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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 a charge made by the Scribes and Pharisees of Jerusalem, against our Lord, of having violated certain traditions regarding purifications and washings, on the occasion of partaking of food (1–2). He retorts upon them, and shows that they violated, by these boasted traditions, the law of God and nature, with reference to the honour due to parents (4–9), and He explains to the people the true doctrine regarding interior defilement, and whence it comes (11). He tells His disciples to pay no heed to the scandal the Pharisees affected to conceive from His teaching (12–14). He, in reply to the request of His disciples, explains the doctrine of interior purity and defilement (15–20). He next cures the daughter of the Chanaanite woman, at her earnest, persevering, and humble solicitation, and praises her great faith, which, as it were, forced Him to perform the miraculous cure (21–28). He cured great multitudes near the sea of Galilee. He performs a miracle, by the multiplication of bread, to satiate a large multitude (29–38).

1. “Then,” denotes a continuation of the preceding history. It means, about the time our Redeemer was performing so many miracles, and was occupied in the country of “Genesar,” “then” took place the occurrence referred to here; probably, after He had delivered the heavenly discourse regarding the promise of the Adorable Eucharist. (John 6) We are informed by St. John (7:1), that, although the Passover was at hand (John 6:4), our Redeemer walked in Galilee, keeping away from Judea, for fear of the Jews. From the words of the Evangelist, it is inferred that our Redeemer did not ascend to Jerusalem, to celebrate the Pasch, on this occasion, as His life was in danger. This is the opinion of St. Thomas. Others, on the contrary, hold that He did ascend to Jerusalem on this occasion. At all events, if He did go there, His stay must have been very short.

Came to Him from Jerusalem Scribes,” &c. Although Scribes and Pharisees were scattered everywhere throughout the Jewish people, still, those belonging to Jerusalem being reputed the most learned among them, and best versed in the law, were as such, entitled to deliver instructions wherever they went. They were also the most arrogant of the sect. Seeing that our Lord did not make His appearance at Jerusalem; or, if He did, that His stay was very short, these Scribes and Pharisees, either of their own accord, or, which is more likely, by the delegation of the Sanhedrim, came down to Galilee, for the purpose of examining narrowly into the teaching of this new Doctor, who everywhere instructed the people without asking any commission from them; that thus they might secure materials for afterwards accusing Him.

2. “Why do Thy disciples,” &c. They durst not directly accuse Himself; but they thus indirectly accuse Him, as if the subject matter of their charge had His sanction and permission. They adopt the same crooked course, on the subject of fasting (9:14). St. Mark (7:2) informs us, that these Scribes, &c., “had seen some of our Redeemer’s disciples eat bread with unwashed hands,” and found fault with them. (The words, “eat bread,” is a Hebrew phrase, signifying, “to take food.”) St. Mark next describes the Jewish, or Pharisaical observances in this respect, recommended by the founders of their sect, such as washing their cups, and the couches whereon they reclined, when at meals; washing themselves before meals, and after returning from the market, &c. These observances were founded on two false principles. 1st. That legal defilements were sins reaching the soul; whereas, such were often contracted in the exercise of works of charity, such as burying the dead, assisting those infected with leprosy, &c. 2ndly. That legal external purifications reached the soul, and cleansed it from sin. St. Paul (Heb. 9:13) points out the real effect of legal purifications.

The tradition of the ancients.” They do not charge them with violating the law; because the law was silent on the multitude of these traditional observances; neither do they say, “our traditions,” but, “of the ancients,” as if, to show they were transmitted from an early date, and thus entitled to the greatest reverence and respect These traditions were explanations of the law made by their forefathers, and called, the Oral Law; because, not given in writing, as was the written law of Moses. The Jews in general, professed for them as much respect as for the law of Moses. These traditions were collected in seventy-two books, and composed the Cabbala. They were kept, it is said, by Gamaliel, and other heads of the Sanhedrim, until the destruction of Jerusalem, &c. It is to these traditions St. Paul refers, when he says (Gal. 1), “abundantius, æmulator fraternarum traditionum.” For, he was, “secundum Legem Pharisæus.” “For, they do not wash their hands, when they eat bread.” This is the point of accusation. This washing of hands was insisted on, not so much as a matter of social decency, of which our Redeemer and His disciples were not, probably, neglectful, as a matter of religious duty. “When they eat bread.” It is disputed, whether this regards washing before sitting down to meals, or the frequent washings which took place during meals (Mark 7:3). That the Jews had usually vessels prepared for the purpose of purification, is clear from John (2:6). Whether this purification took place before or during meals, is not quite certain. It is in favour of the latter, that he says, “when they eat bread,” as if it occurred during the eating of bread. It shows the irreproachable conduct of our Lord, and the malice of the Pharisees, that having nothing serious whereof to accuse Him, they descend to such trifles, no way connected with piety. Their superstition also is betrayed, in insisting on outward observances, not commanded by the law of God, and only emblems of exterior purity. The Pharisees were very observant of external observances, while neglectful of internal purity (Matt. 23:27).

3. Our Redeemer, without excusing the conduct of His disciples, as censurable, or praising it, lest He might incur odium, retorts upon His enemies, whom He knew to be actuated solely by feelings of malice and envy, and shows, that they were not the parties to bring any charge on this subject of traditions, who themselves were guilty of greater transgressions on this score; since they observed traditions which were opposed to the written law of God, and the law of nature itself. Of this violation, He furnishes an example. He repels their frivolous reprehension, by a grave charge to the contrary—“Why do you also transgress the commandment of God,” &c. Instead of this interrogative form which Matthew alone has, and to which he subjoins (v. 6), a positive assertion, that the Pharisees did transgress the commandment of God, and then concludes with the testimony of Isaias; St. Mark commences with the testimony of the Prophet; and then subjoins the declaration (7:9), which St. Matthew places in the beginning. It is a matter of indifference which order we adopt. It is in favour of the order observed by St. Mark, that, after quoting the prophetic testimony and applying it, he shows, that the Pharisees had transgressed, in a twofold way, against the commandments of God by their traditions—1st. By neglecting the commandments of God, whilst they were scrupulously observant of human traditions, of themselves indifferent. “Leaving the commandments of God, you hold the traditions of men, the washing of pots, of cups,” &c. (7:8.) 2ndly. They handed down certain constitutions subversive of God’s law (v. 9). The same example is quoted as here (v. 4).

For, God said.” Mark has, “For, Moses said;” but it is the same. For, God said it through Moses.

4. “Honour thy father and mother.” &c. “Honour,” embraces all the duties which children owe their parents; and, therefore, the duty of supporting them. “Honour” signifies, in many parts of Scripture, to support, to afford sustenance; (1 Tim. 5:3), “Honour widows,” &c.; (v. 17), “worthy of double honour.” It has the same meaning here, as is clear from our Redeemer regarding as a violation of it, “Whosoever shall say … the gift … and he shall not honour his father,” &c. This is most clearly expressed by St. Mark (7:12), “And farther, you suffer him not TO DO anything,” &c. Therefore, to serve one’s parents, and act beneficently towards them, is to HONOUR them. Although the Pharisees had been guilty of violating God’s commandments in many other ways, by their traditions (Mark 7:13); still, our Redeemer quotes this one, about not honouring parents, as being the Divine precept, to which a special promise is attached, “that thou mayest be long-lived upon earth,” &c. and as the precept, which is clearly and strictly enjoined by the natural law. And to show the imperative obligation of this precept, and the impiety of the Pharisees, our Redeemer subjoins another law, inflicting death, without mercy, on such as utter contumelious words against their parents. “He that shall curse his father,” &c., which is not so great a dishonour as that of which the Pharisees were guilty, in act, by withholding from their parents the necessary means of support.

5. Such are the commandments of God. “But, you”—following certain absurd traditions, at variance with the laws of God and nature—“say: Whosoever shall say to his father or mother,” &c., when, in their distress, they apply to him for support, that is to say, for that “honour,” to which the laws of God and nature strictly entitle them.

The gift whatsoever proceedeth from me,” &c. Of the several interpretations given of this obscure passage, there are two, which seem the most probable. The first interpretation runs thus: “Whosoever shall say to his father or mother, whatsoever gift proceedeth from me”—that is to say, whatsoever gift has been presented by me in God’s honour, and for His service—“shall profit thee,” also; because presented for benefiting you, as well as myself, and for propitiating Him in your favour; and, hence, I have discharged the duty of honouring you, and am no longer bound to assist you; such a person shall have fulfilled his obligations to his parents. These, or words like the following, such a person shall be free from sin, &c., are understood to complete the second member of the sentence, commencing with the words, “whosoever shall say,” &c.

According to this interpretation of the tradition of the Pharisees referred to, the parents received some corporal support, inasmuch as a portion of the things offered in some sacrifices, v.g., peace offerings, &c., went to the benefit of the offerers. Most likely, the Pharisees justified this perverse tradition on the grounds—1st That God was to be honoured rather than one’s parents; as if God would receive honour from the offering of things due to others, by the Divine, as well as by the natural law, which, therefore, could not become the matter of vows So far is this from being the case, that even things consecrated to God may be lawfully applied to the relief of our neighbour’s grievous necessities, as in the case of the loaves of proposition consumed, in his necessity, by David; and we frequently find the holy vessels broken or sold by some of the most eminent saints, to relieve the starving poor. Nay, it is held that a son cannot enter religion, should he be required for his parent’s support, and even that he should in some cases, leave religion, if the necessary support of his parents required it. 2ndly That the gift presented to God, with the intention of benefiting parents, contained the twofold merit of piety towards one’s parents, which alone was involved in the observance of the fourth precept of the Decalogue; and of piety, or rather of religion, towards God; as if they could be truly pious in regard to God, who neglect His precept, commanding them to support their parents, and assuring us that what is done for one of the least ones is done for Him.

The second interpretation runs thus: “Whosoever shall say,” &c. Whatsoever you could expect from me for your own support and benefit; nay, all my possessions, are already vowed to God, as a gift, and I cannot transfer them from God to you, such a person shall have fulfilled his duty. Many among the Pharisees were priests; and their avarice was gratified, or rather, promoted by such a tradition, inasmuch as they profited by the gifts offered in the temple; and hence, in defiance of God’s law, they inculcated this odious tradition, on the subject of honouring, or, rather, dishonouring, parents.

This second interpretation accords well with the words of St. Mark (7:11), “Corban (which is a gift), whatsoever is from me, shall profit thee.” From this, it is clear, there is question of a gift consecrated and set apart for religious purposes, which is the signification of “Corban.” In the Greek the words run thus: “A gift, whatsoever thou mightest have been profited by me,” as if to say, whatever it is, through which you wished me to confer a benefit on you, is already a gift, and, as Mark has it, a sacred gift, Corban.

6. “And he shall not honour his father,” &c. Some commentators make these words a portion of the Pharisaical tradition, thus: “And so, he may not honour his father or his mother,” or shall be exempted from the precept of honouring them. This is warranted by the Codex Vaticanus, in which “and,” is wanting. According to the reading of the Codex Vaticanus, the whole sentence is complete without any addition, thus: “Whosoever shall say to his father or mother: The gift whatsoever from me shall profit thee, may not honour his father or mother,” that is, shall be exempted from the obligation of honouring them.

Others say, these are the words of our Redeemer, asserting that the son, in the case in question, violates the precept of honouring his parents, while carrying out the Pharisaical traditions.

And you have made void,” &c. And thus, it follows, that you have made void the precept of God, relative to the honouring of parents, by reason of your tradition. He says, “your tradition,” not, “the tradition of the ANCIENTS,” to show that these traditions were of recent introduction, on the part of those who claimed for their absurd traditional ordinances, all the authority of the ancients, whose place they occupied.

7. “Ye hypocrites.” The word, ύποκριτης, in its original signification, denotes an actor in a drama—one who personates a different character. Here, it is applied to the Scribes and Pharisees, who affected a character for piety and religion, which they really did not possess, and were content with mere external observances; and while they affected to be most scrupulous in the observance of the law, violated it in its most important precepts.

Well did Isaias prophesy of you, saying.” The words which our Redeemer quotes from Isaias had primarily reference to the Jews of the Prophet’s own time; but as his words, by accommodation, apply to the Jews of our Redeemer’s time; or, rather, as Isaias addressed the Jewish people in general, with whom the Jews of our Redeemer’s time were morally identified; hence, He says, “he prophesied of them,” as follows.

8. “This people honoureth,” &c. This quotation from Isaias (29:13) is according to the Septuagint, in which, the passage runs thus: “This people approaches Me,” i.e., reverences Me, “with their mouth, and honoureth Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me.” The words, “approaches Me with their mouth,” are read in the ordinary Greek copies, but are wanting in the Codex Vaticanus, and in all Latin copies. In the words of this verse, our Redeemer shows, that the Pharisees were, what He designated them, viz., hypocrites, such as the Jews described by the Psalmist (Psa. 77), “et dilexerunt eum in ore suo, et lingua sua mentiti sunt ei,” &c.

9. “And in vain,” &c. In this verse, He refers to their foolish, superstitious observances. “In vain,” Greek (ματην), may either mean, they vainly worship Me, inasmuch as they do not obtain the fruit of My worship; or, it may denote their foolish, irrational observances, which is rendered, by the interpreter of St. Matthew, “sine causa;” for, that worship is vain which is without a rational cause.

Teaching doctrines and commandments of men.” In the Septuagint of Isaias, and also in all the Greek copies of the Gospel of St. Matthew and St. Mark, “and” is wanting. It runs thus: “teaching doctrines, commandments of men,” placing the latter word in apposition to the former. From the context, is clearly seen what it is our Redeemer here reprobates as “the doctrines and commandments of men.” They are doctrines and commandments, opposed to the law of God, such as is instanced in the case of honouring or dishonouring parents; or, silly, external, superstitious observances, inculcated as obligatory, which by no means contribute to true, internal piety, such as frequent washing of hands at meals, washing of cups, of couches, &c.; or, erroneous doctrines, such as, that meat defiles the soul (Mark 7:5–8). Are the precepts and ordinances and traditions of the Catholic Church of this character? Surely not. Far from being subversive of the Divine law, they rather enforce and reduce it to practice. As to Apostolical traditions, St. Paul tells the Thessalonians to stand fast by them and hold them (2 Thess. 2:14). As to the rules and constitutions of the Church touching fasts, festivals, and the like, they are by no means opposed to the Divine law; they are, on the contrary, in perfect accordance with it. And, moreover, they emanate from God Himself, who, invested His Church with legislative power, and has commanded all to hear, and obey her, under pain of sharing the fate of the heathen and the publican. In truth, the very ordinances of the civil power cannot be regarded as “commandments of men,” in the sense here contemplated; since their power, too, is from God, at least mediately, and we are commanded to obey them under pain of damnation. (Rom. 13) But, as regards the laws of the Church, they are ordinances enacted under the inspiration, or, at least, superintendence and influence of the Holy Ghost, whom Christ promised to His Church, to teach her all truth, and remain with her for ever, under His own special guidance, who, moreover, promised to remain Himself with His Church all days, even to the consummation of the world.

10. Having redargued the Pharisees, and silenced them, He now calls the multitude, and in their hearing, who were not influenced by feelings of envy, like the Pharisees, and would derive profit from His instructions, He justifies the conduct of His disciples, and shows the error of the Pharisees on the subject.

Hear ye.” St. Mark has, “Hear ye Me all” (7:14). These words are intended to arrest attention. “Me,” and not the Pharisees; “and understand,” that is, divesting yourselves of your former errors, attend to My true doctrine.

11. “Not that which goeth into the mouth,” &c., which is read thus in St. Mark, “There is nothing from without a man that entering him can defile him” (7:15). These words are to be interpreted in reference to the teaching of the Pharisees, which they are intended to refute. The Pharisees maintained, that, by partaking of food with unwashed hands, defilement was imparted to the food, and this food defiled the soul. Our Redeemer refutes this by saying, that no food, of itself, defiles a man. Hence, no food partaken with unwashed hands defiles him (v. 20). The Pharisees held that certain kinds of food, of themselves, defile a man, and render him polluted before God. Hence, we find St. Paul, in refuting these doctrines, held by certain Judaizing heretics, say, “that every creature of God is good,” &c. Then, our Redeemer here says, that, no food, of its own nature, defiles us. In this, He by no means intends to assert that we do not sin by partaking of food, if we do so, contrary to the prohibition of God, as did Adam; or, as the Jews would, by partaking of food forbidden to them; or, the first Christians, had they violated the Apostolical injunction, commanding them to abstain from blood, &c. (Acts 15:20); or, Christians, now-a-days, if they violated the laws of fasting enjoined by the Church, whom all are bound to hear and obey. In like manner, a man by committing excess in drinking wine is defiled, for “drunkards shall not possess the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:10); not by the wine, but, by its excess against the laws of temperance. But in such cases, “it is not what goeth into the mouth that defiles; but what cometh from it,” viz., disobedience and resistance to the law of God and the dictates of right reason. Hence, the words do not furnish even the shadow of an objection against the discipline of the Catholic Church, in regard to fasting, prescribed for the castigation of our rebellious flesh, as a spiritual remedy and antidote against sin, as a necessary means of casting out certain devils, and of overcoming certain passions, particularly those having reference to incontinence. They would equally militate against the precept given by God to Adam; against the law given by Moses to the Jews; against the injunctions given by the Apostles to the first Christians; against the prohibition of St. Paul in regard to Idolothytes, who calls the chalice of those partaking of them, “the chalice of devils,” and against the charitable line of conduct pursued by the same Apostle, and inculcated on others, when he declared they should, in conscience, abstain from certain kinds of meat, to avoid scandalizing their weak and infirm brethren. (1 Cor. 6) Would they not militate also against the prescriptions of physicians, when they interdict their patients certain kinds of food? The error of the Scribes, &c., was occasioned by the prohibition (Lev. 11), to partake of unclean meats, such as swine’s flesh, &c., as unclean, abominable, and defiling the soul. The Scribes understood these words in a gross, material sense, as if these meats immediately, and by contact, defiled the soul, as the touch of an unclean animal caused legal defilement in him who touched it. In this, they were grossly deceived; because, these words referred only to legal or external defilement.

But what cometh out of the mouth,” &c., that is, the things that come from the mouth and the heart (v. 18), that proceed from the will of man, these are the things that defile him. Our Redeemer does not mean, that everything coming from the mouth defiles a man, such as good words; nor that those things only which come from the mouth defile a man; since, bad thoughts and bad actions have this effect. But He uses this form, as it expresses the contrary of what the Pharisees held. They said, that what enters the mouth defiles; He says, on the contrary, that it was the things that came forth from the mouth—although not these alone, nor all that came—that defile a man. Good words come forth and good thoughts remain in the mind. What our Redeemer wishes to convey is this, that it is from the will of man, the things which defile him, proceed, which is more clearly expressed by St. Mark (7:20), “The things which come out from a man, they defile a man,” and is also clearly expressed, verses 18, 19, of this chapter.

12. His disciples, perceiving from the countenance of the Pharisees, and the words of murmur privately uttered, that His doctrine gave them offence; and, moreover, not seeming themselves to understand it, are desirous of further explanations, and inform him that the Pharisees, who, by their influence, might prove formidable enemies, and whom, therefore, it might be prudent to conciliate, were “scandalized,” i.e., offended at His doctrine. They took offence, because the doctrine just enunciated by our Lord, was totally subversive of their traditional customs, regarding frequent washings, &c. The disciples themselves were not wholly at ease, as His doctrine seemed opposed to the law of Moses.

13. Our Redeemer told His disciples not to be disquieted or troubled about the offence of the Pharisees. “Every plant which My Father hath not planted,” &c. Some understand the word, “plant,” of doctrine; every doctrine not proceeding from God, shall come to nought. Similar is the celebrated decision of Gamaliel, “If this counsel he from God,” &c. (Acts 5:8), and thus, our Redeemer wishes to convey, that the doctrine of the Pharisees, which is purely of human invention and introduction, must have an end, and that the system they had instituted, as well as their sect, was fast falling to ruin. This is not opposed to the Jewish law, which was planted only for a time by God—as regarded its legal and ceremonial parts, and it lasted for the the term designed by God—but as to its moral parts, it has lasted, and shall last still to the end of time. He thus quiets their apprehensions about the danger to be apprehended from the power of the Pharisees.

Others understand the word, “plant,” of men themselves, viz., the Scribes and Pharisees. Men are frequently called the planting of God, in SS. Scriptures. Every man was placed and planted by God, in the field of this world; but, by the envy of the devil, this primeval creation was vitiated, and, hence, man must again be, as it were, planted anew, and ingrafted on Christ, the tree of life. In this sense, the Jews are termed, vinea electa, germen plantationis meæ (Isa. 60:21; Matt. 3:10). Those who are not thus ingrafted, remain in their original state of spiritual decay, and shall be lost. Of this class are the Pharisees, who incurably resisted our Redeemer’s gracious calls and teaching; and, hence, could not be ingrafted on Him, and were not, therefore, to be minded, nor their offence cared for.

14. “Let them alone.” Heed not the offence which arises solely from their own malice and perversity. “They are blind.” By their own free will, they perversely continue in their blind state, and they are so presumptuous as to attempt to become the guides of others equally blind and obstinate, in their perverse opinions, as themselves. And the end of such teachers, and of those taught by them, shall be eternal, irreparable ruin—“both fall into the pit.”

These arrogant, haughty men, so wedded to their own opinions—so self-conceited as to become the leaders of others, as obstinate as themselves, cannot be conciliated by any advances made to them. They will only take further offence at every attempt at explanation. They are, therefore, not to be heeded, but to be left to the ruin they are obstinately bringing on themselves. From these words of our Lord we may conclude, that when men conceive offence at our teaching, solely out of malice, and without any cause on our own part, we are not to heed such Pharisaical scandal. “For, it is better that scandal should arise, than that the truth be abandoned” (St. Gregory). It is otherwise, if this proceeds from weakness or ignorance, or, if there be question of scandalum infirmorum. Then, we are by all means, to avert the ruin of our infirm brother. Our Redeemer gives an example of both modes of acting in the different treatment He gave the Pharisees and His own disciples. He minds not the one (v. 14), while He gives a full explanation to the others (vv. 17–19).

15. “Peter,” whose faith was always most ardent, “answering”—a Hebrew form of expression, meaning that he commenced to speak (11:25), “said to Him,” speaking in the name of the other disciples. The disciples are said to have spoken (Mark 7:17), through Peter, as their spokesman, and this is borne out by the words, “expound (not to me, but) to US, this parable.” The word, “parable,” is taken here in its genuine signification, as meaning any obscure form of language. This, as we are informed by St. Mark (7:17), occurred “when He was come into the house from the multitude.” The disciples could not understand how this language of our Lord, about the promiscuous use of food, could, in its plain, literal meaning, be consistent with the prohibition of the law of Moses; nor, how the use of language, so calculated to scandalize the Pharisees, and, in a certain degree, to scandalize themselves, could be reconciled with His teaching on the subject of avoiding giving scandal to our neighbour. Hence, they call it a “parable,” or an obscure form of speech, bearing a meaning different from what it bore at first sight. This they wished Him to explain to them.

16. Are you also yet without understanding?” You, who have so long walked in the light of My doctrine, and have been familiar and intimate friends, to whom had been already frequently explained, in what real purity of soul consists. While reproving them for slowness of belief, no removes the offence, arising from mental infirmity, and more fully explains His doctrine.

17. “Whatsoever entereth into the mouth.” The greater part of the food we take, “goeth into the belly,” from the stomach, and is discharged or evacuated in the shape of excrement. A portion of it remains in the system, imparting strength and vital vigour. This point, however, our Redeemer does not consider here. He only accommodates His explanation to the gross conceptions of His disciples. He shows that the food which we receive, “entereth not into the heart of man” (Mark 7:19), since the impure portion of it, leaving after it what is clean, “purging all meats” (Mark 7:19), separating what is pure from the impure, far from reaching the heart, and defiling the man, is discharged, like the food taken by all other animals, into the privy. None, therefore, of the unclean part of food reaches the heart, which the Jews believed, and our Redeemer supposes, to be the seat of the soul or of the will of man. Hence, food taken by a man cannot defile him.

Our Redeemer’s reasoning in this verse supposes, as a certain principle, that nothing can defile a man except through the heart of man, as regards what remains in, or proceeds from the heart. Hence, as the food does not proceed from the heart, or remain in it, it cannot defile him.

18. He now explains what it is defiles a man. “But the things which proceed out of the mouth,” i.e., most of the things that proceed “from the mouth,” or, “from man,” as St. Mark expresses it, “come forth from the heart,” i.e., from man’s free will and reason, symbolized by the “heart,” “and those things defile a man.”

19. He elucidates the words, “proceed out of the mouth” (v. 18). “For, from the heart come forth evil thoughts.” Although “thoughts” may not proceed to words or acts; still, they proceed from the heart and mind, and may be sinful, and may pollute the soul. “He who looks after a woman, to lust after her, commits adultery” before God (c. 5:28). In this, our Redeemer refutes the error of the Jews, who imagined that mere thoughts, as such, although consented to, were not sinful. “Murders, adulteries,” &c. Our deeds of sin are first conceived voluntarily in the heart, before they are externally manifested in act; and it is, because they proceed from the heart, and are wilfully assented to, that they are sinful. The worst actions performed by idiots or fools, devoid of reason or free will, although materially wicked, would not still be imputed to them as sins.

20. “These are the things,” &c. This is our Redeemer’s conclusion from the foregoing. “These things come out of the mouth” (v. 11). “But to eat with unwashed hands,” because such things are among those that go into the mouth (v. 11), “doth not defile a man.”

21. Seeing the obstinate incredulity and ingratitude of the Jews, our Redeemer retires from the land of “Genesar,” or from Capharnaum and the neighbouring places, into the confines of Tyre and Sidon, probably, with the view of pointing out to His Apostles, by this mode of acting, how they were, after His resurrection, to transfer the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles, from the Jews, who were obstinately bent on resisting them. He also retired, probably, for the purpose of retreat and rest after His labours. Hence, we are informed by St. Mark (7:24), that, entering a house, He wished to remain concealed, unknown to any person. He might have wished to remain in this private way, lest, by publicly preaching and performing miracles, He might furnish the Jews with a pretext for rejecting Him, in consequence of His having held intercourse with the Gentiles; and, moreover, He would be acting in opposition to the instructions He gave His Apostles on this subject.

The coasts,” that is, the country bordering on, and belonging to “Tyre and Sidon.” These were maritime cities of Phœnicia, to the north of Galilee, near Mount Lebanon, which bordered on Judea. Some commentators (Maldonatus and others) are of opinion, that our Redeemer did not enter the territories of the Gentiles, but, that He only came to the extreme confines of Galilee, on the borders of Phœnicia, of which Tyre and Sidon were the principal cities. These expositors derive an argument in favour of their opinion, from the fact, that the “woman came out” of these parts to see Jesus. The words, however, might be explained, that while He was in these parts, she came out of her house, for “she heard of Him” (Mark 7:25)—Franciscus Lucas.

22. “A woman of Chanaan.” She was a Gentile and Phœnician, as we learn from St. Mark (7:26). She is said to be “of Chanaan,” one of the descendants of Chanaan, the son of Cham, and grandson of Noe. The first-born of Chanaan was Sidon, the founder of the city bearing his name. The Chanaanites were one of the seven nations, that inhabited the land of Chanaan. They inhabited the sea coast, whence they were partly expelled by Josue. A portion, however, remained. The Jews did not subdue Tyre or Sidon. The Phœnicians and Chanaanites were the same people. They were called Chanaanites, by the Hebrews; and Phœnicians, by the Greeks. This woman is called a “Syro-Phœnician,” by St. Mark (7:26)—for she was a Syrian, as well as a Phœnician, Phœnicia being a part of Syriato distinguish her from the Phœnicians of Lybia, in Africa; and “a Gentile,” in the original (ἑλληνις), a Greek, which is properly rendered, “a Gentile.” For, in the New Testament, in accordance with Jewish usage, the Gentiles are called Greeks—“Judæis et Græcis debitor sum.” (Rom. 1) The word, Gentile, does not convey that she was an idolater, but only, that she was neither of Hebrew extraction, nor, of the Jewish religion.

Have mercy on me.” She says, “on me,” to entreat Him the more earnestly, and to show that, her daughter’s affliction was fully shared in, and borne by her, which was a great proof of maternal affection.

O Lord, thou son of David,” shows her great faith. She believed Him to be the Messiah, promised to the Jews, and to have power over devils, whom she besought Him to expel from her daughter. Hence, she says to Him, as having this power from Himself, “Have mercy on me, O Lord.” “Lord, help me” (v. 25).

23. Our Redeemer made no reply whatever, probably, for the purpose of testing her great virtue, her faith and humility; or, perhaps, He had in view, to avoid giving His enemies a pretext for accusing Him of having violated His own instructions to His Apostles, on the subject of not transferring their ministry to the Gentiles, and to show, that if He preformed a miracle in favour of this woman, He did so from a kind of moral necessity.

And His disciples came,” &c. From this, it would seem it was on the road this happened. St. Mark says, “she came in and fell at His feet,” in the house. Both accounts are true. She, in the first instance, did as St. Mark describes; and, again, when He paid no heed to her, she followed them on the way, and then He heard her petition. Others say, she, in the first instance, met Him on the road, and after that, following Him into the house, obtained, by her faith and humble perseverance, the fruit of her petition.

24. Our Lord was not sent as an Apostle from His Father to the Gentiles, to favour them with His presence; but, to the Jews, according to the predictions of the Prophets. Hence, although the Redeemer of all, He was the Apostle (“sent”), only of the Jews, “minister circumcisionis” (Rom. 15:8). He was sent by His Father personally, to the Jews only. For them alone, He was to perform His miracles, in proof of His doctrine. Had He preached, and worked miracles indiscriminately among the Gentiles, the Jews might have some pretext for rejecting Him as the promised Messiah (Rom. 15:8, 9); and this is the reason why He refuses working the miracle sought for in favour of the Chanaanite woman. “But to the sheep that are lost,” &c. (See 10:6.) It was predicted by the Prophets, that our Lord was to preach to the Jews; and hence, in order to fulfil these prophecies, He confined His preaching and miracles generally to that people (see Rom. 15:8, 9).

25. Her faith and humility are more and more inflamed and stimulated by the repulse she met with in the first instance. Hence, coming forward and falling down, in prostrate adoration before Him, she urges her petition with still greater earnestness.

26. “Good” (καλον), equitable, fair, or congruous. “To take the bread of children,” that is, the grace of miracles, and, in general, the grace of the Gospel, embracing His own doctrine and miracles, which were promised the Jews, the “children” of God, the seed of Abraham, as their special nourishment—“bread”—“and cast it to dogs.” Such was the estimation in which the Gentiles were held by the Jews; and such the opprobrious epithet with which they were designated, on account of their idolatry and sinful practices. Our Lord, as we are informed by St. Mark (7:27), replied, “Suffer the children to be filled first;” as if holding out some hope to her, that after the children were satiated, she might then expect the fruit of her petition. Others derive a contrary inference; they say, the harsh comparison instituted between the Gentiles and dogs, was calculated to show the utter hopelessness of the case, and was employed by our Divine Lord in giving utterance, not to His own sentiments—for, He knew the Gentiles were soon to be the favoured sons of God, while the Jews were to become “dogs” (Philip. 3:2; Psalm 21:17)—but speaking after the manner and feelings of the Jews, for the purpose of eliciting a strong proof of her great faith and humility, which no repulse, however apparently harsh and discouraging, could damp. His words come to this: Is it fair for Me who am sent specially to the Jews, the chosen children of God, to transfer My miracles, until the Jews are fully satisfied, to the Gentiles, who hold no other place than that of dogs in the family or household of God?

27. Her humble perseverance was not to be baffled or frustrated in its object. “Yea, Lord.” Granted, that I am but a whelp, a worthless dog; and that to such the bread of children is not to be cast, still, even in this capacity, however mean, I have a claim to be attended to.

For, the whelps also eat of the crumbs that fall from,” &c. She did not demand abundance of bread. The miraculous cure she sought for was only “a crumb,” compared with the many splendid miracles performed among the Jews, whom she calls not only “children, but her “Lords,” in the family household of her Sovereign Master. In this, she shows her great faith, which our Redeemer so strongly commends, and also her profound humility. As if she said: You call me a whelp; and so I am; nourish me, therefore, as whelps are nourished, with a crumb of the bread that falls from my master’s table.

28. As if acknowledging Himself to be vanquished by this woman’s faith and perseverance, our Redeemer at once exclaims, “O woman, great is thy faith”—“great,” rare, excellent, in its constancy; great, in its perseverance.

Great,” in the things you believe regarding Me, and in the confidence it inspires. “Be it done.” He uses an imperative form in restoring his creature, as He did in the original act of creation, “ipse mandavit et creata sunt.”

It is worthy of remark, that in the great encomiums bestowed by our Lord in instances of singularly great faith, the objects of these encomiums were Gentiles.

And her daughter was cured,” &c. From the history of the Chanaanite woman, we can clearly see how parents should have recourse to our Lord in the necessities of their children; and implore His Divine aid in their favour. We are also taught how frequently our Lord puts off hearing us in the first instance, in order to test our faith and perseverance, and thus in the end, to render His gifts more acceptable. We also see from it, the efficacy of persevering importunity in prayer; of firm, unfaltering, faith, confidence and humility. The prayer of the Chanaanite woman was accompanied with all these conditions; and so, she was heard.

29. “From thence,” that is, the confines of Tyre and Sidon, where the singular faith and humility of the Chanaanite woman, as if, extorted the miracle from Him. He left, lest others from among the Gentiles would apply for the cure of their sundry diseases.

He came near the Sea of Galilee.” St. Mark (7:31), says, that leaving the borders of Tyre, “He came by Sidon, to the Sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis.” How our Redeemer could have gone from Tyre to Sidon on His way to the Sea of Galilee, when He should, it would seem, on the contrary, have gone from Sidon to Tyre to the Sea of Galilee, is a subject of controversy with commentators. In the common Greek, the words, “by Sidon,” are omitted. They are, however, found in the Codex Vaticanus, and in all the later copies. If the reading now quoted be correct, all we can say is, that our Redeemer had some good reasons for taking the circuitous northerly route by Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, of which the Evangelist makes no mention. “Decapolis,” the country of the ten cities, some on the east, and others on the west of the Jordan. Our Redeemer passed through the midst of this district on His way to the Sea of Galiee. St. Mark (ibidem) states, that on His arrival, He cured a man that “was deaf and dumb,” of which miracle no mention is here made by St. Matthew. The man was, most likely, not deaf by nature, he only stammered (μογγιλαλον), or, had a difficulty of speech. This is inferred from its being said, that after the string of his tongue was loosed, “he spoke RIGHT,” in which it is implied, that he had before spoken, not right; but, in a stammering, confused way. The ceremonies employed by our Blessed Lord in the performance of this miracle, are very instructive, and teach us to venerate the ceremonies employed by the Church in the conferring of Sacraments and in her worship, after His Divine example, in opening the ears and loosing the tongue of the deaf and dumb man. (See Mark 7:32, &c.)

And going up into a mountain, He sat there,” to await the people who flocked round Him, wherever He was known to be.

30. The cures of these multitudes is passed over by St. Mark, who only records the cure above alluded to. St. Matthew and St. Mark both give a full account of all that took place.

31. The people were seized with admiration, seeing the prophecy of Isaias (35:5), fully verified, “Then shall be opened the eyes of the blind,” &c. “And they glorified the God of Israel,” who sent the Messiah, promised their fathers, and in His mercy visited Israel.

32. Our Redeemer, while administering the spiritual bread of life to the multitude, is not forgetful of their temporal wants. He now, from a kind of necessity, works a miracle, to satiate the cravings and hunger of this immense multitude. He takes pity on them; for, they continue three days in His company, forgetful of their temporal wants.

33. In proposing this question, the disciples seem forgetful of the former miracle of the multiplication of bread (14:17), or, it should rather be said, they were slow and tardy of belief. For, St. Mark observes, after the former miracle (6:52), “they understood not concerning the loaves; for, their heart was blinded.”

34. In order to proceed, in an orderly way, so that the greatness and certainty of the miracle might be rendered still more apparent, our Redeemer asks His Apostles, how many loaves they had still remaining of those which they carried with them for their support, and His own. Having to travel and spend some time in desert places, away from the towns and cities, the Apostles were obliged to carry some provisions for such occasions. “Seven loaves and five fishes.”

35. On the former occasion, He commanded them to sit down on the grass. Here it was, “on the ground.”

36. (See 14:19). “Giving thanks,” to God the Father, for the power granted to Him of multiplying these breads in a miraculous way. This is expressed (c. 14), by the words, “looking up to heaven, He blessed.” Here, “giving thanks,” includes looking up to heaven, which is generally done by men, rendering thanks; and the benediction of the bread and fishes is the effect of the act of thanksgiving.

37, 38. In the former miracle, there were only five loaves; here, there are seven. In the former, 5000, a larger number, were satiated with a smaller quantity of loaves, to intimate to us, that with God, it is all the same, to satiate many or few with a greater or lesser quantity of food. In the former, there remained twelve baskets, corresponding with the number of Apostles; here, seven baskets, corresponding with the number of loaves. This difference of circumstances shows, in the clearest way, that the present miracle was quite different from the preceding.

39. He took shipping, to prevent the multitude from following Him. “Magedan.” Some Greek readings have, “Magdala.” St. Mark (8:10) has, “into the parts of Dalmanutha.” There is no substantial discrepancy, as both places were in the vicinity of the coast on which our Redeemer landed. So, both accounts are correct. In some copies of St. Mark, we have, “Magedan,” instead of, “Dalmanutha.”








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