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 Maldonado’s Commentary on Matthew 18:1-5, 10

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 4, 2017

Verse 1. At that hourABOUT that time, sub idem tempus; a Hebraism. S. Mark 9:33 says that Christ anticipated the Apostles and asked what they disputed of in the way. They had disputed which of them should be the greatest. S. Luke 9:46 says that Jesus, knowing their thoughts, did not ask them, but took a child, and said: Whosoever shall receive this child in My name receiveth Me, and whosoever receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me. For he that is the lesser among you all, he is the greater. Of this kind of contention, S. Augustin, on the passage (De Consens., ii. 61), is silent. S. Chrysostom and Euthymius say that the Apostles disputed, not once, but frequently, on the subject. (1) In the way. (2) In the house, when they saw Peter preferred to them in the payment of the tribute. (3) When Christ asked them what they disputed of in the way.

It has been doubted on what occasion they asked this. S. Jerome, Bede, and Euthymius think that it was when they saw Christ pay the tribute for Himself and Peter. Others differ, because it appears from S. Mark 9:33 that they had had their thoughts on the subject in the way before they came to Capernaum and the tribute had been paid; but we have said from S. Chrysostom and Euthymius that they had frequently and on different occasions discussed the question. The payment of the tribute, therefore, did not put the thought into their minds, but only strengthened that which was in them already. For there had been often occasions before. They had seen Peter, with two others, go up the mountain with Christ, and the keys of the kingdom of heaven given to him (Matt 16:19), as again S. Chrysostom and Euthymius say. Others give another and not unacceptable reason that they had heard Christ often speak of His death as being now very near at hand, and wondered which of them would be, so to speak, His heir that is, His vicar after His death. This is very agreeable to human nature and custom, when men stand around those who are at the point of death, with thoughts of their succession. The Apostles seem to have done this on the eve of Christ s Passion (S. Luke 22:24).

Who thinkest thou. The comparative is put for the superlative, and the present for the future, by a Greek idiom, as if it were written, Which of us is to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

In the kingdom of heaven. Some, as SS. Chrysostom and Epiphanius, take these words to mean the kingdom of heaven itself, and the celestial glory, which from verse 3 seems probable. It is credible that Christ answered the Apostles about the same kingdom of heaven as they spoke of.

But it is more likely that in this instance the Church is termed the kingdom of heaven (1) From the cause of their asking the question when they saw Peter in every respect preferred, and they thought that he would be the head of all the Church; (2) From their having been blamed by Christ when He rebuked their ambition. To wish to be the first in the kingdom of heaven is love, not ambition; but to wish to be first in the Church, and to be placed over others, was to incur blame as being ambitious. This may be proved from verse 3, where the contrary opinion is approved. For Christ would say that he who is least in the present kingdom of heaven that is, the Church should be accounted greatest, and should, therefore, be the greatest in heaven. So speaks S. Luke of the present kingdom of the Church (S. Luke 9:48). Christ therefore plays on the ambiguity of the words, when He says, Except ye be converted, as we have observed that He has often done before.

Verse 2. And Jesus calling to Him a little child. Some think that it was an infant, because S. Mark says that Christ took him up in His arms (S. Mark 9:35; 10:6). But they are in error. For a child larger than an infant may be small enough to be taken up in arms, and this child was able to walk. Christ then called, not an infant, but a child, and an innocent one, and placed him in the midst, that, as has been observed by S. Chrysostom, he might teach humility, not in words, but by actual facts.

Verse 3. Unless you be converted. It has been erroneously inferred from these words that the Apostles were then in a state of mortal sin, because Christ said except, as if they were not able to enter the kingdom of heaven at that time. Christ meant simply that they could not enter it themselves unless they were like children in simplicity and humility. This is not to be understood as if a humility and simplicity equal to that of children were required in all men. For if so, who would ever enter the kingdom of heaven? But the greatest example of humility is put forward, not that we may wholly come up to it, but that we may approach as near to it as we possibly can. So we are commanded to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect (S. Matt 5:48). Nor is it intended that the Apostles had not such humility as would enable them to enter the kingdom of heaven; but they have what is required shown to them, that if they have it not, they may gain it, and if they have it, they may keep it. The expression, unless you become, &c., does not mean that they were not such then. It alludes to their age, that as they are fully grown now, they should become as little children, as Christ said to Nicodemus (S. John 3:3).

But Christ blamed the ambition of the Apostles. Granted. It does not follow, however, that it was such as to be a mortal sin, or to hinder them from entering the kingdom of heaven; for it might be venial, and it is right that we should believe it to have been such. The Apostles, therefore, are to be excused by this or some other better reason, as S. Chrysostom excuses them, not blamed. Christ commands us to be like children, not in all things, but in simplicity, in humility, and in innocence, as S. Paul (1 Cor 14:20), as say S. Clement of Alexandria (Pædag., i. 5), S. Ambrose (Serm. x.).

Verse 5. And he that shall receive one such little child. The reason of Christ’s saying this may easily be gathered from what has gone before and from what follows. He would prove that he is the greatest who most resembles the least, because a child is most like Himself and bears His Person. He proves this by the fact that whoever receives a child receives Him. But to receive does not only mean, as some think, to receive Him into our houses, but to follow this up by every kind of well-doing in our power: in a word, to do good, as He will say in the judgment (Matt 25:40). S. Mark and S. Luke relate only this part of Christ’s conversation, omitting what S. Matthew has added. Probably because in this lay the sum of the whole matter.

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