COMMENTARIES ON THE GOSPELS
(c) Copyright,1993, by William G.Most
THE THOUGHT OF ST.MATTHEW
Cf.also the 7 pages of general introduction to the Gospels
Early in the 20th century, Form Critics used to say the
Evangelists were not authors, just "stringers of beads".They
meant that the writers just gathered up reports of individual
sayings or acts of Jesus and strung them together. Predictably,
there has been an equal and opposite reaction. Now the critics
see wonderful artistry.
Matthew does show more structure than the other Gospels.
After a few preliminaries, there are five units which critics
sometimes call "books". Each unit opens with a narrative,
followed by a discourse, ending with some such words as: "When
Jesus finished these words."(7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:11).
Preliminaries: Genealogy of Jesus, His birth, flight into Egypt,
return to Nazareth: chapters 1 & 2.
Unit 1: a)Narrative: Chapters 3 & 4: John the Baptist, the
Baptism of Jesus, His inaugural retreat and temptation in the
desert, His call of the first disciples.
b)Discourse: Sermon on the Mount: chapters 5,6,7.
Unit 2: a)Narrative: chapters 8,9. Begins to announce the Kingdom
of God, works many miracles to show His authority and power.
b)Discourse: the trial missionary mission: 10.1 to 11.1.
Unit 3: a)Narrative: chapters 11,12: People begin to reject Him.
b)Discourse: chapters 12,13. He turns to parables because of
their blindness and rejection.
Unit 4: a)Narrative: 14.1 -16:13: Death of the Baptist, more
miracles, conflict with Pharisees, the Canaanite woman,
multiplication of loaves and fishes.
b)Discourse: 16:13-19:1 - Characteristics of the Church,
it will be built on Peter
Unit 5: a) Narrative: chapters 19,20,21,22,23: He leaves Galilee
b)Discourse: the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the
world. 24:1 to 26:1
Epilogue: Passion and resurrection.
Commentary on St.Matthew
Literary genre of chapters 1-2, the infancy narratives: Pope Paul
VI,in an Allocution of Dec.28,1966 (Insegnamenti de Paolo
VI,IV,pp.678-79,Vatican Press,1966) complained that some, "try to
diminish the historical value of the Gospels themselves,
especially those that refer to the birth of Jesus and His
infancy. We mention this devaluation briefly so that you may know
how to defend with study and faith the consoling certainty that
these pages are not inventions of people's fancy, but that they
speak the truth.... The authority of the Council has not
pronounced differently on this: 'The Sacred Authors
wrote...always in such a way that they reported on Jesus with
sincerity and truth' (Constitution on Divine Revelation 19."
Although the Council had used extreme care in LG 55 to make
clear it was not giving assurance that the sacred writers of Gen
3:15 and Is 7:14 understood as much as the Church now sees in
these texts,yet when in 56- 57 it spoke of the material of
the Infancy Gospels,it used no such reservations at
all.Rather,for example, it said in 57: "This union of the Mother
with the Son in the work of salvation is manifested from the time
of the virginal conception of Christ even to His death...in His
birth, when the Mother of God joyfully showed her firstborn, who
did not diminish but consecrated her virginal integrity, to the
shepherds and the Magi." (In passing we note it spoke of virginal
integrity, a physical word, ruling out the idea that the texts on
her virginity were meant only spiritually - as a theologoumenon).
Pope John Paul II,in a General Audience of Jan.28,1988 said:
"To identify the source of the infancy narrative, one must go
back to St.Luke's remark: 'Mary kept all these things, pondering
them in her heart,' ... Mary who 'kept these things in her heart'
...could bear witness, after Christ's death and resurrection,in
regard to what concerned herself and her role as Mother,
precisely in the apostolic period when the New Testament texts
were being written and when the early Christian tradition had its
R.E.Brown,in The Birth of the Messiah (Doubleday,1977)
thought that the Gospel writers had little factual basis for the
infancy Gospels - rather they, especially Luke, built up scant
data by using parallels to Old Testament texts. But John
L.McKenzie,a real friend of Browns,' in his review of that book
(National Catholic Reporter, Dec.2,1977, p.10) wrote:"One wonders
how a gentile convert...could have acquired so quickly the
mastery of the Greek Old Testament shown...in Luke's infancy
narratives....Luke must have had a source for his Old Testament
texts and allusions; and as it is hard to think of such a
collection of texts without a narrative for them to illustrate, a
pre-Lucan infancy narrative is suggested,I beg to submit." We
recall St.Luke in his opening lines did say he used written
There are some specific objections about certain things
within the infancy narratives. We will answer each at the
suitable point.The most considerable is about the census,
mentioned by Luke,and the fact that Luke speaks of Quirinius as
"governing" [though not as governor].Usually scholars have put
the birth of Christ as between 4 and 6 BC. But new research by
E.L.Martin, in The Star that Astonished the World (ASK
Publications, Portland,Box 2500,1991). We summarize Martin's
(1).The date of the birth of Christ hinges on just one
thing,the statement of Josephus (Antiquities 17.6-8) that Herod
died shortly after an eclipse of the moon. Astronomers supply the
dates for such eclipses around those years: None in 7 or 6 BC. In
5 BC, March 23, 29 days to Passover. Also in 5 BC. Sept 15,7
months to Passover. In 4 BC.March 13, 29 days to Passover.3 and 2
BC.no eclipses. In 1 BC. January 10, 12 1/2 weeks to Passover.
(2).Josephus also tells what events happened between the
Eclipse and the Passover (cf.Martin pp.85-87).They would occupy
probably about 12 weeks. Martin also,pp. 99-101 shows that the
eclipse of Sept 15,5 BC could not fit with known data,especially
the fact that Herod was seriously ill in Jericho (over 800 feet
below sea level) when the eclipse happened - but Jericho was a
furnace of heat at that time,Sept 15. Herod would not have stayed
there when he could have had the much better climate of
Jerusalem. But if the eclipse was in midwinter - Jan 10-- Herod
would find Jericho comfortable.
(3).We know from an inscription from Paphlagonia in Asia
Minor - cf.Lewis and Reinhold, Roman Civilization, Source Book
II,pp.34-35 - that in 3 BC all the people took an oath of
allegiance to Augustus.The same oath is also reported by the
Armenian historian Moses of Khorene, and by the later historian
(4).Augustus was to receive the great title of Pater Patriae
on Feb.5,2 BC. So the actual governor of Palestine, probably
Varus,would have had to go to Rome for the festivities,and since
sailing on the Mediterranean stopped about Nov.1,and did not
resume until Spring, he must have gone in the early fall of 3 BC.
But Quirinius was nearby, had just finished a successful war
against the Homonadenses. So he was left as acting Governor. Luke
does not use the noun governor,but the participle, "governing".
(5).There is an obscure decade in history, 6 BC to 4 AD, as
Classicists readily recognize. Yet this period is
important,including the time when Tiberius was absent from
political life at Rome, being at Capri. It is hard to fit the
events of this period into place if we make the birth of Christ
early as is commonly done. But if we put it in 3 BC the
difficulties are over.For example, we know Augustus received his
15th acclamation for a major victory,won by one of his generals,
around this time. If we pick 4 BC for the death of Herod,we
cannot find a victory to warrant the acclamation, which came in 1
AD. But if we put the birth of Christ in 3 BC,then the war would
be running at about the needed time,and finished in 1 AD.
Objection:a) Josephus says Herod had a reign of 37 years
after being proclaimed king by Romans,and had 34 yrs after death
of Antigonus,which came soon after Herod took Jerusalem.
b)Further,his 3 successors,Archelaus,Antipas and Philip started
to reign in 4 BC.So Herod died in 4 BC.
Reply:a) That calculation would make death of Herod actually
in 3 BC,not in 4 BC - scholars have to stretch the date to 4 BC,
since no eclipse of moon happened in 3 BC. - But, Herod took
Jerusalem late in 36 BC (on Yom Kippur in a sabbatical year,so
well remembered - and Josephus says Pompey had taken Jerusalem in
63 which was 27 yrs to the day of Herod's capture of Jerusalem).
Using the common accession year dating,we see Herod started his
34 years on Nisan 1 in 35 BC,and those years would end on Nisan 1
BC. So 34 years after 35 BC yields 1 BC for death of Herod after
eclipse of Jan 10. --b) As to the 3 successors,Herod lost favor
of Augustus in 4 BC, on a false report, was no longer "Friend of
Caesar", but "Subject". Antedating of reigns was common - reason
here was to make the three seem to connect with the two
"royal"sons, of Hasmonean descent, Alexander and Aristobulus,whom
Herod executed on false reports from Antipater (do not confuse
The Star: In the evening of June 17,2 BC, there was a
spectacular astronomical event in the western sky. Venus moved
eastward seemingly going to collide with Jupiter. They appeared
as one star,not two, dominating the twilight of the western sky
in the direction of Palestine. This conjunction had not happened
for centuries,would not happen again for more centuries. Jupiter
was considered the Father,Venus the Mother. Then 19 days later,on
August 31st Venus came within .36 degrees of Mercury. On Sept 11
came the New Moon,the Jewish New Year. This happened when
Jupiter,the King planet was approaching Regulus,the King star.
Further,there were three conjunctions of Jupiter and Regulus
within the constellation of Leo,the lion which was considered the
head of the Zodiac. Now Gen 49:10 had foretold there would always
be a ruler from Judah, whom Jacob called the lion, until the time
of the Messiah. Leo was dominated by the star Regulus, which
astronomers called the King Star. The Magi,being astronomers and
astrologers,would surely read these signs. (The three
conjunctions with Regulus were Aug 12,3 BC; Feb.17,2 BC,and May
Also,on Dec.25 of 2 BC,Jupiter stopped for 6 days over
Bethlehem. This is a normal motion for Jupiter, it stops twice,
and reverses its seeming movement.This may have been the very
time the Magi came with their gifts.This was also the time of the
Hanukkah festival,during which it was customary for Jewish
Fathers to give gifts to their children.
Martin thinks the birth of Jesus was in September 3 BC,and
the probable date of the Magi was Dec.25,2 BC.
More than 600 planetariums here and in Europe have revised
their Christmas star show to match this work of E.L.Martin.
OT prophecies in St.Matthew: Matthew is noted for citing
fulfillment of prophecies. In what sense does he mean these?
There are chiefly three senses of Scripture admitted by all:
(1)Literal sense-- not the crude sense, but what the author meant
to assert by his words (in studying it, we take into account
literary genre: what the writer asserts); (2)Typical sense: in it
one thing stands for another. It is a real sense, which we can be
sure of only from the use by many Fathers and approval by the
Church, e.g., Isaac carrying the wood for his own sacrifice is a
type or forecast of Jesus carrying His cross. (3)Accommodated
sense: This sense is not really contained in Scripture: a speaker
or writer merely adapts the words to a sense he wishes to bring
In addition many believe there can be a Fuller sense
(sensus plenior). In it, the Chief Author, the Holy Spirit, would
have in mind more than the human author saw. Vatican II, DV 12
had an opening to affirm or deny the existence of such a sense.
It chose vague wording which did neither. However, in LG 55 it
actually made use of a fuller sense. Speaking of Genesis 3:15 and
Is 7:14 it said: "These primaeval documents, as they are read in
the Church, and understood in the light of later and full
revelation, gradually bring to light the figure of the woman, the
Mother of the Redeemer. She, in this light, is already
prophetically foreshadowed in the promise, given to our first
parents fallen into sin, of victory over the serpent (cf.Gen
3.15)...." It is clear that the Council wanted to avoid saying
it was certain that the human authors saw all that the Church now
sees - whether what the Church now sees is literal or typical
sense (typical sense,as we said,is a real sense of Scripture).
The use of cf. is to underscore this position.
Many authors admit there at least can be multiple
fulfillment of a prophecy - it can have two fulfillments, go
through more than once. It is commonly thought that we have such
a case in 2 Tim 3:1 -- "in the last days" can mean either all the
time for the ascension to the return of Christ, and can also mean
more specially the times just before that return. Another very
likely case, as we shall see, is Matthew's use of Is 7:14. For
more on this sense, cf.Wm.Most,Free From All Error
(Libertyville,Il.1985), chapter 5.
1.1-17:Genealogies: Endless are the discussions on how to
reconcile the genealogy in Matthew with that in Luke. It has
been suggested that Luke gives the line for Our Lady - but that
was not usual at all for Jews to give. It has been suggested that
if we assume a few levirate marriages (cf.Dt. 25:5-6) the two
could harmonize. That law provided that if a married man died
without offspring, his brother should take his wife to continue
But really we need to note that in ancient times genealogies
were not always intended as family trees: they were often
constructed to present other relationships. Cf.R.Wilson,
Genealogy and History in the Biblical World (Yale,
1977,esp.p.166) and idem, in Biblical Archaeologist,Winter
1:18-24: Angel speaks to Joseph: After the engagement,but before
the marriage itself, Joseph found that his wife was with child.
He had several options: he could denounce her to the tribunal to
annul the engagement; he could keep her and celebrate the
marriage itself; he could repudiate her in public, but without
asking for any punishment, or he could do it privately before two
witnesses without having to give a motive,and without dating the
bill of rejection,to save her honor. It is this last option that
Joseph was planning to use, for he was "just",that is,a man who
did everything that was morally right- such is the sense of
Hebrew sedaqah and sadiq. He was interiorly convinced of her
honor and moral rightness even though he could not reconcile that
with the pregnancy. If he did not have that conviction he might
have publicly repudiated her. But in divine matters at times we
meet two conclusions which clearly clash.Then we should hold to
both without straining either one until finally, we hope, a
solution may appear.
It is obvious that she had not told Joseph of the
annunciation. As soon as the angel told her that her Son would
reign over the house of Jacob forever, she at once knew He was to
be the Messiah, for only the Messiah was to reign forever. (She
most likely knew also of His divinity - more on that in our
commentary on Luke).
An ordinary soul might have reasoned: "Now my people have
been waiting for this day for centuries. I should share the joy
with them,and especially I should tell the authorities in
Jerusalem. And Joseph- if I do not tell him,soon he will not be
able to avoid dark suspicions. Yet guided by the Holy Spirit
through the Gifts, she did nothing of the kind. She kept
silent,so silent that it was necessary for God to send an angel
to tell Joseph the truth.
An objection is raised: In Matthew, the angel speaks to
Joseph, in Luke, to Our Lady. Reply: This is not problem at all,
both things could easily happen.
Further objection: How can the two accounts, of Matthew and
of Luke, be reconciled? John P.Meier,in A Marginal Jew [Jesus!]
p.216 even speaks of "the somewhat contorted or suspect ways in
which Matthew and Luke reconcile the dominant Nazareth tradition
with the special Bethlehem tradition...may indicate that Jesus'
birth at Bethlehem is to be taken not as a historical fact but as
a theologoumenon," that is, merely a way of saying Jesus was son
Reply: There is nothing contorted in Scripture. The sequence
is this: Jesus was born at Bethlehem - Meier thinks nothing of
the prophecy of Micah 5! He was then circumcised on the 8th day,
presented in the Temple of the 40th day. Then He was taken either
back to Bethlehem, or, to Nazareth. Lk 2:39 could imply a return
to Nazareth, though it would not have to imply it. Yet from Mt
2:22 on the return from Egypt it seems they had first thought of
going to Bethlehem, changed mind only because of the rule of
Archelaus in Judea. and then went back to Bethlehem.In this
second possibility the Holy Family may have finally intended to
settle in Bethlehem, but changed because of the angel's warning
to the Magi. There was definitely enough time for these travels,
because Herod ordered infants to be slain up to 2 years of age.
He was a crazy tyrant, and gave himself a margin, yet it does
mean there must have been some time. Matthew does definitely
speak of their being in a house, not a stable, when the Magi
came. For as we said there would have been some time before their
coming. At once then,after the warning, they fled to Egypt. As
noted above, Mt 2:22 seems to imply on their return they had
planned to settle in Bethlehem, changed to Nazareth because they
found Archelaus was reigning in Judea. This fact fits as we said
with the supposition that they had earlier intended to settle in
Bethlehem - and Joseph had obtained a house there, in which the
Magi found them.
If we ask why Matthew has some facts, Luke others, there is
more than one possibility. One very good one is this: Ancient
witnesses all put Matthew's composition before that of Luke
(cf.our remarks in the general introduction on Marcan alleged
priority). Considering Our Lady's remarkable modesty and humility
- which led her to not even tell Joseph - it could be that the
author of Matthew did indeed speak to her, but she modestly
omitted the items that pertained to her. Yet later, Luke might
have privately induced her to speak, and so he brought out the
Marian elements. Luke might have thought it not needed to record
the Matthean elements since they were already known. (Cf.the
theory that John in his Gospel intended to supplement the earlier
Gospels). We recall too that Luke in his opening lines said he
had used written accounts - that could have included Matthew.
1:23:Matthew cites Isaiah 7:14, and understands it of the
virginal conception. Vatican II in LG 55, as cited above, was
careful to avoid saying that the human writers of Gen 3:15 and Is
7:14 understood as much as the Church now sees. So we do not know
if Isaiah himself saw this text as a prophecy of the virginal
conception. All admit today that the child in 7:14 is the same as
the child in Is 9:5-6: "A child is given to us...his name will be
called,wonderful counsellor,Mighty God...." The reason is that
both passages belong to a stretch we call the Book of Immanuel.
Yet the characteristics shown fit partly Jesus, partly Hezekiah,
son of Achaz, to whom Isaiah spoke. On the one hand,a sign to
come more than 700 years in the future would not be much a sign
for Achaz. On the other hand, the characteristics given in 9:5-6
are much too grandiose for Hezekiah. So we had best see 7:14 as a
case of multiple fulfillment: a divine prophecy can go through,be
fulfilled more than once.
So Matthew is right in seeing it fulfilled in Jesus. And of
course Our Lady, seeing it fulfilled in herself, could not miss
the true sense.
We add: very much help can be had from the Targums.These are
old Aramaic versions of the Old Testament - we have them for
nearly all the Old Testament. They surely show how the Jews
understood the prophecies, without seeing them fulfilled in
Christ, whom they hated. Further, a great modern Jewish scholar,
Jacob Neusner, in his study, Messiah in Context (Fortress,1984)
reviewed all Jewish writings from after 70 to the Babylonian
Talmud (500-600 AD).He found no interest in the Messiah up to
500, then interest only in saying He was to be of the line of
David - other features of the prophecies were not mentioned.In
contrast,the Targums see the Messiah in so many texts, in so many
respects. On this cf.Samson Levey, The Messiah:An Aramaic
Interpretation, Hebrew Union College, 1974. It is evident,the
sections on Messianic prophecies had to be written before 70 A.D.
Some think they go back, in oral form, to the time of Ezra.
Now oddly, the Targums do say 9:5-6 is messianic,but do not
say it of 7:14 - even though it is evident the child is the same
in both places. The answer to the riddle comes again from Jacob
Neusner, op.cit. p.174,who cites Hillel, one of the greatest
teachers at the time of Christ, saying that Hezekiah had been the
Messiah - and so 7:14 was messianic. But Neusner adds, on p.190,
that when the Jews found Christians using 7:14 they began to say
it was not messianic. Samson Levey,op.cit p.152,n.10 admits the
Jews did such things. So also does H.J.Schoeps, Paul
(Westminster,1961,p.129). (We note too, Isaiah used Hebrew
almah,which can readily mean virgin, but need not - instead of
betulah, which would be fully clear. The Septuagint later used
Greek parthenos, which is clearly virgin. Vatican II, LG 55,as
we said, carefully avoided saying the original authors of Gen
3:15 and Is 7:14 saw in their writings all that the Church now
sees - hence a reason for almah.
In 1:25 Joseph had no relations until she bore her son. The
actual Scriptural usage of the word until sometimes means a
change at that point, at other times does not. Examples of the
latter: DT.34:6; Ps.110:1; Ps.72:7; 2 Sam 6:23; Mt 11:23; Mt
28:20. Some manuscripts here add the word firstborn ,probably
taken from Lk 2:7. It expresses the special position of the bekor
in the Hebrew family, does not have to imply more sons later. A
Greek tomb inscription at Tel el Yaoudieh (Biblica 11,1930,369-
90) uses that word in connection of a mother who died in
childbirth. Another epitaph like this is from Leontopolis
(Biblical Archaeology Review, Sept/Oct.1992,p.56.
Further, even J.P.Meier (op.cit.pp.340-41) admits that the
rabbis beginning with Philo, held that Moses, after his first
encounter with God, no longer had sex with his wife. What then of
Our Lady who had a nine months encounter with Him in her womb,in
which He even took flesh from her! And Joseph, knowing the
conception was by the Holy Spirit, surely would have had the same
As to the mentions of brothers and sisters of Jesus we first
notice that Hebrew and Aramaic had few words for relationships,
and so used ah for all sorts of relatives. Yes, Greek did have
words, but in so many places to understand the Greek we need to
look to the Hebrew word that is in the mind of the writer,e.g.,
in Rom (9:13 Paul cites Mal 1:2-3:"I have loved Jacob and hated
Esau." Hebrew and Aramaic had no degrees of comparison,and so
used such language where we would say: "I love one more and the
other less." Again,in 1 Cor 1:17 Paul says "Christ did not send
me to baptize but to preach". Yet Paul did baptize. We would say:
One role is greater than the other. Also, in Rom 5:19 Paul uses
the word polloi, "many" for all, since all receive original
sin.(Polloi reflects Hebrew rabbim).
Further at the time of His death, Jesus asked John to take
care of His Mother. If He had 4 blood brothers and some
sisters,this would have been out of place. More specifically, we
know that James, a "brother" was still alive in 49 AD (cf.Gal
2:1-12: Visit of the Magi: The Greek historian Herodotus tells us
(1.101) that the Magi were originally one of the six tribes of
the Medes.They were a priestly caste comparable to the Levites
among the Israelites. In their early history they were
counsellors to the Kings of the Medes,Persians and Babylonians.
Josephus (War 6.313) reports that the Jews expected one from
their own country would rule the earth. Suetonius, (Vespasian 4)
reports the same belief. So does Tacitus (History 5.13).
Suetonius (Nero) 40 even says some of the court astrologers of
Nero advised him to move his capital to Jerusalem, since it was
to become the capital of the world. These beliefs would be known
to the Magi,in fact, it seems that the Zoroastrian traditions
spoke of a king to come from the line of Abraham. Jacob Neusner
(op.cit.p.12) tells of the "intense, vivid ,prevailing
expectation that the Messiah was coming soon."
Martin (chapter 13) argues ingeniously, though not
conclusively, that the birth of Jesus was early September in 3
BC, probably on Sept 11,the Day of the Trumpets,and the visit
of the Magi was about Dec.25 of the next year, 2 B.C. Then Jesus
would have been about 15 months old.This fits with the word
Matthew 2:14 uses for Him, paidion,whereas at birth He was called
We do not know how many Magi there were -- the mention of
three gifts, often leads to supposing there were three Magi.
2:13-23: Flight to Egypt and return: Egypt was a common place of
refuge at the time.There were several large Jewish communities
Matthew's use of the text about Rachel in Ramah weeping for
her children to apply to the slaughter of the Innocents, Ramah,
usually considered the place of the tomb of Rachel, is not
fanciful. He wants to connect theologically three major places in
previous salvation history: Bethlehem, the city of David,the city
for the Messiah; and the two most sorrowful events,the
persecution in Egypt,and slaughter of Hebrew boys and the exile;
Ramah was the gathering and mourning place for setting out for
the exile (Cf.Jer.40:1-2). Ramah is about 5 miles north of
Jerusalem. Bethlehem is about 5 miles south of Jerusalem:
theologically and poetically, Rachel hears and mourns, the
mourning is so loud.
Matthew likes to think of Jesus as the new Moses. Here are
some points: 1)Amran father of Moses,according to tradition, knew
in a dream of the birth of Moses, future liberator of Israel.
Joseph similarly. 2)Pharaoh by astrologers knew of the birth of a
child who would liberate Israel. Herod knew through the Magi.
3)The Egyptians feared - so did Herod. 4) Pharaoh consulted his
wise men. So did Herod. 5)Pharaoh ordered the murder of Hebrew
boys. So did Herod. 6)Moses and Jesus both escaped. 7)Moses
liberated Hebrews; Jesus all men.
In this perspective, Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1: "Out of
Egypt I called my son." In the original context it meant the
whole people of Israel. Matthew makes it refer to Christ's return
from Egypt. This could be a case of multiple fulfillment or of
fuller sense. Those who dislike to admit fuller sense in general
would say that there is a common background of salvation history
in both instances.
On the return,Joseph hears that Archelaus is ruling. Not
long before, he had slaughtered 3000 worshippers at the time of
the Passover in 1 BC. He was so brutal that Augustus banished
him in 6 AD.
"He will be called a Nazarean": The name of the town
Nazareth varies in ancient spellings: Nazaret(h) appears 10 times
in the NT, Nazara appears twice. It is never mentioned in any
preChristian Jewish writings. But there is no specific OT
prophecy saying He will be called a Nazarean. Probability is that
Matthew is alluding to nazir, consecrated to God. It seems to be
a play on words. Such plays are known in Scripture. A dramatic
one is found in 2 Kings 1:10 and repeated in 1:12. The king sends
two detachments of 50 to Elijah who is sitting on a hill. The
captain says - If you are the man of God, come down. Elijah
answers: "If I am a man of God, let the fire of God come down and
consume you". It did, for each of the two detachments. Man is
ish, fire is esh. Matthew may also have in mind Hebrew neser,
branch - a word often taken to stand for the Messiah by the
Targums. Cf.Isaiah 11:1.
3:1-6:John the Baptist: The "wilderness of Juda" was a vaguely
defined place including the lower Jordan valley north of the Dead
Sea,and also the land immediately west of the Dead Sea.It as
arid,but not entirely without population. It was used for pasture
(cf.Psalm 65:12). It was steppe or prairie land, with a short-
lived crop of grass after the winter rains.
- His clothing of camel's hair and a leather belt reminded
one of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8).This was also the garb of the poor.
Locusts which he ate were large grasshoppers - still eaten in the
Near East. along with wild honey.
Matthew now cites Isaiah 40:3, and says that John is the one
of whom Isaiah spoke.Isaiah had told of a voice crying in the
wilderness, to prepare the way for the King, God Himself, to go
through. Messengers in the ancient Near East did have the work of
making sure the roads were passable for a royal journey. In
Isaiah the thought seems to be that the way will be made clear
for God to bring His people back from the Babylonian exile:
nothing will be able to stop it.
Instead of using the usual formula "thus was fulfilled" etc.
here Matthew says in equivalent words: "This is the one of whom
the prophet spoke." So we may have here another case of multiple
fulfillment, or at least, an indication that the complete
fulfillment of Isaiah does not come until the coming of Christ.
In Isaiah the way is prepared for God Himself - so there is
an implication here that Jesus is God. We find the same
implication in the relation of Mt 11:3 (Lk 7:20) to Malachi 3:1.
In the Hebrew that verse said: "Behold,I send my messenger and he
will prepare the way before my face." In Malachi it mean God
Himself would come, as even R.H.Fuller observes (Foundations of
New Testament Christology, Scribner's, 1965,p.48). Jesus in Mt
11:3 cites the line in the form current in His day: "Behold, I
send my messenger before your face, who will prepare the way
before you." That form came from a fusion of Malachi 3:1 with Ex
23:20. Jesus cited it to refer to John being His own forerunner
- so even though Jesus used the then current wording, there was
an implication, not hard to see, that Jesus was God Himself. Yet
He did not make it entirely clear, in line with His policy of
very gradual self-revelation.
Washings or baptisms were known even among the pagans.
Sacred baths were found in Hellenistic mystery cults, and also in
Egypt, Babylonia and India. These were thought to bring cleansing
from moral and ritual impurities.
We distinguish ritual from moral cleansing. The OT
prescribed washing for removing various kinds of ritual
impurities, e.g., after being cured of leprosy (Lev 14:8 ff),
after contracting personal uncleanness (15:1ff). It would be
usually just a washing, not an immersion, for water was too
scarce for many immersions. The Mosaic Law prescribed chiefly the
washing of garments, the rabbis extended it to washing pots and
pans etc.(Mk 7:4; Lk 11:38). But these washings removed only
ritual impurity, not moral guilt.
Since John's Baptism called for repentance, it was aimed at
moral cleanness. Confession of sin was part of the duty of a
priest(Lev 5:5; 26:40; Num 5:6-7). The repentance, reflects
Hebrew naham ,sorrow for one's actions,and shub, turning to new
actions. So Greek metanoia mans not only "change your mind" as
one unfortunate commentator proposed, but a change of heart: see
what I have done is wrong,regret it,propose to avoid it in the
Of course,John's Baptism was not a sacrament,which by its
inherent power given by Christ would produce its effect if the
recipient placed no obstacle (ex opere operato). Yet surely God
would take occasion of this repentance and baptism to really
remit sins.In Ez 33:14-16 God says that if the wicked man turns
from his wicked way, he will surely live. That condition was
obviously verified in those who sincerely came to John's Baptism.
May we add a speculation as to the process involved: In
Ezekiel God did not ask for perfect contrition, for sorrow
because sin offends God who is good in Himself,but just for
sincerely turning from the evil way. Now all God's attributes are
identified with His nature,as we gather from 1 John 4:8, "God IS
love."Similarly,He is righteousness,mercy,goodness.These are
identified in Him. So if someone,seeing what he has done is
contrary to what is right,what God wills, then He too regrets
because it is against God who is righteous, who is good. Since
at this time the Sacrament of Penance had not been instituted,
the ritual of John would be the suitable occasion for such
forgiveness, within good order (Cf.Summa I.19.5.c). But now that
Christ has established that Sacrament,if someone were to say: I
do not want to do it the way you planned it,to confess to the
Apostles or their successors to whom you said, "Whose sins you
forgive they are forgiven them." No, just forgive me without that
process - It would be contrary what is right, to good order,
which God loves, to forgive sins in a person who knows of that
Sacrament of Penance.
In any event,clearly God's goodness is so immense,His desire
for our salvation so great,that He would not pass by an
opportunity to forgive such as was contained in the scene of
3:7-10:We specified this would happen in those who were sincere.
Pharisees and Sadducees also came, either to look on or to go
through the ritual as a matter of the hypocrisy for which Jesus
later upbraided them. To them John spoke harshly,indicating he
read their hearts,and did not see true repentance. He told them
not to presume on the fact that Abraham was their ancestor.That
is not enough, even though the Jews were inclined to think so,as
echoed in the Talmud,Sanhedrin 10.1: "All Israel has part in the
world to come." But John called them a brood of vipers -language
like that of Is 14:29, later to be used by Jesus Himself: Mt
12:3.We gather it is not wrong to use harsh language when it is
called for. And John said that now the axe is at the root of the
tree - to separate the really good from those of false
appearance, or.to use the language Paul would later employ,there
is a difference between the real sons of Abraham,those who
imitate his faith,and those who have only carnal descent: cf.Rom
Today many try to make the Jews look better,and say that
the strictures of Jesus against the Pharisees were not really
made by Him - it was later in the first century that Jews and
Christians quarrelled, and then the Christians used such
language. But that would mean the Gospel was not telling the
truth. In this connection, recent discoveries in the Dead Sea
Scrolls make clear that the later picture of the Pharisees in
rabbinic literature holds also for the time of Christ, since the
Damascus Document, once thought to be late, now is known to come
from Qumram: Cf.Bible Review, June 1992,pp. 30-33,54, "New Light
on the Pharisees".
Supplement 1: kingdom of heaven
John said that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. The Hebrew
malkut and Aramaic malkuta regularly meant reign. It was under
that influence that the New American Bible in the first edition
regularly used reign,instead of kingdom. But even R.E.Brown
admits that was a mistake. In Responses to 101 Questions on the
Bible (Paulist,1990,p.12), he said that the editor made some
unfortunate changes in the original copies , "Some bad choices
were made e.g., to render 'the kingdom of God' by 'the reign of
God." In The Churches the Apostles Left Behind
(Paulist,1984,pp.51-52) he said that in some of the later parts
of the NT,"The kingdom and the church have begun to be partially
identified." Now we readily admit that most ancient words and
phrases have a broad range of possible meaning,and "kingdom of
God" is one of them. Yet it is not only in the later parts that
we see this identification. It is clear in the Gospels,
especially in Mt 21,43: "The kingdom will be taken away from you
and given to a nation that will yield a rich harvest." He was
telling the Pharisees, after the parable of the dishonest
tenants, that they would no longer be part of the People of
God,the Church - the gentiles would yield better fruit. The same
idea is evident in the parable of the net, the parable of the
weeds in the wheat, and the parable of the mustard seed. In fact,
right after saying this happened in the late part of the NT,Brown
himself cites the parable of the weeds in the wheat! Actually
"kingdom of heaven" sometimes means the Church in the next world,
and not just in this world.
We can grant that the Apostles at first did not understand
what the kingdom meant. Real confusion shows in the question
recorded in Lk 17:20-21 (cf.19:11). And just before the ascension
one of them asked (Acts 1:6):"Lord are you going to restore the
kingdom to Israel at this time?" So we are not required to think
John the Baptist understood fully - really, we do not know how
much he may have grasped. Deeply spiritual men almost by a sort
of connaturality grasp spiritual truths deeply and early.
Actually, on a broader base, Jesus used a very gradual form
of self-revelation. The use of the Son of Man title is one
instance of this. Had He at the start said: "I and the Father are
one," or:"Before Abraham was, I am," they would have stoned Him
Why did John himself live a life of such austerity and
penance? (special comments on 3:4)
There was a gradual clarification of thought on these
In the Old Testament 1)Fasting and almsgiving help get
requests granted that are made in prayer. Thus David in 2 Sam
12:16 ff fasted in the hope of saving his son's life. When that
failed,he stopped fasting. Cf.Psalm 32:13 and 69:9-10,and Judges
20:26; 1 Sam 13:24; 1 Kings 21:9; Ezra 8:21-23;Jer 14:12 and 36:6
& 9. 2)Almsgiving can atone for sin:
Tobit 12:8:"Prayer with fasting is good,but better than both is
almsgiving along with righteousness....For almsgiving saves from
death,and cleanses away every sin." Sirach 3:30: "Water puts out
a blazing fire; and almsgiving atones (exilasetai) for sin.:
(Cf. ibid. 17;22; 29:12; 40: 17 & 24) .
3)The Holiness of God wants
atonement,i.e, make-up for sin,even if the sin is committed
unintentionally (sheggagah).All of Leviticus chapter 4 brings
this out.Cf.Numbers 15:22-29.
4)The use of creatures makes it harder
to see the true goods: Wisdom 4:12:"The witching spell of things
that are little makes it hard to see the good things." Wisdom
9:15:"The corruptible body weighs down the soul."
In the New Testament The same values are presented,but more
clearly. Jesus calls on His disciples if they want to be
perfect,to sell all they have and give it to the poor:Mt 19:21.
But this is not only to affect possessions: they are to deny
themselves and take up their cross: Mt 16;24. In Mt.19:29 Jesus
promises those who have left home, or brothers, or parents or
lands for His name are to receive a hundredfold in this life, and
eternal life later. Mark and Luke in the parallel passages make
clear the hundredfold comes even in this life.
St.Paul considered all the things of this world as so much
rubbish,to gain Christ:Phil 3:8-9. Even though he had great
hardships in his work,he added fasting: 2 Cor 11:23-27. He
treated his body harshly (hypopiazo) so it would not rebel and
lead him into sin,and he might lose his eternal reward: 1 Cor
9:27. He urged all to practice detachment,to be as though not
using this world: 1 Cor 7:31.
The intertestamental writers taught the same. Philo ( On
Special Laws 2.195) says that fasting helps control the
tongue,the belly and the organs below the belly. The Psalms of
Solomon (1 cent.,B.C.) 3:7-8 says the righteous man atones for
even unintentional sins. Fasting is greatly extolled in the
History of the Rechabites (1-4 centA.D.); in Apocalypses of
Abraham (1-2 cent A.D.) 12:1-2; of Elijah (1-4 cent.A.D.) 1.15-
22; of Zephaniah (1 cent BC or AD) 7;6; in 2 Baruch) early 2d
cent.AD) 20:5,and in the Testament of Isaac (2d cent AD) 4:1-2
and Testament of Jacob (prps.2-3 cent.,AD) 7:17-18.
Rabbinic writings are strong on the concept that sin is a
debt, which must be paid for.There are numerous texts.For
example, the Sifre on Dt,Piska 32 even says,"If a man is
prosperous all his life,no sin of his can be forgiven."Semahoth
III.11.reports that R.Yehudah ben Ilai said the ancient pious men
used to have to suffer intestinal illness for 10 to 20 days
before death so they might be pure to enter into the world to
The Fathers of the Church stress the value of celibacy for
spiritual growth,in line with St.Paul in 1 Cor 7. The Eastern
Fathers stress the need for detachment from all kinds of things,
not just from sex,though that is specially stressed. St.Gregory
of Nyssa, who seems to have been married, wrote,in On Virginity
20: "No more do our emotional powers have a nature that can at
one and the same time follow after the pleasures of sense and
cultivate the spiritual union,nor,furthermore,can both goals be
attained by the same course of life. Continence,mortification of
the passions, avoidance of fleshly needs are the means of the one
union; but all that are the reverse of these are the agents of
bodily cohabitation." This is true even though marriage is
good,and Paul VI,in an address to the 13th Congress of the
Italian Feminine Center (Feb.12,1966) taught: "Christian marriage
and the Christian family...are not an easy way of Christian life,
even though...the one which the majority of the children of God
are called on to travel. Rather, it [marriage] is a long path
toward sanctification." There is need for so much denial of self,
once the early stage of emotional high has subsided, due to the
great differences of male and female psychology,and the need of
sacrifice for children.
We may attempt a theological fill-in with the help of
Matthew 6:21: "Where your treasure is,there is your heart also."
In the narrow sense the treasure would be a box of coins buried
under the floor of a man's house for safe-keeping. If he had such
a stash, of course he would like to think of it, it would be like
a magnet pulling his thoughts and heart to itself. To that
extent, it would be somewhat less easy for thoughts and heart to
rise to the divine level.
But one can put his treasure in all sorts of things:in huge
meals,in gourmet meals, in sex, in travel, in study, in the study
of theology.- All these are lower than God Himself, some much
lower than others. So here is one factor: how much lower than God
is the attraction one feels. The second factor is this: how
strongly does one let these things pull him? In some, they pull
only as far as to lead to imperfection, which is less than venial
sin - in others, to occasional venial sin - in others, to
habitual venial sin - in still others,to occasional mortal sin -
in still others,to habitual mortal sin.
So If one lets creatures pull him as far as habitual mortal
sin, and the creatures to which he is pulled are low,then, it is
all the harder for his thoughts and heart to rise to the divine
level. Really,it may be impossible, as we shall see now.
We can supplement the above with a modern comparison, which
means the same thing. We think of a galvanometer, which is just a
compass needle on its pivot, with a coil of wire around it. We
send a current into the coil - the needle swings the right
direction and the right amount, measuring the current. Now it
should read correctly if there is no competition from outside
pulls, such as a 30,000 volt power line, or a lot of magnetic
steel. Then two forces hit the needle: the current in the coil,
and the outside pulls. If the current in the coil is gentle and
the outside pulls very strong, the current in the coil may make
no impression at all: the outside pulls swamp it. Now this is a
picture of my mind, my mental meter. The current in the coil is
grace, which is gentle, in that it respects my freedom - while
the outside pulls, if one gives himself much to them, take away
freedom. When God sends an actual grace to lead and enable one to
do a particular good thing here and now,the first thing the grace
needs to do is to cause the meter to swing to the right position.
It will do so if the outside pulls are not too strong. But if
they swamp the current in the coil,then the man is blind or
hardened. Grace cannot do the first thing needed,namely, to cause
him to see what God asks of him. Without grace he is eternally
lost. So unless some other soul does heroic work in prayer and
penance for him, to get him an extraordinary grace, comparable to
a miracle,he will be lost.
At the other end of the scale, if one cuts down on the pull
of creatures so that they do not even lead to imperfection ,then
that person's spiritual sensitivity is high, it will register the
slightest movement of grace.By much self-denial one reaches that
point. John knew this, at least in a general way. So he
abstained from creatures heroically. Even the pagan Socrates saw
this, for he often, in various dialogues of Plato, said that the
man who seeks the truth should have as little as possible to do
with the things of the body! (For example, cf. Phaedo 66 and 82-
83, Republic 485-86). It is obvious that these considerations
mean much in regard to spiritual growth.
Our analysis of Mt 6:21,plus the words of St.Paul in 1 Cor 7
on detachment should not lead one to trying to be without
feeling.Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. He took little
children in His arms, seemingly enjoying their natural
charm,which He,the Creator, had given them
St.Francis de Sales,in his Letter 217 wrote,to a married
woman,that the forms devotion takes vary with state in life.So he
said, "your husband will love it if he sees that as your devotion
increases,you become more warm and affectionate toward him (p.104
Classics of Western Spirituality ed).
It is almost as if there were a competition or contrary
pulls in what we have said.Really not,there is need of a fine
balance.All things fit together well.We should avoid letting any
feeling or love of creature pull us to the extent that it would
lead us into even imperfection. But if this is done,then to use
feelings to carry out things that are part of God's plan,
especially if part of the duties of our state in life - that is
not spiritually harmful. Rather,then one is using feelings to
help do the will of God. In this it is important to do these
things i.e., to be warm,not just for the pleasure of doing so -
though it is not wrong to feel that pleasure -- but basically as
a means of fulfilling that part of Our Father' s plan. Then what
St.Francis said will be sanctifying.
It is true.St.Paul in 1 Cor 7 did speak of those who have
wives being as though not having them. In 7:5 he spoke of
voluntary abstention from sex in marriage but only for a time, by
mutual consent,so you may be free for prayer. But he viewed the
use of sex within marriage as normal: then go back together again
he concluded after 7:5.
There is a second good reason (rebalance of the objective
order),which was indicated more briefly above: God loves
everything that is morally right and good. If a sinner takes what
he has no right to have from the scales of the objective
order,that scales is put out of balance. A helpful image comes
from Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar,writing about 170 AD,claiming to be
quoting Rabbi Meir, from earlier in the same century
(Tosefta,Kiddushin, 1.14:"He [anyone] has committed a
transgression. Woe to him! He has tipped the scales to the side
of debt for himself and for the world." The concept that sin is a
debt is found extensively in Old and New Testaments ,in the
Intertestamental literature of the Jews, in the Rabbis, and in
the Fathers of the Church. Pope Paul VI expressed it strongly in
the doctrinal introduction to his Constitution on Indulgences of
In other words,the sinner takes from one pan what he has no
right to take: the scale is out of order. The Holiness that God
is wants it rebalanced. If the sinner took property, be begins to
rebalance by giving it back; if he stole a pleasure, he can begin
to rebalance by giving up some pleasure of corresponding weight.
These things only begin to rebalance,for even one mortal sin is
an infinite imbalance: the Person offended is infinite. So if the
Father wanted it - He was not required of course - the only way
to achieve it was to send a Divine Person to become Man. He could
generate an infinite value in the redemption. He did that,
superabundantly, giving up more than all sinners had taken.
To return to John the Baptist: John of course knew the theme
that sin is a debt. By penance, he was helping to begin to
restore the balance.The fact that Christ was to do that work
infinitely does not mean humans cannot or should not join with
Him. No, St.Paul's great theme is this: we are saved and made
holy if and to the extent that we are not only members of Christ,
but like Him - which includes likeness in the work of
rebalancing. Cf.especially Romans 8:17:"We are heirs of God,
coheirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with HIm,so we may
also be glorified with Him."
Strongly spiritual souls perceive these thoughts, perhaps
not in the clear formal way we have presented them, but deeply
3:11-12:John says a more powerful one is coming,who will baptize
with the Holy Spirit and fire. So John does know who Jesus is. In
John 1:29-34 John calls Him the "lamb of God', the victim for
sacrifice, and says he recognized Him because he saw the Holy
Spirit coming upon Him in the form of a dove.
Jesus was to baptize with fire, probably meaning a cleansing
force. The two expressions form a unit: the purifying action of
the Holy Spirit. The mention of the Holy Spirit by John need not
refer to the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity. That phrase,
Holy Spirit, already occurs a few times in the OT: Is 63:10; Ps
51.11; Wisdom 9:17. It also appears at times in the literature of
Qumran. Of course, since John was filled with the Holy Spirit
even before his birth (Lk 1:41). So perhaps God interiorly made
known to Him the truth of the Holy Spirit.
This passage does not at all support charismatic and
fundamentalist claims of a Baptism in the Spirit, especially
since many charismatics assert that their phenomena are simply
the actuation of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, which all persons
in the state of grace have - and so they conclude all should
become charismatics. The theology is completely flawed. There are
two great categories of graces, sanctifying and charismatic. The
Gifts belong to the sanctifying category, the phenomena to the
charismatic - one category cannot be the actualization of the
other, which is a very different category.
3:13-17: Baptism of Jesus: John of course objects to baptizing
Jesus, for he knows Him, as we said. Yet Jesus insists, saying
"we should fulfill all righteousness". The meaning here is much
discussed. But if we recognize that the Holiness of God wants
everything that morality and right order (cf.Summa I.19.5.c) call
for to be done. Now Jesus of course, was in a completely
different position from the sinners who came to John, for He was
sinless. Yet in Phil 2:7 St.Paul says that He "emptied Himself".
That did not of course mean giving up divinity, which is
impossible. But it did mean He would not use His divine claims to
exempt Himself from the ordinary human lot or from suffering,
even from the lifelong anguish of knowing from the first instant
of conception precisely all that He was to suffer. (Cf.Wm.Most,
The Consciousness of Christ, Christendom Press, 1980).
So here it is a matter of suitability, in line with His
self-emptying. It is also in accord with the shocking text of
St.Paul in Galatians 3:13-14 (citing Dt 21:23): "Christ redeemed
us from the curse of the law, becoming a curse for us, for it is
written, 'Cursed be everyone who hangs on the wood'", and the
equally shocking 2 Cor 5:21 "Him who did not know sin, He [the
Father] made to be sin for us, so that we might become the
righteousness of God in Him." Of course, He did not become sin,
nor was He cursed. But He identified with us, and took on our
condition, so as to overcome it, so we would overcome in Him, as
2 Cor 5:14 says: "Judging this, that one has died for all,
therefore all have died." And Paul continues: "And He died for
all, so that the living might no longer live for themselves, but
for Him who died for them and rose."
Here we see the syn Christo theme, the Mystical Body
framework. We are saved and made holy if and to the extent that
we are not only members of His, but also like HIm, in living to
or for Him. We find the elements of this theme in Romans 6:3,6,8
(we died with Him are buried with Him in baptism); Col 3: 1,4
(since we have been raised with Him, we should think of the
things that are above); Eph 2:5-6 (we have even taken our seat in
heavenly places with him).
These things are true as part of the Mystical Body theme:
since one has died,all have died. But they also demand that we be
like Him, in order to be saved. Luther argued:The merits of
Christ are infinite. They are. Therefore, he said, we need do
nothing, can even sin freely. Wrong. For we must be like Christ
as the texts above show,especially the last part of 2 Cor
5:14,and Romans 8:17:"We are coheirs with Him, provided we suffer
with Him,so we may also be glorified with Him" When the Galatians
thought they could sin freely, Paul.in 5:19-26 said that if we do
not follow the Spirit,but follow instead the flesh, we will not
inherit the kingdom (5:21). The word inherit is significant.We
inherit as children, without having earned a place in the
mansions of our Father. But we could earn to be disinherited. It
is about that that Paul warns in 5:21.
So since we are fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we
suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him (Rom
8:17),then, there is nothing but sin that is a loss for us (Rom
8:28), "For those who love God, all things work together for
good." This is even true of those who suffer anxiety, for He did
suffer it, knowing from the first moment of conception all He had
to suffer. Confidence in God can help, can make things easier,
but we should not accuse someone of lack of faith if he still
worries when awaiting the report from the Doctor whether or not
he has cancer. God did not promise no one would ever get cancer.
He did promise that all things, even that, can work together for
good for those who love God, who live for Christ, as His members
who want to be like Him.
After Jesus was baptized, the Spirit came down in the form
of a dove. Who saw it? The text is unclear. Surely Jesus,
probably John. As to the others, we do not know. We compare the
remarkable text of John 12:27-29 where,in anguish over His coming
passion, He allowed Himself to break into a discourse to a crowd
in Jerusalem saying: "Now my heart is troubled. What shall I say?
Father, save me from this hour." Then a voice came from the sky
saying: "I have glorified you, and will glorify you again." But
the crowd did not understand the voice, they thought it was
Rationalists and too many who claim not to be such, dismiss
this manifestation, or call it a theologoumenon - meaning it did
not happen, the words are merely a way of making a different
4:1-11:His fast and temptation: Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit
into the desert for a fast. We recall Is 11:1-3, which foretold
He would have the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
So we have a question: Jesus was divine,what need of the
Holy Spirit? Some in the Patristic age pursued this sort of
question very far: Why would He even need a human soul, when the
Divine Word could carry on all those functions? This led to the
heresy of Apollinaris, which denied He had a human rational soul.
The reason for His having the Gifts is this: God loves
everything that is right, and that includes good order. St.Thomas
(Summa I.19.5.c) said that God in love of good order is pleased
to have one thing in place to serve as a reason or title for
giving a second thing, even though the title does not move Him.
So in this love of good order, He did will that Jesus have a
complete humanity, not a body without a rational soul.He also
willed that He should have the full complement of supernatural
gifts, including the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Guidance through
these Gifts is the highest form. Beneath it would be guidance by
human reason, or by the whim of the moment - which Aristotle
called ( Ethics 1.5) "a life fit only for cattle".
Jesus did also have human emotions - He could marvel at the
faith of the centurion, He could be angry at the sellers in the
temple, He could even experience fear in Gethsemani.On these
matters,cf two articles by W.Most,in Homiletic & Pastoral Review,
in June 1983,and November 1985.
Some of the Fathers, probably under influence of Stoicism,
fell into the error of saying He had no inner feelings at all:
Clement of Alexandria in Stromata 188.8.131.52 (RJ 426): "He was in
general without emotion (apathes) and no movement of feelings
went within Him, whether pleasure or pain. " Clement probably
meant just that He had no immoderate movements, since he
continues,using similar language about the Apostles. Similarly
St.Hilary of Poitiers (On the Trinity 10.23: RJ 876): "These
things did indeed inflict on HIm the force of suffering, but did
not bring the pain of suffering...the body received on itself the
force...without the sense of pain." He seems to mean that there
could be physical pain, but no interior reaction - unworthy of
The opposite error was that of Theodore of Mopsuestia, a
forerunner of Nestorianism, who said Christ had even disorderly
emotions. A General Council of Constantinople II in 553 condemned
this notion, and spoke of "wicked (impium) Theodore of
Mopsuestia" (DS 434).The same applies of course to the movie The
So as to the temptations by satan, He could feel these, even
as in Gethsemani He experienced a desire to avoid the passion,
but these things caused no disorderly emotions in Him.
He had a free human will, but yet was incapable of sinning.
The reason is that if we define "person" correctly, it means the
center to which we attribute things: e.g., he knew this, he felt
this, he experienced this etc. Another person may have the same
or similar experiences, yet they are individualized by belonging
to the one person. Therefore, since in Him there was only one
person, the Divine Person, if He had sinned, it would have been
attributed to a Divine Person - which is impossible.
The first temptation was a temptation because it would have
been contrary to the policy of the Father set in Phil 2:7, of
emptying Himself, i.e., He should not use His divine power for
Himself. Otherwise He had the power to turn stones to bread, and
He surely needed food. Jesus answers with the words of Dt.
8:3.Jesus' food is to do the will of Him who sent Him (Jn 4:34).
In the second temptation,the evil one takes Him to the
pinnacle of the temple. The corner over the Brook Cedron was
about 180 meters above the brook. Josephus said people could get
dizzy from there (Antiquities 15.11.5). Was that done literally,
or by way of a vision? Most likely the latter. The devils, being
fallen angels, still retain very great powers which are natural
to them, beyond nature for us. They can work on a person's inner
or outer senses and cause him to see things. Here the devil
quotes Psalm 91:11-12. The Psalm was telling in very strong
language what confidence in God one may have. But to put oneself
in a situation where a miracle is needed, without reason, and
expect God to do it - this is tempting God. For example if
someone has a broken appendix, and does not call a surgeon, but
says God will take care of it - that is tempting God.
In the third temptation,the devil takes Him to a very high
mountain, from which He can see all the kingdoms of the world. Of
course no mountain is high enough for that, so this seems to mean
a vision. The devil claims he controls all of these. He does not
of course have a legitimate power over kingdoms, yet the
sinfulness of men gives him much actual power. So St.Paul in 2
Cor 4:4 speaks of him as "the god of this world" (cf.John 12:31).
Did the devil at this time know of the divinity of Jesus?
Not likely. But he surely knew He was the Messiah.
4:12-17: Move to Capernaum: It is evident that the Evangelists
do not always or even often try for chronological order: they
have other designs. (Compare the practice of the later Roman
biographer Suetonius). That fact is very evident here, for the
text says that when Jesus heard John had been arrested He moved
from Judea to Capernaum, and made that His headquarters.
Actually,the story of John's martyrdom is not told until chapter
The purpose here seems to be to relate His use of
Capernaum as headquarters to the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-2 that a
great light would shine in the land formerly belonging to the
tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali. They had been in darkness, for
the Assyrians under Tiglath-Pileser (2 Kings 15:29 and 1 Chron
5:26) had invaded and taken them captive. At the time of Christ,
many gentiles lived in that area along with the Jews, hence the
name, "Galilee of the Gentiles". The Jews of Judea looked down
on that region. Capernaum was on the west shore of the Lake of
Genesareth, along the Road of the Sea - which ran to the sea,and
to the other shore of the Jordan. Capernaum was an important
communications center frequented by many types of people. Today
Capernaum is only ruins, seemingly on the site of Tell Houm.
In Hebrew the word Sea can refer to a lake. The name Lake
of Gennesareth comes from the plain of Kinnereth on the northwest
shore. The lake or sea was about 12,1/2 miles at its greatest
length, and 8,3/4 miles at its greatest width. Its surface is 682
feet below the level of the Mediterranean.
Some versions say Jesus made this move, "so that the words
of the prophet might be fulfilled. St.Matthew used the Greek
conjunction hina. Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic all have more than
one structure which can be taken as either purpose or result --
according to the sense. Translators seem to have a strong
inclination to make most of these instances purpose, as if they
did not know that hina and the other constructions could express
result as well as purpose - in 5th century B.C. Attic Greek hina
would have meant only purpose. But by the time of Christ that had
changed. In Jn 19:24 we meet again that hina .The soldiers cast
lots for his garments. To translate "in order that" would mean
the soldiers intended to fulfill the prophecy. Of course they did
not. But as a matter of fact (result) they did fulfill it. Yet
the versions commonly translate the hina there as purpose. Cf.Jn
17:12: Judas was lost so that Scripture might be fulfilled!
4:18-22: Call of the first disciples: Near the Sea of Galilee,
Jesus sees and calls Simon and his brother Andrew. He also called
the two sons of Zebedee, James the Elder and John. Then they
"followed" Him. That verb follow is a rabbinic term for becoming
a disciple. If we compare the account in John 1:35-521 it seems
that Andrew and Simon had been disciples of John the Baptist, who
told them Jesus was the lamb of God. After that they stayed a
while with Jesus, but seemingly went back to their fishing for a
while. It was after that that the account in Matthew fits in,
describing the second call at which they actually became
followers of Jesus.
So they had known Him before the call related in
Matthew.Their first call seems to have been one to believe Jesus
was the Messiah. Of course their idea of the Messiah was hardly
what Jesus intended; it was more like that of most Jews at the
time. It excluded suffering from the Messiah (cf.Mk 8:31-33), but
probably did include hope for a temporal conqueror: cf.Acts 1:6.
When James and John left their father, that was not leaving
him alone, for Mk 1:20 speaks of hired men remaining with
Zebedee. Luke 5:10 says that James and John were "koinonoi",
partners with Simon.
4:23-25:Jesus preaches and cures in Galilee: This is a summary
section, such as is often found in narrative literature. It also
shows the geographical extent of Jesus ministry at the time He
covered Galilee and Syria,and crowds came to hear Him from the
Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and Tranjordan.
Galilee was not large, about 70 by 40 miles. The name Syria
is ambiguous.To Romans it would be the Roman province taking in
all Palestine. Except for Galilee it was under Herod Antipas at
the time. But Matthew more likely meant by Syria the area north
Josephus, writing about a generation later, said Galilee
then had 240 cities and villages, each with no less than 15,000
population (Life, 235; War III.41-43). If Jesus visited 2
villages per day, it would probably take about 3 months to
complete the circuit.
Chapters 5-7: The Sermon on the Mount: The most usual view is
that Matthew has gathered together things Jesus said on more than
one occasion. Of course, He really did say these things even so.
The sermon is the first of five major discourses in Matthew, each
of which follows a block of narrative material.
St.Luke's Gospel has a similar sermon, called the Sermon on
the Plain. We note especially the differences in the beatitudes
between the two Gospels. The most likely explanation is this:
there is no doubt that Jesus was a traveling speaker, and as
such, He would doubtless say the same things in many places, with
perhaps some variation in each place. Therefore Luke may be
reporting a different sermon. Yet the differences may come from
the editorial work of each Evangelist: Matthew 5:17-37 and 6:1-18
is material Matthew's Jewish readers might find specially
interesting, while Luke wrote for a different audience. Again,
Luke has some things Matthew does not have: compare Mt 5:12 with
Lk 6:23-26 or Mt 5:47 with Lk 6:33-35.
5:1-12: The Beatitudes:Each beatitude pronounces certain persons
makarioi, which seems to mean well-off, fortunate,both in this
life and in the world to come.
First,the poor in spirit are blessed. Poverty then,and now,
was often thought of as sheer misfortune. Jesus does not say that
mere physical poverty is blessed. He speaks of poverty in the
spirit, that is, in detachment from the things of the world, so
one does not let them get a hold on him with their pulls. Above,
in speaking of the austerity of the life of John the Baptist, we
explained what this detachment meant, in the light of Mt.6:21.
Physical poverty does make easier this detachment. Yet if not
taken patiently, it may be spiritually harmful.Hence the wisdom
of Proverbs 30:8 prays that God may give him neither poverty nor
riches. Physical poverty can tempt one to be too much interested
in material things and even to complain against God; riches make
it harder to be detached. Hence the famous saying of Jesus about
the camel and the needle's eye.
The poor in spirit remind us of the Old Testament anawim,
the people who realized their own frailness and dependence on
God,who is their only help.Is 57:15 and 66:2 praise them. The
precise words poor in spirit do not occur in the Old Testament,
but are found in the War Scroll of Qumran.
Some commentators,not understanding this matter of
detachment, have tried to say that Luke's presentation of the
same beatitude in 6:20 refers only to material poverty.But Jesus
would not call that blessed in itself. The original NAB version
of Mt said "theirs is the reign of God." Hard to find any sense
in it at all. Rather, it means that it is of such persons as the
detached poor that the kingdom consists in this world, and they
will inherit the kingdom in the world to come.
The second beatitude speaks of those who mourn as blessed.
It is not mourning as such that makes one blessed, it is mourning
over their own sins, and over the infidelity of Israel that makes
it deserve God's punishment all the more since Israel sins in
spite of His special favor. We could also see here a reversal of
attitudes: commonly in the Old Testament evil was thought of as a
punishment for sin - cf.the book of Job. But Jesus showed us the
positive value of suffering as a means of likeness to Him:Rom
God's response is found in Isaiah 40:1. Comfort, comfort, my
These first two beatitudes recall Is 61: 1-3 cited by Jesus
in Lk 4:18-19.
The third beatitude declares the meek are blessed: they will
inherit the land. The meek are those who are unassuming,
considerate, and far from the spirit of revenge. The land
originally would mean God's promise of the land to Abraham and
his descendants. By the time of Jesus it had been reinterpreted
to mean heaven.But even in this life, meekness often brings
returns. Those who are at the top in their own field are often
remarkably meek and humble.
The fourth beatitude declares that those who hunger and
thirst for righteousness will obtain all of it that they desire.
Righteousness means all that the objective moral order calls for:
sedaqah. God's supreme Holiness loves all that is right. By this
beatitude a person imitates God in this respect.
The fifth beatitude promises that the merciful will obtain
mercy. The merciful forgive those who offend against them, and
help in all sort of need. God who loves all that is right, will
do the same for them. But if one does not forgive, he will not be
forgiven. Mt 7:2 adds: Whatever measure you use [in treating
others] the same measure will be used on you. So we write our
own ticket: if we demand the last cent of others, God will demand
the same of us. We cannot afford that!
The sixth beatitude says that the pure in heart will see
God. The purity here is not just sexual, but complete moral
purity. We recall again the development of the thought of Mt 6:21
we saw above (in speaking of John the Baptist). Complete
detachment makes one more capable of perceiving divine things
even in this life.
The seventh beatitude declares blessed those who make peace:
they will be called children of God. Hebrew shalom means not only
peace in the narrow English sense, but well-being in general.
Right after His resurrection, He greeted the Apostles with: Peace
be to you. Those who work for this, cooperate in the work of
Christ, and so are His brothers, children of the Father.
The last beatitude promises heaven to those who suffer
persecution for what is right. The Church has always understood
this to apply specially to the martyrs. While it was never
official teaching, the belief was widespread in the Patristic age
that only martyrs could reach the vision of God before the end of
the world. We now know that belief was wrong, yet others may have
debts to pay in purgatory.
Not only martyrs suffer persecution. 2 Timothy 3:12 adds
that all who try to live a godly life will meet with persecution.
Their very way of life is a living reproach to many others. And
Romans 8:17 tells us that "we are heirs together with Christ,
provided we suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with
Verse 11 continues the theme of verse 10 on persecution,
changing to second person.
Some "beatitudes" have been found at Qumran (BAR
November/Dec.1992, pp.53-55,66. But the similarities to those of
Jesus are only in form. The ones from Jesus announce reversals of
what most people would think. Those at Qumran do not,e.g,
"Blessed is he who speaks truth with a pure heart and who does
not slander with his tongue." There is no reward promised, still
less a reward that would be unexpected by many of that age.
5:13-16: Salt of earth, light of world: In ancient times,salt was
used not only to flavor foods, but also as a preservative to slow
decay. Actually,salt cannot lose its saltiness,for sodium
chloride is a stable substance. But most salt then came from salt
marshes or the like, and so had many impurities.The salt itself
was more soluble, and so could be leached out. What was left was
so diluted it was of little worth. The Greek for "loses its
saltiness" is moranthe, which also means to make or become
foolish. In the background may be an Aramaic play on words: tapel
(foolish) and tabel (salted).
Many cities then were built of limestone, which would gleam
in the sun, and so could not be easily hidden. The thought is
that the Apostles are to give the light of sound doctrine and
example to the world, and that light should not be hidden. Hence
Jesus said that all should see their good deeds and so praise the
Two points are needed here. First, good example is very
powerful. St,Augustine reached a point when he admitted in his
Confessions (8.5), that he had no further intellectual
difficulties against the Church. but his bad habits held him from
entering. It was hearing of good examples that brought him over.
Second, in 6:4 & 6, Jesus will say that when they give alms, it
should be done in secret and when they pray, they should pray in
secret. Those verses do not contradict our present passage.
Rather we see a Semitic way of teaching: using seemingly opposite
statements, enticing the listener to put them together. He meant
that on the one hand, there is a real duty of giving good
example, to help others, on the other hand, there should be no
motive of pride and ostentation in doing so.
5.17-20: Not to destroy but to fulfill: Jesus says He came not to
destroy the law and the prophets -- the entire Old Testament -
but to fulfill. This is true in that He Himself fulfilled all the
messianic prophecies. He also came to perfect the law proper.
He did seem to break the law, but He did not break God's
law, only the foolish or even immoral additions made by the
Pharisees. We see a case of His objecting to immoral commands in
Mark 7:11. God commanded all to honor father and mother. This
meant not just obedience while a minor, but also and specially,
support, financial and psychological, if parents need it in their
old age. This is a sort of divine social security system: when we
were young, they did everything for us; when they are old and in
need, it is our turn. But the Pharisees taught a man might
declare his goods "corban", dedicated to God. He would not
necessarily give them to the temple nor was he prevented from
using them for himself. It did mean the 4th commandment no longer
Why was Jesus so stern to Pharisees? why did He say so many
hard things about them? He was so wonderfully merciful to sinners
in general, in fact His conduct to the woman taken in adultery
shocked some of the Christians, with the result that that passage
is missing from some of the best manuscripts.
The reason is simply pride, hypocritical pride. If one is
proud, he takes to himself credit for what good he does. Really,
1 Cor 4:7 says: "What have you that you have not received?" That
is: Any bit of good you are or have or do, is simply God's gift.
But the proud man at least implicitly says he is good by his own
power. Aristotle can help here. He noted that if I am at one
place, and want to to travel to another, there must first be the
capacity for the trip. He likes to call that capacity potency. If
the trip happens, the capacity or potency is filled or fulfiiled.
But the same pattern happens in any change: first the
capacity,then the fulfillment. Now that capacity clearly involves
some lack or emptiness that wants to be filled.If it is filled,
where does the added being come from? It is created, made out of
nothing by God Himself at that very monment. But to feel one does
good by his own power is to claim, implicitly, the power of
Further, much sin can cause blindness, in the way we
pictured in explaining Mt 6:21 in Supplement 2. No sin blinds so
fully, so readily as pride. This happened to the Pharisees. Hence
even though God was willing to grant them grace, they were
incapable of perceiving even that a grace was being offered.
There were many foolish commands of the Pharisees.Thus the
schools of Hillel and Shammai debated: if a hen lays an egg on a
feast day, is one permitted to eat it - thus getting the fruit of
illicit work. Hillel said no, Shammai said one may eat it.
Again, a group of Essenes in Jerusalem at that time noted
the command of Dt. 23:12-14 to build the latrine outside the
camp. They said now the camp is Jerusalem. So they built the
latrine outside the city, a distance of 3000 cubits, more than
one was permitted to walk on the Sabbath! (Cf.BAR Sept-Oct.,
A problem emerges: Jesus says He has come to fulfill the
law; Paul says we are free from the law. We must remember first
that Paul is hardly clear. The Second Epistle of Peter 3:15-16,
speaking of Paul's Epistles warns that "there are in them many
things hard to understand." We find a key to the present problem
in 1 Cor 6:9-10. There Paul, after giving a list of the chief
great sins and sinners, warns that they who do such things, "will
not inherit the Kingdom of God." The word kleronomesousin,
inherit,is to be taken in the strict sense. It is true,it can
sometime mean merely to get, without the special color of
inheriting. But Paul so often speaks of us as adopted children of
the Father, who as such, can inherit: cf.Rom 8:17. Now when
children inherit from their Father,it is obvious the children did
not earn what they get - they get it because the Father is good,
not because they are good. On the other hand, they could have
earned to lose it, to be disinherited. To sum up, as to
salvation: we do not earn it, but we could earn to lose it. This
is specially explicit in Rom 6;23: "The wages of sin [what we
earn is death, but the free gift of God [what we do not earn] is
eternal life." So when Paul says we are free from the law, he
merely means we do not have to earn heaven, we inherit it as
children of the Father, as coheirs with Christ. He seems to have
gotten into such language in reaction to the claims of the
Judaizers, who were saying, in effect, that Christ is not enough:
we must have the law too. Paul reacted: We are free from the law.
Now this same attitude shows abundantly in the Gospels, for
Jesus constantly stresses God is our Father. So we inherit from
Him, we do not earn heaven. Hence His strong words in Mt.18:3:
"Unless you change and become like little children, you will not
enter the kingdom of heaven."
He adds that unless their righteousness is more than that of
the Scribes and Pharisees, they will not get into the kingdom of
heaven at all. The trouble with the Scribes and Pharisees was
externalism and depending on their own merits, in pride,as we
explained above. On externalism, God warned many times through
the prophets,e.g, Isa 19:13: "This people honors me with their
lips,but their heart is far from me." They were proud, and
counted on their own merits from observing the law. They imposed
heavy burdens on others, and did not really carry them
Was this all true, or was this a case of retrojection from a
later period when Christians began to quarrel with Jews? There is
such a thing as retrojection, reporting something as happening
before the resurrection, which really happened after it. Provided
that Jesus really said the things in question, this is not an
illegitimate retrojection. But if He actually did not say such
things as his strictures on the Pharisees, it would be fakery in
the Gospels - which inspiration rules out. (It would also be an
illegitimate retrojection if one pictured a prophecy as being
made before the event happened, when it was really spoken after
E.P.Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, seems to say that
Paul did not really know what Judaism was. This is outrageous:
Paul was a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He surely knew what they
meant. And we saw above some of the ridiculous things they did
with the law. A large study, by A.Marmorstein,
The Doctrine of Merits in Old Rabbinical Literature (Ktav,1968)
documents the excesses of the ideas of Pharisees on merits. A
recent discovery that the Damascus Document, once thought to be
late, is really by the men of Qumran lets us see that the
picture of Pharisees given in later writings is basically the
correct one for the time of Christ : L.Schiffman, "New Light on
the Pharisees - Insights from the Dead Sea Scrolls" in Bible
Review, June 1992. We saw concrete examples above in commenting
on Mt.5:17-20. We can add that their esteem for the law was so
extreme that the Palestinian Targum on Deuteronomy 32:4 says
that God Himself divides His day into four parts. For three hours
He works and is occupied in the study of the Torah. (Same in
Talmud, Aboda Zara fol.3.b).
5:21-30: Extensions of the Torah on anger and lust:
The law already did condemn murder,Jesus goes to the root of
it,which is anger. Anger in itself is a neutral things,neither
good nor bad.It depends on what use one makes of it.If it is in
proportion to what the case deserves,it is permitted,even good,as
the case of Jesus driving the sellers out of the Temple.
There is a gradation in the sin and the punishment as Jesus
tells us: 1)the internal sin, to be punished by the tribunal of
twenty in each city; 2) an insult given to another such as saying
"raca" an Aramaic word meaning fool,imbecile. This is to be
punished by the supreme tribunal of Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin;
3)Charging another with impiety or atheism. The punishment for
this is to come from God Himself, Gehenna or hell. (Gehenna was a
valley south of Jerusalem where once the Jews offered human
sacrifice to Moloch (2 Kings 23:10; Jer 7.31). Later it turned
into a burning dump. Often in the New Testament Gehenna seems to
stand for hell.
Scripture even speaks at times of God Himself as being
angry. There are two components in human anger: the bodily
changes, mostly in biochemistry,and the mental interpretation.The
chemistry for anger and fear is very similar. The difference
lies in the mental interpretation. If I see before me something
outrageous, I interpret it as anger; if I see something dangerous
before me,the interpretation is fear. God HImself of course do
not have the biochemistry, but He does have the mental
interpretation. Sin calls for rectification of the objective
moral order. He will provide for that at whatever time He wills.
To stress the importance of this fraternal harmony,Jesus
says that even if one is ready to offer a gift at the altar, and
recalls his brother has something against him, he should leave
the gift without offering it, and go for reconciliation instead.
The recalls the line of Hosea 6:6,(cited also by Jesus Himself at
Mt 9:13 and 12:7): "I desire obedience to the covenant [hesed]
more than sacrifice." In Hosea God was not rejecting
sacrifices,but empty sacrifices,those made without the interior
disposition of obedience to God in the heart.So too in this line
Jesus wants not the external sacrifice alone, but the right
disposition, which includes reconciliation. (The usual
translations of Hoses 6:6 are poor, since they use "mercy" to
render Hosea's Hebrew hesed. Greek had no word for hesed,
obedience to the covenant, and so regularly used eleos, mercy.
As to our version "more than," this reflects the proper sense of
the Hebrew, which lacked the degrees of comparison, and so would
commonly say: "I want one thing,not another," when the sense was
really, "I want one thing more than another").
In the same vein, Jesus calls for reconciliation before
coming to court. The court is that of God's judgment. In the
world of His day, there was prison for debtors who could not or
would not pay.
5:27-30:Internal adultery: The OT command against adultery in Ex
20:14 and Dt 5:18 was often thought by the Jews to be more
directly a matter of stealing a wife,as some other one's
possession, rather than a matter of purity.Jesus redirects it
here,insists that if a man look at a married woman with a view of
enticing her to sex, that is already adultery in the heart.
To avoid confusion here let us clarify. A thought comes to a
man, or he sees a beautiful woman. This thought or look offers
him a sexual pleasure. If he lets himself go and just enjoys
it,that is mortal sin. But if he does not do that, but instead
tries to get rid of the thought or mental image, even if it takes
a dozen times before the incident is over, there is no mortal
sin. More likely there is much merit. There is a confusing
related pattern in addition.If one is busy doing something that
holds attention partly, then a thought can crawl into the back of
his head, can unroll itself almost like a movie, for some time,
before there comes a sort of wake-up point at which he says to
himself: I should not be having this! Then he gets busy against
it. At most, there would be a little carelessness, not mortal
sin, up to that point.
Jesus underscores how grave the matter is by saying that
even if someone's eye leads him into sin, he should pluck it out.
He did not mean to physically gouge out an eye, or to cut off a
right hand. No. This is just a dramatic way of saying that
whatever actually proves to be a near occasion of sin for
someone, he must get rid of it, even if it is as dear to him as
an eye or a hand. A near occasion is any person, place, or thing
such that one can say, from experience, that if he goes back to
it a few more times, he will be very likely get into the same sin
5:31-32: divorce: Jesus is referring to Dt.24:1-4 which allowed
divorce for something displeasing (erwat dabar "something
indecent") in the wife. We must of course compare this passage
with Mt 19:3-12 which says that if someone divorces her except
for porneia (the Greek word in Matthew) he causes her to commit
adultery, the assumption being that she will again attempt
marriage. Porneia in Greek in general meant illicit sex. Both in
ancient and in modern times this seeming exception has been much
discussed. Perhaps the best view is to take it as meaning: "I say
to you, whoever dismisses his wife - the provision of Dt 24:1 is
not involved -- makes her to commit adultery." Then we could take
the porneia to mean that the marriage was invalid in the first
place, was mere concubinage, and so could be broken.
For certain the Catholic Church takes this to mean no
divorce at all in a sacramental marriage is permitted unless the
marriage was invalid in the first place. For the passages in
Matthew of course must agree with Mc 10:11-12; Lk 16:18; 1 Cor
7:10-11. Of course,Jesus took back the concession given in Dt.24
in Mt 19.8-9.
The Rabbis disrupted much about what reason was required.
The school of Shammai at the time of Jesus said only adultery
would suffice; the school of Hillel said just about anything
would suffice, even badly preparing a meal. The historian
Josephus (Life 76,426) divorced his wife because he did not like
her behavior, although she had already borne three children of
5:33-37:Oaths:Incredible casuistry was in vogue in the time of
Jesus in regard to oaths. To swear by heaven and earth was not
binding, nor was swearing by Jerusalem binding - but swearing
toward Jerusalem was binding. A whole tractate in the Mishnah was
given over to this sort of thing:Shebuoth. Because of such
foolish things, Jesus said it would be better to abolish oaths
than to go into such things. According to some rabbinic opinions,
to double yes or no amounted to an oath.
The first Christians understood Jesus did not really mean to
abolish all oaths, just to correct such foolish excesses. St.Paul
took oaths: Rom 1:9; 2 Cor 1:23; 1 Thes 2:5 &10.
Some commentators assert that Jesus here goes against Dt
6:13:"By His name alone shall you swear" But the meaning is that
if you swear, do not swear by any false gods, but only by the
true God. And it does not command,merely permits that. Rightly
understood, the words of Jesus do not forbid all oaths,as we have
The lex talionis (like for like) is found in Ex.21;24; Lev
24;19-20; and Dt 19:21.It is also found in the code of
Hammurabi,king of Babylon in late 18th century BC (## 196-200).
The purpose seems to have been to restrain vengeance, setting a
limit,so someone would not demand 5 times as much as the
offense.At the time of Christ,the courts seldom imposed this lex
talionis Jesus of course,in line with His spirit, wants a spirit
of mildness instead. He even says if someone strikes you on one
cheek, turn the other. But it is clear this was meant to
inculcate an attitude,rather than something to be taken to the
letter. When a servant in the Jewish court struck Jesus Himself
on the cheek, He did not turn the other cheek, but rebuked the
servant (Jn 18:22-23). St.Thomas Aquinas (II-II.40.1 ad 2) quotes
with approval the remark of St.Augustine: "These things are
always to be observed in readiness of soul. But at other
times,one must act differently, for the same of the common
good,or to restrain evildoers." Thomas also quotes another text
of Augustine: " Nothing is so unhappy as the happiness of
evildoers in which lack of punishment for crimes is fostered, and
an evil will.is nourished."
The attitude is to be encouraged in individuals. But a state
may not turn the other cheek: It obliged to defend its citizens
even at times by war. It is simply not true that all the Fathers
were pacifists. Among those who were not are: St.Justin Martyr,
St.Cyprian, Eusebius, Lactantius (one text), St.Athanasius,
St.Basil, St.Ambrose, St.Augustine. St.Augustine in Epistle 189
to a solider names Boniface tells him that when he puts on his
armor he should remember that his strength is a gift of God. --
There are only 4 clear cases of pacifists,but all commit heresy:
Marcion (who rejected the entire Old Testament, most of the new,
Tatian, founder of the heresy of Encratites, Tertullian (after he
became a heretical Montanist, Lactantius (Institutes 6.28 where
he rejects even capital punishment, contradicting St.Paul, Romans
13:4). Origen (Against Celsus 8.73) is a special case. He says it
is not fitting for Christians to be soldiers - does not say it is
wrong. Similarly God told David in 1 Chron 22:8 that he should
not build the temple because he had so much blood on his hands -
even though God had commanded David's wars, and helped him - and
in contrast in 1 Kings 14:8 God praises David as a perfect man,
who always did God's will. So it is again a matter of
fittingness, not of something morally wrong.
Under Mosaic law -- Ex 22:26-27 and Dt.24:13 - the outer
cloak was practically an inalienable possession. If the cloak was
taken as a pledge, it had to be returned before night, so the
poor man might have something to sleep in. Again, Jesus is
teaching an attitude here.
Roman law had a practice of commandeering civilians
(impressment) to carry military baggage. (Cf.the case of Simon
the Cyrenian helping Jesus) But it was to be done for only one
mile. Again, Jesus wants His followers to be twice as generous.
The next injunction calls for not only interest-free loans,
but also a generous spirit of giving things outright.
However, it is also good to report precisely where the moral
lines lie, since Jesus again is teaching an ideal attitude.
First about interest-free loans,we must notice that the
Latin word usura, "usury", is very broad,and can mean anything
from moderate to excessive interest. In some economies, money is
not productive and so little could be morally asked for. In
others, money is highly productive. The attitude of the Church
appears in 1515 in the text of the Fifth Lateran Council: " This
is the proper interpretation of (excessive) interest: when gain
and increase is sought from the use of a thing that is
nonproductive and with no labor, no expense,and no risk."(DS
1442). Deuteronomy 23:21 makes clear that not all interest is
immoral: "You may lend at interest to a stranger, but not to a
countryman." If all interest were wrong, it could not be
permitted even in loans to strangers.
About almsgiving: Vatican II, Church in Modern World 69
added a footnote 10, quoting a message of John XXIII (AAS
54.682):"The obligation of every man,the urgent obligation of the
Christian man, is to reckon what is superfluous by the needs of
others...." The words of John XXIII seem to allude to the scale
in common use among moral theologians:
1)Goods necessary for life are those without which life
cannot be sustained. So goods superfluous to life are those left
over after this.
2)Goods necessary to one's state in life are those without
which that state cannot be maintained. Goods superfluous to one's
state of life are all else.
3)Good necessary for fitting maintenance of one's state in
life are those without which one's state, though it could be
maintained, could not be maintained fittingly. Goods superfluous
in the fullest sense are all else.
We have seen that there are three senses of the word
superfluous. Similarly, there are three senses of the word
1)I neighbor is in extreme necessity,i.e.,lacks the
necessities of #1 above, we must come to the aid with things
mentioned in ## 2 & 3 above. But we need not give up things
necessary for our own life.
2)If neighbor is in grave necessity, but not lacking the
essentials of life, we must help out of goods that are
superfluous in #3 above.
3)If neighbor is in ordinary need, a lesser need, we must
help some of the poor sometimes. We cannot determine the
obligation precisely for any one individual, for there are many
who can help,and the need is only ordinary.
We conclude that as far as strict obligation is concerned,
Vatican II has this scale in mind, since in the next note on the
above passage it says: "In extreme necessity, all goods are
common,all goods are to be shared. On the other hand,for the
order, extension, and manner by which the principle is applied
in the proposed text, besides the modern authors, consult
St.Thomas, Summa, II-II.66.7."
We have carefully drawn the above lines,not to suggest
anyone hold down to a minimum, but to help understand that some
statements we meet in the Fathers on giving to the poor are
rhetorical. We still urge all to take on the wonderfully generous
spirit pictured by Our Lord.
5:43-47:Hatred and love: Jesus says they have heard that one
should love neighbor and hate enemies. He calls for love of even
enemies.Further,the Jews of His time commonly understood neighbor
to mean only fellow Jews. By the parable of the Good Samaritan He
made clear that all are our neighbors.
Lev.19:18 does call for love of neighbor. But it did not
call for hatred of enemies. Of course it is not hard to believer
such ideas were current then. The Qumran sectaries did require
love of neighbor, but also called for hatred of enemies: cf.1QS
Love does not require,nor even essentially consist in
feeling. If it did the commands of Jesus would be impossible, for
we have only indirect control over our feelings. To love is an
act of will, willing good to another for the other's sake. If we
pray for others, we have a minimum degree of love. Love of God of
course is different: we cannot will good to God, who is infinite
Goodness. Rather, Scripture pictures Him as pleased when we obey,
displeased when we do not. This is not that He gains anything
from our obedience or "service" - they do Him no good. But since
He is Goodness and Holiness, He loves all that is right and good:
goodness says creatures should obey their Creator, children their
Father. Further, He wants to give good to us: but that is in vain
if we are not open to receive. Hence His commandments are really
directions for how to be open to Him,so He may give, and
simultaneously steer us away from the evils that lie in the very
nature of things for sin, e.g., a hangover after a drunk, or a
great danger of a loveless marriage after much premarital sex. So
in practice, to love God is to obey Him. Hence 2 John 6: "This
is love, that we walk according to His commandments." Cf.also
John 14:21. Interestingly in the late second millennium Hittite
vassal treaties the inferior king is ordered to "love" the great
Tax collectors or publicans were despised as agents of a
foreign power oppressing their own people, and for contact with
gentiles, which made them unclean. In many Roman provinces the
system was tax farming. Publican companies ( groups of business
men, different from the local publican collectors) would bid for
the right to collect taxes for the coming year. The highest
bidder got it,and paid that amount to the Roman treasury. He
should be moderate, and the governor ought to hold down greed.But
the governor came up the political ladder without pay, and still
had no salary, only an expense account. No wonder there was
5:48:The command to be perfect: Jesus tells us to be perfect as
our Heavenly Father is perfect. Since His Holiness is infinite,it
is evident no creature can ever attain that. So one can never say
he has done enough,gone far enough. It means one must constantly
strive and keep on moving.
In an Encyclical for the third centenary of St.Francis de
Sales, Pius XI commented on this command of Our Lord: "Let no
one think that this invitation is addressed to a small very
select number and that all others are allowed to stay in a lower
degree of virtue...this law obliges everyone, without exception."
Paul VI,in an address to the 13th National Congress of the
Italian Feminine Center in 1966 said: that marriage "is a long
path toward sanctification." For explanation, cf.Wm.Most,Our
Father's Plan, pp.145-49.
We distinguish three kinds of perfect love of God. The first
would love God as much as He deserves. No creature is capable of
that. The second would love God with all its powers, constantly,
at every moment, without any intermission or slackening. This is
possible only in Heaven. The third kind is that which it possible
on this earth: It is a love that puts our wills perfectly in
harmony with His, so that it positively wills everything the soul
knows He positively wills, and preserves a pliability for those
things in which His will is not yet clear,or not entirely clear.
Imagine what this requirement meant in our Blessed Mother.
At the time of her Son's death, she knew that it was the will of
the Father that He die, die then, die so horribly. So she was
called on to not just acquiesce, but to positively will it! And
this in collision with her love which was so great even at the
start of her life that Pius IX wrote (in Ineffabilis Deus,1854),
speaking of her holiness, (which in practice is the same as
love): "none greater under God can be thought of, and only God
can comprehend it." That meant strictly, literally
The will is the only free thing in us. If we could make it
perfectly aligned with His, there would no more to be done. It
excludes not only mortal and deliberate venial sin, but also
every voluntary imperfection. In that condition, a soul will
still commit some venial sins of frailty or surprise. Not all of
these can be avoided in this life. But fully deliberate venial
sins can be avoided, and definitely block progress. If a soul has
an "affection" to venial sin, no further growth is possible.
Affection means the souls's attitude if expressed completely,
would be like this: I do not intend to commit any mortal sin, nor
every venial sin that tempts me. But on the other hand, I do not
plan to avoid every venial sin: sometimes it would be
inconvenient to avoid lying, and it is good fellowship at times
to join in a bit of uncharitable conversation. These are as it
were gaps in the soul's purpose of amendment, they as it were put
a clamp on one's heart, setting limits. Absolutely no further
progress can be made as long as a soul harbors even one of these
Commentary on St.Matthew continued
6:1-6:Ostentation: Public fasts were announced by the blowing of
trumpets. And alms were thought to increase the efficacy of the
fasts. This may be origin of the warning here. Of course this
could be also a case of Semitic exaggeration, like that of the
camel and the needle's eye. Those who made a display of
almsgiving were really aiming to get praise from people. They
would get it - but that is all, nothing from the Father in
Heaven. The words "Let not your right hand know what your left
hand is doing" is a fine Semitic device again. Hands know
nothing. The sense is that we should not dwell mentally on the
goodness of anything we do - we may at least subconsciously be
taking undue credit for ourselves.
Next there is the warning about ostentation in prayer. In
the synagogue someone might be asked to pray publicly standing in
front. This does not contradict 14:16 - please see the comments
on that verse.
6:7-8:Repetitious prayer: Jesus Himself prayed at length ( Lk
6:12) and repeated His prayer (Mt.26:44). He even urged them to
keep up praying if they did not at first get what they asked :
(Lk 18:1). He objects to babbling prayer, mechanical repetition,
which the pagan gods were said to love. He objects to saying
useless things,or long formulas thought to have an almost magical
efficacy. The priests of Baal went in for such things : 1 Kings
18,26ff. There are lists of Babylonian hymns and formulas and
magical incantations. The Roman philosopher Seneca said that such
prayers "weary the gods" (Epistle 31.5.Cf. Horace,Odes 1.2.23 and
Livy 1.11.2 and Apuleius,Metamorphoses 10.26.
This is no objection to the Rosary,in which the chief thing
is not the repetition but the meditation - we are not asked to
pay attention to every word of 50 Hail Marys in 5 decades, but to
think on the mysteries announced. The words could be compared to
The word St.Matthew uses is a rare one, battalogeo, which
may come from Aramaic battal, useless, idle.
6:9-13: The Our Father: It is only in this prayer that Jesus
speaks of our Father. Elsewhere He may say my Father or your
Father. In Rabbinic sources the words "Our Father who art in
Heaven" are found often enough but the Jews did not have a great
perception that God was the Father of all people. They tended to
think of Him as only their Father. An introduction to some
prayers was Avinu malkenu; Our Father,Our King." This was good to
bring out the two major aspects of love and closeness on the one
hand, and a sense of majesty, infinite greatness on the other.
We gather the sense of "hallowed be thy name" from such
texts as Isaiah 5:15-16: "Man is bowed down, and men are brought
low. But the Lord of Hosts will be exalted in right judgment
[mishpat] and the God, the Holy One, will show Himself holy
[niqdesh - root of qadosh,holy] by moral rightness [i.e.,by doing
what moral rightness calls for." Similarly in Ezekiel 28:22:"They
shall know that I am the Lord when I inflict punishment on her
[Sidon],and I shall show myself holy in her [niqdashtil]. The
gods of Mesopotamia,Greece and Rome were thought to be amoral,not
just immoral.If immoral,they would know what is right but could
get away with violations.Amoral means they act as if there is no
such aa thing as morality.In contrast, the true God is
holy:cf.Psalm 11:7: "For the Lord is righteous, and He loves
things that are righteous." So,the sense of this petition is that
God's moral rightness may be recognized by all.
Within the covenant, God shows His righteousness by giving
benefits or punishment according to the response of the people to
the covenant. Hence Deuteronomy 11:26: "Behold, today I am
putting before you a blessing and a curse. The blessing, if you
obey...and the curse if you do not." Romans 3:24-26 says God has
actually shown Himself righteous by fully rebalancing the scale
of the objective order by the death of Jesus. For sinners take
from one pan of the scale what they have no right to have: the
scale is out of balance,and the holiness of God wants it
rebalanced. A human can begin to rebalance after stealing by
giving it back, or after stealing a pleasure by giving up some
other pleasure. But the imbalance from even one mortal sin is
infinite. So,if the Father wanted full rebalance -He was not
obliged to that - it could be done only by sending a Divine
Person, who could really generate an infinite value to fully
rebalance. (Cf.The Doctrinal introduction to Paul
VI,Indulgentiarum Doctrina,Jan 1,1967 and Wm.G.Most,Our Father's
Plan, chapters 4 ff).
About the words "Thy kingdom come": "kingdom" in the Gospels
often,though not always, means the Church in this world or in the
next or both, as we can see readily from the parable of the
wicked tenants,and parables of the mustard seed, of the net etc.
Even.R.E.Brown, in The Churches the Apostles Left Behind
(Paulist,1984,pp.51-52) admits this,and in Responses to 101
Question on the Bible (Paulist,1990,p.12) he says that the editor
of the NAB made a bad choice in changing kingdom to reign.
So "thy kingdom come" can readily be a prayer for the spread
of the Church. It could also, however, be a prayer that all will
accept the will of God, His reign. Then this petition would mean
the same as "Thy will be done."
May it be done on earth as it is in heaven. The only free
thing in a human is the free will. If one could make that will
entirely in accord with the will of God, that would be
perfection. That perfect accord is found in heaven. But on earth
it is difficult to achieve fully. One might be tempted to think
it possible to kneel down and say a prayer of acceptance, such as
that of St.Ignatius, "Take O Lord and receive all my liberty, my
memory, my understanding and my will...."
There are two reasons why instant perfection is not
possible. First, at this time we cannot foresee all that God will
will us to do before the end of our lives. Second, although
perfection is found in the spiritual will, in this life the
development of that harmony of will is tied to development in
what psychologists call somatic resonance. The explanation is
simple: since we are made of body and spirit ,and since the two
are so closely joined as to add up to one person, the result is
that for normal running, a condition on either one of the two
sides should have a parallel on the other side, That parallel
condition is called a resonance. When the resonance is on the
side of the body, we call it somatic (Greek soma = body). For
example, love is in the will, willing good to another for the
other's sake. The resonance could be anything from the nonsexual
response of parents to their own children to explicitly sexual
responses in marriage. Sadly, some young people mistake the
resonance, which is really chemistry, for the love. They
sometimes have a lot of chemistry, no real love. They marry on
the strength of that,and find out later! The only way to assure
real love is developing is to follow our Father's rules, moral
rules. To violate those is to put each other in a state such that
if death came, one would be wretched forever. Real love could
hardly develop in that atmosphere. (For further data
cf.Wm.Most,Our Father's Plan,chapter 16).
Now somatic resonance, since it a bodily thing, must grow
according to the laws of growth of bodies. Bodies of people,
animals, plants, all grow in a sort of step graph - long
plateaus, with occasional short rises in between. The rises are
normally short, unless something happens - such as a severe trial
well accepted as the will of God - to loosen up the resonance so
a large rise will be possible.
We need to note too that there are some things God
positively wills, some He merely permits. We cannot always know
for certain which is the case. Further, we may often know His
positive will only partly. The goal is to positively will all
that He positively wills, and to take an attitude of pliability,
being ready to take that which has not yet become clear when it
does become clear. (Picture the tremendous suffering of Our Lady
at the cross: She knew the Father, and the Son too, positively
willed that He die, die then, die so horribly. So she was called
on to will that, and to do it going counter to a love beyond our
understanding - for Pius IX in 1854 (Ineffabilis Deus) said her
holiness (in practice same as love) at the start was so great
that "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but
God can comprehend it!
In praying for our daily bread, we ask for all needed for
sustenance. For Hebrew lehem was used broadly for all food. The
word commonly translated as daily is Greek epiousios, which is
very rare in and out of Scripture, and hence there is room for
difference. From Lk 11:3 it seems likely that the translation
daily is the best. Some have proposed translating "for tomorrow"
but Jesus urges us not to be solicitous for the morrow: Mt 6:34.
Some of the Fathers of the Church thought it could refer to the
Eucharist. But Jesus had not yet promised the Eucharist at this
Next we ask forgiveness for our debts. St.Matthew uses Greek
opheilemata. The concept that sin is a debt,which the Holiness of
God wants paid is common in the Old and New Testaments,and in
intertestamental literature. Please recall our explanation of the
rebalance of the objective order in the commentary on Mt 3:4.
We ask to be forgiven only according as we forgive those who
have offended us. So one who refuses to forgive when the other
apologizes is really asking God not to forgive him. However,God
Himself does not forgive without repentance.
What does it mean to forgive? As we saw above on the
holiness of God in the Our Father,and in Supplement 2 after 3:7-
10,all sin is a debt. It is the Holiness of God that wants the
debt paid,that is,wants the objective order rebalanced. He went
so far as the terrible death of His Son to rebalance that order.
But part of that restoration of the order includes that we also
forgive others.To forgive means to be willing to overlook the
offense. Often, even though not here, the New Testament uses
Greek charizein, which means to make a present of what was owed,
of a debt.Here the word aphienai is used,which means to let go.
Forgiveness is basically an attitude of our will,not of our
feelings. Our will decides to let go the debt, to not demand that
it be paid,even though we would have a right to call for that.But
since God does not demand that we repay the immense debt of our
sins,we too ought to not demand what we might claim from another.
But we also have feelings,and ideally,they should track with
our attitude of will.But feelings are not on as it were an
electrical switch,so we can turn hem off or on at will.We work
indirectly, by turning attention to something else. Unpleasant
feelings toward the offender can coexist with real forgiveness.
In difficult cases,we might even interiorly pray for the offender
when these feelings arise: for real love,in the will,cannot
coexist with hatred. As we said, this is a matter of the attitude
of our will - our feelings might continue to be averse even if
our will is right. We need however to try not to dwell on the
feelings, although intellectually we may continue to disapprove
of what is really a moral fault.
Further,forgiveness does not require that we take the
offender back into the same degree closeness as before. Yet,with
marriage partners,this really needs to be done or the marriage
may be spoiled.
There is also the side of the mind: From the offense one may
learn abvout the character of the other, and see that he/she is
not capable of being tusted.So one can be careful in handling
them in the future. This does not contradict what we said above
about the attitude of will and of feelings.
If we really have forgiven, we will not,when there is a new
offense by the same person, recite the list of all the past
faults of the offender.One reasonable translation of 1 Cor 13:5
is:"Love does not keep a record of faults", to bring them up on
later occasions.That exacerbates the difference,makes real
reconciliation much more difficult.
Further we can get some good advice from the Roman historian
Tacitus,who wrote (Agricola 42):"It is characteristic of human
nature to dislike the one you have offended", so it is even best
to try not to let the offender know very strongly that we are
offended - then he is psychologically inclined to think we are
not good,for if we are good,he would have to face that fact that
he has done wrong.Easier for him to think we must be not good,and
so he is right in doing what he has done.
"Lead us not into temptation...." Two kinds of temptation
could be on mind here. If we think of tempting to sin, of course
God does not lead us into that, though He may permit it. There is
however a Hebrew pattern of speaking which says God directly does
something He only permits. Thus in 1 Samuel 4:3 after a defeat by
the Philistines, the Jews asked: "Why did God strike us today
before the face of the Philistines?" And in the account of the
ten plagues in Egypt,a few times Pharaoh was near to letting them
go,but then the text may say, "God hardened his heart" or,less
often, "Pharaoh hardened his heart."
The other type of temptation is of the sort God used on
Abraham, to bring out Abraham's obedience. This line seems not to
refer to it, for that type of temptation is an occasion for
merit, cf.James 1:12: "Blessed is the man who endures temptation,
for when he has been proved he will receive the crown of life."
Luke's version of the Our Father,in 11:1-4,is shorter. It is
very possible Jesus gave this prayer more than once in different
places. We note Luke has the setting in which the disciples ask
Him to teach them to pray.
Some ask: Why do we pray at all, for God knows in advance
what we will ask for? St.Tbomas says (I.19.5.c) that God in His
love of good order likes to have a title or reason in place for
giving something, even though that reason did not move Him. So as
to prayer,He could give things without prayer,but He prefers to
bind Himself in this way. Does this mean prayer counts for
nothing? No,in making His decisions,He can take into account the
fact that someone will pray for it in the right way.
At the end,in v 14,He adds that if we forgive,God will
forgive us. If not, He will not forgive us.This something to
ponder when we are tempted to refuse forgiveness.The thought
really was contained in the earlier words in which we ask Him to
forgive our debts as (same as "if") we forgive our debtors.
6:16-18.-This is a repetition of the theme given earlier in 6;1-
6:19-21: We are urged to store up treasure in heaven,where it
cannot be lost,rather than on the earth,where thieves may get it.
The sense is easy: Instead of being intent on storing up
money etc.be intent on merit in heaven. Now as to merit. Merit
is a claim to a reward.Our most basic claim is justification =
first sanctifying grace.That makes us children of the Father,who
as such have a claim to a place in their Father's house. But
after becoming His children without merit,then,the fact that we
are such,gives us a great dignity,which gives a basis for a claim
to a reward for further things we do.But even then,we must
remember that everything good we are and have and do is simply
His gift (1 Cor.4:7). Further,we are saved and made holy only if
and to the extent that we are members of Christ and like Him.We
do not generate any claim (merit) on our own) but we merely get
in on the claim He generated when we are His members and like
Him.(Cf.DS 1532 and 1582).
Verse 21 suggests an important train of thought:
"Where your treasure is,there will your heart be also). "Please
recall the comments made in the treatment of the asceticism of
St.John the Baptist in commentary on 3:1-12 (special comment on
6:22-23: The sense is this: just as the eye guides the whole
body, so an understanding of the above principles of Christ
should guide one's spiritual life. If they do, it will be full of
light, goodness, and the person will know where he is headed.
6:24: One cannot serve two masters - the imagery comes from
slavery as it was practiced then. A slave obviously could not
serve two. So we should make up our minds whether we mean to
serve God or the things of this world.They lead us in opposite
directions. Please recall again the special comments on 3:4
Could a person avoid all mortal sin,and many venial sins,and
still go after the things of this world? Yes, he could reach
final salvation, but his pursuit would be less successful of the
spiritual goods,and his life less happy even in this world.
6:25-35: The message is: avoid all excessive care for the things
of this life. It does not mean to make no provision for the
future. (If we compare Lk 14:28-33, that passage speaks of giving
up all to follow Christ- not of worldly provision).
7:1-2.The injunction, "Judge not", has given rise to much
confusion.People say: Don't be judgmental. We should distinguish
carefully two things: 1)the objective moral rating of a thing in
itself; 2)the interior dispositions of a person who does such a
thing. There is no objection at all to stating the first,the
objective rating,e.g., murder is wrong. What we should not do is
to say with assurance that we know the interior of the one who
did it. For in general we cannot know much of the person's
interior, and cannot be sure. To say something is certain when we
do not have adequate evidence is rash judgment.
This sin is often committed by those who charge Catholics
with worshipping the Blessed Virgin. They say with
determination, even when we say we do not worship: "O but you
do." Again ,we turn to the two check points: 1)To have a picture
or statue and to burn a candle is not by nature worship. Cf.the
eternal flame at the grave of JFK. Can the objectors know our
interior dispositions? Of course not. So they should be told,
politely but firmly, that they are in violation of this command
of Our Lord Himself!
Verse 2 adds another topic: we get back the measure we give.
That is, if we are generous with others,we are apt to get
generosity in return. If we are tight, we will get that treatment
back. This of course do not always happen, but there is a
tendency. And it is important to notice: If we are strict with
others, then God will be strict with us. We cannot afford that!
That is similar to the lines of the Our Father:
"Forgive us our debts.as we forgive." There is a similar line in
the Talmud (Sanhedrin 100a) : Rabbi Eleazar said: In the kettle
in which you have cooked others, you will be cooked in turn."
7:3-5: We easily become inconsistent,in seeing small faults in
another while overlooking larger ones in ourselves. Speaking of a
"beam" in the one's own eye is of course Semitic exaggeration.
The name hypocrite is one Jesus used specially for the Pharisees.
7:6.Cast not your pearls before swine. Pearls were considered the
most precious of all things, cf.Pliny Sr. Natural History
9.34.106. The original sense probably meant not to teach
indisposed or even hostile people some points of doctrine. The
Didache 9.5. applied this to excluding nonchristians from
receiving the Holy Eucharist. St.Cyprian -- very unecumenical of
him! -- used this on Demetrianus (Against Demetrianus 1),
who,said Cyprian,came not to him not to learn but to ridicule
and charge Christians with the responsibility for recent
calamities. The verse also perhaps was the basis of the
Discipline of the Secret which held back certain doctrines until
the candidates were ready for Baptism. In the persecution of
Diocletian,many Christians died rather than hand over the
Scriptures to the pagans.
7:7-11: On ask and you shall receive. This promises infallible
efficacy of prayer, but certain conditions are required. First,we
must not pray for things that would be harmful. God knows that if
He would grant them, they would hurt us (in passing:notice here
the universal belief that He acts this way, which requires that
He know the futuribles,i.e,what would happen in certain
Second the promise really refers to things needed for
salvation,for in comparison to salvation,other things are of no
account.And it must be for our own salvation -- He is more than
willing to grant it to others,but if they resist,He respects
their freedom. Suppose there is to be a great sports event.The
fans for both teams pray earnestly. Clearly, not both can win.
St.Teresa of Avila, in Way of Perfection 1.5 urged: "Let us not
pray for worldly things, my sisters. It causes me to laugh, but
yet it makes me sad, when I hear of the things which people come
here to ask us to pray for. We are to ask His Majesty for money,
and to give them incomes - I wish some of these people would ask
God for the grace to enable them to scorn all such things...I do
not myself believe God ever hears me when I pray for such things.
The world is on fire [refers to Protestant revolt].... They would
raze His Church to the ground - and should we waste time on
things which if God granted them, would perhaps bring one soul
less to heaven?"
It is also necessary to pray with perseverance - God
sometimes wants us to work harder. Cf.Luke 18:1-8 on the wicked
judge who gave in to the persevering plea of the widow.
We must pray diligently, trying to avoid distractions.
Distractions are inevitable, but if we try to eject them every
time we notice them (for we may be in a reverie part of the time
and not notice) we may please God more, than if all went
easily,even with pleasure.It is not that difficulty is good in
itself, but the strong effort made means our wills are more
attached to His will.
We need to pray with confidence - if we show we do not trust
Him, of course He will not hear our prayer. Our confidence is
based on His goodness, and on His promise to listen.
May we pray for a miracle? Yes,if the need is great
enough.But we cannot be sure of getting it,for the promise here
does not cover extraordinary things. There are misguided souls
who whip themselves into an emotional state,and think then they
will get even a miracle, thinking of the faith that moves
mountains. But that faith is a different kind of faith, a
charismatic faith, that is, it is a special gift of God. If He
gives it,it is then certain He will follow through. But it
depends not on us, but on Him, when and whether He gives the
faith that works miracles.
We mentioned above that the promise applies only to things
for our own salvation - for if we pray for another,that one may
resist. But an extraordinary grace can forestall or even cut
through resistance without taking freedom altogether away. But
precisely since this kind of grace is extraordinary, comparable
to a miracle, it needs extraordinary effort, that is, much prayer
and penance. One needs as it were, to put an extraordinary weight
into the scales to call for an extraordinary grace. For example,
St.Augustine for much of his early life was hardened. It was only
the heroic work of his Mother that rescued him. Otherwise he
would be in hell now.
Why pray at all, since He knows what we need? Answer: 1)In
His love of good order - explained by St.Thomas in Summa I.19.5.c
- He is pleased to have one thing in place to provide a title or
reason for giving the second - even though that does not move
Him. So that is why He bound Himself to hear prayers, under the
proper conditions explained above. 2) His decisions have taken
into account in advance the prayers He knew would be made.
7:12: The golden rule. Since this involves love of neighbor at
all points,and since that love is inseparably tied to love of
God, if one fulfills this, he fulfills all else too - both the
law and the prophets, i.e., all Scripture.Cf.St.Paul,Romans 13:9-
10. A similar saying was known among the rabbis,cf.
Talmud,Shabbat 31a. But it was only in the negative form, "Do not
do to others what you would not like". Jesus made it also
7:13-14: If we compare this passage with the parallel in Luke
13:22-27, Luke's version is much fuller, and includes a setting
which makes clear the question is about final salvation. In
Matthew that seems to be the case, but some have taken it to
refer to entering the Church - speaking of the difficulties in
involved. Because Luke's version is fuller, we will use it for
our discussion. A person asks Jesus point-blank whether many or
few are saved. (Here the word saved means reaching final
salvation - often it means entering the Church)
It is important to know that that very question was much
discussed among the Jews at that time. We gather this clearly
from some of their intertestamental writings, that is, works that
are not part of Scripture. The Fourth Book of Ezra, according to
the opinion of the editor of that section, B.M.Metzger (In James
H.Charlesworth, general editor, The Old Testament
Pseudepigrapha,Doubleday,1983) comes from late first century
A.D. In 8.1-3: "The Most High made the world for the sake of the
many, but the world to come for the sake of the few." In 8.14-16:
"There are more who perish than those who will be saved." This is
the background of the thought in 7:46: "It would have been better
if the earth had not produced Adam." The same thought occurs also
in 2 Baruch 48.42 (dated between 1st and 2nd decades of second
century, A.D.) and elsewhere. These texts of course do not mean
all rabbis held such ideas - there was no central teaching
authority in Judaism. But their gloomy remarks applied to our
race in general.As to the Jews, nearly all would be saved. So
Talmud,Sanhedrin 1.10 saws :"All Israel has a part in the age to
come." It does list a few exceptions to that for the very worst
kinds of sinners.
It is against this background that we must look at the
passages in Luke and probably also Matthew. First, is it
inherently likely Jesus would reveal the truth on the matter?
Hardly. To say most are saved could lead to laxity.To say most
are lost could easily bring despair.
So,what He seems to mean is this: You people think you have
it made because Abraham is your Father. But you do not. Do not
rest on that, get going and work out your salvation.
Further, there were two Scriptural passages whose seeming
sense led so many Fathers to take pessimistic view. One is our
present passage about the narrow way, the other is that of the
banquet in Mt 22:1-14 and Luke 14:15-24. The version in Matthew
ends with "Many are called but few are chosen." Jesus seems to
have in mind at last primarily the Jews,and not all persons. -
The word "many" almost certainly reflects Hebrew rabbim,which
means the all who are many. So it means all Jews were invited to
the messianic kingdom - few were entering. So the path is narrow.
The Fathers of the Church generally took that parable to
refer to both God's call to be part of the chosen People, and to
refer to final salvation. That was unfortunate, for the two are
quite different. One can be saved without formally entering the
Church, and some who do formally enter will not be saved.
Are we obliged to accept the Patristic interpretation?
No,for there is no sign they are passing on a teaching from the
beginning. Rather, they are on their own, and telescope two
things that greatly need to be kept distinct, as we said.
The old Congregation of the Index in more recent times
condemned two writings. One by P.Gravina, which held that by far
the greater number are saved, was condemned on May 22,1772.
However, some of his arguments were foolish and he used
apocryphal revelations. The general idea of the greater number of
persons saved was also held earlier by Venerable Joseph of
St.Benedict. As part of the process, 40 theologians were
appointed to examine his writings along with other doctors
elsewhere. None objected to his thesis. On the other hand,on July
30, 1708 a work under the pen name of Amelincourt - actually it
was written by Abb Olivier Debors-Desdoires - which held that
most persons are lost, was condemned.
From these opposite condemnations and the approval of
Venerable Joseph we gather that the Church simply does not
profess to know whether the saved are few or many. This also
confirms our judgment that even though so many Fathers are
pessimistic, their views do not derive from a tradition handed
down from the beginning, but from a misinterpretation especially
of the parable of the banquet.
7:15-20 warns of false prophets,whom we can tell by their fruits.
False prophets were already known in the history of Israel, e.g.,
Zedecias and a whole band of prophets in 1 Kings 22:5-12. Also in
Jeremiah 28:1-17. St.Paul in Acts 20:17-31 spoke to the
presbyters of Ephesus (called episcopoi in 20:28 in 28-31
foretold false prophets would come even from those to whom he was
speaking. Here in Matthew most likely Jesus speaks of the
Pharisees, whom elsewhere he called "whitewashed sepulchers" and
"blind guides," who put forth their own traditions even to the
point of contradicting the law of God (Mk 7:9). In line with this
the Mishna,Sanhedrin 10.4 (11.3?) said:" the decisions of the
scribes are more obligatory than the Torah."
7:21-27: warns that not everyone who calls Jesus Lord is
acceptable to Him. On the last day, on which it is implied He
will be the eschatological judge, he will face those who claimed
to have prophesied in His name,cast out demons,and worked
miracles in His name. But then He will tell them: "Depart from
me,you workers of iniquity. I never knew you."
To understand this, we need some framework. Grace is any
gift from God to us. There are two great categories,sanctifying
(which are aimed at the holiness of the recipient) and
charismatic (which are not so aimed,but at some benefit for the
community. Charismatic graces include ordinary gifts.e.g,being a
good parent or teacher, and extraordinary things,which are
miraculous.. Working miracles ,casting out devils etc are
charismatic of the extraordinary kind. The principles God has
chosen to follow in the two categories, sanctifying and
charismatic are very different.In the sanctifying category, He
gives without limit to all,for in accepting the infinite price of
redemption, the Father bound Himself to unlimited forgiveness and
grace. But in the extraordinary charismatic category,the
principle is: The Spirit gives what He wants,where He wants. And
so He may sometimes give miraculous gifts even to those who are
not in the state of grace.
The man of wisdom accepts the doctrine of Christ. The
torrential rain and storm stand for difficulties the good
Christian may meet. But if he has built solidly,these things will
not stop him.
In speaking of the picture of the house swept away, Jesus
may have thought of the future ruin of the temple and Jerusalem.
7:28-29: At the end of this great discourse,the crowds were in
admiration.and especially, He did not teach like the Scribes,who
constantly tried to base a view on the statements of previous
rabbis.In contrast, Jesus taught with authority, His own.
8:1-4.Cure of a leper:
This is the first of the miracles recorded by Mt, part of a
group of nine miracles.And it is time to take care of several
false claims made about the miracles of Jesus.
First, they say, "there is no such thing as an uninterpreted
report." That saying is true in many cases, but not in all,and in
this cure the case is different: The structure of this incident
is so simple: A leper asks to be healed. Jesus says: I will it,be
healed.-- There is simply no room for an interpretation to be
slipped into that simple account. Furthermore, noting this fact
makes it possible to build a bypass around the worries of such
writers as John P.Meier, who in his book A Marginal Jew, (meaning
Jesus. How insulting!) thinks Mark wrote 40 years after the
event,and Mt.and Lk used Mark, and were still later, with the
result: no reliable information is available.
But Meier and others have missed so many things. Mark, Meier
says, wrote about 70: We agree it was at least by then. (It is by
no means certain that Mk was first, but we pass on that for now).
At that time period, Peter and Paul had just died in Rome,
perhaps in 67 AD. Now Clement I wrote to Corinth probably in 95,
and in his letter says Peter and Paul were of his generation.
Naturally. Clement became Pope around 90 (some would make it 88).
From there back to about 67 is not so long. Clement, and many
others who had heard Peter and Paul would surely remember the
main things about Jesus.
Further, Quadratus,the first Apologist,writing about 123 AD,
said that in his day some were still alive who had been cured or
raised from the dead by Jesus. It need not be 123, but it surely
would cover 80-90, the period in which so many think Mt and Lk
wrote. Someone cured or raised would remember the basics about
Jesus very well.
Still further, think of someone who had been a teenager
during the preaching of Jesus. Jesus probably died about 30 AD.
Give the teenager another 50 years, and he will be around age 65,
and we have reached 80 AD,when many think Mt.and LK wrote. Not
many lived to be that old in those days, but some did that and
more,cf.the case of the old Simeon,and of Zachariah and
We conclude: information was available even to 90 or
later,and not all of it was subject to the claim,"no
uninterpreted report." Those who knew the facts would insist on
getting at least the basics right, for their eternity depended on
it. Some think the first community (the Apostles are often not
mentioned) was just creative. We reply: But imagine St.Ignatius
of Antioch - he came from the place where Peter and Paul had
both preached, he was eaten by the beasts in Rome c 110. In his
letter to Rome, which we have, he asks the Christians of Rome
not to use their influence to get him off,in case someone could.
He wanted to die for Christ. So we suggest: take a copy of that
letter of Ignatius to the zoo, and stand by the lion's den and
read it and ask: Does this man just make up things creatively?
Now that we know we have a base to build on, we look for and
find just six facts, all of them of the same simple structure we
mentioned, and so free of the danger of distortion in
interpretation. Really, any danger of distortion would be
obviated on the chief things about Jesus anyway, by the concern
of the people for their own eternity.
Here they are: 1)There was a man named Jesus; 2)He claimed
He had been sent by God; 3)He proved that by miracles, worked in
special cases where there was tie between the miracle and the
claim, as in the case of the paralytic let down through the roof.
Jesus cured the man to prove He had forgiven sins. So He did have
that power: God does not provide the power to prove a lie. Jesus
many times made such a connection between miracle and claim,e.g,
Mk 5:21-43; Mt 8:5-13; Mt 9:27-29;John 10:38. The NJBC on p.1371
asserts that Jesus consistently refused to use miracles to prove
His claims.But the examples they give are all worthless,e.g., He
refused to do a miracle to amuse Herod,refused to come down from
the cross. Even the NJBC ,pp.1320-21 admits that at the time of
Jesus,even His enemies admitted He healed the sick and worked
exorcisms- the enemies did not deny,but did say it was magic or
the work of satan. -- At this point we will need soon to fill in
on the whole question of miracles. We will do it.
Then 4)In the crowds there was an inner group to whom He
spoke more -- obviously,the Twelve; 5) He told them to continue
His work,His teaching. We would expect that; 6) Once we know what
sort of person He is and what power He has, and His commission
from the Father, it is not strange if He says such things as: He
who hears you,hears me."
Then we see before us a group,or a church if you will (the
word is not common in the Gospels). It is commissioned to teach
by a messenger from God, and promised protection on its teaching.
Then intellectually we not only may, but should believe its
teaching. It can tell us which books are inspired - there is no
other way. It can tell us the messenger is divine. It can tell us
that there is a Pope, and what He can do - so we need not fight
our way through Mt 16. And in general it can solve all essential
questions, so we do not need to bother with the criterion of
double dissimilarity etc.to show which episodes really happened.
This form of apologetics builds, as we said, a bypass around
the worries of critics like Meier. And we need only so few
things, of such simple structure to do it.
To return now to the question of miracles. There are some
problems: 1)The Jews did not have any concept of the laws of
nature,and so could not think of a violation or exception. Hence
miracles. We reply: But they did know that some things were
beyond human power, e.g., John 9:32: "Never since the beginning
of the world has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a
person born blind." The reason is this: Some cases of blindness
come from hysteria, or emotion, and can be cured the same way.But
that would not help a man with physically defective eyes from
birth. There are some things just too far out for our
imagination. A modern parallel: In 1908 Madam Bir was blind from
atrophy of the papilla, withering of the optic nerve. At Lourdes
when the Blessed Sacrament passed,she said she could see. The
Doctors examined her,found she could see, found the optic nerve
was still withered. No amount of suggestion will make a withered
2)Many will say,with E.J.Ciuba ( Who Do You Say that I
am? Alba House,1993,p.89): (...one cannot prove [italics in
original ] that an occurrence is an act of God, only faith can
recognize it as such." This reminds us of R.Bultmann who said (in
Kerygma and Myth,ed.H.W.Bartsch,Harper & Row,1961,I.pp.197 & 199)
to say that things, such as cures, science cannot explain are
miracles would be superstition,but we may say things science can
explain are miracles! These things are so foolish they hardly
need an answer. But we will reply even so. For example, around
700 A.D.in the church of St.Legonziano in Lanciano, Italy,a
priest saying Mass began to doubt the presence of Jesus in the
host and chalice. Then it happened: Most of the Host changed to
flesh (the center kept the appearance of bread) and the wine in
the chalice became 5 clots of blood. This has been checked with
every means known to science in 1970 and again in 1980. Result:
this is a piece of a human heart,skillfully cut,with type AB
blood in it (as also the clots). There is no preservative,yet it
has stayed for centuries. Do we need faith to see that this is
beyond any human means? Or the case of Madame Bir mentioned
above,again,checked fully by science.
3)It is objected that there were many miracle workers
in that day,e.g.,Simon the Magician in Acts of Apostles,and
Apollonius of Tyana,in the life by Philostratus. We reply:This
charge is incredibly sloppy. Simon in Acts admits he cannot
match the wonders done by the Apostles,wants to buy that power.
As to the life of Apollonius of Tyana, one can say such things
only if he has not read it. E.g, Apollonius finds a satyr who is
annoying women: he quiets the satyr with wine (6:27). He meets a
woman who has a son possessed by a demon,which is really the
ghost of a man who fell in battle. That man was much attached to
his wife, so when she married 3 days after his death he became
disgusted with women, and became homosexual over a 16 year old
boy. Apollonius gives the woman a letter with threats to the
ghost (3:38). Then Apollonius met a woman who had suffered in
labor seven times. He told her husband what when she was about to
bring forth the next child: he should go to her room carrying a
live rabbit, walk around the wife once, then release the rabbit
and drive it out of the room - otherwise the womb would be
expelled along with the child (3:39). Can anyone believe such
rubbish is comparable to the miracles of Christ? (There are more
silly things in that biography also).
L.J.McGinley,in, "Hellenic Analogies and the Typical Healing
Narrative" in Theological Studies 4 (1943) 385-419 gives a
detailed contrast of the Greek healing stories and the Gospels.
We summarize it here: In the Hellenic stories there are few
exorcisms, in the Gospel there are many. In the Greek stories one
finds curious and sometimes indecent details; never such in the
Gospels. The Greek wonder-workers are usually skilled in medicine
or magic, are amorous or vengeful,in contrast to the Gospels.
The Greek healers are strongly motivated by the desire for money
and by wanting to prove their power - the opposite of the
Gospels. In the pagan stories miracles usually happen while the
patient is asleep,especially in a temple (incubation); never are
such things found in the Gospels. In the Hellenic stories there
is much gibberish and the use of strange languages - not in the
Gospels. The few instances where a strange language is used in
the Gospels are cases of the use of Aramaic, which was not
strange in the original setting. There is no spiritual
significance in the Greek instances, while in the Gospels the
miracles are signs of spiritual realities. Often a tie is
established in the Gospels between the miracle and a claim by
Jesus; never so in the Greek tales.
In this same incident of the cure of the leper, we notice
that Jesus told the man cured not to tell anyone. In 1901 Wilhelm
Wrede,in a book, The Messianic Secret (tr.J.C.C. Greig, James
Clarke Co.London,3d ed.,1971) pointed out that there are many
cases, especially in Mark,where Jesus enjoins silence. But, says
Wrede, at least many of these are faked by the Church, which did
not know He ever said He was Messiah, was embarrassed,and so
invented scenes where Messiahship would come up,but in which He
called for silence.We are grateful that Wrede has given us his
strongest case: the raising from the dead of the daughter of
Jairus(ibid,pp. 50-51). Wrede said that from the historical
viewpoint this instance was senseless.But it was Wrede who was
senseless.Jesus went into the house with only the parents, plus
Peter,James and John,the crowd was outside.He brought the girl
back,and then asked for silence,to keep the crowds from going
wild and proclaiming Him King Messiah,in a false concept. But He
did not need silence for long - just enough for Him to slip out
quietly and get on His way to the next town.
The leper had addressed Jesus as Lord. This need not imply
they knew His divinity. They probably spoke Aramaic, where the
word would be mar, which could be used for many persons other
than the divinity,even for the owner of some property etc.,and
in polite speech it might be used instead of "you".
(Cf.M.Sokoloff, A Dictionary of Palestinian Aramaic ,s.v. mar)
The situation was similar with Hebrew adon, or even Latin domine.
8:5-13:Cure of a centurion's servant: Here is another case where
it is obvious,even without any faith at all,that a superhuman
power has wrought the cure. It is done at a distance,by a mere
Then Jesus comments that He has not found such faith as the
centurion showed in the People of God. Instead, the "heirs of the
Kingdom", i.e,the those of the People of God who refused to
believe,will be thrown outside. That means,they will cease to be
members of the People of God. A frightening thought. It returns
again in Romans 11:17-19,in the comparison of the two olive
trees. Many branches, faithless Jews, fell out of the tame
olive,that is, the People of God. Gentiles, like the centurion,
were given their places.
Jesus marvelled. This is an emotional reaction, and need not
imply any new knowledge - just as we can marvel at a beautiful
sunset, though we have seen many before. So His knowledge from
the fact that His human soul saw the vision of God from
conception gave Him the information on what the Centurion would
do and say, yet the emotional reaction was possible.In addition,
besides the beatific knowledge, He had experimental knowledge,
e.g., one day for the first time His senses reported that roses
are red. He could marvel at that.
8:14-17:Cure of Peter's Mother-in-law: Here Jesus merely touched
her and she recovered so instantly as to be able to wait on Him
and His party. Here we cannot be sure if this was a miracle,or
the use of suggestion.Jesus knew of its power and there is no
reason He could not use it (Similarly when He sent disciples to
prepare for the Pasch, He knew in advance what they would meet:
could have been extra sensory perception). Yet the Gospels would
write it up according to appearances, much as we speak of the sun
as rising, when we know it does not at all do that. He,as God had
created the natural laws operative in suggestion. No reason He
should not use them on occasion.
Similarly in the cure of many people with various
infirmities mentioned right after this cure, He could have used
suggestion in some cases, though some of the cases clearly needed
miraculous power. He had whatever was needed in each case. But He
was not sent to give medical diagnoses. When it is said that He
expelled demons, could some of the cases be epilepsy? Some yes,
others not. In cases where the demons spoke and recognized Him,
there really was possession.
The closing line of this passage quotes Isaiah 53:4. In the
original setting the prophet referred not to physical
infirmities, but to moral infirmity: taking away sin. However the
New Testament writers, including Paul, often quote OT lines
without regard for the original setting - Paul was trained that
way in studying in the school of Gamaliel.
The Gospel says that was to fulfill what the prophet said.
That translation sounds like that was the purpose for which Jesus
acted. But the Greek permits us also to translate "and so [as a
result]...." that,is, Jesus cured them and so [as a result] the
prophecy was fulfilled". Greek had changed much by New Testament
times, as compared to 5th century Athenian Greek, so that in the
NT times there were several grammatical structures that could
stand for either purpose or result (True of Hebrew, Aramaic, and
Greek). Further, the Jewish way of speaking tended to telescope
the two ideas. They would say God positively caused things which
He really only permitted,cf.1 Samuel 4:3 (this sense is unclear
or absent in some English versions). We need to keep this
grammatical situation in mind in many places in the NT. Sometimes
the English versions are almost foolish, as in John 19:24 where
the soldiers cast lots for the garments of Jesus, the versions
often say: "This was to fulfill what the Scripture says." Now the
soldiers hardly had such a purpose in mind, to fulfill Scripture.
Rather, the translation should read: "And so [as a result] the
Scripture was fulfilled."
8:18-22:Two Offers to follow Him: The first offer comes from a
Scribe. Jesus told him the hardships: He,the Son of Man,has
nowhere to lay his head. Even animals have that.
Two comments: 1)Was it that Jesus did not wish to choose
this man in general? or 2) that He wanted to accept the man only
if ready for hardships? 3)About the term,"Son of man".
As to the first,Jesus later told the Apostles:"You did not
choose me, but I chose you."(Jn.15:16). There are two
economies,internal and external. The internal comprises all that
leads to heaven itself. In that,God offers grace without limit
too all, for He has bound Himself by the infinite price of
redemption in the covenant.What one gets is limited by his own
receptivity. The external comprises all else,including the
questions: Will this one have full membership in the Church, or
be a priest or bishop, will he be a physician or a lawyer or a
shoemaker? In this external category God gives what He wills
where He wills.Perhaps Jesus simply had not chosen this scribe,
for what ever reasons He may have had.
As to the second,it is obvious Jesus would not want one not
willing and able to take the hardships involved. Jesus would know
if this scribe was or was not. We do not know about this person.
The term Son of Man is mysterious. There have been attempts
made to see if the Aramaic expression "bar ('e) nasha" meant "I"
or "someone in my situation'. But there is no hard proof for such
a proposal. Others have tried to say the Son of Man was not
Jesus,but someone else.That is impossible.There are three phases:
1)Earthly Son of Man: Our present text is an example showing such
expressions surely referred to Himself.Cf.also Mk 2:28; Mt
16:13; Lk 9:58. 2)Suffering Son of Man In Mk 8:31 He taught that
the Son of Man had to suffer many things,be rejected,and killed
and rise on the third day.Again this clearly refers to Himself.
3)Eschatological Son of Man: After telling the parable of the
weeds in the good crop in Mt 13:16-41 He explained that the one
who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. He speaks similarly in
Lk 17:24-26:"Just as lighting flashing out of the things under
the sky gleams to the sky,so will be the son of Man on His
day.But first it is necessary that He suffer many things and be
rejected by this generation." So we see here that the suffering
Son of Man is the same as the eschatological Son of Man.We know
that the suffering Son is Jesus.So this equation makes clear He
is also the one who is to come at the end.
A better lead is found in Mt 24:38: "Then there will appear
the sign of the Son of Man in the sky...and they will see the Son
of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great
glory." This clearly ties to the Son of Man in Daniel 7:13-
14:"Behold,with the clouds of heaven there came on like a son of
Man.He came to the Ancient of Days.... He was given dominion and
glory and kingdom.... His dominion is everlasting." Some have
strangely said this figure is the People of God,the Hebrews.But
the Hebrews never thought of a headless kingdom.And they
themselves never did receive an everlasting dominion. So Mt 24:30
shows that Jesus is the Son of Man in Daniel. Now this would not
have been obvious at once to the crowds.It would take time to
hear more sayings,and to meditate on them.This fits with the fact
that He wanted a gradual self-revelation. That was really
necessary. Had He at the very start of His public life announced:
"I and the Father are one" or, "Before Abraham was,I am', they
would have stoned Him on the spot.
His gradual self-revelation was needed for this reason.
Another reason for it was the desire to bring about a separation
of the well-disposed and the ill-disposed. If we follow Mark's
chronology,at first He taught rather clearly.But then the scribes
charged He was casting out devils by the devil.Then He turned to
parables. All three Synoptics at this point quote,in varying
forms,Isaiah 6:9-10. Mark (4:11-12) says that after this point He
said to the Apostles: "To you it is given to know the mystery of
the kingdom of God, but to those outside all things are in
parables...That seeing they may see,and not perceive,and hearing
they may hear,and not understand." Clearly ,He did not want to
blind the people and so keep them from understanding. Then He
would not have wept over Jerusalem for not knowing the time of
its visitation (Mt 23:37). (In Hebrew there is a pattern often
used of saying God positively does what He only permits: Cf. 1
Sam 4:3 (In literal Hebrew) and Exodus 7:3).
Rather,we may see something remarkable in this passage.We
know that in God there are no real distinctions. He is identified
with each of His attributes,e.g., 1 John 4:8 says: "God IS love."
Then we are led to conclude that God is also identified with
justice - and also with mercy. How can this be,for the two seem
opposite to us?
We can begin to understand if we think of two spirals.
Picture a man who has never been drunk before,but tonight he gets
very drunk.Next morning he will have guilt feelings- recall this
is the first time for him.That comes from the clash of his moral
beliefs with his actions. In due time something will give: He
will bring his actions into line with his beliefs, or his beliefs
will be distorted to match his actions.So a confirmed drunk
cannot really understand there anything wrong with getting drunk.
But this can go farther,and can take in other moral truths,and,in
time,even doctrinal truths. We can see this in some attached to
gross immorality: they not only refuse to believe the Church
saying it is immoral, instead they say: "We are the Church".In
other words,the man is going out on a spiral, which gets larger
as it goes out and feeds on itself. He is becoming blind - this
is justice,for he has earned that.But it is also mercy,for the
more one sees at the time of acting,the more guilty he can
be.This man's ability to see is being reduced down and down. So
in one and the same action there is both justice and mercy.
Something similar happens if one lives strenuously according
to what faith says,that the things of this world are worth little
compared to the world to come. Then he gains light, which,
secondarily, is justice, is earned. Yet no creature by its own
power can establish a claim on God.So more basically it is mercy.
Another disciple wanted to have a delay in following
Jesus,until he could bury his father. This is a puzzling
text.Jesus surely did not want to discourage care for
parents,prescribed by the Fourth commandment. It is likely that
the man really wanted to stay with his father some indefinitely
long period until the father's death.In that case,Jesus said that
the needs of the apostolate were greater.
The expression, "Let the dead bury their dead" sounds like a
proverb. The rabbis called those who were sinners dead,and the
just,the living. That however,would not fit well here.
Finally,Jesus may be as it were focusing on just one aspect
of the matter: the fact that the apostolate is more important
than other things. Later he was to say (Mt 10:37):"He who loves
Father or Mother more than me is not worthy of me." He could
leave out of the field of view the requirements of the Fourth
commandment, without denying them.As we said,it may have been
that the father was not dead or dying,but just old,and the man
wanted an indefinite delay in following Jesus. Just as in 19:12
Jesus did not really advocate self-castration, neither would He
here want someone to omit what he really owed his father.
8:23:Calming a storm on the lake: Not strangely,those who are
rationalists or of a similar mentality are slow to believe Jesus
really did calm a storm. Many today admit Jesus did work miracle
s,and point out that in His own day,even His enemies did not deny
that He exorcised devils and cured the sick, though they at times
did attribute His works to satan or to magic (cf.NJBC 1320-21- on
alleged similarities to the cures of Jesus and pagan miracles,
cf. L.J.McGinley,"Hellenic Analogies and the typical Healing
Narrative" in Theological Studies 4,1942.385-419).B ut some still
balk at "nature miracles". However,one we know that Jesus is
divine,there is no reason at all to refuse to take this episode
at face value.
Jesus rebukes them for their lack of faith.we need to notice
that the word faith may be used in two very different
categories.In the salvific category - the things that lead to
heaven- it means belief in what God teaches,confidence in His
promises,and obedience to His commands (cf.Romans 1:5).This is
the full sense of faith,the sense in which the word is usually
employed in St.Paul:cf.the case of Abraham ordered to sacrifice
Isaac.He believed God,had confidence in His promises,and obeyed,
even when he could by no means see how it was possible to believe
God's promise and also to kill Isaac. But in the external or
charismatic category the word is different. It is like the saying
about having faith like a grain of mustard seed and being able to
move mountains.In other words,this is a reference to the kind of
faith that is basically a gift of God. Some have felt if they
would work themselves into a lather in trying to have
confidence,they should get a miracle.but that is not the meaning
of this sort of faith.if God gives faith that a miracle will
come,of course He will produce it,unless the person gives up his
The Lake was subject to violent storms.It was more than 600
feet below sea level,and rapidly rising hot air would draw
violent winds from the SE tablelands, whose cold air would
churn up the water. A boat such as they probably had could hold
a dozen or more men plus a good catch of fish.
The word "Lord" here leave us uncertain what the disciples
meant. Cf.comments above on 8:8. The word could mean anything
from divinity to almost as little as English Mr.
8:28-34:Cure of the demoniacs:
There are three possible sites: Gadara, Gerasa,and Gergesa.
Gerasa is about 30 miles SE from the lake. Gadara is about 5
miles SE. Gergasa may be same as the present site of Kersa, where
hills do plunge towards the lake -- as in the drowning of the
swine in this incident.
Best MS of Matthew favor Gadara, best MS for Mk and LK favor
Gerasa - but it is not on the shore of the lake. However Gadara
seems to have controlled much land,including some along the lake
with steep slopes. We note the Synoptics all speak of the
"country",not the city. Hence the Gerasa and Gadara could both
include such a spot.
Josephus (Life 42 (9) says Gadara had territory and
villages on the border of the lake. This probably included the
village of Gerasa. Coins of Gadara sometimes show a ship. So we
think the right reading had been Gadara. But scribes later may
not have known the topography,and hence show confusion. A later
scribe seeing a name he thought wrong,might "correct" it to
something he thought right. So we have a principle of "the more
difficult reading." It means this: a scribe "correcting"
something would make it something easier in his eyes, would not
make a change from something he thought easy to something more
difficult. So the more difficult reading is apt to the true one
in case of differences in manuscripts.
We note the demons in the man call Jesus "Son of God". That
was probably meant in a strong sense, perhaps divinity, since
they seem to refer to him as the one who is to come at the end as
the Judge. -- which onlookers may or may not have recognized at
Why did Jesus send the demons into swine? It may be that
they were owned by a Jew, - even though the population of the
region was largely gentile - who was not permitted to keep swine.
Of course, He, as absolute Lord, had the right to dispose of any
property as He would see fit. This at least would serve to help
show the reality of the cure. Here the case must be
possession,not a case of epilepsy -- people then did not know the
difference. It was not part of the mission of Jesus to give such
information: He would merely handle whatever was at hand.
The reaction of the people who asked Jesus to leave was sad:
they were more interested in property than in their own souls.
Such an attitude often enough shows today when people vote for a
candidate they know will favor immorality such as abortion, in
the (vain) hope of getting improvement in the economy and in
their own finances.
9:1-8:Cure of a paralytic: Some commentators try to harmonize the
chronology of the three Synoptics at this point. But that is not
needed. We know that in general they did not follow chronological
order. St.Matthew seems to want to add this event here to make a
group showing the authority of Jesus.
The saying that Jesus saw "their" faith, seems to mean the
paralytic and his bearers all had faith in Jesus.
As soon as He saw the paralytic,Jesus said his sins were
forgiven. This need not imply that his illness was due to the
man's sins, though that is not impossible of course.
Jesus read the thoughts of the scribes - was this by
miraculous power, or by the use of ESP? We do not know. God often
uses natural means - for He has created them - when they are
available. The scribes considered this a claim of divine power.
Really, no prophet in the Old Testament,not even Moses,had the
authority to forgive sins.The notion of delegated power did not
seem to occur to them.
Jesus continued and asked which was easier,to say He
forgave sins,or to make the man walk. The sense is obvious: if He
said He forgave sins,no one could check that - but anyone could
see if He caused the man to walk. So He intended to do the second
to prove He had done the first.
This is a very significant passage,for in it Jesus
establishes a connection between the miracle and His claim to
forgive sins. Since ultimately the power to work a miracle must
come from God, God would not grant the power if it were being
used to prove a lie. So it was proved true then, that Jesus did
have the power to forgive sins. Since in the minds of the scribes
that was a claim to divinity, that was, objectively, a proof of
His divinity. But we are not pressing that claim at the moment.
We saw above (on 8:1-4) that by the use of 6 apologetic points we
can prove the teaching commission of the Church. This tie of
miracle and claim was something important there.Jesus often made
such a connection, as we explained then.
It is good to note that sometimes there may a case in which
the lines are delicately drawn, e.g.,the magicians at the court
of Pharao also changed their rods into serpents, after Moses and
Aaron had done that. But in such a situation, God also provides a
way to tell the difference. There, the serpent from Moses & Aaron
devoured the others. Before the end of the world,the Antichrist
is apt to work wonders by the power of satan,and to claim they
prove He is Christ. But again, we have a means of discernment,
the fact that Jesus has warned us in advance of those false
The words "that you may know that the Son of Man has power
on earth to forgive sins" are of uncertain origin.It may be that
Jesus said them, but equally,they could come from the Evangelist
as an explanation.So we do not depend on them to prove that He
proved His claim:the entire situation makes it clear.
Call of Matthew:9-9-13: Jesus came by Matthew's tax office,called
Matthew, seemingly in a permanent call,and Matthew at once left
his business and became a regular follower of Jesus. There is no
mention of a previous contact of Matthew with Jesus .There may
have been of course,but it is quite possible that by interior
grace, Jesus led Matthew to make the decision without previous
preparation. Grace is that powerful when Jesus so wills.
The tax office may have been for the collection of customs,
on the border between the territories of Philip and Herod
Antipas. Perhaps Matthew was one who made a contract with Rome,
and for a sum which he bid, gained the right to collect taxes.
Much of this sort of thing was done in Rome's lands.
Publicans such as Matthew were scorned by others since they
were taking money for a foreign power, perhaps excessively,and
because he was in contact with Gentiles,which made him
The fact that Matthew soon held a dinner for other publicans
may imply he was a more important sort of official. He invited
sinners, but that could mean merely those who were levitically
Mark and Luke call him Levi,and Mark adds he was the son of
Alpheus. However this would not be the same as the father of
James, another Apostle, for in the lists of Apostles, Matthew is
never grouped with either James,though otherwise brothers are
mentioned side by side in the lists. It was common for Jews then
to have two names,e.g.,Saul and Paul.It is just possible Levi may
have been a Levite, which would give him special acquaintance
with Jewish tradition on which Matthew places special stress.
However this is only a conjecture.
Verse 10 in the Greek has kai egeneto - and it happened,a
typically Hebrew form of expression. Some versions change it to
The Pharisees saw he was eating with publicans and other
sinners. To eat with others was a sign of friendship. The fact
that Pharisees objected does not mean the Pharisees were also
guests. The dining rooms then were commonly open to others; or
the Pharisees may have spoken to the disciples of Jesus after the
dinner. Jesus properly replied that He was sent to save
sinners,and so like a Doctor,must go to those who are sick.
Really the publicans were probably less sinful than the
Pharisees,for the latter seemed to be guilty of spiritual
pride,the worst kind of vice (cf the story of the Pharisee and
the publican in the temple: Lk.18:10-14. Cf.also Mt 21:31-32
where Jesus says that publicans and harlots believed John the
Baptist, and so enter the kingdom ahead of many opponents of
The words," go and learn" was a common rabbinic expression.
Jesus then quotes Hosea 6:6,often badly translated as "I
desire mercy, not sacrifice." In the Hebrew of Hosea,the word
rendered by mercy is hesed, which means obedience to the covenant
bond. Hosea was complaining of externalism in sacrifice, which
omitted the essential, the interior disposition of obedience to
the covenant, which gave value to the offering. In context here
the sense is: You Pharisees are good at externalism, but your
heart is far from God (cf.Isaiah 29:13). The poor translations of
hesed come from the fact that Greek and Latin had no word for
it,so it was often translated by Greek eleos, mercy.
9:14-17: On fasting: In reply to the question why the disciples
of John fast often, but the disciples of Jesus do not fast, Jesus
said that the wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the
bridegroom is with them. Later they will fast. Jesus Himself,of
course, is the bridegroom.This clearly alludes to the concept of
both OT and NT that Israel was the bride of God: Hos 1-3; Ezek
16; Jer 3:1-14; Is 54:1-3. St.Paul was to speak of the marriage
relationship as an image of the relationship of Christ to the
Church: Eph 5:22-33; Col 3:18-19. Apoc 19:7-9 speaks of the
Church as the bride. 2 Cor 11:2 has the same image.
Hebrew bene huppah, according to the Mishna,Sukka 53a were
all the guests.but there were also the "friends of the nuptial
tent" (where the couple spent their first night together) special
friends,who had the duty to help keep up the joy of the occasion.
On fasting in general,please see Supplement 2, after 3:7-10.
The second reply of Jesus refers to two images: sewing a
piece of unshrunk cloth onto old cloth - when the new would
shrink,it would tear at the older cloth, - and the image of new
wine in old wineskins, which could not easily contain the
fermentation. - the sense of both is that the new spirit of
Christ could not fit with the old spirit of the Pharisees.
9:18-26:Raising of the daughter of Jairus,and cure of a woman
with a flow of blood: Mark's account here is far longer,with more
details. This proves nothing of who wrote first. Nor would it
have to prove Mark was an eyewitness.
A ruler of the synagogue - from Mark we learn his name was
Jairus - either came personally, or through his agents to Jesus,
made a reverence, and asked Him to come. In Matthew the first
notice in v.18 is that she has just died - but later in the same
verse Jesus is asked to come and lay his hand on her and she will
live. In Mark He is asked to come because she is close to death.
However, Matthew may easily shorten things here, and we must
recall that Scripture often uses a concentric ring mode of
narrative - first, part of the story is told - then it goes back
to the start and retells with other details. This may happen
either two or three times. So here we seem to have a touch of
While Jesus is on the way, a woman with a flow of blood for
12 years comes and wanted to touch either the hem of His garment
or a tassel. Jewish men commonly worse these tassels to remind
them to obey God's law (Numbers 15:37-41; Deut 22:12).So Jesus
may well have had them. She had spent much for cures,got no
results. But she did touch it,and was healed.Jesus felt the power
go out from Him, as Mark puts it, and asked who touched Him. He
knew of course,thanks to the divine vision His human soul had.
This was a way of making a point, much as teachers ask questions
to bring things out. It does not at all indicate ignorance in
Jesus, as some dull commentators have said.
Then He comes near the house where there are hired flute
players and hired mourners. The report is clear that the girl has
just died. He says she is asleep, and the crowd laughs at Him. He
goes in with only the parents plus Peter, James and John. He says
Talitha koum - which is not a magic formula as some foolish
commentators have claimed. It was just Aramaic,the most common
language of the land,meaning: Young girl, arise. She did get up
and walked around at once. Jesus told them to give her something
But He also told them to keep quiet about it. At this point
many foolish commentators, following W.Wrede (The Messianic
Secret,1901) say this is the strongest case to show that the
messianic secret was faked by the Church. The Church was
embarrassed later that He had not called self Messiah. So they
faked incidents in which He would tell people to keep quiet.
Here, Wrede says; Anyone could see the girl was alive.
The answer is perfectly simple; He had in the house only the
parents with 3 Apostles. He wanted it quiet,so the crowds would
not grab Him and proclaim Him king Messiah, with a false concept.
But He needed secrecy only long enough to slip out of the house
and get on His way to the next town. So it was quite plausible.
The report of this later spread throughout the whole district. Of
9:27-31:cure of two blind men: A question is raised here since
Mt 20:29-34 has another cure of a blind man,and Mk 10:46-52 and
Lk 18:35-43 have another with only one blind man. The similarity
in wording is not so close as to force us to think we have the
same incident in Mt 9 as in Mk and Lk. The nature of the case
would in itself bring on similar wording. But more importantly,
blindness was then and still is common in the Mideast. So it
would not be at all strange if this incident in Mt 9 is an
entirely separate cure from the others.
They call Jesus "Son of David." That is surely a title of
the Messiah. Or was it merely an attempt at flattery from the
blind men? We recall there was intense messianic expectation at
the time, and Isaiah 35:5-6 had foretold that the eyes of the
blind would be opened.
Jesus warned them not to tell anyone. He wanted to avoid a
false notion of the Messiah that was common then.The verb used
for His warning here, embrimaomai, comes only five times (Mk
1:43; 14:5; John 11:33,38). in the NT,and is always in connection
with deep emotion. But the cured men did not heed His request.
9:32-34: exorcism of a man who was dumb: This is not a mere
repetition, a doublet, of 12:22-24 - Jesus did expel demons from
many, as we gather from Mt 4:24. The man in Mt 12 was both blind
and mute, but the one here is only mute. As for the charge of
being in league with the prince of demons - this charge seems to
have been made many times by the bitter enemies of Jesus. Further
we notice here the imperfect tense elegon, which means, "they
were saying", which can imply repetition. Probably this ferment
was commonly in the background.
9:25-28: prayer for workers for the harvest: Jesus went into many
villages and healed every kind of disease. But seeing the crowds,
He felt pity for them, for they were like sheep without a
shepherd. The Pharisees were blind leaders of the blind. Jesus
was capable of human emotion,and often shows that trait.
Why did not God without a prayer send enough laborers? We
think again of St.Thomas I.19.5.c - God in His love of good order
loves to have one thing in place to serve as the title or reason
for giving the next thing, even though that does not move Him. So
Jesus asks for prayers. Really, God does offer many graces of
vocation, but the intended recipients may reject it,if not
consciously, at least by way of a subconscious block, i.e., they
could perceive subconsciously that if they accepted this, it
would bring consequences that would be unacceptable to them.
10:1-4: The choice of the Twelve: The list of the Twelve is found
in three other places in the NT: Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:13-16; and
Acts 1:13. Jesus seems to have chosen precisely twelve to recall
the twelve tribes of Israel.
Peter is always first, Judas is always last. Peter is
explicitly called "first" by Matthew, who also calls himself a
publican - the other Gospels do not use that word for him. Peter
is named first among the special three who had the privilege of
being with Jesus on the Mount of the Transfiguration and in the
Garden of Gethsemani,and on other occasions. When Jesus wanted to
preach to the crowds who pressed on Him, it was into Peter's boat
that He went to sit (Lk 5:3). A bit after that He said to Peter
(Lk 5:4): "Launch out into the deep." It was to Peter that He
said (Lk 5:10): "Fear not,from now on you will catch men". It was
Peter who was told to walk on the waters of the lake (Mt 14:28-
30). Peter alone was told to catch a fish and find in its mouth a
coin to pay the tribute for Jesus and himself (Mt.17-24-27).
Peter asked on behalf of all the Apostles (Mt 19:27) : "Behold,
we have left all things,and followed you. What then shall we
have?" The angel at the tomb (Mk 16:7) said: "Go tell His
disciples and Peter". In all, Peter is named 118 times in the
Gospels, but John is named only 38 times. If we put Gospels and
Acts together, Peter is named 171 times, John is mentioned by
name only 46 times.
Andrew was Peter's brother. They had followed John the
Baptist (Jn.1:37-42). Andrew led Peter to Jesus. Both were
natives of Bethsaida (Jn 1:44).
James and John, sons of Zebedee are next. Mk 1:20 shows
Zebedee had also hired men to help with his fishing, so he must
have been rather successful. The wife of Zebedee was able to
help support the mission of Jesus (Mt 27:55-56). They were called
"son of thunder" (Mk 3:17) probably for an impetuous disposition.
He is almost certainly the one called "the beloved disciple"
in John's Gospel.
A tradition which is likely to be correct says John went to
Ephesus and finished his life there.
There were two apostles named James. One was a son of
Zebedee, as mentioned already. The other was the son of Alphaeus,
but this is probably not the same Alphaeus as the father of
Matthew (Mk 2:14). The names, "Greater and Lesser" refer only to
age, not to height of sanctity. From Acts 12:2 we gather that
James was beheaded by Herod,in 42 AD.
Philip was a native of Bethsaida,one of the first who
followed Christ.He invited Nathanael (Jn 1:43-48) to come to see
Jesus. Most likely Nathanael is the same as Bartholomew - Jews
often had two names. In the Synoptic lists, Philip and
Bartholomew are always named together. If Nathanael is not the
same as Bartholomew, he would not be among the Twelve.
Simon the Zealot has this addition to distinguish him from
Peter, formerly Simon. Zealots were nationalists, who strongly
upheld Jewish traditions, and later became a chief cause of the
Jewish war with Rome. Probably the Zealots were not so
influential in the time of Jesus. Matthew and Mark call him Simon
the Cananean, Luke and Acts call him the Zealot.
We do not know the source of the name Iscariot, with the
name Judas. Most likely it means a man of the village of Kerioth.
10:5-16: Instructions for a trial mission: It is important to
note that these were temporary instructions. First He told them
not to go among the Gentiles - probably referring to Tyre and
Sidon or the Decapolis, and not to visit Samaritan towns.They
should concentrate in Galilee.
Jews despised Samaritans - they had a separate cult (cf.Jn
4:20) and were a mixed race, made up of the poorest Jews left
behind at the time of the great exile, and of gentiles moved into
the territory to mingle with the Jews left behind.
Why the limit? Lk 9:52-56 may indicate the Apostles were not
well-equipped temperamentally yet to preach to the Samaritans,
who in Lk 9:52-56 refused to let Jesus go through on His way to
Jerusalem. Even after the command of Mt 28:19 to preach to all
nations,the Christians were shockingly slow to realize they
should admit gentiles. Also, if Jesus had begun to preach to all
at the start, the Jews might have been turned off (John 4:9;Lk
The Jews understood the command to love neighbor to refer
only to Jews, not to outsiders (Lv 19:18). So Jesus Himself
restricted His ministry primarily (15:24) but not exclusively
(8:1-13; 15:21-39) to Jews.
He told them to preach that the kingdom was near. This could
mean the foundation of the Church was near - or it could mean
the time was near for them to submit themselves to God's rule by
real repentance, change of heart. (Ancient words and phrases
commonly had a broad spectrum of meaning. Cf.above Supplement 1
on "kingdom, after 3:7-10). The signs they were to work were the
prophesied signs of the coming of the Messiah (cf.Mt.11:5).
He wanted them to be careful to take lodging with a man of
good repute, so there would be no reason to leave. As for peace
coming back to them: peace is almost personified. Or we recall
the concept of Isaiah 55:1 of the word of God that will not
return to Him empty. Jesus speaks according to the usual way of
speaking of the day.
He wanted them to keep away from even an appearance of
financial gain for themselves: they received without charge,
should give without charge.
As for the instruction to shake the dust from their feet if
a city would not accept them - the Jews on returning to their own
land did shake off the dust, so as not to contaminate the holy
land. This implied that those who rejected Jesus were like
pagans. He said Sodom and Gomorrah would be treated less badly at
the judgment - seems to mean that the Jews, for rejecting
Christ, after so many clear signs, were more guilty than the
people of Sodom, who had not seen such things. Cf.the comments
below on 13:10-17. The day of judgment could be either the final
judgment or the ruin of Jerusalem or else the coming ruin of
Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida: cf.Mt 11:20-24.
Verse 16 could go well with the instructions for the trial
mission, or for the following passage on persecution. The advice
does apply well to both. Because Jesus says He sends them like
sheep in the midst of wolves, it seems to refer primarily to
later persecutions than to this trial mission. They were to be
wise as serpents, and simple as doves. In some ancient Near
Eastern cultures, serpents were considered shrewd - different
from the virtue of prudence. Doves were not an established symbol
at the time,yet were clearly easily deceived and senseless.The
result: The disciples should be shrewd in avoiding needless
conflicts, but also be innocent,not so cautious and suspicious as
to be elusive. St.Paul's principle comes to mind here. Of course,
Paul never gave in an inch on a matter of principle, of morality.
But in all else, he would make what concession were needed: "I
became as a Jew to the Jews, a Greek to the Greeks, and all
things to all men." (1 Cor 9:19-23).
10:17-25: Warning of persecution to come: Before the persecutors
they should be like serpents and like doves: they should be
careful to avoid the machinations of the enemies of Christ, who
would lose no opening to oppose Christianity. This would apply to
the Jews before long, and also to pagans. They would be beaten in
the synagogues - that sort of punishment did take place right in
the synagogues. St.Paul seems to have met it: 2 Cor 11:24. The
Jews inflicted only 39 blows, to avoid reaching beyond 40
In the pagan courts, the disciples are to give testimony to
the pagans about Christ. Then, such uneducated men might well
fear to speak before the legally clever opponents. Jesus tells
them that the Holy Spirit would take over and give them what to
say. He did this for Stephen (Acts 6:10). Of course this promise
is no excuse for lazy priests who do not want to prepare a
homily, but trust in what some have called the "dabitur vobis" -
"it will be given you."
Christ then says that one family member will turn in
another.That has happened many times in persecutions. He says
they will be hated by all. We think of the fact that today it is
not "politically correct" to attack homosexuals,Jews and blacks -
but shameful attacks on Catholics are quite in order in some
Christ told them to flee in persecution from one city to
another. Some overzealous Christians later turned themselves in
to Roman authorities, wanting to be martyrs. St.Cyprian, when
asked by the Roman judge for the names of priests, said that to
give the names would be contrary to Christian rules - and also
contrary to the Roman rule of the time against informers). Cf
Proconsular Acts of St.Cyprian - mostly the actual Roman court
record, with some few Christian additions). Origen when his
father became a martyr wanted to go to the Roman court, but his
mother hid his clothes (J.Quasten, Patrology II.p.37). The reason
is this: martyrdom is a great grace, but for a pagan to inflict
death, even though acting in good faith, was objectively gravely
morally wrong. So it was wrong to provoke that.
Christ said: "Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved."
The NAB version here is very unfortunate: "Whoever holds out till
the end will escape death."
Christ says also they will not have gone through all the
cities of Israel before the Son of Man - himself - comes. This
refers to the persecutions before 70 A.D. The coming of the Son
of Man is in the same sense as in Mt.16:28. It is the concept of
Hebrew paqad, the visitation of the Church, to help or to correct
it. Or it can refer to His visitation of Jerusalem in 70 A D. its
destruction. Thus Jesus wept that Jerusalem had not known the
time of its visitation: Lk 19:44; cf. Mt 23:37. Form Criticism
has shown that often enough a passage may be put together out of
units once separate. This seems to be the case in a similar
instance in Mk 13:30: "This generation will not pass until all
these things are fulfilled." The line is taken from the same
group of sayings as those we find in Matthew 24. In Matthew the
disciples clearly have asked about two things, the signs for the
fall of Jerusalem, and the signs for the return of Christ at the
end. Jesus seems to have answered in a multiple fulfillment
pattern (Cf.Wm.Most,Free From All Error,chapter 5).
Of course,it would be wrong to say Jesus was mistaken about
the time of the end when He would come back. The Church clearly
teaches that His human soul from the first instant of conception
saw the vision of God, in which all these things were clear.
Cf.Wm.G.Most, The Consciousness of Christ (Christendom College
Then,quite suitably, He adds: Since they have persecuted me,
they will persecute you. It is good for a disciple to be like his
master. St.Paul in First Thessalonians 3:3 even told the early
Christians that suffering, thlipsis,is the normal lot of
Christians. This is really part of the syn Christo theme:
according to Paul, we are saved and made holy if and to the
extent that we are members of Christ,and like Him. In His life,
two phases: first, a hard life, suffering and death; second,
eternal glory. The more we are like Him in phase one, the more so
in phase 2.- So Paul speaks of us as suffering with Christ,
buried with Christ, rising with Christ, even sitting in the
heavens with Christ.These ideas are found scattered in his
Epistles, especially in Romans 6:3,6,8; 8:17; Col 3:1-4; Eph 2:5-
This theme is the answer to the sad mistake of Luther which
said that the merits of Christ are infinite - very true - so
therefore we cannot add, and need not do anything. The problem is
that to be capable of receiving, we must be like Him. Cf.Romans
8:17: "We are heirs of God, coheirs with Christ, provided that we
suffer with Him, so that we may also be glorified with Him."
10:26-27: Fearless preaching: The reason the disciples should
have no fear of opponents is that all that is now covered will
become publicly known. A similar saying is found in Luke 12:2-3:
"There is nothing that is covered that shall not be revealed; nor
hidden that shall not be known." In context, as we see, Mt refers
to the public preaching of the disciples later, of what Jesus
said in private. But in Lk it seems to say the hypocrisy of the
Pharisees will be exposed.
We noted earlier that the Evangelists are not trying for
chronological order. (So commentaries that labor much to find the
sequence are laboring in vain). Thus Mt seems to have grouped
many sayings in the Sermon on the Mount.
Is it possible that the changing of sequence should result
in a change of sense? There are two kinds of material: simple
straightforward things - with these, no change; or,enigmatic
saying somewhat like proverbs - here the sense can change, with
no falsification. Actually we know from the Targum on Qoholeth
12:13 that this saying was a proverb. And of course, the sense of
proverbs is flexible. Further, Jesus preached in so many
different places, and as a result repeated much. It would not be
strange that He might adapt the sense, via context, in different
10:28-31: Jesus urges them not to be afraid of those who can kill
only the body, but cannot harm the soul. "Kill the soul" of
course does not deny the immortality of the soul, which Jesus
makes clear in so many places, e.g.,in the picture of the Last
Judgment. But clearly He speaks of body and soul as two parts of
a human,and indicates that the soul survives.
Leftist critics sometimes strain marvelously here. There are
two questions to keep separate: 1)Did the Jews know of survival
after death? 2) Did they know of retribution, reward and
punishment after death? -- Many think they did not know of
survival. They claim the Hebrew concept of a man is unitary,
i.e., only one part, the body, plus the breath of life. The
breath goes into the air - the body decays. So, nothing left.
Some OT texts do sound like this (Cf.Wm.Most,Free From All Error
pp.39-47) - but we need to remember that the nature of the
afterlife before the death of Christ was very different from what
it is now: even the just, with all bills paid, could not reach
the vision of God then. They had to wait in what is often called
the Limbo of the Patriarchs. There they had no knowledge of
things on earth - unless God chose to reveal things. It was a
drab existence, no work, no liturgical worship of God etc.
Yet we can be sure they did know of survival, from the
several places (Lev 19:31; 20,6: Dt 8:11) where the OT forbids
necromancy, divination by the dead. They were quite convinced of
survival. How did they put this together with the unitary
concept? In divine matters, at times we need to hold on to two
conclusions that seem to clash (even after rechecking our work).
They did that. They knew both things, without knowing how to
reconcile them. At the time of the persecution of Antiochus IV of
Syria, c 170, they finally reached the two-part concept of man,
body and soul. There were two things God used to bring this
knowledge to them- the horrible deaths of the Macchabean
martyrs. Previously they tried to say all would be well before
death, e.g.in Psalm 73. That was true often, but not always. But
these deaths forced an agonizing reappraisal. At about the same
time they made contact with Greek thought, which clearly knew of
two parts. Yes, the Greek concept was not identical to ours, but
it was enough to help a great deal. The result was that many of
the Jews at this time came to see retribution in the future life.
We find this clearly in the book of Wisdom 3:1-6. The Pharisees
accepted this, the Sadducees did not. So the latter tried to
prove their point with an imaginary case of a woman who had seven
husbands - whose wife would she be in the next life? Jesus
rebuked them, and used the burning bush text: "I am the God of
Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. He is not the God of the dead
but of the living."- But,did the early Jews perceive that
argument? Hard to say. It was valid in itself.
Oddly, many leftist critics today are still unwilling to see
the idea of survival between death and resurrection without a
"resurrection body",(taken on at once after death) even in
St.Paul (esp in Phil 1 and 2 Cor 5). Yet Paul was a Pharisee as
he loudly proclaimed.
Jesus here clearly speaks of the two parts of man.
He said even the hairs of your head are numbered. If one
knows Aristotelian philosophy, potency and act, this is
necessarily true, for nothing can change in this world without
God, who must provide the actualization for every change.
You are worth more than many sparrows - the poor often ate
10:34-39: To deny Christ before others, especially in a pagan
court, means Christ will deny that one before His Father in
heaven. So the result - not the purpose - of His coming is not to
bring peace, but discord. We notice that Greek, Hebrew and
Aramaic each have structures that can mean either purpose or
result. Which translation to use depends on the context.
Strangely, many versions often make it seem like purpose,
e.g.,here, the purpose of Christ's coming is to bring discord.
That of course was not His purpose - it was a result.
It will happen at times that one member of a family will be
against another, for the sake of Christ. But the love of Christ
must be the dominant thing: If anyone loves father or mother more
than he loves Christ, he is not worthy of Christ. So we must take
up our cross and follow Him. That means, accept the
providentially sent mortifications, but also take on some things
for His sake (cf.the fuller treatment in Supplement 2, after
3:10). This may,in persecution, go so far that one must lose his
earthly life, to find his life in heaven. So that those who find
their lives, i.e., save their lives in persecution by denying
Christ, will lose their eternal life, while those who in
persecution lose this temporal life, will find eternal life.
Again, the NAB version is very unfortunate: "He who seeks only
himself brings himself to ruin, he who brings himself to
nought...discovers who he is.":Lk 14:26 has the correct
understanding, but expressed in a very Semitic way:"He who comes
to me and does not hate Father and Mother...even his own soul,
cannot be my disciple." Hebrew and Aramaic lack the degrees of
comparison, such as good better best etc. So they use different
ways of speaking. We would say: Love one more,the other less.
10:40-42:A prophet's reward: He who welcomes a disciple or a
prophet as such, gets the reward of a prophet, for his good
intention. Even giving so little as a cup of cold water because
the recipient is a disciple, gets a disciple's reward.
11:1-15: Reply to John the Baptist: John in prison sends
disciples to Jesus to ask: "Are you the one who is to come?"
Jesus replied: Tell John what you see: the blind see, the lame
walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear,the dead are raised,the
Gospel is preached to the poor. These were the works that Isaiah
35:5 ff (cf.61.1-2. and Lk 7:21-23) had foretold as the marks of
John is in prison at the fortress of Macherus, on the east
shore of the Dead Sea,as we learn from Josephus (Antiquities
184.108.40.206-19). He had told Herod it was wrong for him to take
his brother's wife. Herod respected John, often listened to him
(Mt 14:1-12) but when the daughter of his "wife" had her daughter
do a dance before Herod and his guests at his birthday party, he
offered her anything, even half his kingdom. At the advice of her
mother, she asked for the head of John on a dish, and got it.
Why did John send disciples? A few suggest John had begun to
doubt about Jesus, others says John was impatient at the slow
start Jesus was making. But the only plausible explanation is
that John wanted his disciples to see and hear for themselves. He
had pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1:29). Later
still, disciples of John had told John Jesus was baptizing so
many. John testified that he, John, was not the Messiah (John
3:25-30) and added, "He must increase, I must decrease". So John
knew Jesus, and had no envy at all. He was using this means of
telling his disciples about Jesus.
After the disciples had left, Jesus began to praise John:
John was no thin reed shaken by the wind - he had stood up to
Herod, and was to lose his head for doing so.
Jesus said John was the one of whom Malachi 3:1 wrote:
"Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me." In
the original setting, God was speaking,and said He would send His
messenger, seemingly Elijah, before HIm. Jesus adapted the
wording, "Behold I send my messenger before you,who will prepare
the way before you." This was the usual form of the verse at the
time of Jesus, by combination with the line in Exodus 23:20.
Jesus here in applying the line to Himself and John implies He is
Jesus goes on to say that no one had arisen "among human
beings" who was greater than John - yet, he who is least in the
kingdom of heaven is greater than he." This verse has been much
misunderstood, through lack of noting the context. John is the
greatest among humans, that is among those who came before
Christianity. John was greatest by his character ,by his
asceticism, by his dignity as a prophet, really the ultimate
prophet who not only foretold the coming of the Messiah, but
pointed Him out, and prepared the first disciples. Yet all, even
the least in dignity of those who belong to the kingdom of
heaven,are greater in dignity.
To understand this,we need to notice that we can speak of
two categories, the external and the internal. The external asks
what position a person will have: a shoemaker, a lawyer, a doctor
etc., even a member of the people of God. The internal category
speaks of all the things that are part of the means of reaching
final salvation, sanctifying grace and growth in it. So if we
look at the exterior, John has a great dignity,the highest of the
prophets in the Old Covenant. But the New Covenant is higher, and
so even the least in the New Covenant is higher in that respect
than those of the Old, for the least of the New is a member of
Christ - whom John came to announce.
But we can consider also the interior of John, his
sanctifying grace and the dignity,in a different sense, that it
gives. Here he is indeed very high on the scale of interior
grace. This grace, given in anticipation of Christ, made him by
anticipation a member of the Church, and so of Christ. Really,the
Church has always been in the world, cf.the
remarkable text of St.Augustine (Retractations 1.13.3): "This
very thing which is now called the Christian religion existed
among the ancients, nor was it lacking from the beginning of the
human race, until Christ Himself came in the flesh, when the true
religion, that already existed, began to be called Christian."
(More texts in Wm.Most,Our Father's Plan, pp.241-69).
From the time of John until the time at which Jesus spoke,
the kingdom, that is, the Church "biazetai". The translation is
quite uncertain because the Greek biazetai can be either middle
voice or passive voice. As middle it would mean that the Church
inflicts violence. As passive,it means the Church endures
violence. If we take it as middle,it will mean that the Church
leads its members to do violence to themselves, in the ardor and
enthusiasm that brings them to go far in self-denial for
spiritual reasons. If we take it as passive - which is much more
likely - it means that the Church suffers violence, that is
persecution from those who try to keep people from entering into
All the prophets and the law - "law and prophets" includes
all the old Scriptures - prophesied until John. For John was the
last of the prophets of the old regime, and at the same time,the
border, the one who announced Christ who inaugurated the new
Jesus added: "If you want to understand it thus,John is that
Elijah who is to come." We already spoke of the original meaning
of Malachi 3:1, in which God Himself said He Himself would come -
at the end of time - and before Him would come Elijah. Jesus here
says John has a role like that of Elijah, foretelling the coming
of the Messiah - with the implication that the Messias is God
Himself, since that was the original meaning of Malachi 3:1. So
we seem to have here a case of multiple fulfillment of prophecy:
a divine prophecy, as divine,could have more than one
fulfillment. On this concept and for examples,Cf.Wm.Most,Free
From All Error, chapter 5.
11:16-19: Perversity of hearers: Jesus uses a comparison of
children,who in a flighty manner might change their patterns. The
children tried everything - they played the flute (which could be
used for gaiety as well as for funerals) and the people did not
respond by dancing. They wailed,and others did not join in.-
Similarly John tried the ascetic approach,and was not much
accepted; Jesus tried the more pleasant approach,and was also
To say He had a devil need not be taken literally: such an
expression was often used of anyone who acted strangely. But when
the Pharisees,below,say Jesus cast out devils by the devil- that
is no figure of speech.
Wisdom is shown to be right by her deeds - or, in another
reading "by her children". The general sense is that the Divine
Wisdom is shown to be right, in spite of the perversity of the
11: 20-24:Woe to faithless cities: Jesus reproaches
Chorasin,Bethsaida,and especially Capernaum. He had made for some
time His headquarters at Capernaum. All three cities had seen so
many of His miracles, but did not change their hearts. Capernaum
was proud, and exalted itself to heaven - the language is taken
from Isaiah 14:13, originally against the pride of the King of
Babylon. Chorazin was the nearest town north of Capernaum,about
2.5 miles. Bethsaida was on the north side of the Sea of
Galilee,the original residence of Andrew, Peter and Philip. A
large synagogue dating to the 3rd or 4th century AD was excavated
at Tell Hum,which was perhaps built on the ruins of an older
synagogue where Jesus healed a demoniac. One pillar has an
Aramaic inscription:"Alphaeus,son of Zebedee,son of John,made
this column; on him be blessing." And a 5th century church has
also been excavated nearby and a house church probably built
c.350 AD to preserve Peter's original home which may have served
later as a church. Fishhooks have been found in the ruins of
Jesus performed many miracles at these cities, with little
fruit. He says if He had done the same at the pagan cities in the
north,Tyre and Sidon,they would have repented.This of course does
not mean that He did not want the people of Tyre and Sidon to be
saved. As long as He gave them ample means, which He did, the
fact that He omitted miracles - extraordinary things - proves
nothing against His desire to help them. Actually, He preached
little in the pagan territories,probably because the Jews would
have been turned off if He had done so.
He said it will be easier for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment
than for Chorazin, Bethsaida,and Capernaum.These latter cities
had had such great advantages and still remained mostly hard.
There is Scriptural reason to think that some outside the people
of God are less resistant to God's grace than those within:
cf.Ezek 3:5-7; Book of Jonah (who found pagans more receptive);
Lk 10:30-37; and 17:11-19. The Mekilta de Rabbi Ishmael (tr.Jacob
Lauterbach,Jewish Publication Society of American,
Philadelphia,1933, I,p.7: imagines Jonah as saying: "Since the
Gentiles are more inclined to repent, I might be causing Israel
to be condemned [by going to Nineveh]."
11:25-27:His knowledge of the Father: He says that only He knows
the Father, and only the Father knows Him. This would not be the
case with an ordinary Father and Son. This seems to mean His
divinity. As a result of this, many commentators have spoken of
this line (and parallel in Lk 10:22) as a sort of thunderbolt out
of the Johannine sky. The very strong and clear saying are
characteristic of John, not the of the Synoptics. Thus in John
10:30 He said: "I and the Father are one", and in Jn 8:58:
"Before Abraham was,I AM." In view of His gradual self-
revelation, He must have said such things only at the end of His
public life. But here in Mt 11:25-27 we find a similar claim.
Only the one to whom He chooses to reveal the
Father can know Him. This is an assertion of His authority,not a
claim that He reveals only to some,not to others.For 1 Tim 2:4
says God wills all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of
the truth. And Gal 2:20 says that He "loved me,and gave Himself
for me." That applies to all,as we gather from Vatican II,Church
in Modern World 22: "Each one of us can say with the Apostle,the
Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me." He came to redeem
all. So He does reveal to all who do not reject what He reveals.
He thanks the Father for revealing wisdom to the lowly,not
to the proud. Humility is a necessary precondition for
understanding divine truth and receiving grace.
11:28-30: A light burden: The yoke of the old law was heavy
indeed.Peter in Acts 15:10 said neither we nor our ancestors
could bear it. But His yoke is light. In John 10:20 He said He
came so they might have life and have it more abundantly.
He also said they should learn from HIm,for He is meek and
humble. He could have named any and all virtues: He chose to
mention humility, which is not the greatest virtue,but so
essential that without it all other virtues are only counterfeit.
12.1-14: Picking grain and a cure on the Sabbath: The disciples
plucked grain walking through a field,and ate some of it.The
Pharisees objected:a violation of the law. The exaggeration of
the sabbath was enormous then. The Mishna,Hagigah 1:8 said that
the rules for the Sabbath were like mountains hanging by a hair.
Scripture had little on the sabbath,but there were many rules
because the Pharisees added so much from the oral law. There were
613 precepts in the written law,but many more in the oral
law.J.Neusner in Torah (Fortress,1985,p.75) says that the oral
part was greater and "the ones which are handed on orally are the
more precious." The Babylonian Talmud,in Sanhedrin 11.3 said: "It
is a worse thing to go against the words of the Scribes than the
words of the [written] law." The Babylonian Talmud (Beza 1.1)
reported that at the time of Christ the rival schools of Shammai
and Hillel debated if it was allowed to eat an egg laid by a hen
on a feast day after the Sabbath. The hen had done illegal work.
Hillel thought it wrong; Shammai permitted it. Again,the Talmud
(Sabbath 6.65-66) says Rabbi Meir allowed a cripple with a wooden
leg to walk on the sabbath, but Rabbi Jose prohibited it. They
were not permitted to walk more than about 1100 meters (Mishnah,
Jesus replied by two things: 1)David showed by his example
that there are exceptions. When his men needed it, they ate the
shew breads from the temple, which only the priests were
permitted to eat; and the priests in serving the temple were
permitted to do work, in preparing the needed things, to change
the consecrated bread. 2)He is Lord of the Sabbath,and claimed to
be greater than the Temple. These two claims logically implied a
claim to divinity. But they were only implicit,and so may not
have been picked up by the Jews at the time. We note that the
precise thing the Pharisees objected to so strongly was His
alleged violation of the sabbath. (If we think they did
understand even then, we probably had better suppose this episode
was late in His public life,for He revealed Himself only very
gradually. Of course,the Gospels do not pretend to have
As to the quote from Hosea 6:6 please cf. on Mt.9:13.
Then in a synagogue He cured a man with a withered hand, by
merely telling him to stretch out his hand. Before this he also
gave a reason: If a sheep falls into a pit on the sabbath, they
would take it out.
The Pharisees then conspired how to destroy Him.
Many today say such disputes with the Pharisees happened
only at a later time, when the first Christians quarrelled with
the Pharisees. But that would be to imply falsification in the
Gospel. It is possible to speak of retrojection, e.g., to present
a saying Of Jesus which was really given after Easter, as given
before it. As long as Jesus really said it, this would not be
falsification. But to suppose He did not at all say such things
against the Pharisees would be to charge falsification .Further,
we know their wretched attitudes over the sabbath from examples
given above and more like them. Further,an article by
L.H.Schiffman,"New Light on the Pharisees - Insights from the
Dead Sea Scrolls" in Bible Review,June 1992,pp.30-33,54 says that
the new finds shows that "the reports of the religious
laws...attributed to the Pharisees in the later talmudic texts
are basically accurate."
12:15-21:Cures and Isaiah: After He cured many, Matthew observes
that Jesus thus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 42:1-4. This is
the first of the four Servant Songs (others are: 49:1-7; 50:4-11
and 52:13 - 53:12). The Targum marks this one and the fourth as
messianic. The NT also marks the 4th ad messianic in Mt 8:17;Lk
22:37 and Acts 8:32-33 and Rom 15:21.
There is much discussion about the identity of the Servant
in all the songs. In the first and fourth it is clearly the
Messiah. It is not necessary that the identity be the same in all
four songs. The second is a special problem since at first it
seems to be an individual, then seems to be Israel:probably this
is the result of a Hebrew pattern in which an individual stands
for and is almost identified with a group.
The words "He will proclaim justice to the Gentiles" are
specially interesting. Hebrew sedaqah ("justice") commonly means
God's concern for the objective moral order. Within the covenant,
He will either help or punish, according to the response of the
people to the covenant. The gentiles did not then come under the
covenant, but the more basic notion of God's concern for all that
is morally right is still at the bottom here.
12:22-32:Cure of a demoniac; the sin against the Holy Spirit: On
seeing this cure the crowds ask: Is this the Son of
David,i.e.,the Messiah. The Pharisees with their incredible blind
hardness say Jesus did it by the prince of the demons.
Jesus replies that their explanation cannot be true,for then
satan would work against satan. Further: how do other Jews cast
out demons?Do they think it is all by the power of satan?
Then comes a much discussed passage in which Jesus says that
a blasphemy, speaking against the Son of Man, Himself,can be
forgiven.But a sin against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
The reason is hardness (on hardening cf.Supplement 2 after 3:7-
10), in the case of sins against the Holy Spirit, here,
attributing His exorcisms to the power of satan. A sin,that
is,speaking against,the Son of Man,Jesus,does not necessarily
reveal hardening: He was practicing deliberately gradual self-
revelation. He also wanted to avoid forcing minds (cf.comment
below on 13:10-17). But a word against the Holy Spirit, as
described here, entails such hardness that a person cannot be
forgiven. This does not mean that God would positively refuse -
no,He is ready to forgive anything.But the person may be closed,
unable to take in what God offers.
He says it will not be forgiven in this world or in the
next.This does not imply a purgatory. The expression was well-
known among the Rabbis, and merely meany: "never" (Cf.Strack-
12:33-37: Good & bad trees; good and bad hearts: Jesus even calls
the Pharisees a "brood of vipers". Very harsh language.But we
must not say He was unchristian, as people sometimes today say
when someone speaks strongly. The principle is that if we stick
to the truth, and have proper reason for saying it, it is good.
The warning that we must give an account of every idle word
has caused much discussion. The shift to second person singular
in v.37 suggests it may be a proverb. St.Augustine took this at
face value,and when he came to write his Retractations near the
end of his life, said he knew he must give an account: he had
written many words - so he began a review of all he had
written,except his letters and sermons.
12:38-43: An evil generation asks for a sign: Jesus calls them
wicked since they had already seen so many signs,and rejected
them all. It does not mean that He would refuse to work a miracle
to support His claims. He often did that,e.g., Mt 5:21-43; Mt
8:5-13 and 9:27-29; Jn 10:30. The NJBC foolishly says, on p. 1371
that Jesus consistently refused to work a miracle to prove His
claims. But they give a list of Gospel texts which are foolish,
e.g.,this one where the bad faith of the Pharisees kept Him from
working a sign;or the request of Herod for a miracle,for
entertainment, or the challenge of enemies to come down from the
So He says they will get only the sign of Jonah,who was in
the fish 3 days and three nights.So too the Son of Man will be in
the tomb for that time.We need to notice the Semitic way of
speaking, in which any part of a day or night would count at as
He adds that at the judgment the people of Nineveh will
condemn the faithless Jews; the men of Nineveh repented when
Jonah preached.Jesus is greater than Jonah but they will not
listen.(cf.comments at 11:20-24).And the Queen of Sheba came far
to hear Solomon - Jesus is greater.
Do these words of Jesus assure us of the historicity of
Jonah? Some commentators say yes,and appeal to the words of
Benedict XV in the Encyclical Spiritus Paraclitus (EB 463):" For
whether he was teaching or disputing, He brought forth from every
part of Scripture views and examples [sententias...et exempla]
and brought them forth as something to be necessarily believed.
In this category without distinction he appeals to Jonah and the
Ninivites,to the Queen of Sheba and Solomon,to Elijah and
Elisha,t o David,to Noah,to Lot and the Sodomites and even the
wife of Lot." We note the words sententias et exampla.They do not
need to mean that Benedict XV considered everything simply
historical here. Jesus could use views and examples without
having to endorse the historicity. St.Paul did that in 1 Cor 10:4
when he spoke of the rock that followed the Jews in the desert.
Now the OT does not describe this - though at times Moses did
draw water from a rock that was already there. Paul is actually
using a Rabbinic legend,without affirming it is historical.
Similarly we could quote a line for Alice in Wonderland to
illustrate something, without having to affirm that that
fictional story is historical. Again,the Epistle of Jude at verse
9 speaks of satan disputing with Michael the Archangel over the
body of Moses - again,he uses a legend,without having to affirm
it. -- If we had to take every item mentioned by Benedict XV as
strictly historical we should have to say that the wife of Lot
was literally turned into a pillar of salt (Gen 19:26). We doubt
if anyone would insist on that or suppose Benedict XV wanted us
to do so. Further,approved commentators today take the book of
Jonah as we have just done: we are not sure of the literary
genre. It could be straight history - the many objections can be
answered - or it could be a sort of extended parable to bring out
two things:1)God must love everyone,for He loves even the
Assyrians; 2)The People of God are more resistant to grace than
outsiders. (on this cf.the references given above in the comments
12:43-45: Re-possession; Here Jesus tells a sort of parable.We
can tell it is such by the last line: "So too it will be with
this wicked generation,." It means that He came to break the
power of satan over the Jews - they reject Him - and fall back
worse than before. To say as one author did that this shows Jesus
harbored a superstition is shocking desertion of Scriptural
method. We must first determine the genre before reading any
passage. Here,as we said,it is a sort of parable.So we cannot say
Jesus thought demons literally lived in desert places. Similarly
when St.Paul in Eph 1:2 speaks of the "prince of the air," he is
not so foolish as to say devils live in the upper air. In Col and
Eph Paul is working against some opponents,either Gnostics,or
Jewish Apocalyptic speculators. Naturally,he uses their language
to refute them. Again we must avoid a foolish mistake here.
12:46-50: Who is my Mother?: His Mother and "brothers" come to a
crowd where He is speaking. This is announced to Him. He decided
to teach dramatically as He often did, so He says that whoever
does the will of His Father is brother and sister and mother to
Vatican II,LG 58 explains this excellently: "In the course
of His preaching, she received His words,in which He praised the
Kingdom more than bonds of flesh and blood, and [praised] those
who heard and kept the word of God, as she was faithfully doing."
In other words,Jesus was contrasting two things: the dignity of
being physically the Mother of God,and the dignity of obedience,
hearing and keeping the word of God. As the Council said,she was
faithfully doing this second too. She was the greatest in each
category. In 56 it had said that she, "consenting to the divine
word [at the annunciation] became the Mother of Jesus,and
embracing His salvific will,held back by no sin, totally devoted
herself to the person and work of her Son, under Him and with
Him,by grace of Almighty God, serving the mystery of the
redemption. As the same 56 said: "'by obeying,she became a cause
of salvation for herself and for the whole human race'", and
later on, in LG 61, "in suffering with Him as He died on the
cross,she cooperated in the work of the Savior "- that is,in the
redemption - "in an altogether singular way, by obedience, faith,
hope and burning love."
What a contrast between these words of Vatican II and those
of Wilfrid Harrington (Mark,Glazier,Wilmington, 1979, p.47) who
says that Mark 3:20-35 indicates that she did not believe in
Him! and even, speaking of Mk 3:31-35 - which are parallel to the
present passage in Matthew - he said the passage, "may be seen to
distinguish those who stood outside the sphere of salvation,and
those who are within it." So the Mother of God was "outside the
sphere of salvation" according to Harrington! Part of his trouble
was that he followed the fact that there is a difference in the
scope and presentation of each Evangelist. True. But we must also
heed Vatican II, DV 12, which tells us that we must, "read
Scripture by the same Spirit by which it was written," and so
must, "diligently look to the content and unity of all of
Scripture, taking into account the living Tradition of the whole
Church and the analogy of faith." So, since the Holy Spirit is
the chief author of all of Scripture, we must not suppose one
part can contradict another, that Mark contradicted Luke (who
pictured her as the first believer).
Behind the outrageous notion of Harrington is this. Mark's
version of Matthew's present passage contains three units:1)The
hoi par autou ("those about Him"),who seem to have been some
relatives - unclear - think He is beside Himself,preaching
without taking time to eat.So they go out to get Him,seemingly by
force. 2)Scribes charge Him with casting out the devil by the
devil. 3)Lines 30-35 are the same matter as Matt 12:46-50.
Harrington assumes, without proof,that the three items are in
chronological sequence. But Form Criticism has shown us that
things that seem to go together may have been originally separate
units. So we are not at all sure the persons in segment 1 are the
same as those in segment 3. Even if we were to assume they
were,it would not follow that His Mother went with the group of
segment 1, or if she did, that she did not believe in Him. Very
ordinary mothers often stand up for a son who is clearly in the
wrong. So she could have gone along,if indeed she went,to try to
hold them down. For certain, we must not suppose Mark contradicts
Luke, as we said above.
As to the "brothers" of Jesus, please see comment on 1:23
above. Even Luther and Calvin believed in her perpetual
St.Matthew commentary ,continued
13:1-9:Parable of the sower: Paths run through and around
unfenced fields.The earth on these paths is too hard to hold the
seed,so it is quickly eaten by birds.The rocky places are those
in which the limestone bedrock is close to the surface.The
unrelenting summer heat demands plants that have deep roots to go
down for water: the bedrock prevents this. The size of the yield,
even 100 fold,is not too large for the reality of that time,
which would sometimes come about..
13:10-17: Why in parables? Here Matthew groups 8 parables,four
of which are special to him, not found in the other Gospels.
Jesus was especially intent on describing the characteristics of
the kingdom of God.
Some commentators have proposed unfortunate theories,saying
that a parable must have only one point -- study of many of them
shows there is sometimes only one point, at others,more than one,
almost to the point of allegory. Some say parables are to
challenge people to a decision - this probably stems from the
regrettable error of Bultmann,who claimed we cannot know much
about Jesus other than His mere existence,and so he wanted to
make the Gospel mean the same as the foolish existentialism of
Heidegger. He reinterpreted everything, e.g., original sin is
"unauthentic being" which one has unless and until he makes a
decision to "go through with it", to go through with life. Then
he has authentic being.
Still too often commentators overlook the citation from
Isaiah,which is essential. We admit it is quite possible that
Jesus used different types of parables at times, especially that
near the end of His public life He might use one (Mt 21:33-45)
that was quite clear even to those with bad dispositions, such as
the parable of the wicked tenants, which the Pharisees, according
to the Gospel, understood as referring to them.
All Synoptics (Lk 8:10; Mk 4:11) here cite Isaiah 6:99-10 in
varied forms. What was the purpose of the parables? It was not to
blind them - else why would He later (Mt 23:37) weep over
Jerusalem for not understanding?
Really the purpose was different.There are two kinds of
evidence that lead anyone to believe something: compulsive,and
noncompulsive. Compulsive evidence,such as 2 x 2 = 4, forces the
mind, does not leave it free. But noncompulsive comes in a large
spectrum. At the high end are things where evidence is so strong
no one doubts, e.g., Washington crossed the Delaware. At the low
end are things where feelings may easily enter, e.g.,if someone
says that the original Mayor Daley in Chicago was a good honest
politician,one of his own party will agree; one of the opponents
who suffered from Daley,will say: "That dirty crook!."
Jesus could have risen from the dead with all Jerusalem
including his enemies gathered. That would bowl them over, force
acceptance. But He wants faith to be free.So the evidence for
faith is a delicate balance: it is objectively adequate to call
for and justify acceptance. But it is not so strong that an ill-
disposed person could not doubt. So there are two spirals set up
with the parables. About the spirals, please see the comments on
There is a similar pattern found widely in the Gospels. He
used a gradual pattern of self-revelation. This was necessary:
had He said at once : I and the Father are One -- or: Before
Abraham was,I am- they would have stoned Him on the spot. So He
revealed Himself gradually. And in so doing at many times He left
the evidence such that a well-disposed person would at least
begin to see,the wicked would be further blinded. A good example
is John 7:50-52. First people in general,then Pharisees, say He
cannot be the Messiah - should be of line of David and from
Bethlehem. But He was born in Galilee. Yet others, seeing His
signs, did believe even so - holding on in the dark. So easily He
could have said: "But I was born in Bethlehem" - but He did
not.Or In John 10: 30 He had said: "'I and the Father are
one.'...The Jews then took up stones,and He gave an ambiguous
reply in 34-35, citing Ps 81:6 "I have said, you are gods..."
Cf.John 10:17-21:H e said He could give up His life and take it
up again. There was dissension among the Jews. Some said He has a
devil. Others said:These are not the words of one who has a
devil!." Cf.the many OT prophecies about all peoples coming to
Jerusalem - Jews thought it meant to become proselytes - God
meant gentiles would be accepted as gentiles:cf Rom 11 on wild
13:18-35:Parables of the weeds,the mustard seed, the yeast: The
parable of the sower told of the different dispositions of
persons within the Church,according to which the yield of the
good seed,the preaching,would range form nothing to 100 fold.
The parable of the weeds tells us of evils within the Church. To
try to uproot now might risk uprooting the good at the same time.
For the weeds at first are hard to distinguish from the good
seed. The roots of the two crops would be intermingled.Even today
in the Near East enemies might deliberately sow weeds among the
good crop. The weeds is probably bearded darnel, lolium
temulentum,which is hard to tell apart from wheat when the plants
Does the fact that the workers are told not to uproot the
weeds suggest that the Church should not correct false doctrine
and false teachers? By no means. In 13:41 we find that at the end
the angels will gather up, "all scandals,and all those who do
evil." Evildoers are one things; false teachers are another. The
Church has always condemned false doctrine. Titus 3:10 even
tells us that we should avoid a man of false doctrine after one
or two admonitions. For such a one has shown himself hopeless.
But, turning to evil doers, we read in 2 Thes 3: 6 & 14 that Paul
tells them not to associate closely with any Christian who does
not live as he should. And in 1 Cor 5:11 Paul says that if anyone
called a Christian is immoral, they should not even eat with him.
But Paul said they are not to judge those outside the
Church.Otherwise they would have to get out of the world,for
evildoers are everywhere (5:10).
This applies to the Church.What of the state,should it
permit everything? The Decree on Religious Liberty of Vatican II
says that people may be allowed to hold and practice even false
doctrine, alone or in a group, but there are limits. Thus 7 says
that the civil state must exercise "due custody for public
morality", which is more than just keeping the peace externally.
And in 7 the churches must avoid "improper persuasion aimed at
the less intelligent or the poor." Pius XII,in Ci riesce
(Dec.6,1953, AAS 45.798-99) asks: "in determined circumstances...
does He [God] give no mandate to a man,impose no duty,in
fact,give no right to impede and to repress that which is
erroneous or false? A look at reality gives the answer:Yes [God
does not give such a duty or even a right]....Christ in the
parable of the weeds gave the following admonition: Let the weeds
grow in the field of the world along with the weeds,for the sake
of the harvest."
The parable of the mustard seed tells of the small
beginnings of the Church growing up to be great later on. The
mustard seed is indeed small, even if not the strictly smallest
of all seeds - Semitic exaggeration at work here. The parable of
the yeast means the same as that of the mustard seed.We might add
that Christians should try to inject the principles of Christ
into their work-places in the world,which John Paul II,in
Redemptoris missio compared to St.Paul on the
Areopagus,especially in 37. Some move in the opposite direction,
and reverse St.Paul's word (Rom 12:2):"Be not conformed to this
world." They promote abortion and immorality even more than
We note that the thorns are the cares and lure of wealth.
Wealth is not evil in itself.But it has two sides: as a creature
of God,it is good,yet it can lure one to evil,by way of
13:36-43:Jesus explains the parables to the Apostles: Many today
suppose these explanations were not from Jesus at all,but that
the Church later added them. This would be a sort of
retrojection,i.e., picturing something as said before the
resurrection, when it really came after that. If it really came
from the mouth of Jesus,there would be no falsification. But what
the leftist critics propose is pure falsification.
The field is the world-- in that the members of the kingdom
are taken from various places in the world. At the end,the angels
will 'collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all who do
evil." Now if kingdom meant merely reign, one could not say one
takes evildoers out of the reign of Christ-- they have not been
subject to His power anyway. But they will be taken out of His
kingdom,which is the Church.
In v.41 Christ is called the master of the angels.In the
OT,that is an attribute of God Himself.
13:44-52:Parables of the hidden treasure,the fine pearl,the
net,the well-trained scribe:
In Roman law,a treasure found in a field belonged to the
finder; in Jewish law,it belonged to the owner of the field.But
these details are not of consequence here: the point is to show
that entry into the kingdom of Christ,for eternity,is of
In those days,a pearl was the most valuable of objects. In
the parable of the treasure the finder found it by chance; here
he finds it by hunting. The point is the same in both: to enter
the kingdom of Christ is of incomparable worth.
The scribe here is one who finds treasure in both Old and
New Testaments. There may be an allusion to the divine harmony of
both testaments. Jesus came not to destroy the Law but to fulfill
it: Mt 5:17.
13:54-58:Poor reception at Nazareth: The people marvelled first,
that one they had considered ordinary was so extraordinary;
secondly because He taught with power,and not like the
scribes,who disputed much and would cite other rabbis for
support.He needed no support. Hew as called the carpenter's son.
The word tekton can mean one who works with wood,or a
builder.St.Justin Martyr (c.150 AD - Dialogue 88.8) says He made
plows and yokes. There has been speculation He might have gotten
some business from Sepphoris,a large Hellenistic city 3.7 miles N
NW of Nazareth, about a hour's walk.
In saying a prophet is not accepted among His own, He may be
quoting a proverb, or just ordinary observation. Jealousy makes
it hard to accept that one you thought was not much is really
great. If a stranger seems great,they had felt no need to compete
with him - but one of their own, they resented His greatness.
There is a modern saying: An expert is an ordinary man 100 miles
As for the "brothers" please see comments at 1:23.
He did not do many wonders there because of their lack of
faith. He regularly did demand faith as a condition for a
14:1-12: Herod executes John (a flashback): Herod Antipas )c/21
BC - 39 AD) was son of Herod the Great and his Samaritan wife
Malthace. He was tetrarch of Galilee and Perea during the public
ministry of Jesus. He founded Tiberias as his capital, named
after the Emperor who honored him. He became infatuated with his
niece Herodias,wife of his half-brother Herod II (whom the NT
calls Philip). He divorced his first wife,the daughter of the
Nabatean King Aretas IV. This was politically explosive. John the
Baptist rebuked Herod for taking his brother's wife, and so he
imprisoned John at the fortress Machaerus,near the Dead Sea.
Herod feared John,and feared the people who considered John as
Herodias whom Herod had married, hated John. When Herod had
a birthday party, she had her daughter,Salome, by a previous
marriage, do a dance.(Josephus, Antiquities,18.5.4. 136-37).
Dances at banquets were not unusual, but it was unusual for one
of her rank. Herod, intoxicated by wine and the dance, promised
her anything, even half of his kingdom (Mk 6:22-23 - compare the
promise of the King of Persia,in Esther 5:3.). The girl,probably
12 to 14 yrs old,asked her mother what to ask for. The mother
told her to get the head of John the Baptist on a dish. Herod was
displeased,but he had sworn,so he had John beheaded in prison,
without a trial,which was illegal..
When Herod heard the reports about Jesus, after the death of
John,he told his servants that Jesus was John the Baptist raised
from the dead (cf.the fuller account in Mark 6:124-30).
14:13-21: Multiplication of the Loaves for the 5000: Sometime
after this-- we cannot be sure of the time, the Evangelists are
not concerned about chronology-- Jesus went by boat to a solitary
place. But the crowds followed Him. Toward evening He remarked
that the crowd needed something to eat. He told the disciples to
give them something to eat. Of course He knew they did not have
much.It was like a teacher drawing things out from the students.
They told him a boy there had five barley loaves - a coarser
bread, a staple of the poor - and two fishes. The other Gospels
fill in details: the people were told to recline on the grass in
groups of 50 or 100. Jesus then blessed the food, as was the
custom of the Jews.They would often say: "Praised be you
Lord,our God, king of the world,who has produced bread from the
earth."There were about 5000 men - which not counting children
would give a total of 15,000 or even more.
When all had eaten,the disciples took up the fragments,
which filled 12 baskets.
14:22-33:He walks on the water: Jesus told the disciples to leave
in the boat, while He dismissed the crowds. After He did so,He
went alone to pray.
Even though He was and is divine, He still wanted to
pray.This is in accord with the principle, expressed by Summa
I.19.5.c, that God in His love of good order likes to have one
thing in place to serve as a reason or title for granting a
second thing, even though the title does not move Him.So Jesus
though as God He granted prayer,yet wanted to pray.This is much
the same principle as that see in Romans 8:16 which says that the
Holy Spirit within us intercedes for us. Similarly, Jesus had the
Gifts of the Holy Spirit as we saw earlier in comments on 4:1-11.
The text says Jesus came walking on the water at the fourth
watch of the night. Formerly the Jews had divided the night into
three parts or watches. But by the time of Jesus they had adopted
the Roman division into four watches of about three hours each.
So it was nearly morning.
Peter as soon as he was sure it was Jesus, impetuously asked
Jesus to cause him to walk on the water too. This displayed fine
impetuousness. But then Peter saw the waves,and his confidence
dropped, and so did he. This of course is a fine place to
meditate on the need of confidence. Please recall comments on
The wind dropped as soon as Jesus got into the
boat,indicating He had calmed the sea. The NJBC (p.1320-21) notes
that at this time even the enemies of Jesus accepted the fact
that He worked cures and did exorcisms.But here we have a nature
miracle,following on another nature miracle, the multiplication
of the loaves.Once we understand He was divine, what kind of
miracle is done makes no difference.
Jesus asked Peter: " Why did you doubt, you of little
faith?" There are chiefly two kinds of faith:Charismatic
faith,and salvific faith. Salvific faith is that needed for
salvation,the faith that causes justification or the reception of
sanctifying grace.It includes three things: belief in what God
says, confidence in His promises,obedience to His commands.
Charismatic faith is a confidence which God Himself as it were
injects into the person,so that the person confidently expects a
miracle if he asks for it.Since God Himself injects this faith,He
will provide the miracle. Yet one can resist this confidence as
Peter did here by looking a the waves instead of at the power of
Jesus. Cf,.also comments on 8:23.
Those in the boat said: Really, you are the Son of God." It
is hard to say how much they really knew or believed at this
point.It seems likely that there were other disciples besides the
Apostles in the boat at the time. The words "Son of God" need
not indicate divinity - any good Jew could be called a son of God
- cf.Hosea 11:1. Later at 16:17 we shall have to consider an
even more difficult text,where Jesus says His Father has
revealed something to Peter.
After this,they came to land and He healed many.
15:1-9:Corrects the Pharisees on Korban: The Pharisees had added
a huge number of precepts of what they called the oral law to the
written law of Moses. In fact,they said it was worse to violate
the oral law than the written:cf.comments on 12:1-4.
Here the Pharisees object that the disciples do n to follow
the oral law about washing hands.This law was later
codified in the Mishnah (c.200 A.D.), where a whole tractate,
yadaim, dealt with washing the hands, and how much water must be
used. If a man poured water over one hand with a single
rinsing,his hand would be clean, but if he poured it over both
hands with a single rinsing,it would be unclean unless he poured
much more water (Yadaim 2:1).
In this passage we see that they went so far as to have the
oral law contradict one of the ten commandments, the one
requiring honor, i.e.,support for Father and Mother when they are
aged.If a man declared his property Korban, dedicated to God,he
could use it,but had no obligation to support his parents in
their old age.This is what is meant by following the "traditions
of men" instead of the law of God. Some ignorant protestants say
that the laws of the Catholic Church are just "traditions of
men".Of course not,for two reasons. First, they come from the
authority given to the Church: "Whatsoever you shall bind on
earth is bound also in heaven." (Mt.18:18). That is no "merely
human" law. It is one given by the authority of Christ Himself.
Second, the laws of the Catholic Church never contradict divine
law - that of the Pharisees about Korban did contradict divine
law. On Korban ct.Lev.27:9,16 and Mishna,Nedarim,esp.1.9.11.
Jesus then quoted Isaiah 29:13,saying the people honored God
with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. - This meant
that outwardly they seemed religious, but inwardly were not. They
15:10-20: Jesus abolishes levitical purity laws on foods: Jesus
says that it is not what kind of food one eats that makes him
really unclean, but what comes out of his heart, that is evil
intentions, which do morally defile one. To make up one's
mind,for example,to rob a bank, means the man contracts the guilt
of bank-robbing, even if on the way he might change his mind.The
evil act of will is the essential.-- Cf.the fact that the council
of Jerusalem in Acts 15 declared the obligation of unclean foods
etc was abolished.
15:21-28: Cure of the Canaanite woman's daughter: Jesus at first
refuses to help the daughter of a Canaanite woman, in the
district of Tyre and Sidon. He seems almost harsh to her, yet in
the end he does heal the girl,and praises the faith of the
mother. Matthew calls her a Canaanite,keeping the ancient term
(cf.Gen 10:15) while Mark used the current Greco-Roman term,
This is not at all the same kind of case as that in Mt.10:5-
6 where He told His disciples not to go the towns of the
Samaritans, only to the lost sheep of Israel. There it was a
temporary, trial mission. Please cf the comments on that passage.
Here Jesus is feigning rejection as a means of drawing out the
woman's faith.and also her humility,a virtue which greatly
attracts the mercy of God.
We note in vv.26=27 that she refers to the food of the
children - for the Jews considered any devout Jew a son of God -
and to herself as a dog - Jews commonly called others dogs.
15:29=39:Cures and feeding the four thousand: Jesus want along
the Sea of Galilee,by way of Sidon,and came to the area of the
Decapolis,where there would be mostly gentiles (cf.Mark 7: 24-
This account of the multiplication of food for the four
thousand is not just a duplication of the account of Mt.12:14-21.
Some have suggested that there were varying traditional accounts
of the same event. But there are many differences. Jesus is in a
different area, the number of people fed is different, the number
of loaves is different. In the earlier account the word for
baskets indicates baskets of smaller capacity (kophinous vs
spuridas). There is no mention of grass in the place as in the
Then Jesus, with a human feeling of compassion for the
crowd, who had been following Him for three days with nothing to
eat, asked the disciples to feed them. They asked how it could be
done - even though they had seen a similar case before. But the
dullness of the disciples is remarkable in other things too.
At the end, He went to the region of Magadan. This is hard
to identify. Mark calls it Dalmanutha. Writers in ancient times
tended to confuse it with Magdala. We might notice that in the
next section ,Pharisees and Sadducees are present. So if we
assume there is any chronological flow between the sections,this
might seem to indicate a location along the west shore of the
16: 1-4:The sign of Jonah: On a wicked generation seeking a sign
and on Jonah cf. comments above on 12:38-43.
Here Matthew uses one article,"the" for both Pharisees and
Sadducees. This is interesting,since Sadducees were not a group
with influence after 70 AD. But this did happen during the
earthly life of Jesus. Although these two groups commonly
disagreed, they did agree that Jesus was the enemy.
We note He speaks of signs of the weather. This line is
omitted in many manuscripts.The probable reason is that in
Egypt, for example,the morning red would not predict rain.
16:5-12:The leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees: When they
reached the other side,the disciples said they forgot to bring
bread.Jesus in reply told them to beware of the yeast of the
Pharisees and Sadducees. Yeast is really a form of
corruption,though in its physical form it is beneficial,for it
causes dough to rise. But here the thought is of the corruption
and of the fact that even a small bit will work through the whole
mass of dough.
The disciples show some of their usual incomprehension,and
thought even with this mention of the enemies He was speaking of
the fact they forgot bread. Of course then He reminded them of
the multiplication of the loaves which He had done twice. Finally
they understood that by yeast He meant the false doctrine of
Pharisees and Sadducees.
16:13-20: Promise of the primacy to Peter: Jesus did not ask what
people were saying out of ignorance - even without the vision in
His soul He would likely have known.But He was leading up to the
important question of who they said He was.Peter speaks for the
whole group,and says Jesus is the Messiah,the Son of the living
God. Jesus says Peter knew this by revelation from His Father.
How much did Peter really know? It is evident He knew Jesus
was the Messiah. But did Peter have the right notion of the
Messiah? His attempt to dissuade Jesus from suffering seems to
indicate Peter had the false idea, that of a military conqueror.
What did Peter mean by the "Son of the Living God."? This could
mean divinity,and many have thought so.Yet it would not have to
be such, even though Peter had a revelation. That revelation
might have given him some idea of the identity of Jesus without
being a full and clear picture. The fact that Peter denied Jesus
later would fit with this,although if Peter had learned by way of
an interior locution Peter might have had a clear message at the
start, which later,by the time of the death of Jesus,had
faded,and so Peter could deny Him. In an interior locution,it is
as if God touches the brain of the person and can convey even a
large amount of information at one touch. That seems to have been
the case with St.Paul on the Damascus road vision,for the words
spoken by the vision then were few,and did not cover all of basic
Christianity - yet later (Gal 1:12) Paul said He did learn
Christianity from that vision. About the possibility of fading
certitude - St.Teresa of Avila in her Life 25 wrote
(I.p.741,Obras Completas,B.A.C.Madrid,1951): When God speaks in
this way, "the soul has no remedy,even thought it displeases me,
I have to listen and to pay such full attention to understand
that which God wishes us to understand that it makes no
difference if we want it or not. For He who can do everything
wills that we understand,and we have to do what He wills." But in
Interior Castle 6.3.7 (ibid,II,p 426): "these words do not pass
from the memory after a very long time" but "When time has passed
since heard, and the workings and the certainty it [the soul] had
that it was God has passed,doubt can come." And so Peter might
have known the divinity of Jesus at this occasion,but later the
certitude had vanished.
Some Protestants even today try to claim verses 17-19 --
with the promise of primacy - were just a late interpolation, and
not part of the original text. There is simply no manuscript
evidence at all to support this notion. Rather,it shows how
clearly these Protestants perceive the real meaning of the
words,so that they feel driven to such an extreme as to propose,
without any foundation,a claim of interpolation.
Special attention in such a charge is given to the word
Church". Now the Greek ecclesia is rare in the Gospels,though
common in St.Paul. If we omitted this word,we would have a
Messiah without a messianic community - a thing unthinkable to
current Jewish ideas.
The Anchor Bible commentary on Matthew by W F. Albright and
C.S.Mann, two good Protestants, rejects the interpolation charge
flatly,and admits a Catholic interpretation of the words about
the rock: .."one must dismiss as confessional interpretation
[based on denominational views] an attempt to see this rock as
meaning the faith,or the Messianic confession of Peter." The
evangelical Expositor's Bible Commentary agrees with Albright and
Mann, but then tries to claim ( pp.373-74) that Peter was not
given special authority - all Christians had the same. And it
asserts that "binding and loosing" meant merely preaching the
Lutheran error on justification by faith - that would forgive
sins. (similar comments by many Protestants on the grant of power
to forgive in John 20).
Their claims are very false.First of all,one should try to
see what the text means,not read things into it.They are reading
into Matthew the error of Luther. - This is eisegesis! - Luther
thought justification by faith meant just confidence that the
merits of Christ apply to me - then one could sin as freely as he
wanted,and no harm.Luther even said in Epistle 501 to
Melanchthon: "Even if you sin greatly, believe still more
greatly." And in another letter to Melanchton, August 1,1521
(Works 48.181-82) he said that even if one commits fornication
and murder 1000 times a day,it will not separate him from Christ.
Justification itself according to Luther made no change in a
person: he remained totally corrupt, with the merits of
Christ,like a cloak,thrown over him. But 2 Peter 1;4 says we are
made sharers in the divine nature,for we are sons of God (1
Jn.3:2)and so partake of the nature of the Father. And 1 Cor 3:16
and 6:19 says we are temples of the Holy Spirit - who would not
dwell in total corruption. 1 Cor 13:12 He has already given us
the first payment, the Spirit, in our hearts (1 Cor 1:22).When
the veil of flesh is removed we will see Him face to face: 1 Cor
13:12 says in heaven we see God face to face. God has no face,the
soul no eyes,but it means we will know Him directly. When I see
you, I do not take you into my head,I take in an image of you.But
no image could show God as He is. So there must be no image - so
God joins Himself directly to the soul without even an image in
between. He would not do that with a totally corrupt soul.As
Malachi 3:2 says: "Who can stand when He appears? For He is like
a refiner's fire."
Besides,the words "bind and loose" have no reference to such
a distortion. They were current in the days of Christ,and by them
the rabbis meant to give an authoritative decision on what was
right or wrong. And only the authorities could give such a
decision - not just every Christian as the Protestants would have
Protestants like to add an appeal to Mt 18:18 to say the
power is given to all Christians. But in context,it speaks of a
decision of the church,the ecclesia,not of each individual. But
if we put it into the framework of a trajectory,the picture is
clear.We begin with Luke 10:16,"He who hears you hears me." It is
true,this was not spoken only to the Twelve. But as we said,the
trajectory clarifies the picture. Mt 18:18 on which we have
spoken cannot refer to all Christians precisely because there is
a question of authority to declare what is right and wrong -- in
Jewish thought,that belonged only to the Rabbis,not to all. At
the Last Supper,according to John 13:20,Jesus aid:"Amen,amen,I
say to you,he who receives the one I send,receives me; he who
receives me,receives the One who sent me."The thought is like
that of Luke 10:16,but at the Last Supper there were only the
Apostles present. Then Mt 28:16-29 in which He says all power is
given Him in heaven and on earth, is explicitly spoken to the
Eleven,who are sent to teach or to make disciples. We could add
that the early Church definitely understood the grant of
authority to just the Apostles.In Acts 1:15-26 a replacement is
chosen for one of the Twelve,for Judas. Acts 2:42 reported that
the people "devoted themselves to the teaching of the
Apostles",and in Acts 5;13:"No one of the rest dared to join
himself to them [the Apostles] but the people magnified them."
The Protestants not only misunderstand things, but claim
that Matthew is entirely clear - all Scripture is entirely
clear,according to them.In that they contradict Scripture, for 2
Peter 3:15-16 tells us that in St.Paul's Epistles,"there are many
things hard to understand,which the ignorant and unstable twist
as they do the other Scriptures,to their own destruction."
Protestant twisting of this passage surely fits what Peter's
And of course from the start the Church has understood the
Scripture far differently from the Protestant distortion,as we
just saw in the verses from Acts.Then Pope Clement I,writing to
Corinth c 95 AD.claimed authority over Corinth. St.Irenaeus,who
had heard St.Polycarp tell what he heard from the Apostle
John,said that "the faithful who are everywhere must agree with
this church [Rome] because of its more important principality."
Very different from saying every Christian forgives sin by
preaching a false doctrine of "justification" - that leaves one
totally corrupt - by faith. In the early heresies it was the
Pope's decision that counted,e.g., at Ephesus in 431 AD. the
Bishops heard the decision of Pope Celestine, and replied "He
[Peter] lives even to this time,and always in his successors
Some have tried to suppose verses 17-19 are retrojection,
something spoken after Easter,retrojected to this spot. We
distinguish. If they mean the whole passage was retrojected,that
would be impossible - for after the resurrection Jesus would not
ask who people say He is,nor would Peter merely say He was
Messiah -- an understatement by then.
If we were to suppose just verses 17-19 were
retrojected,that would not be impossible,but there is no
evidence.What of the fact that Mark does not have these words? We
may conjecture: Mark wrote from the preaching of Peter,as even
Martin Hengel of Tbingen admits (Studies in the Gospel of Mark,
tr.J.Bowden, Philadelphia,1985,p.29). As a matter of modesty,
Peter might not have preached at Rome about his own authority.
The word rock is merely a play on words.In Aramaic there is
no difference between the word for rock and Kepha,Peter.
The gates of hell could mean the gates of death, but more
naturally mean the powers of hell.They will not prevail. So if
the Church founded by Christ had taught the wrong way to
salvation for most of 1500 years,until Luther,the promises of
Christ would be practically worthless. Nor could one dodge and
say a few held on to the true meaning.No evidence at all for
that.And even so,the Church as such,as identifiable,would have
been in gross error until a grossly immoral Luther was sent by
God to correct it!
"Keys" of course signified power to rule,as is obvious.
16:2l-23:Correction of false notion of Messiahship:In v.20 Jesus
had ordered them not to say He as the Messiah.The reason was that
most Jews had a false notion of what the Messiah should be.To
correct that, Jesus predicted His passion and death. Then Peter -
- showing he too had the false notion - objected. Jesus rebuked
him sharply:"Get behind me satan."
Peter's false notion here,as we said above, makes it hard to
suppose Peter had known of the divinity of Jesus. He had received
a revelation,but it was most likely something less than a clear
knowledge of divinity (or he could have had an interior locution
which later faded).
Reginald H.Fuller (Foundations of New Testament
Christology,Chas Scribner's Sons.N.Y.1965.p.109) made a form
critical analysis of Mark's parallel passage (8:29-33).After the
preliminary question about who people said Jesus was,we
find,according to that analysis,four units: 1)Who do you say I
am.Peter said: You are the Messiah; 2)Jesus commanded silence on
that point; 3)He predicted His passion and death and Peter
objected; 4)"Get behind me satan."
Fuller then - for today he has said he considers the whole
historical critical method "bankrupt" (St.Luke's Journal of
Theology,23,1980,p.96) - thought units 1 and 4 were genuine,but 2
and 3 were invented (faked) by the Church, which was later
embarrassed that Jesus never said He was Messiah,and so invented
scenes in which the matter would come up,but Jesus would command
The objection to unit 2: Jesus predicted His death and
resurrection at least 3 times,yet the Apostles, when it
happened,acted as if they never heard of it. The reply: When
people have an established framework of ideas and something
incompatible tries to get in, it does not make it.For example,in
the 19th century,no one,not even Doctors knew that germs existed.
Dr.Semmelweis in Hungary tried o tell them to use antiseptic
precautions.The Doctors said he must be literally insane, put him
in an asylum for the rest of his life. Or Teilhard de Chardin had
a false notion of most people being joined closely in love just
before the end of the world. He had read Luke 18:8. He could not
grasp it. So the Apostles had a firm notion that the Messiah
would not die, would be instead a great conqueror.
The objection to unit 3: W.Wrede in 1901 published a
work,The Messianic Secret. It claimed what we said above,that
Jesus never did say He was Messiah,so the Church invented scenes.
Wrede says his strongest example is the raising of the daughter
of Jairus: anyone could see the girl was alive. So to ask for
silence was vain. Reply: Strange dullness!.Jesus wanted to avoid
the false notion of Messiah.But He needed silence just long
enough to slip out of the house - only the parents and 3 Apostles
were present - and get on His way to the next town.
What did Fuller and others claim, thinking they had proved
something: They read units 1 and 4 alone: "Who do you say I am?
The Messiah. Get behind me satan." He did not believe He was
16:24-28: Take up your cross and follow: this of course was part
of the great syn Christo theme: we are saved and made holy if and
to the extent that we are members of Christ and like
Him.Cf.especially Rom 8:17: We are heirs with Christ provided we
suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him.
He says at the end He will come in glory and will repay. How
does this fit with justification by faith, without earning it?
Justification means receiving sanctifying grace for the first
time,and that is without any merit (DS 1532). But, the possession
of that grace constitutes a claim (could be called a merit) of
heaven, since it makes us children of God, who as children, have
a claim to inherit. But here Jesus talks about things beyond
that first reception of grace. After that, as sons of God, we
have a great dignity (cf.2 Pet 1:4),and can then in a secondary
sense establish a claim to further reward,according to His
promises here and elsewhere.(DS 1582;cf.also 2 Tim 4:8).
Incidentally we ask: When Jesus first spoke these words
about taking up the cross, would the Apostles have understood, if
He used these very words? Not likely. They knew the cross only in
a physical sense (and they showed much incomprehension about His
suffering as we just saw).Here it meant imitation of Him in
suffering,the syn Christo theme. But later,when the Church had
had time to meditate on these things, it could express the same
thought as He had spoken, in different words. Form and Redaction
criticism shows three stages in the genesis of the Gospels.In
stage 2 (the Church reports what He said) and stage 3 (inspired
writers also edit the account), the wording ,not the sense,may
Translations vary widely on verse 26.The Greek psyche has a
broad span of meaning, chiefly,soul or life. Some opt for life
as if they want to insist the Jews still had not gotten over the
so-called unitary concept of a human being,i.e.,a body with the
breath of life.That could logically lead to denial of survival.
By the time of Wisdom 3:1 many Jews did have a concept of body
and soul.For a fuller explanation,cf.comments on 10:28-31.
Verse 28 is a special problem: some standing there would not
die without seeing the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. In Mark
9:1 the words are the same but they would see "the kingdom coming
with power. The answer is easy: In Mark, they would see the
Church - which often in the Gospels is called the Kingdom
(cf.Supplement 1 after comments on Mt 3:7-10 above) - spread with
power, i.e.,with miracles. Matthew has the concept of Hebrew
paqad ,the Son of Man visiting His kingdom,His Church,taking care
of it (cf.also Lk 19:44 for a similar use of the term
visitation). Poor N.Perrin (Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus,
Harper & Row N.Y.,1967,p.16) did not understand these things,and
so said the comparison of Mark 9:1 and parallels,forced him to
give up on the reliability of the Gospels! (It is possible,though
less likely) that the words of Mt and Mk just cited referred to
the Transfiguration, which is reported right after this point in
all three Synoptics).
17:1-9: Transfiguration: Jesus takes only Peter,James and
John,the usual inner three, up a mountain,and His appearance,and
even that of His garments is changed, becomes glorious. With Him
are Moses and Elijah.They seem to stand for the law and the
prophets,which would stand for the entire Old Testament.
Peter,with his usual impetuosity,not only liked the vision,wanted
to make it permanent,suggested setting up three dwellings there
one for each. Then a bright cloud came and overshadowed them.The
word is the same as that used in Exodus,40:35,episkiazein, for
the cloud filling the old Tabernacle,a sign of the divine
presence.Incidentally,the same word is used in Luke 1:35 by the
Archangel,telling the Virgin Mary that the divine presence would
fill her,and for this reason,(dio) the one to be born would be
called Son of God - a really unique reason.Any ordinary devout
Jew could be called a son of God,but this case would be unique.
Moses and Elijah were speaking with Jesus about His coming
passion,which the Apostles did not understand even though just
before this He had predicted it,and was going to say it again on
the way back. Mk 9:32 (cf.Lk.9:45) explicitly said they did not
understand,were hesitant to ask Him.
The voice from the cloud said: "This is my Son..listen to
Him." This recalls the words of Moses in Dt.18:15 saying God
would send another prophet like him--they should listen to that
prophet.Acts 3:22 identifies Jesus as the prophet foretold by
After the vision,Jesus ordered them to tell no one of the
vision until the Son of Man would rise from the dead. The reason
for that is obvious: Jesus was engage din vary gradual self-
revelation.He did not want so great a revelation to be generally
known so early on. Instead, Wrede (op.cit.,p.67) thought the
reason for the command was that the Transfiguration prefigures
the Resurrection, and would have been unintelligible until after
the resurrection.So Wrede thinks the command was without
sense,and so never was given.
17.10: Coming of Elijah: Next the disciples asked Jesus why the
scribes were saying Elijah should come first.Jesus replied that
Elijah would come,and would restore everything. That was foretold
in Malachi 4:5. Here Jesus makes an application of Malachi
3:1,where God Himself says He will come Himself. R.H.Fuller
correctly observed that that coming was mentioned in Mal 4:5, in
which Elijah appears as the forerunner not just of the
Messiah,but of God Himself,after which God will come to His
temple for the final judgment. (op.cit.,p.48). Here Jesus applies
this to John the Baptist and Himself,with the implication that He
is Yahweh! We can consider this as an instance of multiple
fulfillment of prophecy (cf.Wm.Most,Free From All Error,chapter
17:14-21:Cure of an epileptic possessed boy: Mt speaks here of
the boy as both epileptic and possessed. It may be that cases of
epilepsy were confused with possession in those days. However in
this instance,the fact that the boy falls into the fire and
water would seem to indicate possession. Whatever it was, the
mission of Jesus was not to give medical diagnosis, but He could
and did heal whatever was needed.
The father of the boy had asked the disciples to heal the
boy,and they could not.Then the disciples asked Jesus why they
could not.He said they needed faith. If we accept the
authenticity of verse 21,He also said:"This kind is not cast out
except by prayer and fasting." Since the disciples on the trial
mission (Mt.10:1-8) had been casting out devils,it seems that
lack of faith alone was not the reason,though it was part of the
reason.Prayer and fasting were needed. On the theological
background of the fasting, please see above, supplement 2, after
On charismatic faith, please see comments above on 14:22-33.
17:22-23:Second prediction of His Passion: Here again the
disciples do not understand this prediction,because of their
established thought framework that the Messiah would never die.Mt
reports they were distressed. Mk 9:32 says they were afraid to
ask Him to explain.
17:24-27:The temple tax from the fish: In Exodus 30:11-13 it was
prescribed that every Israelite of 20 years of age should offer
to God annually a tribute of a half shekel. Later, in the hard
times of the restoration, according to Neh 10:32 ff., the tribute
was made a third of a shekel. We do not know when the amount was
made a half shekel again. A collector asked Peter for the tax.
Peter said Jesus would pay it.Jesus seemingly knowing what had
happened,asked Peter: From whom do the "kings of the land" call
for tribute -- the children or others. Peter said: From others.
Jesus said then: So the children are free of tax. He meant that
the money for the temple was paid for His Father,the great King.
He then told Peter to catch a fish,find a coin in its mouth of
just the right amount for two,and then pay. We gather Jesus and
the apostles must have been in much poverty to lack that amount.
Jesus wanted it paid even though He, as Son of God, was exempt,
to avoid scandal,i.e., an action which might seem sinful to
others and so might lead them into sin.
18:1-9: Scandal and humility: From the parallel passages in Mark
and Luke we can gather than it was on the way back to Capernaum
that the disciples argued about who was the greatest. The special
favor shown Peter in chapter 16, and to Him with James and John
in the Transfiguration, may have triggered this discussion. Jesus
probably read their minds, and so asked them what they were
doing.They were ashamed to reply. So Jesus took a child -- may
have been Peter's child, for they may have been at Peter's house
in Capernaum - and put the child in the midst and said: Unless
you change and become like children,you will never enter the
kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the
greatest. And whoever welcomes such a child in the name of Jesus
What did Jesus have in mind by using the child as an
example? Verse 4 specifies humility - that and simplicity are
natural to little children. Really, this could carry important
implications on the relation of Jesus and Paul.Paul said often
that people are free from the Law. He was led into that form of
speaking since the Judaizers said in effect: Jesus is not enough.
You need the Law too. Paul reacted by saying they did not need
the Law. 2 Peter 3:16 warned that there are many things in Paul
hard to understand. Here is one for certain. In seeming contrast,
Jesus had said He came not to destroy but to fulfill the Law. But
this passage provides the means of reconciliation. A child knows
he does not earn the love and care of parents - he gets that
because the parents are good. But he also knows, usually from
experience,t hat he could earn punishment and a change in the
attitude of the parents. So the solution is this: Keeping the law
does not earn salvation; we get that as children of the Father -
violating it earns punishment. Cf.Rom 6:23: "The wages [what we
earn] of sin is death; the free gift of God [not earned] is
eternal life." A child takes this attitude naturally.
In Mk 9:36 (cf.Mk 10:16) we read that Jesus put His arms
about the child. We know on another occasion (19:13-15 and
parallels) the children were coming to Him, and the disciples
wanted to chase them, but He said: "Let the little children come
to me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven."
Mark especially, though the other Gospels do it too, is fond
of bringing out the human traits of Jesus. Jesus could marvel at
the faith of the centurion, could, as John adds, even weep at the
death of Lazarus, just a good friend, not even a relative. He
could really feel fear in the garden. And we may surmise He got
human satisfaction out of outwitting the Pharisees and Sadducees
who tried to trap Him in various ways.
He could do all this while still having in His human soul
the vision of God as the Church teaches us (DS 3812, 3905,3924
and AAS 58,1966,659-60) for these things are compatible, and do
not involve any new knowledge, e.g., fear of pain is not erased
by that vision, or by the assurance of resurrection. The nails
would still hurt terribly.
So we suspect He got human pleasure from holding the child.
Our Father in Heaven has made them charming, so we will want to
take care of them. He wants us to like them. Most people
naturally do. St.Francis of Assisi praised God for the kindness
of giving us birds and flowers. He was right. We could also
praise Him too for the kindness of making little ones so
St.Paul in Romans 8:19 -25 tells us that at the end this
world will not be destroyed, but renewed. It will be "freed from
the slavery to corruption." That seems to mean that even birds
will then be immortal. The chief joy of heaven is the vision of
God. But the body participated in reaching that state,so it
should get its own kind of satisfaction. So then we will be able
to enjoy His creatures without any spiritual hindrance. Now in
this life, without that coordinating gift (once called the Gift
of Integrity) which our first parents had, we need to actually
give up or at least be detached from creatures much of the time,
to keep them from getting so strong a hold on us that they could
lead us into sin or even imperfection.(As we saw in commenting on
Mt 6:21,creatures pull on us,can hold on to us,can lead us away
from God: to imperfection,or to occasional venial sin,or to
habitual venial sin,or to occasional mortal sin,or even to
habitual mortal sin.This is the case because of the present lack
the coordinating gift,which our first parents once had,which made
it easy to keep all drives in proper balance. Please recall
comments in Supplement 2,after 3:-10).
We gather: the objective ideal is to be able to enjoy
creatures and praise God for them, without finding any hindrance
to lifting our hearts and thoughts to Him. But in the present
situation of this life,as we said,the lack of the coordinating
gift - which inflicted only a relative,not an absolute loss, as
John Paul II said in a General Audience of October 8,1986 -
creatures may at times be a hindrance.
We do not say that one should be without feeling. St.Francis
de Sales in his Letter 217 (Classics of Western Spirituality
edition, p.104) wrote to a married woman that the forms devotion
takes vary with state in life. He said: "Your husband will love
it if he sees that as your devotion increases, you become more
warm and affectionate toward him." St.Francis sees this as part
of her duties of her state in life.
In view then,of what we learned starting from Mt 6:21:"Where
your treasure is,there is your heart also," there is a problem
in practice of how much to allow ourselves to enjoy
creatures.There is a great diversity in spiritual attractions and
temperaments. So there is no one rule for all. But He Himself
will lead a soul to the right mix,as it were,if the soul is
generous and faithful.
Some Saints have tried to avoid all feeling: St.Augustine
felt guilty for weeping at the death of his mother. But Jesus,as
we said, wept over Lazarus. St.John of the Cross says that, more
in some souls than in others,creatures may help raise their
thoughts to God. John says that to the extent that they do this,
they are beneficial spiritually (Ascent of Mt.Carmel 3.24.5).
Beyond that,not so. St.Ignatius of Loyola said we should use
creatures: Tantum...quantum. Use as much as is helpful, not more.
In line with this we should accept the innocent pleasure of a
creature while it is present - but not dream about it when it is
not present. For we need to keep the pull of creatures from
getting so strong as to lead us away from God, even if only by
In practice, if we refrain from dwelling on the attractions
of creatures, and enjoy them only when present, and then only to
the extent that they help us rise to the thought of praising God
- this is beneficial. But then we will have as it were empty
spots: no satisfaction from creatures,nor from God. St.Teresa
said God would love to do nothing but give, if He could find
souls to receive (Conceptions of Love of God 6). So in these
empty spots,He welcomes the opening to fill the soul with
benefits.Hence Jesus said that whoever has left
home,parents,wives etc. for Him will receive a hundredfold - even
in this world - and later have eternal happiness (Lk 18:29;
We can get some light from recalling that there is a similar
principle about music for Mass. Ideally it should fill two
requirements: 1) Lift the sensitivities of the soul above the
everyday level; 2) not hold on so strongly as to hinder its
thoughts and heart from rising to the divine level. So Gregorian
chant is fine on both counts - Masses by Mozart and other great
composers do well on the first requirement, fail on the second.
Leading anyone into sin, by scandal,is a terrible thing.Much
more terrible is it to lead the little ones into sin. Better such
a one would be drowned with a millstone on his neck than to do
such a thing. Yes, given human conditions,scandals are
inevitable. But woe to the one who causes them.
In fact,if anyone or anything as dear to you as your hand or
foot or eye leads you into sin - better to get rid of hand,foot
or eye, than to sin and be cast into hell. Of course,Jesus is not
advising physical mutilation.He is making a most powerful
comparison here. Cf. Mt.5:29-30 for similar thought.
18:10-14: the lost sheep: So let no one look down on the little
ones. They have guardian angels, who see the face of God. That
is,they have guardian angels.All humans lie under the dangers
from the fallen angels.But to compensate,God has given us
guardian angels.On this doctrine cf. Heb.12:14,Apoc/Rev.1:20 and
Acts 12:15. The angels are compared to powerful persons at the
court of a Near Eastern king.If they ask for actions against an
offender, it will likely be given.
Verse 11 is of doubtful authenticity --may have been taken
over from Lk 19:10. However,the thought is true,and fits the
context here well: Christ came to die to save all -- if someone
frustrates His work of redemption by scandal, woe to him.In
fact,from Gal 2:20 (as interpreted by Vatican II in GS 22) we
learn that He offered His suffering and death for each soul
individually,not just for all souls in a block. Not wonderful He
speaks so strongly about ruining souls by scandal!
So Jesus compares Himself to a shepherd who goes out to find
one lost sheep. Similarly the Father in Heaven wants no one of
the little ones to be lost.
The same parable is found in Lk 15:4-7,in a different
context,that is,in Lk it is to show the mercy of God towards
sinners. Here it is to show His love for little
ones.However,Jesus as a traveling speaker, surely repeated
parables often,and could readily reuse them for different
purposes in different speeches.
18:15-22: brotherly correction and forgiveness: Correction if
given should be done at first privately. Then if there be
need,with two witnesses. Dt. 17:6 and 19:15 prescribes the need
of two or three witnesses to prove anything in court.However,this
is not a court,but the same atmosphere of witnesses is present.
If someone refuses to be corrected even then, the Church
should be called on.The same rare word,ecclesia,is used here as
in 16:18,the grant of primacy to Peter.So we see the Church does
have supreme power to cast out,to excommunicate someone who is
contumacious.St.Paul did this in 1 Cor 5:5-6 and in 1 Tim 1:20.
Since this is a use of authority,it is clear that authority is
not given to everyone in the Church. Cf.our comments above on
We also compare Titus 3:10: "After one or two warnings,avoid
a heretical man." The word "heretical "need not have the present
technical sense.But it surely does mean one who contumaciously
holds to a false doctrine which is condemned by the Church.
Excommunication as used by St.Paul,or today,is not the same
as cursing,even though the word anathema,curse, may be used.We
get the right picture from 1 Cor 5:5: it is done "so his soul may
be saved on the day of the Lord." It is to bring a man to his
senses. To curse would be to wish evil to another so it may be
evil to him. Romans 12:14 says Christians should not curse
anyone.That is speaking of the popular sense of the word.As just
explained,it is different.
Some overzealous or even scrupulous persons think they have
a grave moral obligation to correct everyone. But this is
imprudent,to say the least. Seldom does one who is not a superior
have a strict obligation,though he may try it anyway if
conditions are right. The conditions needed are: 1)serious
matter, 2)good hope the correction will be accepted - which is
seldom the case, 3) great spiritual need of the sinner or others,
4) that there not be some one other who can more suitably carry
out the task. We add that when there is grave difficulty,the
obligation of correction does not bind private persons.
The words about binding and loosing here refer to the
authorities of the Church,not to private persons,as we explained
in comments on 16:13-20.
Just as Christ assists the authorities of the Church,so He
also assists the faithful if they are in mutual harmony and pray
in the right way in His name.On conditions for prayer,please see
comments above on 6:7-13. The language seems broad enough to
cover everything. It is evident there are limits, e.g., suppose
two groups get together to pray for victory in a football
game.Clearly,not both sides can win. The answer: Christ's promise
refers to prayer for things that concern salvation for the one
who prays.If it concerns salvation for another,there may be
resistance,rejection by the other.God respects our freedom and
does not force it. Someone by repeated sinning may make himself
hard,and so incapable of perceiving what grace interiorly
suggests to him. Such a one is eternally lost,unless someone will
obtain for him a grace comparable to a miracle,which can
forestall or cut through any resistance.IT is evident, more than
routine prayer is needed - since the grace is of an extraordinary
nature, the prayer and penance needed to obtain it must also be
of extraordinary quality.
Peter thinks he is very generous in being willing to forgive
7 times.The rabbis said one needs to forgive only three times.
Jesus says he must always - 7 times 70 times- be willing to
forgive. This assumes of course that the offender is repentant.If
he continues the same attitude,he cannot hope for forgiveness.
God Himself does not forgive the unrepentant. On forgiveness in
general please see comments above on 6:14.
18:23-35: the unforgiving servant: Servant who owed 10,000
talents is called in and asked to pay.Of course, he could not,the
figure was fantastic,intended to be such. The Attic talent was in
use in Palestine then,and a talent was worth 6000 denarii. A
denarius was a normal day's pay (cf.Mt 20:2).So the sum is
staggering.The master forgave it.He could have had the man and
his wife and children sold as slaves to get some money. This
horrid practice was sometimes found in ancient times, e.g., 2
Kings 4:1; Lev 25:39,47. Secular authors testify to it too. The
master forgave this huge debt,but then the same slave became
harsh at a fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii. Since the
servant could not pay, the debtor put him into prison.The idea
was to force him to tell where he had hidden money,or to induce
friends ,in pity,to ransom him.
The point of the parable is completely obvious: God forgives
us a debt in our sins out of all proportion to what others may
owe us. He expects us to be similarly merciful to others - if
not, He will be hard on us too. We recall Mt 7:2 which said
whatever measure we use on others,will be used on us too,that
is,if we demand everything we have a right to demand,God will act
similarly. We could not afford that -- therefore.... We think too
of the petition in the Our Father: Forgive us our debts,as we
19:1-12:indissolubility of marriage: We already covered the
essential points here in commenting on 5:31-32 above. Here we add
that the schools of Hillel and Shammai were far apart on the
reasons for divorce. Hillel would allow even a badly cooked meal
to be sufficient reason. R.Akiba of that school said that a
reason might be a roving eye for prettier women (Mishna,Gittin,
9:10). Shammai and his school required gross indecency. The
covenanters of Qumran seem to have forbidden divorce altogether:
cf.Damascus Document 4:21. Josephus (Antiquities 220.127.116.11
allowed divorce for any reason whatsoever. Clearly the Pharisees
here were trying to make Jesus become an enemy to one or the
other of the schools of Hillel or Shammai. Instead, He reaffirmed
what He had said in the Sermon on the Mount (5:32).Jesus appealed
to God's own arrangement in Genesis: they become two in one
The Pharisees countered that Moses "commanded" divorce in Dt
24:1-4. They were distorting,of course; Moses had only permitted
not commanded. Jesus as the supreme Lawgiver abrogates the
concession given by Moses,saying it was given because of the
hardness of their hearts. As we explained above in commenting on
Mt 5:31-32, Jesus did not grant divorce and remarriage for
unchastity. We gather this from the parallel passages in Mk 10:11
and Lk 16:18 and 1 Cor 7:10ff.
The reply of the disciples is remarkable: If one cannot get
rid of a wife,better not to marry.
Jesus took advantage of their remark to speak of
renunciation of marriage. Some are born as eunuchs; others are
made such so they may be trusted in the royal courts.Others
renounced marriage for spiritual reasons. On these, please see
above, Supplement 2. after Mt.3:7-10.
19:13-15:Jesus blesses the little children: It was a custom among
the Jews to present little ones to holy or venerable men for a
blessing: cf.Gen 48:13-15. Mark 10:16 reports Jesus not only
blessed them, but took them in His arms,as He did also in Mk
10:16. Cf.comments on 18:1-5 above. He also used them as an
example of the qualities required to enter the kingdom of
heaven,as we saw in Mt 18:1-5.
19:16-30: The rich young man:From v.20 we gather that the young
man was rich.From Lk 18:18 we see he was an archon,a chief of the
synagogue or member of the Sanhedrin or otherwise distinguished.
The fact that he knelt before Christ,as we see in Mk 10:17, seems
to indicate he was not just testing Jesus,but was sincere.
Matthew has the young man ask Jesus: "What good must I do to
get eternal life?." It is likely enough that the young
man,seeing the warmth with which Jesus treated the little
children,supposed He would tell him some added practices to
facilitate his entry into the kingdom of heaven. Mk 18:17 and Lk
18:18 tell us the man addressed Jesus as Good Master". Jesus took
occasion here to teach dramatically,as He often did. He said:
"Why do you call me good.No one is good,but God alone."
Let us examine both items separately.Of course,Jesus could
have said both on one occasion, or on two occasions.
Jesus does not tell him:Do the following,and you will earn
eternal life. Rather,He tells the man how to avoid earning to
lose eternal life. This fits well with the context,in which Jesus
proposed children as having the required qualities to enter the
kingdom.Children know that they get love and care without earning
them - but that they could earn punishment by being bad. St.Paul
brings this out very well by speaking of final salvation as an
"inheritance" In 1 Cor 6:9-10 after a list of the chief sins and
sinners he says that those who do such things will not inherit
the kingdom. We do not have to earn it,we could earn to lose
it.Cf.also on this Rom 6:23.
Some Protestants translate get instead of inherit.The Greek
kleronomein does have both meanings. But the context in Scripture
of God as our Father, both in the Gospels and in Paul,surely
shows we need the meaning inherit. And we are now showing how
that brings out an essential teaching of Jesus.
Jesus also,on this occasion or on another similar occasion,
replied: Why do you call me good? one is good - God." Now of
course He was not denying He was good, or that He was divine,or
that there is goodness in creatures. Rather this was a dramatic
way of saying that the word good, as applied to creatures, and as
applied to God,has indeed something in common,but much more
difference. In a similar way,St.Augustine wrote, "He must not
even be called inexpressible, for when we say that word,we say
something." (On Christian Doctrine 1.6.6). Plotinus,a great
philosopher, even said (6.8.9) that God is "beyond being". He
meant that the word being as applied to God,and as applied to
creatures,has something in common, much more difference. Plato
spoke similarly in Republic 6.509B (for fill-in cf.Wm.Most,Our
Jesus told the young man to observe the commandments--
again, as we said, not to earn eternal life,but to avoid
forfeiting it. The man said he had always kept them.Jesus of
course knew that,and looked at him with love, as Mk 10:21 says.
Again,Mark is specially intent to bring out the human qualities
of Jesus - He had just been warm to little ones, now He gave a
warm look to the young man.
So Jesus made a distinction. To gain eternal life, keeping
the commandments suffices. But if the man wanted to be perfect -
then let him sell all he had, give it to the poor,and come follow
Jesus in poverty.
The rich young man looked sad at the thought of giving up
his wealth. So he did not.Who knows? He might have been a great
saint and apostle.
Jesus took occasion to teach the dangers of richess.Yes,the
things of this world are good,for God made them good,as He said
in Genesis 1. The fact that Christ took on a created nature and
used created things gives them an added dignity. But like the
thorns in the parable of the sower there are two sides.The thorns
stand for riches and pleasures. They are not bad in themselves;
but they have two sides,one of which is spiritually dangerous.
The saying about the camel and the needle's eye need not
lead to imagining there was such a gate in Jerusalem. This is
simply strong Semitic exaggeration, which is very common.
Only detachment is what is strictly required for salvation.
But it is hard in practice to get much detachment if one does not
actually part with much of material things. Again,please
cf.Supplement 2,after 3:7-10.
Some of the disciples asked: Who then can be saved? Jesus
said that humanly it is not possible,but with God,all is
possible. He meant clearly that grace is needed for salvation, in
fact,for any good work.
Peter,with his usual impetuousness, asks what he will get,
for he has given up all. Jesus said that at the final judgment,
those who gave up all,will be seated with the Divine Judge
And even before that, they will get a hundredfold. That
could mean many material satisfactions - or it could mean that
spiritual things, being of a higher order,are a hundredfold.
The last will be first,the first last. More than one meaning
is possible. Most likely the thought is that the Jews were first
offered the opening to join the messianic kingdom. But they are
responding poorly, most are not coming in. The first will be
20:1-1:The workers in the vineyard: This parable is difficult for
Americans,it seems not to be fair-play. But yet it is true:if
someone gives all he is obliged to give to some, but more to
others,he is not being unjust,but rather generous.
To what does the parable refer? Most likely it means that
the Jews were invited into the People of God early in history.
Gentiles came in later. Yet both will receive the same reward,
entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, if they are faithful.
The final line in some Greek manuscripts and in the Vulgate
adds,after our ending ( The last will be first,the first last):
"Many are called,few are chosen". But that line may really come
from the parable of the banquet in Mt 22:14, according to many
commentators,who claim it fits better there.
The last line as we have it surely does fit here: the last
to come into the People of God will be first in line, for those
invited first,the Jews, have not responded well,most of them
have refused to come in. The Gentiles, called late, have
responded in large numbers.
20:17-19:Third prediction of the Passion: This was made, "while
Jesus was going up to Jerusalem", up since they had been in the
lower lands near Jericho.The Roman road from Jericho to Jerusalem
was about 17 miles, and climbed 3000 feet. We note the added
details in this prediction, compared to those given earlier: He
is to be flogged and crucified.
Mark 10:32 here as so often gives a human touch: it says
that Jesus went ahead, while the Apostles were going more slowly
as if in fear They did not understand His predictions of death
and resurrection, but yet humanly could see that the authorities
were out to kill Jesus. He, though distressed no doubt, yet
showed the firm resolve to accomplish the Redemption: We recall
His words soon in the Garden: "If it be possible, may this
chalice pass;yet not my will but yours be done." The Church
teaches,as we explained above, that from the first instant of
conception,His human soul saw the vision of God,in which all
knowledge is accessible - including every horrid detail of His
sufferings. He let us see inside Himself, as it were, in Lk 12:50
when He said He had a baptism to be baptized with - something
terrible to go through - and how was He straitened, unable to be
comfortable, until it would be accomplished. The same interior
disturbance showed through in John 12:27: "Now my heart is
troubled. What shall I say? Father,save me from this hour."
20:20-28:Vain ambition of James and John: He was going ahead to
what He knew,something so horrible. they did not really
understand,as was noted more than once before - they still
thought of Him as going to be a great conqueror who would not
suffer or die. So they were trying to maneuver for honors and
the first place. The Mother of James and John tried to get that
for them. Jesus asked them could they drink His cup. They had
their minds only on honors,and probably had no notion what that
meant. But in their eagerness for honor they said they could
drink it.Actually, James was beheaded by Herod c.42 AD:Acts 12:2:
John was imprisoned by the Sanhedrin: Acts 4:3, and beaten:Acts
Jesus said the granting of such favors was reserved to His
Father. There are two great areas to keep distinct: the internal
economy,which leads to heaven. In it, God offers grace without
limit to each one,for the price of Redemption is infinite.It is
only the rejection or blocking by humans that holds back what
they receive. But there is also the external economy, where the
question is of what position a person will have in the exterior
order of things: a lawyer,doctor,shoemaker,a teacher, an official
in the people of God. Here God gives what He wants where He wants
- the price of Redemption does not apply here.
A cup to drink in Scripture can mean the lot that God plans
for each one. At times it can be a pleasant prospect (cf.Psalm
16:5),more ordinarily it is something hard: (Psalm 11:6;
Quite naturally, the other ten were distressed at such
ambition - and at such a time! So Jesus told them that the rulers
of the Gentiles lord it over them. Sadly,they do,and many of them
claim they are serving while really coveting honor and the first
places. The Apostles should be just the opposite, wanting to
serve. He Himself had not come to be served but to serve,even to
giving His life so painfully for redemption for all.
The word many here no doubt reflects Hebrew rabbim: "the all
who are many". If He spoke Aramaic at the time it would have been
saggi'in, which at least as an equivalent for Hebrew rabbim,could
have the same sense,as we see for example in the Targum on Isaiah
53:11-12. On the notion of ransom please see comments above in
Supplement 2, on rebalance of the objective order, after 3:7-10.
20:29-34:Cure of the blind: Here Matthew speaks of two blind men.
Mark 10:46-52 and Lk 18:35-43 speak of only one. Further, Luke
puts the cure when they were coming to Jericho, Mt and Mk put it
on leaving Jericho.
There are several possible answers. One would say that Jesus
actually did cure two, but Mark had special reason to mention
one,whose name he knew,who was known specially in the Christian
community,later. Luke of course could have followed suit.
As to the place,on coming to or leaving Jericho, we know for
certain that Herod enlarged and improved Jericho. It seems he did
not destroy the older city there, which is today Tell es-Sultan.
So the sequence could have been a cure of one while approaching
one city, and of the second, while leaving. Matthew puts the two
events together, as he sometimes does: cf. 27:44 compared to Lk
Mt notes that Jesus was moved with compassion for the blind,
which the crowd had tried to keep from Him.
21:1-11:Triumphal entry into Jerusalem:With the help of John 12:1
ff we add that six days before the Passover,Jesus and His
disciples came to Bethany, the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus,
on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. There Mary anointed
His feet, and Judas complained of the waste. The Jews then wanted
to kill Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. Did they not
realize He could raise him again?
From there He came to Bethphage, and from there He sent two
disciples ahead, told them what they will find. Was this
supernatural power,or did He make use of the strange force of
Extra Sensory Perception. We do not know. He, as the Creator of
such a power, could of course use it. In general, we think He
would not use miracles when natural means will suffice. Zechariah
(9:9) had said: "Behold, your king comes to you..humble, riding
on a donkey,on a colt the foal of a donkey." Matthew adds a few
words from Isaiah: "Say to the Daughter of Sion' - a Hebraism
meaning Jerusalem, the daughter that is Sion.
The disciples laid their cloaks on the animals,and Jesus sat
on them. Of course,He sat on the cloaks,not on two animals at
once. It seems He sat on the colt -- having its mother on hand
would help to quiet it, for no one had ridden it before. Matthew
mentions both since Zechariah had done that.
A huge crowd gathers.There would be so many in Jerusalem for
the coming Passover,and doubtless reports on Him had spread.Some
were asking: "Who is this?" That could have been His enemies,who
wished to make light of Him. Many sang Hosanna - an old Hebrew
exclamation, which by this time as merely a form of a cheer.
21:12-17: cleansing of the temple: Then He entered the Temple
area,this would be the court of the Gentiles. Did He at once
drive out the sellers,or was that on a return visit the next day?
Most likely the latter. John's Gospel mentions a cleansing of the
Temple at the beginning of His public life.This must be a second
one,for this is so closely joined with the previous narrative in
Matthew. In the court of the Gentiles there would be those who
sold animals for sacrifice,and those who changed Greek or Roman
money to Jewish money,for that was needed in order to offer
it.Yet Jesus drove them out,citing the prophet Isaiah 56:7 and
Jeremiah 7:11 That court was the farthest out from the
sanctuary,yet all the noise and traffic there was unsuitable.
The blind and lame came to Him in the temple,and were cured.
The children cried out in enthusiasm: Hosanna to the Son of David
- meaning the Messiah. Children were naturally attracted to Him
for His goodness and mildness. We recall twice earlier He had
even put His arms around the children,as we saw.
The chief priests and scribes were angry, probably mostly at
the praise given to Jesus. But He cited Psalm 8:2 against them.
21;18-22: curse on a fig tree: Then He went back to Bethany for
the night. On reentering the city the next day He saw a fig
tree,and looked for fruit on it. Mark tells us that the leaves
were green,even though it was not the season for figs. Jesus
finding no fruit,cursed it: May you never bear fruit again.
Of course Jesus knew it was not the time for fruit.His
action was like that of the ancient prophets who dramatized
situations, such as Ezekiel 12 dramatizing the fall of Jerusalem,
or Jeremiah in chapter 19 breaking a pottery vessel,as a forecast
of what would happen to Jerusalem. Often Israel had been compared
by the prophets to a fig tree or a vine::cf.Jer.8:13; Ez 19:10.
The meaning here was frightening: Israel would be punished and no
longer be part of the people of God - Mt 21:43 made this
21:23-27:By what authority?:Priests and elder ask Jesus,by what
authority He does such things? He cleverly tripped them up
asking about the Baptism of John.If they said it as from
heaven,why did they not believe? If they said it merely human,
the people would reject them, for they considered John a prophet.
Since they could not pick between these choices, they refused to
answer.Jesus also refused.
21:28-32:parable of the two sons: the first son refused at
first,but then went; the second said he would go,but did not go.
The second stands for the priests, scribes and pharisees: they
said they would obey God, and made a great pretense of doing so,
but did not really serve Him. The first son stands for the
gentiles, who at first did not obey,but yet did so. Public
sinners at the time of Jesus had sinned,but repented,and entered
the kingdom of the Messiah after repentance.
So Jesus interpreted: those who were public sinners at first
did wrong,but then repented and so entered the messianic kingdom;
the authorities did not repent,and so did not enter His kingdom.
21:33-46: parable of the wicked tenants: The vineyard of course
stands for Israel, as so often in the Old Testament: cf Is 5:1-6.
God sent His servants, the prophets,to the Jews,they mistreated
and killed them.Finally they were going to kill even His Son.
They thought if they killed Him they would be safe.Thus the High
Priest said it is better than one man die than that the whole
nation perish: John 11:49. So to get rid of Jesus would make them
safe from the Romans. What a tragic irony: the Romans did come
and destroyed their city in 70 A.D.
God had intended the Israelites to be the corner stone of
the kingdom He was to establish (Ps.118:22),the messianic
kingdom.They not only failed to do that (Jer 51:26),but rejected
the very Messiah, He who really became the corner stone (Eph
Verse 43 is frightening: it means the Jews would cease being
the people of God,it would be given instead to the gentiles.For
the Jews on the whole rejected the Church Jesus established and
Him too. The gentiles accepted and entered. This agrees with the
image of the two olive trees in Romans 11: the tame olive tree
was the original people of God, but many branches fell from it,
by lack of faith. In their place the gentiles, from the wild
olive, were engrafted. This stone would be something on which
some would trip and fall (cf.the prophecy of Simeon in Lk
2:34),or be crushed,if it fell from its high position up above on
22:1-14: the wedding feast: The sense here is basically the same
as that of the parable of the vineyard. So it does not refer to
predestination to heaven or hell as so many have erroneously
thought. At the end, "Many are called but few are chosen" means
all the Jews [cf.Hebrew rabbim] were invited to the kingdom of
the Messiah: few came in. The covenant of God with His people is
often represented in the OT under the image of a marriage.
The ones who were invited not only did not come,they killed
the servants who came to call them - the prophets,and Jesus
Himself. So the king sent his army and destroyed their city: the
Jews hoped to be safe from the Romans,as we said,in killing
Jesus; instead, they brought that very ruin upon themselves in 70
A.D. This historical allusion is so obvious that some older
rationalistic commentators tried to deny the authenticity of this
line. Yet there is no support for such a guess: the critics
merely rejected a priori all prophecies,as they did everything
What is the wedding garment? The man had come into the
kingdom,but was not allowed to come to the dinner -- it seems he
lacked sanctifying grace. For it is not enough to be a member of
the Church to reach final salvation.
The chief priests and Pharisees understood Jesus as speaking
of them,and in their rage wanted to kill Him. Only the support of
the crowds for Him kept them from doing it at once.
22:15-22: Tribute to Caesar: Here the question comes from some of
the disciples, not disciples of Jesus, but probably young men who
came to Jerusalem for instruction by the great rabbis. Some of
the Herodians were with them, of the party favorable to the
dynasty of Herod and his hellenizing tendencies. So,they favored
the Roman power. In religious matters they went largely along
with the materialistic ideas of the Sadducees. So politically and
religiously they were opposed to the Pharisees.
Jesus affirmed civil obligations. Cf.St.Paul, Romans chapter
13 and Titus 3:1 and 1 Pet 2:13.
22:23-33:Answer to Sadducees on Resurrection:The Sadducees
denied survival after death and resurrection. Some think they
accepted only the Pentateuch. Definitely, they rejected the oral
traditions of the Pharisees. They thought they had an unbeatable
case against Jesus, to show the resurrection was impossible. But
He, cleverly, showed 1)That there is survival. He used the text
on the burning bush, Exodus 3:6 where God said:"I am the God of
Abraham,Isaac,and Jacob." Jesus added: "He is not the God of the
dead but the living." Now of course, the reasoning of Jesus is
valid in itself. But another question: how early did the Jews see
this point? Many scholars think they did not know of survival
until the time of the persecution by Antiochus IV of Syria, about
170. They claim that the Hebrews had only a one part concept of a
human, i.e., a body with breath of life. The breath goes into the
air; the body decays: so, no survival.
It is true they seem to have had this unitary concept; but
many scholars do not notice that they also showed a persistent
belief in survival by their persistent attachment to necromancy,
divination by calling up the dead. It was prohibited by Lev 19:31
and 20:6. And also Dt 8:11. C.also the necromancy for Saul in 1
Sam 28: 12-19.
Their word that came closest to soul was nefesh, which seems
to have meant approximately ego, or almost person. Yet we should
notice the good theological method they followed here. We
sometimes meet two conclusions in theological matters, which seem
to clash. We then recheck our work, and often they are still
there. Then we must carefully refrain from straining either part,
and hope someone sometime will find how to reconcile the ideas.
So it seems the Hebrews had two ideas, that man is unitary, and
yet that there is survival. They did not know how to fit these
together, but held to both. However, at the time of the
persecution many did come to know a two part concept, with the
help of: 1)Greek thought, which clearly had that, though not in a
form precisely like ours; 2)the terrible deaths of the martyrs in
this persecution prevented them from saying: God will make things
right before the end. For even with knowing survival, they seem
not to have known of retribution in the next life. But under the
influence of these two factors, they did come to know retribution
in the next life. This shows clearly in Wisdom 3:1: "The souls of
the just are in the hand of God."
It seems that the Pharisees and their followers then
believed in survival and retribution, but the Sadducees did not.
St.Paul, however was definitely a Pharisee, and so his words in
Phil 1 and 2 Cor 5 should be understood to reflect that belief in
The crowd was astounded. We may well surmise that Jesus took
a sort of human pleasure in outwitting these enemies.
22:34-40:Answer to the Pharisees: The Pharisees asked Him a
question they were discussing much: what is the greatest
commandment? There were 613 commandments, of which 248 were
positive,365 were prohibitions. Their disputes were subtle and
Jesus bypassed all their vain disputes, and took His reply
from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the great Shema: "Listen O Israel: the
Lord is your God, He alone. You shall love the Lord your God with
all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind."
The second was taken from Leviticus 19:18: "You shall love your
neighbor as yourself." Unfortunately, the Pharisees had reduced
neighbor to fellow Jews. Jesus elsewhere showed that all are our
neighbors, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Every man had to recite this Shema twice in a day.
Jesus said that these two sum up the Law and the
Prophets,i.e., everything in the Old Testament. He spoke
similarly in the Sermon on the Mount,in 7:12. Paul in Romans
13:10 and Gal 5:14 did the same.
These two commands really do sum up everything. For love of
neighbor means to will good to another for the other's sake. Love
of God cannot be precisely that, for we cannot will good to God.
But we do know that Scripture pictures Him as pleased when we
obey, displeased when we do not. He cannot gain anything from our
obedience, but He is pleased for two reasons: 1) His Holiness
loves everything that is morally good: goodness says creatures
must obey their Creator, children their Father; 2) In His
generosity He wills to give good to us, but that is in vain if we
are not open to receive. So His commandments are really
instructions on how to be open to His favors, and they at the
same time steer us away from the evils that lie in the nature of
things for those who disobey His laws.
So the connection is this: If I love God,I obey Him,so He
may have the pleasure of giving to me. But if I will that to Him,
I also will that He have the pleasure of giving to all others,
and that is love of neighbor, which wills good to neighbor, who
will receive His benefits, and love of God, willing that He may
have the generous pleasure of giving as He wills.
Of course, willing good to neighbor thus means we would not
do anything harmful to him, rather the opposite.
The account of the same event in Mark 12:28-34 tells us that
after Jesus spoke, the scribe praised Him: "Teacher you have
rightly said He is one...this is much more important than all
holocausts and sacrifices." Jesus replied: "You are not far from
the kingdom of God." That is, the Scribe seeing so much, might be
close to entering the Messianic kingdom.
22:42-46: Implication of Psalm 110:Jesus now took the offensive.
In Psalm 1l0 David said: "The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my
right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool." The first
"Lord" means God, the second meant the Messiah. David called the
Messiah Lord - implying the Messiah was more than just a son of
David, though He was that too.
After this, the Pharisees had no comeback, and did not
again try to ask Him questions.
There are other places in the Old Testament which readily
can be taken to refer to the divinity of the Messiah: Isaiah 9:5-
6: "God the Mighty." Also there could be an implication in Ps
80:15-18; Ps 45:7-8; Ezek 34:11; Jer 23:3, and 30:11. Also in Lk
1:35 the Archangel says the Messiah will be conceived by the
"overshadowing" of the Holy Spirit - a word used in the OT, as in
Ex 40:34 for the Divine Presence filling the Tabernacle - and
then the archangel adds: "for this reason",i.e.,because conceived
by the Divine Presence, "He will be called Son of God" - a surely
unique reason for calling Him that.
23:1-12: Obeying but not imitating the Pharisees: There is
discussion about the time when Jesus spoke these words. St.Luke
in 11:39-51 and 13:34-35 has the same material,but in seemingly a
different setting.Now of course it is quite possible that Jesus
said the same things on more than one occasion-- as a traveling
speaker He naturally did much repeating. Yet,considering
everything,it seems specially likely that St.Matthew has put
these words in the present setting,for they help make up a
sequence of events leading up to the Passion. And of course,since
it is likely that Matthew grouped things to put together the
Sermon on the Mount, he may have done something similar here.
In this first segment,verses 1-12,Jesus in spite of all His
strictures against the Pharisees, yet teaches that they do have
teaching authority,i.e.,sit on the seat of Moses. Of course this
applies only to things that they teach as it were from the seat
of Moses - not to the things that contradict Scripture, such as
their teaching on Korban. Nor to the foolish oral laws, which we
have seen above.
Jesus said the Pharisees bind terribly heavy loads of rules
for others, but do not live up to them themselves. Even allowing
for some of the usual Semitic exaggeration here, there is still a
large basic truth left.
Then He charges them with ostentation: First, He mentions
their exaggeration in the matter of phylacteries and fringes. The
old law did require phylacteries, in Dt 6:8-9, which called for
the words of the Shema to be written and made an emblem on hand
and forehead, and on the doorposts of the houses. The
phylacteries were small receptacles which contained tiny
parchment bits with this text, as a reminder of the whole Torah.
They also contained the words of Ex 13:1-10;11-16 and Dt.11:13-
21. They were worn at prayer, except on the sabbath and feast
days. All Jews then,including Jesus, would have phylacteries. The
Pharisees made them specially large, for ostentation.
The tassels were a dangling ornament of white woolen threads
and a blue cord attached to the four corners of a garment as a
reminder of God's presence, salvation and the commandments,
following the instruction given in Numbers 15:38-41. The woman
with the flow of blood touched such tassels worn by Jesus.
Again,the Pharisees made them specially large.
The oriental mode of salutaton was very ostentatious and
demonstrative of respect. The Pharisees loved such things.
The Pharisees also liked to have the most honored places.
Jesus in reaction tells His disciples not to let anyone call
them father. This was not understood in too rigid a sense,for
St.Paul in 1 Cor 4:15 told the Corinthians that even if they had
10,000 guardians in Christ, "you do not have many fathers... In
Christ Jesus I became your father through the Gospel." Cf. 1 Tim
2:7 and 2 Tim 1:11. His remarks about the title of teacher are to
be taken similarly.
23:13-15: false religion of the Pharisees: Jesus says they lock
people out of the kingdom - that is,they are keeping others from
entering the kingdom of the Messiah, which they themselves are
not entering. Yet they go even great distances to make a convert
to Judaism, and when they have one,the convert becomes even more
zealous for pettiness than the one who converted him.
23:16-24: distortions on oaths and tithes: They went in for
subtle casuistry on oaths, saying that to swear by the temple was
not binding, but to swear by the gold on the temple was binding.
They reasoned that to swear by a creature that had no intimate
relation with God was not binding - foolishly saying the temple
had no such relation, but the gold did. (Let us recall the words
of Jesus on oaths in 5:33-37).
The Pharisees went to great extremes also on tithing.There
was a precept for tithing: Lev 27:30-33; Dt 14:22-29. The
Pharisees in their ostentation were so scrupulous about tithes
that they paid tithes on mint, dill and cummin. These were herbs
used in cooking or to perfume rooms. Dill and cummin were also
used for medicinal purposes. They were in themselves so
insignificant that they could have been ignored.
It seems that in their extreme care to avoid consuming any
unclean animals, they filtered drinks, through a cloth,to get out
gnats etc. The talk about swallowing a camel is of course
oriental exaggeration. But Black, An Aramaic Approach to the
Gospels, (Oxford,1967,p.175) reports that there may have been a
play on words: Aramaic qalma,gnat, compared to gamla camel. The
Pharisees while fussy about trifles, neglected the more basic
23:25-32: purification of utensils: The Pharisees were also
extremely careful about cleansing utensils,to avoid any ritual
impurity (cf.Mk, 7:4). It seems the school of Hillel thought that
it was enough to cleanse the interior of a vessel, while the
school of Shammai said it was necessary to cleanse both. Jesus
insists on moral purity instead of mere legalistic purity.
23:27-28: whitewashed tombs: It was usual to whitewash tombs just
before the Passover, so that the tombs would stand out, and no
one might accidentally touch them and so become legally unclean
for seven days: Numbers 19:16).
23:33-39: those who kill the prophets: The Jews then did build
tombs for the prophets, as if to say that if they had lived in
those times they would not have killed them. But Jesus says they
are about to do worse, to kill Him, the Prophet of prophets.
Jesus speaks of the blood of all the prophets from Abel to
Zechariah son of Berachiah. The sense is clear enough: it means
the blood of all prophets from the beginning of time to the end
of the last historical book of the Old Testament: 2 Chron 24:10-
22. Jehoida had been chief priest in the time of King Joash, and
induced him to collect money to restore the temple. Jehoida lived
for 130 years. But after him the officials induced the king to
change course, and set up the sacred poles. Zechariah,son of
Jehoida reproved them for it. But the officials by command of the
king stoned him to death in the court of the temple.
There is a problem: the Zechariah just mentioned was son of
Jehoida, not of Berachiah. Several solutions are possible. Some
think there is a copyists error here. Lk 11:51 mentions
Zechariah, but does not say "son of Berachiah." Albright and
Mann, (Anchor,Matthew, p.282) suggest this might be another
Zechariah of whom we have no knowledge. More likely the solution
would be to say that since Jehoida lived 130 years,he must have
had children. One could have been Berachiah, the actual father of
Zechariah. This would be quite possible. A grandfather or even
more remote ancestor is sometimes spoken of as a man's father.
Thus Zechariah is said to be son of his grandfather Iddo in Ezra
6:14 (cf.Zech 1:1). And Daniel 5:2 speaks of Belshazzar as son of
Nebuchadnezzar - who lived long before Belshazzar.
Interestingly the parallel passage in Luke 11:49-51 omits
the name Berachiah. But also, at the start it says: "The Wisdom
of God says." So the Gospel seems here to be quoting an unknown
work. How far did the quote extend? As far as the words about
Zechariah? If so, the presence in Mt of the same words with
Berachiah might be a quote all the way through. Then inspiration
would only guarantee it was quoted accurately, not that the
extraScriptural source was correct.
Jesus even called the Pharisees," brood of vipers". This is
strong language. John the Baptist spoke similarly: 3:7; 12:34.
Some think it is unchristian to speak strongly. Not at all, Jesus
did it when there was reason, as there was here.
Jesus laments over the coming ruin of Jerusalem. He wished
to gather them as a hen does her chicks, but they refused.
St.Augustine remarks (Tract 15 on the Gospel of John) that a hen
is more motherly than other animals, for even when we do not see
the chicks, we can see she is a mother. This expresses the warmth
of God's love. It does not justify calling God "she", which the
Scriptures never do.
He said they would not see Him again until they would say:
"Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord." This
could not mean Palm Sunday, which was past by this time. Some
think it refers to His second coming - sad for some, glad for
others. Others think it refers to the coming conversion of the
Jews to Christ, foretold in Romans 11:25-33.
Chapter 24: the end of time and of Jerusalem:
we are not dividing this chapter as usual,since there is so much
difference among commentators about it.At first sight,it seems
the disciples ask Him two questions: about the signs for the fall
of Jerusalem,and about the sings for His return at the end. Some
think that in the minds of the disciples,both were taken
together,that they would both happen at about the same time.
But if we turn to what as in the mind of Christ, there are
clearly two events, for the fall of Jerusalem happened in 70 AD,
the end is not yet here.
We have spoken before of multiple fulfillment of prophecies
(cf.Free From All error, chapter 5 ). It is likely that we have a
large example of it here. We mean that all the signs went through
before 70 AD, and of course, can go through again before tHis
second coming.The following content is summarized from chapter 5
of Free From All Error.
1) "Many will come in my name, saying: "'I am the Christ',
and will lead many astray." There were false Messiahs before 70.
Thus Acts 5: 36-37 tells of revolts led by Theudas and Judas of
Galilee. Now Judas seems to belong to an earlier time, about 6-7
AD. Josephus however puts Theudas in the 40s AD. To explain:
Josephus is not always accurate; or, Luke may be following the
Greek genre of history in which speeches may sometimes be made up
to fit an occasion, without solid basis.
Acts 21:38 speaks of another false Messiah from Egypt,but
does not give his name.
2)Wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes. But Jesus
adds "All this is only the beginning of sufferings." So these
signs which are general enough to apply to almost any period of
history,are not signs immediately before the end.
There were many wars before 70, especially the great Jewish
revolt starting in 66 AD. Also 69 was the year of the four
Emperors: Galba, Otho, Vitellius,and Vespasian. The first three
each ruled just a few months after the fall of Nero. Vespasian
finally was able to hold the throne. And there were famines in
the time of Emperor Claudius (42-54). Acts 11:28 says a prophet
called Agabus predicted a severe famine.
There were pestilences too. Tacitus in Annals 16:13 says
that the year 65 was "a year of shame and of so many evil deeds,
[which] heaven also marked by storms and pestilence. Campania was
devastated by a hurricane,which destroyed everywhere country
houses, plantations and crops, and carried its rage to the
vicinity of Rome, where a dreadful plague was sweeping away
people of all classes...the houses were filled with corpses,and
the streets with funerals."
Tacitus also tells of earthquakes in various places in the
empire: In the Province of Asia in 53 (Annals 12:58); in Rome in
51 AD (Annals 12:43); in Campania and especially Pompeii in 62 AD
(Annals 15: 22). Seneca the philosopher and Josephus also tell of
Jesus also foretold persecutions.There were many of those
before 70 AD,and many of them from the Jews, who persistently
pursued St.Paul,and once thought they had him dead by
stoning.Nero's persecution also came in this period.
24:12 is frightening: Because sin will go the limit,the love
of most people will grow cold. There was immense sin in this
period of course, perhaps not as great as that which will come
before the end, to which specially applies Lk 18:8: "When the Son
of Man comes, do you think He will find faith upon the earth?"
24:14 says the Gospel must be preached throughout the
world,and then the end will come." St.Paul told the Romans
(15:23) that he no longer had a place to preach in the whole
eastern Mediterranean. But before the real end, the Gospel will
have reached throughout the globe.
A specially difficult line is 24:15: "When you see the
desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet Daniel (9:27)
standing in the holy place...then let those who are in Judea flee
to the mountains." Daniel spoke of the desecration of the temple
by Antiochus Epiphanes (167-65). The Emperor Caligula in 40 AD
ordered that a statue be place in the Jerusalem Temple, but it
seems his subordinates had the good judgment to ignore that
order. Yet Eusebius (Histories 3.5) reports that many Christians
in Jerusalem did see something that caused them to flee to the
city of Pella before the fall of Jerusalem. Probably they had
seen the Roman eagles on the standards of the soldiers in the
outer temple area. The soldiers actually worshipped those eagles,
and so they were really idols.
Another difficult line is 24:29-31: "Right after the
tribulation of those days,the sun will be darkened, and the moon
will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky,
and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear
the sign of the Son of Man in the sky."
For certain this passage is basically of apocalyptic genre.
And we know that such language was used earlier, by Isaiah 13:9-
10: "The day of the Lord comes, cruel with wrath...for the stars
of the heavens and their constellations will not give their
light; the sun will be dark at its rising and the moon will not
shed its light." But Isaiah spoke only of the fall of Babylon.
Isaiah spoke similarly in 34:4 on the fall of Edom, as did
Ezekiel 32:7-8 on distress coming to Egypt. So such language
could apply to coming fall of Jerusalem, more terrible than that
However, the last words of 24:31 may apply only to the final
end, when the sign of the Son of Man - mostly likely the cross -
will appear in the sky. This is what Jesus Himself seems to have
spoken of in Mt 26:64 to the High Priest saying he would see the
Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.
24:43 says this generation will not pass away until it all
is fulfilled. Yes, we have seen that at least practically all the
signs enumerated did come before 70 A.D. They will come most
fully before the final end.
Finally,Jesus warns that the signs are not so clear that
most people will read them: "As were the days of Noah, so will be
the coming of the Son of Man." People will be eating, drinking,
marrying - that is, business as usual. And suddenly it will be
there. So St.Paul told the Thessalonians (1 Th.5:2-3) that the
day will come like a thief in the night. Cf.2 Pet 3:10. His
coming will be as obvious as lightening flashing from one end of
the sky to the other:24:27.And as obvious also as a carcass with
vultures circling around it: 14:28. Verses 40-43 tell of one
being taken to reward, the other to punishment at that coming. So
25:1-13;Parable of wise and foolish virgins:The teaching is the
same as the last part of chapter 24:One must be prepared and
watch,for the time can come suddenly.
25:14-30:parable of the talents: A master who is rich cannot
easily take his money with him,so he entrusts it to slaves to
invest for him. A talent was about 6000 denarii - a denarius was
a day's wages.So the sum is enormous. The talents stand of course
for the abilities,natural and supernatural,entrusted to each one.
Each one should make profitable use of their own talents.The
reward will be great.
But one man said the master was harsh: he would reap what he
had not sown. The master judged him out of his own mouth: he had
considered the master harsh. So the master would be harsh to the
servant. Lk 19:22 puts it very dramatically: "I will judge you by
your own words."
This is a frightening line. We wonder : does it apply to
those who paint God as harsh, as condemning to hell those who
never had a chance to hear of the Church. If God takes them at
their word, they will not fare well. Yes.there is a teaching:No
salvation outside the Church.But as the Holy Office said in
condemning the errors of L.Feeney in 1949,we must understand the
documents of the Church the way the Church means them, not by
private interpretation. Cf.DS 3866ff.and Wm.Most,Our Father's
Plan, appendix I.
Verse 29 of chapter 25 seems like a proverb. We could
explain it by a comparison. We think of a man who has never been
drunk before,but tonight he gets very drunk. Next day he will
have guilt feelings -it is the first time - from a clash between
his beliefs and his actions. In time,something will give. He will
align his actions with his beliefs or his beliefs will be pulled
to match his actions. He will lose the ability to see moral truth
more and more; and this can extend even to doctrinal truths. So
he goes out on a spiral, which gets larger as it goes out, and
feeds on itself. There is a spiral in the good direction, in
which one lives strenuously according to faith, which says the
things of this world are worth little compared to eternity. His
spiritual vision improves more and more. So the one who is on the
bad spiral begins to lose much of the light he once had; the one
on the good spiral is given more and more.
Is this the same parable as in Lk 19:12-27? We know, as we
said before, that Jesus, a traveling speaker, would often repeat.
It could be He gave the same idea in slightly different forms at
different times. There are considerable differences in detail in
the two presentations, leading us to incline to think of one
parable given twice or more than twice.
25:31-46: Last Judgment: We notice easily the color of
apocalyptic genre here. All humans of all centuries are assembled
before the Divine Judge. Of course,no spot on earth would be
enough for this,there probably would not be standing room on the
globe. So it is clearly apocalyptic. Of course,there will be a
last judgment,but not in precisely this form.The essential is
that all the judgments of God on each individual be revealed and
shown to be just. That could be done by way of something like an
interior locution: in such an event,God as it were touches the
brain of a person,and can convey any amount of information in
just one touch.
The judgment deals only with matter of fraternal charity, in
which Jesus identifies Himself with the suffering and the poor.
Of course, all moral matters are material. But His purpose was to
put special stress on these matters.
What of the fact that the judge seem not to accept ignorance
as a plea? we distinguish.If there really would be total
ignorance-- almost impossible to imagine-- there would be an
excuse. The excuse is that the sinners did not recognize Jesus in
those suffering. Now there can be ignorance as to His
identification, but there could hardly be ignorance about the
moral requirement of charity to those in need.
Both the punishment and the reward are equally unending,
eternal. Eternal life can never be boring, for two reasons.
First, the vision of God is infinite,which we,finite
receptacles,try to take in.Secondly,because there is no time
there.There are three kinds of duration:time,eternity,aevum.In
time there can be and are all kinds of changes, both substantial
or deep,and smaller,or accidental.Further,the accidental changes
are constant.Ahead of me is a moment I call future - but it
changes quickly to present- then to past.this goes on without
ceasing. But outside of time,namely in aevum (more on it in a
moment) and in eternity,there is no such constant succession of
accidental changes.Eternity,in the strict sense,is the kind of
duration in which no change of any kind is possible. That belongs
to God alone, though we say,loosely,that when someone dies he
goes to eternity.The right word would be aevum. For God then,with
no change, everything is present.We say He made the world,a past
statement.To His eye it is present. We say Christ will return at
the end, a future statement: to His eye that too is present.We
cannot of course grasp that,but we know it must be true.
Aevum is the type of duration in which angels and devils
always exist,and in which we shall be after death. In it there is
no possibility of a substantial or deep change- hence both heaven
and hell have to be permanent, for the attitude of will towards
God with which we leave this world can no longer be changed.And
hence its effect,eternal bliss, eternal woe,cannot be
changed,cannot end. In aevum there can be accidental change,but
it does not go on constantly,like the unceasing future to
present- to past sequence.Yet there can be some accidental change
before one finally goes to heaven or hell - in those there is no
change at all until the resurrection.Then the change will be
getting bodies,glorified or unglorified. But in purgatory there
are two kinds of changes: 1)the soul needs to pay by suffering
the debt of rebalance of the objective order for its own sins (on
this see Supplement 2 ,after 3:7-10). There may be sort of stages
in this,hence some development. Ideally a soul should get this
work done before leaving this world.If not,it must be done in
purgatory.And thank heavens there is a purgatory,for without
getting this done,there could be no vision of God at all for that
soul. We think of Malachi 3:2::"Who can stand when He appears?
For He is like a refiner's fire." In the vision of God a soul is
joined directly to the divinity,without even an image in between-
for no image could show what God is like,yet it sees Him "face to
face" (1 Cor 13:12). God will not join Himself to a soiled soul
(cf.Apoc 21:27), nor would the refiner's fire let it remain
There is also need,if not accomplished in this life,of full
refinement of the soul to make it fully capable of the direct
vision of God.Again,there may be stages in this development.
But for those in heaven or hell,there is no change at all
until resurrection. St.Augustine wrote that we will partake of
the unchangeability of the eternity of God (City of God 10.7).
Just as He told Moses at the burning bush: "I AM". He simply IS.
The soul in heaven simply IS unimaginably fulfilled and happy.
But there is no succession that goes on and on: it simply IS.
Sometimes teachers used to tell children to imagine a little bird
coming every thousand years to take one peck at a granite
mountain: when it has the mountain all worn away,eternity is just
beginning. The image is faulty:there is no just going on and on:
it simply IS. Simply a soul in hell simply IS unspeakably
wretched and miserable,with no change.
At the resurrection, the souls get bodies. With a glorified
body, the body too is filled with any fulfillment it could wish,
e.g.,can travel anywhere in the universe, should it so will, by
merely willing it. As for a soul with a risen unglorified
body,the Doctrinal Congregation taught on May 17,1979 that there
will be a "repercussion on the whole being of the sinner" from
hell. Thus we attempt to speak more clearly about the fire of
hell. Fire here is rapid oxidation. Oxidation does not affect a
risen body or a spirit. Yet the content is this: the suffering in
body will be as severe and intense as that coming from the fire
of oxidation in this our world.
For those in bliss, the words of Apocalypse apply (Apoc
21:4-5): "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there
will be no more death or grief or crying out or pain, for the
former world has passed. The One who sat on the throne said:
Behold, I make all things new!"
26:1-13: The anointing:Here we can find more details in Mk 14:3-9
and John 12:1-11. Lk 7:36-50 also tells of an anointing, but most
probably it came on another occasion. John tells us that Jesus
came to Bethany six days before the Passover,and was at the
house of Simon the Leper - doubtless a leper whom Jesus had
cured.If we take the Passover to refer to the Last Supper, He
would have come to Bethany on the previous Friday. However the
anointing took place only two days before the Passover.
The woman was Mary the brother of Lazarus, as Jn 12:3 tells
us. She was not Magdalen,nor the sinful woman who also anointed
the feet of the Lord as Luke reports.
The flask was alabaster, with a narrow neck.The ointment
would be removed by snapping the thin neck.The ointment would be
fairly viscous.It was made of nard and was authentic,for the
price mentioned,300 denarii, is large - a denarius was the usual
day's wage for a laborer.
Matthew and Mark say Mary anointed the head of Jesus. John
adds that she also anointed His feet and wiped them with her
Jesus said it was for His burial - it was not usual to
anoint the body of an executed criminal, though of course that
thought would not apply to Him.
Thee were complaints about the waste,especially from Judas
whom Jn 12:6 calls a thief.
Jesus said that they would always have the poor with
them,not so would they have Him,that is in the earthly presence
26:14-16: Betrayal by Judas: This seems to have happened shortly
after the anointing. A betrayal was needed, for the priests
feared to arrest Him in the presence of the crowds,who considered
Him at least a prophet. They gave him 30 pieces of silver,the
price for the death of a slave (Ex 21:32). Zechariah 11:12
foretold payment of 30 shekels,which is called a paltry price in
12:13, for the shepherd, who stands for the Messiah.Interestingly
Matthew,who is sometimes said to be hostile to the Pharisees,does
not mention Pharisees at this point, but only the chief priests.
John 11:56 makes clear that Pharisees were also involved.
26:17-19: Preparations for the Last Supper: Just as He had done
before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, similarly Jesus
instructed disciples to go into the city and prepare for the
Passover meal. Hospitality to those from outside the city was
often extended for this great festival. In addition, Jesus may
have known the host personally.
Date of the Last Supper and Passover:
The problem is how to harmonize John with the Synoptics.We
certainly must not suppose there was a clash, which would mean
error in Scripture. Several solutions have been proposed and are
1.On the one hand,the Synoptics seem to suppose it was a Passover
Mk 14.12: "On the first day of unleavened bread when the Passover
was immolated the disciples said to Him: Where do you want us to
go to prepare for you to eat the Passover."
Lk 22:7: "The day of unleavened bread came in which it was
necessary that the Passover be sacrificed" (thyesthai).
Lk 22.15: "With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with
you before I suffer."
2.But on the other hand,John seems to indicate the Last Supper
was before the Passover.
John 13:1: Before the day of the Feast of the Passover,Jesus
seeing that His hour had come that He should pass from this world
to the Father...."
John 18:28: "They led Jesus from Caiaphas to the pretorium.It was
morning, and they did not enter the pretorium so they would not
be unclean,but so that they might eat the Passover."
John 19:14: "It was the preparation [parasceve] of the Passover
at about the 6th hour...."
1.In that year,when the Passover fell on a Sabbath, some or
all of the Passover lambs were sacrificed on Thursday
afternoon,to prevent the possible violation of the Sabbath rest
2.When the Passover fell on a Sabbath, as it was that year,
the Pharisees held the Passover meal, with or without the lamb,
on Thursday evening, to avoid any danger of violation of the
Sabbath rest, while the Sadducees, closer to the letter of the
law, did so on Friday. Hence the Synoptic account could have
followed the practice of the Pharisees, while John's account
would speak of those who would follow the calendar used by the
3.Jesus entered Jerusalem shortly after noon on Thursday,
the 14th of Nisan.The room was prepared, the lamb taken to the
temple court to be sacrificed (it was a zebah).At nightfall on
Thursday, Jesus and the Apostles did eat the pascal lamb. He died
the next day.
To solve the special difficulties from John:
1.John 13:1: The words "just before the Passover Feast"
refer to Jesus showing His love by washing their feet.
2.John 18:28: The whole celebration of unleavened bread
lasted seven days.The Jews did not want to become unclean for any
part of those days.
3.John 19:14: It speaks of the preparation day. But there is
evidence that those words had become a technical name for Friday,
since Friday was normally the day on which they prepared for the
Sabbath, which was Saturday. Josephus (Antiquities 14.19-21 [
ii.1] uses Passover to refer to the entire Feast of Unleavened
Bread, seven days. Also, the Mishnah, Pesahim 9.5 speaks the same
way. The usage is probably implied also in Luke 22:1. So John
19:14 probably means "Friday in Passover week".
The Mishnah, Sanhedrin 11.4 said that the execution of a
rebellious teacher should take place on one of the principal
feasts so all the people would hear and fear.
26:20-30:The Passover meal: The words of Jesus in vv. 20-21 that
some one of them would betray Him were probably spoken at the
beginning of the meal,and before the institution of the Holy
Eucharist. This seems likely from Mk 14:18 and John 13:10-11.
John seems to put these words right after the washing of the
feet. Luke 22:21-23 seems to put the words after the institution
of the Eucharist. In general,the Gospels do not always observe
chronological order. Or else,Jesus,in sadness, may have said the
same thing a second time. His words in Matthew and Mark about the
one who dips his hand into the bowl with Him were probably not an
identification of the traitor - for if this was while they were
eating the roast lamb,then there would b e a bowl of herbs and a
fruit puree,and all would dip a hand into the bowl- the usual way
of eating then. By these words Jesus was showing the intimate
relation in which the traitor was with Him. And there was an
allusion, brought out by John 13:18, to Psalm 41:9:"My dear
friend, in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel
against me." The real identification of the traitor would come a
bit later, in John 13:22-30, after this point (cf.Lk 22:21).
In verse 24 Jesus says that the Son of Man is going, as it
was written of Him. Thus He shows full awareness of the
prophecies of His passion. Isaiah 53 would be specially in mind,
plus Psalm 22 and Zechariah 12:10-11. Jesus adds that it would be
better for the traitor never to have been born. Is this a
revelation of the damnation of Judas? It could be Semitic
exaggeration,so we are not sure,but it seems possible when we
consider other instances of great exaggeration,such as Is 13:9-10
on fall of Babylon and Is 34:4 on punishment of Edom and Ezek
32:7-8 on judgment on Egypt.
In verse 25 we have Matthew's way of reporting the
identification of the traitor. Was this the same thing as that in
John 13:215-26 and Luke 22:21,or was it a confirmation Judas
asked for. More likely the second.
26:26-29: Institution of the Holy Eucharist: Jesus says of the
bread: This is my body, of the wine,this is my blood. May we
press the word is so as to say He did not mean stands for but is?
No. In both Hebrew and Aramaic, the verb is is commonly omitted.
We depend on the Church for the understanding of the real
Presence,with the help of course of the way the crowds understood
His promise of the Eucharist in John 6: they did not take it as
anything symbolic, but instead drifted away.
He blessed the bread. Probably He used a common Jewish
blessing, such as: "May you be blessed, Our Lord God, king of the
world, you cause the land to produce the bread." Over the chalice
He may well have used a common Jewish blessing: "Blessed are you,
O Lord Our God, King of the Universe, Creator of the fruit of the
vine." We might note the strong similarity of these blessings to
our current offertory prayers in the Roman rite for the host and
Jesus says His blood is poured out for the remission of
sins. The wording is reminiscent of the blood of the Sinai
covenant sacrifice in Exodus 24:5-8.That blood in Exodus splashed
on the people signified that they were becoming as it were blood
kinsmen of God. So He would be their goel, the next of kin
who,within the covenant bond hesed, had both the right and the
duty to rescue a kinsman of his who was in dire difficulty. To
drink His blood then was to be His kinsman, His brother,by a sort
of blood transfusion. The Mishnah,Pesahim 10.6 (from about 200 AD
and so probably reflecting a tradition on hand at the time of
Jesus) uses Exodus 24:8 to interpret the Passover wine as a
metaphor for blood that seals a covenant between God and His
Already this Last Supper was a true sacrifice, in which His
blood was poured out for the remission of sins. For we gather
from Isaiah 29:13 that a sacrifice includes two elements,outward
sign ("they honor with their lips", and interior disposition
("their hearts are far from me").(Not all peoples had so
understood sacrifice,e.g.,in Mesopotamia it was food for the
Here the outward sign was the seeming separation
of body and blood indicated by the two separate species. It was
as if Jesus had said: "Father, I know the command you have given
me.I am to die tomorrow.Very good,I turn myself over to death -
expressed by this separation - I accept, I obey." He made that
pledge that evening, carried it out the next day, when the
outward sign became the physical separation of body and blood. In
the Mass, the outward sign is the same as on Holy Thursday.On all
three occasions, the interior is the disposition of obedience in
Jesus. Cf.Romans 5:19 and Vatican II, LG 3: "By His obedience He
brought about redemption." That disposition was really present
from the first instant of the incarnation, as we see from Hebrews
10:7: "Behold I come to do your will O God." It was interiorly
repeated or rather, continued at the presentation in the Temple,
which was as it were the offertory of the great sacrifice. Now
that obedience is expressed again, but even today in our Mass,the
disposition is continued, not repeated. Death makes permanent the
disposition of soul with which one leaves this world. Hence both
heaven and hell have to be permanent.
His Blessed Mother shared this interior at the annunciation,
in saying her fiat. She repeated it interiorly at the
presentation in the temple. She continued it especially on
Calvary. LG 56 speaks twice of her cooperation by obedience, as
does 61: "In suffering with Him as He died on the cross, she
cooperated in the work of the Savior,in an altogether singular
way, by obedience ,faith, hope and burning love, to restore
supernatural life to souls". Her obedience on Calvary was of
incomprehensible difficulty. For any soul that knows what God
positively wills must not just say, "Let it go", but must
positively will what He wills. So she had to positively will that
He die, die then, die so horribly. This went most contrary to her
love for Him, which was strictly incomprehensible .For Pius IX in
defining the Immaculate Conception spoke of her holiness - which
in practice is same as love of God - as being so great that "none
greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can
comprehend it." So not even the highest cherubim and seraphim can
understand her love, and so her suffering. Only God Himself can
do that! On this cf.John Paul II, Mother of the Redeemer 18-
Since her fiat was continued, never retracted, she had it,
exercised it at the Cross. And so from Scripture alone,even
without the Magisterium, we can see her cooperation in the
redemption, by way of obedience.
Lk 22:19 (and 1 Cor 11:24, but not Mt.or Mk) reports that He
added: "Do this in memory of me." We were not present when He
made that pledge or when He carried it out, but He wanted and
wants us to join our dispositions with His. For even though it is
true that His merits and satisfaction are infinite, so that no
one can add to it, yet it is one thing for Him to earn, another
for us to take in what He offers. Hence Romans 8:17: "We are
heirs of God, fellow-heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer
with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him." This is the
great Pauline syn Christo theme: We are saved and made holy if
and to the extent that we are members of Christ and like Him.
Cf.Romans 6:1-22; Col 3:1-6; Eph 2:5-7 and Rom 8:9.
We carry out this obedience in our daily lives (LG 34),and
present it with His in the Mass.
Our Lady is not absent from the Mass either. Just as she
took such an intimate part, as we saw above, in the objective
redemption,i.e, the once-for-all-earning of all grace, so she
continues in the subjective redemption, the giving out of the
fruits of that once-for-all sacrifice. John Paul II, on Feb.
12,1984 said: "Every liturgical action ...is an occasion of
communion...and in a particular way with Mary.... she is present
in the memorial - the liturgical action - because she was present
at the saving event....She is at every altar where the memorial
of the Passion and Resurrection is celebrated, because she was
present, faithful with her whole being, to the Father's plan, at
the historical-salvific occasion of Christ's death."
As to the outward sign of the Mass: it is still the flesh
and blood He has from her that is offered. As to the inward
disposition - her obedience to His will, to the will of the
Father, has never ceased, is still most perfect, beyond our
ability to understand, as we saw above from the text of Pius IX.
Thomas Aquinas helps us understand a further facet. In Summa
I.19.5.c he says that God in His love of good order, likes to
have one thing in place, to serve as a title or reason for giving
a second thing, even though that title does not move Him. So
strictly, although God did not have to provide for her
cooperation in the redemption, or for her cooperation in the
Mass, or for that of the Saints in the subjective redemption, yet
on this principle of love of good order, it does please Him. So
we had better line up with His will in this. In fact, this
principle also shows us why the Mass is called for at all: Jesus
earned all, once for all, on the Cross, nothing further would be
needed beyond our openness. Yet He likes to have the Mass as the
title for giving out what was once fully bought and paid for.
Jesus said His blood was shed "for many." This reflects the
language of the prophecy of His passion in Isaiah 53: 11 & 12,
where the word is Hebrew rabbim, a strange word indeed. It meant
all, but specified that the all were many. So it means: the all
who are many. It would not be suitable to use if the all were
few. Yet we know it did mean all, by parallelism with kulanu, a
more ordinary word for all, in verse 6 referring to the same
persons. If Jesus were speaking Aramaic,the word would be
saggi'in, which we find in the Targum on Isaiah on these two
verses,53:11 & 12.The words "for many" are in Matthew and Mark,
but not in Luke or 1 Corinthians.
There are some today who have little faith, and insist the
Mass is now invalid since once we had the Latin pro multis but
now have "for all." We said they have little faith. They argue
that a substantial change in the word for a sacrament makes it
invalid. That is true. But it is for the Church to decide which
changes invalidate, not for private persons, engaging in private
interpretation, parallel to the private interpretation done by
Protestants on Scripture. The Church shows this approval by the
constant practice of the Pope when he says Mass in English or
Italian. He who does not believe the Church falls under the
stricture of Mt 18:17. And further, we have just shown the Hebrew
background from Isaiah 53. Further,St.Paul always uses Greek
polloi, whose usual meaning is many, to mean all when he uses
polloi as a substantive, e.g.,Romans 5:19,where Paul uses polloi
but obviously means all, for he is speaking of original sin,
which comes to all. Latin picked up the pro multis translation
from St.Paul's Greek practice.
As we said, the Eucharist is a sacrifice. It was also the
making of the New Covenant, as foretold by Jeremiah 31:31-33 .
(Cf.LG 9). We may well wonder if Jeremiah saw all that the
Church now sees, for it is likely Jeremiah would have thought of
the obedience of the new covenant as parallel to that of Sinai in
Ex 19:5, namely, the obedience of the people. Of course,the
obedience of the people is involved, as we saw above, in speaking
of the syn Christo theme. But LG 55 indicates that the Holy
Spirit may have more in mind than what the human author saw in
some texts - LG was speaking there of Gen 3:15 and Is 7:14.
Hebrew berith meant only covenant. But the Greek word
diatheke used to translate it, could mean either covenant or last
will and testament.Almost always in the NT diatheke means
We have seen that the Redemption and Eucharist is a
sacrifice and the making of the New Covenant. The redemption is
also rebalance of the objective order, which was explained in
Supplement 2,after 3:7-10. Jesus gave up immeasurably more than
all sinners had taken from the scales of the objective order.His
Blessed Mother, as we just explained, joined in that. Yet she did
not add to the rebalance, for her whole ability to do anything
came entirely from Him. She did contribute to making the titles
(cf.I.19.5.c) richer,as the Father so generously willed.
The Council of Trent,in DS 1752 tells us that by these
words, "Do this in memory of me," Jesus ordained the apostles
Verse 29 indicates this was the last Passover meal He would
have with them before His death.
26: 30-35: To Gethsemani (Aramaic for oil press): They sang a
hymn. The Hymn normally used at this point in the rite was the
last part of the Hallel, Psalm 114-18 or 115-18. In Ps 118.1-4
the leader would sing the first part of the line, the group would
answer: "For His hesed,(fidelity to the covenant), endures
forever." How meaningful for Jesus to use these words precisely
at the time when He was making the new covenant. We can think
too: He chose precisely this time, when our race was preparing to
do its worst against Him, to give us this miraculous means,the
Eucharist, of being close to Him.
Jesus then quoted Zechariah 13:7.He Himself is clearly the
Jesus then said He would go before them to Galilee - in the
account of the postresurrection appearances, the angel tells the
women to tell the apostles to go to Galilee,where they will see
Him as He said. Yet there are appearances before that.The reason
is probably here: Jesus speaks of Galilee as the point from which
His mission had begun, also the place where it was then to close.
Peter and the others then said they would never desert
Jesus.But Jesus predicted Peter would deny Him before cockcrow.Lk
22:31 and Jn 13:36-38 both say the prediction came before leaving
the dinner;while Matthew and Mark put it ion the road to
Gethsemani. Commentators point out that there may have been two
predictions.Quite possible.But when we recall that the
Evangelists are not trying for chronological order in
general,perhaps the effort is not needed.
Mk 14:30 speaks of Peter denying before the cock would crow
twice.Romans gave the name cock-crow to the period between
midnight and 3 A.M. Roosters then seem to have crowed about 12:30
AM,1:30 A.M. and 2:30 a.m.
26:36-46: agony in Gethsemani: Jesus went to the area on the west
slope of Gethsemani. He took within that place only the special
three, Peter, James and John. He said His soul was sorrowful to
the point of death, a sorrow so deep it could almost kill.
Matthew says He was in grief and agitation. Mark even uses the
One unperceptive commentator says He should not have been
afraid, for He knew He would rise on the third day. How dull!
That foreknowledge would not keep the nails and scourging from
What of His emotional distress and even fear? There are
insistent teachings of the Church that His human soul, from the
first instant of conception,saw the vision of God,in which all
knowledge is present (cf.Wm.Most,The Consciousness of Christ,
Front Royal,Va.1980). So He knew from the first instant, in
horrid detail, everything He was to suffer. This would as it were
eat on Him. He allowed us to see inside Himself in Lk 12:50:
"I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened
until it be accomplished". That is, I must be plunged into deep
suffering, and cannot get comfortable until it is over. Similarly
in John 12: 27: "Now my heart is troubled. What shall I say?
Father,save me from this hour." And then in the garden this
nightmare, running all His life, caught up with Him. When we have
a bad dream, we scream and awaken ourselves. He awoke to find it
had Him. The fact that He had this foreknowledge would not
protect Him from fear and distress. Rather,it made it worse,
since it had been running all His life long. In Phil 2:7 we hear
that He emptied hImself. Of course,He could not stop being
divine,but He could and did decide not to use His divine power
for His own comfort --would use that only for the sick. So His
was an unprotected humanity,and such a humanity would suffer
intensely from such a prospect.
Hebrews 5:8 says that Jesus "learned obedience from the
things He suffered". Now this cannot mean that obedience in His
human will was at all deficient. For the same Epistle to the
Hebrews in 10:5-7 says that on entering into the world at the
incarnation He said:"Behold, I come to do your will O God". But
besides obedience in the will there is a bodily counterpart,which
could be called a resonance (on this cf.Wm.Most, Our Father's
Plan,chapter 16).Imagine a man who has been very devoted to the
will of God for years, but yet has never had any great physical
suffering. Now he falls gravely ill. Even though his will is
fully in accord with the will of God, yet it takes some
adjusting, as it were,to enable his bodily side to settle
down,to acquiesce in that pain. Similarly the bodily side of
Jesus could undergo an adjustment, while His will was always with
that of the Father.
But it was not just the prospect of terrible physical
suffering, it was also the pain of rejection by those He loved.
The pain of rejection is in proportion to two things: the form
the rejection takes, and the love the rejected one has for those
abusing him. The form the rejection took here was not just
jostling rudeness in a crowd: it was death, death in the most
hideous form imaginable. And as to love: His love for us was, in
His divinity, the infinite love of God for us; in His human will,
it was willing or wishing us eternal happiness so strongly as to
be willing to go through such a suffering to make it possible.
Pius XII in his Encyclical Haurietis aquas (May 15,1956) explains
that Jesus had a three fold love: besides the divine love and the
love in His human will there was also a love of feeling, in His
human heart. He is said to have told St.Margaret Mary in a Sacred
Heart vision that the pain of rejection was worse than the
physical suffering. Of course, it was a pain of a higher order,
and a pain proportioned to the two factors just explained, and so
an incomprehensible pain.
We must not forget that because of the vision in His human
soul from the very first instant, He knew all sins of all ages,
those before His time, those after His time, even to our own day.
However, Pius XI also, in Miserentissimus Redemptor (May
8,1928:AAS 20.174) said: "Now if the soul of Christ [in
Gethsemani] was made sorrowful even to death on account of our
sins, which were yet to come, but which were foreseen, there is
no doubt that He received some consolation from our reparation,
So St.Paul was right, when he wrote in Romans 5:8: "God
proved His love for us." To love is to will good to another for
the other's sake. If one then sets out to bring good to the
other,but can be stopped by a small obstacle, that is a small
love. If it takes a great obstacle to stop it, it is a great
love. If even an immeasurable obstacle cannot stop it, that love
is beyond our understanding.
He showed the intensity of His human revulsion from this
suffering by praying: "Father,if it be possible, let this cup
pass from me." But He at once added:'Not my will,but yours be
done." Was it possible to redeem us without such pain? Definitely
yes. Let us consider the alternatives of redemption. We imagine
the Father looking over the scene after the first sin,and looking
ahead to all personal sins. He did of course intend to restore
our race, but how? There were several possible ways or
alternatives: 1)He could have forgiven with no make-up at all.
This would have been generous, but not nearly so generous as the
means He willed to provide. And it would not at all satisfy His
great love of the objective moral order, which we explained in
Supplement 2 (after 3:7-10). 2)He could have provided for an
inadequate redemption, i. e., one that would not fully balance
the scales of the objective order,by appointing any mere human to
carry out any religious act, perhaps an animal sacrifice. That as
we said would not fully rebalance, yet He could have accepted it.
3)He could have had His Son born in a palace, equipped with every
possible luxury. He would not have had to die, or even stay with
us more than an instant. For the merit of the incarnation of an
Infinite Person would be infinite. Infinite too would be the
reparation or satisfaction contained in the acceptance of such a
come-down by a Divine Person. But this was not enough for the
love of the Father,and therefore,not enough for the love of the
Heart of His Son. 4)He went beyond the palace to the stable,
beyond a brief incarnation to the cross. The third option would
have been infinite: so this was infinity beyond infinity.In
mathematics infinity cannot grow, but this is not the lowly
terrain of mathematics, but the lofty realm of incomprehensible
divine generosity which wanted to make everything as rich as
possible for us,and for the restoration of objective moral
goodness. 5)There was a possible addition even so. It was as if
He looked back to the second option, the use of a mere human, and
then decided He would add a mere human, the Blessed Mother. We
already explained how this would operate: her whole ability to do
anything would come from Him, and so would not strictly add to
the price. Yet it was something of incomprehensible value, as we
explained before, in considering the difficulty of positively
willing His death, such a death, countered by her love for Him,
which as we saw from the words of Pius IX was literally beyond
the comprehension of any actually existing creature. This
cooperation of hers was by obedience, joined with His obedience,
which was the covenant condition, a condition that gave all the
value to His sacrifice.
So we return to the question: Could the cup have passed? We
distinguish: Yes, in the sense that, as we have just seen, there
could have been even an infinite redemption by the third
alternative,incarnation in a palace. But the Father's love,and
the love of the Heart of His Son, were such as to want the
fullest possible redemption. Although the Church does not and
cannot guarantee for us the authenticity of any private
revelation (anything made after the completion of the New
Testament and the death of the last Apostle) yet,the Church has
shown the highest esteem for those received by St.Margaret Mary,
from the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In her Autobiography (ed.Vincent
Kerns,London,1976,pp.44-45,cited from Timothy T.O'Donnell, Heart
of the Redeemer, p.131, Ignatius), she reports He told her He
receives little but ingratitude and indifference from most
people."This hurts me more than everything I suffered in my
passion. Even a little love from them in return - and I should
regard all that I have done for them as next to nothing,and look
for a way of doing still more."
Luke 22:44 says He literally suffered a sweat of blood. This
terrible happening is not unknown medically. It happens when the
interior tension is so extreme that the capillaries next to the
sweat glands rupture and pour their red tide out through those
openings. (The manuscript evidence for this verse 44 is divided.
Yet when we consider it in relation to the whole picture and the
inexpressible tension and stress within Him, it is seen to be
He had asked the special three to watch and pray.They failed
Him miserably, a part of the rejection of which we spoke.
26:47-46: the arrest:
When the mob led by Judas arrived.Judas marked Him with a
kiss,for in the darkness it may have been difficult to know for
certain which one was Jesus. A kiss on the cheek was a common
part of a greeting then.
In Luke 22:36, after the prediction of the treason of Judas,
Jesus had said: "Now the one who has no sword, should sell his
cloak and buy one." Was He asking them to fight to defend Him
against Judas and the mob? Of course not. For He also said soon
(26:53) that He could ask the Father and the Father would send
more than 12 legions of angels. But the Apostles,as so often,did
not understand,and so they said (Lk:22:38) that they had two
swords.Jesus replied;"It is enough." Probably it was weariness at
their lack of comprehension so He said:Enough of this!
But Peter did use his sword on Malchus (cf Jn.18:10) a
servant of the High Priest,and cut off his ear.Jesus at once
healed the ear,and told Peter:'Put away your sword.Those who take
up the sword will perish by the sword." This seems to be a sort
of proverb : those who are long in war will be apt to be killed
by the sword.
For certain this remark was not absolute pacifism. Jesus as
we said, was using a proverb. And Christian tradition does not
support complete pacifism at all. Some voices at Vatican II
wanted to teach such pacifism,but the final documents say that
war can be just. Among the early Christian writers there are only
four absolute pacifists, and all of them are guilty of heresy in
other things. They are: Marcion, who rejected all of the Old
Testament and most of the New; 2)Tatian,who founded the heresy of
the Encratites; 3)Tertullian, after he became a heretical
Montanist - before that he had written the opposite;
4)Lactantius, who in the same breath forbids capital
punishment,thereby contradicting St.Paul in Romans 13:4. Some
would add Origen, but Origen is merely saying it is more fitting
that Christians should just pray for victory,rather than fight.
Now to pray for victory would be wrong if all war were wrong.
26:57 - 27:2 Jewish trials: Commentators labor much to show that
the four Gospels do not contradict each other on the trials in
the Jewish court,and before Pilate. Really, work is not needed,
for all admit that the Gospels did not try for chronological
order. Nor did they all insist on being fully complete. A loose
comparison may help. If we imagine two persons making a picture
of a beautiful scene, one with a camera, one with oil paints and
canvas.The cameraman - unless he would be specially skilled in
artistry - would simply take what is there. But the artist with
the brush would select certain details to highlight,and leave out
others to produce the most artistic effect. Similarly, the
Evangelists selected the parts they thought would be not
necessarily a work of art, but adequate for their purpose.
Yet it is possible for us even so to put together a
plausible picture. There were two trials before the Jews, two
appearances before Pilate, one questioning by Herod in between:
1)Informal examination by Annas while perhaps members of the
Sanhedrin were being hurriedly gathered together: John 18:12-14,
2)A decision by a session of the Sanhedrin,with the help of
false witnesses,that He was guilty of blasphemy for saying He was
the Messiah,the Son of God,who would one day come on the clouds:
Mt 26:57-68 and Mark 14: 53-65. This was followed by a formal
decision at dawn after He repeated that He was Son of God that He
was guilty.Then they sent Jesus to Pilate: Mt 27:1-2; Luke 22:66-
3)First questioning of Jesus before Pilate in which Jesus is
silent in the face of the accusations of the chief priests and
elders: Mt 27:11-14; John 18:28-38.
4)Interrogation by Herod,who wanted to see a miracle for his
amusement.When refused,he treated Jesus as a fool: Luke 23:6-12.
5)Final appearance before Pilate,in which Pilate,worried by
his wife's dreams, offers them Barabbas or Jesus.Pilate washes
his hands.: Mt 27:15-31; John 18:38 - 19:16.
In the midst of all this, there has been a strenuous effort
by Jews, and some of their sympathizers, to cast all or most of
the blame for the death of Jesus on the Romans, as if they saw in
Jesus a dangerous insurrectionist. Thus E.J.Gratsch in Principles
of Catholic Theology (Alba House,1981,p.91) says: "Jesus was
executed by the Romans with the involvement of some Jews." As
part of the same picture,as we saw above (3:7-10) many say the
clashes between Jesus and the Pharisees mere mostly unreal: the
clashes happened later in the century, and Matthew retrojected
them to the time of Jesus. But this,as we said above,would be to
make the Gospels lying.
The truth is the Gospels tell the truth.Vatican II,in
Declaration on the Relation of the Church to nonChristian
religions 4 says that the special blame (for a general blame
falls on all who have sinned) for the death of Jesus falls not on
all Jews of His time, and surely not on Jews of later times,but
only on those who were before PIlate and calling for His blood.
This is very obviously correct.But we should add that other Jews
quickly ratified the attitude of the smaller group,by their early
persecution of Christians,and by their repeated attempts to kill
St.Paul - at Lystra they actually stoned him,and thought he was
dead: Acts 14:19. And Paul sadly complained that because of such
determined persecution, the Jews were "filling up the measure of
their sins": 1 Thes 2:14-16. The background is the theme found in
2 Mac 6 where the writer says that with some people, God lets
them fill up the measure of their sins,and then comes final
terrible ruin. With others - such as the Jews then being
persecuted - He strikes them on the way to bring them to their
But it is a travesty to call Paul antisemitic,cf.Romans 9:1-
3 where Paul says he is so sad at the fact that most of his
kinsmen are not in the Messianic kingdom that he could even wish
to be cursed and away from Christ if that would bring them in.Of
course,that was emotion: Paul would never abandon Christ.But it
shows deep feeling for fellow Jews. Also,on his missionary trips
he always gave the Jews the first opportunity by going first to
the synagogues. And in Romans 11 he eagerly hopes for the time
when all Jews will accept Christ,and predicts their final
conversion to Christ, even though he had made clear in the same
chapter that the fallen Jews had fallen out of the tame olive
tree - which stood for the People of God - and so were no longer
members of that People. This of course was the same thought as
that expressed by Jesus Himself in Mt 21:43. Yes, Paul does say
twice in chapter 11 (verses 2 and 29) that the Jews still have
God's call to be part of His people. But it is one thing for God
to call: another for them to answer it. Those who reject Christ
are rejecting that call.
There are other arguments to try to bolster the exculpation
of the Jews. It is said that His trail as in the Gospels is full
of illegalities and so could not have happened. The fear by the
leaders of mob violence against them would call for hurry.For
that is why they had the arrest of Jesus take place in secret.
A.Dalman,Jesus-Jeshua.Studies in the Gospels (SPKC,1929, pp.98-
100) gives other examples or great breaches of legality on the
plea that the time demanded it. Also Roman officials like Pilate
commonly worked early in the morning and then refused to take new
cases later. Also,some executions could take place even on a
feast day. But still more importantly, since the Chief Priests
and Sadducees had already done so much against Jesus that was
irrational,why would they stop at a bit of illegality? They had
objected even when He healed by telling a man to stretch out his
withered hand on a sabbath (Mt 12:10-14). After the cure,the
Pharisees went out to conspire to destroy Him. This cure was not
at all a violation of the real Law. And 4th century Mekilta de
Rabbi Ishmael on Exodus (tr.Jacob Lauterbach, Jewish Publication
Society of America,Phila.,1933,I.7) puts in the mouth of Jonah
these words,"Since the Gentiles are more inclined to repent. I
might be causing Israel to be condemned" by going to Nineveh, for
he surmised they would repent, in contrast to the treatment given
prophets who went to Israel.
The claim is made that the image of Pilate in the Gospels
does not match his known character. Extrabiblical sources picture
Pilate as cruel, imperious,and insensitive, and hating the Jews
and taking few pains to understand them: Joseph,Antiquities
18.3.55-62.Also Philo,To Gaius 38.299-305. We rely: a
weak,selfish man elevated to authority can become despotic and
insensitive. In the crisis forced on him by the Sanhedrin, if he
was not for Jesus,he was against the Sanhedrin.The threat to
denounce him to Caesar (John 19:12 ) would be enough to scare
even a stronger man. The demeanor of Jesus would impress Pilate
that he did not have a seditionist before him. Also the dreams of
Pilate's wife (Mt 27:19) may well have worried Pilate. And
really, the Gospels do not exculpate Pilate, they merely show the
greater blame on the Jews. Interestingly, though Matthew has so
many things to say against Pharisees, and though they must have
been involved in some way, Matthew does not mention them at the
trial of Jesus, a sign of Matthew's honesty.
We conclude: the Gospels do tell the truth,a sad truth.
At the trial before Annas,one of the guards struck Jesus in
the face. He did not turn the other cheek, but rebuked the man.
Cf.our comments on 5:39.
False witnesses at His appearance before Caiaphas said
(26:60-61) He asserted He could destroy the temple and rebuild it
in three days. Jesus had referred to the destruction of His own
body and its resurrection: Jn 2:21,
Caiaphas put Jesus under oath to tell if He was the Messiah,
the Son of God. This was a trap. If Jesus said yes, they would
charge blasphemy,as they actually did. If He said no, they could
call Him an impostor. Jesus replied (Mt 26:64): "You have said
so. From now on you will see the son of Man seated at the right
hand of Power, coming on the clouds of heaven." "from now on" or,
"In the future" seems to refer to His glorious return at the
end.They will see it, but not in their present bodies. Or else:
They will never again see Him as He was standing then, but as the
sovereign Judge. "at the right hand of the Power" refers to Psalm
110:1 "the Lord said to my Lord", which Jesus had explained to
the Pharisees in 22:41-45; "coming on the clouds" referred to
Daniel 7:13-14, in which the Son of Man receives everlasting
power and dominion. Jesus had begun early on to call Himself Son
of Man, as a part of His gradual self-revelation. Now it is time
to speak very clearly, and He does it.
Then Caiaphas rent his garments. That act was prescribed for
blasphemy (Mishna,Sanhedrin 7.5). That would be a tear of a few
centimeters at the breast. Then they spat on Him,and beat Him and
asked Him to show prophetic power by saying who it was who hit
27:3-10:Death of Judas: When Judas saw Jesus had been
condemned,he saw he had sinned,tried to give the money back.The
priests,who had no scruple about condemning an innocent man to a
horrible death, using even false witnesses, did scruple about
putting that "blood money" into the treasury. So they bought a
field to bury strangers.
27:9-10 speaks of the fulfillment of a prophecy of Jeremiah.
Actually the citation is a combination of Jer 18:2f; 19:1f; 32:6-
15 (chiefly this last text) and Zec 11:13. When there was such a
combined citation, the Rabbis usually put on it the name of the
best-known author in the texts.
Judas hanged himself. Now Acts 1:18 says Judas fell
headlong,and burst open in the middle, and his bowels gushed out.
Falling headlong could refer to the hanging. Normally from
hanging, the middle would not burst open. But it is not very
likely that anyone at a time like that would take Judas down to
bury him. So his body hung there in the hot sun for some time,
probably began to decay, and so from internal gasses did
burst.So there is no contradiction.
27:11-31:Jesus before Pilate: On His appearance before Pilate the
priests and elders did not enter the headquarters to avoid ritual
defilement. They said if He were not a criminal they would not
have brought Him. This was unspeakably flimsy: they really had
nothing. Jesus refused to answer the charge. Pilate was amazed at
His silence. Pilate then asked Him if He was a king. Jesus said
His kingdom was not of this world. He said He was born to be king
and came to this world to testify to the truth. Pilate asked:What
is truth? Then Pilate went out to the Jews and said: "I find no
case against Him."
When the priests said Jesus was stirring up people from
Galilee to Judea. On the mention of Galilee Pilate thought he had
found a way out for himself, and so sent Him to Herod,who had
authority in Galilee. Herod wanted to see a miracle for
amusement.After not getting one,he mocked Jesus and sent Him back
After that Pilate again told the priests he found no cause
in Jesus,and so would have Him flogged - fine logic! - and then
release Him. The cruelty of the soldiers led them to crown Him
with thorns and mock Him. Jewish flogging was limited to 40 blows
(Dt.25:3) - they stopped at 39 as a precaution. The Romans just
kept on as much as they felt like, using bits of bone or lead
plaited into leather thongs. The body was at times made like pulp
and even bones could be seen. We may well surmise satan added
strength to the soldiers against Jesus.
We can see that our crucifixes are, for the most part, very
poor, almost a disservice to meditation. For they show no trace
at all of the horrid tearing from the scourging.
This pitiful sight did not pacify the priests, who wanted
more,and shouted for His crucifixion. Pilate offered to release a
prisoner as was the custom at that festival, and offered a
notorious criminal named Barabbas or Jesus. The priest demanded
that Barabbas be freed,and Jesus be crucified. Pilate realized it
was out of jealousy that they had brought Jesus to him, and his
wife reported suffering much in a dream because of "that innocent
Pilate told them to take Him themselves. They reminded him
the Romans had taken away from them the right of capital
punishment. The priests said Jesus claimed to be Son of God.
Pilate,probably thinking of mythology in which appearances of
gods in human form was narrated, asked Jesus where He was from,
and got no answer. So he was very afraid.
But then came the trump card. The priests said if Pilate
would release Jesus, he would no longer be a friend of Caesar. So
Pilate washed his hands and weakly agreed to death for Jesus.
Nothing certain is known of Pilate's later life. Late
reports say he was ordered to commit suicide by Caligula, or that
he was beheaded under Nero. Legends grew. We have the apocryphal
Acts of PIlate. One account even imagines Pilate died as a
Christian martyr and that his wife, Prokla became a saint too.
They have a feast in the Ethiopian church. Prokla has a feast
among the Greek orthodox.
27:32-56:Death of Jesus: Then they led Him to be crucified. On
the way they forced Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross - Jesus
was obviously weak from the scourging, which in some cases even
brought death. Roman law had a practice of "impressment', forcing
a civilian to carry military baggage, but only for one mile. In
5:41 Jesus had advised that if they forced you to go one mile, go
Luke 23:27-31 says Jesus met a crowd of sympathetic women on
the way. He told them to weep for themselves and for their
children - referring to the coming horror of the siege and
destruction of Jerusalem. He said if they do this to the green
wood - wood not naturally ready to be burned - what of wood that
is dry, fit for the fire?
On arriving at Calvary, they offered Him wine mixed with
gall. Mark 15:23 says it was mixed with myrrh. Matthew perhaps
chose the word gall in reference to Psalm 69:21. Jesus tasted
it,as reparation for sins of the taste, but did not drink it. It
was provided by women to ease pain. Jesus wanted to suffer all
Crucifixion was the most cruel and horrid death possible.The
nails through hands and feet would be very painful, but to hang
on the wounds was far worse.In addition,if the weight was put on
the arms,it would cause slow suffocation.The victim would of
course support himself on his feet as long as possible.When they
wanted the two thieves to die quickly,the soldiers broke their
legs,to bring on quick suffocation and also death from the shock
of the breaks. Victims sometimes remained alive for even two
days in such horrid pain.
Jesus was crucified around noon,died around 3 PM. Mark 15:25
seems to say it began about 9 AM. Mark may have been counting
form the beginning,from scourging and mockery at Pilate's place.
Or Mark may be using the common system of calling the third hour
the entire period from 9 AM to noon. Further, we recognize that
ancient time measurements were loose: thus the Hebrew of Jonah
3:4 has Jonah saying God will destroy the city in 40 days - but
the Septuagint for the same says 3 days.
Only Luke 24:34 reports that Jesus,while being crucified it
seems, prayed: "Father forgive them, they do not know what they
are doing."Did this prayer refer to the soldiers,or to the
priests or to all present? For certain,none but His Mother,and
perhaps John,would know that He was indeed divine,the natural Son
of God. Did they not know that He was innocent?They should have
known,for He had given such proofs. Yet we must add a strange
thing. In speaking of the parables we saw in our comments on Mt
13:10-17 that the parables are a marvelous device of both justice
and mercy,such that those who are well-disposed,get more and
more,while those ill-disposed get more and more blind.In getting
more blind,they experience justice,for they have earned the
blinding.But it is also mercy: the more one knows at the time of
acting,the greater the responsibility.The Priest and Pharisees by
the time of the death of Jesus were blind,hopelessly blind.The
common people - some yes,some no,in many degrees.
What of His prayer,"Father,forgive them." His prayer was
always heard, so were they all forgiven? We reply: God is always
willing to forgive, but the recipient must be open,that is,must
repent. Only those who repented actually received forgiveness.
The darkness from the 6th to 9th hour must have been
supernatural, for there could be no eclipse of the sun during the
full moon. It may have covered only the immediate region.
His enemies even mocked Him in such pain, and so did the two
thieves,seemingly both at first,but then one of them changed,and
said: "Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom:" Lk
23:43. Jesus replied: "This day you will be with me in paradise."
The priests mocked Him: Come down from the cross and we will
believe. Sadly,the NJBC on p.1371 cites this text, Mk 15:31-32 as
one of several to prove Jesus consistently refused to work
miracles to support His claims. But this is worthless and even
foolish. Of course He would not give up His work of redemption!
The other texts cited are equally empty.
The soldiers divided His garments among them, but seeing the
tunic was woven without seam, cast lots for it. Thus was
fulfilled what was foretold in Psalm 22:18. Strangely,many
versions present this line as purpose: The soldiers did this to
fulfill the prophecy.Of course not.The soldiers neither knew the
prophecy nor had any purpose of fulfilling it.Btu as a result,the
Psalm was fulfilled.
Jesus saw the beloved disciple, John standing beneath the
cross, with His Mother. He said: "Son, behold your Mother; Woman,
behold your son." The early Christian writer Origen wrote (On
John 1.6):"No one can understand the meaning of the Gospel [of
John] unless he has rested on the breast of Jesus and received
Mary from Jesus to be his Mother too." Pope John Paul II,in
Mother of the Redeemer 23 taught:"'The Mother of Christ'....is
given as mother to every single individual and all mankind.The
man at the foot of the Cross is John,'the disciple whom he
loved.' But he is not alone. Following tradition,the Council does
not hesitate to call Mary 'the Mother of Christ and mother of
mankind.'"(LG 53 & 54).
LG 61 adds beautifully: "...in suffering with Him as He
died on the cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior,in an
altogether singular way, by obedience faith, hope and burning
love, to restore supernatural life to souls. As a result she is
our Mother in the order of grace." In the natural order,to have
the title of mother a woman needs two things: 1) to share in
bringing a new life into being - Our Lady shared in winning the
life of the soul for us in immense pain, as we explained above,at
the foot of the cross; 2) she should take care of that life so
long as she is needed, willing, and able - Our Lady is always
needed,for we need grace all our lives,and all graces come
through her, as every Pope since Leo XIII has taught. She is
never unable, for since she shared in earning all graces, nothing
is ever refused her by her Son. And she is of course never
unwilling - she paid such a price to become our Mother,as we
said, and she would not go back on that.
We note that Jesus is quoted as calling her "Woman".This may
be editorial work by the Evangelist,for it is very significant. -
Mother of the Redeemer 24 says that this word was used to tie
together Cana, the Cross, Apoc.12, and Genesis 3:15.She is the
woman in each text.
We note John Paul II explicitly said, in the quote given
above, that the beloved disciple here is John. Recently it has
been fashionable to say the beloved disciple is someone else.
Besides the Pope's statement we should notice also that it is
obvious that the beloved disciple was one of the inner three,
Peter, James and John. For he not only was asked to take care of
the Mother of Jesus,but he reclined on the chest of Jesus at the
Last Supper, and went to the tomb with Peter.Of course the
beloved disciple is not Peter. Nor is likely to be James, who was
a martyr in 42 AD. So it is indeed John.
We note too that it would be very strange indeed if Jesus
asked John to take care of His Mother if she had had 4 other sons
and at least two sisters.We know for certain that James "the
brother of the Lord" was alive in 49 AD., at the Council of
Jerusalem (Gal 1:19). Cf.also the added reasons given above in
our comments on 1:23.
Mark 15:34 and Mt 27:46 say He also cried out: "My God,why
have you forsaken me?" Pope John Paul II, in a General Audience
of Nov.30,1988 said: "If Jesus feels abandoned by the Father,He
knows, however,that it is not really so. He Himself said: 'I and
the Father are one.' ...dominant in His mind Jesus has the clear
vision of God and the certainty of His union with the Father.But
in the sphere bordering on the senses, and therefore more subject
to the impressions, emotions and influences of the internal and
external experiences of pain, Jesus' human soul is reduced to a
wasteland, and He no longer feels [emphasis added] the 'presence'
of the Father.... However, Jesus knew that by this ultimate
phase of His sacrifice, reaching the intimate core of His being,
He completed the work of reparation which was the purpose of His
sacrifice for the expiation of sins." St.Francis de Sales, in
Treatise of the Love of God 9.3 speaks of the fine point of the
soul. Or, we could think of a tall mountain, 25000 feet in
altitude. On some days, the peak will stick out above the dark
clouds and be in sunshine, while all the lower slopes are in
storm and distress. We mean this: in a human being there are many
levels of operation, in body and in soul. It is possible to have
peace on only the highest level, while all below is in distress.
So was the humanity of Jesus when He recited the first part of
Psalm 22. His human soul, from the first instant of conception,
saw the vision of God (cf.Wm.Most,The Consciousness of Christ.)
Sad then is the mistake of Hans urs von Balthassar in First
Glance at Adrienne Von Speyr, p.66 who says that on the Saturday
after His death, Jesus wandered around the realm of the dead,
without any light, could not find the Father!
Matthew has Eli, which is Hebrew, while Mark has Eloi ,which
is Aramaic.The other two words, lama sabachthani are Aramaic. The
same Psalm predicted the dividing of His garments, and the
piercing of hands and feet.
Some of the bystanders, whether sincerely or not, said He
was calling Elijah. Elijah had been taken alive to heaven (2
Kings 2:1-12). A Jewish tradition, perhaps as old as the this
period, said Elijah would come and rescue righteous men when in
Shortly before dying, Jesus said: "I thirst:". One of the
soldiers dipped a sponge in the usual cheap wine the soldiers
used and put it on a reed for Him. This seems to have been a
Jesus expired with a loud cry, saying Eli,Eli, and saying,
"Father into your hands I commend my spirit." A man dying from
crucifixion could not have given any loud cry,for it killed by
slow suffocation. Hence the Roman centurion, hearing this,and
seeing other phenomena, said: "This was the Son of God (Mk
For the veil of temple was rent from top to bottom at this
point. Probably it was the inner veil before the Holy of Holies.
It meant of course the end of the old regime. Many went away
beating their breasts.
The Jews did not want the bodies to be on the crosses on the
specially solemn sabbath, and so the soldiers came and broke the
legs of the two thieves. That would mean rapid suffocation,
and/or death from the shock of the breaking. But they did not
break the legs of Jesus, seeing Him already dead.But a soldier
did pierce His side with a lance, and blood and water came out.
John 19:36-37 remarks that this fulfilled the prophecy:"None
of its bones shall be broken".This referred originally to the
paschal lamb.Jesus was that lamb of course (Exodus 12:46).John
also adds this was a fulfillment of Zech 12:10 (cited loosely).
Matthew 27:51-53 says that when the veil of the temple
split, there was an earthquake, and tombs of some just men were
opened, and after the resurrection of Jesus they came out and
appeared to many. We do not know if the tombs were opened at the
very moment of the death of Jesus,or only at His resurrection.
Was it a definitive and final resurrection,or would they die a
second time? Since they appeared to many, following, it seems,
the same pattern as Jesus did after His resurrection, we think it
must have been a final resurrection, so that they would ascend to
heaven with Jesus. St.Ignatius of Antioch, who was eaten by the
beasts in Rome c 107 A.D., says in his Letter to Magnesia 9 that
these who rose were or included the Old Testament prophets.
Matthew also records that there were some women there,
including Mary Magdalen,and Mary the mother of James and
Joseph,and the mother of the two sons of Zebedee,James and John
and Salome (not clear if Salome was the name of the mother of
James and John). We saw above that the Mother of Jesus was there
too. These women had provided for Jesus out of their own
resources during His public life.
27:57-66: Burial of Jesus: In the evening, - which would be
considered the start of the next day - Joseph of Arimathea, a
prominent member of the Sanhedrin who had not approved of the
death of Jesus but who had been a secret disciple, asked PIlate
for the body of Jesus. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in clean
linen, and laid it in his own new tomb, which had been hewn out
of rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door and went away.
Mary Magdalen and the other Mary sat opposite the tomb.
John 19:39 records that Nicodemus also came. (He had called
on Jesus by night,earlier in His public life: Jn 3:1-36.He had
become a secret disciple:Jn 7:50, and had argued for a fair
hearing for Jesus before the Sanhedrin:7:51). They brought a
mixture of myrrh and aloes, about 100 lbs. So there must have
been servants with Joseph and Nicodemus.
The next day, the chief priests and Pharisees came to Pilate
and said: "We recall that that deceiver said while He was alive:
After three days I will rise again. So command the tomb to be
made secure until the third day, or his disciples may steal the
body and claim He has risen". Pilate gave them a guard of
soldiers, and they made the tomb secure, and sealed the stone.
St.Paul in 1 Cor 1:23 said: "We preach Christ crucified, a
stumbling block to the Jews, and nonsense to the Greeks. It
really was a stumbling block to Jews, for Deuteronomy 21:23 says:
"Cursed is one who hangs upon the tree." Jesus died that way, so,
theoretically, He was cursed. In Gal 3:13 Paul also wrote:
"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a
curse for us." That was the case in the sense of Deuteronomy. But
He became a curse or cursed so that He might overcome the curse,
and so we, His members, would have victory over the curse of the
law in being His members. For (2 Cor 5:24): "One has died for
all, therefore all have died," and also (2 Cor 5:21): "He [the
Father] made Him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in Him we
would become the righteousness of God."
Not only the cross, but even the incarnation was nonsense to
the Greeks. Plato had written in Symposium 203: "No god
associates with men." And Aristotle,in Nichomachean Ethics 8.7
said no friendship is possible between a god and a man: the
distance is too great. Plato did have a lofty concept of the
chief God, but also believed in lesser gods, made of matter finer
than clouds and spirit. Even they would not associate with us.
Aristotle's concept was lower than that of Plato. Yet he too
thought no God could be a friend of a man. What would they think
then if God not only became man, but even was willing to undergo
so shameful and painful a death as that of the cross! Really, as
Romans 5:8 said: "God has proved His love for us."
28:1-10:Resurrection: Without flatly denying His
resurrection,some reinterpret it much:
1.Radical reinterpetation: The disciples became convinced of
the value of the message and example of Jesus. Then the miracle
of belief happened, and when they spoke of His resurrection they
really meant only the rise of their own faith. Cf.Jurgen
Moltmann, Theology of Hope NY 1967,p.190: "The event of the
raising of Christ from the dead is an event which is understood
only in the modus of promise. It has its time still ahead of it,
is grasped as an 'historical phenomenon' only in its relation to
its future and mediates to those who know it a future toward
which they have to move in history." COMMENT: This is purely
arbitrary, without any basis. The disciples had words to say this
if they meant it that way. Paul in 1 Cor 15 insists on the
reality of His resurrection against Corinthians who, in a
Platonic notion, did not like the physical resurrection. Paul
says if He did not really rise, their faith is vain.
2.Less Radical Reinterpretation: For example, Gerald
O'Collins, What Are They Saying about the Resurrection? (Paulist
1978, pp.46-55) refuses to accept details: p.46:"Such overbelief
also entails holding that he quite literally took and ate a piece
of broiled fish (Lk 24.42f) and that more of less gaping holes
remained in the hands and side of his risen body...." He adds
that such a view is weak and almost comic. O'Collins asks if a
risen man took something to eat, what kind of digestive system
did his body have?. And what kind of risen body was it if it
still had a gaping hole in its side. So instead he wants to say
that the resurrection took Jesus into a new, final, glorious
state of existence in which His body is spiritual and not
physical. He appeals to the fact that St.Paul says in 1 Cor 15.44
& 50 that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven.
The details are only to stress a continuity between the earthly
and the risen Jesus. O'Collins also says that the decision to
undertake a universal mission is told in a way that shows no
knowledge of the command to teach all nations. R.Brown, (Virginal
Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, Paulist, 1973
,p.108) says many now doubt if Jesus spoke words after Easter.
He thinks instead Jesus used interior locutions. Thus Brown
thinks he can account for the fact that at first the Apostles
seemed not to understand the command to teach all nations.
COMMENTS: 1.Brown does not understand interior locutions.
St.Teresa of Avila, who had many of them, tells us (Life 25) that
when God speaks in this way, "the soul has no remedy, even though
it displeases me, I have to listen, and to pay such full
attention to understand that which God wishes us to understand."
In her Interior Castle 6.3. she adds: "When time has passed since
heard, and the workings and the certainty it had that it was God
has passed, doubt can come." Therefore: The Apostles would have
had to understand at once if Jesus had used interior locution,it
would be later when unclarity or doubt could come. But the real
explanation why the Apostles acted the way they did is evident:
The Apostles were so slow to understand, as the Gospels show many
times. They were hindered by fixed ideas that He was going to
restore power to Israel. Even just before the ascension they
asked (Acts 1.6) whether He was going to restore the kingship to
2.Behind these radical views seems to be some
reluctance to accept anything supernatural.The Rationalists had
that attitude clearly. Others seems to have some of it.
There is also a tendency to suppose Scripture is full of
errors. The NJBC on p.1169 insists there are even religious
errors in Scripture. Thomas Hoffmann, S.J. in an article in CBQ,
July 1982 says Scripture is so full of errors that to try to
answer all charges would be like putting patches on a sinking
Sequence of Events after Resurrection: We need to recall what all
admit, namely, that the Gospels do not always follow
chronological order. However, there is more than one way to
arrange the events in a suitable way. Here is one of them:
a)Magdalen and other women come to the tomb about dawn,
and see it empty.
b)In their excitement, she or they run to the Apostles
(Matthew here, in between verses 28: 8 & 9 omits the visit of
Peter and John, our next item,#c).
c)Peter and John refuse to believe, but do run to the
tomb, and find it empty. They are amazed, but do not see Jesus.
d) Peter and John leave, Magdalen at first takes Him
for the gardener. He soon makes self known. Magdalen and others
make a second visit to the Apostles to say they have seen Him.
e)Jesus appears to Peter.
f)Jesus appears to two men on road to Emmaus.
g)They go back to the Apostles and hear Peter had
already seen Jesus.
h)Jesus appears to the Eleven.
i)Thomas was absent before,so Jesus comes again when
Thomas is there.
j)Further appearances at Jesus comes again with Thomas
k)Appearances at Lake of Galilee.
NOTES:1.As often, the Gospels do not keep
chronological order, and there is even telescoping by Luke -
compare his account of the return to Nazareth after the
presentation. Now Luke tells that Jesus said stay until the Holy
Spirit comes. Then he tells of the Ascension, with no mention of
2.M.De Tuya,O.P.in Biblia Comentada Va,p.468
notes that Matthew can use the "plural of category' i.e.,
speaking of a group when it was really an individual. E.g.,28.1-
10 compared to John 20.11-18 (Only Magdalen in Jn).
3.Matthew and Mark, for their own scope,
preferred to stress the Galilean appearances - more frequent,
and they completed the instruction of the Apostles. But both do
add some in Jerusalem: Mt 28.9-10 has appearances to the women;
Mk 16.9-11 has an appearance to Mary Magdalen. - In this
connection, we recall that Jesus at the Last Supper (Mt.26:32 and
Mk 14:28) Jesus said that after His resurrection, He would go
ahead of them to Galilee. Since there is quite a bit of symbolism
in the Gospels, we might say that Galilee was chosen as the
beginning and end of His public career.
The resurrection of all Christians: St.Paul in 1 Cor 15 speaks of
the resurrection of all,and ties that to the resurrection of
Jesus. If the one is not true,then neither is the other,for if
the Head of the Mystical Body rises, the members will too.
In 1 Cor 15:23 St.Paul says, "Each in his own order:Christ
is the first fruits,then at His coming, those who belong to
Christ." Now of course,among those who belong to Christ,His
Mother occupies a fully unique place. Hence,the Church teaches
Pius XII,in The Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus,
defining the Assumption, brings out the parallel of His and her
glorification: "We must remember especially that, since the
second century, the Virgin Mary has been presented by the Holy
Fathers as the New Eve, who, although subject to the New Adam,
was most closely associated with Him in that struggle against the
infernal enemy which, as foretold in the protoevangelium, was to
result in that most complete victory over sin and death, which
are always mentioned together in the writings of the Apostle of
the Gentiles. Wherefore, just as the glorious resurrection of
Christ was an essential part and final sign of this victory, so
also that struggle which was common to the Blessed Virgin and her
Son had to be closed by the 'glorification' of her virginal
COMMENTS: 1) The Pope focuses on the New Eve theme of
the Fathers, which began with St.Justin Martyr, was taken up by
most of the great Fathers.
2) He speaks very strongly of her cooperation
in the redemption, calling it, with subordination of course, a
work in "common". So we see that he takes her cooperation not in
some loose way, but very strictly, strongly enough to form the
chief support of a solemn definition.
3)In the same document AAS 42.768 says that
she is "always sharing His lot". The Assumption is part of this
sharing. Vatican II,in Chapter 8 of LG went through every phase
of the mysteries of His life and death and showed her sharing at
all points, and also says she was eternally joined with Him in
the decree for the Incarnation, and will ever be joined in
eternity after the end of time. For a fill-in on that passage
cf.Wm.Most, Our Father's Plan,pp.221 - 24.
28:11-15: the guards at the tomb: On hearing from the guards at
the tomb that He had risen,the chief priests and elders bribed
the guards to lie. They gave a large sum of money,which would
easily accomplish their purpose.
28:16-20: The Great commission: Here Jesus said:"All power is
given me in heaven and on earth." As God of course He always had
full authority and power. But in Phil 2:7 we see that He emptied
Himself, i.e., refused to use His divine power for anything other
than healing the sick. But now after the resurrection that limit
is off. He not only has all power, but can and will freely use
it. Hence Romans 1:4 says that He was appointed "Son-of-God-in-
power according to the spirit of holiness by the resurrection."
He then commissioned them to preach to all nations, and to
baptize all in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the
Holy Spirit. We already considered above the mistaken notion that
Jesus used only interior locutions after the resurrection.
The Church still insists on only the Trinitarian formula for
Baptism,following strictly the words of Christ. At times in acts
we hear of baptism "in the name of Jesus". St.Paul at Ephesus
(Acts 19:1-5) met some disciples and asked if they had received
the Holy Spirit.They replied they had never heard of a Holy
Spirit. Paul then asked what kind of baptism had they received?
It was that of John the Baptist. Paul knew at once that if they
had had proper baptism they would have heard the Trinitarian
formula. So Paul then baptized them "in the name of the Lord
Jesus".-- from context, he did use the Trinitarian formula.
Qualities of risen bodies: St.Paul in 1 Cor 15:44 says that a
physical body is put into the earth, "a spiritual body is raised"
and in 15:50: "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,
nor can corruption inherit incorruption." Now Paul cannot mean a
body that is only spirit,not flesh.If that were the case,he would
not have needed to write that chapter 15,which was written to
meet the claims of those who did not like the idea of a physical
resurrection - in Platonic thought,they expected unending
reincarnations,and did not like the idea. So the risen body of
Jesus and of those who belong to Him will be spiritual in the
sense that it is fully dominated by the spirit.Hence it cannot
suffer or die:the spirit will not permit it. And it can operate
according to the laws of spirits.Thus Jesus could come (Jn 20:19)
to the Apostles who had locked themselves in. He did not rap on
the door or open it by a miracle. He came in,paying no attention
to the door,for His body operates according to the laws of
spirit.Yet it was really flesh, and to prove that He ate with
them,and allowed them to touch Him. The worries of O'Collins,
mentioned above, about the "digestive system" of a risen body are
surprisingly uncomprehending. His risen body could do whatever He
willed. It did not need food, but He could use it when and if He
willed. He could be seen when He willed,not seen when He did not
will.He could travel from Jerusalem to Galilee,or anywhere,by
merely willing it.the "speed limit of the universe',the speed of
light would not affect a body dominated by the spirit.
The bodies of the risen just will be like His.
On that visit on which He came through the locked door,He
also gave them the Holy Spirit;whose sins you shall forgive,they
are forgiven them; whose sins you shall retain,they are
retained." This seems to have been His very first visit to them
after the resurrection. Right away He gave them the power to
forgive sins - as if since He had paid so dearly for that
power,He was eager to give it out.
Some Protestants foolishly say there is no such thing as
absolution of sins.They think He gave a commission to all
Christians though only the Apostles were present - to preach
justification by faith, with the mistaken Lutheran notion of
faith - and that would forgive sins. The answer is that Luther
did not know what faith meant, nor, for that matter,did he know
what justification meant.He thought faith was confidence that the
merits of Christ are credited to me. So a man could once in a
lifetime take Christ as His Savior,and then would be infallibly
saved,for the merits of Christ being His would outbalance any and
all sins.But St.Paul knows faith includes "the obedience of
faith" in Rom 1:5,that is,the obedience that faith is.Luther
thought if one had faith,he could disobey all commandments - but
faith includes obedience. What a tragic, deadly error! To think
it is all right to sin will not forgive any sin at all. This
interpretation we have just given of the Pauline sense of faith
is found also in a major Protestant reference work, Interpreter's
Dictionary of the Bible,Supplement from 1976,p.333,in almost the
same wording as we have used in speaking of Romans 1:5.
Even though the resurrection was not seen by anyone,it did
happen,and so is historical,as the new Catechism of the Catholic
Church teaches in 639: "The mystery of the resurrection of
Christ is a real event, which has verifiable historical
manifestations as the New Testament testifies." We knew that
some of the outermost planets existed before anyone saw them, by
mere mathematical calculations.The apostles knew from the empty
tomb that He had risen,and since they saw Him in person many
times.The fact that He went into a new and higher form of life --
described above- does not change the fact that it was real and
that He could and did operate in the conditions of our world when
meeting the Apostles.
Will all have a glorious resurrection modeled on that of
Christ? No, the damned will not,though their bodies will be
changed so as to be immortal. We spoke of this in comments on
What of unbaptized babies at the resurrection? The Church
has not given us any definite teaching on the fate of unbaptized
babies,other than to rule out the sad error of some early
writers,and of L.Feeney,that they go to hell.Pius IX in Quanto
conficiamur moerore (DS 2866) taught:"God in His supreme goodness
and clemency by no means allows anyone to be punished with
eternal punishment who does not have the guilt of voluntary
fault." Will they reach the vision of God? St.Thomas thought
not,since they lack sanctifying grace,the means of taking in that
vision. However he also admitted that God's hands are not tied by
the sacraments (III.68.2.c): He could give grace without them.The
new catechism in 1261 says:"...the great mercy of God who wills
that all be saved,and the tenderness of Jesus towards little
ones,which led Him to say: 'Let the little ones come to me,and do
not prevent them.' --these permit us to hope that there is a way
for salvation for infants who die without Baptism." But since we
are not sure, Baptism should be given early in each case.
As for grounds for hope: 1 Cor 7.14 says, in speaking of
Christians married to pagans: "The unbelieving husband is made
holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy
through her husband. Otherwise,your children would be unclean,
but as it is, they are holy." That word holy here reflects Hebrew
qadosh,not meaning high moral perfection, but coming under the
covenant.So the pagan mate comes under the covenant, and so do
the children,even if not baptized.Also God has great concern to
rectify the objective moral order. There are some things that let
us think He may have great concern also for the objective
physical order. Thus the rich man who was unjust and uncharitable
to Lazarus in his life is told by Abraham: "You had good things
in your life,and Lazarus bad." So now it is time to reverse. Luke
6: 24-26 gives four woes,based on such a reverse in the physical
order. So God might say to Himself: "I intended these children to
have a normal life. They have been deprived of it, some by being
cut to pieces before birth by abortion.Now it is time to reverse
such things". So there are grounds for hope, but not certainty.
If an unbaptized child does not reach the vision of God, can
the parents be with it after the resurrection, or even before?
Definitely yes.That vision is in the souls of the parents, and
even if not in the souls of the children, they could associate,
and the children need not know what goes on in the souls of the
parents. St.Thomas holds that God will give such children a
natural happiness. He wrote in De malo 5.3.ad 4: "The infants are
separated from God perpetually, in regard to the loss of glory,
which they do not know, but not in regard to participation in
natural goods, which they do know....That which they have through
nature, they possess without pain." This could include a good
transformation of their risen bodies, so that the difference
between theirs and those of their parents might not be greatly