Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear?' And do you not remember?
The parabolic habit of mind of Christ was essential to the setting forth of Divine truth to the comprehension of men; but as yet the persons who might have been expected to understand his teaching most thoroughly, were continually mistaking it. Whilst their Master discoursed of heavenly things, the thoughts of the disciples were upon the earth. There is nothing so reveals the moral and spiritual distance of persons from one another as the difference in their habits of mind.
I. HOW TOO GREAT A REGARD FOR OUTWARD THINGS BETRAYS ITSELF.
1. In over-anxiety. The disciples had by inadvertency omitted to take in a supply of bread ere leaving the shore, and their minds were full of trouble. They began to forecast the inconvenience to which it might expose them. Over-carefulness is a common feature of worldly character. It arises from too great self-dependence and too little faith in God. A certain, moderate attention to earthly wants is a duty, and will be bestowed by every well-regulated mind; but there are limits to be observed. "Be not anxious for your life," etc. (Matthew 6:25). It is a great aim of the spiritual life to be free from this bondage to minute worries and cares.
2. In failure to attend to or understand Divine things. The disciples were so taken up with this little matter that they utterly failed to perceive Christ's meaning, when he warned them against the Pharisees and Herodians. That they should be so was also a proof that they had forgotten the teaching of the two miracles of the loaves and fishes. For this Christ reproved them. His cross-questioning elicited the fact that the details of these miracles were still recollected; but the spiritual lessons had been completely lost. So to speak, these spiritual tours de force had been thrown away upon them. How hard a race has the Divine life with earthly concern and anxiety in the soul! There is a littleness in such habits of thought that effectually prevents the great ideas of the Divine kingdom from entering the mind. Herein is to be found the explanation of the failure of many services and sermons, which in themselves may have been faithful and devout enough: the hearers are occupied with worldly cares. "The cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the Word, and it becometh unfruitful" (Mark 4:19).
II. THE DANGER TO WHICH IT EXPOSES.
1. Christ, referring to the doctrine of the Pharisees and Herodians, warned against that conception of the Messiah, as one who was to be an earthly king, establishing a temporal dominion, which the leaders of Judaism held. The state of mind of the disciples was eminently favorable to such a view. In them it was only a tendency, in the Pharisees a fixed point of view; and thus the latter wholly missed the spiritual element in the Saviour's teaching. They were filled with visions of national restoration and individual aggrandizement; and failing to receive encouragement from Christ in these, "they were offended in him," and began to seek his destruction. The same danger still haunts the Church of Christ, the absolutely spiritual nature of the Divine kingdom having been one of the most slowly developed of Christian doctrines.
2. The power and the insidiousness of this point of view are suggested by the figure of "leaven." Leaven works slowly, but a very little affects a large amount. "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." To minds already prepared by habit and tendency in that direction, it would be a comparatively easy thing to adopt the worldly interpretation of prophecy given forth by the Pharisees. Indeed, if they were only let alone, the "leaven" was already within them, and would assuredly develop into the same fundamental heresy. To think thus of Christ and his kingdom is "to come short of it," to our own hurt and ruin; "for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Romans 14:17). - M.
And they reasoned among themselves.
Their reasonings very plainly and painfully proved how very little real benefit they had yet derived from intercourse with Christ. What a display of ignorance, forgetfulness, and unbelief! So it always has been in the history of God's dealings with men. And so it is now, among ourselves, notwithstanding all the superior advantages we enjoy. How often do all of us misunderstand the meaning of our Master's words! How often do we distrust His Providence! And why is this? The main reason is that we are forgetful of the lessons of experience. Like the first disciples, we do not thoughtfully and prayerfully ponder what He has taught us, and what He has done for us. Consider the days of old. Remember all the way which the Lord thy God hath led thee. Gather up into the basket of memory all the fragments of the past, carry them along with you, and make use of them day by day as occasion may require.
"The first time I went to a Christian missionary," said a Chinese evangelist, "I took my eyes.
I stared at his hat, his umbrella, his coat, his shoes, the shape of his nose, and the colour of his skin and hair; but I heard not a word. The next time I took my ears
as well as my eyes, and was astonished to hear the foreigner talk Chinese. The third time, with eyes and ears intent, God touched my heart
, and I understood the gospel."
How is it that ye do not understand?
With the disciples, as with the rich youth, it was things that prevented the Lord from being understood. Because of possession the young man had not a suspicion of the grandeur of the call with which Jesus honoured him. He thought he was hardly dealt with to be offered a patent of heaven's nobility — he was so very rich! Things filled his heart; things blocked up his windows; things barricaded his door; so that the very God could not enter. His soul was not empty, swept, and garnished, but crowded with meanest idols, among which his spirit crept about upon its knees, wasting on them the gazes that belonged to his fellows and his Master. The disciples were a little further on than he; they left all and followed the Lord; but neither had they yet got rid of things. The paltry solitariness of a loaf was enough to hide the Lord from them, to make them unable to understand Him. Why, having forgotten, could they not trust? Surely if He had told them that for His sake they must go all day without food, they would not have minded! but they lost sight of God, and were as if either He did not see, or did not care for them. In the former case it was the possession of wealth, in the latter the not having more than a loaf, that rendered incapable of receiving the Word of the Lord: the evil principle was precisely the same. If it be things that slay you, what matter whether things you have, or things you have not? The youth, not trusting in God, the source of his riches, cannot brook the word of His Son, offering him better riches, more direct from the heart of the Father. The disciples, forgetting who is Lord of the harvests of the earth, cannot understand His Word, because filled with the fear of a day's hunger. He did not trust in God as having given; they did not trust in God as ready to give. We are like them when, in any trouble, we do not trust Him. It is hard on God, when His children will not let Him give; when they carry themselves so that He must withhold His hand, lest He harm them. To take no care that they acknowledge whence their help comes, would be to leave them worshippers of idols, trusters in that which is not.
Let me suggest some possible parallels between ourselves and the disciples, maundering over their one loaf — with the Bread of Life at their side in the boat. We, too, dull our understandings with trifles, fill the heavenly spaces with phantoms, waste the heavenly time with hurry. To those who possess their souls in patience come the heavenly visions. When I trouble myself over a trifle, even a trifle confessed — the loss of some little article, say — spurring my memory, and hunting the house, not from immediate need, but from dislike of loss; when a book has been borrowed of me and not returned, and I have forgotten the borrower, and fret over the missing volume, while there are thousands on my shelves, from which the moments thus lost might gather treasures, holding relation with neither moth, nor rust, nor thief; am I not like the disciples? Am I not a fool whenever loss troubles me more than recovery would gladden? God would have me wise, and smile at the trifle. Is it not time I lost a few things when I care for them so unreasonably? This losing of things is of the mercy of God; it comes to teach us to let them go. Or have I forgotten a thought that came to me, which seemed of the truth, and a revealment to my heart? I wanted to keep it, to have it, to use it by and by, and it is gone! I keep trying and trying to call it back, feeling a poor man till that thought be recovered — to be far more lost, perhaps in a notebook, into which I shall never look again to find it! I forget that it is live things God cares about — live truths, not things set down in a book, or in a memory, or embalmed in the joy of knowledge, but things lifting up the heart, things active in an active will. True, my lost thought might have so worked; but had I faith in God, the Maker of thought and memory, I should know that, if the thought was a truth, and so alone worth anything, it must come again; for it is in God — so, like the dead, not beyond my reach; kept for me, I shall have it again.
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