Mat 18:21 Then came Peter unto him and said: Lord, how often shall my brother offend against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
What moved St. Peter to ask this question is variously accounted for. Some say, he was moved to do so, owing to our Redeemer having inculcated fraternal charity, in regard to our sinning brethren, to whom, after having done penance, He wished that pardon should be given (Luke 17:3). Our Redeemer, however, did not say, how often his offences were to be pardoned him; hence, St. Peter proposes this question, “How often shall my brother offend against me?” &c.
Others hold, that St. Peter’s question was occasioned by our Redeemer’s words (Luke 17:4), where He tells us, that if our brother sins against us seven times in a day and repent, we should forgive him. These words, being subjoined by St. Luke to the question regarding fraternal correction, it is likely they were used on this occasion, although omitted by St. Matthew. Our Redeemer meant by “seven,” an indefinite number; and hence, He meant to say, as often as thy brother offends thee, and repents of it, so often oughtest thou to forgive him. Peter, not well understanding what our Redeemer meant by “seven,” whether to be used definitely or indefinitely, asks, “how often?” &c. “Till seven times?” and wishes our Redeemer to explain what precise number of times he should forgive his offending brother. Or, it might be, that these words are expressive of astonishment, on the part of Peter, at the number of times our Redeemer wished our brother’s offences to be pardoned, as it would seem he was unworthy of being pardoned so often. Moreover, such excessive lenity might only seem as a further incitement to sin.
Mat 18:22 Jesus saith to him: I say not to thee, till seven times; but till seventy times seven times.
Our Redeemer, in the clearest possible terms, conveys what He meant, by telling us to forgive our repentant brother, not only “seven times, but seventy times seven,” or 490 times, which is meant to express an indefinite number; so that, no matter how often our brother may sin against us, if he repents of it, we are bound to pardon him, and we should be always sincerely disposed to pardon him from our heart. But this does not imply that we are bound to forego our just rights, either in the injuries done our character or property, or, that the order of justice, or the claims of society should be set aside. It only inculcates the obligation of pardoning our brother from our heart, and of laying aside every feeling of vindictiveness and malice. The words of our Redeemer imply, that we should set no bounds to our charity towards our neighbour. To this the following parable has reference.
Mat 18:23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened to a king, who would take an account of his servants. Mat 18:24 And when he had begun to take the account, one as brought to him, that owed him ten thousand talents. Mat 18:25 And as he had not wherewith to pay it, his lord commanded that he should be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. Mat 18:26 But that servant falling down, besought him, saying: Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Mat 18:27 And the lord of that servant being moved with pity, let him go and forgave him the debt. Mat 18:28 But when that servant was gone out, he found one of his fellow-servants that owed him an hundred pence: and laying hold of him, he throttled him, saying: Pay what thou owest.
“Therefore,” is interpreted by some thus, because; as if assigning a reason for the foregoing declaration, made to St. Peter, that we should forgive our offending brother, every time he repents. The word may, however, retain its usual meaning, thus: In order that you may understand how just and necessary it is for you always to forgive your repentant brother, know you, “therefore,” that “the kingdom of heaven is likened”—rendered like by Me—“to a king” &c. It has been already observed, that this form of expression only means, that something occurs in the kingdom of heaven similar to what is expressed in the parable; for, it is not the kingdom of heaven that is likened to the king, &c., but it is the King of heaven that is strictly compared to the “king,” referred to in the parable.
By “the kingdom of heaven,” here, is understood, the Church, embracing the Church, militant and triumphant. In truth, it may be said to regard the entire economy or supernatural dealings of God with man. It has been already more than once observed, that in the interpretation of parables, and their application to the subject they are intended to illustrate, there are certain parts of these parables necessarily and directly intended for illustration; there are other parts that are merely ornamental, and introduced solely with a view of rendering the parabolical narrative complete, and in harmony with what usually occurs, without any reference to the principal subject. The ornamental parts and necessary parts can be easily seen from the context and the scope of the parable. There is no difficulty in perceiving what the scope or object of the present parable is. Our Redeemer Himself applies it in the clearest terms, “So shall My Heavenly Father,” &c. (v. 35.) The scope of the parable, and the intention of our Blessed Lord, are, to show, that the Almighty is most merciful towards all repentant sinners; but most severe towards those who refuse to forgive their brethren their offences. Then, the necessary parts of this parable are—
First. The king, who entered into an account, and forgave the immense sum of ten thousand talents. This illustrates the infinite malice of sin, as being committed against a person of infinite dignity; and the infinite mercy of God, freely and generously, out of His infinite mercy and compassion, remitting His offending creature, this immense debt of mortal sin. A part connected with this is merely ornamental, wherein it is said that the master ordered, “his wife” &c. (v. 25), “to be sold.” This is allusive to the permission among the Romans, and even among the Jews (2 Kings 4:1), given to creditors, of selling all the effects of their debtors, even their wife and children, in discharge of the debt. In the parable, they have hardly any application, unless it be, perhaps, to show the severity of the punishment inflicted for mortal sin. But they, by no means, imply that the Almighty eternally punishes a man’s wife or children, for his sins, or that any one is condemned to eternal tortures, save for his own sins. The amount contained in the “ten thousand talents,” is disputed. However, here it is sufficient to know that it is put for a sum of indefinite magnitude, compared with the sum of “a hundred pence” (v. 28).
The second necessary part regards the servant, who after receiving the remission of an immense sum—“ten thousand talents”—goes forth, and throttling his follow-servant, who owed him a mere trifle, compared with the sum remitted to himself, inexorably casts him into prison, without giving him a moment’s respite or delay. This sets forth, in the clearest light, the cruelty and inhumanity of the sinner, who, after being gratuitously and mercifully forgiven his mortal sins, by his Lord and Master, and Creator, refuses forgiveness to his “fellow-servant,” his fellow-creature, with whom he shares the same common nature, whose weakness he knows, on whom he is often dependent for mutual aid and assistance.
Mat 18:29 And his fellow-servant falling down, besought him, saying: Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Mat 18:30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he paid the debt. Mat 18:31 Now his fellow servants seeing what was done, were very much grieved, and they came, and told their lord all that was done.
The third part of the parable refers to the grievous sin, of which the man who refuses to forgive his neighbour, and harbours feelings of vindictiveness towards him, becomes guilty, and to the eternal punishment, which God has in store for such a sinner. The ornamental part, attached to this portion, is, when his fellow-servants complain of the cruel conduct of this servant to their master. This has hardly any application in the parable. It does not imply that the Angels or Saints of heaven accuse the unforgiving man; it is merely added for ornament sake, because this usually happens among men. It may, perhaps be intended to convey, that the Angels and just, and God Himself, are so offended at the ingratitude and cruelty of the sinner, who refuses to forgive his brother, that the most severe judgment is exercised upon him. The part wherein it is insinuated, that the former debt, remitted by God, revives (v. 34), may be also regarded as ornamental, it being natural that such would occur in cases like this, among men; but, it does not imply that sins, once remitted, ever again revive—the common opinion being, that, although our past merits revive, by penance, the guilt of sin being removed; our sins, once forgiven, do not revive, “for the gifts of God are without repentance” (Rom. 11:29), unless, perhaps, it may be said, that the circumstance of receiving the remission of our former sins against God, so aggravates the sin of refusing to forgive our fellow-creature, owing to the ingratitude it contains, that it is virtually equivalent to the former sins, and shall entail as severe a punishment, as the former sins would, if still unremitted; or, at least, that the subsequent sins would be less severely punished, had the former not been forgiven. Besides the ingratitude involved in every sin of relapse, there is a special ingratitude in that of refusing to pardon our neighbour, owing to its opposition to the benefit of forgiveness, already received from God.
The first part of the parable shows us the infinite mercy and clemency of our good God towards repentant sinners. “Being moved with compassion, he forgave him the debt” (v. 27), viz., the immense debt of mortal sin, represented by the ten thousand talents.
The second part shows us the execrable inhumanity of some men towards their fellow-creatures.
The third, the severity of God’s judgment against such, viz., “judgment without mercy,” &c. (St. James 2)
Mat 18:32 Then his lord called him: and said to him: Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt, because thou besoughtest me: Mat 18:33 Shouldst not thou then have had compassion also on thy fellow servant, even as I had compassion on thee? Mat 18:34 And his lord being angry, delivered him to the torturers until he paid all the debt. Mat 18:35 So also shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.
This is the application of the parable, by our Redeemer Himself. “So shall My heavenly,” &c., that is, He shall “deliver us to the torturers till we pay all the debt” (v. 34); that is to say, punish us eternally, since, for eternity, we can make no atonement whatever, even by the most excruciating tortures, for the infinite evil of mortal sin.
It is observed, that our Redeemer says, “My” (not your) “Heavenly Father,” to convey, that the man of vengeance cannot properly call God his Father, whose children he persecutes and injures.
“Every one his brother.” The circumstance of our neighbour being our brother, destined for the same common inheritance of glory, should move us to extend forgiveness to him.
“From your hearts.” It will not do to affect forgiveness externally. It must come from the “heart,” under pain of our being refused forgiveness by God. For the gall of hatred, our Lord wishes us to substitute the honey of charity.
This parable shows us how grievous a sin, and how hateful before God it is, to cherish rancour or hatred in our hearts, against our neighbour, who may chance to have given us offence; and how agreeable an act of sacrifice before God it is, to lay aside all such feelings, and forget all past injuries done us, as if they never took place. We have but little to forgive our neighbour, compared with what God has remitted to us. He forgave ten thousand talents; we forgive, at most, but two hundred pence. What a powerful stimulus, therefore, the consideration of all God has forgiven us, and that repeatedly, should be for us to remit from our hearts all personal insults, comparatively trifling, offered us by our neighbour.
Besides the reasons already adduced in the foregoing, to aid us in forgiving our enemies, who may have gratuitously and ungratefully injured, and are still bent on injuring us, from which our corrupt nature so strongly recoils, there are several considerations to aid us still more.
First. There is no precept more emphatically inculcated by our Lord than this (see Sermon on the Mount). We should, therefore, make every sacrifice to show our gratitude to Him, by obeying His commandments, be they ever so opposed to flesh and blood. Our enemy may not be entitled to our forgiveness. But God, our Sovereign Benefactor, for whose sake only we pardon, is.
Secondly. The prayer we every day repeat, “forgive us … as we forgive,” &c., points out our duty in this respect. We tell a lie to God, whenever, with rancour and hatred in our hearts, we address to Him, this, His own prayer.
Thirdly. The example of the Saints of old. Consider the unprovoked hostility of Saul, and his bitter, persistent, unmitigated persecutions of David, and how David, when he had him in his power, spared him. He publicly bewails his death on the mountains of Gilboe. Consider the example of Joseph—his treatment of his unnatural brethren.
Fourthly. The peace of soul, and tranquillity of conscience, produced by this victory over one’s self, illustrated in the life of St. John Gualbert (July 12).
Fifthly. The dreadful consequences of harbouring feelings of vengeance. See this illustrated in the History of Sapricius, who lost the crown of martyrdom, and denied the faith, by not pardoning Nicephorus, while the latter, owing to his spirit of forgiveness, merited the martyr’s crown (Lives of Saints, 9th February).
Sixthly. Consider all God pardoned us, and how often; His countless benefits, general and particular, in consideration of which, He asks us to pardon His delinquent children. How often do we not see in the world, worthless, undeserving children pardoned, on account of their good parents?
Seventhly. The most important consideration of all—our Lord’s example, pardoning His enemies, during life, and at death. He, the God of heaven, pardons offences He could not deserve. We, sinful creatures, cannot pardon our fellow-creatures, offences we richly deserved, and which we should lovingly accept from God’s hands, as a trifling commutation for the eternal torments of hell, we so often merited. “Why is earth and ashes proud?” (Eccles. 10:9).
Eighthly. The chief means for achieving this victory over corrupt nature, is God’s grace, which is to be obtained only by fervent and persevering prayer.
THE CORINTHIANS SHOULD LEARN THE NEED OF SELF-DENIAL FROM THE TERRIBLE FATE THAT BEFELL THE JEWS OF THE EXODUS
A Summary of 1 Cor 10:1-13~At the close of the preceding chapter the Apostle had proposed his own austerity of life to the Corinthians as an example which they should imitate. And lest they should think his fear exaggerated and groundless, he now cites a fact of Jewish history, which shows that, though all the Israelites that went out from Egypt received the same typical Baptism and were fed with the same miraculous food, only those few finally entered the promised land who had the spirit of self-denial and sacrifice, all the rest having perished for their sins. Therefore, we have need of watchfulness at all times. And yet there is no reason for discouragement, because God will always do His part, if we do ours.
1. For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea.
The Corinthian faithful must have known the history St. Paul now refers to, and so he proceeds to unfold to them its spiritual meaning.
For (yap) links this chapter, or at least the first thirteen verses of it, very closely with the preceding chapter.
Our fathers, i.e., the Jews of the Exodus, who, like the other ancient Jews, were really the spiritual forefathers of all Christians, whether Jewish or Gentile, because the Church had naturally succeeded the Synagogue, and the faithful were the true heirs and sons of Abraham (Rom. 9:6-8; Gal. 3:6-9).
Under the cloud is an allusion to the “pillar of cloud” which guided the Israelites in their march out of Egypt, screening them from the Egyptians and protecting them from the sun (Ex 14:19 ff.; Num. 14:14; Ps. 10539; Wis. 10:17; 19:7).
The sea, i.e., the Red Sea (Ex. 13:21; 14:19 ff.). All those Jews of the Exodus received divine favors that were typical of the two greatest Sacraments of the New Law: Baptism, which is the most necessary, and the Blessed Eucharist, which is the most excellent. They all received a typical Baptism and a typical Communion (Cornely, MacR.).
2. And all in Moses were baptized, in the cloud, and in tfie sea:
All in Moses were baptized, i.e., all the Jews of the Exodus
were baptized unto the following of Moses as their leader, whose
Law they were thereafter obliged to observe, just as Christians,
through the Sacrament of Baptism, are enrolled under the leadership of Christ, promising to obey His law.
In the cloud, and in the sea, i.e., the cloud, the sensible sign of the presence of God, was a type of the Holy Ghost who is given in the Sacrament of Baptism ; and the sea, through which the Israelites were delivered from the bondage of Pharaoh, was a type of the waters of Baptism through which we are liberated from the power of sin and the devil.
The Vulgate in Moyse should be in Moysen (εις μωυσην), unto Moses.
3. And did all eat the same spiritual food,
Besides a typical Baptism the Israelites had also a typical Communion; for they all ate the same spiritual food, i.e., the manna (Ex 16:15), which, as being given in a miraculous manner and as typifying the Eucharist, is rightly termed “spiritual food” (John 6:35, 48, 50).
4. And all drank the same spiritual drink; (and they drank of the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.)
A further great blessing enjoyed by the Jews of the Exodus was that while in the desert they all drank the same spiritual drink, i.e., the water which was miraculously produced from the rock in the desert the second year after leaving Egypt (Ex 17:6), and in the desert of Sinai during the last year of the Israelites’ wanderings (Num. 20:8). This water was a “spiritual drink,” both because of its miraculous origin, and because it was a figure of the blood of Christ given us in the Eucharist.
And they drank of the spiritual rock. Better, “For they drank,” etc. What was this “spiritual rock”? According to St. Chrysostom and the majority of Catholic exegetes it was Christ (Verbumincarnandum), who was spiritually present with the Jews in the desert, and who, on at least two occasions of which we are told (Ex 17:6; Num. 20:8), provided the water in question. It is the opinion of many of the Fathers that the Son of God used to appear at times as an angel or messenger in Old Testament days. And furthermore, there is no objection to Christ being called a rock, because this same term is often applied to God in the Old Testament (Deut. 32:4, 15, 18, 30, 31, 37; Isa. 17:10; 21:4; etc.).
In this explanation there is no difficulty in the subsequent words
of the verse, that followed them, etc.
But others believe the “spiritual rock” was an actual material rock, just as the “spiritual food” and the “sea,” spoken of in the verses preceding, were corporal food and actual water respectively. It was called a “spiritual” rock because of the miraculous water that flowed from it and because of the holier reality it typified, namely, the blood of Christ. But how could a material rock be said to follow the Israelites in their wanderings? Some have answered that it rolled with them, as an old Rabbinical fable had it (Bemidbar Rabbah, c. 2), supplying them with water as they needed it. If this were so, how could we explain the distress of Num. 20:1-13? Others hold with greater probability that St. Paul means to say that any rock they met in their wanderings, which Moses was divinely directed to strike, responded with its flow of miraculous water.
And the rock was Christ, i.e., Christ spiritually present, according to the first opinion explained above; or Christ in figure, a type of Christ, according to the second view just explained.
5. But with most of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the desert.
More than 600,000 men of twenty years and upwards went out of Egypt; and although each and all of them partook of the same spiritual favors, they all perished because of their sins, except two, Josue (Joshua) and Caleb, who lived to enter the promised land (Num. 1:46; 14:20; 26:63 ff.).
6. Now these things were done in a figure of us, that we should not covet evil things as they also coveted.
These things were done in a figure, etc., i.e., the benefits bestowed, and the punishments later inflicted on the Israelites were figures of what has happened and will happen to us if we, like them, are unfaithful. “As you eat the Lord’s body, so did they eat manna; and as you drink His blood, so did they drink water from the rock; and as they were severely punished for their sins, so shall you be punished, if you sin like them” (St. Chrys.).
That we should not covet, etc. Perhaps the reference is not to avoiding sins in general, as St. Chrysostom thinks, but only to the fault of the Corinthians, who should not covet meats offered to idols, for fear of idolatry, as the Jews coveted the fleshpots of Egypt and turned to idolatrous worship.
7. Neither become ye idolaters, as some of them, as it is written: The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
Above all we Christians must avoid all idolatrous practices, such as those of the Jews in the desert (Exod 32:6), who sacrificed and feasted and indulged in idolatrous dances in honor of the golden calf.
8. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed fornication, and there fell in one day three and twenty thousand.
The reference here is to the sins committed by the Hebrews in the desert with the daughters of Moab (Num 25:1) who had invited them to their sacrifices in honor of the idol Beelphegor. The worship of this idol included many impurities. The Corinthians are admonished to be on their guard against taking part in similar licentious sacrifices in worship of Aphrodite, whose temple on the Acrocorinthus contained a thousand prostitutes.
Three and twenty thousand. The account of the same event in Num 25:1-9 gives four and twenty thousand. The difference is doubtless due to a copyist, who wrote three for four in transcribing St. Paul. Or perhaps St. Paul is speaking of the number that fell in one day, whereas Numbers gives all who fell on that occasion. Others say the Apostle is speaking in round numbers.
9. Neither let us tempt Christ: as some of them tempted, and perished by the serpents.
Neither let us tempt Christ, etc. The best MSS. have “the Lord” instead of “Christ,” but the latter is also well supported (by D E F G, Old Lat, Vulg., Peshitto). The Corinthians are warned not to complain of their humble conditions and restrictions as Christians, as the Israelites in the desert murmured against the providence of God and doubted His faithfulness (Num 21:4-6), and in consequence were destroyed by serpents.
10. Neither do you murmur: as some of them murmured, and were destroyed by the destroyer.
The Apostle is warning the Corinthians not to complain of him and their other lawful superiors. Some think the murmuring here referred to was the complaint of the Jews at being deprived of the delights of Egypt, and their demand for meat (Num 11:4 ff.); but it is more probable that the reference is to the occasion mentioned in Num 16:41, where we read that “all the multitude murmured against Moses and Aaron, saying, You have slain the people of God.”
The destroyer (ολοθρευτου) spoken of here is doubtless the same as the plague of Num 16, because Wis 18:25, referring to the same event, uses the same word (ὀλοθρευτής) that we have here.
11. Now all these things happened to them in figure: and they are written for our correction, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
The Apostle now tells his readers that the sins and consequent calamities that befell the Jews in the desert were types of what may happen to them, if they be not faithful.
The ends of the world. Better, “The close of the ages,” i.e., the Christian dispensation, “the fulness of time” (Gal 4:4), which is not to be succeeded by any further religious dispensation, but will continue till the Second Coming of Christ. For similar expressions which refer to the Messianic or Christian era, see Eph 1:10; Heb 9:26; 1 Peter 1:15; 1 John 2:18; etc.
The Vulgate in correptionem nostram should be in correptionem nostri.
12. Wherefore he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall.
The conclusion from the foregoing is that, if what befell the Israelites is a figure of what may happen to us Christians, baptized in Christ and fed on His flesh and blood, we must be ever on our guard against over-confidence, lest, while thinking ourselves secure in God’s favor, we lose His grace and fall away into sin, perhaps losing our souls.
Himself (Vulg., se) is not in the Greek, but is implied in the context.
No one, short of a special divine revelation, can be absolutely certain that he is in the state of grace (Conc. Trid., Sess. VI. De Justificatione, cap. 9, 13).
13. Let no temptation take hold on you, but such as is human. And God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able: but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it.
Fearing that the faithful at Corinth may be discouraged at the picture just drawn of the calamities that befell the Jews, St. Paul now wishes to console and hearten them, assuring them that in all their temptations and trials God will never fail to give them sufficient help to overcome. In other words, their temptations in the past have been only human, i.e., tolerable; and God will continue to help them in the future.
Let no temptation, etc. Rather, according to nearly all of the Greek MSS., the Fathers, and most of the versions, “No temptation hath come upon you, but such as you could bear,” i.e., the temptations of the Corinthians in the past have been bearable, with God’s grace; and God is faithful, i.e., He can be trusted to continue in the future what He has done so far. By “temptation” is meant all that induces man to moral evil, and that may be the occasion of spiritual death.
But will make also, etc., God will give with the temptation also the way of escape, so that you may be victorious and overcome.
In the Vulgate apprehendat should be apprehendit, to agree with the best Greek MSS. and the best versions.
Mat 20:17 And Jesus going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples apart and said to them:
17. Here close the acts of the third year of our Redeemer’s preaching. For, shortly after treating of the parable of the workmen, He raised Lazarus from the dead. This resuscitation of Lazarus occurred in the month of March, the same in which He was crucified, in the 34th year of his age. Hence, all that St. Matthew records in the following chapters, not descriptive of His Passion, took place on the eve of, or at least shortly before, His Passion, the history of which commences (26:1).
“Going up to Jerusalem.” We are informed by St. John (11:54), that, after having raised Lazarus from the dead, our Redeemer, in order to avoid the fury of the Jews, retired to the city of Ephraim, near the desert, and thence went up to Jerusalem, as is recorded here, in order to fulfil the decree of His Eternal Father, regarding His death and sufferings for the redemption of mankind.
“Took the twelve disciples apart and said to them.” Our Redeemer wished to make His disciples acquainted, beforehand, with the circumstances of His death and Passion, in order to confirm them in the faith, when they saw that He died freely and voluntarily, “oblatus quia ipse voluit,” and thus to arm them, on remembering His predictions, against the scandal of His Passion, and the shock it might otherwise naturally occasion to their faith. He informed them “apart,” because it was sufficient for Him to make it known to them who were to be witnesses of the accomplishment of His predictions, but He did not wish to do so publicly, lest it might interfere with the economy of redemption.
Mat 20:18 Behold we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be betrayed to the chief priests and the scribes: and they shall condemn him to death.
18. “Behold,” to arrest their attention in regard to an event which was soon to occur. Our Redeemer now foretells His Passion, for the third time. The nearer the period arrives, the more minutely He details its different circumstances. St. Luke (18:31), informs us, that our Lord, on this occasion, referred to the necessity of fulfilling the predictions of the Prophets, regarding the Son of man.
“We go up to Jerusalem,” which was built on high ground.
“The Son of man.” He so calls Himself whenever He refers to any of the actions or modifications immediately appertaining to His human nature, as here. “Betrayed.” He does not say by whom. This He reserves for the Last Supper.
“Condemn Him to death.” When, in the hall of Caiphas, they cried out with one accord, “He is guilty of death” (26:66).
Mat 20:19 And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified: and the third day he shall rise again.
19. “The Gentiles,” viz., the Romans, Pilate and his satellites. The handing over of one to the Gentiles was regarded among the Jews as a most opprobrious punishment (Calmet). Pilate says, “Thy own nation, and the Chief Priests have delivered Thee up to me” (John 18:35).
“Mocked, and scourged, and crucified.” The Jews only called for His death and crucifixion, which they had no power to inflict. “Nobis non licet oocidere quenquam.” They did not call for His flagellation, or scornful treatment. But, this was a consequence of His having been delivered up to Pilate. Hence, “mocked and scourged,” only express the consequence of His being delivered up, but not the intention of the Jews, although they might be said, in a certain sense, to have intended it, inasmuch, as in their charge against Him, as mock king, they afforded grounds to have Him derided by the soldiery. This mocking of Him preceded His cruel flagellation, which they may be said to have intended, as they knew it usually preceded crucifixion. Mocking, scourging, and crucifixion were the principal parts of our Redeemer’s Passion.
“And,” that is, but, “the third day,” &c. This He adds, to furnish grounds for consolation in the midst of the sorrows caused by His sufferings.
St. Luke (18:34), adds, “they understood none of these things, and this word was hid from them.” There is a great diversity of opinion as to the meaning of these words. It is quite clear, that the disciples understood our Lord on the several occasions He spoke of His Passion, to refer to His death. Hence, the mistaken zeal of Peter (16:22). Hence, the grief which the announcement caused the Apostles on another occasion (17:22). What they did not understand, were the circumstances of His Passion, its end, its consequences. While understanding Him to speak of His death, they could not understand, why He, who was the Eternal Son of God, should voluntarily, and of His own free accord, submit to sufferings which He might have escaped. They could not understand the object, or necessity, or utility of such sufferings. The wisdom of God, displayed in the economy of Redemption, was to them a mystery.
Mat 20:20 Then came to him the mother of the sons of Zebedee with her sons, adoring and asking something of him.
20. “Then.” Most likely, after our Lord had spoken of His approaching Passion and Resurrection on His way to Jerusalem. The word may mean, about that time.
“Came to Him the mother of the sons of Zebedee.” Her name was Salome (Matt. 27:56; Mark 15:40).
He calls her, “the mother of the sons,” &c., rather than the wife of Zebedee, probably, because she might have been a widow at the time. Moreover, the following narrative directly concerned the sons of Zebedee, who were well known in the Gospel history. “With her sons,” James and John, the same who were present at the Transfiguration. “Worshipping Him.” Exhibiting profound veneration, with the view of gaining His good-will. “And asking something.” Making a general request at first, in order to bind Him by His promise to grant the particular request she wanted. Probably, she anticipated a refusal if she mentioned, in the first place, the particular thing she wanted.
St. Mark (10:35), says, that it was John and James themselves that addressed Him in very general terms, asking Him to grant whatsoever they would desire. However, there is no contradiction; for, they may be said to have asked themselves, what they employed their mother to ask on their behalf. It was likely, they availed themselves of their mother’s good offices in this matter, thinking it might be the most successful way of obtaining their request; and if there was anything deordinate or indelicate in it, the mother’s love and partiality for her children, would render it more excusable; and the claims of the mother, on the grounds of her having been among the pious females who attached themselves to our Lord (Matt. 27:55, 56), they imagined to be such as to render her a most successful intercessor. Some even say, she had claims of consanguinity on our Blessed Lord. This, however, is denied by others.
Mat 20:21 Who said to her: What wilt thou? She saith to him: say that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left, in thy kingdom.
21. Our Redeemer, before committing Himself to any, even general promise, wishes beforehand, to ascertain what she wanted, thereby leaving His followers an example of wisdom in such circumstances.
“She said: Grant that these my two sons,” &c. This strange petition, on the part of this mother, was occasioned, probably, by our Redeemer having said, that in the glorious manifestation of His reign, the Apostles would sit on twelve thrones, as assessors at judgment, and from His having said, on the present occasion, that He was to rise again, three days after His death. From this they at once concluded, that His glorious reign was nigh. It was the settled impression on the minds of the Apostles, that this glorious reign which they imagined would resemble, or, rather exceed, in external pomp and show, all earthly kingdoms, was near at hand (Luke 19:11; Acts 1:6). This accounts for the strange petition of the mother of the sons referred to here. Not unlikely, they apprehended that Peter might be preferred before them, notwithstanding the particular regard manifested towards them by our Lord. Hence, they wished to be beforehand in preferring this petition, to occupy the highest position in the new kingdom, next Himself, signified by sitting on His right and left (St. Chrysostom). It is disputed whether it was worldly pre-eminence, in His earthly kingdom, or spiritual pre-eminence, in His heavenly and eternal kingdom, they had in view. The opinion of St. Chrysostom, who maintains the former view, seems the more probable. Our Redeemer’s answer, which would seem to refer to His heavenly kingdom, is perfectly reconcileable with this; for, He turns the subject from earthly to heavenly and spiritual pre-eminence. The words in St. Mark (10:37), “in Thy glory,” may be understood, of the glory of His temporal kingdom, which alone they seemed at this time to appreciate.
Mat 20:22 And Jesus answering, said: You know not what you ask. Can you drink the chalice that I shall drink? They say to him: We can.
22. Our Redeemer, with His usual meekness, excuses the carnal and inordinate ambition of His two Apostles, on the ground of ignorance. Addressing themselves directly, since He knew their mother had spoken at their instance, He says, “You know not what you ask;” on several grounds—first, because they mistook the nature of the kingdom in which they sought pre-eminence. They took the kingdom of our Lord for an earthly, temporal kingdom. Again, they imagined themselves fit for it with their present dispositions, whereas they should become other men in order to be fit for it. Moreover, they mistook the means for gaining pre-eminence; they imagined that our Redeemer could bestow it on whom He pleased, on the grounds of friendship or preference, as happens in earthly kingdoms, without any regard to merit. Hence, it is, that in order to correct their erroneous notions, in the two former respects, He asks, “Can you drink?” &c.; and He corrects the latter erroneous notion, by saying, “To sit on My right hand … is not Mine, but for whom it is prepared,” &c.
“Can you drink the chalice?” &c. The word, “chalice,” the container for the thing contained, the portion of wine placed for each one at table, is frequently used in SS. Scripture, to denote the lot marked out for each one by Divine Providence, whether good and agreeable, as in Psa. 15:5; 22:5; or bitter and evil, as in Psa. 10:7; 74:9; Isa. 51:17–22; Jer. 25. Adopting this well-known form of speech, our Redeemer asks them, “Can you,” are you willing and prepared, have you sufficient strength and power of endurance, “to drink the chalice that I shall drink?” In other words, have you strength to share in the sufferings, the ignominy, the bitter death, that I have before me, as marked out in the decrees of my Eternal Father; and thus establish some claim, on the grounds of merit, to the pre-eminence you ask for? The metaphor of the “chalice,” as designating man’s destiny, is, according to some, derived from the ancient custom of giving men, condemned to death, a cup of poison, as in the case of Socrates; or, according to others, from the custom prevalent among the Jews, on the part of the master of the feast, of tempering the wine as he wished, and of assigning to each of his guests his portion—to some a better, to others a loss desirable portion.
The Greek adds, “and to be baptized with the baptism with which I am to be baptized.” St. Mark (10:38), has the same in the Vulgate version. The idea, conveyed in such baptism, is the same as that conveyed in the metaphor of the chalice. It refers to His sufferings and death, as in Luke (12:50), “I have a baptism,” &c. The metaphor of baptism, designating sufferings, is, probably, owing to the prevalent notion, that waters were expressive of suffering. Thus we find (Psa. 143:7), “Libera me de aquis multis;” also (68:3), “Infixus sum in profundi limo, veni in altitudinem maris et tempestas demersit me;” also (123:5), “Our soul hath passed through a torrent,” &c.
“They say to Him: We can.” According to some expositors, James and John understood what our Redeemer referred to. But, having foolishly ambitioned what they knew not, now owing to their avidity to obtain it, they are prepared to accept any conditions; and forgetful of their own weakness and cowardice, of which the apprehensions they felt already on going to Jerusalem should have convinced them, they rashly assert, they are prepared for any sufferings. According to others, they knew not what our Redeemer meant, but they promised, from an impulse of ardent love, to join our Redeemer in any sufferings He might undergo.
Mat 20:23 He saith to them: My chalice indeed you shall drink; but to sit on my right or left hand is not mine to give to you, but to them for whom it is prepared by my Father.
23. “My chalice, indeed, you shall drink.” St. James was put to death by Herod; St. John, after being scourged, like the other Apostles, by the Jews, was cast, by the orders of Domitian, into a cauldron of boiling oil, which would have caused death, had he not been miraculously saved. He was afterwards exiled into Patmos (St. Jerome).
The words might be regarded, not so much as a prediction of future suffering, as a concession on the part of our Redeemer as if He said: “I can grant you to drink of My chalice, but to sit at My right hand, I cannot grant you.” The drinking of His chalice, and the sitting at His right hand, seem to be antithetical, the granting of one contrasted with the refusal of the other (Maldonatus).
“But to sit at My right hand … is not Mine to give you.” Some lay stress on the word “you,” as if He said, I can give it to others who may merit it, according to the disposition of My Father, but to you, irrespective of merit, and in your present dispositions, I cannot give it. This interpretation would not leave the shadow of objection to the Arians against our Lord’s Divinity, the comparison instituted being, not between the power of the Father and that of the Son; but, between the persons who may be worthy or unworthy to receive pre-eminence from either the Father or the Son, who always act in concert and harmony.
Although the word, “you,” is not in the Greek; still, some of the Fathers, who adopt the Greek reading, interpret the passage in the above sense, warranted by the Vulgate (St. Chrysostom, Cyril, Theophylact, &c.), thus: it is not mine to give, after the manner or from the motives you suppose, viz., favouritism, friendship, or consanguinity.
“But, to them for whom,” &c. The words, “it shall be given,” or some such, are understood to complete the sense, thus: “but it shall be given to them … by My Father,” whose providence has awarded it solely to merit. Our Redeemer does not say, it is not Mine to give it; but it belongs to My Father to do so. No; He only says, it is not Mine to grant it to any but those for whom it is prepared by My Father; thereby insinuating, that He was still the bestower of it; but, only on conditions determined by His Father, as in Luke 22:29; Apoc. 3:21. Although all external works, such as granting the pre-eminence in question, be common to the Trinity; still, by appropriation, certain external effects are ascribed to the several Persons of the Trinity. Power to the Father; wisdom to the Son, &c. Hence, the granting of pre-eminence being an act of power, may, by appropriation, be attributed to the Father. “Not mine,” might also mean, “not mine,” as man, without reference to My Father’s providence and ordination. The meaning will be quite clear, if “but” (αλλα) be interpreted, “except” (ει μη), as in Mark 9:8; 2 Cor. 2:5, &c.
Mat 20:24 And the ten, hearing it, were moved with indignation against the two brethren.
24. Although, probably, at some distance from our Redeemer and the mother of the sons of Zebedee, the ten other Apostles understood, however, from our Redeemer’s reply, what the conversation referred to; subject still to carnal affections and ambitious notions (for the Holy Ghost had not yet descended on them); they may have each of them expected for himself this pre-eminence. Our Redeemer, with His usual meekness, quietly bore with this outburst of carnal indignation without any severe expression of censure.
Mat 20:25 But Jesus called them to him and said: You know that the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them; and that they that are the greater, exercise power upon them.
25. He adduces two examples of a very dissimilar nature, in order to correct their false notions and cure their pride—the one derived from the conduct of earthly princes, whose principles being quite opposite to theirs, they should not, therefore, follow or adopt; the other (v. 28), from His own conduct, whom they should imitate, as their Divinely appointed model.
“The princes of the Gentiles,” who know not God, and, unlike the princes among the Jews, confined by the law of God within certain bounds, are governed by no law, save their own capricious wills; men, whose conduct is the opposite of what you should follow.
“Lord it over them.” The Greek word (κατακυριευουσιν) signifies, to exercise authority against “them,” that is, the Gentile peoples subject to their control, whom they rule tyrannically with a high hand, not for the good of their subjects, which should be the end of all authority, but for their own selfish purposes, to gain honour or emolument.
“And they that are the greater” (ὅι μεγαλοι), the magnates vested with power. “Exercise power upon them,” practise tyranny, and unlawfully domineer over their subjects. In these words, our Redeemer wishes to convey to His Apostles, that, in thus expressing indignation, arising from inordinate ambition, they are only following the perverse example of Gentile rulers. In this there is no argument against the stern exercise of authority, civil or ecclesiastical, whenever the good of the community requires it. St. Paul inculcates obedience to civil rulers, even on the grounds of conscience. (Rom. 13) We find the same Apostle exercising spiritual authority against a scandalous sinner. (1 Cor. 5) He also expresses His readiness to repress every disobedience, and exercise power unto edification. (2 Cor. 13) St. Peter exercises authority, with effect, in the case of Ananias and Sapphire. What our Redeemer censures here, is the tyrannical exercise of power, with the vain display of authority, on the part of rulers, over their subjects. This is plainly denoted by the Greek, for, “exercise power” and “lord it.” It is the same that St. Peter prohibits in the rulers of the Church, in regard to their spiritual subjects (1 Peter 5:3).
Mat 20:26 It shall not be so among you: but whosoever is the greater among you, let him be your minister.
26. “It shall not be so among you; but whosoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister.” In these words, is conveyed a line of conduct, the opposite of what is referred to in the words of the preceding verse, “and they that are greater, exercise power upon them.”
Mat 20:27 And he that will be first among you shall be your servant.
27. “And he that will be first among you … your servant.” In these words is conveyed the opposite of what is conveyed in the words, “the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them.” The idea conveyed in vv. 26, 27, is the same. There is a great diversity of opinion as to their scope and meaning. Some, with St. Jerome, hold, that the words express the mode in which we should exercise preeminence and primacy, not in the Church, but in the sight of God, and this mode is, the practice of humility and submission. The more humble we are, the higher we are in God’s sight. If any man wishes to be exalted, and to obtain pre-eminence in the sight of God, let him practice humility, and act as if he were the servant of others. From the whole context, however, it would rather seem, that the scope of our Lord is to show, not how pre-eminence and primacy are to be obtained, and sought for; but rather, how those who hold the first place of pre-eminence in the Church, should show and exercise the authority conferred on them. For, He places before them an example of persons who actually enjoy power, whose conduct in exercising power they should not imitate; and He next subjoins His own Divine example, which they should imitate, in the exercise of authority. Hence, the words mean: whosoever amongst you means to obtain pre-eminence, let him, when he obtains it, so exercise it as to be the minister and servant of all, that is, let him act with such meekness, as if those placed under him were his masters; and let him refer everything to the advantage and salvation of his people, and not to his own honour or emolument. Our Redeemer, while pointing out the manner of exercising authority and pre-eminence, employs language which would apparently apply to the manner of seeking, or, the way of arriving at power; because, this was most applicable to the circumstances of the Apostles, who ambitioned pre-eminence and power.
28. Our Redeemer proposes Himself, who was the first in His kingdom, the prince and founder of the Ecclesiastical hierarchy, as the model whom His Apostles and all vested with power, should imitate. “Even as the Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister.” Similar are His words (Luke 22:26, 27). He came not to seek His own glory, or honour, or emolument; but, the glory of His Father, and the advantage and salvation of others, going among them, doing good, ministering to their temporal and spiritual wants, with the greatest meekness and humility. And He showed how much He had the salvation and good of others at heart, when He “gives His life,” by undergoing the most ignominious death, “a redemption” (λυτρον), a ransom, a price of atonement, or redemption, which, owing to the union of the Divine Person with human nature, thus imparting infinite value to the acts performed, through His assumed nature, was not only sufficient, or abundant, but a superabundant price. By His ignominious death, He disarmed the wrath of His Father, outraged by sin, and rescued us from the power of the devil, to whom God handed us over as slaves, to be tormented. “For many.” The word, “many,” means, all mankind, who are many. St. Paul (1 Tim. 2:6) says, “He gave Himself a redemption for all.” The word, “many,” frequently bears this meaning (v. 16; Rom. 5:19; Isa. 53), “multorum peccata tulit.” And St. Paul expressly states, that Christ died for all (2 Cor. 5:14; 1 John 2:2), “a propitiation for the sins of the whole world.” Or, if we take “many” in a limited sense, so as not to embrace all; then, the words will mean, that, although He died for all, in the sense that He wished to save all, and for this end furnished them with sufficient graces; still, this did not actually profit all unto salvation, but only the just, who persevered and died in grace. These though not comprising all, are many.
29. On His way from Ephraim to Jerusalem, He passed through Jericho; and great multitudes followed Him, attracted by the fame of His doctrine and miracles. Possibly, the idea that His glorious reign was nigh at hand (Luke 19:11), might have attracted in still greater crowds those who were witnesses of the miracle He was soon to perform.
17. And Jesus going up to Jerusalem.] 6. Value of suffering, vv. 17–28. In this section we have first the third prediction of our Lord’s passion, vv. 17–19; secondly, the incident of the mother of the sons of Zebedee, vv. 20–23; thirdly, an instruction on Christian humility, vv. 24–28.
a. Third prediction of the passion. “And Jesus going up to Jerusalem” indicates the continuation of the journey of Mt. 19:1; our Lord may have already crossed the Jordan and been on the way to Jericho. “Going up to Jerusalem” agrees with the general manner of expressing the journey to the capital of a country, though Jerusalem was actually higher than the desert of the Jordan [cf. Jn. 11:54] from which Jesus was receding [cf. 1 Kings 12:27, 28; Ps. 121:4; Lk. 2:42; 18:38; Jn. 2:13; 5:1; etc.]. He “took the twelve disciples apart,” because he could not predict his passion in presence of the multitude [Chrysostom], seeing that even the disciples were disturbed thereby [Euthymius]. The Greek codd. add “on the way” to “and said to them.” The attention of the disciples is elicited by the words “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem”; then follows for the third time the prediction of his passion in order that the disciples may be convinced of its voluntariness on the part of Christ, and that they may be less disturbed by its enormity [cf. Chrysostom, Opus Imperfectum].
The prophecy contains the following points: a. “The Son of man shall be betrayed to the chief priests and the scribes,” the traitor is not yet further determined; b. “they shall condemn him to death” [cf. 16:21]; c. “and shall deliver him to the Gentiles,” to Pilate and the Roman soldiers; d. the purpose of this act is expressed by “to be mocked and scourged and crucified,” where the manner and circumstances of his death are clearly indicated [cf. 16:21 ff.; 17:22 f.], though the expression cannot be regarded as the usual form of condemnation [cf. Schegg], because crucifixion being the punishment of slaves was commonly accompanied by the foregoing ill treatment [cf. Marquardt, v. 1, p. 192; Jos. B. J. V. xi. 1]; e. “and the third day he shall rise again,” or as many codd. read, “shall be raised up,” a reading that agrees accurately with those passages in which the Father is said to have raised the Son from the dead [cf. Acts 2:24; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 13:30, 33; Rom. 4:24; 8:11; 10:9; 1 Cor. 6:14; 15:15; etc.]. Since the prediction is so clear, we can hardly see how the disciples “understood none of these things that were said” [Lk. 18:34], though we must not lose sight of their difficult position.
20. Then came to him.] b. The sons of Zebedee. “Then “connects the following petition with the mention of the resurrection, after which the foundation of the Messianic kingdom was expected [cf. Jereom, Bede Alb. Lapide, Lam. Calmet], or with 19:28, where the disciples are promised to sit on twelve seats, judging the twelve tribes of Israel [cf. Paschasius, Maldonado, Lapide, Calmet, Arnoldi], or at least with the belief that Jesus would found the Messianic kingdom [cf. Euthymius, Alb.]. “The mother of the sons of Zebedee “was Salome [cf. Mt. 27:56; Mk. 15:14; op. imp. Thomas Aquinas, Jansenius, Maldonado etc.], who also belonged to the pious women that ministered to our Lord [Mt. 27:55; Mk. 15:41]. “With her sons” does not mean that the mother of her own accord offered the following petition [cf. Maldonado, Calmet, Ambrose.], but since according to Mk. 10:35 the sons are the petitioners, and since Jesus addresses his answer to the sons, the mother either expressed the silent wish of the sons, or the two sons expressly deputed their mother to intercede for them [cf. Aug. De cons. ii. 64; Gregor. Jerorme, Paschasius, Lapide, Sylveira, Arnoldi, Schanz, Fillion, Knabenbauer etc.], believing that the petition would thus excite less jealousy among their fellow disciples, and that the pleading of a mother who had deserved the gratitude of the Master by her ministering unto him would be heard more easily than their own [cf. Paschasius, Jansenius, Tostatus, in c. xx. qu. 54, 55, 72]. “Adoring” expresses the reverential and humble attitude of Salome; “asking something of him” agrees with the habit of petitioners who doubt about their being heard, and who therefore endeavor first to obtain a general promise to have their petition granted before they express it, just as did Solomon’s mother [1 Kings 2:20; Maldonado, Jansenius, Lapide, Fillion, Knabenbauer].
21. “What wilt thou?” asks Jesus, thus showing a greater wisdom than Solomon did in rashly promising his mother to fulfil her wishes before he knew them. “The one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left” agrees with the Oriental custom, according to which the first place of honor was to the right of the king, and the second to his left [cf. Josephus Ant. VI. xi. 9; Wetstein, Schöttgen, Wünsche]; Peter, whom alone the sons of Zebedee feared, since they had repeatedly been preferred to all the other disciples [cf. Mk. 5:37; Mt. 17:1], would thus be removed from his place of prominence [cf. Chrysostom]. It cannot be maintained that they asked for a merely spiritual favor consisting in a greater nearness to Jesus [cf. Origen, Opus Imperfectum]; they desired a temporal blessing, whether they expected the Messianic kingdom without death intervening [cf. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius], or only after the resurrection [Jerome, Bede, etc.]; in any case, the petition sprang from their faith in the Messiasship of our Lord, from their ambition, and from the motherly affection and anxiety of Salome [cf. Ambrose Do fide, v. 5; Jerome, Grimm, v. p. 294]. “You know not what you ask,” because, in the first place, the kingdom of the Messias is not an earthly one, and secondly, its dignities are not distributed by favor, but according to the merit of suffering [cf. Chrysostom, Euthymius, Jansenius]. “Can you drink the chalice” [cf. Is. 51:17; Jer. 49:12; 51:7] is an allusion to the Hebrew feasts, in which the father of the family gave to each one his portion of wine [cf. Jansenius, Malodonado]; “which I shall drink,” i. e. can you die in obedience to your duty even the death of a martyr [Origen, Chrysostom, Theophylact,. Jerome, Mast. Polyc. xiv. 2, etc.]. The words of Jesus imply that no man by his own strength can drink his chalice. “We can” is according to Jans, and Lam. a rash promise, but it contains at any rate the first expression on the part of the disciples that they are prepared to suffer with Jesus [cf. Schanz].
23. “My chalice indeed you shall drink” is a prediction actually verified in both James [cf. Acts 12:2], put to death first among the apostles, and John, who was scourged [Acts 5:40, 41], banished, and immersed in boiling oil for the sake of Jesus [Tertullian De præscript. c. 36; Jerome advers. Jovin. i. 26; Bede, Bruno, Jansenius Cajetan, etc.]. That the tradition concerning the sufferings of John was formed merely to show the verification of Christ’s words [cf. Rich. Adalb. Lipsius, Die apokryphen Apostelgeschichten, i. p. 487] is a mere “a priori” statement never proved by any authority equal to that by which the tradition is supported. “To sit on my right … is not mine to give to you, but to them for whom it is prepared by my Father” does not place “you”—which is not found in the Greek codd.—in opposition to “them for whom it is prepared by my Father” [cf. Maldonado], as if Jesus had said that he could not give this favor to the sons of Zebedee, but that he must give it to those predestined by the Father; nor, secondly, does it establish an opposition between “you” and those that have merited this favor by their virtuous life [cf. Chrysostom, Euthymius, Theophylact, Ambrose, Jerome, Bede.], since in this case the preparation by the Father is wholly neglected; but it implies an opposition between Jesus and the heavenly Father, just as we find it in Jn. 6:44; 17:6, 11; Rom. 8:30; 1 Cor. 1:9; 7:15, 17; Gal. 1:6, 15; 5:8; Eph. 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:7; 5:24; etc., an opposition according to which the words of power and providence are attributed to the Father, not to the Son or to the Holy Ghost, though Jesus clearly expresses his equality in power with the Father in Jn. 17:10 and Lk. 22:29, 30. Jesus says nothing as to whether the sons of Zebedee are predestined by the Father for the high place they seek after; Hil. thinks it is reserved for Moses and Elias, others ascribe it to Peter and Paul, others again think that no creature can obtain it, seeing that even the angels stand in God’s presence as ministering spirits [cf. Chrysostom, Cyril, Theophylact, Jansenius].
24. And the ten hearing it.] c. Instruction on Christian humility. “And the ten hearing it” implies that the petition was uttered in their presence; they must have receded a little, while “moved with indignation against the two brethren” they gave vent to their jealousy in low murmurs [cf. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Bruno,. Alb. Cajetan, Jansenius, Lapide, Calmet, etc.], so that “Jesus called them to him” in order to give them the needed instruction. He rebukes neither the two nor the ten, but shows them the way to true greatness in his kingdom [cf. Origen, Jerome]. “The princes of the Gentiles,” not content with ruling, “lord it over them,” “and they that are greater,” or the magnates, “exercise [their] power over them” in a tyrannical manner [cf. Origen, Chrysostom, Jansenius]. “It shall not be so among you” in the kingdom of God; not only will all tyranny be excluded, “but whosoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister,” following the opposite course of the worldly magnates; “and he that will be first among you,” holding a place parallel to the princes of the Gentiles, “shall be your servant,” or rather your slave. As, therefore, the secular rulers seek their own advantage in ruling their subjects, so must the rulers in the kingdom seek only the advantage of their subjects whose servauts they are. “Even as the Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister,” by relieving the temporal and spiritual needs of the world, so must his disciples be always ready to assist the needs of men. “To give his life” for his sheep agrees with the character of the good shepherd. “A redemption” renders a Greek word [λύτρον] expressing not merely the idea of “protection against death” [cf. Ritschl], but the “price of redemption” paid for some one; for the lxx. render by this word the Hebrew expressions meaning ransom [cf. Ex. 21:30; 30:12; Num. 35:31; 3:51; Lev. 25:24; Is. 45:13; Prov. 6:35; 13:8], so that the life of Jesus is really the ransom paid for our redemption from sin [cf. 1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; 1 Pet. 1:18, 19]. “For many” does not here signify “for all” [cf. Euthymius, Jansenius, Lapide, Calmet], though “many” with the article signifies “all” in Rom. 5:15, 19 [cf. vv. 12, 18]; but here the article is wanting in Greek, and the expression is parallel to Jn. 17:20 and 10:15, where Jesus speaks of those that are actually saved. That Jesus gave his life really as a ransom “for all” men follows from 1 Tim. 2:6 and 1 Jn. 2:2 [cf. Rom. 5:18; 2 Cor. 5:15].
1. Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes.] 3. Formal rejection of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus first points out the contrast between their principles and practice, vv. 1–12; secondly, he directly impeaches the Pharisees, vv. 13–39.
a. Contrast between principles and practice. The first portion of this section is directed to the multitudes, vv. 1–7, the second to the disciples, vv. 8–12.
α. Address to the multitudes. Both the multitudes and the disciples had been present at the discomfiture of the Pharisees, so that they were well prepared to hear the following doctrine. “On the chair of Moses” agrees with the Rabbinic manner of expressing succession in the office of teaching [cf. Vitringa, De synag. vet. Franequeræ, 1696, p. 165]; it was applied to the Sanhedrin in a special manner [cf. Lightfoot, ad h. l.; Wünsche, p. 271], and since the Pharisees and scribes exercised the greatest authority in the Sanhedrin [Josephus Ant. XVIII. i. 4; Schürer, The Jewish people in the Time of Jesus Christ, div. ii. vol. i. p. 179, Edinburgh, 1885], they may be said to “have sitten on the chair of Moses.” By this concession Jesus shows that he is no adversary of the law [Theophylact Sylveira], that he is not opposed to the highest Jewish authority [Calm.], that he does not act through ambition or hatred [Chrysostom, Cyril, Euyhymius], and at the same time he thus renders his words against his opponent more effective [cf. Schanz, Knabenbauer]. “All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you” should not be restricted by divers conditions such as “if they command what Moses taught” [Bruno Alb. Maldonado,Arnoldi], or “if they teach well” [Paschasius], or “if they do not command anything contrary to the law of Moses” [Dionysius the Carthusian, Janesenius, Lapide, Sylverisa, Calmet], or finally, “if they act according to the duties of their office” [Lam. Fillion]; for such a restriction would constitute the people the supreme judge of their moral obligations [cf. Augustine De doct. christ. iv. 27, 59; c. Faust. xvi. 29; ep. cv. 5, 16; cf. Schanz, Knabenbauer]. “Observe and do” can hardly be referred to the observance in the heart and the execution in deed [cf. Alb. Thomas Aquinas], or the observance of the negative and the positive precepts [cf. Cajetan], but seems to urge the need of constant and faithful compliance with all obligations. But the practice of the Pharisees is far removed from their principles: “according to their works do ye not.”
3. The last statement is further proved by our Lord: first, “they say and do not. For they bind heavy and insupportable burdens,” by multiplying the regulations of the Mosaic law about needless details [cf. Acts 15:10; Edersheim i. pp. 100 f.]; “and lay them on men’s shoulders; but with a finger of their own they will not move them,” refusing not only to lighten the burden for their fellow men by assistance or example [cf. Maldonado, Edersheim i. p. 101; ii. p. 408]. but also to act according to their own teaching [Chrysostom, Euthymius, Knabenbauer]. Secondly, besides this harshness to others and indulgence to self, the Pharisees are ambitious and strive after vainglory: “All their works they do for to be seen of men: for they make their phylacteries broad”; phylacteries [derived from a Greek verb meaning “to guard,” because they were considered as helps “to guard the law,” or as “guards against evil,” something like amulets; cf. Lightfoot, ad h. l.; Wünsche, p. 274; Schürer, The Jewish People, div. ii. vol. ii. pp. 113 ff. Edinburgh, 1885] or Tephillin [prayer-straps] were dice-shaped, hollow parchment cases, containing the passages Ex. 13:1–10, 13:11–16; Deut. 6:4–9; 11:13–21 written on parchment rolls. Their use was founded on the passages Ex. 13:9, 16; Deut. 6:8; 11:18, which the Jews interpreted literally, though Jerome, Paschasius, Theophylact believe that God intended them figuratively, only obliging the Jews to keep the law always before their eyes and to observe it in practice. Every male Israelite had to put on the phylacteries, at least during the morning prayers, excepting on Sabbaths and holy days; one was fastened to the upper part of the left arm, and another to the forehead just below the hair [cf. Schürer, l. c.]. The Pharisees appear to have enlarged the cases to an abnormal size, and to have worn them especially in public [cf. Josephus Ant. IV. viii. 13]. “And enlarge their fringes” or tassels of hyacinth-blue or white wool, which every Israelite by reason of the prescription in Num. 15:37 ff., Deut. 22:12, had to wear at the four corners of his upper garment. They were to be used “that ye may look upon them and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them” [cf. Schürer, l. c. p. 111 f.; Buxtorf, Lex. chald. col. 654]. “The first places at feasts” were those to the right hand and to the left of the host, and among the Persians and Romans the middle seats [cf. Lk. 14:8 ff.; Josephus Ant. XV. ii. 4; Marquardt, v. 1, p. 312]; “the first chairs in the synagogues” were at the extreme end of the synagogue, towards which all the worshippers turned. “Rabbi” was at first a respectful address, but developed into the title of the more eminent scribes; according to Maimonides [cf. Wetstein], Simon the son of Hillel was the first that was called Rabbi; according to the Aruch [cf. Lightfoot], this honor belongs to the older Gamaliel. At the time of Christ the title was almost new, since the older doctors are commonly known by their mere names [cf. Jn. 1:38; Schürer, The Jewish People, div. ii. vol. i. p. 315, Edinburgh, 1885].
β. Address to the disciples. “But be not you called Rabbi” is addressed especially to the apostles, in order to warn them that they must not covet this title through vainglory or ambition [Chrysostom, Euthymius, Paschasius, Cajetan, Jansenius]. Jesus adds two reasons why the foregoing title should not be coveted: first, “one is your master,” so that Christians ought to feel ashamed of being addressed by the same title as Jesus Christ; secondly, “all you are brethren,” so that again any title implying preference ought to cause pain rather than pleasure [cf. 1 Cor. 4:7]. “And call none your father upon earth,” as the Jewish students used to call their masters [cf. 2 Kings 2:12; Buxtorf, s. v. אָבָּא; Lightfoot], whom they often praised and admired excessively; the reason is similar to that of the preceding prohibition: “for one is your father, who is in heaven,” since from him alone you have your natural and supernatural life, and since he alone has the full right to the honor due to a father [cf. Mal. 1:6]. That Jesus forbade not the material use of the titles “Rabbi” and “father” is plain, first, from the fact that God himself applies the name “father” to men in the fourth commandment; secondly, from the Scriptural usage of calling disciples “sons” [cf. Prov. 1:8, 10, 15; 2:1; 3:1; 4:1; etc.], so that their masters are implicitly called “fathers”; thirdly, from the circumstance that St. Paul calls himself “doctor of the Gentiles” [1 Tim. 2:7], speaks of his children in Christ [1 Cor. 4:17; 1 Tim. 1:18; 2 Tim. 2:1; Phil. 1], and that St. Peter calls Mark his son [1 Pet. 5:14]. “Neither be ye called masters,” or more correctly “leaders” of a school or party [cf. Buxtorf, s. v. מוֹרֶה], a tendency that seems to have manifested itself in the early church of Corinth when the new converts began to claim Paul, or Cephas, or Apollo as their leader [cf. 1 Cor. 1:12, 13]; the reason for this prohibition is again drawn from the fact of Christ’s universal leadership [Acts 3:15; 5:31; Heb. 12:2; 2:10]. Jesus then again points out that one’s greatness in the Church will consist in being the servant of one’s brethren [cf. Mt. 18:4; 20:25], a principle that is repeatedly and in various forms expressed by the apostle of the Gentiles [cf. 1 Cor. 3:5; 12:7; Rom. 12:6 f.; Eph. 4:11, 12]. Finally, our Lord expresses in almost proverbial language the principle that self-exaltation leads to humiliation, and self-abasement to real greatness. The life of Jesus Christ illustrates this truth [Phil. 2:8, 9; cf. Heb. 2:9], and both the Old Testament [Job 22:29; Prov. 29:23; Ez. 17:24] and the New inculcate it [Lk. 1:52, 53; 14:11; 18:14; 1 Pet. 5:5, 6; James 4:10].
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COMMENTARIES ON THE FIRST READING: Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15.
Lector Notes. Brief historical and theological background on the readings. Can be printed out, copied, and used as bulletin insert.
The Wednesday Word. It’s about the Sunday readings, but the document is posted on Wednesday, hence the name. Designed for prayer and reflection, the pdf document ends with Father Dom Henry Wansbrough’s reflections on the first and second readings. Fr. Wansbrough is General Editor of the New Jerusalem Bible and contributed commentaries on Matt, Mark, and the Pastorals in A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture.
Mt 4:1. THEN Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil.
1. Then Jesus was led.] In his baptism Jesus has been declared to be the Messias [Is. 42:1; Ps. 2:7]; now the Messias was regarded as the founder of a new dispensation [31:32; Mal. 3:1], and as the conqueror of the serpent [Gen. 3:15]. Moses, the founder of the Jewish dispensation, and Elias, its restorer, had fasted forty days before beginning their work; the first Adam had been vanquished by Satan in temptation. It is then fit that Jesus should begin his Messianic work by a similar fast, and foreshadow his triumph over Satan by overcoming him in temptation.
], though we grant a scripture parallelism between Moses, Elias, and our Lord. Tradition points to the desert of Jericho, and more in particular, to the highest part of the mountain range near Jericho, on the road to Jerusalem, named Quarantania [Kuruntel or Karantel] from the Forty Days’ Fast.
(2) That solitude is well fitted for communion with God is manifest from many passages in Sacred Scripture: Ex. 34:28; 3 Kings 19:8, 9; Lk. 3:2; 5:16; Jn. 11:54; 18:2; Mt. 26:36; etc. But the evangelist adds another purpose for which the Spirit led Jesus into the desert, viz., “to be tempted by the devil.” The agent who was to tempt Jesus does not permit us to understand the word in the sense of “provoking to anger,” or of “trying to make known some secret or hidden quality in his sacred person”; and still, it seems to be a fearful thing that either God directly intended Jesus to be tempted to evil, or that the sacred humanity of Jesus should have been subjected to this awful humiliation.
(3) St. Paul has anticipated the answer to this second exception where he explains to the Hebrews the mystery of Christ’s abasement [Heb. 2:17; 4:15; 5:8]. The apostle shows that, excepting sin, Jesus must become like unto us; that he must be tried like ourselves, and that he must learn obedience by what he suffers.
(4) Nor is it unworthy of God to have intended the temptation of Jesus; for as in any attack one has to bear from one’s enemy, one may distinguish between the trial and the advantage of the enemy, so in the present case, God intended Jesus to be tried in the conflict with Satan without giving any advantage to the latter.
(5) This intention on the part of God creates the less difficulty, because on the part of Jesus sin was physically impossible. Hence it was that the temptation must come from outside; for Jesus was free from concupiscence, and could not therefore suffer any temptation arising from within.
c. The tempter. The desert is repeatedly represented as the dwelling place of evil spirits: Mt. 12:43; Lk. 11:24; Is. 13:21; 34:14; Lev. 16:10; Tob. 8:3; Bar. 4:33; etc. In the present case, the evangelist mentions “the devil” as the intended tempter. This word is derived from the Greek noun διάβολος, or the verb διαβάλλειν, to calumniate; this is the usual term in lxx. for the Hebrew שָׂטָן, which is σατανᾶς in the New Testament, and also σατᾶν in the lxx. The Hebrew word properly means “adversary,” and is used originally of men [3 Kings 5:18; 11:14; etc.] or angels [2 Kings 19:23; Num. 22:22]; but with the article, it means the adversary by excellence, the enemy of God, and the tempter of men [1 Par. 21:1; 2 Kings 24:1], and the accuser of men before the throne of God [Zach. 3:1, 2; Job 1:7]. In this sense the word has become almost a proper name of the prince of darkness. This excludes the rationalistic opinion that the tempter of Jesus was the chief of the Sanhedrin, or the Jewish high priest, or another remarkable and influential member of the Synagogue [cf. Rosenm. Kuinoel, Schütz]. Need we add that Paulus makes the whole history a dream, Eichhorn, Dereser, etc., a fancy, Schmidt, Döderlein, Schleiermacher, Usteri, Baumgarten, a parable, Strauss, Kurze Erklärung d. Evangelinms Matthäi, Leipzig, 1836.
β. It may be of interest to draw attention to the preferential use of the number forty in both the Old and New Testament: Moses and Elias fasted forty days [Ex. 24:18; 3 Kings 19:9]; it rained forty days and nights on the earth [Gen. 7:11]; the forty usual days passed after the embalming of Jacob’s body [Gen. 1:3]; the explorers of the land of Chanaan returned after forty days [Num. 13:26]; Goliath presented himself for forty days to the hosts of Israel [1 Kings 17:16]; the Jews passed forty years in the desert [Ex. 16:35]; Ezechiel did penance for forty days for the sins of the house of Israel [Ez. 4:6]; the land of Egypt was made desolate for forty years [Ez. 29:12]; Jesus was presented in the temple after forty days, he fasted forty days, and for forty days he conversed with his disciples after his resurrection; we need not add the forty days’ penance of the Ninivites, the forty days’ legal impurity after child-birth [cf. St. Hilary, bishop of Poitiers about 354; Migne, patr. lat. 9, 917–1078.
lib. ii. ad inquis. Januarii seu ep. 55 [al. 119]; 14:27; 15:28; Daille, de jejun. x.; Bellarm. De bonis oper. 1. ii. c. xiv.; Kirchenlexicon, ed. Kaulen, t. iv. s. v. Fastenzeiten. Bellarm. has collected a number of reasons for the institution of lent: in it we practise public penance for the sins of the year, we prepare for the paschal communion, we fulfil the prediction of our Lord [Mt. 9:15], we commemorate with greater fervor our Lord’s passion and death, we pray for the catechumens to be admitted to baptism about this time of the year, we pay tithes, as it were, of our whole lives to God by consecrating to him the tenth part of each year, and finally we imitate Jesus Christ, who fasted for forty days in the desert.
and proposed as probable by Medina, according to which Jesus felt hunger all through his stay in the desert, is rash, because it contradicts the obvious and plain sense of Sacred Scripture, and the common teaching of the Fathers and Catholic theologians.
Mt 4:3. And the tempter coming said to him: If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
[p. 3, qu. 41, a. 2, ad 2] speaks of visible and invisible temptations of Jesus in the desert. Though St. Matthew does not say that the devil approached after the forty days for the first time, the whole tenor of the context implies this; the language of Mk. and Lk. may be reconciled with this, since it appears to indicate the place rather than the time of the temptation: “and he was in the desert for forty days and forty nights, [and there] tempted by Satan.” Besides, the hunger of Jesus is commonly regarded as the occasion of the temptation; low our Lord did not feel hungry till after forty days.
γ. Nature of the temptation. (1) The outward act to which the devil tempts Jesus is a miraculous change of the loaf-like stones found in the place where Jesus dwelt, into nourishment.
(2) The motives suggested for this act are two: the first is implied in the words “command that these stones be made bread [loaves],” seeing thon feelest the pangs of hunger; the second motive is suggested by the words “if thou be the son of God,” if indeed thou art able to do this, or if this condition is unworthy of thee as the Son of God. The motives are therefore sensuality under the pretence of necessity [cf. Gen. 3:6; Ex. 16:3; Num. 11:33; Ps. 77:30], and pride under the appearance of defending the honor of the Son of God.
Ypr.] believe that the devil knew the divinity of Jesus at the time of the temptation: (a) he had witnessed the hymn of the angels, the praises of the Magi, the testimony of John, the signs at the baptism, and the heavenly life of Jesus. (b) According to this view, the words “if thou be the Son of God” do not imply doubt, but they rather assume the fact [cf. Heb. 9:13], or they provoke more effectually by questioning that which is unquestionable. (c) That the devils knew the divinity of Jesus follows also from all those passages in which they bear testimony to it: Mk. 1:24; Lk. 4:34, 41; Mt. 8:29; Lk. 8:28; etc. (d) Again, it is urged that, had the devil been ignorant of the divinity of Jesus, he could not have learned it from the temptations, because the miracles could not have been wrought at the devil’s suggestion, and the last temptation is not connected with the sonship of God.
(5) But we have already given a stately array of Fathers and commentators who have not been convinced by these arguments; they must therefore not be insuperable. (a) It is St. Augustin [De civ. Dei, l. ix. 2] who says that the devils could learn only so much from the miracles of Jesus as God wished them to know; we cannot therefore “a priori” conclude that the evil spirits knew all that could be known from this source. (b) As to their testimony to Jesus, they often testify only to his Messiasship or his personal holiness, without implying his divinity; where they imply the divinity of Jesus, they may have intended to flatter him, or to deceive the multitude. (c) It is true that 1 Cor. 2:8 does not necessarily mean: if the princes of this world had known the divinity of Jesus, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory, but may signify: if the princes of this world [either the earthly princes or the devils] had known the mystery of the cross, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory [cf. St. Thomas of Aquin, died 1274; his “in Matthæum evangelistam expositio” and “catena aurea in Matthæum …” must here be noted.
in loc.; Suar. De myster. disp. xxxi.]; but from the possibility that the demons may have known the divinity of Jesus at the time of the crucifixion, it does not follow that they did know it at the time of the temptation. (d) If it be finally asked how the temptations could have testified to the divinity of Jesus, we may answer with Suar. [l. c.]: in the case of the first and second temptation, Satan knew that no one but the Son of God could have worked such mighty signs, especially in confirmation of such a truth as the devil had called in question. The third temptation was calculated to provoke our Lord, to claim for himself the honor of the Son of God, who had every right to a divine adoration.
Mt 4:4. Who answered and said: It is written, Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.
], but is an allusion to Deut. 8:3, where Moses points back to the miraculous sustenance of the people in the desert, showing that bread is not the only support of life, but that man lives “in all that proceedeth from the mouth of God,” i. e. that God can sustain him in any way he pleases. The explanatory “word” has been added to the Hebrew text by the lxx. and the Vulgate. The means suggested by the enemy is therefore not necessary. (2) We must also admire the consummate wisdom of the answer: it restores to the heavenly Father the honor that was implicitly attacked by the suggestion of the devil [The Public Life of our Lord, London, 1876.
]. While Jesus therefore teaches us the power of the inspired word, he also foreshows his future teaching [Mt. 6:33]: “Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all those things shall be added unto you.”
Mt 4:5. Then the devil took him up into the holy city, and set him upon the pinnacle of the temple,
[i. p. 191]. Internal evidence: the first gospel employs throughout the particles of succession, v. 1 “then,” v. 5 “then,” v. 8 “again”; besides, the answer of v. 10, following the third temptation related by St. Matthew, must have been the final one. It is well known that while St. Luke’s order is accurate in regard to the greater events, the first gospel often supplies a more accurate order of detail. Even the gradation of the temptations is not lost in the order of the first gospel: the first temptation appeals to the motives of sensuality and pride; the second, to vainglory; the third presents motives of avarice and pride in the highest degree, or, as Leben Jesu, Freiburg, 1890.
[l. c.] points out, it combines all the allurements of the concupiscence of the flesh, of the concupiscence of the eyes, and of the pride of life. Other authors represent the gradation of the temptations thus: temptation to independence and want of confidence in God, to presumption, to blasphemy [Schanz, Comm. über d. Evang. d. h. Matth., Freib. 1879.
]; Jesus tempted as man, as Jewish prophet, as Messias [Lutter. ii. 34]; manifestation before the tempter, before the Jewish community, before the Gentile world; Jesus tempted as man, as Messias, and as Son of God [Godet]; etc.
b. Manner of the temptation. α. The evangelist describes it in three preparatory clauses: “the devil took him up”—“into the holy city”—“and set him upon the pinnacle of the temple.” In general, it may be noted that these expressions do not favor the hypothesis of a merely internal temptation by suggestion.
, chiefly through reverential feelings for the sacred person of Jesus, contend that he did not permit himself to be carried by the devil, but that he accompanied his tempter on foot to the pinnacle of the temple and the summit of the mountain [Berlepsch]; evangelium Matthæi recensuit et cum comment. ed. Lips. 1826.
and most commentators adhere to the bodily transportation of Jesus by the agency of the devil. Suar. [De angel, disp. xvi. s. iii.] infers from this passage that Satan has power to move bodies from place to place. Greg. [hom. xvi. in Mt.] explains how Jesus could allow himself to be carried by the evil spirit: “We need not be surprised if he permitted himself to be carried up into a mountain by Satan, since he permitted himself to be crucified by the members of Satan.” The wording of St. Matthew’s text together with the expression “set him upon the pinnacle of the temple” favors the third view.
δ. The “pinnacle of the temple” has been variously identified by commentators. The word rendered “pinnacle” occurs also in Lk. 4:9; in the lxx. version it stands regularly for the Hebrew כָּנָף [wing], though the Greek word presents the diminutive form [winglet]. Gesen. [Lexic. ed. 8, s. v.] states that the Hebrew word is never used of the “summit” or the “highest point” of anything, but only of the extremity or the border of a plain [e.g. the hem of a garment]. It must also be noted that the Greek text does not read ναός [temple proper], but τοῦ ἱεροῦ [sanctuary], so that the edge on which the devil placed our Lord may have belonged to any part of the temple structures. It is on account of these considerations that many writers reject the opinion of Or. and St. Hilary, bishop of Poitiers about 354; Migne, patr. lat. 9, 917–1078.
Mt 4:6. And said to him: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down, for it is written: That he hath given his angels charge over thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone.
6. And said to him.] c. Nature of the temptation. α. The external act to which Satan impels Jesus is clearly mentioned in the gospels. β. The motives by which the devil endeavors to move Jesus are various: the motive of pride is implied in the words “if thou be the Son of God,” for they suggest, it is unworthy of thee to descend from this dazzling height in the common way; again, there was the necessity of manifesting himself as the Messias promised to appear in the temple [Mal. 3:1] in such a manner that no one should know whence he came [John 7:27], both of which prophecies would be fulfilled in the person of Jesus, if he were to descend through the air among the multitudes in the temple court; finally, there was the express promise of God concerning the guardianship of the angels, which was surely due to one whom God himself had called his Son at the time of the baptism.
γ. The purpose of the devil in the second temptation is quite comprehensive: since Jesus had conquered in the first temptation through confidence in God and the use of Sacred Scripture, the devil now endeavors to gain the victory by quoting Sacred Scripture, and by appealing to our Lord’s confidence in God; as in the first temptation Jesus had postponed the preservation of his life to the will of God, the devil now incites him to jeopardize his life in order to show his trust in the help of his Father; as in the first temptation Jesus had shown his entire dependence on his Father, the devil endeavors to push the exercise of this dependence beyond the bounds of prudence. But this pretended dependence on God was a cloak of proud independence, choosing its own ways and means of Messianic manifestation; the pretended trust in God was a real distrust in the veracity of God’s words spoken at the baptism, putting them now really to the test; the seeming surrender of the earthly life to the good will of God was a real act of sovereign self-will in the choice of the time and the occasion at which God’s promises were to be verified [cf. St. Jerome, about 378–420; he wrote his “commentariorum in evangelium Matthæi libros iv.” very hastily, following Orig. and Hil. quite closely; Migne, patr. lat. 26, 21–218.
]. We need not add the rationalistic gloss [Kuin.] which identifies angels with the means provided for men’s well-being and eliminates every spiritual element from the inspired record; in v. 11 Kuin. himself admits the common belief among the Jews that every child had a guardian angel.
Mt 4:7. Jesus said to him: It is written again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
7. Jesus said to him.] d. Victory. α. The “again” in the words of Jesus does not imply opposition to what has been quoted as Scripture before, but it merely adds a new passage of Scripture to the preceding; [cf. Jn. 12:39; 19:37; Rom. 15:10–12; 1 Cor. 3:20 al.]. β. The addition does not allude to the passage our Lord himself had quoted, but to the proof which the enemy had adduced from the Bible. The help of God which is there represented indefinitely is properly defined by this text from Deut. 6:10 [lxx.]. At Raphidim the Hebrews murmured against God on account of a want of water [Ex. 17:7], and Moses upbraided them in the words quoted by our Lord. γ. The change to the second person singular from the plural in the Hebrew text renders the passage more crushing to the enemy. Jesus implicitly tells him that the limits of our confidence in God are his implicit or express promises: not to trust these, or to expect more than this, is tempting God. δ. While these words reject the suggestion of the devil, they do not answer his question concerning the sonship of Jesus [cf. St. Hilary, bishop of Poitiers about 354; Migne, patr. lat. 9, 917–1078.
], so that the enemy is driven to a third temptation. ε. Some authors point out that in this victory the second Adam is the counterpart of the first: our parents succumbed to sensuality, expecting that by compliance with the tempter’s words “their eyes” should be opened, and they should become like gods; Jesus overcomes the temptation of sensuality and vain display of his power in spite of the fame among his countrymen which a compliance with the enemy’s suggestion would have brought him.
Mt 4:8. Again the devil took him up into a very high mountain, and shewed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them,
8. Again the devil took him up.] 3. The third temptation. a. Nature of the temptation. α. The external act to which the tempter impelled Jesus was a formal acknowledgment of the devil’s superiority over Jesus, himself; our Lord was to adore Satan, and thereby recognize him as his lord and master. β. The motives proposed to Jesus include all the world can give: wealth, pleasure, honor. (1) Though it is uncertain on which high mountain Jesus was carried by Satan [Moria, Olivet, Thabor, Horeb, Nebo, Quarantania, etc.], it is certain that our Lord’s vision of all the kingdoms of the world was not merely internal; for such a vision might be had in a valley, and it would imply power of the enemy over the inner faculties of Jesus. (2) On the other hand, there can be no question of a mere natural vision of the whole world from the top of a high mountain; the addition of Lk. 4:5 implies that there was some magical effect produced by Satan “in a moment of time.” (3) The opinion of Theophylact, archbishop in Bulgaria about 1071; his commentary is in a manner a synopsis of Chrys.; Migne, patr. græc. 123.
who maintain that the devil only pointed in the direction of the various kingdoms of the world without actually showing them, does not satisfy the text of the gospel saying that the devil showed Jesus not only all the kingdoms of the world, but also the glory thereof. (4) It seems that the devil preternaturally formed the species of all the kingdoms of the world before the eyes of Jesus “in a moment of time” [Lk. 4:5]; to make this deception more real, the devil places Jesus on the top of a mountain [Sa, Sebast. Barradas, died 1615; here belong his “commentaria in concordiam et historiam evangelicam,” tt. 4.
]. (5) On the part of Jesus, the devil expected to find besides the triple concupiscence also the Messianic character aiding his purpose: the dominion over the whole earth had been promised to the Messias by the prophets [cf. Pss. 2:8; 71:8–11]; but it had also been foretold that he was to acquire this dominion by means of suffering [cf. Is. 49:4; 50:4–8; 53:2–12]. Satan then promises to give Jesus without labor and suffering what he otherwise must acquire at the sacrifice of his life.
Mt 4:9. And said to him: All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me.
9. And said to him.] b. Purpose of the devil. (1) St. Luke [5:6] adds that the evil spirit claimed authority to dispose of all he showed Jesus: “To thee will I give all this power and the glory of them; for to me they are delivered, and to whom I will, I give them.” Though the world had not been given to Satan, nor the power of giving it to any one else, the words of the tempter had a semblance of truth, as appears from Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11. (2) Seeing that he cannot overcome Jesus under the species of good, the devil throws off his mask, and proposes his principal scope plainly: Jesus is to become the master of the world, as God had promised him, but under the suzerainty of Satan. There is no more question of “the Son of God,” no more use of Scripture language: the alternative between God’s and the devil’s service is plainly stated. (3) Need we say that this is the real and final object in all temptations of the devil? It is not always put so clearly before us, because most of us are carried away by the temptations coming under the pretence of necessity and of propriety, i. e. by temptations concerning the means; hence there is no need of making us repeat the election of our last end.
Mt 4:10. Then Jesus saith to him: Begone, Satan: for it is written: The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve.
10. Then Jesus saith to him.] c. Victory. The account of the victory brings before us three persons: Jesus, the devil, and the angels. α. The words of Jesus are taken from Deut. 6:13, but present two variations from the original: the word “only” is wanting in the Hebrew, and the expression “shalt thou adore” reads in the Hebrew “shalt thou fear”; since the former variation is in accord with the context, and since “fear” often implies religious worship in the language of Scripture, our Lord cannot be accused of having falsified Scripture. In the lxx. this meaning is indicated by the construction of the verb; for in the present passage it is followed by the accusative instead of the dative [cf. Ex. 20:5]. That the expression “serve” often implies religious worship is clear from Deut. 10:12; Jos. 24:15; Rom. 9:4; 12:1; Heb. 8:5; 9:9; 10:2; 13:10. The expression “Begone, Satan” does not imply that Jesus recognized the devil only at the third temptation, but it shows that while he had borne patiently the former trials, he utters this harsh word when the honor of God is attacked. Again, it must be noted that Jesus overcomes Satan in a way in which any man might have overcome; he does, therefore, give no answer to the devil’s eager inquiry whether he be the Son of God.
Mt 4:11. Then the devil left him; and behold angels came and ministered to him.
11. Then the devil left him.] β. Lk. 4:13 adds “for a time”; without discussing the question whether the conflict was renewed in secret, we may point to Gethsemani [cf. Lk. 22:53; Jn. 14:30], where the hour of Jesus’ enemies and the power of darkness made a renewed attack.
—and behold angels came.] γ. According to 3 Kings 19:6–8 an angel came to Elias and gave him bread to eat and water to drink. (1) It is therefore most probable that in the present case, also, the angels ministered to the bodily wants of Jesus. One angel would have been sufficient for this; but to emphasize the defeat of the devil more strongly, to show the parallelism between the victory of Jesus and the fall of Adam who was kept by angels out of paradise, to shame Satan more thoroughly, it was proper that a host of angels should present themselves. (2) Whether Jesus was carried back to his former abode by the angels, or returned thither by his own miraculous power, or again walked back, cannot be determined. But we certainly must deny the supposition that Satan should have been permitted to carry our Lord back, after the word of reprobation had been spoken. (3) St. Luke [4:13] adds “when the devil had ended all the temptation” or “all the temptation being ended.” We have seen already that the encounters between Jesus and Satan were frequent throughout the public life of our Lord; “all the temptation” cannot therefore mean that no temptation followed the present one; in other words, “all” is not used of individual, but of specific temptations. It implies, therefore, that the second Adam was tempted with all the temptations of the first, with sensuality, vainglory, and avarice [Greg. Rabanus Maurus, 776–856; his “comment. in Matt. ll. octo” must here be mentioned; Migne, patr. lat. 107, 727–1156.
]. (4) Again, the antitype was tempted with all the temptations of his type, the people of Israel in the desert: in the case of Israel, the want of food is supplied by the manna [Ex. 16:2], and this event is recorded in the words used by Jesus in his first temptation; the lack of water forms the second trial of Israel [Ex. 17:7], and it is with reference to this that Moses speaks the words used by Jesus in his second temptation [Deut. 6:16]; the lengthy journey and the continued labor form the third trial of the Israelites [Num. 21:4 f.; 1 Cor. 10:9], and occasion indirectly the utterance of the words employed by Jesus in his third temptation [Deut. 6:13, 14; cf. 8:2]. (5) Finally, Jesus overcame the devil in all the temptations with which he besets ourselves, i. e. in the concupiscence of the flesh, in the concupiscence of the eyes, and in the pride of life [1 Jn. 2:16]; he thus shows us that all manner of temptation can be overcome, even as death was overcome by his death; he warns us that we cannot be safe against temptation at any time, since he himself was tempted after his baptism [Greg. St. Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople 397–407; he wrote 90 [or 91] homilies on the first gospel; Migne, patr. græc. 57, 58.