OUR LORD’S MINISTRY IN PEREA AND JUDEA
When or under what attendant circumstances our Lord departed from Jerusalem after the Feast of Tabernacles, in the last autumn of His earthly life, we are not told. The writers of the synoptic Gospels have recorded numerous discourses, parables, and miracles, as incidents of a journey toward Jerusalem, in the course of which, Jesus, accompanied by the apostles, traversed parts of Samaria and Perea, and the outlying sections of Judea. We read of Christ’s presence in Jerusalem at the Feast of Dedication, between two and three months after the Feast of Tabernacles; and it is probable that some of the events now to be considered occurred during that interval. That Jesus left Jerusalem soon after the Feast of Tabernacles is certain; whether He returned to Galilee, or went only into Perea, possibly with a short detour across the border into Samaria, is not conclusively stated. We shall here as heretofore devote our study primarily to His words and works, with but minor regard to place, time, or sequence.
As the time of His foreknown betrayal and crucifixion drew near, “he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” though, as we shall find, He turned northward on two occasions, once when He retired to the region of Bethabara, and again to Ephraim.
HIS REJECTION IN SAMARIA
Jesus sent messengers ahead to announce His coming and to prepare for His reception. In one of the Samaritan villages He was refused entertainment and a hearing “because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem.” Racial prejudice had superseded the obligations of hospitality.
This repulse is in unfavorable contrast with the circumstances of His earlier visit among the Samaritans, when He had been received with gladness and entreated to remain, but on that occasion He was journeying not toward but farther from Jerusalem.
The disrespect shown by the Samaritans was more than the disciples could endure without protest. James and John, those Sons of Thunder, were so resentful as to yearn for vengeance. Said they: “Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?” Jesus rebuked His uncharitable servants thus: “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” Repulsed in this village the little company went to another, as the Twelve had been instructed to do under like circumstances. This was but one of the impressive lessons given to the apostles in the matter of tolerance, forbearance, charity, patience, and long-suffering (Mormons‘ lives would also reflect such values).
Luke gives next place to the incident of three men Who were desirous or willing to become disciples of Christ; one of them seems to have been discouraged at the prospect of hardship such as the ministry entailed; the others wished to be temporarily excused from service, one that he might attend the burial of his father, the other that he might first bid his loved ones farewell. This, or a similar occurrence, is recorded by Matthew in another connection, and has already received attention in these pages.
THE SEVENTY CHARGED AND SENT
The supreme importance of our Lord’s ministry, and the shortness of the time remaining to Him in the flesh, demanded more missionary laborers. The Twelve were to remain with Him to the end; every hour of possible instruction and training had to be utilized in their further preparation for the great responsibilities that would rest upon them after the Master’s departure. As assistants in the ministry, He called and commissioned the Seventy, and Straightway sent them forth, “two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.” The need of their service was explained in the introduction to the impressive charge by which they were instructed in the duties of their calling. “Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.”
Many matters on which the Twelve had been instructed prior to their missionary tour were now repeated to the Seventy (this organization is reflected in the Mormon Church). They were told that they must expect unfriendly and even hostile treatment; their situation would be as that of lambs among wolves. They were to travel without purse or scrip, and thus necessarily to depend upon the provision that God Would make through those to whom they came. As their mission was urgent, they were not to stop on the way to make or renew personal acquaintanceships. On entering a house they were to invoke peace upon it; if the household deserved the gift peace would rest therein, but otherwise the Lord’s servants would feel that their invocation was void. To any family by whom they were received they were to impart blessing — healing the afflicted, and proclaiming that the kingdom of God had come nigh unto that house. They were not to go from one house to another seeking better entertainment, nor should they expect or desire to be feasted, but they should accept what was offered, eating that which was set before them, thus sharing with the family. If rejected in any city, they were to depart therefrom, leaving, however, their solemn testimony that the city had turned away from the kingdom of God, which had been brought to its doors, and attesting the same by ridding themselves of the dust of that place. It was not for them to pronounce anathema or curse, but the Lord assured them that such a city would bring upon itself a fate worse than the doom of Sodom. He reminded them that they were His servants, and therefore whoever heard or refused to hear them Would be judged as having so treated Him.
They were not restrained, as the Twelve had been, from entering Samaritan towns or the lands of the Gentiles. This difference is consistent with the changed conditions, for now the prospective itinerary of Jesus would take Him into non jewish territory, where His fame had already spread; and furthermore, His plan provided for an extension of the gospel propaganda, which was to be ultimately world-wide. The narrow Jewish prejudice against Gentiles in general and Samaritans in particular was to be discountenanced; and proof of this intent could not be better given than by sending authorized ministers among those peoples. We must keep in mind the progressiveness of the Lord’s work. At first the field of gospel preaching was confined to the land of Israel, but the beginning of its extension was inaugurated during our Lord’s life, and was expressly enjoined upon the apostles after His resurrection. Duly instructed, the Seventy set out upon their mission.
Mention of the condemnation that would follow willful rejection of the authorized servants of God aroused in our Lord’s mind sad memories of the repulses He had suffered, and of the many unrepentant souls, in the cities wherein He had accomplished so many mighty works. In profound sorrow He predicted the woes then impending over Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum.
THE SEVENTY RETURN
Considerable time may have elapsed, weeks or possibly months, between the departure of the Seventy and their return. We are not told when or where they rejoined the Master; but this we know, that the authority and power of Christ had been abundantly manifest in their ministry; and that they had rejoiced in the realization. “Lord,” said they, “even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.” This testimony was followed by the Lord’s solemn statement: “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” This was said with reference to the expulsion of the rebellious son of the morning, after his defeat by Michael and the heavenly hosts. Commending the Seventy for their faithful labors, the Lord gave them assurance of further power, on the implied condition of their continued worthiness: “I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” The promise that they should tread on serpents and scorpions included immunity from injury by venomous creatures if encountered in the path of duty and power to prevail over the wicked spirits that serve the devil, who is elsewhere expressly called the serpent. Great as was the power and authority thus imparted, these disciples were told not to rejoice in such, nor primarily in the fact that evil spirits were subject unto them, but rather because they were accepted of the Lord, and that their names were written in heaven.
The righteous joy of His servants and His contemplation of their faithfulness caused Jesus to rejoice. His happiness found its most appropriate expression in prayer, and thus He prayed: “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the Wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.” Compared with the learned men of the time, such as the rabbis and scribes, whose knowledge served but to harden their hearts against the truth, these devoted servants were as babes in humility, trust, and faith. Such children were and are among the nobles of the kingdom. As in the hours of darkest sorrow, so in this moment of righteous exultation over the faithfulness of His followers, Jesus communed with the Father, to do whose will was His sole purpose.
Our Lord’s joy on this occasion is comparable to that which He experienced when Peter had burst forth with the confession of his soul: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In solemn discourse Jesus said: “All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.” Then in more intimate communion with the disciples He added: “Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.”
WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?
We have seen that the Pharisees and their kind were constantly on the alert to annoy and if possible disconcert Jesus on questions of law and doctrine, and to provoke Him to some overt utterance or deed. It may be such an attempt that is recorded by Luke in immediate sequence to his account of the joyous return of the Seventy, for he tells us that the “certain lawyer,” of whom he speaks, put a question to tempt Jesus. Viewing the questioner’s motive with all possible charity, for the basal meaning of the verb which appears in our version of the Bible as “to tempt” is that of putting to test or trial and not necessarily and solely to allure into evil, though the element of entrapping or ensnaring is connoted, we may assume that he wished to test the knowledge and wisdom of the famous Teacher, probably for the purpose of embarrassing Him. Certainly his purpose was not that of sincere search for truth.
This lawyer, standing up among the people who had gathered to hear Jesus, asked: “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied by a counter question, in which was plainly intimated that if this man, who was professedly learned in the law, had read and studied properly, he should know without asking what he ought to do. “What is written in the law? how readest thou?” The man replied with an admirable summary of the commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” The answer was approved. “This do, and thou shalt live” said Jesus. These simple words conveyed a rebuke, as the lawyer must have realized; they indicated the contrast between knowing and doing. Having thus failed in his plan to confound the Master, and probably realizing that he, a lawyer, had made no creditable display of his erudition by asking so simple a question and then answering it himself, he tamely sought to justify himself by inquiring further: “And who is my neighbour?” We may well be grateful for the lawyer’s question; for it served to draw from the Master’s inexhaustible store of wisdom one of His most appreciated parables.
The story is known as the Parable of the Good Samaritan; it runs as follows:
A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
Then of the lawyer Jesus asked: “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”
Whatever of motive there may have been in the lawyer’s query, “Who is my neighbour?” aside from that of self-justification and a desire to retreat in the best form possible from an embarrassing situation, we may conceive to lie in the wish to find a limitation in the application of the law, beyond which he would not be bound to go. If he had to love his neighbors as he loved himself, he wanted to have as few neighbors as possible. His desire may have been somewhat akin to that of Peter, who was eager to learn just how many times he was required to forgive an offending brother.
The parable with which our Lord replied to the lawyer’s question is rich in interest as a story alone, and particularly so as an embodiment of precious lessons. It was withal so true to existing conditions, that, like the story of the sower who went forth to sow, and other parables given by the Lord Jesus, it may be true history as well as parable. The road between Jerusalem and Jericho was known to be infested by highway robbers; indeed a section of the thoroughfare was called the Red Path or Bloody Way because of the frequent atrocities committed thereon. Jericho was prominent as a residence place for priests and Levites. A priest, who, out of respect to his office, if for none other cause, should have been willing and prompt in acts of mercy, caught sight of the wounded traveler and passed by on the far side of the road. A Levite followed; he paused to look, then passed on. These ought to have remembered the specified requirement of the law — that if one saw an ass or an ox fall down by the way, he should not hide himself, but should surely help the owner to lift the creature up again. If such was their duty toward a brother’s beast, much greater was their obligation when a brother himself was in so extreme a plight.
Doubtless priest as well as Levite salved his conscience with ample excuse for his inhumane conduct; he may have been in a hurry, or was fearful, perhaps, that the robbers Would return and make him also a victim of their outrage. Excuses are easy to find; they spring up as readily and plentifully as weeds by the wayside. When the Samaritan came along and saw the wretched state of the wounded man, he had no excuse for he wanted none. Having done what he could by Way of emergency treatment as recognized in the medical practice of the day, he placed the injured one upon his own beast, probably a mule or an ass, and took him to the nearest inn, where he tended him personally and made arrangements for his further care. The essential difference between the Samaritan and the others was that the one had a compassionate heart, while they were unloving and selfish. Though not definitely stated, the victim of the robbers was almost certainly a Jew; the point of the parable requires it to be so. That the merciful one was a Samaritan, showed that the people called heretic and despised by the Jews could excel in good works. To a Jew, none but Jews were neighbors. We are not justified in regarding priest, Levite, or Samaritan as the type of his class; doubtless there were many kind and charitable Jews, and many heartless Samaritans; but the Master’s lesson was admirably illustrated by the characters in the parable; and the words of His application were pungent in their simplicity and appropriateness.
MARTHA AND MARY
On one of His visits to Bethany, a small town about two miles from Jerusalem, Jesus was received at the home where dwelt two sisters, Martha and Mary. Martha was housekeeper, and therefore she assumed responsibility for the proper treatment of the distinguished Guest. While she busied herself with preparations and “was cumbered about much serving,” well intended for the comfort and entertainment of Jesus, Mary sat at the Master’s feet, listening with reverent attention to His words. Martha grew fretful in her bustling anxiety, and came in, saying: “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.” She was talking to Jesus but really at Mary. For the moment she had lost her calmness in undue worry over incidental details. It is reasonable to infer that Jesus was on terms of familiarity in the household, else the good woman would scarcely have appealed to Him in a little matter of domestic concern. He replied to her complaining words with marked tenderness: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
There was no reproof of Martha’s desire to provide well; nor any sanction of possible neglect on Mary’s part. We must suppose that Mary had been a willing helper before the Master’s arrival; but now that He had come, she chose to remain with Him. Had she been culpably neglectful of her duty, Jesus would not have commended her course. He desired not well-served meals and material comforts only, but the company of the sisters, and above all their receptive attention to what He had to say. He had more to give them than they could possibly provide for Him. Jesus loved the two sisters and their brother as well Both these women were devoted to Jesus, and each expressed herself in her own way. Martha was of a practical turn, concerned in material service; she was by nature hospitable and self-denying. Mary, contemplative and more spiritually inclined, showed her devotion through the service of companionship and appreciation.
By inattention to household duties, the little touches that make or mar the family peace, many a woman has reduced her home to a comfortless house; and many another has eliminated the essential elements of home by her self-assumed and persistent drudgery, in which she denies to her dear ones the cheer of her loving companionship. Onesided service, however devoted, may become neglect. There is a time for labor inside the home as in the open; in every family time should be found for cultivating that better part, that one thing needful — true, spiritual development (which a Mormon would strive for).
ASK, AND IT SHALL BE GIVEN YOU
“And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray.” Our Lord’s example and the spirit of prayer manifest in His daily life moved the disciples to ask for instruction as to how they should pray. No form of private prayer was given in the law, but formal prayers had been prescribed by the Jewish authorities, and John the Baptist had instructed his followers in the mode or manner of prayer. Responding to the disciples’ request, Jesus repeated that brief epitome of soulful adoration and supplication which We call the Lord’s Prayer. This He had before given in connection with the Sermon on the Mount. On this occasion of its repetition, the Lord supplemented the prayer by explaining the imperative necessity of earnestness and enduring persistency in praying.
The lesson was made plain by the Parable of the Friend at Midnight:
And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.
The man to whose home a friend had come at midnight could not let his belated and weary guest go hungry, yet there was no bread in the house. He made his visitor’s wants his own, and pleaded at his neighbor’s door as though asking for himself. The neighbor was loath to leave his comfortable bed and disturb his household to accommodate another; but, finding that the man at the door was importunate, he at last arose and gave him what he asked, so as to get rid of him and be able to sleep in peace. The Master added by way of comment and instruction: Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
The hospitable man in the parable had refused to be repulsed; he kept on knocking until the door was opened; and as a result received what he wanted, found what he had set out to obtain. The parable is regarded by some as a difficult one to apply, since it deals with the selfish and comfort-loving element of human nature, and apparently uses this to symbolize God’s deliberate delay. The explanation, however, is clear when the context is duly considered. The Lord’s lesson was, that if man, with all his selfishness and disinclination to give, will nevertheless grant what his neighbor with proper purpose asks and continues to ask in spite of objection and temporary refusal, with assured certainty will God grant what is persistently asked in faith and with righteous intent. No parallelism lies between man’s selfish refusal and God’s wise and beneficent waiting. There must be a consciousness of real need for prayer, and real trust in God, to make prayer effective; and in mercy the Father sometimes delays the granting that the asking may be more fervent. But in the words of Jesus: “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”
Sometime later Jesus spake another parable, the moral of which is so closely akin to that of the story of the midnight visitor, as to suggest the study of the later lesson here. It is known as the Parable of the Unjust Judge, or of the Importunate Widow:
There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
The judge was of wicked character; he denied justice to the widow, who could obtain redress from none other. He was moved to action by the desire to escape the woman’s importunity. Let us beware of the error of comparing his selfish action with the ways of God. Jesus did not indicate that as the wicked judge finally yielded to supplication so would God do; but He pointed out that if even such a being as this judge, who “feared not God, neither regarded man,” would at last hear and grant the widow’s plea, no one should doubt that God, the Just and Merciful, will hear and answer. The judge’s obduracy, though wholly wicked on his part, may have been ultimately advantageous to the widow. Had she easily obtained redress she might have become again unwary, and perchance a worse adversary than the first might have oppressed her. The Lord’s purpose in giving the parable is specifically stated; it was “to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”
CRITICISM ON PHARISEES AND LAWYERS
Varied comment as to the source of our Lord’s superhuman powers was aroused afresh by His merciful act of expelling a demon from a man, who, in consequence of this evil possession had been dumb. The old Pharisaic theory, that He cast out devils through the power of “Beelzebub, the chief of the devils,” was revived. The utter foolishness of such a conception was demonstrated, as it had been on an earlier occasion to which we have given attention. The spiritual darkness, in Which evil men grope for signs, the disappointment and condemnation that await them, and other precious precepts, Jesus elucidated in further discourse.
Then, by invitation He Went to the house of a certain Pharisee to dine. Other Pharisees, as also lawyers and scribes, were present. Jesus intentionally omitted the ceremonial washing of hands, which all others in the company scrupulously performed before taking their places at table. The omission caused a murmur of disapproval if not an open expression of fault-finding. Jesus utilized the occasion by voicing a pungent criticism of Pharisaic externalism, which He likened to the cleansing of cups and platters on the outside, while the inside is left filthy. “Fools” said He, “did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also?” In another form we may ask, Did not God who established the outward observances of the law, ordain the inward and spiritual requirements of the gospel also? In response to a question by one of the lawyers, Jesus included them in His sweeping reproof. Pharisees and scribes resented the censure to which they had been subjected, and “began to urge him vehemently, and to provoke him to speak of many things: laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him.” As our Lord’s recorded utterances on this occasion appear also in His final denunciation of Pharisaism, later delivered at the temple, we may well defer further consideration of the matter until we take up in order that notable occurrence.
THE DISCIPLES ADMONISHED AND ENCOURAGED
Popular interest in our Lord’s movements was strong in the region beyond Jordan, as it had been in Galilee. We read of Him surrounded by “an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another.” Addressing the multitude, and more particularly His disciples, Jesus warned them of the leaven of the Pharisees, which He characterized as hypocrisy. The recent scene at the table of a Pharisee gave special significance to the warning. Some of the precepts recorded in connection with His Galilean ministry were here repeated, and particular stress was laid upon the superiority of the soul to the body, and of eternal life as contrasted with the brief duration of mortal existence.
One man in the company, intent on selfish interests and unable to see beyond the material affairs of life, spoke out saying, “Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus promptly refused to act as mediator or judge in the matter. “Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?” was the Master’s rejoinder. The wisdom underlying His refusal to interfere is apparent. As in the case of the guilty woman who had been brought before Him for judgment, so in this instance, He refrained from intervention in matters of legal administration. An opposite course Would have probably involved Him in useless disputation, and might have given color to a complaint that He was arrogating to Himself the functions of the legally established tribunals. The man’s appeal, however, was made the nucleus of valuable instruction; his clamor for a share in the family inheritance caused Jesus to say: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”
This combined admonition and profound statement of truth was emphasized by the Parable of the Foolish Rich Man. Thus runs the story:
The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
The man’s abundance had been accumulated through labor and thrift; neglected or poorly-tilled fields do not yield plentifully. He is not represented as one in possession of wealth not rightfully his own. His plans for the proper care of his fruits and goods were not of themselves evil, though he might have considered better ways of distributing his surplus, as for the relief of the needy. His sin was twofold; first, he regarded his great store chiefly as the means of securing personal ease and sensuous indulgence; secondly, in his material prosperity he failed to acknowledge God, and even counted the years as his own. In the hour of his selfish jubilation he was smitten. Whether the voice of God came to him as a fearsome presentiment of impending death, or by angel messenger, or how otherwise, we are not informed; but the voice spoke his doom: “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.” He had used his time and his powers of body and mind to sow, reap and garner — all for himself. And what came of it all? Whose should be the wealth, to amass which he had jeopardized his soul? Had he been other than a fool he might have realized as Solomon had done, the vanity of hoarding wealth for another, and he perhaps of uncertain character, to possess.
Turning to the disciples Jesus reiterated some of the glorious truths He had uttered when preaching on the mount, and pointed to the birds of the air, the lilies and grass of the field, as examples of the Father’s watchful care; He admonished His hearers to seek the kingdom of God, and, doing so, they should find all needful things added. “Fear not, little flock,” He added in tone of affectionate and paternal regard, “for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” They were urged to store their wealth in bags that wax not old, containers suited to the heavenly treasure which, unlike the goods of the foolish rich man, shall not be left behind when the soul is summoned. The man whose treasure is of earth leaves it all at death; he whose wealth is in heaven goes to his own, and death is but the portal to his treasury.
The disciples were admonished to be ever ready, waiting as servants wait at night with lights burning, for their master’s return; and, inasmuch as the lord of the household comes at his will, in the early or later watches, if when he comes he finds his faithful servants ready to open immediately to his knock he will honor them as they deserve. So is the Son of Man to come, perhaps when least expected. To a question interjected by Peter as to whether “this parable” was spoken to the Twelve only or to all, Jesus made no direct reply; the answer, however, was conveyed in the continuation of the allegory of contrast between faithful and wicked servants. “Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season?” The faithful steward is a good type of the apostles, individually or as a body. As stewards they were charged with the care of the other servants, and of the household; and as to them more had been given than to the others, so of them more would be required; and they would be held to strict accountability for their stewardship.
The Lord then referred feelingly to His own mission, and especially to the dreadful experiences then soon to befall Him, saying: “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” He told again of the strife and dissension that would follow the preaching of His gospel (which Mormon missionaries also do), and dwelt upon the significance of then current events. To those who, ever ready to interpret the signs of the weather yet remained willfully blind to the important developments of the times, He applied the caustic epithet, hypocrites!
“EXCEPT YE REPENT YE SHALL ALL LIKEWISE PERISH”
Some of the people who had been listening to our Lord’s discourse reported to Him the circumstances of a tragical event that had taken place, probably but a short time before, inside the temple walls. A number of Galileans had been slain by Roman soldiers, at the base of the altar, so that their blood had mingled with that of the sacrificial victims. It is probable that the slaughter of these Galileans was incident to some violent demonstration of Jewish resentment against Roman authority, which the procurator, Pilate, construed as an incipient insurrection, to be promptly and forcibly quelled. Such outbursts were not uncommon, and the Roman tower or fortress of Antonia had been erected in a commanding position overlooking the temple grounds, and connected therewith by a wide flight of steps, so that soldiers could have ready access to the enclosure at the first indication of turmoil. The purpose of the informants who brought this matter to the attention of Jesus is not stated; but we find probability in the thought that His reference to the signs of the times had reminded them of the tragedy, and that they were inclined to speculate as to the deeper significance of the occurrence. Some may have wondered as to whether the fate of the Galilean victims had befallen them as a merited retribution. Anyway, to some such conception as this Jesus directed His reply. By question and answer He assured them that those who had so been slain were not to be considered as sinners above other Galileans; “But,” said He, “except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
Then, referring on His own initiative to another catastrophe, He cited the instance of eighteen persons who had been killed by the fall of a tower at Siloam, and affirmed that these were not to be counted greater sinners than other Jerusalemites. “But,” came the reiteration, “except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” There were perhaps some who believed that the men upon whom the tower had fallen had deserved their fate; and this conception is the more probable if the generally accepted assumption be correct, that the calamity came upon the men while they were engaged under Roman employ in work on the aqueduct, for the construction of which Pilate had used the “corban” or sacred treasure, given by vow to the temple.
It is not man’s prerogative to pass upon the purposes and designs of God, nor to judge by human reason alone that this person or that suffers disaster as a direct result of individual sin. Nevertheless men have ever been prone to so judge. There are many inheritors of the spirit of Job’s friends, who assumed his guilt as certain because of the great misfortunes and sufferings that had come upon him. Even while Jesus spake, calamity dark and dire was impending over temple, city and nation; and unless the people would repent and accept the Messiah then in their midst, the decree of destruction would be carried to its dread fulfilment. Hence, as Jesus said, except the people repented they should perish. The imperative need of reformation Was illustrated by the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree.
A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.
In Jewish literature, particularly in rabbinical lore, the fig tree is of frequent mention as a symbol of the nation. The warning conveyed in the parable is plain; the element of possible escape is no less evident. If the fig tree represents the covenant people, then the vineyard is naturally the world at large, and the dresser of the vineyard is the Son of God, who by personal ministry and solicitous care makes intercession for the barren tree, in the hope that it may yet bear fruit. The parable is of universal application; but so far as it had special bearing upon the Jewish “fig tree” of that time, it was attended by an awful sequel. The Baptist had cried out in warning that the ax was even then in readiness, and every unfruitful tree would be hewn down.
A WOMAN HEALED ON THE SABBATH
On a certain Sabbath Jesus was teaching in a synagog, of what place we are not told, though it was probably in one of the towns of Perea. There was present a woman who for eighteen years had been suffering from an infirmity that had so drawn and atrophied the muscles as to bend her body so that she could in no wise straighten herself. Jesus called her to Him, and without waiting for petition or request, said simply, “Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.” These words He accompanied by the laying-on of hands, a feature of His healing ministrations not always performed. She was healed forthwith and stood erect; and, acknowledging the source of the power by which she had been released from her bonds, glorified God in a fervent prayer of thanksgiving. Doubtless many of the beholders rejoiced with her; but there was one whose soul was stirred by indignation only; and he, the ruler of the synagog. Instead of addressing himself to Jesus, of whose power he may have been afraid, he vented his ill feeling upon the people, by telling them there were six days in which men ought to work, and that on those days they who wished to be healed should come, but not on the Sabbath. The rebuke Was ostensibly directed to the people, especially to the Woman Who had received the blessing, but in reality against Jesus; for if there were any element of work in the healing it had been done by Him, not by the woman nor by others. Upon the ruler of the synagog the Lord turned with direct address: “Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?”
It may be inferred that the woman’s affliction had been more deeply seated than in the muscles; for Luke who was himself a physician tells us she “had a spirit of infirmity,” and records the significant words of the Lord to the effect that Satan had held her bound for eighteen years. But whatever her ailment, whether wholly physical or in part mental and spiritual, she was freed from her bonds. Again was the Christ triumphant; His adversaries were shamed into silence, while the believers rejoiced. The rebuke to the ruler of the synagog was followed by a brief discourse in which Jesus gave to these people some of the teachings before delivered in Galilee; these included the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven.
WILL MANY OR FEW BE SAVED?
Continuing His journey toward Jerusalem, Jesus taught in many of the cities and towns of Perea. His coming had probably been announced by the Seventy, who had been sent to prepare the people for His ministry. One of those Who had been impressed by His doctrines submitted this question: “Lord, are there few that be saved?” Jesus replied: “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” The counsel was enlarged upon to show that neglect or procrastination in obeying the requirements for salvation may result in the soul’s loss. When the door is shut in judgment many Will come knocking, and some will plead that they had known the Lord, having eaten and drunk in His company, and that He had taught upon their streets; but to them who had failed to accept the truth when offered the Lord shall say: “I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.” The people were Warned that their Israelitish lineage would in no wise save them, for many who were not of the covenant people would believe and be saved, while unworthy Israelites would be thrust out. So is it that “There are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.”
JESUS WARNED OF HEROD’S DESIGN
On the day of the discourse last noted, certain Pharisees came to Jesus with this warning and advice: “Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee.” We have heretofore found the Pharisees in open hostility to the Lord, or secretly plotting against Him; and some commentators regard this warning as another evidence of Pharisaic cunning — possibly intended to rid the province of Christ’s presence, or designed to drive Him toward Jerusalem, where He would be again within easy reach of the supreme tribunal. Ought we not to be liberal and charitable in our judgment as to the intent of others? Doubtless there were good men in the fraternity of Pharisees, and those who came informing Christ of a plot against His life were possibly impelled by humane motives, and may even have been believers at heart. That Herod had designs against our Lord’s liberty or life appears most probable in the answer Jesus made. He received the information in all seriousness, and His comment thereon is one of the strongest of His utterances against an individual. “Go ye,” said He, “and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.” The specifying of today, tomorrow, and the third day, was a means of expressing the present in which the Lord was then acting, the immediate future, in which he would continue to minister, since, as He knew, the day of His death Was yet several months distant, and the time at which his earthly work would be finished and He be perfected. He placed beyond doubt the fact that He did not intend to hasten His steps, neither cut short His journey nor cease His labors through fear of Herod Antipas, who for craft and cunning was best typified by a sly and murderous fox. Nevertheless it was Christ’s intention to go on, and soon in ordinary course He would leave Perea, which was part of Herod’s domain, and enter Judea; and at the foreknown time would make His final entry into Jerusalem, for in that city was He to accomplish his sacrifice. “It cannot be,” He explained, “that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.”
The awful reality that He, the Christ, would be slain in the chief city of Israel wrung from Him the pathetic apostrophe over Jerusalem, which was repeated when for the last time His voice was heard within the temple walls.
NOTES TO CHAPTER 26
1. Christ’s Ministry Following His Final withdrawal from Galilee. — John tells us that when Jesus went from Galilee to Jerusalem to attend the Feast of Tabernacles, He went “not openly, but as it were in secret” (7:10). It appears improbable that the numerous works recorded by the synoptic writers as features of our Lord’s ministry, which extended from Galilee through Perea, into Samaria and parts of Judea, could have attended that special and, as it were, secret, journey, at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. The lack of agreement among writers as to the sequence of events in Christ’s life is wide. A comparison of the “Harmonies” published in the most prominent Bible Helps (see e.g. Oxford and Bagster “Helps”) exemplifies these divergent views. The subject-matter of our Lord’s teachings maintains its own intrinsic worth irrespective of merely circumstantial incidents. The following excerpt from Farrar (Life of Christ, chap. 42) will be of assistance to the student, who should bear in mind, however, that it is professedly but a tentative or possible arrangement. “It is well known that the whole of one great section in St. Luke — from 9:51 to 18:30 — forms an episode in the Gospel narrative of which many incidents are narrated by this Evangelist alone, and in which the few identifications of time and place all point to one slow and solemn progress from Galilee to Jerusalem (9:51; 13:22; 17:11; 10:38). Now after the Feast of Dedication our Lord retired into perea, until He was summoned thence by the death of Lazarus (John 10:40, 42; 11:1-46); after the resurrection [raising] of Lazarus, He fled to Ephraim (11:54); and He did not leave His retirement at Ephraim until He went to Bethany, six days before His final Passover (12:1).
“This great journey, therefore, from Galilee to Jerusalem, so rich in occasions which called forth some of His most memorable utterances, must have been either a journey to the Feast of Tabernacles or to the Feast of Dedication. That it could not have been the former may be regarded as settled, not only on other grounds, but decisively because that was a rapid and secret journey, this an eminently public and leisurely one.
“Almost every inquirer seems to differ to a greater or less degree as to the exact sequence and chronology of the events which follow. Without entering into minute and tedious disquisitions where absolute certainty is impossible, I will narrate this period of our Lord’s life in the order which, after repeated study of the Gospels, appears to me to be the most probable, and in the separate details of which I have found myself again and again confirmed by the conclusions of other independent inquirers. And here I will only premise my conviction —
“1. That the episode of St. Luke up to 18:30, mainly refers to a single journey, although unity of subject, or other causes, may have led the sacred writer to weave into his narrative some events or utterances which belong to an earlier or later epoch.
“2. That the order of the facts narrated even by St. Luke alone is not, and does not in any way claim to be, strictly chronological; so that the place of any event in the narrative by no means necessarily indicates its true position in the order of time.
“3. That this journey is identical with that which is partially recorded in Matt. 18:1; 20:16; Mark 10:1-31.
“4. That (as seems obvious from internal evidence) the events narrated in Matt. 20: 17-28; Mark 10:32-45; Luke 18:31-34, belong not to this journey but to the last which Jesus ever took — the journey from Ephraim to Bethany and Jerusalem.”
2. Jesus at the Home in Bethany. — Some writers (e.g. Edersheim) place this incident as having occurred in the course of our Lord’s journey to Jerusalem to attend the Feast of Tabernacles; others (e.g. Geikie) assume that it took place immediately after that feast; and yet others (e.g. Farrar) assign it to the eve of the Feast of Dedication, nearly three months later. The place given it in the text is that in which it appears in the scriptural record.
3. Shall but Few Be Saved? — Through latter-day revelation (given to Joseph Smith) we learn that graded conditions await us in the hereafter, and that beyond salvation are the high glories of exaltation. The specified kingdoms or glories of the redeemed, excepting the sons of perdition, are the Celestial, the Terrestrial, and the Telestial. Those who obtain place in the Telestial, the lowest of the three, are shown to be “as innumerable as the stars in the firmament of heaven, or as the sand upon the seashore.” And these shall not be equal, “For they shall be judged according to their works, and every man shall receive according to his own works, his own dominion, in the mansions which are prepared. And they shall be servants of the Most High, but where God and Christ dwell they cannot come, worlds without end.” See D&C 76:111, 112; read the entire section; see also The Articles of Faith, pp. 404-11. (The title Articles of Faith originally refers to a letter Joseph Smith wrote on the beliefs of Mormonism.)