The Patient Master and His Dull Scholars

"And when Jesus knew it, He saith unto them, Why reason ye because ye have no bread? Perceive ye not yet? neither understand? Having eyes, see ye not? having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember?"

Mark viii. 17, 18.

How different were the thoughts of Christ and of His disciples, as they sat together in the boat, making their way across the lake! He was pursuing a train of sad reflection, which just before they embarked had forced Him to "sigh deeply in His spirit" over a generation which was blind to Him and greedy after "a sign." In the boat He had warned the disciples, bidding them beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. While He was thus meditating in the stern, they, sitting forward on the thwarts, were taken up with the omission, very natural in the hurry of pushing off, to lay in a supply of provisions. They were so much occupied with that petty trouble that they twisted Christ's warning into His rebuke for what they were rebuking themselves for. So apt are we to interpret the words of others by the thoughts uppermost in ourselves. Their slowness of apprehension deeply moved Jesus, as is shown by the remarkable and unique hail of questions with which He met it. Only in Gethsemane do we see traces of equal agitation sweeping across the windless sea of His spirit.

These rapid questions give us a glimpse into His grieved heart. We can understand the mood of which they are the utterance. They express the almost despair which comes over the most patient teacher, when he finds that all his pains have been lost, and that years of effort on his part have scarcely left more traces on unretentive minds than remain on the ocean after the passage through it of a keel. We do not realise how large an element in the sorrows of the Man of Sorrows was His necessary association with those who did not understand Him, however truly and blindly they loved Him. Just because they did love Him was He so deeply pained by their dull perception of Him. He calculated, as we may say, on being misunderstood by Pharisees and other outsiders; but that His disciples, who had been beside Him and listening to Him so long, should see no further into Him, cut deep into His loving heart.

Our Lord's questions suggest not only emotion, which proves Him one of ourselves, but three distinct types of emotion, all dashed with pain. They clearly express astonishment, which we need not hesitate to ascribe to Him, when we read that He "marvelled at their unbelief," and was filled with happier wonder at the Centurion's faith, the fruit of a wild vine, which surpassed all that He had seen growing on the tended plant, Israel. He did wonder that, after all His toils and unveiling of His very heart to these His followers, they were so hopelessly at sea as to His meaning. Though He was the Incarnate Word, or rather because He was, He shared in that emotion which is peculiar to a limited understanding, wonder; and His disciples' unresponsiveness drew it forth. He had to learn by experience the depth of their denseness and ignorance. Does He not sometimes wonder at ours? May we not believe that the manhood of Jesus is not now so raised above what it was on earth as that that same feeling of surprise does not sometimes pass across it as He looks down on us? Surely He is asking us the old question: "Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me?"

Grief, as well as wonder, speaks in these questions; and that emotion is ascribed to Jesus in another place, in plain words, as being occasioned by "the hardness of their hearts." It may be too much to say that it, too, is possible to the exalted Christ, but we read "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God." Unworthy disciples grieve Him most. It is a searching question—is there not something in our hearts or lives that gives a pang to His heart, that causes Him to "sigh deeply in His spirit"?

May we not see, too, in this rapid fusillade of questions the other emotion which, in the passage already quoted, is intertwined with grief? "He looked round about on them with anger, being grieved." Infinite sorrow, pure pity, and real indignation were harmonised in Him. We must take all notions of passion and of malignity, and of desire to do harm to the object, out of the conception of anger as applied to God, or to Christ, who is the revelation of God. Surely a Christ in whom the possibilities of wrath are not united with love is a maimed Christ. The Lamb of God is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

The heaped-up questions are not mere emotional repetition. They suggest different phases of the disciples' failure. "Why reason ye about bread?" Minds absorbed with material good will not be quick to hear or understand Christ's teaching. If we in the bows have all our thoughts running on bread, we shall misunderstand Christ in the stern, warning against the leaven of the Pharisees.

That absorption leads to stolid insensibility, which "perceives not, nor understands," and to "hearts hardened" in the sense of being impenetrable by Christ's warnings, or promises, or revelations of truth. If it rained on basalt for a month the drops would run down the polished sides, and an inch below the surface would be dry. We are not like children that cannot, but like careless, untrained schoolboys that will not, learn. We have the capacity, and it is our own fault that we are dunces in the school and at the bottom of the class. If we use the power that we have, "unto him that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance." There are fishes that have lived so long in dark, underground channels that the present generation of them has no eyes. We are doing our best to deprive ourselves of our capacities of beholding, by refusing to use them. "Having eyes, see ye not?" Our non-use of the powers we have amazes and grieves our Master.

The cure for all these evils is suggested by the last question: "Do ye not remember?" With the baskets full of fragments scarcely eaten, the disciples were worrying themselves because there was only one loaf in the locker. Memory is the one wing, and Hope the other, that lift our heaviness from earth towards heaven. And any man who will bethink himself of what Jesus Christ has been for him, did for him on earth, and has done for him during his life, will not be so absorbed in worldly cares as that he will have no eyes to see the things unseen and eternal, and the hard, dead insensibility of his heart will melt into thankful consecration, and so he will rise nearer and nearer to intelligent apprehension of the lofty and deep things that the Incarnate Word says to him. We are here in Christ's school, and it depends upon the place in the class that we take here where we shall be put at what schoolboys call the "next remove." If here we have indeed learned of Him the "truth as it is in Jesus," we shall be put up into the top classes yonder, and get larger and more blessed lessons in the Father's house above.