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

Maldonado’s Commentary on Matthew 21:28-32

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 14, 2010

Note: This reading is closely connect to yesterday’s reading, Matt 21:23-27. Also, words in red represents my additions to the text.

Mat 21:28  But what think you? A certain man had two sons: and coming to the first, he said: Son, go work to day in my vineyard.
Mat 21:29  And he answering, said: I will not. But afterwards, being moved with repentance, he went.
Mat 21:30  And coming to the other, he said in like manner. And he answering said: I go, Sir. And he went not.

The priests would not answer Christ lest they should be compelled to admit the authority of Christ; for they knew that the baptism of John was from God, not men (see Matt 21:23-27). What Christ would not reply to them then, He now puts into a parable: showing that John’s baptism was from heaven, and that they were without excuse, because when the publicans and harlots believed on John, and listened to his preaching, and brought forth penance, they would do neither. The parable to the end of the 32nd verse is easy. The father of the two sons was undoubtedly God; who the sons were is more of a question. The Ancients agree with wonderful unanimity that they were the Gentiles and the Jews. The former, when commanded by God to labour in the vineyard, by the natural law, replied that he would not; for he would not observe that law. But he afterwards repented and went into the vineyard; that is, he received not only the natural law, but also the evangelical law, and kept them. The Jew, on the other hand, when ordered by God to go into the vineyard, that is, to keep the Law, answered that he would go, as in Exodus 19:8, but afterwards he went not, that is, he did not obey the Law. So say Origen (Tract, xviii. on S. Matt.), S. Athanasius (Quasi. 39), S. Chrysostom, The Author, S. Jerome, Bede, and Euthymius (in loc). But the parable, which ends at verse 31, probably shows two kinds of men of the Jews. The first: the people and publicans, harlots and sinners, who were commanded by God to labour in His vineyard, that is, to observe the Law, answered, not in words but in deeds, that they would not, because they did not do so. Afterwards, moved by the example and preaching of John, they repented, and not only observed the ancient law, but also received the new evangelical one.

The second class was the priests and Pharisees, who, when ordered to labour in the vineyard, answered that they would go, that is, they professed obedience to the Law, and a close and perfect one; but, in fact, they went not, because they in no way kept the Law, nor believed in John, of whom, as Christ Himself declares (verses 31, 32), the Prophets had spoken. It is credible, at the same time, that Christ also obscurely and indirectly pointed at the people of Jews and Gentiles. For the publicans and harlots seem to form an exact image of the Gentiles, and the priests, Scribes, and Pharisees of the Jews; and we see in another place that Christ, by another parable of two sons, showed the people of Gentiles and Jews (Luke 15:20).

Mat 21:31  Which of the two did the father’s will? They say to him: The first. Jesus saith to them: Amen I say to you that the publicans and the harlots shall go into the kingdom of God before you.

Christ, by these words, seems to show that even the priests with whom He was speaking should go into the kingdom of God, as Origen explains it. It is as if Christ meant, not, indeed, these very men with whom He was conversing, but other priests to the end of the world; for, as S. Paul says, “the fulness of the Gentiles shall come in, and they (the Jews) shall be converted and enter into the kingdom of God” (Rom 11:25, 26). But this does not appear to have been the meaning of Christ, but rather the contrary, that the priests were not to enter into that kingdom. He says that the publicans and harlots go before, not that the priests follow, but that as they were teachers of the Law, and ought to go before, they not only do not this but will not even follow, as He said (8:11, 12). What appears to be the meaning of the passage is: “They go before you into the kingdom of heaven” that is, they show you the way, they give you an example; as explained in the following verse: “I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into the exterior darkness.”

Note: Maldonado seems to me to be confusing what our Lord’s intentions are here. He seems to be identifying the publicans and harlots as those who come from east and west, but in fact, they are two different peoples.

The chief priests and elders are being warned that their self-righteous attitude is dangerous. They refused to repent and accept John’s baptism and so Jewish harlots and Publicans (tax collectors working for Rome) who did accept it are in a better position than they are. The words that “they go into the kingdom before you” would have been annoying enough to those priests, but our Lord ups the ante. He speaks of people coming from “the east and west” to “sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into the exterior darkness.”  Those coming from east and west to sit down with the patriarchs can only be Gentiles, people far worse off than Jewish sinners in the minds of the priests.

These Gentiles will sit down with the Patriarchs in the Kingdom along with repentant Jews, “the children of the kingdom”, but other “children of the kingdom”, the priest and the unrepentant, will be “cast out.”

Mat 21:32  For John came to you in the way of justice: and you did not believe him. But the publicans and the harlots believed him: but you, seeing it, did not even afterwards repent, that you might believe him.

For John came to you. Christ now answers what the priests had refused to answer, and declares that John was sent from God, and that his baptism was from God, not from man (see Matt 21:25-27).

In the way of justice. This is a Hebraism, that is, per modum justitæ, bearing justice per se: having the life of a just man. Christ appears not to speak so much of true and inward righteousness (though this of John’s was most true), as of that which alone seemed such to the priests, and which consisted of outward things alone: dress, fasts, and other like things, which were in John in a remarkable degree as said in 11:18~For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. When, then, John especially displayed this righteousness, which the priests thought the sole or chief righteousness, they had no excuse for their unbelief.

But you, seeing it.  That is, when you saw the example of the publicans and harlots who believed in John, and brought forth penitence, you were not aroused, even by their example, either to believe or to repent.

Did not even afterwards repent, that you might believe him. Christ reprehends the priests for two things: (1) Unbelief: from which they did not believe John as His messenger; and (2) Stubbornness and obstinacy: from which, when they had seen the publicans and harlots believe, they would not believe themselves. This is the meaning of the words, did not even afterwards repent, that is, not even after you had seen their example would you change your opinion.


5 Responses to “Maldonado’s Commentary on Matthew 21:28-32”

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