The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE DESCENT: FROM THE MOUNT OF TRANSFIGURATION
INTO THE VALLEY OF HUMILIATION AND DEATH.
THE LAST EVENTS IN GALILEE
THE TRIBUTE-MONEY, THE
DISPUTE BY THE WAY, THE FORBIDDING OF HIM WHO COULD NOT FOLLOW WITH
THE DISCIPLES, AND THE CONSEQUENT TEACHING OF CHRIST.
(St. Matthew 17:22-18:22; St. Mark
9:30-50; St. Luke 9:43-50.)
Now that the Lord's retreat in the utmost borders of the land,
at Cæsarea Philippi, was known to the Scribes, and that He was again surrounded
and followed by the multitude, there could be no further object in His
retirement. Indeed, the time was coming that He should meet that for which He
had been, and was still, preparing the minds of His disciples - His Decease at
Jerusalem. Accordingly, we find Him once more with His disciples in Galilee -
not to abide there,1
nor to traverse it as formerly for Missionary purposes, but preparatory to His
journey to the Feast of Tabernacles. The few events of this brief stay, and the
teaching connected with it, may be summed up as follows.
1. The expression in St. Matthew abode, but a temporary stay - a going to (xvii. 22) does not imply permanent abode, but a temporary stay - a going to and fro.
1. Prominently, perhaps, as the summary of all, we have now the
clear and emphatic repetition of the prediction of His Death and Resurrection.
While He would keep His present stay in Galilee as private as possible,2
He would fain so emphasize this teaching to His disciples, that it should sink
down into their ears and memories. For it was, indeed, the most needful for
them in view of the immediate future. Yet the announcement only filled their
loving hearts with exceeding sorrow; they comprehend it not; nay, they were -
perhaps not unnaturally - afraid to ask Him about it. We remember, that even
the three who had been with Jesus on the Mount, understood not what the rising
from the dead should mean, and that, by direction of the Master, they kept the
whole Vision from their fellow-disciples; and, thinking of it all, we scarcely
wonder that, from their standpoint, it was hid from them, so that they might
not perceive it.
2. St. Mark.
2. It is to the depression caused by His insistence on this
terrible future, to the constant apprehension of near danger, and the
consequent desire not to 'offend,' and so provoke those at whose hands, Christ
had told them, He was to suffer, that we trace the incident about the
tribute-money. We can scarcely believe, that Peter would have answered as he
did, without previous permission of his Master, had it not been for such
thoughts and fears. It was another mode of saying, 'That be far from Thee' -
or, rather, trying to keep it as far as he could from Christ. Indeed, we can
scarcely repress the feeling, that there was a certain amount of secretiveness
on the part of Peter, as if he had apprehended that Jesus would not have wished
him to act as he did, and would fain have kept the whole transaction from the
knowledge of his Master.
It is well known that, on the ground of the injunction in Exod.
xxx. 13 &c., every male in Israel, from twenty years upwards, was expected
annually to contribute to the Temple-Treasury the sum of one half-shekel3
of the Sanctuary,4
that is, one common shekel, or two Attic drachms,5
equivalent to about 1s. 2d. or 1s. 3d. of our
money. Whether or not the original Biblical ordinance had been intended to
institute a regular annual contribution, the Jews of the Dispersion would
probably regard it in the light of a patriotic as well as religious act.
3. According to Neh. x. 32, immediately after the return from Babylon the contribution was a third of a shekel - probably on account of the poverty of the people.
5. But only one Alexandrian (comp. LXX. Gen. xxiii. 15; Josh. vii. 21).
To the particulars previously given on this subject a few
others may be added. The family of the Chief of the Sanhedrin (Gamaliel) seems
to have enjoyed the curious distinction of bringing their contributions to the
Temple-Treasury, not like others, but to have thrown them down before him who
opened the Temple-Chest,6
when they were immediately placed in the box from which, without delay,
sacrifices were provided.7
Again, the commentators explain a certain passage in the Mishnah8
and the Talmud9
as implying that, although the Jews in Palestine had to pay the tribute-money
before the Passover, those from neighbouring lands might bring it before the
Feast of Weeks, and those from such remote countries as Babylonia and Media as
late as the Feast of Tabernacles.10
Lastly, although the Mishnah lays it down, that the goods of those might be
distrained, who had not paid the Temple-tribute by the 25th Adar, it is
scarcely credible that this obtained at the time of Christ,11
at any rate in Galilee. Indeed, this seems implied in the statement of the
Mishnah12 and the
Talmud,13 that one
of the 'thirteen trumpets' in the Temple, into which contributions were cast,
was destined for the shekels of the current, and another for those of the
preceding, year. Finally, these Temple-contributions were in the first place
devoted to the purchase of all public sacrifices, that is, those which were
offered in the name of the whole congregation of Israel, such as the morning
and evening sacrifices. It will be remembered, that this was one of the points
in fierce dispute between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and that the former
perpetuated their triumph by marking its anniversary as a festive day in their
calendar. It seems a terrible irony of judgment14
when Vespasian ordered, after the destruction of the Temple, that this tribute
should henceforth be paid for the rebuilding of the Temple of Jupiter
6. Could there have been an intended, or - what would be still more striking - an unintended, but very real irony in this, when Judas afterwards cast down the pieces of silver in the Temple (St. Matt. xxvii. 5)?
7. Sheq. iii. 3.
8. Sheq. iii. 4.
9. Yoma 64 a.
10. Dean Plumptre is mistaken in comparing, as regarded the Sadducees, the Temple-rate with the Church-rate question. There is no analogy between them,
nor did the Sadducees ever question its propriety. The Dean is also in error in supposing, that the Palestinians were wont to bring it at one of the other feasts.
11. The penalty of distraint had only been enacted less than a century before (about 78), during the reign of Queen Salome-Alexandra, who was entirely in the hands of the Pharisees.
12. Sheqal. vi. 5.
13. Yoma 55 b.
14. Ps. ii. 4.
15. Jos. War vii. 6. 6.
It will be remembered that, shortly before the previous
Passover, Jesus with His disciples had left Capernaum,16
That they returned to the latter city only for the Sabbath, and that, as we
have suggested, they passed the first Paschal days on the borders of Tyre. We
have, indeed, no means of knowing where the Master had tarried during the ten
days between the 15th and the 25th Adar, supposing the Mishnic arrangements to
have been in force in Capernaum. He was certainly not at Capernaum, and it must
also have been known, that He had not gone up to Jerusalem for the Passover.
Accordingly, when it was told in Capernaum, that the Rabbi of Nazareth had once
more come to what seems to have been His Galilean home, it was only natural,
that they who collected the Temple-tribute17
should have applied for its payment. It is quite possible, that their
application may have been, if not prompted, yet quickened, by the wish to
involve Him in a breach of so well-known an obligation, or else by a hostile
curiosity. Would He, Who took so strangely different views of Jewish
observances, and Who made such extraordinary claims, own the duty of paying the
Temple-tribute? Had it been owing to His absence, or from principle, that He
had not paid it last Passover-season? The question which they put to Peter
implies, at least, their doubt.
17. If it were not for the authority of Wieseler, who supports it, the suggestion would scarcely deserve serious notice, that the reference here is not to the Temple-tribute, but to the Roman polltax or census. Irrespective of
the question whether a census was then levied in Galilee, the latter is
designated both in St. Matt. xvii. 25, and in xxii. 17, as well as in St. Mark xii. 14, as khnsoV, while here
the well-known expression didrachma is used.
We have already seen what motives prompted the hasty reply of
Peter. He might, indeed, also otherwise, in his rashness, have given an
affirmative answer to the inquiry, without first consulting the Master. For
there seems little doubt, that Jesus had on former occasions complied with the
Jewish custom. But matters were now wholly changed. Since the first Passover,
which had marked His first public appearance in the Temple at Jerusalem, He had
stated - and quite lately in most explicit terms - that He was the Christ, the
Son of God. To have now paid the Temple-tribute, without explanation, might
have involved a very serious misapprehension. In view of all this, the history
before us seems alike simple and natural. There is no pretext for the
artificial construction put upon it by commentators, any more than for the
suggestion, that such was the poverty of the Master and His disciples, that the
small sum requisite for the Temple-tribute had to be miraculously supplied.
We picture it to ourselves on this wise. Those who received the
Tribute-money had come to Peter, and perhaps met him in the court or corridor,
and asked him: 'Your Teacher (Rabbi), does He not pay the didrachma?' While
Peter hastily responded in the affirmative, and then entered into the house to
procure the coin, or else to report what has passed, Jesus, Who had been in
another part of the house, but was cognisant of all, 'anticipated him.'18
Addressing him in kindly language as 'Simon,' He pointed out the real state of
matters by an illustration which must, of course, not be too literally pressed,
and of which the meaning was: Whom does a King intend to tax for the
maintenance of his palace and officers? Surely not his own family, but others.
The inference from this, as regarded the Temple-tribute, was obvious. As in all
similar Jewish parabolic teaching, it was only indicated in general principle:
'Then are the children free.' But even so, be it as Peter had wished, although
not from the same motive. Let no needless offence be given; for, assuredly,
they would not have understood the principle on which Christ would have refused
the Tribute money,19
and all misunderstanding on the part of Peter was now impossible. Yet Christ
would still further vindicate His royal title. He will pay for Peter also, and
pay, as heaven's King, with a Stater, or four-drachma piece, miraculously
18. The Revised Version renders it by: 'spake first.' But the word (profqanw) does not bear this
meaning in any of the fifteen passages in the LXX., where it corresponds to the Hebrew Qiddem, and means 'to anticipate' or 'to prevent' in the archaic sense of that word.
19. In Succ. 30 a, we read a parable of a king who paid toll, and being asked the reason, replied that travellers were to learn by his example not to seek to
withdraw themselves from paying all dues.
Thus viewed, there is, we submit, a moral purpose and
spiritual instruction in the provision of the Stater out of the fish's mouth.
The rationalistic explanation of it need not be seriously considered; for any
mythical interpretation there is not the shadow of support in Biblical
precedent or Jewish expectancy. But the narrative in its literality has a true
and high meaning. And if we wished to mark the difference between its sober
simplicity and the extravagances of legend, we would remind ourselves, not only
of the well-known story of the Ring of Polycrates, but of two somewhat kindred
Jewish Haggadahs. They are both intended to glorify the Jewish mode of Sabbath
observance. One of them bears that one Joseph, known as 'the honourer' of the
Sabbath, had a wealthy heathen neighbour, to whom the Chaldæans had prophesied
that all his riches would come to Joseph. To render this impossible, the
wealthy man converted all his property into one magnificent gem, which he
carefully concealed within his head-gear. Then he took ship, so as for ever to
avoid the dangerous vicinity of the Jew. But the wind blew his head-gear into
the sea, and the gem was swallowed by a fish. And lo! it was the holy season,
and they brought to the market a splendid fish. Who would purchase it but
Joseph, for none as he would prepare to honour the day by the best which he
could provide. But when they opened the fish, the gem was found in it - the
moral being: 'He that borroweth for the Sabbath, the Sabbath will repay him.'20
20. Shabb. 119 a, lines 20 &c. from top.
The other legend is similar. It was in Rome (in the Christian
world) that a poor tailor went to market to buy a fish for a festive meal.21
Only one was on sale, and for it there was keen competition between the servant
of a Prince and the Jew, the latter at last buying it for not less than twelve
dinars. At the banquet, the Prince inquired of his servants why no fish had
been provided. When he ascertained the cause, he sent for the Jew with the
threatening inquiry, how a poor tailor could afford to pay twelve dinars for a
fish? 'My Lord,' replied the Jew, 'there is a day on which all our sins are
remitted us, and should we not honour it?' The answer satisfied the Prince. But
God rewarded the Jew, for, when the fish was opened, a precious gem was found
in it, which he sold, and ever afterwards lived of the proceeds.22
21. In the Midrash: 'On the eve of the great fast' (the Day of Atonement). But from the connection it is evidently intended to apply to the distinction to be put
on the Sabbath-meal.
22. Ber. R. 11 on Gen. ii. 3.
The reader can scarcely fail to mark the absolute difference
between even the most beautiful Jewish legends and any trait in the Evangelic
3. The event next recorded in the Gospels took place partly on
the way from the Mount of Transfiguration to Capernaum, and partly in Capernaum
itself, immediately after the scene connected with the Tribute-money. It is
recorded by the three Evangelists, and it led to explanations and admonitions,
which are told by St. Mark and St. Luke, but chiefly by St. Matthew. This
circumstance seems to indicate, that the latter was the chief actor in that
which occasioned this special teaching and warning of Christ, and that it must
have sunk very deeply into his heart.
As we look at it, in the light of the then mental and spiritual
state of the Apostles, not in that in which, perhaps naturally, we regard them,
what happened seems not difficult to understand. As St. Mark puts it,23
by the way they had disputed among themselves which of them would be the
greatest - as St. Matthew explains,24
in the Messianic Kingdom of Heaven. They might now the more confidently expect
its near Advent from the mysterious announcement of the Resurrection on the
third day,25 which
they would probably connect with the commencement of the last Judgment,
following upon the violent Death of the Messiah. Of a dispute, serious and even
violent, among the disciples, we have evidence in the exhortation of the
Master, as reported by St. Mark,26
in the direction of the Lord how to deal with an offending brother, and in the
answering inquiry of Peter.27
Nor can we be at a loss to perceive its occasion. The distinction just bestowed
on the three, in being taken up the Mount, may have roused feelings of jealousy
in the others perhaps of self-exaltation in the three. Alike the spirit which
John displayed in his harsh prohibition of the man that did not follow with the
disciples,28 and the
self-righteous bargaining of Peter about forgiving the supposed or real
offences of a brother,29
give evidence of anything but the frame of mind which we would have expected
after the Vision on the Mount.
23. St. Mark ix. 34.
24. St. Matt. xviii. 1.
25. St. Matt. xvii. 23; St. Mark ix. 31.
26. St. Mark ix. 42-50.
27. St. Matt. xviii. 15, 21.
28. St. Mark ix. 38.
29. St. Matt. xviii. 21.
In truth, most incongruous as it may appear to us, looking back
on it in the light of the Resurrection, day, nay, almost incredible -
evidently, the Apostles were still greatly under the influence of the old
spirit. It was the common Jewish view, that there would be distinctions of rank
in the Kingdom of Heaven. It can scarcely be necessary to prove this by Rabbinic
quotations, since the whole system of Rabbinism and Pharisaism, with its
separation from the vulgar and ignorant, rests upon it. But even within the
charmed circle of Rabbinism, there would be distinctions, due to learning,
merit, and even to favouritism. In this world there were His special
favourites, who could command anything at His hand, to use the Rabbinic
illustration, like a spoilt child from its father.3031
And in the Messianic age God would assign booths to each according to his rank.32
On the other hand, many passages could be quoted bearing on the duty of humility
and self-abasement. But the stress laid on the merit attaching to this shows
too clearly, that it was the pride that apes humility. One instance,33
previously referred to, will suffice by way of illustration. When the child of
the great Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai was dangerously ill, he was restored
through the prayer of one Chanina ben Dosa. On this the father of the child
remarked to his wife: 'If the son of Zakkai had all day long put his head
between his knees, no heed would have been given to him.' 'How is that?' asked
his wife; 'is Chanina greater than thou?' 'No,' was the reply, 'he is like a
servant before the King, while I am like a prince before the King' (he is
always there, and has thus opportunities which I, as a lord, do not enjoy).
30. Taan. iii. 8; comp. especially Jer. Taan. 67 a.
31. The almost blasphemous story of how Choni or Onias, 'the circle-drawer,' drew a
circle around him, and refused to leave it till God had sent rain - and
successively objected to too little and too much, stands by no means alone. Jer. Taan. 67 a gives some very painful details about this power of even
altering the decrees of God.
32. Baba B. 75 a.
33. Ber. 34 b.
How deep-rooted were such thoughts and feelings, appears not
only from the dispute of the disciples by the way, but from the request
proffered by the mother of Zebedee's children and her sons at a later period,
in terrible contrast to the near Passion of our Lord.34
It does, indeed come upon us as a most painful surprise, and as sadly
incongruous, this constant self-obtrusion, self-assertion, and low, carnal
self-seeking; this Judaistic trifling in face of the utter self-abnegation and
self-sacrifice of the Son of Man. Surely, the contrast between Christ and His
disciples seems at times almost as great as between Him and the other Jews. If
we would measure His Stature, or comprehend the infinite distance between His
aims and teaching and those of His contemporaries, let it be by comparison with
even the best of His disciples. It must have been part of His humiliation and
self-examination to bear with them. And is it not, in a sense, still so as regards
34. St. Matt. xx. 20.
We have already seen, that there was quite sufficient occasion
and material for such a dispute on the way from the Mount of Transfiguration to
Capernaum. We suppose Peter to have been only at the first with the others. To
judge by the later question, how often he was to forgive the brother who had
sinned against him, he may have been so deeply hurt, that he left the other
disciples, and hastened on with the Master, Who would, at any rate, sojourn in
his house. For, neither he nor Christ seem to have been present when John and
the others forbade the man, who would not follow with them, to cast out demons
in Christ's name. Again, the other disciples only came into Capernaum, and
entered the house, just as Peter had gone for the Stater, with which to pay the
Temple-tribute for the Master and himself. And, if speculation be permissible,
we would suggest that the brother, whose offences Peter found it so difficult
to forgive, may have been none other than Judas. In such a dispute by the way,
he, with his Judaistic views, would be specially interested; perhaps he may
have been its chief instigator; certainly, he, whose natural character, amidst
its sharp contrasts to that of Peter, presented so many points of resemblance
to it, would, on many grounds, be specially jealous of, and antagonistic to
Quite natural in view of this dispute by the way is another
incident of the journey, which is afterwards related.35
As we judge, John seems to have been the principal actor in it; perhaps, in the
absence of Peter, he claimed the leadership. They had met one who was casting
out demons in the Name of Christ - whether successfully or not, we need
scarcely inquire. So widely had faith in the power of Jesus extended; so real
was the belief in the subjection of the demons to Him; so reverent was the
acknowledgment of Him. A man, who, thus forsaking the methods of Jewish
exorcists, owned Jesus in the face of the Jewish world, could not be far from
the Kingdom of Heaven; at any rate, he could not quickly speak evil of Him.
John had, in name of the disciples, forbidden him, because he had not cast in
his lot wholly with them. It was quite in the spirit of their ideas about the
Messianic Kingdom, and of their dispute, which of His close followers would be
greatest there. And yet, they might deceive themselves as to the motives of
their conduct. If it were not almost impertinence to use such terms, we would
have said that there was infinite wisdom and kindness in the answer which the
Saviour gave, when referred to on the subject. To forbid a man, in such
circumstances, would be either prompted by the spirit of the dispute by the way
- or else must be grounded on evidence that the motive was, or the effect would
ultimately be (as in the case of the sons of Sceva) to lead men 'to speak evil'
of Christ, or to hinder the work of His disciples. Assuredly, such could not
have been the case with a man, who invoked His Name, and perhaps experienced
its efficacy. More than this - and here is an eternal principle: 'He that is
not against us is for us;' he that opposeth not the disciples, really is for
them - a saying still more clear, when we adopt the better reading in St. Luke,36
'He that is not against you is for you.'37
35. St. Mark ix. 38; St. Luke ix. 49.
36. St. Luke ix. 50.
of ordinary sobriety of judgment will form their opinions of the value of
modern negative criticism, when we tell them that it has discovered in this man
who did not follow with the disciples an allusion to 'Pauline Christianity,' of
which St. Mark took a more charitable view than St. Matthew! By such treatment
it would not be difficult to make anything of the facts of history.
There was reproof in this, as well as instruction, deeply consistent
with that other, though seemingly different, saying:38
'He that is not with Me is against Me.' The distinction between them is
twofold. In the one case it is 'not against,' in the other it is 'not with;'
but chiefly it lies in this: in the one case it is not against the disciples in
their work, while in the other it is - not with Christ. A man who did what he
could with such knowledge of Christ as he possessed, even although he did not
absolutely follow with them, was 'not against' them. Such an one should be
regarded as thus far with them; at least be let alone, left to Him Who knew all
things. Such a man would not lightly speak evil of Christ - and that was all
the disciples should care for, unless, indeed, they sought their own. Quite
other was it as regarded the relation of a person to the Christ Himself. There
neutrality was impossible - and that which was not with Christ, by this very
fact was against Him. The lesson is of the most deep-reaching character, and
the distinction, alas! still overlooked - perhaps, because ours is too often
the spirit of those who journeyed to Capernaum. Not, that it is unimportant to
follow with the disciples, but that it is not ours to forbid any work done,
however imperfectly, in His Name, and that only one question is really vital -
whether or not a man is decidedly with Christ.
38. St. Matt. xii. 30.
Such were the incidents by the way. And now, while withholding
from Christ their dispute, and, indeed, anything that might seem personal in
the question, the disciples, on entering the house where He was in Capernaum,
addressed to Him this inquiry (which should be inserted from the opening words
of St. Matthew's narrative): 'Who, then, is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?'
It was a general question - but Jesus perceived the thought of their hearts;39
He knew about what they had disputed by the way,40
and now asked them concerning it. The account of St. Mark is most graphic. We
almost see the scene. Conscience-stricken 'they held their peace.' As we read
the further words:41
'And He sat down,' it seems as if the Master had a first gone to welcome the
disciples on their arrival, and they, 'full of their dispute,' had, without
delay, addressed their inquiry to him in the court or antechamber, where they
met Him, when, reading their thoughts, He had first put the searching
counter-question, what had been the subject of their dispute. Then, leading the
way into the house, 'He sat down,' not only to answer their inquiry, which was
not a real inquiry, but to teach them what so much they needed to learn. He
called a little child - perhaps Peter's little son - and put him in the midst
of them. Not to strive who was to be greatest, but to be utterly without
self-consciousness, like a child - thus, to become turned and entirely changed
in mind: 'converted,' was the condition for entering into the Kingdom of
Heaven. Then, as to the question of greatness there, it was really one of
greatness of service - and that was greatest service which implied most
self-denial. Suiting the action to the teaching, the Blessed Saviour took the
happy child in His Arms. Not, to teach, to preach, to work miracles, nor to do
great things, but to do the humblest service for Christ's sake - lovingly,
earnestly, wholly, self-forgetfully, simply for Christ, was to receive Christ -
nay, to receive the Father. And the smallest service, as it might seem - even
the giving a cup of cold water in such spirit, would not lose its reward.
Blessed teaching this to the disciples and to us; blessed lesson, which, these
many centuries of scorching heat, has been of unspeakable refreshing, alike to
the giver and the receiver of the cup of water in the Name of Christ, in the
love of Christ, and for the sake of Christ.42
39. St. Luke.
40. St. Mark ix. 33.
41. ver. 35.
42. Verbal parallels could easily be quoted, and naturally so, since Jesus spoke as a Jew
to Jews - but no real parallel. Indeed, the point of the story lies in its being so utterly un-Jewish.
These words about receiving Christ, and 'receiving in the Name
of Christ,' had stirred the memory and conscience of John, and made him half
wonder, half fear, whether what they had done by the way, in forbidding the man
to do what he could in the name of Christ, had been right. And so he told it,
and received the further and higher teaching on the subject. And, more than
this, St. Mark and, more fully, St. Matthew, record some further instruction in
connection with it, to which St. Luke refers, in a slightly different form, at
a somewhat later period.43
But it seems so congruous to the present occasion, that we conclude it was then
spoken, although, like other sayings,44
it may have been afterwards repeated under similar circumstances.45
Certainly, no more effective continuation, and application to Jewish minds, of
the teaching of our Lord could be conceived than that which follows. For, the
love of Christ goes deeper than the condescension of receiving a child, utterly
un-Pharisaic and un-Rabbinic as this is.46
To have regard to the weaknesses of such a child - to its mental and moral
ignorance and folly, to adapt ourselves to it, to restrain our fuller knowledge
and forego our felt liberty, so as not 'to offend' - not to give occasion for
stumbling to 'one of these little ones,' that so through our knowledge the weak
brother for whom Christ died should not perish: this is a lesson which reaches
even deeper than the question, what is the condition of entrance into the
Kingdom, or what service constitutes real greatness in it. A man may enter into
the Kingdom and do service - yet, if in so doing he disregard the law of love
to the little ones, far better his work should be abruptly cut short; better,
one of those large millstones, turned by an ass, were hung about his neck and
he cast into the sea! We pause to note, once more, the Judaic, and, therefore,
evidential, setting of the Evangelic narrative. The Talmud also speaks of two
kinds of millstones - the one turned by hand ()dyd Myyxr),47
referred to in St. Luke xvii. 35; the other turned by an ass (muloV oniloV), just as the Talmud also
speaks of 'the ass of the millstone' ()yxyrd `ymx).48
Similarly, the figure about a millstone hung round the neck occurs also in the
Talmud - although there as figurative of almost insuperable difficulties.49
Again, the expression, 'it were better for him,' is a well-known Rabbinic
expression (Mutabh hayah lo).50
Lastly, according to St. Jerome, the punishment which seems alluded to in the
words of Christ, and which we know to have been inflicted by Augustus, was
actually practised by the Romans in Galilee on some of the leaders of the
insurrection under Judas of Galilee.
43. St. Luke xvii. 1-7.
44. Comp. for example St. Mark ix. 50 with St. Matt. v. 13.
45. Or else St. Luke may have gathered into connected discourses what may have been spoken at different times.
46. St. Matt. xviii. 2-6, and parallels.
47. Kethub. 59 b, line 18 from bottom.
48. Moed K. 10 b, first line.
49. Kidd. 29 b, lines 10 and 9 from bottom.
50. Vayyikra R. 26.
And yet greater guilt would only too surely be incurred! Woe
unto the world!51
Occasions of stumbling and offence will surely come, but woe to the man through
whom such havoc was wrought. What then is the alternative? If it be a question
as between offence and some part of ourselves, a limb or member, however useful
- the hand, the foot, the eye - then let it rather be severed from the body,
however painful, or however seemingly great the loss. It cannot be so great as
that of the whole being in the eternal fire of Gehenna, where their worm dieth
not, and the fire is not quenched.52
it hand, foot, or eye - practice, pursuit, or research - which consciously
leads us to occasions of stumbling, it must be resolutely put aside in view of
the incomparably greater loss of eternal remorse and anguish.
51. St. Matt. xviii. 8-9; St. Mark, ix. 43-48.
52. St. Mark ix. 44 the last clause of ver. 45, and ver. 46, seem to be spurious. But ver. 48 (except the words tou puroV,
for which read simply: 'into Gehenna') as well as the expression 'fire that never shall be quenched,' and in St. Matthew, 'everlasting fire,' are on all hands admitted to be genuine. The question of 'eternal punishment,' from the standpoint of Jewish theology, will be treated in a later part.
Here St. Mark abruptly breaks off with a saying in which the
Saviour makes general application, although the narrative is further continued
by St. Matthew. The words reported by St. Mark are so remarkable, so brief, we
had almost said truncated, as to require special consideration.53
It seems to us that, turning from this thought that even members which are
intended for useful service may, in certain circumstances, have to be cut off
to avoid the greatest loss, the Lord gave to His disciples this as the final
summary and explanation of all: 'For every one shall be salted for the fire'54
- or, as a very early gloss, which has strangely crept into the text,55
paraphrased and explained it, 'Every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.'56
No one is fit for the sacrificial fire, no one can himself be, nor offer
anything as a sacrifice, unless it have been first, according to the Levitical
Law, covered with salt, symbolic of the incorruptible. 'Salt is good; but if
the salt,' with which the spiritual sacrifice is to be salted for the fire,
'have lost its savour, wherewith will ye season it?' Hence, 'have salt in
yourselves,' but do not let that salt be corrupted by making it an occasion of
offence to others, or among yourselves, as in the dispute by the way, or in the
disposition of mind that led to it, or in forbidding others to work who follow
not with you, but 'be at peace among yourselves.'
53. St. Mark ix. 49, 50.
54. The rendering 'Salted for the fire,' viz., as a sacrifice, has been adopted by other critics.
55. We can readily understand how that clause, which was one of the most ancient explanations, perhaps a marginal gloss on the text 'Everyone shall be salted for the fire,' crept into the text when its meaning was no longer understood.
56. These words are spurious.
To this explanation of the words of Christ it may, perhaps, be
added that, from their form, they must have conveyed a special meaning to the
disciples. It is well-known law, that every sacrifice burned on the Altar must
be salted with salt.57
Indeed, according to the Talmud, not only every such offering, but even the
wood with which the sacrificial fire was kindled, was sprinkled with salt.58
Salt symbolised to the Jews of that time the incorruptible and the higher.
Thus, the soul was compared to the salt, and it was said concerning the dead:
'Shake off the salt, and throw the flesh to the dogs.'59
The Bible was compared to salt; so was acuteness of intellect.60
Lastly, the question: 'If the salt have lost its savour, wherewith will ye
season it?' seems to have been proverbial, and occurs in exactly the same words
in the Talmud, apparently to denote a thing that is impossible.6162
57. Lev. ii. 13.
58. Menach. 20 b.
59. Nidd. 31 a.
60. Kidd. 29 b.
61. Bekhor. 8 b, lines 14 and 13 from bottom.
62. hl yxlm y)mb `yrs yk )xlym
-'the salt, when it becomes ill-savouring, with what shall it be seasoned?' The
passage occurs in a very curious Haggadah, and the objection that salt would not become ill-savouring, would not apply to the proverb in the form given it by Christ.
Most thoroughly anti-Pharisaic and anti-Rabbinic as all this
was, what St. Matthew further reports leads still farther in the same
direction. We seem to see Jesus still holding this child, and, with evident
reference to the Jewish contempt for that which is small, point to him and
apply, in quite other manner than they had ever heard, the Rabbinic teaching
about the Angels. In the Jewish view,63
only the chiefest of the Angels were before the Face of God within the
curtained Veil, or Pargod, while the others, ranged in different
classes, stood outside and awaited his behest.64
The distinction which the former enjoyed was always to behold His Face, and to
hear and know directly the Divine counsels and commands. This distinction was,
therefore, one of knowledge; Christ taught that it was one of love. Not the
more exalted in knowledge, and merit, or worth, but the simpler, the more
unconscious of self, the more receptive and clinging - the nearer to God. Look
up from earth to heaven; those representative, it may be, guardian, Angels
nearest to God, are not those of deepest knowledge of God's counsel and
commands, but those of simple, humble grace and faith - and so learn, not only
not to despise one of these little ones, but who is truly greatest in the
Kingdom of Heaven!
Viewed in this light, there is nothing incongruous in the
transition: 'For the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost.'65
This, His greatest condescension when He became the Babe of Bethlehem, is also
His greatest exaltation. He Who is nearest the Father, and, in the most special
and unique sense, always beholds His Face, is He that became a Child, and, as
the Son of Man, stoops lowest, to save that which was lost. The words are,
indeed, regarded as spurious by most critics, because certain leading
manuscripts omit them, and they are supposed to have been imported from St.
Luke xix. 10. But such a transference from a context wholly unconnected with
seems unaccountable, while, on the other hand, the verse in question forms, not
only an apt, but almost necessary, transition to the Parable of the Lost Sheep.
It seems, therefore, difficult to eliminate it without also striking out that
Parable; and yet it fits most beautifully into the whole context. Suffice it
for the present to note this. The Parable itself is more fully repeated in
in which it will be more convenient to consider it.
65. St. Matt. xviii. 11.
66. Except that the history of Zacchæus, in which the words occur, is really an application real life of the Parable of the Lost Sheep.
67. St. Luke xv. 3-7.
Yet a further depth of Christian love remained to be shown,
which, all self-forgetful, sought not its own, but the things of others. This
also bore on the circumstances of the time, and the dispute between the
disciples, but went far beyond it, and set forth eternal principles. Hitherto
it had been a question of not seeking self, nor minding great things, but
Christ-like and God-like, to condescend to the little ones. What if actual
wrong had been done, and just offence given by a 'brother'?68
In such case, also, the principle of the Kingdom - which, negatively, is that
of self-forgetfulness, positively, that of service of love - would first seek
the good of the offending brother. We mark, here, the contrast to Rabbinism,
which directs that the first overtures must be made by the offender, not the
offended;69 and even
prescribes this to be done in the presence of numerous witnesses, and, if
needful, repeated three times.70
As regards the duty of showing to a brother his fault, and the delicate
tenderness of doing this in private, so as not to put him to shame, Rabbinism
speaks the same as the Master of Nazareth.71
In fact, according to Jewish criminal law, punishment could not be inflicted
unless the offender (even the woman suspected of adultery) had previously been
warned before witnesses. Yet, in practice, matters were very different: and
neither could those be found who would take reproof, nor yet such as were
worthy to administer it.72
68. St. Matt. xviii. 15.
69. Yoma viii. 9.
70. Yoma 87 a.
71. Shabb. 119 b; Tamid 28 a; Arakh. 16 b.
72. Arakh. u.s.
Quite other was it in the Kingdom of Christ, where the theory
was left undefined, but the practice clearly marked. Here, by loving dealing,
to convince of his wrong, him who had done it, was not humiliation nor loss of
dignity or of right, but real gain: the gain of our brother to us, and
eventually to Christ Himself. But even if this should fail, the offended must
not desist from his service of love, but conjoin in it others with himself so
as to give weight and authority to his remonstrances, as not being the outcome
of personal feeling or prejudice - perhaps, also, to be witnesses before the
Divine tribunal. If this failed, a final appeal should be made on the part of
the Church as a whole, which, of course, could only be done through her
representatives and rulers, to whom Divine authority had been committed. And if
that were rejected, the offer of love would, as always in the Gospel, pass into
danger of judgment. Not, indeed, that such was to be executed by man, but that
such an offender, after the first and second admonition, was to be rejected.73
He was to be treated as was the custom in regard to a heathen or a publican -
not persecuted, despised, or avoided, but not received in Church-fellowship (a
heathen), nor admitted to close familiar intercourse (a publican). And this, as
we understand it, marks out the mode of what is called Church discipline in
general, and specifically as regards wrongs done to a brother. Discipline so
exercised (which may God restore to us) has the highest Divine sanction, and
the most earnest reality attaches to it. For, in virtue of the authority which
Christ has committed to the Church in the persons of her rulers and
what they bound or loosed - declared obligatory or non-obligatory - was
ratified in heaven. Nor was this to be wondered at. The incarnation of Christ
was the link which bound earth to heaven: through it whatever was agreed upon
in the fellowship of Christ, as that which was to be asked, would be done for
them of his Father Which was in heaven.75
Thus, the power of the Church reached up to heaven through the power of prayer
in His Name Who made God our Father. And so, beyond the exercise of discipline
and authority, there was the omnipotence of prayer - 'if two of you shall agree
. . . as touching anything . . . it shall be done for them' - and, with it,
also the infinite possibility of a higher service of love. For, in the smallest
gathering in the Name of Christ, His Presence would be,76
and with it the certainty of nearness to, and acceptance with, God.77
73. Titus iii. 10.
74. It is both curious and interesting to find that the question, whether the Priests
exercised their functions as 'the sent of God' or 'the sent of the
congregation' - that is, held their commission directly from God, or only as being the representatives of the people, is discussed already in the Talmud (Yoma 18 b & c.; Nedar. 35 b). The Talmud replies that, as it is impossible to delegate what one does not possess, and since the laity might neither offer sacrifices nor do any like service, the Priests could
not possibly have been the delegates of the Church, but must be those of God. (See the essay by Delitzsch in the Zeitschr. fur Luther. Theol. for 1854, pp. 446-449.)
75. St. Matt. xviii. 19.
76. The Mishnah (Ab. iii. 2), and the Talmud (Ber. 6 a), infer from Mal. iii. 16, that, when two are together and occupy themselves with the Law, the Shekhinah is between them. Similarly, it is argued from Lament. iii. 28, and Exod. xx. 21, that if even one alone is engaged in such pursuits, God is with
him and will bless him.
77. St. Matt. xviii. 19, 20.
It is bitterly disappointing that, after such teaching, even a
Peter could - either immediately afterwards, or perhaps after he had had time
to think it over, and apply it - come to the Master with the question, how
often he was to forgive an offending brother, imagining that he had more than
satisfied the new requirements, if he extended it to seven times.78
Such traits show better than elaborate discussions the need of the mission and
the renewing of the Holy Ghost. And yet there is something touching in the
simplicity and honesty with which Peter goes to the Master with such a
misapprehension of His teaching, as if he had fully entered into its spirit.
Surely, the new wine was bursting the old bottles. It was a principle of
Rabbinism that, even if the wrongdoer had made full restoration, he would not
obtain forgiveness till he had asked it of him whom he had wronged, but that it
was cruelty in such circumstances to refuse pardon.79
The Jerusalem Talmud80
adds the beautiful remark: 'Let this be a token in thine hand - each time that
thou showest mercy, God will show mercy on thee; and if thou showest not mercy,
neither will God show mercy on thee.' And yet it was a settled rule, that
forgiveness should not be extended more than three times.81
Even so, the practice was terribly different. The Talmud relates, without
blame, the conduct of a Rabbi, who would not forgive a very small slight of his
dignity, though asked by the offender for thirteen successive years, and that
on the Day of Atonement - the reason being, that the offended Rabbi had learned
by a dream that his offending brother would attain the highest dignity, whereupon
he feigned himself irreconcilable, to force the other to migrate from Palestine
to Babylon, where, unenvied by him, he might occupy the chief place!82
78. St. Matt. xviii. 21.
79. Babha K. viii. 7.
80. Jer. Babha K. 6 c.
81. Yoma 86 b.
82. Yoma 87.
And so it must have seemed to Peter, in his ignorance, quite a
stretch of charity to extend forgiveness to seven, instead of three offences.
It did not occur to him, that the very act of numbering offences marked an
externalism which had never entered into, nor comprehended the spirit of
Christ. Until seven times? Nay, until seventy times seven!83
The evident purport of these words was to efface all such landmarks. Peter had
yet to learn, what we, alas! too often forget: that as Christ's forgiveness, so
that of the Christian, must not be computed by numbers. It is qualitative,
not quantitative: Christ forgives sin, not sins - and he who has
experienced it, follows in His footsteps.84
83. It makes no difference in the argument, whether we translate seventy times seven, or else seventy times and seven.
84. The Parable, with which the account in St. Matthew closes, will be explained by and
by in the Second Series of Parables.