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 10:16-23

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 6, 2013

Mat 10:16  Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves.

Behold, I send you as sheep. 3. The apostles’ further needs, vv. 16–42. This section contains the following parts: first a prediction of the apostles’ persecution, vv. 16–22; secondly, an encouragement to a fearless confession, vv. 23–33; thirdly, conditions of faithful discipleship, vv. 34–39; fourthly, blessing of the apostles’ benefactors, vv. 40–42.

a. Prediction of persecution, vv. 16–22. The persecution shall come from the part of the Jews [17], of the Gentiles [18–20], of the nearest relatives [21], and of all men [22]. From this outline it is evident that our Lord did not speak in this section of the immediate needs of the apostles, since they were not to come into immediate contact with the Gentiles. But Chrysostom well describes the need of preparing the soldiers of the cross for their hardships long before they have to bear them actually. This preparation is well connected with the preceding instruction concerning the immediate needs of the apostles; because it inculcates supreme detachment from life and its comforts, as the preceding instruction insists on perfect detachment from the goods of this life [cf. Barradas].

α. Before coming to the different classes of enemies, Jesus enounces the general truth that the apostles will have as many and ferocious enemies as the sheep have in the midst of wolves, and draws a general principle of life from this fact. It is, however, the source of the greatest consolation that the apostles are sent by Jesus himself: “Behold, I send you.” Even as Absalom encouraged his servants [2 Kings 13:28] with the assurance that they were sent by him, so does Jesus encourage his disciples by drawing their attention to his commission [Cajetan; cf. Theophylact, Opus Imperfectum, Bede, Paschasius, Maldonado, Jansenius, Knabenbauer etc.]. Jesus does not say that he sends his apostles to the wolves, though Chrysostom considers this as a possible meaning, but that his apostles on their mission will be like sheep among wolves; this is indicated by the Greek preposition ἐν, not ποός. Their own helplessness is therefore an additional motive for relying wholly on the power of their Master. The following proverbial expression occurs even in Rabbinic writings; R. Jehuda [Midrasch Schir hasch. f. 17 b] has it “God says: towards me the Israelites are simple, pious as doves; but towards the Gentiles they are prudent as serpents.” Even in the Old Testament the serpent is identified with cunning [Gen. 3:1], and the dove with simplicity and purity [Hosea 7:11]. In the writings of the Fathers we find the cunning of the serpent expressed in their belief that it covers its head, the seat of its life, with its whole body [Chrysostom, Hilary, Jerome, Paschasius, Thomas Aquinas, Faber Stapulensis, Cajetan, Jansenius], that it places one of its ears against the rock and stops up the other with its tail so as not to hear the voice of the enchanter [Augustine in Ps. 57 n. 5; Bede, Dionysius, Sylveira, Barradas, Lapide], that its tongue is sharper than a sword [Reischl], that it cunningly devised the best ways and means to induce our first parents to sin [St Basil, Hilary]. Euthymius, Jansenius and other writers extol the purity and the other good qualities of the dove. Calmet illustrates in the various events of St. Paul’s life both the prudence of the serpent and the simplicity of the dove. Prudence relies, in a manner, on human resources, simplicity on God’s help; as prudence without simplicity degenerates into mere cunning, so does simplicity without prudence degenerate into folly. The words do not, therefore, mean that the apostles are to be among the infidels as serpents among serpents, and amidst the faithful as doves among doves [cf. Opus Imperfectum], but they must unite both qualities, however hard they may be to join [Euthymius; cf. Alb. Jansenius, St Bruno]. Prudence alone will impede the undertaking of heroic labors, while simplicity alone will entail insuperable difficulties.

Mat 10:17  But beware of men. For they will deliver you up in councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues.

But beware of men. β. Jewish enemies. Taking men as they were at the time of our Lord they were the natural enemies of his messengers. Hence the greatest care was needed, on the part of the latter, against the wiles and machinations of their surrounding [cf. St Bruno, Jansenius]. But even here it is not prudence alone that is required, but the simplicity of the dove must exert its spiritual force of edification [cf. Meyer, Schegg, Keil]. The first reason for great care against too much confidence in men is taken from the hostility of the Jews, who will bring the apostles before their councils and scourge them in their synagogues. Small towns of the Holy Land had, according to Rabbinic tradition [Edersheim ii. 554], a council of three judges; in larger towns, counting more than 120–130 men, they had a council of twenty-three, while the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem was the highest court. The common corporal punishment consisted, among the Jews, in scourging, which was inflicted in the synagogues [Acts 22:19; 26:11], at the word of any of the foregoing courts or even of a Rabbi of authority, provided it did not exceed the legal thirty-nine stripes [2 Cor. 11:24; cf. Wünsche, p. 132]. About the scourging unto death less is known for certain.

Mat 10:18  And you shall be brought before governors, and before kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the Gentiles:
Mat 10:19  But when they shall deliver you up, take no thought how or what to speak: for it shall be given you in that hour what to speak:
Mat 10:20  For it is not you that speak, but the spirit of your Father that speaketh in you.

And you shall be brought before governors, and before. γ. Gentile enemies. The Greek particles of transition show here that there is a gradation in the words of our Lord. The “governors” and “kings” here in question are the proconsuls, the procurators, etc. [e.g. Cyrinus, Felix, Sergius Paulus, Festus] and those honored with the royal title, whether subject to Rome or independent [e.g. Agrippa, Aretas, Nero, Domitian, etc.]. The phrase “for my sake” adds the needed consolation to the fearful prediction [cf. Acts. 4:7; 5:18, 40]. The words “for a testimony” show that the sufferings of the apostles will be either the occasion of the conversion of their enemies, or if they remain obdurate, it will be a testimony against them before the tribunal of God [Theophylact, Hilary]. This testimony will be “to [i.e. either for or against] them [i.e. either the Jews: Theophylact, Euthymius, Meyer, Schegg, Keil, Schanz, Knabenbauer; or the governors and kings: Bleek, Weiss] and to the Gentiles.” Under the stress of this persecution the apostles are not to be anxious or solicitous [Jansenius, Maldonado, Lam.] concerning the matter or the manner of their defence [cf. Lk. 12:11; Mt. 6:25]. Their ordinary human care will be aided by the special assistance of divine providence. “It shall be given” to the apostles [cf. Chrysostom, St Bruno, Lapide] in their hour of need what to say, so that they shall enjoy the privilege of the Old Testament prophets [Is. 50:4; Lk. 21:15; 1 Cor. 2:10 ff.; Eph. 6:19]. St. Thomas well remarks that the words “it is not you that speak” do not exclude the instrumental activity of the apostles, but they merely denote that God will be the principal agent, using the apostles as his instruments. Theophylact sees in “the Spirit of your Father” a great source of consolation for the suffering apostolic laborer.

Mat 10:21  The brother also shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the son; and the children shall rise up against their parents, and shall put them to death.

The brother also shall deliver up the brother.] δ. Domestic enemies. It is not known that the apostles personally had to suffer from domestic enemies for the sake of Jesus, but they surely suffered from those most closely connected with them by blood, and our Lord’s thought swerved here to the converts of the apostles, in whom his prediction was fulfilled to the letter [Hilary, Jerome]. A similar breaking of the most sacred ties is depicted in Mich. 7:6; this is the sword which Jesus said he had brought on earth [Paschasius]. Since there is a similar prediction connected with the eschatologic prophecies of our Lord, Schanz infers that the conditions in which the apostles found the world resemble those of the last days.

Mat 10:22  And you shall be hated by all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved.

And you shall be hated by all men. ε. General enmity. This may be compared to the “odium generis humani” of Tacitus [An. xv. 44]; “all men” refers here to all unbelievers in Christ [Opus Imperfectum, Theophylact, Euthymius]. But “for my name’s sake” removes here again the sting from the fearful prediction [Euthymius, Tertullian apol. c. 2, 3; cf. Acts 9:15]. But it is not enough to have a glorious cause, one needs also personal fortitude [Euthymius]; for only “he that shall persevere unto the end” [i.e. the end of the persecution: cf. Schanz, Mt. 24:13; Dan. 12:11, 12; or the end of the world: Meyer; cf. Tertullian scorp. c. 9; or the end of one’s earthly life: Chrysostom, Euthymius, Lapide, Jerome, etc.], “he shall be saved.”

Mat 10:23  And when they shall persecute you in this city, flee into another. Amen I say to you, you shall not finish all the cities of Israel, till the Son of man come.

And when they shall persecute you. b. Fearless confession. This section shows first the general behavior of the persecuted apostle, 23; secondly, it draws a motive of consolation from the relation of the apostle to his Master and Lord, 24, 25; thirdly, it calls attention to the future revelation of their sufferings, 26, 27; fourthly, it shows the real weakness of the enemies, 28; fifthly, it reveals the special divine providence watching over the apostles, 29–31; sixthly, it compares the future of the faithful confessor with that of the unfaithful one, 32, 33.

α. Behavior under persecution. What has been said might lead one to believe that the patient sufferer ought to remain in the place where he suffers persecution; the example of our Lord [Mt. 2:14; Lk. 4:30; Jn. 7:50] and of the disciples [Acts 8; 9:25; 12:17] agrees with the passage now under consideration in advising a different course of action. Bede, Jansenius, see in this very arrangement or permission of divine providence one of the ordinary means of spreading the gospel, as is illustrated in Acts 13:51; 14:6, 19–25; 17:10, 14; etc. Commentators have found a great difficulty, real or imaginary, in harmonizing this precept of the Lord with the duties of the good shepherd incumbent on every apostle. Euthymius, Theophylact, Chrysostom, Tertullian, Jerome, Bede, have therefore understood the command to flee only of the first mission of the apostles, though there was no occasion at that early period to put the command in practice; Augustine [ep. 228, al. 180, ad Honoratum] Jansenius, Maldonado, are inclined to regard the Lord’s command as the exception, not as the general rule, though Clement of Alexandria is right in urging the universality of the precept; but if we adhere strictly to the words of Jesus, who speaks not to regular parish priests, but to missionaries, there hardly exists any difficulty at all: for if the missionary has already founded a Christian centre, he has also provided a religious head for his new foundation; if he has not yet founded a church, he will not be able to found one under the opposition contemplated in the precept of our Lord; in either case, his withdrawal from the place of his labor till a more quiet season will not harm his mission, and will preserve the usefulness of a missionary. An accidental source of consolation may be found in the assurance that the apostles shall never want a place whither they may flee in times of difficulty.

Commentators have been exercised by a second difficulty springing from the present passage: The coming of the Son of man signifies in the synoptic gospels his second advent: Mt. 24:30, 44; Mk. 13:26; Lk. 12:40; 18:8; 21:27. Now Jesus says, “You shall not finish all the cities of Israel, till the Son of man come.” Hence, the second coming should have happened in the lifetime of the apostles. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius, Jansenius restrict the present words to the first mission of the apostles, but their view has already been rejected; Bede explains the second coming as the resurrection, Calvin, Grote, Bleek see in it the coming of the Holy Ghost, Schott, Ebrard, Gass identify it with the destruction of Jerusalem, Origen, Theodoret Heracl., Bede, Kuinoel regard the second coming as expressing any special divine help assisting the persecuted apostles: but all these explanations disregard the common meaning of the expression in the synoptic gospels. Maldonad, Jansenius, Ypr. Hofmann, etc. explain the phrase “finish all the cities of Israel” as meaning “bring all the cities of Israel to Christian perfection,” but this meaning of the phrase is surely not natural and obvious; Chrysostom, Euthymius, Thomas Aquinas, Faber Stapulensis, Dionysius, etc. retain the obvious signification of the phrase “finish your mission in all the cities of Israel” [i.e. in all the cities in which there are Jewish inhabitants, whether in or out of Palestine]. Thus the present passage is brought into harmony with Rom. 11:25, according to which the remnant of the Jews is to enter the Church only after the fulness of the Gentiles [cf. Augustine, Hilary, Bede, Paschasius, Origen in cat. græc.; Mt. 24:33; 28:20].

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3 Responses to “Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 10:16-23”

  1. […] Father Maas’ Commentary on Today’s Gospel (Matt 10:16-23). […]

  2. […] Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 10:17-22. On 16-23. […]

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