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 12:1-8

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 15, 2012

Maldonado follows the old Grecianized spelling of various O.T. names and places, and I have retained these (e.g., Nobe instead of Nob; Silo instead of Shiloh). He also used the Greek canon’s designation for various O.T. books (e.g., Paralipomenon for Chronicles); these I have changed. Text in red are my additions.

Verse 1. Jesus went through the corn on the Sabbath.

There would have been no difficulty if S. Matthew alone had related the history. But now S. Luke 6:1 has added to the words δευτεροπρωτω, the “second-first Sabbath,” and to understand the whole completely, we must know what the meaning of these words is. Many think that the “second-first Sabbath” was the eighth day of those feasts which were kept for eight continuous days: such as the feasts of unleavened bread, and of tabernacles; for the eighth day was kept with the same rites and observances as the first (Lev 23:36-39; Numbers 29:35); and that it was called the second-first, because it was equal to the first in celebration, though second in place; and that the day mentioned by SS. Matthew and Luke was the eighth day of unleavened bread. So says S. Epiphanius (Haer.. li.) and most others.

More modern authorities think that the first day of Azymes (unleavened bread) was so called, as being the second from the Pasch; as Euthymius and others.

Others, again, that it was the Sabbath which was the nearest to some feast which fell on the sixth day of the week; as Theophylact and S. Chrysostom (Hom. xl.). Others, that it was some second, that is, lesser festival, like the new moons. Others, that there was a double Sabbath: the ordinary one on the seventh day, and some festival which had fallen on the same Sabbath. For every Sabbath was called a festival.

It would appear that there are certain first principles from which the explanation of the passage would naturally follow.

1. S. Luke, when he called the Sabbath the second-first, did not mean some one of many which were called second feasts, but some one fixed (certain) Sabbath, which alone of all would be called the second-first. For S. Luke wished to name a particular day, that the occasion of the slander of the Pharisees might be the better understood. By this view all those explanations which would make it one of many are confuted; as those of Euthymius, Isidore, S. Chrysostom, and Theophylact.

2. That Sabbath happened when the corn was ripe, but tender, and not yet reaped, or the disciples would not have plucked the ears and rubbed them between their hands. This overthrows the idea of S. Epiphanius and all who think the second-first Sabbath one of the days of Azymes (unleavened bread), for neither on the 15th nor on the 20th of March are the ears sufficiently ripe. S. John shows that at the time of Christ’s Passion it was cold, and that they warmed themselves at the fire; and the feast of weeks was kept fifty days after Pasch, and began from when the first sickle was put to the corn [Deut 16:9). It could not have happened, then, on the feast of Azymes, that is, fifty days before; and we know from experience that not only in Palestine, but in the much hotter climate of Africa, the corn is not ripe so early. It follows from the same reasoning that it could not have been (as some have supposed) at the feast of Tabernacles, because this did not take place till the seventh month (Lev 23:34), when all the harvest was gathered in.

3. We have it from Hebrew tradition that after the Babylonish exile the Jews never kept one feast the day after another, lest the people should be compelled to be idle two days running. Hence the opinion that the second-first Sabbath was the day immediately after some other feast is erroneous. It follows, therefore, the “second-first Sabbath” could only be the feast of Pentecost, or, what is the same thing, of first fruits, because it was the only one, as we have said, which S. Luke described by its proper name, and it happened when the corn was ripe, but not cut, the festival being kept to signify this.

It remains to be asked, Why was it called second-first? I have found no sufficient reason for this; but the opinion of those seems the best who say that as there were three first or chief festivals besides the Sabbath—Azymes, Weeks, and Tabernacles—(for all the others, as the new moons, were of far lower rank)—the feast of Weeks, both in locality and celebrity, was the second from the first. For more information one can consult the note on Luke 6:1 in Fr. Joseph Fitzmyer’s Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, Vol. 1, Anchor Bible Commentary.

Some object that it was lawful to prepare food on the feasts except the Sabbath (Exodus 12:16), and, therefore, that the Pharisees could not accuse the disciples because they rubbed the ears of corn between their hands. They did not accuse them because they prepared food, but because they plucked the ears of corn, as if they were in a sense reaping, which was lawful on no festival. And S. Irenseus (iv. 20) says that it was not forbidden on the Sabbath day and on festivals to pluck ears, but only to reap. But the answer of Christ shows that the disciples did that which otherwise it was not lawful to do had not necessity compelled them, like David, and the presence of the Lord, who was greater than the Temple, excused them as priests.

It may be objected that in the Greek the word is used in the plural, Sabbaths—τοις σαββασιν—which has given some reason for thinking that not one festival only, but two or more, were meant, which were either celebrated on the same day or on the day after the other. The answer is easy. It is a Hebraism, and the plural is put for the singular to show that not many Sabbaths, but one of many, was intended, as in verses 5, 10.

Verse 2. And the Pharisees seeing them, said to Him.

S. Luke 6:2 says that the Pharisees said, not to Christ but to the disciples, “Why do you do that which is not lawful?” &c. It may be answered that they either spoke to both, first to the disciples and then to Christ, or to Christ only, who answered; but that S. Luke says that they spoke to the disciples, because what they said to the Master they might seem to have said not only about the disciples, but even to the disciples themselves. S. Thomas observes that the Pharisees did not accuse the disciples of having gathered the ears of corn from the field of another, because that was permitted by the Law (Deut 23:25).

Verse 3. Have you not read.

Christ objects their ignorance of the Law to those who thought themselves strong in it (Euthymius).

And they that were with Him. In 1 Sam 21:1 we find that David was alone, and these words, therefore, do not seem to agree with the history. Some say that David was indeed alone when he entered the house of the high priest, but that he had companions who were waiting for him in another place, as David said to the priest (verse 2); others that he had companions with him, but that the priest, as N. de Lyra says on the passage, asked him why he was alone, not that he was alone, but because when he used to travel in the company of many soldiers he was then attended only by a few: as we say the king travels alone when only a few follow him; others reject both views, because Scripture says plainly that he was alone, and that he afterwards came alone to Achis, and that when he said, “I have appointed my servants to such and such a place” (verse 2), he spoke falsely to conceal his flight, and that Christ there spoke, not of the truth and of His own opinion, but He merely used the words of David. Neither of these opinions seems to be tenable, because they seem to convict, not only David, but even Christ Himself, almost of a falsehood, and because Christ (S. Mark 2:26 and S. Luke 6:4) says that David ate of the show-bread himself and gave to those who were with him; which I do not see how they could explain if he had no one at all with him. Their opinion seems the best who say that no one was with him when he took the loaves, but that he had some companions in another place to whom he gave of them.

Verse 4. How lie entered into the house of God.

Everyone knows that there was no Temple then, nor was the ark there, which was in Silo all that time ( 1 Sam 1:24; 1 Sam 3:21; 1 Sam 4:3), which was called the house of the Lord; but it is very likely, or rather wholly necessary, that there should have been a tabernacle, where the show-bread was placed, for it was at Nobe, a city of the priests, that Achimelcch gave David the loaves (1 Sam 22:9). What S. Mark 2:26 relates as having happened in the time of Abiathar can be more properly discussed in that place.

And did eat the loaves of proposition. The Hebrews express the loaves of proposition in two ways : “the bread of faces,” as may be said, because in the tabernacle where the Lord dwelt, the loaves were placed six on one side and six on the other, as if before His two faces (for the Hebrews make two faces of a man as we make two cheeks); and “the bread of Ordination or Disposition,” because they were set forth in order and at a certain time. But they are so styled only in Chronicles and Esdras, which were written after the captivity (1 Chron 9:32; 1 Chron 23:29; and Neh 10:33). The LXX. render them in three ways: sometimes as the bread of the faces (as in Exodus 25:30), αρτους ενωπιους, sometimes as  αρτους του προσωπου (Neh 10:33), most commonly as the bread of proposition, αρτους της προθεσεως (1 Sam 21:6, &c.). The Latin always calls them the bread of proposition.

Verse 5. Or have ye not read in the Law that on the Sabbath days the priests break the Sabbath and are without blame?

(Lev 24:8-9; Num 28:9) Every word, as S. Chrysostom and Euthymius say, has force. In a few words, Christ expressed all that can increase the weight of His example. The Law—which orders the persons of the priests, who ought especially to observe the Sabbath. The place—in the Temple, where they ought to worship. The time—of the Sabbath, which ought most carefully to be observed, for the words, “Break the Sabbath,” mean more than merely, Do not observe it. Christ said “break,” not that the priests really broke it, but that they did things which, except that the worship of God excused them, it would have been unlawful to do. They slew the victims; they took off their skins; they washed their intestines; they cleaned the wood; they kindled the fire; they circumcised children—as S. Jerome, S. Chrysostom, and Euthymius state.

The opinion of our Doctors is confirmed from this passage, that in the celebration of festivals the festival is not violated when those things are done which are necessary to its due celebration, and which could not be done at any other time—as when bells are rung, crosses carried, temples purified, and the like—much less when that is done which is necessary for the salvation of souls, which was properly the present subject. This chiefly excused the Apostles, who in preaching and working miracles were so occupied that, as S. Mark says, they could not even prepare food or eat it. This is: “I will have mercy and not sacrifice”. In this sense, Christ, as it were, says that it was better for the Apostles to save the souls of men than to keep the Sabbath.

Verse 6. There is here a greater than the Temple.

There have been different opinions as to what Christ spoke of But no doubt He called Himself the Temple, because, “In Him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead corporeally” (Col 2:9); and as in Matt 12:41-42, He speaks of Himself: “The men of Ninive shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it, because they did penance at the preaching of Jonas, and behold a greater than Jonas is here. The queen of the South shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold a greater than Solomon is here;” and infra, verse 8: “The Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath”; and as Euthymius and Theophylact say.

Verse 7. If you knew what this meaneth.

We have shown, on verse 5, why Christ introduced the testimony of this prophecy. The prophecy itself is given Matt 9:13.

Verse 8. The Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath.

Christ proves that He was both greater than the Temple and could dispense with the observance of the Sabbath, for He is Lord “even of the Sabbath,” and everyone does as he will with his own. He said to them: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (S. Mark 2:27). He said, therefore, both what S. Matthew relates to prove that He was greater than the Temple, because the Temple served the Sabbath, and He was Lord even of the Sabbath; and also what S. Mark writes, that the salvation of men was to be preferred to the observance of the Sabbath.


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