By George MacDonald
If we allow that prayer may in any case be heard for the man himself, it almost follows that it must be heard for others. It cannot well be in accordance with the spirit of Christianity, whose essential expression lies in the sacrifice of its founder, that a man should be heard only when he prays for himself. The fact that in cases of the preceding group faith was required on the part of the person healed as essential to his cure, represents no different principle from that which operates in the cases of the present group. True, in these the condition is not faith on the part of the person cured, but faith on the part of him who asks for his cure. But the possession of faith by the patient was not in the least essential, as far as the power of Jesus was concerned, to his bodily cure, although no doubt favourable thereto; it was necessary only to that spiritual healing, that higher cure, for the sake of which chiefly the Master brought about the lower. In both cases, the requisition of faith is for the sake of those who ask--whether for themselves or for their friends, it matters not. It is a breath to blow the smoking flax into a flame--a word to draw into closer contact with himself. He cured many without such demand, as his Father is ever curing without prayer. Cure itself shall sometimes generate prayer and faith. Well, therefore, might the cure of others be sometimes granted to prayer.
Beyond this, however, there is a great fitness in the thing. For so are men bound together, that no good can come to one but all must share in it. The children suffer for the father, the father suffers for the children, and they are also blessed together. If a spiritual good descend upon the heart of a leader of the nation, the whole people might rejoice for themselves, for they must be partakers of the unspeakable gift. To increase the faith of the father may be more for the faith of the child, healed in answer to his prayer, than anything done for the child himself. It is an enlarging of one of the many channels in which the divinest gifts flow. For those gifts chiefly, at first, flow to men through the hearts and souls of those of their fellows who are nearer the Father than they, until at length they are thus brought themselves to speak to God face to face.
Lonely as every man in his highest moments of spiritual vision, yea in his simplest consciousness of duty, turns his face towards the one Father, his own individual maker and necessity of his life; painfully as he may then feel that the best beloved understands not as he understands, feels not as he feels; he is yet, in his most isolated adoration of the Father of his spirit, nearer every one of the beloved than when eye meets eye, heart beats responsive to heart, and the poor dumb hand seeks by varied pressure to tell the emotion within. Often then the soul, with its many organs of utterance, feels itself but a songless bird, whose broken twitter hardens into a cage around it; but even with all those organs of utterance in full play, he is yet farther from his fellow-man than when he is praying to the Father in a desert place apart. The man who prays, in proportion to the purity of his prayer, becomes a spiritual power, a nerve from the divine brain, yea, perhaps a ganglion as we call it, whence power anew goes forth upon his fellows. He is a redistributor, as it were, of the divine blessing; not in the exercise of his own will--that is the cesspool towards which all notions of priestly mediation naturally sink--but as the self- forgetting, God-loving brother of his kind, who would be in the world as Christ was in the world. When a man prays for his fellow-man, for wife or child, mother or father, sister or brother or friend, the connection between the two is so close in God, that the blessing begged may well flow to the end of the prayer. Such a one then is, in his poor, far-off way, an advocate with the Father, like his master, Jesus Christ, The Righteous. He takes his friend into the presence with him, or if not into the presence, he leaves him with but the veil between them, and they touch through the veil.
The first instance we have in this kind, occurred at Cana, in the centre of Galilee, where the first miracle was wrought. It is the second miracle in St John's record, and is recorded by him only. Doubtless these two had especially attracted his nature--the turning of water into wine, and the restoration of a son to his father. The Fatherhood of God created the fatherhood in man; God's love man's love. And what shall he do to whom a son is given whom yet he cannot keep? The divine love in his heart cleaves to the child, and the child is vanishing! What can this nobleman do but seek the man of whom such wondrous rumours have reached his ears?
Between Cana and Tiberias, from which came the father with his prayer, was somewhere about twenty miles.
"He is at the point of death," said the father.
"Except ye see signs and wonders ye will not believe," said Jesus.
"Sir, come down ere my child die."
"Go thy way, thy son liveth."
If the nobleman might have understood the remark the Lord made, he was in no mood for principles, and respectfully he expostulates with our Lord for spending time in words when the need was so urgent. The sun of his life was going down into the darkness. He might deserve reproof, but even reproof has its season. "Sir, come down ere my child die." Whatever the Lord meant by the words he urged it no farther. He sends him home with the assurance of the boy's recovery, showing him none of the signs or wonders of which he had spoken. Had the man been of unbelieving kind he would, when he returned and found that all had occurred in the most natural fashion, that neither here had there been sign or wonder, have gradually reverted to his old carelessness as to a higher will and its ordering of things below. But instead of this, when he heard that the boy began to get better the very hour when Jesus spoke the word--a fact quite easy to set down as a remarkable coincidence--he believed, and all his people with him. Probably he was in ideal reality the head of his house, the main source of household influences--if such, then a man of faith, for, where a man does not himself look up to the higher, the lower will hardly look faithfully up to him--surely a fit man to intercede for his son, with all his house ready to believe with him. It may be said they too shared in the evidence--such as it was--not much of a sign or wonder to them. True; but people are not ready to believe the best evidence except they are predisposed in the direction of that evidence. If it be said, "they should have thought for themselves," I answer--To think with their head was no bad sign that they did think for themselves. A great deal of what is called freedom of thought is merely the self-assertion which would persuade itself of a freedom it would possess but cannot without an effort too painful for ignorance and self-indulgence. The man would feel free without being free. To assert one's individuality is not necessarily to be free: it may indeed be but the outcome of absolute slavery.
But if this nobleman was a faithful man, whence our Lord's word, "Except ye see signs and wonders ye will not believe"? I am not sure. It may have been as a rebuke to those about him. This man--perhaps, as is said, a nobleman of Herod's court--may not have been a pure-bred Jew, and hence our Lord's remark would bear an import such as he uttered more plainly in the two cases following, that of the Greek woman, and that of the Roman centurion: "Except ye see signs and wonders ye will not believe; but this man--." With this meaning I should probably have been content, were it not that the words were plainly addressed to the man. I do not think this would destroy the interpretation, for the Lord may have wished to draw the man out, and make him, a Gentile or doubtful kind of Jew, rebuke the disciples; only the man's love for his son stood in the way: he could think of nothing, speak of nothing save his son; but it makes it unsatisfactory. And indeed I prefer the following interpretation, because we have the other meaning in other places; also because this is of universal application, and to us of these days appears to me of special significance and value, applying to the men of science on the one hand, and the men of superstition on the other.
My impression is, that our Lord, seeing the great faith of the nobleman, grounded on what he had heard of the Master from others, chiefly of his signs and wonders, did in this remark require of him a higher faith still. It sounds to me an expostulation with him. To express in the best way my feeling concerning it, I would dare to imagine our Lord speaking in this fashion:--
"Why did you not pray the Father? Why do you want always to see? The door of prayer has been open since ever God made man in his own image: why are signs and wonders necessary to your faith? But I will do just as my Father would have done if you had asked him. Only when I do it, it is a sign and a wonder that you may believe; and I wish you could believe without it. But believe then for the very work's sake, if you cannot believe for the word and the truth's sake. Go thy way, thy son liveth."
I would not be understood to say that the Lord blamed him, or others in him, for needing signs and wonders: it was rather, I think, that the Lord spoke out of the fulness of his knowledge to awake in them some infant sense of what constituted all his life--the presence of God; just as the fingers of the light go searching in the dark mould for the sleeping seeds, to touch and awake them. The order of creation, the goings on of life, were ceaselessly flowing from the very heart of the Father: why should they seek signs and wonders differing from common things only in being uncommon? In essence there was no difference. Uncommonness is not excellence, even as commonness is not inferiority. The sign, the wonder is, in fact, the lower thing, granted only because of men's hardness of heart and slowness to believe--in itself of inferior nature to God's chosen way. Yet, if signs and wonders could help them, have them they should, for neither were they at variance with the holy laws of life and faithfulness: they were but less usual utterances of the same. "Go thy way: thy son liveth." The man, noble-man certainly in this, obeyed, and found his obedience justify his faith.
But his son would have to work out his belief upon grounds differing from those his father had. In himself he could but recognize the resumption of the natural sway of life. He would not necessarily know that it was God working in him. For the cause of his cure, he would only hear the story of it from his father--good evidence--but he himself had not seen the face of the Holy One as his father had. In one sense or another, he must seek and find him. Every generation must do its own seeking and its own finding. The fault of the fathers often is that they expect their finding to stand in place of their children's seeking--expect the children to receive that which has satisfied the need of their fathers upon their testimony; whereas rightly, their testimony is not ground for their children's belief, only for their children's search. That search is faith in the bud. No man can be sure till he has found for himself. All that is required of the faithful nature is a willingness to seek. He cannot even know the true nature of the thing he wants until he has found it; he has but a dim notion of it, a faint star to guide him eastward to the sunrise. Hopefully, the belief of the father has the heart in it which will satisfy the need of the child; but the doubt of this in the child, is the father's first ground for hoping that the child with his new needs will find for himself the same well of life--to draw from it with a new bucket, it may be, because the old will hold water no longer: its staves may be good, but its hoops are worn asunder; or, rather, it will be but a new rope it needs, which he has to twist from the hemp growing in his own garden. The son who was healed might have many questions to ask which the father could not answer, had never thought of. He had heard of the miracle of Cana; he had heard of many things done since: he believed that the man could cure his son, and he had cured him. "Yes," the son might say, "but I must know more of him; for, if what I hear now be true, I must cast all at his feet. He cannot be a healer only; he must be the very Lord of Life--it may be of the Universe." His simple human presence had in it something against the supposition--contained in it what must have appeared reason for doubting this conclusion from his deeds, especially to one who had not seen his divine countenance. But to one at length enlightened of the great Spirit, his humanity would contain the highest ground for believing in his divinity, for what it meant would come out ever and ever loftier and grander. The Lord who had made the Universe--how should he show it but as the Healer did? He could not make the universe over again in the eyes of every man. If he did, the heart of the man could not hold the sight. He must reveal himself as the curing God--the God who set things which had gone wrong, right again: that could be done in the eyes of each individual man. This man may be he--the Messiah--Immanuel, God with-us.
We can imagine such the further thoughts of the son--possibly of the father first--only he had been so full of the answer to his prayer, of the cure of his son, that he could not all at once follow things towards their grand conclusions.
In this case, as in the two which follow, the Lord heals from a distance. I have not much to remark upon this. There were reasons for it; one perhaps the necessity of an immediate answer to the prayer; another probably lay in its fitness to the faith of the supplicants. For to heal thus, although less of a sign or a wonder to the unbelieving, had in it an element of finer power upon the faith of such as came not for the sign or the wonder, but for the cure of the beloved; for he who loves can believe what he who loves not cannot believe; and he who loves most can believe most. In this respect, these cures were like the healing granted to prayer in all ages--not that God is afar off, for he is closer to every man than his own conscious being is to his unconscious being--but that we receive the aid from the Unseen. Though there be no distance with God, it looks like it to men; and when Jesus cured thus, he cured with the same appearances which attended God's ordinary healing.
The next case I take up is similar. It belongs to another of my classes, but as a case of possession there is little distinctive about it, while as the record of the devotion of a mother to her daughter--a devotion quickening in her faith so rare and lovely as to delight the very heart of Jesus with its humble intensity--it is one of the most beautiful of all the stories of healing.
The woman was a Greek, and had not had the training of the Jew for a belief in the Messiah. Her misconceptions concerning the healer of whom she had heard must have been full of fancies derived from the legends of her race. But she had yet been trained to believe, for her mighty love of her own child was the best power for the development of the child-like in herself.
No woman can understand the possible depths of her own affection for her daughter. I say daughter, not child, because although love is the same everywhere, it is nowhere the same. No two loves of individuals in the same correlation are the same. Much more the love of a woman for her daughter differs from the love of a father for his son--differs as the woman differs from the man. There is in it a peculiar tenderness from the sense of the same womanly consciousness in both of undefendedness and self-accountable modesty--a modesty, in this case, how terribly tortured in the mother by the wild behaviour of the daughter under the impulses of the unclean spirit! Surely if ever there was a misery to drive a woman to the Healer in an agony of rightful claim and prostrate entreaty, it was the misery of a mother whose daughter was thus possessed. The divine nature of her motherhood, of her womanhood, drew her back to its source to find help for one who shared in the same, but in whom its waters were sorely troubled and grievously defiled.
She came crying to him. About him stood his disciples, proud of being Jews. For their sakes this chosen Gentile must be pained a little further, must bear with her Saviour her part of suffering for the redemption even of his chosen apostles. They counted themselves the children, and such as she the dogs. He must show them the divine nature dwelling in her. For the sake of this revelation he must try her sorely, but not for long.
"Have mercy on me," she cried, "O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil."
But not a word of reply came from the lips of the Healer. His disciples must speak first. They must supplicate for their Gentile sister. He would arouse in them the disapproval of their own exclusiveness, by putting it on for a moment that they might see it apart from themselves.
Their hearts were moved for the woman.
"Send her away," they said, meaning, "Give her what she wants;" but to move the heart of love to grant the prayer, they--poor intercessors--added a selfish reason to justify the deed of goodness, either that they would avoid being supposed to acknowledge her claim on a level with that of a Jewess, and would make of it what both Puritans and priests would call "an uncovenanted mercy," or that they actually thought it would help to overcome the scruples of the Master. Possibly it was both. "She crieth after us," they said--meaning, "She is troublesome." They would have him give as the ungenerous and the unjust give to the importunate.
But no healing could be granted on such a ground--not even to the prayer of an apostle. The woman herself must give a better.
"I am not sent," he said, "but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
They understood the words falsely. We know that he did come for the Gentiles, and he was training them to see what they were so slow to understand, that he had other sheep which were not of this fold. He had need to begin with them thus early. Most of the troubles of his latest, perhaps greatest apostle, came from the indignation of Jewish Christians that he preached the good news to the Gentiles as if it had been originally meant for them. They would have had them enter into its privileges by the gates of Judaism.
What they did at length understand by these words is expressed in the additional word of our Lord given by St Mark: "Let the children first be filled." But even this they could not understand until afterwards. They could not see that it was for the sake of the Gentiles as much as the Jews that Jesus came to the Jews first. For whatever glorious exceptions there were amongst the Gentiles, surpassing even similar amongst the Jews; and whatever the wide-spread refusal of the Jewish nation, he could not have been received amongst the Gentiles as amongst the Jews. In Judaea alone could the leaven work; there alone could the mustard-seed take fitting root. Once rooted and up, it would become a great tree, and the birds of the world would nestle in its branches. It was not that God loved the Jews more than the Gentiles that he chose them first, but that he must begin somewhere: why, God himself knows, and perhaps has given us glimmerings.
Upheld by her God-given love, not yet would the woman turn away. Even such hard words as these could not repulse her.
She came now and fell at his feet. It is as the Master would have it: she presses only the nearer, she insists only the more; for the devil has a hold of her daughter.
"Lord, help me," is her cry; for the trouble of her daughter is her own. The "Help me" is far more profound and pathetic than the most vivid blazon of the daughter's sufferings.
But he answered and said,--
"It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs." Terrible words! more dreadful far than any he ever spoke besides! Surely now she will depart in despair! But the Lord did not mean in them to speak his mind concerning the relation of Jew and Gentile; for not only do the future of his church and the teaching of his Spirit contradict it: but if he did mean what he said, then he acted as was unmeet, for he did cast a child's bread to a dog. No. He spoke as a Jew felt, that the elect Jews about him might begin to understand that in him is neither Jew nor Gentile, but all are brethren.
And he has gained his point. The spirit in the woman has been divinely goaded into utterance, and out come the glorious words of her love and faith, casting aside even insult itself as if it had never been--all for the sake of a daughter. Now, indeed, it is as he would have it.
"Yes, Lord; yet the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs."
Or, as St Matthew gives it:
"Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."
A retort quite Greek in its readiness, its symmetry, and its point! But it was not the intellectual merit of the answer that pleased the Master. Cleverness is cheap. It is the faith he praises, [Footnote 5: Far more precious than any show of the intellect, even in regard of the intellect itself. The quickness of her answer was the scintillation of her intellect under the glow of her affection. Love is the quickening nurse of the whole nature. Faith in God will do more for the intellect at length than all the training of the schools. It will make the best that can be made of the whole man.] which was precious as rare--unspeakably precious even when it shall be the commonest thing in the universe, but precious now as the first fruits of a world redeemed--precious now as coming from the lips of a Gentile--more precious as coming from the lips of a human mother pleading for her daughter.
"O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt."
Or, as St Mark gives it, for we cannot afford to lose a varying word,
"For this saying, go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter." The loving mother has conquered the tormenting devil. She has called in the mighty aid of the original love. Through the channel of her love it flows, new-creating, "and her daughter was made whole from that very hour."
Where, O disciples, are your children and your dogs now? Is not the wall of partition henceforth destroyed? No; you too have to be made whole of a worse devil, that of personal and national pride, before you understand. But the day of the Lord is coming for you, notwithstanding ye are so incapable of knowing the signs and signals of its approach that, although its banners are spread across the flaming sky, it must come upon you as a thief in the night.
For the woman, we may well leave her to the embraces of her daughter. They are enough for her now.
But endless more will follow, for God is exhaustless in giving where the human receiving holds out. God be praised that there are such embraces in the world! that there are mothers who are the salvation of their children!
We now complete a little family group, as it were, with the story of another foreigner, a Roman officer, who besought the Lord for his servant. This captain was at Capernaum at the time, where I presume he had heard of the cure which Jesus had granted to the nobleman for his son. It seems almost clear from the quality of his faith, however, that he must have heard much besides of Jesus--enough to give him matter of pondering for some time, for I do not think such humble confidence as his could be, like Jonah's gourd, the growth of a night. He was evidently a man of noble and large nature. Instead of lording it over the subject Jews of Capernaum, he had built them a synagogue; and his behaviour to our Lord is marked by that respect which, shown to any human being, but especially to a person of lower social condition, is one of the surest marks of a finely wrought moral temperament. Such a nature may be beautifully developed, by a military training, in which obedience and command go together; and the excellence of faith and its instant response in action, would be more readily understood by the thoughtful officer of a well-disciplined army than by any one to whom organization was unknown. Hence arose the parallel the centurion draws between his own and the Master's position, which so pleased the Lord by its direct simplicity. But humble as the man was, I doubt if anything less than some spiritual perception of the nobility of the character of Jesus, some perception of that which was altogether beyond even the power of healing, could have generated such perfect reverence, such childlike confidence as his. It is no wonder the Lord was pleased with it, for that kind of thing must be just what his Father loves.
According to St Luke, the Roman captain considered himself so unworthy of notice from the carpenter's son--they of Capernaum, which was "his own city," knew his reputed parentage well enough--that he got the elders of the Jews to go and beg for him that he would come and heal his servant. They bore testimony to his worth, specifying that which would always be first in the eyes of such as they, that he loved their nation, and had built them a synagogue. Little they thought how the Lord was about to honour him above all their nation and all its synagogues. He went with them at once.
But before they reached the house, the centurion had a fresh inroad of that divine disease, humility, [Footnote 6: In him it was almost morbid, one might be tempted to say, were it not that it was own sister to such mighty faith.] and had sent other friends to say, "Lord, trouble not thyself, for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof. Wherefore, neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee; but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it."
This man was a philosopher: he ascended from that to which he was accustomed to that to which he was not accustomed. Nor did his divine logic fail him. He begins with acknowledging his own subjection, and states his own authority; then leaves it to our Lord to understand that he recognizes in him an authority beyond all, expecting the powers of nature to obey their Master, just as his soldiers or his servants obey him. How grandly he must have believed in him!
But beyond suspicion of flattery, he avoids the face of the man whom in heart he worships. How unlike those who press into the presence of a phantom-greatness! "A poor creature like me go and talk to him!" the Roman captain would exclaim. "No, I will worship from afar off." And it is to be well heeded that the Lord went no further--turned at once. With the tax-gatherer Zacchaeus he would go home, if but to deliver him from the hopelessness of his self-contempt; but what occasion was there here? It was all right here. The centurion was one who needed but to go on. In heart and soul he was nearer the Lord now than any of the disciples who followed him. Surely some one among the elders of the Jews, his friends, would carry him the report of what the Master said. It would not hurt him. The praise of the truly great will do no harm, save it fall where it ought not, on the heart of the little. The praise of God never falls wrong, therefore never does any one harm. The Lord even implies we ought to seek it. His praise would but glorify the humility and the faith of this Roman by making both of them deeper and nobler still. There is something very grand in the Lord's turning away from the house of the man who had greater faith than any he had found in Israel; for such were the words he spoke to those who followed him, of whom in all likelihood the messenger elders were nearest. Having turned to say them, he turned not again but went his way. St Luke, whose narrative is in other respects much fuller than St Matthew's (who says that the centurion himself came to Jesus, and makes no mention of the elders), does not represent the Master as uttering a single word of cure, but implies that he just went away marvelling at him; while "they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick." If any one ask how Jesus could marvel, I answer, Jesus could do more things than we can well understand. The fact that he marvelled at the great faith, shows that he is not surprised at the little, and therefore is able to make all needful and just, yea, and tender allowance.
Here I cannot do better for my readers than give them four lines, dear to me, but probably unknown to most of them, written, I must tell them, for the sake of their loving catholicity, by an English Jesuit of the seventeenth century. They touch the very heart of the relation between Jesus and the centurion:--
Thy God was making haste into thy roof;
Thy humble faith and fear keeps Him aloof:
He'll be thy guest; because He may not be,
He'll come--into thy house? No, into thee.
As I said, we thus complete a kind of family group, for surely the true servant is one of the family: we have the prayer of a father for a son, of a mother for a daughter, of a master for a servant. Alas! the dearness of this latter bond is not now known as once. There never was a rooted institution in parting with which something good was not lost for a time, however necessary its destruction might be for the welfare of the race. There are fewer free servants that love their masters and mistresses now, I fear, than there were Roman bondsmen and bondswomen who loved theirs. And, on the other hand, very few masters and mistresses regard the bond between them and their servants with half the respect and tenderness with which many among the Romans regarded it. Slavery is a bad thing and of the devil, yet mutual jealousy and contempt are worse. But the time will yet come when a servant will serve for love as more than wages; and when the master of such a servant will honour him even to the making him sit down to meat, and coming forth and serving him.
The next is the case of the palsied man, so graphically given both by St Mark and St Luke, and with less of circumstance by St Matthew. This miracle also was done in Capernaum, called his own city. Pharisees and doctors of the law from every town in the country, hearing of his arrival, had gathered to him, and were sitting listening to his teaching. There was no possibility of getting near him, and the sick man's friends had carried him up to the roof, taken off the tiles, and let him down into the presence. It should not be their fault if the poor fellow was not cured. "Jesus seeing their faith--When Jesus saw their faith--And when he saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, be of good cheer--Son--Man, thy sins are forgiven thee." The forgiveness of the man's sins is by all of the narrators connected with the faith of his friends. This is very remarkable. The only other instance in which similar words are recorded, is that of the woman who came to him in Simon's house, concerning whom he showed first, that her love was a sign that her sins were already forgiven. What greater honour could he honour their faith withal than grant in their name, unasked, the one mighty boon? They had brought the man to him; to them he forgave his sins. He looked into his heart, and probably saw, as in the case of the man whom he cured by the pool of Bethesda, telling him to go and sin no more, that his own sins had brought upon him this suffering, a supposition which aids considerably to the understanding of the consequent conversation; saw, at all events, that the assurance of forgiveness was what he most needed, whether because his conscience was oppressed with a sense of guilt, or that he must be brought to think more of the sin than of the suffering; for it involved an awful rebuke to the man, if he required it still--that the Lord should, when he came for healing, present him with forgiveness. Nor did he follow it at once with the cure of his body, but delayed that for a little, probably for the man's sake, as probably for the sake of those present, whom he had been teaching for some time, and in whose hearts he would now fix the lesson concerning the divine forgiveness which he had preached to them in bestowing it upon the sick man. For his words meant nothing, except they meant that God forgave the man. The scribes were right when they said that none could forgive sins but God--that is, in the full sense in which forgiveness is still needed by every human being, should all his fellows whom he has injured have forgiven him already.
They said in their hearts, "He is a blasphemer." This was what he had expected.
"Why do you think evil in your hearts?" he said, that is, evil of me--that I am a blasphemer.
He would now show them that he was no blasphemer; that he had the power to forgive, that it was the will of God that he should preach the remission of sins. How could he show it them? In one way only: by dismissing the consequence, the punishment of those sins, sealing thus in the individual case the general truth. He who could say to a man, by the eternal law suffering the consequences of sin: "Be whole, well, strong; suffer no more," must have the right to pronounce his forgiveness; else there was another than God who had to cure with a word the man whom his Maker had afflicted. If there were such another, the kingdom of God must be trembling to its fall, for a stronger had invaded and reversed its decrees. Power does not give the right to pardon, but its possession may prove the right. "Whether is easier--to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee, or to say, Rise up and walk?" If only God can do either, he who can do the one must be able to do the other.
"That ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins--Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house."
Up rose the man, took up that whereon he had lain, and went away, knowing in himself that his sins were forgiven him, for he was able to glorify God. It seems to me against our Lord's usual custom with the scribes and Pharisees to grant them such proof as this. Certainly, to judge by those recorded, the whole miracle was in aspect and order somewhat unusual. But I think the men here assembled were either better than the most of their class, or in a better mood than common, for St Luke says of them that the power of the Lord was present to heal them. To such therefore proof might be accorded which was denied to others. That he might heal these learned doctors around him, he forgave the sins first and then cured the palsy of the man before him. For their sakes he performed the miracle thus. Then, like priests, like people; for where their leaders were listening, the people broke open the roof to get the helpless into his presence.
"They marvelled and glorified God which had given such power unto men"--"Saying, We never saw it on this fashion."--"They were filled with fear, saying, We have seen strange things to-day."
And yet Capernaum had to be brought down to hell, and no man can tell the place where it stood.
Two more cases remain, both related by St Mark alone.
They brought him a man partially deaf and dumb. He led him aside from the people: he would be alone with him, that he might come the better into relation with that individuality which, until molten from within, is so hard to touch. Possibly had the man come of himself, this might have been less necessary; but I repeat there must have been in every case reason for the individual treatment in the character and condition of the patient. These were patent only to the Healer. In this case the closeness of the personal contact, as in those cases of the blind, is likewise remarkable. "He put his fingers into his ears, he spit and touched his tongue." Always in present disease, bodily contact--in defects of the senses, sometimes of a closer kind. He would generate assured faith in himself as the healer. But there is another remarkable particular here, which, as far as I can remember, would be alone in its kind but for a fuller development of it at the raising of Lazarus. "And looking up to heaven, he sighed."
What did it mean? What first of all was it?
That look, was it not a look up to his own Father? That sigh, was it not the unarticulated prayer to the Father of the man who stood beside him? But did he need to look up as if God was in the sky, seeing that God was in him, in his very deepest, inmost being, in fulness of presence, and receiving conscious response, such as he could not find anywhere else--not from the whole gathered universe? Why should he send a sigh, like a David's dove, to carry the thought of his heart to his Father? True, if all the words of human language had been blended into one glorious majesty of speech, and the Lord had sought therein to utter the love he bore his Father, his voice must needs have sunk into the last inarticulate resource--the poor sigh, in which evermore speech dies helplessly triumphant--appealing to the Hearer to supply the lack, saying I cannot, but thou knowest--confessing defeat, but claiming victory. But the Lord could talk to his Father evermore in the forms of which words are but the shadows, nay, infinitely more, without forms at all, in the thoughts which are the souls of the forms. Why then needs he look up and sigh?--That the man, whose faith was in the merest nascent condition, might believe that whatever cure came to him from the hand of the healer, came from the hand of God. Jesus did not care to be believed in as the doer of the deed, save the deed itself were recognized as given him of the Father. If they saw him only, and not the Father through him, there was little gained indeed. The upward look and the sigh were surely the outward expression of the infrangible link which bound both the Lord and the man to the Father of all. He would lift the man's heart up to the source of every gift. No cure would be worthy gift without that: it might be an injury.
The last case is that of the blind man of Bethsaida, whom likewise he led apart, out of the town, and whose dull organs he likewise touched with his spittle. Then comes a difference. The deaf man was at once cured; when he had laid his hands on the blind man, his vision was but half-restored. "He asked him if he saw ought? And he looked up and said, I see the men: for like trees [Footnote 7: Could it be translated, "As well as (that is besides) trees, I see walkers about"?] I see them walking about." He could tell they were men and not trees, only by their motion. The Master laid his hands once more upon his eyes, and when he looked up again, he saw every man clearly.
In thus graduating the process, our Lord, I think, drew forth, encouraged, enticed into strength the feeble faith of the man. He brooded over him with his holy presence of love. He gave the faith time to grow. He cared more for his faith than his sight. He let him, as it were, watch him, feel him doing it, that he might know and believe. There is in this a peculiar resemblance to the ordinary modes God takes in healing men.
These last miracles are especially full of symbolism and analogy. But in considering any of the miracles, I do not care to dwell upon this aspect of them, for in this they are only like all the rest of the doings of God. Nature is brimful of symbolic and analogical parallels to the goings and comings, the growth and the changes of the highest nature in man. It could not be otherwise. For not only did they issue from the same thought, but the one is made for the other. Nature as an outer garment for man, or a living house, rather, for man to live in. So likewise must all the works of him who did the works of the Father bear the same mark of the original of all.
The one practical lesson contained in this group is nearer the human fact and the human need than any symbolic meaning, grand as it must be, which they may likewise contain; nearer also to the constitution of things, inasmuch as what a man must do is more to the man and to his Maker than what he can only think; inasmuch, also, as the commonest things are the best, and any man can do right, although he may be unable to tell the difference between a symbol and a sign:--it is that if ever there was a Man such as we read about here, then he who prays for his friends shall be heard of God. I do not say he shall have whatever he asks for. God forbid. But he shall be heard. And the man who does not see the good of that, knows nothing of the good of prayer; can, I fear, as yet, only pray for himself, when most he fancies he is praying for his friend. Often, indeed, when men suppose they are concerned for the well-beloved, they are only concerned about what they shall do without them. Let them pray for themselves instead, for that will be the truer prayer. I repeat, all prayer is assuredly heard:--what evil matter is it that it should be answered only in the right time and right way? The prayer argues a need--that need will be supplied. One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. All who have prayed shall one day justify God and say--Thy answer is beyond my prayer, as thy thoughts and thy ways are beyond my thoughts and my ways.