The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 20:17-28

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 21, 2016

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].


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