Jesus still remained in Judea, having probably appointed the Seventy to join Him there before his return to Galilee, and intending to be present at the feast of the Dedication in December, which was now too near to make it worth while to return to Galilee in the meantime. To this interval belong some very important discourses and impressive parables—such as that of the Good Shepherd, in which He gave another plain intimation that He was about to lay down his life for the sheep—and that not by any constraint, but of his own free will; the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which He taught “a certain lawyer,” who “stood up and tempted Him,” that the command to love our neighbor as our self, was restricted to no narrow bounds or sect or condition, but applied to every one who stands within the reach of our knowledge and assistance. On another occasion, his disciples requested Him to teach them to pray, “as John also taught his disciples.” How John taught his disciples, we know not; but we happily know how the disciples of Jesus were taught by Him. In what is called the Lord’s Prayer, He gave them a model of prayer—short, yet comprehensive; simple, yet cogent; and followed it by an impressive discourse and parable, in illustration of the advantages and prevailing power of earnest and perseveringly importunate prayer. This He further illustrated on another occasion by the striking parable of the Importunate Widow—which has strengthened the hearts of untold numbers under the discouragement of seemingly unanswered prayer. The parables of the Grain of Mustard-seed and of the Leaven—both illustrative of the growth and spread of his kingdom—belong also to this interval.
The incidents are few—a miracle and a reproof.
The miracle was performed upon a poor woman, who had been a sufferer eighteen years, and was so bent together as to be unable to lift herself up. When Jesus saw her in the synagogue, and knew how long she had been in that sad plight, he instantly healed her. This was on the Sabbath-day. From the frequency with which miracles on that day are recorded, one might think that this day was chosen by our Lord in preference to any other. But we are to remember that our Lord wrought hundreds of miracles, the particulars of which are not recorded; and these are recorded on account of the discussions to which they gave rise, or of some peculiar circumstances connected with them. Miracles on the Sabbath often excited discussion, drew forth declarations from our Lord, or had influence upon events—for the sake of which the miracles are related. It is also to be remarked, that many afflicted people were present on the Sabbath in the synagogues, who, not being street beggars, were not to be seen in public on other days, and who, if not healed there, would not be healed at all. In the present case, the ruler of the synagogue was very angry. His words were addressed to the people, however, telling them there were six days for work: “in them, therefore, come and be healed, but not on the Sabbath day.” In this we trace, besides the general Jewish opinion bearing on the subject, the special one, that if a disease were of long standing, or not of a nature to be seriously affected by delay, no means of cure ought to be taken or sought for on the Sabbath.
Although the observation was not directly addressed to Jesus, He answered it—and that with a warmth of indignation not usual with Him in addressing an individual. There was evidently that in the ruler’s tone and manner, in speaking to the poor woman, which moved our Lord strongly, “Thou hypocrite,” He said, “doth not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? and ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, to be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath-day.” There was no answer to this. The adversaries of Jesus were confounded, and “the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.”
In regard to the practice to which our Lord referred, as sanctioned by their own interpretation of the law, it was held that a beast might be led forth to watering on the Sabbath-day, provided that it bore no other burden than its collar and halter. It was lawful to draw water for it, and pour it out into the trough; but unlawful to carry water to the beast, which must, therefore, be led forth to the well, pool, or stream, and watered there.
The reproof was to Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus of Bethany—a place which still subsists as a poor village of about twenty families, on the south-eastern declivity of the Mount of Olives, in a little valley, and about ten miles from Jerusalem. It seems to have been a general custom of our Lord when at Jerusalem to leave the city at night, and pass over to the Mount of Olives, where He sometimes remained all night. But the nights being generally cold, both in spring (at the Passover) and in autumn (at the Feast of Tabernacles), He generally went down to Bethany, spending the night in the house of his friend and disciple Lazarus, and returning to Jerusalem in the morning. This at least was his later custom. The sisters, as well as the brother, were disciples of Jesus, and all devotedly attached to Him. One day these good people gave our Lord a special entertainment, probably in view of his approaching departure, at which the hearty, bustling Martha was exceedingly busy about the preparations for dinner—thinking in her housewifely, homely way, that she could not manifest her regard for Jesus in any mode so proper as in seeing that He was nobly entertained. The more spiritual and thoughtful sister gladly left all this to her, and rejoiced to seat herself at the feet of Jesus, to gather up into her heart the precious words that fell from Him. Martha at length took notice that Mary was thus sitting idle, as it seemed to her, while she was oppressed by so many cares and duties; and she begged Jesus to tell her sister to come and help her. Mary must have been somewhat hurt at this; but she knew her sister’s blunt way too well to be much surprised; besides, it is much the fashion of the East to speak and act very directly, in matters that seem to us to require nice management and delicate contrivance. But Mary also knew the heart of her Master, and felt safe from his blame. His answer was kind to Mary, and not unkind to Martha. He said, “Martha, Martha! thou art careful and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful; and she hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her.” Now we know that Jesus loved Martha (Joh_11:5), and that He did so, shows that she was worthy of his regard. This could not have been the case, had not she, as well as Mary, chosen “the better part.” It is, therefore, harsh to construe our Lord’s answer to mean, that Mary had, and that she had not, chosen that part. It must, therefore, mean, we think, that Martha was as careful and troubled about many things. Among these there was only one essential—the better part, which could not be taken away. In that part, Mary shared her interest; and in her keen solicitude about it, and her eagerness for spiritual food, might well be excused on this occasion for her neglect of the lesser matters which the anxious hospitality of Martha deemed so important. Thus tenderly and courteously does our Lord vindicate Mary, without affronting her kind and well-meaning sister.
The return of the Seventy, who seem to have made the same kind of excursion through the south of the country that the apostles had made through the north, refreshed and strengthened our Lord, by the generally favorable account of their proceedings which they brought. They perhaps dwelt a little too forcibly on the fact, that the devils were subject unto them through his name; so that He gently reminded them to rejoice far more that their names were written in heaven.
The Feast of Dedication at which Jesus was present with his disciples, was one of human institution, having been founded—not, as some might suppose, to celebrate the dedication of Solomon’s temple—but to commemorate its renewed consecration after it had been desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes. It was celebrated every year for eight days, commencing with the 25th Chisleu, or the 15th of December. We have an account of only one discourse which He delivered at this festival, in “Solomon’s porch.” This porch or colonnade was in the court of the Gentiles, and was supposed to have been the only part of Solomon’s temple that had been left standing when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. John specifies that “it was winter,” probably to intimate that Jesus taught in this colonnade, in order that those who heard Him might be sheltered from the inclemency of the weather. While He was walking in this porch, his enemies hoping to gain some advantage over Him, affected a willingness to recognize his claims as the Messiah, if He would but avow them distinctly and openly. He replied that He had already told them with sufficient plainness for any who were willing to understand. His deeds also afforded every requisite evidence, for they were precisely such works as the prophets ascribed to the Messiah. His sheep, his own, those whom his Father had given to Him, understood these things and believed; and the reason they also did not believe was because they were not his sheep. They would therefore die in their sins: but to those who believed in Him, He gave eternal life. They should never perish, neither could any one pluck them out of his hand. The Father who gave them to Him was greater than all, and none could pluck them out of his Father’s hands. He here certainly claims essential oneness with the Father. The sheep are in his possession, and yet in the Father’s; no one can pluck them from his hand—nor from the Father’s; and besides, it is He who gives eternal life—and who less than one Divine can do that? It scarcely needed that He should add, “I and my Father are one,” to place his meaning beyond question. That the Jews understood Him in this sense is clear, for they forthwith took up stones to inflict summary punishment upon Him as a blasphemer. Indeed when He arrested their hands by a question, they avowed that they sought to stone Him “for blasphemy; and because that Thou, being a man, makest thyself God.” Our Lord did not at all disclaim this imputation—which if He had been merely a man, merely a holy prophet, He would have been eager to do. He showed that his claiming to be the Son of God, did not lay Him open to the charge of blasphemy, even were He no more than they expected their Messiah to be; but that He was more, and, therefore, still less open to such a charge, He again alleged to be proved by his works, which evinced that, as He said, “The Father is in Me, and I in Him.”
That the Jews did not at all regard Him as modifying his previous declaration, is plain from the result; for though they no longer persisted in illegally stoning Him without trial, they thought they had evidence from his own mouth on which to ensure his conviction before the proper tribunal. They therefore sought to apprehend Him for the purpose of bringing Him before the Sanhedrin—but were frustrated by his sudden departure from Jerusalem, and, indeed, from Judea, into the region beyond the Jordan.