1 Christ findeth a greater faith in the centurion, a Gentile, than in any of the Jews. 10 Healeth his servant being absent. 11 Raiseth from death the widow’s son at Nain. 19 Answereth John’s messengers with the declaration of his miracles. 24 Testifieth to the people what opinion he held of John. 30 Inveigheth against the Jews, who with neither the manners of John nor of Jesus could be won. 36 And sheweth, by occasion of Mary Magdalene, how he is a friend to sinners, not to maintain them in sins, but to forgive them their sins, upon their faith and repentance.
OW when he had ended all his sayings in the audience of the people, he entered into Capernaum.
Douay Rheims Version
Christ heals the centurion's servant. He raises the widow's son to life, answers the messengers sent by John and absolves the penitent sinner.
ND when he had finished all his words in the hearing of the people, he entered into Capharnaum.
4. And when they came to Jesus, they besought him earnestly, saying to him: He is worthy that thou shouldest do this for him.
5. For he loveth our nation: and he hath built us a synagogue.
37. And behold a woman that was in the city, a sinner, when she knew that he sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment.
38. And standing behind at his feet. she began to wash his feet with tears and wiped them with the hairs of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.
Ver.1.—Now when he had ended (or fulfilled) all his sayings.
Ver. 2.—Ready to die, nigh unto death. Syriac.
Ver. 3.—He sent to him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant. S. Luke ascribes the request of the Jews to the Centurion himself, because they asked in his name; but the Centurion sought not that Christ should come unto him, but only that the Lord should be told, “My servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.” S. Matt. viii. The Jews asked therefore that which they knew the Centurion desired, although he was too humble-minded to seek it.
“That he would come,” i.e., would give up everything else, and apply himself to the healing of the servant. An expression equivalent to the Hebrew word נא, ba, come.
Thus God came to Abimelech, Gen. xx; to Balaam, Num. xxii.; and to the Hebrews, Deut. xxxiii., when He appeared to them and gave them the Law. So it is said of the Baptist. John came, shewed himself, neither eating nor drinking. The force of the passage lies therefore in the word “heal,” that he would heal his servant, whether he came—went down—to his house or not.
Ver. 6.—Lord, trouble not thyself, do not incur the fatigue (Syriac) of such a journey, but speak the word only, and heal my servant.
Ver. 11.—And it came to pass the day after that He went into a city called Nain. A city of Galilee two miles distant from Mount Tabor, situated on the river Kison, and called Nain, from the Hebrew word which denotes beauty. Thus Naomi says, “Call me not Naomi,” i.e. fair or beautiful, “call me Mara; for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth i 20)—words which the widow of Nain, mourning the loss of her only son, might well make her own. So also Ps. cxxxiii., “Behold how good and how pleasant (Nain) it is for brethren to dwell together in unity,” and therefore how sad and sorrowful for brother to be separated from brother, mother from son, by the hand of death.
The place is specially mentioned for the confirmation of the miracle, and also because “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (S. Matt. ix. 35); and to show the bitterness of the mother’s grief, for the death of her son at Nain was a greater trial to the mother than if they had been living in some country place. Just as it seems more hard for a man to be cut off in youth than in age, in health than in sickness, in prosperity than in adversity, in the spring tide rather than in the winter of life, as it is written (Ecclus. xli. i), “0 Death, how bitter is the remembrance of thee to a man that liveth at rest in his possessions, unto the man that bath nothing to vex him, and that hath prosperity in all things. 0 Death, acceptable is thy sentence unto the needy and unto him whose strength faileth, to whom everything is a care.”
Ver. 12.—Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, &c. “Behold,” i.e. by accident, humanly speaking, Christ met the bier; but the meeting was foreseen and fore-ordained of Christ, that He might raise the dead to life. He willed, however, that it should seem accidental and not designed, in order that it might be the more esteemed; for as the proverb runs, “that is of little value which is voluntarily offered for sale.”
“There was a dead man carried” without the city. Because, for sanitary and other reasons, the Jews had their burial places without the walls.
So the sepulchre of Joseph of Arimathæa, in which the body of Christ lay, was without Jerusalem. So also the valley of Jehoshaphat, the scene of the judgment to come and the general resurrection, is the common burial-place of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, with the exception of the kings, for whom David had provided a sepulchre in Zion. 1 Kings ii. 10. For similar reasons the Romans, who were forbidden by the twelve tables to bury their dead within the city, used the Campus Martius as a place of sepulture, until Theodoric revoked the law; and there is abundant evidence to show that the Christians also, in the time of the persecution, used the crypts which they had excavated without the city for purposes of interment, but afterward, when peace was given to the Christians, they consecrated burial places within the walls near the temples in which they were wont to worship:
1. That the remembrance of death might be continually presented to the faithful as an incentive to a holy life. Like as the Spartans were commanded by Lycurgus to bury their dead within the city, in order to teach their young men that death was to be honoured and, not to be feared.
2. That by their consecration they might be secure against the wiles of the devils, who are wont to dwell in the tombs and possess the bodies of those departed. S. Luke viii. 27.
3. And also that the faithful when on their way to worship might be led to pray that those who lay buried around might be released from purgatory, and counted worthy of a glorious resurrection at the last day, and also that they might be partakers in the holy sacrifices offered in the temples and might benefit by the merits and by the prayers of those Saints who either lie buried, or are in some way especially commemorated therein. Thus Constantine the Great wished to be buried in the porch of the Church of the Holy Apostles at Constantinople, and Theodosius in the Church of S. Peter at Rome. And so, as most of the churches at Rome show the Christians built altars over the tombs of the martyrs, for reasons which I have given in my comments on the text, “I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain.” Rev. vi. 9.
The only son, μονογενὴς, i.e. the only child of his mother, and therefore the sole object of her love. For he was to her her hope and her future, the support of her declining years, and the light of her eyes. Hence the mother’s grief was of the bitterest kind, like to that which the prophets tell of: “They shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son,” Zech. xii. 10. And again, “0 daughter of my people, gird thee with sackcloth and wallow thyself in ashes: make thee mourning as for an only son, most bitter lamentation.” Jer. vi. 26.
And much people of the city was with her. This widow seems to have been a woman highly esteemed by her fellow-citizens, “out of respect for whom they joined in the funeral procession.” S. Ambrose. Furthermore, there is generally at the gate of a city a great crowd of people going in and coming out, particularly as formerly the gate was not only the market-place, but also the seat of judgment.
Hence God willed that the miracle should be thus publicly wrought, that many being witnesses of it, many might be led to give praise to Him. Bede.
Ver. 13.—And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said into her, Weep not. Nay, rather begin to rejoice, for I will restore your son to life again, mourn not as dead one whom thou shalt soon see brought back again to life. Bede. He forbids her to weep for him, who was, about to rise from the dead, S. Ambrose.
Ver. 14.—And He came and touched the bier: and He said Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. The bier, an open bier surely, as is common amongst the Jews.
Arise. Elijah, Elisha, and others restored the dead to life by means of prayer to God, but Christ at a word, as Lord of life and death, and therefore very God. He touched the bier, says Cyril, to show that his body was effectual for the salvation of men, for as iron heated in the fire does the work of fire, and kindles the chaff, so the flesh united to the Word gives life to mankind.
Ver. 15.—And he that was dead sat up and began to speak. Sat up, raised himself up into a sitting posture, and so returned to life; for to sit up and to begin to speak are sure signs of returning animation.
And He delivered him to his mother, i.e. He took him by the hand and placed him on his feet, then led him to his mother. Behold thy son! Take him home with thee, that thou mayest rejoice over him, and that he may render thee true filial obedience.
Ver. 16.—And there came a fear on all.
Ver. 17.—And this rumour of Him went forth throughout all Judæa, and throughout all the region round about. Fear, i.e. reverence, and a sacred awe, mixed with admiration and joy.
A great prophet. The Messiah, of whose coming all were in anxious expectation.
Allegorically. The widow is the Church who mourns her sons—those who have fallen into mortal sin and forfeited the grace of God—as dead, and seeks by her tears for their restoration; and in answer to her prayers, Christ—1. Causes the bearers to stand still, checks those evil passions which gain the mastery over the young, and breaks their power. 2. Touches the bier, i.e. the wood of the Cross, and by it raises the dead to life. For by virtue of Christ sinners are moved to repentance, and restored to favour with God. Hence, 3. The dead man sits up and begins to speak, begins to lead a new life and give praise unto God, so that those who are witnesses of this marvellous change are filled with admiration and are led to give glory unto God. So S. Ambrose and others.
Of this we have a living example in S. Monica, for she mourned unceasingly for her son, who was dead in trespasses and sins, but recalled by her prayers to such holiness of life that he afterwards became a chief doctor of the Church. S. Augustine, Confessions.
Again, more particularly, the widow is the Church, the son the people of the Gentiles enclosed in the bier of concupiscence, and borne along to hell as to a sepulchre. By touch of the bier, i.e. by the wood of the Cross, Christ gave life to the world
Figuratively. By the example of the widow we see how a priest or director should act when any of his spiritual children have fallen into mortal sin and are being borne to the grave of everlasting misery. He should follow the bier with weeping and much lamentation, for thus he will receive comfort from the Lord who—(1.) Touching the bier will cause the bearers to stand still, i.e. cause evil lusts and passions to cease; (2.) will recall the dead to life; and (3.) will raise him up to the performance of good works, so as to confess his sins and tell of the loving kindness of God.
Thus at last he is restored to the Church, his mother, whose past sorrow will be eclipsed by her present joy, and thus also many will be led to extol the goodness of God.
Again, the widow represents the soul, her son the understanding, inactive and dead. When such a soul laments her spiritual death, especially if others also join in her mourning, Christ will grant an awakening. The bier is a conscience in a state of false security. The bearers, the evil enticements and flatteries of companions which stand still, i.e. are restrained at the touch of Christ. Bede. Or, as Theophylact interprets it, the widow is the soul which has lost its husband, i.e. the word of life; the son is the understanding; the body, the coffin or bier.
To sum up. We read that Christ on three occasions recalled the dead to life.
1. The daughter of the ruler of the synagogue in the house, i.e. one who sins in thought and intention.
2. The son of the widow at the gate, i.e. one who sins openly, and imparts his guilt to others.
3. Lazarus in the tomb, the habitual sinner who lies as it were buried in sin without hope of recovery or release.
The first, Christ raised to life by secret prayer apart from others; the second by a word; the third by crying with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. Hence different degrees of sin have different remedies, but to rescue the habitual sinner from the death of sin there needs no less than the voice of Christ speaking loudly to the sinner’s heart.
Ver. 29.—And the publicans justified God. Confessed the goodness of God in sending the Baptist, and in offering them salvation through his baptism and preaching. See verse 35; 1 Tim. iii. 16; and S. Matt. xi. l9.
There is a question whether this verse and the one following, give the words of the Evangelist or of our Lord Himself. But as the opening words of the 31st verse, “and the Lord said,” are absent from the best MSS., we may conclude, with Maldonatus, that these two verses are a part of the continuous discourse of Christ.
Ver. 30.—But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, either within themselves, i.e. in their hearts, because they did not dare openly contravene His words, or as against themselves, i.e. for their own condemnation. Bede.
Ver. 36.—And one of the Pharisees desired that he would eat with him, and He went into the Pharisee’s house and sat down to meat.
Ver. 37.—And behold a woman in the city. Behold, a wonderful thing, and a wonderful example of penitence. A woman called Mary Magdalene. S. Luke viii. 2. It is questioned whether this is the same woman who is mentioned by the two other Evangelists. S. Chrysostom thinks there were two; Origen, Theophylact, and Euthymius, three who thus anointed our Lord, and that each Evangelist wrote of a different person. S. Matt. xxvi. 7; S. John xii. 3.
But I hold that it was one and the same woman—Mary Magdalene, the sister of Martha and of Lazarus, who anointed our Lord, as we read in the Gospels, on two but not three occasions; and this is clear,—
1. Because this is the general interpretation of the Church, who in her Offices accepts what is here written by S. Luke as referring to the Magdalene alone.
2. Because S. John (xi. 2) writes, “It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick,” thus plainly alluding to this passage of S. Luke, and signifying that only one woman anointed the Lord. For if there had been more than one, the words just quoted would have insufficiently described her. But the meaning is, “when I say Mary, I mean the penitent who anointed the feet of the Lord, as recounted by S. Luke, whom all know to be Mary Magdalene.”
3. Because the Mary mentioned by S. John (xii. 2, 3) is clearly the same Mary Magdalene, the sister of Martha and of Lazarus, who anointed Christ here, as described by S. Luke, and again at Bethany, six days before the passover. For S. Matthew (xxvi. 6) and S. John (xii. i) both refer to the same event, as is evident if the two accounts are compared together. Therefore it was Mary Magdalene who anointed Christ, not three times, as Origen would have us believe, but twice only, once as is recorded by S. Luke, and again six days before His death.
4 The same thing is testified to by Church history and tradition, and also by the inscription on the tomb of the Magdalene, which Maximus, one of the seventy disciples, is said to have built.
5. And this is also the opinion of S. Augustine, S. Cyprian, and many other interpreters of scripture.
But it may be objected that this Magdalene followed Jesus from Galilee (S. Matt. xxvii. 55), and was a Galilean, and cannot have been the same as Mary the sister of Martha, who lived at Bethany, and was therefore of Judæa. I answer that she was of Judæa by descent, but seems to have lived in Galilee, it may be in the castle called Magdala, either because she had married the lord of that place, or because it had been allotted her as her share of the family property. Hence she was called Magdalene from the name of the place, Magdala. So Jansenius and others.
In the city. Some think in Jerusalem. But Jerusalem was in Judæa, and these things seem to have been done in Galilee where Christ was preaching. Hence it is very probable that the city was Nain, the scene of Christ’s miracle, as Toletus and others conjecture; but some think that it was the town of Magdala in which she lived, an idea which Adricomius on the word Magdalum supports.
A sinner. Some recent writers, to honour the Magdalene, think that she was not unchaste, but only conceited and vain, and for this reason called a sinner. But in proportion as they thus honour the Magdalene, they detract from the grace of God and that penitence which enabled her to live a holy life. For by the word sinner we generally understand one who not only sins, but leads others also to sin. The word sinner therefore here signifies a harlot, i.e. one who has many lovers although she may not make a public market of her charms, and this interpretation is accepted by S. Augustine, S. Jerome, Isidore of Pelusium, S. Ambrose, Gregory, Bede, and S. Chrysostom, who holds (Hom. 62 ad Pop.) that to her refer the words of our Lord, “Verily, I say unto you, that the publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.” S. Matt. xxii. 31. Hence the Church hymn:—
So she, who hath so many sins committed,
Now from the very jaws of hell returns;
E’en to the threshold of a Life eternal,
After her fitful life of guilt and shame.
She, from a seething caldron of offences,
A fair and perfumed vase is now become;
From an uncomely vessel of dishonour
Translated to a vessel full of grace.
Doubtlessly Christ permitted her to be entangled in all the filth of a wanton life, that He might show the power of His grace in winning her back to purity again, for the worse the disease the greater the skill of the physician in curing it. Nor does this detract from the honour due to the Magdalene, for the greater her sins, the more admirable her penitence, and the stronger her resolution to forsake them.
God willed that she should be an example of penitence, that none should despair of pardon because or the heinousness of their offences, but trust to the infinite compassion of God, mindful of the saying of S. Paul, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting.” 1 Tim. i. 15, 16.
“Truly,” says S. Gregory, “a life anxious to atone for faults committed is oftentimes more pleasing to God than that innocence which rests in a torpid security.”
Great, indeed, is the gift of innocence by which we are preserved from sin, but greater is the grace of penitence and remission of sin, and this grace is the greater in proportion to the greatness of the sin, for thus forgiveness is granted to the more unworthy, and so the grade becomes to him the greater, as S. Thomas teaches. Hence sinners who truly repent excel their brethren in humility, and in austerity and holiness of life, and often perform acts of heroism which those who have sinned less deeply are unable to do. As may be seen in the case of many saints, and especially in that of one who from a robber became the very mirror of monks. For the baseness of his former life, the baseness of his sin, the punishment due to his offences, and the pardoning love of God, are to the penitent so many incentives to a better and a holier life.
So the pearl is the emblem of penitence. For as the sun by its rays was said to convert the substance of the oyster into a precious jewel, so Christ by his transforming grace changed the woman that was a sinner into a pearl—a penitent saint.
When she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house. It was not fitting that the Magdalene, whose sinful life was known to all, should anoint Christ in her own house, but rather in the house of another, so that there might be no suspicion of evil. Hence she was not ashamed to act as she did in the house of the Pharisee; for, as S. Gregory says (Hom. 33), Being filled with shame within, she did not think there was any cause for the show of shame without. And S. Augustine (Hom. 58 de Temp.) writes, The sinner who washed the feet of the Lord with her tears, and dried them with the hairs of her head, when she knew that the heavenly physician had come, entered the house an uninvited guest; and thus she, who had been shameless in sin, became yet more bold in seeking salvation, and so deserved to hear that her sins were forgiven. And again (Hom. 23), Thou hast seen how a woman of notoriously evil repute entered, uninvited, the house where her Physician sat at meat, and although little fitted for a feast, was fitted for the blessing which she thus boldly (piâ impudentiâ) sought to obtain. For she knew how great was her need, and that He to whom she had come, could grant her relief. For Christ accepted the invitation of the Pharisee, in order to provide those who sat at meat with the spiritual feast of the repentant Magdalene. Hence S. Chrysostom (Serm. 93):Christ sat at the feast, not to drink cups of wine flavoured with honey and perfumed with flowers, but the bitter tears of repentance; because God longs for the tears of the sinner. For, as S. Bernard says, the tears of penitence are the wine of angels, and yield them unbounded delight. And again (Serm. 30 in Cant.),Tears are an earnest of repentance, and a return to the blessing and favour of God, and therefore of sweet savour to His angels.
An alabaster box of ointment. See S. Matt. xxvi. 6.
Ver. 38.—And stood at His feet behind Him weeping, and began to wash His feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed His feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
At His feet. The ancients at their feasts reclined on couches, their heads resting on their hands, their feet turned away from the table, so that there might be room for others on the same couch. Hence it was easy for the Magdalene to fulfil her pious purpose, for tradition represents her as a woman of lofty stature.
She stood. Standing indicates not the posture, but the presence of any one.
She stood, i.e. she came, and fell on her knees, at the feet of Christ. For kneeling is the posture of penitence.
She drew nigh, says S. Augustine (Hom. 23), to the feet of the Lord, and she who for long had taken to evil ways, now seeks to direct her steps aright. For humble contrition she weeps, and washes the feet of Christ, and in the devotion with which she wiped and anointed them, although silent, she speaks.
In the Magdalene therefore was fulfilled that which is written: “Tell me, 0 thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon;” also, “While the King sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof,” (Cant. i. 7-12); and further, “I will rise now and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth” (Cant. iii. 2), which see.
Note here:—1. The reverence and modesty of the Magdalene, which is the grace of youth and of penitence. She drew nigh to Christ, not in front of Him, for she considered that she was, on account of her past misdeeds, unworthy of His holy presence, but at His feet. Therefore, S. Bernard accounts reverence or modesty (Serm. 86, in Cant.)to be the foundation of all virtues. “How great,” he says, “is the grace and the beauty which a modest blush lends to the cheek!”
2. S. Mary Magdalene, as S. Chrysostom (Hom. 11, on S. Matt.)observes, was the first who came to Jesus for pardon and forgiveness. Those before her had sought restoration to bodily health alone. Therefore, wounded like a deer, she, wounded by the dart of Christ’s love, runs to Him for succour. Christ had showed her her wretchedness; hence, overcome with sorrow and remorse, she could not bear for one moment longer the burden of her sins, but at once sought of Him pardon and release. Therefore, without waiting until Christ had left the Pharisee’s house, she burst in uninvited to the feast. So foul and loathsome is even one mortal sin alone. As S. Anselm asserts (De Similit. cap. cxc.), “If of necessity I had to choose between sin and the torments of hell, I had rather plunge headlong into hell, than give sin the mastery over me;” and he adds, “I had rather enter hell pure from the stain of sin, than reign in heaven a prey to its pollutions.”
3. The act of S. Mary Magdalene seems as if prompted by the words of the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” S. John i. 29; or by the invitation of Christ, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” S. Matt. xi. 28. Moreover, she was persuaded that He, who had delivered her from the possession of the seven devils (S. Luke viii. 2), would deliver her also from the bondage of sin. Therefore, in deepest contrition she draws nigh to Christ, acknowledging Him to he a prophet sent from God with power to forgive sins, and in full hope that He would pardon the guilt which she had contracted; for, S. Gregory says, Christ drew her to Himself by inward grace, and received her outwardly with pity and compassion.
And began to wash His feet with her tears. Observe how abundant were the tears of the penitent, inasmuch as they were able to wash and cleanse the dust-stained feet of the Lord. See S. Matt. x. 10. On their power and efficacy, S. Chrysostom has written (Serm. de Pœnitentia),and S. Ambrose, “Christ washed not His own feet, in order that we might wash them with our tears. Blessed tears, not only because they are able to wash away our guilt, but because they besprinkle the firstfruits of the heavenly Word, and incline His steps towards us.”
Blessed tears, for they not only obtain pardon for the sinner, but strength and refreshment for the just. For truly is it written “My tears have been my meat day and night,” Ps. xlii. 3. And S. Gregory (Hom. 33): “As I ponder over the penitence of the Magdalene, I long to keep silent and weep. For what heart so hard, as not to be softened by the tears of this penitent sinner, who considered what she had done, and was careless of what she would do—who entered unbidden to the feast, and wept amongst those who were feasting. Learn then how great must have been the compunction and sorrow which impelled her on such an occasion to weep.”
And did wipe them with the hairs of her head. Other means were at hand, but in her deep penitence, the Magdalen would dedicate to the service of Christ the very hair which once she took such pride in adorning. Hence S. Cyprian (De Ablutione),She used her hair for a napkin, her eyes for a pitcher, and her tears for water. Her contrition showed itself by her tears; her faith washed the feet of the Lord, her love anointed them. She made her head to be a foot-stool, and wiped the sacred feet with her unloosened hair. Without reserve, she gave herself to Christ, and He, regarding the intention rather than the act, anointed the anointer, cleansed her who was cleansing, and wiped away her sins.
S. Euthymius assigns the cause, “He makes instruments of sin, instruments of righteousness.” And more particularly S. Gregory (Hom. 33),“That which she had given up to the service of sin, now she offers for the glory of God. Her eyes, which had lusted after earthly things, she wears away with the tears of repentance. Her hair, which once added to the comeliness of her face, she now used to dry up her tears. With her mouth, which was wont to speak proudly, she now kisses the ground on which the feet of the Lord trod. All her sinful indulgences she sacrifices for the love of Christ, and making her former vices give place to virtues, wherewith she offended therewith she now serves God.”
Hear also S. Chrysostom (Hom. 6, on S. Matt.): “So the woman which was a sinner, inflamed with the fires of love, and purged by her flood of tears from the stains and defilement of sin, exceeded even the virtue of virgins. For in the warmth of her penitence she exulted in her longings for Christ; washing His feet with her tears, wiping them with the hairs of her head, and anointing them with ointment of price. Thus she acted outwardly, but how much more fervent were the thoughts of her heart, which were known only to God.”
And kissed his feet. She who once delighted in the kisses of unchaste desire, now chastely kisses the feet of Christ, and seeks thereby the pardon and forgiveness of her sins. For a kiss is a sign of forgiveness, as well as of kindness and of love. S. Ambrose.
Mystically. The two feet of Christ, says S. Peter Damian, are mercy and judgment. To kiss one without the other is productive of rash security, or of an evil despair. Publicly, at a public feast, in presence of all the guests, the Magdalene performed her act of penitence, that her openly avowed repentance might atone for the public scandal of her former life.
And anointed them with the ointment. The ancients made frequent use of ointments or perfumes. See Eccles. ix. 8. And these were generally prepared by women. 1 Sam. viii. 13.
The Magdalene boldly entered the house of Simon her friend at the time of the feast, that thus she might show the warmth of her love for Christ. Titus. For, as S. Paulinus says (Epist. 4, ad Severum),The Lord regarded not the ointment, but the love which impelled her, fearless of reproach or rejection, to enter uninvited the house of the Pharisee, and with that violence by which the kingdom of heaven is taken by force, she ran to the feet of Christ, and made them to be, if I may so express myself, her sanctuary and her altar. There she consecrated her tears—made offering of a sweet-smelling savour, and made sacrifice of her affections and passions; a broken and contrite heart, a sacrifice with which God is well-pleased. Therefore she not only obtained the forgiveness, of her sins, but wheresoever the Gospel is preached, there what she hath done shall be told for a memorial of her.
Mystically. S. Peter Damian explains, that this ointment was made out of our sins; for she, mixed and macerated in the mortar of repentance, sprinkled with the oil of discernment, and softened in the caldron of discipline by the fires of remorse, is applied a precious and acceptable ointment to the Saviour’s feet. He adds also that this ointment was fourfold, inasmuch as it was composed 1. of devotion; 2. many virtues; 3. piety; and 4. Pity.
Note what a noble example of penitence and of virtue the Magdalene presents.
1. Her remarkable faith in believing that Christ was able to forgive sins, a power which the Scribes and Pharisees denied Him, and which no other prophet possessed. Hence if we may credit S. Augustine (Hom. 33), she believed that He who had power to forgive sins, was more than man, and was led by divine illumination to acknowledge Christ to be God; for, as S. Augustine goes on to say, to believe that Christ can forgive sins, is to believe that He is God; and he adds, “She drew nigh unto the Lord impure, to return pure; sick, to return sound; a confessor of sin, to return a disciple of Christ.”
2. Her wonderful devotion in continuing to kiss the feet of Jesus, and wash them with her tears until she heard Him say, “Thy sins are forgiven: go in peace.”
3. Her great wisdom in not seeking pardon by the words of her mouth, but rather by the deep yearnings of her heart.
4. The depth of her penitence, in that for thirty years, after thus publicly showing her contrition, she lived in the desert a life given up to austerities and the practice of good works. Hence Petrarch writes:—
“Love and hope deep seated in the heart made cold and hunger sweet, and turned the hard rock into a pleasant couch;” and adds, “Here, unseen by men, but surrounded by bands of angels, and supported by the daily Offices, thou wast permitted to hear the responsive chantings of the angelic choirs.” And so Christ revealed to S. Bridget that there were three saints specially pleasing to Him: the Blessed Virgin, John the Baptist, and Mary Magdalene, of whom He spake thus:—When Mary Magdalene was converted, the devils said, ‘How shall we gain power over her again, for we have lost a goodly prey? We cannot look at her because of her tears; so covered and protected is she by good works, that no spot or soil of sin can stain her soul; so holy is her life, so fervent her love for God, that we dare not draw nigh her.’”
Figuratively, S. Ambrose (lib. de Tobia, cap. xii.), says, “Whoso hath pity on the poor anoints the feet of Christ. For the poor are His feet, and on them He harmlessly walks.”
Ver. 39.—Now when the Pharisee which had bidden Him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, this man, if He were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth Him: for she is a sinner, and therefore unfit to touch a holy prophet. This Pharisee was, as S. Augustine says (Serm. 23), one of those self-righteous men, of whom Isaiah wrote, chap. lii. II.
But Simon’s reasoning was false, for the unclean touched Christ that they might be cleansed by Him. For this cause He came into the world, that as the good physician, He might heal all manner of diseases, whether of the body or of the soul. He was offended, therefore, because, as Euthymius says, he knew not that Christ, although very God, was made man to save sinners. And, again, the Magdalene was not now unclean, for she had been cleansed by contrition, as Christ proceeded to show. Simon was deceived, because he judged of the past, and not of the present. For Mary was the same, yet another. Another, yet her very self, says Chrysologus (Serm. 74).Wherefore the humble penitent was holier than the proud Pharisee, who, if he had not already sinned as deeply as the Magdalene, was liable from his spiritual pride to fall into as great a sin. S. Augustine (in loc. cit.). Hence in many things the Pharisee offended, as Toletus shows. Therefore, S. Gregory (Hom. 33), concludes thus: “We should in another’s fall lament our own sin; for perhaps, under similar circumstances, we should in like manner offend, and although punishment should always follow on sin, we ought to make a distinction, to be harsh and severe in our treatment of vice, but to be compassionate to the weakness of human nature. For though the sinner must be punished, he must be gently dealt with, as our neighbour.”
Ver. 40.—And Jesus answering (the secret thoughts of his heart) said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee.
S. Augustine, Theophylact, Bede and others, think that this Simon was not Simon, the leper, in whose house the Magdalene again anointed the feet of Jesus. S. John xii. 2, S. Matt. xxvi. 6. Others are of a contrary opinion, because the name is the same, and because the circumstances of the second anointing are so similar. It seems, however, that this Simon was converted when Christ was on his way from Galilee to Judaæ (S. Matt. xix. i); and that he followed Jesus, and settled at Bethany, near S. Mary Magdalene, who was known to him, in order to enjoy with her the presence and teaching of Christ.
I have somewhat to say unto thee. See how wisely Christ reproves Simon with these gentle but meaning words, which appealed to his better feelings, and at once arrested his attention. For, as S. Augustine says, Christ desired to correct the error of his thoughts, in return for the entertainment which he had provided. And S. Luke implies that Simon at once recognised his fault, for he answered modestly, Master, say on. As Thy disciple, I will gladly accept Thy words as the teaching of my Master.
Ver. 41.—There was a certain creditor which had two debtors. The debtors, says S. Ambrose, are those who owe God, the heavenly creditor, not actual money, but a return of good works and of virtue. Our debts, therefore, are our sins, by which we do despite to God, and for which we should make atonement. But we cannot make atonement unto God, and therefore are in danger of hell fire. For the Syriac creditor implies the same as usurer, and the Greek word δανειστὴζ answers to the Hebrew נשה, nosche, and signifies one who gives, either outright, or on usury. Deut. xv. 6, xxviii. 12; Ecclus. xxix. 1 and 2.
One owed five hundred pence and the other fifty. The Roman denarius or penny, originally of the value of ten asses, was worth about eight pence of our modern money. In this parable we are to understand by the two debtors, Mary Magdalene, and Simon the Pharisee; who is not mentioned by name, lest he should be offended or disheartened. This is clear from the following verses wherein the Magdalene is thrice, by antithesis, brought into comparison with Simon, and preferred to him. She, therefore, is the debtor who owed five hundred pence, who considered that she owed God much more because of her sins than Simon; and therefore, that she might obtain forgiveness, she loved more and showed greater proofs of her love. But Simon owed only fifty pence, his sins were but venial, and therefore he considered that he owed little to God. He was self-righteous, and thought that he had little or no need of repentance.
But S. Augustine rightly observes, for this very reason he ought all the more to acknowledge that he was a debtor to God, who had preserved him from committing greater offences. Thou wast not an adulterer (as the Magdalene) in that past life of thine which thou dost ignore. But it was God who kept thee from sinning, preserved thee from temptation, and from the power of the tempter. Acknowledge then what thou owest to Him who has kept thee from evil. For there is no sin which one man has committed that another man may not commit, if God withdraw His guidance from him.
Ver. 42.—And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? (loves him most, Vulg.) i.e. “in verity,” or “ought” to love him most. For a similar Hebraism, see Amos v. 13. The prudent shall keep silence in that time, i.e. they were being silent or it behoved them to be silent.
The meaning is, As he who has been forgiven much, is accounted to have received forgiveness because of his deserts, so debtors who owe much, are wont to show the utmost deference to their creditors, in order to obtain from them, if not forgiveness of their debt, at least favourable terms of payment. In like manner, Simon, thou shouldest have known that the Magdalene loved me with a greater love than thine. For she showed greater proofs of her love, and therefore her sins, which are many, are forgiven, because she loved much. Wherefore, she is no longer a sinner, nor, as thou thinkest, unworthy to touch my feet; but holier than thou, and more worthy to be touched by me. The parable, therefore, plainly teaches us, that the more we love, the more we shall be forgiven.
So S. Augustine (Hom. 23), “The more she loved Me, and shows her love, the more do I forgive.” But if we take the Greek rendering α̉γαπήσει, and translate according to the English version, the argument is inverted. For although the love of the creditor, as shown in the forgiveness of the debt, excites in return the love of the debtor, yet at the same time it is the love of the debtor, in seeking to make payment of the debt, which causes the creditor to forgive. So De Lyra, Francis Lucas, and others. Hence the parable in one sense teaches us, that as the debtor who has been forgiven the most, loves his creditor the more, so Christ because he had forgiven the many sins of the Magdalene, will be the more beloved by her. But Christ desired also to show, not only that her sins were forgiven, but the reason, and the manner of their forgiveness, i.e. on account, of her love, so that we, taking example by her, may, in like manner obtain forgiveness.
Another explanation is given by S. Ambrose (De Tobia, cap. xxii.). Christ forgave the sins of the Magdalene, which increased her love and gratitude to Him; but, Christ foresaw this increase of love, and therefore from the very first forgave her. Again, S. Gregory (lib. vi. epist. 22), and after him Toletus: The greater the debt, which is forgiven the greater the gratitude of the debtor. When, therefore, 0 Simon, thou sawest in the Magdalene such great signs of love, thou shouldest have inferred how much had been forgiven her. For as the cause may be inferred from the effect, so her love wasthe result of her forgiveness. See then how rashly thou hast condemned this woman, when thou shouldest have known, from the abundant signs of love and gratitude which she had shown, that all her sins, however great their number, had been forgiven. But this interpretation is at variance with the 47th verse, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.” The word “for” or “because” shows that her love was not the effect but the cause of her forgiveness. See infra, v.47.
Ver. 43.—Simon answered and said, I suppose that he to whom he forgave most. And He said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. Christ praises the answer, in order that Simon might the more readily accept the reproof and the lessons to be drawn therefrom.
Ver. 44.—And He turned unto the woman, and said unto Simon, seest thou this woman? He turned, because the Magdalene stood behind Him, for from consciousness of her guilt, she did not dare to meet His sight. Seest thou this woman? no longer, as thou thinkest, a sinner, but a penitent reconciled with God.
I entered into thine house, but thou gavest Me no water for My feet. It was the custom in those days to wash the feet of one’s guests before they sat down to meat, both for purposes of cleansing and refreshment. Thus Abraham washed the feet of the Angels, Gen. xviii. 4, and Lot, Gen. xix. 2. See also judges xix. 21. Whence S. Paul considers that a widow may be set apart for the service of God, “if she have washed the saints’ feet,” 1 Tim. v. 10.
Christ had come as a guest to the house, and therefore Simon should have washed His feet. Christ therefore reproached him for his want of consideration and care, and contrasts his conduct with the love of the Magdalene. For Titus says, “It is an easy matter to provide water, but difficult to supply such an abundance of tears.”
Ver. 45.—Thou gavest Me no kiss, but this woman, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss My feet, “with reverence and godly fear.” Titus. Guests were in old times received with a kiss in sign of affection and welcome. But Simon omitted this salutation. Hence “It was thy duty, 0 Simon, to receive Me, thy invited guest, with a kiss of welcome, but the Magdalene has more than made up for thy neglect, for she hath continued to kiss, not My face, but My feet, from the moment I entered Thy house.”
Ver. 46.—My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed My feet with ointment. The more valued the guest, the more precious the perfumes wherewith He was anointed. Thou didst not anoint My head, but she hath anointed My feet with very precious ointment. See again how she excelleth thee in love and devotion. “Not that the Lord,” as Ambrose says, “valued the ointment, but rather the love, the faith, and the humility.” Hence Christ concludes,
Ver. 47.—Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much. Greek, α̉φέωνται, have been forgiven. At what time, we may ask, were her sins forgiven?
1. Francis Lucas thinks at the time when the Lord said unto her, “Thy sins ate forgiven,” v. 48.
2. Others are of opinion that her sins were forgiven when our Lord in this present verse declared unto Simon the fact of her pardon.
3. But it seems more probable that her sins were forgiven at some time antecedent, i.e. when she felt true contrition for her offences. Because when by the grace of God she had been led to see the heinousness of her sin, so deep was her contrition and sorrow, that she thereby regained the divine favour, and so her love for God and her sorrow for her sins impelled her to show openly the reality of her repentance, and therefore before Christ could say unto her, “Thy sins are forgiven,” she had obtained forgiveness by reason of her complete penitence.
We may, however, take the words “her sins are forgiven” as spoken in the same sense in which the priest pronounces absolution over a penitent, who is already reconciled to God by his perfect repentance. The priest absolves him who is already absolved, and this absolution is so effectual as to do away with any sin which might still attach itself to the penitent. Further, a sin often repeated may be often forgiven, if the penitent confesses his fault as often as he commits it, and seeks absolution at the hands of the Church. Hence Christ for the third time forgives the sins of the Magdalene. Wherefore He freed her not only from the guilt but from the punishment of sin, and granted her free release.
This is what the angel said to a certain Bishop of the Church: Penitence and confession restore the penitent to the number of the elect.” Again, “The tears of a penitent may well bear the name of a baptism.” Barlaam. And Palladius tells us, that a certain virgin who had fallen into sin “was more pleasing to God in her penitence, than in her former purity.” See also S. Jerome (De pœnitentia Fabiolæ); and Climacus (De pœnitentia.)
For she loved much. Toletus and some others think that the word “for” signifies not the cause but rather affords the proof of her forgiveness. “Thou mightest have known, 0 Simon, that her sins were forgiven, for these open signs of love are bestowed on Me in gratitude for my forgiveness of her sins.”
But this explanation is faulty, because the Magdalene knew not that she had been forgiven, until she heard Christ pronounce the pardon of her sins. And Christ does not say, Learn from her acts of love that her sins have been forgiven, but on the contrary, Her sins are forgiven because of her love.
Hence the cause of the Magdalene’s forgiveness was her great love for God, which led her to hate and abhor her former sins. For love is the death of sin, and the life of righteousness. S. Augustine (De laudibus charitatis.) Hence all theologians hold with him, that the act or perfect contrition which includes the entire surrender of the heart to God, precedes, but at once brings with it justification and forgiveness of sin as its final result, in the same way as a certain amount of heat (calor ut octo) applied to wood, as a result produces actual fire in that wood.
So the Council of Trent (Sess. xiv. cap.iv.), distinguishig between the attrition caused by fear of punishment and the contrition which follows on the love of God, decides that the latter, in conjunction with the sacrament of penance, reconciles the sinner with God, which the former is in no wise able to do; for “a broken and a contrite heart, 0 God, thou wilt not despise,” Ps. li. 17. Hence S. Gregory (Hom. 33) explains, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much, i.e. she burnt off the corruptions of sin, because she was inflamed with the fire of love. For the more the heart of the sinner burns with the love of God the wore is he purified from the lust and corruption of sin.”
But to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. This refers to the Pharisee, because he obtained no forgiveness, inasmuch as he showed no signs of penitence or of love for God. Our Lord, under reserve, saith little or “less,” as the Vulgate renders it, is forgiven, though he might have said “nothing” is forgiven. But by the words “to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little,” we may understand:
1. That, according to the principles on which God forgives sins, “one mortal sin, even though it be the least, cannot be forgiven without its accompanying sins being forgiven also, and whensoever one is forgiven, the others are forgiven as far as the guilt is concerned, but more or less of punishment is meted out, according to the degree of love which fills the heart of the penitent.”
2. That he who has no love for God, or only that natural love which well nigh all men possess, loves God less than one whose love is divinely inspired. Hence to the one many, i.e. all his sins, are pardoned; to the other less, i.e. nothing, is forgiven. All was forgiven the Magdalene because she was truly contrite, and sought forgiveness by every means in her power; but the Pharisee received no forgiveness, because he felt no sorrow for sin, and had not even given the feast with any desire of obtaining mercy from Christ..
For Christ designed the parable to apply to S. Mary Magdalene and also to the Pharisee, and willed from it to show why the one was forgiven but the other not. S. Augustine adds, “The parable was spoken because the Pharisee thought he had few, if any sins, not because he had no love, for he showed some love in that he invited our Lord.” And again, “0 Pharisee, thou lovest little, not because little is forgiven thee, but because thou thoughtest that there was little which needed forgiveness.” Toletus remarks, “Little was forgiven Simon, because by the grace of God he had been preserved from committing sin, for he had entertained Christ, and not persecuted him as the other Pharisees. Hence it is very probable that afterwards this Pharisee became a true follower of Christ.” See further Suarez, Parte iii., de Gratia, lib. viii. cap. x.
Ver. 48.—And He said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. FrancisLucas thinks that the Magdalene’s sins were at this time and by these words forgiven. See preceding verse. Christ now turns to the Magdalene, and repeats that which He had said just before to Simon, in order to comfort her grief, to confirm her pardon, and show that He had power and authority to forgive sins, and that He therefore was the Messiah, and God. Euthymius.
Ver. 49.—And they that sat at meat with Him began to say within themselves, i.e. to reason in their hearts, for they did not dare to express their thoughts lest they should be put to rebuke.
Who is this that forgiveth sins also? Is it the Messiah? Is it God, for God alone can forgive sins! Christ leaves them a prey to wonder and to doubt, in order that they might be led to inquire into His life, doctrine and miracles, and see in Him the Son of God.
Ver. 50.—And He saith to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace. Faith, not alone, as, the innovators hold, but fruitful in good works, such as the Magdalene had displayed, and love. For a little before, v. 47, Christ had ascribed her forgiveness to her love. We must here understand, therefore, not a barren faith, but a faith which showed itself in her acts of contrition and love.
Hath saved thee, i.e. hath freed thee from sin, and made thee meet for salvation. Thy loving faith hath placed thee in the way of salvation, and if thou continuest therein, thou wilt lay hold upon eternal life, for a readiness to serve God is the way to glory.
Go in peace. Be no longer downcast and distressed by reason of thy sins: they have now no power to hurt thee, nor to make thy conscience afraid. Euthymius. The fruit of repentance, forgiveness, and of a conscience void of offence, is peace and spiritual joys, which far exceed those which the world can give, as it is written, “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” Rom. v. 1; and again, “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ,” Phil. iv. 7. So also, “He that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast,” Prov. xv. 15.
S. Bernard, in his sermon on the Magdalene, very fitly remarks, “The joy which a perfect heart looks for from an untroubled conscience is a lasting happiness. For the heart which is cleansed from this world’s corruptions, and whose desires are fixed on God, joys only in the Lord, and rejoices only in God its Saviour. The soul of such an one despises the threats of the enemy, casts away fear, is not a prey to false hopes, but, secure against all evil, rests in perfect peace.”
This perfect peace Christ gave to the Magdalene, for God’s work is perfect (Deut. xxxii. 4), and therefore those whom Christ cleansed were made perfectly whole. He therefore,
1. Uprooted from the Magdalene’s heart all vicious habits, all evil recollections and fleshly lusts, and restored to her true peace of mind.
2. Endued her, not only with chastity, humility and penitence, but also with,
3. A contempt for earthly things, and a love for heavenly; and
4. Kindled in her heart an ardent love, which caused her to dedicate herself and all she had to His service.
Hence she followed Christ as He went about the villages preaching, and ministered unto Him of her substance, resigning the cares of the family to her sister Martha, that she might wholly devote herself to the teaching of the Lord.
Hence she heard from His lips the words, “Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her,” S. Luke xi. 42. Hence also she stood at the foot of the Cross, and beheld Christ washing away, by His blood, those sins which she had washed with her tears, and afterwards, with a yet more fervent love, withdrawing into the desert she gave herself up to the contemplation of His life, His passion and His resurrection, and, wholly devoted to His service, lived henceforth for heaven and not for earth.
Such also was the conversion of S. Paul, and therefore he was endued with all Christian and Apostolic virtues. See Acts ix. A similar conversion of heart and mind, we are told, was experienced by S Cyprian at his baptism (Lib. ii. Epist. 2, ad Donat.); and by S. Augustine (Confess. lib. ix. cap. i., lib. viii. cap. ii.)
Wherefore Origen, in his noble Homily on the Magdalene, figuratively says, “We may follow the example of this woman, in order to obtain a similar blessing. For we way confidently draw nigh unto Jesus, since He did not withdraw Himself from the sinner who sought Him. Learn then from her, 0 sinner, to mourn over the absence of God from thy soul, and to seek His presence again. Learn from Mary to love Jesus, to hope in Jesus, and by seeking Jesus to find Him. Learn from her to fear no opposition, to refuse to be comforted without Him, and to count all things but loss for His sake. Hence see the power of grace, and of the love of Christ.”
“Love conquers all things.” “Love can control the savage lion, and love alone has power to 1ead captive the hearts of men,” for “love is strong as death,” Cant. viii. 6.