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Nazareth Revisited


Matthew's Feast -- Two Blind Men Cured.

Matthew, as a publican, was a man in good circumstances. He was consequently able to do what his affection for Christ inclined him to do on accepting his invitation to become his follower and companion: "He made him a great feast in his own house," to which he invited "a great company of publicans and others." The great company included "many publicans and sinners" who came and sat down with Christ and his disciples -- a company, not of the select order -- not such as would suit a punctilious "respectability" in that or any other age: -- a company made up of the lower class, the toiling class, and such even as were not irreproachable on the score of principle or behaviour. The Pharisees, keenly watching every movement, were shocked or professed to be shocked that Christ should keep such company. They took the first opportunity of attacking the disciples on the subject -- afraid apparently of addressing themselves direct to Christ. "Why eateth your master with publicans and sinners?" Why not with the righteous of the nation? This cate-chetical insinuation was very telling: It was much more effective than a direct imputation. A thing hinted at is always felt more keenly than a thing plainly said. The disciples no doubt were embarrassed by the question, and did not know what to say. They reported the question to Christ. His rejoinder was one of the many master strokes that at last made the Pharisees afraid to encounter him. There was no rudeness in it; on the contrary, it was gentle and grave. But it was the simple assertion of unquestionable truth, and made the question of the Pharisees recoil with withering force on themselves. "They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." What could they say? The company to which they objected, if sinners, were the sick: why were not the Pharisees (the professional healers of the people) attending to them? How could they find fault with him for doing it? There was no answer. It was a mouth-shutter. It bore another way. The Pharisees were the righteous in their own estimation. Therefore, on their own premises, it was needless to look after them. He followed up his delightfully powerful answer with an adjuration only a little less severe to men who professed to be teachers: "Go and learn what that meaneth; I will have mercy and not sacrifice."

The Scribes and Pharisees laid great stress on the divine obligation of the sacrifices, which were profitable to them. Jesus now reminds them that God, who had appointed the sacrifices, had also declared that those very sacrifices were not acceptable to Him, and even an abomination to Him, when offered without that sentiment of merciful kindness in which the institution had its very origin (Amos V. 21-24; Is. i. 11-17). Against this attitude of mercy to the poor and the needy, they were now placing themselves in objecting to Christ's familiar association with the common people; and they had their answer, which had no tendency to mollify them, but the reverse. It made them more and more bitter and inclined to put the worst construction upon all he did.

They took advantage of his very eating to raise an evil report. They did it gently at first. They did it by way of question, and they made use of other people, though at last they spurted it out in the directness and heat of inflamed animosity: "Behold a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber -- the friend of publicans and sinners." If the action of the Son of God could be thus misrepresented, what can his friends expect, who can never attain his perfection? The Pharisees approached the subject at first through John's disciples. Some of John's disciples had a difficulty about the difference between John's ways and Christ's. John was abstemious and given to periodical fasting, which he also enjoined upon his disciples, as befitting the exigencies of the spiritual reformation he had come to effect in preparation for Christ. But Christ was a free eater, and laid no obligation of fasting upon his disciples. The Pharisees, putting them forward, and taking part with them, asked Christ on the subject: "Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft; but thy disciples fast not?" Christ's answer was an effective question turning upon a custom of the country, which is more or less a custom of all countries -- viz., to make a wedding a time of festivity: "Can the children of the bride-chamber mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?" Fasting is a concomitant of mourning, and would be out of place in a joyful situation. This was the argument of his question, which assumed that he was the bridegroom, and that it was a happy circumstance for them to have him with them. So it was. He said so plainly. "Me ye have not always" (Mar. xiv. 7). "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world" (Jno. ix. 5.) "Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you" (xii. 35). The fact thus affirmed would be patent to all the people, though it might be denied by the Scribes and Pharisees; and therefore his words had great force: "as long as they (the disciples) have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast." No, indeed! He was the light of their eyes, and the joy of their heart, and the strength of their ways. His presence excluded the very idea of fasting. It would have been as much out of place in their circumstances as a new piece of cloth in a rotten garment, or new wine in decayed wine-skins. But there was shortly to be a change. He would not always be with them. The fact was sorrowfully before his mind, and he now gives it utterance in prophetic words affecting ourselves in so far as we painfully participate in their fulfilment: "The days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them: and then shall they fast in those days" (Mar. ii. 20). These days did come; and they have long prevailed -- so long that some men say he was never here, and many others, that though he was once here he will never be here again. They are sorrowful days, in which faith has much hard work to resist the blighting effect of the darkness and the cold. But they will come to an end. Christ, whose words are proved true by the very darkness of the time, has said, "If I go away, I will come again, and your heart shall rejoice."

We are not told at what time of the day Matthew's dedicatory feast, at which this keen passage of arms occurred, was held. It was probably a mid-day gathering. The incident with which it concluded could not well have happened at night. The principal rabbi at one of the synagogues, Jairus by name, came forward into the presence of Christ in a state of mental agony. He had only one daughter, about twelve years of age, and the child lay at the point of death. In fact, the distracted father was sure she was "now dead." He prostrated himself before Christ, and earnestly besought him to come to her, expressing the confidence that if he would lay his hand on her, she would live. Jesus respected the man's faith, and rose from his place at the board. The father led the way out of the house, and Jesus followed him, accompanied by his disciples. In addition to the disciples, a great crowd followed. The company in Matthew's house had witnessed the rabbi's petition, and as Jesus passed out, word would quickly pass among the people outside that he was going to bring a dead child to life. They eagerly went after him, and "thronged him," jostling against him, as is the manner of crowds.

On the way, he stopped, and the crowd gathered round. He asked them who had touched him. No one answered. He repeated his question; still all were silent. Pressing his question, the multitude, wondering what could be the meaning of it, began to say to one another, "Not I: not I." Jesus said, "Some one hath touched me, for I perceive that virtue has gone out of me." Peter suggested that a good many had touched Christ, and that the question scarcely seemed called for: "Thou seest the multitude thronging thee: and sayest thou, 'who touched me?' " Jesus had a reason for his question. He had been touched in a way that was not mechanical. He was conscious of healing virtue having passed out of him in response to a touch that was a touch of faith. He knew who had done it. It was not for information that he asked the question, but to call attention to one of the many "works" by which God was manifested and glorified in him. He looked round on the crowd, and fixed his eyes on a woman. She cowered beneath his calm searching gaze. She knew what had happened, and she now felt that he knew, and that it was no use concealing the matter. "Fearing and trembling and knowing what was done in her," she came forward, "and fell down before him and told him all the truth." What was the truth? That she had for twelve years suffered from a debilitating flux, for which she had in vain and at much expense, consulted every likely doctor. Hearing of Christ, she had come to the conclusion that if she could only get near enough to him to touch the hem of his robe, she would be healed; and she had that day seized upon her first opportunity with the anticipated result. She now felt in herself that she was cured, but she was in that state of mind that leads a person to feel they must most humbly apologise for having taken a great and unwarrantable liberty. Christ's object was realised in the eliciting from the woman this statement of the facts. He soon calmed her fears. "Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole. Go in peace, and continue whole of thy plague."

In this we have an insight into what might be called the physical aspect of Christ's miracles, and of all miracles. Though above nature, they are operations of real power acting upon and in nature. They are not magical. There was material "virtue" in the person of Christ, with which his very clothes became charged, so that in the performance of works of healing, "there went virtue out of him and healed them all" (Lu. vi. 19). The same thing is observable in the case of Paul afterwards, who was filled with the same spirit: "God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul, so that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them" (Acts ix. 11, 12). In the case of Peter also, we read that "they brought forth the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might over-shadow some of them ... and they were healed every one" (Acts v. 15, 16). This was the fulfilment of Christ's promise: "The works that I do, ye (the apostles) shall do also, and greater works than these shall ye do because I go unto my Father" The works in both cases were done by the same power. "The power of the Lord was present to heal" (Lu. v. 17). The power of the Lord is real power. It is the power out of which all things have been made. It is what modern philosophers have conceived to themselves as "force." It is a reality, though a reality out of human control. When this is clearly apprehended, there will be no liability to fall into the mistake of those who class the miracles of Christ and his apostles with the achievement of mesmerists and so-called "faith-healers." They are not in the same category at all, though related to the same power. Human beings have life-power, which they can in certain conditions irradiate from themselves by the action of the will, and by the means of it can produce certain effects. But the power is weak. It is strictly within the organic limits assigned to the human organization in the constitution imparted by the will of the Creator, and can accomplish nothing beyond those limits. Streaming from the eye, it may deflect a needle suspended by a silk thread, but it cannot stop a storm. It may stimulate secretions in the living body, but it cannot produce bread on the spot to feed thousands. It may impart a momentary vigour to a debilitated organ, but it cannot make a dead man alive. There is a certain faint resemblance between its mode of action and the miraculous operations of Jesus and the apostles; but there is no more parallel than between the working of a machine and the motions of the heavenly bodies. The one is the power of nature, as forming part of the constitution of nature, and strictly bounded by the laws of nature; the other is the working of the energy that produced nature, and can therefore control nature so absolutely that "nothing is impossible with God." The one is the power of man, the other the power of God, between which the gulf is unfathomable and immeasurable. This is shown in any comparison that may be made between the works of all who ever went before or came after Christ.

Having comforted the cured but disturbed woman, Jesus was about to resume his journey to the house of Jairus, when messengers arrived, and addressing themselves to Jairus, said there was no need to trouble Jesus further; that all was over: his daughter had just expired. We can imagine the effect which such an announcement would produce on the fond and distracted father. Jesus had seen the arrival of the messengers, and had heard their message, and had noticed its effect, and he turned to the father and said: "Fear not; only believe, and she shall be made whole." From the mouth of an ordinary physician, such words would have been mockery. How could the little girl be "made whole" when she was actually dead? But Jairus and others had seen and heard enough of this man to dispose them to rest with indefinite expectancy on anything he might say. Probably, therefore, Jairus was comforted by his words. He would probably find it easy to conform to the adjuration, "Only believe." It is remarkable how constantly this condition is required in connection with the miracles of Jesus and the apostles. We have seen it in connection with the woman who stole a cure, as it were, while Jesus was on his way to Jairus. Christ told her her faith had saved her. To another he said, "Thy faith hath made thee whole" (Luke xvii. 19). To another, "Receive thy sight. Thy faith hath saved thee" (Luke xviii. 42). Still more emphatic, he said to another, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth" (Mark ix. 23); and one of his miracles he prefaced by the inquiry, "Believe ye that I am able to do this?" (Mark ix. 28). It is recorded of Paul in the cure of an afflicted man at Lystra, that he "perceived that he had faith to be healed" (Acts xiv. 9).

This prominence of faith as an accompaniment of these works of healing has given rise to evil surmise, and led to some imposture. Some have imagined that the effects called miracles were not the results of God's power at all, but of credulousness in the subjects operated upon. Others, like the Mormons, have assumed the ability to work miracles, but allege the want of faith on the part of their hearers to be the cause of their inability to show them. Both ideas spring from an incomplete apprehension of the facts. Though faith was a desired and suitable accessory to miraculous operation, it was not indispensable to the exercise of that power on the part of either Christ or his apostles. Walking on the sea, stilling the storm, the multiplication of five loaves to feed thousands of people, and the raising of the dead -- were all operations that could have no assistance of faith from the subjects operated upon. So in the case of the apostles; it required no faith in Ananias and Sapphira to be struck dead, or in the prison doors for them to open. The power of God is irresistible, and "needs not help from man." But there is nothing in this inconsistent with the requirement that men who are to be benefited by the exercise of that power should honour God by putting faith in the operation. No doubt the exercise of faith predisposes for its effectual working; but it has no more power to produce the effects than favourable soil has to bring forth choice plants without seed or planting. Men have only to try to produce the miracles of Christ by faith to see how incapable faith is without the co-operation of the power of God. And as for those who say they could work miracles if people only had faith, let them try their hand on their own lame, blind, and dead, and their mistake will be apparent. Though Christ asked for faith and esteemed it highly, he did not have to wait for it in order to be able to show forth the power of God.

Having asked Jairus to have faith, Jesus quickly went forward to his house where the dead child lay. He appears to have forbidden the crowd to follow, and to have allowed only Peter and James and John to accompany him, with the father of the damsel. Arrived at the house, he found the professional mourners in full work. This is a feature peculiar to Oriental life, especially in the days of Jesus, as all are aware. When a death occurs, these people will do any amount of demonstrative mourning for a consideration. They can "weep and wail" to order, and "make a great ado." They had in this case doubtless heard the little girl was dying, and were early in attendance for the job. When Jesus arrived, he found them "making a great tumult." He asked them to stop: "Why make ye this ado and weep?" Why? Didn't he know? A chief man's nice little daughter of twelve just dead? Oh yes, he knew. He knew more than they did. The girl was dead and not dead. "The damsel is not dead, but sleepeth." But the professional mourners -- a callous and melancholy set -- knew not the speaker. They heard his words, and interpreting them by their poor light, they saw only cause of mirth in them. "They laughed him to scorn." We can almost hear their "ha, ha's" as they twisted and grinned under the absurdity of the statement that the girl who lay a corpse in the house was "not dead."

Why did Jesus say the damsel was not dead when she was really dead? For a reason that we may easily apprehend if we can imagine ourselves possessed as he was of the power of restoring a dead person. Such a person we would naturally think of as in a state of suspended animation merely. Even in natural relations, we only recognize a person as dead when he is beyond the action of restorative agency. He may be to all intents and purposes dead, as when in a drowning case, he has been in the water for twenty minutes or half an hour before he is taken out; or when he has swooned off into a pulseless state of unconsciousness, through the stoppage of the action of the heart: we do not consider him dead if we possess the means of removing the cause that has suspended vitality for the time being, though left as he is, decomposition will certainly commence. In the case of Christ, he had the power to remove the conditions that had stopped the life of Jairus' child, and because he intended to use that power, he could not recognise the child as dead -- in the state, namely, in which the cause of death was beyond the power of removal. To him, she was but in a sleep, though for the time being really dead. We see the same thing in the case of Lazarus, whom Jesus was intending to raise: he said, "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth." The disciples thought he spoke literally. "Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead" (Jno. ix. 14). It was the relation of ideas that led him to speak of "sleep" in both cases. Jesus, beckoning to the father, got the house cleared of the noisy heartless "wailers," and with the father and mother of the damsel, and the three apostles mentioned, he entered the chamber where the dead child lay. He at once took the child by the hand and said, "Damsel, I say unto thee, Arise." Immediately the vital energy of the spirit entered and transfused and healed the lifeless frame: the child opened her eyes, and rose, and stood on the floor, as the natural impulse of the returned sensibilities of health would incline, in the presence of strangers. Jesus handed the child to her parents, to their inexpressible astonishment, and advised them to give her something to eat. The child, wasted by fever and now restored to healthy life, would be in need of nourishment. Gladly, we may imagine, would the parents comply with his direction. But they could not get over the surprise of their child's restoration, and were evidently in a mood to speak emphatically on the subject. Jesus advised them to say nothing about it to anyone, for the reason that led him in previous cases to avoid public sensation. But he could not prevent the inevitable. "The fame thereof went abroad through all that land."

Leaving the house of Jairus, he was accosted by two blind men who learnt from the hum and talk of the crowd that Jesus was passing. He took no notice of them at first. They followed him, calling aloud as they went, "Thou Son of David, have mercy upon us." The people knew that the Messiah was to be the son of David. They were disposed to regard this man as the Messiah because of his mighty works. Therefore it was the popular mood to speak of him as the son of David, though they probably knew little or nothing of his family extraction. Jesus allowed the men to continue their invocation without attending to them, and walked on till he came to the house where he abode in Capernaum, which he entered, and sat down, the crowd probably lingering outside. The blind men persevered, and found their way at last into the presence of Christ in the house. They renewed their entreaty to be cured of their blindness. The Lord dealt with the matter in a much more interesting manner than by at once granting their request, as unskilful kindness would have done. He said, "Believe ye that I am able to do this?" They at once answered affirmatively, upon which Jesus said, "According to your faith be it unto you," and, touching their eyes, restored their sight. The men were delighted: but Jesus told them to enjoy the gift of God in quietness, and say nothing of it to any man -- a commandment which they did not and could not possibly obey: "When they were departed, they spread abroad the fame in all the country." In all this there is a perfect life picture. There is nothing artificial or manufactured in it. How sadly noble the desire of Jesus to avoid public ovation while showing forth the glory and power of the Father in the performance of miracles: it is in harmony even with the poor specimens of worth and modest manhood we are sometimes permitted to know even now. How unlike the impostor or charlatan to entreat the subjects of his benefaction to keep the matter secret! How like human nature, for the blind men to disregard Christ's request, and blaze the matter abroad to the utmost. How godlike for Christ to let them persevere in their request before granting it: to even interpose an obstacle to put their earnestness to the test: and to extort a confession of their faith before imparting the coveted benefit.

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