The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE DESCENT: FROM THE MOUNT OF TRANSFIGURATION
INTO THE VALLEY OF HUMILIATION AND DEATH.
FURTHER INCIDENTS OF THE JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM
THE MISSION AND RETURN OF THE SEVENTY
THE HOME AT BETHANY
MARTHA AND MARY
(St. Luke 10:1-16; Matthew 9:36-38, 11:20-24;
St. Luke 10:17-24; St. Matthew 11:25-30, 13:16; St. Luke 10:25,38-42.
ALTHOUGH, for the reasons explained in the previous chapter, the
exact succession of events cannot be absolutely determined, it seems most
likely, that it was on His progress southwards at this time that Jesus
'others,' who were to herald His arrival in every town and village. Even the
circumstance, that the instructions to them are so similar to, and yet distinct
from, those formerly given to the Twelve, seems to point to them as those from
whom the Seventy are to be distinguished as 'other.' We judge, that they were sent
forth at this time, first, from the Gospel of St. Luke, where this whole
section appears as a distinct and separate record, presumably, chronologically
arranged; secondly, from the fitness of such a mission at that particular
period, when Jesus made His last Missionary progress towards Jerusalem; and,
thirdly, from the unlikelihood, if not impossibility, of taking such a public
step after the persecution which broke out after His appearance at
Jerusalem on the Feast of Tabernacles. At any rate, it could not have taken
place later than in the period between the Feast of Tabernacles and that of the
Dedication of the Temple, since, after that, Jesus 'walked no more openly among
1. Perhaps this may be a fuller English equivalent than 'appoint.'
2. The reading: 'Seventy-two' seems a correction, made for obvious reasons.
3. St. John xi. 54.
With all their similarity, there are notable differences
between the Mission of the Twelve and this of 'the other Seventy.' Let it be
noted, that the former is recorded by the three Evangelists, so that there
could have been no confusion on the part of St. Luke.4
But the mission of the Twelve was on their appointment to the Apostolate; it
was evangelistic and missionary; and it was in confirmation and manifestation
of the 'power and authority' given to them. We regard it, therefore, as
symbolical of the Apostolate just instituted, with its work and authority. On
the other hand, no power or authority was formally conferred on the Seventy,
their mission being only temporary, and, indeed, for one definite purpose; its
primary object was to prepare for the coming of the Master in the places to
which they were sent; and their selection was from the wider circle of
disciples, the number being now Seventy instead of Twelve. Even these two
numbers, as well as the difference in the functions of the two classes of
messengers, seem to indicate that the Twelve symbolised the princes of the
tribes of Israel, while the Seventy were the symbolical representatives of
these tribes, like the seventy elders appointed to assist Moses.56
This symbolical meaning of the number Seventy continued among the Jews. We can
trace it in the LXX. (supposed) translators of the Bible into Greek, and in the
seventy members of the Sanhedrin, or supreme court.7
4. St. Matt. x. 5 &c.; St. Mark vi. 7 &c.; St. Luke ix. 1 &c.
5. Num. xi. 16.
6. In Bemidb. R. 15, ed. Warsh. p. 64 b, the mode of electing these Seventy is
thus described. Moses chose six from every tribe, and then put into an urn
seventy-two lots, of which seventy had the word Zaqen (Elder) inscribed on them, while two were blanks. The latter are supposed to have been drawn by Eldad and Medad.
7. Comp. Sanh. i. 6.
There was something very significant in this appearance of
Christ's messengers, by two and two, in every place He was about to visit. As
John the Baptist had, at the first, heralded the Coming of Christ, so now two
heralds appeared to solemnly announce His Advent at the close of His Ministry;
as John had sought, as the representative of the Old Testament Church, to
prepare His Way, so they, as the representatives of the New Testament Church.
In both cases the preparation sought was a moral one. It was the national
summons to open the gates to the rightful King, and accept His rule. Only, the
need was now the greater for the failure of John's mission, through the
misunderstanding and disbelief of the nation.8
This conjunction with John the Baptist and the failure of his mission, as
regarded national results, accounts for the insertion in St. Matthew's
Gospel of part of the address delivered on the Mission of the Seventy,
immediately after the record of Christ's rebuke of the national rejection of
For St. Matthew, who (as well as St. Mark) records not the Mission of the
Seventy - simply because (as before explained) the whole section, of which it forms
part, is peculiar to St. Luke's Gospel - reports 'the Discourses' connected
with it in other, and to them congruous, connections.
8. St. Matt. xi. 7-19.
9. St. Matt. xi. 20-24; comp. with St. Luke x. 12-16.
We mark, that, what may be termed 'the Preface' to the Mission
of the Seventy, is given by St. Matthew (in a somewhat fuller form) as that to
the appointment and mission of the Twelve Apostles;10
and it may have been, that kindred words had preceded both. Partially, indeed,
the expressions reported in St. Luke x. 2 had been employed long before.11
Those 'multitudes' throughout Israel - nay, those also which 'are not of that
flock' - appeared to His view like sheep without a true shepherd's care,
'distressed and prostrate,'12
and their mute misery and only partly conscious longing appealed, and not in
vain, to His Divine compassion. This constituted the ultimate ground of the
Mission of the Apostles, and now of the Seventy, into a harvest that was truly
great. Compared with the extent of the field, and the urgency of the work, how
few were the labourers! Yet, as the field was God's, so also could He alone
'thrust forth labourers' willing and able to do His work, while it must be ours
to pray that He would be pleased to do so.
10. St. Matt. ix. 36-38.
11. St. John iv. 35.
12. The first word means literally 'torn.' The second occurs sixty-two times in the LXX. as equivalent for the Hebrew (Hiphil) Hishlikh, projicio, abjicio.
On these introductory words,13
which ever since have formed 'the bidding prayer' of the Church in her work for
Christ, followed the commission and special directions to the thirty-five pairs
of disciples who went on this embassy. In almost every particular they are the
same as those formerly given to the Twelve.14
We mark, however, that both the introductory and the concluding words addressed
to the Apostles are wanting in what was said to the Seventy. It was not
necessary to warn them against going to the Samaritans, since the direction of
the Seventy was to those cities of PerŠa and JudŠa, on the road to Jerusalem,
through which Christ was about to pass. Nor were they armed with precisely the
same supernatural powers as the Twelve.15
Naturally, the personal directions as to their conduct were in both cases
substantially the same. We mark only three peculiarities in those addressed to
the Seventy. The direction to 'salute no man by the way' was suitable to a
temporary and rapid mission, which might have been sadly interrupted by making
or renewing acquaintances. Both the Mishnah16
and the Talmud17
lay it down, that prayer was not to be interrupted to salute even a king, nay,
to uncoil a serpent that had wound round the foot.18
On the other hand, the Rabbis discussed the question, whether the reading of
the Shema and of the portion of the Psalms called the Hallel
might be interrupted at the close of a paragraph, from respect for a person, or
interrupted in the middle, from motives of fear.19
All agreed, that immediately before prayer no one should be saluted, to prevent
distraction, and it was advised rather to summarise or to cut short than to
break into prayer, though the latter might be admissible in case of absolute
necessity.20 None of
these provisions, however, seems to have been in the mind of Christ. If any
parallel is to be sought, it would be found in the similar direction of Elisha
to Gehazi, when sent to lay the prophet's staff on the dead child of the
18. But it might be interrupted for a scorpion, Ber. 33 a. Comp. page 141, note 1.
19. Ber. 14 a.
20. Ber. 14 a; 32 b.
The other two peculiarities in the address to the Seventy seem
verbal rather than real. The expression,21
'if the Son of Peace be there,' is a Hebraism, equivalent to 'if the house be
refers to the character of the head of the house and the tone of the household.23
Lastly, the direction to eat and drink such things as were set before them24
is only a further explanation of the command to abide in the house which had
received them, without seeking for better entertainment.25
On the other hand, the whole most important close of the address to the Twelve
- which, indeed, forms by far the largest part of it26
- is wanting in the commission to the Seventy, thus clearly marking its merely
21. St. Luke x. 6.
22. St. Matt. x. 13.
23. Comp. Job xxi. 9, both in the original and the Targum.
24. St. Luke x. 7, 8.
25. Canon Cook (ad loc.) regards this as evidence that the Seventy were also sent to the Samaritans; and as implying permission to eat of their food, which the
Jews held to be forbidden. To me it conveys the opposite, since so fundamental an alteration would not have been introduced in such an indirect manner. Besides, the direction is not to eat their food, but any kind of food. Lastly, if Christ had introduced so vital a change, the later difficulty of St. Peter,
and the vision on the subject, would not be intelligible.
26. St. Matt. xi. 16-42.
In St. Luke's Gospel, the address to the Seventy is followed by
a denunciation of Chorazin and Bethsaida.27
This is evidently in its right place there, after the Ministry of Christ in
Galilee had been completed and finally rejected. In St. Matthew's Gospel, it
stands (for a reason already indicated) immediately after the Lord's rebuke of
the popular rejection of the Baptist's message.28
The 'woe' pronounced on those cities, in which 'most of His mighty works were
done,' is in proportion to the greatness of their privileges. The denunciation
of Chorazin and Bethsaida is the more remarkable, that Chorazin is not
otherwise mentioned in the Gospels, nor yet any miracles recorded as having
taken place in (the western) Bethsaida. From this two inferences seem
inevitable. First, this history must be real. If the whole were legendary,
Jesus would not be represented as selecting the names of places, which the
writer had not connected with the legend. Again, apparently no record has been
preserved in the Gospels of most of Christ's miracles - only those being
narrated which were necessary in order to present Jesus as the Christ, in
accordance with the respective plans on which each of the Gospels was constructed.29
27. St. Luke x. 13-16.
28. St. Matt. xi. 20-24.
29. St. John xxi. 25.
As already stated, the denunciations were in proportion to the
privileges, and hence to the guilt, of the unbelieving cities. Chorazin and
Bethsaida are compared with Tyre and Sidon, which under similar admonitions
would have repented,30
while Capernaum, which, as for so long the home of Jesus, had truly 'been
exalted to heaven,'31
is compared with Sodom. And such guilt involved greater punishment. The very
site of Bethsaida and Chorazin cannot be fixed with certainty. The former
probably represents the 'Fisherton' of Capernaum,32
the latter seems to have almost disappeared from the shore of the Lake. St.
Jerome places it two miles from Capernaum. If so, it may be represented by the
modern KerÔzeh, somewhat to the north-west of Capernaum. The site would correspond
with the name. For KerÔzeh is at present 'a spring with an insignificant
ruin above it,'33
and the name Chorazin may well be derived from Keroz (zwrk@:) a
water-jar - Cherozin, or 'Chorazin,' the water-jars. If so, we can readily
understand that the 'Fisherton' on the south side of Capernaum, and the
well-known springs, 'Chorazin,' on the other side of it, may have been the
frequent scene of Christ's miracles. This explains also, in part, why the
miracles there wrought had not been told as well as those done in Capernaum
itself. In the Talmud a Chorazin, or rather Chorzim, is mentioned as celebrated
for its wheat.34
But as for Capernaum itself - standing on that vast field of ruins and upturned
stones which marks the site of the modern Tell Hűm, we feel that no
description of it could be more pictorially true than that in which Christ
prophetically likened the city in its downfall to the desolateness of death and
30. Fasting 'in sackcloth and ashes' was the practice in public humiliations (Taan. ii. 1).
31. The R.V., following what are regarded as some of the best MSS., renders it interrogatively: 'Shalt thou be exalted,' &c.? But such a question is not only without precedent, but really yields no meaning. We have, therefore, adopted the reading of Alford, Meyer, &c., which only differs
in tense from the A.V.
Whether or not the Seventy actually returned to Jesus before
the Feast of Tabernacles,35
it is convenient to consider in this connection the result of their Mission. It
had filled them with the 'joy' of assurance; nay, the result had exceeded their
expectations, just as their faith had gone beyond the mere letter unto the
spirit of His Words. As they reported it to Him, even the demons had been
subject to them through His Name. In this they had exceeded the letter of
Christ's commission; but as they made experiment of it, their faith had grown,
and they had applied His command to 'heal the sick' to the worst of all
sufferers, those grievously vexed by demons. And, as always, their faith was
not disappointed. Nor could it be otherwise. The great contest had been long
decided; it only remained for the faith of the Church to gather the fruits of
that victory. The Prince of Light and Life had vanquished the Prince of
Darkness and Death. The Prince of this world must be cast out.36
In spirit, Christ gazed on 'Satan fallen as lightning from heaven.' As one has
aptly paraphrased it:37
'While you cast out his subjects, I saw the prince himself fall.' It has been
asked, whether the words of Christ referred to any particular event, such as
His Victory in the Temptation.38
But any such limitation would imply grievous misunderstanding of the whole. So
to speak, the fall of Satan is to the bottomless pit; ever going on to
the final triumph of Christ. As the Lord beholds him, he is fallen from
heaven - from the seat of power and of worship; for, his mastery is broken by
the Stronger than he. And he is fallen like lightning, in its rapidity,
dazzling splendour, and destructiveness.39
Yet as we perceive it, it is only demons cast out in His Name. For still is
this fight and sight continued, and to all ages of the present dispensation.
Each time the faith of the Church casts out demons - whether as formerly, or as
they presently vex men, whether in the lighter combat about possession of the
body, or in the sorer fight about possession of the soul - as Christ beholds
it, it is ever Satan fallen. For, he sees of the travail of His soul, and is
satisfied. And so also is there joy in heaven over every sinner that repenteth.
35. Godet infers this from the use of the word 'returned,' St. Luke x. 17.
36. St. John xii. 31.
37. Godet, ad loc.
38. So far from seeing here, with WŘnsche (ad loc.), Jewish notions about Satan, I hold that in the Satanology of the New Testament, perhaps more than anywhere else, do we mark not only difference, but contrast, to Jewish
39. Rev. xii. 7-12.
The authority and power over 'the demons,' attained by faith,
was not to pass away with the occasion that had called it forth. The Seventy
were the representatives of the Church in her work of preparing for the Advent
of Christ. As already indicated, the sight of Satan fallen from heaven is the
continuous history of the Church. What the faith of the Seventy had attained
was now to be made permanent to the Church, whose representatives they were.
For, the words in which Christ now gave authority and power to tread on40
serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the Enemy, and the promise
that nothing should hurt them, could not have been addressed to the Seventy for
a Mission which had now come to an end, except in so far as they represented
the Church Universal. It is almost needless to add, that those 'serpents and
scorpions' are not to be literally but symbolically understood.4142
Yet it is not this power or authority which is to be the main joy either of the
Church or the individual, but43
the fact that our names are written in heaven.44
And so Christ brings us back to His great teaching about the need of becoming
children, and wherein lies the secret of true greatness in the Kingdom.
40. The word over ('on,' A. V.) must be connected with 'power.'
41. Comp. Ps. xci. 13; St. Mark xvi. 18.
42. I presume, that in the same symbolical sense must be understood the Haggadah about a great Rabbinic Saint, whom a serpent bit without harming him, and then immediately died. The Rabbi brought it to his disciples with the words: It is not the serpent that killeth, but sin (Ber. 33 a).
43. The word 'rather' in the A.V. is spurious.
44. The figure is one current in Scripture (comp. Exod. xxxii. 32: Is. iv. 3; Dan. xii. 1). But the Rabbis took it in a grossly literal manner, and spoke of three books opened every New Year's Day - those of the pious, the wicked, and the intermediate (Rosh haSh. 16 b).
It is beautifully in the spirit of all this, when we read that
the joy of the disciples was met by that of the Master, and that His teaching
presently merged into a prayer of thanksgiving. Throughout the occurrences
since the Transfiguration, we have noticed an increasing antithesis to the
teaching of the Rabbis. But it almost reached its climax in the thanksgiving,
that the Father in heaven had hid these things from the wise and the
understanding, and revealed them unto babes. As we view it in the light of
those times, we know that 'the wise and understanding' - the Rabbi and the
Scribe - could not, from their standpoint, have perceived them; nay, that it is
matter of never-ending thanks that, not what they, but what 'the babes,'
understood, was - as alone it could be - the subject of the Heavenly Father's
revelation. We even tremble to think how it would have fared with 'the babes,'
if 'the wise and understanding' had had part with them in the knowledge
revealed. And so it must ever be, not only the Law of the kingdom and the
fundamental principle of Divine Revelation, but matter for thanksgiving, that,
not as 'wise and understanding,' but only as 'babes' - as 'converted,' 'like
children' - we can share in that knowledge which maketh wise unto salvation.
And this truly is the Gospel, and the Father's good pleasure.45
45. This is a common Jewish formula: Nwcr Kynpl.
with which Christ turned from this Address to the Seventy and thanksgiving to
God, seem almost like the Father's answer to the prayer of the Son. They refer
to, and explain, the authority which Jesus had bestowed on His Church: 'All
things were delivered47
to Me of My Father;' and they afford the highest rationale for the fact,
that these things had been hid from the wise and revealed unto babes. For, as
no man, only the Father, could have full knowledge of the Son, and, conversely,
no man, only the Son, had true knowledge of the Father, it followed, that this
knowledge came to us, not of Wisdom or learning, but only through the
Revelation of Christ: 'No one knoweth Who the Son is, save the Father; and Who
the Father is, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal
46. St. Luke x. 22.
47. The tense should here be marked.
St. Matthew, who also records this - although in a different
connection, immediately after the denunciation of the unbelief of Chorazin,
Bethsaida, and Capernaum - concludes this section by words which have ever
since been the grand text of those who following in the wake of the Seventy,
have been ambassadors for Christ.48
On the other hand, St. Luke concludes this part of his narrative by adducing
words equally congruous to the occasion,49
which, indeed, are not new in the mouth of the Lord.50
From their suitableness to what had preceded, we can have little doubt that
both that which St. Matthew, and that which St. Luke, reports was spoken on
this occasion. Because knowledge of the Father came only through the Son, and
because these things were hidden from the wise and revealed to 'babes,' did the
gracious Lord open His Arms so wide, and bid all51
that laboured and were heavy laden come to HIM. These were the sheep,
distressed and prostrate, whom to gather, that He might give them rest, He had
sent forth the Seventy on a work, for which He had prayed the Father to thrust
forth labourers, and which He has since entrusted to the faith and service of
love of the Church. And the true wisdom, which qualified for the Kingdom, was
to take up His yoke, which would be found easy, and a lightsome burden, not
like that unbearable yoke of Rabbinic conditions;52
and the true understanding to be sought, was by learning of Him. In that wisdom
of entering the Kingdom by taking up its yoke, and in that knowledge which came
by learning of Him, Christ was Himself alike the true lesson and the best
Teacher for those 'babes.' For He is meek and lowly in heart. He had done what
He taught, and He taught what He had done; and so, by coming unto Him, would
true rest be found for the soul.
48. St. Matt. xi. 28-30.
49. St. Luke x. 23, 24.
50. Comp. St. Matt. xiii. 16.
51. Melanchthon writes: 'In this "All" thou art to include thyself, and not to think that thou dost not belong thereto; thou art not to search for another register of God.'
52. Acts xv. 10.
These words, as recorded by St. Matthew - the Evangelist of the
Jews - must have sunk the deeper into the hearts of Christ's Jewish hearers,
that they came in their own old familiar form of speech, yet with such contrast
of spirit. One of the most common figurative expressions of the time was that
of 'the yoke' (lw(), to indicate submission to an occupation or
obligation. Thus, we read not only of the 'yoke of the Law,' but of that to
'earthly governments,' and ordinary 'civil obligations.'53
Very instructive for the understanding of the figure is this paraphrase of
Cant. i. 10: 'How beautiful is their neck for bearing the yoke of Thy statues;
and it shall be upon them like the yoke on the neck of the ox that plougheth in
the field, and provideth food for himself and his master.'5455
This yoke might be 'cast off,' as the ten tribes had cast off that 'of God,'
and thus brought on themselves their exile.56
On the other hand, to 'take upon oneself the yoke' (lw( lbq) meant to submit
to it of free choice and deliberate resolution. Thus, in the allegorism of the
Midrash, in the inscription, Prov. xxx. 1, concerning 'Agur, the son of Jakeh'
- which is viewed as a symbolical designation of Solomon - the word 'Massa,'
rendered in the Authorized Version 'prophecy,' is thus explained in reference
to Solomon: 'Massa, because he lifted on himself (Nasa) the yoke
of the Holy One, blessed be He.'57
And of Isaiah it was said, that he had been privileged to prophesy of so many
blessings, 'because he had taken upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven
And, as previously stated, it was set forth that in the 'Shema,' or
Creed - which was repeated every day - the words, Deut. vi. 4-9, were recited
before those in xi. 13-21, so as first generally to 'take upon ourselves the
yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, and only afterwards that of the commandments.'6061
And this yoke all Israel had taken upon itself, thereby gaining the merit ever
afterwards imputed to them.
53. Abhoth iii. 5.
54. Targum, ad loc.
55. Similarly we read of 'the yoke of repentance' (Moed K. 16 b), of that 'of man,' or
rather 'of flesh and blood' (Ab. de R. Nath. 20), &c.
56. Shemoth R. 30.
57. Midr. Shoch. Tobh. ed. Lemb. p. 20 a.
58. Yalkut ii. p. 43 a, Section 275, lines 10 &c. from bottom.
59. This is mentioned as an answer given in the great Academy of Jerusalem by Elijah the prophet to a question propounded to him by a student.
Yet, practically, 'the yoke of the Kingdom' was none other than
that 'of the Law' and 'of the commandments;' one of laborious performances and
of impossible self-righteousness. It was 'unbearable,' not 'the easy' and
lightsome yoke of Christ, in which the Kingdom of God was of faith, not of
works. And, as if themselves to bear witness to this, we have this saying of
theirs, terribly significant in this connection: 'Not like those formerly (the
first), who made for themselves the yoke of the Law easy and light; but like
those after them (those afterwards), who made the yoke of the Law upon them
indeed, this voluntary making of the yoke as heavy as possible, the taking on
themselves as many obligations as possible, was the ideal of Rabbinic piety.
There was, therefore, peculiar teaching and comfort in the words of Christ; and
well might He add, as St. Luke reports,63
that blessed were they who saw and heard these things.64
For, that Messianic Kingdom, which had been the object of rapt vision and
earnest longing to prophets and kings of old had now become reality.65
62. Sanh. 94 b, middle.
63. St. Luke x. 23, 24.
64. In a rapt description of the Messianic glory (Pesiqta, ed. Buber. 149 a,
end) we read that Israel shall exult in His light, saying: 'Blessed the hour in which the Messiah has been created; blessed the womb that bare Him; blessed the
eye that sees Him; blessed the eye that is deemed worthy to behold Him, for the opening of his lips is blessing and peace, &c.' It is a strange coincidence, to say the least, that this passage occurs in a 'Lecture' on the
portion of the prophets (Is. Lxi. 10), which at present is read in the
Synagogues on a Sabbath close to the Feast of Tabernacles.
65. The same words were spoken on a previous occasion (St. Matt. xiii. 16), after the
Parable of the Sower.
Abounding as this history is in contrasts, it seems not
unlikely, that the scene next recorded by St. Luke66
stands in its right place. Such an inquiry on the part of a 'certain lawyer,'
as to what he should do to inherit eternal life, together with Christ's
Parabolic teaching about the Good Samaritan, is evidently congruous to the
previous teaching of Christ about entering into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Possibly, this Scribe may have understood the words of the Master about these
things being hid from the wise, and the need of taking up the yoke of the
Kingdom, as enforcing the views of those Rabbinic teachers, who laid more
stress upon good works than upon study. Perhaps himself belonged to that
minority, although his question was intended to tempt - to try whether the
Master would stand the Rabbinic test, alike morally and dialectically. And,
without at present entering on the Parable which gives Christ's final answer
(and which will best be considered together with the others belonging to that
period), it will be seen how peculiarly suited it was to the state of mind just
66. St. Luke x. 25 &c.
From this interruption, which, but for the teaching of Christ
connected with it, would have formed a terrible discord in the heavenly harmony
of this journey, we turn to a far other scene. It follows in the course of St.
Luke's narrative, and we have no reason to consider it out of its proper place.
If so, it must mark the close of Christ's journey to the Feast of Tabernacles,
since the home of Martha and Mary, to which it introduces us, was in Bethany,
close to Jerusalem, almost one of its suburbs. Other indications, confirmatory
of this note of time, are not wanting. Thus, the history which follows that of
the home of Bethany, when one of His disciples asks Him to teach them to pray,
as the Baptist had similarly taught his followers, seems to indicate, that they
were then on the scene of John's former labours - north-east of Bethany; and,
hence, that it occurred on Christ's return from Jerusalem. Again, from the
narrative of Christ's reception in the house of Martha, we gather that Jesus
had arrived in Bethany with His disciples, but that He alone was the guest of
the two sisters.67
We infer that Christ had dismissed His disciples to go into the neighbouring
City for the Feast, while Himself tarried in Bethany. Lastly, with all this
agrees the notice in St. John vii. 14, that it was not at the beginning, but
'about the midst of the feast,' that 'Jesus went up into the Temple.' Although
travelling on the two first festive days was not actually unlawful, yet we can
scarcely conceive that Jesus would have done so - especially on the Feast of
Tabernacles; and the inference is obvious, that Jesus had tarried in the
immediate neighbourhood, as we know He did at Bethany in the house of Martha
67. St. Luke x. 38.
68. No one who impartially reads St. John xi. can doubt, that the persons there introduced are the Martha and Mary of this history, nor hence that their home was in Bethany.
Other things, also, do so explain themselves - notably, the
absence of the brother of Martha and Mary, who probably spent the festive days
in the City itself. It was the beginning of the Feast of Tabernacles, and the
scene recorded by St. Luke69
would take place in the open leafy booth which served as the sitting apartment
during the festive week. For, according to law, it was duty during the festive
week to eat, sleep, pray, study - in short, to live - in these booths, which
were to be constructed of the boughs of living trees.70
And, although this was not absolutely obligatory on women,71
yet, the rule which bade all make 'the booth the principal, and the house only
the secondary dwelling,'72
would induce them to make this leafy tent at least the sitting apartment alike
for men and women. And, indeed, those autumn days were just the season when it
would be joy to sit in these delightful cool retreats - the memorials of
Israel's pilgrim-days! They were high enough, and yet not too high; chiefly
open in front; close enough to be shady, and yet not so close as to exclude
sunlight and air. Such would be the apartment in which what is recorded passed;
and, if we add that this booth stood probably in the court, we can picture to
ourselves Martha moving forwards and backwards on her busy errands, and seeing,
as she passed again and again, Mary still sitting a rapt listener, not heeding
what passed around; and, lastly, how the elder sister could, as the language of
verse 40 implies, enter so suddenly the Master's Presence, bringing her
To understand this history, we must dismiss from our minds
preconceived, though, perhaps, attractive thoughts. There is no evidence that
the household of Bethany had previously belonged to the circle of Christ's
professed disciples. It was, as the whole history shows, a wealthy home. It
consisted of two sisters - the elder, Martha (a not uncommon Jewish name,73
being the feminine of Mar,74
and equivalent to our word 'mistress'); the younger, Mary; and their
brother Lazarus, or, Laazar.75
Although we know not how it came, yet, evidently, the house was Martha's, and
into it she received Jesus on His arrival in Bethany. It would have been no
uncommon occurrence in Israel for a pious, wealthy lady to receive a great
Rabbi into her house. But the present was not an ordinary case. Martha must
have heard of Him, even if she had not seen Him. But, indeed, the whole
that Jesus had come to Bethany with the view of accepting the hospitality of
Martha, which probably had been proffered when some of those 'Seventy,'
sojourning in the worthiest house at Bethany, had announced the near arrival of
the Master. Still, her bearing affords only indication of being drawn towards
Christ - at most, of a sincere desire to learn the good news, not of actual
73. See Levy, Neuhebr. W÷rterb. ad voc.
74. Martha occurs, however, also as a male name (in the Aramaic).
75. The name Laazar (rz(l), or Lazar, occurs frequently in Talmudic writings as an
abbreviated form of Elazar or Eleazar (rzaf(afl:)e).
76. Comp. St. Luke x. 38.
And so Jesus came - and, with Him and in Him, Heaven's own
Light and Peace. He was to lodge in one of the booths, the sisters in the
house, and the great booth in the middle of the courtyard would be the common
living apartment of all. It could not have been long after His arrival - it
must have been almost immediately, that the sisters felt they had received more
than an Angel unawares. How best to do Him honour, was equally the thought of
both. To Martha it seemed, as if she could not do enough in showing Him all
hospitality. And, indeed, this festive season was a busy time for the mistress
of a wealthy household, especially in the near neighbourhood of Jerusalem,
whence her brother might, after the first two festive days, bring with him, any
time that week, honoured guests from the City. To these cares was now added
that of doing sufficient honour to such a Guest - for she, also, deeply felt
His greatness. And so she hurried to and fro through the courtyard, literally,
about much serving.'
Her younger sister, also, would do Him all highest honour; but,
not as Martha. Her homage consisted in forgetting all else but Him, Who spake
as none had ever done. As truest courtesy or affection consists, nor in its
demonstrations, but in being so absorbed in the object of it as to forget its
demonstration, so with Mary in the Presence of Christ. And then a new Light,
another Day had risen upon her; a fresh life had sprung up within her soul:
'She sat at the Lord's Feet,78
and heard his Word.' We dare not inquire, and yet we well know, of what it
would be. And so, time after time - perhaps, hour after hour - as Martha passed
on her busy way, she still sat listening and living. At last, the sister who,
in her impatience, could not think that a woman could, in such manner, fulfill
her duty, or show forth her religious profiting, broke in with what sounds like
a querulous complaint: 'Lord, dost Thou not care that my sister did leave me to
serve alone?' Mary had served with her, but she had now left her to do
the work alone. Would the Master bid her resume her neglected work? But, with
tone of gentle reproof and admonition, the affectionateness of which appeared
even in the repetition of her name, Martha, Martha - as, similarly, on a later
occasion, Simon, Simon - did He teach her in words which, however simple in their
primary meaning, are so full, that they have ever since borne the most
many-sided application: 'Thou art careful and anxious about many things; but
one thing is needful;79
and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.'
78. This, instead of 'Jesus,' is the reading more generally received as correct.
79. Few would be disposed to adopt the proposed alternative reading (R.V., margin): 'but few things are needful, or one' - meaning, not much preparation, indeed,
only one dish is necessary.
It was, as we imagine, perhaps the first day of, or else the
preparation for, the Feast. More than that one day did Jesus tarry in the home
of Bethany. Whether Lazarus came then to see Him - and, still more, what both
Martha and Mary learned, either then, or afterwards, we reverently forbear to
search into. Suffice it, that though the natural disposition of the sisters
remained what it had been, yet henceforth, 'Jesus loved Martha and her sister.'