He answers him, and said, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him to me.
I. The first thing that seems to be in these words is not anger, indeed, but a very distinct and very pathetic expression of CHRIST'S INFINITE PAIN, BECAUSE OF MAN'S FAITHLESSNESS. The element of personal sorrow is most obvious here. It is not only that He is sad for their sakes, that they are so unreceptive, but He feels for Himself, just as we do in our humble measure, the chilling effect of an atmosphere where there is no sympathy. There never was such a lonely soul on this earth as His, just because there never was another so pure and loving. The plain felt soul-chilling after the blessed communion of the mountain. For once the pain He felt broke the bounds of restraint, and shaped for itself this pathetic utterance, "How long shall I be with you?" I do not know that there is one in which the title of "The man of sorrows" is to all deeper thinking more pathetically vindicated than in this — the solitude of the uncomprehended and the unaccepted Christ — His pain at His disciples' faithlessness. And then do not let us forget that in this short sharp cry of anguish — for it is that — there may be detected by the listening ear not only the tone of personal hurt, but the tone of disappointed and thwarted love. Because of their unbelief He knew that they could not receive what He desired to give them. We find Him more than once in His life hemmed in, hindered of His purpose — simply because there was nobody with a heart open to receive the rich treasure He was ready to pour out Here I would remark, too, before I go to another point, that these two elements — that of personal sorrow and that of disappointed love and baulked purposes — continue still, and are represented as in some measure felt by Him now. It was to disciples that He said, "O faithless generation!" He did not mean to charge them with the entire absence of all confidence, but He did mean to declare that their poor, feeble faith, such as it was, was not worth naming in comparison with the abounding mass of their unbelief. There was one light spark in them, and there was also a great heap of green wood that had not caught the flame, and only smoked instead of blazing. And so He said to them, "O faithless generation!" Do not we know that the purer our love, and the more it has purified us, the more sensitive it becomes, even while the less suspicious it becomes? Is not the purest, most unselfish, highest love, that in which the least failure in response is felt most painfully? Though there be no anger, and no change in the love, still there is a pang where there is an inadequate perception, or an unworthy reception, of it. And Scripture seems to countenance the belief that Divine Love, too, may know something, in some mysterious fashion, like that feeling, when it warns us, "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption." So we may venture to say, Grieve not the Christ of God, who redeems us; and remember that we grieve Him most when we will not let Him pour His love upon us, but turn a sullen, unresponsive unbelief towards His pleading grace, as some glacier shuts out the sunshine from the mountainside with its thick-ribbed ice.
II. Another thought, which seems to me to be expressed in this wonderful exclamation of our Lord's, is — THAT THEIR FAITHLESSNESS BOUND CHRIST TO EARTH, and kept Him here. As there is not anger, but only pain, so there is also, I think, not exactly impatience, but a desire to depart, coupled with the feeling that He cannot leave them till they have grown stronger in faith. And that feeling is increased by the experience of their utter helplessness and shameful discomfiture during His brief absence. That had shown that they were not fit to be trusted alone. He had been away for a day up in the mountain there, and though they did not build an altar to any golden calf, like their ancestors, when their leader was absent, still when He comes back He finds things all gone wrong because of the few hours of His absence. They were not ready for Him to leave them; the full-grown tree was not strong enough for the props to be removed. Again, here we get a glimpse into the depth of Christ's patient forbearance. We might read these other words of our text, "How long shall I suffer you?" with such an intonation as to make them almost a threat that the limits of forbearance would soon be reached, and that He was not going to suffer them much longer. But I fail to catch the tone of indignation here. It sounds rather like a pledge that as long as they need forbearance they will get it; but at the same time, a question of "How long that is to be?" It implies the inexhaustible riches and resources of His patient mercy. There is rebuke in His question, but how tender a rebuke it is! He rebukes without anger. Plainly He names the fault. He shows distinctly His sorrow, and does not hide the strain on His forbearance. That is His way of cure for His servants' faithlessness. It was His way on earth. It is His way in heaven. To us, too, comes the loving rebuke of this question, "How long shall I suffer you?" Thank God that our answer may be cast into the words of His own promise: "I say not unto thee, until seven times; but until seventy times seven." Bear with me till thou hast perfected me; and then bear me to Thyself, that I may be with Thee forever, and grieve Thy love no more. So may it be, for with Him is plenteous redemption, and His forbearing "mercy endureth forever."
(A. Maclaren, D. D,)
Parallel VersesKJV: He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me.