Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 24:37-44
Posted by Dim Bulb on November 22, 2010
Mat 24:36 But of that day and hour no one knoweth: no, not the angels of heaven, but the Father alone.
He says, “of that day and hour,” meaning, thereby, a defined fixed period rather than, “of that year, month, or age;” because, from the foregoing premonitory signs, men could know the year or period of the year, within which it would take place, just as no one knows the precise day or hour of his death, although, from certain premonitory symptoms, it could be easily seen within what time he would die. Having given the general signs of His coming, as far as was expedient to be made known to us, our Redeemer, in order to repress any further undue curiosity, which might be inconsistent with that state of uncertainty regarding our future condition in which His providence desires us all to be kept, tells His Apostles, that no being on earth or Heaven, except God, knows the precise moment or hour of His coming. Hence, His Apostles should not take it amiss, if that was not communicated to them, which was hidden from the very Angels of heaven. In St. Mark (13:32), it is said, “neither the Angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father knows of that hour or day,” the meaning of which, as regards “the Son,” is, that although Christ had the fulness of all knowledge as God; and all knowledge was communicated to Him as man, at the Incarnation; for, “all things were delivered to Him ly the Father” (11:27), still, He did not know the hour nor the day of the end of all things, as Legate sent ly God, so as to communicate the knowledge of it to others. Christ knew it, for whenever any essential attribute is attributed to any Person of the Trinity, creatures alone are
excluded; that is to say, those alone are excluded who possess not the same nature. It is different when there is question of what are termed Notional Attributes, such as, begetting and being begotten, each peculiar to the Persons of the Trinity. But, as creation and the knowledge of it, although, as an act of Providence, by appropriation, attributed to the Father, is still common to the Blessed Trinity; so also is the destruction of the world, and the knowledge regarding it common to the Trinity. However, Christ knows it not as Legate; because, in virtue of His office, He is not to communicate it to us. Just as St. Paul, who discovered wisdom among the perfect, still, among the Corinthians, “knew only Christ, and Him crucified,” this being the only knowledge He deemed fit to communicate to them. In a similar sense, He says
of the sons of Zebedee (20:23): “It is not Mine to give to you, but to them for whom it it prepared ly My Father”. But that He had the full knowledge of all things, we know. For, “in Him were concealed all the treasures of knowledge, and of wisdom” (Col 2:3). God has wisely concealed this from us, in order to keep us always prepared, while daily expecting His coming. And our Redeemer represses any undue feeling of curiosity regarding further or more precise knowledge, by telling them, that no created being, either in heaven, or on earth, can know anything more definite. Nay, that He Himself did not know it as Legate, so as to communicate it to others.
Mat 24:37 And as in the days of Noe, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
“As it was in the days of Noe, so shall the coming of the Son of man be.” As the
deluge came suddenly upon an incredulous world, wholly unprepared for it, and unconsciously and listlessly involved in the pursuit of pleasure, and their ordinary worldly business; so, shall the coming of the Son of man find worldlings indulging in good cheer, in pleasure, and engrossed in their ordinary worldly business.
St. Luke (17:28) introduces the destruction of Sodom in the days of Lot, as a
Mat 24:38 For, as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, even till that day in which Noe entered into the ark:
“Eating and drinking”. It maybe, He taxes them with excessive indulgence
in these things. “Marrying and giving”-their daughters “in marriage.” Most likely, our Redeemer does not here charge them with the crimes which provoked the fearful chastisement of the Deluge. The foregoing words are merely intended to show the supine security they enjoyed, their state of unconcern, and absorption in worldly business, and indulgence in pleasure, while on the eve of dreadful destruction.
Mat 24:39 And they knew not till the flood came and took them all away: so also shall the coming of the Son of man be.
“And they knew not” that is, although Noe, the preacher of justice, had warned them of their impending danger; still, “they knew not,” they did not care to know; they culpably and incredulously closed their ears and eyes against all they saw and heard.
quot; Till the food came and swept them all away,” destroying every living creature under heaven, save Noe, and those that were with him in the ark.
“So shall the coming of the Son of man be" sudden and unexpected. This has reference to the wicked and unbelieving, as it is to them alone, the above allusion to the Deluge also applies. This is clearly expressed by St. Paul (1 Thess 5), where, referring to the sudden approach of the day of the Lord, he tells us, “The day of the Lord shall come as a thief in the night. For, when they shall say, peace and security; then shall sudden destruction come upon them,” &c.
A question here naturally presents itself: How could men indulge in pleasures in the midst of the evils, wars, pestilences, earthquakes, &c., and the several other phenomena, such as the darkening of the sun, the roaring of the sea, &c., that shall precede the final end of all things, the consideration of which shall make men “wither away for fear?” &c. (Luke 21:26.) The reply generally given is, that after the wars of Antichrist and the other evils, which shall take place in his time, a respite and, as it were, a short period of peace and rest, shall be given to the earth, as is supposed by St. Jerome. During that period, the wicked shall proceed with their ordinary temporal occupations, and indulge in their ordinary pleasures in perfect and fancied security; and then the immediate premonitory signs, through which commences the destruction of the earth, shall suddenly come upon them. Besides, even during the persecuting reign of Antichrist, the wicked shall prosper in the ruin and destruction of the good; while the latter shall be in sorrow, the former shall rejoice. On them, the destruction of the world shall come unexpectedly. “The coming of the Son of man,” involves the precursory signs that are immediately to usher in the final destruction of all things.
Mat 24:40 Then two shall be in the field. One shall be taken and one shall be left.
Mat 24:41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill. One shall be taken and one shall be left.
“Then, two shall be in the field” &c. As St. Matthew refers to the coming of our Lord in the day time, he instances classes of persons placed in circumstances
suited to the day time, such as labouring in the field, and grinding at the mill. And as St. Luke (17:34), refers to the event as happening in the night time; so, he instances circumstances suited to night, such as sleeping in bed, and working at the mill the ordinary occupation of female slaves (Exod 11:5) at night, as well as in day time. Our Redeemer wishes to convey, that His coming shall be not only sudden and unexpected; but, that it shall make an eternal separation between the good and the bad, out of every order, whether slave or free, even from amongst those who are most intimately connected. Of these on the day of Christ’s coming, “one shall be taken,” and carried to meet the Judge in the air; “the other shall be left” for reprobation, to be the prey of demons, and eternal fire. Others, give these words an opposite signification, to mean, “one shall be taken” by the demons for destruction and reprobation, on account of his wicked life ; the other shall be spared, left unhurt, in reward for his good works and holy life. It is difficult to determine which is the true meaning. Mauduit has a short dissertation on the words of St. Luke (17:37):
“Wheresoever the body shall be, thither will the eagles also be gathered
together,” which he interprets in a sense quite the reverse of the common one, according to which, the words are understood as having reference to the elect (“the eagles”) gathered, or rather attracted, to meet Christ, whose glorious body shall, on that day, bear the marks of the wounds inflicted on Him for our sakes. In the dissertation referred to, Mauduit adopts the latter interpretation of the words, “left, and taken.” “Left,” safe, unhurt, according to him; “taken,” destroyed, become the prey of merciless demons, which are represented in SS. Scripture as “birds of prey,” that come down to destroy the good seed planted in the heart of man ; and the eagles or vultures viewed as birds of prey, aptly represent the unclean spirits, who dwell in the air, whence they descend to wage their fiendish war with mankind.
But, at what precise time, the circumstances here referred to by our Redeemer, shall take place, is not easily seen, particularly as all men shall have been dead at the time our Redeemer will make His appearance. And, even admitting that some might survive till the very Day of Judgment, it is not easy to see how they can be unconcerned, either in the field, or in bed, or at the mill, after the fearful precursory signs that shall usher in the Day of Judgment. The most probable answer is, that our Redeemer refers to the time that shall precede the signs which immediately usher in the Day of Judgment, as if He said, the darkening of the sun, and the other horrible appearances, shall come on you unexpectedly. if On that night, “or darksome time,” two shall be in one led: the one shall be taken," &c. (Luke 17:34.) Some commentators, with Cajetan, say, that the men of those days shall pay no heed to the signs of coming judgment, and, like the men in the days of Noe, will attend to their ordinary concerns, and not do penance. But this is not very likely, as regards Christians; and, moreover, the precursory signs shall inspire men with suck terror “men withering away for fear” that it would be impossible for them to attend to their ordinary occupations in life. (Luke 21:26).
St. Augustine understands the words in a spiritual sense, as referring to the
different classes of men. Those “in one bed” (Luke 17:4), refer to men free from all concern. Those “grinding at the mill” to those actively engaged in worldly business. Those “in the field,” to the prelates of the Church, labouring in the field of the Lord.
This entire discourse of our Redeemer has for object, to inspire His Apostles, and all His followers, with sentiments of humility and salutary fear, arising from the terrible and mysterious separation He shall make ; and of vigilance, owing to the uncertainty of the time of His coming. The words of these verses convey to us, that from every position in life, from the highest to the lowest, this dreadful and mysterious selection shall be made.
In the interpretation of those commentators, who understand the foregoing of the coming of our Lord to preach the Gospel, the words are quite intelligible; at the preaching of the New Law, some will embrace it, others reject it. “One will be taken” to embrace the Gospel, others left and reprobated from the same (Pere Lallemont).
Mat 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” (21:36). 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.
Mat 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 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 xii. 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 cockcrowing, or in the moming” 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.
Mat 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.