The Father William Most Collection
Commentary on the Gospels: The Thought of St. Matthew
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
Cf. also the general introduction to the Gospels
Early in the 20th century, Form Critics used to say the Evangelists were not authors, just "stringers of beads". They meant that the writers just gathered up reports of individual sayings or acts of Jesus and strung them together. Predictably, there has been an equal and opposite reaction. Now the critics see wonderful artistry.
Matthew does show more structure than the other Gospels. After a few preliminaries, there are five units which critics sometimes call "books". Each unit opens with a narrative, followed by a discourse, ending with some such words as: "When Jesus finished these words."(7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:11).
Preliminaries: Genealogy of Jesus, His birth, flight into Egypt, return to Nazareth: chapters 1 & 2.
Unit 1: a) Narrative: Chapters 3 & 4: John the Baptist, the Baptism of Jesus, His inaugural retreat and temptation in the desert, His call of the first disciples. b) Discourse: Sermon on the Mount: chapters 5, 6, 7.
Unit 2: a) Narrative: chapters 8, 9. Begins to announce the Kingdom of God, works many miracles to show His authority and power. b) Discourse: the trial missionary mission: 10. 1 to 11. 1.
Unit 3: a) Narrative: chapters 11, 12: People begin to reject Him. b) Discourse: chapters 12, 13. He turns to parables because of their blindness and rejection.
Unit 4: a) Narrative: 14. 1 -16:13: Death of the Baptist, more miracles, conflict with Pharisees, the Canaanite woman, multiplication of loaves and fishes. b) Discourse: 16:13-19:1 - Characteristics of the Church, it will be built on Peter.
Unit 5: a) Narrative: chapters 19, 20, 21, 22, 23: He leaves Galilee for Jerusalem. b) Discourse: the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the world. 24:1 to 26:1.
Epilogue: Passion and resurrection.
Commentary on St. Matthew
Literary genre of chapters 1-2, the infancy narratives: Pope Paul VI, in an Allocution of Dec. 28, 1966 (Insegnamenti de Paolo VI, IV, pp. 678-79, Vatican Press, 1966) complained that some, "try to diminish the historical value of the Gospels themselves, especially those that refer to the birth of Jesus and His infancy. We mention this devaluation briefly so that you may know how to defend with study and faith the consoling certainty that these pages are not inventions of people's fancy, but that they speak the truth.... The authority of the Council has not pronounced differently on this: 'The Sacred Authors wrote... always in such a way that they reported on Jesus with sincerity and truth' (Constitution on Divine Revelation §19)." Although the Council had used extreme care in LG §55 to make clear it was not giving assurance that the sacred writers of Gen 3:15 and Is 7:14 understood as much as the Church now sees in these texts, yet when in §§ 56- 57 it spoke of the material of the Infancy Gospels, it used no such reservations at all. Rather, for example, it said in §57: "This union of the Mother with the Son in the work of salvation is manifested from the time of the virginal conception of Christ even to His death... in His birth, when the Mother of God joyfully showed her firstborn, who did not diminish but consecrated her virginal integrity, to the shepherds and the Magi." (In passing we note it spoke of virginal integrity, a physical word, ruling out the idea that the texts on her virginity were meant only spiritually - as a theologoumenon).
Pope John Paul II, in a General Audience of Jan. 28, 1988 said: "To identify the source of the infancy narrative, one must go back to St. Luke's remark: 'Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart,' ... Mary who 'kept these things in her heart' ... could bear witness, after Christ's death and resurrection, in regard to what concerned herself and her role as Mother, precisely in the apostolic period when the New Testament texts were being written and when the early Christian tradition had its origin."
R. E. Brown, in The Birth of the Messiah (Doubleday, 1977) thought that the Gospel writers had little factual basis for the infancy Gospels - rather they, especially Luke, built up scant data by using parallels to Old Testament texts. But John L. McKenzie, a real friend of Brown, in his review of that book (National Catholic Reporter, Dec. 2, 1977, p. 10) wrote: "One wonders how a gentile convert... could have acquired so quickly the mastery of the Greek Old Testament shown... in Luke's infancy narratives.... Luke must have had a source for his Old Testament texts and allusions; and as it is hard to think of such a collection of texts without a narrative for them to illustrate, a pre-Lucan infancy narrative is suggested, I beg to submit." We recall St. Luke in his opening lines did say he used written accounts.
There are some specific objections about certain things within the infancy narratives. We will answer each at the suitable point. The most considerable is about the census, mentioned by Luke, and the fact that Luke speaks of Quirinius as "governing" [though not as governor]. Usually scholars have put the birth of Christ as between 4 and 6 BC. But new research by E. L. Martin, in The Star that Astonished the World (ASK Publications, Portland, Box 2500, 1991). We summarize Martin's work:
(1). The date of the birth of Christ hinges on just one thing, the statement of Josephus (Antiquities 17. 6-8) that Herod died shortly after an eclipse of the moon. Astronomers supply the dates for such eclipses around those years: None in 7 or 6 BC. In 5 BC, March 23, 29 days to Passover. Also in 5 BC. Sept 15, 7 months to Passover. In 4 BC. March 13, 29 days to Passover. 3 and 2 BC. no eclipses. In 1 BC. January 10, 12 1/2 weeks to Passover.
(2). Josephus also tells what events happened between the Eclipse and the Passover (cf. Martin pp. 85-87). They would occupy probably about 12 weeks. Martin also, pp. 99-101 shows that the eclipse of Sept 15, 5 BC could not fit with known data, especially the fact that Herod was seriously ill in Jericho (over 800 feet below sea level) when the eclipse happened - but Jericho was a furnace of heat at that time, Sept 15. Herod would not have stayed there when he could have had the much better climate of Jerusalem. But if the eclipse was in midwinter - Jan 10-- Herod would find Jericho comfortable.
(3). We know from an inscription from Paphlagonia in Asia Minor - cf. Lewis and Reinhold, Roman Civilization, Source Book II, pp. 34-35 - that in 3 BC all the people took an oath of allegiance to Augustus. The same oath is also reported by the Armenian historian Moses of Khorene, and by the later historian Orosius.
(4). Augustus was to receive the great title of Pater Patriae on Feb. 5, 2 BC. So the actual governor of Palestine, probably Varus, would have had to go to Rome for the festivities, and since sailing on the Mediterranean stopped about Nov. 1, and did not resume until Spring, he must have gone in the early fall of 3 BC. But Quirinius was nearby, had just finished a successful war against the Homonadenses. So he was left as acting Governor. Luke does not use the noun governor, but the participle, "governing".
(5). There is an obscure decade in history, 6 BC to 4 AD, as Classicists readily recognize. Yet this period is important, including the time when Tiberius was absent from political life at Rome, being at Capri. It is hard to fit the events of this period into place if we make the birth of Christ early as is commonly done. But if we put it in 3 BC the difficulties are over. For example, we know Augustus received his 15th acclamation for a major victory, won by one of his generals, around this time. If we pick 4 BC for the death of Herod, we cannot find a victory to warrant the acclamation, which came in 1 AD. But if we put the birth of Christ in 3 BC, then the war would be running at about the needed time, and finished in 1 AD.
Objection: a) Josephus says Herod had a reign of 37 years after being proclaimed king by Romans, and had 34 yrs after death of Antigonus, which came soon after Herod took Jerusalem. b) Further, his 3 successors, Archelaus, Antipas and Philip started to reign in 4 BC. So Herod died in 4 BC.
Reply: a) That calculation would make death of Herod actually in 3 BC, not in 4 BC - scholars have to stretch the date to 4 BC, since no eclipse of moon happened in 3 BC. - But, Herod took Jerusalem late in 36 BC (on Yom Kippur in a sabbatical year, so well remembered - and Josephus says Pompey had taken Jerusalem in 63 which was 27 yrs to the day of Herod's capture of Jerusalem). Using the common accession year dating, we see Herod started his 34 years on Nisan 1 in 35 BC, and those years would end on Nisan 1 BC. So 34 years after 35 BC yields 1 BC for death of Herod after eclipse of Jan 10. --b) As to the 3 successors, Herod lost favor of Augustus in 4 BC, on a false report, was no longer "Friend of Caesar", but "Subject". Antedating of reigns was common - reason here was to make the three seem to connect with the two "royal"sons, of Hasmonean descent, Alexander and Aristobulus, whom Herod executed on false reports from Antipater (do not confuse with Antipas).
The Star: In the evening of June 17, 2 BC, there was a spectacular astronomical event in the western sky. Venus moved eastward seemingly going to collide with Jupiter. They appeared as one star, not two, dominating the twilight of the western sky in the direction of Palestine. This conjunction had not happened for centuries, would not happen again for more centuries. Jupiter was considered the Father, Venus the Mother. Then 19 days later, on August 31st Venus came within . 36 degrees of Mercury. On Sept 11 came the New Moon, the Jewish New Year. This happened when Jupiter, the King planet was approaching Regulus, the King star. Further, there were three conjunctions of Jupiter and Regulus within the constellation of Leo, the lion which was considered the head of the Zodiac. Now Gen 49:10 had foretold there would always be a ruler from Judah, whom Jacob called the lion, until the time of the Messiah. Leo was dominated by the star Regulus, which astronomers called the King Star. The Magi, being astronomers and astrologers, would surely read these signs. (The three conjunctions with Regulus were Aug 12, 3 BC; Feb. 17, 2 BC, and May 8/9 2BC).
Also, on Dec. 25 of 2 BC, Jupiter stopped for 6 days over Bethlehem. This is a normal motion for Jupiter, it stops twice, and reverses its seeming movement. This may have been the very time the Magi came with their gifts. This was also the time of the Hanukkah festival, during which it was customary for Jewish Fathers to give gifts to their children.
Martin thinks the birth of Jesus was in September 3 BC, and the probable date of the Magi was Dec. 25, 2 BC.
More than 600 planetariums here and in Europe have revised their Christmas star show to match this work of E. L. Martin.
OT prophecies in St. Matthew: Matthew is noted for citing fulfillment of prophecies. In what sense does he mean these? There are chiefly three senses of Scripture admitted by all: (1) Literal sense-- not the crude sense, but what the author meant to assert by his words (in studying it, we take into account literary genre: what the writer asserts); (2) Typical sense: in it one thing stands for another. It is a real sense, which we can be sure of only from the use by many Fathers and approval by the Church, e.g., Isaac carrying the wood for his own sacrifice is a type or forecast of Jesus carrying His cross. (3) Accommodated sense: This sense is not really contained in Scripture: a speaker or writer merely adapts the words to a sense he wishes to bring out.
In addition many believe there can be a Fuller sense (sensus plenior). In it, the Chief Author, the Holy Spirit, would have in mind more than the human author saw. Vatican II, DV §12 had an opening to affirm or deny the existence of such a sense. It chose vague wording which did neither. However, in LG §55 it actually made use of a fuller sense. Speaking of Genesis 3:15 and Is 7:14 it said: "These primaeval documents, as they are read in the Church, and understood in the light of later and full revelation, gradually bring to light the figure of the woman, the Mother of the Redeemer. She, in this light, is already prophetically foreshadowed in the promise, given to our first parents fallen into sin, of victory over the serpent (cf. Gen 3. 15)...." It is clear that the Council wanted to avoid saying it was certain that the human authors saw all that the Church now sees - whether what the Church now sees is literal or typical sense (typical sense, as we said, is a real sense of Scripture). The use of cf. is to underscore this position.
Many authors admit there at least can be multiple fulfillment of a prophecy - it can have two fulfillments, go through more than once. It is commonly thought that we have such a case in 2 Tim 3:1 -- "in the last days" can mean either all the time from the ascension to the return of Christ, and can also mean more specially the times just before that return. Another very likely case, as we shall see, is Matthew's use of Is 7:14. For more on this sense, cf. Wm. Most, Free From All Error (Libertyville, Il. 1985), chapter 5.
1. 1-17: Genealogies: Endless are the discussions on how to reconcile the genealogy in Matthew with that in Luke. It has been suggested that Luke gives the line for Our Lady - but that was not usual at all for Jews to give. It has been suggested that if we assume a few levirate marriages (cf. Dt. 25:5-6) the two could harmonize. That law provided that if a married man died without offspring, his brother should take his wife to continue the line.
But really we need to note that in ancient times genealogies were not always intended as family trees: they were often constructed to present other relationships. Cf. R. Wilson, Genealogy and History in the Biblical World (Yale, 1977, esp. p. 166) and idem, in Biblical Archaeologist, Winter 19, pp. 11-22.
1:18-24: Angel speaks to Joseph: After the engagement, but before the marriage itself, Joseph found that his wife was with child. He had several options: he could denounce her to the tribunal to annul the engagement; he could keep her and celebrate the marriage itself; he could repudiate her in public, but without asking for any punishment, or he could do it privately before two witnesses without having to give a motive, and without dating the bill of rejection, to save her honor. It is this last option that Joseph was planning to use, for he was "just", that is, a man who did everything that was morally right- such is the sense of Hebrew sedaqah and sadiq. He was interiorly convinced of her honor and moral rightness even though he could not reconcile that with the pregnancy. If he did not have that conviction he might have publicly repudiated her. But in divine matters at times we meet two conclusions which clearly clash. Then we should hold to both without straining either one until finally, we hope, a solution may appear.
It is obvious that she had not told Joseph of the annunciation. As soon as the angel told her that her Son would reign over the house of Jacob forever, she at once knew He was to be the Messiah, for only the Messiah was to reign forever. (She most likely knew also of His divinity - more on that in our commentary on Luke).
An ordinary soul might have reasoned: "Now my people have been waiting for this day for centuries. I should share the joy with them, and especially I should tell the authorities in Jerusalem. And Joseph- if I do not tell him, soon he will not be able to avoid dark suspicions. Yet guided by the Holy Spirit through the Gifts, she did nothing of the kind. She kept silent, so silent that it was necessary for God to send an angel to tell Joseph the truth.
An objection is raised: In Matthew, the angel speaks to Joseph, in Luke, to Our Lady. Reply: This is not problem at all, both things could easily happen.
Further objection: How can the two accounts, of Matthew and of Luke, be reconciled? John P. Meier, in A Marginal Jew [Jesus!] p. 216 even speaks of "the somewhat contorted or suspect ways in which Matthew and Luke reconcile the dominant Nazareth tradition with the special Bethlehem tradition... may indicate that Jesus' birth at Bethlehem is to be taken not as a historical fact but as a theologoumenon," that is, merely a way of saying Jesus was son of David.
Reply: There is nothing contorted in Scripture. The sequence is this: Jesus was born at Bethlehem - Meier thinks nothing of the prophecy of Micah 5! He was then circumcised on the 8th day, presented in the Temple of the 40th day. Then He was taken either back to Bethlehem, or, to Nazareth. Lk 2:39 could imply a return to Nazareth, though it would not have to imply it. Yet from Mt 2:22 on the return from Egypt it seems they had first thought of going to Bethlehem, changed mind only because of the rule of Archelaus in Judea. and then went back to Bethlehem. In this second possibility the Holy Family may have finally intended to settle in Bethlehem, but changed because of the angel's warning to the Magi. There was definitely enough time for these travels, because Herod ordered infants to be slain up to 2 years of age. He was a crazy tyrant, and gave himself a margin, yet it does mean there must have been some time. Matthew does definitely speak of their being in a house, not a stable, when the Magi came. For as we said there would have been some time before their coming. At once then, after the warning, they fled to Egypt. As noted above, Mt 2:22 seems to imply on their return they had planned to settle in Bethlehem, changed to Nazareth because they found Archelaus was reigning in Judea. This fact fits as we said with the supposition that they had earlier intended to settle in Bethlehem - and Joseph had obtained a house there, in which the Magi found them.
If we ask why Matthew has some facts, Luke others, there is more than one possibility. One very good one is this: Ancient witnesses all put Matthew's composition before that of Luke (cf. our remarks in the general introduction on Marcan alleged priority). Considering Our Lady's remarkable modesty and humility - which led her to not even tell Joseph - it could be that the author of Matthew did indeed speak to her, but she modestly omitted the items that pertained to her. Yet later, Luke might have privately induced her to speak, and so he brought out the Marian elements. Luke might have thought it not needed to record the Matthean elements since they were already known. (Cf. the theory that John in his Gospel intended to supplement the earlier Gospels). We recall too that Luke in his opening lines said he had used written accounts - that could have included Matthew.
1:23: Matthew cites Isaiah 7:14, and understands it of the virginal conception. Vatican II in LG §55, as cited above, was careful to avoid saying that the human writers of Gen 3:15 and Is 7:14 understood as much as the Church now sees. So we do not know if Isaiah himself saw this text as a prophecy of the virginal conception. All admit today that the child in 7:14 is the same as the child in Is 9:5-6: "A child is given to us... his name will be called, wonderful counsellor, Mighty God...." The reason is that both passages belong to a stretch we call the Book of Immanuel. Yet the characteristics shown fit partly Jesus, partly Hezekiah, son of Achaz, to whom Isaiah spoke. On the one hand, a sign to come more than 700 years in the future would not be much a sign for Achaz. On the other hand, the characteristics given in 9:5-6 are much too grandiose for Hezekiah. So we had best see 7:14 as a case of multiple fulfillment: a divine prophecy can go through, be fulfilled more than once.
So Matthew is right in seeing it fulfilled in Jesus. And of course Our Lady, seeing it fulfilled in herself, could not miss the true sense.
We add: very much help can be had from the Targums. These are old Aramaic versions of the Old Testament - we have them for nearly all the Old Testament. They surely show how the Jews understood the prophecies, without seeing them fulfilled in Christ, whom they hated. Further, a great modern Jewish scholar, Jacob Neusner, in his study, Messiah in Context (Fortress, 1984) reviewed all Jewish writings from after 70 to the Babylonian Talmud (500-600 AD). He found no interest in the Messiah up to 500, then interest only in saying He was to be of the line of David - other features of the prophecies were not mentioned. In contrast, the Targums see the Messiah in so many texts, in so many respects. On this cf. Samson Levey, The Messiah:An Aramaic Interpretation, Hebrew Union College, 1974. It is evident, the sections on Messianic prophecies had to be written before 70 A.D. Some think they go back, in oral form, to the time of Ezra.
Now oddly, the Targums do say 9:5-6 is messianic, but do not say it of 7:14 - even though it is evident the child is the same in both places. The answer to the riddle comes again from Jacob Neusner, op. cit. p. 174, who cites Hillel, one of the greatest teachers at the time of Christ, saying that Hezekiah had been the Messiah - and so 7:14 was messianic. But Neusner adds, on p. 190, that when the Jews found Christians using 7:14 they began to say it was not messianic. Samson Levey, op. cit. p. 152, n. 10 admits the Jews did such things. So also does H. J. Schoeps, Paul (Westminster, 1961, p. 129). (We note too, Isaiah used Hebrew almah, which can readily mean virgin, but need not - instead of betulah, which would be fully clear. The Septuagint later used Greek parthenos, which is clearly virgin. Vatican II, LG §55, as we said, carefully avoided saying the original authors of Gen 3:15 and Is 7:14 saw in their writings all that the Church now sees - hence a reason for almah.
In 1:25 Joseph had no relations until she bore her son. The actual Scriptural usage of the word until sometimes means a change at that point, at other times does not. Examples of the latter: DT. 34:6; Ps. 110:1; Ps. 72:7; 2 Sam 6:23; Mt 11:23; Mt 28:20. Some manuscripts here add the word firstborn , probably taken from Lk 2:7. It expresses the special position of the bekor in the Hebrew family, does not have to imply more sons later. A Greek tomb inscription at Tel el Yaoudieh (Biblica 11, 1930, 369-90) uses that word in connection of a mother who died in childbirth. Another epitaph like this is from Leontopolis (Biblical Archaeology Review, Sept/Oct. 1992, p. 56.
Further, even J. P. Meier (op. cit. pp. 340-41) admits that the rabbis beginning with Philo, held that Moses, after his first encounter with God, no longer had sex with his wife. What then of Our Lady who had a nine months encounter with Him in her womb, in which He even took flesh from her! And Joseph, knowing the conception was by the Holy Spirit, surely would have had the same attitude.
As to the mentions of brothers and sisters of Jesus we first notice that Hebrew and Aramaic had few words for relationships, and so used ah for all sorts of relatives. Yes, Greek did have words, but in so many places to understand the Greek we need to look to the Hebrew word that is in the mind of the writer, e.g., in Rom (9:13 Paul cites Mal 1:2-3:"I have loved Jacob and hated Esau." Hebrew and Aramaic had no degrees of comparison, and so used such language where we would say: "I love one more and the other less." Again, in 1 Cor 1:17 Paul says "Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach". Yet Paul did baptize. We would say: One role is greater than the other. Also, in Rom 5:19 Paul uses the word polloi, "many" for all, since all receive original sin. (Polloi reflects Hebrew rabbim).
Further at the time of His death, Jesus asked John to take care of His Mother. If He had 4 blood brothers and some sisters, this would have been out of place. More specifically, we know that James, a "brother" was still alive in 49 AD (cf. Gal 1:19).
2:1-12: Visit of the Magi: The Greek historian Herodotus tells us (1. 101) that the Magi were originally one of the six tribes of the Medes. They were a priestly caste comparable to the Levites among the Israelites. In their early history they were counsellors to the Kings of the Medes, Persians and Babylonians. Josephus (War 6. 313) reports that the Jews expected one from their own country would rule the earth. Suetonius, (Vespasian 4) reports the same belief. So does Tacitus (History 5. 13). Suetonius (Nero) 40 even says some of the court astrologers of Nero advised him to move his capital to Jerusalem, since it was to become the capital of the world. These beliefs would be known to the Magi, in fact, it seems that the Zoroastrian traditions spoke of a king to come from the line of Abraham. Jacob Neusner (op. cit. p. 12) tells of the "intense, vivid , prevailing expectation that the Messiah was coming soon."
Martin (chapter 13) argues ingeniously, though not conclusively, that the birth of Jesus was early September in 3 BC, probably on Sept 11, the Day of the Trumpets, and the visit of the Magi was about Dec. 25 of the next year, 2 B.C. Then Jesus would have been about 15 months old. This fits with the word Matthew 2:14 uses for Him, paidion, whereas at birth He was called brephos, infant.
We do not know how many Magi there were -- the mention of three gifts, often leads to supposing there were three Magi.
2:13-23: Flight to Egypt and return: Egypt was a common place of refuge at the time. There were several large Jewish communities there.
Matthew's use of the text about Rachel in Ramah weeping for her children to apply to the slaughter of the Innocents, Ramah, usually considered the place of the tomb of Rachel, is not fanciful. He wants to connect theologically three major places in previous salvation history: Bethlehem, the city of David, the city for the Messiah; and the two most sorrowful events, the persecution in Egypt, and slaughter of Hebrew boys and the exile; Ramah was the gathering and mourning place for setting out for the exile (Cf. Jer. 40:1-2). Ramah is about 5 miles north of Jerusalem. Bethlehem is about 5 miles south of Jerusalem: theologically and poetically, Rachel hears and mourns, the mourning is so loud.
Matthew likes to think of Jesus as the new Moses. Here are some points: 1) Amran father of Moses, according to tradition, knew in a dream of the birth of Moses, future liberator of Israel. Joseph similarly. 2) Pharaoh by astrologers knew of the birth of a child who would liberate Israel. Herod knew through the Magi. 3) The Egyptians feared - so did Herod. 4) Pharaoh consulted his wise men. So did Herod. 5) Pharaoh ordered the murder of Hebrew boys. So did Herod. 6) Moses and Jesus both escaped. 7) Moses liberated Hebrews; Jesus all men.
In this perspective, Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1: "Out of Egypt I called my son." In the original context it meant the whole people of Israel. Matthew makes it refer to Christ's return from Egypt. This could be a case of multiple fulfillment or of fuller sense. Those who dislike to admit fuller sense in general would say that there is a common background of salvation history in both instances.
On the return, Joseph hears that Archelaus is ruling. Not long before, he had slaughtered 3000 worshippers at the time of the Passover in 1 BC. He was so brutal that Augustus banished him in 6 AD.
"He will be called a Nazarean": The name of the town Nazareth varies in ancient spellings: Nazaret(h) appears 10 times in the NT, Nazara appears twice. It is never mentioned in any preChristian Jewish writings. But there is no specific OT prophecy saying He will be called a Nazarean. Probability is that Matthew is alluding to nazir, consecrated to God. It seems to be a play on words. Such plays are known in Scripture. A dramatic one is found in 2 Kings 1:10 and repeated in 1:12. The king sends two detachments of 50 to Elijah who is sitting on a hill. The captain says - If you are the man of God, come down. Elijah answers: "If I am a man of God, let the fire of God come down and consume you". It did, for each of the two detachments. "Man" is ish, "fire" is esh. Matthew may also have in mind Hebrew neser, "branch" - a word often taken to stand for the Messiah by the Targums. Cf. Isaiah 11:1.
3:1-6: John the Baptist: The "wilderness of Juda" was a vaguely defined place including the lower Jordan valley north of the Dead Sea, and also the land immediately west of the Dead Sea. It as arid, but not entirely without population. It was used for pasture (cf. Psalm 65:12). It was steppe or prairie land, with a short-lived crop of grass after the winter rains.
His clothing of camel's hair and a leather belt reminded one of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). This was also the garb of the poor. Locusts which he ate were large grasshoppers - still eaten in the Near East, along with wild honey.
Matthew now cites Isaiah 40:3, and says that John is the one of whom Isaiah spoke. Isaiah had told of a voice crying in the wilderness, to prepare the way for the King, God Himself, to go through. Messengers in the ancient Near East did have the work of making sure the roads were passable for a royal journey. In Isaiah the thought seems to be that the way will be made clear for God to bring His people back from the Babylonian exile: nothing will be able to stop it.
Instead of using the usual formula "thus was fulfilled" etc. here Matthew says in equivalent words: "This is the one of whom the prophet spoke." So we may have here another case of multiple fulfillment, or at least, an indication that the complete fulfillment of Isaiah does not come until the coming of Christ.
In Isaiah the way is prepared for God Himself - so there is an implication here that Jesus is God. We find the same implication in the relation of Mt 11:3 (Lk 7:20) to Malachi 3:1. In the Hebrew that verse said: "Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before my face." In Malachi it mean God Himself would come, as even R. H. Fuller observes (Foundations of New Testament Christology, Scribner's, 1965, p. 48). Jesus in Mt 11:3 cites the line in the form current in His day: "Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare the way before you." That form came from a fusion of Malachi 3:1 with Ex 23:20. Jesus cited it to refer to John being His own forerunner - so even though Jesus used the then current wording, there was an implication, not hard to see, that Jesus was God Himself. Yet He did not make it entirely clear, in line with His policy of very gradual self-revelation.
Washings or baptisms were known even among the pagans. Sacred baths were found in Hellenistic mystery cults, and also in Egypt, Babylonia and India. These were thought to bring cleansing from moral and ritual impurities.
We distinguish ritual from moral cleansing. The OT prescribed washing for removing various kinds of ritual impurities, e.g., after being cured of leprosy (Lev 14:8 ff), after contracting personal uncleanness (15:1ff). It would be usually just a washing, not an immersion, for water was too scarce for many immersions. The Mosaic Law prescribed chiefly the washing of garments, the rabbis extended it to washing pots and pans etc. (Mk 7:4; Lk 11:38). But these washings removed only ritual impurity, not moral guilt.
Since John's Baptism called for repentance, it was aimed at moral cleanness. Confession of sin was part of the duty of a priest(Lev 5:5; 26:40; Num 5:6-7). The repentance, reflects Hebrew naham , sorrow for one's actions, and shub, turning to new actions. So Greek metanoia mans not only "change your mind" as one unfortunate commentator proposed, but a change of heart: see what I have done is wrong, regret it, propose to avoid it in the future.
Of course, John's Baptism was not a sacrament, which by its inherent power given by Christ would produce its effect if the recipient placed no obstacle (ex opere operato). Yet surely God would take occasion of this repentance and baptism to really remit sins. In Ez 33:14-16 God says that if the wicked man turns from his wicked way, he will surely live. That condition was obviously verified in those who sincerely came to John's Baptism.
May we add a speculation as to the process involved: In Ezekiel God did not ask for perfect contrition, for sorrow because sin offends God who is good in Himself, but just for sincerely turning from the evil way. Now all God's attributes are identified with His nature, as we gather from 1 John 4:8,"God IS love." Similarly, He is righteousness, mercy, goodness. These are identified in Him. So if someone, seeing what he has done is contrary to what is right, what God wills, then He too regrets because it is against God who is righteous, who is good. Since at this time the Sacrament of Penance had not been instituted, the ritual of John would be the suitable occasion for such forgiveness, within good order (Cf. Summa I. 19. 5. c). But now that Christ has established that Sacrament, if someone were to say: I do not want to do it the way you planned it, to confess to the Apostles or their successors to whom you said, "Whose sins you forgive they are forgiven them." No, just forgive me without that process - It would be contrary what is right, to good order, which God loves, to forgive sins in a person who knows of that Sacrament of Penance.
In any event, clearly God's goodness is so immense, His desire for our salvation so great, that He would not pass by an opportunity to forgive such as was contained in the scene of John's baptism.
3:7-10: We specified this would happen in those who were sincere. Pharisees and Sadducees also came, either to look on or to go through the ritual as a matter of the hypocrisy for which Jesus later upbraided them. To them John spoke harshly, indicating he read their hearts, and did not see true repentance. He told them not to presume on the fact that Abraham was their ancestor. That is not enough, even though the Jews were inclined to think so, as echoed in the Talmud, Sanhedrin 10. 1: "All Israel has part in the world to come." But John called them a brood of vipers -language like that of Is 14:29, later to be used by Jesus Himself: Mt 12:3. We gather it is not wrong to use harsh language when it is called for. And John said that now the axe is at the root of the tree - to separate the really good from those of false appearance, or. to use the language Paul would later employ, there is a difference between the real sons of Abraham, those who imitate his faith, and those who have only carnal descent: cf. Rom 4:12.
Today many try to make the Jews look better, and say that the strictures of Jesus against the Pharisees were not really made by Him - it was later in the first century that Jews and Christians quarrelled, and then the Christians used such language. But that would mean the Gospel was not telling the truth. In this connection, recent discoveries in the Dead Sea Scrolls make clear that the later picture of the Pharisees in rabbinic literature holds also for the time of Christ, since the Damascus Document, once thought to be late, now is known to come from Qumram: Cf. Bible Review, June 1992, pp. 30-33, 54,"New Light on the Pharisees".
Supplement 1: kingdom of heaven
John said that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. The Hebrew malkut and Aramaic malkuta regularly meant reign. It was under that influence that the New American Bible in the first edition regularly used reign, instead of kingdom. But even R. E. Brown admits that was a mistake. In Responses to 101 Questions on the Bible (Paulist, 1990, p. 12), he said that the editor made some unfortunate changes in the original copies ,"Some bad choices were made e.g., to render 'the kingdom of God' by 'the reign of God." In The Churches the Apostles Left Behind (Paulist, 1984, pp. 51-52) he said that in some of the later parts of the NT, "The kingdom and the church have begun to be partially identified." Now we readily admit that most ancient words and phrases have a broad range of possible meaning, and "kingdom of God" is one of them. Yet it is not only in the later parts that we see this identification. It is clear in the Gospels, especially in Mt 21, 43: "The kingdom will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will yield a rich harvest." He was telling the Pharisees, after the parable of the dishonest tenants, that they would no longer be part of the People of God, the Church - the gentiles would yield better fruit. The same idea is evident in the parable of the net, the parable of the weeds in the wheat, and the parable of the mustard seed. In fact, right after saying this happened in the late part of the NT, Brown himself cites the parable of the weeds in the wheat! Actually "kingdom of heaven" sometimes means the Church in the next world, and not just in this world.
We can grant that the Apostles at first did not understand what the kingdom meant. Real confusion shows in the question recorded in Lk 17:20-21 (cf. 19:11). And just before the ascension one of them asked (Acts 1:6):"Lord are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel at this time?" So we are not required to think John the Baptist understood fully - really, we do not know how much he may have grasped. Deeply spiritual men almost by a sort of connaturality grasp spiritual truths deeply and early.
Actually, on a broader base, Jesus used a very gradual form of self-revelation. The use of the Son of Man title is one instance of this. Had He at the start said: "I and the Father are one," or:"Before Abraham was, I am," they would have stoned Him at once.
Why did John himself live a life of such austerity and penance? (special comments on 3:4)
There was a gradual clarification of thought on these matters.
In the Old Testament 1) Fasting and almsgiving help get requests granted that are made in prayer. Thus David in 2 Sam 12:16 ff fasted in the hope of saving his son's life. When that failed, he stopped fasting. Cf. Psalm 32:13 and 69:9-10, and Judges 20:26; 1 Sam 13:24; 1 Kings 21:9; Ezra 8:21-23;Jer 14:12 and 36:6 & 9. 2) Almsgiving can atone for sin: Tobit 12:8:"Prayer with fasting is good, but better than both is almsgiving along with righteousness.... For almsgiving saves from death, and cleanses away every sin." Sirach 3:30: "Water puts out a blazing fire; and almsgiving atones (exilasetai) for sin. : (Cf. ibid. 17;22; 29:12; 40: 17 & 24) .
3) The Holiness of God wants atonement, i. e, make-up for sin, even if the sin is committed unintentionally (sheggagah). All of Leviticus chapter 4 brings this out. Cf. Numbers 15:22-29.
4) The use of creatures makes it harder to see the true goods: Wisdom 4:12:"The witching spell of things that are little makes it hard to see the good things." Wisdom 9:15:"The corruptible body weighs down the soul."
In the New Testament: The same values are presented, but more clearly. Jesus calls on His disciples if they want to be perfect, to sell all they have and give it to the poor: Mt 19:21. But this is not only to affect possessions: they are to deny themselves and take up their cross: Mt 16:24. In Mt. 19:29 Jesus promises those who have left home, or brothers, or parents or lands for His name are to receive a hundredfold in this life, and eternal life later. Mark and Luke in the parallel passages make clear the hundredfold comes even in this life.
St. Paul considered all the things of this world as so much rubbish, to gain Christ: Phil 3:8-9. Even though he had great hardships in his work, he added fasting: 2 Cor 11:23-27. He treated his body harshly (hypopiazo) so it would not rebel and lead him into sin, and he might lose his eternal reward: 1 Cor 9:27. He urged all to practice detachment, to be as though not using this world: 1 Cor 7:31.
The intertestamental writers taught the same. Philo ( On Special Laws 2. 195) says that fasting helps control the tongue, the belly and the organs below the belly. The Psalms of Solomon (1 cent. B.C.) 3:7-8 says the righteous man atones for even unintentional sins. Fasting is greatly extolled in the History of the Rechabites (1-4 cent A.D.); in Apocalypses of Abraham (1-2 cent A.D.) 12:1-2; of Elijah (1-4 cent. A.D.) 1. 15-22; of Zephaniah (1 cent BC or AD) 7;6; in 2 Baruch) early 2d cent. AD) 20:5, and in the Testament of Isaac (2d cent AD) 4:1-2 and Testament of Jacob (prps. 2-3 cent. AD) 7:17-18.
Rabbinic writings are strong on the concept that sin is a debt, which must be paid for. There are numerous texts. For example, the Sifre on Dt, Piska 32 even says, "If a man is prosperous all his life, no sin of his can be forgiven." Semahoth III. 11. reports that R. Yehudah ben Ilai said the ancient pious men used to have to suffer intestinal illness for 10 to 20 days before death so they might be pure to enter into the world to come.
The Fathers of the Church stress the value of celibacy for spiritual growth, in line with St. Paul in 1 Cor 7. The Eastern Fathers stress the need for detachment from all kinds of things, not just from sex, though that is specially stressed. St. Gregory of Nyssa, who seems to have been married, wrote, in On Virginity 20: "No more do our emotional powers have a nature that can at one and the same time follow after the pleasures of sense and cultivate the spiritual union, nor, furthermore, can both goals be attained by the same course of life. Continence, mortification of the passions, avoidance of fleshly needs are the means of the one union; but all that are the reverse of these are the agents of bodily cohabitation." This is true even though marriage is good, and Paul VI, in an address to the 13th Congress of the Italian Feminine Center (Feb. 12, 1966) taught: "Christian marriage and the Christian family... are not an easy way of Christian life, even though... the one which the majority of the children of God are called on to travel. Rather, it [marriage] is a long path toward sanctification." There is need for so much denial of self, once the early stage of emotional high has subsided, due to the great differences of male and female psychology, and the need of sacrifice for children.
We may attempt a theological fill-in with the help of Matthew 6:21: "Where your treasure is, there is your heart also." In the narrow sense the treasure would be a box of coins buried under the floor of a man's house for safe-keeping. If he had such a stash, of course he would like to think of it, it would be like a magnet pulling his thoughts and heart to itself. To that extent, it would be somewhat less easy for thoughts and heart to rise to the divine level.
But one can put his treasure in all sorts of things: in huge meals, in gourmet meals, in sex, in travel, in study, in the study of theology. - All these are lower than God Himself, some much lower than others. So here is one factor: how much lower than God is the attraction one feels. The second factor is this: how strongly does one let these things pull him? In some, they pull only as far as to lead to imperfection, which is less than venial sin - in others, to occasional venial sin - in others, to habitual venial sin - in still others, to occasional mortal sin -in still others, to habitual mortal sin.
So If one lets creatures pull him as far as habitual mortal sin, and the creatures to which he is pulled are low, then, it is all the harder for his thoughts and heart to rise to the divine level. Really, it may be impossible, as we shall see now.
We can supplement the above with a modern comparison, which means the same thing. We think of a galvanometer, which is just a compass needle on its pivot, with a coil of wire around it. We send a current into the coil - the needle swings the right direction and the right amount, measuring the current. Now it should read correctly if there is no competition from outside pulls, such as a 30, 000 volt power line, or a lot of magnetic steel. Then two forces hit the needle: the current in the coil, and the outside pulls. If the current in the coil is gentle and the outside pulls very strong, the current in the coil may make no impression at all: the outside pulls swamp it. Now this is a picture of my mind, my mental meter. The current in the coil is grace, which is gentle, in that it respects my freedom - while the outside pulls, if one gives himself much to them, take away freedom. When God sends an actual grace to lead and enable one to do a particular good thing here and now, the first thing the grace needs to do is to cause the meter to swing to the right position. It will do so if the outside pulls are not too strong. But if they swamp the current in the coil, then the man is blind or hardened. Grace cannot do the first thing needed, namely, to cause him to see what God asks of him. Without grace he is eternally lost. So unless some other soul does heroic work in prayer and penance for him, to get him an extraordinary grace, comparable to a miracle, he will be lost.
At the other end of the scale, if one cuts down on the pull of creatures so that they do not even lead to imperfection , then that person's spiritual sensitivity is high, it will register the slightest movement of grace. By much self-denial one reaches that point. John knew this, at least in a general way. So he abstained from creatures heroically. Even the pagan Socrates saw this, for he often, in various dialogues of Plato, said that the man who seeks the truth should have as little as possible to do with the things of the body! (For example, cf. Phaedo 66 and 82-83, Republic 485-86). It is obvious that these considerations mean much in regard to spiritual growth.
Our analysis of Mt 6:21, plus the words of St. Paul in 1 Cor 7 on detachment should not lead one to trying to be without feeling. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. He took little children in His arms, seemingly enjoying their natural charm, which He, the Creator, had given them
St. Francis de Sales, in his Letter 217 wrote, to a married woman, that the forms devotion takes vary with state in life. So he said, "your husband will love it if he sees that as your devotion increases, you become more warm and affectionate toward him (p. 104 Classics of Western Spirituality ed.).
It is almost as if there were a competition or contrary pulls in what we have said. Really not, there is need of a fine balance. All things fit together well. We should avoid letting any feeling or love of creature pull us to the extent that it would lead us into even imperfection. But if this is done, then to use feelings to carry out things that are part of God's plan, especially if part of the duties of our state in life - that is not spiritually harmful. Rather, then one is using feelings to help do the will of God. In this it is important to do these things i.e., to be warm, not just for the pleasure of doing so - though it is not wrong to feel that pleasure -- but basically as a means of fulfilling that part of Our Father' s plan. Then what St. Francis said will be sanctifying.
It is true. St. Paul in 1 Cor 7 did speak of those who have wives being as though not having them. In 7:5 he spoke of voluntary abstention from sex in marriage but only for a time, by mutual consent, so you may be free for prayer. But he viewed the use of sex within marriage as normal: then go back together again he concluded after 7:5.
There is a second good reason (rebalance of the objective order), which was indicated more briefly above: God loves everything that is morally right and good. If a sinner takes what he has no right to have from the scales of the objective order, that scales is put out of balance. A helpful image comes from Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar, writing about 170 AD, claiming to be quoting Rabbi Meir, from earlier in the same century (Tosefta, Kiddushin, 1. 14:"He [anyone] has committed a transgression. Woe to him! He has tipped the scales to the side of debt for himself and for the world." The concept that sin is a debt is found extensively in Old and New Testaments , in the Intertestamental literature of the Jews, in the Rabbis, and in the Fathers of the Church. Pope Paul VI expressed it strongly in the doctrinal introduction to his Constitution on Indulgences of January, 1967.
In other words, the sinner takes from one pan what he has no right to take: the scale is out of order. The Holiness that God is wants it rebalanced. If the sinner took property, be begins to rebalance by giving it back; if he stole a pleasure, he can begin to rebalance by giving up some pleasure of corresponding weight. These things only begin to rebalance, for even one mortal sin is an infinite imbalance: the Person offended is infinite. So if the Father wanted it - He was not required of course - the only way to achieve it was to send a Divine Person to become Man. He could generate an infinite value in the redemption. He did that, superabundantly, giving up more than all sinners had taken.
To return to John the Baptist: John of course knew the theme that sin is a debt. By penance, he was helping to begin to restore the balance. The fact that Christ was to do that work infinitely does not mean humans cannot or should not join with Him. No, St. Paul's great theme is this: we are saved and made holy if and to the extent that we are not only members of Christ, but like Him - which includes likeness in the work of rebalancing. Cf. especially Romans 8:17:"We are heirs of God, coheirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him."
Strongly spiritual souls perceive these thoughts, perhaps not in the clear formal way we have presented them, but deeply and substantially.
3:11-12: John says a more powerful one is coming, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. So John does know who Jesus is. In John 1:29-34 John calls Him the "lamb of God', the victim for sacrifice, and says he recognized Him because he saw the Holy Spirit coming upon Him in the form of a dove.
Jesus was to baptize with fire, probably meaning a cleansing force. The two expressions form a unit: the purifying action of the Holy Spirit. The mention of the Holy Spirit by John need not refer to the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity. That phrase, Holy Spirit, already occurs a few times in the OT: Is 63:10; Ps 51. 11; Wisdom 9:17. It also appears at times in the literature of Qumran. Of course, since John was filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth (Lk 1:41). So perhaps God interiorly made known to Him the truth of the Holy Spirit.
This passage does not at all support charismatic and fundamentalist claims of a Baptism in the Spirit, especially since many charismatics assert that their phenomena are simply the actuation of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, which all persons in the state of grace have - and so they conclude all should become charismatics. The theology is completely flawed. There are two great categories of graces, sanctifying and charismatic. The Gifts belong to the sanctifying category, the phenomena to the charismatic - one category cannot be the actualization of the other, which is a very different category.
3:13-17: Baptism of Jesus: John of course objects to baptizing Jesus, for he knows Him, as we said. Yet Jesus insists, saying "we should fulfill all righteousness". The meaning here is much discussed. But if we recognize that the Holiness of God wants everything that morality and right order (cf. Summa I. 19. 5. c) call for to be done. Now Jesus of course, was in a completely different position from the sinners who came to John, for He was sinless. Yet in Phil 2:7 St. Paul says that He "emptied Himself". That did not of course mean giving up divinity, which is impossible. But it did mean He would not use His divine claims to exempt Himself from the ordinary human lot or from suffering, even from the lifelong anguish of knowing from the first instant of conception precisely all that He was to suffer. (Cf. Wm. Most, The Consciousness of Christ, Christendom Press, 1980).
So here it is a matter of suitability, in line with His self-emptying. It is also in accord with the shocking text of St. Paul in Galatians 3:13-14 (citing Dt 21:23): "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, becoming a curse for us, for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who hangs on the wood'", and the equally shocking 2 Cor 5:21 "Him who did not know sin, He [the Father] made to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Of course, He did not become sin, nor was He cursed. But He identified with us, and took on our condition, so as to overcome it, so we would overcome in Him, as 2 Cor 5:14 says: "Judging this, that one has died for all, therefore all have died." And Paul continues: "And He died for all, so that the living might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose."
Here we see the syn Christo theme, the Mystical Body framework. We are saved and made holy if and to the extent that we are not only members of His, but also like Him, in living to or for Him. We find the elements of this theme in Romans 6:3, 6, 8 (we died with Him are buried with Him in baptism); Col 3: 1, 4 (since we have been raised with Him, we should think of the things that are above); Eph 2:5-6 (we have even taken our seat in heavenly places with him).
These things are true as part of the Mystical Body theme: since one has died, all have died. But they also demand that we be like Him, in order to be saved. Luther argued:The merits of Christ are infinite. They are. Therefore, he said, we need do nothing, can even sin freely. Wrong. For we must be like Christ as the texts above show, especially the last part of 2 Cor 5:14, and Romans 8:17:"We are coheirs with Him, provided we suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him" When the Galatians thought they could sin freely, Paul. in 5:19-26 said that if we do not follow the Spirit, but follow instead the flesh, we will not inherit the kingdom (5:21). The word inherit is significant. We inherit as children, without having earned a place in the mansions of our Father. But we could earn to be disinherited. It is about that that Paul warns in 5:21.
So since we are fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him (Rom 8:17), then, there is nothing but sin that is a loss for us (Rom 8:28),"For those who love God, all things work together for good." This is even true of those who suffer anxiety, for He did suffer it, knowing from the first moment of conception all He had to suffer. Confidence in God can help, can make things easier, but we should not accuse someone of lack of faith if he still worries when awaiting the report from the Doctor whether or not he has cancer. God did not promise no one would ever get cancer. He did promise that all things, even that, can work together for good for those who love God, who live for Christ, as His members who want to be like Him.
After Jesus was baptized, the Spirit came down in the form of a dove. Who saw it? The text is unclear. Surely Jesus, probably John. As to the others, we do not know. We compare the remarkable text of John 12:27-29 where, in anguish over His coming passion, He allowed Himself to break into a discourse to a crowd in Jerusalem saying: "Now my heart is troubled. What shall I say? Father, save me from this hour." Then a voice came from the sky saying: "I have glorified you, and will glorify you again." But the crowd did not understand the voice, they thought it was thunder.
Rationalists and too many who claim not to be such, dismiss this manifestation, or call it a theologoumenon - meaning it did not happen, the words are merely a way of making a different point.
4:1-11: His fast and temptation: Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert for a fast. We recall Is 11:1-3, which foretold He would have the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
So we have a question: Jesus was divine, what need of the Holy Spirit? Some in the Patristic age pursued this sort of question very far: Why would He even need a human soul, when the Divine Word could carry on all those functions? This led to the heresy of Apollinaris, which denied He had a human rational soul.
The reason for His having the Gifts is this: God loves everything that is right, and that includes good order. St. Thomas (Summa I. 19. 5. c) said that God in love of good order is pleased to have one thing in place to serve as a reason or title for giving a second thing, even though the title does not move Him. So in this love of good order, He did will that Jesus have a complete humanity, not a body without a rational soul. He also willed that He should have the full complement of supernatural gifts, including the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Guidance through thee Gifts is the highest form. Beneath it would be guidance by human reason, or by the whim of the moment - which Aristotle called (Ethics 1. 5) "a life fit only for cattle".
Jesus did also have human emotions - He could marvel at the faith of the centurion, He could be angry at the sellers in the temple, He could even experience fear in Gethsemani. On these matters, cf two articles by W. Most, in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, in June 1983, and November 1985.
Some of the Fathers, probably under influence of Stoicism, fell into the error of saying He had no inner feelings at all: Clement of Alexandria in Stromata 6. 9. 71. 2 (RJ 426): "He was in general without emotion (apathes) and no movement of feelings went within Him, whether pleasure or pain." Clement probably meant just that He had no immoderate movements, since he continues, using similar language about the Apostles. Similarly St. Hilary of Poitiers (On the Trinity 10. 23: RJ 876): "These things did indeed inflict on Him the force of suffering, but did not bring the pain of suffering... the body received on itself the force... without the sense of pain." He seems to mean that there could be physical pain, but no interior reaction - unworthy of the Man-God.
The opposite error was that of Theodore of Mopsuestia, a forerunner of Nestorianism, who said Christ had even disorderly emotions. A General Council of Constantinople II in 553 condemned this notion, and spoke of "wicked (impium) Theodore of Mopsuestia" (DS 434). The same applies of course to the movie The Last Temptation".
So as to the temptations by satan, He could feel these, even as in Gethsemani He experienced a desire to avoid the passion, but these things caused no disorderly emotions in Him.
He had a free human will, but yet was incapable of sinning. The reason is that if we define "person" correctly, it means the center to which we attribute things: e.g., he knew this, he felt this, he experienced this etc. Another person may have the same or similar experiences, yet they are individualized by belonging to the one person. Therefore, since in Him there was only one person, the Divine Person, if He had sinned, it would have been attributed to a Divine Person - which is impossible.
The first temptation was a temptation because it would have been contrary to the policy of the Father set in Phil 2:7, of emptying Himself, i.e., He should not use His divine power for Himself. Otherwise He had the power to turn stones to bread, and He surely needed food. Jesus answers with the words of Dt. 8:3. Jesus' food is to do the will of Him who sent Him (Jn 4:34).
In the second temptation, the evil one takes Him to the pinnacle of the temple. The corner over the Brook Cedron was about 180 meters above the brook. Josephus said people could get dizzy from there (Antiquities 15. 11. 5). Was that done literally, or by way of a vision? Most likely the latter. The devils, being fallen angels, still retain very great powers which are natural to them, beyond nature for us. They can work on a person's inner or outer senses and cause him to see things. Here the devil quotes Psalm 91:11-12. The Psalm was telling in very strong language what confidence in God one may have. But to put oneself in a situation where a miracle is needed, without reason, and expect God to do it - this is tempting God. For example if someone has a broken appendix, and does not call a surgeon, but says God will take care of it - that is tempting God.
In the third temptation, the devil takes Him to a very high mountain, from which He can see all the kingdoms of the world. Of course no mountain is high enough for that, so this seems to mean a vision. The devil claims he controls all of these. He does not of course have a legitimate power over kingdoms, yet the sinfulness of men gives him much actual power. So St. Paul in 2 Cor 4:4 speaks of him as "the god of this world" (cf. John 12:31).
Did the devil at this time know of the divinity of Jesus? Not likely. But he surely knew He was the Messiah.
4:12-17: Move to Capernaum: It is evident that the Evangelists do not always or even often try for chronological order: they have other designs. (Compare the practice of the later Roman biographer Suetonius). That fact is very evident here, for the text says that when Jesus heard John had been arrested He moved from Judea to Capernaum, and made that His headquarters. Actually, the story of John's martyrdom is not told until chapter 14.
The purpose here seems to be to relate His use of
Capernaum as headquarters to the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-2 that a great light would shine in the land formerly belonging to the tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali. They had been in darkness, for the Assyrians under Tiglath-Pileser (2 Kings 15:29 and 1 Chron 5:26) had invaded and taken them captive. At the time of Christ, many gentiles lived in that area along with the Jews, hence the name,"Galilee of the Gentiles". The Jews of Judea looked down on that region. Capernaum was on the west shore of the Lake of Genesareth, along the Road of the Sea - which ran to the sea, and to the other shore of the Jordan. Capernaum was an important communications center frequented by many types of people. Today Capernaum is only ruins, seemingly on the site of Tell Houm.
In Hebrew the word Sea can refer to a lake. The name Lake of Gennesareth comes from the plain of Kinnereth on the northwest shore. The lake or sea was about 12 1/2 miles at its greatest length, and 8 3/4 miles at its greatest width. Its surface is 682 feet below the level of the Mediterranean.
Some versions say Jesus made this move, "so that the words of the prophet might be fulfilled. St. Matthew used the Greek conjunction hina. Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic all have more than one structure which can be taken as either purpose or result -- according to the sense. Translators seem to have a strong inclination to make most of these instances purpose, as if they did not know that hina and the other constructions could express result as well as purpose - in 5th century B.C. Attic Greek hina would have meant only purpose. But by the time of Christ that had changed. In Jn 19:24 we meet again that hina. The soldiers cast lots for his garments. To translate "in order that" would mean the soldiers intended to fulfill the prophecy. Of course they did not. But as a matter of fact (result) they did fulfill it. Yet the versions commonly translate the hina there as purpose. Cf. Jn 17:12: Judas was lost so that Scripture might be fulfilled!
4:18-22: Call of the first disciples: Near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus sees and calls Simon and his brother Andrew. He also called the two sons of Zebedee, James the Elder and John. Then they "followed" Him. That verb follow is a rabbinic term for becoming a disciple. If we compare the account in John 1:35-521 it seems that Andrew and Simon had been disciples of John the Baptist, who told them Jesus was the lamb of God. After that they stayed a while with Jesus, but seemingly went back to their fishing for a while. It was after that that the account in Matthew fits in, describing the second call at which they actually became followers of Jesus.
So they had known Him before the call related in Matthew. Their first call seems to have been one to believe Jesus was the Messiah. Of course their idea of the Messiah was hardly what Jesus intended; it was more like that of most Jews at the time. It excluded suffering from the Messiah (cf. Mk 8:31-33), but probably did include hope for a temporal conqueror: cf. Acts 1:6.
When James and John left their father, that was not leaving him alone, for Mk 1:20 speaks of hired men remaining with Zebedee. Luke 5:10 says that James and John were "koinonoi", partners with Simon.
4:23-25: Jesus preaches and cures in Galilee: This is a summary section, such as is often found in narrative literature. It also shows the geographical extent of Jesus ministry at the time He covered Galilee and Syria, and crowds came to hear Him from the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and Tranjordan.
Galilee was not large, about 70 by 40 miles. The name Syria is ambiguous. To Romans it would be the Roman province taking in all Palestine. Except for Galilee it was under Herod Antipas at the time. But Matthew more likely meant by Syria the area north of Galilee.
Josephus, writing about a generation later, said Galilee then had 240 cities and villages, each with no less than 15, 000 population (Life, 235; War III. 41-43). If Jesus visited 2 villages per day, it would probably take about 3 months to complete the circuit.
Chapters 5-7: The Sermon on the Mount: The most usual view is that Matthew has gathered together things Jesus said on more than one occasion. Of course, He really did say these things even so. The sermon is the first of five major discourses in Matthew, each of which follows a block of narrative material.
St. Luke's Gospel has a similar sermon, called the Sermon on the Plain. We note especially the differences in the beatitudes between the two Gospels. The most likely explanation is this: there is no doubt that Jesus was a traveling speaker, and as such, He would doubtless say the same things in many places, with perhaps some variation in each place. Therefore Luke may be reporting a different sermon. Yet the differences may come from the editorial work of each Evangelist: Matthew 5:17-37 and 6:1-18 is material Matthew's Jewish readers might find specially interesting, while Luke wrote for a different audience. Again, Luke has some things Matthew does not have: compare Mt 5:12 with Lk 6:23-26 or Mt 5:47 with Lk 6:33-35.
5:1-12: The Beatitudes: Each beatitude pronounces certain persons makarioi, which seems to mean well-off, fortunate, both in this life and in the world to come.
First, the poor in spirit are blessed. Poverty then, and now, was often thought of as sheer misfortune. Jesus does not say that mere physical poverty is blessed. He speaks of poverty in the spirit, that is, in detachment from the things of the world, so one does not let them get a hold on him with their pulls. Above, in speaking of the austerity of the life of John the Baptist, we explained what this detachment meant, in the light of Mt. 6:21. Physical poverty does make easier this detachment. Yet if not taken patiently, it may be spiritually harmful. Hence the wisdom of Proverbs 30:8 prays that God may give him neither poverty nor riches. Physical poverty can tempt one to be too much interested in material things and even to complain against God; riches make it harder to be detached. Hence the famous saying of Jesus about the camel and the needle's eye.
The poor in spirit remind us of the Old Testament anawim, the people who realized their own frailness and dependence on God, who is their only help. Is 57:15 and 66:2 praise them. The precise words poor in spirit do not occur in the Old Testament, but are found in the War Scroll of Qumran.
Some commentators, not understanding this matter of detachment, have tried to say that Luke's presentation of the same beatitude in 6:20 refers only to material poverty. But Jesus would not call that blessed in itself. The original NAB version of Mt said "theirs is the reign of God." Hard to find any sense in it at all. Rather, it means that it is of such persons as the detached poor that the kingdom consists in this world, and they will inherit the kingdom in the world to come.
The second beatitude speaks of those who mourn as blessed. It is not mourning as such that makes one blessed, it is mourning over their own sins, and over the infidelity of Israel that makes it deserve God's punishment all the more since Israel sins in spite of His special favor. We could also see here a reversal of attitudes: commonly in the Old Testament evil was thought of as a punishment for sin - cf. the book of Job. But Jesus showed us the positive value of suffering as a means of likeness to Him: Rom 8:17-18.
God's response is found in Isaiah 40:1. Comfort, comfort, my people.
These first two beatitudes recall Is 61: 1-3 cited by Jesus in Lk 4:18-19.
The third beatitude declares the meek are blessed: they will inherit the land. The meek are those who are unassuming, considerate, and far from the spirit of revenge. The land originally would mean God's promise of the land to Abraham and his descendants. By the time of Jesus it had been reinterpreted to mean heaven. But even in this life, meekness often brings returns. Those who are at the top in their own field are often remarkably meek and humble.
The fourth beatitude declares that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will obtain all of it that they desire. Righteousness means all that the objective moral order calls for: sedaqah. God's supreme Holiness loves all that is right. By this beatitude a person imitates God in this respect.
The fifth beatitude promises that the merciful will obtain mercy. The merciful forgive those who offend against them, and help in all sort of need. God who loves all that is right, will do the same for them. But if one does not forgive, he will not be forgiven. Mt 7:2 adds: Whatever measure you use [in treating others] the same measure will be used on you. So we write our own ticket: if we demand the last cent of others, God will demand the same of us. We cannot afford that!
The sixth beatitude says that the pure in heart will see God. The purity here is not just sexual, but complete moral purity. We recall again the development of the thought of Mt 6:21 we saw above (in speaking of John the Baptist). Complete detachment makes one more capable of perceiving divine things even in this life.
The seventh beatitude declares blessed those who make peace: they will be called children of God. Hebrew shalom means not only peace in the narrow English sense, but well-being in general. Right after His resurrection, He greeted the Apostles with: Peace be to you. Those who work for this, cooperate in the work of Christ, and so are His brothers, children of the Father.
The last beatitude promises heaven to those who suffer persecution for what is right. The Church has always understood this to apply specially to the martyrs. While it was never official teaching, the belief was widespread in the Patristic age that only martyrs could reach the vision of God before the end of the world. We now know that belief was wrong, yet others may have debts to pay in purgatory.
Not only martyrs suffer persecution. 2 Timothy 3:12 adds that all who try to live a godly life will meet with persecution. Their very way of life is a living reproach to many others. And Romans 8:17 tells us that "we are heirs together with Christ, provided we suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him."
Verse 11 continues the theme of verse 10 on persecution, changing to second person.
Some "beatitudes" have been found at Qumran (BAR November/Dec. 1992, pp. 53-55, 66. But the similarities to those of Jesus are only in form. The ones from Jesus announce reversals of what most people would think. Those at Qumran do not, e. g,"Blessed is he who speaks truth with a pure heart and who does not slander with his tongue." There is no reward promised, still less a reward that would be unexpected by many of that age.
5:13-16: Salt of earth, light of world: In ancient times, salt was used not only to flavor foods, but also as a preservative to slow decay. Actually, salt cannot lose its saltiness, for sodium chloride is a stable substance. But most salt then came from salt marshes or the like, and so had many impurities. The salt itself was more soluble, and so could be leached out. What was left was so diluted it was of little worth. The Greek for "loses its saltiness" is moranthe, which also means to make or become foolish. In the background may be an Aramaic play on words: tapel (foolish) and tabel (salted).
Many cities then were built of limestone, which would gleam in the sun, and so could not be easily hidden. The thought is that the Apostles are to give the light of sound doctrine and example to the world, and that light should not be hidden. Hence Jesus said that all should see their good deeds and so praise the Father.
Two points are needed here. First, good example is very powerful. St, Augustine reached a point when he admitted in his Confessions (8. 5), that he had no further intellectual difficulties against the Church. but his bad habits held him from entering. It was hearing of good examples that brought him over. Second, in 6:4 & 6, Jesus will say that when they give alms, it should be done in secret and when they pray, they should pray in secret. Those verses do not contradict our present passage. Rather we see a Semitic way of teaching: using seemingly opposite statements, enticing the listener to put them together. He meant that on the one hand, there is a real duty of giving good example, to help others, on the other hand, there should be no motive of pride and ostentation in doing so.
5. 17-20: Not to destroy but to fulfill: Jesus says He came not to destroy the law and the prophets -- the entire Old Testament - but to fulfill. This is true in that He Himself fulfilled all the messianic prophecies. He also came to perfect the law proper.
He did seem to break the law, but He did not break God's law, only the foolish or even immoral additions made by the Pharisees. We see a case of His objecting to immoral commands in Mark 7:11. God commanded all to honor father and mother. This meant not just obedience while a minor, but also and specially, support, financial and psychological, if parents need it in their old age. This is a sort of divine social security system: when we were young, they did everything for us; when they are old and in need, it is our turn. But the Pharisees taught a man might declare his goods "corban", dedicated to God. He would not necessarily give them to the temple nor was he prevented from using them for himself. It did mean the 4th commandment no longer held.
Why was Jesus so stern to Pharisees? why did He say so many hard things about them? He was so wonderfully merciful to sinners in general, in fact His conduct to the woman taken in adultery shocked some of the Christians, with the result that that passage is missing from some of the best manuscripts.
The reason is simply pride, hypocritical pride. If one is proud, he takes to himself credit for what good he does. Really, 1 Cor 4:7 says: "What have you that you have not received?" That is: Any bit of good you are or have or do, is simply God's gift. But the proud man at least implicitly says he is good by his own power. Aristotle can help here. He noted that if I am at one place, and want to to travel to another, there must first be the capacity for the trip. He likes to call that capacity potency. If the trip happens, the capacity or potency is filled or fulfiiled. But the same pattern happens in any change: first the capacity, then the fulfillment. Now that capacity clearly involves some lack or emptiness that wants to be filled. If it is filled, where does the added being come from? It is created, made out of nothing by God Himself at that very moment. But to feel one does good by his own power is to claim, implicitly, the power of creation.
Further, much sin can cause blindness, in the way we pictured in explaining Mt 6:21 in Supplement 2. No sin blinds so fully, so readily as pride. This happened to the Pharisees. Hence even though God was willing to grant them grace, they were incapable of perceiving even that a grace was being offered.
There were many foolish commands of the Pharisees. Thus the schools of Hillel and Shammai debated: if a hen lays an egg on a feast day, is one permitted to eat it - thus getting the fruit of illicit work. Hillel said no, Shammai said one may eat it.
Again, a group of Essenes in Jerusalem at that time noted the command of Dt. 23:12-14 to build the latrine outside the camp. They said now the camp is Jerusalem. So they built the latrine outside the city, a distance of 3000 cubits, more than one was permitted to walk on the Sabbath! (Cf. BAR Sept-Oct. , 1984, p. 45).
A problem emerges: Jesus says He has come to fulfill the law; Paul says we are free from the law. We must remember first that Paul is hardly clear. The Second Epistle of Peter 3:15-16, speaking of Paul's Epistles warns that "there are in them many things hard to understand." We find a key to the present problem in 1 Cor 6:9-10. There Paul, after giving a list of the chief great sins and sinners, warns that they who do such things, "will not inherit the Kingdom of God." The word kleronomesousin, inherit, is to be taken in the strict sense. It is true, it can sometime mean merely to get, without the special color of inheriting. But Paul so often speaks of us as adopted children of the Father, who as such, can inherit: cf. Rom 8:17. Now when children inherit from their Father, it is obvious the children did not earn what they get - they get it because the Father is good, not because they are good. On the other hand, they could have earned to lose it, to be disinherited. To sum up, as to salvation: we do not earn it, but we could earn to lose it. This is specially explicit in Rom 6;23: "The wages of sin [what we earn is death, but the free gift of God [what we do not earn] is eternal life." So when Paul says we are free from the law, he merely means we do not have to earn heaven, we inherit it as children of the Father, as coheirs with Christ. He seems to have gotten into such language in reaction to the claims of the Judaizers, who were saying, in effect, that Christ is not enough: we must have the law too. Paul reacted: We are free from the law.
Now this same attitude shows abundantly in the Gospels, for Jesus constantly stresses God is our Father. So we inherit from Him, we do not earn heaven. Hence His strong words in Mt. 18:3: "Unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."
He adds that unless their righteousness is more than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, they will not get into the kingdom of heaven at all. The trouble with the Scribes and Pharisees was externalism and depending on their own merits, in pride, as we explained above. On externalism, God warned many times through the prophets, e. g, Isa 19:13: "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me." They were proud, and counted on their own merits from observing the law. They imposed heavy burdens on others, and did not really carry them themselves.
Was this all true, or was this a case of retrojection from a later period when Christians began to quarrel with Jews? There is such a thing as retrojection, reporting something as happening before the resurrection, which really happened after it. Provided that Jesus really said the things in question, this is not an illegitimate retrojection. But if He actually did not say such things as his strictures on the Pharisees, it would be fakery in the Gospels - which inspiration rules out. (It would also be an illegitimate retrojection if one pictured a prophecy as being made before the event happened, when it was really spoken after the event. )
E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, seems to say that Paul did not really know what Judaism was. This is outrageous: Paul was a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He surely knew what they meant. And we saw above some of the ridiculous things they did with the law. A large study, by A. Marmorstein, The Doctrine of Merits in Old Rabbinical Literature (Ktav, 1968) documents the excesses of the ideas of Pharisees on merits. A recent discovery that the Damascus Document, once thought to be late, is really by the men of Qumran lets us see that the picture of Pharisees given in later writings is basically the correct one for the time of Christ : L. Schiffman, "New Light on the Pharisees - Insights from the Dead Sea Scrolls" in Bible Review, June 1992. We saw concrete examples above in commenting on Mt. 5:17-20. We can add that their esteem for the law was so extreme that the Palestinian Targum on Deuteronomy 32:4 says that God Himself divides His day into four parts. For three hours He works and is occupied in the study of the Torah. (Same in Talmud, Aboda Zara fol. 3. b).
5:21-30: Extensions of the Torah on anger and lust: The law already did condemn murder, Jesus goes to the root of it, which is anger. Anger in itself is a neutral things, neither good nor bad. It depends on what use one makes of it. If it is in proportion to what the case deserves, it is permitted, even good, as the case of Jesus driving the sellers out of the Temple.
There is a gradation in the sin and the punishment as Jesus tells us: 1) the internal sin, to be punished by the tribunal of twenty in each city; 2) an insult given to another such as saying "raca" an Aramaic word meaning fool, imbecile. This is to be punished by the supreme tribunal of Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin; 3) Charging another with impiety or atheism. The punishment for this is to come from God Himself, Gehenna or hell. (Gehenna was a valley south of Jerusalem where once the Jews offered human sacrifice to Moloch (2 Kings 23:10; Jer 7. 31). Later it turned into a burning dump. Often in the New Testament Gehenna seems to stand for hell.
Scripture even speaks at times of God Himself as being angry. There are two components in human anger: the bodily changes, mostly in biochemistry, and the mental interpretation. The chemistry for anger and fear is very similar. The difference lies in the mental interpretation. If I see before me something outrageous, I interpret it as anger; if I see something dangerous before me, the interpretation is fear. God Himself of course do not have the biochemistry, but He does have the mental interpretation. Sin calls for rectification of the objective moral order. He will provide for that at whatever time He wills.
To stress the importance of this fraternal harmony, Jesus says that even if one is ready to offer a gift at the altar, and recalls his brother has something against him, he should leave the gift without offering it, and go for reconciliation instead. The recalls the line of Hosea 6:6, (cited also by Jesus Himself at Mt 9:13 and 12:7): "I desire obedience to the covenant [hesed] more than sacrifice." In Hosea God was not rejecting sacrifices, but empty sacrifices, those made without the interior disposition of obedience to God in the heart. So too in this line Jesus wants not the external sacrifice alone, but the right disposition, which includes reconciliation. (The usual translations of Hoses 6:6 are poor, since they use "mercy" to render Hosea's Hebrew hesed. Greek had no word for hesed, obedience to the covenant, and so regularly used eleos, mercy. As to our version "more than," this reflects the proper sense of the Hebrew, which lacked the degrees of comparison, and so would commonly say: "I want one thing, not another," when the sense was really, "I want one thing more than another").
In the same vein, Jesus calls for reconciliation before coming to court. The court is that of God's judgment. In the world of His day, there was prison for debtors who could not or would not pay.
5:27-30: Internal adultery: The OT command against adultery in Ex 20:14 and Dt 5:18 was often thought by the Jews to be more directly a matter of stealing a wife, as some other one's possession, rather than a matter of purity. Jesus redirects it here, insists that if a man look at a married woman with a view of enticing her to sex, that is already adultery in the heart.
To avoid confusion here let us clarify. A thought comes to a man, or he sees a beautiful woman. This thought or look offers him a sexual pleasure. If he lets himself go and just enjoys it, that is mortal sin. But if he does not do that, but instead tries to get rid of the thought or mental image, even if it takes a dozen times before the incident is over, there is no mortal sin. More likely there is much merit. There is a confusing related pattern in addition. If one is busy doing something that holds attention partly, then a thought can crawl into the back of his head, can unroll itself almost like a movie, for some time, before there comes a sort of wake-up point at which he says to himself: I should not be having this! Then he gets busy against it. At most, there would be a little carelessness, not mortal sin, up to that point.
Jesus underscores how grave the matter is by saying that even if someone's eye leads him into sin, he should pluck it out. He did not mean to physically gouge out an eye, or to cut off a right hand. No. This is just a dramatic way of saying that whatever actually proves to be a near occasion of sin for someone, he must get rid of it, even if it is as dear to him as an eye or a hand. A near occasion is any person, place, or thing such that one can say, from experience, that if he goes back to it a few more times, he will be very likely get into the same sin again.
5:31-32: divorce: Jesus is referring to Dt. 24:1-4 which allowed divorce for something displeasing (erwat dabar, "something indecent") in the wife. We must of course compare this passage with Mt 19:3-12 which says that if someone divorces her except for porneia (the Greek word in Matthew) he causes her to commit adultery, the assumption being that she will again attempt marriage. Porneia in Greek in general meant illicit sex. Both in ancient and in modern times this seeming exception has been much discussed. Perhaps the best view is to take it as meaning: "I say to you, whoever dismisses his wife - the provision of Dt 24:1 is not involved -- makes her to commit adultery." Then we could take the porneia to mean that the marriage was invalid in the first place, was mere concubinage, and so could be broken.
For certain the Catholic Church takes this to mean no divorce at all in a sacramental marriage is permitted unless the marriage was invalid in the first place. For the passages in Matthew of course must agree with Mc 10:11-12; Lk 16:18; 1 Cor 7:10-11. Of course, Jesus took back the concession given in Dt. 24 in Mt 19. 8-9.
The Rabbis disrupted much about what reason was required. The school of Shammai at the time of Jesus said only adultery would suffice; the school of Hillel said just about anything would suffice, even badly preparing a meal. The historian Josephus (Life 76, 426) divorced his wife because he did not like her behavior, although she had already borne three children of his.
5:33-37: Oaths: Incredible casuistry was in vogue in the time of Jesus in regard to oaths. To swear by heaven and earth was not binding, nor was swearing by Jerusalem binding - but swearing toward Jerusalem was binding. A whole tractate in the Mishnah was given over to this sort of thing: Shebuoth. Because of such foolish things, Jesus said it would be better to abolish oaths than to go into such things. According to some rabbinic opinions, to double yes or no amounted to an oath.
The first Christians understood Jesus did not really mean to abolish all oaths, just to correct such foolish excesses. St. Paul took oaths: Rom 1:9; 2 Cor 1:23; 1 Thes 2:5 &10.
Some commentators assert that Jesus here goes against Dt 6:13:"By His name alone shall you swear" But the meaning is that if you swear, do not swear by any false gods, but only by the true God. And it does not command, merely permits that. Rightly understood, the words of Jesus do not forbid all oaths, as we have shown.
The lex talionis (like for like) is found in Ex. 21;24; Lev 24;19-20; and Dt 19:21. It is also found in the code of Hammurabi, king of Babylon in late 18th century BC (## 196-200). The purpose seems to have been to restrain vengeance, setting a limit, so someone would not demand 5 times as much as the offense. At the time of Christ, the courts seldom imposed this lex talionis Jesus of course, in line with His spirit, wants a spirit of mildness instead. He even says if someone strikes you on one cheek, turn the other. But it is clear this was meant to inculcate an attitude, rather than something to be taken to the letter. When a servant in the Jewish court struck Jesus Himself on the cheek, He did not turn the other cheek, but rebuked the servant (Jn 18:22-23). St. Thomas Aquinas (II-II. 40. 1 ad 2) quotes with approval the remark of St. Augustine: "These things are always to be observed in readiness of soul. But at other times, one must act differently, for the same of the common good, or to restrain evildoers." Thomas also quotes another text of Augustine: " Nothing is so unhappy as the happiness of evildoers in which lack of punishment for crimes is fostered, and an evil will. is nourished."
The attitude is to be encouraged in individuals. But a state may not turn the other cheek: It obliged to defend its citizens even at times by war. It is simply not true that all the Fathers were pacifists. Among those who were not are: St. Justin Martyr, St. Cyprian, Eusebius, Lactantius (one text), St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine. St. Augustine in Epistle 189 to a solider names Boniface tells him that when he puts on his armor he should remember that his strength is a gift of God. -- There are only 4 clear cases of pacifists, but all commit heresy: Marcion (who rejected the entire Old Testament, most of the new, Tatian, founder of the heresy of Encratites, Tertullian (after he became a heretical Montanist, Lactantius (Institutes 6. 28 where he rejects even capital punishment, contradicting St. Paul, Romans 13:4). Origen (Against Celsus 8. 73) is a special case. He says it is not fitting for Christians to be soldiers - does not say it is wrong. Similarly God told David in 1 Chron 22:8 that he should not build the temple because he had so much blood on his hands -even though God had commanded David's wars, and helped him - and in contrast in 1 Kings 14:8 God praises David as a perfect man, who always did God's will. So it is again a matter of fittingness, not of something morally wrong.
Under Mosaic law -- Ex 22:26-27 and Dt. 24:13 - the outer cloak was practically an inalienable possession. If the cloak was taken as a pledge, it had to be returned before night, so the poor man might have something to sleep in. Again, Jesus is teaching an attitude here.
Roman law had a practice of commandeering civilians (impressment) to carry military baggage. (Cf. the case of Simon the Cyrenian helping Jesus) But it was to be done for only one mile. Again, Jesus wants His followers to be twice as generous.
The next injunction calls for not only interest-free loans, but also a generous spirit of giving things outright.
However, it is also good to report precisely where the moral lines lie, since Jesus again is teaching an ideal attitude.
First about interest-free loans, we must notice that the Latin word usura, "usury", is very broad, and can mean anything from moderate to excessive interest. In some economies, money is not productive and so little could be morally asked for. In others, money is highly productive. The attitude of the Church appears in 1515 in the text of the Fifth Lateran Council: " This is the proper interpretation of (excessive) interest: when gain and increase is sought from the use of a thing that is nonproductive and with no labor, no expense, and no risk."(DS 1442). Deuteronomy 23:21 makes clear that not all interest is immoral: "You may lend at interest to a stranger, but not to a countryman." If all interest were wrong, it could not be permitted even in loans to strangers.
About almsgiving: Vatican II, Church in Modern World § 69 added a footnote 10, quoting a message of John XXIII (AAS 54. 682):"The obligation of every man, the urgent obligation of the Christian man, is to reckon what is superfluous by the needs of others...." The words of John XXIII seem to allude to the scale in common use among moral theologians:
1) Goods necessary for life are those without which life cannot be sustained. So goods superfluous to life are those left over after this.
2) Goods necessary to one's state in life are those without which that state cannot be maintained. Goods superfluous to one's state of life are all else.
3) Good necessary for fitting maintenance of one's state in life are those without which one's state, though it could be maintained, could not be maintained fittingly. Goods superfluous in the fullest sense are all else.
We have seen that there are three senses of the word superfluous. Similarly, there are three senses of the word necessary:
1) If neighbor is in extreme necessity, i.e., lacks the necessities of #1 above, we must come to the aid with things mentioned in ## 2 & 3 above. But we need not give up things necessary for our own life.
2)If neighbor is in grave necessity, but not lacking the essentials of life, we must help out of goods that are superfluous in #3 above.
3)If neighbor is in ordinary need, a lesser need, we must help some of the poor sometimes. We cannot determine the obligation precisely for any one individual, for there are many who can help, and the need is only ordinary.
We conclude that as far as strict obligation is concerned, Vatican II has this scale in mind, since in the next note on the above passage it says: "In extreme necessity, all goods are common, all goods are to be shared. On the other hand, for the order, extension, and manner by which the principle is applied in the proposed text, besides the modern authors, consult St. Thomas, Summa, II-II. 66. 7."
We have carefully drawn the above lines, not to suggest anyone hold down to a minimum, but to help understand that some statements we meet in the Fathers on giving to the poor are rhetorical. We still urge all to take on the wonderfully generous spirit pictured by Our Lord.
5:43-47: Hatred and love: Jesus says they have heard that one should love neighbor and hate enemies. He calls for love of even enemies. Further, the Jews of His time commonly understood neighbor to mean only fellow Jews. By the parable of the Good Samaritan He made clear that all are our neighbors.
Lev. 19:18 does call for love of neighbor. But it did not call for hatred of enemies. Of course it is not hard to believer such ideas were current then. The Qumran sectaries did require love of neighbor, but also called for hatred of enemies: cf. 1QS 1:4, 10; 2:4-9.
Love does not require, nor even essentially consist in feeling. If it did the commands of Jesus would be impossible, for we have only indirect control over our feelings. To love is an act of will, willing good to another for the other's sake. If we pray for others, we have a minimum degree of love. Love of God of course is different: we cannot will good to God, who is infinite Goodness. Rather, Scripture pictures Him as pleased when we obey, displeased when we do not. This is not that He gains anything from our obedience or "service" - they do Him no good. But since He is Goodness and Holiness, He loves all that is right and good: goodness says creatures should obey their Creator, children their Father. Further, He wants to give good to us: but that is in vain if we are not open to receive. Hence His commandments are really directions for how to be open to Him, so He may give, and simultaneously steer us away from the evils that lie in the very nature of things for sin, e.g., a hangover after a drunk, or a great danger of a loveless marriage after much premarital sex. So in practice, to love God is to obey Him. Hence 2 John 6: "This is love, that we walk according to His commandments." Cf. also John 14:21. Interestingly in the late second millennium Hittite vassal treaties the inferior king is ordered to "love" the great king.
Tax collectors or publicans were despised as agents of a foreign power oppressing their own people, and for contact with gentiles, which made them unclean. In many Roman provinces the system was tax farming. Publican companies ( groups of business men, different from the local publican collectors) would bid for the right to collect taxes for the coming year. The highest bidder got it, and paid that amount to the Roman treasury. He should be moderate, and the governor ought to hold down greed. But the governor came up the political ladder without pay, and still had no salary, only an expense account. No wonder there was corruption.
5:48: The command to be perfect: Jesus tells us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. Since His Holiness is infinite, it is evident no creature can ever attain that. So one can never say he has done enough, gone far enough. It means one must constantly strive and keep on moving.
In an Encyclical for the third centenary of St. Francis de Sales, Pius XI commented on this command of Our Lord: "Let no one think that this invitation is addressed to a small very select number and that all others are allowed to stay in a lower degree of virtue... this law obliges everyone, without exception." Paul VI, in an address to the 13th National Congress of the Italian Feminine Center in 1966 said: that marriage "is a long path toward sanctification." For explanation, cf. Wm. Most, Our Father's Plan, pp. 145-49.
We distinguish three kinds of perfect love of God. The first would love God as much as He deserves. No creature is capable of that. The second would love God with all its powers, constantly, at every moment, without any intermission or slackening. This is possible only in Heaven. The third kind is that which it possible on this earth: It is a love that puts our wills perfectly in harmony with His, so that it positively wills everything the soul knows He positively wills, and preserves a pliability for those things in which His will is not yet clear, or not entirely clear.
Imagine what this requirement meant in our Blessed Mother. At the time of her Son's death, she knew that it was the will of the Father that He die, die then, die so horribly. So she was called on to not just acquiesce, but to positively will it! And this in collision with her love which was so great even at the start of her life that Pius IX wrote (in Ineffabilis Deus, 1854), speaking of her holiness, (which in practice is the same as love): "none greater under God can be thought of, and only God can comprehend it." That meant strictly, literally incomprehensible suffering!
The will is the only free thing in us. If we could make it perfectly aligned with His, there would no more to be done. It excludes not only mortal and deliberate venial sin, but also every voluntary imperfection. In that condition, a soul will still commit some venial sins of frailty or surprise. Not all of these can be avoided in this life. But fully deliberate venial sins can be avoided, and definitely block progress. If a soul has an "affection" to venial sin, no further growth is possible. Affection means the soul's attitude if expressed completely, would be like this: I do not intend to commit any mortal sin, nor every venial sin that tempts me. But on the other hand, I do not plan to avoid every venial sin: sometimes it would be inconvenient to avoid lying, and it is good fellowship at times to join in a bit of uncharitable conversation. These are as it were gaps in the soul's purpose of amendment, they as it were put a clamp on one's heart, setting limits. Absolutely no further progress can be made as long as a soul harbors even one of these affections.
6:1-6: Ostentation: Public fasts were announced by the blowing of trumpets. And alms were thought to increase the efficacy of the fasts. This may be origin of the warning here. Of course this could be also a case of Semitic exaggeration, like that of the camel and the needle's eye. Those who made a display of almsgiving were really aiming to get praise from people. They would get it - but that is all, nothing from the Father in Heaven. The words "Let not your right hand know what your left hand is doing" is a fine Semitic device again. Hands know nothing. The sense is that we should not dwell mentally on the goodness of anything we do - we may at least subconsciously be taking undue credit for ourselves.
Next there is the warning about ostentation in prayer. In the synagogue someone might be asked to pray publicly standing in front. This does not contradict 14:16 - please see the comments on that verse.
6:7-8: Repetitious prayer: Jesus Himself prayed at length ( Lk 6:12) and repeated His prayer (Mt. 26:44). He even urged them to keep up praying if they did not at first get what they asked : (Lk 18:1). He objects to babbling prayer, mechanical repetition, which the pagan gods were said to love. He objects to saying useless things, or long formulas thought to have an almost magical efficacy. The priests of Baal went in for such things : 1 Kings 18:26ff. There are lists of Babylonian hymns and formulas and magical incantations. The Roman philosopher Seneca said that such prayers "weary the gods" (Epistle 31. 5. Cf. Horace, Odes 1. 2. 23 and Livy 1. 11. 2 and Apuleius, Metamorphoses 10. 26.
This is no objection to the Rosary, in which the chief thing is not the repetition but the meditation - we are not asked to pay attention to every word of 50 Hail Marys in 5 decades, but to think on the mysteries announced. The words could be compared to background music.
The word St. Matthew uses is a rare one, battalogeo, which may come from Aramaic battal, useless, idle.
6:9-13: The Our Father: It is only in this prayer that Jesus speaks of our Father. Elsewhere He may say my Father or your Father. In Rabbinic sources the words "Our Father who art in Heaven" are found often enough but the Jews did not have a great perception that God was the Father of all people. They tended to think of Him as only their Father. An introduction to some prayers was Avinu malkenu; Our Father, Our King." This was good to bring out the two major aspects of love and closeness on the one hand, and a sense of majesty, infinite greatness on the other.
We gather the sense of "hallowed be thy name" from such texts as Isaiah 5:15-16: "Man is bowed down, and men are brought low. But the Lord of Hosts will be exalted in right judgment [mishpat] and the God, the Holy One, will show Himself holy [niqdesh - root of qadosh, "holy"] by moral rightness [i.e., by doing what moral rightness calls for." Similarly in Ezekiel 28:22:"They shall know that I am the Lord when I inflict punishment on her [Sidon], and I shall show myself holy in her [niqdashtil]. The gods of Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome were thought to be amoral, not just immoral. If immoral, they would know what is right but could get away with violations. Amoral means they act as if there is no such aa thing as morality. In contrast, the true God is holy: cf. Psalm 11:7: "For the Lord is righteous, and He loves things that are righteous." So, the sense of this petition is that God's moral rightness may be recognized by all.
Within the covenant, God shows His righteousness by giving benefits or punishment according to the response of the people to the covenant. Hence Deuteronomy 11:26: "Behold, today I am putting before you a blessing and a curse. The blessing, if you obey... and the curse if you do not." Romans 3:24-26 says God has actually shown Himself righteous by fully rebalancing the scale of the objective order by the death of Jesus. For sinners take from one pan of the scale what they have no right to have: the scale is out of balance, and the holiness of God wants it rebalanced. A human can begin to rebalance after stealing by giving it back, or after stealing a pleasure by giving up some other pleasure. But the imbalance from even one mortal sin is infinite. So, if the Father wanted full rebalance -He was not obliged to that - it could be done only by sending a Divine Person, who could really generate an infinite value to fully rebalance. (Cf. The Doctrinal introduction to Paul VI, Indulgentiarum Doctrina, Jan 1, 1967 and Wm. G. Most, Our Father's Plan, chapters 4 ff).
About the words "Thy kingdom come": "kingdom" in the Gospels often, though not always, means the Church in this world or in the next or both, as we can see readily from the parable of the wicked tenants, and parables of the mustard seed, of the net etc. Even. R. E. Brown, in The Churches the Apostles Left Behind (Paulist, 1984, pp. 51-52) admits this, and in Responses to 101 Question on the Bible (Paulist, 1990, p. 12) he says that the editor of the NAB made a bad choice in changing kingdom to reign.
So "thy kingdom come" can readily be a prayer for the spread of the Church. It could also, however, be a prayer that all will accept the will of God, His reign. Then this petition would mean the same as "Thy will be done."
May it be done on earth as it is in heaven. The only free thing in a human is the free will. If one could make that will entirely in accord with the will of God, that would be perfection. That perfect accord is found in heaven. But on earth it is difficult to achieve fully. One might be tempted to think it possible to kneel down and say a prayer of acceptance, such as that of St. Ignatius, "Take O Lord and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my will...."
There are two reasons why instant perfection is not possible. First, at this time we cannot foresee all that God will will us to do before the end of our lives. Second, although perfection is found in the spiritual will, in this life the development of that harmony of will is tied to development in what psychologists call somatic resonance. The explanation is simple: since we are made of body and spirit , and since the two are so closely joined as to add up to one person, the result is that for normal running, a condition on either one of the two sides should have a parallel on the other side, That parallel condition is called a resonance. When the resonance is on the side of the body, we call it somatic (Greek soma = body). For example, love is in the will, willing good to another for the other's sake. The resonance could be anything from the nonsexual response of parents to their own children to explicitly sexual responses in marriage. Sadly, some young people mistake the resonance, which is really chemistry, for the love. They sometimes have a lot of chemistry, no real love. They marry on the strength of that, and find out later! The only way to assure real love is developing is to follow our Father's rules, moral rules. To violate those is to put each other in a state such that if death came, one would be wretched forever. Real love could hardly develop in that atmosphere. (For further data cf. Wm. Most, Our Father's Plan, chapter 16).
Now somatic resonance, since it a bodily thing, must grow according to the laws of growth of bodies. Bodies of people, animals, plants, all grow in a sort of step graph - long plateaus, with occasional short rises in between. The rises are normally short, unless something happens - such as a severe trial well accepted as the will of God - to loosen up the resonance so a large rise will be possible.
We need to note too that there are some things God positively wills, some He merely permits. We cannot always know for certain which is the case. Further, we may often know His positive will only partly. The goal is to positively will all that He positively wills, and to take an attitude of pliability, being ready to take that which has not yet become clear when it does become clear. (Picture the tremendous suffering of Our Lady at the cross: She knew the Father, and the Son too, positively willed that He die, die then, die so horribly. So she was called on to will that, and to do it going counter to a love beyond our understanding - for Pius IX in 1854 (Ineffabilis Deus) said her holiness (in practice same as love) at the start was so great that "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it!
In praying for our daily bread, we ask for all needed for sustenance. For Hebrew lehem was used broadly for all food. The word commonly translated as daily is Greek epiousios, which is very rare in and out of Scripture, and hence there is room for difference. From Lk 11:3 it seems likely that the translation daily is the best. Some have proposed translating "for tomorrow" but Jesus urges us not to be solicitous for the morrow: Mt 6:34. Some of the Fathers of the Church thought it could refer to the Eucharist. But Jesus had not yet promised the Eucharist at this point.
Next we ask forgiveness for our debts. St. Matthew uses Greek opheilemata. The concept that sin is a debt, which the Holiness of God wants paid is common in the Old and New Testaments, and in intertestamental literature. Please recall our explanation of the rebalance of the objective order in the commentary on Mt 3:4.
We ask to be forgiven only according as we forgive those who have offended us. So one who refuses to forgive when the other apologizes is really asking God not to forgive him. However, God Himself does not forgive without repentance.
What does it mean to forgive? As we saw above on the holiness of God in the Our Father, and in Supplement 2 after 3:7-10, all sin is a debt. It is the Holiness of God that wants the debt paid, that is, wants the objective order rebalanced. He went so far as the terrible death of His Son to rebalance that order. But part of that restoration of the order includes that we also forgive others. To forgive means to be willing to overlook the offense. Often, even though not here, the New Testament uses Greek charizein, which means to make a present of what was owed, of a debt. Here the word aphienai is used, which means to let go.
Forgiveness is basically an attitude of our will, not of our feelings. Our will decides to let go the debt, to not demand that it be paid, even though we would have a right to call for that. But since God does not demand that we repay the immense debt of our sins, we too ought to not demand what we might claim from another.
But we also have feelings, and ideally, they should track with our attitude of will. But feelings are not on as it were an electrical switch, so we can turn hem off or on at will. We work indirectly, by turning attention to something else. Unpleasant feelings toward the offender can coexist with real forgiveness. In difficult cases, we might even interiorly pray for the offender when these feelings arise: for real love, in the will, cannot coexist with hatred. As we said, this is a matter of the attitude of our will - our feelings might continue to be averse even if our will is right. We need however to try not to dwell on the feelings, although intellectually we may continue to disapprove of what is really a moral fault.
Further, forgiveness does not require that we take the offender back into the same degree closeness as before. Yet, with marriage partners, this really needs to be done or the marriage may be spoiled.
There is also the side of the mind: From the offense one may learn about the character of the other, and see that he/she is not capable of being trusted. So one can be careful in handling them in the future. This does not contradict what we said above about the attitude of will and of feelings.
If we really have forgiven, we will not, when there is a new offense by the same person, recite the list of all the past faults of the offender. One reasonable translation of 1 Cor 13:5 is: "Love does not keep a record of faults", to bring them up on later occasions. That exacerbates the difference, makes real reconciliation much more difficult.
Further we can get some good advice from the Roman historian Tacitus, who wrote (Agricola 42): "It is characteristic of human nature to dislike the one you have offended", so it is even best to try not to let the offender know very strongly that we are offended - then he is psychologically inclined to think we are not good, for if we are good, he would have to face that fact that he has done wrong. Easier for him to think we must be not good, and so he is right in doing what he has done.
"Lead us not into temptation... ." Two kinds of temptation could be on mind here. If we think of tempting to sin, of course God does not lead us into that, though He may permit it. There is however a Hebrew pattern of speaking which says God directly does something He only permits. Thus in 1 Samuel 4:3 after a defeat by the Philistines, the Jews asked: "Why did God strike us today before the face of the Philistines?" And in the account of the ten plagues in Egypt, a few times Pharaoh was near to letting them go, but then the text may say, "God hardened his heart" or, less often, "Pharaoh hardened his heart."
The other type of temptation is of the sort God used on Abraham, to bring out Abraham's obedience. This line seems not to refer to it, for that type of temptation is an occasion for merit, cf. James 1:12: "Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he has been proved he will receive the crown of life."
Luke's version of the Our Father, in 11:1-4, is shorter. It is very possible Jesus gave this prayer more than once in different places. We note Luke has the setting in which the disciples ask Him to teach them to pray.
Some ask: Why do we pray at all, for God knows in advance what we will ask for? St. Thomas says (I. 19. 5. c) that God in His love of good order likes to have a title or reason in place for giving something, even though that reason did not move Him. So as to prayer, He could give things without prayer, but He prefers to bind Himself in this way. Does this mean prayer counts for nothing? No, in making His decisions, He can take into account the fact that someone will pray for it in the right way.
At the end, in v 14, He adds that if we forgive, God will forgive us. If not, He will not forgive us. This something to ponder when we are tempted to refuse forgiveness. The thought really was contained in the earlier words in which we ask Him to forgive our debts as (same as "if") we forgive our debtors.
6:16-18: This is a repetition of the theme given earlier in 6;1-6.
6:19-21: We are urged to store up treasure in heaven, where it cannot be lost, rather than on the earth, where thieves may get it.
The sense is easy: Instead of being intent on storing up money etc. be intent on merit in heaven. Now as to merit. Merit is a claim to a reward. Our most basic claim is justification = first sanctifying grace. That makes us children of the Father, who as such have a claim to a place in their Father's house. But after becoming His children without merit, then, the fact that we are such, gives us a great dignity, which gives a basis for a claim to a reward for further things we do. But even then, we must remember that everything good we are and have and do is simply His gift (1 Cor. 4:7). Further, we are saved and made holy only if and to the extent that we are members of Christ and like Him. We do not generate any claim (merit) on our own) but we merely get in on the claim He generated when we are His members and like Him. (Cf. DS 1532 and 1582).
Verse 21 suggests an important train of thought:
"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also)."Please recall the comments made in the treatment of the asceticism of St. John the Baptist in commentary on 3:1-12 (special comment on 3:4).
6:22-23: The sense is this: just as the eye guides the whole body, so an understanding of the above principles of Christ should guide one's spiritual life. If they do, it will be full of light, goodness, and the person will know where he is headed.
6:24: One cannot serve two masters - the imagery comes from slavery as it was practiced then. A slave obviously could not serve two. So we should make up our minds whether we mean to serve God or the things of this world. They lead us in opposite directions. Please recall again the special comments on 3:4 above.
Could a person avoid all mortal sin, and many venial sins, and still go after the things of this world? Yes, he could reach final salvation, but his pursuit would be less successful of the spiritual goods, and his life less happy even in this world.
6:25-35: The message is: avoid all excessive care for the things of this life. It does not mean to make no provision for the future. (If we compare Lk 14:28-33, that passage speaks of giving up all to follow Christ- not of worldly provision).
7:1-2: The injunction, "Judge not", has given rise to much confusion. People say: Don't be judgmental. We should distinguish carefully two things: 1) the objective moral rating of a thing in itself; 2) the interior dispositions of a person who does such a thing. There is no objection at all to stating the first, the objective rating, e.g., murder is wrong. What we should not do is to say with assurance that we know the interior of the one who did it. For in general we cannot know much of the person's interior, and cannot be sure. To say something is certain when we do not have adequate evidence is rash judgment.
This sin is often committed by those who charge Catholics with worshipping the Blessed Virgin. They say with determination, even when we say we do not worship: "O but you do." Again , we turn to the two check points: 1) To have a picture or statue and to burn a candle is not by nature worship. Cf. the eternal flame at the grave of JFK. 2) Can the objectors know our interior dispositions? Of course not. So they should be told, politely but firmly, that they are in violation of this command of Our Lord Himself!
Verse 2 adds another topic: we get back the measure we give. That is, if we are generous with others, we are apt to get generosity in return. If we are tight, we will get that treatment back. This of course do not always happen, but there is a tendency. And it is important to notice: If we are strict with others, then God will be strict with us. We cannot afford that!
That is similar to the lines of the Our Father:
"Forgive us our debts. as we forgive." There is a similar line in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 100a): Rabbi Eleazar said: In the kettle in which you have cooked others, you will be cooked in turn."
7:3-5: We easily become inconsistent, in seeing small faults in another while overlooking larger ones in ourselves. Speaking of a "beam" in the one's own eye is of course Semitic exaggeration. The name hypocrite is one Jesus used specially for the Pharisees.
7:6: Cast not your pearls before swine. Pearls were considered the most precious of all things, cf. Pliny Sr. Natural History 9. 34. 106. The original sense probably meant not to teach indisposed or even hostile people some points of doctrine. The Didache 9. 5. applied this to excluding nonchristians from receiving the Holy Eucharist. St. Cyprian -- very unecumenical of him! -- used this on Demetrianus (Against Demetrianus 1), who, said Cyprian, came not to him not to learn but to ridicule and charge Christians with the responsibility for recent calamities. The verse also perhaps was the basis of the Discipline of the Secret which held back certain doctrines until the candidates were ready for Baptism. In the persecution of Diocletian, many Christians died rather than hand over the Scriptures to the pagans.
7:7-11: On ask and you shall receive. This promises infallible efficacy of prayer, but certain conditions are required. First, we must not pray for things that would be harmful. God knows that if He would grant them, they would hurt us (in passing: notice here the universal belief that He acts this way, which requires that He know the futuribles, i. e, what would happen in certain conditions).
Second the promise really refers to things needed for salvation, for in comparison to salvation, other things are of no account. And it must be for our own salvation -- He is more than willing to grant it to others, but if they resist, He respects their freedom. Suppose there is to be a great sports event. The fans for both teams pray earnestly. Clearly, not both can win. St. Teresa of Avila, in Way of Perfection 1. 5 urged: "Let us not pray for worldly things, my sisters. It causes me to laugh, but yet it makes me sad, when I hear of the things which people come here to ask us to pray for. We are to ask His Majesty for money, and to give them incomes - I wish some of these people would ask God for the grace to enable them to scorn all such things... I do not myself believe God ever hears me when I pray for such things. The world is on fire [refers to Protestant revolt]... . They would raze His Church to the ground - and should we waste time on things which if God granted them, would perhaps bring one soul less to heaven?"
It is also necessary to pray with perseverance - God sometimes wants us to work harder. Cf. Luke 18:1-8 on the wicked judge who gave in to the persevering plea of the widow.
We must pray diligently, trying to avoid distractions. Distractions are inevitable, but if we try to eject them every time we notice them (for we may be in a reverie part of the time and not notice) we may please God more, than if all went easily, even with pleasure. It is not that difficulty is good in itself, but the strong effort made means our wills are more attached to His will.
We need to pray with confidence - if we show we do not trust Him, of course He will not hear our prayer. Our confidence is based on His goodness, and on His promise to listen.
May we pray for a miracle? Yes, if the need is great enough. But we cannot be sure of getting it, for the promise here does not cover extraordinary things. There are misguided souls who whip themselves into an emotional state, and think then they will get even a miracle, thinking of the faith that moves mountains. But that faith is a different kind of faith, a charismatic faith, that is, it is a special gift of God. If He gives it, it is then certain He will follow through. But it depends not on us, but on Him, when and whether He gives the faith that works miracles.
We mentioned above that the promise applies only to things for our own salvation - for if we pray for another, that one may resist. But an extraordinary grace can forestall or even cut through resistance without taking freedom altogether away. But precisely since this kind of grace is extraordinary, comparable to a miracle, it need extraordinary effort, that is, much prayer and penance. One needs as it were, to put an extraordinary weight into the scales to call for an extraordinary grace. For example, St. Augustine for much of his early life was hardened. It was only the heroic work of his Mother that rescued him. Otherwise he would be in hell now.
Why pray at all, since He knows what we need? Answer: 1) In His love of good order - explained by St. Thomas in Summa I. 19. 5. c - He is pleased to have one thing in place to provide a title or reason for giving the second - even though that does not move Him. So that is why He bound Himself to hear prayers, under the proper conditions explained above. 2) His decisions have taken into account in advance the prayers He knew would be made.
7:12: The golden rule. Since this involves love of neighbor at all points, and since that love is inseparably tied to love of God, if one fulfills this, he fulfills all else too - both the law and the prophets, i.e., all Scripture. Cf. St. Paul, Romans 13:9-10. A similar saying was known among the rabbis, cf. Talmud, Shabbat 31a. But it was only in the negative form,"Do not do to others what you would not like". Jesus made it also positive.
7:13-14: If we compare this passage with the parallel in Luke 13:22-27, Luke's version is much fuller, and includes a setting which makes clear the question is about final salvation. In Matthew that seems to be the case, but some have taken it to refer to entering the Church - speaking of the difficulties in involved. Because Luke's version is fuller, we will use it for our discussion. A person asks Jesus point-blank whether many or few are saved. (Here the word saved means reaching final salvation - often it means entering the Church)
It is important to know that that very question was much discussed among the Jews at that time. We gather this clearly from some of their intertestamental writings, that is, works that are not part of Scripture. The Fourth Book of Ezra, according to the opinion of the editor of that section, B. M. Metzger (In James H. Charlesworth, general editor, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Doubleday, 1983) comes from late first century A.D. In 8. 1-3: "The Most High made the world for the sake of the many, but the world to come for the sake of the few." In 8. 14-16: "There are more who perish than those who will be saved." This is the background of the thought in 7:46: "It would have been better if the earth had not produced Adam." The same thought occurs also in 2 Baruch 48. 42 (dated between 1st and 2nd decades of second century, A.D.) and elsewhere. These texts of course do not mean all rabbis held such ideas - there was no central teaching authority in Judaism. But their gloomy remarks applied to our race in general. As to the Jews, nearly all would be saved. So Talmud, Sanhedrin 1. 10 says: "All Israel has a part in the age to come." It does list a few exceptions to that for the very worst kinds of sinners.
It is against this background that we must look at the passages in Luke and probably also Matthew. First, is it inherently likely Jesus would reveal the truth on the matter? Hardly. To say most are saved could lead to laxity. To say most are lost could easily bring despair.
So, what He seems to mean is this: You people think you have it made because Abraham is your Father. But you do not. Do not rest on that, get going and work out your salvation.
Further, there were two Scriptural passages whose seeming sense led so many Fathers to take pessimistic view. One is our present passage about the narrow way, the other is that of the banquet in Mt 22:1-14 and Luke 14:15-24. The version in Matthew ends with "Many are called but few are chosen." Jesus seems to have in mind at last primarily the Jews, and not all persons. - The word "many" almost certainly reflects Hebrew rabbim, which means the all who are many. So it means all Jews were invited to the messianic kingdom - few were entering. So the path is narrow.
The Fathers of the Church generally took that parable to refer to both God's call to be part of the chosen People, and to refer to final salvation. That was unfortunate, for the two are quite different. One can be saved without formally entering the Church, and some who do formally enter will not be saved.
Are we obliged to accept the Patristic interpretation? No, for there is no sign they are passing on a teaching from the beginning. Rather, they are on their own, and telescope two things that greatly need to be kept distinct, as we said.
The old Congregation of the Index in more recent times condemned two writings. One by P. Gravina, which held that by far the greater number are saved, was condemned on May 22, 1772. However, some of his arguments were foolish and he used apocryphal revelations. The general idea of the greater number of persons saved was also held earlier by Venerable Joseph of St. Benedict. As part of the process, 40 theologians were appointed to examine his writings along with other doctors elsewhere. None objected to his thesis. On the other hand, on July 30, 1708 a work under the pen name of Amelincourt - actually it was written by Abbé Olivier Debors-Desdoires - which held that most persons are lost, was condemned.
From these opposite condemnations and the approval of Venerable Joseph we gather that the Church simply does not profess to know whether the saved are few or many. This also confirms our judgment that even though so many Fathers are pessimistic, their views do not derive from a tradition handed down from the beginning, but from a misinterpretation especially of the parable of the banquet.
7:15-20 warns of false prophets, whom we can tell by their fruits. False prophets were already known in the history of Israel, e.g., Zedecias and a whole band of prophets in 1 Kings 22:5-12. Also in Jeremiah 28:1-17. St. Paul in Acts 20:17-31 spoke to the presbyters of Ephesus (called episcopoi in 20:28 in 28-31 foretold false prophets would come even from those to whom he was speaking. Here in Matthew most likely Jesus speaks of the Pharisees, whom elsewhere he called "whitewashed sepulchers" and "blind guides," who put forth their own traditions even to the point of contradicting the law of God (Mk 7:9). In line with this the Mishna, Sanhedrin 10. 4 (11. 3?) said:" the decisions of the scribes are more obligatory than the Torah."
7:21-27: warns that not everyone who calls Jesus Lord is acceptable to Him. On the last day, on which it is implied He will be the eschatological judge, he will face those who claimed to have prophesied in His name, cast out demons, and worked miracles in His name. But then He will tell them: "Depart from me, you workers of iniquity. I never knew you."
To understand this, we need some framework. Grace is any gift from God to us. There are two great categories, sanctifying (which are aimed at the holiness of the recipient) and charismatic (which are not so aimed, but at some benefit for the community. Charismatic graces include ordinary gifts. e. g, being a good parent or teacher, and extraordinary things, which are miraculous. . Working miracles , casting out devils etc. are charismatic of the extraordinary kind. The principles God has chosen to follow in the two categories, sanctifying and charismatic are very different. In the sanctifying category, He gives without limit to all, for in accepting the infinite price of redemption, the Father bound Himself to unlimited forgiveness and grace. But in the extraordinary charismatic category, the principle is: The Spirit gives what He wants, where He wants. And so He may sometimes give miraculous gifts even to those who are not in the state of grace.
The man of wisdom accepts the doctrine of Christ. The torrential rain and storm stand for difficulties the good Christian may meet. But if he has built solidly, these things will not stop him.
In speaking of the picture of the house swept away, Jesus may have thought of the future ruin of the temple and Jerusalem.
7:28-29: At the end of this great discourse, the crowds were in admiration. and especially, He did not teach like the Scribes, who constantly tried to base a view on the statements of previous rabbis. In contrast, Jesus taught with authority, His own.
8:1-4. Cure of a leper: This is the first of the miracles recorded by Mt, part of a group of nine miracles. And it is time to take care of several false claims made about the miracles of Jesus.
First, they say, "there is no such thing as an uninterpreted report." That saying is true in many cases, but not in all, and in this cure the case is different: The structure of this incident is so simple: A leper asks to be healed. Jesus says: I will it, be healed. -- There is simply no room for an interpretation to be slipped into that simple account. Furthermore, noting this fact makes it possible to build a bypass around the worries of such writers as John P. Meier, who in his book A Marginal Jew, (meaning Jesus. How insulting!) thinks Mark wrote 40 years after the event, and Mt. and Lk used Mark, and were still later, with the result: no reliable information is available.
But Meier and others have missed so many things. Mark, Meier says, wrote about 70: We agree it was at least by then. (It is by no means certain that Mk was first, but we pass on that for now). At that time period, Peter and Paul had just died in Rome, perhaps in 67 AD. Now Clement I wrote to Corinth probably in 95, and in his letter says Peter and Paul were of his generation. Naturally. Clement became Pope around 90 (some would make it 88). From there back to about 67 is not so long. Clement, and many others who had heard Peter and Paul would surely remember the main things about Jesus.
Further, Quadratus, the first Apologist, writing about 123 AD, said that in his day some were still alive who had been cured or raised from the dead by Jesus. It need not be 123, but it surely would cover 80-90, the period in which so many think Mt and Lk wrote. Someone cured or raised would remember the basics about Jesus very well.
Still further, think of someone who had been a teenager during the preaching of Jesus. Jesus probably died about 30 AD. Give the teenager another 50 years, and he will be around age 65, and we have reached 80 AD, when many think Mt. and LK wrote. Not many lived to be that old in those days, but some did that and more, cf. the case of the old Simeon, and of Zachariah and Elizabeth.
We conclude: information was available even to 90 or later, and not all of it was subject to the claim, "no uninterpreted report." Those who knew the facts would insist on getting at least the basics right, for their eternity depended on it. Some think the first community (the Apostles are often not mentioned) was just creative. We reply: But imagine St. Ignatius of Antioch - he came from the place where Peter and Paul had both preached, he was eaten by the beasts in Rome c 110. In his letter to Rome, which we have, he asks the Christians of Rome not to use their influence to get him off, in case someone could. He wanted to die for Christ. So we suggest: take a copy of that letter of Ignatius to the zoo, and stand by the lion's den and read it and ask: Does this man just make up things creatively?
Now that we know we have a base to build on, we look for and find just six facts, all of them of the same simple structure we mentioned, and so free of the danger of distortion in interpretation. Really, any danger of distortion would be obviated on the chief things about Jesus anyway, by the concern of the people for their own eternity.
Here they are: 1) There was a man named Jesus; 2) He claimed He had been sent by God; 3) He proved that by miracles, worked in special cases where there was tie between the miracle and the claim, as in the case of the paralytic let down through the roof. Jesus cured the man to prove He had forgiven sins. So He did have that power: God does not provide the power to prove a lie. Jesus many times made such a connection between miracle and claim, e. g, Mk 5:21-43; Mt 8:5-13; Mt 9:27-29;John 10:38. The NJBC on p. 1371 asserts that Jesus consistently refused to use miracles to prove His claims. But the examples they give are all worthless, e.g., He refused to do a miracle to amuse Herod, refused to come down from the cross. Even the NJBC , pp. 1320-21 admits that at the time of Jesus, even His enemies admitted He healed the sick and worked exorcisms- the enemies did not deny, but did say it was magic or the work of satan. -- At this point we will need soon to fill in on the whole question of miracles. We will do it.
Then 4) In the crowds there was an inner group to whom He spoke more -- obviously, the Twelve; 5) He told them to continue His work, His teaching. We would expect that; 6) Once we know what sort of person He is and what power He has, and His commission from the Father, it is not strange if He says such things as: He who hears you, hears me."
Then we see before us a group, or a church if you will (the word is not common in the Gospels). It is commissioned to teach by a messenger from God, and promised protection on its teaching. Then intellectually we not only may, but should believe its teaching. It can tell us which books are inspired - there is no other way. It can tell us the messenger is divine. It can tell us that there is a Pope, and what He can do - so we need not fight our way through Mt 16. And in general it can solve all essential questions, so we do not need to bother with the criterion of double dissimilarity etc. to show which episodes really happened.
This form of apologetics builds, as we said, a bypass around the worries of critics like Meier. And we need only so few things, of such simple structure to do it.
To return now to the question of miracles. There are some problems: 1) The Jews did not have any concept of the laws of nature, and so could not think of a violation or exception. Hence miracles. We reply: But they did know that some things were beyond human power, e.g., John 9:32: "Never since the beginning of the world has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind." The reason is this: Some cases of blindness come from hysteria, or emotion, and can be cured the same way. But that would not help a man with physically defective eyes from birth. There are some things just too far out for our imagination. A modern parallel: In 1908 Madame Biré was blind from atrophy of the papilla, withering of the optic nerve. At Lourdes when the Blessed Sacrament passed, she said she could see. The Doctors examined her, found she could see, found the optic nerve was still withered. No amount of suggestion will make a withered nerve function.
2) Many will say, with E. J. Ciuba ( Who Do You Say that I am? Alba House, 1993, p. 89): (... one cannot prove [italics in original] that an occurrence is an act of God, only faith can recognize it as such." This reminds us of R. Bultmann who said (in Kerygma and Myth, ed. H. W. Bartsch, Harper & Row, 1961, I. pp. 197 & 199) to say that things, such as cures, science cannot explain are miracles would be superstition, but we may say things science can explain are miracles! These things are so foolish they hardly need an answer. But we will reply even so. For example, around 700 A.D. in the church of St. Legonziano in Lanciano, Italy, a priest saying Mass began to doubt the presence of Jesus in the host and chalice. Then it happened: Most of the Host changed to flesh (the center kept the appearance of bread) and the wine in the chalice became 5 clots of blood. This has been checked with every means known to science in 1970 and again in 1980. Result: this is a piece of a human heart, skillfully cut, with type AB blood in it (as also the clots). There is no preservative, yet it has stayed for centuries. Do we need faith to see that this is beyond any human means? Or the case of Madame Biré mentioned above, again, checked fully by science.
3) It is objected that there were many miracle workers in that day, e.g., Simon the Magician in Acts of Apostles, and Apollonius of Tyana, in the life by Philostratus. We reply: This charge is incredibly sloppy. Simon in Acts admits he cannot match the wonders done by the Apostles, wants to buy that power. As to the life of Apollonius of Tyana, one can say such things only if he has not read it. E.g., Apollonius finds a satyr who is annoying women: he quiets the satyr with wine (6:27). He meets a woman who has a son possessed by a demon, which is really the ghost of a man who fell in battle. That man was much attached to his wife, so when she married 3 days after his death he became disgusted with women, and became homosexual over a 16 year old boy. Apollonius gives the woman a letter with threats to the ghost (3:38). Then Apollonius met a woman who had suffered in labor seven times. He told her husband what when she was about to bring forth the next child: he should go to her room carrying a live rabbit, walk around the wife once, then release the rabbit and drive it out of the room - otherwise the womb would be expelled along with the child (3:39). Can anyone believe such rubbish is comparable to the miracles of Christ? (There are more silly things in that biography also).
L. J. McGinley, in, "Hellenic Analogies and the Typical Healing Narrative" in Theological Studies 4 (1943) 385-419 gives a detailed contrast of the Greek healing stories and the Gospels. We summarize it here: In the Hellenic stories there are few exorcisms, in the Gospel there are many. In the Greek stories one finds curious and sometimes indecent details; never such in the Gospels. The Greek wonder-workers are usually skilled in medicine or magic, are amorous or vengeful, in contrast to the Gospels. The Greek healers are strongly motivated by the desire for money and by wanting to prove their power - the opposite of the Gospels. In the pagan stories miracles usually happen while the patient is asleep, especially in a temple (incubation); never are such things found in the Gospels. In the Hellenic stories there is much gibberish and the use of strange languages - not in the Gospels. The few instances where a strange language is used in the Gospels are cases of the use of Aramaic, which was not strange in the original setting. There is no spiritual significance in the Greek instances, while in the Gospels the miracles are signs of spiritual realities. Often a tie is established in the Gospels between the miracle and a claim by Jesus; never so in the Greek tales.
In this same incident of the cure of the leper, we notice that Jesus told the man cured not to tell anyone. In 1901 Wilhelm Wrede, in a book, The Messianic Secret (tr. J. C. C. Greig, James Clarke Co. London, 3d ed. , 1971) pointed out that there are many cases, especially in Mark, where Jesus enjoins silence. But, says Wrede, at least many of these are faked by the Church, which did not know He ever said He was Messiah, was embarrassed, and so invented scenes where Messiahship would come up, but in which He called for silence. We are grateful that Wrede has given us his strongest case: the raising from the dead of the daughter of Jairus (ibid, pp. 50-51). Wrede said that from the historical viewpoint this instance was senseless. But it was Wrede who was senseless. Jesus went into the house with only the parents, plus Peter, James and John, the crowd was outside. He brought the girl back, and then asked for silence, to keep the crowds from going wild and proclaiming Him King Messiah, in a false concept. But He did not need silence for long - just enough for Him to slip out quietly and get on His way to the next town.
The leper had addressed Jesus as Lord. This need not imply they knew His divinity. They probably spoke Aramaic, where the word would be mar, which could be used for many persons other than the divinity, even for the owner of some property etc. , and in polite speech it might be used instead of "you". (Cf. M. Sokoloff, A Dictionary of Palestinian Aramaic , s. v. mar) The situation was similar with Hebrew adon, or even Latin domine.
8:5-13: Cure of a centurion's servant: Here is another case where it is obvious, even without any faith at all, that a superhuman power has wrought the cure. It is done at a distance, by a mere word.
Then Jesus comments that He has not found such faith as the centurion showed in the People of God. Instead, the "heirs of the Kingdom", i. e, the those of the People of God who refused to believe, will be thrown outside. That means, they will cease to be members of the People of God. A frightening thought. It returns again in Romans 11:17-19, in the comparison of the two olive trees. Many branches, faithless Jews, fell out of the tame olive, that is, the People of God. Gentiles, like the centurion, were given their places.
Jesus marveled. This is an emotional reaction, and need not imply any new knowledge - just as we can marvel at a beautiful sunset, though we have seen many before. So His knowledge from the fact that His human soul saw the vision of God from conception gave Him the information on what the Centurion would do and say, yet the emotional reaction was possible. In addition, besides the beatific knowledge, He had experimental knowledge, e.g., one day for the first time His senses reported that roses are red. He could marvel at that.
8:14-17: Cure of Peter's Mother-in-law: Here Jesus merely touched her and she recovered so instantly as to be able to wait on Him and His party. Here we cannot be sure if this was a miracle, or the use of suggestion. Jesus knew of its power and there is no reason He could not use it (Similarly when He sent disciples to prepare for the Pasch, He knew in advance what they would meet: could have been extra sensory perception). Yet the Gospels would write it up according to appearances, much as we speak of the sun as rising, when we know it does not at all do that. He, as God had created the natural laws operative in suggestion. No reason He should not use them on occasion.
Similarly in the cure of many people with various infirmities mentioned right after this cure, He could have used suggestion in some cases, though some of the cases clearly needed miraculous power. He had whatever was needed in each case. But He was not sent to give medical diagnoses. When it is said that He expelled demons, could some of the cases be epilepsy? Some yes, others not. In cases where the demons spoke and recognized Him, there really was possession.
The closing line of this passage quotes Isaiah 53:4. In the original setting the prophet referred not to physical infirmities, but to moral infirmity: taking away sin. However the New Testament writers, including Paul, often quote OT lines without regard for the original setting - Paul was trained that way in studying in the school of Gamaliel.
The Gospel says that was to fulfill what the prophet said. That translation sounds like that was the purpose for which Jesus acted. But the Greek permits us also to translate "and so [as a result]... ." that, is, Jesus cured them and so [as a result] the prophecy was fulfilled". Greek had changed much by New Testament times, as compared to 5th century Athenian Greek, so that in the NT times there were several grammatical structures that could stand for either purpose or result (True of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). Further, the Jewish way of speaking tended to telescope the two ideas. They would say God positively caused things which He really only permitted, cf. 1 Samuel 4:3 (this sense is unclear or absent in some English versions). We need to keep this grammatical situation in mind in many places in the NT. Sometimes the English versions are almost foolish, as in John 19:24 where the soldiers cast lots for the garments of Jesus, the versions often say: "This was to fulfill what the Scripture says." Now the soldiers hardly had such a purpose in mind, to fulfill Scripture. Rather, the translation should read: "And so [as a result] the Scripture was fulfilled."
8:18-22: Two Offers to follow Him: The first offer comes from a Scribe. Jesus told him the hardships: He, the Son of Man, has nowhere to lay his head. Even animals have that.
Two comments: 1) Was it that Jesus did not wish to choose this man in general? or 2) that He wanted to accept the man only if ready for hardships? 3) About the term, "Son of man".
As to the first, Jesus later told the Apostles: "You did not choose me, but I chose you."(Jn. 15:16). There are two economies, internal and external. The internal comprises all that leads to heaven itself. In that, God offers grace without limit too all, for He has bound Himself by the infinite price of redemption in the covenant. What one gets is limited by his own receptivity. The external comprises all else, including the questions: Will this one have full membership in the Church, or be a priest or bishop, will he be a physician or a lawyer or a shoemaker? In this external category God gives what He wills where He wills. Perhaps Jesus simply had not chosen this scribe, for what ever reasons He may have had.
As to the second, it is obvious Jesus would not want one not willing and able to take the hardships involved. Jesus would know if this scribe was or was not. We do not know about this person.
The term Son of Man is mysterious. There have been attempts made to see if the Aramaic expression bar ('e) nasha meant "I" or "someone in my situation'. But there is no hard proof for such a proposal. Others have tried to say the Son of Man was not Jesus, but someone else. That is impossible. There are three phases: 1) Earthly Son of Man: Our present text is an example showing such expressions surely referred to Himself. Cf. also Mk 2:28; Mt 16:13; Lk 9:58. 2) Suffering Son of Man In Mk 8:31 He taught that the Son of Man had to suffer many things, be rejected, and killed and rise on the third day. Again this clearly refers to Himself. 3) Eschatological Son of Man: After telling the parable of the weeds in the good crop in Mt 13:16-41 He explained that the one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. He speaks similarly in Lk 17:24-26:"Just as lighting flashing out of the things under the sky gleams to the sky, so will be the son of Man on His day. But first it is necessary that He suffer many things and be rejected by this generation." So we see here that the suffering Son of Man is the same as the eschatological Son of Man. We know that the suffering Son is Jesus. So this equation makes clear He is also the one who is to come at the end.
A better lead is found in Mt 24:38: "Then there will appear the sign of the Son of Man in the sky... and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." This clearly ties to the Son of Man in Daniel 7:13-14:"Behold, with the clouds of heaven there came on like a son of Man. He came to the Ancient of Days... . He was given dominion and glory and kingdom... . His dominion is everlasting." Some have strangely said this figure is the People of God, the Hebrews. But the Hebrews never thought of a headless kingdom. And they themselves never did receive an everlasting dominion. So Mt 24:30 shows that Jesus is the Son of Man in Daniel. Now this would not have been obvious at once to the crowds. It would take time to hear more sayings, and to meditate on them. This fits with the fact that He wanted a gradual self-revelation. That was really necessary. Had He at the very start of His public life announced: "I and the Father are one" or, "Before Abraham was, I am', they would have stoned Him on the spot.
His gradual self-revelation was needed for this reason. Another reason for it was the desire to bring about a separation of the well-disposed and the ill-disposed. If we follow Mark's chronology, at first He taught rather clearly. But then the scribes charged He was casting out devils by the devil. Then He turned to parables. All three Synoptics at this point quote, in varying forms, Isaiah 6:9-10. Mark (4:11-12) says that after this point He said to the Apostles: "To you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God, but to those outside all things are in parables... That seeing they may see, and not perceive, and hearing they may hear, and not understand." Clearly , He did not want to blind the people and so keep them from understanding. Then He would not have wept over Jerusalem for not knowing the time of its visitation (Mt 23:37). (In Hebrew there is a pattern often used of saying God positively does what He only permits: Cf. 1 Sam 4:3 (In literal Hebrew) and Exodus 7:3).
Rather, we may see something remarkable in this passage. We know that in God there are no real distinctions. He is identified with each of His attributes, e.g., 1 John 4:8 says: "God IS love." Then we are led to conclude that God is also identified with justice - and also with mercy. How can this be, for the two seem opposite to us?
We can begin to understand if we think of two spirals. Picture a man who has never been drunk before, but tonight he gets very drunk. Next morning he will have guilt feelings- recall this is the first time for him. That comes from the clash of his moral beliefs with his actions. In due time something will give: He will bring his actions into line with his beliefs, or his beliefs will be distorted to match his actions. So a confirmed drunk cannot really understand there anything wrong with getting drunk. But this can go farther, and can take in other moral truths, and, in time, even doctrinal truths. We can see this in some attached to gross immorality: they not only refuse to believe the Church saying it is immoral, instead they say: "We are the Church". In other words, the man is going out on a spiral, which gets larger as it goes out and feeds on itself. He is becoming blind - this is justice, for he has earned that. But it is also mercy, for the more one sees at the time of acting, the more guilty he can be. This man's ability to see is being reduced down and down. So in one and the same action there is both justice and mercy.
Something similar happens if one lives strenuously according to what faith says, that the things of this world are worth little compared to the world to come. Then he gains light, which, secondarily, is justice, is earned. Yet no creature by its own power can establish a claim on God. So more basically it is mercy.
Another disciple wanted to have a delay in following Jesus, until he could bury his father. This is a puzzling text. Jesus surely did not want to discourage care for parents, prescribed by the Fourth commandment. It is likely that the man really wanted to stay with his father some indefinitely long period until the father's death. In that case, Jesus said that the needs of the apostolate were greater.
The expression, "Let the dead bury their dead" sounds like a proverb. The rabbis called those who were sinners dead, and the just, the living. That however, would not fit well here.
Finally, Jesus may be as it were focusing on just one aspect of the matter: the fact that the apostolate is more important than other things. Later he was to say (Mt 10:37):"He who loves Father or Mother more than me is not worthy of me." He could leave out of the field of view the requirements of the Fourth commandment, without denying them. As we said, it may have been that the father was not dead or dying, but just old, and the man wanted an indefinite delay in following Jesus. Just as in 19:12 Jesus did not really advocate self-castration, neither would He here want someone to omit what he really owed his father.
8:23:Calming a storm on the lake: Not strangely, those who are rationalists or of a similar mentality are slow to believe Jesus really did calm a storm. Many today admit Jesus did work miracle s, and point out that in His own day, even His enemies did not deny that He exorcised devils and cured the sick, though they at times did attribute His works to satan or to magic (cf. NJBC 1320-21- on alleged similarities to the cures of Jesus and pagan miracles, cf. L. J. McGinley ,"Hellenic Analogies and the typical Healing Narrative" in Theological Studies 4, 1942. 385-419). B ut some still balk at "nature miracles". However, one we know that Jesus is divine, there is no reason at all to refuse to take this episode at face value.
Jesus rebukes them for their lack of faith. we need to notice that the word faith may be used in two very different categories. In the salvific category - the things that lead to heaven- it means belief in what God teaches, confidence in His promises, and obedience to His commands (cf. Romans 1:5). This is the full sense of faith, the sense in which the word is usually employed in St. Paul: cf. the case of Abraham ordered to sacrifice Isaac. He believed God, had confidence in His promises, and obeyed, even when he could by no means see how it was possible to believe God's promise and also to kill Isaac. But in the external or charismatic category the word is different. It is like the saying about having faith like a grain of mustard seed and being able to move mountains. In other words, this is a reference to the kind of faith that is basically a gift of God. Some have felt if they would work themselves into a lather in trying to have confidence, they should get a miracle. but that is not the meaning of this sort of faith. if God gives faith that a miracle will come, of course He will produce it, unless the person gives up his confidence.
The Lake was subject to violent storms. It was more than 600 feet below sea level, and rapidly rising hot air would draw violent winds from the SE tablelands, whose cold air would churn up the water. A boat such as they probably had could hold a dozen or more men plus a good catch of fish.
The word "Lord" here leave us uncertain what the disciples meant. Cf. comments above on 8:8. The word could mean anything from divinity to almost as little as English Mr.
8:28-34: Cure of the demoniacs: There are three possible sites: Gadara, Gerasa, and Gergesa. Gerasa is about 30 miles SE from the lake. Gadara is about 5 miles SE. Gergasa may be same as the present site of Kersa, where hills do plunge towards the lake -- as in the drowning of the swine in this incident.
Best MS of Matthew favor Gadara, best MS for Mk and LK favor Gerasa - but it is not on the shore of the lake. However Gadara seems to have controlled much land, including some along the lake with steep slopes. We note the Synoptics all speak of the "country", not the city. Hence the Gerasa and Gadara could both include such a spot.
Josephus (Life 42 (9) says Gadara had territory and villages on the border of the lake. This probably included the village of Gerasa. Coins of Gadara sometimes show a ship. So we think the right reading had been Gadara. But scribes later may not have known the topography, and hence show confusion. A later scribe seeing a name he thought wrong, might "correct" it to something he thought right. So we have a principle of "the more difficult reading." It means this: a scribe "correcting" something would make it something easier in his eyes, would not make a change from something he thought easy to something more difficult. So the more difficult reading is apt to the true one in case of differences in manuscripts.
We note the demons in the man call Jesus "Son of God". That was probably meant in a strong sense, perhaps divinity, since they seem to refer to him as the one who is to come at the end as the Judge. -- which onlookers may or may not have recognized at the time.
Why did Jesus send the demons into swine? It may be that they were owned by a Jew, - even though the population of the region was largely gentile - who was not permitted to keep swine. Of course, He, as absolute Lord, had the right to dispose of any property as He would see fit. This at least would serve to help show the reality of the cure. Here the case must be possession, not a case of epilepsy -- people then did not know the difference. It was not part of the mission of Jesus to give such information: He would merely handle whatever was at hand.
The reaction of the people who asked Jesus to leave was sad: they were more interested in property than in their own souls. Such an attitude often enough shows today when people vote for a candidate they know will favor immorality such as abortion, in the (vain) hope of getting improvement in the economy and in their own finances.
9:1-8:Cure of a paralytic: Some commentators try to harmonize the chronology of the three Synoptics at this point. But that is not needed. We know that in general they did not follow chronological order. St. Matthew seems to want to add this event here to make a group showing the authority of Jesus.
The saying that Jesus saw "their" faith, seems to mean the paralytic and his bearers all had faith in Jesus.
As soon as He saw the paralytic, Jesus said his sins were forgiven. This need not imply that his illness was due to the man's sins, though that is not impossible of course.
Jesus read the thoughts of the scribes - was this by miraculous power, or by the use of ESP? We do not know. God often uses natural means - for He has created them - when they are available. The scribes considered this a claim of divine power. Really, no prophet in the Old Testament, not even Moses, had the authority to forgive sins. The notion of delegated power did not seem to occur to them.
Jesus continued and asked which was easier, to say He forgave sins, or to make the man walk. The sense is obvious: if He said He forgave sins, no one could check that - but anyone could see if He caused the man to walk. So He intended to do the second to prove He had done the first.
This is a very significant passage, for in it Jesus establishes a connection between the miracle and His claim to forgive sins. Since ultimately the power to work a miracle must come from God, God would not grant the power if it were being used to prove a lie. So it was proved true then, that Jesus did have the power to forgive sins. Since in the minds of the scribes that was a claim to divinity, that was, objectively, a proof of His divinity. But we are not pressing that claim at the moment. We saw above (on 8:1-4) that by the use of 6 apologetic points we can prove the teaching commission of the Church. This tie of miracle and claim was something important there. Jesus often made such a connection, as we explained then.
It is good to note that sometimes there may a case in which the lines are delicately drawn, e.g., the magicians at the court of Pharao also changed their rods into serpents, after Moses and Aaron had done that. But in such a situation, God also provides a way to tell the difference. There, the serpent from Moses & Aaron devoured the others. Before the end of the world, the Antichrist is apt to work wonders by the power of satan, and to claim they prove He is Christ. But again, we have a means of discernment, the fact that Jesus has warned us in advance of those false signs.
The words "that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins" are of uncertain origin. It may be that Jesus said them, but equally, they could come from the Evangelist as an explanation. So we do not depend on them to prove that He proved His claim:the entire situation makes it clear.
Call of Matthew: 9:9-13: Jesus came by Matthew's tax office, called Matthew, seemingly in a permanent call, and Matthew at once left his business and became a regular follower of Jesus. There is no mention of a previous contact of Matthew with Jesus . There may have been of course, but it is quite possible that by interior grace, Jesus led Matthew to make the decision without previous preparation. Grace is that powerful when Jesus so wills.
The tax office may have been for the collection of customs, on the border between the territories of Philip and Herod Antipas. Perhaps Matthew was one who made a contract with Rome, and for a sum which he bid, gained the right to collect taxes. Much of this sort of thing was done in Rome's lands.
Publicans such as Matthew were scorned by others since they were taking money for a foreign power, perhaps excessively, and because he was in contact with Gentiles, which made him levitically unclean.
The fact that Matthew soon held a dinner for other publicans may imply he was a more important sort of official. He invited sinners, but that could mean merely those who were levitically unclean.
Mark and Luke call him Levi, and Mark adds he was the son of Alpheus. However this would not be the same as the father of James, another Apostle, for in the lists of Apostles, Matthew is never grouped with either James, though otherwise brothers are mentioned side by side in the lists. It was common for Jews then to have two names, e.g., Saul and Paul. It is just possible Levi may have been a Levite, which would give him special acquaintance with Jewish tradition on which Matthew places special stress. However this is only a conjecture.
Verse 10 in the Greek has kai egeneto - and it happened, a typically Hebrew form of expression. Some versions change it to while etc.
The Pharisees saw he was eating with publicans and other sinners. To eat with others was a sign of friendship. The fact that Pharisees objected does not mean the Pharisees were also guests. The dining rooms then were commonly open to others; or the Pharisees may have spoken to the disciples of Jesus after the dinner. Jesus properly replied that He was sent to save sinners, and so like a Doctor, must go to those who are sick. Really the publicans were probably less sinful than the Pharisees, for the latter seemed to be guilty of spiritual pride, the worst kind of vice (cf the story of the Pharisee and the publican in the temple: Lk. 18:10-14. Cf. also Mt 21:31-32 where Jesus says that publicans and harlots believed John the Baptist, and so enter the kingdom ahead of many opponents of Jesus).
The words," go and learn" was a common rabbinic expression.
Jesus then quotes Hosea 6:6, often badly translated as "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." In the Hebrew of Hosea, the word rendered by "mercy" is hesed, which means obedience to the covenant bond. Hosea was complaining of externalism in sacrifice, which omitted the essential, the interior disposition of obedience to the covenant, which gave value to the offering. In context here the sense is: You Pharisees are good at externalism, but your heart is far from God (cf. Isaiah 29:13). The poor translations of hesed come from the fact that Greek and Latin had no word for it, so it was often translated by Greek eleos, "mercy".
9:14-17: On fasting: In reply to the question why the disciples of John fast often, but the disciples of Jesus do not fast, Jesus said that the wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them. Later they will fast. Jesus Himself, of course, is the bridegroom. This clearly alludes to the concept of both OT and NT that Israel was the bride of God: Hos 1-3; Ezek 16; Jer 3:1-14; Is 54:1-3. St. Paul was to speak of the marriage relationship as an image of the relationship of Christ to the Church: Eph 5:22-33; Col 3:18-19. Apoc 19:7-9 speaks of the Church as the bride. 2 Cor 11:2 has the same image.
Hebrew bene huppah, according to the Mishna, Sukka 53a were all the guests. but there were also the "friends of the nuptial tent" (where the couple spent their first night together) special friends, who had the duty to help keep up the joy of the occasion. On fasting in general, please see Supplement 2, after 3:7-10.
The second reply of Jesus refers to two images: sewing a piece of unshrunk cloth onto old cloth - when the new would shrink, it would tear at the older cloth, - and the image of new wine in old wineskins, which could not easily contain the fermentation. - the sense of both is that the new spirit of Christ could not fit with the old spirit of the Pharisees.
9:18-26: Raising of the daughter of Jairus, and cure of a woman with a flow of blood: Mark's account here is far longer, with more details. This proves nothing of who wrote first. Nor would it have to prove Mark was an eyewitness.
A ruler of the synagogue - from Mark we learn his name was Jairus - either came personally, or through his agents to Jesus, made a reverence, and asked Him to come. In Matthew the first notice in v. 18 is that she has just died - but later in the same verse Jesus is asked to come and lay his hand on her and she will live. In Mark He is asked to come because she is close to death. However, Matthew may easily shorten things here, and we must recall that Scripture often uses a concentric ring mode of narrative - first, part of the story is told - then it goes back to the start and retells with other details. This may happen either two or three times. So here we seem to have a touch of that pattern.
While Jesus is on the way, a woman with a flow of blood for 12 years comes and wanted to touch either the hem of His garment or a tassel. Jewish men commonly worse these tassels to remind them to obey God's law (Numbers 15:37-41; Deut 22:12). So Jesus may well have had them. She had spent much for cures, got no results. But she did touch it, and was healed. Jesus felt the power go out from Him, as Mark puts it, and asked who touched Him. He knew of course, thanks to the divine vision His human soul had. This was a way of making a point, much as teachers ask questions to bring things out. It does not at all indicate ignorance in Jesus, as some dull commentators have said.
Then He comes near the house where there are hired flute players and hired mourners. The report is clear that the girl has just died. He says she is asleep, and the crowd laughs at Him. He goes in with only the parents plus Peter, James and John. He says Talitha koum - which is not a magic formula as some foolish commentators have claimed. It was just Aramaic, the most common language of the land, meaning: Young girl, arise. She did get up and walked around at once. Jesus told them to give her something to eat.
But He also told them to keep quiet about it. At this point many foolish commentators, following W. Wrede (The Messianic Secret, 1901) say this is the strongest case to show that the messianic secret was faked by the Church. The Church was embarrassed later that He had not called self Messiah. So they faked incidents in which He would tell people to keep quiet. Here, Wrede says; Anyone could see the girl was alive.
The answer is perfectly simple; He had in the house only the parents with 3 Apostles. He wanted it quiet, so the crowds would not grab Him and proclaim Him king Messiah, with a false concept. But He needed secrecy only long enough to slip out of the house and get on His way to the next town. So it was quite plausible. The report of this later spread throughout the whole district. Of course.
9:27-31: cure of two blind men: A question is raised here since Mt 20:29-34 has another cure of a blind man, and Mk 10:46-52 and Lk 18:35-43 have another with only one blind man. The similarity in wording is not so close as to force us to think we have the same incident in Mt 9 as in Mk and Lk. The nature of the case would in itself bring on similar wording. But more importantly, blindness was then and still is common in the Mideast. So it would not be at all strange if this incident in Mt 9 is an entirely separate cure from the others.
They call Jesus "Son of David." That is surely a title of the Messiah. Or was it merely an attempt at flattery from the blind men? We recall there was intense messianic expectation at the time, and Isaiah 35:5-6 had foretold that the eyes of the blind would be opened.
Jesus warned them not to tell anyone. He wanted to avoid a false notion of the Messiah that was common then. The verb used for His warning here, embrimaomai, comes only five times (Mk 1:43; 14:5; John 11:33, 38). in the NT, and is always in connection with deep emotion. But the cured men did not heed His request.
9:32-34: exorcism of a man who was dumb: This is not a mere repetition, a doublet, of 12:22-24 - Jesus did expel demons from many, as we gather from Mt 4:24. The man in Mt 12 was both blind and mute, but the one here is only mute. As for the charge of being in league with the prince of demons - this charge seems to have been made many times by the bitter enemies of Jesus. Further we notice here the imperfect tense elegon , which means, "they were saying", which can imply repetition. Probably this ferment was commonly in the background.
9:25-28: prayer for workers for the harvest: Jesus went into many villages and healed every kind of disease. But seeing the crowds, He felt pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. The Pharisees were blind leaders of the blind. Jesus was capable of human emotion, and often shows that trait.
Why did not God without a prayer send enough laborers? We think again of St. Thomas I. 19. 5. c - God in His love of good order loves to have one thing in place to serve as the title or reason for giving the next thing, even though that does not move Him. So Jesus asks for prayers. Really, God does offer many graces of vocation, but the intended recipients may reject it, if not consciously, at least by way of a subconscious block, i.e., they could perceive subconsciously that if they accepted this, it would bring consequences that would be unacceptable to them.
10:1-4: The choice of the Twelve: The list of the Twelve is found in three other places in the NT: Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:13-16; and Acts 1:13. Jesus seems to have chosen precisely twelve to recall the twelve tribes of Israel.
Peter is always first, Judas is always last. Peter is explicitly called "first" by Matthew, who also calls himself a publican - the other Gospels do not use that word for him. Peter is named first among the special three who had the privilege of being with Jesus on the Mount of the Transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemani, and on other occasions. When Jesus wanted to preach to the crowds who pressed on Him, it was into Peter's boat that He went to sit (Lk 5:3). A bit after that He said to Peter (Lk 5:4): "Launch out into the deep." It was to Peter that He said (Lk 5:10): "Fear not, from now on you will catch men". It was Peter who was told to walk on the waters of the lake (Mt 14:28-30). Peter alone was told to catch a fish and find in its mouth a coin to pay the tribute for Jesus and himself (Mt. 17-24-27). Peter asked on behalf of all the Apostles (Mt 19:27) : "Behold, we have left all things, and followed you. What then shall we have?" The angel at the tomb (Mk 16:7) said: "Go tell His disciples and Peter". In all, Peter is named 118 times in the Gospels, but John is named only 38 times. If we put Gospels and Acts together, Peter is named 171 times, John is mentioned by name only 46 times.
Andrew was Peter's brother. They had followed John the Baptist (Jn. 1:37-42). Andrew led Peter to Jesus. Both were natives of Bethsaida (Jn 1:44).
James and John, sons of Zebedee are next. Mk 1:20 shows Zebedee had also hired men to help with his fishing, so he must have been rather successful. The wife of Zebedee was able to help support the mission of Jesus (Mt 27:55-56). They were called "son of thunder" (Mk 3:17) probably for an impetuous disposition.
He is almost certainly the one called "the beloved disciple" in John's Gospel.
A tradition which is likely to be correct says John went to Ephesus and finished his life there.
There were two apostles named James. One was a son of Zebedee, as mentioned already. The other was the son of Alphaeus, but this is probably not the same Alphaeus as the father of Matthew (Mk 2:14). The names, "Greater and Lesser" refer only to age, not to height of sanctity. From Acts 12:2 we gather that James was beheaded by Herod, in 42 AD.
Philip was a native of Bethsaida, one of the first who followed Christ. He invited Nathanael (Jn 1:43-48) to come to see Jesus. Most likely Nathanael is the same as Bartholomew - Jews often had two names. In the Synoptic lists, Philip and Bartholomew are always named together. If Nathanael is not the same as Bartholomew, he would not be among the Twelve.
Simon the Zealot has this addition to distinguish him from Peter, formerly Simon. Zealots were nationalists, who strongly upheld Jewish traditions, and later became a chief cause of the Jewish war with Rome. Probably the Zealots were not so influential in the time of Jesus. Matthew and Mark call him Simon the Cananean, Luke and Acts call him the Zealot.
We do not know the source of the name Iscariot, with the name Judas. Most likely it means a man of the village of Kerioth.
10:5-16: Instructions for a trial mission: It is important to note that these were temporary instructions. First He told them not to go among the Gentiles - probably referring to Tyre and Sidon or the Decapolis, and not to visit Samaritan towns. They should concentrate in Galilee.
Jews despised Samaritans - they had a separate cult (cf. Jn 4:20) and were a mixed race, made up of the poorest Jews left behind at the time of the great exile, and of gentiles moved into the territory to mingle with the Jews left behind.
Why the limit? Lk 9:52-56 may indicate the Apostles were not well-equipped temperamentally yet to preach to the Samaritans, who in Lk 9:52-56 refused to let Jesus go through on His way to Jerusalem. Even after the command of Mt 28:19 to preach to all nations, the Christians were shockingly slow to realize they should admit gentiles. Also, if Jesus had begun to preach to all at the start, the Jews might have been turned off (John 4:9;Lk 9:51-56.
The Jews understood the command to love neighbor to refer only to Jews, not to outsiders (Lv 19:18). So Jesus Himself restricted His ministry primarily (15:24) but not exclusively (8:1-13; 15:21-39) to Jews.
He told them to preach that the kingdom was near. This could mean the foundation of the Church was near - or it could mean the time was near for them to submit themselves to God's rule by real repentance, change of heart. (Ancient words and phrases commonly had a broad spectrum of meaning. Cf. above Supplement 1 on "kingdom, after 3:7-10). The signs they were to work were the prophesied signs of the coming of the Messiah (cf. Mt. 11:5).
He wanted them to be careful to take lodging with a man of good repute, so there would be no reason to leave. As for peace coming back to them: peace is almost personified. Or we recall the concept of Isaiah 55:1 of the word of God that will not return to Him empty. Jesus speaks according to the usual way of speaking of the day.
He wanted them to keep away from even an appearance of financial gain for themselves: they received without charge, should give without charge.
As for the instruction to shake the dust from their feet if a city would not accept them - the Jews on returning to their own land did shake off the dust, so as not to contaminate the holy land. This implied that those who rejected Jesus were like pagans. He said Sodom and Gomorrah would be treated less badly at the judgment - seems to mean that the Jews, for rejecting
Christ, after so many clear signs, were more guilty than the people of Sodom, who had not seen such things. Cf. the comments below on 13:10-17. The day of judgment could be either the final judgment or the ruin of Jerusalem or else the coming ruin of Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida: cf. Mt 11:20-24.
Verse 16 could go well with the instructions for the trial mission, or for the following passage on persecution. The advice does apply well to both. Because Jesus says He sends them like sheep in the midst of wolves, it seems to refer primarily to later persecutions than to this trial mission. They were to be wise as serpents, and simple as doves. In some ancient Near Eastern cultures, serpents were considered shrewd - different from the virtue of prudence. Doves were not an established symbol at the time, yet were clearly easily deceived and senseless. The result: The disciples should be shrewd in avoiding needless conflicts, but also be innocent, not so cautious and suspicious as to be elusive. St. Paul's principle comes to mind here. Of course, Paul never gave in an inch on a matter of principle, of morality. But in all else, he would make what concession were needed: "I became as a Jew to the Jews, a Greek to the Greeks, and all things to all men." (1 Cor 9:19-23).
10:17-25: Warning of persecution to come: Before the persecutors they should be like serpents and like doves: they should be careful to avoid the machinations of the enemies of Christ, who would lose no opening to oppose Christianity. This would apply to the Jews before long, and also to pagans. They would be beaten in the synagogues - that sort of punishment did take place right in the synagogues. St. Paul seems to have met it: 2 Cor 11:24. The Jews inflicted only 39 blows, to avoid reaching beyond 40 (Dt. 25:3).
In the pagan courts, the disciples are to give testimony to the pagans about Christ. Then, such uneducated men might well fear to speak before the legally clever opponents. Jesus tells them that the Holy Spirit would take over and give them what to say. He did this for Stephen (Acts 6:10). Of course this promise is no excuse for lazy priests who do not want to prepare a homily, but trust in what some have called the "dabitur vobis" - "it will be given you."
Christ then says that one family member will turn in another. That has happened many times in persecutions. He says they will be hated by all. We think of the fact that today it is not "politically correct" to attack homosexuals, Jews and blacks -but shameful attacks on Catholics are quite in order in some places.
Christ told them to flee in persecution from one city to another. Some overzealous Christians later turned themselves in to Roman authorities, wanting to be martyrs. St. Cyprian, when asked by the Roman judge for the names of priests, said that to give the names would be contrary to Christian rules - and also contrary to the Roman rule of the time against informers). Cf Proconsular Acts of St. Cyprian - mostly the actual Roman court record, with some few Christian additions). Origen when his father became a martyr wanted to go to the Roman court, but his mother hid his clothes (J. Quasten, Patrology II. p. 37). The reason is this: martyrdom is a great grace, but for a pagan to inflict death, even though acting in good faith, was objectively gravely morally wrong. So it was wrong to provoke that.
Christ said: "Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved." The NAB version here is very unfortunate: "Whoever holds out till the end will escape death."
Christ says also they will not have gone through all the cities of Israel before the Son of Man - himself - comes. This refers to the persecutions before 70 A.D. The coming of the Son of Man is in the same sense as in Mt. 16:28. It is the concept of Hebrew paqad, the visitation of the Church, to help or to correct it. Or it can refer to His visitation of Jerusalem in 70 A D. its destruction. Thus Jesus wept that Jerusalem had not known the time of its visitation: Lk 19:44; cf. Mt 23:37. Form Criticism has shown that often enough a passage may be put together out of units once separate. This seems to be the case in a similar instance in Mk 13:30: "This generation will not pass until all these things are fulfilled." The line is taken from the same group of sayings as those we find in Matthew 24. In Matthew the disciples clearly have asked about two things, the signs for the fall of Jerusalem, and the signs for the return of Christ at the end. Jesus seems to have answered in a multiple fulfillment pattern (Cf. Wm. Most, Free From All Error, chapter 5).
Of course, it would be wrong to say Jesus was mistaken about the time of the end when He would come back. The Church clearly teaches that His human soul from the first instant of conception saw the vision of God, in which all these things were clear. Cf. Wm. G. Most, The Consciousness of Christ (Christendom College Press, 1980).
Then, quite suitably, He adds: Since they have persecuted me, they will persecute you. It is good for a disciple to be like his master. St. Paul in First Thessalonians 3:3 even told the early Christians that suffering, thlipsis, is the normal lot of Christians. This is really part of the syn Christo theme: according to Paul, we are saved and made holy if and to the extent that we are members of Christ, and like Him. In His life, two phases: first, a hard life, suffering and death; second, eternal glory. The more we are like Him in phase one, the more so in phase 2. - So Paul speaks of us as suffering with Christ, buried with Christ, rising with Christ, even sitting in the heavens with Christ. These ideas are found scattered in his Epistles, especially in Romans 6 and Colossians 3.
This theme is the answer to the sad mistake of Luther which said that the merits of Christ are infinite - very true - so therefore we cannot add, and need not do anything. The problem is that to be capable of receiving, we must be like Him. Cf. Romans 8:17: "We are heirs of God, coheirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with Him, so that we may also be glorified with Him."
10:26-27: Fearless preaching: The reason the disciples should have no fear of opponents is that all that is now covered will become publicly known. A similar saying is found in Luke 12:2-3: "There is nothing that is covered that shall not be revealed; nor hidden that shall not be known." In context, as we see, Mt refers to the public preaching of the disciples later, of what Jesus said in private. But in Lk it seems to say the hypocrisy of the Pharisees will be exposed.
We noted earlier that the Evangelists are not trying for chronological order. (So commentaries that labor much to find the sequence are laboring in vain). Thus Mt seems to have grouped many sayings in the Sermon on the Mount.
Is it possible that the changing of sequence should result in a change of sense? There are two kinds of material: simple straightforward things - with these, no change; or, enigmatic saying somewhat like proverbs - here the sense can change, with no falsification. Actually we know from the Targum on Qoholeth 12:13 that this saying was a proverb. And of course, the sense of proverbs is flexible. Further, Jesus preached in so many different places, and as a result repeated much. It would not be strange that He might adapt the sense, via context, in different places.
10:28-31: Jesus urges them not to be afraid of those who can kill only the body, but cannot harm the soul. "Kill the soul" of course does not deny the immortality of the soul, which Jesus makes clear in so many places, e.g., in the picture of the Last Judgment. But clearly He speaks of body and soul as two parts of a human, and indicates that the soul survives.
Leftist critics sometimes strain marvelously here. There are two questions to keep separate: 1) Did the Jews know of survival after death? 2) Did they know of retribution, reward and punishment after death? -- Many think they did not know of survival. They claim the Hebrew concept of a man is unitary, i.e., only one part, the body, plus the breath of life. The breath goes into the air - the body decays. So, nothing left. Some OT texts do sound like this (Cf. Wm. Most, Free From All Error pp. 39-47) - but we need to remember that the nature of the afterlife before the death of Christ was very different from what it is now: even the just, with all bills paid, could not reach the vision of God then. They had to wait in what is often called the Limbo of the Patriarchs. There they had no knowledge of things on earth - unless God chose to reveal things. It was a drab existence, no work, no liturgical worship of God etc.
Yet we can be sure they did know of survival, from the several places (Lev 19:31; 20, 6: Dt 8:11) where the OT forbids necromancy, divination by the dead. They were quite convinced of survival. How did they put this together with the unitary concept? In divine matters, at times we need to hold on to two conclusions that seem to clash (even after rechecking our work). They did that. They knew both things, without knowing how to reconcile them. At the time of the persecution of Antiochus IV of Syria, c 170, they finally reached the two-part concept of man, body and soul There were two things God used to bring this knowledge to them- the horrible deaths of the Macchabean martyrs. Previously they tried to say all would be well before death, e.g. in Psalm 73. That was true often, but not always. But these deaths forced an agonizing reappraisal. At about the same time they made contact with Greek thought, which clearly knew of two parts. Yes, the Greek concept was not identical to ours, but it was enough to help a great deal. The result was that many of the Jews at this time came to see retribution in the future life. We find this clearly in the book of Wisdom 3:1-6. The Pharisees accepted this, the Sadducees did not. So the latter tried to prove their point with an imaginary case of a woman who had seven husbands - whose wife would she be in the next life? Jesus rebuked them, and used the burning bush text: "I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. He is not the God of the dead but of the living."- But, did the early Jews perceive that argument? Hard to say. It was valid in itself.
Oddly, many leftist critics today are still unwilling to see the idea of survival between death and resurrection without a "resurrection body", (taken on at once after death) even in St. Paul (esp. in Phil 1 and 2 Cor 5). Yet Paul was a Pharisee as he loudly proclaimed.
Jesus here clearly speaks of the two parts of man.
He said even the hairs of your head are numbered. If one knows Aristotelian philosophy, potency and act, this is necessarily true, for nothing can change in this world without God, who must provide the actualization for every change.
You are worth more than many sparrows - the poor often ate sparrows.
10:34-39: To deny Christ before others, especially in a pagan court, means Christ will deny that one before His Father in heaven. So the result - not the purpose - of His coming is not to bring peace, but discord. We notice that Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic each have structures that can mean either purpose or result. Which translation to use depends on the context. Strangely, many versions often make it seem like purpose, e.g., here, the purpose of Christ's coming is to bring discord. That of course was not His purpose - it was a result.
It will happen at times that one member of a family will be against another, for the sake of Christ. But the love of Christ must be the dominant thing: If anyone loves father or mother more than he loves Christ, he is not worthy of Christ. So we must take up our cross and follow Him. That means, accept the providentially sent mortifications, but also take on some things for His sake (cf. the fuller treatment in Supplement 2, after 3:10). This may, in persecution, go so far that one must lose his earthly life, to find his life in heaven. So that those who find their lives, i.e., save their lives in persecution by denying Christ, will lose their eternal life, while those who in persecution lose this temporal life, will find eternal life. Again, the NAB version is very unfortunate: "He who seeks only himself brings himself to ruin, he who brings himself to nought... discovers who he is." Lk 14:26 has the correct understanding, but expressed in a very Semitic way: "He who comes to me and does not hate Father and Mother... even his own soul, cannot be my disciple." Hebrew and Aramaic lack the degrees of comparison, such as good better best etc. So they use different ways of speaking. We would say: Love one more, the other less.
10:40-42: A prophet's reward: He who welcomes a disciple or a prophet as such, gets the reward of a prophet, for his good intention. Even giving so little as a cup of cold water because the recipient is a disciple, gets a disciple's reward.
11:1-15: Reply to John the Baptist: John in prison sends disciples to Jesus to ask: "Are you the one who is to come?" Jesus replied: Tell John what you see: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the Gospel is preached to the poor. These were the works that Isaiah 35:5 ff (cf. 61. 1-2. and Lk 7:21-23) had foretold as the marks of the Messiah.
John is in prison at the fortress of Macherus, on the east shore of the Dead Sea, as we learn from Josephus (Antiquities 18. 5. 2. 116-19). He had told Herod it was wrong for him to take his brother's wife. Herod respected John, often listened to him (Mt 14:1-12) but when the daughter of his "wife" had her daughter do a dance before Herod and his guests at his birthday party, he offered her anything, even half his kingdom. At the advice of her mother, she asked for the head of John on a dish, and got it.
Why did John send disciples? A few suggest John had begun to doubt about Jesus, others says John was impatient at the slow start Jesus was making. But the only plausible explanation is that John wanted his disciples to see and hear for themselves. He had pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1:29). Later still, disciples of John had told John Jesus was baptizing so many. John testified that he, John, was not the Messiah (John 3:25-30) and added, "He must increase, I must decrease". So John knew Jesus, and had no envy at all. He was using this means of telling his disciples about Jesus.
After the disciples had left, Jesus began to praise John: John was no thin reed shaken by the wind - he had stood up to Herod, and was to lose his head for doing so.
Jesus said John was the one of whom Malachi 3:1 wrote: "Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me." In the original setting, God was speaking, and said He would send His messenger, seemingly Elijah, before Him. Jesus adapted the wording, "Behold I send my messenger before you, who will prepare the way before you." This was the usual form of the verse at the time of Jesus, by combination with the line in Exodus 23:20. Jesus here in applying the line to Himself and John implies He is God Himself.
Jesus goes on to say that no one had arisen "among human beings" who was greater than John - yet, he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." This verse has been much misunderstood, through lack of noting the context. John is the greatest among humans, that is among those who came before Christianity. John was greatest by his character , by his asceticism, by his dignity as a prophet, really the ultimate prophet who not only foretold the coming of the Messiah, but pointed Him out, and prepared the first disciples. Yet all, even the least in dignity of those who belong to the kingdom of heaven, are greater in dignity.
To understand this, we need to notice that we can speak of two categories, the external and the internal. The external asks what position a person will have: a shoemaker, a lawyer, a doctor etc. , even a member of the people of God. The internal category speaks of all the things that are part of the means of reaching final salvation, sanctifying grace and growth in it. So if we look at the exterior, John has a great dignity, the highest of the prophets in the Old Covenant. But the New Covenant is higher, and so even the least in the New Covenant is higher in that respect than those of the Old, for the least of the New is a member of Christ - whom John came to announce.
But we can consider also the interior of John, his sanctifying grace and the dignity, in a different sense, that it gives. Here he is indeed very high on the scale of interior grace. This grace, given in anticipation of Christ, made him by anticipation a member of the Church, and so of Christ. Really, the Church has always been in the world, cf. the remarkable text of St. Augustine (Retractations 1. 13. 3): "This very thing which is now called the Christian religion existed among the ancients, nor was it lacking from the beginning of the human race, until Christ Himself came in the flesh, when the true religion, that already existed, began to be called Christian." (More texts in Wm. Most, Our Father's Plan, pp. 241-69).
From the time of John until the time at which Jesus spoke, the kingdom, that is, the Church biazetai. The translation is quite uncertain because the Greek biazetai can be either middle voice or passive voice. As middle it would mean that the Church inflicts violence. As passive, it means the Church endures violence. If we take it as middle, it will mean that the Church leads its members to do violence to themselves, in the ardor and enthusiasm that brings them to go far in self-denial for spiritual reasons. If we take it as passive - which is much more likely - it means that the Church suffers violence, that is persecution from those who try to keep people from entering into the Church.
All the prophets and the law - "law and prophets" includes all the old Scriptures - prophesied until John. For John was the last of the prophets of the old regime, and at the same time, the border, the one who announced Christ who inaugurated the new regime.
Jesus added: "If you want to understand it thus, John is that Elijah who is to come." We already spoke of the original meaning of Malachi 3:1, in which God Himself said He Himself would come -at the end of time - and before Him would come Elijah. Jesus here says John has a role like that of Elijah, foretelling the coming of the Messiah - with the implication that the Messiah is God Himself, since that was the original meaning of Malachi 3:1. So we seem to have here a case of multiple fulfillment of prophecy: a divine prophecy, as divine, could have more than one fulfillment. On this concept and for examples, Cf. Wm. Most, Free From All Error, chapter 5.
11:16-19: Perversity of hearers: Jesus uses a comparison of children, who in a flighty manner might change their patterns. The children tried everything - they played the flute (which could be used for gaiety as well as for funerals) and the people did not respond by dancing. They wailed, and others did not join in. - Similarly John tried the ascetic approach, and was not much accepted; Jesus tried the more pleasant approach, and was also rejected.
To say He had a devil need not be taken literally: such an expression was often used of anyone who acted strangely. But when the Pharisees, below, say Jesus cast out devils by the devil- that is no figure of speech.
Wisdom is shown to be right by her deeds - or, in another reading "by her children". The general sense is that the Divine Wisdom is shown to be right, in spite of the perversity of the Jewish responses.
11:20-24: Woe to faithless cities: Jesus reproaches Chorasin, Bethsaida, and especially Capernaum. He had made for some time His headquarters at Capernaum. All three cities had seen so many of His miracles, but did not change their hearts. Capernaum was proud, and exalted itself to heaven - the language is taken from Isaiah 14:13, originally against the pride of the King of Babylon. Chorazin was the nearest town north of Capernaum, about 2. 5 miles. Bethsaida was on the north side of the Sea of Galilee, the original residence of Andrew, Peter and Philip. A large synagogue dating to the 3rd or 4th century AD was excavated at Tell Hum, which was perhaps built on the ruins of an older synagogue where Jesus healed a demoniac. One pillar has an Aramaic inscription: "Alphaeus, son of Zebedee, son of John, made this column; on him be blessing." And a 5th century church has also been excavated nearby and a house church probably built c. 350 AD to preserve Peter's original home which may have served later as a church. Fishhooks have been found in the ruins of Capernaum.
Jesus performed many miracles at these cities, with little fruit. He says if He had done the same at the pagan cities in the north, Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented. This of course does not mean that He did not want the people of Tyre and Sidon to be saved. As long as He gave them ample means, which He did, the fact that He omitted miracles - extraordinary things - proves nothing against His desire to help them. Actually, He preached little in the pagan territories, probably because the Jews would have been turned off if He had done so.
He said it will be easier for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. These latter cities had had such great advantages and still remained mostly hard. There is Scriptural reason to think that some outside the people of God are less resistant to God's grace than those within: cf. Ezek 3:5-7; Book of Jonah (who found pagans more receptive); Lk 10:30-37; and 17:11-19. The Mekilta de Rabbi Ishmael (tr. Jacob Lauterbach, Jewish Publication Society of American, Philadelphia I, p. 7: imagines Jonah as saying: "Since the Gentiles are more inclined to repent, I might be causing Israel to be condemned [by going to Nineveh]."
11:25-27:His knowledge of the Father: He says that only He knows the Father, and only the Father knows Him. This would not be the case with an ordinary Father and Son. This seems to mean His divinity. As a result of this, many commentators have spoken of this line (and parallel in Lk 10:22) as a sort of thunderbolt out of the Johannine sky. The very strong and clear saying are characteristic of John, not the of the Synoptics. Thus in John 10:30 He said: "I and the Father are one", and in Jn 8:58: "Before Abraham was, I AM." In view of His gradual self-revelation, He must have said such things only at the end of His public life. But here in Mt 11:25-27 we find a similar claim.
Only the one to whom He chooses to reveal the Father can know Him. This is an assertion of His authority, not a claim that He reveals only to some, not to others. For 1 Tim 2:4 says God wills all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. And Gal 2:20 says that He "loved me, and gave Himself for me." That applies to all, as we gather from Vatican II, Church in Modern World §22: "Each one of us can say with the Apostle, the Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me." He came to redeem all. So He does reveal to all who do not reject what He reveals.
He thanks the Father for revealing wisdom to the lowly, not to the proud. Humility is a necessary precondition for understanding divine truth and receiving grace.
11:28-30: A light burden: The yoke of the old law was heavy indeed. Peter in Acts 15:10 said neither we nor our ancestors could bear it. But His yoke is light. In John 10:20 He said He came so they might have life and have it more abundantly.
He also said they should learn from Him, for He is meek and humble. He could have named any and all virtues: He chose to mention humility, which is not the greatest virtue, but so essential that without it all other virtues are only counterfeit.
12. 1-14: Picking grain and a cure on the Sabbath: The disciples plucked grain walking through a field, and ate some of it. The Pharisees objected: a violation of the law. The exaggeration of the sabbath was enormous then. The Mishna, Hagigah 1:8 said that the rules for the Sabbath were like mountains hanging by a hair. Scripture had little on the sabbath, but there were many rules because the Pharisees added so much from the oral law. There were 613 precepts in the written law, but many more in the oral law. J. Neusner in Torah (Fortress, 1985, p. 75) says that the oral part was greater and "the ones which are handed on orally are the more precious." The Babylonian Talmud, in Sanhedrin 11. 3 said: "It is a worse thing to go against the words of the Scribes than the words of the [written] law." The Babylonian Talmud (Beza 1. 1) reported that at the time of Christ the rival schools of Shammai and Hillel debated if it was allowed to eat an egg laid by a hen on a feast day after the Sabbath. The hen had done illegal work. Hillel thought it wrong; Shammai permitted it. Again, the Talmud (Sabbath 6. 65-66) says Rabbi Meir allowed a cripple with a wooden leg to walk on the sabbath, but Rabbi Jose prohibited it. They were not permitted to walk more than about 1100 meters (Mishnah, Sotah, 5:3).
Jesus replied by two things: 1) David showed by his example that there are exceptions. When his men needed it, they ate the shew breads from the temple, which only the priests were permitted to eat; and the priests in serving the temple were permitted to do work, in preparing the needed things, to change the consecrated bread. 2) He is Lord of the Sabbath, and claimed to be greater than the Temple. These two claims logically implied a claim to divinity. But they were only implicit, and so may not have been picked up by the Jews at the time. We note that the precise thing the Pharisees objected to so strongly was His alleged violation of the sabbath. (If we think they did understand even then, we probably had better suppose this episode was late in His public life, for He revealed Himself only very gradually. Of course, the Gospels do not pretend to have chronological order).
As to the quote from Hosea 6:6 please cf. on Mt. 9:13.
Then in a synagogue He cured a man with a withered hand, by merely telling him to stretch out his hand. Before this he also gave a reason: If a sheep falls into a pit on the sabbath, they would take it out.
The Pharisees then conspired how to destroy Him.
Many today say such disputes with the Pharisees happened only at a later time, when the first Christians quarreled with the Pharisees. But that would be to imply falsification in the Gospel. It is possible to speak of retrojection, e.g., to present a saying Of Jesus which was really given after Easter, as given before it. As long as Jesus really said it, this would not be falsification. But to suppose He did not at all say such things against the Pharisees would be to charge falsification . Further, we know their wretched attitudes over the sabbath from examples given above and more like them. Further, an article by L. H. Schiffman, "New Light on the Pharisees - Insights from the Dead Sea Scrolls" in Bible Review, June 1992, pp. 30-33, 54 says that the new finds shows that "the reports of the religious laws... attributed to the Pharisees in the later talmudic texts are basically accurate."
12:15-21: Cures and Isaiah: After He cured many, Matthew observes that Jesus thus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 42:1-4. This is the first of the four Servant Songs (others are: 49:1-7; 50:4-11 and 52:13 - 53:12). The Targum marks this one and the fourth as messianic. The NT also marks the 4th ad messianic in Mt 8:17;Lk 22:37 and Acts 8:32-33 and Rom 15:21.
There is much discussion about the identity of the Servant in all the songs. In the first and fourth it is clearly the Messiah. It is not necessary that the identity be the same in all four songs. The second is a special problem since at first it seems to be an individual, then seems to be Israel: probably this is the result of a Hebrew pattern in which an individual stands for and is almost identified with a group.
The words "He will proclaim justice to the Gentiles" are specially interesting. Hebrew sedaqah ("justice") commonly means God's concern for the objective moral order. Within the covenant, He will either help or punish, according to the response of the people to the covenant. The gentiles did not then come under the covenant, but the more basic notion of God's concern for all that is morally right is still at the bottom here.
12:22-32: Cure of a demoniac; the sin against the Holy Spirit: On seeing this cure the crowds ask: Is this the Son of David, i.e., the Messiah. The Pharisees with their incredible blind hardness say Jesus did it by the prince of the demons.
Jesus replies that their explanation cannot be true, for then satan would work against satan. Further: how do other Jews cast out demons? Do they think it is all by the power of satan?
Then comes a much discussed passage in which Jesus says that a blasphemy, speaking against the Son of Man, Himself, can be forgiven. But a sin against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. The reason is hardness (on hardening cf. Supplement 2 after 3:7-10), in the case of sins against the Holy Spirit, here, attributing His exorcisms to the power of satan. A sin, that is, speaking against, the Son of Man, Jesus, does not necessarily reveal hardening: He was practicing deliberately gradual self-revelation. He also wanted to avoid forcing minds (cf. comment below on 13:10-17). But a word against the Holy Spirit, as described here, entails such hardness that a person cannot be forgiven. This does not mean that God would positively refuse - no, He is ready to forgive anything. But the person may be closed, unable to take in what God offers.
He says it will not be forgiven in this world or in the next. This does not imply a purgatory. The expression was well-known among the Rabbis, and merely meany: "never" (Cf. Strack- Billerbeck, I. 636 ff).
12:33-37: Good & bad trees; good and bad hearts: Jesus even calls the Pharisees a "brood of vipers". Very harsh language. But we must not say He was unchristian, as people sometimes today say when someone speaks strongly. The principle is that if we stick to the truth, and have proper reason for saying it, it is good.
The warning that we must give an account of every idle word has caused much discussion. The shift to second person singular in v. 37 suggests it may be a proverb. St. Augustine took this at face value, and when he came to write his Retractations near the end of his life, said he knew he must give an account: he had written many words - so he began a review of all he had written, except his letters and sermons.
12:38-43: An evil generation asks for a sign: Jesus calls them wicked since they had already seen so many signs, and rejected them all. It does not mean that He would refuse to work a miracle to support His claims. He often did that, e.g., Mt 5:21-43; Mt 8:5-13 and 9:27-29; Jn 10:30. The NJBC foolishly says, on p. l. 1371 that Jesus consistently refused to work a miracle to prove His claims. But they give a list of Gospel texts which are foolish, e.g., this one where the bad faith of the Pharisees kept Him from working a sign; or the request of Herod for a miracle, for entertainment, or the challenge of enemies to come down from the cross.
So He says they will get only the sign of Jonah, who was in the fish 3 days and three nights. So too the Son of Man will be in the tomb for that time. We need to notice the Semitic way of speaking, in which any part of a day or night would count at as whole day.
He adds that at the judgment the people of Nineveh will condemn the faithless Jews; the men of Nineveh repented when Jonah preached. Jesus is greater than Jonah but they will not listen. (cf. comments at 11:20-24). And the Queen of Sheba came far to hear Solomon-Jesus is greater.
Do these words of Jesus assure us of the historicity of Jonah? Some commentators say yes, and appeal to the words of Benedict XV in the Encyclical Spiritus Paraclitus (EB 463):" For whether he was teaching or disputing, He brought forth from every part of Scripture views and examples [sententias... et exempla] and brought them forth as something to be necessarily believed. In this category without distinction he appeals to Jonah and the Ninivites, to the Queen of Sheba and Solomon, to Elijah and Elisha, t o David, to Noah, to Lot and the Sodomites and even the wife of Lot." We note the words sententias et exampla. They do not need to mean that Benedict XV considered everything simply historical here. Jesus could use views and examples without having to endorse the historicity. St. Paul did that in 1 Cor 10:4 when he spoke of the rock that followed the Jews in the desert. Now the OT does not describe this - though at times Moses did draw water from a rock that was already there. Paul is actually using a Rabbinic legend, without affirming it is historical. Similarly we could quote a line for Alice in Wonderland to illustrate something, without having to affirm that that fictional story is historical. Again, the Epistle of Jude at verse 9 speaks of satan disputing with Michael the Archangel over the body of Moses - again, he uses a legend, without having to affirm it. -- If we had to take every item mentioned by Benedict XV as strictly historical we should have to say that the wife of Lot was literally turned into a pillar of salt (Gen 19:26). We doubt if anyone would insist on that or suppose Benedict XV wanted us to do so. Further, approved commentators today take the book of Jonah as we have just done: we are not sure of the literary genre. It could be straight history - the many objections can be answered - or it could be a sort of extended parable to bring out two things:1)God must love everyone, for He loves even the Assyrians; 2)The People of God are more resistant to grace than outsiders. (on this cf. the references given above in the comments on 11:20-24.
12:43-45: Re-possession; Here Jesus tells a sort of parable. We can tell it is such by the last line: "So too it will be with this wicked generation, ." It means that He came to break the power of satan over the Jews - they reject Him - and fall back worse than before. To say as one author did that this shows Jesus harbored a superstition is shocking desertion of Scriptural method. We must first determine the genre before reading any passage. Here, as we said, it is a sort of parable. So we cannot say Jesus thought demons literally lived in desert places. Similarly when St. Paul in Eph 1:2 speaks of the "prince of the air," he is not so foolish as to say devils live in the upper air. In Col and Eph Paul is working against some opponents, either Gnostics, or Jewish Apocalyptic speculators. Naturally, he uses their language to refute them. Again we must avoid a foolish mistake here.
12:46-50: Who is my Mother?: His Mother and "brothers" come to a crowd where He is speaking. This is announced to Him. He decided to teach dramatically as He often did, so He says that whoever does the will of His Father is brother and sister and mother to Him.
Vatican II, LG §58 explains this excellently: "In the course of His preaching, she received His words, in which He praised the Kingdom more than bonds of flesh and blood, and [praised] those who heard and kept the word of God, as she was faithfully doing." In other words, Jesus was contrasting two things: the dignity of being physically the Mother of God, and the dignity of obedience, hearing and keeping the word of God. As the Council said, she was faithfully doing this second too. She was the greatest in each category. In §56 it had said that she, "consenting to the divine word [at the annunciation] became the Mother of Jesus, and embracing His salvific will, held back by no sin, totally devoted herself to the person and work of her Son, under Him and with Him, by grace of Almighty God, serving the mystery of the redemption. As the same §56 said: "'by obeying, she became a cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race'", and later on, in LG §61, "in suffering with Him as He died on the cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior "- that is, in the redemption - "in an altogether singular way, by obedience, faith, hope and burning love."
What a contrast between these words of Vatican II and those of Wilfrid Harrington (Mark, Glazier, Wilmington, 1979, p. 47) who says that Mark 3:20-35 indicates that she did not believe in Him! and even, speaking of Mk 3:31-35 - which are parallel to the present passage in Matthew - he said the passage, "may be seen to distinguish those who stood outside the sphere of salvation, and those who are within it." So the Mother of God was "outside the sphere of salvation" according to Harrington! Part of his trouble was that he followed the fact that there is a difference in the scope and presentation of each Evangelist. True. But we must also heed Vatican II, DV § 12, which tells us that we must ,"read Scripture by the same Spirit by which it was written," and so must, "diligently look to the content and unity of all of Scripture, taking into account the living Tradition of the whole Church and the analogy of faith." So, since the Holy Spirit is the chief author of all of Scripture, we must not suppose one part can contradict another, that Mark contradicted Luke (who pictured her as the first believer).
Behind the outrageous notion of Harrington is this. Mark's version of Matthew's present passage contains three units:1) The hoi par autou ("those about Him"), who seem to have been some relatives - unclear - think He is beside Himself, preaching without taking time to eat. So they go out to get Him, seemingly by force. 2) Scribes charge Him with casting out the devil by the devil. 3) Lines 30-35 are the same matter as Matt 12:46-50. Harrington assumes, without proof, that the three items are in chronological sequence. But Form Criticism has shown us that things that seem to go together may have been originally separate units. So we are not at all sure the persons in segment 1 are the same as those in segment 3. Even if we were to assume they were, it would not follow that His Mother went with the group of segment 1, or if she did, that she did not believe in Him. Very ordinary mothers often stand up for a son who is clearly in the wrong. So she could have gone along, if indeed she went, to try to hold them down. For certain, we must not suppose Mark contradicts Luke, as we said above.
As to the "brothers" of Jesus, please see comment on 1:23 above. Even Luther and Calvin believed in her perpetual virginity.
13:1-9: Parable of the sower: Paths run through and around unfenced fields. The earth on these paths is too hard to hold the seed, so it is quickly eaten by birds. The rocky places are those in which the limestone bedrock is close to the surface. The unrelenting summer heat demands plants that have deep roots to go down for water: the bedrock prevents this. The size of the yield, even 100 fold, is not too large for the reality of that time, which would sometimes come about.
13:10-17: Why in parables? Here Matthew groups 8 parables, four of which are special to him, not found in the other Gospels. Jesus was especially intent on describing the characteristics of the kingdom of God.
Some commentators have proposed unfortunate theories, saying that a parable must have only one point -- study of many of them shows there is sometimes only one point, at others, more than one, almost to the point of allegory. Some say parables are to challenge people to a decision - this probably stems from the regrettable error of Bultmann, who claimed we cannot know much about Jesus other than His mere existence, and so he wanted to make the Gospel mean the same as the foolish existentialism of Heidegger. He reinterpreted everything, e.g., original sin is "unauthentic being" which one has unless and until he makes a decision to "go through with it", to go through with life. Then he has authentic being.
Still too often commentators overlook the citation from Isaiah, which is essential. We admit it is quite possible that Jesus used different types of parables at times, especially that near the end of His public life He might use one (Mt 21:33-45) that was quite clear even to those with bad dispositions, such as the parable of the wicked tenants, which the Pharisees, according to the Gospel, understood as referring to them.
All Synoptics (Lk 8:10; Mk 4:11) here cite Isaiah 6:99-10 in varied forms. What was the purpose of the parables? It was not to blind them - else why would He later (Mt 23:37) weep over Jerusalem for not understanding?
Really the purpose was different. There are two kinds of evidence that lead anyone to believe something: compulsive, and non-compulsive. Compulsive evidence, such as 2 x 2 = 4, forces the mind, does not leave it free. But non-compulsive comes in a large spectrum. At the high end are things where evidence is so strong no one doubts, e.g., Washington crossed the Delaware. At the low end are things where feelings may easily enter, e.g., if someone says that the original Mayor Daley in Chicago was a good honest politician, one of his own party will agree; one of the opponents who suffered from Daley, will say: "That dirty crook!."
Jesus could have risen from the dead with all Jerusalem including his enemies gathered. That would bowl them over, force acceptance. But He wants faith to be free. So the evidence for faith is a delicate balance: it is objectively adequate to call for and justify acceptance. But it is not so strong that an ill-disposed person could not doubt. So there are two spirals set up with the parables. About the spirals, please see the comments on 8:18-22 above.
There is a similar pattern found widely in the Gospels. He used a gradual pattern of self-revelation. This was necessary: had He said at once : I and the Father are One -- or: Before Abraham was, I am- they would have stoned Him on the spot. So He revealed Himself gradually. And in so doing at many times He left the evidence such that a well-disposed person would at least begin to see, the wicked would be further blinded. A good example is John 7:50-52. First people in general, then Pharisees, say He cannot be the Messiah - should be of line of David and from Bethlehem. But He was born in Galilee. Yet others, seeing His signs, did believe even so - holding on in the dark. So easily He could have said: "But I was born in Bethlehem" - but He did not. Or In John 10: 30 He had said: "'I and the Father are one. '... The Jews then took up stones, and He gave an ambiguous reply in 34-35, citing Ps 81:6 "I have said, you are gods..." Cf. John 10:17-21:H e said He could give up His life and take it up again. There was dissension among the Jews. Some said He has a devil. Others said: These are not the words of one who has a devil!." Cf. the many OT prophecies about all peoples coming to Jerusalem - Jews thought it meant to become proselytes - God meant gentiles would be accepted as gentiles: cf. Rom 11 on wild olive tree.
13:18-35: Parables of the weeds, the mustard seed, the yeast: The parable of the sower told of the different dispositions of persons within the Church, according to which the yield of the good seed, the preaching, would range form nothing to 100 fold. The parable of the weeds tells us of evils within the Church. To try to uproot now might risk uprooting the good at the same time. For the weeds at first are hard to distinguish from the good seed. The roots of the two crops would be intermingled. Even today in the Near East enemies might deliberately sow weeds among the good crop. The weeds are probably bearded darnel, lolium temulentum, which is hard to tell apart from wheat when the plants are young.
Does the fact that the workers are told not to uproot the weeds suggest that the Church should not correct false doctrine and false teachers? By no means. In 13:41 we find that at the end the angels will gather up, "all scandals, and all those who do evil." Evildoers are one things; false teachers are another. The Church has always condemned false doctrine. Titus 3:10 even tells us that we should avoid a man of false doctrine after one or two admonitions. For such a one has shown himself hopeless. But, turning to evil doers, we read in 2 Thes 3: 6 & 14 that Paul tells them not to associate closely with any Christian who does not live as he should. And in 1 Cor 5:11 Paul says that if anyone called a Christian is immoral, they should not even eat with him. But Paul said they are not to judge those outside the Church. Otherwise they would have to get out of the world, for evildoers are everywhere (5:10).
This applies to the Church. What of the state, should it permit everything? The Decree on Religious Liberty of Vatican II says that people may be allowed to hold and practice even false doctrine, alone or in a group, but there are limits. Thus §7 says that the civil state must exercise "due custody for public morality", which is more than just keeping the peace externally. And in §7 the churches must avoid "improper persuasion aimed at the less intelligent or the poor." Pius XII, in Ci riesce (Dec. 6, 1953, AAS 45. 798-99) asks: "in determined circumstances... does He [God] give no mandate to a man, impose no duty, in fact, give no right to impede and to repress that which is erroneous or false? A look at reality gives the answer: Yes [God does not give such a duty or even a right]... . Christ in the parable of the weeds gave the following admonition: Let the weeds grow in the field of the world along with the weeds, for the sake of the harvest."
The parable of the mustard seed tells of the small beginnings of the Church growing up to be great later on. The mustard seed is indeed small, even if not the strictly smallest of all seeds - Semitic exaggeration at work here. The parable of the yeast means the same as that of the mustard seed. We might add that Christians should try to inject the principles of Christ into their work-places in the world, which John Paul II, in Redemptoris missio compared to St. Paul on the Areopagus, especially in §37. Some move in the opposite direction, and reverse St. Paul's word (Rom 12:2):"Be not conformed to this world." They promote abortion and immorality even more than non-Christians.
We note that the thorns are the cares and lure of wealth. Wealth is not evil in itself. But it has two sides: as a creature of God, it is good, yet it can lure one to evil, by way of attachment.
13:36-43:Jesus explains the parables to the Apostles: Many today suppose these explanations were not from Jesus at all, but that the Church later added them. This would be a sort of retrojection, i.e., picturing something as said before the resurrection, when it really came after that. If it really came from the mouth of Jesus, there would be no falsification. But what the leftist critics propose is pure falsification.
The field is the world-- in that the members of the kingdom are taken from various places in the world. At the end, the angels will 'collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all who do evil." Now if kingdom meant merely reign, one could not say one takes evildoers out of the reign of Christ-- they have not been subject to His power anyway. But they will be taken out of His kingdom, which is the Church.
In v. 41 Christ is called the master of the angels. In the OT, that is an attribute of God Himself.
13:44-52:Parables of the hidden treasure, the fine pearl, the net, the well-trained scribe:
In Roman law, a treasure found in a field belonged to the finder; in Jewish law, it belonged to the owner of the field. But these details are not of consequence here: the point is to show that entry into the kingdom of Christ, for eternity, is of incomparable worth.
In those days, a pearl was the most valuable of objects. In the parable of the treasure the finder found it by chance; here he finds it by hunting. The point is the same in both: to enter the kingdom of Christ is of incomparable worth.
The scribe here is one who finds treasure in both Old and New Testaments. There may be an allusion to the divine harmony of both testaments. Jesus came not to destroy the Law but to fulfill it: Mt 5:17.
13:54-58:Poor reception at Nazareth: The people marveled first, that one they had considered ordinary was so extraordinary; secondly because He taught with power, and not like the scribes, who disputed much and would cite other rabbis for support. He needed no support. Hew as called the carpenter's son. The word tekton can mean one who works with wood, or a builder. St. Justin Martyr (c. 150 AD - Dialogue 88. 8) says He made plows and yokes. There has been speculation He might have gotten some business from Sepphoris, a large Hellenistic city 3. 7 miles N NW of Nazareth, about a hour's walk.
In saying a prophet is not accepted among His own, He may be quoting a proverb, or just ordinary observation. Jealousy makes it hard to accept that one you thought was not much is really great. If a stranger seems great, they had felt no need to compete with him - but one of their own, they resented His greatness. There is a modern saying: An expert is an ordinary man 100 miles from home.
As for the "brothers" please see comments at 1:23.
He did not do many wonders there because of their lack of faith. He regularly did demand faith as a condition for a miracle.
14:1-12: Herod executes John (a flashback): Herod Antipas (c. 21 BC - 39 AD) was son of Herod the Great and his Samaritan wife Malthace. He was tetrarch of Galilee and Perea during the public ministry of Jesus. He founded Tiberias as his capital, named after the Emperor who honored him. He became infatuated with his niece Herodias, wife of his half-brother Herod II (whom the NT calls Philip). He divorced his first wife, the daughter of the Nabatean King Aretas IV. This was politically explosive. John the Baptist rebuked Herod for taking his brother's wife, and so he imprisoned John at the fortress Machaerus, near the Dead Sea. Herod feared John, and feared the people who considered John as prophet.
Herodias whom Herod had married, hated John. When Herod had a birthday party, she had her daughter, Salome, by a previous marriage, do a dance. (Josephus, Antiquities, 18. 5. 4. 136-37). Dances at banquets were not unusual, but it was unusual for one of her rank. Herod, intoxicated by wine and the dance, promised her anything, even half of his kingdom (Mk 6:22-23 - compare the promise of the King of Persia, in Esther 5:3. ). The girl, probably 12 to 14 yrs old, asked her mother what to ask for. The mother told her to get the head of John the Baptist on a dish. Herod was displeased, but he had sworn, so he had John beheaded in prison, without a trial, which was illegal. .
When Herod heard the reports about Jesus, after the death of John, he told his servants that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead (cf. the fuller account in Mark 6:124-30).
14:13-21: Multiplication of the Loaves for the 5000: Sometime after this-- we cannot be sure of the time, the Evangelists are not concerned about chronology-- Jesus went by boat to a solitary place. But the crowds followed Him. Toward evening He remarked that the crowd needed something to eat. He told the disciples to give them something to eat. Of course He knew they did not have much. It was like a teacher drawing things out from the students. They told him a boy there had five barley loaves - a coarser bread, a staple of the poor - and two fishes. The other Gospels fill in details: the people were told to recline on the grass in groups of 50 or 100. Jesus then blessed the food, as was the custom of the Jews. They would often say: "Praised be you Lord, our God, king of the world, who has produced bread from the earth." There were about 5000 men - which not counting children would give a total of 15, 000 or even more.
When all had eaten, the disciples took up the fragments, which filled 12 baskets.
14:22-33: He walks on the water: Jesus told the disciples to leave in the boat, while He dismissed the crowds. After He did so, He went alone to pray.
Even though He was and is divine, He still wanted to pray. This is in accord with the principle, expressed by Summa I. 19. 5. c, that God in His love of good order likes to have one thing in place to serve as a reason or title for granting a second thing, even though the title does not move Him. So Jesus though as God He granted prayer, yet wanted to pray. This is much the same principle as that see in Romans 8:16 which says that the Holy Spirit within us intercedes for us. Similarly, Jesus had the Gifts of the Holy Spirit as we saw earlier in comments on 4:1-11.
The text says Jesus came walking on the water at the fourth watch of the night. Formerly the Jews had divided the night into three parts or watches. But by the time of Jesus they had adopted the Roman division into four watches of about three hours each. So it was nearly morning.
Peter as soon as he was sure it was Jesus, impetuously asked Jesus to cause him to walk on the water too. This displayed fine impetuousness. But then Peter saw the waves, and his confidence dropped, and so did he. This of course is a fine place to meditate on the need of confidence. Please recall comments on 7:7-11.
The wind dropped as soon as Jesus got into the boat, indicating He had calmed the sea. The NJBC (p. 1320-21) notes that at this time even the enemies of Jesus accepted the fact that He worked cures and did exorcisms. But here we have a nature miracle, following on another nature miracle, the multiplication of the loaves. Once we understand He was divine, what kind of miracle is done makes no difference.
Jesus asked Peter: " Why did you doubt, you of little faith?" There are chiefly two kinds of faith: Charismatic faith, and salvific faith. Salvific faith is that needed for salvation, the faith that causes justification or the reception of sanctifying grace. It includes three things: belief in what God says, confidence in His promises, obedience to His commands. Charismatic faith is a confidence which God Himself as it were injects into the person, so that the person confidently expects a miracle if he asks for it. Since God Himself injects this faith, He will provide the miracle. Yet one can resist this confidence as Peter did here by looking at the waves instead of at the power of Jesus. Cf. also comments on 8:23.
Those in the boat said: "Really, you are the Son of God." It is hard to say how much they really knew or believed at this point. It seems likely that there were other disciples besides the Apostles in the boat at the time. The words "Son of God" need not indicate divinity - any good Jew could be called a son of God - cf. Hosea 11:1. Later at 16:17 we shall have to consider an even more difficult text, where Jesus says His Father has revealed something to Peter.
After this, they came to land and He healed many.
15:1-9: Corrects the Pharisees on Korban: The Pharisees had added a huge number of precepts of what they called the oral law to the written law of Moses. In fact, they said it was worse to violate the oral law than the written: cf. comments on 12:1-4.
Here the Pharisees object that the disciples do n to follow the oral law about washing hands. This law was later codified in the Mishnah (c. 200 A.D. ), where a whole tractate, yadaim, dealt with washing the hands, and how much water must be used. If a man poured water over one hand with a single rinsing, his hand would be clean, but if he poured it over both hands with a single rinsing, it would be unclean unless he poured much more water (Yadaim 2:1).
In this passage we see that they went so far as to have the oral law contradict one of the ten commandments, the one requiring honor, i.e., support for Father and Mother when they are aged. If a man declared his property Korban, dedicated to God, he could use it, but had no obligation to support his parents in their old age. This is what is meant by following the "traditions of men" instead of the law of God. Some ignorant protestants say that the laws of the Catholic Church are just "traditions of men". Of course not, for two reasons. First, they come from the authority given to the Church: "Whatsoever you shall bind on earth is bound also in heaven." (Mt. 18:18). That is no "merely human" law. It is one given by the authority of Christ Himself. Second, the laws of the Catholic Church never contradict divine law - that of the Pharisees about Korban did contradict divine law. On Korban ct. Lev. 27:9, 16 and Mishna, Nedarim, esp. 1. 9. 11.
Jesus then quoted Isaiah 29:13, saying the people honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. - This meant that outwardly they seemed religious, but inwardly were not. They were hypocrites.
15:10-20: Jesus abolishes levitical purity laws on foods: Jesus says that it is not what kind of food one eats that makes him really unclean, but what comes out of his heart, that is evil intentions, which do morally defile one. To make up one's mind, for example, to rob a bank, means the man contracts the guilt of bank-robbing, even if on the way he might change his mind. The evil act of will is the essential. -- Cf. the fact that the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 declared the obligation of unclean foods etc. was abolished.
15:21-28: Cure of the Canaanite woman's daughter: Jesus at first refuses to help the daughter of a Canaanite woman, in the district of Tyre and Sidon. He seems almost harsh to her, yet in the end he does heal the girl, and praises the faith of the mother. Matthew calls her a Canaanite, keeping the ancient term (cf. Gen 10:15) while Mark used the current Greco-Roman term, Syro-phoenician.
This is not at all the same kind of case as that in Mt. 10:5-6 where He told His disciples not to go the towns of the Samaritans, only to the lost sheep of Israel. There it was a temporary, trial mission. Please cf. the comments on that passage. Here Jesus is feigning rejection as a means of drawing out the woman's faith. and also her humility, a virtue which greatly attracts the mercy of God.
We note in vv. 26-27 that she refers to the food of the children - for the Jews considered any devout Jew a son of God - and to herself as a dog - Jews commonly called others dogs.
15:29-39: Cures and feeding the four thousand: Jesus want along the Sea of Galilee, by way of Sidon, and came to the area of the Decapolis, where there would be mostly gentiles (cf. Mark 7: 24-30).
This account of the multiplication of food for the four thousand is not just a duplication of the account of Mt. 12:14-21. Some have suggested that there were varying traditional accounts of the same event. But there are many differences. Jesus is in a different area, the number of people fed is different, the number of loaves is different. In the earlier account the word for baskets indicates baskets of smaller capacity (kophinous vs spuridas). There is no mention of grass in the place as in the earlier incident.
Then Jesus, with a human feeling of compassion for the crowd, who had been following Him for three days with nothing to eat, asked the disciples to feed them. They asked how it could be done - even though they had seen a similar case before. But the dullness of the disciples is remarkable in other things too.
At the end, He went to the region of Magadan. This is hard to identify. Mark calls it Dalmanutha. Writers in ancient times tended to confuse it with Magdala. We might notice that in the next section , Pharisees and Sadducees are present. So if we assume there is any chronological flow between the sections, this might seem to indicate a location along the west shore of the lake.
16: 1-4:The sign of Jonah: On a wicked generation seeking a sign and on Jonah cf. comments above on 12:38-43.
Here Matthew uses one article, "the" for both Pharisees and Sadducees. This is interesting, since Sadducees were not a group with influence after 70 AD. But this did happen during the earthly life of Jesus. Although these two groups commonly disagreed, they did agree that Jesus was the enemy.
We note He speaks of signs of the weather. This line is omitted in many manuscripts. The probable reason is that in Egypt, for example, the morning red would not predict rain.
16:5-12:The leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees: When they reached the other side, the disciples said they forgot to bring bread. Jesus in reply told them to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Yeast is really a form of corruption, though in its physical form it is beneficial, for it causes dough to rise. But here the thought is of the corruption and of the fact that even a small bit will work through the whole mass of dough.
The disciples show some of their usual incomprehension, and thought even with this mention of the enemies He was speaking of the fact they forgot bread. Of course then He reminded them of the multiplication of the loaves which He had done twice. Finally they understood that by yeast He meant the false doctrine of Pharisees and Sadducees.
16:13-20: Promise of the primacy to Peter: Jesus did not ask what people were saying out of ignorance - even without the vision in His soul He would likely have known. But He was leading up to the important question of who they said He was. Peter speaks for the whole group, and says Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living
God. Jesus says Peter knew this by revelation from His Father.
How much did Peter really know? It is evident He knew Jesus was the Messiah. But did Peter have the right notion of the Messiah? His attempt to dissuade Jesus from suffering seems to indicate Peter had the false idea, that of a military conqueror. What did Peter mean by the "Son of the Living God."? This could mean divinity, and many have thought so. Yet it would not have to be such, even though Peter had a revelation. That revelation might have given him some idea of the identity of Jesus without being a full and clear picture. The fact that Peter denied Jesus later would fit with this, although if Peter had learned by way of an interior locution Peter might have had a clear message at the start, which later, by the time of the death of Jesus, had faded, and so Peter could deny Him. In an interior locution, it is as if God touches the brain of the person and can convey even a large amount of information at one touch. That seems to have been the case with St. Paul on the Damascus road vision, for the words spoken by the vision then were few, and did not cover all of basic Christianity - yet later (Gal 1:12) Paul said He did learn Christianity from that vision. About the possibility of fading certitude - St. Teresa of Avila in her Life 25 wrote (I. p. 741, Obras Completas, B. A. C. Madrid, 1951): When God speaks in this way, "the soul has no remedy, even thought it displeases me, I have to listen and to pay such full attention to understand that which God wishes us to understand that it makes no difference if we want it or not. For He who can do everything wills that we understand, and we have to do what He wills." But in Interior Castle 6. 3. 7 (ibid, II, p 426): "these words do not pass from the memory after a very long time" but "When time has passed since heard, and the workings and the certainty it [the soul] had that it was God has passed, doubt can come." And so Peter might have known the divinity of Jesus at this occasion, but later the certitude had vanished.
Some Protestants even today try to claim verses 17-19 -- with the promise of primacy - were just a late interpolation, and not part of the original text. There is simply no manuscript evidence at all to support this notion. Rather, it shows how clearly these Protestants perceive the real meaning of the words, so that they feel driven to such an extreme as to propose, without any foundation, a claim of interpolation.
Special attention in such a charge is given to the word "Church". Now the Greek ecclesia is rare in the Gospels, though common in St. Paul. If we omitted this word, we would have a Messiah without a messianic community - a thing unthinkable to current Jewish ideas.
The Anchor Bible commentary on Matthew by W F. Albright and C. S. Mann, two good Protestants, rejects the interpolation charge flatly, and admits a Catholic interpretation of the words about the rock: . ."one must dismiss as confessional interpretation [based on denominational views] an attempt to see this rock as meaning the faith, or the Messianic confession of Peter." The evangelical Expositor's Bible Commentary agrees with Albright and Mann, but then tries to claim ( pp. 373-74) that Peter was not given special authority - all Christians had the same. And it asserts that "binding and loosing" meant merely preaching the Lutheran error on justification by faith - that would forgive sins. (similar comments by many Protestants on the grant of power to forgive in John 20).
Their claims are very false. First of all, one should try to see what the text means, not read things into it. They are reading into Matthew the error of Luther. - This is eisegesis! - Luther thought justification by faith meant just confidence that the merits of Christ apply to me - then one could sin as freely as he wanted, and no harm. Luther even said in Epistle 501 to Melanchthon: "Even if you sin greatly, believe still more greatly." And in another letter to Melanchton, August 1, 1521 (Works 48. 181-82) he said that even if one commits fornication and murder 1000 times a day, it will not separate him from Christ. Justification itself according to Luther made no change in a person: he remained totally corrupt, with the merits of Christ, like a cloak, thrown over him. But 2 Peter 1;4 says we are made sharers in the divine nature, for we are sons of God (1 Jn. 3:2)and so partake of the nature of the Father. And 1 Cor 3:16 and 6:19 says we are temples of the Holy Spirit - who would not dwell in total corruption. 1 Cor 13:12 He has already given us the first payment, the Spirit, in our hearts (1 Cor 1:22). When the veil of flesh is removed we will see Him face to face: 1 Cor 13:12 says in heaven we see God face to face. God has no face, the soul no eyes, but it means we will know Him directly. When I see you, I do not take you into my head, I take in an image of you. But no image could show God as He is. So there must be no image - so God joins Himself directly to the soul without even an image in between. He would not do that with a totally corrupt soul. As Malachi 3:2 says: "Who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire."
Besides, the words "bind and loose" have no reference to such a distortion. They were current in the days of Christ, and by them the rabbis meant to give an authoritative decision on what was right or wrong. And only the authorities could give such a decision - not just every Christian as the Protestants would have it.
Protestants like to add an appeal to Mt 18:18 to say the power is given to all Christians. But in context, it speaks of a decision of the church, the ecclesia, not of each individual. But if we put it into the framework of a trajectory, the picture is clear. We begin with Luke 10:16,"He who hears you hears me." It is true, this was not spoken only to the Twelve. But as we said, the trajectory clarifies the picture. Mt 18:18 on which we have spoken cannot refer to all Christians precisely because there is a question of authority to declare what is right and wrong -- in Jewish thought, that belonged only to the Rabbis, not to all. At the Last Supper, according to John 13:20, Jesus said: "Amen, amen, I say to you, he who receives the one I send, receives me; he who receives me, receives the One who sent me." The thought is like that of Luke 10:16, but at the Last Supper there were only the Apostles present. Then Mt 28:16-29 in which He says all power is given Him in heaven and on earth, which is explicitly spoken to the Eleven, who are sent to teach or to make disciples. We could add that the early Church definitely understood the grant of authority to just the Apostles. In Acts 1:15-26 a replacement is chosen for one of the Twelve, for Judas. Acts 2:42 reported that the people "devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles", and in Acts 5;13:"No one of the rest dared to join himself to them [the Apostles] but the people magnified them."
The Protestants not only misunderstand things, but claim that Matthew is entirely clear - all Scripture is entirely clear, according to them. In that they contradict Scripture, for 2 Peter 3:15-16 tells us that in St. Paul's Epistles, "there are many things hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction." Protestant twisting of this passage surely fits what Peter's Epistle said.
And of course from the start the Church has understood the Scripture far differently from the Protestant distortion, as we just saw in the verses from Acts. Then Pope Clement I, writing to Corinth c 95 AD. claimed authority over Corinth. St. Irenaeus, who had heard St. Polycarp tell what he heard from the Apostle John, said that "the faithful who are everywhere must agree with this church [Rome] because of its more important principality." Very different from saying every Christian forgives sin by preaching a false doctrine of "justification" - that leaves one totally corrupt - by faith. In the early heresies it was the Pope's decision that counted, e.g., at Ephesus in 431 AD. the Bishops heard the decision of Pope Celestine, and replied "He [Peter] lives even to this time, and always in his successors gives judgment."
Some have tried to suppose verses 17-19 are retrojection, something spoken after Easter, retrojected to this spot. We distinguish. If they mean the whole passage was retrojected, that would be impossible - for after the resurrection Jesus would not ask who people say He is, nor would Peter merely say He was Messiah -- an understatement by then.
If we were to suppose just verses 17-19 were retrojected, that would not be impossible, but there is no evidence. What of the fact that Mark does not have these words? We may conjecture: Mark wrote from the preaching of Peter, as even Martin Hengel of Tübingen admits (Studies in the Gospel of Mark, tr. J. Bowden, Philadelphia, 1985, p. 29). As a matter of modesty, Peter might not have preached at Rome about his own authority.
The word "rock is merely a play on words. In Aramaic there is no difference between the word for rock and Kepha, Peter.
The gates of hell could mean the gates of death, but more naturally mean the powers of hell. They will not prevail. So if the Church founded by Christ had taught the wrong way to salvation for most of 1500 years, until Luther, the promises of Christ would be practically worthless. Nor could one dodge and say a few held on to the true meaning. No evidence at all for that. And even so, the Church as such, as identifiable, would have been in gross error until a grossly immoral Luther was sent by God to correct it!
"Keys" of course signified power to rule, as is obvious.
16:2l-23: Correction of false notion of Messiahship: In v. 20 Jesus had ordered them not to say He as the Messiah. The reason was that most Jews had a false notion of what the Messiah should be. To correct that, Jesus predicted His passion and death. Then Peter -- showing he too had the false notion - objected. Jesus rebuked him sharply: "Get behind me satan."
Peter's false notion here, as we said above, makes it hard to suppose Peter had known of the divinity of Jesus. He had received a revelation, but it was most likely something less than a clear knowledge of divinity.
Reginald H. Fuller (Foundations of New Testament Christology, Chas Scribner's Sons. N. Y. 1965. p. 109) made a form critical analysis of Mark's parallel passage (8:29-33). After the preliminary question about who people said Jesus was, we find, according to that analysis, four units: 1)Who do you say I am. Peter said: You are the Messiah; 2)Jesus commanded silence on that point; 3)He predicted His passion and death and Peter objected; 4)"Get behind me satan."
Fuller then - for today he has said he considers the whole historical critical method "bankrupt" (St. Luke's Journal of Theology, 23, 1980, p. 96) - thought units 1 and 4 were genuine, but 2 and 3 were invented (faked) by the Church, which was later embarrassed that Jesus never said He was Messiah, and so invented scenes in which the matter would come up, but Jesus would command silence.
The objection to unit 2: Jesus predicted His death and resurrection at least 3 times, yet the Apostles, when it happened, acted as if they never heard of it. The reply: When people have an established framework of ideas and something incompatible tries to get in, it does not make it. For example, in the 19th century, no one, not even Doctors knew that germs existed. Dr. Semmelweis in Hungary tried o tell them to use antiseptic precautions. The Doctors said he must be literally insane, put him in an asylum for the rest of his life. Or Teilhard de Chardin had a false notion of most people being joined closely in love just before the end of the world. He had read Luke 18:8. He could not grasp it. So the Apostles had a firm notion that the Messiah would not die, would be instead a great conqueror.
The objection to unit 3: W. Wrede in 1901 published a work, The Messianic Secret. It claimed what we said above, that Jesus never did say He was Messiah, so the Church invented scenes. Wrede says his strongest example is the raising of the daughter of Jairus: anyone could see the girl was alive. So to ask for silence was vain. Reply: Strange dullness!. Jesus wanted to avoid the false notion of Messiah. But He needed silence just long enough to slip out of the house - only the parents and 3 Apostles were present - and get on His way to the next town.
What did Fuller and others claim, thinking they had proved something: They read units 1 and 4 alone: "Who do you say I am? The Messiah. Get behind me satan." He did not believe He was Messiah.
16:24-28: Take up your cross and follow: this of course was part of the great syn Christo theme: we are saved and made holy if and to the extent that we are members of Christ and like Him. Cf. especially Rom 8:17: We are heirs with Christ provided we suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him.
He says at the end He will come in glory and will repay. How does this fit with justification by faith, without earning it? Justification means receiving sanctifying grace for the first time, and that is without any merit (DS 1532). But, the possession of that grace constitutes a claim (could be called a merit) of heaven, since it makes us children of God, who as children, have a claim to inherit. But here Jesus talks about things beyond that first reception of grace. After that, as sons of God, we have a great dignity (cf. 2 Pet 1:4), and can then in a secondary sense establish a claim to further reward, according to His promises here and elsewhere. (DS 1582;cf. also 2 Tim 4:8).
Incidentally we ask: When Jesus first spoke these words about taking up the cross, would the Apostles have understood, if He used these very words? Not likely. They knew the cross only in a physical sense (and they showed much incomprehension about His suffering as we just saw). Here it meant imitation of Him in suffering, the syn Christo theme. But later, when the Church had had time to meditate on these things, it could express the same thought as He had spoken, in different words. Form and Redaction criticism shows three stages in the genesis of the Gospels. In stage 2 (the Church reports what He said) and stage 3 (inspired writers also edit the account), the wording , not the sense, may change.
Translations vary widely on verse 26. The Greek psyche has a broad span of meaning, chiefly, soul or life. Some opt for life as if they want to insist the Jews still had not gotten over the so-called unitary concept of a human being, i.e., a body with the breath of life. That could logically lead to denial of survival. By the time of Wisdom 3:1 many Jews did have a concept of body and soul. For a fuller explanation, cf. comments on 10:28-31.
Verse 28 is a special problem: some standing there would not die without seeing the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. In Mark 9:1 the words are the same but they would see "the kingdom coming with power. The answer is easy: In Mark, they would see the Church - which often in the Gospels is called the Kingdom (cf. Supplement 1 after comments on Mt 3:7-10 above) - spread with power, i.e., with miracles. Matthew has the concept of Hebrew paqad , the Son of Man visiting His kingdom, His Church, taking care of it (cf. also Lk 19:44 for a similar use of the term visitation). Poor N. Perrin (Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus, Harper & Row N. Y. , 1967, p. 16) did not understand these things, and so said the comparison of Mark 9:1 and parallels, forced him to give up on the reliability of the Gospels! (It is possible, though less likely) that the words of Mt and Mk just cited referred to the Transfiguration, which is reported right after this point in all three Synoptics).
17:1-9: Transfiguration: Jesus takes only Peter, James and John, the usual inner three, up a mountain, and His appearance, and even that of His garments is changed, becomes glorious. With Him are Moses and Elijah. They seem to stand for the law and the prophets, which would stand for the entire Old Testament. Peter, with his usual impetuosity, not only liked the vision, wanted to make it permanent, suggested setting up three dwellings there one for each. Then a bright cloud came and overshadowed them. The word is the same as that used in Exodus, 40:35, episkiazein, for the cloud filling the old Tabernacle, a sign of the divine presence. Incidentally, the same word is used in Luke 1:35 by the Archangel, telling the Virgin Mary that the divine presence would fill her, and for this reason, (dio) the one to be born would be called Son of God - a really unique reason. Any ordinary devout Jew could be called a son of God, but this case would be unique.
Moses and Elijah were speaking with Jesus about His coming passion, which the Apostles did not understand even though just before this He had predicted it, and was going to say it again on the way back. Mk 9:32 (cf. Lk. 9:45) explicitly said they did not understand, were hesitant to ask Him.
The voice from the cloud said: "This is my Son. . listen to Him." This recalls the words of Moses in Dt. 18:15 saying God would send another prophet like him--they should listen to that prophet. Acts 3:22 identifies Jesus as the prophet foretold by Moses.
After the vision, Jesus ordered them to tell no one of the vision until the Son of Man would rise from the dead. The reason for that is obvious: Jesus was engage din vary gradual self-revelation. He did not want so great a revelation to be generally known so early on. Instead, Wrede (op. cit. , p. 67) thought the reason for the command was that the Transfiguration prefigures the Resurrection, and would have been unintelligible until after the resurrection. So Wrede thinks the command was without sense, and so never was given.
17:10: Coming of Elijah: Next the disciples asked Jesus why the scribes were saying Elijah should come first. Jesus replied that Elijah would come, and would restore everything. That was foretold in Malachi 4:5. Here Jesus makes an application of Malachi 3:1, where God Himself says He will come Himself. R. H. Fuller correctly observed that that coming was mentioned in Mal 4:5, in which Elijah appears as the forerunner not just of the Messiah, but of God Himself, after which God will come to His temple for the final judgment. (op. cit. , p. 48). Here Jesus applies this to John the Baptist and Himself, with the implication that He is Yahweh! We can consider this as an instance of multiple fulfillment of prophecy (cf. Wm. Most, Free From All Error, chapter 5).
17:14-21:Cure of an epileptic possessed boy: Mt speaks here of the boy as both epileptic and possessed. It may be that cases of epilepsy were confused with possession in those days. However in this instance, the fact that the boy falls into the fire and water would seem to indicate possession. Whatever it was, the mission of Jesus was not to give medical diagnosis, but He could and did heal whatever was needed.
The father of the boy had asked the disciples to heal the boy, and they could not. Then the disciples asked Jesus why they could not. He said they needed faith. If we accept the authenticity of verse 21, He also said:"This kind is not cast out except by prayer and fasting." Since the disciples on the trial mission (Mt. 10:1-8) had been casting out devils, it seems that lack of faith alone was not the reason, though it as part of the reason. Prayer and fasting were needed. On the theological background of the fasting, please see above, supplement 2, after Mt. 3:7-10.
On charismatic faith, please see comments above on 14:22-33.
17:22-23:Second prediction of His Passion: Here again the disciples do not understand this prediction, because of their established thought framework that the Messiah would never die. Mt reports they were distressed. Mk 9:32 says they were afraid to ask Him to explain.
17:24-27:The temple tax from the fish: In Exodus 30:11-13 it was prescribed that every Israelite of 20 years of age should offer to God annually a tribute of a half shekel. Later, in the hard times of the restoration, according to Neh 10:32 ff. , the tribute was made a third of a shekel. We do not know when the amount was made a half shekel again. A collector asked Peter for the tax. Peter said Jesus would pay it. Jesus seemingly knowing what had happened, asked Peter: From whom do the "kings of the land" call for tribute -- the children or others. Peter said: From others. Jesus said then: So the children are free of tax. He meant that the money for the temple was paid for His Father, the great King. He then told Peter to catch a fish, find a coin in its mouth of just the right amount for two, and then pay. We gather Jesus and the apostles must have been in much poverty to lack that amount. Jesus wanted it paid even though He, as Son of God, was exempt, to avoid scandal, i.e., an action which might seem sinful to others and so might lead them into sin.
18:1-9: Scandal and humility: From the parallel passages in Mark and Luke we can gather than it was on the way back to Capernaum that the disciples argued about who was the greatest. The special favor shown Peter in chapter 16, and to Him with James and John in the Transfiguration, may have triggered this discussion. Jesus probably read their minds, and so asked them what they were doing. They were ashamed to reply. So Jesus took a child -- may have been Peter's child, for they may have been at Peter's house in Capernaum - and put the child in the midst and said: Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest. And whoever welcomes such a child in the name of Jesus welcomes Jesus.
What did Jesus have in mind by using the child as an example? Verse 4 specifies humility - that and simplicity are natural to little children. Really, this could carry important implications on the relation of Jesus and Paul. Paul said often that people are free from the Law. He was led into that form of speaking since the Judaizers said in effect: Jesus is not enough. You need the Law too. Paul reacted by saying they did not need the Law. 2 Peter 3:16 warned that there are many things in Paul hard to understand. Here is one for certain. In seeming contrast, Jesus had said He came not to destroy but to fulfill the Law. But this passage provides the means of reconciliation. A child knows he does not earn the love and care of parents - he gets that because the parents are good. But he also knows, usually from experience, t hat he could earn punishment and a change in the attitude of the parents. So the solution is this: Keeping the law does not earn salvation; we get that a children of the Father - violating it earns punishment. Cf. Rom 6:23: "The wages [what we earn] of sin is death; the free gift of God [not earned] is eternal life." A child takes this attitude naturally.
In Mk 9:36 (cf. Mk 10:16) we read that Jesus put His arms about the child. We know on another occasion (19:13-15 and parallels) the children were coming to Him, and the disciples wanted to chase them, but He said: "Let the little children come to me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven."
Mark especially, though the other Gospels do it too, is fond of bringing out the human traits of Jesus. Jesus could marvel at the faith of the centurion, could, as John adds, even weep at the death of Lazarus, just a good friend, not even a relative. He could really feel fear in the garden. And we may surmise He got human satisfaction out of outwitting the Pharisees and Sadducees who tried to trap Him in various ways.
He could do all this while still having in His human soul the vision of God as the Church teaches us (DS 3812, 3905, 3924 and AAS 58, 1966, 659-60) for these things are compatible, and do not involve any new knowledge, e.g., fear of pain is not erased by that vision, or by the assurance of resurrection. The nails would still hurt terribly.
So we suspect He got human pleasure from holding the child. Our Father in Heaven has made them charming, so we will want to take care of them. He wants us to like them. Most people naturally do. St. Francis of Assisi praised God for the kindness of giving us birds and flowers. He was right. We could also praise Him too for the kindness of making little ones so wonderful.
St. Paul in Romans 8:19 -25 tells us that at the end this world will not be destroyed, but renewed. It will be "freed from the slavery to corruption." That seems to mean that even birds will then be immortal. The chief joy of heaven is the vision of God. But the body participated in reaching that state, so it should get its own kind of satisfaction. So then we will be able to enjoy His creatures without any spiritual hindrance. Now in this life, without that coordinating gift (once called the Gift of Integrity) which our first parents had, we need to actually give up or at least be detached from creatures much of the time, to keep them from getting so strong a hold on us that they could lead us into sin or even imperfection. (As we saw in commenting on Mt 6:21, creatures pull on us, can hold on to us, can lead us away from God: to imperfection, or to occasional venial sin, or to habitual venial sin, or to occasional mortal sin, or even to habitual mortal sin. This is the case because of the present lack the coordinating gift, which our first parents once had, which made it easy to keep all drives in proper balance. Please recall comments in Supplement 2, after 3:-10).
We gather: the objective ideal is to be able to enjoy creatures and praise God for them, without finding any hindrance to lifting our hearts and thoughts to Him. But in the present situation of this life, as we said, the lack of the coordinating gift - which inflicted only a relative, not an absolute loss, as John Paul II said in a General Audience of October 8, 1986 - creatures may at times be a hindrance.
We do not say that one should be without feeling. St. Francis de Sales in his Letter 217 (Classics of Western Spirituality edition, p. 104) wrote to a married woman that the forms devotion takes vary with state in life. He said: "Your husband will love it if he sees that as your devotion increases, you become more warm and affectionate toward him." St. Francis sees this as part of her duties of her state in life.
In view then, of what we learned starting from Mt 6:21:"Where your treasure is, there is your heart also," there is a problem in practice of how much to allow ourselves to enjoy creatures. There is a great diversity in spiritual attractions and temperaments. So there is no one rule for all. But He Himself will lead a soul to the right mix, as it were, if the soul is generous and faithful.
Some Saints have tried to avoid all feeling: St. Augustine felt guilty for weeping at the death of his mother. But Jesus, as we said, wept over Lazarus. St. John of the Cross says that, more in some souls than in others, creatures may help raise their thoughts to God. John says that to the extent that they do this, they are beneficial spiritually (Ascent of Mt. Carmel 3. 24. 5). Beyond that, not so. St. Ignatius of Loyola said we should use creatures: Tantum... quantum. Use as much as is helpful, not more. In line with this we should accept the innocent pleasure of a creature while it is present - but not dream about it when it is not present. For we need to keep the pull of creatures from getting so strong as to lead us away from God, even if only by imperfection.
In practice, if we refrain from dwelling on the attractions of creatures, and enjoy them only when present, and then only to the extent that they help us rise to the thought of praising God - this is beneficial. But then we will have as it were empty spots: no satisfaction from creatures, nor from God. St. Teresa said God would love to do nothing but give, if He could find souls to receive (Conceptions of Love of God 6). So in these empty spots, He welcomes the opening to fill the soul with benefits. Hence Jesus said that whoever has left home, parents, wives etc. for Him will receive a hundredfold - even in this world - and later have eternal happiness (Lk 18:29; Mt. 19:29).
We can get some light from recalling that there is a similar principle about music for Mass. Ideally it should fill two requirements: 1) Lift the sensitivities of the soul above the everyday level; 2) not hold on so strongly as to hinder its thoughts and heart from rising to the divine level. So Gregorian chant is fine on both counts - Masses by Mozart and other great composers do well on the first requirement, fail on the second.
Leading anyone into sin, by scandal, is a terrible thing. Much more terrible is it to lead the little ones into sin. Better such a one would be drowned with a millstone on his neck than to do such a thing. Yes, given human conditions, scandals are inevitable. But woe to the one who causes them.
In fact, if anyone or anything as dear to you as your hand or foot or eye leads you into sin - better to get rid of hand, foot or eye, than to sin and be cast into hell. Of course, Jesus is not advising physical mutilation. He is making a most powerful comparison here. Cf. Mt. 5:29-30 for similar thought.
18:10-14: the lost sheep: So let no one look down on the little ones. They have guardian angels, who see the face of God. That is, they have guardian angels. All humans lie under the dangers from the fallen angels. But to compensate, God has given us guardian angels. On this doctrine cf. Heb. 12:14, Apoc/Rev. 1:20 and Acts 12:15. The angels are compared to powerful persons at the court of a Near Eastern king. If they ask for actions against an offender, it will likely be given.
Verse 11 is of doubtful authenticity --may have been taken over from Lk 19:10. However, the thought is true, and fits the context here well: Christ came to die to save all -- if someone frustrates His work of redemption by scandal, woe to him. In fact, from Gal 2:20 (as interpreted by Vatican II in GS §22) we learn that He offered His suffering and death for each soul individually, not just for all souls in a block. Not wonderful He speaks so strongly about ruining souls by scandal!
So Jesus compares Himself to a shepherd who goes out to find one lost sheep. Similarly the Father in Heaven wants no one of the little ones to be lost.
The same parable is found in Lk 15:4-7, in a different context, that is, in Lk it is to show the mercy of God towards sinners. Here it is to show His love for little ones. However, Jesus as a traveling speaker, surely repeated parables often, and could readily reuse them for different purposes in different speeches.
18:15-22: brotherly correction and forgiveness: Correction if given should be done at first privately. Then if there be need, with two witnesses. Dt. 17:6 and 19:15 prescribes the need of two or three witnesses to prove anything in court. However, this is not a court, but the same atmosphere of witnesses is present.
If someone refuses to be corrected even then, the Church should be called on. The same rare word, ecclesia, is used here as in 16:18, the grant of primacy to Peter. So we see the Church does have supreme power to cast out, to excommunicate someone who is contumacious. St. Paul did this in 1 Cor 5:5-6 and in 1 Tim 1:20. Since this is a use of authority, it is clear that authority is not given to everyone in the Church. Cf. our comments above on Mt. 16:13-20.
We also compare Titus 3:10: "After one or two warnings, avoid a heretical man." The word "heretical "need not have the present technical sense. But it surely does mean one who contumaciously holds to a false doctrine which is condemned by the Church.
Excommunication as used by St. Paul, or today, is not the same as cursing, even though the word anathema, curse, may be used. We get the right picture from 1 Cor 5:5: it is done "so his soul may be saved on the day of the Lord." It is to bring a man to his senses. To curse would be to wish evil to another so it may be evil to him. Romans 12:14 says Christians should not curse anyone. That is speaking of the popular sense of the word. As just explained, it is different.
Some overzealous or even scrupulous persons think they have a grave moral obligation to correct everyone. But this is imprudent, to say the least. Seldom does one who is not a superior have a strict obligation, though he may try it anyway if conditions are right. The conditions needed are: 1) serious matter, 2) good hope the correction will be accepted - which is seldom the case, 3) great spiritual need of the sinner or others, 4) that there not be some one other who can more suitably carry out the task. We add that when there is grave difficulty, the obligation of correction does not bind private persons.
The words about binding and loosing here refer to the authorities of the Church, not to private persons, as we explained in comments on 16:13-20.
Just as Christ assists the authorities of the Church, so He also assists the faithful if they are in mutual harmony and pray in the right way in His name. On conditions for prayer, please see comments above on 6:7-13. The language seems broad enough to cover everything. It is evident there are limits, e.g., suppose two groups get together to pray for victory in a football game. Clearly, not both sides can win. The answer Christ's promise refers to prayer for things that concern salvation for the one who prays. If it concerns salvation for another, there may be resistance, rejection by the other. God respects our freedom and does not force it. Someone by repeated sinning may make himself hard, and so incapable of perceiving what grace interiorly suggests to him. Such a one is eternally lost, unless someone will obtain for him a grace comparable to a miracle, which can forestall or cut through any resistance. IT is evident, more than routine prayer is needed - since the grace is of an extraordinary nature, the prayer and penance needed to obtain it must also be of extraordinary quality.
Peter thinks he is very generous in being willing to forgive 7 times. The rabbis said one needs to forgive only three times. Jesus says he must always - 7 times 70 times- be willing to forgive. This assumes of course that the offender is repentant. If he continues the same attitude, he cannot hope for forgiveness. God Himself does not forgive the unrepentant. On forgiveness in general please see comments above on 6:14.
18:23-35: the unforgiving servant: Servant who owed 10, 000 talents is called in and asked to pay. Of course, he could not, the figure was fantastic, intended to be such. The Attic talent was in use in Palestine then, and a talent was worth 6000 denarii. A denarius was a normal day's pay (cf. Mt 20:2). So the sum is staggering. The master forgave it. He could have had the man and his wife and children sold as slaves to get some money. This horrid practice was sometimes found in ancient times, e.g., 2 Kings 4:1; Lev 25:39, 47. Secular authors testify to it too. The master forgave this huge debt, but then the same slave became harsh at a fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii. Since the servant could not pay, the debtor put him into prison. The idea was to force him to tell where he had hidden money, or to induce friends , in pity, to ransom him.
The point of the parable is completely obvious: God forgives us a debt in our sins out of all proportion to what others may owe us. He expects us to be similarly merciful to others - if not, He will be hard on us too. We recall Mt 7:2 which said whatever measure we use on others, will be used on us too, that is, if we demand everything we have a right to demand, God will act similarly. We could not afford that -- therefore... . We think too of the petition in the Our Father: Forgive us our debts, as we forgive... .
19:1-12: indissolubility of marriage: We already covered the essential points here in commenting on 5:31-32 above. Here we add that the schools of Hillel and Shammai were far apart on the reasons for divorce. Hillel would allow even a badly cooked meal to be sufficient reason. R. Akiba of that school said that a reason might be a roving eye for prettier women (Mishna, Gittin, 9:10). Shammai and his school required gross indecency. The covenanters of Qumran seem to have forbidden divorce altogether: cf. Damascus Document 4:21. Josephus (Antiquities 4. 8. 23. 253) allowed divorce for any reason whatsoever. Clearly the Pharisees here were trying to make Jesus become an enemy to one or the other of the schools of Hillel or Shammai. Instead, He reaffirmed what He had said in the Sermon on the Mount (5:32). Jesus appealed to God's own arrangement in Genesis: they become two in one flesh.
The Pharisees countered that Moses "commanded" divorce in Dt 24:1-4. They were distorting, of course; Moses had only permitted not commanded. Jesus as the supreme Lawgiver abrogates the concession given by Moses, saying it was given because of the hardness of their hearts. As we explained above in commenting on Mt 5:31-32, Jesus did not grant divorce and remarriage for unchastity. We gather this from the parallel passages in Mk 10:11 and Lk 16:18 and 1 Cor 7:10ff.
The reply of the disciples is remarkable: If one cannot get rid of a wife, better not to marry.
Jesus took advantage of their remark to speak of renunciation of marriage. Some are born as eunuchs; others are made such so they may be trusted in the royal courts. Others renounced marriage for spiritual reasons. On these, please see above, Supplement 2. after Mt. 3:7-10.
19:13-15: Jesus blesses the little children: It was a custom among the Jews to present little ones to holy or venerable men for a blessing: cf. Gen 48:13-15. Mark 10:16 reports Jesus not only blessed them, but took them in His arms, as He did also in Mk 10:16. Cf. comments on 18:1-5 above. He also used them as an example of the qualities required to enter the kingdom of heaven, as we saw in Mt 18:1-5.
19:16-30: The rich young man: From v. 20 we gather that the young man was rich. From Lk 18:18 we see he was an archon, a chief of the synagogue or member of the Sanhedrin or otherwise distinguished. The fact that he knelt before Christ, as we see in Mk 10:17, seems to indicate he was not just testing Jesus, but was sincere.
Matthew has the young man ask Jesus: "What good must I do to get eternal life?." It is likely enough that the young man, seeing the warmth with which Jesus treated the little children, supposed He would tell him some added practices to facilitate his entry into the kingdom of heaven. Mk 18:17 and Lk 18:18 tell us the man addressed Jesus as Good Master". Jesus took occasion here to teach dramatically, as He often did. He said: "Why do you call me good. No one is good, but God alone."
Let us examine both items separately. Of course, Jesus could have said both on one occasion, or on two occasions.
Jesus does not tell him: Do the following, and you will earn eternal life. Rather, He tells the man how to avoid earning to lose eternal life. This fits well with the context, in which Jesus proposed children as having the required qualities to enter the kingdom. Children know that they get love and care without earning them - but that they could earn punishment by being bad. St. Paul brings this out very well by speaking of final salvation as an "inheritance" In 1 Cor 6:9-10 after a list of the chief sins and sinner she says that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom. We do not have to earn it, we could earn to lose it. Cf. also on this Rom 6:23.
Some Protestants translate "get" instead of "inherit". The Greek kleronomein does have both meanings. But the context in Scripture of God as our Father, both in the Gospels and in Paul, surely shows we need the meaning "inherit". And we are now showing how that brings out an essential teaching of Jesus.
Jesus also, on this occasion or on another similar occasion, replied: Why do you call me good? one is good - God." Now of course He was not denying He was good, or that He was divine, or that there is goodness in creatures. Rather this was a dramatic way of saying that the word good, as applied to creatures, and as applied to God, has indeed something in common, but much more difference. In a similar way, St. Augustine wrote, "He must not even be called inexpressible, for when we say that word, we say something." (On Christian Doctrine 1. 6. 6). Plotinus, a great philosopher, even said (6. 8. 9) that God is "beyond being". He meant that the word being as applied to God, and as applied to creatures, has something in common, much more difference. Plato spoke similarly in Republic 6. 509B (for fill-in cf. Wm. Most, Our Father's Plan, Introduction).
Jesus told the young man to observe the commandments-- again, as we said, not to earn eternal life, but to avoid forfeiting it. The man said he had always kept them. Jesus of course knew that, and looked at him with love, as Mk 10:21 says. Again, Mark is specially intent to bring out the human qualities of Jesus - He had just been warm to little ones, now He gave a warm look to the young man.
So Jesus made a distinction. To gain eternal life, keeping the commandments suffices. But if the man wanted to be perfect - then let him sell all he had, give it to the poor, and come follow Jesus in poverty.
The rich young man looked sad at the thought of giving up his wealth. So he did not. Who knows? He might have been a great saint and apostle.
Jesus took occasion to teach the dangers of riches. Yes, the things of this world are good, for God made them good, as He said in Genesis 1. The fact that Christ took on a created nature and used created things gives them an added dignity. But like the thorns in the parable of the sower there are two sides. The thorns stand for riches and pleasures. They are not bad in themselves; but they have two sides, one of which is spiritually dangerous.
The saying about the camel and the needle's eye need not lead to imagining there was such a gate in Jerusalem. This is simply strong Semitic exaggeration, which is very common.
Only detachment is what is strictly required for salvation. But it is hard in practice to get much detachment if one does not actually part with much of material things. Again, please cf. Supplement 2, after 3:7-10.
Some of the disciples asked: Who then can be saved? Jesus said that humanly it is not possible, but with God, all is possible. He meant clearly that grace is needed for salvation, in fact, for any good work.
Peter, with his usual impetuousness, asks what he will get, for he has given up all. Jesus said that at the final judgment, those who gave up all, will be seated with the Divine Judge judging all.
And even before that, they will get a hundredfold. That could mean many material satisfactions - or it could mean that spiritual things, being of a higher order, are a hundredfold.
The last will be first, the first last. More than one meaning is possible. Most likely the thought is that the Jews were first offered the opening to join the messianic kingdom. But they are responding poorly, most are not coming in. The first will be last.
20:1-1: The workers in the vineyard: This parable is difficult for Americans, it seems not to be fair-play. But yet it is true: if someone gives all he is obliged to give to some, but more to others, he is not being unjust, but rather generous.
To what does the parable refer? Most likely it means that the Jews were invited into the People of God early in history. Gentiles came in later. Yet both will receive the same reward, entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, if they are faithful.
The final line in some Greek manuscripts and in the Vulgate adds, after our ending ( The last will be first, the first last): "Many are called, few are chosen". But that line may really come from the parable of the banquet in Mt 22:14, according to many commentators, who claim it fits better there.
The last line as we have it surely does fit here: the last to come into the People of God will be first in line, for those invited first, the Jews, have not responded well, most of them have refused to come in. The Gentiles, called late, have responded in large numbers.
20:17-19: Third prediction of the Passion: This was made, "while Jesus was going up to Jerusalem", up since they had been in the lower lands near Jericho. The Roman road from Jericho to Jerusalem as about 17 miles, and climbed 3000 feet. We note the added details in this prediction, compared to those given earlier: He is to be flogged and crucified.
Mark 10:32 here as so often gives a human touch: it says that Jesus went ahead, while the Apostles were going more slowly as if in fear They did not understand His predictions of death and resurrection, but yet humanly could see that the authorities were out to kill Jesus. He, though distressed no doubt, yet showed the firm resolve to accomplish the Redemption: We recall His words soon in the Garden: "If it be possible, may this chalice pass; yet not my will but yours be done." The Church teaches, as we explained above, that from the first instant of conception, His human soul saw the vision of God, in which all knowledge is accessible - including every horrid detail of His sufferings. He let us see inside Himself, as it were, in Lk 12:50 when He said He had a baptism to be baptized with - something terrible to go through - and how was He straitened, unable to be comfortable, until it would be accomplished. The same interior disturbance showed through in John 12:27: "Now my heart is troubled. What shall I say? Father, save me from this hour."
20:20-28:Vain ambition of James and John: He was going ahead to what He knew, something so horrible. they did not really understand, as was noted more than once before - they still thought of Him as going to be a great conqueror who would not suffer or die. So they were trying to maneuver for honors and the first place. The Mother of James and John tried to get that for them. Jesus asked them could they drink His cup. They had their minds only on honors, and probably had no notion what that meant. But in their eagerness for honor they said they could drink it. Actually, James was beheaded by Herod c. 42 AD: Acts 12:2: John was imprisoned by the Sanhedrin: Acts 4:3, and beaten: Acts 5:40.
Jesus said the granting of such favors was reserved to His Father. There are two great areas to keep distinct: the internal economy, which leads to heaven. In it, God offers grace without limit to each one, for the price of Redemption is infinite. It is only the rejection or blocking by humans that holds back what they receive. But there is also the external economy, where the question is of what position a person will have in the exterior order of things: a lawyer, doctor, shoemaker, a teacher, an official in the people of God. Here God gives what He wants where He wants - the price of Redemption does not apply here.
A cup to drink in Scripture can mean the lot that God plans for each one. At times it can be a pleasant prospect (cf. Psalm 16:5), more ordinarily it is something hard: (Psalm 11:6; 75:9. Mt. 26:39).
Quite naturally, the other ten were distressed at such ambition - and at such a time! So Jesus told them that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them. Sadly, they do, and many of them claim they are serving while really coveting honor and the first places. The Apostles should be just the opposite, wanting to serve. He Himself had not come to be served but to serve, even to giving His life so painfully for redemption for all.
The word "many" here no doubt reflects Hebrew rabbim: "the all who are many". If He spoke Aramaic at the time it would have been saggi'in, which at least as an equivalent for Hebrew rabbim, could have the same sense, as we see for example in the Targum on Isaiah 53:11-12. On the notion of "ransom" please see comments above in Supplement 2, on rebalance of the objective order, after 3:7-10.
20:29-34: Cure of the blind: Here Matthew speaks of two blind men. Mark 10:46-52 and Lk 18:35-43 speak of only one. Further, Luke puts the cure when they were coming to Jericho, Mt and Mk put it on leaving Jericho.
There are several possible answers. One would say that Jesus actually did cure two, but Mark had special reason to mention one, whose name he knew, who was known specially in the Christian community, later. Luke of course could have followed suit.
As to the place, on coming to or leaving Jericho, we know for certain that Herod enlarged and improved Jericho. It seems he did not destroy the older city there, which is today Tell es-Sultan. So the sequence could have been a cure of one while approaching one city, and of the second, while leaving. Matthew puts the two events together, as he sometimes does: cf. 27:44 compared to Lk 23:39-43.
Mt notes that Jesus was moved with compassion for the blind, which the crowd had tried to keep from Him.
21:1-11: Triumphal entry into Jerusalem: With the help of John 12:1 ff we add that six days before the Passover, Jesus and His disciples came to Bethany, the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. There Mary anointed His feet, and Judas complained of the waste. The Jews then wanted to kill Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. Did they not realize He could raise him again?
From there He came to Bethphage, and from there He sent two disciples ahead, told them what they will find. Was this supernatural power, or did He make use of the strange force of Extra Sensory Perception. We do not know. He, as the Creator of such a power, could of course use it. In general, we think He would not use miracles when natural means will suffice. Zechariah (9:9 had said: "Behold, your king comes to you. . humble, riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey." Matthew add a few words from Isaiah: "Say to the Daughter of Sion' - a Hebraism meaning Jerusalem, the daughter that is Sion.
The disciples laid their cloaks on the animals, and Jesus sat on them. Of course, He sat on the cloaks, not on two animals at once. It seems He sat on the colt -- having its mother on hand would help to quiet it, for no one had ridden it before. Matthew mentions both since Zechariah had done that.
A huge crowd gathers. There would be so many in Jerusalem for the coming Passover, and doubtless reports on Him had spread. Some were asking: "Who is this?" That could have been His enemies, who wished to make light of Him. Many sang Hosanna - an old Hebrew exclamation, which by this time as merely a form of a cheer.
21:12-17: cleansing of the temple: Then He entered the Temple area, this would be the court of the Gentiles. Did He at once drive out the sellers, or was that on a return visit the next day? Most likely the latter. John's Gospel mentions a cleansing of the Temple at the beginning of His public life. This must be a second one, for this is so closely joined with the previous narrative in Matthew. In the court of the Gentiles there would be those who sold animals for sacrifice, and those who changed Greek or Roman money to Jewish money, for that was needed in order to offer it. Yet Jesus drove them out, citing the prophet Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 That court was the farthest out from the sanctuary, yet all the noise and traffic there was unsuitable.
The blind and lame came to Him in the temple, and were cured. The children cried out in enthusiasm: Hosanna to the Son of David - meaning the Messiah. Children were naturally attracted to Him for His goodness and mildness. We recall twice earlier He had even put His arms around the children, as we saw.
The chief priests and scribes were angry, probably mostly at the praise given to Jesus. But He cited Psalm 8:2 against them.
21:18-22: curse on a fig tree: Then He went back to Bethany for the night. On reentering the city the next day He saw a fig tree, and looked for fruit on it. Mark tells us that the leaves were green, even though it was not the season for figs. Jesus finding no fruit, cursed it: May you never bear fruit again.
Of course Jesus knew it was not the time for fruit. His action was like that of the ancient prophets who dramatized situations, such as Ezekiel 12 dramatizing the fall of Jerusalem, or Jeremiah in chapter 19 breaking a pottery vessel, as a forecast of what would happen to Jerusalem. Often Israel had been compared by the prophets to a fig tree or a vine::cf. Jer. 8:13; Ez 19:10. The meaning here was frightening: Israel would be punished and no longer be part of the people of God - Mt 21:43 made this painfully clear.
21:23-27: By what authority?: Priests and elder ask Jesus, by what authority He does such things? He cleverly tripped them up asking about the Baptism of John. If they said it as from heaven, why did they not believe? If they said it merely human, the people would reject them, for they considered John a prophet. Since they could not pick between these choices, they refused to answer. Jesus also refused.
21:28-32: parable of the two sons: the first son refused at first, but then went; the second said he would go, but did not go.
The second stands for the priests, scribes and pharisees: they said they would obey God, and made a great pretense of doing so, but did not really serve Him. The first son stands for the gentiles, who at first did not obey, but yet did so. Public sinners at the time of Jesus had sinned, but repented, and entered the kingdom of the Messiah after repentance.
So Jesus interpreted: those who were public sinners at first did wrong, but then repented and so entered the messianic kingdom; the authorities did not repent, and so did not enter His kingdom.
21:33-46: parable of the wicked tenants: The vineyard of course stands for Israel, as so often in the Old Testament: cf Is 5:1-6. God sent His servants, the prophets, to the Jews, they mistreated and killed them. Finally they were going to kill even His Son. They thought if they killed Him they would be safe. Thus the High Priest said it is better than one man die than that the whole nation perish: John 11:49. So to get rid of Jesus would make them safe from the Romans. What a tragic irony: the Romans did come and destroyed their city in 70 A.D.
God had intended the Israelites to be the corner stone of the kingdom He was to establish (Ps. 118:22), the messianic kingdom. They not only failed to do that (Jer 51:26), but rejected the very Messiah, He who really became the corner stone (Eph 2:20).
Verse 43 is frightening: it means the Jews would cease being the people of God, it would be given instead to the gentiles. For the Jews on the whole rejected the Church Jesus established and Him too. The gentiles accepted and entered. This agrees with the image of the two olive trees in Romans 11: the tame olive tree was the original people of God, but many branches fell from it, by lack of faith. In their place the gentile, from the wild olive, were engrafted. This stone would be something on which some would trip and fall (cf. the prophecy of Simeon in Lk 2:34), or be crushed, if it fell from its high position up above on the arch.
22:1-14: the wedding feast: The sense here is basically the same as that of the parable of the vineyard. So it does not refer to predestination to heaven or hell as so many have erroneously thought. At the end, "Many are called but few are chosen" means all the Jews [cf. Hebrew rabbim] were invited to the kingdom of the Messiah: few came in. The covenant of God with His people is often represented in the OT under the image of a marriage.
The ones who were invited not only did not come, they killed the servants who came to call them - the prophets, and Jesus Himself. So the king sent his army and destroyed their city: the Jews hoped to be safe from the Romans, as we said, in killing Jesus; instead, they brought that very ruin upon themselves in 70 A.D. This historical allusion is so obvious that some older rationalistic commentators tried to deny the authenticity of this line. Yet there is no support for such a guess: the critics merely rejected a priori all prophecies, as they did everything supernatural.
What is the wedding garment? The man had come into the kingdom, but was not allowed to come to the dinner -- it seems he lacked sanctifying grace. For it is not enough to be a member of the Church to reach final salvation.
The chief priests and Pharisees understood Jesus as speaking of them, and in their rage wanted to kill Him. Only the support of the crowds for Him kept them from doing it at once.
22:15-22: Tribute to Caesar: Here the question comes from some of the disciples, not disciples of Jesus, but probably young men who came to Jerusalem for instruction by the great rabbis. Some of the Herodians were with them, of the party favorable to the dynasty of Herod and his hellenizing tendencies. So, they favored the Roman power. In religious matters they went largely along with the materialistic ideas of the Sadducees. So politically and religiously they were opposed to the Pharisees.
Jesus affirmed civil obligations. Cf. ST. Paul, Romans chapter 13 and Titus 3:1 and 1 Pet 2:13.
22:23-33:Answer to Sadducees on Resurrection: The Sadducees denied survival after death and resurrection. Some think they accepted only the Pentateuch. Definitely, they rejected the oral traditions of the Pharisees. They thought they had an unbeatable case against Jesus, to show the resurrection was impossible. But He, cleverly, showed 1)That there is survival. He used the text on the burning bush, Exodus 3:6 where God said: "I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." Jesus added: "He is not the God of the dead but the living." Now of course, the reasoning of Jesus is valid in itself. But another question: how early did the Jews see this point? Many scholars think they did not know of survival until the time of the persecution by Antiochus IV of Syria, about 170. They claim that the Hebrews had only a one part concept of a human, i.e., a body with breath of life. The breath goes into the air; the body decays: so, no survival.
It is true they seem to have had this unitary concept; but many scholars do not notice that they also showed a persistent belief in survival by their persistent attachment to necromancy, divination by calling up the dead. It was prohibited by Lev 19:31 and 20:6. And also Dt 8:11. C. also the necromancy for Saul in 1 Sam 28: 12-19.
Their word that came closest to soul was nefesh, which seems to have meant approximately ego, or almost person. Yet we should notice the good theological method they followed here. We sometimes meet two conclusions in theological matters, which seem to clash. We then recheck our work, and often they are still there. Then we must carefully refrain from straining either part, and hope someone sometime will find how to reconcile the ideas. So it seems the Hebrews had two ideas, that man is unitary, and yet that there is survival. They did not know how to fit these together, but held to both. However, at the time of the persecution many did come to know a two part concept, with the help of: 1) Greek thought, which clearly had that, though not in a form precisely like ours; 2) the terrible deaths of the martyrs in this persecution prevented them from saying: God will make things right before the end. For even with knowing survival, they seem not to have known of retribution in the next life. But under the influence of these two factors, they did come to know retribution in the next life. This shows clearly in Wisdom 3:1: "The souls of the just are in the hand of God."
It seems that the Pharisees and their followers then believed in survival and retribution, but the Sadducees did not. St. Paul, however was definitely a Pharisee, and so his words in Phil 1 and 2 Cor 5 should be understood to reflect that belief in him.
The crowd was astounded. We may well surmise that Jesus took a sort of human pleasure in outwitting these enemies.
22:34-40: Answer to the Pharisees: The Pharisees asked Him a question they were discussing much: what is the greatest commandment? There were 613 commandments, of which 248 were positive, 365 were prohibitions. Their disputes were subtle and endless.
Jesus bypassed all their vain disputes, and took His reply from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the great Shema: "Listen O Israel: the Lord is your God, He alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind." The second was taken from Leviticus 19:18: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Unfortunately, the Pharisees had reduced neighbor to fellow Jews. Jesus elsewhere showed that all are our neighbors, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Every man had to recite this Shema twice in a day.
Jesus said that these two sum up the Law and the Prophets, i.e., everything in the Old Testament. He spoke similarly in the Sermon on the Mount, in 7:12. Paul in Romans 13:10 and Gal 5:14 did the same.
These two commands really do sum up everything. For love of neighbor means to will good to another for the other's sake. Love of God cannot be precisely that, for we cannot will good to God. But we do know that Scripture pictures Him as pleased when we obey, displeased when we do not. He cannot gain anything from our obedience, but He is pleased for two reasons: 1) His Holiness loves everything that is morally good: goodness says creatures must obey their Creator, children their Father; 2) In His generosity He wills to give good to us, but that is in vain if we are not open to receive. So His commandments are really instructions on how to be open to His favors, and they at the same time steer us away from the evils that lie in the nature of things for those who disobey His laws.
So the connection is this: If I love God, I obey Him, so He may have the pleasure of giving to me. But if I will that to Him, I also will that He have the pleasure of giving to all others, and that is love of neighbor, which wills good to neighbor, who will receive His benefits, and love of God, willing that He may have the generous pleasure of giving as He wills.
Of course, willing good to neighbor thus means we would not do anything harmful to him, rather the opposite.
The account of the same event in Mark 12:28-34 tells us that after Jesus spoke, the scribe praised Him: "Teacher you have rightly said He is one... this is much more important than all holocausts and sacrifices." Jesus replied: "You are not far from the kingdom of God." That is, the Scribe seeing so much, might be close to entering the Messianic kingdom.
22:42-46: Implication of Psalm 110: Jesus now took the offensive. In Psalm 110 David said: "The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool." The first "Lord" means God, the second meant the Messiah. David called the Messiah Lord - implying the Messiah was more than just a son of David, though He was that too.
After this, the Pharisees had no comeback, and did not again try to ask Him questions.
There are other places in the Old Testament which readily can be taken to refer to the divinity of the Messiah: Isaiah 9:5-6: "God the Mighty." Also there could be an implication in Ps 80:15-18; Ps 45:7-8; Ezek 34:11; Jer 23:3, and 30:11. Also in Lk 1:35 the Archangel says the Messiah will be conceived by the "overshadowing" of the Holy Spirit - a word used in the OT, as in Ex 40:34 for the Divine Presence filling the Tabernacle - and then the archangel adds: "for this reason", i.e., because conceived by the Divine Presence, "He will be called Son of God" - a surely unique reason for calling Him that.
23:1-12: Obeying but not imitating the Pharisees: Thee is discussion about the time when Jesus spoke these words. St. Luke in 11:39-51 and 13:34-35 has the same material, but in seemingly a different setting. Now of course it is quite possible that Jesus said the same things on more than one occasion-- as a traveling speaker He naturally did much repeating. Yet, considering everything, it seems specially likely that St. Matthew has put these words in the present setting, for they help make up a sequence of events leading up to the Passion. And of course, since it is likely that Matthew grouped things to put together the Sermon on the Mount, he may have done something similar here.
In this first segment, verses 1-12, Jesus in spite of all His strictures against the Pharisees, yet teaches that they do have teaching authority, i.e., sit on the seat of Moses. Of course this applies only to things that they teach as it were from the seat of Moses - not to the things that contradict Scripture, such as their teaching on Korban. Nor to the foolish oral laws, which we have seen above.
Jesus said the Pharisees bind terribly heavy loads of rules for others, but do not live up to them themselves. Even allowing for some of the usual Semitic exaggeration here, there is still a large basic truth left.
Then He charges them with ostentation: First, He mentions their exaggeration in the matter of phylacteries and fringes. The old law did require phylacteries, in Dt 6:8-9, which called for the words of the Shema to be written and made an emblem on hand and forehead, and on the doorposts of the houses. The phylacteries were small receptacles which contained tiny parchment bits with this text, as a reminder of the whole Torah. They also contained the words of Ex 13:1-10;11-16 and Dt. 11:13-21. They were worn at prayer, except on the sabbath and feast days. All Jews then, including Jesus, would have phylacteries. The Pharisees made them specially large, for ostentation.
The tassels were a dangling ornament of white woolen threads and a blue cord attached to the four corners of a garment as a reminder of God's presence, salvation and the commandments, following the instruction given in Numbers 15:38-41. The woman with the flow of blood touched such tassels worn by Jesus. Again, the Pharisees made them specially large.
The oriental mode of salutation was very ostentatious and demonstrative of respect. The Pharisees loved such things.
The Pharisees also liked to have the most honored places.
Jesus in reaction tells His disciples not to let anyone call them father. This was not understood in too rigid a sense, for St. Paul in 1 Cor 4:15 told the Corinthians that even if they had 10, 000 guardians in Christ, "you do not have many fathers... In Christ Jesus I became your father through the Gospel." Cf. 1 Tim 2:7 and 2 Tim 1:11. His remarks about the title of teacher are to be taken similarly.
23:13-15: false religion of the Pharisees: Jesus says they lock people out of the kingdom - that is, they are keeping others from entering the kingdom of the Messiah, which they themselves are not entering. Yet they go even great distances to make a convert to Judaism, and when they have one, the convert becomes even more zealous for pettiness than the one who converted him.
23:16-24: distortions on oaths and tithes: They went in for subtle casuistry on oaths, saying that to swear by the temple was not binding, but to swear by the gold on the temple was binding. They reasoned that to swear by a creature that had no intimate relation with God was not binding - foolishly saying the temple had no such relation, but the gold did. (Let us recall the words of Jesus on oaths in 5:33-37).
The Pharisees went to great extremes also on tithing. There was a precept for tithing: Lev 27:30-33; Dt 14:22-29. The Pharisees in their ostentation were so scrupulous about tithes that they paid tithes on mint, dill and cummin. These were herbs used in cooking or to perfume rooms. Dill and cummin were also used for medicinal purposes. They were in themselves so insignificant that they could have been ignored.
It seems that in their extreme care to avoid consuming any unclean animals, they filtered drinks, through a cloth, to get out gnats etc. The talk about swallowing a camel is of course oriental exaggeration. But Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels, (Oxford, 1967, p. 175) reports that there may have been a play on words: Aramaic qalma, gnat, compared to gamla camel. The Pharisees while fussy about trifles, neglected the more basic moral things.
23:25-32: purification of utensils: The Pharisees were also extremely careful about cleansing utensils, to avoid any ritual impurity (cf. Mk, 7:4). It seems the school of Hillel thought that it was enough to cleanse the interior of a vessel, while the school of Shammai said it was necessary to cleanse both. Jesus insists on moral purity instead of mere legalistic purity.
23:27-28: whitewashed tombs: It as usual to whitewash tombs just before the Passover, so that the tombs would stand out, and no one might accidentally touch them and so become legally unclean for seven days: Numbers 19:16).
23:33-39: those who kill the prophets: The Jews then did build tombs for the prophets, as if to say that if they had lived in those times they would not have killed them. But Jesus says they are about to do worse, to kill Him, the Prophet of prophets.
Jesus speaks of the blood of all the prophets from Abel to Zechariah son of Berachiah. The sense is clear enough: it means the blood of all prophets from the beginning of time to the end of the last historical book of the Old Testament: 2 Chron 24:10-22. Jehoida had been chief priest in the time of King Joash, and induced him to collect money to restore the temple. Jehoida lived for 130 years. But after him the officials induced the king to change course, and set up the sacred poles. Zechariah, son of Jehoida reproved them for it. But the officials by command of the king stoned him to death in the court of the temple.
There is a problem: the Zechariah just mentioned was son of Jehoida, not of Berachiah. Several solutions are possible. Some think there is a copyists error here. Lk 11:51 mentions Zechariah, but does not say "son of Berachiah." Albright and Mann, (Anchor, Matthew, p. 282) suggest this might be another Zechariah of whom we have no knowledge. More likely the solution would be to say that since Jehoida lived 130 years, he must have had children. One could have been Berachiah, the actual father of Zechariah. This would be quite possible. A grandfather or even more remote ancestor is sometimes spoken of as a man's father. Thus Zechariah is said to be son of his grandfather Iddo in Ezra 6:14 (cf. Zech 1:1). And Daniel 5:2 speaks of Belshazzar as son of Nebuchadnezzar - who lived long before Belshazzar.
Interestingly the parallel passage in Luke 11:49-51 omits the name Berachiah. But also, at the start it says: "The Wisdom of God says." so the Gospel seems here to be quoting an unknown work. How far did the quote extend? As far as the words about Zechariah? If so, the presence in Mt of the same words with Berachiah might be a quote all the way through. Then inspiration would only guarantee it was quoted accurately, not that the extra-Scriptural source was correct.
Jesus even called the Pharisees," brood of vipers". This is strong language. John the Baptist spoke similarly: 3:7; 12:34. Some think it is unchristian to speak strongly. Not at all, Jesus did it when there was reason, as there was here.
Jesus laments over the coming ruin of Jerusalem. He wished to gather them as a hen does her chicks, but they refused. St. Augustine remarks that a hen is more motherly than other animals, for even when we do not see the chicks, we can see she is a mother. This expresses the warmth of God's love. It does not justify calling God "she", which the Scriptures never do.
He said they would not see Him again until they would say: "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord." This could not mean Palm Sunday, which was past by this time. Some think it refers to His second coming - sad for some, glad for others. Others think it refers to the coming conversion of the Jews to Christ, foretold in Romans 11:25-33.
Chapter 24: the end of time and of Jerusalem: We are not dividing this chapter as usual, since there is so much difference among commentators about it. At first sight, it seems the disciples ask Him two questions: about the signs for the fall of Jerusalem, and about the sings for His return at the end. Some think that in the minds of the disciples, both were taken together, that they would both happen at about the same time.
But if we turn to what as in the mind of Christ, there are clearly two events, for the fall of Jerusalem happened in 70 AD, the end is not yet here.
We have spoken before of multiple fulfillment of prophecies (cf. Free From All error, chapter 5 ). It is likely that we have a large example of it here. We mean that all the signs went through before 70 AD, and of course, can go through again before tHis second coming. The following content is summarized from chapter 5 of Free From All Error.
1) "Many will come in my name, saying: "'I am the Christ', and will lead many astray." There were false Messiahs before 70. Thus Acts 5: 36-37 tells of revolts led by Theudas and Judas of Galilee. Now Judas seems to belong to an earlier time, about 6-7 AD. Josephus however puts Theudas in the 40s AD. To explain: Josephus is not always accurate; or, Luke may be following the Greek genre of history in which speeches may sometimes be made up to fit an occasion, without solid basis.
Acts 21:38 speaks of another false Messiah from Egypt, but does not give his name.
2) Wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes. But Jesus adds "All this is only the beginning of sufferings." So these signs which are general enough to apply to almost any period of history, are not signs immediately before the end.
There were many wars before 70, especially the great Jewish revolt starting in 66 AD. Also 69 was the year of the four Emperors: Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian. The first three each ruled just a few months after the fall of Nero. Vespasian finally was able to hold the throne. And there were famines in the time of Emperor Claudius (42-54). Acts 11:28 says a prophet called Agabus predicted a severe famine.
There were pestilences too. Tacitus in Annals 16:13 says that the year 65 was "a year of shame and of so many evil deeds, [which] heaven also marked by storms and pestilence. Campania was devastated by a hurricane, which destroyed everywhere country houses, plantations and crops, and carried its rage to the vicinity of Rome, where a dreadful plague was sweeping away people of all classes... the houses were filled with corpses, and the streets with funerals."
Tacitus also tells of earthquakes in various places in the empire: In the Province of Asia in 53 (Annals 12:58); in Rome in 51 AD (Annals 12:43); in Campania and especially Pompeii in 62 AD (Annals 15: 22). Seneca the philosopher and Josephus also tell of earthquakes.
Jesus also foretold persecutions. There were many of those before 70 AD, and many of them from the Jews, who persistently pursued St. Paul, and once thought they had him dead by stoning. Nero's persecution also came in this period.
24:12 is frightening: Because sin will go the limit, the love of most people will grow cold. There was immense sin in this period of course, perhaps not as great as that which will come before the end, to which specially applies Lk 18:8: "When the Son of Man comes, do you think He will find faith upon the earth?"
24:14 says the Gospel must be preached throughout the world, and then the end will come." St. Paul told the Romans (15:23) that he no longer had a place to preach in the whole eastern Mediterranean. But before the real end, the Gospel will have reached throughout the globe.
A specially difficult line is 24:15: "When you see the desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet Daniel (9:27) standing in the holy place... then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains." Daniel spoke of the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes (167-65). The Emperor Caligula in 40 AD ordered that a statue be place in the Jerusalem Temple, but it seems his subordinates had the good judgment to ignore that order. Yet Eusebius (Histories 3. 5) reports that many Christians in Jerusalem did see something that caused them to flee to the city of Pella before the fall of Jerusalem. Probably they had seen the Roman eagles on the standards of the soldiers in the outer temple area. The soldiers actually worshipped those eagles, and so they were really idols.
Another difficult line is 24:29-31: "Right after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in the sky."
For certain this passage is basically of apocalyptic genre. And we know that such language was used earlier, by Isaiah 13:9-10: "The day of the Lord comes, cruel with wrath... for the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising and the moon will not shed its light." But Isaiah spoke only of the fall of Babylon. Isaiah spoke similarly in 34:4 on the fall of Edom, as did Ezekiel 32:7-8 on distress coming to Egypt. So such language could apply to coming fall of Jerusalem, more terrible than that of Babylon.
However, the last words of 24:31 may apply only to the final end, when the sign of the Son of Man - mostly likely the cross -will appear in the sky. This is what Jesus Himself seems to have spoken of in Mt 26:64 to the High Priest saying he would see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.
24:43 says this generation will not pass away until it all is fulfilled. Yes, we have seen that at least practically all the signs enumerated did come before 70 A.D. They will come most fully before the final end.
Finally, Jesus warns that the signs are not so clear that most people will read them: "As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man." People will be eating, drinking, marrying - that is, business as usual. And suddenly it will be there. So St. Paul told the Thessalonians (1 Th. 5:2-3) that the day will come like a thief in the night. Cf. 2 Pet 3:10. His coming will be as obvious as lightening flashing from one end of the sky to the other:24:27. And as obvious also as a carcass with vultures circling around it: 14:28. Verses 40-43 tell of one being taken to reward, the other to punishment at that coming. So watch.
25:1-13: Parable of wise and foolish virgins:The teaching is the same as the last part of chapter 24:One must be prepared and watch, for the time can come suddenly.
25:14-30: Parable of the talents: A master who is rich cannot easily take his money with him, so he entrusts it to slaves to invest for him. A talent was about 6000 denarii - a denarius was a day's wages. So the sum is enormous. The talents stand of course for the abilities, natural and supernatural, entrusted to each one. Each one should make profitable use of their own talents. The reward will be great.
But one man said the master was harsh: he would reap what he had not sown. The master judged him out of his own mouth: he had considered the master harsh. So the master would be harsh to the servant. Lk 19:22 puts it very dramatically: "I will judge you by your own words."
This is a frightening line. We wonder : does it apply to those who paint God as harsh, as condemning to hell those who never had a chance to hear of the Church. If God takes them at their word, they will not fare well. Yes. there is a teaching: No salvation outside the Church. But as the Holy Office said in condemning the errors of L. Feeney in 1949, we must understand the documents of the Church the way the Church means them, not by private interpretation. Cf. DS 3866ff. and Wm. Most, Our Father's Plan, appendix I.
Verse 29 of chapter 25 seems like a proverb. We could explain it by a comparison. We think of a man who has never been drunk before, but tonight he get very drunk. Next day he will have guilt feelings -it is the first time - from a clash between his beliefs and his actions. In time, something will give. He will align his actions with his beliefs or his beliefs will be pulled to match his actions. He will lose the ability to see moral truth more and more; and this can extend even to doctrinal truths. So he goes out on a spiral, which gets larger as it goes out, and feeds on itself. There is a spiral in the good direction, in which one lives strenuously according to faith, which says the things of this world are worth little compared to eternity. His spiritual vision improves more and more. So the one who is on the bad spiral begins to lose much of the light he once had; the one on the good spiral is given more and more.
Is this the same parable as in Lk 19:12-27? We know, as we said before, that Jesus, a traveling speaker, would often repeat. It could be He gave the same idea in slightly different forms at different times. There are considerable differences in detail in the two presentations, leading us to incline to think of one parable given twice or more than twice.
25:31-46: Last Judgment: We notice easily the color of apocalyptic genre here. All humans of all centuries are assembled before the Divine Judge. Of course, no spot on earth would be enough for this, there probably would not be standing room on the globe. So it is clearly apocalyptic. Of course, there will be a last judgment, but not in precisely this form. The essential is that all the judgments of God on each individual be revealed and shown to be just. That could be done by way of something like an interior locution: in such an event, God as it were touches the brain of a person, and can convey any amount of information in just one touch.
The judgment deals only with matter of fraternal charity, in which Jesus identifies Himself with the suffering and the poor. Of course, all moral matters are material. But His purpose was to put special stress on these matters.
What of the fact that the judge seem not to accept ignorance as a plea? we distinguish. If there really would be total ignorance-- almost impossible to imagine-- there would be an excuse. The excuse is that the sinners did not recognize Jesus in those suffering. Now there can be ignorance as to His identification, but there could hardly be ignorance about the moral requirement of charity to those in need.
Both the punishment and the reward are equally unending, eternal. Eternal life can never be boring, for two reasons. First, the vision of God is infinite, which we, finite receptacles, try to take in. Secondly, because there is no time there. There are three kinds of duration: time, eternity, aevum. In time there can be and are all kinds of changes, both substantial or deep, and smaller, or accidental. Further, the accidental changes are constant. Ahead of me is a moment I call future - but it changes quickly to present- then to past. this goes on without ceasing. But outside of time, namely in aevum (more on it in a moment) and in eternity, there is no such constant succession of accidental changes. Eternity, in the strict sense, is the kind of duration in which no change of any kind is possible. That belongs to God alone, though we say, loosely, that when someone dies he goes to eternity. The right word would be aevum. For God then, with no change, everything is present. We say He made the world, a past statement. To His eye it is present. We say Christ will return at the end, a future statement: to His eye that too is present. We cannot of course grasp that, but we know it must be true.
Aevum is the type of duration in which angels and devils always exist, and in which we shall be after death. In it there is no possibility of a substantial or deep change- hence both heaven and hell have to be permanent, for the attitude of will towards God with which we leave this world can no longer be changed. And hence its effect, eternal bliss, eternal woe, cannot be change, cannot end. In aevum there can be accidental change, but it does not go on constantly, like the unceasing future to present- to past sequence. Yet there can be some accidental change before one goes to heaven or hell - in those there is no change at all until the resurrection. Then the change will be getting bodies, glorified or unglorified. But in purgatory there are two kinds of changes: 1)the soul needs to pay by suffering the debt of rebalance of the objective order for its own sins (on this see Supplement 2 , after 3:7-10). There may be sort of stages in this, hence some development. Ideally a soul should get this work done before leaving this world. If not, it must be done in purgatory. And thank heavens there is a purgatory, for without getting this done, there could be no vision of God at all for that soul. We think of Malachi 3:2: "Who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire." In the vision of God a soul is joined directly to the divinity, without even an image in between-for no image could show what God is like, yet it sees Him "face to face" (1 Cor 13:12). God will not join Himself to a soiled soul (cf. Apoc 21:27), nor would the refiner's fire let it remain soiled.
There is also need, if not accomplished in this life, of full refinement of the soul to make it fully capable of the direct vision of God. Again, there may be stages in this development.
But for those in heaven or hell, there is no change at all until resurrection. St. Augustine wrote that we will partake of the unchangeability of the eternity of God (City of God 10. 7). Just as He told Moses at the burning bush: "I AM" He simply IS. The soul in heaven simply IS unimaginably fulfilled and happy. But there is no succession that goes on and on: it simply IS. Sometimes teachers used to tell children to imagine a little bird coming every thousand years to take one peck at a granite mountain: when it has the mountain all worn away, eternity is just beginning. The image is faulty: there is no just going on and on: it simply IS. Simply a soul in hell simply IS unspeakably wretched and miserable, with no change.
At the resurrection, the souls get bodies. With a glorified body, the body too is filed will any fulfillment it could wish, e.g., can travel anywhere in the universe, should it so will, by merely willing it. As for a soul with a risen unglorified body, the Doctrinal Congregation taught on May 17, 1979 that there will be a "repercussion on the whole being of the sinner" from hell. Thus we attempt to speak more clearly about the fire of hell. Fire here is rapid oxidation. Oxidation does not affect a risen body or a spirit. Yet the content is this: the suffering in body will be as severe and intense as that coming from the fire of oxidation in this our world.
For those in bliss, the words of Apocalypse apply (Apoc 21:4-5): "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or grief or crying out or pain, for the former world has passed. The One who sat on the throne said: Behold, I make all things new!"
26:1-13: The anointing: Here we can find more details in Mk 14:3-9 and John 12:1-11. Lk 7:36-50 also tells of an anointing, but most probably came on another occasion. John tells us that Jesus came to Bethany six days before the Passover, and was at the house of Simon the Leper - doubtless a leper whom Jesus had cured. If we take the Passover to refer to the Last Supper, He would have come on the previous Friday. However the anointing took place only two days before the Passover.
The woman was Mary the brother of Lazarus, as Jn 12:3 tells us. She was not Magdalen, nor the sinful woman who also anointed the feet of the Lord as Luke reports.
The flask was alabaster, with a narrow neck. The ointment would be removed by snapping the thin neck. The ointment would be fairly viscous. It was made of nard and was authentic, for the price mentioned, 300 denarii, is large - a denarius was the usual day's wage for a laborer.
Matthew and Mark say Mary anointed the head of Jesus. John adds that she also anointed His feet and wiped them with her hair.
Jesus said it was for His burial - it was not usual to anoint the body of an executed criminal, though of course that thought would not apply to Him.
Thee were complaints about the waste, especially for Judas whom Jn 12:6 calls a thief.
Jesus said that they would always have the poor with them, not so would they have Him, that is in the earthly presence as then.
26:14-16: Betrayal by Judas: This seems to have happened shortly after the anointing. A betrayal was needed, for the priests feared to arrest Him in the presence of the crowds, who considered Him at least a prophet. They gave him 30 pieces of silver, the price for the death of a slave (Ex 21:32). Zechariah 11:12 foretold payment of 30 shekels, which is called a paltry price in 12:13, for the shepherd, who stands for the Messiah. Interestingly Matthew, who is sometimes said to be hostile to the Pharisees, does not mention Pharisees at this point, but only the chief priests. John 11:56 makes clear that Pharisees were also involved.
26:17-19: Preparations for the Last Supper: Just as He had done before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, similarly Jesus instructed disciples to go into the city and prepare for the Passover meal. Hospitality to those from outside the city was often extended for this great festival. In addition, Jesus may have known the host personally.
Date of the Last Supper and Passover:
The problem is how to harmonize John with the Synoptics. We certainly must not suppose there was a clash, which would mean error in Scripture. Several solutions have been proposed and are each plausible.
1. On the one hand, the Synoptics seem to suppose it was a Passover meal:
Mk 14. 12: "On the first day of unleavened bread when the Passover was immolated the disciples said to Him: Where do you want us to go to prepare for you to eat the Passover."
Lk 22:7: "The day of unleavened bread came in which it was necessary that the Passover be sacrificed" (thyesthai).
Lk 22. 15: "With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer."
2. But on the other hand, John seems to indicate the Last Supper was before the Passover.
John 13:1: Before the day of the Feast of the Passover, Jesus seeing that His hour had come that He should pass from this world to the Father...."
John 18:28: "They led Jesus from Caiaphas to the pretorium. It was morning, and they did not enter the pretorium so they would not be unclean, but so that they might eat the Passover."
John 19:14: "It was the preparation [parasceve] of the Passover at about the 6th hour...."
1. In that year, when the Passover fell on a Sabbath, some or all of the Passover lambs were sacrificed on Thursday afternoon, to prevent the possible violation of the Sabbath rest on Friday.
2. When the Passover fell on a Sabbath, as it was that year, the Pharisees held the Passover meal, with or without the lamb, on Thursday evening, to avoid any danger of violation of the Sabbath rest, while the Sadducees, closer to the letter of the law, did so on Friday. Hence the Synoptic account could have followed the practice of the Pharisees, while John's account would speak of those who would follow the calendar used by the Sadducees.
3. Jesus entered Jerusalem shortly after noon on Thursday, the 14th of Nisan. The room was prepared, the lamb taken to the temple court to be sacrificed (it was a zebah). At nightfall on Thursday, Jesus and the Apostles did eat the pascal lamb. He died the next day.
To solve the special difficulties from John:
1. John 13:1: The words "just before the Passover Feast" refer to Jesus showing His love by washing their feet.
2. John 18:28: The whole celebration of unleavened bread lasted seven days. The Jews did not want to become unclean for any part of those days.
3. John 19:14: It speaks of the preparation day. But there is evidence that those words had become a technical name for Friday, since Friday was normally the day on which they prepared for the Sabbath, which was Saturday. Josephus (Antiquities 14. 19-21 [ ii. 1] uses Passover to refer to the entire Feast of Unleavened Bread, seven days. Also, the Mishnah, Pesahim 9. 5 speaks the same way. The usage is probably implied also in Luke 22:1. So John 19:14 probably means "Friday in Passover week".
The Mishnah, Sanhedrin 11. 4 said that the execution of a rebellious teacher should take place on one of the principal feasts so all the people would hear and fear.
26:20-30:The Passover meal: The words of Jesus in vv. 20-21 that some one of them would betray Him were probably spoken at the beginning of the meal, and before the institution of the Holy Eucharist. This seems likely from Mk 14:18 and John 13:10-11. John seems to put these words right after the washing of the feet. Luke 22:21-23 seems to put the words after the institution of the Eucharist. In general, the Gospels do not always observe chronological order. Or else, Jesus, in sadness, may have said the same thing a second time. His words in Matthew and Mark about the one who dips his hand into the bowl with Him were probably not an identification of the traitor - for if this was while they were eating the roast lamb, then there would b e a bowl of herbs and a fruit puree, and all would dip a hand into the bowl- the usual way of eating then. By these words Jesus was showing the intimate relation in which the traitor was with Him. And there was an allusion, brought out by John 13:18, to Psalm 41:9:"My dear friend, in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me." The real identification of the traitor would come a bit later, in John 13:22-30, after this point (cf. Lk 22:21).
In verse 24 Jesus says that the Son of Man is going, as it was written of Him. Thus He shows full awareness of the prophecies of His passion. Isaiah 53 would be specially in mind, plus Psalm 22 and Zechariah 12:10-11. Jesus adds that it would be better for the traitor never to have been born. Is this a revelation of the damnation of Judas? It could be Semitic exaggeration, so we are not sure, but it seems possible when we consider other instances of great exaggeration, such as Is 13:9-10 on fall of Babylon and Is 34:4 on punishment of Edom and Ezek 32:7-8 on judgment on Egypt.
In verse 25 we have Matthew's way of reporting the identification of the traitor. Was this the same thing as that in John 13:215-26 and Luke 22:21, or was it a confirmation Judas asked for. More likely the second.
26:26-29: Institution of the Holy Eucharist: Jesus says of the bread: This is my body, of the wine, this is my blood. May we press the word "is" so as to say He did not mean "stands for" but "is"? No. In both Hebrew and Aramaic, the verb "is" is commonly omitted. We depend on the Church for the understanding of the real Presence, with the help of course of the way the crowds understood His promise of the Eucharist in John 6: they did not take it as anything symbolic, but instead drifted away.
He blessed the bread. Probably He used a common Jewish blessing, such as: "May you be blessed, Our Lord God, king of the world, you cause the land to produce the bread." Over the chalice He may well have used a common Jewish blessing: "Blessed are you, O Lord Our God, King of the Universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine." We might note the strong similarity of these blessings to our current offertory prayers in the Roman rite for the host and the chalice.
Jesus says His blood is poured out for the remission of sins. The wording is reminiscent of the blood of the Sinai covenant sacrifice in Exodus 24:5-8. That blood in Exodus splashed on the people signified that they were becoming as it were blood kinsmen of God. So He would be their goel the next of kin who, within the covenant bond hesed, had both the right and the duty to rescue a kinsman of his who was in dire difficulty. To drink His blood then was to be His kinsman, His brother, by a sort of blood transfusion. The Mishnah, Pesahim 10. 6 (from about 200 AD and so probably reflecting a tradition on hand at the time of Jesus) uses Exodus 24:8 to interpret the Passover wine as a metaphor for blood that seals a covenant between God and His people.
Already this Last Supper was a true sacrifice, in which His blood was poured out for the remission of sins. For we gather from Isaiah 29:13 that a sacrifice includes two elements, outward sign ("they honor with their lips", and interior disposition ("their hearts are far from me"). (Not all peoples had so understood sacrifice, e.g., in Mesopotamia it was food for the gods).
Here the outward sign was the seeming separation of body and blood indicated by the two separate species. It was as if Jesus had said: "Father, I know the command you have given me. I am to die tomorrow. Very good, I turn myself over to death - expressed by this separation - I accept, I obey." He made that pledge that evening, carried it out the next day, when the outward sign became the physical separation of body and blood. In the Mass, the outward sign is the same as on Holy Thursday. On all three occasions, the interior is the disposition of obedience in Jesus. Cf. Romans 5:29 and Vatican II, LG §3: "By His obedience He brought about redemption." That disposition was really present from the first instant of the incarnation, as we see from Hebrews 10:7: "Behold I come to do your will O God." It was interiorly repeated or rather, continued at the presentation in the Temple, which was as it were the offertory of the great sacrifice. Now that obedience is expressed again, but even today in our Mass, the disposition is continued, not repeated. Death makes permanent the disposition of soul with which one leaves this world. Hence both heaven and hell have to be permanent.
His Blessed Mother shared this interior at the annunciation, in saying her fiat. She repeated it interiorly at the presentation in the temple. She continued it especially on Calvary. LG §56 speaks twice of her cooperation by obedience, as does §61: "In suffering with Him as He died on the cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior, in an altogether singular way, by obedience , faith, hope and burning love, to restore supernatural life to souls". Her obedience on Calvary was of incomprehensible difficulty. For any soul that knows what God positively wills must not just say, "Let it go", but must positively will what He wills. So she had to positively will that He die, die then, die so horribly. This went most contrary to her love for Him, which was strictly incomprehensible . For Pius IX in defining the Immaculate Conception spoke of her holiness - which in practice is same as love of God - as being so great that "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it." So not even the highest cherubim and seraphim can understand her love, and so her suffering. Only God Himself can do that! On this cf. John Paul II, Mother of the Redeemer §§ 18-19.
Since her fiat was continued, never retracted, she had it, exercised it at the Cross. And so from Scripture alone, even without the Magisterium, we can see her cooperation in the redemption, by way of obedience.
Lk 22:19 (and 1 Cor 11:24, but not Mt. or Mk) reports that He added: "Do this in memory of me." We were not present when He made that pledge or when He carried it out, but He wanted and wants us to join our dispositions with His. For even though it is true that His merits and satisfaction are infinite, so that no one can add to it, yet it is one thing for Him to earn, another for us to take in what He offers. Hence Romans 8:17: "We are heirs of God, fellow-heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him." This is the great Pauline syn Christo theme: We are saved and made holy if and to the extent that we are members of Christ and like Him. Cf. Romans 6:1-22; Col 3:1-6; Eph 2:5-7 and Rom 8:9.
We carry out this obedience in our daily lives (LG §34), and present it with His in the Mass.
Our Lady is not absent from the Mass either. Just as she took such an intimate part, as we saw above, in the objective redemption, i. e, the once-for-all-earning of all grace, so she continues in the subjective redemption, the giving out of the fruits of that once-for-all sacrifice. John Paul II, on Feb. 12, 1984 said: "Every liturgical action ... is an occasion of communion... and in a particular way with Mary... . she is present in the memorial - the liturgical action - because she was present at the saving event... . She is at every altar where the memorial of the Passion and Resurrection is celebrated, because she was present, faithful with her whole being, to the Father's plan, at the historical-salvific occasion of Christ's death."
As to the outward sign of the Mass: it is still the flesh and blood He has from her that is offered. As to the inward disposition - her obedience to His will, to the will of the Father, has never ceased, is still most perfect, beyond our ability to understand, as we saw above from the text of Pius IX.
Thomas Aquinas helps us understand a further facet. In Summa I. 19. 5. c he says that God in His love of good order, likes to have one thing in place, to serve as a title or reason for giving a second thing, even though that title does not move Him. So strictly, although God did not have to provide for her cooperation in the redemption, or for her cooperation in the Mass, or for that of the Saints in the subjective redemption, yet on this principle of love of good order, it does please Him. So we had better line up with His will in this. In fact, this principle also shows us why the Mass is called for at all: Jesus earned all, once for all, on the Cross, nothing further would be needed beyond our openness. Yet He likes to have the Mass as the title for giving out what was once fully bought and paid for.
Jesus said His blood was shed "for many." This reflects the language of the prophecy of His passion in Isaiah 53: 11 & 12, where the word is Hebrew rabbim, a strange word indeed. It meant all, but specified that the all were many. So it means: the all who are many. It would not be suitable to use if the all were few. Yet we know it did mean all, by parallelism with kulanu, a more ordinary word for all, in verse 6 referring to the same persons. If Jesus were speaking Aramaic, the word would be saggi'in, which we find in the Targum on Isaiah on these two verses, 53:11 & 12. The words "for many" are in Matthew and Mark, but not in Luke or 1 Corinthians.
There are some today who have little faith, and insist the Mass is now invalid since once we had the Latin pro multis but now have "for all." We said they have little faith. They argue that a substantial change in the word for a sacrament makes it invalid. That is true. But it is for the Church to decide which changes invalidate, not for private persons, engaging in private interpretation, parallel to the private interpretation done by Protestants on Scripture. The Church shows this approval by the constant practice of the Pope when he says Mass in English or Italian. He who does not believe the Church falls under the stricture of Mt 18:17. And further, we have just shown the Hebrew background from Isaiah 53. Further, St. Paul always uses Greek polloi, whose usual meaning is many, to mean all when he uses polloi as a substantive, e.g., Romans 5:19, where Paul uses polloi but obviously means all, for he is speaking of original sin, which comes to all. Latin picked up the pro multis translation from St. Paul's Greek practice.
As we said, the Eucharist is a sacrifice. It was also the making of the New Covenant, as foretold by Jeremiah 31:31-33 . (Cf. LG § 9). We may well wonder if Jeremiah saw all that the Church now sees, for it is likely Jeremiah would have thought of the obedience of the new covenant as parallel to that of Sinai in Ex 19:5, namely, the obedience of the people. Of course, the obedience of the people is involved, as we saw above, in speaking of the syn Christo theme. But LG §55 indicates that the Holy Spirit may have more in mind than what the human author saw in some texts - LG was speaking there of Gen 3:15 and Is 7:14.
Hebrew berith meant only covenant. But the Greek word diatheke used to translate it, could mean either covenant or last will and testament. Almost always in the NT diatheke means covenant.
We have seen that the Redemption and Eucharist is a sacrifice and the making of the New Covenant. The redemption is also rebalance of the objective order, which was explained in
Supplement 2, after 3:7-10. Jesus gave up immeasurably more than all sinners had taken from the scales of the objective order. His Blessed Mother, as we just explained, joined in that. Yet she did not add to the rebalance, for her whole ability to do anything came entirely from Him. She did contribute to making the titles (cf. I. 19. 5. c) richer, as the Father so generously willed.
The Council of Trent, in DS 1752 tells us that by these words, "Do this in memory of me," Jesus ordained the apostles priests.
Verse 29 indicates this was the last Passover meal He would have with them before His death.
26: 30-35: To Gethsemani (Aramaic for oil press): They sang a hymn. The Hymn normally used at this point in the rite was the last part of the Hallel, Psalm 114-18 or 115-18. In Ps 118. 1-4 the leader would sing the first part of the line, the group would answer: "For His hesed, (fidelity to the covenant), endures forever." How meaningful for Jesus to use these words precisely at the time when He was making the new covenant. We can think too: He chose precisely this time, when our race was preparing to do its worst against Him, to give us this miraculous means, the Eucharist, of being close to Him.
Jesus then quoted Zechariah 13:7. He Himself is clearly the shepherd.
Jesus then said He would go before them to Galilee - in the account of the postresurrection appearances, the angel tells the women to tell the apostles to go to Galilee, where they will see Him as He said. Yet there are appearances before that. The reason is probably here: Jesus speaks of Galilee as the point from which His mission had begun, also the place where it was then to close.
Peter and the others then said they would never desert Jesus. But Jesus predicted Peter would deny Him before cockcrow. Lk 22:31 and Jn 13:36-38 both say the prediction came before leaving the dinner; while Matthew and Mark put it ion the road to Gethsemani. Commentators point out that there may have been two predictions. Quite possible. But when we recall that the Evangelists are not trying for chronological order in general, perhaps the effort is not needed.
Mk 14:30 speaks of Peter denying before the cock would crow twice. Romans gave the name cock-crow to the period between midnight and 3 A. M. Roosters then seem to have crowed about 12:30 AM, 1:30 A. M. and 2:30 a. m.
26:36-46: agony in Gethsemani: Jesus went to the area on the west slope of Gethsemani. He took within that place only the special three, Peter, James and John. He said His soul was sorrowful to the point of death, a sorrow so deep it could almost kill. Matthew says He was in grief and agitation. Mark even uses the word fear.
One unperceptive commentator says He should not have been afraid, for He knew He would rise on the third day. How dull! That foreknowledge would not keep the nails and scourging from hurting!
What of His emotional distress and even fear? There are insistent teachings of the Church that His human soul, from the first instant of conception, saw the vision of God, in which all knowledge is present (cf. Wm. Most, The Consciousness of Christ, Front Royal, Va. 1980). So He knew from the first instant, in horrid detail, everything He was to suffer. This would as it were eat on Him. He allowed us to see inside Himself in Lk 12:50:
"I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until it be accomplished. That is, I must be plunged into deep suffering, and cannot get comfortable until it is over. Similarly in John 12: 27: "Now my heart is troubled. What shall I say? Father, save me from this hour." And then in the garden this nightmare, running all His life, caught up with Him. When we have a bad dream, we scream and awaken ourselves. He awoke to find it had Him. The fact that He had this foreknowledge would not protect Him from fear and distress. Rather, it made it worse, since it had been running all His life long. In Phil 2:7 we hear that He emptied Himself. Of course, He could not stop being divine, but He could and did decide not to use His divine power for His own comfort --would use that only for the sick. So His was an unprotected humanity, and such a humanity would suffer intensely from such a prospect.
Hebrews 5:8 says that Jesus "learned obedience from the things He suffered". Now this cannot mean that obedience in His human will was at all deficient. For the same Epistle to the Hebrews in 10:5-7 says that on entering into the world at the incarnation He said: "Behold, I come to do your will O God. But besides obedience in the will there is a bodily counterpart, which could be called a resonance (on this cf. Wm. Most, Our Father's Plan, chapter 16). Imagine a man who has been very devoted to the will of God for years, but yet has never had any great physical suffering. Now he falls gravely ill. Even though his will is fully in accord with the will of God, yet it takes some adjusting, as it were, to enable his bodily side to settle down, to acquiesce in that pain. Similarly the bodily side of Jesus could undergo an adjustment, while His will was always with that of the Father.
But it was not just the prospect of terrible physical suffering, it was also the pain of rejection by those He loved. The pain of rejection is in proportion to two things: the form the rejection takes, and the love the rejected one has for those abusing him. The form the rejection took here was not just jostling rudeness in a crowd: it was death, death in the most hideous form imaginable. And as to love: His love for us was, in His divinity, the infinite love of God for us; in His human will, it was willing or wishing us eternal happiness so strongly as to be willing to go through such a suffering to make it possible. Pius XII in his Encyclical Haurietis aquas (May 15, 1956) explains that Jesus had a three fold love: besides the divine love and the love in His human will there was also a love of feeling, in His human heart. He is said to have told St. Margaret Mary in a Sacred Heart vision that the pain of rejection was worse than the physical suffering. Of course, it was a pain of a higher order, and a pain proportioned to the two factors just explained, and so an incomprehensible pain.
We must not forget that because of the vision in His human soul from the very first instant, He knew all sins of all ages, those before His time, those after His time, even to our own day. However, Pius XI also, in Miserentissimus Redemptor (May 8, 1928:AAS 20. 174) said: "Now if the soul of Christ [in Gethsemani] was made sorrowful even to death on account of our sins, which were yet to come, but which were foreseen, there is no doubt that He received some consolation from our reparation, likewise foreseen."
So St. Paul as right, when he wrote in Romans 5:8: "God proved His love for us." To love is to will good to another for the other's sake. If one then sets out to bring good to the other, but can be stopped by a small obstacle, that is a small love. If it takes a great obstacle to stop it, it is a great love. If even an immeasurable obstacle cannot stop it, that love is beyond our understanding.
He showed the intensity of His human revulsion from this suffering by praying: "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." But He at once added: "Not my will, but yours be done." Was it possible to redeem us without such pain? Definitely yes. Let us consider the alternatives of redemption. We imagine the Father looking over the scene after the first sin, and looking ahead to all personal sins. He did of course intend to restore our race, but how? There were several possible ways or alternatives: 1) He could have forgiven with no make-up at all. This would have been generous, but not nearly so generous as the means He willed to provide. And it would not at all satisfy His great love of the objective moral order, which we explained in Supplement 2 (after 3:7-10). 2) He could have provided for an inadequate redemption, i.e., one that would not fully balance the scales of the objective order, by appointing any mere human to carry out any religious act, perhaps an animal sacrifice. That as we said would not fully rebalance, yet He could have accepted it. 3) He could have had His Son born in a palace, equipped with every possible luxury. He would not have had to die, or even stay with us more than an instant. For the merit of the incarnation of an Infinite Person would be infinite. Infinite too would be the reparation or satisfaction contained in the acceptance of such a come-down by a Divine Person. But this was not enough for the love of the Father, and therefore, not enough for the love of the Heart of His Son. 4) He went beyond the palace to the stable, beyond a brief incarnation to the cross. The third option would have been infinite: so this was infinity beyond infinity. In mathematics infinity cannot grow, but this is not the lowly terrain of mathematics, but the lofty realm of incomprehensible divine generosity which wanted to make everything as rich as possible for us, and for the restoration of objective moral goodness. 5) There was a possible addition even so. It was as if He looked back to the second option, the use of a mere human, and then decided He would add a mere human, the Blessed Mother. We already explained how this would operate: her whole ability to do anything would come from Him, and so would not strictly add to the price. Yet it was something of incomprehensible value, as we explained before, in considering the difficulty of positively willing His death, such a death, countered by her love for Him, which as we saw from the words of Pius IX was literally beyond the comprehension of any actually existing creature. This cooperation of hers was by obedience, joined with His obedience, which was the covenant condition, a condition that gave all the value to His sacrifice.
So we return to the question: Could the cup have passed? We distinguish: Yes, in the sense that, as we have just seen, there could have been even an infinite redemption by the third alternative, incarnation in a palace. But the Father's love, and the love of the Heart of His Son, were such as to want the fullest possible redemption. Although the Church does not and cannot guarantee for us the authenticity of any private revelation (anything made after the completion of the New Testament and the death of the last Apostle) yet, the Church has shown the highest esteem for those received by St. Margaret Mary, from the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In her Autobiography (ed. Vincent Kerns, London, 1976, pp. 44-45, cited from Timothy T. O'Donnell, Heart of the Redeemer, p. 131, Ignatius), she reports He told her He receives little but ingratitude and indifference from most people. "This hurts me more than everything I suffered in my passion. Even a little love from them in return - and I should regard all that I have done for them as next to nothing, and look for a way of doing still more."
Luke 22:44 says He literally suffered a sweat of blood. This terrible happening is not unknown medically. It happens when the interior tension is so extreme that the capillaries next to the sweat glands rupture and pour their red tide out through those openings. (The manuscript evidence for this verse 44 is divided. Yet when we consider it in relation to the whole picture and the inexpressible tension and stress within Him, it is seen to be almost obvious).
He had asked the special three to watch and pray. They failed Him miserably, a part of the rejection of which we spoke.
26:47-46: the arrest: When the mob led by Judas arrived. Judas marked Him with a kiss, for in the darkness it may have been difficult to know for certain which one was Jesus. A kiss on the cheek was a common part of a greeting then.
In Luke 22:36, after the prediction of the treason of Judas, Jesus had said: "Now the one who has no sword, should sell his cloak and buy one." Was He asking them to fight to defend Him against Judas and the mob? Of course not. For He also said soon (26:53) that He could ask the Father and the Father would send more than 12 legions of angels. But the Apostles, as so often, did not understand, and so they said (Lk:22:38) that they had two swords. Jesus replied; "It is enough." Probably it was weariness at their lack of comprehension so He said: Enough of this!
But Peter did use his sword on Malchus (cf Jn. 18:10) a servant of the High Priest, and cut off his ear. Jesus at once healed the ear, and told Peter: "Put away your sword. Those who take up the sword will perish by the sword." This seems to be a sort of proverb : those who are long in war will be apt to be killed by the sword.
For certain this remark was not absolute pacifism. Jesus as we said, was using a proverb. And Christian tradition does not support complete pacifism at all. Some voices at Vatican II wanted to teach such pacifism, but the final documents say that war can be just. Among the early Christian writers there are only four absolute pacifists, and all of them are guilty of heresy in other things. They are: 1) Marcion, who rejected all of the Old Testament and most of the New; 2) Tatian, who founded the heresy of the Encratites; 3) Tertullian, after he became a heretical Montanist - before that he had written the opposite; 4) Lactantius, who in the same breath forbids capital punishment, thereby contradicting St. Paul in Romans 13:4. Some would add Origen, but Origen is merely saying it is more fitting that Christians should just pray for victory, rather than fight. Now to pray for victory would be wrong if all war were wrong.
26:57-27:2 Jewish trials: Commentators labor much to show that the four Gospels do not contradict each other on the trials in the Jewish court, and before Pilate. Really, work is not needed, for all admit that the Gospels did not try for chronological order. Nor did they all insist on being fully complete. A loose comparison may help. If we imagine two persons making a picture of a beautiful scene, one with a camera, one with oil paints and canvas. The cameraman - unless he would be specially skilled in artistry - would simply take what is there. But the artist with the brush would select certain details to highlight, and leave out others to produce the most artistic effect. Similarly, the Evangelists selected the parts they thought would be not necessarily a work of art, but adequate for their purpose.
Yet it is possible for us even so to put together a plausible picture. There were two trials before the Jews, two appearances before Pilate, one questioning by Herod in between:
1) Informal examination by Annas while perhaps members of the Sanhedrin were being hurriedly gathered together: John 18:12-14, 19-24.
2) A decision by a session of the Sanhedrin, with the help of false witnesses, that He was guilty of blasphemy for saying He was the Messiah, the Son of God, who would one day come on the clouds: Mt 26:57-68 and Mark 14: 53-65. This was followed by a formal decision at dawn after He repeated that He was Son of God that He was guilty. Then they sent Jesus to Pilate: Mt 27:1-2; Luke 22:66-71.
3) First questioning of Jesus before Pilate in which Jesus is silent in the face of the accusations of the chief priests and elders: Mt 27:11-14; John 18:28-38.
4) Interrogation by Herod, who wanted to see a miracle for his amusement. When refused, he treated Jesus as a fool: Luke 23:6-12.
5) Final appearance before Pilate, in which Pilate, worried by his wife's dreams, offers them Barabbas or Jesus. Pilate washes his hands. : Mt 27:15-31; John 18:38 - 19:16.
In the midst of all this, there has been a strenuous effort by Jews, and some of their sympathizers, to cast all or most of the blame for the death of Jesus on the Romans, as if they saw in Jesus a dangerous insurrectionist. Thus E. J. Gratsch in Principles of Catholic Theology (Alba House, 1981, p. 91) says: "Jesus was executed by the Romans with the involvement of some Jews." As part of the same picture, as we saw above (3:7-10) many say the clashes between Jesus and the Pharisees mere mostly unreal: the clashes happened later in the century, and Matthew retrojected them to the time of Jesus. But this, as we said above, would be to make the Gospels lying.
The truth is the Gospels tell the truth. Vatican II, in Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian religions § 4 says that the special blame (for a general blame falls on all who have sinned) for the death of Jesus falls not on all Jews of His time, and surely not on Jews of later times, but only on those who were before Pilate and calling for His blood. This is very obviously correct. But we should add that other Jews quickly ratified the attitude of the smaller group, by their early persecution of Christians, and by their repeated attempts to kill St. Paul - at Lystra they actually stoned him, and thought he was dead: Acts 14:19. And Paul sadly complained that because of such determined persecution, the Jews were "filling up the measure of their sins": 1 Thes 2:14-16. The background is the theme found in 2 Mac 6 where the writer says that with some people, God lets them fill up the measure of their sins, and then comes final terrible ruin. With others - such as the Jews then being persecuted - He strikes them on the way to bring them to their senses.
But it is a travesty to call Paul antisemitic, cf. Romans 9:1-3 where Paul says he is so sad at the fact that most of his kinsmen are not in the Messianic kingdom that he could even wish to be cursed and away from Christ if that would bring them in. Of course, that was emotion: Paul would never abandon Christ. But it shows deep feeling for fellow Jews. Also, on his missionary trips he always gave the Jews the first opportunity by going first to the synagogues. And in Romans 11 he eagerly hopes for the time when all Jews will accept Christ, and predicts their final conversion to Christ, even though he had made clear in the same chapter that the fallen Jews had fallen out of the tame olive tree - which stood for the People of God - and so were no longer members of that People. This of course was the same thought as that expressed by Jesus Himself in Mt 21:43. Yes, Paul does say twice in chapter 11 (verses 2 and 29) that the Jews still have God's call to be part of His people. But it is one thing for God to call: another for them to answer it. Those who reject Christ are rejecting that call.
There are other arguments to try to bolster the exculpation of the Jews. It is said that His trail as in the Gospels is full of illegalities and so could not have happened. The fear by the leaders of mob violence against them would call for hurry. For that is why they had the arrest of Jesus take place in secret. A. Dalman, Jesus-Jeshua. Studies in the Gospels (SPKC, 1929, pp. 98-100) gives other examples or great breaches of legality on the plea that the time demanded it. Also Roman officials like Pilate commonly worked early in the morning and then refused to take new cases later. Also, some executions could take place even on a feast day. But still more importantly, since the Chief Priests and Sadducees had already done so much against Jesus that was irrational, why would they stop at a bit of illegality? They had objected even when He healed by telling a man to stretch out his withered hand on a sabbath (Mt 12:10-14). After the cure, the Pharisees went out to conspire to destroy Him. This cure was not at all a violation of the real Law. And 4th century Mekilta de Rabbi Ishmael on Exodus (tr. Jacob Lauterbach, Jewish Publication Society of America, Phila. I. 7) puts in the mouth of Jonah these words, "Since the Gentiles are more inclined to repent. I might be causing Israel to be condemned" by going to Nineveh, for he surmised they would repent, in contrast to the treatment given prophets who went to Israel.
The claim is made that the image of Pilate in the Gospels does not match his known character. Extrabiblical sources picture Pilate as cruel, imperious, and insensitive, and hating the Jews and taking few pains to understand them: Joseph, Antiquities 18. 3. 55-62. Also Philo, To Gaius 38. 299-305. We reply: a weak, selfish man elevated to authority can become despotic and insensitive. In the crisis forced on him by the Sanhedrin, if he was not for Jesus, he was against the Sanhedrin. The threat to denounce him to Caesar (John 19:12 ) would be enough to scare even a stronger man. The demeanor of Jesus would impress Pilate that he did not have a seditionist before him. Also the dreams of Pilate's wife (Mt 27:19) may well have worried Pilate. And really, the Gospels do not exculpate Pilate, they merely show the greater blame on the Jews. Interestingly, though Matthew has so many things to say against Pharisees, and though they must have been involved in some way, Matthew does not mention them at the trial of Jesus, a sign of Matthew's honesty.
We conclude: the Gospels do tell the truth, a sad truth.
At the trial before Annas, one of the guards struck Jesus in the face. He did not turn the other cheek, but rebuked the man. Cf. our comments on 5:39.
False witnesses at His appearance before Caiaphas said (26:60-61) He asserted He could destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. Jesus had referred to the destruction of His own body and its resurrection: Jn 2:21,
Caiaphas put Jesus under oath to tell if He was the Messiah, the Son of God. This was a trap. If Jesus said yes, they would charge blasphemy, as they actually did. If He said no, they could call Him an impostor. Jesus replied (Mt 26:64): "You have said so. From now on you will see the son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, coming on the clouds of heaven." "from now on" or, "In the future" seems to refer to His glorious return at the end. They will see it, but not in their present bodies. Or else: They will never again see Him as He was standing then, but as the sovereign Judge "at the right hand of the Power": refers to Psalm 110:1 "the Lord said to my Lord", which Jesus had explained to the Pharisees in 22:41-45; "coming on the clouds" referred to Daniel 7:13-14, in which the Son of Man receives everlasting power and dominion. Jesus had begun early on to call Himself Son of Man, as a part of His gradual self-revelation. Now it is time to speak very clearly, and He does it.
Then Caiaphas rent his garments. That act was prescribed for blasphemy (Mishna, Sanhedrin 7. 5). That would be a tear of a few centimeters at the breast. Then they spat on Him, and beat Him and asked Him to show prophetic power by saying who it was who hit Him.
27:3-10:Death of Judas: When Judas saw Jesus had been condemned, he saw he had sinned, tried to give the money back. The priests, who had no scruple about condemning an innocent man to a horrible death, using even false witnesses, did scruple about putting that "blood money" into the treasury. So they bought a field to bury strangers.
27:9-10 speaks of the fulfillment of a prophecy of Jeremiah. Actually the citation is a combination of Jer 18:2f; 19:1f; 32:6-15 (chiefly this last text) and Zec 11:13. When there was such a combined citation, the Rabbis usually put on it the name of the best-known author in the texts.
Judas hanged himself. Now Acts 1:18 says Judas fell headlong, and burst open in the middle, and his bowels gushed out. Falling headlong could refer to the hanging. Normally from hanging, the middle would not burst open. But it is not very likely that anyone at a time like that would take Judas down to bury him. So his body hung there in the hot sun for some time, probably began to decay, and so from internal gasses did burst. So there is no contradiction.
27:11-31: Jesus before Pilate: On His appearance before Pilate the priests and elders did not enter the headquarters to avoid ritual defilement. They said if He were not a criminal they would not have brought Him. This was unspeakably flimsy: they really had nothing. Jesus refused to answer the charge. Pilate was amazed at His silence. Pilate then asked Him if He was a king. Jesus said His kingdom was not of this world. He said He was born to be king and came to this world to testify to the truth. Pilate asked: What is truth? Then Pilate went out to the Jews and said: "I find no case against Him."
When the priests said Jesus was stirring up people from Galilee to Judea. On the mention of Galilee Pilate thought he had found a way out for himself, and so sent Him to Herod, who had authority in Galilee. Herod wanted to see a miracle for amusement. After not getting one, he mocked Jesus and sent Him back to Pilate.
After that Pilate again told the priests he found no cause in Jesus, and so would have Him flogged - fine logic! - and then release Him. The cruelty of the soldiers led them to crown Him with thorns and mock Him. Jewish flogging was limited to 40 blows (Dt. 25:3) - they stopped at 39 as a precaution. The Romans just kept on as much as they felt like, using bits of bone or lead plaited into leather thongs. The body was at times made like pulp and even bones could be seen. We may well surmise satan added strength to the soldiers against Jesus.
We can see that our crucifixes are, for the most part, very poor, almost a disservice to meditation. For they show no trace at all of the horrid tearing from the scourging.
This pitiful sight did not pacify the priests, who wanted more, and shouted for His crucifixion. Pilate offered to release a prisoner as was the custom at that festival, and offered a notorious criminal named Barabbas or Jesus. The priest demanded that Barabbas be freed, and Jesus be crucified. Pilate realized it was out of jealously that they had brought Jesus to him, and his wife reported suffering much in a dream because of "that innocent man."
Pilate told them to take Him themselves. They reminded him the Romans had taken away from them the right of capital punishment. The priests said Jesus claimed to be Son of God. Pilate, probably thinking of mythology in which appearances of gods in human form was narrated, asked Jesus where He was from, and got no answer. So he was very afraid.
But then came the trump card. The priests said if Pilate would release Jesus, he would no longer be a friend of Caesar. So Pilate washed his hands and weakly agreed to death for Jesus.
Nothing certain is known of Pilate's later life. Late reports say he was ordered to commit suicide by Caligula, or that he was beheaded under Nero. Legends grew. We have the apocryphal Acts of Pilate. One account even imagines Pilate died as a Christian martyr and that his wife, Prokla became a saint too. They have a feast in the Ethiopian church. Prokla has a feast among the Greek orthodox.
27:32-56:Death of Jesus: Then they led Him to be crucified. On the way they forced Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross - Jesus was obviously weak from the scourging, which in some cases even brought death. Roman law had a practice of "impressment", forcing a civilian to carry military baggage, but only for one mile. In 5:41 Jesus had advised that if they forced you to go one mile, go even two.
Luke 23:27-31 says Jesus met a crowd of sympathetic women on the way. He told them to weep for themselves and for their children - referring to the coming horror of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. He said if they do this to the green wood - wood not naturally ready to be burned - what of wood that is dry, fit for the fire?
On arriving at Calvary, they offered Him wine mixed with gall. Mark 15:23 says it was mixed with myrrh. Matthew perhaps chose the word gall in reference to Psalm 69:21. Jesus tasted it, ass reparation for sins of the taste, but did not drink it. It was provided by women to ease pain. Jesus wanted to suffer all the pain.
Crucifixion was the most cruel and horrid death possible. The nails through hands and feet would be very painful, but to hang on the wounds was far worse. In addition, if the weight was put on the arms, it would cause slow suffocation. The victim would of course support himself on his feet as long as possible. When they wanted the two thieves to die quickly, the soldiers broke their legs, to bring on quick suffocation and also death from the shock of the breaks. Victims sometimes remained alive for even two days in such horrid pain.
Jesus was crucified around noon, died around 3 PM. Mark 15:25 seems to say it began about 9 AM. Mark may have been counting from the beginning, from scourging and mockery at Pilate's place. Or Mark may be using the common system of calling the third hour the entire period from 9 AM to noon. Further, we recognize that ancient time measurements were loose: thus the Hebrew of Jonah 3:4 has Jonah saying God will destroy the city in 40 days - but the Septuagint for the same says 3 days.
Only Luke 24:34 reports that Jesus, while being crucified it seems, prayed: "Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing." Did this prayer refer to the soldiers, or to the priests or to all present? For certain, none but His Mother, and perhaps John, would know that He was indeed divine, the natural Son of God. Did they not know that He was innocent? They should have known, for He had given such proofs. Yet we must add a strange thing. In speaking of the parables we saw in our comments on Mt 13:10-17 that the parables are a marvelous device of both justice and mercy, such that those who are well-disposed, get more and more, while those ill-disposed get more and more blind. In getting more blind, they experience justice, for they have earned the blinding. But it is also mercy: the more one knows at the time of acting, the greater the responsibility. The Priest and Pharisees by the time of the death of Jesus were blind, hopelessly blind. The common people - some yes, some no, in many degrees.
What of His prayer, "Father, forgive them." His prayer was always heard, so were they all forgiven? We reply: God is always willing to forgive, but the recipient must be open, that is, must repent. Only those who repented actually received forgiveness.
The darkness from the 6th to 9th hour must have been supernatural, for there could be no eclipse of the sun during the full moon. It may have covered only the immediate region.
His enemies even mocked Him in such pain, and so did the two thieves, seemingly both at first, but then one of them changed, and said: "Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom:" Lk 23:43. Jesus replied: "This day you will be with me in paradise."
The priests mocked Him: Come down from the cross and we will believe. Sadly, the NJBC on p. 1371 cites this text, Mk 15:31-32 as one of several to prove Jesus consistently refused to work miracles to support His claims. But this is worthless and even foolish. Of course He would not give up His work of redemption! The other texts cited are equally empty.
The soldiers divided His garments among them, but seeing the tunic was woven without seam, cast lots for it. Thus was fulfilled what was foretold in Psalm 22:18. Strangely, many versions present this line as purpose: The soldiers did this to fulfill the prophecy. Of course not. The soldiers neither knew the prophecy nor had any purpose of fulfilling it. Btu as a result, the Psalm was fulfilled.
Jesus saw the beloved disciple, John standing beneath the cross, with His Mother. He said: "Son, behold your Mother; Woman, behold your son." The early Christian writer Origen wrote (On John 1. 6):"No one can understand the meaning of the Gospel [of John] unless he has rested on the breast of Jesus and received Mary from Jesus to be his Mother too." Pope John Paul II, in Mother of the Redeemer §23 taught: "The Mother of Christ... is given as mother to every single individual and all mankind. The man at the foot of the Cross is John, "the disciple whom he loved." But he is not alone. Following tradition, the Council does not hesitate to call Mary "the Mother of Christ and mother of mankind."(LG §53 & 54).
LG §61 adds beautifully: "... in suffering with Him as He died on the cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior, in an altogether singular way, by obedience faith, hope and burning love, to restore supernatural life to souls. As a result she is our Mother in the order of grace." In the natural order, to have the title of mother a woman needs two things: 1) to share in bringing a new life into being - Our Lady shared in winning the life of the soul for us in immense pain, as we explained above, at the foot of the cross; 2) she should take care of that life so long as she is needed, willing, and able - Our Lady is always needed, for we need grace all our lives, and all graces come through her, as every Pope since Leo XIII has taught. She is never unable, for since she shared in earning all graces, nothing is ever refused her by her Son. And she is of course never unwilling - she paid such a price to become our Mother, as we said, and she would not go back on that.
We note that Jesus is quoted as calling her "Woman". This may be editorial work by the Evangelist, for it is very significant. - Mother of the Redeemer §24 says that this word was used to tie together Cana, the Cross, Apoc. 12, and Genesis 3:15. She is the woman in each text.
We note John Paul II explicitly said, in the quote given above, that the beloved disciple here is John. Recently it has been fashionable to say the beloved disciple is someone else. Besides the Pope's statement we should notice also that it is obvious that the beloved disciple was one of the inner three, Peter, James and John. For he not only was asked to take care of the Mother of Jesus, but he reclined on the chest of Jesus at the Last Supper, and went to the tomb with Peter. Of course the beloved disciple is not Peter. Nor is likely to be James, who was a martyr in 42 AD. So it is indeed John.
We note too that it would be very strange indeed if Jesus asked John to take care of His Mother if she had had 4 other sons and at least two sisters. We know for certain that James "the brother of the Lord" was alive in 49 AD. , at the Council of Jerusalem (Gal 1:19). Cf. also the added reason given above in our comments on 1:23.
Mark 15:34 and Mt 27:46 say He also cried out: "My God, why have you forsaken me?" Pope John Paul II, in a General Audience of Nov. 30, 1988 said: "If Jesus feels abandoned by the Father, He knows, however, that it is not really so. He Himself said: 'I and the Father are one. ' ... dominant in His mind Jesus has the clear vision of God and the certainty of His union with the Father. But in the sphere bordering on the senses, and therefore more subject to the impressions, emotions and influences of the internal and external experiences of pain, Jesus' human soul is reduced to a wasteland, and He no longer feels [emphasis added] the 'presence' of the Father... . However, Jesus knew that by this ultimate phase of His sacrifice, reaching the intimate core of His being, He completed the work of reparation which was the purpose of His sacrifice for the expiation of sins." St. Francis de Sales, in Treatise of the Love of God 9. 3 speaks of the fine point of the soul. Or, we could think of a tall mountain, 25000 feet in altitude. On some days, the peak will stick out above the dark clouds and be in sunshine, while all the lower slopes are in storm and distress. We mean this: in a human being there are many levels of operation, in body and in soul. It is possible to have peace on only the highest level, while all below is in distress. So was the humanity of Jesus when He recited the first part of Psalm 22. His human soul, from the first instant of conception, saw the vision of God (cf. Wm. Most, The Consciousness of Christ). Sad then is the mistake of Hans urs von Balthassar in First Glance at Adrienne Von Speyr, p. 66 who says that on the Saturday after His death, Jesus wandered around the realm of the dead, without any light, could not find the Father!
Matthew has Eli, which is Hebrew, while Mark has Eloi , which is Aramaic. The other two words, lama sabachthani are Aramaic. The same Psalm predicted the dividing of His garments, and the piercing of hands and feet.
Some of the bystanders, whether sincerely or not, said He was calling Elijah. Elijah had been taken alive to heaven (2 Kings 2:1-12). A Jewish tradition, perhaps as old as the this period, said Elijah would come and rescue righteous men when in distress.
Shortly before dying, Jesus said: "I thirst:". One of the soldiers dipped a sponge in the usual cheap wine the soldiers used and put it on a reed for Him. This seems to have been a sympathetic gesture.
Jesus expired with a loud cry, saying Eli, Eli, and saying, "Father into your hands I commend my spirit." A man dying from crucifixion could not have given any loud cry, for it killed by slow suffocation. Hence the Roman centurion, hearing this, and seeing other phenomena, said: "This was the Son of God (Mk 15:39)."
For the veil of temple was rent from top to bottom at this point. Probably it was the inner veil before the Holy of Holies. It meant of course the end of the old regime. Many went away beating their breasts.
The Jews did not want the bodies to be on the crosses on the specially solemn sabbath, and so the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two thieves. That would mean rapid suffocation, and/or death from the shock of the breaking. But they did not break the legs of Jesus, seeing Him already dead. But a soldier did pierce His side with a lance, and blood and water came out.
John 19:36-37 remarks that this fulfilled the prophecy: "None of its bones shall be broken". This referred originally to the paschal lamb. Jesus was that lamb of course (Exodus 12:46). John also adds this was a fulfillment of Zech 12:10 (cited loosely).
Matthew 27:51-53 says that when the veil of the temple split, there was an earthquake, and tombs of some just men were opened, and after the resurrection of Jesus they came out and appeared to many. We do not know if the tombs were opened at t he very moment of the death of Jesus, or only at His resurrection. Was it a definitive and final resurrection, or would they die a second time? Since they appeared to many, following, it seems, the same pattern as Jesus did after His resurrection, we think it must have been a final resurrection, so that they would ascend to heaven with Jesus. St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was eaten by the beasts in Rome c 107 A.D., says in his Letter to Magnesia 9 that these who rose were or included the Old Testament prophets.
Matthew also records that there were some women there, including Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the two sons of Zebedee, James and John and Salome (not clear if Salome was the name of the mother of James and John). We saw above that the Mother of Jesus was there too. These women had provided for Jesus out of their own resources during His public life.
27:57-66: Burial of Jesus: In the evening, - which would be considered the start of the next day - Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin who had not approved of the death of Jesus but who had been a secret disciple, asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in clean linen, and laid it in his own new tomb, which had been hewn out of rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door and went away. Mary Magdalen and the other Mary sat opposite the tomb.
John 19:39 records that Nicodemus also came. (He had called on Jesus by night, earlier in His public life: Jn 3:1-36. He had become a secret disciple: Jn 7:50, and had argued for a fair hearing for Jesus before the Sanhedrin:7:51). They brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about 100 lbs. So there must have been servants with Joseph and Nicodemus.
The next day, the chief priests and Pharisees came to Pilate and said: We recall that that deceiver said while He was alive:
After three days I will rise again. So command the tomb to be made secure until the third day, or his disciples may steal the body and claim He has risen. Pilate gave them a guard of soldiers, and they made the tomb secure, and sealed the stone.
St. Paul in 1 Cor 1:23 said: "We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews, and nonsense to the Greeks. It really was a stumbling block to Jews, for Deuteronomy 21:23 says: "Cursed is one who hangs upon the tree." Jesus died that way, so, theoretically, He was cursed. In Gal 3:13 Paul also wrote: "Christ redeemed us from the cruse of the law by becoming a curse for us." That was the case in the sense of Deuteronomy. But He became a curse or cursed so that He might overcome the curse, and so we, His members, would have victory over the curse of the law in being His members. For (2 Cor 5:24): "One has died for all, therefore all have died," and also (2 Cor 5:21): "He [the Father] made Him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in Him we would become the righteousness of God."
Not only the cross, but even the incarnation was nonsense to the Greeks. Plato had written in Symposium 203: "No god associates with men." And Aristotle, in Nichomachean Ethics 8. 7 said no friendship is possible between a god and a man: the distance is too great. Plato did have a lofty concept of the chief God, but also believed in lesser gods, made of matter finer than clouds and spirit. Even they would not associate with us. Aristotle's concept was lower than that of Plato. Yet he too thought no God could be a friend of a man. What would they think then if God not only became man, but even was willing to undergo so shameful and painful a death as that of the cross! Really, as Romans 5:8 said: "God has proved His love for us."
28:1-10:Resurrection: Without flatly denying His resurrection, some reinterpret it much:
1. Radical reinterpetation: The disciples became convinced of the value of the message and example of Jesus. Then the miracle of belief happened, and when they spoke of His resurrection they really meant only the rise of their own faith. Cf. Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope NY 1967, p. 190: "The event of the raising of Christ from the dead is an event which is understood only in the modus of promise. It has its time still ahead of it, is grasped as an 'historical phenomenon' only in its relation to its future and mediates to those who know it a future toward which they have to move in history." COMMENT: This is purely arbitrary, without any basis. The disciples had words to say this if they meant it that way. Paul in 1 Cor 15 insists on the reality of His resurrection against Corinthians who, in a Platonic notion, did not like the physical resurrection. Paul says if He did not really rise, their faith is vain.
2. Less Radical Reinterpretation: For example, Gerald O'Collins, What Are They Saying about the Resurrection? (Paulist 1978, pp. 46-55) refuses to accept details: p. 46:"Such overbelief also entails holding that he quite literally took and ate a piece of broiled fish (Lk 24. 42f) and that more of less gaping holes remained in the hands and side of his risen body... ." He adds that such a view is weak and almost comic. O'Collins asks if a risen man took something to eat, what kind of digestive system did his body have?. And what kind of risen body was it if it still had a gaping hole in its side. So instead he wants to say that the resurrection took Jesus into a new, final, glorious state of existence in which His body is spiritual and not physical. He appeals to the fact that St. Paul says in 1 Cor 15. 44 & 50 that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven. The details are only to stress a continuity between the earthly and the risen Jesus. O'Collins also says that the decision to undertake a universal mission is told in a way that shows no knowledge of the command to teach all nations. R. Brown, (Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, Paulist, 1973 , p. 108) says many now doubt if Jesus spoke words after Easter. He thinks instead Jesus used interior locutions. Thus Brown thinks he can account for the fact that at first the Apostles seemed not to understand the command to teach all nations.
COMMENTS: 1. Brown does not understand interior locutions. St. Teresa of Avila, who had many of them, tells us (Life 25) that when God speaks in this way, "the soul has no remedy, even though it displeases me, I have to listen, and to pay such full attention to understand that which God wishes to understand." In her Interior Castle 6. 3. she adds: "When time has passed since heard, and the workings and the certainty it had that it was God has passed, doubt can come." Therefore: The Apostles would have had to understand at once if Jesus had used interior locution, it would be later when unclarity or doubt could come. But the real explanation why the Apostles acted the way they did is evident: The Apostles were so slow to understand, as the Gospels show many times. They were hindered by fixed ideas that He was going to restore power to Israel. Even just before the ascension they asked (Acts 1. 6) whether He was going to restore the kingship to Israel then.
2. Behind these radical views seems to be some reluctance to accept anything supernatural. The Rationalists had that attitude clearly. Others seems to have some of it.
There is also a tendency to suppose Scripture is full of errors. The NJBC on p. 1169 insists there are even religious errors in Scripture. Thomas Hoffmann, S. J. in an article in CBQ, July 1982 says Scripture is so full of errors that to try to answer all charges would be like putting patches on a sinking ship.
Sequence of Events after Resurrection: We need to recall what all admit, namely, that the Gospels do not always follow chronological order. However, there is more than one way to arrange the events in a suitable way. Here is one of them:
a) Magdalen and other women come to the tomb about dawn, and see it empty.
b) In their excitement, she or they run to the Apostles (Matthew here, in between verses 28: 8 & 9 omits the visit of Peter and John, our next item, #c).
c) Peter and John refuse to believe, but do run to the tomb, and find it empty. They are amazed, but do not see Jesus.
d) Peter and John leave, Magdalen at first takes Him for the gardener. He soon makes self known. Magdalen and others make a second visit to the Apostles to say they have seen Him.
e) Jesus appears to Peter.
f) Jesus appears to two men on road to Emmaus.
g) They go back to the Apostles and hear Peter had already seen Jesus.
h) Jesus appears to the Eleven.
i) Thomas was absent before, so Jesus comes again when Thomas is there.
j) Further appearances at Lake of Galilee.
NOTES: 1. As often, the Gospels do not keep chronological order, and there is even telescoping by Luke - compare his account of the return to Nazareth after the presentation. Now Luke tells that Jesus said stay until the Holy Spirit comes. Then he tells of the Ascension, with no mention of an interval.
2. M. De Tuya, O. P. in Biblia Comentada Va, p. 468 notes that Matthew can use the "plural of category' i.e., speaking of a group when it was really an individual. E. g. , 28. 1-10 compared to John 20. 11-18 (Only Magdalen in Jn).
3. Matthew and Mark, for their own scope, preferred to stress the Galilean appearances - more frequent, and they completed the instruction of the Apostles. But both do add some in Jerusalem: Mt 28. 9-10 has appearances to the women; Mk 16. 9-11 has an appearance to Mary Magdalen. - In this connection, we recall that Jesus at the Last Supper (Mt. 26:32 and Mk 14:28) Jesus said that after His resurrection, He would go ahead of them to Galilee. Since there is quite a bit of symbolism in the Gospels, we might say that Galilee was chosen as the beginning and end of His public career.
The resurrection of all Christians: St. Paul in 1 Cor 15 speaks of the resurrection of all, and ties that to the resurrection of Jesus. If the one is not true, then neither is the other, for if the Head of the Mystical Body rises, the members will too.
In 1 Cor 15:23 St. Paul says, "Each in his own order: Christ is the first fruits, then at His coming, those who belong to Christ." Now of course, among those who belong to Christ, His Mother occupies a fully unique place. Hence, the Church teaches her assumption.
Pius XII, in The Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, defining the Assumption, brings out the parallel of His and her glorification: "We must remember especially that, since the second century, the Virgin Mary has been presented by the Holy Fathers as the New Eve, who, although subject to the New Adam, was most closely associated with Him in that struggle against the infernal enemy which, as foretold in the protoevangelium, was to result in that most complete victory over sin and death, which are always mentioned together in the writings of the Apostle of the Gentiles. Wherefore, just as the glorious resurrection of Christ was an essential part and final sign of this victory, so also that struggle which was common to the Blessed Virgin and her Son had to be closed by the 'glorification' of her virginal body...."
COMMENTS: 1) The Pope focuses on the New Eve theme of the Fathers, which began with St. Justin Martyr, was taken up by most of the great Fathers.
2) He speaks very strongly of her cooperation in the redemption, calling it, with subordination of course, a work in "common". So we see that he takes her cooperation not in some loose way, but very strictly, strongly enough to form the chief support of a solemn definition.
3) In the same document AAS 42. 768 says that she is "always sharing His lot". The Assumption is part of this sharing. Vatican II, in Chapter 8 of LG went through every phase of the mysteries of His life and death and showed her sharing at all points, and also says she was eternally joined with Him in the decree for the Incarnation, and will ever be joined in eternity after the end of time. For a fill-in on that passage cf. Wm. Most, Our Father's Plan, pp. 221 - 24.
28:11-15: the guards at the tomb: On hearing from the guards at the tomb that He had risen, the chief priests and elders bribed the guards to lie. They gave a large sum of money, which would easily accomplish their purpose.
28:16-20: The Great commission: Here Jesus said: "All power is given me in heaven and on earth." As God of course He always had full authority and power. But in Phil 2:7 we see that He emptied Himself, i.e., refused to use His divine power for anything other than healing the sick. But now after the resurrection that limit is off. He not only has all power, but can and will freely use it. Hence Romans 1:4 says that He was appointed "Son-of-God-in-power according to the spirit of holiness by the resurrection." He then commissioned them to preach to all nations, and to baptize all in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We already considered above the mistaken notion that Jesus used only interior locutions after the resurrection.
The Church still insists on only the Trinitarian formula for Baptism, following strictly the words of Christ. At times in acts we hear of baptism "in the name of Jesus". St. Paul at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-5) met some disciples and asked if they had received the Holy Spirit. They replied they had never heard of a Holy Spirit. Paul then asked what kind of baptism had they received? It was that of John the Baptist. Paul knew at once that if they had had proper baptism they would have heard the Trinitarian formula. So Paul then baptized them "in the name of the Lord Jesus". -- from context, he did use the Trinitarian formula.
Qualities of risen bodies: St. Paul in 1 Cor 15:44 says that a physical body is put into the earth, "a spiritual body is raised" and in 15:50: "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor can corruption inherit incorruption." Now Paul cannot mean a body that is only spirit, not flesh. If that were the case, he would not have needed to write that chapter 15, which was written to meet the claims of those who did not like the idea of a physical resurrection - in Platonic thought, they expected unending reincarnations, and did not like the idea. So the risen body of Jesus and of those who belong to Him will be spiritual in the sense that it is fully dominated by the spirit. Hence it cannot suffer or die: the spirit will not permit it. And it can operate according to the laws of spirits. Thus Jesus could come (Jn 20:19) to the Apostles who had locked themselves in. He did not rap on the door or open it by a miracle. He came in, paying no attention to the door, for His body operates according to the laws of spirit. Yet it was really flesh, and to prove that He ate with them, and allowed them to touch Him. The worries of O'Collins, mentioned above, about the "digestive system" of a risen body are surprisingly uncomprehending. His risen body could do whatever He willed. It did not need food, but He could use it when and if He willed. He could be seen when He willed, not seen when He did not will. He could travel from Jerusalem to Galilee, or anywhere, by merely willing it. the "speed limit of the universe", the speed of light would not affect a body dominated by the spirit.
The bodies of the risen just will be like His.
On that visit on which He came through the locked door, He also gave them the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained." This seems to have been His very first visit to them after the resurrection. Right away He gave them the power to forgive sins - as if since He had paid so dearly for that power, He was eager to give it out.
Some Protestants foolishly say there is no such thing as absolution of sins. They think He gave a commission to all Christians though only the Apostles were present - to preach justification by faith, with the mistaken Lutheran notion of faith - and that would forgive sins. The answer is that Luther did not know what faith meant, nor, for that matter, did he know what justification meant. He thought faith was confidence that the merits of Christ are credited to me. S o a man could once in a lifetime take Christ as His Savior, and then would be infallibly saved, for the merits of Christ being His would outbalance any and all sins. But St. Paul knows faith includes "the obedience of faith" in Rom 1:5, that is, the obedience that faith is. Luther thought if one had faith, he could disobey all commandments - but faith includes obedience. What a tragic, deadly error! To think it is all right to sin will not forgive any sin at all. This interpretation we have just given of the Pauline sense of faith is found also in a major Protestant reference work, Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Supplement from 1976, p. 333, in almost the same wording as we have used in speaking of Romans 1:5.
Even though the resurrection was not seen by anyone, it did happen, and so is historical, as the new Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches in § 639: "The mystery of the resurrection of Christ is a real event, which has verifiable historical manifestations as the New Testament testifies." We knew that some of the outermost planets existed before anyone saw them, by mere mathematical calculations. The apostles knew from the empty tomb that He had risen, and since they saw Him in person many times. The fact that He went into a new and higher form of life --described above- does not change the fact that it was real and that He could and did operate in the conditions of our world when meeting the Apostles.
Will all have a glorious resurrection modeled on that of Christ? No, the damned will not, though their bodies will be changed so as to be immortal. We spoke of this in comments on 15:31-46 above.
What of unbaptized babies at the resurrection? The Church has not given us any definite teaching on the fate of unbaptized babies, other than to rule out the sad error of some early writers, and of L. Feeney, that they go to hell. Pius IX in Quanto conficiamur moerore (DS 2866) taught: "God in His supreme goodness and clemency by no means allows anyone to be punished with eternal punishment who does not have the guilt of voluntary fault." Will they reach the vision of God. St. Thomas thought not, since they lack sanctifying grace, the means of taking in that vision. However he also admitted that God's hands are not tied by the sacraments (III. 68. 2. c): He could give grace without them. The new catechism in § 1261 says:"... the great mercy of God who wills that all be saved, and the tenderness of Jesus towards little ones, which led Him to say: 'Let the little ones come to me, and do not prevent them. ' --these permit us to hope that there is a way for salvation for infants who die without Baptism." But since we are not sure, Baptism should be given early in each case.
As for grounds of for hope: in 1 Cor 7. 14 says, in speaking of Christians married to pagans: "The unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy." That word holy here reflects Hebrew qadosh, not meaning high moral perfection, but coming under the covenant. So the pagan mate comes under the covenant, and so do the children, even if not baptized. Also God has great concern to rectify the objective moral order. There are some things that let us think He may have great concern also for the objective physical order. Thus the rich man who was unjust and uncharitable to Lazarus in his life is told by Abraham: You had good things in your life, and Lazarus bad." So now it is time to reverse. Luke 6: 24-26 gives four woes, based on such a reverse in the physical order. So God might say to Himself: "I intended these children to have a normal life. They have been deprived of it, some by being cut to pieces before birth by abortion. Now it is time to reverse such things". So there are grounds for hope, but not certainty.
If a unbaptized child does not reach the vision of God, can the parents be with it after the resurrection, or even before? Definitely yes. That vision is in the souls of the parents, and even if not in the souls of the children, they could associate, and the children need not know what goes on in the souls of the parents. St. Thomas holds that God will give such children a natural happiness. He wrote in De malo 5. 3. ad 4: "The infants are separated from God perpetually, in regard to the loss of glory, which they do not know, but not in regard to participation in natural goods, which they do know... . That which they have through nature, they possess without pain." This could include a good transformation of their risen bodies, so that the difference between theirs and those of their parents might not be greatly noticeable.