Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Matthew 6:16-21
Posted by Dim Bulb on February 19, 2012
Mat 6:16 And when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward.
And when you fast, &c. Christ has taught the way to pray, He now teaches how to fast, because prayer without fasting is weak, as S. Chrysostom says. He teaches that it should be in earnest, and in secret, not with the object of pleasing men but God. For sad, the Greek has σκυθρωτοὶ, i.e., with a severe and lowering countenance, which is in opposition to being ίλαροὶ, or pleasant and joyful; σκυθρωποὶ is derived from σκυθροὶ, sad, disagreeable, and ώπα, the face.
Disfigure, Gr. α̉φανίζουσι, which S. Jerome translates by demoliuntur, S. Hilary by conficiunt, and S. Chrysostom by corrupt; others better, obscure their faces, i.e., by affecting, putting on severity, pallor, sadness of countenance. Others translate labefaciant, obliterant, perdunt, and velut e medio tollunt: i.e., make their face as it were not to appear, which the Vulgate represents by exterminate. For α̉φάνιζειν is, to make to vanish, to take the face out of sight, as those who use varnish; such are they who by a pretended emaciation and sorrowful pallor feign sanctity. Such are hypocrites, as the scribes were. Hear S. Jerome, “Exiles exterminantur, who are sent away extra terminos, beyond the boundaries of their country.” Then he explains exterminate by demoliuntur. “The hypocrite demolishes his countenance that he may feign sadness: and when perchance his mind is joyful he may carry grief in his face.”
Mat 6:17 But thou, when thou fastest anoint thy head, and wash thy face;
Mat 6:18 That thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret, will repay thee.
But thou . . . Father in secret. Who hides His essence and His majesty, and who is as much in secret as in public places, and who sees as clearly the hidden things of the heart as the manifest things of our works.
It was a practice with the inhabitants of Palestine, in common with other Orientals, on holy days and other joyful occasions, especially at feasts, to anoint and wash the face, both for purposes of refreshment, for beauty, and for a sweet smell. Palestine being a very hot country the climate occasions profuse perspiration. They wash the face then to wipe away the perspiration, and anoint to banish unpleasant odours. This is clear from Ruth 3:3, Judith 10:3, 2 Sam 12:20, Luke 7:46. When the Magdalene anointed Christ the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. (John 12:3.) Therefore in times of affliction and mourning they abstained from anointing and washing.
Observe here a catachresis, similar to that in Matt 3:6, and elsewhere. For Christ does not here command any actual anointing, but joyfulness and the putting away all outward signs of fasting. Anoint thine head, i.e., be joyful, and present the appearance of hilarity, as though thou wert anointed with oil, which is the symbol and the cause of gladness, according to the words “That he may make his face joyful with oil.” (Ps 104:15) Yea, that thou shouldst so conceal thy fasting, as to put on the symbol of feasting, namely, anointing and washing. Thus S. Jerome. With this agrees that golden saying of S. Syncletica, preserved in the Lives of the Fathers, “As a treasure manifested is quickly spent, so virtue which is made known, or becomes public, is destroyed. For as wax rnelteth at the face of the fire so does a soul become worthless by praise, and lose the vigour of its virtues.”
Mat 6:19 Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through, and steal.
Lay not up, &c. Gr. Treasure not for yourselves treasures. Christ here shows which are the true riches, and which the false—the true, heavenly; the false, earthly. Note the three modes of corruption. The moth corrupts garments; rust, gold and silver; thieves steal all other things.
Christ here calls men away from the desire of riches by three considerations. 1. Because they are fleeting and corruptible. 2. Because they darken the mind. 3. Because they draw the whole mind to themselves, so that it cannot serve God, for no one is able to serve two masters such as God and mammon.
Mat 6:20 But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal.
But lay up for yourselves, not for children or grandchildren, not for ungrateful heirs, but for yourselves, i.e., for your soul. “What folly,” says S. Chrysostom, “to leave your treasures in the place from whence ye are going away, instead of sending them before you whither ye are going.” Further on he says, “If you should wish to behold the heart of a man who loveth gold, you will find it like a garment that is being eaten away by ten thousand worms, for you will find it perforated by cares on every side, putrefying with sins, full of corruption. But not like this is the soul of the man who is voluntarily poor. Rather, it doth shine like gold, it is resplendent like jewels, it blossoms like the rose. There is no moth there, no thief, no anxiety about the things of this life, but like the angels, so it liveth. It is not subject to the devils, it doth not stand beside the king, but it standeth near to God. Its warfare is not with men, but with angels. It hath no need of servants, rather doth it subject the passions unto it as its servants. What can be more noble than such a poor man as this? Be it that he hath not horses and a chariot. But what need hath he of them, who shall be borne above the clouds to be with Christ?”
Mat 6:21 For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.
For where, &c. Your treasure, i.e., what thou valuest, what thou lovest and delightest in, what is the dearest to thee of all things, on which thou spendest thy time and thoughts.
Dost thou wish to know what is thy treasure, what thou lovest and valuest? Consider what thou most often hast in thy mind. If thou thinkest most frequently of heavenly things, then thou lovest heaven; but if of earthly things, then thy treasure is on earth. Like a mole, thou buriest thy heart in the earth.