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

In this chapter, our Lord illustrates His assertion contained in last verse of preceding chapter, that “many that are first shall be last, and the last first,” by the parable of the householder, who hired men at different hours of the day to labour in his vineyard, of which parable many parts are merely ornamental; and He then draws the conclusion He wished to prove and illustrate (1–16). He next foretells His Passion and Resurrection (17–19). He rebukes the sons of Zebedee, who employed their mother to ask for them priority and pre-eminence in His kingdom (20–23), and He inculcates humility, on several grounds (24–28). He restores their sight to two blind men in the neighbourhood of Jericho (29–34).

1. “The kingdom of heaven,” &c. In the Greek, ὅμοια γαρ εστιν ἡ βασιλεια, &c., it is, “FOR, the kingdom of heaven,” &c. It is the same in the Syriac. The main design and scope of the following parable may be clearly seen from the context, from the identity of the proposition which immediately precedes it (19:30), of which it is, according to the Greek—“FOR, the kingdom of heaven,” &c.—the demonstration on elucidation, with the conclusion deduced from it by our Divine Redeemer (v. 16). The article prefixed to “first” and “last” in the Greek, in verse 16—οἱ πρωτοι, “the first;” οι εσχατοι, “the last,” shows, they manifestly refer to “first” and “last” (19:30). The parable is clearly intended to show, that, in the economy of God’s providence, “the first shall be last, and the last first,” regarding the meaning of which words, as shall be seen hereafter, there is a great difference of opinion among commentators.

The literal meaning hardly needs any explanation. The phrase, “The kingdom of heaven is like,” &c., frequently means, in the Gospel, that in the economy of God’s merciful dealings with His people, in His militant Church here, and in the kingdom of His glory, or Church militant hereafter, something occurs, similar to what happens when a householder goes out early, &c. For, taken literally, it is not the kingdom, but, rather, the King, or ruler of heaven, that should be compared with a householder. The several hours of the day are allusive to the division of time among the Romans and Jews. The Jews, at this period of their history, having been now subject to Rome, adopted the Roman custom of calculating time. They divided their days and nights, at all seasons of the year, into twelve hours each, which, of course, were longer or shorter at several periods of the year. The twelve hours of the night they divided into four watches, each watch comprising three hours, at the close of which the military guard relieved one another. In like manner, they divided the “twelve hours of the day” (John 11:9) into four greater hours, or principal parts, consisting of three hours each. The first, or prime, commenced at sunrise, corresponding with our six o’clock, supposing sunrise to take place at the same hour as at the Equinox, and embraced half the space of time between sunrise and mid-day. The second, or terce, commenced at the end of the first three hours, nine o’clock, and ended at mid-day, or twelve o’clock. The third principal part, or sext, commenced at twelve o’clock, and ended at three o’clock. The fourth principal part, or none, commenced at the end of sext, and ended at six o’clock, at sunset or close of the day. Not only were the civil duties among the Jews, but also their sacred aim ecclesiastical duties, regulated by this division (Mark 15:25).

It is at these different principal points of division of time, the householder in the parable is said to have gone forth to hire the labourers into his vineyard. At the present day, this division of time is still kept up by the Church in the office of her sacred ministers. The 118th Psalm, which, with the exception of one verse, is all employed in treating of the law of God, is thus divided in the daily rentation of the Divine office. Prime, began among the Jews at the commencement of the first hour of the day, or at sunrise; terce began at the end of the third, or a nine o’clock; sext, at the end of the sixth, or twelve o’clock; none, at the end of the ninth, or three in the afternoon. The three hours, included under none, closed the day at sunset, or twelfth hour, viz., six in the evening. Hence, “the eleventh hour” (verses 6, 9), means, one hour before sunset.

The kingdom of heaven,” as has been already conveyed, means, the Church militant, where men labour; and the Church triumphant, where they are rewarded.

By the “householder,” is meant, Almighty God, the King of Heaven, who at all periods of time from creation, and at all stages of life, calls men to labour in His service. “Labourers,” those called to serve God by the practice of good works. “Vineyard,” the Church, which is often, in SS. Scripture, compared to a “vineyard” (Psa. 79:9).

By the several hours of the day are meant, according to some, the several leading religious epochs—the several dispensations under which God called men to labour in His Church, and thus to reach securely the goal of salvation. According to these, the time comprised between the first and third hour, refers to the interval between Adam and Noah; from the third to the sixth, the interval between Noah and Abraham; from the sixth to the ninth, the time between Abraham and Moses; from the ninth to the eleventh, between Moses and Christ, whose religion embraces the last hour, between the eleventh and sunset. Hence, the period of the Christian dispensation is called “the last hour” in the Gospel, in which men receive such abundant graces and privileges, and amass such treasures of merit, compared with those living under preceding dispensations, that, although last in point of time, they are first in glory and merit; and hence, the Apostles take precedence of the Patriarchs and Prophets of the Old Law. Moreover, they might be termed first, because they had not to wait long, like the just of old, before entering heaven (Heb. 11:40). These expositors understand, by “evening,” the end of all things, when God shall come to judge the world.

Others, by the “day,” understand, the term of man’s life, during which one can work (John 9:4), and insure his salvation; and the principal hours of the day, the period or stage of life at which men are called, and enter God’s service—some, from infancy; others, from boyhood; others, in manhood; and others, in decrepid old age. These, by “evening,” understand, the close of a man’s life. The first class have to labour long and hard against the strength of youthful temptations, and the heat of their unruly passions. This latter opinion is preferred by Maldonatus, who maintains, that it is beside the scope of the parable, at what age of the world a man was called. Our Redeemer only wishes to convey, that some labour more, and acquire greater merit in a short time, than others do in a longer period; and to serve this object, it matters little at what age of the world, but only at what period of his life, he was called and entered on God’s service.

It is deserving of remark, that our Redeemer supposes in the parable, that men merit eternal life; for, He speaks of an agreement to labour for a certain “hire,” which implies merit. Moreover, He speaks of paying “what is just,” which proves merit, founded, however, on God’s gracious promises.

For “penny,” the daily hire, Kenrick has “shilling,” his rendering of “denarius.” The value of the denarius is computed differently. Some say, it was nearly equal to one shilling of our money (Kenrick); others, to 7½d; others, less. But, whatever may have been its value, it denotes in the parable, life eternal; and, although given the same, to all; it was only generically, but not specifically so; for, we know, the Saints enjoy different degrees of glory. (1 Cor. 15) All the Saints enjoy in common the glory of being admitted into the kingdom, and to the beatific vision of God; as it is common to all the stars to be set in the firmament of heaven, with different degrees, however, of lustre and brightness. (1 Cor. 15)

Why stand you here all the day idle? Because no one hath hired us.” Almighty God calls men at all times. But men do not always choose to correspond with His call, or enter His service. The “householder” hired all whom he found in the market-place in the first instance. This he conveys by the Prophet Jeremias. “I have spoken to you rising early in the morning” (Jer. 7:13; 11:7, 8; 30:11). Hence, the answer, “because no one hath hired us,” may be regarded as an ornamental part of the parable; because, although not strictly true in the sense of the parable, it expresses the kind of false excuse which idlers generally allege; nor are householders in general supposed to be cognizant of the falsehood it expresses.

Evening.” The end of the world, or the close of human life. They both, practically, come to the same; since the sentence at general judgment is but a ratification of that passed at particular judgment at each one’s death.

Steward,” refers to our Lord, who is constituted by His Father, Judge of the living and of the dead.

Give them their hire.” Hence, the reward of merit. The hire given the last, far exceeding their expectations, gives us an idea of merit, in the Catholic sense, since the reward of merit far exceeds the intrinsic value of the act. It is from the grace and liberality of God, that our actions are meritorious, and receive so great a reward. Hence, St. Augustine says, “in crowning our merits, God crowns His own gifts.”

15. The entire context of the parable clearly refutes the false conclusion deduced by heretics from the words of this verse, as if the householder said, that the reward of life eternal was utterly gratuitous, exclusive of merit. The reply of the householder is altogether ornamental, and suited to the dignity of a master in dealing with murmuring labourers, without entering into any discussion at all regarding the merits of the case. At best, the words would only prove that the value of merit and its reward flow, in the first instance, from the grace and gratuitous liberality of God, which every Catholic readily admits.

The word, “evil,” applied to the murmurers, in the phrase, “is thine eye evil?” &c., means, envious, a signification of the word common among the Jews (Prov. 28:6; Eccles. 31:14; Mark 7:22).

16. “So shall the last be first,” &c. This is regarded by the generality of commentators, as the application of the parable, and as the conclusion which our Redeemer means to draw from it, identical with proposition (19:30). But how the application is made, is a subject about which they are much divided, according to the difference of interpretation given of “first” becoming “last;” and “last,” “first” (19:30, and here). Nor, indeed, is it easy to see how the conclusion, and especially, the reason given for the conclusion—“for many are called, but few are chosen”—is warranted by the parable, in which all are represented as receiving the hire or reward in equal proportions. I pass by as improbable, the opinion of St. Chrysostom, who holds, that the words of this verse are not a conclusion from the parable at all; that our Redeemer merely wishes to convey, that as the labourers all received an equal amount contrary to the expectations of all; so, something more wonderful occurs also, when “the first”—by whom St. Chrysostom understands, the Jews, and those Christians who fell away from the summit of perfection to the depths of spiritual misery—became “last;” and the “last”—those who arise from the depths of sin and misery, and reach the height of perfection—become “first,” Some expositors hold, that the words are allusive to the rejection of the Jaws and the calling of the Gentiles. Hence, according to them, by the “first” becoming “last,” are meant, those who are utterly excluded from the kingdom of heaven. The words are used in this sense (Luke 13:30). The second conclusion, or, rather, reason assigned for the conclusion, regarding the “first” becoming “last,” &c., viz.: “For, many are called, but few are chosen,” is in favour of this interpretation; so, is the murmuring of the early workmen. Hence, according to them, the scope of the parable is to show, that the Gentile believers would be preferred, both in the Church militant here and triumphant hereafter, to the Jews who rejected Christ. Hence, the murmurs of the Jews, at seeing the Gentiles called of late to the Church, preferred to themselves, who had such claims to preference, on the ground of their early call, in the persons of the Patriarchs and their fathers at different periods, as well as on account of their labour in cultivating the vineyard with such inconveniences, and such sparing distribution of graces and helps, so abundantly dealt out to the children of the New Law. These interpreters say, that whatever has reference to this object in the parable, should be regarded as significant; whatever does not tend to illustrate this, should be regarded as ornamental. It is not easy to explain, in this opinion, how the “penny,” the daily hire promised by the householder, is given to all the labourers; and it is in reference to “the kingdom of heaven” it is given. Moreover, it is given at “evening,” that is to say, either at the close of human life, or at the end of the world. It could not, therefore, be understood of the temporal retribution given the Jews; since, among those who gained eternal life, are many faithful Jews; and besides, such temporal retribution was given during man’s life—not at its close, nor at the end of the world. Hence, others say, that “first” and “last,” refer to those who are saved, and receive the crown of eternal life. According to these, the scope of the parable is to show, that it matters not at what stage of human life, or period of the world, a man is called; provided he labours and co-operates more, fervently and zealously, he shall gain the first place in the kingdom of heaven, in preference to those who may labour less fervently for a longer period of time. These expositors say, looking to the scope of the parable, that, the “first” in the order of reward are termed such, because, although called last, and their labour of shorter duration, it was a source of greater glory to them to be the first favoured with the reward. This was a proof of greater diligence on their part. Moreover, they received a greater reward than they expected from the liberality and beneficence of their employer, while those who imagined themselves entitled to the first place, who filled high stations in this world, and occupied prominent positions in the opinion of men, were not so much exalted in glory as the lowly and the humble. Thus, the Apostles, and other such abject and humble men, would be preferred to the great ones of the earth, and their judiciary power and exaltation would be signified by their being termed “first,” whilst the others, over whom they would be appointed judges, would be “last” in comparative judgment. “First” and “last” are verified of every class of persons, and at every stage of the world. Against this latter opinion, it will not militate, that the householder says, “take thine own and go thy way.” These words may be regarded as ornamental. Moreover, they refer to eternal glory in this opinion; neither will the phrase, “thine eye is evil,” that is, envious, illiberal, which may be also regarded as ornamental, and would, at best, only convey an idea of the magnitude of the glory which God bestows on His singularly beloved and faithful servants, calculated to make the very elect envious, if possible, or cause them to wonder at the sovereign liberality of God. While the former opinion—which understands, by “last,” those excluded from everlasting bliss—accords better with the context (19:30), this latter opinion seems to accord better with the parable, in which all received the “penny,” or daily hire, in different degrees, no doubt; preference and pre-eminence being conferred on some before others. It is, however, rather difficult to see the connexion between the parable in this latter interpretation, and the second conclusion, or, rather, the reason assigned at the close, “For, many are called, but few are chosen.” This would naturally follow from the words of the parable understood in the former sense, which understands “last,” of those rejected from the kingdom of bliss, the same with “many are called;” and “first,” of those who actually gain eternal life, the same with “but few are chosen.”

The opinion of Suarez on this point seems to be the most probable. He holds that the words, “for many are called,” &c., are an argument, a fortiori, as if our Lord meant to say: It is no wonder that of those who are called, some do not obtain the first place, although they receive life eternal; since even of those who are called, many are excluded altogether. Others explain, “many are called,” to the Gospel and the observance of God’s commandments; and understand “chosen,” of extraordinary graces, and the observance of the Evangelical counsel. And this accords well with the context (c. 19), where those who merely observe God’s Commandments, are contrasted with those who practise the Evangelical counsels, and who receive the special reward attached thereto.

This parable of the labourers is meant to convey to us a very practical and important lesson of instruction, as to the importance of eternal salvation. This can be seen—1. From the magnitude of the gain to be secured for all eternity, in case of success; and of the loss we sustain for all eternity, in case of failure. 2. From the price paid to ensure it for us, “not corruptible gold or silver, bid the precious blood of the Immaculate Lamb.” 3. From the words of our Redeemer, declaring it to be the only thing necessary, “porro unum est necessarium.” Other things may be useful—friends, wealth, health, and the other goods of fortune; but, this alone is essential. Gain this, every other loss is gain; lose this, every other gain is loss. Other losses may be repaired; this is irreparable, unchangeable for all eternity. Let each one imagine, what should stimulate us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” viz., that, after being presented before the tribunal of Jesus Christ, and condemned, the pondus æternitatis is laid upon him; that he begins to suffer excruciating tortures, with the full knowledge of the loss of God, with the remorse of the undying worm of conscience, with the knowledge, every moment he suffers, that he is to suffer for eternity. What a dreadful thought. Let him seriously reflect on the words, EVER and NEVER. Ever to continue; never to end; then, he may estimate the importance of eternal salvation. Oh! “What doth it avail a man to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?” Let him imagine he gained the whole world, enjoyed honours, pleasures, and riches, and all that his imagination could suggest, or picture to him, for the longest life—he “gained the entire world.” Let him imagine the other part verified, he is at the end of all this enjoyment damned—he “suffers the loss of his soul.” What will his past enjoyments avail him? Yes; the recollection of them will avail to aggravate his eternal torments. There is now no further redemption. “Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul?” (16:26) We should practically resolve on adopting the most efficacious means of securing our salvation. These are, fervent and persevering prayer; flights of the occasion of sin; frequentation of the Sacraments; a tender devotion to the Immaculate Mother of God, &c.

17. Here close the acts of the third year of our Redeemer’s preaching. For, shortly after treating of the parable of the workmen, He raised Lazarus from the dead. This resuscitation of Lazarus occurred in the month of March, the same in which He was crucified, in the 34th year of his age. Hence, all that St. Matthew records in the following chapters, not descriptive of His Passion, took place on the eve of, or at least shortly before, His Passion, the history of which commences (26:1).

Going up to Jerusalem.” We are informed by St. John (11:54), that, after having raised Lazarus from the dead, our Redeemer, in order to avoid the fury of the Jews, retired to the city of Ephraim, near the desert, and thence went up to Jerusalem, as is recorded here, in order to fulfil the decree of His Eternal Father, regarding His death and sufferings for the redemption of mankind.

Took the twelve disciples apart and said to them.” Our Redeemer wished to make His disciples acquainted, beforehand, with the circumstances of His death and Passion, in order to confirm them in the faith, when they saw that He died freely and voluntarily, “oblatus quia ipse voluit,” and thus to arm them, on remembering His predictions, against the scandal of His Passion, and the shock it might otherwise naturally occasion to their faith. He informed them “apart,” because it was sufficient for Him to make it known to them who were to be witnesses of the accomplishment of His predictions, but He did not wish to do so publicly, lest it might interfere with the economy of redemption.

18. “Behold,” to arrest their attention in regard to an event which was soon to occur. Our Redeemer now foretells His Passion, for the third time. The nearer the period arrives, the more minutely He details its different circumstances. St. Luke (18:31), informs us, that our Lord, on this occasion, referred to the necessity of fulfilling the predictions of the Prophets, regarding the Son of man.

We go up to Jerusalem,” which was built on high ground.

The Son of man.” He so calls Himself whenever He refers to any of the actions or modifications immediately appertaining to His human nature, as here. “Betrayed.” He does not say by whom. This He reserves for the Last Supper.

Condemn Him to death.” When, in the hall of Caiphas, they cried out with one accord, “He is guilty of death” (26:66).

19. “The Gentiles,” viz., the Romans, Pilate and his satellites. The handing over of one to the Gentiles was regarded among the Jews as a most opprobrious punishment (Calmet). Pilate says, “Thy own nation, and the Chief Priests have delivered Thee up to me (John 18:35).

Mocked, and scourged, and crucified.” The Jews only called for His death and crucifixion, which they had no power to inflict. “Nobis non licet oocidere quenquam.” They did not call for His flagellation, or scornful treatment. But, this was a consequence of His having been delivered up to Pilate. Hence, “mocked and scourged,” only express the consequence of His being delivered up, but not the intention of the Jews, although they might be said, in a certain sense, to have intended it, inasmuch, as in their charge against Him, as mock king, they afforded grounds to have Him derided by the soldiery. This mocking of Him preceded His cruel flagellation, which they may be said to have intended, as they knew it usually preceded crucifixion. Mocking, scourging, and crucifixion were the principal parts of our Redeemer’s Passion.

And,” that is, but, “the third day,” &c. This He adds, to furnish grounds for consolation in the midst of the sorrows caused by His sufferings.

St. Luke (18:34), adds, “they understood none of these things, and this word was hid from them.” There is a great diversity of opinion as to the meaning of these words. It is quite clear, that the disciples understood our Lord on the several occasions He spoke of His Passion, to refer to His death. Hence, the mistaken zeal of Peter (16:22). Hence, the grief which the announcement caused the Apostles on another occasion (17:22). What they did not understand, were the circumstances of His Passion, its end, its consequences. While understanding Him to speak of His death, they could not understand, why He, who was the Eternal Son of God, should voluntarily, and of His own free accord, submit to sufferings which He might have escaped. They could not understand the object, or necessity, or utility of such sufferings. The wisdom of God, displayed in the economy of Redemption, was to them a mystery.

20. “Then.” Most likely, after our Lord had spoken of His approaching Passion and Resurrection on His way to Jerusalem. The word may mean, about that time.

Came to Him the mother of the sons of Zebedee.” Her name was Salome (Matt. 27:56; Mark 15:40).

He calls her, “the mother of the sons,” &c., rather than the wife of Zebedee, probably, because she might have been a widow at the time. Moreover, the following narrative directly concerned the sons of Zebedee, who were well known in the Gospel history. “With her sons,” James and John, the same who were present at the Transfiguration. “Worshipping Him.” Exhibiting profound veneration, with the view of gaining His good-will. “And asking something.” Making a general request at first, in order to bind Him by His promise to grant the particular request she wanted. Probably, she anticipated a refusal if she mentioned, in the first place, the particular thing she wanted.

St. Mark (10:35), says, that it was John and James themselves that addressed Him in very general terms, asking Him to grant whatsoever they would desire. However, there is no contradiction; for, they may be said to have asked themselves, what they employed their mother to ask on their behalf. It was likely, they availed themselves of their mother’s good offices in this matter, thinking it might be the most successful way of obtaining their request; and if there was anything deordinate or indelicate in it, the mother’s love and partiality for her children, would render it more excusable; and the claims of the mother, on the grounds of her having been among the pious females who attached themselves to our Lord (Matt. 27:55, 56), they imagined to be such as to render her a most successful intercessor. Some even say, she had claims of consanguinity on our Blessed Lord. This, however, is denied by others.

21. Our Redeemer, before committing Himself to any, even general promise, wishes beforehand, to ascertain what she wanted, thereby leaving His followers an example of wisdom in such circumstances.

She said: Grant that these my two sons,” &c. This strange petition, on the part of this mother, was occasioned, probably, by our Redeemer having said, that in the glorious manifestation of His reign, the Apostles would sit on twelve thrones, as assessors at judgment, and from His having said, on the present occasion, that He was to rise again, three days after His death. From this they at once concluded, that His glorious reign was nigh. It was the settled impression on the minds of the Apostles, that this glorious reign which they imagined would resemble, or, rather exceed, in external pomp and show, all earthly kingdoms, was near at hand (Luke 19:11; Acts 1:6). This accounts for the strange petition of the mother of the sons referred to here. Not unlikely, they apprehended that Peter might be preferred before them, notwithstanding the particular regard manifested towards them by our Lord. Hence, they wished to be beforehand in preferring this petition, to occupy the highest position in the new kingdom, next Himself, signified by sitting on His right and left (St. Chrysostom). It is disputed whether it was worldly pre-eminence, in His earthly kingdom, or spiritual pre-eminence, in His heavenly and eternal kingdom, they had in view. The opinion of St. Chrysostom, who maintains the former view, seems the more probable. Our Redeemer’s answer, which would seem to refer to His heavenly kingdom, is perfectly reconcileable with this; for, He turns the subject from earthly to heavenly and spiritual pre-eminence. The words in St. Mark (10:37), “in Thy glory,” may be understood, of the glory of His temporal kingdom, which alone they seemed at this time to appreciate.

22. Our Redeemer, with His usual meekness, excuses the carnal and inordinate ambition of His two Apostles, on the ground of ignorance. Addressing themselves directly, since He knew their mother had spoken at their instance, He says, “You know not what you ask;” on several grounds—first, because they mistook the nature of the kingdom in which they sought pre-eminence. They took the kingdom of our Lord for an earthly, temporal kingdom. Again, they imagined themselves fit for it with their present dispositions, whereas they should become other men in order to be fit for it. Moreover, they mistook the means for gaining pre-eminence; they imagined that our Redeemer could bestow it on whom He pleased, on the grounds of friendship or preference, as happens in earthly kingdoms, without any regard to merit. Hence, it is, that in order to correct their erroneous notions, in the two former respects, He asks, “Can you drink?” &c.; and He corrects the latter erroneous notion, by saying, “To sit on My right hand … is not Mine, but for whom it is prepared,” &c.

Can you drink the chalice?” &c. The word, “chalice,” the container for the thing contained, the portion of wine placed for each one at table, is frequently used in SS. Scripture, to denote the lot marked out for each one by Divine Providence, whether good and agreeable, as in Psa. 15:5; 22:5; or bitter and evil, as in Psa. 10:7; 74:9; Isa. 51:17–22; Jer. 25. Adopting this well-known form of speech, our Redeemer asks them, “Can you,” are you willing and prepared, have you sufficient strength and power of endurance, “to drink the chalice that I shall drink?” In other words, have you strength to share in the sufferings, the ignominy, the bitter death, that I have before me, as marked out in the decrees of my Eternal Father; and thus establish some claim, on the grounds of merit, to the pre-eminence you ask for? The metaphor of the “chalice,” as designating man’s destiny, is, according to some, derived from the ancient custom of giving men, condemned to death, a cup of poison, as in the case of Socrates; or, according to others, from the custom prevalent among the Jews, on the part of the master of the feast, of tempering the wine as he wished, and of assigning to each of his guests his portion—to some a better, to others a loss desirable portion.

The Greek adds, “and to be baptized with the baptism with which I am to be baptized.” St. Mark (10:38), has the same in the Vulgate version. The idea, conveyed in such baptism, is the same as that conveyed in the metaphor of the chalice. It refers to His sufferings and death, as in Luke (12:50), “I have a baptism,” &c. The metaphor of baptism, designating sufferings, is, probably, owing to the prevalent notion, that waters were expressive of suffering. Thus we find (Psa. 143:7), “Libera me de aquis multis;” also (68:3), “Infixus sum in profundi limo, veni in altitudinem maris et tempestas demersit me;” also (123:5), “Our soul hath passed through a torrent,” &c.

They say to Him: We can.” According to some expositors, James and John understood what our Redeemer referred to. But, having foolishly ambitioned what they knew not, now owing to their avidity to obtain it, they are prepared to accept any conditions; and forgetful of their own weakness and cowardice, of which the apprehensions they felt already on going to Jerusalem should have convinced them, they rashly assert, they are prepared for any sufferings. According to others, they knew not what our Redeemer meant, but they promised, from an impulse of ardent love, to join our Redeemer in any sufferings He might undergo.

23. “My chalice, indeed, you shall drink.” St. James was put to death by Herod; St. John, after being scourged, like the other Apostles, by the Jews, was cast, by the orders of Domitian, into a cauldron of boiling oil, which would have caused death, had he not been miraculously saved. He was afterwards exiled into Patmos (St. Jerome).

The words might be regarded, not so much as a prediction of future suffering, as a concession on the part of our Redeemer as if He said: “I can grant you to drink of My chalice, but to sit at My right hand, I cannot grant you.” The drinking of His chalice, and the sitting at His right hand, seem to be antithetical, the granting of one contrasted with the refusal of the other (Maldonatus).

But to sit at My right hand … is not Mine to give you.” Some lay stress on the word “you,” as if He said, I can give it to others who may merit it, according to the disposition of My Father, but to you, irrespective of merit, and in your present dispositions, I cannot give it. This interpretation would not leave the shadow of objection to the Arians against our Lord’s Divinity, the comparison instituted being, not between the power of the Father and that of the Son; but, between the persons who may be worthy or unworthy to receive pre-eminence from either the Father or the Son, who always act in concert and harmony.

Although the word, “you,” is not in the Greek; still, some of the Fathers, who adopt the Greek reading, interpret the passage in the above sense, warranted by the Vulgate (St. Chrysostom, Cyril, Theophylact, &c.), thus: it is not mine to give, after the manner or from the motives you suppose, viz., favouritism, friendship, or consanguinity.

But, to them for whom,” &c. The words, “it shall be given,” or some such, are understood to complete the sense, thus: “but it shall be given to them … by My Father,” whose providence has awarded it solely to merit. Our Redeemer does not say, it is not Mine to give it; but it belongs to My Father to do so. No; He only says, it is not Mine to grant it to any but those for whom it is prepared by My Father; thereby insinuating, that He was still the bestower of it; but, only on conditions determined by His Father, as in Luke 22:29; Apoc. 3:21. Although all external works, such as granting the pre-eminence in question, be common to the Trinity; still, by appropriation, certain external effects are ascribed to the several Persons of the Trinity. Power to the Father; wisdom to the Son, &c. Hence, the granting of pre-eminence being an act of power, may, by appropriation, be attributed to the Father. “Not mine,” might also mean, “not mine,” as man, without reference to My Father’s providence and ordination. The meaning will be quite clear, if “but” (αλλα) be interpreted, “except” (ει μη), as in Mark 9:8; 2 Cor. 2:5, &c.

24. Although, probably, at some distance from our Redeemer and the mother of the sons of Zebedee, the ten other Apostles understood, however, from our Redeemer’s reply, what the conversation referred to; subject still to carnal affections and ambitious notions (for the Holy Ghost had not yet descended on them); they may have each of them expected for himself this pre-eminence. Our Redeemer, with His usual meekness, quietly bore with this outburst of carnal indignation without any severe expression of censure.

25. He adduces two examples of a very dissimilar nature, in order to correct their false notions and cure their pride—the one derived from the conduct of earthly princes, whose principles being quite opposite to theirs, they should not, therefore, follow or adopt; the other (v. 28), from His own conduct, whom they should imitate, as their Divinely appointed model.

The princes of the Gentiles,” who know not God, and, unlike the princes among the Jews, confined by the law of God within certain bounds, are governed by no law, save their own capricious wills; men, whose conduct is the opposite of what you should follow.

Lord it over them.” The Greek word (κατακυριευουσιν) signifies, to exercise authority against “them,” that is, the Gentile peoples subject to their control, whom they rule tyrannically with a high hand, not for the good of their subjects, which should be the end of all authority, but for their own selfish purposes, to gain honour or emolument.

And they that are the greater” (ὅι μεγαλοι), the magnates vested with power. “Exercise power upon them,” practise tyranny, and unlawfully domineer over their subjects. In these words, our Redeemer wishes to convey to His Apostles, that, in thus expressing indignation, arising from inordinate ambition, they are only following the perverse example of Gentile rulers. In this there is no argument against the stern exercise of authority, civil or ecclesiastical, whenever the good of the community requires it. St. Paul inculcates obedience to civil rulers, even on the grounds of conscience. (Rom. 13) We find the same Apostle exercising spiritual authority against a scandalous sinner. (1 Cor. 5) He also expresses His readiness to repress every disobedience, and exercise power unto edification. (2 Cor. 13) St. Peter exercises authority, with effect, in the case of Ananias and Sapphire. What our Redeemer censures here, is the tyrannical exercise of power, with the vain display of authority, on the part of rulers, over their subjects. This is plainly denoted by the Greek, for, “exercise power” and “lord it.” It is the same that St. Peter prohibits in the rulers of the Church, in regard to their spiritual subjects (1 Peter 5:3).

26. “It shall not be so among you; but whosoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister.” In these words, is conveyed a line of conduct, the opposite of what is referred to in the words of the preceding verse, “and they that are greater, exercise power upon them.”

27. “And he that will be first among you … your servant.” In these words is conveyed the opposite of what is conveyed in the words, “the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them.” The idea conveyed in vv. 26, 27, is the same. There is a great diversity of opinion as to their scope and meaning. Some, with St. Jerome, hold, that the words express the mode in which we should exercise preeminence and primacy, not in the Church, but in the sight of God, and this mode is, the practice of humility and submission. The more humble we are, the higher we are in God’s sight. If any man wishes to be exalted, and to obtain pre-eminence in the sight of God, let him practice humility, and act as if he were the servant of others. From the whole context, however, it would rather seem, that the scope of our Lord is to show, not how pre-eminence and primacy are to be obtained, and sought for; but rather, how those who hold the first place of pre-eminence in the Church, should show and exercise the authority conferred on them. For, He places before them an example of persons who actually enjoy power, whose conduct in exercising power they should not imitate; and He next subjoins His own Divine example, which they should imitate, in the exercise of authority. Hence, the words mean: whosoever amongst you means to obtain pre-eminence, let him, when he obtains it, so exercise it as to be the minister and servant of all, that is, let him act with such meekness, as if those placed under him were his masters; and let him refer everything to the advantage and salvation of his people, and not to his own honour or emolument. Our Redeemer, while pointing out the manner of exercising authority and pre-eminence, employs language which would apparently apply to the manner of seeking, or, the way of arriving at power; because, this was most applicable to the circumstances of the Apostles, who ambitioned pre-eminence and power.

28. Our Redeemer proposes Himself, who was the first in His kingdom, the prince and founder of the Ecclesiastical hierarchy, as the model whom His Apostles and all vested with power, should imitate. “Even as the Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister.” Similar are His words (Luke 22:26, 27). He came not to seek His own glory, or honour, or emolument; but, the glory of His Father, and the advantage and salvation of others, going among them, doing good, ministering to their temporal and spiritual wants, with the greatest meekness and humility. And He showed how much He had the salvation and good of others at heart, when He “gives His life,” by undergoing the most ignominious death, “a redemption” (λυτρον), a ransom, a price of atonement, or redemption, which, owing to the union of the Divine Person with human nature, thus imparting infinite value to the acts performed, through His assumed nature, was not only sufficient, or abundant, but a superabundant price. By His ignominious death, He disarmed the wrath of His Father, outraged by sin, and rescued us from the power of the devil, to whom God handed us over as slaves, to be tormented. “For many.” The word, “many,” means, all mankind, who are many. St. Paul (1 Tim. 2:6) says, “He gave Himself a redemption for all.” The word, “many,” frequently bears this meaning (v. 16; Rom. 5:19; Isa. 53), “multorum peccata tulit.” And St. Paul expressly states, that Christ died for all (2 Cor. 5:14; 1 John 2:2), “a propitiation for the sins of the whole world.” Or, if we take “many” in a limited sense, so as not to embrace all; then, the words will mean, that, although He died for all, in the sense that He wished to save all, and for this end furnished them with sufficient graces; still, this did not actually profit all unto salvation, but only the just, who persevered and died in grace. These though not comprising all, are many.

29. On His way from Ephraim to Jerusalem, He passed through Jericho; and great multitudes followed Him, attracted by the fame of His doctrine and miracles. Possibly, the idea that His glorious reign was nigh at hand (Luke 19:11), might have attracted in still greater crowds those who were witnesses of the miracle He was soon to perform.

30. “And behold, two blind men,” &c. It is generally agreed upon, that there is reference here to the same miracle recorded (Mark 10:46). St. Mark, however, speaks only of one blind man, called, Bar-Timeus, the son of Timeus. It is likely, He speaks of him, omitting all mention of the other, as being so well known in the country. It is a subject much disputed, whether reference is made to the same by St. Luke (18:35). For, according to him, the miracle which he records took place when our Redeemer “drew nigh, to Jericho;” whereas here, the miracle is said to have occurred when He was leaving Jericho. Hence, it is supposed by some, that there is question of two distinct miracles. (St. Augustine, Jansenius, &c.) Others maintain, that there is reference to the same miracle here and in St. Luke; since the account is, in every respect, identical, except in the circumstance relating to the approach to or departure from Jericho; but these maintain, that the contradiction in this latter point is more apparent than real; since, it might happen, that on our Redeemer’s approaching Jericho, the blind men presented themselves, and being unheeded by our Lord, they might again have presented themselves, as He was leaving, and been then cured (A. Lapide). Others reconcile both narratives, by giving the word, “approach,” the meaning of, being near to, Jericho.

Son of David, have mercy on us.” These blind men proclaim aloud, that they regarded Him as the promised Messiah, who was to be born of the seed of David, and whom the Jewish people were anxiously expecting, at this time, owing to the several circumstances predicted by the Prophet regarding Him, having been fulfilled. (John 4:25; Luke 3:15). Their minds having been interiorly enlightened by faith, they call aloud: Lord, whom we believe to be the long-expected Messiah, the son of David, Thou seest our great misery in not being able to see the sun of heaven, “have mercy on us,” and remove our blindness. They doubt not His power. They proclaim His human nature, “son of David;” and His Divine nature also, “have mercy on us.” Confessing His Divine power, they proclaim that all He wanted was the will to cure them.

31. The crowd, who accompanied our Lord, imagining that the excessive importunity of these men might be offensive to Him, as He did not, at first, seem to attend to them; and thinking they were only asking for an ordinary alms, “rebuked them.” It might be, that some among the crowd felt hurt at these blind men addressing Him as “the son of David.” But, these cried out the louder, “Son of David,” &c.

32. Our Lord seemed not to attend to the cries of these blind men, at first, in order to teach us to persevere in prayer; and also to show, that He was not anxious to perform the miracle from any empty display; and by deferring its performance, He wished to render the evidence of its having taken place, the more indisputable. He, then, as if overcome by the importunity, perseverance, and strong faith of these wretched men, called them, and asked what they wanted. This He knew already; however, their answer would render the miracle less liable to cavil, by their admitting that they were blind, and wanted to have their sight restored.

33. “Lord, that our eyes be opened,” which Thou hast power to do, if Thou wilt, and thus, Thou shalt exhibit the signs of the Messiah, “tunc aperientur oculi cæcorum” (Isa. 35:5).

34. “Having compassion.” The Greek word, σπλαγχνιθεις, expresses inward visceral compassion, which, most likely, displayed itself in His eyes and countenance. “He touched their eyes, and immediately they ran and followed Him,” like the rest of the crowd; thus, giving the clearest proof of the reality of the miracle that was performed on them.

This was the fifth instance of the cure of blind men by our Redeemer. The first is recorded, Matt. 9:27; second, Matt. 12:22; third, Mark 8:24; fourth, John 9; fifth, here; sixth, Matt. 21:14.








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