(1) Here, again, the order of the facts narrated varies so much in the three Gospels that the labours of the harmonist are baffled.
(1.) The Paralytic, Matthew 9:1-8.
(2.) The call of Matthew, &c., Matthew 9:9-17.
(3.) Jairus, and the woman with an issue of blood, Matthew 9:18-26.
(4.) The two blind, Matthew 9:27-31.
(5.) The dumb, Matthew 9:32-34.
It will be seen that (1) and (2) are grouped together in all three, as are the two events in (3), but beyond this we cannot trace any systematic order, and the apparent notes of sequence are so far misleading. In this case. St. Matthew makes the return to Capernaum follow the healing of the Gadarene demoniacs. St. Mark and St. Luke place it after that of the leper, but as if they were uncertain as to its exact position, “after certain days,” or “on one of the days.”
It will be seen that (1) and (2) are grouped together in all threeIt will be seen that (1) and (2) are grouped together in all three, as are the two events in (3), but beyond this we cannot trace any systematic order, and the apparent notes of sequence are so far misleading. In this case. St. Matthew makes the return to Capernaum follow the healing of the Gadarene demoniacs. St. Mark and St. Luke place it after that of the leper, but as if they were uncertain as to its exact position, “after certain days,” or “on one of the days.”
Into his own city.—St. Mark states definitely Capernaum, which had become His “own city” since His departure from Nazareth (Matthew 4:13). That city, though the home of His childhood, is never so described.
A man sick of the palsy.—St. Matthew and St. Mark use the popular term “paralytic;” St. Luke, with perhaps more technical precision, the participle of the verb, “who was paralysed.” The man was borne on a couch (St. Mark uses the Greek form of the Latin grabatum, the bed or mattress of the poor) carried by four bearers (Mark 2:3). They sought to bring him through the door, but were hindered by the crowd; and then going outside the house, they got upon the roof, removed part of the roof (the light structure of Eastern houses made the work comparatively easy), let him down with ropes through the opening into the midst of the crowd, just in front of the Teacher (Mark 2:4; Luke 5:19). This persistency implied faith in His power to heal on the part both of the sick man and the bearers.
Son, be of good cheer.—Better, child. The word implies, perhaps (as in Luke 2:48), comparative youth, or, it may be, a fatherly tone of love and pity on the part of the speaker. Here, as elsewhere, pity is the starting-point of our Lord’s work of healing, and He looked with infinite tenderness on the dejected expression of the sufferer, who had lost heart and hope.
Thy sins be forgiven thee.—The English is to modern ears ambiguous, and suggests the thought of a prayer or wish. The Greek is, however, either the present or the perfect passive of the indicative, “Thy sins are” or “have been forgiven thee.” The words were addressed, we must believe, to the secret yearnings of the sufferer. Sickness had made him conscious of the burden of his sins, perhaps had come (as such forms of nervous exhaustion often do come) as the direct consequence of his sin. The Healer saw that the disease of the soul must first be removed, and that then would come the time for restoring strength to the body.
Wherefore think ye evil?—Literally, evil things. The thoughts were evil because, in face of the mighty works and the divine wisdom of the Teacher, they were assuming that He had wantonly spoken words that involved the most extreme of all forms of sin against the God in whose name He taught.
Arise, take up thy bed.—As St. Mark gives the words we have the very syllables that had been spoken to the “impotent man” at Bethesda (John 5:8), and in any case words identical in meaning; and the natural inference is that our Lord meant to recall what the scribes from Jerusalem had then seen and heard.
Which had given such power unto men.—It was natural that this should be the impression made on the great body of the hearers. They rested in the thought of a delegated authority, a “power given to men,” as such, without passing on to the deeper truth of the union of the manhood with God.
A man, named Matthew.—St. Mark and St. Luke give the name as Levi, the former adds that he was the “son of Alphæus.” The difference may be explained by assuming that in his case, as in that of “Simon who is called (or named) Peter” (Matthew 10:2), a new name was given that practically superseded the old. The meaning of Matthew—which, like Theodore, Dorotheus, and the like, means “the gift of God,” or, more strictly, “the gift of Jehovah”—makes a change of this kind in itself probable. If he were the son of Alphæus, he would be (assuming identity of person and of name) the brother of the James whose name appears with his own in the second group of four in the lists of the Twelve Apostles.
Sitting at the receipt of custom.—Literally, at the custom-house, the douane of the lake. The customs levied there were probably of the nature of an octroi on the fish, fruit, and other produce that made up the exports and imports of Capernaum.
And he saith unto him, Follow me.—St. Mark (Mark 2:13) makes the call follow close upon an unrecorded discourse addressed to the whole multitude of Capernaum. In the nature of the case it was probable that there had been, as in the analogous call of the sons of Jona and Zebedee, a preparation of some kind. A brother had been converted, his own heart had been touched, he had felt (see Note on Matthew 4:13) the presence of the new Teacher as light in the shadow of death.
He arose, and followed him.—St. Luke adds, “he left all.” There was not much to leave—his desk at the custom, his stipend or his percentage; but it was his all, and no man can leave more than that.
The children of the bridechamber—i.e., the guests invited to the wedding. The words implied, startling as that thought would be to them, that the feast in Matthew’s house was, in fact, a wedding-feast. His disciples were at once the guests of that feast individually; and collectively they were the new Israel, the new congregation or Ecclesia, which was, as our Lord taught in parable (Matthew 22:2), and St. Paul directly (Ephesians 5:25-27), and St. John in apocalyptic vision (Revelation 19:7; Revelation 21:2), the bride whom He had come to make His own, to cleanse, and to purify.
The days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them.—Noteworthy as the first recorded intimation in our Lord’s public teaching (that in John 3:14 was less clear until interpreted by the event, and was addressed to Nicodemus, and perhaps to him only, or, at the furthest, to St. John) of His coming death. The joy of the wedding-feast would cease, and then would come the long night of expectation, till once again there should be the cry, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh” (Matthew 25:6).
Then shall they fast.—The words can hardly be looked on as a command imposing fasting as a formal obligation, but, beyond all doubt, they sanction the principle on which fasting rests. The time that was to follow the departure of the Bridegroom would be one of sorrow, conflict, discipline, and at such a time the self-conquest implied in abstinence was the natural and true expression of the feelings that belonged to it. So the Christian Church has always felt; so it was, as the New Testament records, in the lives of at least two great apostles, St. Peter (Acts 10:10) and St. Paul (2 Corinthians 11:27). So far as it goes, however, the principle here asserted is in favour of fasts at special seasons of sorrow rather than of frequent and fixed fasts as a discipline, or meritorious act. In fixing her days of fasting, the Church of England, partly guided perhaps by earlier usage, has at least connected them with the seasons and days that call specially to meditation on the sterner, sadder side of truth.
New cloth—i.e., cloth that has not passed through the fuller’s hands—new and undressed, in its freshest and strongest state. Such a patch sewn upon a weak part of the old cloak would, on the first strain, tear the cloth near it.
The rent is made worse.—Better, there comes a worse rent. St. Luke adds another reason, “the piece put in agrees not with the old.”
The meaning of the parable in its direct application lies very near the surface. The “garment” is that which is outward, the life and conversation of the man, which show his character. The old garment is the common life of sinful men, such as Matthew and his guests; the new garment is the life of holiness, the religious life in its completeness; fasting, as one element of that life, is the patch of new cloth which agrees not with the old, and leads to a greater evil, a “worse rent” in the life than before. No one would so deal with the literal garment. Yet this was what the Pharisees and the disciples of John were wishing to do with the half-converted publicans. This, we may add, is what the Church of Christ has too often done in her work as the converter of the nations. Sacramental ordinances or monastic vows, or Puritan formulæ, or Quaker conventionalities, have been engrafted on lives that were radically barbarous, or heathen, or worldly, and the contrast has been glaring, and the “rent” made worse. The more excellent way, which our Lord pursued, and which it is our wisdom to pursue, is to take the old garment, and to transform it, as by a renewing power from within, thread by thread, till old things are passed away, and all things are become new.
St. Luke adds, as before, a new aspect of the illustration: “No man having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.” See Note on Luke 5:39.
A certain ruler.—St. Mark and St. Luke give the name Jairus, and state that he was “a ruler of the synagogue,” probably an elder, or one of the Parnasim or “pastors.” The fact is interesting as suggesting a coincidence between this narrative and that of the centurion’s servant. As a ruler of the synagogue, Jairus would probably have been among the elders of the Jews who came as a deputation to our Lord, and would thus have been impressed with His power to heal in cases which seemed hopeless.
My daughter is even now dead.—St. Luke adds, as one who had inquired into details, that she was the ruler’s only child, was twelve years old, and that she “lay a dying,” agreeing with St. Mark’s “is at the point of death,” literally, in extremis, “at the last gasp;” and both add that the crowd that followed “thronged” and “pressed” our Lord as He went.
Touched the hem of his garment.—The incidental notice is interesting as making up, together with Matthew 14:36, John 19:23, all that we know as to our Lord’s outward garb. There was first, nearest the body, the coat or tunic (χίτων) without seam, woven from the top throughout; then, over that, the garment or cloak (ίμάτιον), flowing loosely after the manner of the East; and this had its “border or fringe,” probably of a bright blue mingled with white, that on which the scribes and Pharisees laid stress as being in accordance with the Law (Numbers 15:38), and which they wore, therefore, of an ostentatious width (Matthew 23:5). Later tradition defined the very number of the threads or tassels of the fringe, so that they might represent the 613 precepts of the Law.
Thy faith hath made thee whole.—Literally, thy faith hath saved thee. The rendering of the Authorised version is not wrong, and yet it represents but part of the full meaning of the word. Her faith had saved her, in the higher as well as in the lower sense. The teaching of the narrative lies almost on the surface. There may be imperfect knowledge, false shame, imperfect trust, and yet if the germ of faith be there, Christ, the Healer both of the souls and bodies of men, recognises even the germ, and answers the longing desire of the soul to be freed from its uncleanness. Other healers may have been sought in vain, but it finds its way through the crowd that seems to hinder its approach, and the “virtue” which it seeks goes forth even from the “hem of the garment,” even through outward ordinances (for thus we interpret the miracle, which is also a parable), which in themselves have no healing power. Eusebius, in his Church History (vii. 13), states that the woman belonged to Cæsarea Philippi, and that, in thankfulness for her cure, she set up two statues in bronze—one of herself in the attitude of supplication, and the other of our Lord standing erect and stretching forth His hand to her—and that these were shown in his own day, in the early part of the fourth century. In the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus (v. 26) she is called Veronica.
The other Gospels relate more fully that the issue of blood ceased; that “she felt in her body that she was healed of her plague;” that Jesus perceived that “virtue had gone out of Him,” and asked the question, “Who is it that touched Me?” that the disciples answered—Peter as usual foremost (Luke 8:45)—“The multitude throng Thee and press Thee, and askest Thou, Who touched Me?” that our Lord then give His reason for the question. He had felt a touch, the touch of faith and unspoken prayer, which was very different from the pressure of the eager, curious crowd.
Believe ye that I am able to do this?—The cry, “Have mercy on us,” had implied the request that He would restore their sight. In this case, as in others, faith was the antecedent condition of the miracle.
Every sickness and every disease—i.e., every variety or type, rather than every individual case. The work of healing was, we must believe, dependent, as before, on the faith of those who came seeking to be healed. Of the two words, the former is in the Greek the stronger, and, though the relative significance of the English words is not sharply defined, it would, perhaps, be better to invert the renderings.
They fainted.—The English represents the received printed text of the Greek Testament at the beginning of the seventeenth century. There is, however, an immense preponderance of authority in favour of another reading, which gives the passive participle of the verb translated “trouble” in Mark 5:35, Luke 7:6, and meaning literally “flayed,” and thence figuratively “tormented, worried, vexed.” They were not merely as sheep that have grown weary and faint, hungry, looking up and yet not fed, but were as those that have been harassed by the wolf—the prey of thieves and robbers. (Comp. John 10:8-12.)
The harvest truly is plenteous.—This is the first occurrence in the record of the first three Gospels of the figure which was afterwards to be expanded in the two parables of the Sower and the Tares, and to reappear in the visions of the Apocalypse (Revelation 14:14-19). We find, however, from the Gospel of St. John—which here, as so often elsewhere, supplies missing links and the germs of thoughts afterwards developed—that it was not a new similitude in our Lord’s teaching. Once before, among the alien Samaritans, He had seen the fields white as for the spiritual harvest of the souls of men, and had spoken of him that soweth and him that reapeth (John 4:35-36).