Mat_20:17-34; Mar_10:32-52; Luk_18:31 to Luk_19:27
It was formerly explained that the pilgrims from Galilee to Jerusalem at the Passover, very generally went by the route on the other side of the Jordan, in order to avoid passing through Samaria. As that festival was now at hand, large bodies of pilgrims were already on the move from that quarter as well as from Perea; and Jesus fell in with this crowd in getting near the point where they usually passed the Jordan, and to which the different streams of travellers of necessity converged.
The disciples now distinctly perceived that their Master intended to proceed with the pilgrims to Jerusalem; and they held back in dismay, knowing that his destruction had been determined on by the ruling authorities there. Perceiving this, Jesus took them aside, not to remove their fears as groundless, but to confirm their worst apprehensions. He hid nothing from them; He palliated nothing. He announced his betrayal, and mentioned the very persons to whom He should be betrayed, namely, the Scribes and Pharisees. He foretold his condemnation to death; his delivery up to the Gentiles; his mockings and scourgings; his crucifixion, and his resurrection on the third day. The time was to come when they would understand all this well enough; but the evangelist plainly declares that they could not then comprehend it. They believed their Master to be the Messiah; and although their original views as to the nature of his kingdom had been considerably modified by what they had from time to time heard from Him, they still regarded it as essentially a temporal kingdom, to be presently established; and were unable to connect with the Messiah’s person the ideas of humiliation, suffering, and death. It was also unaccountable to them, why He, knowing so clearly what awaited Him at Jerusalem, should persist in proceeding thither. If they had duly pondered upon all that they had heard from Him, the bitter as well as the sweet, they would not now have been much at a loss; but they had for the present left shut up in the darker chambers of their memory, all but what they liked to remember.
It was soon perceived by the disciples that a large portion of the crowd of pilgrims were favorably disposed towards Jesus, and quite ready to hail Him as the king Messiah; there seemed, indeed, to be a general expectation that at this Passover some great event would occur, and that He would at length stand forward openly in assertion of his Messianic claims. They perceived also with joy that their Master did not as usual avoid the attentions of the people, or labor to dispel their expectations. The fact was, that it was part of the Divine plan that He should, by his public entry into Jerusalem, claim the Messiahship as his right, and that this claim should be recognized by the people before the final scenes.
This being the case, the disciples presently forgot what their Lord had been saying to them, and fixed their attention and their hopes upon visions of that power and glory, which they conceived the public enthusiasm would in a few days compel Him to assume.
It is only in view of this that we can understand the incident that follows, and which all the evangelists agree in placing just after the prediction which Jesus delivered to his disciples.
Salome, the mother of Zebedee’s children, that is, of John and James, presented herself with the profoundest homage before Jesus, and asked Him to promise to grant whatever she might ask. Our Lord declined to make any such promise, and desired to know at once what it was she required; and it then came out to be nothing less than this—that her two sons should sit, the one on his right hand and the other on his left in his kingdom, evidently meaning, in the grand Messianic kingdom He was about to establish. The meaning was that they should, by his special favor, occupy the highest places, the places nearest to Him, in that kingdom. The brothers had either instigated this application of their mother, or had sanctioned it at her instigation. We incline to the latter view, as the application has altogether a motherly aspect. Still, James and John had made it theirs, and to them Jesus addressed himself. He told them, “Ye know not what ye ask,” and presently the ignorance and presumptuous confidence of the two brethren were more manifestly shown. Jesus asked them, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” In this question was involved no less than one touching their spiritual strength, and their capacity to suffer as their Master suffered. Yet they heedlessly and rashly answered, “We are able.” But in his gracious indulgence to their weakness, Jesus passed over all this without notice, and immediately answered that they should indeed be partakers of his sufferings; and although He withheld any direct information, exclusively relating to themselves (as distinct from their brethren of the apostolic company), still, as He had on a former occasion intimated, He now repeated, that special honors and dignities were to exist in his future kingdom, and should assuredly be given to those of his servants and saints for whom God had prepared them, to be their honor and everlasting reward. Note: See more fully on this transaction, Life and Character of St. John, by the Rev. Francis Trench. London. 1850.
The other apostles were indignant at this attempt of the sons of Zebedee to attain the superiority over them. Perceiving this, Jesus told them, that although “the kings of the earth” gave such distinctions to their favorites as those to which the sons of Zebedee aspired, it would not be so now among them; for in his immediate kingdom, he would be the greatest, who should be the most holy and most useful—most the servant of all.
As Jesus, with the pilgrim crowd, approached Jericho, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, and, therefore, called Bar-Timaeus (Bar meaning “son”) who sat begging by the way side, heard the tramp of many feet, and inquired what it all meant. He was told that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. No sooner did he catch that name, with which the nation now rang from side to side, than he began to cry aloud, with the passionate earnestness of one who feared that to be unheard now, was to lose his only hope: “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who passed, told him to hold his peace, and not with his base cries disturb the triumphant march of the Messianic king. But the great need of his life was at stake; for having heard of the cure of the man born blind at Jerusalem—and who had not heard of that?—he had no doubt that to gain the attention of Jesus was to be healed. His faith was entire—both in His power to heal, and in His character as “the Son of David”—the title by which the Messiah was best known. He therefore cried the more loudly and vehemently, “Thou Son of David, have mercy on me!” And the Son of David heard him, and stood still, and commanded him to be called. Then those who were near to him said, “Be of good comfort, rise: He calleth thee!” And at that word, he sprung to his feet; and casting off the loose upper garment that impeded his blind steps, and which people usually laid aside when they ran or labored, he hastened, as he never before had hastened—impelled from one kind hand to another—till he stood before the Redeemer. “What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?” was the question that Jesus asked. The man had only cried for “mercy” before, and he is now required to name the special mercy that he craved. It was, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” Then Jesus, who seems to have always manifested a special tenderness for the blind, had compassion upon him, and said, “Receive thy sight.” And by that word of power his cure was instantly effected. The man who had hitherto been tied by his infirmity to one place, was now free to go where he listed; and he chose well; for he chose to follow Jesus by the way, glorifying God, and being the occasion that others glorified His name as well.
Jericho, then a large and important city, was itself stirred at the approach of Jesus with the pilgrim host. Among the inhabitants was Zaccheus, the chief of the publicans or tax-gatherers in that district, their supervisor, to whom they rendered their accounts. He was very rich, as he might well be in a post so profitable, and affording so many opportunities of extortion. This person felt a strong desire to see Jesus, of whose kindness to his despised order he had, doubtless, heard much from other publicans, and who had, in fact, a publican among his chosen friends and followers. But how could he see Him? Jesus would not be likely to pass his house, nor did He travel in any state, in palanquin, or upon horse or camel, so as to be seen from far, but walked on foot along the dusty roads, undistinguished, probably, in stature or appearance, from the crowds around Him. Besides, Zaccheus himself was a little man, who could not even thrust his way through a crowd, or overlook the heads of others. His anxiety to see the good Prophet of Nazareth was however so strong, that he mounted one of the trees—a sycamore tree, that grew beside the road which Jesus must pass—taking the example probably from the boys, who had doubtless “manned,” for the occasion, all the trees overlooking the road, for boys are boys everywhere, and in all ages, the most ancient things existing, being the same now as they were two thousand or five thousand years ago. Zaccheus himself was but a boy in stature, and therefore the better suited for the post he had chosen; and even the Jericho boys would hardly venture to dispute a seat with the terrible little publican, whom their fathers regarded with dread.
Zaccheus had his heart’s desire. He saw Jesus; and what was of more consequence to his welfare, Jesus saw him. Perhaps it was at the moment that a feeling of adhesion to Christ was rising up and filling his heart, that Jesus looked up, and, accosting him by his name, said, “Zaccheus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house,” that is, for the remainder of the day, and till He should resume his journey the next morning. A glad man was Zaccheus then; he came down briskly from the tree, and with a joyful heart conducted Jesus to his house. If Jesus had sought honor of men, this stroke at the particular time would have been injurious to Him. As it was, there was a general murmur of disapprobation among the people, that He, whom they were prepared to regard as entitled to the highest place on earth, should so demean himself as to become the guest of one who was “a sinner.”
What took place in the house of Zaccheus is not fully reported by the evangelist—but the result is given, and is such as to show that the publican profited well by the Divine teachings he was now enabled to receive from the mouth of Jesus, who had clearly a more promising pupil than in the rich young man who had lately turned back from Him. He stood forth and declared that he would give half he possessed to feed the poor, and that in any case where he had used for unjust gain the power entrusted to him, he would make compensation fourfold. In our days he would probably have expressed himself as meaning to restore principal and interest—but the law forbade the Jews to take interest of one another. The same law required a fourfold restitution, upon conviction, from a man who stole a sheep; but he had only to add one-fifth of the value, when, without being detected or tried, he made a voluntary confession of his offence. Zaccheus, therefore, shows the unflinching character of his repentance, by voluntarily subjecting himself to the stringent penalties incurred only by a conviction in the courts of law. Some have thought that he speaks of his ordinary past conduct—of what he had been in the habit of doing—instead of his intentions for the future. But surely he would never have got rich, if he had, as alleged, been in the habit of making extortions, and then restoring fourfold. In that case, also, such a recapitulation of his own meritorious conduct would have savored much of Pharisaic self-righteousness, and would have been little like to have drawn from our Savior the declaration: “This day is salvation come to this house—for that he also is a son of Abraham.” Adding, for the benefit of those who had murmured at his attention to publicans—“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
It was before He left Jericho that our Lord sought to correct the views which He saw that the disciples had speedily resumed, notwithstanding his declarations, by the parable of the Ten Pounds, in which He illustrates his present and future coming, by that of a king who comes to take account of his servants—first in gentleness and condescension; but when he has been despised and rejected by them, again coming in irresistible might to reward his faithful servants and execute judgment upon his enemies.