THE CHIVALRY OF JESUS
"And touched him."
I HAVE found difficulty in finding a word to express the quality of Jesus to which I now desire to invite your attention. This quality is courage, but it is something more than courage. Courage is a temper of the heart, a firmness of spirit in the presence of difficulty and danger. But there are many kinds of courage. There is first of all bravery, an intrepid sort of courage which has in it a certain daring which ordinary courage does not have. Bravery steps ahead of courage and takes risks that the latter does not invite. Moreover there is fortitude or courage in its passive form. If bravery rushes forward to attack, fortitude holds its ground and endures. And then again there is valor that we have consecrated for service on the battlefield, and gallantry which is an adventurous and splendid variety of heroism – heroism as it were with a halo. But not one of these words is rich or wide enough to express all that is in my mind when I contemplate a certain side of the courageous heart of Jesus. He was heroic but he was more than that. His heroism was a superb gallantry and something more. There was in it a delicious courtesy, a beautiful and gentle graciousness toward the weak and helpless. Possibly we can find no better word to cover this rich characteristic of the heart of Jesus than the word "chivalry." It is a word taken from the world of knighthood. The very sound of the word has magic in it, and calls up before the eyes splendid troops of heroic men who went forth in the medieval times to protect the weak, maintain the right, and live a stainless life. In a world from which justice had been largely banished and in which might had usurped the place of right, the knight arose to defend the weak and to bring just causes through to victory. Woman especially was the object of his care. By her weakness she appealed to that which was deepest in his heart. By defending her and all others who like her were at the mercy of the brute powers of a barbaric world the knight won for himself a shining place in history and gave to chivalry a splendor that will never fade. Jesus of Nazareth was a knight. On foot he traveled forth, clad in the armor of a peerless manhood, to shield the weak, maintain the right, and live a life that should charm and win the world. At the head of the great company of knightly souls whose bravery and prowess have made the world better, stands this knight of knights, this chivalric Man of Galilee.
His gracious courage first manifested itself at the river Jordan on the day on which he was baptized. John did not want to baptize him. There was no reason why he should be baptized. His heart was unstained by sin and the baptism of John was a baptism of repentance. To be baptized, therefore, might lead to misunderstandings and give rise to misrepresentations. There were many risks in this yielding of himself to baptism, but he accepted them all because his great soul yearned to identify himself with his countrymen, with the common race of men. Men were sinners, they needed repentance, they needed just the baptism to which the prophet of the desert was calling them; and this young carpenter from Nazareth, with no need in his own soul for the baptismal water, goes bravely forward saying, "I too must be baptized." Strong himself, he will identify himself with this reformatory movement. Lifted above the sins of ordinary humanity he will link himself at the very start with those who carry on their hearts the burden of transgression and who cry out day and night for deliverance. A knight he was at the beginning; a knight he will be to the end.
Mark how his soul goes out to those who suffer. Physical distress pierced him and wrung his heart. Sickness in the first century did not receive the attention that it receives in ours. The poor were allowed to suffer unattended and to die unrelieved. There were no hospitals such as ours, and no earnest bands of philanthropic men and women giving their lives to the alleviation of pain and to banishing the terrors of the dying hour. Insane people were not housed and cared for. Supposed to be possessed by devils, they were driven out of the town and allowed to wander in cemeteries and desert places, a terror to all who heard their shrieks and cries. Jesus pitied them. No one else reached out to them a helping hand. The Evangelists take delight in telling us how again and again he healed those who were afflicted with demons. If there was a man in Palestine more dreaded than a maniac, it was a leper. But even the leper was not beyond the reach of Jesus’ heart. Men turned their backs upon him. Laws prescribed the distance that he must keep from every other human being. Between him and all others there was a deep gulf fixed, but this Knight of Nazareth crossed the chasm and to the consternation of all Palestine not only spoke kindly to the leper, but laid his hand upon him.
His heart was ever open to the neglected and forlorn. Between Galilee and Judea there lived a tribe of people, half Jewish and half Pagan, who in their religion as well as in their blood exhibited a degeneration from the high ideals of the early times. Degenerates and apostates, they were held in deep abhorrence by Hebrews whose hearts were true to the high traditions of their country. It was only in cases of necessity that a Jew could be induced to pass through the region inhabited by these people. Jesus not only passed through Samaria, but he tarried there and taught the people just as he taught the men of Judea and Galilee. They were outcasts, but they were also human, and if they had no protector or friend, he at any rate would befriend them. Some of them might not understand how to receive him, but such churlish conduct could not dampen the ardor of his interest in them. The disciples with blazing hearts might want to bum up a Samaritan village, but the Knight of Galilee came not to destroy but to save. No man could take his place on the side of the Samaritans without paying an awful penalty, and Jesus paid it. Men gnashed their teeth and hissed, "You are a Samaritan." That was the most cutting thing it was possible for them to say, but he never swerved from his course. He healed Samaritan lepers as freely as any others, and when he painted a man who represented his ideal of goodness he painted him with the features and dress of a Samaritan. The parable that has probably taken the deepest hold on the heart of the world of all the parables that Jesus spoke is the parable of the "Good Samaritan." The creation of that parable was a sublime act of chivalry.
There were outcast,; even in Galilee and Judea. There were people who were estranged from organized religion. They neglected the observances and regulations of the synagogue, and were labeled "sinners" by the pious. They were not in all cases profligates or vagabonds, but simply men and women who had no liking for the ceremonies of the church and who took no interest in the Rabbis or their teachings. The Rabbis in return took no interest in them. They were counted renegades and apostates, from whose society it was well that all decent people should hold aloof. In many of these people there were aspirations after better things, and in all of them there were the deep hungers and warm feelings of our common humanity. But they were outcasts. The church had laid a ban upon them. They were dangerous. Their example was demoralizing, their ideas were poison. No one who cared for his reputation as a God-fearing man dared to associate with them. No Rabbi in all Palestine would risk his good name by dining with any one of them. But Jesus was not a man to be deterred by the execrations of polite society. The so-called sinners were human beings, and because children of God they were not to be despised. If no other religious teacher would go among them, he would. He did. He made himself of no reputation. He sat down with sinners and ate with them. The Pharisees never forgave him. His courtesy to the unchurched masses hastened the day of his crucifixion.
Among the so-called sinners there was a group of men lower than all the others. They were known as Publicans. These were tax collectors whose business it was to collect Jewish money and send it up to Rome. The, tax collector is never a popular personage, and if he collects money to send to an outside and tyrannical power, he is not only unpopular but also execrated. The Publicans of Palestine were hated with a fury of detestation which modem society cannot parallel. Publicans were counted lower than street dogs. The Jewish church would not allow them even to contribute to its treasury. But Jesus made friends of these men. They were friendless, and in many cases of unsavory character, but he was a physician, and like all true physicians he was especially interested in those who were dangerously ill. Not only did he go into their homes and eat with them in a cosmopolitan city like Capernaum, but he also dined with a prominent leader of the Publicans in the old priestly city of Jericho. Not only did he eat with them, but when the time came to select twelve men who should be his most intimate friends and most conspicuous workers, one of them was a Publican. And then as if to push his chivalry to a climax he painted a picture of two men praying in the temple – one a Pharisee and the other a Publican. One need not wonder that the Pharisees cried: "Crucify him! Crucify him 1" When was a knight ever so reckless in throwing his protection round the weak?
But as is the case with all true knights, it is in his attitude to woman that Jesus’ chivalry reaches its finest expression. Woman has never been fairly treated in the Orient. She has always been counted inferior to man. Sometimes she has been a toy, most frequently a drudge, and always somewhat higher than an animal but far lower than a man. The degradation of woman in such places as India, for example, is a shock to all observing travelers. The Hindu woman is a tragedy the full blackness of which has never been realized by the people of the West. Those who best understand the Indian people assert that there is no hope for India until woman given there her rightful place. It is with such fact in mind that we are able to appreciate the grotesque folly and the ludicrous ignorance of those American women who have an inextinguishable craving for the religions of the distant East. These women, not satisfied with Christianity, and being somewhat weary of the teachings of Jesus, sit spellbound at the feet of sundry Hindu teachers, who without authority, or standing in their own country come to America, to expound the beautiful ideas of Oriental religion. These teachers have much to say in poetic phrases about ideas exquisitely nebulous, and conceptions which are so vague that they cannot be grasped even by the minds to which they bring rapture, but they have nothing to say about the place of woman as that place is taught in orthodox Hinduism or as that place is established in the best Hindu society. It is both farcical and pathetic, this trailing of American women after these Eastern teachers, and the quickest way to end it is to let the West know just what India has to teach and show in regard to the place and rights of woman. It is amazing that any informed man should ever leave Jesus for any other teacher, but it is tenfold more astounding that any woman in her right mind should ever turn her back on the one man who has done more for woman than all the other men who have ever lived. Of all the knights who have risked their lives for the protection and honor of womanhood not one is worthy to unloose the latchet of the shoes of this gracious and gallant Man of Galilee. How boldly he spoke on the subject of divorce. Woman’s position in Palestine was superior to that of woman in surrounding nations, but even in Palestine she was at the mercy of the man. A man could divorce his wife when he chose, and all that the law required was that he should write out a statement declaring that whereas this woman was once his wife she was now his wife no longer.
But against such arbitrary and dangerous authority the chivalric soul of Jesus protested. Men reminded him that such liberty had been granted to man by Moses, but he immediately replied that Moses would never have allowed any such license had he not been dealing with barbarians, and that no matter what Moses or any other lawmaker had ever said or decreed, the law of God is that a man has no right to cast a woman off as soon as he is tired of her. Marriage is ordained by God. It lies in the very structure and formation of human nature. The union is not one that can be dissolved by Moses or anybody else. God intends one man shall live with one woman and that shall live together until death parts them. Greater words than those have ever been spoken on behalf of woman since the world began. Even now men’s hearts are too hard to hear and heed them, and the result is degradation, heartbreak, and misery. High above all the clamorous voices of the worlds, there rings the clear and authoritative tone of Jesus saying to men: "You have no right to use women: and toss them from you. Man and woman belong together, and after marriage the twain are one flesh."
There were many degraded women in Palestine as there are today in America. Woman being weaker than man is the first to suffer from the injustices of every social and economic system. Our modern world has created a dozen places for women where one place existed in the olden world. Unable to earn their livelihood by honest means women then, as women now, became the prey of brutal men. And men then, as some men now, insisted on two, standards of morality, one for men and one for women, the second standard being higher than the first. One of these degraded women was one day by a lot of men who dragged her presence of Jesus just to see what he would do. According to the Palestinian law a woman guilty of adultery could be stoned to death. As soon as the men had made their accusation, Jesus paused a moment and then said, "The man among you who has not committed the same sin may throw the first stone." Not a stone was lifted. No one said a word. Those who were on the outskirts of the crowd one by one disappeared. By and by they all had gone. All had slunk away like curs. Woman is not to be condemned and man let go free. In the scales of God’s eternal justice a woman’s sin is not heavier than that of a man. Here is a teacher who does not hesitate to defend the rights of woman even though by so doing he incurs the deadly hatred of all foul-hearted men. Even women of the street shall not be denied the privilege of repentance, for they are capable of remorse, and may long to find their way back to the Father’s house. A woman has a mind, a conscience, a soul, even though she lives in Samaria and has broken the moral law, and is worthy of careful instruction at the hands of the greatest of teachers. What a piece of gallantry it was – that conversation at Jacob’s well!
Here, then, we have a knight who is a knight indeed. The medieval knight went forth seeking for adventures: our knight of Palestine went forth in search of forlorn and friendless human beings. The knight of France and Germany was clad in metal, this knight of Nazareth had no protection but the white innocence of an unspoiled heart. His was the skill of a physician and not that of a soldier. His was the prowess of a friend and brother and not that of a warrior fighting to lay his antagonist in the dust. He had all the graces and virtues chivalry and none of its superficiality or its foibles. He had the nerve, the mettle, and the intrepidity of the bravest of the knights, and along with this he had a sweet winsomeness, a divine graciousness that history cannot match. Many a knight protected the distressed and maintained the right but failed to live the stainless life. This prince of knights, this king of all the hosts of chivalry, conquered on every field and came off without a stain.
He liked people. He was interested in human beings. He loved a crowd. The populace appealed to him. The masses were dear to his heart. Ignorant people attracted him. Bewildered and mistaken people had a fascination for him. Wicked people had a place in his heart. He could not look at a great crowd without feeling the tragedy of human life and crying out: "Come unto me! Come unto me!" His invitations were always generous. They were wide enough to cover all. He always said that no man who came would ever be cast out.
In Jesus we have a revelation of the heart of God. In speaking of the chivalry of this man of Nazareth I have been speaking of the chivalry of the Eternal. God is knightly in His disposition, chivalric in His temper. It is His work from all eternity to protect the weak, maintain the right, and live a stainless life. His heart goes out unceasingly toward the weak, the helpless, and those who have no friend. If you are conscious of your weakness, cry out to Him, for He is swift to answer such a cry. If you feel sometimes absolutely helpless, altogether forlorn and forsaken, do not despair, for the heart of Jesus is the heart which beats in and behind all this world, and you can never be forsaken so long as God is God. in your moments of depression and in the days when the world seems cold and cruel, think of the chivalric God, whose heart beats in sympathy with weakness, and who goes out with alacrity and with gladness to meet every soul in need of succor.