THE BROTHERLINESS OF JESUS
"First be reconciled to thy brother."
- Matthew V: 24
WE are trying to see Jesus as his contemporaries saw him, and desire to understand if we can the secret of that fascination which he exerted over those that knew him, and to fathom if possible the heart of that magic by which he has thrilled and held nineteen Christian centuries. We have found that the secret of his joy and strength lay in his implicit trust in God, and now I wish to think with you about another trait for which it is difficult for me to find a satisfying name. I should say that it is the love of Jesus were not the word "love" so ambiguous and so liable to misinterpretation; I should say it was the service of Jesus were it not for the fact that service is rather cold and has long since been worn into shreds; I should say the pity of Jesus, but pity is love looking downward, and that does not convey all the truth; I should call it the humanity of Jesus, but that is a vague and indefinite word that does not tell the story vividly; I should say the kindness of Jesus, but the word does not carry with it force enough. Possibly we cannot do better than to take the word "brotherliness," for this word contains two elements, both of which are essential if we would understand the kind of man Jesus was. Brotherliness carries in it not only a sense of kinship but likewise a disposition to render help. There is a relationship and likewise a helpfulness, and both of these blended into one constitute the quality to which I invite your attention now.
That this trait in Jesus made a profound impression upon his contemporaries is evidenced not only by what his friends have said about him, but also by the criticisms and sneers which he drew from his foes. It was a common taunt of the Scribes and Pharisees that he was a friend of Publicans and sinners, and when he hung dying on the cross the leading men of the Jewish church gathered round him saying with a jeer, "He saved others, he cannot save himself." Both of these accusations are as devilish as anything to be found in the literature of the world, but they are valuable to us in this that they show conclusively what impression this man of Galilee made upon the people of his time. It had been his practice all the way through life to help men. He had been a friendly, brotherly man even to the lowest and the basest of society. That was a characteristic that had created a great scandal and made him hateful to many of the respectable people of his day. The same trait is characterized in a famous phrase written by one of his dearest friends: "He went about doing good." What more beautiful eulogy has ever been written about a man than that? With what lovelier wreath of roses could you cover a man’s career? In these three sentences – "The friend of Publicans and sinners," "He saved others, he cannot save himself," "He went about doing good" – we get eloquent testimony to the fact that Jesus had a brotherly heart.
Let us look into this accusation, that he was the friend of Publicans and sinners, and find out what it meant. The word "Publican" means nothing to us because we have no class of men corresponding to the Publicans of Palestine. They were the taxgatherers of the country, gathering taxes for the Roman government. They were the hirelings of great capitalists into whose hands it was necessary to turn over a certain sum of money each year, and by extortion and other dishonest measures they could make as much more money for themselves. To every pious Hebrew these men were traitors to their country, and wherever they went they were an object of abhorrence, hatred, and scorn. Their money was tainted money, it would not be accepted in the synagogue. Their oath was absolutely worthless; they could not be witnesses in any court of law. If a man promised to do a thing for a Publican under oath, he was not bound to keep his oath. They were set up in the pillory of scorn and execration, and pelted with sneers by every passerby. They were looked upon as wild beasts in human shape. They were outcasts, vagabonds, worse than the homeless curs that roamed the streets. No decent man would have anything to do with them, no religious teacher took any interest in them. They were simply the offscouring and dregs of society.
But even with these Jesus made friends. Not only did he speak to them but he ate with them, went into their houses and sat down to the table with them-the very climax of audacity! It is one thing to throw money to depraved men as we would throw carrots to bears in a bear pit, it is another thing to cat with them. It is one thing to talk down to bad men, giving them good advice, and quite another thing to associate with them. No one found fault with President Roosevelt so long as he spoke to Negroes in the street ; it was when he sat down with a Negro in the White House that the South blazed with indignation. But this man Jesus sat down and ate with Publicans, he crossed the chasm over which no man of his day or generation was willing to pass. By doing this he lost his reputation. In the words of an apostle he made himself of no reputation, he took his good name and tore it into shreds and threw it away and all because he was determined to be brotherly. Notwithstanding these men were so base he recognized in them his brothers. They belonged to him and he belonged to them. They were members of the human race, children of the great family of God, and therefore in spite of all that they had done, and notwithstanding all that they were, he treated them as brothers. Not only did this conduct make a profound impression upon the men of Jesus’ day, but it has also made such a deep impression on all succeeding generations that it has blinded us to a fact that should never be forgotten – that Jesus was the brother of everybody.
Christianity has often been conceived as a religion that is interested chiefly in the outcasts of society, in the poor, the sick, the depraved. There are many who always think of Jesus as the friend of poor men, and of sick men, and of bad men, who never think of him as the brother of those that are rich and strong and good. It should never be forgotten that Jesus was brotherly toward good men as well as bad men, rich men as well as poor men, respectable men as well as disreputable men – he was the brother of every man. For instance, a rich man in Jericho once climbed into a tree in order to see the prophet pass. Jesus at once told him to come down, and that he wanted to take dinner with him. On a certain occasion near the end of his life, while he sat at meat in the home of one of his friends, a member of the household poured five hundred dollars’ worth of ointment on his feet and head, giving us proof that the family was by no means poor. If more is said in the New Testament about poor men than rich men, it is because Jesus was able to come nearer to poor men than he was to rich men. Rich men are always inaccessible. Here in New York you can go into the homes of the poor anywhere, but from the homes of the rich you are barred out. Rich men always surround themselves by barriers, by cordons of servants, and therefore we must not be surprised that in Palestine it was necessary for this man of Galilee to deal largely with the, poor.
But it must not be forgotten that he was just as friendly toward the rich Nicodemus as he was to the poor woman at the well; that he was just as brotherly toward rich Zaccheus as he was to the poor beggar in Jerusalem. Nor was he lacking in brotherly interest in the respectable people of his day. If the New Testament makes the impression on us that he was more interested in the outcast and debased, it is because this interest in them was so exceptional that it made a greater impression upon those who wrote the story of his life than any other feature of his conduct. A very large part of all his work was done for respectable people, good people, the leading people of his day. The pious Hebrews of Palestine were tied hand and foot with the cords of tradition. They were bound round and round with laws like an Egyptian mummy with embalming cloths, but Jesus gave himself to the work of setting them free. The cords were tied tight and he attempted to untie the knots, but in his effort to give men emancipation he stirred up animosities and awakened hatreds that led speedily to his death. It was in his effort to untie the knots that men seized him, crying, "Crucify him!"
Let us notice a few illustrations of his brotherliness. When John the Baptist was baptizing in the Jordan, Jesus came down from Galilee to be baptized. John, when he saw Jesus approaching, cried out: "O, no, I cannot baptize you, you are too good. There is reason why I should be baptized of you. This baptism is intended for sinners. I will not, therefore, baptize you." But Jesus would not listen to him, he insisted upon being baptized. He would identify himself with his brethren. "I want to be counted," he said, "a man among men." It was not a question whether he was good or not, it was a question of being brotherly. He refused to hold aloof from any movement that promised good to his country. He subjected himself to the same ceremony of which his fellow-citizens were in need. He took his place at the very beginning of his ministry among his brethren. Nowhere does his brotherliness come out more clearly than in his treatment of the sick. He could not pass a sick man without his soul going out to help him. Pain in its every form appealed to him, misery drew virtue from his heart. Large proportions of all the recorded miracles are miracles of healing. He could not look upon the deaf or dumb, the palsied, the blind, without putting forth his power to help them. No finer illustration of this brotherliness is afforded in the New Testament than that which St. John gives in the story of the impotent man at Bethesda. Here was an invalid who for thirty-eight years had lain in helplessness without a friend in all that great city. He needed only a lift in order to bring him within the reach of influences that were healing, but no one would lend a lifting hand. No other incident in the Bible throws such a strong light upon the inhumanity of the world nineteen hundred years ago. We are living in a day when the spirit of Jesus is working everywhere. Everywhere there is an outstretched hand, and everywhere human hearts are beating in sympathy with the helpless and the sick. Travelers through the Orient tell us that we people of the West have no conception of the indifference of the Oriental heart to human woes and miseries. Jesus, by being brotherly, has set an example after which the life of the world is being patterned, and in every land through which his name has been carried the hearts of men are gentler and their hands more eager to render help.
His brotherliness is also manifested in his teaching. He could not look into men’s faces without being pained by their confusion, their perplexity, and their misery. He could not see men passing on to the judgment day without telling them something about the great God in whose world they were living. Whenever he saw men fainting and scattered abroad like sheep having no shepherd, his heart was moved with compassion on them. When he looked into the tired faces of the Galilean peasants his heart cried out, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." What a sob there is in the words, "O Jerusalem! Jerusalem!" There is in the words the moan of a brotherly heart. And not only was he brotherly himself, but to him brotherliness is the very essence of religion. Without brotherliness there can be no religion that is pleasing unto God. The old law had said that one man must not kill another, but Jesus went far beyond the requirements of that law – he said that calling a man names was also wicked and would bring him into judgment. To use adjectives that pierce and cut, to throw out mean epithets full of contumely and scorn, to speak of men in ways that degrade them – that is wickedness and will bring the severest retribution. One of the greatest of his parables is the parable of Dives and Lazarus. A rich man fares sumptuously every day, and at his gate there lies a poor sick beggar, his body covered with ulcers, with no friend to bring relief. Only the dogs that prowl the streets lick the loathsome man’s sores. Jesus says when that thing happens in this world, something happens in the next world. You can almost feel the heat of his indignant soul. You can hear him asking, "Do you suppose that inhumanity like that will go unpunished in the universe of God?" It was not because the rich man was rich and dressed in fine raiment and fared sumptuously every day, that later on he lifted up his eyes in torment. Abraham also was rich and fared sumptuously every day, but Abraham went to heaven because he had a brother’s heart. This rich man Dives went to hell because his heart was not tender, his sympathy did not go out to a brother’s need.
And how did Palestine receive this brotherliness? It did not like it. Jesus was too brotherly, men misunderstood him. They misinterpreted him, they maligned him, they laid their plans to kill him; but they could not make him anything else than brotherly. In spite of all their ugliness and vindictiveness he went on helping them all he could, and when they laid their plots to kill him, he went bravely forward giving help, saying, "If I cannot help them with my life I will help them with my death. By dying I will convince them that I wanted to do them good. 1, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me. When hanging on the cross they will understand me as they cannot understand me now. When they hear me praying for them with my dying breath, they will be convinced that I am indeed their brother."