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 9:14-17

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 29, 2013

Mat 9:14  Then came to him the disciples of John, saying: Why do we and the Pharisees, fast often, but thy disciples do not fast?

Then came to him the disciples of John.  The disciples of Jesus and the disciples of John. Here we have to consider first the attack on our Lord’s disciples, v. 14; secondly, his triple answer, vv. 15–17. a. The attack. According to Lk. 5:33–39 the question is asked by the scribes and Pharisees. Maldonado, supposes that these latter instigated the disciples of John to propose the question. But Mark 2:18 is more in keeping with the answer of Augustine that both the Pharisees and the disciples of John took part in this attack. It is not; then, surprising to see that one evangelist emphasizes the Pharisees, the other the followers of the Baptist. Coleridge [v. p. 127] and Edersheim [i. p. 663] are of opinion that the question may have been proposed on either Monday or Thursday, which were kept as fasting-days by the Pharisees in commemoration of Moses’ ascent and descent of Sinai; this view becomes more probable if one omits the “often” in the question, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often?” Most authorities insert the adverb, but א *B 27 71 omit it. Holtzmann’s view that the disciples of John fasted on account of their master’s recent death hardly fits into the chronological sequence of the gospel details. The Pharisees intended to bring the Baptist, who was highly esteemed by the people, into opposition to Jesus.

Mat 9:15  And Jesus said to them: Can the children of the bridegroom mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then they shall fast.
Mat 9:16  And nobody putteth a piece of raw cloth unto an old garment. For it taketh away the fulness thereof from the garment, and there is made a greater rent.
Mat 9:17  Neither do they put new wine into old bottles. Otherwise the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish. But new wine they put into new bottles: and both are preserved.

And Jesus said to them. Triple answer of Jesus. Our Lord indicates first the reason why his disciples do not fast; secondly, he announces that they will fast in the future; thirdly, he removes the false principle from which springs the question of his interrogators, a. The reason why the disciples do not fast is based on truths granted by the Pharisees and the disciples of the Baptist: just as the Old Testament had been likened [Jer. 2:2; Ezek 16:3] to a marriage between God and Israel, so was the Messias announced in the prophecies [Hosea 2:19; Ps. 45] as the bridegroom of the New Covenant, and the Baptist himself had pointed out Jesus as the bridegroom [John 3:29]. On the other hand, “the children of the bridegroom,” or his invited guests, were bound by custom and law to the greatest joy during the marriage week [Edersheim i. 355, 663; Lightfoot]. Why, then, should the children of the Messianic bridegroom, our Lord’s disciples, be obliged to outward signs of sadness in the very midst of the spiritual marriage feast?

The announcement of the future fasting of the disciples points to the time of the bridegroom’s absence. It is here that our Lord first hints at his violent death, especially according to the wording of the Greek text. The announcement of the fasting is no mere prophecy [cf. Whately, Essays on the Difficulties of St. Paul, p. 436, on Self-Denial], but implies a precept of the Lord, as is evident from similar declarations of future things [cf. Acts 1:8; Winer, Gramm. des neutest. Sprachidioms, xl. 6; xliii. 5]. Our Lord, then, does not deny the excellence of fasting in the case of his disciples, but its fitness under the circumstances; even if his words are understood as a mere prophecy, they exclude the opponents of fasting from among the disciples, since Jesus distinctly predicted, that far from opposing fasting, his disciples would practise it. That our Lord spoke not only of the time of his passion [cf. de Wette, Meyer, Keil], or the days between the crucifixion and the resurrection [cf. Alford], or the period between the ascension and the coming of the Holy Ghost [cf. Whately], is clear from his precepts concerning the manner of fasting [Mt. 6:16], and his words concerning the exorcism that can be effected only by prayer and fasting [Mt. 17:20]. The ecclesiastical legislation concerning fasting is therefore a legitimate determination of the general wish of the Master that his followers should practise penance by fasting. The end and purpose of fasting are also declared by the present passage: fasting is to express our sorrow over our separation from our Lord, our longing to be united with him in our heavenly home, our repentance over sin as the cause of our separation, our desire of God’s grace as the means of becoming more closely united with Jesus Christ [Jerome, Knabenbauer; cf. Acts 13:2; 14:22; 2 Cor. 6:5; 11:27].

The principle which the Baptist’s disciples and the Pharisees assume supposes that in the Messianic dispensation the ceremonial law of the synagogue will remain in force. In order to understand our Lord’s answer to this supposition, we shall first consider the literal meaning of his twofold similitude, and then investigate the application of the answer.

[1] The similitudes. The raw cloth is cloth newly woven, not yet fulled, so that it shrinks when exposed to rain or similar influences, and thus contracting “taketh away the fulness thereof from the garment, and there is made a greater rent.” The Oriental bottles are skins of sheep or goats which dry up after use, and so almost certainly burst under the pressure of new wine in the course of fermentation, so that both the bottles and the wine are lost. The first similitude considers the case in which a heterogeneous part is added to the whole, the second views the combination of heterogeneous form and matter.

[2] Application of the similitudes. Though a great variety of opinions has been expressed, we may reduce them to three heads:—

[a] Our Lord’s disciples are the old garment and the old bottles, so that they are not yet able to bear the burden of the Christian life of penance [Chrysostom, Bede, Rabanus, Alb., Dionysius, Tostatus, Cajetan, Jansenius, Maldonado, Barradas, Salmeron, Sylveira, Lapide, Calmet, Lam., Arnoldi]. But several grave reasons militate against this view. The Pharisees and the disciples of the Baptist were strong enough to fast; several of our Lord’s disciples had been disciples of the Baptist, and had surely not lost their spiritual strength by becoming disciples of Jesus; the apostles were strong enough to bear the pangs of hunger in the service of their Master, as is clear from Mt. 12:1; Jesus himself testifies towards the end of his earthly life that the disciples had remained with him in his trials [Lk. 22:28]; finally, in his first answer to the question of the Baptist’s disciples Jesus had pointed to the presence of their bridegroom as the true reason why the disciples did not fast.

[b] The old garment and the old bottles represent the Baptist’s disciples, so that they must continue to fast, because they cannot bear the liberty of the disciples of Christ [cf. Weiss, Schanz]. This view also is open to several exceptions: it supposes that the disciples of John had asked why they and the Pharisees fasted, though in reality they well knew why they fasted, since they would not have submitted to such a rigorous penance without a sufficient reason; again, one cannot grant that our Lord should have exhorted the disciples of the Baptist and the Pharisees to remain in their former state, or that he should have in any way approved of the practices of the Pharisees.

[c] The old garment and the old bottles represent the Jewish ceremonial and ritual law, the ideal of the Pharisees, while the new cloth and the new wine signify the spirit of Jesus Christ. The two parables state, therefore, that neither part of Christ’s spirit can be employed to mend the deficiency of Pharisaism, nor can the whole of Christ’s doctrine be vested in the form of the Jewish ceremonial. It may be of interest to note that as the thought of our Lord’s answer is logically connected, so the very expression presents a certain unity, since the marriage feast suggests the joy of the children of the bridegroom, the outward decency of the garment, and the wine both old and new.


One Response to “Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 9:14-17”

  1. […] Father Maas’ Commentary on Today’s Gospel (Matt 9:14-17). […]

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