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I.—The Going Up (xx. 17-34).

WE have now reached the last stage of the long and sorrowful journey to Jerusalem. From the corresponding passage in the second Gospel we learn that the disciples were greatly moved by something in their Master's manner: "they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid." It would appear, indeed, that they had considerable hesitation in following at all, for it is pointedly mentioned that "Jesus went before them," a hesitation which was no doubt due to the same feeling which prompted Peter, on the first announcement of the journey to Jerusalem and what it would involve, to say "Be it far from Thee, Lord"; and as then, so now, the Saviour felt it as an obstacle in His onward path which He must resolutely put out of the way; and it was doubtless the new and severe effort required of that heroic will to set it aside, and in doing so to face the gathering storm alone, which explained His unwonted agitation as He addressed Himself to the last stage of the fatal journey.

Still, He longs to have His disciples in sympathy with Him. He knows well that not yet have they fully appreciated what He has said to them; accordingly, at 287 some convenient point on the way, He takes them by themselves and tells them once again, more distinctly and definitely than ever, what must be the issue of the step He is now taking (vv. 17-19). St. Luke tells us that even yet "they understood none of these things." Their minds must have been in a state of great bewilderment; and when we think of this, we may well admire that strong personal devotion to their Master which made them willing, however reluctantly and hesitatingly, still to follow Him into the dark unknown. With the one sad exception, they were thoroughly loyal to their King; they trusted Him absolutely; and though they could not understand why He should be mocked and scourged and crucified in His own capital, they were willing to go with Him there, in the full expectation that, in some way they then could not imagine, He should triumph over his enemies and erect those thrones and bring in that glory of the kingdom of which He had spoken.

This failure of theirs to comprehend the real situation, which one Evangelist mentions, is well illustrated by an incident which happened on the road as recorded by the others—one of those evidently undesigned coincidences which continually meet us, and which, in a higher degree than mere circumstantial agreements, confirm our faith in the accuracy of the sacred writers. "Then came to Him the mother of Zebedee's children with her sons, worshipping Him, and desiring a certain thing of Him,"—the "certain thing," as it turned out, being that the two sons should have the chief places of honour in the kingdom. From the form in which the request was presented it would seem as if it had been founded on a misapprehension of one of His own sayings. In St. Mark's Gospel, where the part which the two sons themselves had in it is related, the very 288 words of the application are given thus: "Master, we would that Thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire," as if to remind Him of His promise to any two of them who should agree as touching anything they should ask (xviii. 19), and to claim the fulfilment of it. It need not be assumed that the request was a purely selfish one. However vague their ideas may have been as to the days of darkness that awaited them in Jerusalem, we cannot suppose that they left them wholly out of view; and if not, they must have been prepared, or have thought themselves prepared, to take foremost places in the battlefield as well as in the triumph that would surely follow. There may well have been, then, a touch of chivalry along with the grosser motive which, it is to be feared, was their main inspiration.

This makes it easier for us to understand the possibility of their coming with such a request at such a time. We all know how easy it is to justify a selfish proceeding when there is something to offset it. We ourselves know how natural it is to think of those scriptures which suit our purpose, while we conveniently forget for the moment those that do not. Was it, then, unnatural that James and John, forgetting for the moment what their Lord had taught them as to the way to true greatness in His kingdom, should satisfy themselves with the thought that they were at all events taking up their cross in the first place, and as to the ulterior object were certainly acting up to the very plain and emphatic word of the Master Himself: "I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them."

This view of their state of mind is confirmed by our Lord's way of dealing with them. He first asks them 289 what it is they have agreed upon; and, when the mother tells Him, He quietly shows them that, so far from agreeing together, none of them know what they are asking. They are all using the same words, but the words might as well be in an unknown tongue,—better perhaps, inasmuch as to misunderstand is a degree worse than not to understand at all. He then proceeds to show them that the fulfilment of their request would involve issues for which as yet they were by no means prepared: "Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?" Their answer confirms the view suggested, that they did not leave out altogether the thought of cross-bearing; but we have only to remember what took place in the course of a week to see that in saying "We are able," they knew as little of what they were promising as they had known of what they were asking. He will not, however, break the bruised reed of their devotion, nor quench the feeblest spark of self-denying courage; accordingly He does not slight their offer, but, in accepting it, He reminds them that the honours of the kingdom of heaven are not for favourites, or for those who may first apply, but only for those who approve themselves worthy in the sight of Him Who seeth all, and who rewards every man according to his deeds (ver. 23).

The ten were not much better than the two. It was natural, indeed, that, when they heard it, they should be "moved with indignation"; but, though natural, it was not Christian. Had they remembered the lesson of the little child, or even thought deeply enough of that very recent one about the last and the first, they would have been moved with something else than indignation. But need any one wonder that selfishness should be so 290 very hard to kill? Is it not true to nature? Besides, the Spirit had not yet been given, and therefore we need not wonder that even the plainest teaching of the Lord Himself failed to cast the selfish spirit out of His disciples then. "Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers." On the other hand, think of the marvellous patience of the Master. How disappointing it must have been at such a time to see in all of them a spirit so wholly at variance with all that by precept and example He had been labouring to instil into them! Yet without one word of reproach He teaches them the old lesson once again, gives them liberally the wisdom which they lack, and upbraids them not.

The words of Christ not only meet the case most fully, but reach far beyond the immediate occasion of their utterance. Thus He brings good out of evil, and secures that even the strife of His disciples shall make for "peace on earth." He begins by showing how absolutely in contrast to the kingdoms of the world is the kingdom He has come to establish. In them the great ones "lord it over" (R.V.) others; in it the great ones are those who serve. What a revolution of thought is involved in this simple contrast! of how much that is great and noble has it been the seed! The dignity of labour, the royalty of service, the pettiness of selfish ambition, the majesty of self-sacrificing love; the utter condemnation of the miserable maxim "Every man for himself"; the world's first question "What shall we have?" made the last, and its last question "What shall we give?" made the very first,—such are some of the fruits which have grown from the seed our Lord planted in so ungenial soil that day. We are, alas, still very far from realising that great ideal; but ever since that day, as an ideal, 291 it has never been quite out of sight. Early Christianity under the guidance of the apostles strove, though with all too little success, to realise it; the chivalry of the middle ages, with its glorification of knighthood,1616   The knight was originally a Knecht = a servant or slave. was an attempt to embody it; and what is the constitutionalism of modern times but the development of the principle in political life, the real power being vested not in the titular monarch, who represents ideally the general weal, but in a ministry, so designated to mark the fact that their special function is to minister or serve, the highest position in the realm bearing the humble title of Prime Minister, or first servant of the state. It is of value to have the principle before us as an ideal, even though it be buried under the tombstone of a name, the significance of which is forgotten; but when the kingdom of heaven shall be fully established on the earth, the ideal will be realised, not in political life only, but all through society. If only the ambition to serve our generation according to the will of God were to become universal, then would God's kingdom come and His will be done on earth even as it is in heaven.

Of this great principle of the heavenly kingdom the King Himself is the highest illustration: "even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many." There are those who write about "the service of man" as if the thought of it were a development of nineteenth-century enlightenment; but there it is in all its truth and grandeur in the life, and above all in the death, of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ! His entire life was devoted to the service of man; and His death was 292 but the giving up in one final act of surrender what had all along been consecrated to the same high and holy ministry.

These closing words of the great lesson are memorable, not only as setting before us the highest exemplification of the law of service, which as "Son of Man" Christ gave to the world; but as presenting the first intimation of the purpose of the great sacrifice He was about to offer at Jerusalem. Again and again He had told the disciples that it was necessary; but now for the first time does He give them an idea why it was necessary. It is too soon, indeed, to give a full explanation; it will be time enough to unfold the doctrine of atonement after the atonement has been actually made. Meantime He makes it plain that, while His whole life was a life of ministering as distinguished from being ministered unto, the supreme service He had come to render was the giving of His life as a ransom, something to be rendered up as a price which must be paid to redeem His people. It is plain from this way of putting it, that He viewed the giving up of His life as the means by which alone He could save the "many" who should, as His redeemed or ransomed ones, constitute His kingdom.

On the way to Jerusalem lay the beautiful city of Jericho. The place now called by that name is such a wretched assemblage of miserable hovels that it is difficult for the traveller to realise that the Jericho of the days of our Lord was not only the most luxurious place of resort in Palestine, but one that might vie with its fashionable rivals throughout the Roman Empire. Since the days of Herod the Great it had been the winter residence of the Court. Jerusalem being on 293 the cold hilltop, it was convenient to have within easy reach a warm and sheltered spot in the deep valley of the Jordan; and with a delightful winter climate and a rich and fertile soil, Jericho needed only the lavish expenditure of money to make it into "a little Paradise," as Josephus calls it. With its gardens of roses and groves of palm, it was, even before the time of Herod, so beautiful a place, that, as a gem of the East, Antony bestowed it on Cleopatra as an expression of his devotion; after it passed into the hands of Herod, a theatre was erected and an amphitheatre, and many other noble and costly buildings; and during the season it was thronged by the rich and the great of the land, among whom would be distinguished visitors from foreign parts. What effect would all this grandeur have on Christ and His disciples as they passed through it on their way to Jerusalem? We are not told. Two things only are noted as worthy of record: the salvation of a rich publican (Luke xix. 1-10), and the healing of two poor blind men. Not the gardens and palaces of the city, but its sins and sorrows, engage the Saviour's thoughts and occupy His time.

As a rule, we regard it as waste of time to deal with the "discrepancies" between the different Evangelists; but as one of the most serious of them all has been found here, it may be well to look at it, to see how much, or how little, it amounts to. First, the other Gospels speak of the cure of a blind man, and tell his name, Bartimæus; this one says that two blind men were cured, and does not mention any name. If the other Evangelists had said that only one was healed, there would have been a real discrepancy; but they do not. Another "discrepancy" which has been noticed is that St. Matthew says Christ "touched their eyes," 294 while the others do not mention the touch, but only tell us what He said; but surely there is no difficulty in supposing that Christ both touched the eyes and spoke the words at the same time. It is true that the words as recorded by St. Mark and St. Luke are not identical, but they are precisely to the same effect; and it is quite possible that every word which both of them report was actually said, and that other words besides were spoken which have not been preserved.

These differences are not discrepancies at all; but there remains one which may fairly enough be so characterised. The first and second Gospels represent the cure as taking place on the way into Jericho; the third puts it on the way out.

Various suppositions, more or less plausible, especially less, have been made to "reconcile" these two representations: such as the fact that there were really two Jerichos, the old and the new, the cure being wrought as the Saviour passed from the one to the other, so that both accounts would be strictly accurate; or again, that cures may have been wrought both in entering and in leaving Jericho. But why should we trouble ourselves to reconcile so small a difference? It is not of the slightest consequence whether the cure took place on the way in or on the way out. If it had been a point on which strict accuracy was essential, care would doubtless have been taken to note the very moment and the very spot where it took place—as, for example, in the case of the cure of the nobleman's son at Capernaum (John iv. 52); but it was not; and therefore we have no more reason to wonder at the variation in so unimportant a detail than at those variations from the accurate text which we continually find in the quotations from the Old Testament Scriptures. The 295 discrepancy does not in the slightest degree affect the credibility of any of the witnesses; it only serves, together with the other variations, to show the independence of the different accounts. How small must be the minds, or how strong the prejudices, of those who find support for their unbelief in discrepancies of which this is acknowledged to be one of the gravest examples!

It so happens, too, that there is no story in all the Gospels which shines more lustrously in its own light. It is full of beauty and pathos in all the versions of it which have come down to us; but most of all in the graphic story of St. Mark, to whose Gospel therefore its illustration may be regarded as belonging by special right.


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