Last Updated on : Saturday, October 11, 2014









by Robert Roberts



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sp chapter XXXVI

At Tyre and Decapolis -

- Feeds the Multitude a Second Time.


We have looked at the charge made by the Scribes and Pharisees against Jesus of violating tradition by "eating bread with defiled (that is to say) unwashen hands." We have considered his pungent and much more serious counter charge against them, of nullifying the commandments of God by their tradition. There was a defilement to which mere ritual had apparently made them insensible. To this, Jesus now called attention in a very emphatic manner.
Not content with addressing himself to the immediate circle which had witnessed the passage of arms between himself and the Pharisees, "he called all the people to him" -- that is, all within reach -- probably a considerable multitude, who, before his call, would be loosely scattered about, talking together in knots, or attending to the people whom they had brought to be healed. They collected at his call. Having secured their special attention, he stood up, probably on some slight elevation, the Pharisees standing by as listeners. He then made a very brief emphatic speech. He said "Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: there is nothing from without a man that entering into him can defile him; the things that come out of him, those are they that defile him. If any man hath ears to hear, let him hear." He then stepped down, and gave it to be understood that the assembly was over. Jesus slowly withdrew and entered a neighbouring house. The crowd broke up into groups and debated his meaning. The Pharisees were particularly stung, and gave vent to angry criticisms. The disciples, remaining behind for a little, heard the debates. They then joined Jesus in the house.
The first thing they did was to report the impression his words had made, especially on the leaders. "Knowest thou," said the disciples to him, "that the Pharisees were offended after they heard this saying?" To the disciples, this seemed a serious thing. Such a thing seems serious to the common run of people to the present day. For the learned to be out of humour -- for the doctors and professors and recognised leaders of the people to be opposed to a matter -- weighs much more with most people than the disagreement of all scripture. How did Jesus treat it? Most instructively for us, in its modern applications. "Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up." The Scribes and Pharisees, priests and elders, seemed planted firmly enough. They were revered by all the people, and substantially supported by them in the payment of tithes. Nothing could be more apparently stable and respectable than the priestly institution that flourished in Palestine in the days of Jesus. And nothing could have put forward better prima facie claims to be an institution of divine planting: for it was the continuance of the institution established by divine appointment in the wilderness by the hand of Moses. The divinity of it in this respect was recognised by Jesus himself on another occasion, when he said, "The Scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat." Yet here, he denies by implication that they were divinely planted, and foretells their rooting up, as came to pass forty years afterwards.
On what principle did he deny in the one case what he seemed to admit in the other? It is supplied in the further remark he made: "Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind, and if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch." Here were men divinely "planted" in the official sense whose position ceased to be divinely recognised by reason of individual declension from those conditions and qualifications which were the aim of the official institution. Because they were not such as the Father could approve individually and morally, their collective and official planting became a nullity. This is reasonable. What is the use of a priesthood if it has ceased to answer the end for which it was appointed? (Mal. ii. 7).
The application to modern times is evident. The clergy lay great stress on "ordination" and "apostolic succession." Suppose their claims on this head were allowed for the sake of argument, what would be the value of them, if it should appear that the clergy not only do not fulfil, but frustrate the objects of the so-called "succession" and "ordination?" What if they make void the Word of God through their tradition? What if they turn away their ears from the truth and turn unto fables (2 Tim. iv. 4), as Paul foretold would be the case conjointly with a great multiplication of teaching agency? It would only make their case all the worse if it could be proved that they were a divinely appointed caste. It would not screen them from that judicial "rooting up," which befel the Levitical priesthood in the days of Vespasian; and which is awaiting the clerical institutions of every order in the near future.
Jesus said, "Let them alone:" this is good advice in the parallel circumstances of the clergy. Their opinions and feelings on divine matters are not worthy of being taken into account. They do not know, and cannot teach the way of truth: and therefore their favour or disfavour can only tend to lead and keep men astray. "Let them alone." It is the best plan. "They be blind leaders of the blind."
What the disciples thought of such an apparently harsh attitude on the part of Jesus towards the Scribes and Pharisees, we are not told. In all probability, they implicitly fell in with it. They were convinced that their master was "the Christ of God," and this they would take as decisive in any issue raised between them. A similar rule, though in a slightly different form, enables us to decide the questions belonging to our age. We know that the Bible is of God. In the very best form of the case, there must always be a reserve as to the pretensions of the clergy. We are safe, therefore, in deciding on the side of the Bible in all cases of collision or variance -- which are many.
Passing from this, the disciples wanted to know Christ's meaning about nothing going into a man defiling him. A very superfluous question it may seem to us, but it would not be so to those who, like them, had been brought up under a system that recognised and insisted on the defiling effects of certain meats and drinks, and physical contacts and conditions. Jesus appeared to regret their want of discernment: "Are ye so without understanding also?" He then explained to them that the true source of human defilement was the heart "out of which proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness." "All these evil things," said he, "come from within and defile the man." What a man ate, he insisted, could not defile him.
This is now all obvious enough, except where men receive a bias from the Judaism which was early planted among believers in the first century. In such cases, the ceremonial distinctions of the law of Moses retain some of their force, as evidenced by scruples (other than hygienic) about the eating of swine's flesh. Paul makes short work of these scruples in maintaining the absolute freedom of believers from the law of Moses, particularly in the matter of eating and drinking (Rom. vi. 14, 15; xiv. 3-16). Paul's sentiments on this subject must not be attributed to Paul, as is the modern habit. Paul maintained that what he wrote were the commandments of the Lord (1 Cor. xiv. 37) and Christ, who sent Paul, said of the apostles in general, "He that heareth you heareth me" (Luke x. 16).
Somewhat wearied with his prolonged and contentious intercourse with the people and their leaders, Jesus now planned a little retirement for a season. He left the scenes of his activity in the neighbourhood of the Sea of Galilee, to seek repose by the quiet Mediterranean sea-board, on "the borders of Tyre and Sidon," about 50 miles distant to the north and west. His road thither with his disciples would he through the most picturesque country on the face of the earth. The towering snow-capped heights of the Lebanon range in the distance to the right would be a constant feature throughout the journey, and the road would wind tortuously through a labyrinth of hills and valleys for miles, till it opened out on the left upon the plain country reaching down to the sea near Tyre and Sidon.
Doubtless, the quietness of the walk would be very acceptable to the Lord after the busy time he had had. It would take three or four days to make the distance on foot, and it was nearly always on foot that these journeys were made. Arriving near Tyre and Sidon, "He entered into a house, and would have no man know it." Those who have had any considerable experience of public work can enter into this touching incident. Disposed to bless, yet needing repose after a time of incessant activity, and knowing on the whole the futility of much of the work done among a population the mass of which could rise no higher than loaves and fishes, it reveals a picture true to the life in showing us Jesus trying to conceal himself in a house to which he had retired for rest. The house was probably a wayside inn or house of accommodation of some sort.
It would be interesting to know what measures he took to suppress the fact of his presence. He would probably say quietly to the disciples, "Don't let it be known that I am here." He knew from the fame of him that had gone abroad, that if it were known, the people would come, and that was just what he did not want at this time. It is interesting to note that he worked no miracle to prevent the people knowing. He could have done so. The fact that he did not is one of many illustrations that the miraculous power God had given him (and which he after his ascension to heaven, sent upon his disciples), was not exercised for private ends or works of convenience, but only when public need called for it as in attestation of the reality of his mission from God.
Whatever steps he took to hide the fact of his presence, they were not quite successful. One day, when they were out on a quiet walk, a Greek woman (called also "a woman of Canaan," and a "Syro-Phoenician," because the Greeks were really the descendants of colonists from Phoenicia, and the Phoenicians were a remnant of the nations of Canaan left unsubdued when the land was conquered by Israel under Joshua) -- this woman, having a sick daughter at home, and learning in some way that this company of men walking along the road was Jesus and his disciples, followed after them at some distance, calling out, "Have mercy upon me, O Lord, thou Son of David, my daughter is grievously vexed with a demon." Jesus took no notice for awhile. "He answered her not a word." The woman kept on calling, walking after them at about the same pace.
Jesus appears to have walked in advance of the rest, and the disciples, who were annoyed with the woman's persistent entreaties, made up to him, and asked him to grant the woman's request and send the woman away, for she took no notice of their deprecatory gestures. Jesus said to them, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." This woman did not belong to the house of Israel; therefore he seemed to imply she was outside the channel of his attention. This is a great stumbling block to those who believe in human immortality. It is one of the features of Christ's life which Mr. Gladstone says he does not understand, and on which orthodox commentators put a strained and artificial construction -- suggesting that Christ said what he said to try the faith of his disciples, or the faith of the woman. The simple fact is what he stated -- that this woman had no claim on his attention. His mission was to the house of Israel, outside of God's plan with whom, the world of sinners was as so much grass of the earth growing up and passing away, filling but an evanescent part in the scheme of things. He therefore stated the simple truth when declining to attend to her. He said, "I am not come but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But while he and the disciples were thus in conference, the woman with the irrepressible eagerness of a mother seeking her daughter's benefit, pushed herself right before Christ and prostrated herself, "beseeching him that he would cast the demon out of her daughter." "Lord, help me!" said she.
Here was an embarrassing situation. Jesus had declined the request of the disciples. Here was the woman herself before him with her importunities. His true and graceful adroitness never failed him. He could not be harsh, but he did not retreat from the position of truth he had taken up. He said to the woman in another form what he had said to the disciples: "It is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it to the dogs." Her perfectly humble and apposite rejoinder left Jesus no alternative (as we might almost say) but to grant her request. "Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from the master's table." This removed the objection that lay in the way. Jesus, who had strictly forbidden his disciples in their separate tours to "go into the way of the Gentiles," would naturally feel that his compliance with this woman's request, apart from a recognition of their mutual positions, would be in collision with his own instructions, and lay his position open to misunderstanding. But when the woman acknowledged herself a "dog," and asked only a crumb, Jesus had no scruples. "O woman, great is thy faith. For this saying, go thy way. Be it unto thee even as thou wilt." Away the woman went: this was the whole extent of her desire -- a creature benefit: and she got it. "When she was come to her house, she found the demon gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed."
Having sufficiently rested themselves in the quiet district of the Phoenician seaboard, Jesus and disciples returned to the Sea of Galilee and resumed work in "the coasts of Decapolis," or the district of the ten cities on the eastern side of the lake. When his arrival was known, a man deaf, and having an impediment in his speech, was brought to him for healing. Others soon came. "He went up into a mountain (what mountain is not known, and it matters nothing: there are plenty of them) and sat down there. And great multitudes came unto him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus' feet. And he healed them, insomuch that the multitude wondered when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see, and they glorified the God of Israel" (Matt. xv. 29-31.)
There was naturally much crowding and much loitering in connection with such a promiscuous distribution of benefactions. For three whole days the multitude hung about Christ -- probably sleeping in the open air during the night, the climate admitting of it. His praise was on every lip (how could it be otherwise? it would happen again, though shallow and evanescent). "They were beyond measure astonished," we are told -- (no wonder: when has it ever been known that a man by a mere word should be able to heal the maladies of thousands in the open air?) They said. "He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak." And the fact remains unweakened by the lapse of centuries. Other names and other events have risen to engage the minds of men; but who or what can compare with Jesus of Nazareth and his wonderful works and words? Is it not part of the insanity of this generation that they should be forgotten or lightly appreciated merely because it is over 1,800 years since the earth witnessed the happy spectacle? It is part of the wisdom of the wise to have them in enthusiastic remembrance, in view of their approaching renewal on a scale of far greater splendour at the coming of the Son of Man in power and great glory.
At the end of three days, the crowd were still hanging about. They numbered about four thousand men, besides women and children, who would probably be another thousand. They were encamped on a hill side, away from places where food might be procured, and their provisions were exhausted. Jesus purposed ending the assembly, but he would not send them away in a tired and famishing state. He called the disciples and said, "I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat. And I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way." The disciples appear to have thought he meant that they, the disciples, should provide for them. "Whence," said they, "should we have so much bread in the wilderness as to fill so great a multitude?" Jesus asked them what they had. They said, seven loaves and a few little fishes. Jesus at once commanded that the multitude should be seated on the ground.
We can imagine the disciples scattering themselves through the crowd in all directions to inform them of the approaching meal, and the crowd drawing together from all quarters, and seating themselves around Christ in anticipation. In due course, all being assembled and seated in proper order, silence is obtained, and Jesus gives thanks. The disciples are clustered near him as waiters. The thanksgiving having ceased, Jesus proceeds to take the loaves and fishes, and hands them the disciples, who walk round among the people and supply them as fast as they can carry. Jesus produces fresh bread and fish as fast as it is taken away, and the disciples go on carrying till all are served.
The bread would be produced by a mere volition on the part of Christ. The process would probably not be visible. It would simply appear as the loaves were taken away that there were still some left. It was very wonderful, and altogether out of human power, to provide bread and fish in this way. But it was not more wonderful (if men would only think) than the gradual production of bread and fish every year, that before have no existence. The difference is that in the latter case, men see the mode of production (in its outside aspect at all events), and they see that the process has had an automatic action imparted to it which takes time to organise the abstract elements, which in their combination constitute bread and fish. In the other, the process was invisible and instantaneous. But it is the same power in both cases -- differently applied.
God has made heaven and earth, and imparted a certain automatic action to the organic processes which propagate vegetable and animal forms. This required stupendous power "in the beginning." We are so familiar with the long-established work that we are apt to forget the power; but reason will recall the mind to its recognition. When reason acts in this way, all difficulty about the miracles of Christ disappears. It is merely the same power doing small things where great things have been already done; only, the power acts obviously in the one case, and in the other we have (apart from revelation) to refer it from the work done. The miracles were "signs and wonders which God did by Christ" (Acts ii. 22). Their object was to show that God was at work in Christ to accomplish a certain purpose towards the human race, which Jesus (having thus proved its divinity) propounded to the understanding and faith of men. How else could God have commended Christ to our faith? His words might have been beautiful, but how could we be sure they were true if God had not thus stamped them with his own authority? It is all very simple -- very reasonable -- very beautiful. It is only false learning that has obscured the subject.
When the meal was at an end, the fragments were collected as in the previous similar miracle -- filling seven baskets. Then he sent the people away, and "straightway entered into a ship with his disciples and came into the parts of Dalmanutha" -- called also "the coasts of Magdala." There is no hint as to the object of his visit to these parts. Whatever it was, the movements of the Pharisees appear to have frustrated it. On landing, a company of them met him, along with a number of the Sadducees -- people not usually to be found in the company of the Pharisees, but who, like Herod with Pilate, could become friends when there was a work in which their common animosity could be gratified. These men began to question Jesus. They asked him to set all doubts at rest by giving them such a sign as they agreed to accept -- a sign from heaven -- bringing down fire, like Elijah; showing a host of chariots and horses of fire, like Elisha; or wrapping the hills in thundering, smoke and flame, as when Moses received the law.
Their request caused Jesus to "sigh deeply in his spirit." Why it should have this effect we may imagine when we realise that the demand which seemed reasonable to superficial thought, was one which could not be complied with at the merely preliminary stage at which the work of Christ then stood, and was made by men who were not sincere in making it. Had the Pharisees and Sadducees been sincere, they would have seen sign enough in what Jesus was doing every day. This was the point on which Jesus grounded his answer. "When it is evening, ye say it will be fair weather; for the sky is red. And in the morning, it will be foul weather to-day, for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky: can ye not discern the signs of the times?" Christ's argument here is that the common intelligence that was able to forecast the weather from atmospheric appearance was equal to the discernment of his divine credentials in the abundant miracles he wrought, if there were only the sincere and humble disposition to know the truth. The gravamen of his answer lay in the term he applied to them: "hypocrites!" They were acting; they were not honest: they pretended there were no signs, when in point of fact they were really of the opinion expressed by a prominent member of their body -- Nicodemus: "We know that thou art a leacher came from Gad: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest except God be with him." Is it a wonder he "sighed deeply in his spirit?"
"A wicked and adulterous generation," he proceeded, "seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of the prophet Jonas." In chapter xxv. we had occasion to consider the meaning of these words. They were deep and appropriate, as all his words were. Their effect on the smart but shallow quibblers who were simply bent on discrediting him in the eyes of the multitude, would have been interesting to witness. But that was a point of no moment. They felt themselves foiled by the quiet, sad man of Nazareth, and doubtless made their best effort to preserve their learned dignity with the bystanders under discomfiture. In whatever way they took it, Jesus drew off, and returned to the vessel which had brought him from the eastern side of the Lake. Getting on board, the disciples soon spread the sail and got out their oars, and away they quickly sped to the other side
This departure was evidently out of the programme. Jesus had intended to stay (perhaps at the house of loving Mary Magdalene, whose abode was in that part), but retired on finding the Pharisees and Sadducees in occupation of the field. The disciples in the hurry of this unexpected departure had "forgotten to take bread." They had but one loaf in the ship for a company of at least 13 men. They had just discovered the fact and remarked it among themselves, when Jesus, who evidently retained a strong impression of the recontre he had just had with the Pharisees and Sadducees, began to say, "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the Sadducees (or the leaven of Herod)." The disciples said one to another, "It is because we have taken no bread?" They really supposed, it would seem, that he meant they were to be careful, when reprovisioning the boat, not to buy bread made by the Pharisees or Sadducees for fear of its being tainted with leaven; and furthermore, that they were in danger through having forgotten to bring bread. Jesus was disappointed with the childishness of such a supposition. "O ye of little faith," said he, "why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread?" He reminded them of the two miraculous provisions of bread which they themselves had witnessed; why should the lack of provisions on board the vessel seem a serious circumstance, in view of the power to multiply loaves when necessary? It was something else altogether that he meant when he spoke of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. "Then understood they," we are told, "how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the Doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees."


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