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MARY AND MARTHA.
As it was,
country allowed the afflicted to spend seven days in the indulgence of grief, and to receive visits of condolence. With the disposition of Mary this custom harmonized, and she naturally availed herself of it. On any other occasion-under any other circumstances, Mary, we may suppose, would have been the first to hasten to meet Jesus. Martha went first, because she first heard that he was coming. Mary went as soon as she was informed of his approach. If Mary had heard that Jesus was coming, before she learned it from Martha, then her friends from Jerusalem, who were with her, must have known it also, and they would have suspected whither she was going, and not have supposed that she was going to the grave to weep there.
And then how characteristic the manner in which the sisters meet their venerated Friend. They both addressed him in the same words, and the coincidence is very natural, because the thought which they expressed must have been continually uppermost in their minds. They had perhaps said the same thing to each other and to themselves a thousand times. “ If thou hadst been here, my brother had not died !"* But while Martha was able to enter into conversation with Jesus, unembarrassed by her feelings, Mary, as soon as she saw him, uttered a few words, and then fell at his feet in an agony of tears.
* This coincidence is no slight evidence of the unsuspecting integrity of the narrator. If the story were fictitious, its author would scarcely have ventured, without some explanation, to put the same words into the mouths of the sisters, as it would certainly appear at first sight to want verisimilitude.
MARY AND MARTHA.
When he directed the stone to be removed from the mouth of the sepulchre, observe it is Martha, and not Mary, who interferes, questioning the propriety of the direction, and betraying the coarse turn of her mind; “Lord, by this time he is offensive, for he hath been dead four days !” Such a suggestion, we perceive, came naturally from her. Mary's reverence for Jesus was too profound to permit her to object to anything he might propose. While Martha, constitutionally incapable of as deep a feeling, presumed to speak as if he knew not what he was doing.
We have only one mention more of Mary and Martha. Shortly after Lazarus had been raised from the dead, Jesus again visited Bethany. 66 Martha served. But Mary brought a quantity of costly ointment and poured it upon
person. By this act, she simply intended to express her personal reverence for Jesus. How like herself is the attitude in which she is here represented! Perfumes and ointments formed a part of the offices of hospitality. But the use of an ointment so precious was a mark of extraordinary respect, and showed how deeply Mary reverenced Jesus.
Let the incidents just briefly specified be pondered well. Mark their exceeding brevity, and the accidental manner in which they are introduced.
And yet how clear are the impressions we receive from them of the characters of the two sisters. Two or three, and—as to any design on the part of the narrators, -random strokes, and the moral features
* See Chap. X.
MARY AND MARTHA.
of Martha and Mary are before us in all the freshness of nature. The outlines are complete, never running into each other, and formed, not purposely, but by the combination of a few brief incidents. Let those believe who can, that the circumstances related, from which we have this result, are matters of fiction and not of fact.
It will help us to estimate the characteristic of the New Testament histories which I am illustrating, to glance at the works of imagination abounding at the present day; and observe how striking is the contrast between them, and the writings under consideration, in this respect. There is no department of literature in which human genius is so active and triumphant, as in the composition of fictitious narratives. Within a few years, through an alliance with history, an extraordinary revolution has been produced in this class of writings. The novelist now-a-days prepares himself for his work by the acquisition of an extensive and familiar acquaintance with the customs, the opinions, the whole condition of the period at which he lays the scene of his story, and is thus enabled to throw over it an imposing air of truth. And yet, after all, how much pains do the most gifted,—does the great Northern Story-teller himself, take to impart to his readers distinct and consistent impressions of the characters in which he aims to awaken interest! How continually are we made to feel that incidents are either fabricated or coloured in order to bring out character ; or else, for the sake of the story, occurrences are introduced which violate the consistency of the cha
racters portrayed. I am reminded in this connexion, by the force of the contrast, of the well-known romance of “the Pirate.” If so familiar an illustration may be allowed, we have only to observe the care which the novelist has taken to discriminate the characters of Minna and Brenda, to perceive how immeasurably more striking is the brief scriptural representation of Mary and Martha. In the novel, everything is done to assist the conceptions of the reader by a minute personal description of the two heroines, and they are thrown into circumstances calculated to bring out their respective peculiarities in the most prominent manner.
Whereas in those rapid sketches of the New Testament, the incidents, which so consistently and admirably unfold the cha+ racters of Mary and Martha, are told with the utmost brevity, and if for the sake of showing off any one, it is with a view to the character of Christ. But natural even as such a design might be, it does not appear to have been entertained. The occurrences related, with all the light they throw upon the moral features of the individuals concerned, seem to be mentioned for no reason but their simple truth. They had taken place. They were real, and therefore they were related.
The character of Peter is developed in a similar way. Not the shadow of an attempt to describe him is visible. But we cannot take up these narratives at any passage where he is mentioned, without recognising him as readily as we recognise the countenance of a familiar friend.
For the sake of illustration, let me crave the
attention of the reader, while I endeavour to revive an incident that occurred at the last Supper, mentioned in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of John. Let us for a moment leave the world in which we live, and go back some eighteen hundred years into the past, and enter Jerusalem, the capital of that nation, which, of all the nations of antiquity, was the only one that worshipped one God, using no similitudes—no idols.
It is the season of the Passover, a great national festival celebrating the ancient providence of Heaven. The city is crowded with Jews from all parts of Judea, and from remote regions. Its numerous dwellings are now occupied by friendly and family parties, observing the appointed ceremonies of the occasion, which consisted principally of a social entertainment, at which the mercies of God in times past were commemorated with appropriate forms. In a large upper room are assembled thirteen individuals from Galilee. Extraordinary circumstances, as their looks and tones indicate, have given a peculiar interest to the occasion. They have the air of men excited by strange events, and high but vague expectations. One among them is clearly shown to be their chief, by the deference which is paid him. They seem to regard him as a prince in disguise, a being of no common authority. He takes the principal place at the table, and as they also seat themselves, there is a struggle for precedence.* They are evidently jealous
* The strife at the last Supper is not mentioned by John. A notice of it is found in Luke. But even if there was no mention of it in any of the Gospels, we might infer that something of the kind