1 Christ teacheth to avoid occasions of offence: 3 one to forgive another: 6 the power of faith: 7 how we are bound to God, and not he to us: 11 He healeth ten lepers: 22 of the kingdom of God, and the coming of the Son of Man.
HEN said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him through whom they come!
Douay Rheims Version
Lessons of avoiding scandal and of the efficacy of faith. The ten lepers. The manner of the coming of Christ.
ND he said to his disciples: It is impossible that scandals should not come. But woe to him through whom they come!
Ver. 5.—And the Apostles said to the Lord, Increase our faith. The Apostles said this, when, from their little faith, they had been unable to cast out the devil from the lunatic. They then asked for greater faith, as appears from the above words compared with those of S. Matt. xvii. 19, &c., for Christ made the same reply in each place, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed you would move mountains.”
Ver. 6.—If ye had faith. “This indeed,” says S. Chrysostom, “is small in quantity but great in power. He means that the least portion of faith can do great things.” And Bede, “Perfect faith is a grain of mustard seed: in appearance it is small, in the heart it is fervent.”
You would say unto this sycamine tree (a mulberry tree (moro) close at hand, to which Christ pointed). Be thou rooted up and be thou east into the sea, and it would have obeyed you.—For mulberry tree, Matt. xvii. 20 has mountain. Christ therefore said both. It is called the mulberry tree allegorically, as if μώζος (foolish); that is by antithesis, because it is the wisest of trees; not putting forth its leaves till the frost is over, lest they should be cut off. The mulberry signifies the gospel of the cross of Christ, which to the Gentiles appears foolishness, but to the faithful is “the power of God and the wisdom of God,” 1. Cor. i. 24. Hence S. Augustine (Lib. II, Quæst. Evan.: quæst. 39): “Let those servants speak through the grain of mustard seed, to this mulberry tree; that is, to the gospel of the cross of Christ through the blood-coloured apples hanging like wounds on that tree which is to give food to the nations. Let them say that it is rooted up by the unbelief of the Jews, and transferred to the sea of the Gentiles and planted there, for by this home service they will minister to the hungering and thirsting Lord.” So too Bede. “The mulberry tree,” he says, “by the blood colour of the fruit and shoots, is the gospel of the cross of Christ, which, through the faith of the Apostles, when it was held as it were in the stem of its kind, was rooted up from the Jews, and planted in the sea of the Gentiles.” The Gloss adds, “The leaves of the mulberry, offered to the serpent, bring death upon him, as the word of the cross destroys all hurtful and venomous things of the soul.” On the other hand, SS. Ambrose and Chrysostom and the Gloss understand by the mulberry tree, the devil, whom the faith of Christ casts out and sends into hell. “The fruit of the mulberry, tree,” says S. Ambrose, “is firstly white, when in flower, when fully blown red, and when ripe it becomes black. The devil also, from the white flower of his angelic nature and power, when cast out by his reddening wickedness, grew horrible from the foul odour of sin. Behold Christ saying to the mulberry tree, ‘Be thou rooted up and cast into the sea;’ when He cast the Legion out of the man, He permitted them to enter into the swine which, being driven by the spirit of the devils, cast themselves into the sea.”
Hear also S. Chrysostom in the Catena: “As the mulberry feeds worms (silkworms) which spin silk from its leaves, so does the devil, from thoughts springing from those leaves, nourish in us an undying worm; but faith has power to root this tree out of our souls, and to plunge it into hell.”
Lastly, the Arabic for the mulberry has “sycamine,” or “sycamore,” of which, chap. xix. 4. Christ, moreover, exalts the power of faith, that He might implant in the Apostles an additional desire of increasing its keenness, and of praying for its gift to them; for He who gave to men the mind and desire of praying, wished also to increase the faith of those who prayed. Hence He subsequently increased their faith, especially when He sent the Holy Spirit upon them at Pentecost. Hence too, by the strength of their excelling faith, they wrought so great wonders and miracles, converting the whole world; and, lest they should grow proud of such deeds, and become vainglorious, Christ, by the following Parable, teaches them to be humble-minded, and to say, “we are unprofitable servants.”
Ver. 7.—But who is there of you, having a servant ploughing or keeping sheep. Christ represses the vainglory of the Apostles, lest, when by their exalted faith they had performed wonderful and stupendous acts, they might glory in them and not ascribe to God, whose it is, the honour. “He,” says Euthymius,” who attains the result, plucks up the effect of boasting. The servant was not a slave as the heretics say, but one who was hired, and who, in addition to the service agreed upon or ordered by his master, might perform another for him to which he was not bound.” Here observe that the heretics abuse this passage to the opposing of good works, but wrongly. For this servant, as clearly appears, truly deserved the daily payment due to him by agreement, but did not deserve that his master should render him thanks; for masters are not accustomed to bestow thanks upon those whom they pay for their labour. Thanks are only given to assistance rendered gratuitously and without payment. We who are the servants of God, through the works ordered by Him, if we offer them, merit eternal life, as the hired servant who has laboured throughout the day deserves his daily payment. Mark ix. 41; Matt. x. 41; Apoc. xi. 18. For although our works, as far as they are ours, are of little or no value, yet so far as they flow from the grace of Christ, and are therefore the works of Christ, our head, they are of great worth and desert, and do merit, as such, eternal glory; for grace is the seed of glory; especially as God, of His immeasurable goodness, has been pleased to promise to them, as done by the grace of Christ, eternal glory.
Vers. 8, 9.—And will not rather say unto him. That is, I suppose, because he does not owe thanks to his servants. “For it is incumbent upon such an one to do his master’s will,” says Theophylact. “So there is laid upon us,” as Bede says, “the necessity of doing all things that God has commanded, and by fresh diligence, of always increasing our former services.” The meaning is, as S. Ambrose says, “As we not only do not say to our servant, Take thy repose (recumbe), but require of him a further service, and give him no thanks, so neither does the Lord permit in us one only work, for all while living ought to work always. Acknowledge we ourselves therefore to be servants, lending very many acts of obedience on interest. Nor should we exalt ourselves, because we are called the sons of God. Grace is to be acknowledged, but nature is not to be passed over (ignoranda), nor should we boast ourselves, if we have served well in that which we ought to do. The sun obeys, the moon submits, the angels serve.”
Ver. 10.—Even so ye also. “Woe unto us if we do it not,” says S. Bernard in his fourth sermon on Psalm xv. So the Apostle, 1 Cor. ix. 16, “Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel,” because God has commanded me to do so.
The heretics object, “Christ here calls His faithful, useless servants, therefore by their merits they deserve nothing, nay, they do nothing good, because they contribute nothing useful ” I .answer, Their first premiss is false, for Christ does not call His own servants unprofitable, nay, in Matt. xxv. 23, He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” &c. But He warns each one of the faithful to call himself unprofitable, to the avoidance of vainglory, and to the greater increase of humility and equally so of their merit, as say SS. Ambrose, Chrysostom, Theophylact, Bede, and others, passim; and that, in a sense not false and pretended but true and sincere. Because the faithful servant, in merely fulfilling the precepts of God, does nothing peculiar or remarkable, but only that which by the law of God he ought to do, and to which he was bound under the penalty of sin. He therefore both is, and is called, unprofitable, because he has fulfilled the commandments alone, but has omitted the counsels and works of supererogation, as Christ Himself explains: “All things that are commanded,” and “what we ought to do we have done.” He therefore gains only the ordinary reward of such observance of His commands; but to that exceptional glory, and crown, and aureole of the observance of the Evangelical counsels he does not attain; as says S. Paul, whose words I will shortly cite. Again, says S. Chrysostom, “When we say, with humility, we are unprofitable servants,” Christ says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
S. Bernard again, in his treatise de Præcept et Dispens., thus explains the matter, “We are unprofitable servants, we have done what we ought;” i.e. If you are content with the mere precept and traditions of the law, and do not give yourselves up to the counsels and persuasions of perfection, you are free indeed from debt, but you are not praiseworthy for merit; you have escaped punishment, you have not gained the crown.
It is this which S. Paul, when preaching the Gospel freely, and when he might have required food from the faithful, 1 Cor. ix. 15, calls his glory.
Secondly, Even S. Paul himself, the other Apostles, and the Religious, in observing not only the precepts but also the counsels of Christ, can truly say, “We are unprofitable servants: we have done what we ought to do.” Firstly, because we owe to God our souls, our bodies, our lives, and all that we have, which, whatever good we do, we can never pay back. This debt is infinite and manifold, but it is especially fourfold. First, there is the debt of creation, for as we were created out of nothing by God, the whole that we are we owe to God our Creator. Thus Plato in his Phædo, “Man is one of the possessions of God.” “Behold,” says S. Bernard on “Our Fourfold Debt,” “He is at the door who made the heavens and the earth. He is thy Creator and thou art His creature: thou art the end of His work.” The second is the debt of emption and redemption, for Christ redeemed us from death and hell at the price of His own blood. We are therefore slaves of purchase, nay, “the purchased servants of Christ,” 1 Cor. vi. 20. S. Bernard, in the sermon already cited: “Firstly, we owe all our lives to Christ Jesus, for He laid down His life for us, and endured bitter torments, that we might not have to undergo eternal ones.” He sums up thus: “When I give to Him all that I am, all that I can do, is not this as a star to the sun, a drop to the river, a stone to the mountain, a grain to the heap?” So in his tract, De Deo dilig.: “If I owe my whole self for my first creation, what shall I add for my second, and that brought about as it was? For a second creation is not effected as easily as a first. He who made me once and only by a word, in creating me a second time spoke many words and did wonderful things and endured hard things, and not only hard but even undeserved things. In the first creation He gave me to myself, in the second He gave Himself to me, and when He gave Himself to me He restored me to myself. Given, then, and restored, I owe myself for myself, and I have a double debt. What reward shall I give to God for Himself, for if I were to weigh myself a thousand times, what am I to God?”
The third debt is, that renouncing Satan in our baptism we have given ourselves wholly over to the obedience of Christ; He in regenerating us in Himself has made us new men, and divine, who are the Temple of God and of the Holy Ghost.
The fourth is that He is our beginning and final end, and He to whom we ought to direct all our actions. For He has promised us the happiness of heaven, and everlasting glory, which is nothing else than the vision and fruition of God. See Jerome (Platus, Book I., On the Grace or a Religious State, chapters iii. iv.), where he recounts seven titles of our service, on account of which we are not of our own right, but are God’s and Christ’s.
To these add that we are unprofitable servants in respect of God; for, to God who is immense, most rich, and most blessed, we can add no good thing. Hence S. Augustine on Psalm xxxix. “He possesses thee that thou mayest possess Him. Thou wilt be His land, Thou wilt be His house. He possesses thee, He is possessed by thee, that He may profit thee. Canst thou profit Him in any way? For I said to the Lord, ‘Thou art my God, therefore shall I want no good thing.’”
Again, we are unprofitable, because we sin in many things, and many of our words are infected by negligence or vainglory or some other fault. In addition to this, our actions, if looked upon with strictness, as they proceed from men, are without value to the meriting of the grace and glory of God: according to the Apostle, Rom. viii. 18. So S. Augustine, whose words I will shortly produce. Lastly, all our actions derive the dignity of worth and merit from the grace and promise of God, and are useful to ourselves, not to Him. Hence the Arabic reads, “We are indeed useless servants, for we have done that which was our interest to do.” So Euthymius, S. Cyril in the Catena, and others.
And thus did those monks of the Alps to whom S. Bernard wrote his 152d Epistle; “You account yourselves unprofitable, and you have been found to be humble. To act rightly, and yet to think themselves without value, is found in few, and therefore many admire it. This I say, this assuredly makes you, from illustrious, even more illustrious; from holy, more holy; and wherever this report is published it fills all things with the odour of sweetness;” for, as the same author says in his 42d Sermon on Canticles, “Humility, like the ointment of spikenard, scatters its sweet scent, growing warm in love, flourishing in devotion, smelling pleasantly to the senses of others.”
S. Augustine indeed, for useless servants (inutiles) reads super-vacui, men at leisure, who after their labour look for repose; that eternal reward and glory which far surpass and exceed all their toil. “Nothing remains for us to do: we have finished our trial, there awaits us a crown of righteousness. We may say all things of that ineffable perfruition, and the more all things can be said the less can anything be said worthily; for it is the light of the illuminator, the repose of the toiler, the country of the returned wanderer, the food of the needy, the crown of the conqueror, whatever the temporal goods of unbelievers the holiness of the sons of God will find others more true, and such as will remain in the Creator to all eternity.” Hence the conclusion of Theophylact, “If when we have done all things, we ought not even then to have any lofty thoughts; how deeply do we sin when we do not perform the greatest part of the commandments of God, and yet are praised not the less.”
Ver. 11.—And it came to pass as He was going up to Jerusalem from the borders of Cæsarea Philippi or Paneas, as is clear from S. Matt. xvii. 22, to Jerusalem; to the feast of tabernacles, as appears from S. John vii. 2. He went through the midst of Samaria and Galilee; for this was the direct road for one journeying from Cæsarea to Jerusalem. Mention is made of Samaria to suggest a reason why, among the ten lepers that were healed by Christ, one was a Samaritan; namely, that as Christ was going through Samaria, although He had been inhospitably received by the Samaritans, nay, shut out from one of their towns, ix. 53, He yet wished to do good to a Samaritan, that He might return kindness for ill-treatment. See the chronological order of events which I have prefixed to this commentary.
Ver. 12.—And as He entered into a certain village. Lepers, as being unclean, were not able to enter cities, towns and villages, lest they should communicate their leprosy to the inhabitants, as well as their legal defilement, which under the old law was communicated by contact with a leprous and unclean person; as in Numb. v. 2. Hence they met Christ before the village.
There were ten lepers, says Euthymius, whom their disease had united together; for otherwise the Jews hold no communication with the Samaritans, John iv. 9. These ten leper’s seem to have agreed, as soon as they met Jesus, to demand to be healed with one voice. They made an attack upon the clemency of Jesus.
They stood afar off, as being unclean and out of communion with the clean, being banished lest they should affect them by their breath. In figure leprosy is concupiscence, heresy, and every kind of sin, as is shown in Levit. xiii. xiv. and Matt. viii. 2.
Ver. 13.—And they lifted up their voices. They cried out aloud, because they stood afar off. The voice was one and proceeded from all, “Jesus, Master,” have mercy on us, and free us from this heavy and incurable disease. Master here does not so much mean teacher as Lord, one who directs his servants and tells them his wishes. The Greek is ε̉πίστατα, that is Præfect—Præses; one whose right it is to rule and command: for they do not ask Christ to teach them, and give them precepts of virtue, but to command the leprosy and cause it to depart from them. So the Hebrew, Rabbi, means not only master but also Lord, and Mighty, and One of the first rank. Moreover, S. Luke everywhere calls Christ ε̉πίστατα, as is seen v. 5, viii. 24, 45, ix. 33, 49; S. Matt. also, viii. 25, xvii. 4, and elsewhere, has κύζιε, that is Lord. So the Gauls, Germans, and Belgians call their masters Lords, Domini, mon maistre, mein meister.
And when He saw them He said unto them. Theophylact says, “They stood afar off indeed in position, but they were near in speech, for ‘The Lord is nigh unto all that call upon Him,’” Ps. cxlv. 18.
Ver. 14.—He said unto them, Go and shew yourselves unto the priests. That is, if you go to them and obey Me, you shall assuredly be healed of your leprosy by My power and providence.
And it came to pass, as they went. Christ commanded them to go to the priests, not that they might be healed by them, for this was impossible, but firstly, for the honour and deference due to the priest-hood; secondly, because the law commanded lepers, if they were healed, to show themselves to the priests, that by their means they might be brought back to the city and temple, and to the society of men. The priests, moreover, had their own signs by which they might know whether a man were a leper or not, as I have shown before. Thirdly, to prove the faith and obedience of the lepers, for they knew themselves to be lepers, and that they could not be healed by the priests, but only that their leprosy could be declared. Yet they went to them at the command of Christ, believing that they would thus be healed by Him before they came to the priests. For if they had not so believed they would assuredly not have gone to them. Fourthly, that Christ might make the priests witnesses of the miraculous healing done by Him, and that from this they might know that He was the Christ.
Allegorically. Christ wished to signify that mystical lepers, that is sinners in the New Law, ought to come to the priests that they may be healed by penance, and absolved from the leprosy of sin. “It is not,” says S. Chrysostom, “the duty of the priest, under the New Law, to prove the leprosy, as it was under the Old, but to cleanse and expiate it when proved.” Lib. iii. de Sacerdotio.
And as they went, they were cleansed. “In certain faith and blind obedience, not judging of the command,” says Euthymius. It is probable that immediately on their going they were healed, that they might know it to have been done by Jesus. Hence the Samaritan, perceiving what had happened, and that he was cured, returned to Jesus and gave thanks. Thus is God wont to reward prompt faith and obedience.
They were cleansed. From their leprosy, which among the Jews was the greatest of uncleannesses, both natural and legal; especially because it was contagious, and made those who came near, leprous and unclean.
Ver. 15.—And one of them, when he saw that he was healed. He left the road and went back to Jesus, the Author of his healing, magnifying God with a loud voice, who, through Jesus, had healed him.
Ver. 16.—And fell down on his face at His feet. That by profound humiliation he might show his great reverence to Him, as in the Greek and Syriac. And he was a Samaritan: a Samaritan, and therefore an alien from and abhorrent to the Jews, a schismatic moreover, so that it was wonderful that he alone gave thanks so earnestly to Jesus, who was a Jew, when the other lepers, who were Jews by nation and religion, passed Him by and gave no thanks for so great a benefit.
Ver. 17.—And Jesus answering said, Why do not the nine, equally with this Samaritan, return and acknowledge their cure, and give Me thanks? In truth the nine were rejoiced at their cure, and went to the priests, that they might be declared to be clean, and restored to the society of men, thinking wholly of themselves, and caring very little for the glory of Jesus.
Ver. 18.—There are not found that returned. By confessing and declaring themselves cured by God through Christ of their leprosy, which was a great glory to God.
Save this stranger. That is, except this Samaritan, who was a stranger to the nation and religion of the Jews. For the Samaritans were Babylonians, Assyrians and Medians, and were transferred by Shalmanezer to Samaria. 2 Kings xvii. 24. The Syriac says, “Why were they separated, so that none gave glory to God except this one?” He represents the Gentiles, who were to believe in Christ, and give Him thanks, when the unbelieving Jews would hold Him in contempt. We thus see that strangers are often more grateful than natives, because strangers wonder at strange benefactors more, and pay them greater respect than natives, who, as familiar with their benefactors, think that benefits are their due from the right of country. Moreover, they were ashamed to humble themselves before their own countrymen, and to acknowledge the misery from which they had been delivered. Rightly therefore does Christ blame them; and He might with justice have deprived them of the benefit of the cure, and allowed them to fall back again into their leprosy. But He would not do this, because His mercy was so great that it extended even to the ungrateful. S. Bernard sharply rebukes the Wickedness of ingratitude, Serm. li. on Canticles. He says, “It is the enemy of our souls, the inanition of our merits, the dispenser of our virtues, the ruin of our benefactions. Ingratitude is a burning wind, drying up the Fountain of Holiness, the dew of mercy, the streams of grace.”
Ver. 19.—And He said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith. Faith, by which you have believed that I am able to save you, nay that I will do so, if you obey Me, and go to the priests. For this faith has worked with your healing, even though I be the primary author. Hence very likely the prompting of God elicited from this leper some act of contrition by which he was justified; and that he then left the schism of the Samaritans, and joined the true religion of the Jews. In the end he became a disciple of Jesus, and received His baptism, and became a Christian and preached the power and miracle of Christ and converted many to Him.
Ver. 20.—And when He was demanded of the Pharisees. The Kingdom of Israel, which had now indeed fallen, but which was to be raised up again by the Messiah.
The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. “Cometh,” that is, will come. It is a Hebraism, in which the present is put for the future. Observe that Christ said, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” This Pharisee, therefore, either from a desire of knowledge, or to mock Jesus, said, “Thou Jesus preachest Thy kingdom in heaven, but when will it come? When shall we see Thee reigning in it? When shall we see Israel, who is now subjugated by the Romans, breathe again through Thy means and recover her liberty and live happily under Thee as her kin?” “They asked Him when He would reign,” says Euthymius, “as to deride Him, who appeared as one of low estate.” But Christ answered mildly and briefly at first as in this verse, but afterwards at more length (verse 22 to the end of the chapter). He spoke of the glory of His kingdom in the heavens, to which that of grace should first be subordinated on earth, for we proceed to glory through grace. He said therefore,
The kingdom of God. The kingdom of God and the Messiah cometh not with previous preparation, nor with the outward pomp of soldiers, horses, and chariots, as you can see, from itself. You know a king to be at hand when you see his attendants preceding him. With such as these you thought that the kingdom of the Messiah would come, and you look for it as now nigh at hand.
Ver.21.—Neither shall they say. They shall not say, In Jerusalem is the royal throne of Christ, He reigns there in magnificence like another Solomon; because Christ does not reign on a bodily throne, but in a spiritual soul, which by His grace He rules and directs into all good, and so guides it to the kingdom of heaven. For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, Rom. xiv. 17. I would understand all these sayings of the same thing: that is, of the first Advent of Christ in which He reigns in the souls of the faithful as a king through His grace; for thus do His sayings, as a whole, best agree together and cohere. Some, however, understand the kingdom of glory, because He will adorn even the bodies of the just with His own brightness, and other gifts, as all may see.
Secondly, This kingdom of God is within us: that is, it is in our own power if we embrace the faith and grace of Christ, and work with Him, for, as Titus says, “It is of our own will and power to receive the kingdom of God.”
Thirdly, The kingdom of God is within us, because Christ, as our God and king, lives among us preaching and endowing this kingdom. Thus speaks Theophylact: “The kingdom of God on the whole is to live after the manner of the angels, when nothing of this world occupies our souls. We need no long time and no distant journey, for faith is near us, and after faith the divine life.” The same also said the Apostle, “The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that is, the word of faith,” Rom. x. 8. For to believe, and to walk worthily of our belief and of our calling, is within us. The Pharisees therefore derided the Lord, but He turned them into ridicule, showing that they were ignorant of that which was within them and which is very easy to any one who wishes for it. “For now when I am in the midst of you, you are able to possess the kingdom of God if you believe in Me and will live according to My commandments.”
Ver. 22.—And He said unto His disciples, The days will come. That is, the time will come and is now at hand, when for My faith and the preaching of the gospel you will suffer many adversities, persecutions, and distresses; the errors and heresies, moreover, of the innovators; and be oppressed by straits of body and mind, and know not what consolation or counsel to take. Hence you shall seek to see Me, and to consult Me, if only once, but in vain: for after I shall have ascended into heaven, I shall no more appear on earth. Thus the things you now hear from Me you ought to teach, and to console, and to direct, until, at my second coming to judgment, I return to you, that is, to your successors. Thus He spoke to warn them that they could only come to the kingdom of glory through tribulations, that they might neither fail in heart nor fall from the faith. So Theophylact, Euthymius, Titus, Bede, and others.
Ver. 23.—And they shall say to you. False prophets shall come feigning themselves to be Christ or sent from Christ. Go not out, neither follow those deceivers or their rumours. The Arabic has, “See them not, nor hasten to them.”
Ver. 24.—For as the lightning. The Syriac has, “As the lightning shines from heaven and lightens all things under heaven.” As the lightning most suddenly, swiftly, and openly descends from heaven and shines out, so shall I suddenly and unexpectedly return to judgment. There will be no need of watching for Me, or sign, or mark, for I shall appear conspicuous and glorious to all in the whole earth. This and the following we have read in Matt xxiv. 27 and following, where I have explained it.
Ver. 25.—But first must He suffer many things. The Arabic has, “Before this He shall endure much suffering, and be rejected by this generation.”—“That is,” says Euthymius, “by this nation of a few Jews. He said this firstly, lest the Apostles, seeing Him suffering and being put to death on the cross, should be offended, and doubt whether He were the Christ.” Secondly, as Bede says, “that when they saw Him dying, who, they thought should be glorified, the pain of His sufferings might be lightened to them by the hope of the promised glory.” Thirdly, that He might arm them against future sufferings by this prophecy. “As if He had said,” says Theophylact, “Wonder not if troubles come upon you, so great as to make you wish for the days when I was with you. For even I myself, who will come as the lightning, must first suffer many things, and be rejected, and so come into that glory. Let this be your example, for to you also shall come glory from perils.”
Ver. 30.—Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. “Well does Christ say,” says Bede, “that He shall be revealed as one who, not being seen, sees all things, and then appearing, shall judge all things.”
Ver. 32.—Remember Lot’s wife. She perished because she looked back. “Lest,” says S. Ambrose, “as she looked back on the burning Sodom, against the command of the angel, and was changed into a pillar of salt, so you also, against these commandments of mine, may return to the life of the world, and perish with that which is perishing and burning.” S. Augustine (Lib ii. Quæst. Evang. quæst. 43): “What is the meaning of Lot’s wife? She represents those who look back in tribulation and separate themselves from the hope of the Divine Promise, and who are therefore changed into a pillar of salt, that by admonishing men not to do the same, they may, as it were, season their hearts, and not become fools.”
Ver. 34.—In that night there shall be two men in one bed. By the word night it may be thought that the universal judgment of Christ will take place at night, for the greater terror of men. But I reply, That which in verse 31 is called day, is here called night. First, Because the day of judgment will be to very many, and certainly to all who have fallen away, fatal and most calamitous. For night and darkness are symbols of calamity. Secondly, As night closes the day and the time of labour, so will that day also close the time of labouring and meriting, according to the words, “The night cometh when no man can work.” John ix. 4. Rightly then is the day of judgment called night.
3 Of the importunate widow. 9 0f the Pharisee and the publican. 15 Children brought to Christ. 18 A ruler that would follow Christ, but is hindered by his riches. 28 The reward of them that leave all for his sake. 31 He foresheweth his death, 35 and restoreth a blind man to his sight.
ND he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;
9 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
10 Two men went up into the temple to pray ; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
32 For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on:
33 And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again.
37 And they told him, that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.
Douay Rheims Version
We must pray always. The Pharisee and the publican. The danger of riches. The blind man is restored to sight.
ND he spoke also a parable to them, that we ought always to pray and not to faint,
Ver.1.—He spake a parable unto them to the end that. Christ had said, at the end of the last chapter, that the Apostles and the faithful should suffer persecutions, in which they should wish for His presence that they might seek and receive help from Him. He now names a remedy for all their sufferings, prayer, for He both hears them and grants what they ask, for He teaches, directs, strengthens.
Always to pray. Hence the heretics called Euchitæ wished, but without reason, to be always praying and to do no manual work. But it is written, “If any man will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thess. iii. 10). “Always” here seems to mean sedulously, perseveringly, diligently, assiduously as in other things, and at befitting times, especially when temptation, persecution, and affliction are hard at hand. It is impossible for us to pray always and at all times. We must have a time for eating, drinking, labouring, &c. The word “always” means, therefore, not continuance but perseverance in prayer: that is, that we should set apart fit times for prayer, and not cease to pray until we have obtained what we need and what we ask for. Our Lord adds, “and not to faint” or in the Greek “be weary.” The reason is that we daily meet so many difficulties and troubles that our whole lives appear to be one temptation and warfare. And as we are infirm and unable to overcome them we ought to ask help and strength from God through prayer. Thus our whole Christian life seems as it were one prayer. Again, “always,” that is frequently, at the hours appointed by the Church, that we may do nothing without prayer—nothing that we do not ascribe to the glory of God. Bede says, mystically, “He prays always who works for God always;” and the Gloss, “He prays always who lives virtuously always.” S. Chrysostom: “The Lord would have you to obtain by prayer that which He wishes to give you. The palace and the ears of princes are open to few. The ears of God are open to all who will.” He refers to Ecclus. xxxv. 20. So the apostle, Ephes. vi. 18; 1 Thess. v. 17. See what I have said on those three passages, Climachus: Gradu xxviii.: “Prayer, if we regard its nature or quality, is the familiar conversation and union of man with God, but if we consider its force and efficacy it is the conservation of the world, our reconciliation with God, the mother, at once, and daughter of tears, the propitiation of sins, the bridge of escape from temptation, the bulwark against the attacks of afflictions, the destruction of war, the office of angels, the food of all spirits-future joy, continual action, the fountain of virtues, the reconciler and authoress of divine graces.” Not content, he speaks more highly, exaltedly, nobly still: “It is spiritual progress, the food of the soul, the illumination of the mind, the axe of despair, the demonstration of hope, the distinction of sorrow, the wealth of monks, the treasure of solitaries, the decreasing of anger, the mirror of religious growth, the index of our stature, the declaration of our condition, the signification of things future, the proof of the glory to come.” So the Church sings of S. Cæcilia: She always bore the evangel of Christ in her bosom, and neither by day nor by night did she cease from divine conversation and prayer, and when the organs sounded Cæcilia sang to the Lord, “Cleanse thou my heart, that I may not be confounded.” Valerian her husband found her on her bed praying, with an angel. By this increasing prayer she merited to be given to the angel for the preservation of her virginity, the conversion of her espoused husband Valerian, of Tiburtius and 400 others, and lastly a glorious martyrdom with them all.
Ver. 2.—Saying there was in a city a judge which feared not God. This judge was wicked, unjust, cruel, and godless, one who feared neither the vengeance of God, nor the ill-report of men, who cared nothing for his conscience or his character. For the wicked who have no fear of God are often deterred by the shame of men, from confessing those acts for which they are openly despised and considered godless and infamous. But this judge was moved by no fear of God or man, and therefore he had arrived, says Theophylact, at the summit of all wickedness.
Ver. 3.—And there was a widow in that city. Avenge me, that is, vindicate my right against my oppressor, and free my innocence; righteousness, substance, and character, which are brought to trial by my enemy who is powerful, and against whom I cannot stand. She did not ask for vengeance but only for justice, that she might be delivered from the violence of her adversary and get back her own.
Ver. 4.—And he would not for a while. Partly from his own wickedness and partly because he hoped for a great bribe from the opponent.
But afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man, i.e., Although I am unjust and without scruple or shame yet because this widow is troublesome to me, I will avenge her of her adversary, and give her back her right, lest continually (in novissimo) coming she weary me out (sugillet me). The Syriac has “omni tempore;” the Arabic “semper.” Sugillo is properly to bruise the face and make it livid by blows. The Greek is ύποπιάζω. The metaphorical meaning is, firstly, to deafen the head and ears with noise, and many so understand it. The Syriac has, “Lest she continually trouble me.” The Arabic, “Lest she be always coming to trouble me.” S. Augustine (Ep. 121 to Proba): “She moved the unjust judge by her persistence to listen to her. Not that he was influenced by justice or mercy, but he was overcome by weariness.” So Bede, Euthymius, Lucas and others from the Greek. “As therefore this widow by the assiduity and importunity of her supplications conquered the judge, so do we overcome God. What fear cannot effect prayer can. Threats and the fear of punishment have not moved men to justice; but when the widow came as a suppliant, from a savage she made the judge humane. What then may we not conjecture of a beneficent God, if the widow by her prayers changed a judge who had been cruel before, into a humane one?” S. Chrysostom adds that Christ here wishes to show that the chief strength of prayer consists in turning unjust and cruel judges to piety and mercy. Sugillare, applied from the body to the mind, means to brand with a mark, to affect with disgrace, to accuse. Although this senseless judge regarded neither God nor man, he feared for himself and his office, lest he should be deposed from his judgeship, and deprived of honour and profit; he therefore gave the widow her due.
A1legorically, S. Augustine (Lib. ii. Quæst. Evangel. qu. 45), says, “The widow is the Church, which seems desolate until her bridegroom Christ, who now bears her griefs in secret, return from heaven to judgment.”
In trope, “The widow,” says Theophylact, “is the soul which has put away her former husband. He was hostile to her because she came to God. God is a judge Who fears no one, and regards not the persons of men. The widow represents every soul that is desolate and afflicted, and who prays to the judge, that is God, to be delivered from her adversary. But because it is incongruous to compare God to the unjust and wicked judge, as Euthymius rightly says, from S. Chrysostom, we should rather say that it is Christ who is here spoken of; and not in comparison but as concluding from the less to the greater. That is: If the unjust judge were overcome by the importunity of the widow to change injustice into justice, and give her her rights, how much rather should God do this, who is most just, nay who is justice itself, punishing all injustice?” So S. Augustine above—S. Chrysostom and Theophylact—as will be clearly shown on verse 7.
Vers. 6, 7.—And the Lord said, hear what the, &c. “God,” says Theophylact, “is the leader, the judge and the vindicator of all righteousness.” So David on Psalm xxxiv. 17, “The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth.” The Arabic has, “Hear what the unjust judge said; and shall not God more rightly avenge His own elect who cry to Him day and night?” So Ecclus. xxxv. 21, 22; Rev. vi. 9, 10, where the souls of the slain for Christ cry to God demanding vengeance. They hear from Him that they must rest yet a little while until the number of their fellow servants is completed. See what I have commented on the place.
Morally. Behold how great is the dignity, the need, and the power of prayer. The need, that by it we may be delivered from all the temptations and tribulations by which we are every where, and always, surrounded. The dignity, because by means of prayer we converse with God, as do the angels. The power, because by it we overcome all adversities and hardships. “To pray always,” says S. Chrysostom (Book ii. of Prayer) “is the work of angels, who, wholly intent upon God, teach us while we pray to forget our human nature, and to have no regard to things present, but to conceive of ourselves as standing in the midst of angels, and performing the same sacrifice with them.” He adds, “Satan does not venture to come too near to a soul fortified by prayer, for he fears the strength and fortitude which prayer confers. Prayer supports the soul more than food supports the body.” And (Book i.), “As the sun gives light to the body, so does prayer to the soul. If it be a loss to a blind man not to see the sun, how much greater a loss is it to a Christian not to pray assiduously, nor to introduce the light of Christ into his soul by prayer! By it we attain to this end, that we cease to be mortal and of time. By nature we are mortal, but by pray and our life with God, we pass to the life immortal. For it is inevitable that he who holds communion with God, should come out superior to death and to all that is subject to corruption.”
Ver. 8.—When the Son of man cometh. He comes to the universal judgment, when He will deliver His elect, whom He ordered to be always ready and eager; and to await that day patiently, preparing themselves for it by prayer and good works. For that day will be sudden and unexpected like lightning, as He Himself has said (chap. xvii. 24). Christ gives the reason why we should always pray, and persevere in prayer; because from His long absence, faith will fail even in many who believe, so that they will either lose all faith or believe very feebly, scarcely thinking that He will return at all. Secondly, Christ here gives the reason, why many are not heard in prayer. Their faith begins to fail and they do not continue steadfast in prayer, nor await the coming of the Lord with patience as they ought.
Thirdly, Theophylact says, “He rightly connected His words on prayer with those on faith, for the base and foundation of all prayer is faith. He declared at the same time that few would pray, for faith would be found in few.”
Christ says this to add a fresh incentive to unceasing prayer, for by degrees faith is failing more and more, and offences and persecutions are therefore increasing.
Shall He find faith—perfect faith, that is; faith formed by certain confidence (fiducia) and love. “This,” says S. Augustine (tract xxxvi), “is scarcely found on earth, for the Church of the faithful is full of imperfect faith, and is, as it were, half dead.” Christ Him-self explains it so, S. Matt. xxiv. 12.
This will happen more especially; at the end of the world before the coming of Christ to judgment, when men shall eat and drink themselves over to pleasure and think not of the judgment, as Christ said, chap. xvii. 27; and S. Peter, 2 Pet. iii. 3. That is, Christians will deny that He is coming to judgment, even when that coming is near at hand (2 Peter iii. 4). As if they had said, “Nature has made the world: the same Nature continues its course in the same tenor, and always will continue it. There is no God to destroy it: no Deity to judge us and our works, and to punish them.”
Ver. 9.—And He spake also this parable unto certain that trusted in themselves. Which, however, might truly happen, nay often has happened, so that it may be historical. The introduction to the parable shows its scope and the design of its introduction, namely, to rebuke the supremacy of the Pharisees, and their boasting and contempt of other men.
In the former parable Christ taught one condition of prayer-perseverance. In this He teaches another—humility, for the humble prayer is heard by God, the proud one is rejected, as Ecclus. xxxv. 21. See what has been said thereon. The Fathers thus connect these words with the preceding verse, that is with faith. S. Augustine (Serm. xxxvi.), on the words of the Lord that faith is not of the proud but of the humble, says, “Christ subjoins a parable on humility as opposed to pride:” Theophylact, “Because pride more than other feelings vexes the minds of men, He very frequently speaks of it.” The Gloss, “That no one, from what has been said, may flatter himself on his knowledge, or his confession of faith,” Christ shows that our works, and not our professions, will be judged by God, and amongst these He chiefly notes humility.
Ver. 10.—Two men went up. The one a Pharisee, with the pharisaical pride, puffed up and haughty. The other a publican, that is a sinner, and deprecating pardon. Publicans were held infamous by the Jews, nay, were termed Parisim—that is, public robbers, for, as Suidas says, from Jamblichus, “The life of a publican was one of open violence, on account of their exactions and unjust tribute, their unpunished robberies, their unprincipled conduct in business, and their unblushing usury.”
Ver. 11.—The Pharisee stood and prayed thus within himself. The Jews prayed partly kneeling and partly standing, when their prayer was longer than usual—sacrifice or psalmody. For in the temple there was no place to sit, except for the High Priest and king alone, as I have showed on Ezek. xlvi. 2. The word “standing” is added here to show the pride of the Pharisee; he raised his head to heaven as if to dispute with God, or to claim and exact the measure of his merits. “For a humble man,” as Theophylact says, “is humble of aspect, but this Pharisee is seen to be proud both by his habit and bearing.” The Arabic reads, “The Pharisee stood praying.” The Pharisee, therefore, stood proudly. 1. As being secure and confident in his own merits, and as calling God to judgment. 2. He stood first, or among the first, near the altar. 3. He stood with his neck and face erect and fixed on heaven, as if heaven were his debtor. The publican, however, stood 1. Trembling and fearful, confessing his sins. 2. Afar off, at a distance from the altar, the last, or among the last. 3.With his face cast down towards the ground, not venturing to look up to heaven, showing his fear and penitence by the place in which he stood and by his appearance. Hence Bede says, allegorically, “The Pharisee is the people of the Jews, exalting their merits by the righteousness of the law. The publican is the Gentile confessing his sin apud se.“ The apud se of the Pharisee is referred in the Syriac to “standing,” standing apud se—relying on himself, trusting to himself, insisting on his own merits and dwelling on them. The Syriac reads, “serveto.” Our version more rightly connects the apud se with “orabat.” He prayed with himself in his soul and mind, for the pride in his heart so puffed him up, that he would not pray or speak but with himself—he did not deign to do so before others. He prayed like the Pharisees outwardly, in a grave inflated pompous tone. Hence S. Basil on Isaiah ii. says, “He prayed a apud se not apud Deum—for he acted like himself when he fell into the sin of pride.”
He prayed—In his own way, for he did not pray to God, but he praised himself. S. Augustine (serm. xxxvi) on the words of the Lord according to S. Luke: “What did he ask of God? Seek from his own words. We find nothing. He went up to pray; he would not ask of God, but preferred to please himself, and heap insults on the devout publican as well.”
I thank Thee. “He is not blamed,” said S. Augustine (serm. xxxvi.), “because he gave thanks, but because he wished for nothing to be given to him. Whoever says ‘I justify myself,’ is worse than the Pharisee who proudly called himself righteous, but who also gave thanks to God.”
“He gave God thanks,” says S. Bernard (de Grad. Humil.), “not because he was good, but because he was alone: and not so much for the good which he had himself, as for the evil which he saw in others. He had not cast out the beam from his own eye, and he recounts the motes in his brothers’ eyes. For he says ‘unjust’—‘extortioners.’”
I am not as other men. He should at least have said “as many others,” for what does “other” mean, but all men except himself? “I,” he said, “am righteous, the rest are sinners;” that is, I alone am righteous, all the rest are wicked. The proud man, to exalt himself the more, especially despises and depreciates others.
S. Gregory (lib. xxiii. Moral. c. 7) describes four species of pride in this Pharisee. The first is, when men think that they have good, e.g., virtue a se. The second, when they ascribe this to their own merits. The third, when they think that they have that which they have not. The fourth, when they wish to be singular, and therefore despise and speak evil of others. The three last of these are clearly shown in the proud and false righteousness of this Pharisee. The first appeared in him because he ascribed his righteousness, not to God but to his own works, and said of God, with the Pagan, “Let God give me strength, let Him give me wealth, I will order my mind myself.” “If, in fine,” says Theophylact, “he had believed that it was the gift of God that he had graces not his own (aliena), he would not have held other men in contempt, remembering, that even he himself was naked as far as regards his own virtue.”
Even as this publican.—“See,” says an Interlineator on S. Augustine, “how the vicinity of this publican was the occasion of greater pride to the Pharisee.” The Syriac has, “Nor as this publican,” supply, “am I a public sinner.” Of his pride, he judges rashly and falsely that the publican was wicked, when in truth he was a penitent and justified. The Pharisee sinned therefore, 1. In judging rashly; 2. In despising the publican; 3. In reviling and insulting him, for he casts up to the publican his sins. S. Chrysostom in the Catena: “All human nature did not satisfy his contempt, but he attacked this publican. Whoever reproaches others, commits many offences. 1. He makes the other worse, for if he is a sinner he who is rebuked rejoices to find a partner in his wickedness; if righteous, he thinks highly of himself. 2. He harms the Church; for his hearers revile it. 3. He causes God to be blasphemed. 4. He makes the other more shameless, and engenders hate towards his rebuker. 5. He renders himself obnoxious to punishment.
S. Bernard (de Gradib. Humil.): “The Pharisee, while rejoicing in himself, insults other men beyond measure. David does otherwise. He says, ‘All men, are liars.’ He excepted no one, lest he should deceive him; for he knew that all have sinned, and have need of the glory of God. The Pharisee deceived himself alone, when he excepted himself from the common reproach, lest he should be excepted from mercy. The Pharisee makes light of mercy while he dissembles his misery. The Prophet says, as well of himself as of all others, ‘All men are liars.’ The Pharisee admits it of all men but himself. ‘I am not,’ he said, ‘as other men.’”
I fast thrice in the week. In Sabbato. This is ‘by synecdoche, the chief day of the week being put for the whole week, which is called sabbatum. Hence the Arabic, “I fast two days in every week.” Theophylact says that “the Pharisees fasted on the second and fifth days;” but he gives no authority for it.
I give tithes of all that I possess. Not only of the first-fruits which the law compels, but, for my desire for a higher and a willing service, I give tithes of all things whatever, as flesh, eggs, fish, to which I am not bound. This Pharisee had branded other men as if they were adulterers and unjust, while he himself alone was pure and just. He would prove himself pure by his fasts, which are the mother of purity, and to be just by his giving tithes of everything. “As regards impurity,” says Theophylact, “he makes boast of his fasting, for from luxury comes wantonness. Against usury and injustice he brings forward his giving tithes of every thing that he possessed. ‘So far am I,’ he said, ‘from usury and unfair dealing, that I put aside what is my own.“’ So S. Ephrem, in Catena.
Morally. S. Gregory here observes (Homily vii. on Ezekiel): “The Pharisee, who published his fasts and gave tithes, thanked God, as if his guardianship were on the watch throughout the circuit of his whole city; but because he had not noticed one opening, that of pride in himself, there the enemy took possession of him. While therefore he was silent on what he ought to have declared, he unhappily spoke of that on which he should have held his peace; and through his pride, his merits, if he had any, were diminished, for while he held humility in contempt, he augmented his sins.”
Ver. 13.—And the publican, standing afar off. The publican did not resent the insult offered by the Pharisee, nay, he admitted it, confessed it, and sought pardon for it with patience. He was, therefore justified before the Pharisee. S. Chrysostom, in his Homily on David and Saul, says, “The publican accepted the disgrace and washed it out. He acknowledged his sins, and laid them down. This accusation was to be his remission, and his enemy was changed involuntarily into his benefactor. How many labours ought that publican to have undergone, fasting, sleeping on the ground, watching, bestowing his goods on the poor, sitting long in sackcloth and ashes, that so he might lay aside his sins? But when he did none of these things, by a mere word he was rid of all his sin; and the insults and reproaches of the Pharisee, which seemed to overwhelm him with contumely, bought him a crown of righteousness, and that without toil, without labour, and without long delay.”
Standing afar off. Afar from the altar and the holy place, for he thought himself unworthy of these from his sins. He was not so very far off though, but the Pharisee was able to point to him, and he to hear the Pharisee.
He would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven. He dared not, from modesty, humility, and reverence. He would not so much as lift his eyes, as if thinking himself unworthy to look to that heaven which was the abode of the glorious God, who was offended at sins. Wherefore with eyes cast down to the ground, he humbled himself. So S. Cyril in the Catena.
S. Theophylact gives the cause of his thinking himself unworthy of the heavenly vision; and S. Augustine: “That he might be looked upon by God, he looked not upon himself. He dared not look up. Conscience weighed him down. Hope lifted him up. Again he showed by his posture that he had sinned against the Heavenly Host, that is against the Angels whose inspirations he had resisted; against the Saints, whose prayers he had made of no avail; against God Himself, whose commandments he had broken.”
But he smote on his breast. His breast, in which was his heart, that is his will, which is its own cause and origin of all sins. “He struck and beat it,” says Euthymius, “as if to exact punishment from it: and to show that because of it he was worthy himself of stripes.” The beating of the breast is a sign of penitence and a contrite heart. Hence this was formerly the act of one who confessed and was penitent, and it is so still. To beat the offending breast is both an ancient and modern custom of Christians. S. Augustine in his 8th Sermon “On the Words of the Lord according to S. Matt.,” says, “At this ‘Confiteor’ you beat your breasts. What is this but to confess what is lying hid in them, and by a visible blow to chastise an invisible sin? Why do you do this, but that you hear ‘Confiteor tibi Pater.’ Therefore our accusation of ourselves in our confession is the praising of God. For we confess ourselves to be sinners, but God to be without sin, holy and good. We therefore ask pardon of Him. The Pharisee, from his proud and unreal prayer, was the more defiled with sin. The publican was more righteous than the Pharisee, not directly and simply, but indirectly and negatively; for indeed he was righteous, but the Pharisee was unrighteous, and he returned to his house even more so than he came out.” “For,” says Euthymius, “he who so condemned himself was justified by God;” and S. Paulinus (Eph. lviii.), “What righteousness built up, that pride pulled down. The publican, from a contrite heart, was accepted as an accuser of himself, and obtained pardon from his confession of sins, from the degree of his humility; that holy Pharisee (holy as the Jews are holy) bearing away the pack-load of his sins from his boast of holiness.” S. Bernard (serm iii. de Annunc.): “The Pharisee returned empty because he pretended to be full. The publican, who emptied himself, and took pains to show that he was an empty vessel, carried away the greater grace.”
“Humility,” says S. Chrysostom, “brought the thief into Paradise before the Apostles. But if humility has such power when close upon the offence, what can it not do when united to righteousness? And if pride, united to righteousness, can depress, what will it do when united to sin? Better are sins with humility than innocence with pride,” says Optatus. (Cont. Donat. B. ii.)
Ver. 15.—And they brought unto Him also infants, that He should touch them. And by touching might bless them. Christ confirms the doctrine of humility by His own example. “Infants,” says the Gloss, “are brought to the Master of Humility, that innocence and the age of simplicity might be shown to belong to grace.”
Ver. 16.—Suffer the little children to come unto Me. The Arabic: For the kingdom of God is theirs who are like them“—not in infancy but in innocence, simplicity, humility. So Bede. “He does not say theirs, but such as they, meaning their manner of life, not their age.” And S. Ambrose: “It is not childhood, but the goodness of that simplicity which emulates child-like innocence, that is meant; for it is not a virtue not to be able to sin, but not to will to do so.” I have explained the rest on Matt. xix. 13 and following.
Ver. 35.—And it came to pass as He, &c. Of this blind man restored to sight I have treated. Matt. xx. 30.