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An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.

In this chapter, we have an account of Herod’s opinion of our Lord, on hearing of His miracles. He takes Him for the Baptist returned from the dead. The circumstances of the cruel death of the Baptist and the causes that led to it are here recorded (1–11). Our Redeemer retires from Herod’s quarters, and crosses to the Bethsaida side of the lake. There multitudes had arrived before Him, and He miraculously multiplies bread in their favour (12–22). He obliges His disciples to enter a boat and cross before Him over the water, on which occasion, the sea being tossed by the waves, and the disciples in a state of fright, He calms their apprehension, called on Peter to come to Him on the waters, and saves him from drowning. The vessel at once reaches the shore they were going to, which caused the disciples and the rest to fall down and adore Him (22–33). Having again crossed the water and being come to Genesar, He performs many miraculous cures there (34–36).

1. “At that time.” What precise period is here referred to, is a subject of dispute. It happened after the beheading of the Baptist. It is inferred from the Gospel of St. John (6:4), that the Baptist was beheaded some time near the Pasch. For, the departure of our Redeemer on hearing of John’s death (v. 13 of this chapter), is identified with that recorded (John 6:1), when He performed the miracle of the multiplication of the bread.

Which Pasch it is that “was near at hand” (John 6:4) is uncertain. It most likely was the fourth Pasch, after our Lord’s baptism. Before this Pasch, John was beheaded. This occurred after the mission of the Apostles, recorded (10), as is clear from Mark (6:14), Luke (9:7), both of whom immediately subjoin John’s decollation to the narrative of the mission of the Apostles; and both say, that it was after the Apostles returned from their mission, our Lord was informed of the Baptist’s death; and then it was, the departure of our Redeemer recorded in verse 13 of this chapter took place. St. Matthew states in this chapter (v. 13), that it was after our Redeemer heard of John’s death while traversing Galilee, teaching and performing miracles, He retired and departed across the water.

Herod.” Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, who put the Holy Innocents to death.

The Tetrarch.” This term designates the governor of the fourth part of a province or kingdom. Among the Romans, who divided the conquered kingdoms into Tetrarchites, the term, “Tetrarch,” was applied to all those who exercised supreme power, and enjoyed dignity next to that of king. This Herod Antipas, was Tetrarch of Galilee. He obtained the fourth part of his father’s kingdom. Archelaus, obtained one-half, with the title of Ethnarch, and Philip governed the remaining fourth with the title of Tetrarch. This was in accordance with the will of Herod the Great, which was confirmed by the Romans. This Antipas is styled “king,” verse 9 (Mark 6:14), on account of the similarity between the supreme power he exercised, and that wielded by a king.

Heard of the fame of Jesus.” The fame of our Redeemer’s wonderful works, reached Herod only at this late hour, either, probably, on account of his absence, occasioned by the war with Aretas, the father of his former wife, divorced to make room for Herodias (Josephus Antiq. xviii. c. 7), and by his having set out for Rome before John’s death, before he espoused the infamous Herodias, whom he met at his brother Philip’s house, on his way to Rome (Josephus, ibidem); or, more probably still, on account of the negligence and indifference of immoral, wicked princes, like him, in regard to all matters appertaining to religion, and owing also to the distractions arising from a multiplicity of business occupations.

Josephus states (Antiq. xviii. 5), that the Jews were firmly persuaded, that Herod’s army was cut to pieces by Aretas, king of the Arabians, as a Divine judgment, in punishment of his having put the Baptist to death.

2. “And he said to his servants,” that is, his domestics and familiar attendants.

This is John the Baptist: he is risen from the dead.” Herod may have said this, because, he knew that many were, before this time, risen from the dead; such as, the son of the widow of Sarephta (3 Kings 17); the man coming in contact with the bones of Eliseus (4 Kings 13); and the son of the widow of Sunamis (4 Kings 4); or, it may be, that he was imbued partly with the errors of the Greeks, like many others of the Jews, who, confounding the teachings of the SS. Scriptures, regarding the resurrection of the flesh with the errors of Pythagoras, held, that the souls of the good were permitted to enter into other bodies and exist in them. This error, Josephus (Lib. 2, de Bello Jud.), attributes to the Pharisees; and hence, believing John to be raised from the dead, owing to his former virtues, and thinking him now more powerful, he adds, “And, therefore, mighty works show forth themselves,” &c. These words may mean, taking “show forth.” (Vulgate, operantur), passively, that mighty works (δυναμεις)—miraculous wonders were performed by Him, as our English version has it, “show forth themselves.” The Greek for “mighty works” (δυναμεις), signifies miraculous wonders, or, rather, the power or faculty of performing such wonders. The Greek word for “show forth themselves.” (ενεργουσι), signifies, to display active energy.

And he said.” In some readings it is, “and they said,” as if it were the opinion of others, and not the words of Herod himself that were expressed (see Mauduit, in hunc locum). There seems to be some difference between the account given here by the Evangelists. St. Luke (9:7, &c.), says, that on hearing of our Lord’s miracles, Herod “was in doubt, because it was said by some that John was risen from the dead; but by other some, that Elias had appeared; and by others, that one of the old Prophets had arisen,” and that Herod said, “John I have beheaded; but who is this?.” &c. (Luke 9:7, 8, 9.) Here it is stated by St. Matthew, that Herod unhesitatingly said, it was John the Baptist come back from the dead. To reconcile both accounts, some interpreters read the words of St. Matthew interrogatively, “Is this John the Baptist?” “Is he risen from the dead?” Others say, the words are spoken ironically and jeeringly by Herod; others hold that, in public, Herod expressed his doubts, fearing a popular commotion, but in private, speaking to his familiar associates, he gives expression to his real sentiments, regarding the resuscitation of the Baptist. Most likely, both accounts are true, and taken together, they express the real state of the ease. Herod, probably, hesitatingly asserted, as did the others, that it was John the Baptist come back to life. (Luke 9) In other words, on hearing of our Lord’s miracles, and the opinion of others, that it was John come back from the dead, he first hesitated and doubted; and afterwards believing the matter, asserted it, as here.

He asserted the matter in a hesitating manner. The hesitation is expressed by St. Luke; the assertion, without any reference to the hesitation that accompanied it, is expressed here.

3. We are informed by Josephus (Lib. Antiq. xviii. c. 5), that Herod confined John in the fortified castle of Macherus, near the Lake Asphaltites, or Dead Sea, on the borders of Arabia Petrea. That John was delivered over to Herod by the Pharisees, or at least, that they co-operated with Herod in this matter, and, probably, stimulated by envy, strongly urged him to confine John, on grounds of public safety, is, with much probability, inferred from the words of our Lord (Matt. 17:12). Josephus (Lib. Antiq. xviii. c. 5), says, Herod confined John in this strong castle out of jealousy and fear of his influence with the people. This might be one of Herod’s reasons for doing so.

Because of Herodias, his brother’s wife.” The Greek has, “the wife of Philip, his brother.” as also has the Vulgate (Mark 6:17). There is some difference of opinion as to who this Herodias was. The common opinion seems to be, that she was daughter of Aristobulus, son of Herod the Great, by Mariamne, the last of the Asmonean kingly race. She was sister to Herod Agrippa, and, consequently, she was niece to this very Herod Antipas, who was brother to her father, Aristobulus, both brothers having different mothers. She was married to Herod Philip, brother to this Herod Antipas. Whether this was Philip, the Tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis (Luke 3:1), or a different Philip, also son of Herod the Great, of whom there is no mention made in Herod’s will and distribution of his dominions, and who must have, therefore, lived in a private station, is disputed. If the narrative of Josephus (Lib. Antiq. xviii. c. 5), be credited, it could not be Philip the Tetrarch (Luke 3:1). For, he states that Herodias’s daughter, by Philip—before she married Herod Antipas—named Salome, “was married to Philip, the son of Herod, and Tetrarch of Trachonitis.” The Philip, then, whom Herodias married first must be quite a different person. Others, rejecting this testimony of Josephus, who, they say, was deceived in this, assert, that the Philip referred to (Luke 3:1), as Tetrarch, &c., was the first husband of Herodias. Herod Antipas, on his way to Rome (as we are informed by Josephus, ibidem), in the sixteenth year of Tiberius, lodged in the house of his brother Philip, for whose wife Herodias, he conceived a wicked passion; and obtained her consent to leave her husband, and live with him on his return from Rome, on condition of his sending away his wife, who was daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia. This latter, on being informed of Herod’s designs and resolution to espouse Herodias, fled to her father for protection, who, in defence of his daughter’s honour and rights, waged war on Herod, and cut his army to pieces. (Josephus, Lib. Antiq. xviii., &c.) The Baptist sternly rebuked Herod for his incestuous and adulterous connexion with Herodias, her former husband and his own wife being still alive. Even if we suppose Philip, her former husband to be dead, as some assert, though Josephus positively states the contrary; still, Antipas, though not a Jew, any more than his father, Herod the Great, was, however, like him, a Jewish proselyte, bound by the law of Moses, which forbade marriage with a deceased brother’s wife (Lev. 18:16; 20:21), save in the case of the deceased brother dying without issue (Deut. 25:5). In the present instance there was issue, viz., the wicked daughter spoken of in this chapter. The marriage was, therefore, unlawful. Hence, the zeal of the Baptist in reproaching Herod with this scandalous adulterous connexion—scandalous, especially, in one occupying his elevated station.

4. John having no fear of the countenance of the mighty, with Apostolic firmness and freedom of speech, neither deterred by threats, nor allured by blandishments, regardless of the consequences which he probably foresaw would cost him his head, upbraided the royal adulterer with the criminal state he was in. We are informed by St. Luke (3:19), that the Baptist also reproached Herod with other crimes.

5. However much Herod might have respected the virtue and sanctity of the Baptist (Mark 6:20); still, prompted by passion and stimulated by the wicked Herodias, he was anxious to do away with him. He feared, however, to have recourse to any extreme or unnecessarily harsh measures, lest the people, who regarded John as a prophet, might resent it.

6. “On Herod’s birth-day,” which is called (Mark 6:21) “a convenient day” for carrying out the designs of Herodias, regarding the Baptist—“a convenient day” for banishing the fears and scruples of Herod, touching the sentence of a violent death against the Baptist, when he made a supper for the chief men of Galilee.

The daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod.” The circumstance of permitting dancing during the feast, shows the voluptuousness practised in the court of Herod; for, even amongst the most abandoned of the Roman Emperors, such was not allowed.

7. Heated with wine and blinded by passion, Herod “promised to give her whatsoever she would ask.” St. Mark adds (6:23), “though it were half his kingdom.” This rash and foolish promise he confirmed with the solemn sanction of an oath.

8. Instructed by her mother, whom she went to consult after receiving the promise (Mark 6:24), she asked to get on the spot, without any delay, the head of John the Baptist, lest, if time for reflection were given him, he might repent of the promise. “Give me HERE on a dish, the head of John,” &c. She wished for this, to be the more certain of his death; for, her mother dreaded lest, through the influence of the Baptist, Herod would send her away in disgrace.

9. “The king was struck sad.” Some are of opinion, with St. Jerome, that the king was really glad of the pretext this opportunity, as it were, afforded him, of carrying out his designs against the Baptist; and that the whole affair of the request on the part of Salome—the daughter of Herodias—was previously agreed on by common concert between Herod and his adulterous wife. Others, with St. Augustine, consider that Herod was really “sad.” For, besides that the Evangelist says so, in the plainest terms, it is most likely, that, although, Herod, in the beginning, when he cast the Baptist into prison, would have him slain, had he not dreaded a popular commotion (v. 5); still, in the course of his imprisonment, he began to reverence his sanctity, and willingly listened to him (Mark 6:20), and was, therefore, sorry for the rash promise he made. Moreover, all the circumstances under which he was called upon to put him to death, the time, the place, the odium, attached to so unnatural a proceeding, were calculated to cause him real sorrow.

Yet because of his oath,” &c., that is, to avoid violating his oath, as if he did not add perjury to homicide in keeping so impious and rash a promise. The observance of an oath, having for object the perpetration of evil, is no less sinful and criminal than was its original utterance. It is an insult to God to invoke Him as witness to the perpetration of evil, as if this were pleasing to Him. St. Jerome asks, if it were the head of her mother she asked, would Herod have given it to her?

And for them that sat with him at table.” He did not wish to incur the reproach of fickleness or inconstancy, before the chief men of Galilee, whom he had assembled around him on the occasion (Mark 6:21).

10. “And he sent” (an executioner—Mark 6:27), “and beheaded John in the prison.” Josephus says, this prison was in the castle of Macherus, near the Sea Asphaltites, or Dead Sea, beyond the Jordan. This castle was in Herod’s dominions; for, he ruled Galilee and the district beyond the Jordan. (Josephus, Lib. 12, Antiq.) Hence, it is inferred by some, that this great banquet was given in the castle of Macherus itself; otherwise, the head of the Baptist could not be called for and given on the spot. Others deny Josephus’ account of the prison of the Baptist. They maintain, that he was imprisoned in Galilee, and that it was there Herod gave this entertainment to his nobles.

11. The mother, the wicked Herodias, was the instigator of the entire barbarous proceeding. St. Jerome (Lib. 3, contra Rufin, c. 11), tells us, that this monster made it her inhuman pastime to prick, with a bodkin, the tongue of the Saint. The same is recorded of Fulvia, in regard to Cicero. This same Herod, four years after he had treated the Redeemer of the world, as a mock king and a fool, in the crowded streets of Jerusalem, was banished, with his wicked wife, after they had been deprived of all their earthly possessions, their kingdom being added to that of Agrippa, by Caius to Lyons, in Gaul, where, we are informed by Josephus (Antiq. xviii. 7), they died in great misery, although it is said by others, and by the same Josephus, that his place of banishment by Caius was Spain, whither his wife followed him (Josephus, de Bel. Jud. ii. 9). Nicephorus (Lib. i., Histor. c. 20), and others state, that Salome, by a just judgment of God, met with a most miserable, but appropriate death. While crossing the ice in winter, it broke; and she was plunged in as far as the shoulders; then, the ice coming again together, severed her head from her body.

12. The disciples of the Baptist, who, it seems, had access to his prison (Matt. 11:2), came, and taking away his body, had it honourably interred. St. Jerome informs us that it was interred in Sebaste, formerly called Samaria.

13. “Which, when Jesus had heard.” This is understood by some, not of what immediately precedes, relative to John’s death, but to Herod’s having heard of Jesus, and to the opinion expressed by him, that our Lord was John come back from the grave. The Greek, ακουσας δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, will admit of this interpretation (vv. 1, 2). “But Jesus, having heard it,” as if from verse 2 to this verse 13, regarding the Baptist’s death, were parenthetically introduced; and St. Matthew, in this verse, resumed the thread of his history, broken off at verse 3. These expositors say, our Redeemer had, long before this time, heard of the Baptist’s death.

Others understand it, of what immediately precedes, viz., the account of the Baptist’s death. It may refer to both (vv. 1, 2), and to the death of John (vv. 10–12).

He retired from thence.” to avoid Herod; for. His “hour had not yet come,” thus giving an example of what He Himself taught. “And when they shall persecute you in this city, flee into another.” (10:23). St. Luke (9) and Mark (6) assign another reason, also, for His retiring, viz., to give His Apostles, who had returned from their mission, respite and leisure for retreat after their labours, so as to have a befitting opportunity of conversing with God, and of referring to Him alone the glory of all the works, which His grace enabled them to perform.

By a boat,” so as to be beyond the reach of the multitude, who everywhere followed Him.

Into a desert place apart,” St. Luke says (9:10), “which belonged to Bethsaida.” One class of commentators understand this of “Bethsaida,” on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee; and of these, some say, our Redeemer did not cross the Sea of Galilee from east to west, but that, being on the western side, He crossed the different creeks of the western shore, thus rendering His passage shorter than if He were to travel by land along the windings of the creeks. In support of this opinion is adduced the fact, that the people “followed Him on foot.” and “were before Him” (Mark 6:33), which could not be if He crossed the lake from west to cast. Another class say, He crossed the Sea of Galilee (John 6:1); and some of these hold, that the place on the east side of the lake was called the desert of Bethsaida, because the land was opposite Bethsaida, and belonged to it; and, moreover, it is said (John 6:17), He again recrossed the sea to Capharnaum.

Others of this latter class of interpreters say, the Bethsaida in question is not Bethsaida of Galilee, near Corozain, but another place of that name, situated on the north-eastern border of the Sea of Galilee, “Bethsaida of Gaulonitis,” afterwards called Julias, in honour of Julia, Cæsar’s daughter (Josephus, Antiq. Lib. xviii. 2). It was rebuilt and enlarged by Philip the Tetrarch, shortly after the birth of our Lord. Its situation was in Lower Gaulonitis, just above the entrance of the Jordan into the Sea of Galilee. (Josephus, de Bel. Jud. ii. 8) Then, how could the multitude follow on foot? By crossing at the upper end of the Lake or Sea of Galilee, and fording the Jordan at that point, or, possibly, crossing it on a bridge. Their being before Him, may be accounted for in this way; the boat may have been detained by contrary winds, and our Redeemer took His time, as it were, to avoid the multitude (Calmet).

14. “Coming forth,” from the desert place of Bethsaida, to which He had retired, or, from the mountain which He ascended with His disciples (John 6:3). Others say, from the boat in which He sailed. (Maldonatus, Patrizzi, &c.)

And had compassion on them.” St. Mark adds (6:34), “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” He cured their sick, and taught them His heavenly doctrines.

15. “When it was evening;” or, as St. Luke expresses it (9:12), when “the day began to decline.” The Hebrews had two evenings, as appears from Exod. 12:6; Lev. 23:5, in which, Hebrew for “evening,” signifies, “between the two evenings.” The first, when the sun began to decline, about three o’clock in the afternoon—to this reference is made here; the second, after sunset, or at night time—to this reference is made (v. 23). His disciples suggested to Him to dismiss the crowd, as it was growing late, and they needed food.

16. St. John (6:5, &c.) states, that our Redeemer, on seeing the multitude, said to Philip, for the purpose of trying him, “Whence shall we buy bread that these may eat?” Likely, He thus spoke, after the Apostles had suggested to Him to dismiss the crowd, as St. Matthew records it here, so that both accounts contain a full statement of the entire transaction. He, probably, interrogated Philip, either because he was slower of apprehension than the other Apostles, and, by thus questioning him, He meant to impress on him the greatness of the miracle He was about to perform; or, perhaps, He asked him specially, because, being a native of Bethsaida, he was better acquainted with the resources of the district, and the places where food could be had.

It is deserving of remark, that St. John, who usually avoids mentioning what is related by the other Evangelists, especially what happened in Galilee, on this occasion refers to this miracle (c. 6), to introduce the subject of the promised bread of life. He had, moreover, particularly in view, to describe the different Passovers during the term of our Redeemer’s preaching, and, as he remained in Galilee during the third Passover, St. John relates circumstantially His works and miracles performed during that time. What is recorded by one Evangelist is not denied by the other. Both narratives form one perfect account.

Our Redeemer suggested to the Apostles to give the multitude wherewith to satiate their hunger, a thing which they regarded, humanly speaking, as utterly impossible. Mark (6:37) and John (6:7) state, that our Lord was told that two hundred pence would be necessary to procure bread, so as to give each a little, and the Apostles well knew this sum was beyond their reach. Hence, the words of Mark (6:37) are generally supposed to be spoken ironically, as if to say: Yes, indeed, we can give them to eat, but we require two hundred pence worth of bread for the purpose, which you know to be beyond our reach. It was only after He elicited from them an admission of the impossibility, humanly speaking, of what He asked, our Redeemer performed the miracle.

17. In order to show more clearly the utter impossibility, humanly speaking, of satiating so large a crowd in the desert, our Redeemer asks, what resources they had at hand; and the Apostles reply, or rather Andrew replies in their name (John 6:8, &c.), that there were only five barley loaves and two fishes, which some boy in the crowd, who, probably, was attending the Apostles, had with him for their immediate use; “but, what are these among so many?” (John 6:9).

18, 19. After commanding them to bring forward the five loaves, &c., He then ordered His disciples to arrange the men in companies, and make them sit down on the grass, with which the place abounded. This they did, arranging them in companies of hundreds and fifties (Mark 6:40; Luke 9:14). By this arrangement the number could be more easily ascertained, and the parties more regularly served.

And looking up to heaven,” which (John 6) expresses by “giving thanks,” that is, thanking His Heavenly Father, from whom, with His Divinity, He received power of working miracles, for His great goodness in vouchsafing to work so great a miracle, for the temporal and spiritual benefit of His people. It may mean, He invoked the beneficent power of his Father on the loaves, &c.

He took the five loaves,” &c., to show that He was Himself the author of the great miracle He was about performing.

He blessed.” St. Mark says (6:41), “He blessed and broke the loaves.” St. Luke (9:16) says, “He blessed them.” viz., the loaves; and by this benediction, imparted to them the occult efficaciousness of being multiplied.

And gave the loaves to His disciples, and the disciples to the multitudes.” The miraculous multiplication probably occurred partly, in the hands of our Redeemer; and partly, in the hands of the disciples, when distributing them, and placing them in the hands of the crowd, without any outward show. How this occurred, we cannot say. One thing seems certain, that it was not effected by the creation of new loaves or new fishes. For, from the Evangelists, it is quite clear, “He divided the two fishes among them all,” as also the five barley loaves (Mark 6:41; John 6:11).

20. To place the miracle beyond the reach of cavil or doubt, our Redeemer ordered (John 6:12), that, what remained after the multitude were satiated, should be gathered up. This exceeded in quantity what was originally set before our Lord to be distributed. And to show, that in the exercise of charity, economy and frugality should not be neglected, He did not wish that any of it should be lost.

Twelve full baskets of fragments,” a basket for each of the Apostles.

These “baskets” were, probably, made of osiers. They were commonly used by the Jews on their journeys in other countries, to save their provisions from heathen contact and pollution. Their size is not known. They must certainly have been of considerable dimensions, to serve the purpose referred to. Juvenal (Satire 3–14), refers to them as badges of the Jewish people: “Judæis, quorum Cophinus fœnumque supellex.” Also, speaking of a fortune-telling Jewess (Satire vi. 541), he says, “Cophino fœnoque relicto.” The use of the hay was, probably, to stop the interstices of these wicker baskets, which carried their provisions and money. It is not likely they carried hay about with them in such quantities, as would serve for beds, as some authors imagine. Grotius remarks (Matt. 16:9; Mark 8:19), “In these baskets or little panniers, they used to carry along with them, bread.”

21. “Five thousand men.” (or, as the Greek has it, ὡσεὶ πεντακισχιλίοι, “ABOUT five thousand”). St. John (6:10), has the same form, “ABOUT five thousand.”

Besides women and children,” who might, probably, amount to an equal number, but whom it was not usual with the Jews to number. Hence, we find in the Book of Numbers, whenever the priests, and Levites, and soldiers, were numbered, the women and children were left unnumbered.

To feed a multitude in the desert was a wonderful miracle in the eyes of the Jews. “Nunquid poterit, parare mensam in deserto.”

22. Our Redeemer, perceiving that the people “would come and make Him king” (John 6:15), forthwith, both from motives of prudence, and to teach us to avoid all vain display, “obliged His disciples to go up into the boat, and to go before Him over the water.” Mark adds (6:45), “to Bethsaida,” whilst He dismissed the crowd. The word, “obliged,” as St. Jerome remarks, shows the great reluctance of the Apostles to be, even for the shortest period, separated from their dear Lord. Their departure, however, would enable Him to dismiss the crowd the more readily, and prevent them from conspiring with the multitude to make Him king. It would afford Him leisure to be alone, for the purposes of prayer, and would also prepare the way for the miracle of calming the sea, which followed. Perhaps the reluctance on the part of the disciples to depart, arose from seeing the glory which awaited their Master, from the crowd, who wished to make Him king. They were ordered to cross the lake in the direction of Bethsaida, but they came to Capharnaum. (John 6) Capharnaum and Bethsaida of Galilee were both on the western shore of the lake, so there is no contradiction between St. Mark and St. John. They went towards Bethsaida, but they reached Capharnaum, it might be, after having first arrived at Bethsaida, on the west shore of the lake; or, it may be, they sailed first to Capharnaum, and then to Bethsaida, which was not far distant (Patrizzi in Marcum vi. 45).

23. After the disciples set out on the lake, and the multitude was dismissed, our Redeemer went alone up into the mountain to pray; to teach us, that we must, after His Divine example, sometimes retire from the society of men, in order to communicate in prayer with our Heavenly Father; and, in the solemn silence of retreat, lay open to Him our wants, and crave His Divine protection.

When evening was come.” As the Evangelist had referred already (v. 15) to evening, interpreters infer the Jews reckoned two evenings (see v. 15).

24. The darkness and adverse winds, together with the absence of our Lord, added to their danger, and heightened their terrors. This is more clearly expressed (John 6:17). This storm was purposely caused by our Divine Redeemer, in order to try their faith and confidence in Him during His absence.

25. “And in the fourth watch of the night,” or, about three o’clock in the morning, “He came to them,” &c. Formerly, the Jews divided the night, in their military arrangements, into three watches, of four hours each. The first was called the beginning of the watch (Jeremias Lament 2:19). The second, the middle watch, at which those who were on guard, in the first watch, were relieved and succeeded by others (Judg. 7:19). The third, and last watch, was called, the morning watch (Exod. 14:24). St. Luke refers to this (12:38). But the Romans divided the nights into four watches, dividing the night, from sunset to sunrise, according to the season of the year, into four equal parts. The hours were, of course, according to this arrangement, shorter, or longer, according to the season of the year. At the Equinoxes, the first watch was from six in the evening till nine; the second from nine till twelve; the third from twelve till three in the morning, and the fourth from three till six, or sunrise. In the time of our Lord, the Jews had adopted this Roman division of time into four watches. The Apostles were tossed about by the tempest during the entire night. By walking on the sea, our Redeemer showed, in a remarkable way, His Divine power. It is specially said of God, in the Book of Job (9:8–10), “Who alone spreadeth out the heavens and walketh upon the waves of the sea,” making this one of His Divine qualities or attributes. “Walking upon the sea.” “Upon.” (επι), is used with a verb of motion.

26. Unable, owing to the darkness, to distinguish the object they saw walking on the waters, and to recognise our Divine Lord, the Apostles were affrighted, taking Him for a spectre, or, “apparition.” It was the common belief among the Jews, which was also in accordance with Scripture, and asserted by the Pharisees, who maintained the existence of spirits, that these spirits sometimes appeared, clad in human form. Night was commonly believed to be the time for evil spirits, known to injure man, to make their appearance. Hence, the affright of the Apostles, who imagined the apparition, which now presented itself, to be ominous of coming shipwreck.

And they cried out for fear.” This loud and confused cry indicated their excessive fear.

27. When their fears reached the highest pitch, our Redeemer, at once, allays them, saying: “Be of good heart,” in a tone of voice, which at once assured them, and convinced them of His Divine presence. “Be of good heart,” give up all fears. “It is I,” from whom you have nothing to fear, who heretofore rescued you from so many perils. These words, “It is I,” are allusive to the description the Almighty gave of Himself, in addressing Moses, “SUM QUI SUM.” (Exod. 3)

28. Peter’s faith and love are everywhere conspicuous. With his usual ardour, he believes he can do, at the command of his Master, what by nature was impossible; and in reward for his holy ardour and eagerness to be with his Lord, our Redeemer works a miracle in his favour. The word, “if,” does not argue any want of faith in our Lord, on the part of Peter. It only proves that Peter might doubt His identity, or the fact, whether it was our Lord or not. The words, “Lord,” and “bid me come,” &c., show the great reverence and confidence he had in his Divine Master. “Come to Thee”. He does not say simply, “come;” but, “come to THEE.” to show his eagerness to be with his Lord. Nor does he beg of our Lord to come to him, out of modesty and humility. That Peter was not guilty of arrogance in this request, is clear from our Redeemer’s granting it. And, although an evil spirit or spectre might deceitfully tell him come; still, Peter’s request involved more than simply telling him to come. It involved also a request to be granted the confidence and power to walk upon the waters, and the efficacy of this command Peter felt, when he found the waters bear him up after he received it.

29. Being convinced that it was his Lord that addressed him, both from the confidence he inspired, and the virtue He indued him with, &c., Peter at once leaves the ship to come to his Divine Master.

30, 31. But, in order to show Peter that the faith which made him walk upon the waters was still weak, and to give him an opportunity of increasing his faith, and of experiencing the power and goodness of God in regard to those who invoke Him in the hour of tribulation, our Redeemer exposes him to a new temptation. The Evangelist remarks, “seeing the wind strong, he feared,” as if to convey to us, that as long as Peter had his eye fixed on our Lord, the liquid element yielded not to his steps; but the moment he began to view the raging of the waves, the force of the winds, and his own weakness, then he begins to lose all confidence, and to sink; but, his faith again saves him. He cries out, “Lord, save me;” and then, his Lord exercising his office of Saviour, mercifully rescues him; and as Divine teacher, He informs him—“modicæ fidei,” &c.—that it was not the violence of the winds, but his own imperfect faith, that caused the danger he had been in.

32. “And when they were come up into the boat,” &c. St. John (6:21), says, “they were willing, therefore, to take him into the ship, and presently the ship was at the land, to which they were going.”

This is not opposed to the account given here by St. Matthew. The Apostles were desirous of taking our Redeemer into the ship, as St. John states, and our Redeemer, as St. Matthew tells us here, gratifying their desires, did actually enter the ship.

They were willing to take Him.” (John 6:21), εθελον λαβειν, is an idiomatic phrase for, εθελοντως ελαβον—“they willingly received Him.” (Bloomfield). A twofold miracle followed, the storm at once abated, and the ship at once reached land. So there were five miracles altogether connected with it—1. Our Lord’s walking on the sea. 2. Peter’s walking on it by His aid. 3. When sinking, Peter is raised 4. The sudden ceasing of the storm. 5. The arrival at land, at once.

33. The sailors who owned the boat, and the Apostles, who were in the boat with them “adored Him;” προσεκυνησαν, means, prostrate adoration (see 2:11). “Indeed, Thou art the Son of God,” that is, the promised Messiah, not merely the adopted, but the natural Son of God, such as He proclaimed Himself, and the Pharisees denied Him to be (John 5:18–33; 19:7). Others say, there is question of the Son of God by excellence, and not by nature; because, according to them, these ignorant sailors, who, with the Apostles, adored our Lord, did not know the mystery of the Trinity, which others answer by saying, they received this knowledge in the boat by revelation.

St. Mark (6:51), says, that seeing the miracle of His walking on the sea, the cessation of the wind, &c., the Apostles were more and more astonished, and he assigns as a reason (v. 52), “for, they understood not concerning the loaves; for, their heart was blinded.”

They were so stupified by the storm and the danger they were in, that they did not attend to the greater miracle of the multiplication of the loaves which our Lord had performed; otherwise, they would not have been astonished at the greatness of the present miracle. Our Divine Lord permitted them to be sorely tried after He had performed the preceding miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, in order that they would the more readily acknowledge Him in the evils which befell them. For, we are generally more affected by the sense of misfortune, than we are by the enjoyment of blessings—and, indeed, as it is most likely, that among these, “that were in the boat,” were included the Apostles, we can hardly suppose, that they, at least, who having lived so long with our Redeemer, heard His discourses, witnessed His many miracles, and must, therefore, by this time, have believed Him to be the natural Son of God, could have uttered the words, “Indeed, Thou art the Son of God,” in any other sense, save that they professed their faith in His Divinity, which the present miracle tended to strengthen. “And presently the ship was at the land to which they were going” (John 6:21).

34. “Genesar;” or, as Mark has it, “Genesareth” (6:53), is not to be confounded with Gerasa (Matt. 8:28), whose people besought Him to depart from them, after the herd of swine was drowned.

Genesareth,” was some distance from Bethsaida, to which our Lord ordered His disciples to repair (Mark 6:45). It was on the same side of the lake—the western side—with Capharnaum and Bethsaida. From Genesareth our Lord went to Capharnaum, where He delivered the discourse on the blessed Eucharist, recorded by St. John, chap. 6. In this way the accounts given by St. Matthew are perfectly reconciled with that given by St. John, chap. 6.

35. As soon as He put to shore at Genesareth (Mark 6:53), early in the morning, after the night’s storm, and had disembarked, He was recognised; and on His way, during the day, to Capharnaum, through towns and villages, the rumour of His arrival having preceded Him, they brought all their sick, &c. (Mark 6:55), all who were diseased and labouring under bodily infirmities, and laid them in the streets through which He passed (Mark 6:56).

36. And besought Him to allow them “to touch but the hem of His garments. And as many as touched, were healed.”

Hence, the reverence paid by Catholics to relics is fully vindicated. Our Redeemer, here, far from condemning, as superstitious, the respect and reverence paid to the clothes which He wore, even directly sanctions it, by working miracles in approval of it. It is on the same principle which influenced the Jews in touching the hem of our Redeemer’s garments, of which our Lord clearly approves, while He worked miracles in sustainment of it, that the Catholic Church sanctions the reverence paid to sacred relics.








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