speaks of the future of the twelve; and, looking forward to the generally noble and self-devoted lives he saw these would live, he tells them of the great destiny surely reserved for them if they remained faithful to the end. But even here, in his words, "the first shall be last" (Matthew 19:30), and still more pointedly in the parable of the labourers which followed (Matthew 20:1-16), he warned these devoted but often mistaken men of the danger of self-complacency. It was only because he foresaw that in these really great ones this spirit would in the end be overcome (at least in eleven of them) that he made the grand and mysterious promise of Matthew 19:28.
The narrative here, in the three synoptical Gospels, is not continuous; at this point there is a break. There is little doubt but that the sickness and death of Lazarus of Bethany, and the summons of the sisters to Jesus, took place about this period. The three synoptical evangelists are silent hero for reasons we have discussed elsewhere.
Between Matthew 19:30 and 31 there probably should be inserted the hasty journey to Bethany. The Master was not far when the news of his friend's death reached him. Immediately after the miracle there appears to have been a meeting of the Sanhedrin, when it was decided to put Jesus to death, though not during the ensuing Passover, with such precautions as were possible. The terrible decision became known. Jesus then retired to Ephraim, an obscure village about twenty miles from the city. Here a very short time was spent in absolute retirement and seclusion. But the Passover Feast was nigh at hand. In company with some of the crowded pilgrim caravans, and secure under their protection till his last few days of work were accomplished, Jesus journeys to Jerusalem. At this point the three synoptical Gospels take up the story again. The eleventh chapter of St. John fills up this gap in the connected story.
Jesus again tells them of his Passion. The healing of the blind at Jericho.
Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them. St. Mark (Mark 10:32) prefaces this announcement with the words, "And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid." There was something unusual, evidently, in the manner and behaviour of the Master; silently, wrapped up in his own lofty meditations, he strode on in front of the company of his followers. A feeling of awe and fear stole over them as they watched the silent Master with the shadow of the coming cross falling, perhaps, across his countenance. Much had happened lately: the teaching growing more and more solemn as the end drew near; the raising of Lazarus; the intense enmity of the great men of the nation; the fixed determination to put the Master to death; his short retirement; then the announcement that he was going up to face his enemies at the great feast in Jerusalem; and now alone and silent he walked at their head. What was coming? thought the twelve and their friends. He read their thoughts, and, calling them round him, told them what was about to happen. Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished.
Luke 18:32, Luke 18:33
For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: and they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. The outlines of the Passion he had sketched for the disciples before on two occasions, But never so clearly as now. He even tells them the manner of his end, and how his own countrymen would give him up to the Romans, and how these Gentiles, amidst every conceivable circumstance of horror, would do him to death. And the Master closed his dread revelation by predicting his speedy resurrection.
And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken. But they listened all dazed and confused; they could not take it in, neither the shame of the death of their loved Leader, nor the glory of the Resurrection which was to follow immediately after. They could not persuade themselves that the hopes of an earthly Messianic glory in which they were to; share must positively Be given up. "We must learn to love Divine truths Before we can understand them," said Pascal. "Toward everything which is contrary to natural desire," wrote Riggenbach (in Godet), "there is produced in the heart a Blindness, which nothing but a miracle can heal."
And it came to pass; that as he was come nigh unto Jericho. Jericho was once called "the City of Palms," afterwards "the City of Perfumes." It was about eighteen miles from Jerusalem. In the Herodian times it became a popular resort, owing to the affection the great Herod entertained for it. Its palm-groves and balsam-gardens were a present from Antony to Cleopatra. Herod the Great bought them from her, and made it one of his royal cities, and adorned it with many stately buildings, and eventually died there, it is now a miserable village. A certain blind man sat by the wayside begging. An apparent discrepancy exists in the three accounts given of this act of our Lord. St. Luke speaks of one blind man who was healed as our Lord was entering the town. St. Matthew and St. Mark mention that the miracle took place as our Lord was leaving the place, and St. Matthew mentions that two blind men received their sight at the bidding of Jesus. Several solutions of this little difficulty have been proposed. Perhaps the most probable is that the sufferers were sitting near the town gates as the Lord entered. They, hearing who was passing by, eagerly called to him for help. Surrounded by the crowd, he probably did not hear the cry, or possibly wished to test the earnestness of their faith by allowing them to wait. They follow him through the place, and in the open space outside the city they attract his attention, and he heals them. Or, in the words of Dr. Morrison, "the case seems to have begun as he entered into the city, but it culminated in all likelihood as he departed." A later explanation, apparently preferred by Godet and Farrar, is that, as Josephus and Eusebius distinguish between the old and the new Jericho—the old town on the ancient site, and the new Herodian town which had sprung up at a little distance from it—the blind man might, according to some traditions, have been healed as Jesus was leaving old Jericho; according to others, as he was entering the new town. The fact of SS. Mark and Luke only mentioning one blind man is easily explained. There was one evidently (as we shall suggest further on), a well-known character in Christian story—Bartimaeus. Two of the evangelists recorded his cure, as being of special interest to the Church, leaving the second among the numberless unrecorded miracles of healing of Jesus. A certain blind man. St. Mark names him Bartimaeus. It may be inferred that, as St. Mark specially names him, this man was well known in early Christian story. We know that after the cure he joined the company as one of the followers of Jesus.
And they told him, that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by. The Lord's name was by this time a household word in Palestine, and among the sick and afflicted a most precious and welcome sound.
Jesus, thou Son of David. This form of address distinctly shows that the idea that the Rabbi of Nazareth, the great Wonder-worker, the wise kind Teacher, was in some way or other the long looked-for Deliverer, was now taking possession of the people's mind. "Son of David" was distinctly a Messianic salutation.
And they which went before rebuked him. It must be remembered that our Lord was surrounded by a great host of Passover pilgrims, by many of whom he was reverenced as "some great One," perhaps the King Messiah. Such a low wailing cry on the part of a blind beggar, asking to be brought into the presence of him they wondered at and admired and hoped so much from, seemed a great presumption: hence these rebukes.
Luke 18:40, Luke 18:41
And Jesus stood, and commanded him to be brought unto him. St. Mark here adds, "And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee." These kindly sympathizing words of the disciples to the beggar, doing their loving Master's behest, were one of Peter's own memories of the scene under the walls of Jericho. And when he was come near, he asked him, saying, What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? Many besides the governor Pilate, who a few days later put the query to him, "Art thou a King, then?" during this period must have often asked silently the same question. We shall soon see the whole multitude carried away with enthusiasm, giving him a royal welcome as he entered the city. Here, with a majesty truly royal, as Godet well remarks, Jesus seems to open up to the beggar the treasures of Divine power in "What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?" and to give him, as it were, carte blanche. And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight. There is a curious variation in the terms of this request in that ancient Syriac Version known as "the Cure-tonian," in the account of St. Matthew, "That our eyes might be opened, and we shall see thee."
And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight. "Magnifique aumone du Christ" (Pressense'). Thy faith hath saved thee. The American Longfellow has united the cry for mercy of the blind, the kindly sympathizing words of the disciples, and the gift of Jesus Christ, in his exquisite poem of 'Blind Bartimaeus.'
"Those mighty voices three—
' ἰησοῦ ἐλέησόν με!
θαῤῥσει ἕγειρε φωνεῖ σε
ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέ σε!"
The importunate widow.
The importance which Christ attaches to prayer is evidenced by the frequency with which he recurs to it in his teaching, and the variety of his illustration of its duty and blessedness. The sermon on the mount enforces it as one of the cardinal virtues of the perfect disciple. In the eleventh chapter of this Gospel both the manner after which we are to pray, and the assurance on which faith should rest, are presented. Again, towards the close of the ministry we are introduced to two parables bearing on it, each with the lesson which the Master would teach clearly defined. The former of these two has this as its object (Luke 18:1), "that men ought always," i.e. unremittingly, "to pray, and not to faint;" i.e. not to be scared by hindrances, or induced to desist by the sickness which comes through hope deferred. The structure of the parable is very simple. There is a judge who neither fears God nor regards man. A poor widow, who has been wronged, claims his interposition. He pays no regard to her suit. But she importunes him; day by day she presents herself, until, though he has no regard to the justice of her case, he listens to her pleading in order that he may be relieved of her solicitations. If man, unjust and selfish, thus yields to unceasing prayer, how much more, argues Jesus, will he, who is the Absolutely Just and the Infinitely Loving, yield to the cry, day and night, of his own people! Notice three features in the delineation.
I. GOD IN CONTRAST WITH THE HUMAN AVENGER. The latter consults his own ease. He acts in mere selfishness. The Eternal Righteousness is ever consistent with itself. "To this man will I look, even to him that is humble and contrite in spirit."
II. GOD'S PEOPLE IN CONTRAST WITH THE WIDOW. They resemble her in one thing—in the sense of need, of helplessness. But the widow stands in no special relation to the judge. God's people are his own elect. They are part of the blood-bought, ransomed family. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God;" and "the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." Each of them is in the most intimate relation to the Eternal. "I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinketh on me."
III. THE LONG-SUFFERING OF GOD IN CONTRAST WITH THE LONG-SUFFERING OF MAN. The long-suffering of man is in consequence of the indisposition to act; if in the end. it is dispelled, if the action after a lengthened interval follows, it is only that repose may be purchased by the effort, and that the mind may be free to carry out its unloving projects. God bears long with his elect, not because he is unwilling to bless, but that he may draw them closer to himself, that he may prepare them for fuller measures of blessing, that he may chasten their wills into completer union with his will, and so ultimately bestow the higher gifts of his Fatherhood. When they cry, there is much that needs to be corrected; they desire only what they regard as the best or what will relieve them from some pressure. There is still a distance between their will and his; he delays the answer that they may be brought in true self-emptiness to his heart, and that, their faith being purified, they may be enriched out of his exceeding abundance. So the Lord bore long with Job; in him patience had its perfect work; he learned to "abhor himself, and repent in dust and ashes;" he was "attuned also to finer issues" by the charity which led him to pray for his friends. And the Lord turned his captivity when his prayer was thus disciplined and enlarged, and he received "twice as much as he had before." So, too, the woman of Canaan cried, and "the Lord answered her not a word" (Matthew 15:1-39.). Then came she "and worshipped him." She bowed her whole soul before him, and she received the reward of the "great faith." "Therefore," says the Lord, "faint not." "Pray without ceasing." The heavens above are not brass. There is a flexibility in the ordering of the universe which admits of the answer, direct and real, to prayer. "More things are wrought by prayer than the world dreams of." "O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come." The Lord anticipates a decadence in the belief as to the efficacy of prayer, for he adds a "nevertheless" (verse 8). Is this loss of faith true of the Church and of Christians in this day?
The Pharisee and the publican.
The lesson as to prayer is continued. The parable which follows exhibits the spirit and conditions of effectual prayer. Mark the two features of the audience specially addressed. He speaks to certain
He spoke in the previous parable of "God's own elect." Now, the Pharisees accounted themselves the elect of God. They were puffed up by this confidence. They regarded themselves as the righteous, who kept the Law, beth oral and written. And, indeed, they were most scrupulous as to every requirement; nay, they were willing to burden themselves with minute and vexatious observances. And the sin which beset them was the pride shadowed forth in one of the two who went up to pray. As the illustration of the elect, the Lord chooses a tax-gatherer, one of a hated class, for whom, in Pharisee-thought, there was no place in the kingdom of heaven. The instruction is suitable to every time. Pharisee separation and pride are features to be recognized in the Church of this day, as they were prominent in the Jewish Church of our Lord's day. Ever to be studied is the antithesis—respectability in the Pharisee, non-respectability in the publican. See the two. The one, with his broad phylactery, his supercilious bearing, his Pharisaism reflected in every feature of his sallow countenance, as with measured step he proceeds to the temple. In its inner court he stands erect; he arranges his prayer-robe, he looks around, the face darkened by a scowl as he observes the publican in a distant corner of the sacred building. And then he lifts his eye. No prayer trembles in any tone; no pleading escapes through any word; he "speaks with himself" rather than with God. It is a soliloquy, a self-gratified recital of his own piety. If he says, "God, I thank thee" (verses 11, 12), it is not for any grace that he has received, it is not in acknowledging that only through a higher mercy and strength he is what he is; nay, with something of familiarity in the address, he bids the Almighty join him in admiration of his virtues, on account of which he is lifted above other men. Only by certain averages of his own striking does he measure his excellence, the climax being reached, when there comes the contemptuous "even as this publican." Oh, what a superior person, to be sure! With what satisfaction must highest Heaven regard one who fasted twice in the week, and gave tithes of all he possessed! The other, with hurried gait, as one intent only on pouring out his heart before God, takes his place far off. He has no wish to disturb the complacency of his fellow-worshipper. He claims nothing; self-assertion in every form is absent from his heart. The only presence with him is the Holy One of Israel. Beneath the vision of his holiness all that is of the earth must keep silence. He wilt not even lift up his eyes. He has not much to record; human righteousness even is but a filthy rag when held up to the light of that Perfect Holiness. And as for him, oh, there can be only the one prayer, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" (verse 13). He is overpowered with the conviction of sin. His only refuge is the mercy of the eternal. "I tell you" (Verse 14). concludes Christ, "this man is manifested to be one of God's elect. He, not the other, returns to his house the one accepted and justified." The parable is most suggestive.
I. IT IS THE EXPOSURE OF SPIRITUAL PRIDE IN ITS ROOT AND FRUIT. Its root, the measurement of self by "other men." God is not in the thought. The song of the seraphim, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts," sounds faintly in the ear. The mind is not occupied with him and his holiness. It looks around rather than above. The standard is a social one. There is "a zeal for the law, but not according to knowledge. Having settled the constituents of righteousness, and having in conduct realized these constituents, it looks from the legal vantage-ground on others. And, seeing the many below the elected level, it whispers within itself, "I thank thee that I am not as they." The I struts abroad with a distinct sense of superiority. This pride is the parasite of religiosity. And religiosity is the whole religion of many. Religiosity means the performance, punctilious and sincere, of acts and offices, functions and services. It may comprehend a wide area of the existence. It may fill up much of time and much of thought, and he who abounds in it is held to be a religious man. But it is a morality untouched by the motion of the broken and contrite spirit. There is no distinctively evangelical motive force. On an earlier occasion the contrast between the routine religiosity and the warm religion of the heart was presented at the dinner-table where Simon the Pharisee presided, and the woman washed the Lord's feet with her tears. Of her he said, "She hath loved much." Here the Pharisee is in opposition to the publican, who had the inner spirit of poverty. Now, one who has the religiosity, not the religion, is apt to rest on the duties which he discharges, on the zeal which he manifests. He trusts in himself as being righteous, and, whenever there is this trust, there creeps around it a feeling of superiority. "I am not as other men are." It engenders the separatist's haughty spirit. It brings in the sentiment of a caste. The "I" belongs to the religious world, "others" are without. Let us beware lest we rest satisfied with a righteousness like that of the Pharisee, lest we substitute the outward for the inward—what we do for what we are. Let us beware of that which always develops with this tendency—the habit of comparison of self with others on levels lower than our own, instead of realizing "the vision splendid" of that righteousness which demands the entire self. It is this trust, this self-elevation, this pride of righteousness, which vitiates the sacrifice of many who go up to the temple to pray.
II. IT IS THE COMMENDATION OF HUMILITY, IN ITS ESSENTIAL NATURE AND BLESSEDNESS. What is humility? It is not so much a self-consciousness as a God-consciousness; not so much a mean thinking of ourselves as a thrilling, penetrating consciousness of him who is perfect holiness and truth. There is a self-abhorrence, but that follows the seeing of God with the opened inner eye. The Pharisee had no conviction of sin, because he had no discernment of the Eternal. His god was the property of his caste, one on whom he had a claim because of his belonging to the caste and doing what was required by it. The publican felt God at his heart; and the sight awoke the longing to be holy as God is, and the longing to be holy called out the sense of wrongness. Oh, how he had offended! how selfish and grasping and wicked he had been! All else fades into indistinctness; in that temple there are to him but the first cry of the soul which God has appropriated. There is no real prayer until that cry. A genuine earnest pleading is evoked. The beginning of all prayer, christ reminds us, is the taking of the sinner's place, and the simple appeal to mercy. And as it is the first, so it is the cry ever pulsing through prayer. It is never wanting from the justified. The pardon has been received. The blood cleanses from all sin; but not the less, all the more, is the knowledge of sin and the need of the ever-renewed applicat