INCIDENTS OF THE JOURNEY.
WE are not told the exact route taken by Jesus as He left Gennesareth; but as He probably avoided Nazareth, with its deeply happy and deeply painful memories, He may have crossed the bridge at the southern extremity of the Lake, and so got round into the plain of Esdraelon either by the valley of Bethshean, or over Mount Tabor and round Little Hermon, passing Endor and Nain and Shunem on His way.
Crossing the plain, and passing Taanach and Megiddo, He would reach the range of hills which form the northern limit of Samaria; and at the foot of their first ascent lies the little town of En-gannim, or the "Fountain of Gardens." This would be the first Samaritan village at which He would arrive, and hither, apparently, He had sent two messengers "to make ready for Him." Although the incident is mentioned by St. Luke before the Mission of the Seventy, yet that is probably due to his subjective choice of order, and we may suppose that there were two of the seventy who were dispatched to prepare the way for Him spiritually as well as in the more ordinary sense; unless, indeed, we adopt the conjecture that the messengers may have been James and John, who would thus be likely to feel with special vividness the insult of His rejection. At any rate the inhabitantswho to this day are not remarkable for their civility to strangersabsolutely declined to receive or admit Him. Previously indeed, when He was passing through Samaria on His journey northwards, He had found Samaritans not only willing to receive, but anxious to detain His presence among them, and eager to listen to His words. But now in two respects the circumstances were different; for now He was professedly travelling to the city which they hated and the Temple which they despised, and now he was attended, not by a few Apostles, but by a great multitude, who were accompanying Him as their acknowledged Prophet and Messiah. Had Gerizim and not Jerusalem been the goal of His journey, all might have been different; but now His destination and His associates inflamed their national animosity too much to admit of their supplying to the weary pilgrims the ordinary civilities of life. And if the feelings of this little frontier village of En-gammin were so unmistakably hostile, it became clear that any attempt to journey through the whole breadth of Samaria, and even to pass under the shadow of their rival sanctuary, would be a dangerous if not a hopeless task. Jesus therefore altered the course of His journey, and turned once more towards the Jordan valley. Rejected by Galilee, refused by Samaria, without a word He bent His steps towards Peræa.
But the deep discouragement of this refusal to receive Him was mingled in the minds of James and John with hot indignation. There is nothing so trying, so absolutely exasperating, as a failure to find food and shelter, and common civility, after the fatigue of travel, and especially for a large multitude to begin a fresh journey when they expected rest. Full, therefore, of the Messianic kingdom, which now at last they thought was on the eve of being mightily proclaimed, the two brothers wanted to usher it in with a blaze of Sinaitic vengeance, and so to astonish and restore the flagging spirits of followers who would naturally be discouraged by so immediate and decided a repulse. "Lord, wilt Thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?" "What wonder," says St. Ambrose, "that the Sons of Thunder wished to flash lightning?" And this their fiery impetuosity seemed to find its justification not only in the precedent of Elijah's conduct, but in the fact that it had been displayed in this very country of Samaria. Was it more necessary in personal defence of a single prophet than to vindicate the honour of the Messiah and His attendants? But Jesus turned and rebuked them. God's heaven has other uses than for thunder. "They did not know," He told them, "what spirit they were of." They had not realised the difference which separated Sinai and Carmel from Calvary and Hermon. He had come to save, not to destroy; and if any heard His words and believed not, He judged them not. And so, without a word of anger, He went to a different village; and doubtless St. John, who by that time did know of what spirit he was, remembered these words of Christ when he went with Peter into Samaria to confirm the recent converts, and to bestow upon them the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Perhaps it may have been on this occasionfor certainly no occasion would have been more suitable than that furnished by this early and rude repulsethat Jesus, turning to the great multitudes that accompanied Him, delivered to them that memorable discourse in which He warned them that all who would be His disciples must come to Him, not expecting earthly love or acceptance, but expecting alienation and opposition, and counting the cost. They must abandon, if need be, every earthly tie; they must sit absolutely loose to the interests of the world; they must take up the cross and follow Him. Strange language, of which it was only afterwards that they learnt the full significance! For a man to begin a tower which he could not finishfor a king to enter on a war in which nothing was possible save disaster and defeatinvolved disgrace and indicated folly; better not to follow Him at all, unless they followed Him prepared to forsake all that they had on earth; prepared to sacrifice the interests of time, and to live solely for those of eternity. One who believed not, would indeed suffer loss and harm, yet his lot was less pitiable than that of him who became a disciple only to be a backsliderwho, facing both ways, cast like Lot's wife a longing glance on all that he ought to fleewho made the attempt, at once impotent and disastrous, to serve both God and Mammon.
As both Galilee and Samaria were now closed to Him, He could only journey on His way to Peræa, down the valley of Bethshean, between the borders of both provinces. There a very touching incident occurred. On the outskirts of one of the villages a dull, harsh, plaintive cry smote His ears, and looking up He saw "ten men who were lepers," united in a community of deadly misery. They were afar off, for they dared not approach, since their approach was pollution, and they were obliged to warn away all who would have come near them by the heart-rending cry, "Tamê! tamê!""Unclean! Unclean!" There was something in that living death of leprosyrecalling as it did the most frightful images of suffering and degradation, corrupting as it did the very fountains of the life-blood of man, distorting his countenance, rendering loathsome his touch, slowly encrusting and infecting him with a plague-spot of disease far more horrible than death itselfwhich always seems to have thrilled the Lord's heart with a keen and instantaneous compassion. And never more so than at this moment. Scarcely had He heard their piteous cry of "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us," than instantly, without sufficient pause even to approach them more nearly, He called aloud to them, "Go, show yourselves unto the priests." They knew the significance of that command: they knew that it bade them hurry off to claim from the priests the recognition of their cure, the certificate of their restitution to every rite and privilege of human life. Already, at the sound of that potent voice, they felt a stream of wholesome life, of recovered energy, of purer blood, pulsing through their veins; and as they went they were cleansed.
He who has not seen the hideous, degraded spectacle of the lepers clamorously revealing their mutilations, and almost demanding alms, by the roadside of some Eastern city, can hardly conceive how transcendent and immeasurable was the boon which they had thus received at the hands of Jesus. One would have thought that they would have suffered no obstacle to hinder the passionate gratitude which should have prompted them to hasten back at onceto struggle, if need be, even through fire and water, if thereby they could fling themselves with tears of heartfelt acknowledgment at their Saviour's feet, to thank Him for a gift of something more precious than life itself. What absorbing selfishness, what Jewish infatuation, what sacerdotal interference, what new and worse leprosy of shameful thanklessness and superstitious ignorance, prevented it? We do not know. We only know that of ten who were healed but one returned, and he was a Samaritan. On the frontiers of the two countries had been gathered, like froth at the margin of wave and sand, the misery of both; but while the nine Jews were infamously thankless, the one Samaritan "turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks." The heart of Jesus, familiar as He was with all ingratitude, was yet moved by an instance of it so flagrant, so all but unanimous, and so abnormal. "Were not the ten cleansed?" He asked in sorrowful surprise; "but the ninewhere are they? There are not found that returned to give glory to God save this alien." "It is," says Lange, "as if all these benefits were falling into a deep silent grave." The voice of their misery had awaked the instant echo of His mercy; but the miraculous utterance of His mercy, though it thrilled through their whole physical being, woke no echo of gratitude in their earthly and still leprous hearts.
But, nevertheless, this alien shall not have returned in vain, nor shall the rare virtuealas, how rare a virtue!of his gratitude go unrewarded. Not his body alone, but the soulwhose value was so infinitely more precious, just as its diseases are so infinitely more profoundshould be healed by his Saviour's word.
"Arise and go," said Jesus; "thy faith hath saved thee."