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 12:1-8

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 13, 2013


Mat 12:1  At that time Jesus went through the corn on the sabbath: and his disciples being hungry, began to pluck the ears, and to eat.
Mat 12:2  And the Pharisees seeing them, said to him: Behold thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do on the sabbath days.
At that time Jesus went. In this section the evangelist shows the unfitness of the leaders, the scribes and Pharisees, for the kingdom of heaven, just as in the preceding he proves the unworthiness of the people. The bad disposition of the leaders is shown in a series of events: first, in the incident of the disciples’ plucking corn on a sabbath day, vv. 1–8; secondly, in the details connected with the healing of the withered hand, vv. 9–21; thirdly, in the Pharisees’ behavior after an exorcism, vv. 22–37; fourthly, in the enemies’ petition for a sign from heaven, vv. 38–45; finally, as if to console his readers, the evangelist adds a characteristic of the true disciples, vv. 46–50. This last portion has its exact counterpart in a similar addition to the preceding chapter.

1. Plucking corn on a sabbath. This section contains, first, the charge of the Pharisees; secondly, four answers of Jesus, α. Charge of the Pharisees. The event must have occurred between the second day of the pasch (Passover) and the second day of pentecost in the second year of our Lord’s public life [cf. Lk. 6:1]. Both the second and the third gospel agree with the first in connecting this incident with the following [cf. Mk. 2:23 ff.; Lk. 4:1 ff.], but they assign it to an earlier period, Luke placing it before the sermon on the mount. Though no place is mentioned, we may no doubt suppose that the event occurred in Galilee. The evangelist explicitly says, “his disciples … began to pluck,” because the action became possible only when they reached the cornfield. According to Deut. 23:25, it was allowed to pluck the ears of corn for present need, as the disciples did; the same custom still prevails in Palestine [Robinson, ii. 419]. The second gospel also [2:24] makes the Pharisees address their complaint to Jesus, while the third [6:2] represents them as speaking to the disciples. They may have spoken first to the disciples and then to the Master; at any rate, what was said to the Master was addressed, at least, mediately to the disciples. Harvesting was forbidden on the sabbath by Ex. 20:10, and in accordance with their system of hair-splitting casuistry, the Pharisees regarded the plucking of ears as a kind of harvesting [Edersheim, ii. pp. 777–787; Wünsche, p. 148; Lightf. ad Mt. 12; Schöttgen, 1. p. 120]. Scholten, Schegg, etc. endeavor to give more force to the exception of the Pharisees by rendering Mk. 2:23 [ὁδὸν ποιεῖν] as “viam sternere,” to make a road; but Klostermann and Weiss show that this is not necessarily inferred from the expression of the second gospel, and Holtzmann adds that the disciples did not pluck the straw, but the ears of corn, and that the expression in question is employed in Judg. 17:8 in the meaning it has here.

Mat 12:3  But he said to them: Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and they that were with him:
Mat 12:4  How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the loaves of proposition, which it was not lawful for him to eat, nor for them that were with him, but for the priests only?

But he said to them. β. Four answers. Our Lord shows first that a positive law, like that of the Sabbath, does not hold in case of necessity; secondly, that it must yield to another positive law of a higher order with which it may chance to come in collision; thirdly, that charity and the good of the neighbor are of greater obligation than a positive law; fourthly, that the authority of the legislator can repeal or relax his own legislation [Jansenius, Cornelius Jansenius, Bishop of  Ypres.].

[1] The law in case of necessity. Jesus does not reply directly, but takes his answer from a well-known event admitted to be in conformity with the law by the Pharisees themselves. David [1 Sam 21:1–6], “when he had need” [Mk. 2:25], entered the sanctury at Nob [the tabernacle, cf. Ex. 23:19], obtained from the high priest loaves of the shewbread [לֶחֶם הַמַּעֲרֶכֶת, 1 Chron 23:29; Ex. 40:23; לֶחֶם הַפָּנים,   Sam 21:7; Ex. 35:13; 39:36], which it was not lawful for him to eat [Lev. 24:8, 9], “and gave to them that were with him” [Lk. 6:4; Mk. 2:26]. Without discussing here the question whether David had really companions [1 Sam 21:1 ff.; cf. Maldonado, Barradas], or merely feigned that he had them [Jansenius], he believed, in any case, that “necessity knows no law.” The Israelites were bound to offer fine flour for the weekly twelve loaves of proposition to be placed every sabbath on the table of shewbread, when the old loaves had to he removed and eaten by the priests in the sanctuary.

Mat 12:5  Or have ye not read in the law, that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple break the sabbath, and are without blame?
Mat 12:6  But I tell you that there is here a greater than the temple.

Or have you not read. [2] The higher law. According to Num. 28:9, 10, two lambs had to be offered in the temple every sabbath, so that the absolute sabbath rest was not the highest law, admitting of no exceptions. Whether we understand the clause “break the sabbath” [חִלֵל cf. Judith 9:8; Ex. 31:14; Acts 24:6; etc.] in the technical sense of the Pharisees [common opinion], or in the broader meaning of the people [Schanz], the argument of our Lord remains the same. The law of sabbath rest does not bind the ministers of the temple; but his disciples minister to a greater one than the temple; therefore they are not bound by the law of sabbath rest. Though the reading “greater one” occurs, the more approved reading is “something greater” [μείζων, μεῖζον]. The rendering “a greater temple is here than that of old” gives hardly the true sense [cf. Maldonado]. The present statement asserts the great dignity of our Lord’s person in general. St. Paul [Col. 2:9] explains this dignity more particularly [cf. Jn. 2:19].

Mat 12:7  And if you knew what this meaneth: I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: you would never have condemned the innocent.

And if you knew what this meaneth. [3] The law of charity. Though Chrysostom and Euthymius understand this passage as an excuse of the Pharisees [cf. Hilary, Schegg], as if their accusing the innocent had its root in their ignorance of Christ’s mission, which consists in mercy and charity, the context appears to demand rather a rebuke of the Pharisees because they do not understand their own obligation of esteeming mercy more than sacrifice. For since they allowed the priest to sacrifice on the sabbath in the temple, they ought to allow, with much more reason, works of charity on the sabbath [cf. Mt. 9:13; Jerome, Paschasius, Cajetan, Jansenius].

Mat 12:8  For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath.

For the Son of man. [4] The Lord of the sabbath. This saying of Jesus is not a supplement of the last but one verse, as if it declared how our Lord’s greatness surpassed that of the temple [cf. Maldonado]; it rather contains a new reason why the disciples plucking ears of corn should not be molested. The sabbath was consecrated to God [Ex. 20:10; 31:15; 35:2; etc.]; if then Jesus was Lord of the sabbath, he was the equal of God [Maldonado, Euthymius, Lapide, Sylveira, Lam. Tolet. ad Luc. vi. 5]. The Pharisees therefore were wrong in blaming the disciples for what Jesus allowed them.


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