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 8:1-13

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 7, 2022

This post needs some editing.

1. And when he was come down from the mountain.] 1. Cleansing of the leper. The gospel first determines the time of the miracle, then gives the petition, thirdly describes the fulfilment, and finally states the words of our Lord. a. The time. Schanz is of opinion that the chronological connection in the first gospel between the sermon on the mount and the present chapter supposes that the cleansing of the leper happened after the sermon, though probably at the time when Jesus was near Capharnaum [cf. Mt. 8:5; Lk. 5:12–15]. Knabenbauer believes that the evangelist gives rather a pragmatic than a chronological order: for Mk. 1:40 and Lk. 5:12 show that the leper had been cleansed before the sermon on the mount; the words “see thou tell no man” [Mt. 8:4] suppose that the leper was not cleansed in presence of a large multitude [Br.]; Mt. 8:1 states merely what happened at the conclusion of the sermon on the mount without connecting it with the following miracle; nor is this connection necessarily implied in the words “and behold.”

b. The petition. Leprosy was a skin disease, dissolving and destroying the organism of the body. It first sprang up in Egypt, but spread through Syria, Persia, and other Eastern countries. Hippocrates’ triple division of leprosy into “lepra alfoides,” “lepra vulgaris” or “leuke,” and “lepra nigrescens” may still be followed. The first kind forms scales on the body that are smaller, less shocking to the eye, and more easily cured. In the third kind the scales and spots of the skin are of a dark livid color; the form which now prevails in Syria is identified by modern writers with the “elephantiasis Græcorum,” a universal cancer [Lap.], by which all the joints of the body are gradually corroded, so that one member after another drops off. The present passage of the gospel deals with a case of the second kind of leprosy or “white leprosy.” It begins with red shining elevations of the cuticle, turning into white scales and accumulating sometimes into thick crusts; the hair on the infected spots turns white, the extremities swell up, the nails fall off, sensible perception grows dull, and the sufferers finally die of consumption and dropsy. In some cases recovery is possible, especially when the disease breaks out at once in a very violent form. Even if it he granted, though it is by no means certain, that not all kinds of leprosy are contagious, we maintain that Moses speaks of contagious forms of the disease. In Lev. 13:46 lepers are forbidden to approach others; moreover, they had to proclaim themselves “unclean,” that no one might approach them. This explains why the evangelist represents the approach of the leper to our Lord as something wonderful: “and behold.” The phrase “adored him” is emphasized by Lk. 5:12, “falling on his face,” and Mk. 1:40, “kneeling down.” Caj. Jans. Calm. Fil. understand the “adoration” as expressing the highest reverence; for though the expression in general is employed of the reverence due to men, angels, or God [Mt. 18:26; Acts 10:25; Jn. 4:21; Gen. 23:7; 33:3; 38:8; etc.], the words of the leper show in our case that he acknowledged our Lord as an extraordinary man [Jans.], as either prophet or God [Salm.], as the Messias or a prophet [Arn. Schegg], as possessing the greatest power [Chrys.], as the Messias [cf. Mt. 7:22; Jn. 13:13], as God [Euth. op. imp. Br. Mald. Lap. Lam. Reischl, Schanz, etc.]. The prayer of the leper is most modest, humble, submissive, and at the same time full of a lively faith.

c. The prayer is granted. The words of Jesus correspond exactly with those of the leper: this shows the readiness of our Lord to help us to the full extent of our trust in him. At the same time Jesus stretched forth his hand and touched the leper either to show that he was not bound by the Mosaic law [Chrys. Euth. Pasch. Thom. Caj. Jans.], or to prove the virtue of his human nature [Theoph. Caj. Salm. Jans. Coleridge, v. p. 48], so that our Lord’s action in this case resembled the causality of the sacraments [Thom.]. The leprosy either fled as soon as the man was touched by Jesus [Jer.], or it had disappeared even before Christ’s hand touched the leper [Pasch. Br.].

d. Our Lord’s injunction. [1] The words “tell no man” are not simply a lesson of humility and avoidance of vainglory [cf. Chrys. Theoph. Euth. Br. Thom. Dion. Caj. Salm. Bar.], nor are they a mere admonition to ponder in secret over God’s benefits and give him thanks for the same [cf. Schegg], nor again do they impose silence merely till the priest shall have officially declared the leper to be clean [cf. op. imp. Mald. Weiss], but they prohibit the publication of our Lord’s miracles in order not to strengthen the popular Jewish idea of their Messias and his worldly kingdom [Mk. 1:45; cf. Jn. 6:15; Schanz, Knab.]. [2] The command “show thyself to the priest” is in full accord with Lev. 14:2; the Mosaic law was not abolished till the death of our Lord [cf. Mt. 27:51; Rom. 7:4; Gal. 2:19]. [3] The additional words “for a testimony unto them” signify not merely that the people may be convinced of the leper’s cleanness [cf. Arn. Schanz, Fil. Keil, Weiss], nor that the priests may be induced to declare the leper legally clean [cf. Reischl], nor that the priests may be convinced of our Lord’s observance of the law [cf. Theoph. Euth. Ed.], but that the priests may see the supernatural power of our Lord, and acknowledge his divine mission [cf. Hil. Jer. Chrys. Bed. Pasch. Thom. Dion. Caj. Mald. Lap. Grimm]. The force of this argument was based on Deut. 18:15 f.; cf. Jn. 1:15, 27, 30.

5. And when he had entered.] 2. The centurion’s servant. This miracle may be considered under the following heads: a. Preliminaries, v. 5; b. petition of the centurion, v. 6; c. answer of Jesus, v. 7; d. answer of centurion, vv. 8, 9; e. reply of Jesus, vv. 10–13.

a. Preliminaries. The place of the miracle has been described in connection with 4:13. Against Semler it must be stated that this miracle is not identical with the cure of the ruler’s son narrated in Jn. 4:46–52. The first gospel speaks of a centurion, a Gentile, whose servant is sick of the palsy, whose faith is highly commended, who is recompensed by a miracle wrought by Jesus in Capharnaum; the fourth gospel speaks of a ruler, a Jew, whose son is afflicted with fever, whose faith is rather weak, whose petition is granted with apparent reluctance. On the other hand, the miracle told by St. Matthew must be identified with that narrated in Lk. 7:1–10; the place, the time, the persons, the faith with its manifestation, are the same in both cases. The only apparent discrepancy between the fact as recorded in the first and in the third gospel lies in the circumstance that according to Matthew the centurion himself comes to our Lord, while according to Luke he sends only the ancients of the Jews and his friends to plead his case. Aug. Bed. Jans. Mald. Arm. Schegg, Bisp. adhere strictly to the narrative of Luke, supposing that Matthew wrote according to the principle “quod quis per alios fecit, ipse fecisse censetur.” Chrys. Euth. Lap. Calm. Fil. Schanz, etc. think that the centurion first sent the persons mentioned by the third evangelist, but omitted in the first gospel, and then proceeded in person to meet our Lord. Besides being very natural in itself this view seems to agree better with Lk. 7:3, “desiring him to come and heal his servant,” as compared with v. 6, “I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof,” contrasting the deficient faith of the Jewish ancients who utter the former prayer with the unlimited trust of the heathen centurion. That the centurion was a Gentile follows from his position in the Roman army [captain over a hundred], from the words of the Jewish ancients [Lk. 7:5], and of our Lord himself [Mt. 8:10], in which he is contrasted with the Jewish nation and the Israelites. He must have served under Herod Antipas, who was then tetrarch of Galilee [Lk. 3:1].

6. And saying.] b. The centurion’s petition. The centurion states the condition of his servant without expressly appealing to Jesus for relief. Such an appeal he considered superfluous after all he had heard of our Lord’s kindness to the poor and suffering; implicitly it is contained in the address “Lord.” According to the third gospel the sufferer was on the point of death; St. Matthew makes him a paralytic who is at the same time tormented with a painful nervous disorder. Pasch. Bed. op. imp. draw attention to the lesson that both masters and servants ought to learn from this passage: the latter ought to endear themselves to their employers by their fidelity, and the former ought to love and care for their domestic dependents.

7. And Jesus saith to him.] c. The answer of Jesus. Our Lord manifests here again the greatest readiness to comply with the centurion’s request. Commentators love to compare his readiness here with his reluctance in the case of the ruler’s son [cf. Jn. 4:47 f.]. Chrys. Euth. also draw attention to the manner in which our Lord knows how to elicit the sentiments of the profoundest humility from both the centurion, and from the Gentile woman of whom Mk. 7:26 f. speaks.

8. And the centurion making answer.] d. The centurion’s answer. The Gentile soldier shows in his words the greatest humility joined with the utmost respect and reverence for the power and person of our Lord. It is through humility that he seeks to avoid our Lord’s entrance into his house, and it is through his lively faith in the power of Jesus that he asks him to cure the servant by the efficacy of his word. Not content with the bare petition, the centurion proves “a minori ad mains “that our Lord can effect miraculous cures by his mere words: the whole domain of nature is under the power of Jesus, as the centurion’s soldiers and servants are under his authority. No doubt, he had heard of many miracles of our Lord, of the restoration of the ruler’s son [Jn. 4:50], of the exorcism in the synagogue [Lk. 4:33], of the cure of Peter’s mother-in-law and the subsequent miracles [Lk. 4:39–41]; but without a special assistance of God’s grace the centurion could never have attained to the grandeur of his faith. How abject and culpable is the unbelief of the scribes and Pharisees in the light of the faith of this devout Gentile.

10. And Jesus hearing this.] e. The reply of Jesus. Mald. [cf. Aug.] is of opinion that Jesus marvelled only externally, i. e. that he merely spoke in a manner in which men filled with admiration are wont to speak, in order to excite real admiration in others. But Thom. Caj. Suar. Bar. Salm. Lap. etc. maintain that Jesus marvelled internally at the great faith of the centurion. His foreknowledge of this fact impeded his admiration no more than the foreknowledge of an eclipse prevents the admiration of the astronomer. The author of op. imp. believes Jesus praises the centurion’s faith only proportionately, i. e. the little faith of the Gentile appeared greater than the ordinary faith of the Jews, just as a little knowledge in a child appears more admirable than greater knowledge in an adult. This view appears to do violence to the plain words of our Lord [cf. Salm. Jans. Bar.]. The text taken literally limits itself to the public life of Jesus [Fab. Caj. Lap. Bar.], and taken in its concrete surrounding applies to those that had come to our Lord in order to obtain miraculous favors [Tost. Bar.]. There is no need, therefore, of comparing the centurion’s faith with that of the patriarchs, of the apostles, and of our Blessed Lady. The marvellous faith of the Gentile reminds our Lord of the call of the Gentiles and the rejection of the Jews: the former he represents as coming from the east and the west, and as sitting at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The joys of the table were used as a figure of the heavenly joys in the Old Testament [Ps. 35:6; Is. 25:6], in the language of the Pharisees [Lk. 14:15], and in the words of our Lord himself [Mt. 22:1; Lk. 14:16; cf. Apoc. 19:9, 17]. Since the covenant between God and the patriarchs was not intended for this life only, but for the next also, the latter are represented as presiding at the feast of our heavenly blessedness. According to the Oriental conception both physical and moral appurtenances are respectively child and parent, or father and son. In this sense the Jews are the children of the kingdom [cf. Rom. 11:21]. The festive hall was brightly illumined among the ancients [cf. 1 Thess. 5:7], so that those cast out into the exterior darkness could not partake of the festal joys. Again, since the light is the symbol of glory and happiness, the exclusion from the light symbolizes the privation of all happiness. It is under these two aspects that the rejected children of the kingdom are said to be thrown into exterior darkness, or to suffer the “pain of loss.” Cf. Mald. Lap. Lam. Calm. Arn. Reischl, Schanz, Fil. The “pain of sense” is expressed by “weeping and gnashing of teeth”: the former shows the pain, the latter the despair. Mald. [cf. Jer.] understands the expression literally, but Tost. Caj. Jans. Lap. are content with its general metaphorical purport showing the truth of the pain of sense. Jer. Bed. Pasch. Thom. Jans. see in these words a proof for the resurrection of the body. Finally, Jesus addresses the centurion with the consoling word “go”; its full meaning may be learned by comparing it with Judg. 11:38; 1 Kings 17:37; 2 Kings 14:8. The faith of the centurion becomes the measure of our Lord’s benefits, not only as to their substance, but also as to their manner of being conferred [cf. James 1:6]. The servant was healed instantly.

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