ON THE JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM
DEPARTURE FROM EPHRAIM BY WAY OF SAMARIA AND GALILEE
HEALING OF TEN LEPERS
PROPHETIC DISCOURSE OF THE COMING KINGDOM
ON DIVORCE: JEWISH VIEWS OF IT
THE BLESSING TO LITTLE CHILDREN
Matthew 19:1-15 ; Mark 10:1-16 ; Luke 17:11-19 ; Luke 18:15-17
The brief time of rest and quiet converse with His disciples in the retirement of Ephraim was past, and the Saviour of men prepared for His last journey to Jerusalem. All the three Synoptic Gospels mark this, although with varying details. 1 From the mention of Galilee by St. Matthew, and by St. Luke of Samaria and Galilee – or more correctly, ‘between (along the frontiers of) Samaria and Galilee,’ we may conjecture that, on leaving Ephraim, Christ made a very brief detour along the northern frontier to some place at the southern border of Galilee – perhaps to meet at a certain point those who were to accompany him on his final journey to Jerusalem. This suggestion, for it is no more, is in itself not improbable, since some of Christ’s immediate followers might naturally wish to pay a brief visit to their friends in Galilee before going up to Jerusalem. And it is further confirmed by the notice of St. Mark, that among those who had followed Christ there were ‘many women which came up with Him unto Jerusalem.’ For, we can scarcely suppose that these ‘many women’ had gone with Him in the previous autumn from Galilee to the Feast of Tabernacles, nor that they were with Him at the Feast of the Dedication, or had during the winter followed Him through Perea, nor yet that they had been at Bethany. All these difficulties are obviated if, as suggested, we suppose that Christ had passed from Ephraim along the border of Samaria to a place in Galilee, there to meet such of His disciples as would go up with Him to Jerusalem. The whole company would then form one of those festive bands which travelled to the Paschal Feast, nor would there be anything strange or unusual in the appearance of such a band, in this instance under the leadership of Jesus.
Another and deeply important notice, furnished by SS. Matthew and Mark, is, that during this journey through Perea, ‘great multitudes’ resorted to, and followed Him, and that ‘He healed’ and ‘taught them.’ This will account for the incidents and Discourses by the way, and also how, from among many deeds, the Evangelists may have selected for record what to them seemed the most important or novel, or else best accorded with the plans of their respective narratives.
Thus, to begin with, St. Luke alone relates the very first incident by the way, 7 and the first Discourse. 8 Nor is it difficult to understand the reason of this. To one who, like St. Matthew, had followed Christ in His Galilean Ministry, or, like St. Mark, had been the penman of St. Peter, there would be nothing so peculiar or novel in the healing of lepers as to introduce this on the overcrowded canvas of the last days. Indeed, they had both already recorded what may be designated as a typical healing of lepers. But St. Luke had not recorded such healing before; and the restoration of ten at the same time would seem to the ‘beloved physician’ matter, not only new in his narrative, but of the deepest importance. Besides, we have already seen, that the record of the whole of this East-Jordan Ministry is peculiar to St. Luke; and we can scarcely doubt that it was the result of personal inquiries made by the Evangelist on the spot, in order to supplement what might have seemed to him a gap in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark. This would explain his fullness of detail as regards incidents, and, for example, the introduction of the history of Zacchaeus, which to St. Mark, or rather to St. Peter, but especially to St. Matthew (himself once a publican), might appear so like that which they had so often witnessed and related, as scarcely to require special narration. On the same ground we account for the record by St. Luke of Christ’s Discourse predictive of the Advent of the Messianic Kingdom. 10 This Discourse is evidently in its place at the beginning of Christ’s last journey to Jerusalem. But the other two Evangelists merge it in the account of the fuller teaching on the same subject during the last days of Christ’s sojourn on earth.
It is a further confirmation of our suggestion as to the road taken by Jesus, that of the ten lepers whom, at the outset of His journey, He met when entering into a village, one was a Samaritan. It may have been that the district was infested with leprosy; or these lepers may, on tidings of Christ’s approach, have hastily gathered there. It was, as fully explained in another place, 12 in strict accordance with Jewish Law, that these lepers remained both outside the village and far from Him to Whom they now cried for mercy. And, without either touch or even command of healing, Christ bade them go and show themselves as healed to the priests. For this it was, as will be remembered, not necessary to repair to Jerusalem. Any priest might declare ‘unclean’ or ‘clean’ provided the applicants presented themselves singly, and not in company, 13 for his inspection. 14 And they went at Christ’s bidding, even before they had actually experienced the healing! So great was their faith, and, may we not almost infer, the general belief throughout the district, in the power of ‘the Master.’ And as they went, the new life coursed in their veins. Restored health began to be felt, just as it ever is, not before, nor yet after believing, but in the act of obedience of a faith that has not yet experienced the blessing.
But now the characteristic difference between these men appeared. Of the ten, equally recipients of the benefit, the nine Jews continued their way – presumably to the priests – while the one Samaritan in the number at once turned back, with a loud voice glorifying God. The whole event may not have occupied many minutes, and Jesus with his followers may still have stood on the same spot whence He bade the ten lepers go show themselves to the priests. He may have followed them with his eyes, as, but a few steps on their road of faith, health overtook them, and the grateful Samaritan, with voice of loud thanksgiving, hastened back to his Healer. No longer now did he remain afar off, but in humblest reverence fell on his face at the Feet of Him to Whom he gave thanks. This Samaritan 15 had received more than new bodily life and health: he had found spiritual life and healing.
But why did the nine Jews not return? Assuredly, they must have had some faith when first seeking help from Christ, and still more when setting out for the priests before they had experienced the healing. But perhaps, regarding it from our own standpoint, we may overestimate the faith of these men. Bearing in mind the views of the Jews at the time, and what constant succession of miraculous cures – without a single failure – had been witnessed these years, it cannot seem strange that lepers should apply to Jesus. Not yet perhaps did it, in the circumstances, involve very much greater faith to go to the priests at His bidding – implying, of course, that they were or would be healed. But it was far different to turn back and to fall down at His feet in lowly worship and thanksgiving. That made a man a disciple.
Many questions here suggest themselves: Did these nine Jews separate from the one Samaritan when they felt healed, common misfortune having made them companions and brethren, while the bond was snapped so soon as they felt themselves free of their common sorrow? The History of the Church and of individual Christians furnishes, alas! not a few analogous instances. Or did these nine Jews, in their legalism and obedience to the letter, go on to the priests, forgetful that, in obeying the letter, they violated the spirit of Christ’s command? Of this also there are, alas! only too many parallel cases which will occur to the mind. Or was it Jewish pride, which felt it had a right to the blessings, and attributed them, not to the mercy of Christ, but to God; or, rather, to their own relation as Israel to God? Or, what seems to us the most probable, was it simply Jewish ingratitude and neglect of the blessed opportunity now within their reach – a state of mind too characteristic of those who know not ‘the time of their visitation’ – and which led up to the neglect, rejection, and final loss of the Christ? Certain it is, that the Lord emphasised the terrible contrast in this between the children of the household and ‘this stranger.’ 16 And here another important lesson is implied in regard to the miraculous in the Gospels. The history shows how little spiritual value or efficacy they attach to miracles, and how essentially different in this respect their tendency is from all legendary stories. The lesson conveyed in this case is, that we may expect, and even experience, miracles, without any real faith in the Christ; with belief, indeed, in His Power, but without surrender to His Rule. According to the Gospels, a man might either seek benefit from Christ, or else receive Christ through such benefit. In the one case, the benefit sought was the object, in the other, the means; in the one, it was the goal, in the other, the road to it; in the one, it gave healing, in the other, brought salvation; in the one, it ultimately led away from, in the other, it led to Christ and to discipleship. And so Christ now spake it to this Samaritan: ‘Arise, go thy way; thy faith has made thee whole.’ But to all time there are here to the Church lessons of most important distinction.
The subject-matter of that Discourse is, in answer to Pharisaic ‘tempting,’ and exposition of Christ’s teaching in regard to the Jewish law and practice of divorce. The introduction of this subject in the narratives of St. Matthew and St. Mark seems, to say the least, abrupt. But the difficulty is entirely removed, or, rather, changed into undesigned evidence, when we fit it into the general history. Christ had advanced farther on His journey, and now once more encountered the hostile Pharisees. It will be remembered that He had met them before in the same part of the country, and answered their taunts and objections, among other things, by charging them with breaking in spirit that Law of which they professed to be the exponents and representatives. And this He had proved by reference to their views and teaching on the subject of divorce. This seems to have rankled in their minds. Probably they also imagined, it would be easy to show on this point a marked difference between the teaching of Jesus and that of Moses and the Rabbis, and to enlist popular feeling against Him. Accordingly, when these Pharisees again encountered Jesus, now on his journey to Judea, they resumed the subject precisely where it had been broken off when they had last met Him, only now with the object of ‘tempting Him.’ Perhaps it may also have been in the hope that, by getting Christ to commit Himself against divorce in Perea – the territory of Herod – they might enlist against Him, as formerly against the Baptist, the implacable hatred of Herodias.
But their main object evidently was to involve Christ in controversy with some of the Rabbinic Schools. This appears from the form in which they put the question, whether it was lawful to put away a wife ‘for every cause?’ St. Mark, who gives only a very condensed account, omits this clause; but in Jewish circles the whole controversy between different teachers turned upon this point. All held that divorce was lawful, the only question being as to its grounds. We will not here enter on the unsavoury question of ‘Divorce’ among the Jews, 28 to which the Talmud devotes a special tractate. 29 There can, however, be no question that the practice was discouraged by many of the better Rabbis, alike in word 30 and by their example; nor yet, that the Jewish Law took the most watchful care of the interests of the woman. In fact, if any doubt were raised as to the legal validity of the letter of divorce, the Law always pronounced against the divorce. At the same time, in popular practice, divorce must have been very frequent; while the principles underlying Jewish legislation on the subject are most objectionable. 32 These were in turn due to a comparatively lower estimate of woman, and to an unspiritual view of the marriage-relation. Christianity has first raised woman to her proper position, not by giving her a new one, but by restoring and fully developing that assigned to her in the Old Testament. Similarly, as regards marriage, the New Testament – which would have us to be, in one sense, ‘eunuchs for the Kingdom of God,’ has also fully restored and finally developed what the Old Testament had already implied. And this is part of the lesson taught in this Discourse, both to the Pharisees and to the disciples.
To begin with, divorce (in the legal sense) was regarded as a privilege accorded only to Israel, not to the Gentiles. On the question: what constituted lawful grounds of divorce, the Schools were divided. Taking their departure from the sole ground of divorce mentioned in Deuteronomy 24 v 1: ‘a matter of shame [literally, nakedness],’ the School of Shammai applied the expression only to moral transgressions, and, indeed, exclusively to unchastity. 36 It was declared that, if a woman were as mischievous as the wife of Ahab, or [according to tradition] as the wife of Korah, it were well that her husband should not divorce her, except it be on the ground of adultery. At the same time this must not be regarded as a fixed legal principle, but rather as an opinion and good counsel for conduct. The very passages, from which the above quotations are made, also afford only too painful evidence of the laxity of views and practices current. And the Jewish Law unquestionably allowed divorce on almost any grounds; the difference being, not as to what was lawful, but on what grounds a man should set the Law in motion, and make use of the absolute liberty which it accorded him. Hence, it is a serious mistake on the part of Commentators to set the teaching of Christ on this subject by the side of that of Shammai.
But the School of Hillel proceeded on different principles. It took the words, ‘matter of shame’ in the widest possible sense, and declared it sufficient ground for divorce if a woman had spoiled her husband’s dinner. 38 39 Rabbi Akiba thought, that the words, 40 ‘if she find no favour in his eyes,’ implied that it was sufficient if a man had found another woman more attractive than his wife. All agreed that moral blame made divorce a duty, 41 and that in such cases a woman should not be taken back. 42 According to the Mishnah, 43 if they transgressed against the Law of Moses or of Israel. The former is explained as implying a breach of the laws of tithing, of setting apart the first of the dough, and of purification. The latter is explained as referring to such offences as that of going in public with uncovered head, of spinning in the public streets, or entering into talk with men, to which others add, that of brawling, or of disrespectfully speaking of her husband’s parents in his presence. A troublesome, 44 or quarrelsome wife might certainly be sent away; 45 and ill repute, or childlessness (during ten years) were also regarded as valid grounds of divorce. 46
Incomparably as these principles differ from the teaching of Christ, it must again be repeated, that no real comparison is possible between Christ and even the strictest of the Rabbis, since none of them actually prohibited divorce, except in case of adultery, nor yet laid down those high eternal principles which Jesus enunciated. But we can understand how, from the Jewish point of view, ‘tempting Him,’ they would put the question, whether it was lawful to divorce a wife ‘for every cause.’ 47 Avoiding their cavils, the Lord appealed straight to the highest authority – God’s institution of marriage. He, Who at the beginning had made them male and female, had in the marriage-relation ‘joined them together,’ to the breaking of every other, even the nearest, relationship, to be ‘one flesh’ – that is, to a union which was unity. Such was the fact of God’s ordering. It followed, that they were one – and what God had willed to be one, man might not put asunder. Then followed the natural Rabbinic objection, why, in such case, Moses had commanded a bill of divorcement. Our Lord replied by pointing out that Moses had not commanded divorce, only tolerated it on account of their hardness of heart, and in such case commanded to give a bill of divorce for the protection of the wife. And this argument would appeal the more forcibly to them, that the Rabbis themselves taught that a somewhat similar concession had been made 50 by Moses in regard to female captives of war, as the Talmud has it, ‘on account of the evil impulse.’ 51 But such a separation, our Lord continued, had not been provided for in the original institution, which was a union to unity. Only one thing could put an end to that unity – its absolute breach. Hence, to divorce one’s wife (or husband) while this unity lasted, and to marry another, was adultery, because, as the divorce was null before God, the original marriage still subsisted – and, in that case, the Rabbinic Law would also have forbidden it. The next part of the Lord’s inference, that ‘whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery,’ is more difficult of interpretation. Generally, it is understood as implying that a woman divorced for adultery might not be married. But it has been argued, 52 that, as the literal rendering is, ‘whoso marrieth her when put away,’ it applies to the woman whose divorce had just before been prohibited, and not, as is sometimes thought, to ‘a woman divorced [under any circumstances].’ Be this as it may, the Jewish Law, which regarded marriage with a woman divorced under any circumstances as unadvisable, absolutely forbade that of the adulterer with the adulteress. 54
Whatever, therefore, may be pleaded, on account of ‘the hardness of heart’ in modern society, in favour of the lawfulness of relaxing Christ’s law of divorce, which confines dissolution of marriage to the one ground (of adultery), because then the unity of God’s making has been broken by sin – such a retrocession was at least not in the mind of Christ, nor can it be considered lawful, either by the Church or for individual disciples. But, that the Pharisees had rightly judged, when ‘tempting Him,’ what the popular feeling on the subject would be, appears even from what ‘His disciples’ [not necessarily the Apostles] afterwards said to Him. They waited to express their dissent till they were alone with Him ‘in the house,’ 55 and then urged that, if it were as Christ had taught, it would be better not to marry at all. To which the Lord replied, 56 that ‘this saying’ of the disciples, 57 ‘it is not good to marry,’ could not be received by all men, but only by those to whom it was ‘given.’ For, there were three cases in which abstinence from marriage might lawfully be contemplated. In two of these it was, of course, natural; and, where it was not so, a man might, ‘for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake’ – that is, in the service of God and of Christ – have all his thoughts, feelings, and impulses so engaged that others were no longer existent. For, we must here beware of a twofold misunderstanding. It is not bare abstinence from marriage, together, perhaps, with what the German Reformers called unchaste continency, which is here commended, but such inward preoccupation with the Kingdom of God as would remove all other thoughts and desires. 58 It is this which requires to be ‘given’ of God; and which ‘he that is able to receive it’ – who has the moral capacity for it – is called upon to receive. Again, it must not be imagined that this involves any command of celibacy: it only speaks of such who in the active service of the Kingdom feel, that their every thought is so engrossed in the work, that wishes and impulses to marriage are no longer existent in them.