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Nazareth Revisited


In the Storm -- Matthew Called.

The boat being ready, Jesus entered, and several of his disciples. It was the work of a few minutes to unfurl the sail, lift the anchor, and make for the open, steering straight for "the other side." Jesus, wearied with his recent efforts, laid himself down on some cushion-work in the hinder part of the boat, and was soon fast asleep. Gaily the little craft sped over the glistening waters, kissing the freshening breeze, and sending the spray right and left as she cut her way through the dancing waves. But suddenly, there came a change, as is the wont with storms on the same lake to this day. The sky overcast, the wind rose, and the water roughened into a heavy swell. Rapidly the wind increased to a gale, and the sea, quickly responding, rose in great white-crested waves that tossed the vessel about like a plaything, and broke around and over it in a very threatening manner. The disciples exerted themselves to the utmost to avoid the waves -- probably by running her before the wind; but the strength of the storm was too much for them. They could not prevent the breakers boarding her, and nearly filling her with water. The peril was great. Christ was yet asleep. They did not wish to disturb him; but every minute the danger was increasing. The vessel rocked, and plunged and creaked and shipped water in a style that threatened to send them all to the bottom in little time. She was now nearly filled with water. At last they awoke Christ. "Master! master!" exclaimed they, "we perish. Lord save us. Carest thou not that we perish?" That they supposed he could help them in some way is probable: that they thought he could check the storm is disproved by what happened. Awaking, Christ said, "Why are ye fearful?" This was as much as to say there was no cause for fear. Well, there was not, as it turned out, but to mere human perception, there was every cause for fear.

There never is or can be such apparent just cause for apprehension to men as when they are in a storm at sea in a frail vessel that is being overwhelmed by the waves. Men never fear more than in such circumstances. That Jesus felt differently was due to the power he possessed. That he expected the disciples to share his feelings on the subject was due to the evidence he had previously given them of his possession of that power. "O ye of little faith!' It was the smallness of their faith he rebuked. Faith is trust on the ground of evidence. He had given them the evidence; and on this, faith ought to have worked with the effect of inspiring confidence in all circumstances. But man is weak, and their faith failed them in the presence of unfavourable appearances. -- Having uttered these few quiet words of rebuke, he rose and addressing himself to the elements, said "Peace: be still!" The effect was instantaneous. The rush of the wind was arrested; the tumult of the waves stopped. The water ceased its convulsions and immediately settled to a quiet level. The storm was gone, and the ship, dripping, glistening with the water that had covered it, was riding in calmness and safety. In the presence of this great and sudden change, Jesus again looked at his disciples, and said, "Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?" questions far more telling, under the circumstances, than the most fervid effort of rhetoric.

It would be impossible to imagine a situation in which the power of Christ could be more impressively shewn, or more stringently and convincingly tested. Never is man so powerless as in the presence of the elements in their raging power. A pretender may do something with appliances and protected platforms and dark rooms. But place him on the storm-swept deck of a reeling vessel in a gale, and he is as helpless as the struggling cattle that are washed overboard. It does not even want a storm to show the impotence of man in dealing with nature. The quiet side of a mountain, the expanse of primitive moorland, the depths of the forest, or the face of the smiling ocean at any time in the finest weather, overwhelm a man with a sense of mortal littleness and helplessness. We have all heard in history of the vanity of monarchs or the extravagant loyalty of subjects that has sometimes claimed dominion over nature, and that has received its quiet but effectual confutation from nature itself. We have heard of the Persian Xerxes vainly apostrophising a mountain that he wanted out of the way, and whipping the waters of the Bosphorous for presuming to sweep away his bridge of boats. We have heard of Canute planting his throne by the edge of the sea, and vainly commanding the rising tide to stop its advance. But here is a man who says, "Peace be still," and at whose word the rage of the tempest itself stops, and the sea becomes smooth. What more appropriate comment can be made than the one the disciples passed one to another: "What manner of man is this that even the winds and the sea obey him?" What manner of man, indeed!

Most momentous question, which many are content to leave unsettled, or to settle in a most superficial and absurd manner. The question cannot be burked or ignored. The question is there. Christ did all these wonderful things. The New Testament is the evidence of it. The New Testament has been in the hands of the world all these ages. It was written by the men who were his companions: whose competence as witnesses is shewn by the writing; whose integrity is proved by the fact that they had and could have no object in the writing but the testimony of truth, since that testimony brought them nothing but evil; the truth of whose narrative is proved by the narrative itself. The question is constantly ringing in the air for those who have ears to hear: "what manner of man is this?" The answer is a glorious one, though mankind in their woe may be sick of hearing it. It is the only answer that solves the whole wonderful problem. "God was in Christ." God, who made all things, can control all things, whether it be the physiological conditions of the body, or the momentum of the atmosphere, caused by the mechanical action of the laws of heat. It is in His power to radically change the one, or put a brake on the other. It is a question of the object and opportunity. There is a time to show the power, and a time to conceal it. One time to show it was when Jesus, the Son of God, was on earth to declare the Father's name, and open and shew the way of life and love in the ministry of reconciliation. It was shewn in such a variety of ways as to exclude the possibility of doubt as to its being the power of God: and one of the most impressive certainly, was the demonstration that even the wind and the sea were subject to the will of Christ

The storm having ceased, the boat resumed her eastward course, and shortly arrived at the other side. They landed "in the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee." The district lies on the eastern margin of the sea of Galilee, towards the southern end, where the land rises abruptly, forming that "steep place" which was signalised by an incident now about to happen -- of which the three apostolic narratives, read together, furnish the following particulars.

When Jesus had landed, a man at a long distance off was seen running towards him at the top of his speed, accompanied by another man who did not figure prominently in the transactions that followed. The men were madmen, who lived, not in the city, but among the tombs in the neighbourhood of the city. They were naked, and possessed of abnormal strength. They had been the terror of the neighbourhood for a long time -- particularly the first man, who, night and day, at spasmodic intervals, made the air ring with his maniac shouts, as he cut himself with stones and cried out. Many attempts had been made to put him under restraint, but all in vain. Chains and fetters had been successfully put upon him several times, but each time, with the strength of Samson, when left to himself, he snapped them asunder in the paroxysms of his madness. He now ran towards Christ, whom, from a distance, he had seen landing. The fame of Christ had "spread into all the regions round about." Consequently, this madman had heard something of him, and ran to worship him. Jesus saw him coming. It is probable that the disciples also would apprehensively direct his attention to the approach of a madman. Jesus knew the state of the man, and before he had come quite close, he sought to disarm him by cure. He said, "Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit." The man, mistaking Christ's adjuration for an imprecation of judgment upon himself, fell on his knees and responded in a voice of terror, "What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most High God? I adjure thee by God that thou torment me not." Jesus then speaks kindly to him: "What is thy name?" The man said, "My name is Legion, for we are many." This was the man's hallucination. Jesus had recognised but one unclean spirit (that is, the deranging influence that obstructed his faculties), saying to him, "Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit." But the man imagined himself inhabited by a multitude of demons. The lunatic asylums to-day will furnish instances of a similar delusion: the difference is, they are not at large, and there is no living Christ going about, for their aberrated faculties to act on. The man proceeded to earnestly implore Christ not to send him (that is, "them": for the man and the demons were identical to the man's deranged mind) -- not to send him out of the country. It was a revealed work of the Messiah, that he would "cause the unclean spirit to pass out of the land" (Zech. xiii. 2). John the Baptist had spoken of him "standing in the midst" of Israel while he spake, and of having the "fan in his hand" with which he would "thoroughly purge his floor" (Matt. iii. 12; Jno. i. 26). This phase of the Messiah's work is the one that would most readily be apprehended by the populace. It would easily and naturally diffuse itself as a panic which the madmen of the country would catch up and reflect in an aberrated form. Consequently, we may understand this madman's anxiety as he kneels imploring Christ to spare him the banishment which he feared at his hands, and suggesting to him that he would, instead, allow him to go among the swine that were feeding in multitudes on the hill brow overlooking the sea. Of course, it was mixed up with the hallucination that he was a legion of demons; and the suggestion took that form. "Suffer us to enter into the swine." Jesus acted on the suggestion. The culture of the pig was a breach of the law of Moses. It was part of the disobedience which he was about to revenge on the nation in a baptism of fire (effected 40 years later). It was therefore a fitting thing to mark with his displeasure in the way now suggested. He said, "Go," and at his word the maddening influence which had so long possessed the man was transferred from him to the 2,000 swine, and transformed into a judicial impulse which projected them in a general stampede down the brow of the hill into the water, where they were all drowned -- as intended.

The idea that the "demons" in the case were intelligent beings is precluded by the way they are treated in the narrative. They are, both by Jesus and the narrator (Luke), treated as "an unclean spirit" -- a spirit of madness. Their existence in the man is the man's own theory of himself, propounded in answer to Christ's kindly question, "What is thy name?" and merely adopted in some parts of the narrative in accommodation to this introduced aspect. Had they been intelligences literally seeking transfer to the swine, as a more congenial sheathing or dwelling, they would not have instantly frustrated their own wishes by destroying the swine in the sea. The whole of the circumstances adapt themselves to the view that Christ in benevolently curing a violent madman, judicially transferred the madness to a herd of swine that had no business in the land of Israel. The narrative is necessarily tinged with the notion universal in the world at the time, that madness was due to the presence of malignant beings: tinged with it, that is, in the sense of its being taken into account just as we take into account the views of children or lunatics, when we talk to them about their affairs: but not tinged in the sense of its being accepted as true: only in the sense in which the doctrine of Beelzebub tinged the discourse of Christ when he seemed to assume the existence of that mythical deity, in his conversation with those who believed in it (Matt. xii. 27). It is one of the evidences of the divinity of the Gospel narratives, that while necessarily dealing extensively and minutely with the heathen theory of demonology in its record of the cure by Jesus of mental disorders of all kinds, it steers clear of an endorsement of the theory as such.

The people who were in charge of the immense herd of swine were thrown into consternation at the inexplicable frenzy which impelled the swine to destruction in the waters of the Galilean lake. They ran into the town in hot haste, and reported what had happened. The people instantly flocked out to the hill to behold the evidence of the truth of the report in the hundreds of pigcarcases floating ashore. While wondering at the occurrence, their attention was drawn to the group on the plain. Jesus and his disciples were there: and the crowd streamed towards them. There they found their formidable neighbour -- the incurable maniac -- "sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind." (No doubt the disciples furnished clothing among them for the man, when he was cured). The people quickly understood the situation: Jesus had transferred the madness from the man to the swine, and caused their destruction. This filled them with a superstitious fear of him. They were afraid of further calamities. They implored him to get away from them; and he went. Poor misguided people! How many millions there have been since, who would gladly at any time have given all that they had for one hour of the company which these Gadarenes put away from them. There have been many, also, who like the Gadarenes, have put Christ away, because of the temporal inconveniences.

Jesus walked back to the ship -- the cured madman accompanying him to the water's edge. When he had got aboard with his disciples, the man implored Jesus to allow him to go with him. But Jesus would not consent. To one he said, "Follow me;" to this, "Follow me not." "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the sun." The cured madman was not fit to be a companion of Christ, and not suitable for an apostle. Jesus "knew all men," and knew this man, and therefore "suffered him not" to have his wishes gratified. There. was, however, a sphere of service for him. "Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee." As the boat drew off, we can imagine the poor man looking after it with longing eyes as he stood among the other people who, with a very different mind, watched the departure. He would watch its receding form till no longer able to discern the forms of its occupants; and then, with the dispersing multitude, many of whom would gather round him and talk with him, glad at his change, though vexed at the loss of their grunting property, he would at last go away. He did not and could not forget what had been done for him. "He departed and began to publish in Decapolis (the ten cities) how great things Jesus had done for him; and all men did marvel" (Luke v. 20).

Arrived at Capernaum (which he had made "his own city" by removal from Nazareth) Jesus found the town crowded. "Great multitudes had come together to hear and to be healed by him of their infirmities." Among the crowd were "Pharisees and doctors of the law out of every town of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem" (Luke v. 17). These had heard reports of his wonderful doings and sayings, and had come to study him. At first, Jesus retired before the crowded state of the town, and again "withdrew himself into the wilderness and prayed." But again rallying himself to the work "after some days" "he entered into Capernaum" (Mar. ii. 1). It was soon reported that he had arrived and was in the house where he made his stay when in the place. "Straightway many were gathered together, insomuch as there was no room to receive them, no not so much as about the door." While thus clustered thickly together in and about the house, "he preached the word unto them."

Our exclusive acquaintance with western houses interferes with our understanding of such a scene as this -- as regards its mechanical adjuncts. If the house was like the eastern houses which travellers describe to us, it would be a flat-roofed building of one storey, with a wide door opening to a paved court in front. Jesus would be seated inside some distance from the door, with the people standing and sitting all about him, filling the room and overflowing through the doorway into the court yard. The "doctors of the law" had secured a place in the inner circle. Jesus discoursed to the assembly in terms not recorded. The Pharisees and lawyers were sitting with ears attent. They were in the keenly observant mood of a perplexed scepticism which desired to find a flaw, but could not resist the wisdom of his speech or deny the wonder of his works. While he was speaking, a noise in the roof attracted attention. Slabs were being removed, and in a little time a large space had been cleared over the heads of the assembly -- large enough to admit the entrance of a couch containing a palsied man, which the operators proceed to lower into the presence of Christ. No doubt people in the house would expostulate with the intruders, and endeavour to persuade them to withdraw the strange burden, and restore the roof. If so, it was all in vain. They were terribly in earnest, and would take no denial. There were four of them. The palsied man was probably a relative. They had heard of Christ's wonderful works of healing, and had probably brought him from a distance to be cured; but on arriving they had found the house blocked with people, and no way of getting at him, but by breaking the roof Their earnest stratagem, however objectionable to the company assembled in the house, was not displeasing to Christ. He "saw their faith," and anticipating their object, said to the palsied man, "Son, thy sins be forgiven thee." These words startled the aforesaid "Pharisees and lawyers." They looked at each other and whispered, as much as to say, "Ha! did you hear that? We have got something now." Their actual words (under their breath) were, "Why doth this man thus speak blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God only?" Jesus perceived the movement, and knew their thoughts. Turning to them instantly, he said, "Why reason ye these things in your hearts? Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee, or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed and walk?" He places the two things on a par in point of power and authority. If he could do the one, was it not evidence of ability to do the other? Who could cure the palsy with a word but God only? and if God gave the Son of Man power on earth to cure the palsy and do many other works that no man could do, why should he not confer upon him the power to forgive sin also, which was neither more difficult nor more easy? Pressing home this argument, he said to them, "That ye may know that the Son of Man hath power upon earth to forgive sin -- (then turning to the palsied man) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed and go thy way unto thine house." All eyes were now upon the man, who arose with the ease and strength of a man in perfect health, packed up his couch, and lifted it on his shoulder. A passage being made for him among the people, he carried it out before them all. Everyone was simply amazed and struck with admiration, "We never saw anything like this before." They "marvelled that God had given such power unto men" (Matt. ix. 8). The Pharisees could only be silent. Jesus then motioned to pass out, and a way being made for him, "he went forth again by the seaside, and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them." "The common people heard him gladly." The uncommon people did not. On the contrary, they heard him, first with curious interest, then with suspicious dislike, then with open hostility, and lastly with implacable hatred and determination to compass his destruction. But things did not reach this pass all at once. As yet they were in the studious mood. The common people were intent on hearing him; and the leaders were obliged to follow in their train.

Returning from the seaside, Jesus passed the tax-collector's office (for Capernaum) in which an official was seated who had been keeping an open and interested eye on the movements of Christ, and on whom Christ now had his eye. This was "Matthew, the publican," who belonged to a class that was not in good savour with the higher ranks of society in Israel at this time. He was a Jew, but a servant of the Romans, and was therefore looked down upon as an unpatriotic and defiled Israelite. Besides this, the publicans as a class were extortioners. They paid a stipulated sum to the government as the taxes accruing from the district over which they were appointed, and collected as much more as they could, by pressure and extortion, thereby enriching themselves at the expense of the community. It is the system of farming the taxes which is in vogue in Turkey at the present day. The publicans were, therefore, as a class, in great odium. But in all classes, there are men better than their class. And Matthew was not an unjust man, though a publican. He was a man fit in Christ's estimation to be an ambassador of Christ; and the time had come to call him. Jesus therefore stopped before the office, and fixing his eyes on Matthew, simply said, "Follow me." For this summons, Matthew had evidently been previously prepared; for, without any hesitation or delay, "he arose and followed him."

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