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 11:20-24

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 13, 2013

Mat 11:20  Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein were done the most of his miracles, for that they had not done penance.
Mat 11:21  Woe thee, Corozain, woe to thee, Bethsaida: for if in Tyre and Sidon had been wrought the miracles that have been wrought in you, they had long ago done penance in sackcloth and ashes.
Mat 11:22  But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you.

Then began he to upbraid the cities. c. Guilt of Corozain and Bethsaida. Commentators ask here first whether the gospel of St. Matthew gives this passage in its proper connection. The reason for doubting this is based on the connection of the passage in the third gospel, 10:13–15, where it follows the Galilean ministry and precedes the mission of the seventy disciples. We may therefore either maintain with Maldonado, Lapide, Calmet, that Jesus pronounced these words in the connection they have in the third gospel, and that the first evangelist transferred them according to his topical arrangement; or defend with Schanz that the first gospel gives the true connection of the passage, or again we may follow St. Augustine [de cons, evang. ii. 32, n. 79], Jansenius, Fillion, etc. in their opinion that our Lord repeated these words, pronouncing them first in their connection of the first gospel and then in that of the third. The particle “then” occurs about ninety times in the first gospel, and does not necessarily imply a close temporal vicinity of the events it connects. The word “he began” shows that our Lord must have upbraided the cities more than once. The evangelist here implies that many miracles were performed in Corozain and Bethsaida; and still the gospel history is wholly silent about them so that it is admittedly incomplete. The reason for the reproof of the cities is expressed in the words “they had not done penance.”

Corozain [Chorazin] is mentioned only here and Lk. 10:13, and is probably identical with the ruins of Kerazeh, near Capharnaum. Bethsaida is another city of Galilee [Jn. 12:21], the home, of Peter, Andrew, and Philip [Jn. 1:44; 12:21]; the second gospel mentions the name twice [Mk. 6:45; 8:22], and in one of these passages a place on the western shore, or at least not on the eastern shore, of the Sea of Galilee is obviously referred to. Formerly, several writers admitted the existence of only one Bethsaida on the western shore of Genesareth, but of late either two cities of that name are admitted, Bethsaida of Galilee on the western shore [Khan Minye] and Bethsaida Julias on the eastern, or only one Bethsaida situated at the northern end of the lake, on both sides of the inlet, hence partly in Galilee and yet on the site of Bethsaida Julias and the eastern shore of the sea [cf. Thomson]. The name Bethsaida means “house of fish.”

The “wo” coming from the mouth of the Redeemer himself has something most awful in its meaning, and this significance is even increased by the comparison of the unbelief of these cities with the conditional belief of the most corrupted Phenician towns, Tyre and Sidon. Tyre in Hebrew, צוֹר, Aram. טוּר, rock, or Sûr, lay since the time of Alexander on a peninsula; Sidon, in Hebr. צִידוֹן [fishing], the modern Saida, was the most important and the oldest city of the Phenicians.

Penance in sackcloth implies the wearing of rough and hairy garments next to the skin [cf. Gesen. thes. 3. p. 336]; the penitent both sat on ashes and put them on his head [cf. Jer 6:26; Jon. 3:6]. Cardinal Bellarmine [De pœnitent. lib. i. c. 7], and Janenius, are right in inferring from this passage that according to scriptural language penance does not consist in a mere change of mind, but implies external affliction of the body. The rebuke of our Lord is the more severe, since there is not a single example of a Jewish city doing penance in this striking manner at the preaching of Jesus, though the Jews were so proud of their special divine predilection [cf. Rom. 2:18 f.]. There can be no doubt that Jesus certainly knew what the Phenician (Phoenician) cities-would have done, had he preached the gospel in their midst [Jn. 3:11; cf. 1 Cor. 2:8; Rom. 10:2–9]; whatever may have been the medium in which our Lord knew this, his knowledge was what is technically called “scientia media,” being specified by its object, not by the manner in which it is acquired [against Schanz].

The question why Jesus did not preach to the cities of the Phenicians, though he surely foreknew the good effect of such ministry, receives various answers: Greg. Thomas Aquinas, Maldonado, have recourse to our Lord’s special mission to the house of Israel; but then it may he asked why was our Lord sent to the house of Israel alone in spite of the foregoing divine knowledge. Tostatus [qu. 53, in Matt, xi.] Sylveira, Jansenius, Maldonado, point out that our Lord’s preaching in a city implied the working of many miracles and belonged, therefore, to the extraordinary graces which God does not owe to any one; but why did he give these extraordinary graces to the Jews, and refuse them to the Gentile cities, though they were not due to either? Augustine [De dono persev. c. 10, 14; enchir. n. 95] has recourse to God’s inscrutable judgments; and it would be hard to answer the question satisfactorily without pointing in the last instance to the mysterious choice of the divine predilection. Euthymius interprets the “but” introducing the conclusion “but I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you” as meaning “therefore.” The words of our Lord are another illustration of the truth that the grievousness of sin depends on the intellectual enlightenment and the wilful perverseness of the sinner; this we see expressed even in the Old Testament prophets: Jer. 3:11; Ez. 16:48, 31.

Mat 11:23  And thou Capharnaum, shalt thou be exalted up to heaven? thou shalt go down even unto hell. For if in Sodom had been wrought the miracles that have been wrought in thee, perhaps it had remained unto this day.
Mat 11:24  But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for thee.

 And thou, Capharnaum. d. Guilt of Capharnaum (Capernuam). The reading “shalt thou be exalted up to heaven” [Manuscripts א B C D L Min. Verss. PP. Lachm. Ti W H] is certainly preferable to “which art exalted unto heaven” [Manuscripts E F G Γ S U V]. These words refer either to the distinguished honor conferred on Capharnaum by our Lord’s residence and ministry [Euthymius, Jansenius, Schegg, Schanz, Fillion, Thomas Aquinas, Lapide, Calmet, Arnoldi], or to the wealth of the city resulting principally from its rich fisheries [Grotius], or again to its high elevation over the lake [Stier]. The threat “thou shalt go down even unto hell “brings out the contrast between the expectations of the proud city and its real future which will bring utter ruin [cf. Obadiah 1:4; Is. 14:13–15; Apoc. Joannis, Tisch. Apocal. apocr. p. 75]. That the fate of the city was well deserved follows from the following comparison, which is even more humiliating than that employed in case of Corozain and Bethsaida. The “perhaps” in the clause “perhaps it had remained unto this day” is, according to some, used merely to show that the Sodomites would have retained the use of their free will, that they would not have been forced to repentance; according to others, our Lord uses the word because he wishes to express himself in a human manner of speaking [St Bruno]; according to others, again, the word ought to be wholly omitted [Faber Stapulensis, Jansenius, Lapide] because it gives a wrong meaning to the Greek particle ἄν, which is required in Greek in an apodosis to an unverified hypothesis. The Vulgate repeatedly inserts such a “perhaps” where neither the Hebrew nor the Greek text requires it [cf. Gen. 3:3, 22; Ex. 33:3; Jn. 5:46; 1 Cor. 7:5; Ps. 80:15; etc.]. The past judgment on the city of Sodom surely foreshows a most severe judgment to come; but even this will be more tolerable than that threatening Capharnaum.

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