Chapter 18 | Table
of Contents | Chapter 20
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE ASCENT: FROM THE RIVER JORDAN TO THE MOUNT OF
THE RETURN TO CAPERNAUM
HEALING OF THE CENTURION'S SERVANT
(St. Matthew 8:1,5-15; St. Mark 3:20,21; St. Luke 7:1-10.)
We are once again in Capernaum. It is remarkable how much, connected
not only with the Ministry of Jesus, but with His innermost Life, gathers
around that little fishing town. In all probability its prosperity was chiefly
due to the neighbouring Tiberias, which Herod Antipas1
had built, about ten years previously. Noteworthy is it also, how many of the
most attractive characters and incidents in the Gospel-history are connected
with that Capernaum, which, as a city, rejected its own real glory, and, like
Israel, and for the same reason, at last incurred a prophetic doom commensurate
to its former privileges.2
1. For a discussion of the precise date of the building of Tiberias, see Schürer, Neutest. Zeitgesch. p. 234, note 2. For details, comp. Jos. Ant. xviii. 2. 3; 6. 2; xix. 8. 1; War ii. 9. 1; 21. 3, 6, 9; Life 9, 12, 17, 66, and many other places.
2. St. Luke x. 15.
But as yet Capernaum was still 'exalted up to heaven.' Here was
the home of that believing Court-official, whose child Jesus had healed.3
Here also was the household of Peter; and here the paralytic had found, together
with forgiveness of his sins, health of body. Its streets, with their outlook
on the deep blue Lake, had been thronged by eager multitudes in search of life
to body and soul. Here Matthew-Levi had heard and followed the call of Jesus;
and here the good Centurion had in stillness learned to love Israel, and serve
Israel's King, and built with no niggard hand that Synagogue, most splendid of
those yet exhumed in Galilee, which had been consecrated by the Presence and
Teaching of Jesus, and by prayers, of which the conversion of Jairus, its chief
ruler, seems the blessed answer. And now, from the Mount of Beatitudes, it was
again to His temporary home at Capernaum that Jesus retired.4
Yet not either to solitude or to rest. For, of that multitude which had hung
entranced on His Words many followed Him, and there was now such constant
pressure around Him, that, in the zeal of their attendance upon the wants and
demands of those who hungered after the Bread of Life, alike Master and
disciples found not leisure so much as for the necessary sustenance of the
3. St. John iv.
4. St. Mark iii. 19-21.
The circumstances, the incessant work, and the all-consuming
zeal which even 'His friends' could but ill understand, led to the apprehension
- the like of which is so often entertained by well-meaning persons in all
ages, in their practical ignorance of the all-engrossing but also sustaining
character of engagements about the Kingdom - that the balance of judgment might
be overweighted, and high reason brought into bondage to the poverty of our
earthly frame. In its briefness, the account of what these 'friends,' or rather
'those from Him' - His home - said and did, is most pictorial. On tidings
with reiterated, growing, and perhaps Orientally exaggerating details, they
hastened out of their house in a neighbouring street6
to take possession of Him, as if He had needed their charge. It is not
necessary to include the Mother of Jesus in the number of those who actually
went. Indeed, the later express mention of His 'Mother and brethren'7
seems rather opposed to the supposition. Still less does the objection deserve
that any such procedure, assumedly, on the part of the Virgin-Mother, would be
incompatible with the history of Jesus' Nativity. For, all must have felt, that
'the zeal' of God's House was, literally, 'consuming' Him, and the other view
of it, that it was setting on fire, not the physical, but the psychical
framework of His humiliation, seems in no way inconsistent with what loftiest,
though as yet dim, thought had come to the Virgin about her Divine Son. On the
other hand, this idea, that He was 'beside Himself,' afforded the only
explanation of what otherwise would have been to them well-nigh inexplicable.
To the Eastern mind especially this want of self-possession, the being 'beside'
oneself, would point to possession by another - God or Devil. It was on the
ground of such supposition that the charge was so constantly raised by the
Scribes, and unthinkingly taken up by the people, that Jesus was mad, and had a
devil: not a demoniacal possession, be it marked, but possession by the Devil,
in the absence of self-possessedness. And hence our Lord characterised this
charge as really blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. And this also explains how,
while unable to deny the reality of His Works, they could still resist their
5. I take this as the general meaning, although the interpretation which paraphrases the elegon gar ('they said,'
ver. 21) as referring to the report which reached the oi par autou seems to me strained. Those who are curious will find all kinds of proposed interpretations collected in Meyer, ad loc.
6. The idea that they were in Nazareth seems wholly unfounded.
7. St. Mark iii. 31.
8. Urged even by Meyer.
However that incident may for the present have ended, it could
have caused but brief interruption to His Work. Presently there came the
summons of the heathen Centurion and the healing of His servant, which both St.
Matthew and St. Luke record, as specially bearing on the progressive unfolding
of Christ's Mission. Notably - these two Evangelists; and notably - with
variations due to the peculiar standpoint of their narratives. No really
serious difficulties will be encountered in trying to harmonise the details of
these two narratives; that is, if any one should attach importance to such
precise harmony. At any rate, we cannot fail to perceive the reason of these
variations. Meyer regards the account of St. Luke as the original, Keim
that of St. Matthew - both on subjective rather than historical grounds.9
But we may as well note, that the circumstance, that the event is passed over
by St. Mark, militates against the favourite modern theory of the Gospels being
derived from an original tradition (what is called the 'original Mark,' Ur-Marcus).10
9. The difficulties which Keim raises seem to me little deserving of serious treatment. Sometimes they rest on assumptions which, to say the least, are not grounded on evidence.
10. Godet has some excellent remarks on this point.
If we keep in view the historical object of St. Matthew, as
primarily addressing himself to Jewish, while St. Luke wrote more especially
for Gentile readers, we arrive, at least, at one remarkable outcome of the
variations in their narratives. Strange to say, the Judęan Gospel gives the
pro-Gentile, the Gentile narrative the pro-Jewish, presentation of the event.
Thus, in St. Matthew the history is throughout sketched as personal and direct
dealing with the heathen Centurion on the part of Christ, while in the Gentile
narrative of St. Luke the dealing with the heathen is throughout indirect, by
the intervention of Jews, and on the ground of the Centurion's spiritual
sympathy with Israel. Again, St. Matthew quotes the saying of the Lord which
holds out to the faith of Gentiles a blessed equality with Israel in the great
hope of the future, while it puts aside the mere claim of Israel after the flesh,
and dooms Israel to certain judgment. On the other hand, St. Luke omits all
this. A strange inversion it might seem, that the Judęan Gospel should contain
what the Gentile account omits, except for this, that St. Matthew argues with
his countrymen the real standing of the Gentiles, while St. Luke pleads with
the Gentiles for sympathy and love with Jewish modes of thinking. The one is
not only an exposition, but a justification, of the event as against Israel;
the other an Eirenicon, as well as a touching representation of the plea
of the younger with his elder brother at the door of the Father's House.
But the fundamental truth in both accounts is the same; nor is
it just to say that in the narrative the Gentiles are preferred before Israel.
So far from this, their faith is only put on an equality with that of believing
Israel. It is not Israel, but Israel's fleshly claims and unbelief, that are
rejected; and Gentile faith occupies, not a new position outside Israel, but
shares with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob the fulfilment of the promise made to
their faith. Thus we have here the widest Jewish universalism, the true
interpretation of Israel's hope; and this, even by the admission of our
opponents,11 not as a
later addition, but as forming part of Christ's original teaching. But if so,
it revives, only in accentuated manner, the question: Whence this essential
difference between the teaching of Christ on this subject, and that of
11. So notably Keim.
Yet another point may be gained from the admissions of negative
criticism, at least on the part of its more thoughtful representatives. Keim
is obliged to acknowledge the authenticity of the narrative. It is immaterial
here which 'recension' of it may be regarded as the original. The Christ did
say what the Gospels represent! But Strauss has shown, that in such case
any natural or semi-natural explanation of the healing is impossible.
Accordingly, the 'Trilemma' left is: either Christ was really what the
Gospels represent Him, or He was a daring enthusiast, or (saddest of all) He
must be regarded as a conscious impostor. If either of the two last
alternatives were adopted, it would, in the first instance, be necessary to
point out some ground for the claim of such power on the part of Jesus. What
could have prompted Him to do so? Old Testament precedent there was none;
certainly not in the cure of Naaman by Elisha.12
And Rabbinic parallelism there was none. For, although a sudden cure, and at a
distance, is related in connection with a Rabbi,13
all the circumstances are absolutely different. In the Jewish story recourse
was, indeed, had to a Rabbi; but for prayer that the sick might be healed of
God, not for actual healing by the Rabbi. Having prayed, the Rabbi informed the
messengers who had come to implore his help, that the fever had left the sick.
But when asked by them whether he claimed to be a prophet, he expressly
repudiated any prophetic knowledge, far more any supernatural power of healing,
and explained that liberty in prayer always indicated to him that his prayer
had been answered. All analogy thus failing, the only explanation left to
negative criticism, in view of the admitted authenticity of the narrative, is,
that the cure was the result of the psychical influence of the Centurion's
faith and of that of his servant. But what, in that case, of the words which
Jesus admittedly spoke? Can we, as some would have it, rationally account for
their use by the circumstance that Jesus had had experience of such psychical
influences on disease? or that Christ's words were, so to speak, only an
affirmation of the Centurion's faith - something between a 'benedictory wish'
and an act? Surely, suggestions like these carry their own refutation.
12. The differences have been well marked by Keim.
13. Ber. 34 b.
Apart, then, from explanations which have been shown untenable,
what is the impression left on our minds of an event, the record of which is
admitted to be authentic? The heathen Centurion is a real historical personage.
He was captain of the troop quartered in Capernaum, and in the service of Herod
Antipas. We know that such troops were chiefly recruited from Samaritans and
Gentiles of Cęsarea.14
Nor is there the slightest evidence that this Centurion was a 'proselyte of
righteousness.' The accounts both in St. Matthew and in St. Luke are
incompatible with this idea. A 'proselyte of righteousness' could have had no
reason for not approaching Christ directly, nor would he have spoken of himself
as 'unfit' that Christ should come under his roof. But such language quite
accorded with Jewish notions of a Gentile, since the houses of Gentiles
were considered as defiled, and as defiling those who entered them.15
On the other hand, the 'proselytes of righteousness' were in all respects equal
to Jews, so that the words of Christ concerning Jews and Gentiles, as reported
by St. Matthew, would not have been applicable to them. The Centurion was
simply one who had learned to love Israel and to reverence Israel's God; one
who, not only in his official position, but from love and reverence, had built
that Synagogue, of which, strangely enough, now after eighteen centuries, the
remains,16 in their
rich and elaborate carvings of cornices and entablatures, of capitals and
niches, show with what liberal hand he had dealt his votive offerings.
14. Jos. Ant. xix. 9. 1, 2.
15. Ohal xxviii. 7.
16. Comp. Warren, Recovery of Jerusalem, p. 385 &c.
We know too little of the history of the man, to judge what earlier
impulses had led him to such reverence for Israel's God. There might have been
something to incline him towards it in his early upbringing, perhaps in
Cęsarea; or in his family relationships; perhaps in that very servant (possibly
a Jew) whose implicit obedience to his master seems in part to have led him up
to faith in analogous submission of all things to the behests of Christ.17
The circumstances, the times, the place, the very position of the man, make
such suppositions rational, event suggested them. In that case, his whole
bearing would be consistent with itself, and with what we know of the views and
feelings of the time. In the place where the son of his fellow official at the
Court of Herod had been healed by the Word of Jesus, spoken at a distance,18
in the Capernaum which was the home of Jesus and the scene of so many miracles,
it was only what we might expect, that in such case he should turn to Jesus and
ask His help. Quiet consistent with his character is the straightforwardness of
his expectancy, characteristically illustrated by his military experience -
what Bengel designates as the wisdom of his faith beautifully shining
out in the bluffness of the soldier. When he had learned to own Israel's God,
and to believe in the absolute unlimited power of Jesus, no such difficulties
would come to him, nor, assuredly, such cavils rise, as in the minds of the
Scribes, or even of the Jewish laity. Nor is it even necessary to suppose that,
in his unlimited faith in Jesus, the Centurion had distinct apprehension of His
essential Divinity. In general, it holds true, that, throughout the Evangelic
history, belief in the Divinity of our Lord was the outcome of experience of
His Person and Work, not the condition and postulate of it, as is the case
since the Pentecostal descent of the Holy Ghost and His indwelling in the
17. St. Luke vii. 8, last clause.
18. St. John iv. 46-53.
In view of these facts, the question with the Centurion would
be: not, Could Jesus heal his servant, but, Would He do so? And
again, this other specifically: Since, so far as he knew, no application from
any in Israel, be it even publican or sinner, had been doomed to
disappointment, would he, as a Gentile, be barred from share in this blessing?
was he 'unworthy,' or, rather, 'unfit' for it? Thus this history presents a
crucial question, not only as regarded the character of Christ's work, but the
relation to it of the Gentile world. Quiet consist with this - nay, its
necessary outcome - were the scruples of the Centurion to make direct, personal
application to Jesus. In measure as he reverenced Jesus, would these scruples,
from his own standpoint, increase. As the houses of Gentiles were 'unclean,'19
entrance into them, and still more familiar fellowship, would 'defile.' The
Centurion must have known this; and the higher he placed Jesus on the pinnacle
of Judaism, the more natural was it for him to communicate with Christ through
the elders of the Jews, and not to expect the Personal Presence of the Master,
even if the application to him were attended with success. And here it is important
(for the criticism of this history) to mark that, alike in the view of the
Centurion, and even in that of the Jewish elders who under-took his commission,
Jesus as yet occupied the purely Jewish stand-point.
19. Ohal xviii. 7.
Closely considered, whatever verbal differences, there is not
any real discrepancy in this respect between the Judęan presentation of
the event in St. Matthew and the fuller Gentile account of it by St. Luke. From
both narratives we are led to infer that the house of the Centurion was not in
Capernaum itself, but in its immediate neighbourhood, probably on the road to
Tiberias. And so in St. Matt. viii. 7, we read the words of our Saviour when
consenting: 'I, having come, will heal him;' just as in St. Luke's narrative a
space of time intervenes, in which intimation is conveyed to the Centurion,
when he sends 'friends' to arrest Christ's actual coming into his house.20
Nor does St. Matthew speak of any actual request on the part of the Centurion,
even though at first sight his narrative seems to imply a personal appearance.21
The general statement 'beseeching Him' - although it is not added in what
manner, with what words, nor for what special thing - must be explained by more
detailed narrative of the embassy of Jewish Elders.22
There is another marked agreement in the seeming difference of the two
accounts. In St. Luke's narrative, the second message of the Centurion embodies
two different expressions, which our Authorised Version unfortunately renders
by the same word. It should read: 'Trouble not Thyself, for I am not fit
(Levitically speaking) that Thou shouldest enter under my roof;' Levitically,
or Judaistically speaking, my house is not a fit place for Thy entrance;
'Wherefore neither did I judge myself worthy (spiritually, morally,
religiously) [hxiwsa, Pondus
habens, ejusdem ponderis cum aliqo, pretio aequans] to come unto Thee.' Now,
markedly, in St. Matthew's presentation of the same event to the Jews, this
latter 'worthiness' is omitted, and we only have St. Luke's first term, 'fit' (ikanoV): 'I am not fit that thou
shouldest come under my roof,' my house is unfitting Thine entrance. This seems
to bear out the reasons previously indicated for the characteristic
peculiarities of the two narratives.
20. St. Luke vii. 6.
21. St. Matt. viii. 5.
22. Without the article; perhaps only some of them went on this errand of mercy.
But in their grand leading features the two narratives entirely
agree. There is earnest supplication for his sick, seemingly dying servant.23
Again, the Centurion in the fullest sense believes in the power of Jesus to
heal, in the same manner as he knows his own commands as an officer would be
implicitly obeyed; for, surely, no thoughtful reader would seriously entertain
the suggestion, that the military language of the Centurion only meant, that he
regarded disease as caused by evil demons or noxious power who obeyed Jesus, as
soldiers or servants do their officer or master. Such might have been the
underlying Jewish view of the times; but the fact, that in this very thing
Jesus contrasted the faith of the Gentile with that of Israel, indicates that
the language in question must be taken in its obvious sense. But in his
self-acknowledged 'unfitness' lay the real 'fitness' of this good soldier for
membership with the true Israel; and his deep-felt 'unworthiness' the real
'worthiness' (the ejusdem ponderis) for 'the Kingdom' and its blessings.
It was this utter disclaimer of all claim, outward or inward, which prompted
that absoluteness of trust which deemed all things possible with Jesus, and
marked the real faith of the true Israel. Here was one, who was in the state
described in the first clauses of the 'Beatitudes,' and to whom came the
promise of the second clauses; because Christ is the connecting link between
the two, and because He consciously was such to the Centurion, and, indeed, the
only possible connecting link between them.
23. St. Matt. viii. 6, literally, 'my servant has been thrown down (by disease) in the house, paralytic.' The beblhtai
corresponds to the Hebrew l+w+. The same word is used in ver. 14, when Peter's mother-in-law is described as 'thrown down and fever-burning.'
And so we mark it, in what must be regarded as the high-point
in this history, so far as its teaching to us all, and therefore the reason of
its record in the New Testament, is concerned: that participation in the
blessedness of the kingdom is not connected with any outward relationship
towards it, nor belongs to our inward consciousness in regard to it; but is
granted by the King to that faith which in deepest simplicity realises, and
holds fast by Him. And yet, although discarding every Jewish claim to them -
or, it may be, in our days, everything that is merely outwardly
Christian - these blessings are not outside, still less beyond, what was the
hope of the Old Testament, nor in our days the expectancy of the Church, but
are literally its fulfilment; the sitting down 'with Abraham, and Isaac, and
Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven.' Higher than, and beyond this not even
Christ's provision can take us.
But for the fuller understanding of the words of Christ, the
Jewish modes of thought, which He used in illustration, required to be briefly
explained. It was common belief, that in the day of the Messiah redeemed Israel
would be gathered to a great feast, together with the patriarchs and heroes of
the Jewish faith. This notion, which was but a coarsely literal application of
such prophetic figures as in Is. xxv. 6, had perhaps yet another and deeper
meaning. As each weekly Sabbath was to be honoured by a feast, in which the
best which the family could procure was to be placed on the board, so would the
world's great Sabbath be marked by a feast in which the Great Householder,
Israel's King, would entertain His household and Guests. Into the painfully,
and, from the notions of the times, grossly realistic description of this
feast,24 it is
needless here to enter. One thing, however, was clear: Gentiles could have no
part in that feast. In fact, the shame and anger of 'these' foes on seeing the
'table spread' for this Jewish feast was among the points specially noticed as
fulfilling the predictions of Ps. xxiii. 5.25
On this point, then, the words of Jesus in reference to the believing Centurion
formed the most marked contrast to Jewish teaching.
24. One might say that all the species of animals are put in requisition of this great feast: Leviathan (B. Bath. 75 a); Behemoth (Pirké d. R. Eliez. 11); the gigantic bird Bar Jochani (B. Bath. 73 b; Bekhor. 57 b, and other passages). Similar, fabulous fatted geese are mentioned - probably for that feast (B. Bath. 73 b). The wine there dispensed had been kept in the grapes from the creation of the world (Sanh. 99 a; Targum, on Cant. viii. 2); while there is difficulty as to who is worthy to return thanks, when at last the duty is undertaken by David, according to Ps. cxvi. 13 (Pes. 119 b).
25. Bemid. R. 21, ed. Warsh. iv. p. 85 a 57 a.
In another respect also we mark similar contrariety. When our
Lord consigned the unbelieving to 'outer darkness, where there is weeping and
gnashing of teeth,' he once more used Jewish language, only with opposite
application of it. Gehinnom - of which the entrance, marked by ever
was in the valley of Hinnom, between two palm trees - lay beyond 'the mountains
It was a place of darkness,28
to which in the day of the Lord,29
the Gentiles would be consigned.30
On the other hand, the merit of circumcision would in the day of the Messiah
deliver Jewish sinners from Gehinnom.31
It seems a moot question, whether the expression 'outer darkness'32
may not have been intended to designate - besides the darkness outside the
lighted house of the Father, and even beyond the darkness of Gehinnom - a place
of hopeless, endless night. Associated with it is 'weeping34
and the gnashing of teeth.' In Rabbinic thought the former was connected with
latter almost always anger36
- not, as generally supposed, with anguish.
26. Erub. 19 a.
27. Tamid 32 b.
28. Targ. on 1 Sam. ii. 9, Ps lxxxviii. 12.
29. Amos. v. 20.
30. Yaklkut ii. p. 42 c.
31. u. s. nine lines higher up.
32. St. Matt. viii. 12.
33. All commentators regard this as a contrast to the light in the palace, but so far as I know the Messianic feast is not described as taking place in a palace.
34. The use of the article makes it emphatic - as Bengel has it: In hac vita dolor nondum est dolor.
35. In Succ. 52 a it is said that in the age to come (Athid labho) God would bring out the Yetser haRa (evil impulse), and slaughter it before the just before the wicked. To the one he would appear like a great mountain, to the other like a small thread. Both would weep - the righteous for joy, that they had been able to subdue so great so great a mountain; the wicked for sorrow, that they had not been able even to break so small a thread.
36. This is also the meaning of the expression in Ps. cxii. 10. The verb is used with this idea in Acts vii. 54, and in the LXX, Job. xvi. 9; Ps. xxxv. 16; xxxvii. 12; and in Rabbinical writings, for example, Jer. Keth. 35 b; Shem. R. 5, &c.
To complete our apprehension of the contrast between the views
of the Jews and the teaching of Jesus, we must bear in mind that, as the
Gentiles could not possibly share in the feast of the Messiah, so Israel had
claim and title to it. To use Rabbinic terms, the former were 'children of
Gehinnom,' but Israel 'children of the Kingdom,'37
or, in strictly Rabbinic language, 'royal children,'38
'children of God,' 'of heaven,'39
'children of the upper chamber' (the Aliyah)40
and 'of the world to come.'41
In fact, in their view, God had first sat down on His throne as King, when the
hymn of deliverance (Ex. xv. 1) was raised by Israel - the people which took
upon itself that yoke of the Law which all other nations of the world had
37. St. Matt. viii. 12.
38. Shabb. xiv. 4.
39. Mwqml Mynb
Ab. iii. 14 comp. Jer. Kidd. 61 c middle.
40. Sanh. 97 b; Succ. 45 b.
41. Jer. Ber. 13 d, end.
42. Pesiqta 16 b; Shem. R. 23.
Never, surely, could the Judaism of His hearers have received
more rude shock than by this inversion of all their cherished beliefs. There was
a feast of Messianic fellowship, a recognition on the part of the King of all
His faithful subjects, a joyous festive gathering with the fathers of the
faith. But this fellowship was not of outward, but of spiritual kinship. There
were 'children of the Kingdom,' and there was an 'outer darkness' with its
anguish and despair. But this childship was of the Kingdom, such as He had
opened it to all believers; and that outer darkness theirs, who had only
outward claims to present. And so this history of the believing Centurion is at
the same time an application of the 'Sermon on the Mount' - in this also aptly
following the order of its record - and a further carrying out of its teaching.
Negatively, it differentiated the Kingdom from Israel; while, positively, it
placed the hope of Israel, and fellowship with its promises, within reach of
all faith, whether of Jew or Gentile. He Who taught such new and strange truth
could never be called a mere reformer of Judaism. There cannot be 'reform,'
where all the fundamental principles are different. Surely He was the Son of
God, the Messiah of men, Who, in such surrounding, could so speak to Jew and
Gentile of God and His Kingdom. And surely also, He, Who could so bring
spiritual life to the dead, could have no difficulty by the same word, 'in the
self-same hour,' to restore life and health to the servant of him, whose faith
had inherited the Kingdom. The first grafted tree of heathendom that had so
blossomed could not shake off unripe fruit. If the teaching of Christ was new
and was true, so must His work have been. And in this lies the highest
vindication of this miracle - that He is the Miracle.
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