THE DEMONIAC BOY.
THE imagination of all readers of the Gospels has been struck by the contrasta contrast seized and immortalised for ever in the great picture of Raphaelbetween the peace, the glory, the heavenly communion on the mountain heights, and the confusion, the rage, the unbelief, the agony which marked the first scene that met the eyes of Jesus and His Apostles on their descent to the low levels of human life.
For in their absence an event had occurred which filled the other disciples with agitation and alarm. They saw a crowd assembled and Scribes among them, who with disputes and victorious innuendoes were pressing hard upon the diminished band of Christ's chosen friends.
Suddenly at this crisis the multitude caught sight of Jesus. Something about His appearance, some unusual majesty, some lingering radiance, filled them with amazement, and they ran up to Him with salutations. "What is your dispute with them?" He sternly asked of the Scribes. But the Scribes were too much abashed, the disciples were too self-conscious of their faithlessness and failure, to venture on any reply. Then out of the crowd struggled a man, who, kneeling before Jesus, cried out, in a loud voice, that he was the father of an only son whose demoniac possession was shown by epilepsy, in its most raging symptoms, accompanied by dumbness, atrophy, and a suicidal mania. He had brought the miserable sufferer to the disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but their failure had occasioned the taunts of the Scribes.
The whole scene grieved Jesus to the heart. "O faithless and perverse generation," He exclaimed, "how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?" This cry of indignation seemed meant for allfor the merely curious multitude, for the malicious Scribes, for the half-believing and faltering disciples. "Bring him hither to me."
The poor boy was brought, and no sooner had his eye fallen on Jesus, than he was seized with another paroxysm of his malady. He fell on the ground in violent convulsions, and rolled there with foaming lips. It was the most deadly and intense form of epileptic lunacy on which our Lord had ever been called to take compassion.
He paused before He acted. He would impress the scene in all its horror on the thronging multitude, that they might understand that the failure was not of Him. He would at the same time invoke, educe, confirm the wavering faith of the agonised suppliant.
"How long has this happened to him?"
"From childhood: and often hath it flung him both into fire and into water to destroy him; but if at all thou canst, take pity on us and help us."
"If thou canst?" answered Jesusgiving him back his own word"all things are possible to him that believeth."
And then the poor hapless father broke out into that cry, uttered by so many millions since, and so deeply applicable to an age which, like our own, has been described as "destitute of faith, yet terrified at scepticism""Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."
Meanwhile, during this short colloquy, the crowd had been gathering more and more, and Jesus, turning to the sufferer, said, "Dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him." A yet wilder cry, a yet more fearful convulsion followed His words, and then the boy lay on the ground, no longer wallowing and foaming, but still as death. Some said, "He is dead." But Jesus took him by the hand, and, amid the amazed exclamations of the multitude, restored him to his father, calm and cured.
Jesus had previously given to His disciples the power of casting out devils, and this power was even exercised in His name by some who were not among His professed disciples. Nor had they ever failed before. It was therefore natural that they should take the first private opportunity to ask Him the cause of their discomfiture, He told them frankly that it was because of their unbelief. It may be that the sense of His absence weakened them; it may be that they felt less able to cope with difficulties while Peter and the sons of Zebedee were also away from them; it may be, too, that the sad prophecy of his rejection and death had worked with sinister effect on the minds of the weakest of them. But at any rate, He took this opportunity to teach them two great lessons: the one, that there are forms of spiritual, physical, and moral evil so intense and so inveterate, that they can only be exorcised by prayer, united to that self-control and self-denial of which fasting is the most effectual and striking symbol; the other, that to a perfect faith all things are possible. Faith, like a grain of mustard-seed, could even say to Hermon itself, "Be thou removed, and cast into the waves of the Great Sea, and it should obey."
Jesus had now wandered to the utmost northern limit of the Holy Land, and He began to turn His steps homewards. We see from St. Mark that His return was designedly secret and secluded, and possibly not along the high roads, but rather through the hills and valleys of Upper Galilee to the westward of the Jordan. His object was no longer to teach the multitudes who had been seduced into rejecting Him, and among whom He could hardly appear in safety, but to continue that other and even more essential part of His work, which consisted in the training of his Apostles. And now the constant subject of His teaching was His approaching betrayal, murder, and resurrection. But He spoke to dull hearts; in their deep-seated prejudice they ignored His clear warnings, in their faithless timidity they would not ask for further enlightenment. We cannot see more strikingly how vast was the change which the resurrection wrought in them than by observing with what simple truthfulness they record the extent and inveteracy of their own shortcomings, during those precious days while the Lord was yet among them.
The one thing which they did seem to realise was that some strange and memorable issue of Christ's life, accompanied by some great development of the Messianic kingdom, was at hand; and this unhappily produced the only effect in them which it should not have produced. Instead of stimulating their self-denial, it awoke their ambition; instead of confirming their love and humility, it stirred them up to jealousy and pride. On the road, remembering, perhaps, the preference which had been shown at Hermon to Peter and the sons of Zebedeethey disputed among themselves, "Which should be the greatest?"
At the time our Lord took no notice of the dispute. He left their own consciences to work. But when they reached Capernaum and were in the house, then He asked them, "What they had been disputing about on the way?" Deep shame kept them silent, and that silence was the most eloquent confession of their sinful ambitions. Then He sat down, and taught them again, as He had done so often, that he who would he first must be last of all, and servant of all, and that the road to honour is humility. And wishing to enforce this lesson by a symbol of exquisite tenderness and beauty, He called to him a little child, and set it in the midst, and then, folding it in his arms, warned them that unless they could become as humble as that little child, they could not enter into the kingdom of heaven. They were to be as children in the world; and he who should receive even one such little child in Christ's name, should be receiving Him, and the Father who sent Him.
The expression "in my name" seems to have suggested to St. John a sudden question, which broke the thread of Christ's discourse. They had seen, he said, a man who was casting out devils in Christ's name; but since the man was not one of them, they had forbidden him. Had they done right?
"No," Jesus answered; "let the prohibition be removed." He who could do works of mercy in Christ's name could not lightly speak evil of that name. He who was not against them was with them. Sometimes indifference is opposition; sometimes neutrality is aid.
And then, gently resuming His discoursethe child yet nestling in His arms, and furnishing the text for His remarksHe warned them of the awful guilt and peril of offending, of tempting, of misleading, of seducing from the paths of innocence and righteousness, of teaching any wicked thing, or suggesting any wicked thought to one of those little ones, whose angels see the face of His Father in heaven. Such wicked men and seducers, such human performers of the devil's workaddressing them in words of more bitter, crushing import than any which He ever uttereda worse fate, He said, awaited them, than to be flung with the heaviest millstone round their neck into the sea.
And He goes on to warn them that no sacrifice could be too great if it enabled them to escape any possible temptations to put such stumbling-blocks in the way of their own souls, or the souls of others. Better cut off the right hand, and enter heaven maimedbetter hew off the right foot, and enter heaven haltbetter tear out the right eye, and enter heaven blindthan suffer hand or foot or eye to be the ministers of sins which should feed the undying worm or kindle the quenchless flame. Better be drowned in this world with a millstone round the neck, than carry that moral and spiritual millstone of unresisted temptation which can drown the guilty soul in the fiery lake of alienation and despair. For just as salt is sprinkled over every sacrifice for its purification, so must every soul be purged by fire; by the fire, if need be, of the severest and most terrible self-sacrifice. Let this refining, purging, purifying fire of searching self-judgment and self-severity be theirs. Let not this salt lose its savour, nor this fire its purifying power. "Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."
And thus, at once to confirm the duty of this mutual peace which they had violated, and to show them that, however deeply rooted be God's anger against those who lead others astray, they must never cherish hatred even against those who had most deeply injured them. He taught them how, first by private expostulation, then if necessary by public appeal, at once most gently and most effectually to deal with an offending brother. Peter, in the true spirit of Judaic formalism, wanted a specific limit to the number of times when forgiveness should be granted; but Jesus taught that the times of forgiveness should be practically unlimited. He illustrated that teaching by the beautiful parable of the servant, who, having been forgiven by his king a debt of ten thousand talents, immediately afterwards seized his fellow-servant by the throat, and would not forgive him a miserable little debt of one hundred pence, a sum 1,250,000 times as small as that which he himself had been forgiven. The child whom Jesus had held in His arms might have understood that moral; yet how infinitely more deep must its meaning be to uswho have been trained from childhood in the knowledge of His atoning lovethan it could have been, at the time when it was spoken, to even a Peter or a John.