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 MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 10, 2013

This post opens with the Father’s brief analysis of Matthew 18, followed by his comments on verses 1-5, 10, 12-14.


In this chapter, our Lord rebukes the ambitious aspirations of the Apostles, and shows the means of attaining true greatness hereafter, viz., humility (Mt 18:1–4). He next shows how dear the humble are to Him—also the crime of scandalizing them, and the dreadful punishment awaiting the scandalous sinner—and the sacrifices which, therefore, should be made sooner than he guilty of it (Mt 18:5–9). He adduces other reasons to dissuade us from giving scandal to our brethren—their angels will be witnesses against us (Mt 18:10). The Son of God Himself died to save those whom we destroy (Mt 18:11), and by the touching parable of the lost sheep, He shows how the scandalous sinner opposes the earnest will of God to save sinners (Mt 18:12–14). Our Lord next points out the mode of administering correction (Mt 18:15–20); and, in reply to Peter. He points out the duty of pardoning an offending brother, be his offences ever so numerous (Mt 18:21–22). By a very interesting and moving example, He points out the necessity of our pardoning our offending brethren, from our very hearts, their trifling offenses against us, after the example of God, who has so often pardoned our most grievous offenses against His Divine Majesty (Mt 18:23–35).

Mat 18:1  At that hour the disciples came to Jesus, saying: Who, thinkest thou, is the greater in the kingdom of heaven?

“At that hour,” &c. On His way to Capharnaum (Mt 17:23), we are informed by the other Evangelists (Mark 9:33; Luke 9:46), that the thought entered the minds of His Apostles—a thought to which they gave expression by disputing among themselves—who among them was destined to occupy the first place in His kingdom. When they arrived at His house in Capharnaum, our Redeemer, knowing their thoughts and disputations, questioned them about their disputations in the way. They, probably, from a feeling of shame, were silent (Mark 9:33). Then our Redeemer sat down, and, called together the twelve. They then took courage, knowing that their inmost thoughts and disputations in the way were known to Him, and proposed the question here recorded by St. Matthew. This they proposed in a general way, out of a feeling of modesty, without any particular reference to themselves. “Who, thinkest Thou, is the greater?” &c. From the above account, the apparent contradiction between the Evangelists is easily reconciled. The three Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, record the entire transaction, each recording a part. Luke records the commencement of the dispute; Mark, what occurred next, viz., when our Redeemer questioned them regarding it; and St. Matthew, the last part of it, when the Apostles wished to have the question solved by our Redeemer Himself.

“That hour,” refers to the time they were at Capharnaum, when the occurrence regarding the payment of the tribute money took place. “Hour,” frequently denotes time in SS. Scripture; thus, “the last hour,” denotes the “last time.”

What it is that occasioned this dispute about priority is uncertain. Some say, it was occasioned by the privilege conferred on Peter, of paying the tribute money. But, this dispute occurred on the way, before Peter was thus honoured. Others assign different reasons. The most probable opinion seems to be, that it was occasioned by the reference made by our Redeemer to His resurrection, which they regarded as the commencement of His glorious reign, when He was to distribute the chief places in His new kingdom to His followers. On other occasions, when reference is made by Him to His resurrection, we find similar disputes about precedency to arise, (Mt 20:20 ff; Luke 22:24 ff.) Not unlikely, different claims to precedency were put forward in behalf of several candidates. In behalf of some, priority of call to the Apostleship; of others, blood relationship with the future king, as in the case of the sons of Zebedee; of others, the communication of more intimate secrets by our Blessed Lord, as in the case of James the Greater and John; and, in John’s case, the manifestation of greater affection by our Lord; while, in behalf of Peter, might be alleged, besides some of the foregoing claims, the special promise made by our Divine Redeemer not long before, (Mt 16:17 ff)

“In the kingdom of heaven.” This is understood by Maldonatus of the Church militant—1st. Because our Lord clearly rebukes them for affecting precedence in this kingdom; now, he says, it would be no fault whatever in them, to desire the highest place in heaven. Again, the occasion of the dispute was, according to him, the preference shown to Peter, which had reference to the Church on earth. Others hold, that it refers to heaven; since it is of this our Redeemer treats in His reply (Mt 18:3). The most probable opinion is, that the Apostles refer to the kingdom of the Messiah after His resurrection. While still imbued with the gross and carnal notions of their race, regarding His future reign, they imagined, that our Redeemer would found on earth, a glorious kingdom, a temporal rule far exceeding in splendour and external show the reign of Solomon, or any other of their most magnificent princes, and would assign different posts and places of honour and pre-eminence, like earthly potentates, who liberally dispense places of preferment, to the princes of their kingdom. But, our Redeemer in His reply, transfers the question regarding His temporal reign to the enjoyment of heavenly bliss and pre-eminence.

Mat 18:2  And Jesus, calling unto him a little child, set him in the midst of them.

“And Jesus calling,” &c. St. Mark 9:34 informs us, that before doing this, He said, “If any man desire to be first, he shall be,” that is, let him be, “the last of all, and the servant of all,” which may mean, that whosoever desires “to be first,” in merit in the sight of God, must become the humblest of all, and exhibit this humility in his dealings with others; so that his future glory in heaven shall be proportioned to his humility at present. And this is borne out by Mt 18:4, and by St. Luke, “he that is lesser among you all, he is the greater;” or, the words may mean, whosoever aspires to the highest post amongst you, should act towards the others with the greatest humility, unlike those who aspire to places of pre-eminence among the Gentiles. This derives probability from what is said (Matt. 20:25), where our Lord contrasts the conduct which should distinguish the chiefs of His kingdom with that which is exhibited by those placed in power among the Gentiles. Both meanings may be intended, viz., to inform us, how one becomes truly great before God, and how the ecclesiastical superior ought to demean himself towards his inferiors. He should be the servant of all, exercising his authority for the benefit of others, and not for his own profit or advancement. After uttering the words above recited, our Redeemer, calling unto Him a little child, took him in His arms, and having embraced him (Mark 9:35), to show His love for innocence, He “set him in the midst of them,” near Himself (Luke 9:47). Probably, He Himself, was seated in the midst of the twelve. The more forcibly to impress them with the truth He meant to inculcate, our Redeemer employs the powerful medium of instruction by example, a mode of instruction well suited to the genius of the oriental people, and frequently in use among them, as may be seen from several places of the Old Testament. Nothing was more usual with the Prophets than to employ symbolical actions for the expression of ideas. Isaias walks naked and without shoes, to convey a warning to the Jews (Isa. 20:2). Jeremias carries chains on his neck (Jer. 27:2); the same may be also seen in Ezechiel. (Ezek 12:17 ff) Our Redeemer sometimes also employs the same in the New Testament, for the purpose of conveying, and more forcibly impressing His heavenly doctrine. Thus, He washes His disciples’ feet, “exemplum dedi vobis,” &c. He breathes on the Apostles in giving the Holy Ghost, &c. The same method is employed here; because nothing leaves so distinct an impression on the mind as that conveyed directly through the senses, “sequins irritant animos demissa per aures quam quæ sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus” (Horace, Ars Poetica). Our Redeemer wishes, by this example, to cure in His Apostles the wound caused in them by the false love of glory and jealousy, by desiring them to substitute in place thereof a holy contention of humility, “vult desiderium gloriæ, humilitatis contentione sanare” (St. Jerome), and, therefore, He places a little child in the midst of them.

Mat 18:3  And said: amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

And He tells them, that “unless they be converted,” in case such dispositions of humility were wanting; for, the word does not imply, that the Apostles really wanted these dispositions; but, the words are hypothetical and general for all others. Others understand it, unless you be converted, and give up the ambitious feelings which now animate you (Jansenius). It is better, however, to take it in the former sense, and not imply, as is done in this latter interpretation, that the Apostles were in the state of mortal sin, excluding them from the kingdom of heaven.

“And become as little children,” that is, become, by an act of the will, by merit, what the little child is by age, viz., small in their own estimation, and by virtue, as the child is by age, and in person. In this sense, our Redeemer desires its to become like children, but not like them in puerilities, or want of judgment, &c. We should imitate their innocence, sincerity, exemption from malice, from envy and duplicity. This the Apostle recommends (1 Cor. 14), “nolite fieri pueri sensibus; sed malitia parvuli estate,” &c., also (1 Peter 2:2); and in reference to the subject proposed, He wishes us to become like children in our contempt of honours, &c. In order to understand the force of the comparison, St. Hilary (in hunc locum) tells us, we must represent the state of infancy as a state of simplicity, in which one is attached merely to his father and mother, incapable of hating any one, desires neither riches nor honours, wholly innocent and free from vices, and from pride—of all vices, the greatest. If there he little children, addicted to anger, jealous, lying, &c., it is not of such our Redeemer speaks here.

Mat 18:4  Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven.

Having deterred them from the pursuit of ambition, and shown the necessity of humility, our Redeemer next points out the merit of humility, and replies to the question (Mt 18:1), “Whosoever, therefore, … he is the greatest.” Our Redeemer does not confine Himself to saying, “he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven,” as in the preceding; but, “he is the greatest” (ὅ μειζων). The article imparts to the comparison greater strength of meaning. He shall be the greatest, because more conformable to Me. And here He does not speak of “little children” in general (as in Mt 18:3), but, “as this little child,” to show that He refers to a greater, a more perfect degree of humility, the child in question being, probably, a very small, young, little child. While the virtue of humility is absolutely necessary for entering the kingdom of heaven, a more perfect degree of this virtue is necessary for being the greatest in that kingdom. How different are the means employed for attaining greatness in an earthly kingdom.

Mat 18:5  And he that shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me.

“Shall receive,” that is, perform towards Him the several offices of charity, such as hospitality, &c. The word, “receives,” embraces all the duties of charity.

“One such little child,” that is, a person truly humble, resembling a little child For, it is of such He speaks (Mt 18:6), when treating of scandal.

“Receiveth Me,” to which St. Mark adds (Mk 9:36), “and whosoever shall receive Me, receiveth not me, but Him that sent Me,” to convey, that such a man shall receive a great reward, not such as is given by Christ as man, but as God. By receiving such a person, we receive Christ, whom he resembles, and as it is through the grace of God, he becomes such; hence, by receiving Him, we receive the head, who communicates His own Holy Spirit to His members. The more humble we are, the more we become assimilated to Christ, who annihilated Himself at His Incarnation, and became a little one for our sakes. “For, a child is born to us, and a son is given to us,” &c. (Isa. 9:6), and the more we become like unto Christ, the more exalted shall we be in His kingdom.

Mat 18:10  See that you despise not one of these little ones: for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.

Our Divine Redeemer continues to exhort us to avoid scandal. The chief cause of scandal arises from either the want of respect, or from the contempt with which men practically treat the souls of their poor, humble brethren. Hence, our Redeemer cautions us against undervaluing or despising any of our brethren.

“Take heed that you despise not one of these little ones,” viz., those humble followers of Me, who have become like little children, as I inculcate. For, although despised and humble here, they are highly esteemed and honoured with God, since He has been pleased to appoint His Angels, the princes of His court, who ever enjoy His presence, to be their guardians during life, and at death. This shows their great dignity with God, which man should respect, and, therefore, no one should undervalue them. Moreover, if we injure, or, by scandal despise these little ones, and ruin their souls, they have powerful defenders, or, rather, avengers, who will be accusers for them against us at the throne of God. This is the first reason assigned by our Divine Redeemer why we should not despise or scandalize our humble brethren.

From this passage, as well from several other passages of the SS. Scriptures, it is inferred, that every one among the just, every one in the state of grace, has an Angel guardian, specially appointed by God’s sweet providence, to guard him during life. Indeed, as regards the just, it has never been denied by any Catholic writer, and it is so clearly laid down in SS. Scripture, and is so thoroughly in accordance with the common belief of the Church, that, although it be not defined as a point of faith, it may be regarded as one of the truths of Christian doctrine, winch could not be denied by any sound Catholic. It seems also to be the more probable opinion, that an Angel guardian is appointed to watch over every human being, including unbelievers of every description. St. Bernard extols the goodness and liberality of God, in thus according us, such heavenly protectors. “O wonderful condescension! O excess of goodness and love! ‘He hath given His angels charge over thee.’ Who gave them charge? The Lord of Angels, whom they obey. To whom was it given? Upon His Angels, His own Angels, hath the supreme Majesty of God laid a command—upon those sublime, those happy spirits, who approach so near His Divinity—His own domestics. Of whom does He give this charge? ‘Over thee.’ What art thou? Is not man rottenness, corruption, the food of worms? What does He charge? ‘That they guard thee, that they keep thee in all thy ways.’ They even ‘bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.’ ” (Serm. 12, in Psa. 90) The Saint (ibidem), points out the duty we owe our Angels guardian: “Great reverence, devotion, and confidence. Reverence for his presence; devotion, for his benevolence; confidence, for his custody … in every apartment, in every closet, in every corner, pay a respect to your Angel. Dare you do before him what thou durst not commit, if I saw you?” &c. “Their Angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” This shows, that wherever sent, in whatever occupation engaged, the blessed Angels enjoy the beatific vision of God, and the delights of Paradise. There are some who hold, that each of us has a wicked angel, appointed by Lucifer, the chief of demons, who imitates the providence of God in this respect, to lead us astray, and compass our ruin. This, however, is not an opinion generally received (see “Butler’s Saints,” 2nd October).

Mat 18:12  What think you? If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them should go astray: doth he not leave the ninety-nine in the mountains, and goeth to seek that which is gone astray?

Our Redeemer here adduces the parable of the lost sheep, which He more fully and more circumstantially details (Luke 15:2, &c.), to show the great concern and love God has for the souls of every one of His elect, and the consequent guilt of the scandalous sinner, who opposes the earnest will of the Heavenly Father, that they should be saved, the conclusion He wishes to derive from the parable (Mt 18:14), “Even so it is not the will,” &c. In this we find a third reason to dissuade us from giving scandal, by which, we despise our brethren, and ruin their souls. The reasons adduced by our Redeemer become stronger as He proceeds. The first is derived from the charge the Angels have of them (Mt 18:10); the second, from the love which the Son of man manifested (Mt 18:11); the third, from the will of the Eternal Father, to whom the lost sheep is an object of singular care, when wandering, and of singular and exceeding great joy, when found and brought back. It is not necessary to attempt to accommodate the several parts of the parable to the subject which it is intended to illustrate and enforce. It is the nature of all parables and comparisons in general, that of them some portions are intended rather for ornament and for completing the figurative allusion, in the way in which the subject of the parable commonly takes place, rather than for illustration. The scope of the writer, and his object in employing the parable or comparison, as seen from the context, is the safest criterion for ascertaining the extent of the application of the parable, and the parts of it meant for illustration. The present parable is variously interpreted. By “the ninety-nine sheep” some understand the Angels of heaven; and by “the one that went astray,” the human race, which our Redeemer came down from heaven to redeem. Others understand, and, more probably, “the ninety-nine,” of the just, and the straying “one,” of the sinner, who strays from the paths of virtue. Our Redeemer appeals to their own judgment, in favour of what He says, as a thing common among men. “What think you?” As if He said: I appeal to yourselves for the truth of what I am saying.

Mat 18:13  And if it so be that he find it: Amen I say to you, he rejoiceth more for that, than for the ninety-nine that went not astray.

Our Redeemer does not say, of the shepherd or the man in question, that he loves or esteems one more than ninety-nine; but, that he feels greater actual, present, sensible joy, on finding the lost “one,” than he felt for the remaining “ninety-nine,” that were not lost, both, because of the pain the loss caused him, and the suddenness of the pleasure, arising from finding it. Great joy is preceded by great affliction. The greater the storm on sea, the greater our joy on safely reaching land; the greater the peril of the patient, the greater the joy of his friends on his restoration and recovery. A loving father rejoices more for the recovery of his son, who was on the point of death, than for the rest of his sons who enjoyed sound health, although he loves all equally well. Men are apt to rejoice more for some new and unexpected advantage, than for all their former acquisitions, although of greater value. Our Redeemer (Luke 15:10), speaks of the joy which “the Angels of God” feel on the conversion of a sinner. God Himself being immutable in His nature, is incapable of such affections.

Mat 18:14  Even so it is not the will of your Father, who is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.

The conclusion of the parable shows, the great crime of the man who gives scandal, since he opposes the will of God the Father. Our Redeemer uses not the words, “My will,” but, “the will of your Father,” to show, that such a man has the Father and the Son as his enemies, and that His will, and that of the Father, who sent Him, is one. “Your Father.” Hence, you sin against your brethren, the children of your common Father, by giving scandal, and causing him to perish whom your Father wishes not to perish. He wishes all men to be saved, and none to perish, and supplies all with the necessary graces for salvation. This He wishes, by a sincere, antecedent wish, considering the matter absolutely and in itself, just as a prince antecedently wishes all his subjects to live, inasmuch as they are his subjects. But, by a consequent wish, founded on the consideration of their resisting His law, and despising His graces and friendship, God does not wish all to be saved, just as the prince referred to wishes that some of his subjects should die, if they turn traitors, and wish to subvert order in his kingdom (see St. John Damascen, Lib. 2, de Orthodoxa fide, c. 29).

The whole drift of the parable is to show, that God the Father has the greatest solicitude and concern for His children, whom He wishes to gain heaven, and feels the greatest joy at their return, just as a man diligently searches for one of his lost sheep, and rejoices on finding it.

One Response to “Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14”

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