Chapter 34 | Table
of Contents | Chapter 36
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE ASCENT: FROM THE RIVER JORDAN TO THE MOUNT OF
THE TWO SABBATH-CONTROVERSIES
THE PLUCKING OF THE EARS OF CORN BY THE DISCIPLES, AND THE HEALING OF THE MAN WITH THE WITHERED HAND
(St. Matthew 12:1-21; St. Mark 2:23-3:6;
St. Luke 6:1-11.)
IN grouping together the three miracles of healing described in the
last chapter, we do not wish to convey that it is certain they had taken place
in precisely that order. Nor do we feel sure, that they preceded what is about
to be related. In the absence of exact data, the succession of events and their
location must be matter of combination. From their position in the Evangelic
narratives, and the manner in which all concerned speak and act, we inferred,
that they took place at that particular period and east of the Jordan, in the
Decapolis or else in the territory of Philip. They differ from the events about
to be related by the absence of the Jerusalem Scribes, who hung on the
footsteps of Jesus. While the Saviour tarried on the borders of Tyre, and
thence passed through the territory of Sidon into the Decapolis and to the
southern and eastern shores of the Lake of Galilee, they were in Jerusalem at
the Passover. But after the two festive days, which would require their
attendance in the Temple, they seem to have returned to their hateful task. It
would not be difficult for them to discover the scene of such mighty works as
His. Accordingly, we now find them once more confronting Christ. And the events
about to be related are chronologically distinguished from those that had
preceded, by this presence and opposition of the Pharisaic party. The contest
now becomes more decided and sharp, and we are rapidly nearing the period when
He, Who had hitherto been chiefly preaching the Kingdom, and healing body and
soul, will, through the hostility of the leaders of Israel, enter on the
second, or prevailingly negative stage of His Work, in which, according to the
prophetic description, 'they compassed' Him 'about like bees,' but 'are
quenched as the fire of thorns.'
Where fundamental principles were so directly contrary, the
occasion for conflict could not be long wanting. Indeed, all that Jesus taught
must have seemed to these Pharisees strangely un-Jewish in cast and direction,
even if not in form and words. But chiefly would this be the case in regard to
that on which, of all else, the Pharisees laid most stress, the observance of
the Sabbath. On no other subject is Rabbinic teaching more painfully minute and
more manifestly incongruous to its professed object. For, if we rightly
apprehend what underlay the complicated and intolerably burdensome laws and
rules of Pharisaic Sabbath-observance, it was to secure, negatively, absolute
rest from all labour, and, positively, to make the Sabbath a delight. The
Mishnah includes Sabbath-desecration among those most heinous crimes for which
a man was to be stoned.1
This, then, was their first care: by a series of complicated ordinances to make
a breach of the Sabbath-rest impossible. How far this was carried, we shall
presently see. The next object was, in a similarly external manner, to make the
Sabbath a delight. A special Sabbath dress, the best that could be procured;
the choicest food, even though a man had to work for it all the week, or public
charity were to supply it2
- such were some of the means by which the day was to be honoured and men to
find pleasure therein. The strangest stories are told, how, by the purchase of
the most expensive dishes, the pious poor had gained unspeakable merit, and
obtained, even on earth, Heaven's manifest reward. And yet, by the side of
these and similar strange and sad misdirections of piety, we come also upon
that which is touching, beautiful, and even spiritual. On the Sabbath there
must be no mourning, for to the Sabbath applies this saying:3
'The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and He addeth no sorrow with it.'
Quite alone was the Sabbath among the measures of time. Every other day had
been paired with its fellow: not so the Sabbath. And so any festival, even the
Day of Atonement, might be transferred to another day: not so the observance of
the Sabbath. Nay, when the Sabbath complained before God, that of all days it
alone stood solitary, God had wedded it to Israel; and this holy union God had
bidden His people 'remember,'4
when it stood before the Mount. Even the tortures of Gehenna were intermitted
on that holy, happy day.5
1. Sanh. vii. 4.
2. Peah viii. 7.
3. In Prov. x. 22.
4. Ex. xx. 8.
5. Comp. Ber. R. 11 on Gen. ii. 3.
The terribly exaggerated views on the Sabbath entertained by
the Rabbis, and the endless burdensome rules with which they encumbered
everything connected with its sanctity, are fully set forth in another place.6
The Jewish Law, as there summarised, sufficiently explains the controversies in
which the Pharisaic party now engaged with Jesus. Of these the first was when,
going through the cornfields on the Sabbath, His disciples began to pluck and
eat the ears of corn. Not, indeed, that this was the first Sabbath-controversy
forced upon Christ.7
But it was the first time that Jesus allowed, and afterwards Himself did, in
presence of the Pharisees, what was contrary to Jewish notions, and that, in
express and unmistakable terms, He vindicated His position in regard to the
Sabbath. This also indicates that we have now reached a further stage in the
history of our Lord's teaching.
6. See Appendix XVII: The Ordinances and Law of the Sabbath.
7. Comp. St. John v. 9, 16.
This, however, is not the only reason for placing this event so
late in the personal history of Christ. St. Matthew inserts it at a different
period from the other two Synoptists; and although St. Mark and St. Luke
introduce it amidst the same surroundings, the connection, in which it is told
in all the three Gospels, shows that it is placed out of the historical order,
with the view of grouping together what would exhibit Christ's relation to the
Pharisees and their teaching. Accordingly, this first Sabbath-controversy is
immediately followed by that connected with the healing of the man with the
withered hand. From St. Matthew and St. Mark it might, indeed, appear as if
this had occurred on the same day as the plucking of the ears of corn, but St.
Luke corrects any possible misunderstanding, by telling us that it happened 'on
another Sabbath' - perhaps that following the walk through the cornfields.
Dismissing the idea of inferring the precise time of these two
events from their place in the Evangelic record, we have not much difficulty in
finding the needful historical data for our present inquiry. The first and most
obvious is, that the harvest was still standing - whether that of barley or of
wheat. The former began immediately after the Passover, the latter after the
Feast of Pentecost; the presentation of the wave-omer of barley making the
beginning of the one, that of the two wave-loaves that of the other.8
Here another historical notice comes to our aid. St. Luke describes the Sabbath
of this occurrence as 'the second-first' - an expression so peculiar that it
cannot be regarded as an interpolation,9
but as designedly chosen by the Evangelist to indicate something well
understood in Palestine at the time. Bearing in mind the limited number of
Sabbaths between the commencement of the barley and the end of the
wheat-harvest, our inquiry is here much narrowed. In Rabbinic writings the term
'second-first' is not applied to any Sabbath. But we know that the fifty days
between the Feast of Passover and that of Pentecost were counted from the
presentation of the wave-omer on the Second Paschal Day, at the first, second,
third day, &c., after the 'Omer.' Thus the 'second-first' Sabbath might be
either 'the first Sabbath after the second day,' which was that of the
presentation of the Omer, or else the second Sabbath after this first day of
reckoning, or 'Sephirah,' as it was called (rm(h tryps). To us the first of these
dates seems most in accord with the manner in which St. Luke would describe to
Gentile readers the Sabbath which was 'the first after the second,' or,
'The Temple and its Services,' pp. 222, 226, 230, 231.
9. The great majority of critics are agreed as to its authenticity.
10. The view which I have adopted is that of Scaliger and Lightfoot; the
alternative one mentioned, that of Delitzsch. In regard to the many
other explanations proposed, I would lay down this canon: No explanation can be satisfactory which rests not on some ascertained fact in Jewish life, but where
the fact is merely 'supposed' for the sake of the explanation which it would afford. Thus, there is not the slightest support in fact for the idea, that the first Sabbath of the second month was so called (Wetstein, Speaker's
Commentary), or the first Sabbath in the second year of a septennial cycle, or the Sabbath of the Nisan (the sacred) year, in contradistinction to the Tishri or secular year, which began in autumn. Of these and similar interpretations it is enough to say, that the underlying fact is 'supposed' for the sake of a
'supposed' explanation; in other words, they embody an hypothesis based on an hypothesis.
Assuming, then, that it was probably the first - possibly, the
second - Sabbath after the 'reckoning,' or second Paschal Day, on which the
disciples plucked the ears of corn, we have still to ascertain whether it was
in the first or second Passover of Christ's Ministry.11
The reasons against placing it between the first Passover and Pentecost are of
the strongest character. Not to speak of the circumstance that such advanced
teaching on the part of Christ, and such advanced knowledge on the part of His
disciples, indicate a later period, our Lord did not call His twelve Apostles till
long after the Feast of Pentecost, viz. after His return from the so-called
which, as shown in another place,13
must have been either that of 'Wood-Gathering,' in the end of the summer, or
else New Year's Day, in the beginning of autumn. Thus, as by 'the disciples' we
must in this connection understand, in the first place, 'the Apostles,' the
event could not have occurred between the first Passover and Pentecost of the
11. There were only three Paschal feasts during the public ministry of Christ. Any other
computation rests on the idea that the Unknown Feast was the Passover, or even the Feast of Esther.
12. St. John v.
13. Comp. Appendix XV.
The same result is reached by another process of reasoning.
After the first Passover14
our Lord, with such of His disciples as had then gathered to Him, tarried for
some time - no doubt for several weeks - in JudŠa.15
The wheat was ripe for harvesting, when he passed through Samaria.16
And, on His return to Galilee, His disciples seem to have gone back to their
homes and occupations, since it was some time afterwards when even His most
intimate disciples - Peter, Andrew, James, and John - were called a second
Chronologically, therefore, there is no room for this event between the first
Passover and Pentecost.18
Lastly, we have here to bear in mind, that, on His first appearance in Galilee,
the Pharisees had not yet taken up this position of determined hostility to
Him. On the other hand, all agrees with the circumstance, that the active
hostility of the Pharisees and Christ's separation from the ordinances of the
Synagogue commenced with His visit to Jerusalem in the early autumn of that
therefore, we have to place the plucking of the ears of corn after the Feast
recorded in St. John v., as can scarcely be doubted, it must have taken place,
not between the first, but between the Second Passover and Pentecost of
Christ's Public Ministry.
14. St. John ii. 13.
15. St. John iii. 22; v. 1-3.
16. St. John iv. 35.
17. St. Matt. iv. 18-22.
18. Few would be disposed to place St. Matt. xii. before St. Matt. iv.
19. St. John v.
Another point deserves notice. The different 'setting' (chronologically
speaking) in which the three Gospels present the event about to be related,
illustrates that the object of the Evangelists was to present the events in the
History of the Christ in their succession, not of time, but of bearing upon
final results. This, because they do not attempt a Biography of Jesus, which,
from their point of view, would have been almost blasphemy, but a History of
the Kingdom which He brought; and because they write it, so to speak, not by
adjectives (expressive of qualities), nor adverbially,20
but by substantives. Lastly, it will be noted that the three Evangelists relate
the event about to be considered (as so many others), not, indeed, with
but with differences of detail, showing the independence of their narratives,
which, as we shall see, really supplement each other.
20. Adverbs answer to the questions, How, When, Why, Where.
21. Meyer insists that the odon, poiein,
or more correctly odopoiein,
(St. Mark ii. 23) should be translated literally, that the disciples began to make a way by plucking the ears of corn. Accordingly, he maintains, that there is an essential difference between the account of St. Mark and those of the two
other Evangelists, who attribute the plucking of the ears to hunger. Canon Cook (Speaker's Commentary, New Testament i. p. 216) has to my mind, conclusively
shown the untenableness of Meyer's contention. He compares the
expression of St. Mark to the Latin 'iter facere.' I would suggest the French 'chemin faisant.' Godet points out the absurdity of plucking up ears in order to make a way through the corn.
We are now in a position to examine the narrative itself. It
was on the Sabbath after the Second Paschal Day that Christ and His disciples
probably by a field-path - through cornfields, when His disciples, being
hungry,23 as they
ears of corn and ate them, having rubbed off the husks in their hands.25
On any ordinary day this would have been lawful,26
but on the Sabbath it involved, according to Rabbinic statutes, at least two
sins. For, according to the Talmud, what was really one labour, would, if made
up of several acts, each of them forbidden, amount to several acts of labour,
each involving sin, punishment, and a sin-offering.2728
This so-called 'division' of labour applied only to infringement of the
Sabbath-rest - not of that of feast-days.29
Now in this case there were at least two such acts involved: that of plucking
the ears of corn, ranged under the sin of reaping, and that of rubbing them,
which might be ranged under sifting in a sieve, threshing, sifting out fruit,
grinding, or fanning. The following Talmudic passage bears on this: 'In case a
woman rolls wheat to remove the husks, it is considered as sifting; if she rubs
the heads of wheat, it is regarded as threshing; if she cleans off the
side-adherences, it is sifting out fruit; if she bruises the ears, it is
grinding; if she throws them up in her hand, it is winnowing.'30
One instance will suffice to show the externalism of all these ordinances. If a
man wished to move a sheaf on his field, which of course implied labour, he had
only to lay upon it a spoon that was in his common use, when, in order to
remove the spoon, he might also remove the sheaf on which it lay!31
And yet it was forbidden to stop with a little wax the hole in a cask by which
the fluid was running out,32
or to wipe a wound!
22. In St. Mark also the better reading is diaporeuesqai.
23. St. Matthew.
24. St. Mark.
25. St. Luke.
26. Deut xxiii. 25.
27. Shabb. 70 a.
28. Thus (Shabb. 74 b, lines 12, 11 from bottom), if a person were to pull out a feather from the wing of a bird, cut off the top, and then pluck off the fluff
below it would involve three labours and three sin-offerings.
29. Macc. 21 b.
30. Jer. Shabb. p. 10 a, lines 28 to 26 from bottom.
31. Shabb. 142 b, line 6 from bottom.
32. Shabb. 146 a.
Holding views like these, the Pharisees, who witnessed the
conduct of the disciples, would naturally harshly condemn, what they must have
regarded as gross desecration of the Sabbath. Yet it was clearly not a breach
of the Biblical, but of the Rabbinic Law. Not only to show them their error,
but to lay down principles which would for ever apply to this difficult
question, was the object of Christ's reply. Unlike the others of the Ten
Commandments, the Sabbath Law has in it two elements; the moral and the
ceremonial: the eternal, and that which is subject to time and place; the
inward and spiritual, and the outward (the one as the mode of realizing the
other). In their distinction and separation lies the difficulty of the subject.
In its spiritual and eternal element, the Sabbath Law embodied the two thoughts
of rest for worship, and worship which pointed to rest. The keeping of the
seventh day, and the Jewish mode of its observance, were the temporal and
outward form in which these eternal principles were presented. Even Rabbinism,
in some measure, perceived this. It was a principle, that danger to life
superseded the Sabbath Law,33
and indeed all other obligations.34
Among the curious Scriptural and other arguments by which this principle was
supported, that which probably would most appeal to common sense was derived
from Lev. xviii. 5. It was argued, that a man was to keep the commandments that
he might live, certainly not, that by so doing he might die.35
In other words, the outward mode of observation was subordinate to the object
of the observance. Yet this other and kindred principle did Rabbinism lay down,
that every positive commandment superseded the Sabbath-rest. This was the
ultimate vindication of work in the Temple, although certainly not its
explanation. Lastly, we should in this connection, include this important
canon, laid down by the Rabbis: 'a single Rabbinic prohibition is not to be
heeded, where a graver matter is in question.'36
33. But only where the life of an Israelite, not of a heathen or Samaritan, was in
danger (Yoma 84 b).
34. Maimonides, Hilkh. Shabb. ii. 1 (Yad haCh. vol. i. part iii. p. 141 a): 'The Sabbath is set aside on account of danger to life, as all other ordinances (lk r)#k twcmh)'.
35. Jer. Shabb. xiv. 4, pp. 14 d, 15 a.
36. Jer. Shabb. xvi. 1.
All these points must be kept in view for the proper
understanding of the words of Christ to the Scribes. For, while going far
beyond the times and notions of His questioners, His reasoning must have been
within their comprehension. Hence the first argument of our Lord, as recorded
by all the Synoptists, was taken from Biblical History. When, on his flight
from Saul, David had, 'when an hungered,' eaten of the shewbread, and given it
to his followers,37
although, by the letter of the Levitical Law,38
it was only to be eaten by the priests, Jewish tradition vindicated his conduct
on the plea that 'danger to life' superseded the Sabbath-Law, and hence, all
laws connected with it,39
while, to show David's zeal for the Sabbath-Law, the legend was added, that he
had reproved the priests of Nob, who had been baking the shewbread on the
Sabbath.40 To the
first argument of Christ, St. Matthew adds this as His second, that the
priests, in their services in the Temple, necessarily broke the Sabbath-Law
without thereby incurring guilt. It is curious, that the Talmud discusses this
very point, and that, by way of illustration, it introduces an argument from
Lev. xxii. 10: 'There shall no stranger eat of things consecrated.' This, of
course, embodies the principle underlying the prohibition of the shewbread to
all who were not priests.41
Without entering further on it, the discussion at least shows, that the Rabbis
were by no means clear on the rationale of Sabbath-work in the Temple.
37. According to 1 Sam. xxii. 9 Ahimelech (or Ahijah, 1 Sam. xiv. 3) was the high Priest. We
infer, that Abiathar was conjoined with his father in the priesthood. Comp. the 'Bible-History,' vol.
iv. p. 111.
38. Lev. xxiv 5-9.
39. The question discussed in the Talmud is, whether, supposing an ordinary Israelite
discharged priestly functions on the Sabbath in the temple, it would involve two sins: unlawful service and Sabbath-desecration; or only one sin, unlawful service.
40. Yalkut ii. par. 130, p. 18 d.
41. Jer. Shabb. ii. 5, p. 5 a.
In truth, the reason why David was blameless in eating the
shewbread was the same as that which made the Sabbath-labour of the priests
lawful. The Sabbath-Law was not one merely of rest, but of rest for worship.
The Service of the Lord was the object in view. The priests worked on the Sabbath,
because this service was the object of the Sabbath; and David was allowed to
eat of the shewbread, not because there was danger to life from starvation, but
because he pleaded that he was on the service of the Lord and needed this
provision. The disciples, when following the Lord, were similarly on the
service of the Lord; ministering to Him was more than ministering in the
Temple, for He was greater than the Temple. If the Pharisees had believed this,
they would not have questioned their conduct, nor in so doing have themselves
infringed that higher Law which enjoined mercy, not sacrifice.
To this St. Mark adds as corollary: 'The Sabbath was made for
man, and not man for the Sabbath.' It is remarkable, that a similar argument is
used by the Rabbis. When insisting that the Sabbath Law should be set aside to
avoid danger to life, it is urged: 'the Sabbath is handed over to you; not, ye
are handed over to the Sabbath.'42
Lastly, the three Evangelists record this as the final outcome of His teaching
on this subject, that 'the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath also.' The Service
of God, and the Service of the Temple, by universal consent superseded the
Sabbath-Law. But Christ was greater than the Temple, and His Service more truly
that of God, and higher than that of the outward Temple, and the Sabbath was
intended for man, to serve God: therefore Christ and His Service were superior
to the Sabbath-Law. Thus much would be intelligible to these Pharisees,
although they would not receive it, because they believed not on Him as the
Sent of God.43
42. Mechilt. on Ex. xxxi. 13, ed. Weiss, p. 109 b.
43. We may here again state, that Cod. D has this after St. Luke vi. 4: 'The same day,
having beholden a man working on the Sabbath, He said to Him: "Man, if thou knowest what thou dost, blessed are thou: but if thou knowest not, thou art accursed and a transgressor of the Law"' (Nicholson, Gospel according to
the Hebrews, p. 151). It need scarcely be said, that the words, as placed in St. Luke, are a spurious addition, although as Canon Westcott rightly infers, 'the saying [probably] rests on some real incident' (Introd. to the Study of the Gospels, p. 454, note).
But to us the words mean more than this. They preach not only
that the Service of Christ is that of God, but that, even more than in the
Temple, all of work or of liberty is lawful which this service requires. We are
free while we are doing anything for Christ; God loves mercy, and demands not
sacrifice; His sacrifice is the service of Christ, in heart, and life, and
work. We are not free to do anything we please; but we are free to do anything
needful or helpful, while we are doing any service to Christ. He is the Lord of
the Sabbath, Whom we serve in and through the Sabbath. And even this is
significant, that, when designating Himself Lord of the Sabbath, it is as 'the
Son of Man.' It shows, that the narrow Judaistic form regarding the day and the
manner of observance is enlarged into the wider Law, which applies to all
humanity. Under the New Testament the Sabbath has, as the Church, become Catholic,
and its Lord is Christ as the Son of Man, to Whom the body Catholic offers the
acceptable service of heart and life.
The question as between Christ and the Pharisees was not,
however, to end here. 'On another Sabbath' - probably that following - He was
in their Synagogue. Whether or not the Pharisees had brought 'the man with the
withered hand' on purpose, or placed him in a conspicuous position, or
otherwise raised the question, certain it is that their secret object was to
commit Christ to some word or deed, which would lay Him open to the capital
charge of breaking the Sabbath-law. It does not appear, whether the man with
the withered hand was consciously or unconsciously their tool. But in this they
judged rightly: that Christ would not witness disease without removing it - or,
as we might express it, that disease could not continue in the Presence
of Him, Who was the Life. He read their inward thoughts of evil, and yet he
proceeded to do the good which He purposed. So God, in His majestic greatness,
carries out the purpose which He has fixed - which we call the law of nature -
whoever and whatever stand in the way; and so God, in His sovereign goodness,
adapts it to the good of His creatures, notwithstanding their evil thoughts.
So much unclearness prevails as to the Jewish views about
healing on the Sabbath, that some connected information on the subject seems
needful. We have already seen, that in their view only actual danger to life
warranted a breach of the Sabbath-Law. But this opened a large field for
discussion. Thus, according to some, disease of the ear,44
according to some throat-disease,45
while, according to others, such a disease as angina,46
involved danger, and superseded the Sabbath-Law. All applications to the
outside of the body were forbidden on the Sabbath. As regarded internal
remedies, such substances as were used in health, but had also a remedial
effect, might be taken47
although here also there was a way of evading the Law.48
A person suffering from toothache might not gargle his mouth with vinegar, but
he might use an ordinary toothbrush and dip it in vinegar.49
The Gemara here adds, that gargling was lawful, if the substance was afterwards
swallowed. It further explains, that affections extending from the lips, or
else from the throat, inwards, may be attended to, being regarded as dangerous.
Quite a number of these are enumerated, showing, that either the Rabbis were
very lax in applying their canon about mortal diseases, or else that they
reckoned in their number not a few which we would not regard as such.50
External lesions also might be attended to, if they involved danger to life.51
Similarly, medical aid might be called in, if a person had swallowed a piece of
glass; a splinter might be removed from the eye, and even a thorn from the
44. Debar. R. 10.
45. Yoma viii. 6.
46. Yoma 84 a.
47. Shabb. xiv. 3.
48. Thus, when a Rabbi was consulted, whether a man might on the Sabbath take a certain drink which had a purgative effect, he answered: 'If for pleasure it is lawful;
if for healing forbidden' (Jer. Shabb. 14 c).
49. u. s. 4.
50. Thus one of the Rabbis regarded fœtor of the breath as possibly dangerous (u. s. 14 d).
51. Displacement of the frontal bone, disease of the nerves leading from the ear to the upper jaw, an eye starting from its socket, severe inflammations, and swelling wounds, are specially mentioned.
52. Comp. Jer. Shabb. 14 d.
But although the man with the withered hand could not be classed
with those dangerously ill, it could not have been difficult to silence the
Rabbis on their own admissions. Clearly, their principle implied, that it was
lawful on the Sabbath to do that which would save life or prevent death. To
have taught otherwise, would virtually have involved murder. But if so, did it
not also, in strictly logical sequence, imply this far wider principle, that it
must be lawful to do good on the Sabbath? For, evidently, the omission of such
good would have involved the doing of evil. Could this be the proper observance
of God's holy day? There was no answer to such an argument; St. Mark expressly
records that they dared not attempt a reply.53
On the other hand, St. Matthew, while alluding to this terribly telling
yet another and a personal argument. It seems that Christ publicly appealed to
them: If any poor man among them, who had one sheep, were in danger of losing
it through having fallen into a pit, would he not lift it out? To be sure, the
Rabbinic Law ordered that food and drink should be lowered to it, or else that
some means should be furnished by which it might either be kept up in the pit,
or enabled to come out of it.55
But even the Talmud discusses cases in which it was lawful to lift an animal
out of a pit on a Sabbath.56
There could be no doubt, at any rate, that even if the Law was, at the time of
Christ, as stringent as in the Talmud, a man would have found some device, by
which to recover the solitary sheep which constituted his possession. And was not
the life of a human being to be more accounted of? Surely, then, on the
Sabbath-day it was lawful to do good? Yes - to do good, and to neglect it,
would have been to do evil. Nay, according to their own admission, should not a
man, on the Sabbath, save life? or should he, by omitting it, kill?
53. St. Mark iii. 4.
54. St. Matt. xii. 12.
55. Shabb. 128 b.
56. Shabb. 117 b, about the middle.
We can now imagine the scene in that Synagogue. The place is
crowded. Christ probably occupies a prominent position as leading the prayers
or teaching: a position whence He can see, and be seen by all. Here, eagerly
bending forward, are the dark faces of the Pharisees, expressive of curiosity,
malice, cunning. They are looking round at a man whose right hand is withered,57
perhaps putting him forward, drawing attention to him, loudly whispering, 'Is
it lawful to heal on the Sabbath-day?' The Lord takes up the challenge. He bids
the man stand forth - right in the midst of them, where they might all see and
hear. By one of those telling appeals, which go straight to the conscience, He
puts the analogous case of a poor man who was in danger of losing his only
sheep on the Sabbath: would he not rescue it; and was not a man better than a
sheep? Nay, did they not themselves enjoin a breach of the Sabbath-Law to save
human life? Then, must He not do so; might He not do good rather than evil?
57. St. Luke vi. 6.
They were speechless. But a strange mixture of feeling was in
the Saviour's heart - strange to us, though it is but what Holy Scripture
always tells us of the manner in which God views sin and the sinner, using
terms, which, in their combination, seem grandly incompatible: 'And when He had
looked round about on them with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their
heart.' It was but for a moment, and then, with life-giving power, He bade the
man stretch forth his hand. Withered it was no longer, when the Word had been
spoken, and a new sap, a fresh life had streamed into it, as, following the
Saviour's Eye and Word, he slowly stretched it forth. And as He stretched it
forth, his hand was restored.58
The Saviour had broken their Sabbath-Law, and yet He had not broken it, for
neither by remedy, nor touch, nor outward application had He healed him. He had
broken the Sabbath-rest, as God breaks it, when He sends, or sustains, or
restores life, or does good: all unseen and unheard, without touch or outward
application, by the Word of His Power, by the Presence of His Life.
58. The tense indicates, that it was restored as he stretched it out. And this is spiritually significant. According to St. Jerome (Comm. in Matt. xii. 13), in the Gospel of the Nazarenes and Ebionites this man was described as a mason, and that he had besought Jesus to restore him, so that he might not have to beg for his bread.
But who after this will say, that it was Paul who first
introduced into the Church either the idea that the Sabbath-Law in its Jewish
form was no longer binding, or this, that the narrow forms of Judaism were
burst by the new wine of that Kingdom, which is that of the Son of Man?
They had all seen it, this miracle of almost new creation. As
He did it, He had been filled with sadness: as they saw it, 'they were filled
So their hearts were hardened. They could not gainsay, but they went forth and
took counsel with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.
Presumably, then, He was within, or quite close by, the dominions of Herod,
east of the Jordan. And the Lord withdrew once more, as it seems to us, into
Gentile territory, probably that of the Decapolis. For, as He went about
healing all, that needed it, in that great multitude that followed His steps,
yet enjoining silence on them, this prophecy of Isaiah blazed into fulfilment:
'Behold My Servant, Whom I have chosen, My Beloved, in Whom My soul is
well-pleased: I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He shall declare judgment to
the Gentiles. He shall not strive nor cry aloud, neither shall any hear His
Voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall
He not quench, till He send forth judgment unto victory. And in His Name shall
the Gentiles trust.'
59. St. Luke vi. 11.
And in His Name shall the Gentiles trust. Far out into
the silence of those solitary upland hills of the Gentile world did the call,
unheard and unheeded in Israel, travel. He had other sheep which were not of
that fold. And down those hills, from the far-off lands, does the sound of the
bells, as it comes nearer and nearer, tell that those other sheep, which are
not of this fold, are gathering at His call to the Good Shepherd; and through
these centuries, still louder and more manifold becomes this sound of nearing
bells, till they shall all be gathered into one: one flock, one fold, one
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