AMONG THE HEATHEN.
"THEN Jesus went thence, and departed into the regions of Tyre and Sidon."
"Such is the brief notice which prefaces the few and scanty records of a period of His life and work of which, had it been vouchsafed to us, we should have been deeply interested to learn something more. But only a single incident of this visit to heathendom has been recorded. It might have seemed that in that distant region there would be a certainty, not of safety only, but even of repose; but it was not so. We have already seen traces that the fame of His miracles had penetrated even to the old Phœnician cities, and no sooner had He reached their neighbourhood than it became evident that He could not be hid. A woman sought for Him, and followed the little company of wayfarers with passionate entreaties"Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David: my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil."
We might have imagined that our Lord would answer such a prayer with immediate and tender approbation, and all the more because, in granting her petition, He would symbolically have been representing the extension of His kingdom to the three greatest branches of the Pagan world. For this woman was by birth a Canaanite, and a Syro-Phœnician; by position a Roman subject; by culture and language a Greek; and her appeal for mercy to the Messiah of the Chosen People might well look like the first-fruits of that harvest in which the good seed should spring up hereafter in Tyre and Sidon, and Carthage, and Greece, and Rome. But Jesusand is not this one of the numberless indications that we are dealing, not with loose and false tradition, but with solid fact?"Jesus answered her not a word."
In no other single instance are we told of a similar apparent coldness on the part of Christ; nor are we here informed of the causes which influenced His actions. Two alone suggest themselves: He may have desired to test the feelings of His disciples, who, in the narrow spirit of Judaic exclusiveness, might be unprepared to see Him grant His blessings, not only to a Gentile, but a Canaanite, and descendant of the accursed race. It was true that He had healed the servant of the centurion, but he was perhaps a Roman, certainly a benefactor to the Jews, and in all probability a proselyte of the gate. But it is more likely that, knowing what would follow, He may have desired to test yet further the woman's faith, both that He might crown it with a more complete and glorious reward, and that she might learn something deeper respecting Him than the mere Jewish title that she may have accidentally picked up. And further than this, since every miracle is also rich in moral significance, He may have wished for all time to encourage us in our prayers and hopes, and teach us to persevere, even when it might seem that His face is dark to us, or that His ear is turned away.
Weary with the importunity of her cries, the disciples begged Him to send her away. But, as if even their intercession would be unavailing, He said, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
Then she came and fell at his feet, and began to worship Him, saying, "Lord, help me." Could He indeed remain untouched by that sorrow? Could He reject that appeal? and would He leave her to return to the life-long agony of watching the paroxysms of her demoniac child? Calmly and coldly came from those lips that never yet had answered with anything but mercy to a suppliant's prayer"It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs."
Such an answer might well have struck a chill into her soul; and had He not foreseen that hers was the rare trust which can see mercy and acceptance even in apparent rejection, He would not so have answered her. But not all the snows of her native Lebanon could quench the fire of love which was burning on the altar of her heart, and promptly as an echo came forth the glorious and immortal answer
"Truth, Lord; then let me share the condition, not of the children but of the dogs, for even the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."
She had triumphed, and more than triumphed. Not one moment longer did her Lord prolong the agony of her suspense. "O woman," He exclaimed, "great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt." And with his usual beautiful and graphic simplicity St. Mark ends the narrative with the touching words, "And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed."
How long our Lord remained in these regions, and at what spot He stayed, we do not know. Probably His departure was hastened by the publicity which attended His movements even there, and whichin a region where it had been His object quietly to train his own nearest and most beloved followers, and not either to preach or to work deeds of mercywould only impede His work. He therefore left that interesting land. On Tyre, with its commercial magnificence, its ancient traditions, its gorgeous and impure idolatries, its connection with the history and prophecies of his native landon Sarepta, with its memories of Elijah's flight and Elijah's miracleson Sidon, with its fisheries of the purple limpet, its tombs of once-famous and long. forgotten kings, its minarets rising out of their groves of palm and citron, beside the blue historic seaon the white wings of the countless vessels, sailing to the Isles of the Gentiles, and to all the sunny and famous regions of Greece and Italy and SpainHe would doubtless look with a feeling of mingled sorrow and interest. But His work did not lie here, and leaving behind Him those Phœnician shrines of Melkarth and Asherah, of Baalim and Ashtaroth, He turned eastwardprobably through the deep gorge of the rushing and beautiful Leontesand so reaching the sources of the Jordan, travelled southward on its further bank into the regions of Decapolis.
Decapolis was the name given to a district east of the Jordan, extending as far north (apparently) as Damascus, and as far south as the river Jabbok, which formed the northern limit of Peræa. It was a confederacy of ten free cities, in a district which, on their return from exile, the Jews had never been able to recover, and which was therefore mainly occupied by Gentiles, who formed a separate section of the Roman province. The reception of Jesus in this semi-pagan district seems to have been favourable. Wherever He went He was unable to abstain from exercising His miraculous powers in favour of the sufferers for whom His aid was sought; and in one of these cities He was entreated to heal a man who was deaf, and could scarcely speak. He might have healed him by a word, but there were evidently circumstances in his case which rendered it desirable to make the cure gradual, and to effect it by visible signs. He took the man aside, put His fingers in his ears, and spat, and touched his tongue; and then St. Mark preserves for us the sight, and the uplifted glance, as He spoke the one word, "Ephphatha! Be opened!" Here again it is not revealed to us what were the immediate influences which saddened His spirit. He may have sighed in pity for the man; He may have sighed in pity for the race; He may have sighed for all the sins that degrade and all the sufferings which torture; but certainly He sighed in a spirit of deep tenderness and compassion, and certainly that sigh ascended like an infinite intercession into the ears of the Lord God of Hosts.
The multitudes of that outlying region, unfamiliar with His miracles, were beyond measure astonished. His injunction of secrecy was as usual disregarded, and all hope of seclusion was at an end. The cure had apparently been wrought in close vicinity to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and great multitudes followed Jesus to the summit of a hill overlooking the lake, and there bringing their lame, and blind, and maimed, and dumb, they laid them at the feet of the Good Physician, and He healed them all. Filled with intense and joyful amazement, these people of Decapolis could not tear themselves from His presence, andsemi-pagans as they werethey "glorified the God of Israel."
Three days they had now been with Him, and, as many of them came from a distance, their food was exhausted. Jesus pitied them, and seeing their faith, and unwilling that they should faint by the way, once more spread for His people a table in the wilderness. Some have wondered that, in answer to the expression of His pity, the disciples did not at once anticipate or suggest what He should do. But surely here there is a touch of delicacy and truth. They knew that there was in Him no prodigality of the supernatural, no lavish and needless exercise of miraculous power. Many and many a time had they been with multitudes before, and yet on one occasion only had He fed them; and moreover, after He had done so, He had most sternly rebuked those who came to Him in expectation of a repeated offer of such gifts, and had uttered a discourse so searching and strange that it alienated from Him many even of His friends. For them to suggest to Him a repetition of the feeding of the five thousand would be a presumption which their ever-deepening reverence forbade, and forbade more than ever as they recalled how persistently He had refused to work a sign, such as this was, at the bidding of others. But no sooner had He given them the signal of His intention, than with perfect faith they became His ready ministers. They seated the multitude, and distributed to them the miraculous multiplication of the seven loaves and the few small fishes; and, this time unbidden, they gathered the fragments that remained, and with them filled seven large baskets of rope, after the multitude four thousand in number, besides women and childrenhad eaten and were filled. And then kindly and peacefully, and with no exhibition on the part of the populace of that spurious excitement which had marked the former miracle, the Lord and His Apostles joined in sending away the rejoicing and grateful throng.