The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE ASCENT: FROM THE RIVER JORDAN TO THE MOUNT OF
SECOND JOURNEY THROUGH GALILEE
THE HEALING OF THE LEPER
(St. Matthew 4:23, 8:2-4; St. Mark
1:35-45; St. Luke 4:42-44, 5:12-16.)
A DAY and an evening such as of that Sabbath of healing in
Capernaum must, with reverence be it written, have been followed by what opens
the next section.1
To the thoughtful observer there is such unbroken harmony in the Life of Jesus,
such accord of the inward and outward, as to carry instinctive conviction of
the truth of its record. It was, so to speak, an inward necessity that the
God-Man, when brought into contact with disease and misery, whether from
physical or supernatural causes, should remove it by His Presence, by His
touch, by His Word. An outward necessity also, because no other mode of
teaching equally convincing would have reached those accustomed to Rabbinic
disputations, and who must have looked for such a manifestation from One Who
claimed such authority. And yet, so far from being a mere worker of miracles,
as we should have expected if the history of His miracles had been of legendary
origin, there is nothing more marked than the pain, we had almost said the
humiliation, which their necessity seems to have carried to His heart. 'Except
ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe;' 'an evil and adulterous
generation seeketh a sign;' 'blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have
believed' - such are the utterances of Him Who sighed when He opened the ears
of the deaf,2
and bade His Apostles look for higher and better things than power over all
diseases or even over evil spirits.34
So would not the Messiah of Jewish legend have spoken or done; nor would they
who invented such miracles have so referred to them.
1. So both in St. Mark (i. 35-39) and in St. Luke (iv. 42-44), and in substantial accord even in St. Matthew (iv. 23).
2. St. Mark vii. 34.
3. St. Luke x. 17-20.
4. So also St. Paul, 1 Cor. xii. 31:xiii. 1.
In truth, when, through the rift in His outward history, we
catch a glimpse of Christ's inner Being, these miracles, so far as not the
outcome of the mystic union of the Divine and the Human in His Person, but as
part of His Mission, form part of His Humiliation. They also belong to that way
which He had chosen in his initial conquest of the Tempter in the Wilderness,
when He chose, not the sudden display of absolute power for the subdual of His
people, but the painful, slow method of meeting the wants, and addressing
Himself to the understanding and capacity of those over Whom He would reign. In
this view, it seems as if we could gain a fresh understanding, not only of the
expediency of His final departure, so far as concerned the future teaching of
the disciples by the Holy Spirit, but of His own longing for the Advent of the
Comforter. In truth, the two teachers and the two modes of teaching could not
be together, and the Ascension of the Christ, as the end of His Humiliation,
marked the Advent of the Holy Ghost, as bestowing another mode of teaching than
that of the days of His Humiliation.
And so, thinking of the scene on the evening before, we can
understand how, 'very early, while it was still very dark,'5
Jesus rose up, and went into a solitary place to pray. The use of the same
expression6 in St.
Mark xiii. 35 enables us to fix the time as that of the fourth night-watch, or
between three and six o'clock of the morning. It was not till some time
afterwards, that even those, who had so lately been called to His closest
fellowship, rose, and, missing Him, followed. Jesus had prayed in that
solitude, and consecrated it. After such a day, and in prospect of entering on
His second journey through Galilee7
- this time in so far different circumstances - He must prevent the dawn of the
morning in prayer. And by this also would they learn, that He was not merely a
worker of miracles, but that He, Whose Word demons obeyed, lived a Life, not of
outward but of inward power, in fellowship with His Father, and baptized his
work with prayer. But as yet, and, indeed, in measure all through His Life on
earth, it seemed difficult for them in any measure to realise this. 'All men
seek for Thee,' and therefore they would have had Him return to Capernaum. But
this was the very reason why He had withdrawn ere dawn of day. He had come
forth, and that,8
not to attract the crowds, and be proclaimed a King, but to preach the Kingdom
of God. Once more we say it: so speaks not, nor acts the hero of Jewish legend!
5. St. Mark i. 35.
7. The circumstances will be referred to in the sequel.
8. The expression in St. Luke iv. 43 shows, that the 'coming forth' (St. Mark i. 38) cannot be limited to His leaving Capernaum.
As the three Synoptists accordantly state, Jesus now entered on
His second Galilean journey. There can be little doubt, that the chronological
succession of events is here accurately indicated by the more circumstantial
narrative in St. Mark's Gospel.9
The arrangement of St. Luke appears that of historical grouping, while that of
St. Matthew is determined by the Hebraic plan of his Gospel, which seems
constructed on the model of the Pentateuch,10
as if the establishment of the Kingdom by the Messiah were presented as the
fulfilment of its preparatory planting in Israel. But this second journey
through Galilee, which the three Gospels connect with the stay at Capernaum,
marks a turning-point in the working of the Christ. As already stated, the
occurrences at the 'Unknown Feast,'11
in Jerusalem, formed a new point of departure. Christ had fully presented His
claims to the Sanhedrists, and they had been fully rejected by the Scribes and
the people. Henceforth He separated Himself from that 'untoward generation;'
henceforth, also, began His systematic persecution by the authorities, when His
movements were tracked and watched. Jesus went alone to Jerusalem. This, also,
was fitting. Equally so, that on His return He called His disciples to be His
followers; and that from Capernaum He entered, in their company, on a new phase
in His Work.
9. The following are, briefly, some of the considerations which determine the chronological order here adopted: (1.) This event could not have taken place after
the Sermon on the Mount, since then the twelve Apostles were already called, nor yet after the call of St. Matthew. (2) From the similes employed (about the
lilies of the field, &c.), the Sermon on the Mount seems to have taken
place in spring; this event in early autumn. On the other hand, the order in St. Mark exactly fits in, and also in the main agrees, with that in St. Luke, while, lastly, it exhibits the growing persecutions from Jerusalem, of which we have here the first traces.
10. This is ingeniously indicated in Professor Delitzsch's Entsteh. d. Kanon. Evang., although, in my view, the theory cannot be carried out in the full details attempted by the Professor. But such a general conception of the Gospel by St. Matthew is not only reasonable in itself, but explains his peculiar arrangement of events.
Significantly, His Work began where that of the Rabbis, we had
almost said of the Old Testament saints, ended. Whatever remedies, medical,
magical, or sympathetic, Rabbinic writings may indicate for various kinds of
disease, leprosy is not included in the catalogue. They left aside what even
the Old Testament marked as moral death, by enjoining those so stricken to
avoid all contact with the living, and even to bear the appearance of mourners.
As the leper passed by, his clothes rent, his hair dishevelled,12
and the lower part of his face and his upper lip covered,13
it was as one going to death who reads his own burial-service, while the mournful
words, 'Unclean! Unclean!' which he uttered, proclaimed that his was both
living and moral death. Again, the Old Testament, and even Rabbinism, took, in
the measures prescribed in leprosy, primarily a moral, or rather a ritual, and
only secondarily a sanitary, view of the case. The isolation already indicated,
which banished lepers from all intercourse except with those similarly
forebade their entering not only the Temple or Jerusalem, but any walled city,15
could not have been merely prompted by the wish to prevent infection. For all
the laws in regard to leprosy are expressly stated not to have application in
the case of heathens, proselytes before their conversion, and even of
Israelites on their birth.16
The same inference must also be drawn from the circumstance, that the priestly
examination and subsequent isolation of the leper were not to commence during
the marriage-week, or on festive days,17
since, evidently, infection would have been most likely to spread in such
12. From this women were excepted, Sot. iii. 8.
13. Lev. xiii. 45.
14. They were not allowed to hold intercourse with persons under other defilement than leprosy, Pes. 67 a.
15. These were considered as walled since the time of Joshua, Kel. i. 7, and their sanctity equal to that of the camp of Israel, and greater than that of unwalled towns.
16. Neg. iii. 1; vii. 1; xi. 1; xii 1.
17. Neg. iii. 2.
18. The following parts are declared in the Mishnah as untainted by leprosy: within the eye, ear, nose, and mouth; the folds of the skin, especially those of the neck; under the female breast; the armpit; the sole of the foot, the nails, the head,
and the beard (Neg. vi. 8).
It has already been stated, that Rabbinism confessed itself
powerless in presence of this living death. Although, as Michaelis
the sacrificial ritual for the cleansed leper implies, at least, the
possibility of a cure, it is in every instance traced to the direct agency of
God.20 Hence the
mythical theory, which, to be rational, must show some precedent to account for
the origination of the narrative in the Gospel, here once more breaks down.21Keim cannot deny the evident authenticity of the Evangelic narrative,
and has no better explanation to offer than that of the old Rationalists -
which Strauss had already so fully refuted22
- that the poor sufferer only asked of Jesus to declare, not to make,
him clean.23 In truth,
the possibility of any cure through human agency was never contemplated by the
Jews. Josephus speaks of it as possibly granted to prayer,24
but in a manner betokening a pious phraseology without serious meaning. We may
go further, and say that not only did Rabbinism never suggest the cure of a
leper, but that its treatment of those sufferers presents the most marked
contrast to that of the Saviour. And yet, as if writing its own condemnation,
one of the titles which it gives to the Messiah is 'the Leprous,' the King
Messiah being represented as seated in the entrance to Rome, surrounded by, and
relieving all misery and disease, in fulfilment of Is. liii. 4.2526
19. Das Mos. Recht, vol. iv. p. 195.
20. Michaelis views the whole question chiefly from the standpoint of sanitary police.
21. It is, though I think hesitatingly, propounded by Strauss (vol. ii. pp. 56, 57). He has been satisfactorily answered by Volkmar (Marcus, p. 110).
22. u. s. pp. 53, 54.
23. Jesu von Naz. ii. p. 174. This is among the weakest portions of the book. Keim must have strongly felt 'the telling marks of the authenticity of this narrative,'
when he was driven to an explanation which makes Jesus 'present Himself as a Scribe.'
We need not here enumerate the various symptoms, by which the
Rabbinic law teaches us to recognise true leprosy.27
Any one capable of it might make the medical inspection, although only a
descendant of Aaron could formally pronounce clean or unclean.28
Once declared leprous, the sufferer was soon made to feel the utter
heartlessness of Rabbinism. To banish him outside walled towns29
may have been a necessity, which, perhaps, required to be enforced by the
threatened penalty of forty stripes save one.30
Similarly, it might be a right, even merciful, provision, that in the
Synagogues lepers were to be the first to enter and the last to leave, and that
they should occupy a separate compartment (Mechitsah), ten palms high,
and six feet wide.31
For, from the symbolism and connection between the physical and the psychical,32
the Old Testament, in its rites and institutions, laid the greatest stress on
'clean and unclean.' To sum it up in briefest compass, and leaving out of view
leprosy of clothes or houses,33
according to the Old Testament, defilement was conveyed only by the animal
body, and attached to no other living body than that of man, nor could any
other living body than that of man communicate defilement. The Old Testament
mentioned eleven principal kinds of defilement. These, as being capable of
communicating further defilement, were designated Abhoth hattumeoth -
'fathers of defilements' - the defilement which they produced being either
itself an Abh hattumeah, or else a 'Child,' or a 'Child's Child of
defilement' (h)mw+h rly rlw, rlw). We find in Scripture thirty-two Abhoth hattumeoth,
as they are called. To this Rabbinic tradition added other twenty-nine. Again,
according to Scripture, these 'fathers of defilements' affected only in two
degrees; the direct effect produced by them being designated 'the beginning,'
or 'the first,' and that further propagated, 'the second' degree. But Rabbinic
ordinances added a third, fourth, and even fifth degree of defilement.34
From this, as well as the equally intricate arrangements about purification,
the Mishnic section about 'clean and unclean' is at the same time the largest
and most intricate in the Rabbinic code, while its provisions touched and
interfered, more than any others, with every department of life.
27. These are detailed in Neg. i. 1-4; ii. 1; iii. 3-6; vii. 1; ix. 2, 3.
28. Neg. iii. 1.
29. Kel. i. 7.
30. Pes. 67.
31. Neg. xiii 12.
32. Undoubtedly the deepest and most philosophical treatment of this subject is that in the now
somewhat rare, and unfortunately uncompleted, work of Molitor,
Philosophie d. Gesch. (see vol. iii. pp. 126 &c., and 253 &c). The
author is, however, perhaps too much imbued with the views of the Kabbalah.
33. According to Tos. Neg. vi. no case of leprosy of houses had ever occurred, but was only mentioned in Scripture, in order to give occasion to legal studies, so as to procure a Divine reward.
34. I have here followed, or rather summarised, Maimonides. It was, of course, impossible to give even the briefest details.
In the elaborate code of defilements leprosy was not only one
of 'the fathers of uncleanness,' but, next to defilement from the dead, stood
foremost amongst them. Not merely actual contact with the leper, but even his
entrance defiled a habitation,35
and everything in it, to the beams of the roof.36
But beyond this, Rabbinic harshness or fear carried its provisions to the
utmost sequences of an unbending logic. It is, indeed, true that, as in general
so especially in this instance, Rabbinism loved to trace disease to moral
causes. 'No death without sin, and no pain without transgression;'37
'the sick is not healed, till all his sins are forgiven him.'38
These are oft-repeated sayings; but, when closely examined, they are not quite
so spiritual as they sound. For, first, they represent a reaction against the
doctrine of original sin, in the sense that it is not the Fall of man, but
one's actual transgression, to which disease and death are to be traced
according to the saying: 'Not the serpent kills, but sin.'3940
But their real unspirituality appears most clearly, when we remember how
special diseases were traced to particular sins. Thus,41
childlessness and leprosy are described as chastisements, which indeed procure
for the sufferer forgiveness of sins, but cannot, like other chastisements, be
regarded as the outcome of love, nor be received in love.42
And even such sentiments in regard to sufferings43
are immediately followed by such cynical declarations on the part of Rabbis so
afflicted, as that they loved neither the chastisement, nor its reward.44
And in regard to leprosy, tradition had it that, as leprosy attached to the
house, the dress, or the person, these were to be regarded as always heavier
strokes, following as each successive warning had been neglected, and a
reference to this was seen in Prov. xix. 29.4546
Eleven sins are mentioned47 which bring leprosy, among them
pre-eminently those of which the tongue is the organ.48
35. Kel. i. 1-4.
36. Neg. xiii. 11.
37. Shabb. 55 a.
38. Nedar. 41 a.
39. Ber. 33 a.
40. The story, of which this saying is the moral, is that of the crushing of a serpent by the great miracle-monger Chanina ben Dosa, without his being hurt. But I cannot help feeling that a double entendre is here intended - on the one
hand, that even a serpent could not hurt one like Chanina, and, on the other, the wider bearing on the real cause of death: not our original state, but our actual sin.
41. Ber. 5 b.
42. The Midrash enumerates four as in that category: the poor, the blind, the childless, and the leprous.
43. Ber. 5 a.
44. Ber. 5 b.
45. Bemidb. R. 13.
46. From Zech. xiv. 12 it was inferred, that this leprosy would smite the Gentiles even in the Messianic age (Tanchuma, Tazria, end).
47. Tanch. on Hammetsora 4; ed. Lemberg ii. p. 24 a.
48. u. s., 2, p.23 a; Arach. 15 b; and in many passages.
Still, if such had been the real views of Rabbinism one might
have expected that Divine compassion would have been extended to those, who
bore such heavy burden of their sins. Instead of this, their burdens were
needlessly increased. True, as wrapped in mourner's garb the leper passed by,
his cry 'Unclean!' was to incite others to pray for him - but also to avoid
him.49 No one
was even to salute him; his bed was to be low, inclining towards the ground.50
If he even put his head into a place, it became unclean. No less a distance
than four cubits (six feet) must be kept from a leper; or, if the wind came
from that direction, a hundred were scarcely sufficient. Rabbi Meir would not
eat an egg purchased in a street where there was a leper. Another Rabbi
boasted, that he always threw stones at them to keep them far off, while others
hid themselves or ran away.5152
To such extent did Rabbinism carry its inhuman logic in considering the leper
as a mourner, that it even forbade him to wash his face.53
49. Moed K.
50. u.s. 15 a.
51. Vayyik. R. 16. [Leprosy is there brought into connection with calumny].
52. And yet Jewish symbolism saw in the sufferings of Israel and the destruction of the
Temple the real fulfilment of the punishment of leprosy with its attendant
ordinances, while it also traced in the healing of that disease and the
provisions for declaring the leper clean, a close analogy to what would happen in Israel's restoration (Vayyikra R. 15, 17; Yalkut i. par. 551, 563).
53. Moed. K 15 a.
We can now in some measure appreciate the contrast between
Jesus and His contemporaries in His bearing towards the leper. Or, conversely,
we can judge by the healing of this leper of the impression which the Saviour
had made upon the people. He would have fled from a Rabbi; he came in lowliest
attitude of entreaty to Jesus. Criticism need not so anxiously seek for an
explanation of his approach. There was no Old Testament precedent for it: not
in the case of Moses, nor even in that of Elisha, and there was no Jewish
expectancy of it. But to have heard Him teach, to have seen or known Him as
healing all manner of disease, must have carried to the heart the conviction of
His absolute power. And so one can understand this lowly reverence of approach,
this cry which has so often since been wrung from those who have despaired of
all other help: 'If Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.' It is not a prayer,
but the ground-tone of all prayer - faith in His Power, and absolute committal
to Him of our helpless, hopeless need. And Jesus, touched with compassion,
willed it. It almost seems, as if it were in the very exuberance of power that
Jesus, acting in so direct contravention of Jewish usage, touched the leper. It
was fitting that Elisha should disappoint Naaman's expectancy, that the prophet
would heal his leprosy by the touch of his hand. It was even more fitting that
Jesus should surprise the Jewish leper by touching, ere by His Word He cleansed
him. And so, experience ever finds that in Christ the real is far beyond the
ideal. We can understand, how. from his standpoint, Strauss should have
found it impossible to understand the healing of leprosy by the touch and Word
of Jesus. Its explanation lies in the fact, that He was the God-Man. And yet,
as our inner tending after God and the voice of conscience indicate that man is
capable of adoption into God's family, so the marked power which in disease
mind has over body points to a higher capability in Man Perfect, the Ideal Man,
the God-Man, of vanquishing disease by His Will.
It is not quite so easy at first sight to understand, why
Christ should with such intense earnestness, almost vehemence,54
have sent the healed man away - as the term bears, 'cast him out.'55
Certainly not (as Volkmar - fantastically in error on this, as on so
many other points - imagines) because He disapproved of his worship. Rather do
we once more gather, how the God-Man shrank from the fame connected with
miracles - specially with such an one - which as we have seen, were rather of
inward and outward necessity than of choice in His Mission. Not so - followed
by a curious crowd, or thronged by eager multitudes of sight-seers, or
aspirants for temporal benefits - was the Kingdom of Heaven to be preached and
advanced. It would have been the way of a Jewish Messiah, and have led up to
His royal proclamation by the populace. But as we study the character of the
Christ, no contrast seems more glaring - let us add, more painful - than that
of such a scene. And so we read that, when, notwithstanding the Saviour's
charge to the healed leper to keep silence, it was nevertheless - nay, as might
perhaps have been expected - all the more made known by him - as, indeed, in
some measure it could scarcely have remained entirely unknown, He could no
more, as before, enter the cities, but remained without in desert places,
whither they came to Him from every quarter. And in that withdrawal He spoke,
and healed, 'and prayed.'
54. On this term see the first note in this chapter.
55. This, however, as Godet has shown (Comm. on St. Luke, German transl., p. 137),
does not imply that the event took place either in a house or in a town, as most commentators suppose. It is strange that the 'Speaker's Commentary,' following Weiss,
should have located the incident in a Synagogue. It could not possibly have occurred there, unless all Jewish ordinances and customs had been reversed.
Yet another motive of Christ's conduct may be suggested. His
injunction of silence was combined with that of presenting himself to the
priest and conforming to the ritual requirements of the Mosaic Law in such
cases.56 It is
scarcely necessary to refute the notion, that in this Christ was prompted
either by the desire to see the healed man restored to the society of his
fellows, or by the wish to have some officially recognised miracle, to which He
might afterwards appeal. Not to speak of the un-Christlikeness of such a wish
or purpose, as a matter of fact, He did not appeal to it, and the healed
leper wholly disappears from the Gospel-narrative. And yet his conforming to
the Mosaic Ritual was to be 'a testimony unto them.' The Lord, certainly, did
not wish to have the Law of Moses broken - and broken not superseded, it would
have been, if its provisions had been infringed before His Death, Ascension,
and the Coming of the Holy Ghost had brought their fulfilment.
56. The Rabbinic ordinances as to the ritual in such cases are in Neg. xiv. See 'The Temple and its Services' pp. 315-317. Special attention was to be given, that the water with which the purified leper was sprinkled was from a pure, flowing
spring (six different collections of water, suited to different kinds of
impurity, being described in Miqv. i. 1-8). From Parah viii. 10 we gather, that among other rivers even the Jordan was not deemed sufficiently pure, because in its course other streams, which were not lawful for such purification, had mingled with it.
But there is something else here. The course of this history
shows, that the open rupture between Jesus and the Jewish authorities, which
had commenced at the Unknown Feast at Jerusalem, was to lead to practical
sequences. On the part of the Jewish authorities, it led to measures of active
hostility. The Synagogues of Galilee are no longer the quiet scenes of His
teaching and miracles; His Word and deeds no longer pass unchallenged. It had
never occurred to these Galileans, as they implicitly surrendered themselves to
the power of His words, to question their orthodoxy. But now, immediately after
this occurrence, we find Him accused of blasphemy.57
They had not thought it breach of God's Law when, on that Sabbath, He had
healed in the Synagogue of Capernaum and in the home of Peter; but after this
it became sinful to extend like mercy on the Sabbath to him whose hand was
withered.58 They had
never thought of questioning the condescension of his intercourse with the poor
and needy; but now they sought to sap the commencing allegiance of His
disciples by charging Him with undue intercourse with publicans and sinners,59
and by inciting against Him even the prejudices and doubts of the
half-enlightened followers of His own Forerunner.60
All these new incidents are due to one and the same cause; the presence and
hostile watchfulness of the Scribes and Pharisees, who now for the first time
appear on the scene of His ministry. It is too much then to infer, that,
immediately after that Feast at Jerusalem, the Jewish authorities sent their
familiars into Galilee after Jesus, and that it was to the presence and
influence of this informal deputation that the opposition to Christ, which now
increasingly appeared, was due? If so, then we see not only an additional
motive for Christ's injunction of silence on those whom He had healed, and for
His own withdrawal from the cities and their throng, but we can understand how,
as He afterwards answered those, whom John had sent to lay before Christ his
doubts, by pointing to His works, so He replied to the sending forth of the
Scribes of Jerusalem to watch, oppose, and arrest Him, by sending to Jerusalem
as His embassy the healed leper, to submit to all the requirements of the Law.
It was His testimony unto them - His, Who was meek and lowly in heart;
and it was in deepest accord with what He had done, and was doing. Assuredly,
He Who brake not the bruised reed, did not cry nor lift up His Voice in the
streets, but brought forth judgment unto truth. And in Him shall the nations
57. St. Luke v. 21.
58. St. Luke vi. 7.
59. St. Luke v. 30.
60. St. Luke v. 33.