FEET OF JESUS
in Life, Death, Resurrection and Glory
by Philip Bennett Power, 1872
The Feet of Jesus—the Place for Helpless Misery
"Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at His feet; and He healed them." Matthew 15:30
The head of Jesus was crowned with thorns on earth; it is crowned with glory in heaven—and in either aspect we feel that it is a subject far beyond our grasp. It moves our feelings, it excites our admiration, and we wonder and adore—where we cannot understand.
But the feet of Jesus! those feet which were weary, which were dust-soiled, which moved about the common haunts of man; perhaps we think we understand more of them. It may be that we do understand "more," but not "all." We do not understand all about any one footprint which He left on earth. There are reasons why He went to this place and to that, and why He left it, far beyond our reach. Yes; take any one footprint; see in it the earth or the dust of a fallen world, bearing the impress of the foot of the Son of God made man; why is that footmark there? What is the very first origin of it? What is the full extent of its meaning? There is no human intellect which can reach to this!
There are in this matter, hidden things which belong to God; but there are also things revealed, which belong to us and to our children—things which intertwine themselves with our present position, with our daily need, with Christ's relationship to us, and ours to Him. It is upon such, that we desire to dwell in these chapters. We feel that we need the Spirit's guidance, to teach us so much as even the least thing about 'the feet of Jesus.'
In this great gathering, of which Matthew here speaks, we have the feet of Christ presented to us as the place for helpless misery—the place of simple pity. This scene is an epitome of the history of our Lord. Multitudes of diseased are on one side—Himself, the solitary Healer, on the other; they are cast at Jesus' feet, and He healed them. The feet of Jesus was the place for all this helpless misery; there it found simple pity; and in that pity, a supply for all its need.
When I see, then, all these people cast at the feet of Jesus, and lying there, the thoughts which I have are these—
1. I see Him, the well-defined center of a circle, with an undefined circumference.I am glad that we are not told exactly how many were healed, and that we have not a perfect catalogue of the diseases under which they were suffering. I like to think what a vast number that "many others" may include—to think that from north, south, east, west, the miserable people all came. So large is the circle of human misery that, no human mind can even imagine its outer limits. We think, perhaps, that we know a good deal of deep heart-sinkings and sorrows ourselves; but, ah! others have some far deeper than ours; they are exercised on subjects and in ways that we have not an idea of; and in the vast sweep of all this misery stands Jesus the Healer—His feet are in the center.
"Many others" were cast down at His feet. There is great beauty and use in the indefiniteness of Scripture, "Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely." "Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden." It is meant to bring to the feet of Jesus, all people however so far off—people who otherwise never would have imagined that they might venture. The feet of Jesus is the place for all helpless misery—yours and mine, and "many others'.
But, in the matter of Christ, it is above all things necessary that everything should be very precise, "Come unto ME." Therefore the sick were cast at His very feet. Christ entered the circle of misery for a purpose—that He might draw the miserable to Him. He stands, He sits, He walks in it—that He may be near people. His holy feet are down in our earth-dust, that creeping, or lying helpless, or cast down almost in despair, we may be near some part of Him; and to be near any part of Jesus is to be near healing and life. That woman who touched the hem of His garment bent close to His foot, and even there, found all that she required.
2. I think that Jesus is a gatherer-in of human misery.It was to be such a gatherer, that He came on earth—that was His one object; to fit Himself for that, He became man, and lived, and died. And here, He was a man above men. What most desire is, to gather gain—for that they live, for that too often toil until they die. They desire to throw off misery; it is troublesome and expensive, and perhaps distressing to them. What they throw off—Jesus takes in to Himself. If we, then, are miserable in any way, and know not where to go, or on whom to lay our load—let us betake ourselves quickly of the ingatherer of sorrows. Did not His feet travel, when on earth, to the abode of illness and of death? Did they not stand still, when He was cried after? He never used those, His human feet—to run from misery; or like the priest and Levite to pass by on the other side; but He stood, and walked in misery's way.
Now we must lay this to heart. When we are miserable we must not say, "Where shall I go for sympathy? Who will pity me? Who will understand me, or my sorrow, or my case?" Behold, the ingatherer of human misery is walking close by you; there is no path of sorrow which does not bear an imprint of His foot!
3. I have also a thought concerning the pool of Bethesda.There, a multitude were waiting, and only one could be healed. There was no eye of sympathy to look upon the afflicted, no voice to speak to them; each man, forgetful of perhaps the greater woes of others, absorbed only in his own, rushed forward, if possible, to be the first to enter into the troubled waters—and so reap the solitary blessing which the pool contained.
Here, on this mountain-side, sits Jesus. There is no troubling here; there need not be. Whatever troubling there is, is always on man's side. With Him all is calm. We see in our mind's eye the multitudes toiling up the mountain-side; the eagerness, the anxiety, the casting down at Jesus' feet; and beautifully simple is all that we have told us of what He did, "He healed them all." Those simple words, no doubt, fitly express the calm with which He wrought upon the mass of misery prostrate at His feet.
4. And I think that, in truth, there lay before Jesus, if we might be bold enough to say so—no alternative but to heal them all.
The only alternative was to get up and go away; or tell the people who brought their loved sick ones, to take them back again unhealed; but what an alternative would that have been to Him! He could never have done this!
So, then, when we cast down our sorrows, or ourselves, or our friends' sorrows, or themselves, right at the feet of Christ—let us think, 'He cannot go away from them.' This is no presumption, no lowering of Jesus, no detraction from His power; but it is a holy faith and courage to have such a thought, and it is greatly honoring to Him. What would become of us, if it had been even once recorded that Jesus was too busy to attend to such and such a person, or that He refused anyone, and sent him away unhealed? No doubt Satan would say, "Ah, that case is just like yours!" Or our own poor mistrusting hearts would be sure to fix upon it, and to feel, "So and so was sent away; ah! my experience may be the same!"
But Jesus, owing to the blessed pitifulness of His nature, cannot go on—no, not a single step—if a helpless, suffering being, willing to be healed, is cast in faith athwart His path. He is rooted and bound by misery. Such is His blessed human nature that, if He were obliged to spurn the miserable from His feet, or to go away from them—He would be miserable Himself!
In our sorrow, then, let us look at Christ tied and bound by the laws of His own loving nature; let us put the power of those laws against our own fears, and the repulsiveness of our sins; and faith will strengthen itself, and lay many people, and many sorrows at the feet of Jesus.
5. Further, I think of the helpless misery of that crowd cast down at Jesus' feet.Lying there, they suggest the thought that conscious helplessness has in itself, power with Jesus. Coming so closely in the sacred narrative, upon the impassioned entreaty of the Syro-Phoenician woman at the feet of Jesus (which has a lesson of its own,) it seems to have a special teaching. For many might say, "We cannot plead as she did." Diffident of their own earnestness and energy; and seeing how much was won by the Syro-Phoenician woman by the exercise of these qualities, they might say, "If Christ has to be so hardly entreated, then what can we hope to get—we who are feeble, who seem as though we are not wise enough to use arguments which can reach His head, or strong enough to utter cries which can pierce His heart?" We need only read on a little further—and behold the multitudes simply lying at His feet.
These sick people thus lying at Jesus' feet have a voice to us—their helplessness speaks to ours; it says, "Perhaps you cannot address arguments like the Syro-Phoenician woman to the head of Christ; or, it may be, you are dull in pleading with the affections of His heart; then do not consider that all is over—that there is nothing for you; do not depress yourself with what you cannot do; think rather of what you can do. You can lie at Jesus' feet, where he must see you. You are very close to Him—when you are at His feet."
In common, everyday life, men are frequently losing gain which they might have had—while aiming at something higher which they cannot have; so is it in the spiritual life too. While aiming at what is much higher than we at present have capacity for—we miss what is within our reach.
We must not fret ourselves that we have not attained to this or that energy of spiritual life, and shut out the comfort of knowing that we have "something"—that we are at the Savior's feet. Satan would hide from us that we are there; for he knows that none tarry long there in humble waiting, without being lifted up and given strength.
If the reader feels very helpless, let him not flee from this thought, but use it; and the way he is to use it is this. He is to lie still at Jesus' feet—not to want to move at all—not to be restless; Jesus sees him—and that is enough.
6. Now I think how beautifully simple everything is here; the few and unadorned words in which this great transaction is recorded lead us to thoughts of simplicity.There is simple TRUST on the part of the afflicted people, and those who brought them; and simple PITY on the part of Jesus.
Blessed be God for all the simplicity in the gospels; it is as little children we must receive the kingdom of heaven, and simple food suits the infancy of the soul—yes, and its ripe old age. For when many things have been learned about types and prophecies, and many speculations have been made, and systems of theology constructed; what does the soul fall back upon, when in view of eternity—but just the simple truth of "Jesus died—and rose again for us!" That was what made a prelate eminent in learning and controversy say, in extreme old age, and in his dying hours, "Don't talk to me of the cross—but of the One who hung upon the cross." This was no abstract distinction. The One who hung upon it—was what the soul needed; there were the very feet, at which it could lie.
Let us say to ourselves and to others—What is needed for healing—is not many thoughts, or high thoughts, about Jesus, or any intellectual knowledge about Him at all—but the plainest simplicity of trust; and it will be very helpful if we see that the like simplicity is in Him. Simple pity! that is what we are to look for from Jesus. We need not connect it with any theological thoughts; it is a pure uncompounded feeling; and where shall we see it exercised, as on those who are simply cast at His feet?
Let us learn, then, the value of bringing our afflicted ones to the feet of Christ, feeling we can do no more than that. We have perhaps tried many physicians with them, and they are no better—but rather the worse. Kindness has not melted them, punishment has not corrected them, discipline has not restrained them. We must now not "cast them off," but "cast them down" at the feet of Jesus. And having done this, we must not yield to desponding feelings of helplessness. We are now really nearer to being helped, than ever we were before. We are now in the right place before Christ—in the right position—that of expectancy; with the right feelings—those of self-helplessness, and yet hope. Who knows how soon you will say, "We cast them down at Jesus' feet—and He healed them!"
The Feet of Jesus—the Place for Personal Ministration
"And a woman in the town who was a sinner, found out that Jesus was reclining at the table in the Pharisee's house. She brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil and stood behind Him at His feet, weeping, and began to wash His feet with her tears. She wiped His feet with the hair of her head, kissing them and anointing them with the fragrant oil." Luke 7:37-38
If man had been informed by God that He was about to reveal His only Son to the world, and had been asked what form this revelation should take, there is little doubt what his answer would have been. He would have said, "As the Son of God, it is fit that He should appear in great glory; a throne must be His seat, legions of angels His attendants; the music of heaven must float around Him, the radiance of heaven beam from Him; without shading—the eye should not be able to look upon Him, and without trembling—the knee should not stand before Him."
But the ways of God are not as our ways, neither are His thoughts like ours. And so, before He gives us a revelation of His Son in glory, with a countenance shining as the sun in his strength, with a head glorious with many crowns, and feet like unto fine brass, as though they burnished in a furnace—He presents Him to us with a visage marred more than any man's; with head unpillowed and with feet unwashed.
For this, so unexpected an appearance—so low an abasement of the Son of God, there must have been deep reasons in His Father's mind. Some of these we ourselves can see; and such divide themselves into two classes—those which belonged to His humiliation as necessary for the atonement; and those which have to do with us in our feeling and communion with God, and practical spiritual life—internally in our thoughts, externally in our acts.
How would it have been with us, if we had not seen Christ, as it were, from head to foot, as He is revealed to us in the history of His life on earth—in the very fullness of His human nature? We never could have gone out to Him in our human nature. We might have taken off our shoes and worshiped where His feet had trodden, for it was holy ground; but we could never have walked with Him. We would have considered what was essentially human in us—too small to come into contact with what was essentially and wholly Divine, with what was so awesome. The confidings of our human nature would have been all pent in. We would have been frightened to go to Him with many a tale, which we can now tell Him without fear. But why is it thus now, when His last appearance, as given in the Revelation, is so grand? Because many thorns preceded the many crowns; and weariness and neglect were the portion of those feet, which having passed heaven's threshold in triumph, now burn like fine brass!
Nor could we have believed in Christ's sympathy as we do now; our dull hearts would not have been so assured of His feeling for us, unless we knew that He also had felt trials like our own.
Nor could we have offered Him our feelings and infirmities, as we now can. What a wonderful thought this is! God in Christ desires human sympathies; He has so arranged that these sympathies are possible, that they can reach Him—that we may offer Him our feelings; and He has given us the privilege of solidifying our feelings. This poor woman's offering to the feet of Jesus—her tears and ointment, and that lowly ministry of her hair, became, so to speak, solidified; the Jesus who turned water into wine has made them shine with a resplendent light for His Church through many ages.
God loves to embody His thoughts; they are so embodied in countless forms of beauty around us. He embodied them pre-eminently in Christ, and He wills that we should embody our sympathies with Jesus. Therefore let us do as this woman did—let us not merely talk, and look—but do. He who sympathizes practically with the lowly ones of Christ, or with the small and worrying troubles of even the smallest of His people, does so with His feet—they wash, they wipe, they anoint, they kiss.
The activities of practical Christian life are constructed and based upon, and energized by, the personality of Jesus. Everywhere we are met by "the man Christ Jesus." Mere dreams and sentiments take flight before a substantial Christ. If only we will see it—He is still in our midst. Take Him away, and our spiritual life will be divested of a central, moving figure—one whose life on earth, as well as whose glory in heaven—are ever to be before us.
And so, we might go on with many other evils which would happen, if we had not as a Christ—One who with human feet walked the same earth as we do, and whose feet were ministered to with such acceptance as we find here.
Thus keeping before us the person of Jesus, we also may in our measure realize the apostle's words, "That which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the Word of life."
Let us do all things so personally to Christ—let us hear His voice saying so plainly, "Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren—you have done it unto me," that we may indeed be able to take up those words and say, "What we have seen, looked upon, handled of the Word of life."
A large subject is embraced here—but we shall confine ourselves to the Feet of Christ as the place of personal ministration.
Let us mark here the highest, or heaped-up nature of this woman's service. There was washing, wiping, kissing, anointing. It is like a cluster of diamonds in a single ring, like many fruits on one bough.
And the first thought which strikes us concerning it is a sorrowful one; it is the difference between this woman's highest service, and the poor, and often grudging service, which we offer. We look upon service too often as under law—that we are commanded to do this and that; it becomes the fulfillment of law, and nothing more. And so it comes to pass, that much of our service becomes grudging or of necessity, and inquires not "how much can be given," but "what will be enough," "what will barely do." The hardness which belongs to law enters into this service; and like all our attempts at law-keeping, it falls short.
But this woman's service was under no law. She was not even under the unwritten law of hospitality; for Jesus was not in her house. This service was the representative not of law—but love; and in love it found a motive power, which law never could have supplied.
Let us aim at the highest service—to do much to Christ; for in doing it for Him, we do it to Him. And let us remember that this service will not be noted merely in the mass, God will separate it into its component parts. Each specific good thing will be noted. God will unwind the golden thread into its various strands; He will pass the ray beneath a prism, which will divide it into many hues.
We take things in the lump; our earthliness, our lack of memory, our imperfect power of perception, all conduce to this; but God is too exact not to note the parts which make up the whole.
If we pay a visit to the sick for His sake, He notes all the component parts of that visit—the cheery word we uttered, the tone in which it was spoken, the gentle touch of the sick one's hand, the patient silence while listening to complaints, the loving craft by which we sought to take the afflicted one's mind, away from himself. In our mind—it may be, in the sick one's mind—we paid a visit, and that was all. But God knows what there was in that visit, and He counts it all up, and records it even as He does the washing, wiping, kissing, and anointing here.
The feet of Jesus were the recipients of love's highest service; and what encouragement is there here to those who are diffident about aiming high. The feet, at least, are open to them; they may pour out all their fullness upon what is very lowly, yet belonging to Christ. The lowliest object may be the recipient of highest service. Jesus Himself took care to point this out when He said, "Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren—you have done it unto me!"
There is also a certain perfection in this service which the reader is invited to observe. There was washing and wiping. This was no half—no unfinished service—but one altogether perfect in its kind. The wiping was the needed consequence of the washing; and it is forthcoming, and that with no diminution of love's intensity. There were tears with which to wash—and there was hair with which to wipe.
One fact which strikes us here is, the continued strength or energy of this service; the ministry of the tears of her eyes—is immediately followed by that of the hair of her head. Surely this woman's hair and tears have a voice for us. When we put our service by the side of hers—we are reminded how often we diminish, how often we leave unfinished, how often we think we have done enough, when there plainly remains yet more to be done.
Some of the most beautiful services in God's eyes are probably so from their perfection, and not their extent. God loves what is perfect in its kind. Its kind may be very lowly; He Himself has made a great many very lowly things—little flowers and insects which make no pretension to being otherwise than lowly; but when He had seen everything that He had made, He pronounced it to be "very good." Lowliness of position, and perfection of kind may go together.
It is a sign of a perfect workman not to leave anything unfinished; and LOVE should be of all workers, the most perfect.
But there was another element of perfection in this ministry to the feet of Jesus. She gave not only herself, but her substance. After washing, wiping, and kissing, all three as it were givings of her very self—she anointed Him with the ointment from the alabaster box.
There were three personal services—services of herself—before there was the giving of substance. The ointment was very precious—but it did not weigh down what had gone before.
It might be said, service can be recognized in the washing and wiping; but what service was there in the kissing? The answer is that, a kiss is a service of love—a performance of the lip on behalf of the heart; the heart feeling that it must do something to show its love, and the lip lending it its aid. This woman probably uttered not a word during all this process of love—let it not be considered a contradiction in terms that, her KISS was the voice of voiceless love.
From the position in which the mention of her kissing of Jesus' feet is found—midway between the two ministries of the washing and wiping, and the anointing—a thought arises with reference to our own personal feeling in service. It must needs have been, that this worshiping woman had herself some of the enjoyment of love's sweetness and refreshment, when she kissed those feet of Jesus. It is no irreverence—but strictly within the probability of things, to believe that an ineffable sense of happiness passed through her, as she thus vented her adoring love upon the honored feet of Jesus!
I accept with comfort the suggestion which hereon rises in my mind. I say, "There is to be happiness for the server in his service—as well as honor for the served one, in being served."
And, reader, you must seek to enjoy this privilege. Do not argue against yourself and say, "How can there be any happiness where there are tears?" Ah! some of the most delicately-shaded happiness is found amid tears. There are flowers which are obliged to hang down their heads by reason of the heavy showers—but their perfume has not gone.
Seek for personal happiness when rendering to Jesus personal service; seek for refreshment to your own soul, when refreshing His people—that is, Himself.
Let us bracket kissing and anointing together, as we did washing and wiping; the one was a true symbol, the other a costly and substantial reality of love. Kisses may be poor things like Orpah's, or deceitful like Judas'. But when the kiss and the fatted calf go together—the kiss and the ointment—there is no mistake.
But let us return more immediately for a moment from this ministering woman—to the feet which were ministered unto. All was lavished upon the least, as it were of Jesus—upon His feet.
How often we think that only the head—some great cause of Jesus, or some great enterprise for Him can be worthily served. But the feet of Jesus had here a great capacity for absorbing service, the washing, wiping, kissing, anointing—were all accepted and appreciated.
We know that the very head of Jesus may be anointed—that He graciously places it within our reach; that what may be called great enterprises for Him may be undertaken; but for the most part we have to do with the feet.
Let not the reader, then, sigh after great spheres of service, or seek great outvents for love to his Savior. He who is untrue in the least, would be also untrue in the greatest; he who neglects the feet would neglect the head. Amid the dust-soiled, the way-worn, and the neglected will be found recipients capable of absorbing all the service that we can give. Like the feet of Jesus, they lie within our reach; it is only fit that the lowest and the least of God's—should be able to absorb the greatest and the best of ours. It will be a great encouragement to us in our ministerings among humble people, or in doing humble offices, to remember that they actually have a capacity for swallowing up our utmost efforts—they are big enough for the most that we can do.
From among many others which lie to hand, let us just take one point more for a moment's thought.
What shall we do with our tears? The world is full of tears, and many of them are wasted. Now there should be no waste of anything, and tears are not intended to be spilt upon the ground. The Psalmist knew that God valued tears when he prayed, "Put my tears into Your bottle."
Tears are to be brought into connection with Jesus. The tears which touched the feet, thrilled through the being of the Lord. We may hold back, thinking that we cannot reach the heart of Christ; but let us touch Him anywhere, His whole being is sensitive, He will soon say, "Somebody, something has touched Me!"
And now, lastly, let those who read these lines make up for the neglect of duty by others, by the exuberance and fullness of their own love.
Simon's duty, in common hospitality, was to have given Jesus water for His feet. He gave it not; but this woman supplied its place with tears.
May we have that love, which will supply the deficiencies even of those who profess to entertain the Lord. The closest personal services done to Him—those which will gain most place in that history which is for eternity—are those, not of duty—but of love; and many of them done, as it were, only to the "feet of Jesus."
The Feet of Jesus—the Place for Personal Necessity
"Then a man named Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, came and fell at Jesus' feet, pleading with him to come to his house because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying!" Luke 8:41-42
"Immediately after hearing about Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit came and fell at His feet!" Mark 7:25
"When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and told Him—Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died!" John 11:32
We have in Holy Scripture, something about the feet of Jesus—as regards His life on earth, His death, His resurrection life, and His life in glory. We are at present concerned only with incidents which refer to those feet, while He lived and moved as a man among men, in what we might call the ordinary walks of every-day human life.
No doubt, what meets us here is very extraordinary—but the scenes in which we find it embrace the usual places, people, and things of daily life.
Among the various mentions which we find of Jesus' feet, that with which we commenced these chapters is the only one embracing numbers of people; all the rest have to do with individual persons—their individual feelings, their troubles, their needs. And if we follow them out, we shall find them embodying and illustrating many of the experiences and feelings of Christian life.
In the Syro-phoenician woman—we see the trial and victory of Faith—Jesus allowing Himself to be overcome.
In Mary after Lazarus' death—we find the venting of personal sorrow.
In the Samaritan—we see the expression of gratitude.
In the anointing woman—we have seen personal love and ministry.
In the woman sitting at His feet—we have appreciation.
In the man sitting at His feet—see the recognition of the place of rest.
The leper who fell down before Jesus—gives us the expression of terrible personal need.
And in Peter falling at His feet, we see the abasement of felt personal demerit.
One great beauty of the Bible, and one of the means by which it takes such deep hold of us, is its individual cases; our natures crave what is personal, and find it here; they fix upon it; they take special comfort from it.
We cannot take in the woe of masses; we have no capacity for doing so—it is well that we have not. A single case with all its particulars can be realized; we enter into it, and it affects us more than any amount of anguish, no matter how great, which is but a confused mass. We read of so many thousands being wounded in some dreadful war—but let there be in the article which states this, an incident of individual suffering, and the human mind instinctively fixes itself on that.
It is a blessed thought that all masses of misery resolve themselves into their component parts—into individual cases before God. His great mind is analytical—it goes into particulars and details.
And here—much of the soul's life—yes, and of the body's life too—might be said to be analyzed at "the feet of Jesus."
Here we have the feet of Jesus—the place for agonizing personal suppliants—for the stating and pleading of individual need.
In the three cases, which we have grouped together at the head of this chapter, we might be said to have to do entirely with "death." In the case of the Syrophoenician woman, there was a living death—a life almost worse than death. In that of Jairus, there was present death—first threatened, then actual. In that of Mary, there was the finished woe—her dear brother was dead—and buried. As long as the body remains with us there is something to look at—something to be done—the mind feels there is something yet to come; but when that is taken away, there remains nothing more—the woe is consummated—ah, me! it is well that there is such a place—as the feet of Jesus!
In the first of our chapters, we met with multitudes and passive misery; here we meet with individual cases, where all is concentrated and active; and individual effort and energy are put forth in the highest degree.
We shall first consider the case ofJAIRUS. Here I find him—a ruler of the synagogue, at "the feet of Jesus!"
"Then a man named Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, came and fell at Jesus' feet, pleading with him to come to his house because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying!" Luke 8:41-42
What brought him there? A threefold sorrow—a mingled, a concentrated, a comprehensive sorrow.
It was mingled—both the daughter's and his own; she lay a-dying; and forasmuch as his heart was bound up in hers—his heart might be said to be a-dying also.
Mingled sorrow might be said to be the higher sorrow; it is not purely selfish; it has to do with others' woe. Though it does not exclude 'self;' to be mingled, it must give 'self' its place; but it has to do with another also.
And this mingling is very close—here it is a father for an only daughter, and because of an only daughter; the two thoughts could be separated—but they are not meant to be so.
So is it with many of the sorrows which God appoints for us; our feelings for our dear ones and our own personal feelings are interwoven so as to become one.
But what we are principally concerned with here, is the fact that this sorrow was brought to the feet of Jesus. And surely that was its appropriate place; because Jesus Himself was a man of mingled sorrows. He was not only a man of sorrow—but of sorrows—He tasted this kind as well as others; it is included under the head of His "acquaintance" with grief. The cup which the Father had given Him in Gethsemane, was a mingled cup; those tears at the grave of Lazarus were mingled tears.
So, then, Jesus was the very one to whom a trouble like that of Jairus, or of the Syrophoenician woman, could be brought; His feet were their proper place.
And here let us bring our sorrows in their mingled form—let us not seek to scatter them; and look for comfort for one part here, and for another part there. Jesus, by His own experience, will understand all the component parts of our grief.
And He will not be displeased because we seek relief for our own sorrow, as well as for the one on account of whom we are in grief. Personal sorrow is recognized; the same God who meant it to be felt—meant it also to be eased; and the place for ease by His appointment, is the feet of Jesus.
I next note this as a concentrated sorrow—she for whom Jairus had come to the feet of Jesus was an only daughter. This sorrow, though mingled, was not shared; it savored much of an essence—an essence of woe. If the only daughter died—then all was gone. This woe was well defined indeed. And in this aspect of it—it found its fittest place at Jesus' feet. His own course of sorrow was well defined enough; He was continually coming into contact with facts, often in relation to His own closest disciples and friends, which grieved Him; He could have well-defined feeling for well-defined trial.
Let us remember this, for we are often thinking that our particular trial is infinitely more to us—than it is to Christ; that He does not see it to be as large as it really is; that He cannot feel it as we feel it, or understand it as we do; that His sympathies are so scattered and diffused, He cannot gather them into the focus of our one grief. Jesus can cause the rays of His sympathy to converge on one point, until He makes it glow and burn with a light and heat of love.
We must not fear, then, being intrusive, or say, "Why should I think that my sorrow which is so great to me—should be great to Him?" He will recognize it as being what it is to us. Even if it is an exaggerated sorrow—made so from our worry and anxiety, still to us it is real, and therefore, it is so to Him.
An "only daughter;" here is a center, a pivot, something around which the dried-up heart would grind in days and nights of sorrow.
And are there not some hearts which have unoiled centers of sorrow, around which they unceasingly grind? They perform the one dull round of grief—the eye so fixed on one central point, that it soon becomes incapable of taking in anything else. Let it be brought to the feet of Jesus, that is the only place for dealing with sorrow like this. Remember the picture painted for you here—it is that of one deep sufferer, about one sorrow, before one Helper.
We must glance at one more aspect of this sorrow. It was comprehensive. Like all, or almost all those connected with death, it took in a past and a future. Oh! the wide-spreading comprehensiveness of death—that circle with so sharp and well-defined a point for a center, with so large and vast-embracing a sweep for a circumference.
Jairus brought a past to the feet of Jesus—a past full of endearment. For twelve years this child had been creeping around his heart, ever budding, ever throwing out fresh tendrils, which found their clinging place around that heart. For twelve years had she nestled inside it, so that his very life was as it were, the enfolding of another. It may be that father with child, and child with father, they mingled their lives together. Perhaps, this only daughter had helped to keep this father fresh and young, by the sweet unconscious ministry of youth—for children minister to us by their toys, and laughter, and the fresh dew upon their early morning life; perhaps, he had often sat, and with sweet contentment watched the mother being reproduced in the child. Who knows into what depths this "perhaps" will travel, if we let it go forth unrestricted into twelve years' life with an only child?
It is said that fathers love their girls the most, and mothers their sons the most; and whatever is that peculiarity of affection, it is beautiful to see how Jesus meets its sorrow, for He raised Jairus' only daughter; and the widow of Nain's only son. He not only gave them back their all—but a peculiar all; and, doubtless, He knew that He was doing so, for He is delicately skilled in the peculiarities of grief.
It was with such a past—a past with a great circle, and that, crowded with the imagery of love, that Jairus, the father, fell at Jesus' feet. But that was not all. He knows little of death-sorrow who imagines that it is all connected with the past. Far from it. The death-sorrow is a stand-point upon life's road—with a past brightly populated, with a future darkly blank.
I bear in mind the almost indignation with which a friend of mine—advanced in the life of faith, received a letter on her husband's death condoling with her on her "misery." To her, full of Christian hope, and well knowing that God had yet for her a life to be lived for Him, full also of all the consolations that the Gospel can give—the word was out of place—she felt it was a wrong to God. But consolations like these—certainly those high ones of the Gospel, this ruler had not; and so we may ponder how blank and void, how unseasoned and lusterless was that prospect which now lay before him.
The father had probably looked forward to much; he had day-dreamings of what that girl would be to him in his old age; a father's heart had often taken to love's speculations, and built castles in the air—which now lay ruined at his feet—ruined, not by slow decay of time—but, as it were, by a lightning flash. The girl was then a-dying—to all intents and purposes dead, unless Jesus would come at once and help; and Jairus embodying in himself these varied forms of sorrow —the mingled, the concentrated, and the comprehensive—fell with them all—at Jesus' feet!
Up to the present, we have seen Jairus only as a father; but the narrative brings him before us in another character also—we are told he was "a ruler of the synagogue." And it is important to note this with reference to our present subject, "the feet of Jesus." A ruler of the synagogue, a great man, is before the One who was called the carpenter's son—and at His feet!
True need brings us very low. It brought down that ruler; it has done the same to many a one since. The rich, the honored, the intellectual, have been brought there. They might have dialoged with Jesus, and admired Him, and said, "You are a teacher come from God," and continued just as they were. But nothing, save a deep sense of need, would have brought them to the feet of Jesus.
All adventitious circumstances—all rank, riches, intellect—are swept away before the avalanche of urgent and tremendous need. Oh! how small these things seem—in the presence of overwhelming need—especially when they come on the platform on which death is already standing. Death makes an impertinence of them all. Our imagined personal importance becomes nothing there.
"A ruler" at Jesus' feet was a triumph of reality. And where have we been brought, and what has "the reality" done for us, or rather, with us? For there is a great difference between these two. Something must be done with us, before anything is done for us; we must be brought to the feet of Jesus, there to receive a life gift—a gift, which shall be a victory over death.
Let us take one more thought before we close this chapter.
"Then a man named Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, came and fell at Jesus' feet, pleading with him to come to his house because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying!" The father invited Jesus to come into the very place, and scene, and home of sorrow. Into the place so lately instinct with joy—but which was now stilled; into the recesses of home life where everything which was associated with his departing joy lay around, there the ruler of the synagogue would bring Him who was in truth a higher ruler than himself, for He had power even over death.
We do not like the world or outsiders to see our deepest and most sacred sorrow, especially when it is fresh; but if our heart has apprehended Jesus aright—we shall be ready to ask Him! His will be no look of curiosity, no cold taking in of circumstances in which He has no interest. Wherever He comes, whenever He speaks or looks—it is always with a purpose.
And let us be circumstantial in the detail of our sorrow. Jairus told the Lord that he had one only daughter, and that she was twelve years old, and that she lay a-dying. All that he said would be helpful towards exciting Jesus' interest and moving His pity; which perhaps, he, who knew not Jesus' heart fully, would have thought necessary. We know that for this purpose it is not needed; still it is a good thing to enter into particulars with the Lord. It is treating Him with confidence; the very feeling that He will be specially interested, is honoring to Him. Every particular that we bring before Him, He will note—and act with reference to it too.
So then, when we analyze this sorrow of the ruler, we see that there was enough to bring him (ruler though he was) to the place where we find him here—the place for every reader of these lines, in all sorrowful times—the feet of Jesus!
The Feet of Jesus—the Place for Personal Necessity
"A woman whose little daughter had an evil spirit came and fell at His feet. Now the woman was Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she begged Him to drive the demon out of her daughter!" Mark 7:25-26
The first position which this woman took up does not appear to have been at the feet of Jesus. According to the account given us in Matthew, she seems to have followed Christ for some little time, probably at somewhat of a distance, crying after Him, and begging for mercy at once upon herself and her child. She was apparently within hearing distance—but that availed her nothing, for Jesus had not answered her a word. And if she heard the answer which the Lord gave to the disciples, when they asked that she should be given what she wanted and sent away, her chances of help seemed about utterly to perish.
But "the feet of Jesus" had yet to be tried. Neither had the mother's perseverance, nor His grace—been tested as yet to the uttermost. That saying, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel," which to some might have seemed a hurricane blast, enough to sweep her beyond all reach of hope forever, was in truth intended to catch her in eddies, which swift circling would soon sweep her into the center, and that center was "the feet of Jesus."
Here, on the very threshold of the story, we are met by our first teaching. We have here one brought to the feet of Jesus. It may seem to us that, so as the mother's heart were eased and the afflicted child were healed, it would have been all one whether this were accomplished by speaking to the woman at a distance—or at the very feet; but we may rest assured it is not so. Whether we see it or not, there are reasons in all the diversities of circumstances attending each particular act of Jesus' mercy.
And, first, let us observe that there are often preliminaries, and those not of a formal—but of a very important character, to our being found at the feet of Jesus. There are often preparations and exercisings of heart, before the knee of man bends at the foot of Christ. And they are all for this very purpose—that we may be brought there, and receive what is to be had there; and get that particular fullness of blessing which can only be obtained from close contact with Him.
"Why is it thus with me?" cries many a weary waiting soul, many a one knowing, as it thinks, the fullness of its need. Why but to learn, by an apparent prospect of failure in having that need supplied—that it really did not know how deep it was before? Why is it thus? Because you must know yet more the depth of what you do want, and the depth of what only Christ can give.
At times we think we are close enough to Christ, within reach of Him to get what we want; but He means to bring us closer still, because He intends to give us more.
The preliminaries of blessing are sometimes very wonderful; the way in which great blessings are prepared for, and come about—are among the deep things of God.
Although it is crowded into a short space as to time, and a few words as to the chronicling of it, yet was there much here required, before this woman was brought into what was to be to her—the place and posture of great blessing. There was the frequent repetition of those cries of anguish, when we would have said that one request would have been enough—the indifference to them, and that no ordinary indifference, seeing that she cried to One who could help her (for He who can heal has, from that very power, a certain relationship to the one who requires that healing); and the natural uprising of hard thoughts about One who seemed so harsh to her—all this she had to undergo—but all to bring her nearer to the Lord.
Often we are inclined to say, "Why have I to bear this? What has this to say to the blessing I need? Is not this rather leading away from that blessing?" But each trial is a link in the chain of blessing, inexplicable in itself—yet beautifully harmonious as part of a whole.
All is thus done to bring us to the feet of Jesus. We must be in the right place—for certain blessings. We think we can place ourselves; the Syrophoenician woman, no doubt, thought that to cry after Jesus was enough. And so it might have been, did God design no more for her, than the bare healing of her child; but she needed to be particularly placed for what she was particularly to receive. The "ten lepers, who stood afar off, lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said, Go show yourselves to the priests." They received their measure of blessing thus; but she hers—and that a greater one—at His very feet.
Once at Jesus' feet, there was much to follow. And it is important simply to note this, because we are apt to have very mistaken views as to finality. We are continually thinking that the end has come, before it really has. We make a part of a Divine process the end, and seem surprised when it does not answer our expectation. We are seeking the blessing before it is due; we have only gone once or twice; whereas, perhaps, seven times are appointed before we see even a cloud no bigger than a man's hand.
And this is how many of God's people have been discouraged when seeking blessing. They expected too much from early stages; they never surmised that they had been brought to a certain point—just in order to be led on farther.
And others are ignorant in this matter, as well as we. Their kind wishes for us are often mistaken. It is not in earthly relationships alone, that we find mistaken kindness; it abounds in spiritual relationships also, so far as they exist between man and man.
It is well that we have one who has deeper thoughts for us than our friends have—thoughts which reach farther, which are fuller of blessing, which in the long run will come out with larger profit—but it must be in the long run—it is of their very nature that they must mature.
The disciples appear in this case to have been actuated by simply selfish motives. They did not want to be cried after, and therefore wished the woman to be given what she wanted, and sent away. Their idea was that in getting that, she would have received all; they did not know of anything beyond what just met the hearing of the ear—the need of the woman's child. As to any close contact with their Lord, and peculiar blessing in store for the woman therefrom—of that they knew nothing; as indeed, how could they.
Christ had deeper views for blessing this woman, than she had for herself—and so He has for us. It would have been easy for Him to have spoken a healing word, and so have ended up this matter with but little trouble to Himself, and with much satisfaction both to the disciples and the woman; but He had deeper thoughts of blessing for her than that. And so, when we do not receive all at once the good thing we desire—but are left to cry still more vehemently for it; and it may be even to be much exercised in apparent repulses with reference to it, ever let us remember that this is because God designs more for us than in this matter, than we have planned for ourselves. We are now in the midst of the thoughts of God—as well as of our own; of His ways—as well as ours; and we have to experience that His ways are not as our ways, neither are His thoughts like our thoughts.
We now have this Syrophoenician woman brought to the feet of Jesus—brought there by the apparent neglect of the One from whom she had hoped everything. Having not been answered a word, she does not, after the fashion of ordinary mendicants, go away, believing that it is but lost time to ask any more; on the other hand, she comes yet closer to Christ—closer to the One who had to all appearance practically refused her; and falling at His feet, she now bars the way, and He can proceed no further until He hears—and she knows that He hears her request; and until He answer her after some fashion.
Here, then, we have her; and seeing what sort of place is the ground immediately at the feet of Jesus, how tremendous was the need of this woman, and what a vantage ground she occupied—we may expect to hear of some very earnest travail—hard conflict, if need be—before she will give up her point and go away unblessed.
The expectation is fully realized. Here we have the woman:
(4) persevering, and
and all at the feet of Jesus.
There she remained. And it will be well for us to note this; for this "remaining" has more teaching for us than we think. It is not always so easy a thing to remain quiet at the feet of Jesus; to carry on much and varied effort there; to be calm and still within the one sphere. We find it very hard to harmonize energy and calmness—to make them work together. We are for shifting the scene of operations; we are, so to speak, up and down continually; we don't like to remain in the one necessary place. We would be much more calm—if we realized where we were. Our power lies not so much in what we are—as in where we are. Let the feet of Jesus be to us a place of continuance.
We trouble ourselves about the amount of effort we are making, whether we are earnest enough, and so forth. But in the truest need—the hardest work of the soul—there is no thought of SELF at all—all the eye, and ear, and thought are upon the LORD.
We never can be quiet, or put forth the power of quiet energy, unless we have well fixed before our minds the One from whom we are expecting help. Some rush hither and thither, like Balak—but they get no nearer blessing. We are to know where we are, and what is to be, and what can be done there. We have the advantage of having our field of action circumscribed, and marked out for us; now let us see what victories can be won there.
It may be that the intellectual think this position at the feet of Christ, is beneath them—that this sphere is too small for their energies. They say, "Talk to us about the head of Jesus, and not about His feet." But she who thus supplicated at Jesus' feet, was thought worthy of being argued with—nay, was herself allowed to argue with the Lord, and to win in argument a victory—the like of which no lawyer has ever won in the courts, no orator in the tribune, no disputant in the schools. It was from the feet of Jesus that there was carried away the highest triumph of argument that was ever won. No excited crowds applauded; none crowned the victor; no one but her adversary in the argument, gave testimony to her skill; and when it is said that He did, then all is said which can be said; yes, far more than could be in all other ways beside.
Down at His feet—this woman won her victory of faith—her daughter's cure. Like Jacob of old, she would not let Him go, until He blessed her; like him she had power with the One with whom she strove, and prevailed. Sustaining two opposite characters in the self-same suit—plaintiff as regards her child, defendant as regards her race—she won her cause in each; a double judgment was entered in her favor by the Lord's command. If a miracle of healing proceeded from His lips—surely He must have inspired a miracle of pleading at His feet!
What had been this woman's introduction to the presence-chamber, where indeed things had fallen out so unexpectedly that, instead of simply receiving a munificence as from a king, she had to argue her cause as though she had to substantiate claims in court? Poor claims they were, no doubt—the claim of the dog to eat the crumbs which fell from the children's table. But the small possessions of the poor are infinitely precious to them; their heritage of crumbs is their very life.
Her only introduction to the feet of Jesus—which, after all, was a royal presence-chamber—was by her misery. Misery is a strange steward—but it is a high officer in the court of Jesus; it is one of the grand stewards, and it has authority at all times to introduce to audience with the King. Am I miserable—I ask not from what cause—but am I miserable—then by that very fact I am sure, if I desire it, of an immediate introduction to the presence of my Lord. The misery itself supplies the means.
Diverse people were treated differently when they came to Christ—though each one doubtless was treated exactly as his case required. And so we cannot say, when once there, what may go on. Only we know that, whatever it is, it will be exactly what is right, and what in the end will be best for us.
No doubt there are many arguings and soul-strivings carried on at the feet of Jesus. It may even be that the heart's fiercest battles have been experienced there. And here this woman has to argue—and mark where—at the feet of Jesus. It was when Christ might have been supposed to want to proceed on, she was exactly in the place where she was likely to impede Him most.
It is as though we were to be taught, that Jesus has no occupations of too great importance to be arrested by human, even by individual misery. We have such occupations in action, often such pre-occupations of mind—that we must not be stopped by anyone, or for anything. That is just one of the differences between Christ and us.
One would have thought that while Jesus was on kept standing there—that all this argument might have been dispensed with. But He Himself, who alone could dispense with it, did not do so; that dealing with that woman's heart, was no lost time to Him.
In all probability, in human judgment—in that of the disciples—the whole thing was most inappropriate. The woman had gone from bad to worse; whereas she had been crying after Him, now she was prostrate before Him.
But Christ had work to do with this woman's soul, which they knew nothing of; and surely He also commences in a way which they could not understand. It was a strange way to prepare for conferring a gift—by giving what seemed an unanswerable reason why the gift should not be conferred. But some of the highest gifts which men have ever had, they have come by in this way. They were emptied—that they might be filled; they were pressed hard against the earth—that they might spring up the higher from it.
Christ tells this woman that she has no national claims upon Him at all. The statement of her being a Greek, a Syrophoenician by nation, or in other words, "a stranger," comes very quick upon the mention of "Jesus' feet," and her position at them, suggesting to us how entirely—humanly speaking—she had no business there.
But she drew an argument from her very unworthiness and alienship. She seized instantly upon that idea of the dogs, and of the children being filled, and of their being filled first. There was hope for her in these three points. She, on her part, recognized the priority of the children's claim, and their claims to fullness—but then came the claim of the dogs. Even the word used for "dogs" gave her an argument—for it was a soft, mild term the Lord used—the little dogs.
Now here we are met with a multitude of practical thoughts.
When we come to the feet of Christ, let us remember, first of all—to take up our assigned position, however low it may be. What, indeed, must be our frame of mind, how little can we know ourselves, if we are laying claim to anything in the way of personal worth or position at all! We can gain no advantage by refusing to take up our assigned place—our low starting-point; we only lose time, we only lay ourselves open to the still sharper dealings of God. It may be that, we think we are put in a hopeless position by being thrust down so low; but let us remember from what depths—up to what heights, men have sprung—how that publican who smote upon his breast returned to his house.
This woman was put at the very extreme end of creation—the Scripture always speaking as badly as possible of "dogs," and not recognizing any of their nobler qualities. It was thence—and what a "thence"—that in one bound she sprang to the forefront among the children of faith. Having taken something even more humble than the lowest room, she heard a voice which said unto her, "Friend, come up higher." The master of the feast set her—a stranger—above many of those who were his kinsmen according to the flesh. He gave her, not crumbs—but bread; the last became the first; and her victory of faith carried away as its lawful spoil—her daughter's cure.
Let us be encouraged then to seek for much, even when under deep consciousness of our unworthiness and guilt. Let us not say, "I will seek for such and such choice blessings—when I feel myself worthy and strong as a child of God. I will put off asking any great thing until I feel myself thus strong, and am in the special enjoyment of the sense of acceptance." Let us seek for what we want—as we are. Perhaps we have been placed in a depressed condition, or allowed to come into it for a while—in order that we may the more deeply feel our need, and the more earnestly, and so effectually, plead with God. Many a Christian's experience is this: "If I had not fallen so low—I would have not climbed so high."
But when we come to the feet of Jesus—we must be like this Syrophoenician woman—and not to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by our need, however great. But we are to be honest, and to try and see things as they really are, and to recognize and make use of such hopes and openings as exist.
This woman, as we have already incidentally noticed, found three points of hope—three grounds of argument—in her own and her daughter's behalf—out of the one sentence addressed to her by Christ.
Jesus said, "Let the children first be filled." The point was, not that there is nothing for anyone else—but that abundance must be secured for the children, and this "first." And this "first" implied a sequence. As soon as that was done, an opening was made for something further; that word "first," if only the woman had power to see it, was the possible opening of a floodgate of blessing. Could we have entered the recesses of the heart of Christ—we would have heard there the echoes of the words of Hosea: "Though I lead her into the desert—yet I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Achor (Trouble) into a gateway of hope."
And here was this woman's Valley of Achor, only in her case the darkness and the light did not keep apart—but, as it were, intermingled, so that to one who could discern them, there were clouds and sunshine at the same time.
Now, it is a great thing to have an eye for encouragement—to see hope and openings where they are, to be quick to catch up crumbs of comfort. It is very honoring to Christ—for us to deal with Him with a hopeful spirit—to approach Him with such; and even if things do not seem to go as well with us as we desire, still to persevere.
We do not say that the materials for hopefulness always lie on the surface; they certainly did not do so in this case. They may have to be searched for; but, even though often it may be in the most unlikely places—they will be found. Many of God's choicest things are found in such places. There was Elijah's provision by that poor widow; and that piece of silver in the fish's mouth; and that feeding of the multitude by those five loaves and two small fishes; and here the blessing, in what at first sight, one might almost be warranted in calling a curse.
In all our times of trial and depression—let us be on the look-out for the sun-gleams. No matter how few they are, still wonders may be done with them if they are used. The prize flower at a recent exhibition in London, was one grown in an attic, on which the sun shone for but a short time every day. But the old man who reared this plant held it up during that time to catch the beams, and turned it round and round, and won the prize. Watch for sunbeams; use them, and you shall win with them.
Believe that there is something to come; or, at any rate, that something may come. Have great faith in possibilities, especially when Christ is on the scene of action. This woman believed in the possibility of something after the "first." She did not dispute the "first," she only fixed her hope on what might come after that.
Let us avoid the mistake of undervaluing 'possibilities', let us see things as large as they really are.
The crumbs here alluded to, are said to be something more than what fell accidentally from the table, for it was the custom during eating to use, instead of a napkin, the soft white part of the bread, which, having thus used, they threw to the dogs.
We do not want to diminish anything from the severity of the trial of the woman's faith, or make Christ's dealing with her less sharp and apparently severe than it really was. What we say is that, here were the elements of some comfort, and it was her wisdom and blessing that she realized them.
The same remark applies to the Greek word which, when translated literally, means "little dogs"—or "pups". Here we discern a touch of kindness; for when, except for dealing with sin, was Jesus unmitigatedly severe? That little cloud was the beginning of abundance of rain. The nucleus of blessing is often very small; crumbs picked up at the feet of Jesus turn miraculously to loaves. Never be afraid of using to the uttermost any bright thought which is suggested to you there. When Christ gives you a bright thought, or puts within your reach the material of hope, be it never so slight—it is that you may weave a net therewith—to enfold Him hand and foot, so that He cannot part from you without a blessing.
Thus this woman remained and argued at the feet of Jesus. Now we must add a few words upon her endurance of apparent repulse.
There was one terrible element in her trial which we must note. She was not spurned to the feet—but at the feet of Jesus. Her worst trial came upon her there. And had that woman come away unblest from that place, and had not all this been but a deep, dark gorge on the highway of blessing—then we are bold to say that no man can calculate what would have been the terrible results. For proud sinners fixing on that scorn of the Lord would never subject themselves to an endurance of the like; and men of feeble hope would feel the hopelessness of going there; and those of tender constitution of heart, and of an anxious temperament, would never adventure a conflict with such roughness. But now we understand it all, or at least enough of it to make us feel there is no real cause for fear. We are on the safe and right road, though some of the stones on it are sharp.
This experience of the Syrophoenician woman, tells us to avoid the mistake of always expecting dealings of unmingled brightness at the feet of Jesus. He has many strange dealings with people—to bring them to His feet. Likewise, Jesus has many strange dealings with people—when at His feet. The reader of these lines, if he knows much of the spiritual life, would lay down these pages as unreal, or would receive what they have yet to say with distrust—if we made out that unmingled brightness was the characteristic of all dealings at Jesus' feet.
But, however dark may be the things which are there shown us about ourselves, blessing is not on that account about to be withheld.
When Joseph "spoke roughly" to his brethren—he was still their brother, and was planning great things for them. There are certain blessings, doubtless, which can come only by rough experiences. The heroes of faith, like all other truly great people, have ever borne, as well as done—much. The sustainings are as wonderful as the accomplishments in the spiritual life.
When Jesus gave a hard saying, many asked, "This teaching is hard! Who can accept it?" And when it became still more incomprehensible, "they went back and walked no more with him." "Therefore Jesus said to the Twelve—You do not want to go away too, do you? Simon Peter answered, Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that You are the Holy One of God!" John 6:67-69. The faith of the Canaanitish woman, and that of the prince of the apostles, was one—they each bore up under the hard sayings of the Lord, and refused to go away.
So she persevered, and won the blessing she desired. It was on this occasion as on others—great miracles, and good doings, and outflowings of blessing, followed on times of, as it were, personal withdrawings on the part of Jesus. It was after a withdrawal of Himself—that the multitudes were fed, and that He appeared walking upon the waters. It was when He made as though He would go farther—that He yielded to constraint, and revealed Himself as He had not done all the time He had spoken with them by the way.
All withdrawals of Christ, rightly interpreted, are real onleadings. In Solomon's Song, when the bride sought her beloved—but could not find him—then she rose and went about the city in the streets; and in the broad ways she sought him whom her soul loved.
"It is expedient for you," said the Lord Himself, "that I go away"—for thus the Holy Spirit came, and the heart is led onward to an ascended Christ in higher conceptions of Him than it could have had, if He had tarried here.
We would observe in closing our contemplations on this scene, how we are taught that there is mercy at the feet of Jesus—for those whom we perhaps think to be outside all possible circle of blessing. The highway and the hedge teach us this—and so does this story of the Syrophoenician woman at the feet of Jesus.
Let us also see how that very often our judgment about strugglers may be altogether wrong. We know not why they are struggling, or what purposes of mercy are wrapped up in it, or how it will end. The exercises of a soul are among the hidden things of God. Of one thing alone, let us assure ourselves on these occasions, and let that reassure us—is all this really going on in the right place? For all striving must prosper in the end, which is carried on at the "feet of Jesus."
The Feet of Jesus—the Place for Personal Necessity
"When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and told Him—Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died!" John 11:32
When the wind agitates the surface of a lake, in whose placid waters are reflected the mountainsides in their strength, and the sky in its beauty, their images first become broken and confused, and finally disappear.
The real mountains are there—as strong as ever; and when the waters become smooth again, they will appear as they did before; but for a moment they are gone.
This is an apt image, in some respects, of what happens in our own spiritual lives. Circumstances arise which agitate us for a season—and all our tranquility seems gone; we are no longer ourselves, we do not act in harmony with the habit of our past lives. We are lacking to our best selves, and have to endure all the troubles which belong to an agitated state.
But in a true character, there are all the elements of restoration; the strong mountains are really there; they will re-manifest their existence as soon as the storm is past.
Here we come upon a scene of agitation and distress; and as is so often the case, precisely where we would not have expected to find it. We would have thought that Mary would have presented us with nothing but a picture of calm. Having seen her sitting at the feet of Jesus, when Martha was so disturbed, we would have prepared to take our lesson from her in such a scene as this—in the direction of calmness, and self-possession, and peace; but it is just here, as it is in so many instances in the teachings of God—we are led by ways which we know not, the teaching comes to us in a very different way from what we expected.
We have been taught by Mary's sitting—now let us learn from her falling at Jesus' feet.
Every verse of this narrative is full of teaching—its own distinctive teaching; but we shall confine ourselves to such thoughts as suggest themselves in immediate connection with the position in which we find Mary here.
We shall first note what immediately preceded Mary's going forth to meet Jesus; and then her words and her position at His feet.
When Martha called Mary secretly—she arose quickly, and without confiding to any of the attendant mourners the reason for her acting so suddenly and with such haste—she left the house. Those who mourned with her must have been astonished—but they were not long in finding out a probable cause for her conduct. She was, doubtless, seized with a paroxysm of grief, which could be relieved only at the tomb, by the nearest possible approach to the dead.
Here, as in the case of Jairus' daughter, we have a strong contrast between the many and the one—the impotence of the many—the omnipotence of the one. All that the minstrels and people could do in the one case, was to make a noise; all that they could do in the other case, was to go after the heart-wounded one to a grave; but in each case Jesus brought with Him life, for that which we can only mourn—He can restore.
Many Jews came to comfort Mary, "The Jews who were with her in the house consoling her saw that Mary got up quickly and went out. So they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to cry there." John 11:31
No doubt they were sincere in their desire to mitigate her sorrow—each had his own argument, his own aspect of comfort to present, or at least his own reason why sorrow should be assuaged. Perhaps there were even some, who knew the mystery of silence, and were able to sit still, and speak not a word, except such words as looks, and the mere consciousness of the presence of sympathy can utter. But they had evidently been able to do but little, for when Mary rose hastily to go forth and meet Jesus, they thought her grief had mastered her, and that she was going to vent it at the tomb.
There is something no doubt pleasing in the thought, that rays of human sympathy should converge from a wide circumference upon one focus of sorrow. It reminds us of our common humanity—that in the depths (whatever surface distinctions there may be) human kind are one—that as the poet says, "One touch of nature makes us all akin". And no doubt all sharing of each others joys and sorrows, will prove helpful so far to our rejoining some of the myriad threads of our humanity which are broken or cut in all directions. Still, sad thoughts connect themselves with the one in sorrow, and the many comforters. For what the heart craves in the depth of its sorrow—is not to spread itself out to many—but rather to gather itself in, and hold companionship with but few. Deep streams run in narrow water courses.
There is indeed a brawling noisy sorrow which from its very shallowness is heard here and there and everywhere—but it is different from what Mary had here.
Her heart, doubtless, sat loose to all the comforters around; and so was all the more ready to leap forth to Him who had her truest deepest sympathy, who, because He had in His keeping all the secret springs of her being—could comfort her indeed.
Now, while we would be far from undervaluing or casting off human sympathy, we cannot but feel conscious that it is well to sit loose to it. Or, let us put the matter in another form; we cannot but feel how little in the hour of our sorest need, it can do for us. It is precious in its place; but we shall remain unsatisfied if we have no more.
Mary knew of One who was superior to all all the others combined; and when He came near, she was ready immediately to leave all around, and go forth to Him. No doubt, the previous knowledge of the feet of Jesus was silently exerting its power. Those feet at which she had sat—had now approached her house; they were standing waiting for her, not very far off; she was going forth on no sentimental journey—they said she was going to the grave to weep there—but she was going not to the home of death—but to the Lord of life.
It is true they were right in one respect, she was going 'to weep;' but it was one thing to weep simply at a grave, it was another to do so before the Lord of life. We may weep before each—but which it is, makes a vast difference indeed.
But we are anticipating. What we desire for the reader is, not only that he should be visited by Jesus, in the time of his sorrow—but that when Christ comes to him—it should be as one well-known.
Many have made their first acquaintance with Jesus in this sad time; they are happy in having done so; but they are not the happiest of all. They are happier still, who have met him in sorrow—as a well-known friend.
And for this very reason among others, let us now like Mary sit at the feet of Jesus, so that He may come to us as a known friend in our sorrowing times, so that we may not have to say 'Who is this that is come—who is this that is calling us out of ourselves?' but, 'It is my friend Jesus, I will go forth at once to Him!'
And of how much—what a wonderful much can we dispense, if we have Christ Himself. Mary could leave all her friends—for Him. As Jesus had food to eat that His disciples knew not of—so Mary had a friend at hand, whose friendship was such as they knew not of.
If then in our times of sorrow and trial, we would not be perhaps helplessly dependent on mere human sympathy, let us strive so to sit at Jesus' feet, that His coming to us at these sad times may draw us to Him at once. However Jesus may choose to act for us, we must leave altogether with Him—only we may be sure that, if we know Him, and are ready when He calls for us to go forth to Him—that it will be always a leaving of a company of mourners—to go into the presence of the Lord of life!
"Supposing that she was going to the tomb to cry there." The many Jews had come to comfort. They recognized the deep need, which now however it seems, they are not able to supply. Mary's grief has overflowed their resources, and she apparently goes to the tomb to weep there.
These friends of Mary spoke according to the probabilities of the case, doubtless according to what under similar circumstances, they would have done themselves. They did not know that Mary had been called for by Jesus; nor if they had known it, could they have told how much was involved in it.
Those who do not know our intimate connection with Jesus—do not know our resources. Their thoughts end with the natural; they can go all the length to which that reaches—but not further.
To those comforting Jews, there was no comforting point beyond that grave of Lazarus—there was no alleviation beyond weeping there. The dead was beyond all reach—but the sorrow which mourned for him, might find a home at his grave. But whatever they said, Mary does not appear to have heeded it, one thought filled her mind, and quickened her steps—that was to get into the presence of the Lord!
And now Mary has hastened and come into the presence of Jesus, and what she does is to fall at His feet—to weep; and to cry that, had He been at Bethany—her brother would not have died.
What Mary said and did at those feet, is full of teaching to us.
And first let us look at who it is that thus hastens away, and cast herself down at the feet of Jesus.
It is Mary—the calm—the contemplative—the self-possessed; the still one, who sat at the feet, who is now in such haste.
Those whom we think are the calmest—are often capable of the greatest emotion, activity, and excitement, which we would have thought utterly foreign to their nature. We often judge people as to what they possibly can do or leave undone, by the aspect in which they habitually present themselves to us—but we do not know how vehemently and in what an opposite direction they may be moved by circumstances.
In Mary's case there seems to have been a mingling of the natural and the spiritual—of intense human feeling, and also true spiritual sensibility; she went forth to meet Jesus, with both Lazarus and Jesus occupying chief places in her heart.
Would Jesus have had it otherwise? Would He have had her violate all the feelings of human nature? Was He so jealous as not to leave any sympathy, even for mourners? Did He expect her to think of Him alone—when He called for her, and when He saw her hastening to His feet? No! Christ is no stifler of genuine emotions! He is the regulator of human emotion; He had no blame for Mary; He received her as she came; He mingled His tears with hers.
Let us be careful how we form too decided an opinion about some who appear to us somewhat abstracted, and contemplative, and separated from the wear and tear of ordinary life. It by no means follows that their natural feelings and emotions are dead—that they cannot feel themselves, and feel for others. We do not know what people are, or are capable of—until the circumstances fitted to try them, have occurred. When they do occur, we shall perhaps be surprised to find how full of emotion, or susceptibility to personal suffering, or how capable of sympathy such and such a person is.
Moreover let us never seek to be so contemplative, and enrapt, as to be above human joy or sorrow. While we are here in this world, God wills us to be men—true men, even as Jesus was. Rightly to show ourselves capable of human emotion, is an infinitely truer position than to be independent or incapable of it. Neither let us seek a place at 'the feet' with the idea of raising ourselves out from affliction. We may seek a place there selfishly, from, perhaps unknown to ourselves, a low motive as well as a high one; for our poor hearts are liable to be deceived, and what is in itself very high motive, may be turned to a very low use; the thing may be the same—but its aim and end altogether different.
In this respect the emotion of Mary on the present occasion is very precious, and it is made doubly so by that of Jesus. Mary wept, the Jews were weeping, Jesus weeps also.
It is important to observe that He has no chiding for those tears, and that impassioned falling at His feet. He has chiding for unbelief; for He presently says to Martha, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" (ver. 40.) It is not that He is so overcome with emotion, as not to discern anything faulty which may exist; it is that within the true limits of human sorrow, which He receives.
And it is our belief, that Jesus desires that sincere human feelings to be brought into contact with Himself.
What kind of religion is that which says, 'I will reverence You with the abstract—but I will keep from You with all that in which I most truly live, and move, and have my being?' That religion would not be the religion of our very selves—it would be unreal. Jesus would say, you are weeping about an earthly trial, a wound to your affections, a loss, a difficulty, a need; and you are not coming to Me; I am not in the reality of your daily life—but only in the creeds and abstractions of your spiritual thoughts.
It must be either because we have mistaken notions about Christ, or are not sure of Him—that we keep so aloof from Him—that we do not rise up hastily and run to Him, and fall at His feet in the passion of our souls, in the deep emotions of our life. If we knew Him as well as Mary did—we would do as she did also!
But before we part with Mary's haste, let us note two things:
(1) how she sped forth to the One to whom she could unbosom herself, as soon as she knew He was at hand;
(2) how quickly she left the many comforters for the One; that One being in Himself of more value than all the rest combined.
This speedy going forth was no mere experiment on Mary's part. From what she had heard from Christ, sitting at His feet—she knew that her sorrow would have a place in His heart; a secret sympathy existed between her soul and His, which did not between her and all the other mourners.
We must likewise learn, that there is no one to whom we can fully unbosom ourselves, but Jesus. All deep sorrow ramifies into strata below the surface soil of human sympathy. It gets into our spiritual being; it has other life connection with us, which none but He who is God can understand; and that we feel and know.
And in truth, though men do not always know it, that is why all mere human sympathy comes short. An unspiritual man may never know this, and so never seek for anything beyond the imperfect help of his fellow man; but even a spiritually minded man may not know it either. He knows it not theologically—but he does instinctively—an instinct of his being makes him seek Christ; and in that One he finds what all 'the many' could not supply.
Thus may it be with us in our deepest sorrowing times; may we feel that Jesus is able to penetrate into those depths of our being to which the sorrow reaches—and let us bring it to Him—just as it is. Let us not wait until it is toned down and moderated, and, as we would think, brought into a more seemly state for His presence; but let us come to Him with our sorrows—as we must with our sins—bringing them just as they are.
Now let us inquire what Mary said when she fell at Jesus' feet.
We have no record of any formal approach, of any actual words of reverential acknowledgment; the one act of falling at her Lord's feet, combined within itself at once her reverence and grief.
And in truth what she said did the same. For in those words, "Lord if you had been here—my brother would not have died," she declared her belief in the power and love of that Lord, and her own bitter sorrow, that because He had not been on the spot—all was now hopelessly over, the beloved one had gone.
This—the saying of Mary at Jesus' feet—must now occupy our attention for a little while.
We observe that the two sisters, of wholly opposite characters, both say the same thing, "Lord if you had been here—my brother would not have died."
No doubt this had been the theme both of the thought, and conversation of the sisters ever since their brother expired.
There had been anxious waiting ever since that touching message was sent off by the sisters to Jesus, saying, "Lord, behold he whom you love is sick!" Many a time, perhaps, they went out alone or together to look in the direction from which the welcome footsteps were to be expected; and questioned within their hearts, or one with the other, 'Will He come soon—why do His feet tarry, when the one He loves is sick unto death?' It may be that, they watched the ebbing tide of their brother's life, and asked each other how long he could hold out, and if he could do so until the Lord would come. But the Lord did not come. Weary hours stole on—but there was no sign of the One who could heal, and at last, the healing time had past, the death time came, yes, burial too. And not until all was over in the fullest sense—did Jesus come.
It is no wonder then, that each of the sisters used the same exact words when the Lord appeared; for their minds, and doubtless their words had been running in the self-same groove.
But these words are full of teaching for ourselves. And first let us note how each said, "My brother." There is something very touching in the death of Lazarus being not only a family loss—but an individual one.
The family was made up of two 'mys.' Martha speaks of Lazarus as if he had been wholly hers, and Mary does the same; with each of them it is, "My brother." As the love had been in life, so is it spoken of in death.
Here we are brought into somewhat of a strait, for the two remarks which we wish to make seem as though they contradict one the other.
Happy is that family where each has such property in the other, that the very habit of thought leads to the use of the word MY.
Unhappy is that family where there is nothing but a series of "mys," where the meaning of "our" is not known as well as that of "my."
We doubt not that the 'our' as well as the 'my' was known and recognized, and that the power of it was lived in, in the family at Bethany; but now human grief was having its own way, and as is its custom, it concentrated the mind on personal feelings, and to some extent excluded the thought of others. And, in truth, that is one of the perils of grief—that nursing of it in our own bosom—that hugging of it to ourselves alone—that unwillingness to part with any of it, and to see that others are shipwrecked in it as well as ourselves.
Now let us contrast this 'my' of Mary, and also of Martha, with the 'our' of Jesus.
Jesus knew that Lazarus was dead. He also knew what individual love was, for we are told that He loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus; they are spoken of not as the family at Bethany—but one by one; but when He speaks to His disciples about the death sleep, He says not, "MY friend Lazarus has fallen asleep," but "OUR friend Lazarus has fallen asleep."
Happiest is that family where many 'mys' combine into many 'ours'; the two—each occupying its own place, giving the ideal of the 'family' in sorrow.
"Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." There is something very touching in that confidence, as there is in all the great confidences of love. Jesus must have felt it so. He saw His power over disease acknowledged; His love so reposed in, that it was thought impossible that it could allow any harm to happen to those who were loved; no note whatever is taken of what the virulence of the disease had been—had He only been there—all would have been well.
And Jesus, we may be sure received that confidence as it was meant—the weight of the family's sorrow was not laid on Him in vain, especially when He knew that He could have been there—that He had purposely delayed.
One would have thought that Jesus would have been cut to the heart at hearing such words as these, when He knew well that He might have averted all this sorrow; and that it was owing to purposed delay on His part that Lazarus had died. But He was quite calm. We see that He was, by what happened between Him and Martha, when she used these exact same words; and when He replied to them.
We see here plainly how some of love's true thoughts, may however be only surface ones. Love is not the less real because it is shallow in the reach of its thought; it may be untrue in its reasoning, and ill-informed as regards its knowledge, and yet be sterling and real in itself.
Now confidence—the confidence of love, even with a mistake, may often be better than suspicion with accuracy and correctness.
Our mistakes concerning Christ are our ignorance; and there may be much ignorance without guilt; but our lack of trust and confidence, no matter what form it assumes, is our sin. There are simple people making great mistakes, who occupy a higher place in the kingdom of God than wiser ones, who are cold and calculating, and seeking to be in their religion, we might almost say 'mathematically correct'.
God is tender and patient with honest mistakes. If He were not, where would we be in our daily service, or our daily life.
"Lord, IF you had been here, my brother would not have died."
And He might have been—but she did not know that; she did not know what had kept Him—we can scarcely speculate, as to how exactly she would have addressed Him, if she had known.
There are many things which it is well for us not to know, concerning which, if we did know all, a strange storm might arise in our minds.
The fact is—we are surrounded with "ifs" in life, they are a continual element of vexation and perplexity; it would be an amazing source of peace and comfort if we could get rid of them altogether. This word "if" has had power to distract, to set up all sorts of speculation, to open many a door to unbelief, to aggravate the circumstances of many a trial.
We sometimes conjure up all sorts of possible, and at times, impossible "ifs;" and the one as vexing as the other. We have to do with things not as they might have been—but as they have been, or as they are; most of our "ifs" are little better than suggestions of better arranged providences, as though WE could have fitted matters in much better, than has been the case.
In truth, many of our vexing and disquieting, and all our despairing "ifs" have a depth far below what we imagine; they go down into discontent with God's providence. It is not suggested that this was the case with Mary here—but it surely is so with us.
And as in Mary's case, the "if" fixed her mind entirely on the past; so in our case it does the like, hiding out the restorations and life which may be even at the very threshold.
Martha seems to have passed altogether beyond her sister in this matter; for she immediately qualifies her "if," by a "but". "But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."
The "if" can never be safely used, except with the quickly following "but."
And now mark how Mary came to be at Jesus' feet. "When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet." When we saw her last, she was sitting at those feet, now she has fallen at them.
Such are the vicissitudes of the spiritual life. Where we are found sitting today, we may be found fallen tomorrow. The place of our rest may be that of our struggle; that of our peace, may become that of our agony.
The fiercest throes of the soul—have been experienced at the feet of Jesus. They have not been felt in the conflicts with the tempter—but in heart sorrows with our greatest friend. It is indeed a wonderful sight to see a calm spirit—calm in the teaching learned at Jesus' feet, cast down there in bitter agony.
Whatever may be our spiritual destiny; with whatever shaking of soul we are to be tried—only let it be at the feet of Jesus. Whatever down- castings of soul I am to experience, only let them be there—there Mary wept; and Jesus wept too.
In Mary, the anguish of grief blocked out for the moment, the comfort she might have had. To weep in her Lord's presence, seemed all that she now could do. This was the only comfort she had, it was the natural effect of a natural feeling; and just shows us how little human nature can do for us in our deep trial times.
The sympathy of feeling in Jesus was recognized. His power of help was clouded; in a word the natural was apparent, the supernatural was veiled. The time was one of great shaking of faith, and human reasoning was so in the ascendant, that faith had little place given it for working at all.
We should learn from the shortcoming of this sitter at Jesus' feet; we must seek in our trial times to recognize Christ in His entirety—His power of sympathy and help. It is by looking at Jesus in the perfect balance of His nature and perfections, in their fullness, that we find peace.
No doubt it is often very little we can do when we get to the feet of Jesus, under circumstances similar to Mary's. We too are so agitated that we can only fall down and weep; we also have a clouded and shortened vision; we are encompassed with perplexities and "ifs;" yes, those "ifs" occupy our thoughts more than anything else. Well! be it so; yet to those feet let us come, with our agitations and our perplexities, if we have nothing else to bring—but our very selves.
For after all, that is the great point—the bringing of our very selves. Let us not wait to get more faith, or the power of doing better before Jesus—it is ourselves that He wants.
It is quite true, better things might have been expected of us than we can show when we get there; we may not be able to act in a way at all proportioned to our advantages and opportunities. We may give cause for rebuke as Philip did, "Have I been so long with you, and have you not known me Philip?" but all this must be put down as so much loss and shame, and even with the loss and shame—we must be found in our great agitations at the feet of Jesus.
There indeed must we go; and may we however unconsciously, yet so act in sorrow as to draw others with us into the presence of the Lord, and make them witnesses of His work.
We know not what wonderful things may be shown to those who are brought into the presence of the Lord. Perhaps all that we on our part can show is sorrow, and poor weak faith. Some 'ifs' and small outputtings of sorrow—but we know not what He will do. Many may be brought to believe through our deep woe.
Setting aside, however, all else that has been advanced, great will be the profit of these lines, if they induce any believer in his time of agitation, when the still waters are broken up, to go just as he is, and cast himself with all his perplexity, his shortcomings of faith, and everything else—at 'the feet of Jesus.'
The Feet of Jesus—the Place for Personal Necessity
"And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard His word." Luke 10:39
The Word of God may be more fitly compared to a stream with all its variety of ripple, current, and depth, with all its diversity of wooded bank and pebbly strand—than to the ocean, all agitated—or calm—as far as eye can reach; and which, so far as we can see, either dashes itself in one long agony against the jutting cliffs, or sinks, subdued we know not how, upon the almost level shore.
The Word is full of journeyings and restings, 'of war and peace,' of joyfulness and sighs; of darkness—from that of eventide, to that which can be felt; of lights—from that of day dawn, to the time when the sun is at it meridian. You can hear in it the minstrelsy of the lover, and the trumpet of the warrior, the chant for the bride, the wail for the dead. The records of infancy, and manhood, and old age are there, for the Scripture contains the story of man—yes, and much more is there, for it contains the story of man with God.
Even in this one subject of "The Feet of Jesus" is this great variety to be found.
Here are multitudes to be cast down in their sore need, here must come the solitary one in his woe. Here is the excited agony of the mother—here the calm rest of the Gadarene; here is one neglecting to give even water—here is another supplying its place with ointment and with tears; here is man dishonoring by nailing to a cross—here is God honoring by placing an angel guard in the tomb; here is the fear of a loving apostle—and the "fear not" of a still more loving master. The feet of Jesus are unchanged, even though they be now "like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace;" they were always a place of grace on earth—and they are the same in heaven.
This story of Mary at Jesus' feet is, as it were, one of the still deep pools which reflect the stars. It is not really still, for the current of the river is passing through it all the while—there was the flow of earnest life in Mary's soul, though her body was at rest. And we would have been glad to have had only to do with Mary—but that Martha comes and troubles this pool; and in part leads our minds, whether we will or not—away from the beautiful calm which her sister found at Jesus' feet. We might have wished it otherwise, yet many a one stepping in here, has found a Bethesda, in which he has been healed of an infirmity which he had.
Our profit must not, however, be purchased altogether at Martha's expense. From time immemorial, she has afforded a theme to preachers, who would dissuade their hearers from an inordinate pursuit of worldly things; and she has suffered no little at their hands. To hear some people speak, one would think that in Martha there was no good thing, that she had not a soul above the food she served; but he who would understand Martha's fault, as we find it here, must know something of Martha herself; and to know what she was, would be obliged to read along with this story, what is written about her in John 11.
This is the woman who said, "Lord if You had been here, my brother would not have died;" who said still more, "But I know that even now, whatever You will ask of God, God will give You;" who said as much as the boldest of the Apostles, "Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God!"
We would willingly think solely of Mary and her Lord—but
that is impossible; so let us range what we would to say under three heads:
in which we shall find a position taken up, attacked, defended.
But before we consider Mary at the feet—there kept by Christ, though attempted to be drawn away by Martha—let us pause a moment on the reception into their house.
Jesus "entered into a certain village, and a certain woman named Martha received Him into her house;" the 'certain' village and 'certain' woman seem vague; but there was a precision about them both in the mind of Jesus—the 'certain village' was one which contained a hospitable house for Him; and the 'certain woman' was a well-known friend.
There are houses in the world which, to the ordinary eye, are in no wise different from others—but to Christ they are the houses of His friends. Looking down now from His height of glory—He knows them all. All the houses of a street are not alike to Him; in some He has a place—and in others none; in some He is known, honored, loved, received, served, and ministered to—and in others, His name is little more than recognized, even as it might have been in hundreds of houses of Judea.
There is not a village or hamlet—but that Jesus knows every house in it, in which He would be warmly received.
And very humble are many of the houses of His friends—small roadside cottages—often little better than what we would call hovels—but fhey are different to Him from all other dwellings—they are the houses of His friends.
In what light is my house viewed by Jesus? is a question we may well put to ourselves. Is He welcomed in it? Do I wish it to be a worldly home—or a Christ-like home?
If we wish our house to be Christ's, we know His ways—what would please Him, and what would not; we may have it so ordered, as to have it one which He would recognize as a welcome place—if He came our way.
We need not be solicitous about the size, or furnishings, or decorations of the earthly dwelling—for the little time we shall need it. The one point to be careful about is—is my house one that Jesus knows? Yes, has He friends here? Am I and my family, His friends? Are we well known to Him? Can I reverently say 'my house is His home?'
This is but a passing thought—but it is a useful—it may be a very blessed one.
Here then in the house of His friends, is Jesus received.
The reception of Jesus! At first sight the words would imply bustle and excitement, and the out-putting of great energies, and the making of great preparation. No doubt, it was so in Martha's mind, even when Jesus came to her in the lowliness of His manhood; how much more would it be so now, when it is impossible for us to dissociate Him from His sovereignty, and all the majesty which almost from our infancy we know to be His.
This is an instance—one of the many, in which our first impressions need correcting. And this one is worth correcting, for mistaken views about how Jesus can be most acceptably received—are keeping many from courageously opening all their heart-doors to Him, and asking Him in. In truth, the thought of our receiving Him, blessed and true though it be—is to be corrected and adjusted by the thought of His receiving us. Martha was full of the idea of 'receiving' Jesus; the corrective was supplied by her sister's 'being received' as a disciple and a learner, by the Lord.
To 'give' to Jesus, is a high and indeed a natural impulse of a truly loving soul—for what kind of love is that, which does not delight in giving! But to 'receive' from Him is something higher, deeper and better in every way. Those who can pass beyond the outward and material substance of what is received, into the invisible, subtle and delicate feeling of right receiving, with all the emotions which belong to it, know a mystery of love indeed. The ancient alchemist spent a life-time in trying to turn baser substances to gold; but love's alchemy can turn a wild flower with no garniture but a dew drop, into a more precious gift than jewelry set with the most glittering of gems.
This is beautiful—but it is rare; and it gives us a glimpse of how much of what is noble and precious. God has made possible to be linked to common things; and of how all this nobility and preciousness may be the property of the poorest as well as of the richest and great. But we must not follow out the thought.
To return to the scene before us here, Jesus, who ever leaves a gift where He has been, will correct the exaggerated importance of giving, when put into competition with receiving. It is a deep lesson—one, the bare idea of which, many can scarcely even take in; but He knew its price, and He would teach it to the loved ones here.
Christ would correct the mistake—as to what will please Him most. He would show us, as we shall see presently, that we are likely to misunderstand Him. Martha's blame and Mary's praise are for all time—they are for the Church—they embody principles which in truth are everlasting.
Now, let us as we proposed, look at all three in order—and first as to MARTHA. Much has been said about the natural characteristics of these sisters. Martha has always been considered a woman of an active, bustling, energetic disposition; and so, no doubt, to a great extent she was. And expositors have frequently seen nothing more than these; and so have failed to draw any teaching from the narrative, except that, 'it is bad to be too much taken up with the things of time and sense.'
We accept this as in part, a description of Martha's character, and we desire to profit by the practical lesson grounded on it. But allowing full room for the difference between the natural characteristics of the sisters, we must go below them to discover the true teaching which we have here. They were sisters in blood—and, as we see in John 11, in faith; but they were dissimilar in character and temperament, and more important still, in depth of spiritual perception and attainment. This last is the true key to the story; and we have to deal, not with a worldly and a spiritual person as antagonistic the one to the other—but with two dear children of God, and lovers of Jesus—only in different stages of development; and so, looking from different standpoints at their Lord.
As our concern now lies with Mary rather than Martha, we may content ourselves with this statement, only drawing attention to a teaching from the fact that Martha and Mary were sisters, and dwelling in the one house.
If between these two, dwelling under the same roof, we perceive such a difference; what diversity may we not expect to find among many in the same Church! And let us beware of falling in our own day and among those with whom we have to do, into the mistake which is so commonly made about the sisters of Bethany. As people forget the 11th chapter of John, and almost degrade Martha from being a disciple at all; so are some inclined to almost unchristianize those whose experience is not the same as theirs! We may, indeed, recognize the being troubled about many things, we may not sympathize with it, we may have risen above it. But the Martha we despise—is dear to Jesus! Yes, (even as in the 11th chapter of John,) she can on an emergency rise to a great height of faith. Our readiness to disown each other in the large circle of the Church of God—whether from the Martha or the Mary side, may find its correction here.
Let the reader also note the different degrees of attainment in these two sisters. And with the difference of attainment came that of development and practice. It may not be, that Mary loved Jesus any more than Martha—but only that her spiritual apprehension and the development of her spiritual life were greater. So is it often now—spiritual apprehension is not always manifested in personal affection; no doubt this causes loss—but thanks be to God, it does not invalidate love.
But now we pass to MARY. She was the one found at the feet of Jesus, and therefore with her we have principally to do.
First then, as to the POSITION she took up. It is sometimes helpful to look at what a thing is not—as well as at what it is.
This was not an indulgence of sentimental affection towards Christ; nor of personal ease as regards herself. Either would have put her in the place of rebuke, instead of defending her. Christ would have estimated the first at what it was worth; and the second He would have severely condemned. In all probability, had either been the position of Mary at this time, He would have answered her sister's complaint very differently from the way in which He did, and told the one at His feet, to stir herself, and attend to her part, in that at least which was needful, in the household work.
There is a certain kind of sentimental affection towards Christ, which may be mistakenly taken for solid love; but He knows exactly what it is, and does not countenance it. Mere sentimentality is a sickly washy thing—and confers no honor on the Lord.
In truth what Mary had was the highest of all devotion, that of the mind and soul. She was all alive in them—to outward appearance she was merely sitting at Jesus' feet—but her inmost being was waiting upon Him with all its powers.
She had more to do with action than her sister knew. For what was she then doing, as she sat at the feet of Jesus—but receiving those blessed seeds of truth into an honest and good heart, which were doubtless destined to mature into action later. Martha's love was showing itself in giving what could be seen—Mary's love, in taking in the unseen. Martha's love was spending itself—Mary's love was gathering in for greater spending by and by.
Mary, we may be sure, knew more than Martha of the inner mind of Jesus; that it was His great pleasure to give and not to receive—that the choicest foods of this world—were nothing compared with the least nourishment of the soul—that His very presence allowed of lawful expectation. She took up the position of a receiver of Christ's loving-kindness—an embracer of spiritual opportunity—an expecter of out-flowings of love. She was, in truth, a great honorer of the wayfaring, the outcast—and almost wandering Jesus. The position which the great men of her country despised, was the very one she took up—at the feet of Jesus.
And how did she come to do so? She had evidently seized an opportunity. And why did she?
Perhaps Jesus had begun to speak, and attracted by what He said—she placed herself where she would not miss a word. Or it may be that, from former experiences of Him, she at once took up the loving listener's place, expecting, that as formerly, so now, she would get blessing.
It was a position in which she made much of Jesus—in the way in which He wishes to be made much of; in which she manifested the higher appreciation. Had Mary not been sitting all eager and intent at Jesus' feet, she would have been with Martha in full activity of service. She is only not with Martha for Christ, because more immediately with Christ Himself. She saw Jesus in His true character, the giver rather than the receiver—the One honored more by receiving from—than giving to.
And how far do we know this truth? How far have we entered into what we might call the heart of Jesus? Can we perceive that 'giving' is almost as it were—a very necessity of His life.
Our little spendings have their place, and a very blessed one in the mind of Jesus; but we must never put them in competition with Him; nor may we allow them to take the place of His.
But alas! are there not some, who are neither giving to Jesus, nor receiving from Him—into whose house, whose heart, He has never come! If, by any means this is so with the one who reads these lines, let it be so no more!
There is no one who will value what you do for Him as Jesus will; no one who will give to you as He will; no one who will consecrate your house as He will.
Do not say that you must be of the world, for your business or your family leave you little time for Christ. Nay, even when you are doing your mundane business—be for Jesus. See the price He put upon the heart; and even if you cannot do much for Him, let Him do much for you.
Let Him be welcome in your house, and if you have no house, then in your room; and if you have no room, then by your bedside, or to your thoughts, as you lie upon that bed itself!
But chief above all, let Him be welcome to your heart—there is His house, where He is received with honor and joy, in your ministerings and the listenings, the activities and the rest of your love.
The position thus devotedly taken up by Mary, is now assailed by Martha. It was then as it is now, who can quietly take up a position of peaceful learning at 'the feet of Jesus,' without its being disturbed by somebody!
There is evil enough in this mistaken attack of Martha's, without more being added to it by expositors. She was not wholly engrossed with selfishness as some would think; probably she was not selfish in the matter at all; nor was she of necessity intent on making a display; she was for honoring her Lord, only in her own way—and that was not the way most acceptable to Him.
There was that which was good, and there was that which was bad, in her assault on Mary. There was her desire to honor Christ—but there was the ignorance of the way in which He could be more highly honored; there was the dogmatic putting of her own standard of duty—a duty which she was endeavoring to perform even beyond her strength; but there was also a non-recognition of anything higher, of anything beyond.
It is just what we see every day; and what, if we are not on our guard against it, we find creeping continually upon ourselves. And the more we are individually interested in any branch of work, or in any experience of feeling—the more likely are we to make our work and feelings—the standards for all others.
Martha wished Christ to be served in her own way; she was intent on it. It may be that, in part she was under the influence of her natural character as an active homemaker, and wished that all that politeness could do, would be put forth—and it was for the honor of her Lord. Those dishes were to be dressed for and set before Him. And so far, her thought was good.
Overstrained good may, however, become evil. Some of the most subtle and best masked evil—is nothing but this; and Martha so magnified her own position and work—as to have no eye for, no understanding of, Mary's position and work.
She had no calm judgment; and probably after some waiting, and some considerable preliminary making of preparations, at last she spoke with her tongue; and ran, so to speak, full tilt against Christ Himself. "Don't you care," (is it nothing to you,) that my sister has left me to serve alone?" Martha did what many a one attempts now—she tried to enlist Christ in her quarrel. She would have made Him a partizan.
Martha thought she was strong in the feeling and judgment, which He must have on the matter, and in the claims of human relationship, "my sister," "me;" yes, and in the mixed feelings of indignation, and justice, and pity, which are summed up in the word 'alone;' and in truth, the onslaught was severe; and had there not been something more powerful to counteract it, must have prevailed.
Like Martha, we are often going further than we think; we are unconsciously but really, wounding Christ Himself. We are for dragging Him into conflicts which are utterly distasteful to Him; we are arguing petty claims of our own—and bringing them into competition with His! What what they have to do with Christ?
The defence of Mary by Christ, was a discriminating and a decided one.
Jesus did not ignore Martha; He noted all about her, and addressed her position—as well as Mary's. The perception and statement of Mary's immeasurable superiority, did not induce Him to pour contempt on Martha, whose fault was, not work—but being overburdened in it. Here, Jesus gave us the true rule of action. We must never despise, never ignore the position of an adversary, or the adversary himself. On the contrary, we must enter as far as possible into his views of matters, before we judge them.
Jesus notes that Martha would have supplied Him with many things. For whom were they all—but for Himself! But they brought on her— anxious care and trouble; she let her natural energy no doubt go out into them—but it had overwhelmed her.
Jesus knows the caring and the troubled ones, as well as those who are in deeper fault; on the one hand, He will not fail to condemn an error—just because it is entertained on His behalf. On the other hand, He will not, because it is an error, refuse to give credit for what there is in it of good.
But Jesus was very decided; it "shall not be taken away from her." I will not take her good part away from her—you shall not— and circumstances must not.
No! Jesus will never send us forth from Himself, to be drawn around in a whirlpool. I do not say He will not send us forth in proper season to work, even as he did the demoniac; but He will not fall in with the mistakes of energetic and misguided people, as they would wish. Martha would have involved Mary in the same whirl that she was in herself.
Therefore there is great encouragement here to our aiming at some close communion with the Lord. He will not send us away. He knows the longing of our souls; that we are craving to be fed and taught by Him Himself; that we feel that none can satisfy us but Himself. Blessed are such hungry ones—for they shall be filled.
Thus, they who gather themselves in to rest at the feet of Jesus, have no need to fear that they will be upbraided by Him. At the proper time He will send them forth to their work—as He did the demoniac; but He will not have them vexed for every excitement that comes their way. And as He will not Himself take away the rest of His people, no more will He allow others to do so. Martha sought a commission so to do to Mary—but Jesus refused to give it.
And there are some who seem to have avocation for stirring up everybody, and almost everything, too. They know neither the power nor the pleasure of rest; their tremendous energy, or their irritable restlessness, would carry away, or fret others whose chief power and life is in the peace of God. From such we may take refuge in Christ Himself.
But He will do even more than give us this. He will defend us from circumstances. He says, 'they shall not be able to take you from My feet.'
Now, it often happens that circumstances appear to involve great need—and to call upon us to engage in them. But is this need always so real? is the necessity invariably laid on us? Some people think so; and the consequence is that they leave the feet of Jesus, scatter themselves, and become shallow; they are to be found in everything—and so is their heart!
The apparent need is not always a real one; it was not so here. Had it been, Christ would have sent Mary at once to her sister's help; but He refused to fall in with Martha's mistake. Christ discriminated and judged in this matter; and He will teach us to do the same.
But the Lord's defense of Mary was reasonable, as well as decided. It might be said, was not Mary to be concerned with the hospitality of the house—as well as Martha; of Christ's having the very best in every way which it could afford; that best, made the best indeed by all the care and pains which they could bestow upon it?
Yes! Mary was as jealous of the hospitality of the house as Martha; but she had so overpassed Martha in spiritual apprehension, that she knew that to be at the Savior's feet was more acceptable to Him, than to be engaged in preparing many choice dishes for Him.
She had not grasped the great outlines of truth any more clearly or boldly than Martha; the 11th chapter of John would teach us that. But the spiritual perceptive faculty was more delicate with Mary, and it enabled her to discriminate between seeming neglect and real honor.
Mary was in truth giving far more than Martha; she was giving her very self, in that form which is most precious to Christ—as a receiver of Himself.
On this giving of ourselves, Leighton has the following beautiful words: "Let us give Him ourselves, or nothing; and to give ourselves to Him is not His advantage—but ours. Thus does a Christian make himself, his daily sacrifice—he renews his gift of himself every day to God. Now that whereby we offer all other spiritual sacrifices, and even ourselves, is love. That is the holy fire which burns up all, sends up our prayers, and our hearts, and our whole selves a burnt-offering to God!"
In the last day will it revealed—how much some have given, who had but little in external religious services.
And great encouragement may be gathered here, for those who have not much outwardly to give. Some are prevented by illness, by circumstances, from doing much outwardly. We do not say their case is that which is spoken of here; but that they also may gather incidentally some comfort.
Everyone who has HIMSELF—has much to give! Everyone who can appreciate Jesus, listen to Him, lovingly trust Him—has, in all that, opportunity of honoring the Lord. Such people may be misunderstood, or possibly despised, by the religious world—but they will be vindicated by Him.
Had we not intended to speak of the Lord separately, some of what we are now about to say would have been noticed when considering Mary. JESUS Himself was mistaken and misjudged. "Is it nothing to You?" said Martha. She formed a wrong judgment of Christ. She did not see those deeper interests, that greater honor, that profounder relationship, which He did; and which He recognized by keeping Mary at His feet.
This is exactly how it comes to pass—that we so often wrong the Lord. It is simply out of shallowness and ignorance.
We, in point of fact, often say to Him, "Do You not care? Is it nothing to You Jesus?" Because He is not acting for us, or by us, as we would have Him to do—that we charge Him with thoughtlessness of us!
"Do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone!" She only saw her sister in relationship to herself—not to Christ! and spoke in her claims accordingly. No doubt it was in order that Christ would be served with the many things that Martha wanted Mary's help; but she brings herself as 'left,' prominently forward; and in the mention of "my sister,"—the human relationship, we see a claim put in, in competition with Christ's!
If a mere man had been in the Lord's place—how differently would he have acted. He would, in all probability, have fired up in indignation; he would have asserted the claims of his personal dignity; but Jesus vindicates Mary—and not Himself. He passes by the personal affront, 'do you not care;' and throws His shield over the one who sat listening at His feet.
Jesus was here, as ever, forgetful of His own self. So far as principle was involved, and truth—He vindicated them by the way in which He spoke of Mary's better part; but He did not mention Martha's attack upon Himself.
There are many teachings for us in this.
We are taught to vindicate truths—rather than ourselves; to pass by what is merely personal—even though it be unjust. This is very hard to do. Yet Jesus did it, and that, often under circumstances of great provocation. Let us try to do the same.
We see here how He put the hunger and thirst of Mary's soul and its refreshment, before those of His own body, and its needs. His contentment with what was simple, His forgetfulness of SELF in the willing loss of an elaborate feast. Martha, if she could have seen it, together with Mary at His feet, and but a single dish to satisfy hunger—would have been more acceptable to Jesus—than all the preparations which both Martha and Mary could have made!
And so, there is great encouragement to us to invite Jesus into our poverty. However poor may be our circumstances, if we have ourselves to give—we have what He requires; for He seeks not what is ours—but us!
And it is important to observe His recognition of the worth of that which is communicable from Himself. He vindicates those who are appreciating Him, not feebly, or theoretically, or as a matter of course—but in the full power of the consciousness of how wise they are—what good they get.
He knows that they get good from Him—as distinguished from mere channels; that there is a deep need of our drawing personality and directly from Him; that there is a communion with Himself which is independent of all mere channels; and He defends those who appreciate being near His very feet—His self and heart.
It is of as much importance to us that—Christ would know how well He can supply, as that He would know how great is our need; His riches—as well as our needs. For He will always put the two together; each would be strong alone; but each acquires fresh, yes, doubled strength, when brought into connection with the other.
And it will be well for us to act on this knowledge. Let us often plead Christ's wealth with Him; let us bring it forward as a reason why much should be poured out to us; let it excite our expectation. Humanly speaking, the more people have—the more is expected from them. Spiritually speaking, the more we know of Christ's wealth, the more we should expect from Him.
We should not stop at merely thinking about our poverty. We may think about this until we grow morbid; until we have no capacity for thinking of anything higher. When Jesus corrects the mistake of the Laodiceans, and tells them that they are wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked; He adds, "I counsel you to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that you may be rich, and white clothing, that you may be clothed." Jesus is too considerate, too tenderhearted, too noble—to remind us of our deep poverty, unless He were willing to relieve it.
We can believe that Jesus thinks with great happiness of all the fullness and riches in Himself; that "it pleased the Father that in Him would all fullness dwell." And in this thought of His fullness and exceeding wealth, His people have large place. It is all for them! The true secret of pleasure in the possession of wealth, is to have it for the purpose of giving. The pleasure of hoarding is a pleasure of sin. Jesus hoards nothing; what He has, and is communicable to His people, He does communicate; and doing this is joy to Him.
A part of the defense of Mary, consisted also in Christ's saying that she would in one sense leave Him unserved; if she left the position she took up at His feet. He was content to forego the lesser, for He knew that the greater was present.
And Jesus is the same now as He was in Mary's time; He will be to us even as He was to her. There are now invisible and quiet receptions and teachings at Jesus' feet—even as there were at Bethany, when Mary sat at those blessed feet!