THE DAY OF MATTHEW'S FEAST (continued).
THE feast was scarcely over at the house of Matthew, and Jesus was still engaged in the kindly teaching which arose out of the question of John's disciples, when another event occurred which led in succession to three of the greatest miracles of His earthly life.
A ruler of the synagoguethe rosh hakkenéseth, or chief elder of the congregation, to whom the Jews looked with great respectcame to Jesus in extreme agitation. It is not improbable that this ruler of the synagogue had been one of the very deputation who had pleaded with Jesus for the centurion-proselyte by whom it had been built. If so, he knew by experience the power of Him to whom he now appealed. Flinging himself at His feet with broken wordswhich in the original still sound as though they were interrupted and rendered incoherent by bursts of griefhe tells Him that his little daughter, his only daughter, is dying, is dead; but still, if He will but come and lay His hand upon her, she shall live. With the tenderness which could not be deaf to a mourner's cry, Jesus rose at once from the table, and went with him, followed not only by His disciples, but also by a dense expectant multitude, which had been witness of the scene. And as He went the people in their eagerness pressed upon Him and thronged Him.
But among this throngcontaining doubtless some of the Pharisees and of John's disciples with whom He had been discoursing, as well as some of the publicans and sinners with whom He had been seated at the feastthere was one who had not been attracted by curiosity to witness what would be done for the ruler of the synagogue. It was a woman who for twelve years had suffered from a distressing malady, which unfitted her for all the relationships of life, and which was peculiarly afflicting, because in the popular mind it was regarded as a direct consequence of sinful habits. In vain had she wasted her substance and done fresh injury to her health in the effort to procure relief from many different physicians, and now, as a last desperate resource, she would try what could be gained without money and without price from the Great Physician. Perhaps, in her ignorance, it was because she had no longer any reward to offer; perhaps because she was ashamed in her feminine modesty to reveal the malady from which she had been suffering; but from whatever cause, she determined, as it were, to steal from Him, unknown, the blessing for which she longed. And so, with the strength and pertinacity of despair, she struggled in that dense throng until she was near enough to touch Him; and then, perhaps all the more violently from her extreme nervousness, she grasped the white fringe of His robe. By the law of Moses every Jew was to wear at each corner of his tallîth a fringe or tassel, bound by a riband of symbolic blue, to remind him that he was holy to God. Two of these fringes usually hung down at the bottom of the robe; one hung over the shoulder where the robe was folded round the person. It was probably this one that she touched with secret and trembling haste, and then, feeling instantly that she had gained her desire and was healed, she shrank back unnoticed into the throng. Unnoticed by others, but not by Christ. Perceiving that healing power had gone out of Him, recognizing the one magnetic touch of timid faith even amid the pressure of the crowd, He stopped and asked, "Who touched my clothes?" There was something almost impatient in the reply of Peter, as though in such a throng, he thought it absurd to ask, "Who touched me?" But Jesus, His eyes still wandering over the many faces, told him that there was a difference between the crowding of curiosity and the touch of faith, and as at last His glance fell on the poor woman, she, perceiving that she had erred in trying to filch the blessing which He would have graciously bestowed, came forward fearing and trembling, and, flinging herself at His feet, told Him all the truth. All her feminine shame and fear were forgotten in her desire to atone for her fault. Doubtless she dreaded His anger, for the law expressly ordained that the touch of one afflicted as she was, caused ceremonial uncleanness till the evening. But His touch had cleansed her, not her's polluted Him. So far from being indignant, He said to her, "Daughter"and at once at the sound of that gracious word sealed her pardon"go for peace: thy faith hath saved thee; be healed from thy disease."
The incident must have caused a brief delay, and, as we have seen, to the anguish of Jairus every instant was critical. But he was not the only sufferer who had a claim on the Saviour's mercy; and, as he uttered no complaint, it is clear that sorrow had not made him selfish. But at this moment a messenger reached him with the brief message"Thy daughter is dead;" and then, apparently with a touch of dislike and irony, he added, "Worry not the Rabbi."
The message had not been addressed to Jesus, but He overheard it, and with a compassionate desire to spare the poor father from needless agony, He said to him those memorable words, "Fear not, only believe." They soon arrived at his house, and found it occupied by the hired mourners and flute-players, who, as they beat their breasts, with mercenary clamour, insulted the dumbness of sincere sorrow and the patient majesty of death. Probably this simulated wailing would be very repulsive to the soul of Christ; and, first stopping at the door to forbid any of the multitude to follow Him, He entered the house with three only of the inmost circle of His ApostlesPeter, and James, and John. On entering, His first care was to still the idle noise; but when His kind declaration"The little maid is not dead, but sleepeth"was only received with coarse ridicule, He indignantly ejected the paid mourners. When calm was restored, He took with him the father and the mother and His three Apostles, and entered with quiet reverence the chamber hallowed by the silence and awfulness of death. Then, taking the little cold dead hand, He uttered these two thrilling words, "Talitha cumi""Little maid, arise!" and her spirit returned, and the child arose and walked. An awful amazement seized the parents; but Jesus calmly bade them give the child some food. And if He added His customary warning that they should not speak of what had happened, it was not evidently in the intention that the entire fact should remain unknownfor that would have been impossible, when all the circumstances had been witnessed by so manybut because those who have received from God's hand unbounded mercy are more likely to reverence that mercy with adoring gratitude if it be kept like a hidden treasure in the inmost heart.
Crowded and overwhelming as had been the incidents of this long night and day, it seems probable from St. Matthew that it was signalised by yet one more astonishing work of power. For as He departed thence two blind men followed Him with the cryas yet unheard"Son of David, have mercy on us." Already Christ had begun to check, as it were, the spontaneity of His miracles. He had performed more than sufficient to attest His power and mission, and it was important that men should pay more heed to His divine eternal teaching than to His temporal healings. Nor would He as yet sanction the premature, and perhaps ill-considered, use of the Messianic title "Son of David"a title which, had He publicly accepted it, might have thwarted His sacred purposes, by leading to an instantaneous revolt in His favour against the Roman power. Without noticing the men or their cry, He went to the house in Capernaum where He abode; nor was it until they had persistently followed Him into the house that He tested their faith by the question, "Believe ye that I am able to do this?" They said unto Him, "Yea, Lord." Then touched He their eyes, saying, "According to your faith be it unto you." And their eyes were opened. Like so many whom He healed, they neglected His stern command not to reveal it. There are some who have admired their disobedience, and have attributed it to the enthusiasm of gratitude and admiration; but was it not rather the enthusiasm of a blatant wonder, the vulgarity of a chattering boast? How many of these multitudes who had been healed by Him became His true disciples? Did not the holy fire of devotion which a hallowed silence must have kept alive upon the altar of their hearts die away in the mere blaze of empty rumour? Did not He know best? Would not obedience have been better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams? Yes. It is possible to deceive ourselves; it is possible to offer to Christ a seeming service which disobeys His inmost preceptsto grieve Him, under the guise of honouring Him, by vain repetitions, and empty genuflexions, and bitter intolerance, and irreverent familiarity, and the hollow simulacrum of a dead devotion. Better, far better, to serve Him by doing the things He said than by a seeming zeal, often false in exact proportion to its obtrusiveness, for the glory of His name. These disobedient babblers, who talked so much of Him, did but offer Him the dishonouring service of a double heart; their violation of His commandment served only to hinder His usefulness, to trouble His spirit, and to precipitate His death.