The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 17:22-27

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 9, 2010

Note: Translations of this passage differ concerning the verse numbers which is why two reference are given.

Context and Setting: Peter’s tribute money. As Peter’s profession of Christ’s divinity (Mt 16:13-20) was followed by the prediction of the passion (Mt 16:21-23), and this in turn by the transfiguration (Mt 17:1-8); so is the manifestation of Christ’s glory in the exorcism (Mt 17:14-20) followed by another prediction of the passion (Mt 17:22-23), and this again by a new miracle confirming the apostles in their faith (Mt 17:24-27). The present section treats, therefore, first of the second prediction of the passion, and then of the miracle connected with Peter’s tribute money.

Second prediction of the passion.

Mat 17:22  (17:21) And when they abode together in Galilee, Jesus said to them: The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men:

“When they abode together in Galilee” indicates that Jesus endeavored to make his apostles familiar with his coming suffering in their own country where they felt more secure. “Into the hands of men” shows either the indignity of the coming suffering or its atrocity; “to fall into the hands of men” was regarded as the greatest misfortune by the prophets [cf. Micah 7:6; 1 Chron 21:13].

Mat 17:23  (17:22) And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall rise again. And they were troubled exceedingly.

“They were troubled exceedingly,” because they did not yet understand the mystery of the cross [cf. Mk 9:31; Lk 9:45; Hil. Chrys.]; in spite of this sadness, there is no such resistance as we find in Mt 16:22.

Mat 17:24  (17:23) And when they were come to Capharnaum, they that received the didrachmas, came to Peter, and said to him: Doth not your master pay the didrachma?

The didrachma.  They that received the didraehmas ” were not collecting a Roman contribution [cf. Jer, Jans. Maid. Lap. Bar. Sylv. Bed. Eab. Pasch. Alb. Thorn. Dion. Wieseler], but the temple tribute [Hil. Baron, ad ann. 33, n. 30; Lam. and nearly all recent writers]; this is clear, first from the amount collected wnich was exactly the yearly temple tribute; secondly, nothing is known of a yearly Roman contribution about the time of Jesus Christ [cf. Wieseler, Chronol. Synopse, p. 265; Beitrage, p. 109]; thirdly, the argument of our Lord in v. 24 “the kings of the earth, of whom do they receive tribute or custom? of their own children or of strangers?” would be of no force if there had been question of tribute payable to an earthly king, since our Lord was no child of the Roman rulers; but he was the Son of God, and therefore free from contributions payable to God. It was commanded by Moses that every male of twenty years and upwards should pay at the time of the census half a sicle (modern spelling: shekel) for the expense of public worship [Ex 30:12 ff.]; after the return from the captivity this tax was made the third of a sicle [Neh 10:32], subsequently it was increased to half a sicle each year [Jos. Ant. III. viii. 2], and about the time of our Lord it was levied even among the Jews out of Palestine [Jos. Ant. XIV. vii. 2; x. 8; XVI. vi. 2; xviii. 9; Phil, de mon. lib. ii. 3]; finally, after the destruction of Jerusalem the proceeds were assigned to Jupiter Capitolinus [Jos. B. J. VII. vi. 7]. The money was collected between the 15th and 25th of Adar [about February.], and during that time there were centres where common money might be exchanged for the temple currency in all towns of the land [Phil, ad Cai. 23; ii. 568], though Nisibis and Nahardea appear to have been the principal centres of collection [Jos. Ant. XVIII. ix. 1].

“Didrachma” in the Lxx. version is equivalent to the Hebrew shekel, but Josephus and Aqnila agree with the evangelist in using it for the “half-shekel”; the drachma was about 15c. or 7 & 1/3d., the didrachma about 30c. or 15d., the sicle or stater [cf. verse 26] about 60c. or 30d. They “came to Peter” because they had a holy reverence for Jesus [Jer. Theoph. Euth. Alb. Thorn. Dion. Caj. Jans. Fil.], and they knew that Peter either was the head of the disciples, or at least enjoyed a great familiarity with the Master [Euth. Alb. Caj.]; whether they asked through malice [Jer.], or deceit [Pasch.], or in order to tempt [Alb.], or sincerely, can hardly be determined; since they said “your Master,” they hardly thought that Jesus would exempt himself from the tax on account of his Messianic claims [cf. Meyer, Arn. Bucher], though they may have doubted about his course of action on account of his common opposition to the Pharisaic traditions.

Mat 17:25  (17:24) He said: Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying: What is thy opinion, Simon? The kings of the earth, of whom do they receive tribute or custom, of their own children, or of strangers?

“He said, Yes,” without thereby indicating that Jesus had paid the temple tribute in the preceding years; the whole passage determines nothing about our Lord’s past conduct in this regard.  “Jesus prevented him,” thus showing his watchfulness over his disciples.

Mat 17:26  (17:25) And he said: Of strangers. Jesus said to him: Then the children are free.

The immediate conclusion of our Lord’s question is that he himself, “the Son f the living God” [Mt 16:16], is free from the temple tribute [Chrys. Theoph. Euth. Hil. Jer. Bed. Eab. Br. Thorn. Caj. Maid. Jans. Lam. etc.]; secondarily, but only by way of theological inference, it may be concluded that also the apostles, as members of Christ’s household, are free [cf. Fab. Jans. Mald. Lap. Sylv. Calm.].

Mat 17:27  (17:26) But that we may not scandalize them, go to the sea, and cast in a hook: and that fish which shall first come up, take: and when thou hast opened it’s mouth, thou shalt find a stater: take that, and give it to them for me and thee.

The second inference is confirmed, as far as Peter is concerned, by the words “that we may not scandalize them,” though Jesus may have spoken here as in Mk 4:30 or Jn 3:11. He gives us, at any rate, a lesson not to urge the law of Christian liberty where it might give spiritual offence to the little ones, and to discriminate between the times when we may use it [cf. Chrys.].

“When thou hast opened its mouth, thou shalt find a stater,” either created there [Dion. Mald. Arn.], or placed there by the ministry of angels, or casually taken up by the fish and not yet swallowed [cf. Sylv. Calm.]; the money is thus procured miraculously, not as if the common purse of the apostles [cf. Jn 12:6] had been exclusively for the use of the poor [cf. Thorn.], nor as if it had been empty just then [cf. Mald.], but because Jesus intended to satisfy the demands of the tax-gatherers without yielding up his own privilege, and at the same time to confirm the apostles in their faith by showing his knowledge and power [cf. Jer.]. “Give it to them for me and thee,” not merely because thou alone among the apostles are bound to pay like myself on account of thy residence in Capharnaum [cf. Schanz], but because of thy dignity as rock of the Church [cf. Chrys. Jer. Suar. Defens. fidei cath. adv. angl. sect, error, lib. iv. c. v. n. 9].

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One Response to “Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 17:22-27”

  1. […] Father Maas’ Commentary on Today’s Gospel (Matt 17:22-27). […]

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