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The Jews were now under the Roman pressure; they were all tributaries, yet many of them rich, and those rich men were liberal to the common chest. Hadst thou seen those many rich give little, we had heard of thy censure; thou expectest a proportion betwixt the giver and the gift, betwixt the gift and the receipt ; where that fails, the blame is just. That nation, though otherwise faulty enough, was in this commendable. How bounteously open were their hands to the house of God! Time was when their liberality was fain to be restrained by proclamation; and now it needed no incitement; the rich gave much, the poorest gave more.
“He saw a poor widow casting in two mites.” It was misery enough that she was a widow. The married woman is under the careful provision of a husband; if she spend, he earns; in that estate four hands work for her, in her widowhood but two. Poverty added to the sorrow of her widowhood. The loss of some husbands is supplied by a rich jointure ; it is some allay to the grief, that the hand is left full, though the bed be empty. This woman was not more desolate than needy ; yet this poor widow gives; and what gives she? an offering like herself, “two mites ;" or, in our language, two half-farthing tokens. Alas! good woman, who was poorer than thyself? wherefore was that corban, but for the relief of such as thou? who should receive, if such give ? thy mites were something to thee, nothing to the treasury. How ill is that gift bestowed, which disfurnisheth thee, and adds nothing to the common stock ? some thrifty neighbour might, perhaps, have suggested this probable discouragement. Jesus publishes and applauds her bounty: "He called his disciples, and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, this woman hath cast in more than they all.”. While the rich put in their offering, I see no disciples called, it was enough that Christ noted their gifts alone : but when the widow comes with her two mites, now the domestics of Christ are summoned to assemble, and taught to admire this munificence; a solemn preface makes way to her praise, and her mites are made more precious than the others' talents: “She gave more than they all ; more, not only in respect of the mind of the giver, but of the proportion of the gifts, as hers. A mite to her was more than pounds to them : pounds were little to them, two mites were all to her ; they gave out of their abundance, she out of her necessity. That which they gave left the heap less, yet a heap still; she gives all at once, and leaves herself nothing. So as she gave not more than any, but "more than they all.” God doth not so much regard what is taken out, as what is left: 0 Father of mercies, thou lookest at once into the bottom of her heart and the bottom of her purse, and esteemest her gift according to both. As thou seest not as man, so thou valuest not as man; man judgeth by the worth of the gift ; thou judgest by the mind of the giver, and the proportion of the remainder. It were wide with us, if thou shouldst go by quantities. Alas, what have we but mites, and those of thine own lending? It is the comfort of our meanness, that our affections are valued, and not our presents : neither hast thou said, “God loves a liberal giver, but a cheerful.” If I had more, O God, thou shouldst have it; had I less, thou wouldst not despise it, “who acceptest the gift according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.”
Yea, Lord, what have I but two mites, a soul and a body ? Mere mites ; yea, not so much to thine infiniteness. Oh that I could perfectly offer them up unto thee, according to thine own right in them, and not according to mine! How graciously wouldst thou be sure to accept them! How happy shall I be in thine acceptation !
THE AMBITION OF THE TWO SONS OF ZEBEDEE.
HE, who had his own time and ours in his hand, foreknew and foretold the approach of his dissolution. When men are near their end, and ready to make their will, then is it seasonable to sue for legacies.
Thus did the mother of the two Zebedees: therein well approving both her wisdom and her faith; wisdom in the fit choice of her opportunity; faith in taking such an opportunity.
The suit is half obtained that is seasonably made. To have made this motion, at the entry into their attendance, had been absurd, and had justly seemed to challenge a denial. It was at the parting of the angel that Jacob would be blessed. The double spirit of Elijah is not sued for till his ascending.
But, oh the admirable faith of this good woman! When she heard the discourse of Christ's sufferings and death, she talks of his glory; when she hears of his cross, she speaks of his crown. If she had seen Herod come and tender his sceptre unto Christ, or the elders of the Jews come upon their knees with a submissive proffer of their allegiance, she might have had some reason to entertain the thoughts of a kingdom: but now while the sound of betraying, suffering, dying, was in her ear, to make account of and suit for a room in his kingdom, it argues a belief able to triumph over all discouragements.
It was nothing for the disciples, when they saw him after his conquest of death, and rising from the grave, to ask him, “Master, wilt thou now restore the kingdom unto Israel ?". But for a silly woman to look through his future death and passion, at his resurrection and glory, it is no less worthy of wonder than praise.
To hear a man in his best health and vigour to talk of his confidence in God, and assurance of divine favour, cannot be much worth: but if in extremities we can believe above hope, against hope, our faith is so much more noble, as our difficulties are greater.
Never sweeter perfume arose from any altar, than that which ascended from Job's dunghill, “I know that my Redeemer liveth."
What a strange style is this that is given to this woman! It had been as easy to have said the wife of Zebedee, or the sister of Mary or of Joseph, or, as her name was, plain Salome: but now, by an unusual description, she is styled “the mother of Zebedee's children.” Zebedee was an obscure man; she, as his wife, was no better; the greatest honour she ever had, or could have, was to have two such sons as James and John: these give a title to both their parents. Honour ascends as well as descends. Holy children dignify the loins and womb from whence they proceed, no less than their parents traduce honour unto them. Salome might be a good wife, a good housewife, a good woman, a good neighbour : all these cannot ennoble her so much as The mother of Zebedee's children.”
What a world of pain, toil, care, cost, there is in the birth and education of children! Their good proof requites all with advantage. Next to happiness in ourselves, is to be happy in a gracious issue.
The suit was the sons', but by the mouth of their mother; it was their best policy to speak by her lips. Even these fishermen had already learned craftily to fish for promotion. Ambition was not so bold in them as to show her own face: the envy of the suit shall thus be avoided, which could not but follow upon their personal request. If it were granted, they had what they would ; if not, it was but the repulse of a woman's motion, which must needs be so much more pardonable, because it was of a mother for her It is not discommendable in parents to seek the preferment of their children. Why may not Abraham sue for an Ishmael ? So it be by lawful means, in a moderate measure, in due order, this endeavour cannot be amiss. It is the neglect of circumstances that makes these desires sinful. Oh the madness of those parents that care not which way they raise a house; that desire rather to leave their children great than good, that are more ambitious to have their sons lords on earth, than kings in heaven ! Yet I commend thee, Salome, that thy first plot was to have thy sons disciples of Christ, then after to prefer them to the best places of that attendance. It is the true method of divine prudence, O God, first to make our children happy with the honour of thy service, and then to endeavour their meet advancement upon earth.
The mother is but put upon this suit by her sons ; their heart was in her lips. They were not so mortified by their continual conversation with Christ, hearing his heavenly doctrine, seeing his divine carriage, but that their minds were yet roving after temporal honours : pride is the inmost coat, which we put off last, and which we put on first. Who can wonder to see some sparks of weak and worldly desires in their holiest teachers, when the blessed apostles were not free from some ambitious thoughts, while they sat at the feet, yea in the bosom of their Saviour
The near kindred this woman could challenge of Christ might seem to give her just colour of more familiarity; yet now that she comes upon a suit, she submits herself to the lowest gesture of suppliants. We need not be taught, that it is fit for petitioners to the great to present their humble supplications upon their knees. O Saviour, if this woman, so nearly allied to thee, according to the flesh, coming but upon a temporal occasion to thee, being, as then, compassed about with human infirmities, adored thee