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 23:27-32

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 24, 2013

Text in red are my additions.

Mat 23:27  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you are like to whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear to men beautiful but within are full of dead men’s bones and of all filthiness.

This is another similitude, tending to the same end, having for object, to show the hypocrisy and exterior affectation of sanctity, on the part of the Pharisees, while they were devoid of all sanctity and virtue before God, who sees the heart. The comparison hardly needs any explanation.

“Whitened sepulchres.” The Jews whitened the exterior of their sepulchres annually, in order that they might be known, and clearly seen, and the pollution caused by touching, or walking over them, avoided.

Mat 23:28  So you also outwardly indeed appear to men just: but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

“Inwardly you are full of hypocrisy,” owing to their lying affectation of sanctity, which they did not possess; “and iniquity,” total disregard of God’s law.

Mat 23:29  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, that build the sepulchres of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the just,

“Build the sepulchres of the prophets,” that is, restored them, and raised them from a state of dilapidation. “And adorn the monuments of the just,” conveys the same idea as the former, in a different form of words. “The just,” are the same as “the prophets;” and “sepulchres,” the same as “monuments.” The Jews, in order to show their veneration for the persecuted just of old, and to testify their abhorrence of the cruelty they underwent for justice’ sake, ornamented and rebuilt their sepulchres. This was, in itself, praiseworthy, and deserving of commendation, nor does our Redeemer pronounce woe upon them on this account. But what He censures in them is, their hypocrisy, in affecting a horror of the crimes of their fathers, who persecuted the prophets, when, at the same time, they proved themselves to be “sons,” faithful imitators, not of the virtuous Abraham, but of these same fathers, who killed the prophets, while harbouring the wicked design of persecuting unto death the Lord of the prophets, to whom the prophets all bore testimony.

Mat 23:30  And say: If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.

Our Redeemer shows, that He sees into the secrets of their hearts, their wicked designs against Himself, to cover which they pretended to honour the memory of the prophets, and to abhor the wicked deeds of those who persecuted them. They pretended that far from sharing in these wicked deeds, had they lived in the days of their fathers, they would rather have been faithful imitators of the prophets, acting a part quite different from that acted by their fathers.

They affected this external respect and veneration for the prophets, solely with a view of concealing their malice, in regard to Jesus Christ, whom, by this pretended reverence for the prophets of old, they wished to make the people regard neither as a just man, nor as a prophet.

Mat 23:31  Wherefore you are witnesses against yourselves, that you are the sons of them that killed the prophets.

“Wherefore,” by the very fact of their admitting that they would not have joined their “fathers,” had they lived in their day, in the persecution of the prophets, they bore testimony “against themselves,” or, as the Greek has it, εαυτοις, unto, or regarding themselves, that they were the “sons of them that killed the prophets.” The force of the inference contained in “wherefore,” is founded on the relation of “sons,” conveyed by the word, “fathers.” No doubt, the Scribes and Pharisees did not erect or adorn the monuments, for the purpose of expressing their approval of the deeds of their fathers, who killed the prophets, as appears (v. 30)—although St. Chrysostom, very improbably, however, thinks they erected those monuments as trophies, commemorative of the courage of their fathers, who would not permit themselves to be rebuked by the prophets—quite the contrary; they wished to show, externally, their reverence for the “prophets,” and their abhorrence of their murderers. But, as the act of raising monuments was susceptible of being construed into a testimony of respect for either those who slew others, or those who were slain, our Redeemer, who knew the hearts of the Pharisees, construes their act in the very opposite sense of what they intended it to bear, as if it were an approval of their fathers’ misdeeds, since they were, in reality, not merely children, by nature, of these selfsame parents, but true followers of them, by the imitation of then vices.

“You are witnesses against yourselves.” St. Luke has (Lk 11:48), “Truly you bear witness that you consent to the doings of your fathers: for, they killed them (the prophets), and, you build their sepulchres.” It is not so much on their external conduct, in building the monuments of the prophets, and their professions, that our Redeemer’s inference is founded. It is rather upon the knowledge which He had, as God, of their inward feelings in regard to Himself and His Apostles; and God sometimes interprets men’s actions, not according to the meaning they would have attached to thorn, but according to the true sense that accords with their interior dispositions, which the infallible light of His omniscience penetrates. Thus, the Prophet Amos (Amos 5:25, 26), charges the Jews, during the forty years’ sojourn in the desert, with having offered up sacrifices only to Moloch and the stars; because, no matter what were their external professions during that time, their heart was borne towards the false worship of idols. In like manner, whatever might have been the external professions of the Pharisees, in the erection of monuments to those slain by their fathers, our Redeemer takes their act in a sense quite different from what they wished—a sense, however, quite in accordance with truth and their interior feelings and dispositions. Their act, no matter how accompanied with professions of respect for the prophets, was also susceptible of being construed into an approval of those who slew them. For, men never wished to perpetuate the deeds of their fathers, except such as they deemed worthy of commendation, and this construction of their act being in accordance with their internal feelings, as known to our Redeemer, He draws the conclusion, founded on truth, the very opposite, however, of what they hypocritically meant to be deduced from it. The conclusion is not derived from their external act, and their professions regarding the intention they had in raising the monuments, which were really praiseworthy; but, from the knowledge our Redeemer had of their feelings towards Himself, and the just of the New Law, quite the same as those of their fathers, whose worthy descendants they proved themselves to be.

Mat 23:32  Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.

“Fill ye up, then,” &c. “Then,” since your dispositions as regards the just are the same as those of your fathers, perfect their work, of killing the prophets of the Lord, by putting to death, as you are resolved on, the Lord of the prophets; as if He said: Complete what is wanting of impiety, to move God, in His indignation, utterly to ruin you.

The word, “measure,” contains an allusion to things sold by certain measure. It is only after the full measure is given, the full price is paid. So, there is a measure of guilt and iniquity, as well in the case of individuals as of entire nations, after which God pouring out the full vial of His wrath, utterly and inexorably ruins them. Thus, He waited for the murder of His eternal Son, before He utterly ruined Jerusalem. For, although He often chastised the Jews from time to time, for their ingratitude, their continual murmurings, their frequent relapses into idolatry, the murder of His prophets, still, these chastisements were tempered with mercy; and it was only when they had consummated the iniquity of their race, by putting to death His eternal Son, that God utterly abandoned and destroyed His people. In like manner (Gen. 15:16), God says of the Amorrhites, that “their iniquities were not yet the full.” Four hundred years more elapsed before their iniquities were completed, and the whole race utterly destroyed by Moses and Josue. Similar was the treatment of the Amalecites, on account of the crimes of their fathers, and their unceasing hostility to the Jews (1 Kings 15:16). The children and their ancestors are, in civil estimation, regarded as one. Hence, the merits or demerits of the parents redound to the children, when they imitate their example; and then, when the measure of iniquity is filled up, they suffer the full punishment of the mass of iniquity which had been accumulating for ages. Not that the children are punished more severely than their sins deserve; but, the circumstance of their having completed the measure of iniquity, pre-ordained by God for punishment, of their having accumulated crime upon crime, so as to reach a certain height, causes God to regard them and their parents as one moral person, and to inflict on them, in the rigours of His justice, the punishment justly due, which He might have otherwise paternally withheld, “that may come on you the blood shed” (v. 35), as if the children morally participated in the crimes of the parents, whom they imitated.

From this verse, theologians deduce, that, in God’s decrees, a certain measure and number of sins, a certain height of iniquity, is permitted, both to kingdoms, cities, and private individuals, before He fully and completely punishes them. But, after this is reached, then will He fully punish them. His vengeance, if slow, is always sure, and when long-deferred, it is fully compensated by the severity of the stroke. Who, then, should not tremble at the commission of sin, lest, by tilling up the defined measure of guilt, he should set bounds, as it were, to the Divine mercy, and force God, by the consummation of guilt—and this applies as well to entire nations as to individual sinners—to abandon him, and give him over to a reprobate sense. In case of relapse, after former forgiveness, the same may apply. “De propitiato peccato noli esse sine metu” (Be not without fear about sin forgiven, see Sirach 5:5).

The words, “fill up,” do not convey a precept. They are an instance of what might be termed an ironical permission, frequently met with in SS. Scripture. They convey a prediction of what is most certainly to happen the Pharisees, &c., owing to their hardened malice. A like example is found in the case of Judas, “quod facis, fae citius” (That which thou dost, do quickly, John 13:27).

One Response to “Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 23:27-32”

  1. […] Bishop MacEvilly’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (Matthew 23:27-32). […]

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