THE MINISTRY OF LOVE, THE BLASPHEMY OF HATRED, AND THE MISTAKES OF EARTHLY AFFECTION
THE RETURN TO CAPERNAUM
HEALING OF THE DEMONISED DUMB
PHARISAIC CHARGE AGAINST CHRIST
THE VISIT OF CHRIST’S MOTHER AND BRETHREN
Luke 8:1-3 ; Matthew 9:32-35 ; Mark 3:22 ; Matthew 12:46-50
HOWEVER interesting and important to follow the steps of our Lord on His journey through Galilee, and to group in their order the notices of it in the Gospels, the task seems almost hopeless. In truth, since none of the Evangelists attempted – should we not say, ventured – to write a ‘Life’ of the Christ, any strictly historical arrangement lay outside their purpose. Their point of view was that of the internal, rather than the external development of this history. And so events, kindred in purpose, discourses bearing on the same subject, or parables pointing to the same stretch of truth, were grouped together; or, as in the present instance, the unfolding teaching of Christ and the growing opposition of His enemies exhibited by joining together notices which, perhaps, belong to different periods. And the lesson to us is, that, just as the Old Testament gives neither the national history of Israel, nor the biography of its heroes, but a history of the Kingdom of God in its progressive development, so the Gospels present not a ‘Life of Christ,’ but the history of the Kingdom of God in its progressive manifestation.
Yet, although there are difficulties connected with details, we can trace in outline the general succession of events. We conclude, that Christ was now returning to Capernaum from that Missionary journey 1 of which Nain had been the southernmost point. On this journey He was attended, not only by the Twelve, but by loving grateful women, who ministered to Him of their substance. Among them three are specially named. ‘Mary, called Magdalene,’ had received from Him special benefit of healing to body and soul. 2 Her designation as Magdalene was probably derived from her native city, Magdala, 3 just as several Rabbis are spoken of in the Talmud as ‘Magdalene’ (Magdelaah, or Magdelaya 4). Magdala, which was a Sabbath-day’s journey from Tiberias, 5 was celebrated for its dye-works, 6 and its manufactures of fine woollen textures, of which eighty are mentioned. 7 Indeed, all that district seems to have been engaged in this industry. 8 It was also reputed for its traffic in turtle-doves and pigeons for purifications – tradition, with its usual exaggeration of numbers, mentioning three hundred such shops. 9 Accordingly, its wealth was very great, and it is named among the three cities whose contributions were so large as to be sent in a wagon to Jerusalem. 10 But its moral corruption was also great, and to this the Rabbis attributed its final destruction. 11 Magdala had a Synagogue. 12 13 Its name was probably derived from a strong tower which defended its approaches, or served for outlook. This suggestion is supported by the circumstance, that what seems to have formed part, or a suburb of Magdala, 14 bore the names of ‘Fish-tower’ and ‘Tower of the Dyers.’ One at least, if not both these towers, would be near the landing-place, by the Lake of Galilee, and overlook its waters. The necessity for such places of outlook and defence, making the town a Magdala, would be increased by the proximity of the magnificent plain of Gennesaret, of which Josephus speaks in such rapturous terms. 15 Moreover, only twenty minutes to the north of Magdala descended the so-called ‘Valley of Doves’ (the Wady Hamâm), through which passed the ancient caravan-road that led over Nazareth to Damascus. The name ‘valley of doves’ illustrates the substantial accuracy of the Rabbinic descriptions of ancient Magdala. Modern travelers (such as Dean Stanley, Professor Robinson, Farrar, and others) have noticed the strange designation ‘Valley of Doves’ without being able to suggest the explanation of it, which the knowledge of its traffic in doves for purposes of purification at once supplies. Of the many towns and villages that dotted the shores of the Lake of Galilee, all have passed away except Magdala, which is still represented by the collection of mud hovels that bears the name of Mejdel. The ancient watch-tower which gave the place its name is still there, probably standing on the same site as that which looked down on Jesus and the Magdalene. To this day Magdala is celebrated for its springs and rivulets, which render it specially suitable for dyeworks; while the shell-fish with which these waters and the Lake are said to abound, 16 might supply some of the dye. 17
Such details may help us more clearly to realise the home, and with it, perhaps, also the upbringing and circumstances of her who not only ministered to Jesus in His Life, but, with eager avarice of love, watched ‘afar off’ His dying moments, 18 and then sat over against the new tomb of Joseph in which His Body was laid. 19 And the terrible time which followed she spent with her like-minded friends, who in Galilee had ministered to Christ, 20 in preparing those ‘spices and ointments’ 21 which the Risen Saviour would never require. For, on that Easter-morning the empty tomb of Jesus was only guarded by Angel-messengers, who announced to the Magdalene and Joanna, as well as the other women, 22 the gladsome tidings that His foretold Resurrection had become a reality. But however difficult the circumstances may have been, in which the Magdalene came to profess her faith in Jesus, those of Joanna (the Hebrew Yochani 23) must have been even more trying. She was the wife of Chuza, Herod’s Steward 24 – possibly, though not likely, the Court-official whose son Jesus had healed by the word spoken in Cana. 25 The absence of any reference to the event seems rather opposed to this supposition. Indeed, it seems doubtful, whether Chuza was a Jewish name.
In Jewish writings 26 the designation ()zafw@k@) 27 seems rather used as a by-name (‘little pitcher’) for a small, insignificant person, than as a proper name. 28 Only one other of those who ministered to Jesus is mentioned by name. It is Susanna, the ‘lily.’ The names of the other loving women are not written on the page of earth’s history, but only on that of the ‘Lamb’s Book of Life.’ And they ‘ministered to Him of their substance.’ So early did eternal riches appear in the grab of poverty; so soon did love to Christ find its treasure in consecrating it to His Ministry. And ever since has this been the law of His Kingdom, to our great humiliation and yet greater exaltation in fellowship with Him.
It was on this return-journey to Capernaum, probably not far from the latter place, that the two blind men had their sight restored. 29 It was then, also, that the healing of the demonised dumb took place, which is recorded in St. Matt. ix. 32-35, and alluded to in St. Mark iii. 22-30. This narrative must, of course, not be confounded with the somewhat similar event told in St. Matt. xii. 22-32, and in St. Luke xi. 14-26. The latter occurred at a much later period in our Lord’s life, when, as the whole context shows, the opposition of the Pharisaic party had assumed much larger proportions, and the language of Jesus was more fully denunciatory of the character and guilt of His enemies. That charge of the Pharisees, therefore, that Jesus cast out the demons through the Prince of the demons, 30 as well as His reply to it, will best be considered when it shall appear in its fullest development. This all the more, that we believe at least the greater part of our Lord’s answer to their blasphemous accusation, as given in St. Mark’s Gospel, 31 to have been spoken at that later period. 32
It was on this return-journey to Capernaum from the uttermost borders of Galilee, when for the first time He was not only followed by His twelve Apostles, but attended by the loving service of those who owed their all to His Ministry, that the demonized dumb was restored by the casting our of the demon. Even these circumstances show that a new stage in the Messianic course had begun. It is characterised by fuller unfolding of Christ’s teaching and working, and pari passu, by more fully developed opposition of the Pharisaic party. For the two went together, nor can they be distinguished as cause or effect. That new stage, as repeatedly noted, had opened on His return from the ‘Unknown Feast’ in Jerusalem, whence He seems to have been followed by the Pharisaic party. We have marked it so early as the call of the four disciples by the Lake of Galilee. But it first actively appeared at the healing of the paralytic in Capernaum, when, for the first time, we noticed the presence and murmuring of the Scribes, and, for the first time also, the distinct declaration about the forgiveness of sins on the part of Jesus. The same twofold element appeared in the call of the publican Matthew, and the cavil of the Pharisees at Christ’s subsequent eating and drinking with ‘sinners.’ It was in further development of this separation from the old and now hostile element, that the twelve Apostles were next appointed, and that distinctive teaching of Jesus addressed to the people in the ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ which was alike a vindication and an appeal. On the journey through Galilee, which now followed, the hostile party does not seem to have actually attended Jesus; but their growing, and now outspoken opposition is heard in the discourse of Christ about John the Baptist after the dismissal of his disciples, 33 while its influence appears in the unspoken thoughts of Simon the Pharisee.
But even before these two events, that had happened which would induce the Pharisaic party to increased measures against Jesus. It has already been suggested, that the party, as such, did not attend Jesus on His Galilean journey. But we are emphatically told, that tidings of the raising of the dead at Nain had gone forth into Judæa. 34 No doubt they reached the leaders at Jerusalem. There seems just sufficient time between this and the healing of the demonised dumb on the return-journey to Capernaum, to account for the presence there of those Pharisees, 35 who are expressly described by St. Mark 36 as ‘the Scribes which came down from Jerusalem.’
Other circumstances, also, are thus explained. Whatever view the leaders at Jerusalem may have taken of the raising at Nain, it could no longer be denied that miracles were wrought by Jesus. At least, what to us seem miracles, yet not to them, since, as we have seen, ‘miraculous’ cures and the expelling of demons lay within the sphere of their ‘extraordinary ordinary’ – were not miracles in our sense, since they were, or professed to be, done by their ‘own children.’ The mere fact, therefore, of such cures, would present no difficulty to them. To us a single well-ascertained miracle would form irrefragable evidence of the claims of Christ; to them it would not. They could believe in the ‘miracles,’ and yet not in the Christ. To them the question would not be, as to us, whether they were miracles – but, By what power, or in what Name, He did these deeds? From our standpoint, their opposition to the Christ would – in view of His Miracles – seem not only wicked. but rationally inexplicable. But ours was not their point of view. And here, again, we perceive that it was enmity of the Person and Teaching of Jesus which led to the denial of His claims. The inquiry: By what Power Jesus did these works? they met by the assertion, that it was through that of
Satan, or the Chief of the Demons. They regarded Jesus, as not only temporarily, but permanently, possessed by a demon, that is, as the constant vehicle of Satanic influence. And this demon was, according to them, none other than Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. 37 Thus, in their view, it was really Satan who acted in and through Him; and Jesus, instead of being recognised as the Son of God, was regarded as an incarnation of Satan; instead of being owned as the Messiah, was denounced and treated as the representative of the Kingdom of Darkness. All this, because the Kingdom which He came to open, and which He preached, was precisely the opposite of what they regarded as the Kingdom of God. Thus it was the essential contrariety of Rabbinism to the Gospel of the Christ that lay at the foundation of their conduct towards the Person of Christ. We venture to assert, that this accounts for the whole after-history up to the Cross.
Thus viewed, the history of Pharisaic opposition appears not only consistent, but is, so to speak, morally accounted for. Their guilt lay in treating that as Satanic agency which was of the Holy Ghost; and this, because they were of their father the Devil, and knew not, nor understood, nor yet loved the Light, their deeds being evil. They were not children of the light, but of that darkness which comprehended Him not Who was the Light. And now we can also understand the growth of active opposition to Christ. Once arrived at the conclusion, that the miracles which Christ did were due to the power of Satan, and that He was the representative of the Evil One, their course was rationally and morally chosen. To regard every fresh manifestation of Christ’s Power as only a fuller development of the power of Satan, and to oppose it with increasing determination and hostility, even to the Cross: such was henceforth the natural progress of this history. On the other hand, such a course once fully settled upon, there would, and could, be no further reasoning with, or against it on the part of Jesus. Henceforth His Discourses and attitude to such Judaism must be chiefly denunciatory, while still seeking – as, from the inward necessity of His Nature and the outward necessity of His Mission, He must – to save the elect remnant from this ‘untoward generation,’ and to lay broad and wide the foundations of the future Church. But the old hostile Judaism must henceforth be left to the judgment of condemnation, except in those tears of Divine pity which the Jew-King and Jewish Messiah wept over the Jerusalem that knew not the day of its visitation.
But all this, when the now beginning movement shall have reached its full proportions. 38 For the present, we mark only its first appearance. The charge of Satanic agency was, indeed, not quite new. It had been suggested, that John the Baptist had been under demoniacal influence, and this cunning pretext for resistance to his message had been eminently successful with the people. 39 The same charge, only in much fuller form, was not raised against Jesus. As ‘the multitude marvelled, saying, it was never so seen in Israel,’ the Pharisees, without denying the facts, had this explanation of them, to be presently developed to all its terrible consequences: that, both as regarded the casting out of the demon from the dumb man and all similar works, Jesus wrought it ‘through the Ruler of the Demons.’ 40 41
And so the edge of this manifestation of the Christ was blunted and broken. But their besetment of the Christ did not cease. It is to this that we attribute the visit of ‘the mother and brethren’ of Jesus, which is recorded in the three Synoptic Gospels. 42 Even this circumstance shows its decisive importance. It forms a parallel to the former attempts of the Pharisees to influence the disciples of Jesus, 43 and then to stir up the hostility of the disciples of John, 44 both of which are recorded by the three Evangelists. It also brought to light another distinctive characteristic of the Mission of Jesus. We place this visit of the ‘mother and brethren’ of Jesus immediately after His return to Capernaum, and we attribute it to Pharisaic opposition, which either filled those relatives of Jesus with fear for His safety, or made them sincerely concerned about His proceedings. Only if it meant some kind of interference with His Mission, whether prompted by fear or affection, would Jesus have so disowned their relationship.
But it meant more than this. As always, the positive went side by side with the negative. Without going so far, as with some of the Fathers, to see pride or ostentation in this, that the Virgin–Mother summoned Jesus to her outside the house, since the opposite might as well have been her motive, we cannot but regard the words of Christ as the sternest prophetic rebuke of all Mariolatry, prayer for the Virgin’s intercession, and, still more, of the strange doctrines about her freedom from actual and original sin, up to their prurient sequence in the dogma of the ‘Immaculate Conception.’
On the other hand, we also remember the deep reverence among the Jews for parents, which found even exaggerated expression in the Talmud. 45 46 And we feel that, of all in Israel, He, Who was their King, could not have spoken nor done what might even seem disrespectful to a mother. There must have been higher meaning in His words. That meaning would be better understood after His Resurrection. But even before that it was needful, in presence of interference or hindrance by earthly relationships, even the nearest and tenderest, and perhaps all the more in their case, to point to the higher and stronger spiritual relationship. And beyond this, to still higher truth. For, had He not entered into earthly kinship solely for the sake of the higher spiritual relationship which He was about to found; and was it not, then, in the most literal sense, that not those in nearest earthly relationship, but they who sat ‘about Him, nay, whoever shall do the will of God,’ were really in closest kinship with Him? Thus, it was not that Christ set lightly by His Mother, but that He confounded not the means with the end, nor yet surrendered the spirit for the letter of the Law of Love, when, refusing to be arrested or turned aside from His Mission, even for a moment, 47 He elected to do the Will of His Father rather than neglect it by attending to the wishes of the Virgin-Mother. As Bengel aptly puts it: He contemns not the Mother, but He places the Father first. 48 And this is ever the right relationship in the Kingdom of Heaven!