Mt 24:42 Watch ye therefore, because you know not what hour your Lord will come.
This is the conclusion which our Redeemer derives from the foregoing; and in it is insinuated, that His reason for leaving us in a state of uncertainty, in regard to the time of His coming, is, in order to keep us always vigilant in expectation of it. He illustrates this in the following example. St. Mark (13:33, &c.), adds, “and pray ye,” in order to show us, that our vigilance and personal exertions, of themselves, shall avail nothing; they must be sustained by God’s grace and providence. St. Luke, after warning men against the obstacles to vigilance (21:34), adds, “praying at all times” (v. 36). St. Augustine (Epist. 80) observes, that these words apply to all men, even those who shall have died before the Day of Judgment; because, the Son of God comes at death, when the Day of Judgment virtually takes place for each one. For, the condition of all, on the last day, shall depend on the state they may be found in at death, “quod in die Judicii futurum est omnibus, hoc in singulis, die mortis impletur” (St. Jerome).
“Because you know not at what hour,” &c., contains an allusion to the conduct of servants, who are always on the watch for the arrival of their master, about the time of whose coming they may be uncertain. The sentence, in order to convey its meaning accurately, should be arranged as follows: “Because, therefore, you know not … watch.” Our Redeemer does not speak of bodily watching, but of mental vigilance, ever keeping the coming of the Lord in mind, and acting accordingly, which is conveyed in verse 44. “Be ready,” or prepared, on that day, by being in a state in which we would wish the Lord to find us, viz., a state of grace.
Mt 24:43 But this know ye, that, if the goodman of the house knew at what hour the thief would come, he would certainly watch and would not suffer his house to be broken open.
This illustration shows the vigilance we should employ, while expecting the coming of our Lord. In it, our Redeemer, at the same time, conveys a tacit censure on the indifference of men, in regard to the paramount concern of eternal salvation compared with their vigilant care and solicitude, when there is question of temporal and passing interests.
“At what hour.” The Greek, φυλακῆ (phylake), means, watch, or, hour of the night, in allusion to the military divisions of the night, into four watches, or principal hours, for relieving guard (Luke 12:38). In this verse, our Redeemer compares the unexpected suddenness of His approach to that of a thief breaking into the house of one off his guard.
By “thief,” some understand, the devil, who always endeavours to break into our house, that is, our bodies. By his wicked inspirations, and criminal pleasures, he desires to deprive them of the costly and precious ornaments of sanctifying grace.
St. Mark (13:35), expresses this more circumstantially. “Watch ye, therefore,” for you know not when the Lord of the house cometh; at even, or at midnight, or at cock-crowing, or in the morning,” which may be understood, of the several stages of man’s life. In several passages of SS. Scripture, the coming of our Lord is compared to the unexpected approach of the midnight thief. (Luke 12:39; 1 Thess. 5:4; 2 Peter 3:10, &c.)
In the Greek, instead of, “he knew,” “would watch,” “would not suffer,” it is in the past, “if he had known,” “would have watched,” “would not have suffered,” according to which reading, the example proposed refers to a householder, who, for want of due vigilance, had actually been robbed, and his house broken into, by the nightly robber, whose slothful example, therefore, we should be careful not to imitate; but, rather, be always on the watch, for fear of incurring the like misfortune, in reference to our eternal salvation.
Mt 24:44 Wherefore be you also ready, because at what hour you know not the Son of man will come.
“Therefore.” In order to complete the connexion of this with the preceding verse, and see the force of our Redeemer’s conclusion, the following sentence, which is implied, must be expressed: “But because no householder can know the precise time of the robber’s stealthy approach, he must, therefore, be always on the watch, if he wish to guard his house.” Therefore, as your condition of uncertainty is somewhat similar to that of the householder referred to, as regards “the coming of the Son of man,” you must be always ready, if you wish to secure the salvation of your souls, and escape the ruin symbolized by that of the householder in question.
Mt 24:45 Who, thinkest thou, is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath appointed over his family, to give them meat in season?
“Who thinkest thou,” &c. The order of the sentence should be this: “What servant, whom his lord hath set over his family, to give them meat, in due season, is faithful and wise?” This question was asked, on the occasion of St. Peter questioning our Redeemer (Luke 12:40), if the foregoing parable, regarding vigilance, was intended for the Apostles, as well as for the rest of the faithful. For, it would seem, the Apostles fancied they had privileges and exemptions, which would not permit certain things, addressed to the multitude, to apply to them.
Our Redeemer’s reply, which is put in an interrogative form, for greater emphasis’ sake, corrects this error and conveys, that, as regards the Apostles, and all placed in charge of others, they have need of greater vigilance still, than others, and of greater prudence and fidelity, in the interests of their master; this interrogative form, as St. Chrysostom remarks, conveys, that such faithful servants are very rarely met with. Those placed in charge of others, should bear in mind, that they are “servants” of another, and not themselves masters. “Faithful,” so as not to deceive; “prudent,” so as not to be deceived. “Faithful,” in seeking the interests of their master, and the good of their fellow-servants, not their own; “prudent,” in employing the most efficacious means for this end. “Faithful,” in not refusing their fellow-servants their due measure of food; “prudent,” in distributing it properly, according to each one’s wants and requirements. “Faithful,” in not converting to their own use, what belongs to their fellow-servants; “prudent,” in disposing of these means in due time.
Both qualities are absolutely required in those placed in authority, especially in those charged with the spiritual care of souls. Without “prudence,” “fidelity” may prove injurious; and without “fidelity,” “prudence” would degenerate into cunning selfishness. Hence, they should unite the cunning of the serpent with the simplicity of the dove. This applies, as St. Chrysostom remarks, to temporal rulers also. It applies to the rich of this world, no less than to the doctors and pastors of the Church. To both is confided the stewardship of treasures of different kinds, which they should dispense with fidelity and prudence. And, as if to remind them, that they are mere stewards (Luke 12:42), our Lord calls the servant in question, “a steward.”
“Meat in season,” which is expressed by St. Luke (12:42), “measure of wheat in due season,” is allusive to the custom among masters, of appointing a head slave, or steward, to give out monthly rations, the allotted portions of food, to their fellow-slaves.
In the foregoing, our Redeemer refers, not to the prudence of the flesh, which is death; but, to the prudence of the Spirit, which is life (Rom. 8:6).
Mt 24:46 Blessed is that servant, whom when his lord shall come he shall find so doing.
Mt 24:47 Amen I say to you: he shall place him over all his goods.
He pronounces, “Blessed,” that servant whom, at His coming, He shall find persevering in the faithful and prudent discharge of the stewardship confided to him. He is “blessed,” because, his master will not only place him over his fellow-servants, but, “over all his goods,” as if to share with him His own supreme power, dominion, and happiness, and make him a partner and associate, as Pharaoh did in regard to the faithful Joseph. These latter words convey the idea, of the sovereign felicity and happiness of the saints, and their never-ending remuneration in glory. They point out the more abundant honour and glory, which Christ will bestow on His faithful ministers, beyond the rest of the elect, when returning to judge the world, He shall make them His assessors, in judging the rest of mankind.
Mt 24:48 But if that evil servant shall say in his heart: My lord is long a coming:
Having pointed out the office and rewards of the good steward, our Redeemer proceeds to describe the vices and punishment of the faithless and wicked servant. He particularizes two leading vices, viz., the oppression of his fellow-servants, given in charge to him; and the abuse of his master’s goods, in extravagance and in the indulgence of illicit pleasures. Against these vices, St. Peter cautions the prelates of the Church (1 Pet. 5:2).
“If that evil servant,” that is, that servant whom his master shall have placed over his fellow-servants, forgetful of his duty, having become “evil” and wicked.
“Shall say in his heart,” that is, shall think within himself, “My lord is long a coming,” that is, has deferred his coming.
Mt 24:49 And shall begin to strike his fellow servants and shall eat and drink with drunkards:
“And shall begin to strike his fellow-servants,” for whom, as servants of the same household and occupation, having the same relation to their common master, he should entertain feelings of humanity.
“And shall eat and drink,” &c., that is, squander in luxurious living, in society, where he should but seldom appear, the goods which should be expended in works of mercy to the poor, vying with the worldly rich in pomp and worldly show. This is very applicable to worldly-minded ministers of religion.
Mt 24:50 The lord of that servant shall come in a day that he hopeth not and at an hour that he knoweth not:
At a day and hour, when he may not expect it, shall come the master of that wicked servant, who forgot that he had a master to whom he was, one day, to be accountable, whose goods he dissipated, whose servants he maltreated, acting more as a cruel, oppressive master himself, than as a kind, humane fellow-servant.
Mt 24:51 And shall separate him and appoint his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“Shall separate him.” The Greek word, διχοτομήσει—literally, shall cut in two—may either mean, that He will have him literally slain, and cut in two, the just punishment of faithless slaves; or, have him separated from the rest of his household, and confined to prison, with other wicked servants.
“And appoint his portion with the hypocrites”—(St. Luke 12:46, “with unbelievers”)—may either refer to unfaithful servants; and this is expressed here by “hypocrites,” these faithless slaves, who serve to the eye of their master, and pretend fidelity in his presence, but, loiter and misspend their time in his absence. This is the meaning of the word, if we adhere to the parable throughout. Or, the words, “unbeliever” and “hypocrite,” may express, those whom the wicked servant represents, viz., the unbeliever, who is condemned to hell for unbelief; and the wicked Christian, who is condemned for his hypocrisy and wicked life. It is not unusual for our Redeemer, at the close of a parable, to use expressions which are only applicable to the subject which the parable is introduced to illustrate, just as the punishment of “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” is that of the persons whom the wicked servant only figuratively represents.