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Commentaries on Matthew

INTRODUCTION

Who was Matthew, known also as Levi? We read in the Bible that he was a tax collector and that Jesus called him to be one of his apostles (Mt 9:9 and Mk 2:13). Yet we know for certain that the Gospel under his name was drawn up in its actual form towards the year 80 CE that is after his death. Could the author have been one of his disciples and used a first draft compiled by Matthew? (See Introduction to New Testament.) Most probably this Gospel was written in a Christian community of both Jews and Greeks, possibly at Antioch (see Acts 12:19 and 13). It was a time deeply marked by conflict between Jews and Christians, when the Jewish community – suffering terribly from the war with Rome that destroyed the nation – was reorganizing itself under the direction of the Pharisees. These latter had only recently decided to exclude all Jews who believed in Jesus and were members of a Christian community.
This Gospel intends to assure Christians that they have no reason to be troubled even if their own people reject them. The very fact that the Jewish community did not recognize its Messiah resulted in the loss of its right to speak and to decide about God’s promises. Matthew refers to numerous texts in the Old Testament to prove that Christians are the true heirs of the people of the covenant.
In this perspective the whole history of Jesus is presented as a conflict, ending in a separation. The turning point corresponds with the end of chapter 13 where Jesus no longer speaks to the crowd, but to his disciples.
Matthew was impressed by the fact that Jesus during his two or three years of ministry presented himself most often as a preacher, as a teacher of Scripture. He therefore insists on the words of Jesus, which are more numerous in his Gospel than in the others.
It does not surprise us then that Matthew builds his gospel around five “discourses,” in which he has put together the words of Jesus spoken on different occasions. These discourses are:
– The New Law: 5-7.
– Instructions to Missionaries: 10.
– Parables of the Kingdom: 13.
– Admonitions for the Christian community: 18.
– The Future of the Church: 23-25.

1.1 Many books in the Bible are careful to show that the events and persons they speak about are rooted in earlier history, for the whole Bible draws its strength from a continuity of history and from the fidelity of God to his promises. That is the meaning of this list of ancestors. Matthew prefers to call it as do the other books of the Bible: the document of the origins.
Luke 3:23 has another genealogy of Jesus that aims to emphasize his solidarity with the whole human race.
There are 42 names on the list, arranged in three series of 14 names each, a symbolic number for the Jews. It is obvious that it is not a complete list.
Jesus is the son of Abraham. Abraham is the father of the believers. God promised to unite all nations around his race. Jesus is also the son of David: all Israel knew that the Savior would be a descendant of David.
The first series of names appears in Ruth 4:18. The second is made up of kings, descendants of David, mentioned in the Book of Kings. The Bible does not say anything about the descendants of Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:3).
The list extends to Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus (v. 16). Among the Jews, this adoption was sufficient for Jesus to be considered, like Joseph, son of David.
Four names included in the list belong to women, all described in the Bible: Tamar, who gave everything so as not to lose the divine blessings; Rahab, a foreign prostitute whom the Bible praises (Jos 2); Ruth, another foreigner of exemplary conduct; and the widow of Uriah, the beautiful Bathsheba, who shared David’s sin.
All of this background discreetly announces him who came down to save sinners and to open the Kingdom of Israel to the multitudes coming from the pagan world.
The Savior is the flower and fruit of our earth and of the chosen race at the same time (Is 45:8). God led the Jewish people to a degree of human and religious maturity where the coming and teaching of Jesus would take on its full meaning.
We must understand that we are in solidarity with Christ first of all through human ties. The history of the present time, as well as the history of our families, prepares the second coming of Christ to humankind.

• 18. The wording of verse 16 should be noted. Jesus is not the son of Joseph. The beginning of the paragraph intends to remind us that Jesus is both a legitimate son of David through Joseph and the Son of God conceived through the Holy Spirit by a virgin-mother.
These short and almost bashful sentences do not dare to unveil the mystery of Mary, the virgin through whom life on earth touches God and offers itself as an oblation. A messenger breaks through the night and speaks with silent words: the world is open to the active presence of God.
Mary was engaged. Engagements gave to the Jewish people practically every right of marriage, especially conjugal rights. The only difference was that women continued to live under the parents’ tutelage and in their parental home. The Jews were markedly a “macho” society. A woman necessarily belonged to a man, either to her father, her husband, or her son. Mary was already the wife of Joseph, but she could not be under his authority until he brought her to his home (vv. 20 and 24).
With reference to the virginity of Mary, see Luke 1:26.
The virginity of Mary was not in keeping with the Jewish mentality that gave first place to fecundity. It was not so unusual that Joseph would accept such a situation. At this time certain Jews belonging to the party of the Essenes lived celibacy, as did the monks.
Joseph made plans to divorce her secretly. The Gospel is not precise as to his reasons for so doing. In any case it is unthinkable that people might have doubted Mary’s fidelity.
The intervention of the angel in the Gospel is not to reassure Joseph but to inform him of his role in the plan of God: You shall call him ‘Jesus’, and you will receive him as your son.” Joseph was a “descendant of David” and Jesus adopted by Joseph would be a legitimate descendant of David. Most probably Mary did not even belong to the tribe of Judah, which was that of David, but like her cousin Elizabeth, she belonged to a family of priests of the tribe of Levi.

• 2.1 From the first Christian generations there have been popular narratives trying to relate all that was not known about Jesus and not part of the Gospel. These closely resembled the Jewish stories of the childhood of Abraham and Moses. The wise men, the star and the massacre of the children of Bethlehem have sprung directly from those stories and it is useless today to study astronomical maps to find a comet that was visible at that time.
In this chapter then, Matthew uses these stories without the slightest problem about their authenticity. He uses them to show how Jesus lived in his own way what his people had undergone. That accounts for the quotations from the Old Testament with each one repeating the phrase: “in this way… was fulfilled….” It is a way of saying that the texts should be reread. They spoke of the people, and at the same time they announced the coming of Jesus. In a way, he would live what had already been lived – journeying, searching, rejoicing, grieving – but with him all would have a new meaning.
The Wise Men could have been respected priests and seers of Zoroastrian religion. Here they stand for all the non-biblical religions. While the Jewish priests, chiefs of the people of God, do not receive notice of the birth of Jesus, God communicates the news to some of his friends in the pagan world. This lesson is good for all times: Jesus is the Savior of all people, and not only of those who belong to the Church.
The star reminds us that God calls each one according to him or her own personality. Jesus calls the fishermen of Galilee after a miraculous catch of fish; the pagans who look at the stars, God calls by means of a star. God knows how to communicate with us by means of events and through our own ideals, which guide us as stars. Whatever be the way, it will lead us to the one who is the light of God.

• 13. In relating the story about the slaughter of innocent children and the flight into Egypt, Matthew quotes two verses from the prophets Hosea and Jeremiah about the trials and sufferings of God’s people in past times. Jesus must live in exile and anguish, as did his ancestors. Persecution begins with his birth and will follow him till his death. Mary (and Joseph to a lesser degree) was associated with Jesus’ sufferings and saving mission.
Christian tradition has always held that the “Innocents” associated with the Passion of Christ without having wished it also shared in his glory without having merited it. This invites us to be mindful of the fact that the mysterious love of God envelops millions of massacred children and other hundreds of millions killed before seeing the light of day. What should we think of so many stifled possibilities? Individuals and society responsible for this disaster suffer the consequences; but God has all destinies in hand, he knows them in advance, and no one by destroying life is able to limit God’s generosity. No matter how much innocent blood the enemies of the Gospel spill, they will not be able to extinguish the Church or to block God’s plans.

• 19. The return to Nazareth. Here we have the end of these stories that are intended to introduce us to the Gospel. They announce the mission of Christ: savior misjudged by his own, hounded by authority, he will turn towards the pagan nations. For Galilee was considered by the Jews of Judea as half-foreign and pagan (4:15). Jesus was to remain thirty years in this small village where he grew up and worked as a “carpenter” (Mk 6:3) while the world waited for salvation.

• 23. He shall be called a Nazorean. Matthew plays with this word that brings to mind nezer, or shoot (Is 11:1) and nazorite (Num 6). In those days there were religious groups who preached and baptized, as did John, and they were considered nazorites. Jesus was both nezer and nazorite.
Many people wonder what Jesus did between the ages of twelve, when he was seen in the Temple (Lk 2:41), and thirty, the approximate age of Jesus when he began his ministry. False pretenders take advantage of this Gospel’s silence to speculate that Jesus went to India to learn magic and how to work miracles from the Hindu wonder workers, or even that he visited some outer-space goblins. It does not take much to imagine things!
Let us remember, first of all, that the Gospel is not a biography of Jesus, a narration of his life from birth to death. It seeks only to tell us the most important deeds and words of Jesus by which he gives us his message. It does not tell us what Jesus looked like, whether he was tall or stout, blond or dark, and many other things that did not interest the first Christians. The Gospels of Mark and John open with Jesus’ baptism by John, after which Jesus began teaching. Later on, Matthew and Luke wrote a little about Jesus’ childhood to help us understand the secret of his person.
Secondly, let us read Matthew 13:54-56. The people of Nazareth, astounded by his deeds, do not say: surely Jesus has learned this in foreign countries because he was abroad so much. They wonder: what has happened to the carpenter’s son? We have known him for a long time… what has happened to him?
Thirdly, we can say that to speak the word of God is at the same time to speak a word of human experience. The prophets speak words of God, not as a tape recorder, but as people who feel something and have something to cry out. Jesus could not speak the word of God if he had not acquired, as a man, an exceptional wisdom of what is inside man (Jn 2:25). The years Jesus spent in Nazareth were not really lost. He absorbed the culture of his people and observed events affecting his nation experiencing manual labor, human relations, feelings, suffering and oppression. Jesus had to experience all these things to be our savior, so that his words would be true, weighty and valuable for all times.

• 3.1 We have just said that the real beginning of the Gospel is the preaching of John the Baptist. Here Matthew compares Jesus with John, John’s baptism with that of Jesus. See commentaries on Mk 1:1 and Lk 3.

• 13. In this baptism Jesus identifies himself with his people, more precisely with this world of “untitled” people who went to hear a call to conversion. For him it is an occasion of deep religious experience recalling that of the great prophets. What the voice says gives Jesus his mission. He will be Son and Servant of the Father (Ps 2 and Is 42:1).

• 4.1 The commentary of this event is partly found in Luke’s Gospel (4:1-13).
Jesus is then Son of God in the sense this word had in his time: he is sent as king, prophet and savior and he knows it. How will he live this and how will God act towards his Son? He will be put to the test in the desert. In reality Jesus would undergo this test throughout his ministry: his opponents would ask for signs and miracles, and his own disciples would want him to center more on himself. It is this permanent test that is here presented in a figurative way. The Gospel intentionally places this temptation in the desert at the beginning, and affirms that Jesus defeated the evil spirit before he had begun his mission.
After spending forty days and nights without food, Jesus was hungry. This duration of forty days (which symbolically represents the forty weeks a child remains in its mother’s womb in preparation for a new birth) was already present in the life of Moses and Elijah: Ex 24:18; 1 K 19:8. This fast is for Jesus what the command to sacrifice his son had been for Abraham, and for Moses the rebellion of a thirsty people or the incident of the golden calf. In a moment of full lucidity, when Jesus felt physically exhausted and spiritually strengthened by his fast, the devil tried to convince him that it was impossible to carry out his mission with the means God had proposed.
Strange as it is, the Gospel presents this encounter of Jesus with the tempter (devil) as a discussion on biblical texts between masters of the Law. The purpose, no doubt, is to show us that even biblical texts may lead us astray if we are without a spirit of obedience to God. The three temptations recall to mind those of the Hebrews in the desert (Ex 16:2; Ex 17:1; Ex 32). At the waters of Massah they grumbled against God for leading them where the going was difficult; later they put God to the test: “Could not he do something for them?” Finally they exchanged God and his Glory for another god of their own making: a golden calf. Jesus replies by quoting three texts from Deuteronomy, a book that speaks at length of the rebellion of the people of God in the desert. The perfect obedience of the Son contrasts with the infidelity of the Father’s chosen people.
Jesus is victor in this trial, but after him the Church will have to confront these same temptations. She could be tempted to satisfy human desires instead of offering true salvation. Jesus teaches us to be strong against the tricks of the devil in using, as he did, the word of God.
The angels came to serve him. After rejecting the temptations, Jesus finds total peace. His purity of heart opens up for him a spiritual world hidden from human eyes, a world as real as the material things and beings surrounding him. In this spiritual world, as Son of God he is king among the spirits who are servants of his Father (see commentary on Dn 12:6).

• 17. Change your ways. The Greek word is oftentimes translated as “convert”, or “repent”. In 3:11 we put “change of heart”, which is the closest to the Greek word. This term can be understood in many ways. In the mouth of John the Baptist, “Be converted” means “turn away from your sins.” With Jesus, “conversion” means a renewal of life from inside out. The Gospel will tell us that this renewal follows the discovery of God’s mercy and is the work of his Spirit within us (see commentary on Mk 1:14).
The kingdom of heaven is near. The Jews at that time said “kingdom of Heaven” instead of “kingdom of God” (see commentary on Mt 5:1). Jesus proclaims that God comes to reign among us meaning that we receive definitive salvation.
The Ten Cities (v. 25). This is the territory also called Decapolis, where Jews and non-Jews were mixed. Let us note that Jesus’ ministry begins, not at the heart of Israel, but where is felt the presence of that majority of humankind who have not yet received the word of God.

• 5.1 Jesus went up the mountain. Matthew places this discourse somewhere in the hill country bordering the lake of Tiberias. The reason for mentioning a mountain is to remind us of Mount Sinai where Moses received the Law (Ex 19). In this first “discourse of Jesus” (see Introduction) Matthew presents him as a Master giving to Israel and to all humankind the new and definitive Law. The formula: but I say to you is repeated six times in order to highlight the contrast between the Law of Moses and the New Law.
Fortunate! This first paragraph introduces the new people of God; to them the Law is given. Let us not forget that for the Bible, the Law is not only a matter of commandments; it includes also God’s interventions and declarations which have made Israel a special people, called to a world mission. The Law had been given to the “children of Abraham and Israel” who were guided out of Egypt by Moses. Exclamations like these abound: How fortunate you are, Israel! Meaning: What luck to have been chosen! And How privileged you are to be God’s people among all other nations! You are indeed fortunate for it is to you that God has spoken (Dt 33:29; Ps 144:15; Bar 4:4).
Right away the Gospel speaks of a converted people of God. No longer the people of the twelve tribes, with their land, their language, their frontiers, their national ambitions, but rather those God will seek among all nations. Who are these chosen ones who surely must consider themselves overjoyed to be so called? They are the poor, those who weep, those who have often been tempted to curse their misfortune, their sins, their personal conflicts.
Here Matthew gives us eight beatitudes, while Luke 6:20-26 has only four. It is not important, however, for they form but one theme. The main difference between Matthew and Luke arises from the fact that their beatitudes are addressed to two different groups.
Luke presents the Beatitudes in the way they were proclaimed by Jesus. In Luke, Jesus addresses the whole assembly of common people, speaking as one of them. Like the prophets he speaks boldly and clearly: you, the poor, are the first beneficiaries of the promises of God.
Matthew instead adapts Jesus’ words to his audience of Christian believers. The Church had already spread and Christian communities brought together all kind of people: slaves, ordinary people and wealthy ones. Matthew tells them that the Gospel is significant for each of them. It is not only by being poor that they will please God, but by their inner attitude and way of life. He says: Fortunate are those who are spiritually poor, adding the pure of heart, those who work for peace…
Luke points out those to whom the Gospel gives priority: the masses who are poor, the workers, the peasants and the marginalized. Matthew for his part teaches those already within the Church how they should behave to be worthy of the God who chose them.
Those said to be “fortunate” are not so because of what they suffer: the expression would not ring true. They are fortunate because they are admitted to the Kingdom.
The kingdom of heaven is theirs (v. 3) and following immediately: they possess the land. There is no real contradiction, it is only apparent.
First of all we must understand the term Heaven as used in Jesus’ time. Being exceedingly respectful of God, the Jews would not pronounce his name, referring to him with other words like Heaven, The Glory, The Power… The kingdom of Heaven means literally the kingdom of God, like the Father of Heaven means simply: God the Father. On reading the word Heaven, remember that Jesus usually meant by this word, not the reward we will obtain after death “in heaven,” but the kingdom of God that comes to us on this earth together with Jesus.
Likewise we translated as a great reward is kept for you in God (v. 12) the sentence that says “is kept for you in heaven.”
The real meaning of the land must also be understood. This land, for the Bible, was Palestine, because it was there that God would come to save his people. The Gospel, in turn, does not oppose what is material with what is spiritual: actually, the term “spiritual” is not used at all throughout the Gospel. When God spoke through the prophets, he promised his people a world where all their needs would be satisfied: banquets with wine aplenty (Is 25:6), long life, a land well-watered, freedom from oppression, a kingdom of justice. Over and above all that, God would live among his people and to them he would communicate his Spirit: They will be my people and I will be their God (Ezk 37:27).
In the Beatitudes, the kingdom of God is at the same time the land of Palestine promised to the children of Abraham and the land where peace reigns for God is present there. Those who hunger for justice will be given both bread and the holiness of God, because in the Bible justice also signifies: being as God wishes us to be. Because of this Jesus tells us that we shall be satisfied or consoled. Our consolation on earth is to know and see that God loves us and cares for us and in spite of all, can overturn the situation of the oppressed. It is also to know that even when it seems he does not hear our prayer, our cross has meaning and purpose. Finally we must not forget that in our future life God will give us more than we could ever hope for or merit. It is certain, however, that Matthew more than Luke, has reorientated the language of Jesus, inviting us to look higher than what is immediate.
Waiting lasted until the coming of Jesus. Jesus tells us that a new age has begun: God is with us and his Kingdom is already here for those with a clean heart, meaning that their desires have been purified: they will see God.
Fortunate – the persecuted. Matthew, like Luke, develops this last beatitude, for, no matter wherever we are, we cannot live the Gospel without suffering persecution.

• 13. Jesus has just designated those who are called to the Kingdom. First of all he will clarify their mission: to be the light of the world and not merely a light in the world. This does not mean that all people are to enter the Church, but that the Church has to be salt and light to the world. The Bible mentions salt as the element that preserves food. The covenant of salt was the covenant of God with those who were to serve him forever (Num 18:19). So the disciples of Jesus are called salt of the earth because through them the world benefits from the lasting Covenant with God. They must continually enkindle in the world the desire and struggle for true justice and perfection, and not allow human societies to become satisfied with mediocrity.
You are the light: Jesus does not mean “You are the best in the world,” but “God has chosen you to be a minority and through you he will make himself known.” You will experience, (both you and the Church) much that you would perhaps prefer to avoid, but which will be for the world, a sign from God.

• 14. Children of light: Eph 5:8; 1 P 2:12; 1 Thes 5:4.

• 17. Here begins the presentation of the new Law. It is far from what is often sought in a religion: practices to observe, fasts, prayers, good works with which one wins salvation. Jesus says little about this because the Bible has dealt at length with this subject, and the study of the Bible itself shows that these laws and practices are always linked to a certain culture, and have to be adapted to the times.
Law (v. 18): At times this word indicates all the religion of Israel. The Law and the Prophets: was a way of indicating the whole Bible.
Not the smallest letter or stroke of the Law will change until all is fulfilled (v. 18). Jesus does not refer to the commandments. Rather he affirms that the religion founded on the Old Testament’s Scripture was a temporary, yet necessary, step in the history of salvation. The prophecies had to be fulfilled; the rites and sacrifices of that religion expressed in a veiled manner the mystery of sin and mercy that would be fulfilled in the person and the work of Jesus. With him comes the perfect and definitive fellowship of God with humankind.
For us as well, observing the laws of the Bible is not an end in itself. They are an expression of real love and are its guidelines. In obeying them we become receptive to the Spirit who will lead us. In this way we discover a “righteousness” or perfection far superior to the canonists of the time: the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees.
In 5:19 Jesus is referring to the commandments.
In 5:20, If you are not righteous in a better way, Jesus refers to the spirit of the Law.
Just when he is about to teach a new way of understanding the Law of God, Jesus warns us against the temptation of the easy way. Many could misinterpret the words of Jesus and say: It would be better if religion were less demanding and easier to practice! Because of this, Jesus points out that anyone who does not intend to fulfill the entire Law will not enter the Kingdom; nor will those who have ready excuses for their laziness: these commandments are not so important! To those who obey the Law, Jesus shows the spirit of the Law. For such as these the Gospel is not a comfortable road, but the call to a more perfect life.

• 21. Here we have the beginning of the opposites: You have heard… but now I tell you. This formula will be repeated six times.
Jesus alludes to the reading of the Bible which takes place each Sabbath in the synagogues; just as in the Church today each week has its assigned readings. It was the Hebrew text or its Aramaic translation (the spoken language) that was used. The leaders of the synagogue or visitors passing through gave a commentary. Jesus was known for speaking often in the assemblies and it is highly probable that he would have often said: You have heard (vv. 21, 27, 38) and I tell you, for he spoke with authority (Mt 7:29).
Jesus does not question the demands of the Bible, nor is he satisfied with a mere commentary; the law of Christ is a call for purification of heart, that is, of our intentions and our desires. It is a fresh enlightenment born of a new experience of God. When we turn towards the Father (and that is the great innovation: the imitation of God the Father: 5:48), we discover how imperfect are the human criteria of morality. Therefore, let us not call sin only that which is seen or condemned as such by people. Indeed my sins are all the bad thoughts that I keep inside and that produce evil fruits when the opportunity comes. See also Mt 12:34.
Until you have paid the last penny (v. 26). Repairing the damage means more than just returning the money I have illegally taken. I must also question why I am so weak that I am carried away by any desire.
Often we recognize how lukewarm our love for God is and how short-lived our perseverance in doing good. This is the result of many years of wrongdoing. We are able to forget about the wrong we have done, but we fail to repair the damage caused to our whole person. Although we may feel happy and unconcerned, we carry a load within ourselves from the unsettled debts and accounts.
If we are not purified during this life, we will be during or after our death. The Church calls this painful purification “purgatory.” The transformation that should take place in us (1 Cor 15:51) is impossible unless the Spirit has completely burned out (Mt 3:11) our roots of evil.

• 27. Do not commit adultery. For many, conjugal fidelity is a burdensome and old-fashioned law, which they merely admire in others. Jesus replaces fidelity among the laws of the interior world, where God, the Faithful One is to reign.
If your right eye… Here we must underline the opposition between: your hand, your eye, and: you. In another place Jesus will say that we must be able to give up everything, but here he dares to add: even your physical integrity.
All of us are looking for happiness, promotion and security, but what are those criteria worth? All strive to live fully their life and enjoy without limits their own health and body, but here Jesus tells us that true life is elsewhere and that true self creates itself while accepting mutilations of the present life.
Is it only a matter of sacrificing what could drag us to “major fault and sin”? The word of Jesus goes far beyond. As much as we complain about the misery and meaninglessness of our life, we conserve it at any cost with the hope of still enjoying this world. What if real sin were to avoid any risk and self-sacrifice when God is calling?
Jesus speaks of a hell of fire, because there is nothing worse than this final result: a lost life that has not been fruitful, and the abortion of our eternal self.

• 31. Anyone who divorces his wife… See commentaries on Mk 10:1; Mt 19:3.
Here this saying of Jesus is given as an example of the courageous decisions that a Christian may be called upon to make. God sometimes asks for heroic sacrifices. The one who does not choose the difficult way necessarily loses something of the Gospel.
Except in the case of unlawful union. These words are not found in the other quotations of this saying of Jesus. Why did Matthew put them? In fact there are two possible interpretations.
First, it can be understood that one spouse has an extra licentious relationship, and then the other is allowed to separate.
Second, it can be understood that the one entering the Church through baptism is living with an unlawful union, and then this marriage or concubinage does not tie him.

• 33. Do not take an oath. This sentence must not be understood: “You shall never take an oath”, but: “In a general way, don’t take oaths.”
Many invoke the name of God on any occasion. Is it because they truly know him and have him in mind? If we use his name casually, it is because we do not experience the weight of his presence. What a lack of respect to call on God to testify to our sincerity when we do not even recognize all that is false and unclean within us!
All the rest comes from the devil, and even the preoccupation of defending and justifying oneself in the eyes of others. See also Mt 23:16; James 5:12.

• 38. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We read this in the Bible because in the world of that time it was a wholesome maxim (Dt 19:18-21). It claimed to put a limit to the thirst for vengeance and reminded judges and the community itself of the duty to defend its members against those who abuse the weak.
Do not oppose evil with evil. Jesus asks us to approach an adversary in the same way as this adversary may be approaching us: who is the wicked one?
Offer the other cheek: be the first to be free of the web of violence. As in judo, surprise the other by making the very move he was not expecting: he may then see that he was mistaken. Jesus has no doubt that this renunciation of violence and of our own interests obliges the Father to intervene and come to our aid. Do not forget that Jesus wants us to “see God” at work in our lives.
If someone forces you to go one mile. Jesus speaks to farmers who are humiliated and oppressed by foreign armies. Many times they are obliged to carry the burden of the soldiers Their usual reaction is resigned submission concealing hatred and desire for revenge. Would they be capable of responding to such a counsel? It is certain that had they practiced it, they might have saved their nation from destruction.

• 43. Love your neighbor. Here we come to the last of the opposites between the Old Law and the New. The Old Testament spoke of loving a neighbor and this was a matter of solidarity among the members of the people of God. With the Gospel the word “love” is not only given a wider dimension: it introduces us into a world totally different. Solidarity within the group is supported by an instinct inscribed in nature. This love however does not cross the frontiers that separate social groups: these only exist and find their identity in opposing others.
Do not do good to your enemy: The text is not found in the Bible as it stands but its equivalent is in several places (Dt 7:2). Referring to enemies of the nation rather than to personal enemies, we are asked to be wary of them, not to help them and even to exterminate them, rather than share their errors. If in many countries today it is understood that there is no frontier for love, it must be recognized that this ideal is a fruit of the Gospel: Jesus has enlightened our minds by asking us to model the love of our neighbor on the universal love of God the Father. We have only to open a newspaper to see that this love of neighbor, whatever he be, and even if he comes from a social, national or religious group, in enmity with ours, remains incomprehensible to the majority, even in Christian countries. When we realize that there is a place for everyone in the present world and that God directs everything for the benefit of all, we see things as God does and are perfect as the Father is perfect.
Love your enemies: Mk 12:31; Lk 10:27; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; Rom 12:20; Lk 23:34; Acts 7:60; Rom 12:14; Eph 5:1.

• 6.1 After the six opposites (“but I say to you”), Matthew gives us three examples of another secret without which we shall not see God: work for him alone without wanting anyone to know, and in such a way that we ourselves will have immediately forgotten what we have done.
Those who make a show. The expression appears three times with reference to good deeds, prayer and fasting. Jesus uses a word often translated as “being hypocrites,” which refers in a general way to those who make a show, or who are shallow, and make fun of the things of God.
It is perhaps difficult not to want to be seen by others, but it is far more difficult to do good without looking at oneself and being satisfied because: “I am good.” It is, nevertheless, the way of enabling us to enter into the secrets of God.

• 7. The value of prayer does not lie in the quantity of words and the mere repetition of formulas, as if accomplishing a task. The value of prayer lies chiefly in our inner attitude of faith and love of God. We should try to lift our mind and heart to God as a Father and a friend, a God who loves us and is always waiting for us to share a silent moment with him. To pray is not to talk much, but to surrender our lives into God’s loving hands.
Jesus gives the Our Father to his disciples as the perfect prayer coming from the heart of God’s children, expressing as it does, what they should ask and the order in which the requests should be made. Actually we have two texts of the Our Father; Luke’s text is shorter (11:1). Many hold that Matthew gives a slightly enlarged formula and better composed which was generally used in the first Christian generation, but this is not at all certain. In Matthew’s text there are twelve verses expressing seven petitions: two perfect numbers. Three (God’s number) that refers to God, four (earth’s number) that refers to our needs. In the language spoken by Jesus, the key word is come: Your kingdom come.
The contemporaries of Jesus used the word Heaven to signify God, because they would not pronounce his name. Jesus says likewise: Father in Heaven, meaning: God the Father.
For us the limitless sky by day and by night is the image of a wonderful world where God is everything. In calling on our Father in Heaven, we do not mean that he is far or near, above or below or inside. We only intend to raise our spirits to Him. We recognize that our words are not worthy, that our concerns are selfish and limited, when we compare them with the breadth of His thoughts and the generosity of His love. That we can address him and call him Father is not something natural, but a very special privilege. “My Father,” says Jesus; also: “Your Father.” For he is the only one, and we are adopted children, by the mercy of God who allowed us to be born again (Jn 3:1).
The Bible speaks of God, and also of the Name of God. All of creation is but a manifestation of God, and he fills this universe. He is not contained in it, nor is he in a determined place. Because of this, we speak of his Name as a way of designating his active presence, radiance, and splendor which covers everything. It is rather like acknowledging that there is a distance between what we know of him and what he is.
Holy be your name! May your Name be known and proclaimed Holy! May your splendor and generosity be seen in those who become your children. May your perfection be recognized through their good works (5:16). May your presence and your riches be welcomed by those who keep your word, according to John 14:23. The Father only wants to pour out his holiness and happiness on the children he has chosen and loved. He wants to seal us with his Name so that, day and night, we will be united with him, like the Father and the Son are united by the Holy Spirit.
Your Kingdom come. With the coming of Jesus, that Kingdom has come near to us. God reigns in every place where people have known him through the teaching of Jesus. There he can act without danger of being misinterpreted for he is now known for what he is. The believers now perceive him, not as a God who imposes obligations, nor as a Savior more powerful than the evil ones, but they recognize him in the gift of his Son, in the humiliation of the Son and in their mutual love. From this discovery, love and mercy pour forth and, in time, we will see on earth some fruits of this Kingdom. The reconciled children of God are a leavening element in society, and the whole of humanity with its projects, labor, economic and political plans moves towards a common goal: everyone and everything must return to the Father.
Whether we are good, bad or indifferent, the Kingdom of God will come, with or without our help, because it is actually already here.
Your will be done. These are the words of Jesus in Gethsemane (Mt 26:39). This prayer condemns many of our prayers through which we want to force God to act. Some people consider themselves to have faith because they always wait for God to solve their problems. The children of God instead lift up their spirit to him so that God’s will may be, at last, their own will.
On earth as in heaven. This applies to the previous three petitions. It reminds us that everything in this world that is created and subject to time depends on another, uncreated world, where time does not exist and which is nothing less than the mystery of God. There the Father, source of the divine being, enjoys his infinite perfection in the mutual gift of the divine persons. In him there is neither sadness nor resentment and before him are the elect: he sees them as they will be after the resurrection. He sees the universe unified in Christ and his will fulfilled and glorified by all. We, who live in time, are in anguish because of an imperfect situation, in a world in labor where evil appears to triumph. We pray that everything may come about according to the initial plan of God, as it truly will.
We ask the Father for the bread he has promised to those who listen to his word. Modern people believe that their material welfare depends only on their own effort. The Bible, however, says that it depends on both God and us. Alone we can bring some economic miracles about for a while, but we may waste the accumulated riches. Only by listening to the word of God (Dt 8:3) will people have bread and be able to distribute it. A person who expects from God, not his or her bread but our bread, will strive to find work, to work in useful ways, and to promote justice where he is working.
What should we say? The bread “we need” or our “daily” bread or sustenance? The original text uses a difficult word that has different meanings. Many have understood that the children of God feel the need of much more than what is asked for the body and that the eucharist was already meant as it is in the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves.
The Our Father speaks of debts that we must forgive (6:12). In 6:14, we read wrongs. Jesus considers debts and wrongs as the same thing. When we forgive someone who asks for forgiveness, we are not doing that person a favor, nor do we deserve any credit for doing it; we actually free ourselves from some rancor or hatred that is poisoning us. Inasmuch as we stick to our rights, we hold fast to this world. God wants to forgive us and bring us closer to him, but how can he if we remain anchored to the things of this world?
Jesus speaks to the poor who are accustomed to being burdened with debts, which many times they cannot settle. They are obliged to live together with neighbors they have not chosen. All this increases the occasions for offending one another. Many people today live very independent lives and hold as an ideal not to owe anything to anyone. This independence can make it harder for us to understand God’s mercy towards us, poor as we really are before God.
Do not bring us to the test. Thus speak those who know their weaknesses and little faith.
We will be more prudent if we know that the enemy is not simply evil, but the evil one. Somebody stronger than ourselves is watching to deceive us, to make us lose faith and fall, as soon as we feel sure of ourselves and abandon the means given by Jesus for perseverance in the faith and in the Church.
See another shorter text in Luke 11:1.

• 16. Here Jesus neither justifies nor condemns fasting. He himself fasted: 4:2; 9:15; 17:21. Fasting is unworthy when done to obtain human approval rather than God’s.
All religions know fasting. It is a way of calling upon God, especially when great misfortunes come upon us (Jl 2:12); it befits people who feel guilty, and want to move to compassion the One who forgives them (Jon 3:5). It also teaches self-control and integrates our energies in preparation for divine communication (Ex 34:28).
Scripture puts limited emphasis on fasting. The prophets asserted that fasting without justice towards the neighbor is of no use: Is 58; Zec 7:4.
From the time of Gandhi, persons and groups have also used fasting as a means of social pressure, as a political weapon to call attention to some demands. This is all right, although it is different from the religious fast of which Jesus speaks. The difference is that a religious fast is addressed to God, not to public opinion (Mt 6:18), and it entails an inner disposition of conversion and sorrow for personal sin on the part of the fasting person.

• 19. Do not store up treasures. The Gospel says: “Do not treasure treasures,” treasures meaning those savings held in reserve rather than something that is loved. For centuries the majority of human beings rarely had personal reserves: the family or the clan took charge of the reserve in times of adversity. Today each one is in charge of his own resources; it is perhaps better, but how do we escape the obsession of a secure future? Once more Jesus invites us to believe in the Providence of the Father: if we have his interests at heart, he will look after ours.
Store up with God Gospel says “in Heaven”, and we know that Heaven is one of the names of God.
There also your heart will be. (In the Jewish culture the heart is where judgments and decisions are made). I do not possess things but they possess me and by degrees impose on me a certain life-style.
There also your heart will be. It is this certitude that motivates any effort made towards “evangelical poverty.” It is a question of being as free as possible for action and for love. Jesus calls us to disinterested action and at the same time warns us against inordinate attachment to persons, to ideas and possessions: we are to be ready for anything but must never get attached to the fruits of action.

• 22. Here eye is the conscience. To be bright-eyed signifies generosity, to be dark-eyed signifies meanness. Jesus emphasizes what he has just said: a misinformed conscience leads us astray and turns us in on ourselves.

• 24. No one can serve two masters. This opening line helps us understand what follows, that Jesus wants us to be free, not of concerns but of all worries, in order to serve God.
Scripture had already taught that we must choose between God and false gods. Jesus affirms that money is a false god, because it offers happiness and security for the future, but robs us of our only riches, that is, the present time. Caught up in making money, we are unable to live truly and freely; we neglect our personal growth and family life, keep silent before evil and lie. We ignore our neighbor and grovel before the powerful.
Why are you so worried? After worrying much because we do not have money, or because we are having a hard time, or because our work is being delayed, we are ashamed at meeting simple persons who share the little they possess with others poorer than they, without feeling sad or thinking they have done something great. Liberation is the work of God throughout history, and we, shall we have enough faith to free ourselves from so many worries?
The comparison with the flowers and the birds does not mean that we can fold our arms and be idle, because when God gave us arms and brains, it was for us to use them. Rather Jesus teaches that, if God takes care of and beautifies the smallest of creatures, how much more will he care for us that our lives may be beautiful and perfect.
Set your heart first on the Kingdom. It is a matter of concrete realities: the kingdom means the transparentness of God in our life; his justice is a “putting in order” under his attention of all that we are and all that we do. A risk to run for a young person, or a couple: to begin to think of the future, family and apostolic activity according to the criteria of the Gospel, no longer under pressure of Malthusian fear or the race to maintain their life-style.

• 7.1 No doubt when Jesus spoke these words it was with the same meaning as in 5:43. Usually those who consider themselves as good, or belonging to the group of the converted, judge and criticize those of a different standing. It is a form of pride that spiritual authors call the “fault of beginners.” So strongly inscribed is it in human nature that many among the “just” of the Bible have expressed their disapproval of the “sinner” who did not observe the law of God. Contrariwise the new law tells us not to consider ourselves superior or be judges of those who take a different road, or who are led by God to do so. Do not judge. We must exercise good judgment in order to distinguish between the good and evil around us. Though it is a factor of success never to displease anyone, we must have the courage to tell others the wrong that they do. Here “to judge” means to condemn.
When we look at our own lives, we realize that those who helped us grow were those who supported and understood us, not those who judged and condemned us.
Do not judge. See Rom 2:1; 14:4; 1 Cor 5:12; James 4:11.

• 6. Do not give what is holy to the dogs, or throw your pearls to the pigs. Jesus addressed this warning to his followers living in a hostile world. They should not tell everything to everyone. God has given each of us wonderful gifts: we must not share them with everyone at once, believing that it will bring them to faith.

• 7. See commentary on Luke 11:9; Mark 11:24; John 14:13; 15:7; James 1:5.

• 13. Enter through the narrow gate. Maybe someone was asking Jesus: “Who will be saved?” (Mt 19:25). In no instance did Jesus say whether those who would share in eternal life would be many or few. He did say many times that very few would be chosen from among the many called. That means that among the many people privileged to meet him, very few would experience the Gospel’s riches and bring forth fruit in themselves and for others. The chosen or approved are those who persevere and strive for perfect freedom.
For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many go that way. They stray from leading a life in which Jesus is everything for them. They waste the gifts of God entrusted to them and apparently become useless for the Kingdom. Yet, even so, they are not deprived of God’s mercy.

• 15. Most probably Matthew gives us these words of Jesus for the benefit of certain believers in the early Church who considered themselves as charismatic prophets. They may well have received gifts of the Spirit but have degenerated since then. In a wider sense Jesus’ words address all who encourage division, untruth and violence, even when they pretend to serve a just cause.
Prophets wore a sheepskin by way of a cloak: a wolf could hide in one. The world has always had a number of “false prophets,” usually prophets of easy life, and if the Word of God condemns them, many will say that word has been misinterpreted. It would be well however to ask ourselves why our holy and sacred liberalism tends to sow death in all domains and smothers in so many the ability to believe and hope.
Do you ever pick grapes from thornbushes? Jesus invites us to look at the facts before coming to conclusions. We find it hard to carefully observe the reality in which we live. We prefer to discuss and debate about ideas rather than to analyze particular situations. Jesus, accustomed to manual labor, distrusts ideas and theories.

• 21. Many will say to me on that day. Matthew probably quotes this sentence pointing out to the charismatic prophets who disturb his communities by not obeying precepts that are addressed to everyone.
Whether we teach or work miracles, these abilities and ministries given us for the good of the community do not assure us that we are in the grace of God. True faith works through love (Gal 5:6) and moves us to fulfill all the Law: James 2:8.
Anyone who hears these words of mine (v. 24). Jesus means those who listen to his words and are converted: they believe themselves already saved. If they do not use their initial enthusiasm to build their lives on solid foundations, such as scriptural meditation, generosity, resistance to evil inclinations, sharing in the Christian community – then everything will tumble down later.

• 28. With this paragraph Matthew closes the first Discourse wherein he gathers words of Jesus that might serve as a “call to all people of good will.” A new Discourse will begin in chapter 10.

• 8.1 In this new section of his gospel (8:1-9:35) Matthew has placed a collection of miracles. For him, these miracles are not only extraordinary events: they contain lessons on what a disciple of Jesus is. To begin with: the cure of a leper; on the part of Jesus this is an act of courage, and an act that openly violates the law of purity (see Mk 1:40).
Then, the faith of the centurion, a Roman officer (8:5). Jesus speaks of the Jews who will be excluded from the kingdom of God. That may also be the case of the new heirs of the Kingdom who are the Christians of the West.

• 5. See commentary on Luke 7:1.
The heirs of the Kingdom (v. 12). These words are intended to express the Jewish term used by Jesus: the sons of the Kingdom, that is: those who belong, or: those who side with, are associated with the Kingdom. Because all of Jewish life was aimed at inheriting the kingdom promised to them.
Among the Jewish people, at that time, religion was taught by the religious community. There was no problem of personal conversion; the children of Jewish families became Jewish believers. The Jewish teachers did not belittle faith, but in fact they always spoke about practices and commitment. Jesus does not belittle the practices, but it is faith that he admires and praises; see Matthew 9:2; 9:22; 9:28.
Many will come (v. 11). Likewise for us, practices and religious habits will not introduce us to the Kingdom. We must discover the loving presence of the Father while experiencing the power of Jesus’ word and controversial deeds.
They will be thrown out into the darkness (v. 12). Let us not immediately think of hell: Jesus is using the style of the prophets. Staying with the appearance of a learned religion, one goes everywhere except where life is.

• 9.1 See commentary on Mk 2:1; Lk 5:17.
They praised God for giving such power to human beings (v. 8). This formula is rather clumsy. The crowd is astonished to see how God’s saving power is manifest among people, and through a man, Jesus. Matthew has no wish to separate the Church from Christ: every Christian community received the gifts of God for healing and reconciliation. It is known that the ministers of the Church have special authority to pardon, but the grace of God also flows in many other very different channels. (1 Cor 5:3-5; 2 Cor 2:5-11). When we establish relations of mercy and trust, and accept fraternal correction humbly, when there is mutual forgiveness between spouses, Christ is the one who forgives and pardons, and what is forgiven among us on earth, is forgiven in heaven (Mt 18:18).

• 9. See commentary on Mark 2:13.

• 18. See commentary on Mark 5:21.
She touched the edge of his cloak (v. 20). As a good Jew, Jesus had fringes on his cloak (Num 15:38; Mt 23:5).

• 27. Two blind men followed him shouting. In what manner, if they were blind? Stumbling and being carried by others perhaps. When you sin, shout to the Lord and keep on looking for Christ.

• 35. With this paragraph that briefly summarizes the ministry of Jesus in Galilee, Matthew intends to show that indeed the kingdom of God is there: evil has been given a fatal blow.
He was moved with pity, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. See Num 27:17; Ezk 34:5; Zec 10:3; Jn 4:35; Mk 6:34; and Lk 10:2.

HEALINGS
God himself, in Jesus, had come down to cure humankind. Because this work would be very long and painful, it was necessary to provide some visible signs to help people believe in this almost imperceptible healing.
Jesus ought to heal sick persons and, even in our days, the Christian community should give signs of what they preach. They must cure today’s world of its sicknesses. The gifts of healing are not limited to healing bodily ills and the devil is responsible for more than individual maladies.
People seek after those who can cure their illnesses, and so great crowds followed Jesus. For him, however, sickness as well as the exploitation of the human person, hunger and war, are only fruits and signs of a deeper illness attached to our heart, which is sin. Constant work and the unity of all people of goodwill are sufficient to remedy some of our misfortunes, but the only way to eradicate evil at its roots is to restore human persons to their dignity as children of God. This requires a personal transformation that comes from God sending us his Spirit.
Jesus asks each of us to serve humankind with our own talents. He needs also workers for the harvest of the Kingdom, that is, to gather into the Church those who receive a call from God. “Pray,” says Jesus, “and you will perhaps hear God’s call.”
Of course, each Christian community prays to God and the Spirit brings forth the charisms and ministers and pastors that are needed. Here Jesus asks us to pray for workers in the mission field: they are and always will be too few, especially those who evangelize and build the Church among the poor.

• 10.1 Till then, Jesus had spoken only in the synagogues around Capernaum. Now he attracts fame and followers and begins to draw multitudes. In that moment he establishes the group of the Twelve. He needs them to prepare meetings, to spread his doctrine, to multiply the miraculous signs effected among the sick.
At the same time, Jesus is planning his Church and wants to give it a head: this will be the group of the apostles. They will be the witnesses of Jesus among people, so he teaches them a way of living a common life that will serve as a pattern for the Church.
These are the names of the Twelve. The Jewish nation was integrated into twelve tribes. This is why Jesus calls twelve apostles: he wants them to understand that they are the foundation of the new people of God will form (Ps 102:19). See Luke 22:30; Revelation 21:14.
He called those he wanted (Mk 3:13). These, in turn, will call others. In the Church everyone can do “apostolic work,” but no one makes himself into an apostle, an official witness of Christ: one has to be called to this responsibility.
Regarding these twelve, see commentary on Mark 3:16.

• 5. From the paragraph beginning in 9:35, Matthew was preparing this third “Jesus’ discourse” (see Introduction). Jesus has begun his mission, he forms and sends out missionaries.
Apostles means “sent” and “mission” also means “being sent.” The Father has sent his Son to earth, and the Son, in turn, sends his apostles. The Father sends messengers of his word, but he also sends his Spirit to touch the hearts and minds of those who listen. Through the Spirit they recognize the word of God in the poor preaching of these messengers who have received no great instruction. The Spirit will give signs: healings and astounding graces supporting the witness of the missionaries.
The successors of the apostles will be missionaries like them. They will not be primarily the administrators of an established Church, but living poorly among the poor, they will establish new Churches (see 1 Cor 3:10; 12:28). This new chapter will speak of a mission, the major responsibility of a Christian community. In the first part (vv. 5-16) Jesus addresses the first missionaries of Galilee. In the second part (vv.17-42) we find Jesus’ words pronounced in different circumstances that Matthew adapts for his readers at the very time in which the Church begins to be persecuted in the Roman world.
See commentary on Mark 6:7 and Luke 10:1.
Do not visit pagan territory. Let us not forget that many pagan communities were established in Galilee together with the Jewish ones. Jesus follows his Father’s plan of salvation as described in the Bible. The Savior should first gather the strayed sheep of Israel, and then bring salvation to all the pagan nations: Is 49:6; 60:1-10; Zec 14:16; Mt 15:24.
Whoever welcomes you (v. 40). To reject the messengers is to ignore the call of the Father and to lose the greatest opportunity of one’s life.

• 16. THE MARTYRS
Matthew here puts advice that Jesus gave to his witnesses on how to confront persecution. Jesus himself spent long weeks hidden away and his first missionaries probably had to take similar precautions. In relating these instructions Matthew has perhaps adapted them a little to the situation of Christians of his time; he has not invented them.
We have just spoken of witnesses, and martyr in Greek means: witness. Certain of these martyrs were before long glorified, but the majority remain unknown. They have often been disfigured by calumny (5:11; Lk 21:17) isolated even from the Christian community and later eliminated. In certain cases entire Christian communities were massacred as in the time of the Roman empire. Today in certain countries such atrocities continue without the media even mentioning it. In many other cases, persons or Christian groups became martyrs that had assumed a risky position. When Stephen was assassinated (Acts 7) the apostles were not pursued, and many may have taken Stephen to be a fanatic. When the young Christian women of the Roman Empire were persecuted for having decided to remain virgins many said: Why do they flout their family duties? When the Catholics of England, France or China refused to form national churches separated from communion with Rome, were they not rebelling against the laws of their nation?
Maybe we must recognize that martyrdom is a grace and is not given to everyone. Many would be ready to give their life for Christ, but confronted with situations of violence or corruption, they do not see the necessity to expose a scandal and so submit in order to avoid the worst. Others, on the contrary, understand that God is asking them to witness (18) to the Good News that is opposite to what is imposed. In so doing they face the repression by which Society defends itself. Revelation affirms that the murder of witnesses advances Salvation History.

• 19. Brother will hand over brother to death… (v. 21) you will be hated by all. This is usual in a climate of terror. Without going so far, witnesses to Christ may find themselves unappreciated by a majority, in their own Church, while perhaps their persecutors are acclaimed (Lk 6:26). In time the Holy Spirit will reveal the truth, but the majority of those witnesses, the lowly, often those who suffer most and are the greatest, will remain unknown until the day when Jesus himself will acknowledge them before his Father (v. 32).
In reality, Jesus does not only speak of those who are massacred. Far more numerous and doubtless nearer to us are those who have had to conquer fear (26; 28; 31) of being his witnesses on the streets, in schools and in every area of this perverted and evil world. (Gal 1:4; Phil 2:15).
Do not worry. The witnesses of Jesus do not work on their own, and the more they are identified with Jesus in persecution and in prison, the more they are assisted by the Spirit. By worrying while preparing their legal case, they would hinder the freedom of the Spirit and also lose the peace that the Spirit grants the persecuted.

• 23. You will not have gone through…. Possibly this sentence would have been better placed in the first part of the speech, which is about the mission in Galilee. But it may refer also to Christians of Jewish origins who were persecuted by the Pharisees at the time Matthew wrote his Gospel.
Matthew gives this sentence a broader meaning: though people may cast out the future missionaries, they will never be short of work until the second coming of Jesus.

• 28. We are cowards and Jesus is aware of this. He has already said, “Do not fear,” when he invited us not to look for security in money. Now, dealing with the fear of repression, he adds, “If you cannot free yourselves from cowardice, consider where the greater threat comes from, from God or people?”
This is the only time Jesus refers to “fear of God.” When the Old Testament mentioned fear of God, it generally meant giving due respect to God. Respect is far from fear. Respect is an attitude proper to a free person. God does not threaten to throw us into hell; rather he reminds us that to lose him is to lose ourselves also, and this is hell.

• 32. Whoever acknowledges me. After stressing the sovereign power of his Father, Jesus puts himself on the same level: He will decide our eternal fate. Jesus refers not only to recognizing him in the ultimate sense, that is, by not denying our Christian faith before others; his words also convey a day-by-day demand. We must not be ashamed to act or talk as people of faith, to go public about our Christian convictions when necessary.

• 34. Do not think that I have come to establish peace. The peace of the believer comes from the certainty of being loved by God: the angels of Bethlehem said so: Luke 2:14.
Jesus gives no peace to the world, because the rest of the world is made up of confusion, half-truths, people who live midway between greed and fear of risking. The peace of the world, whether in a family or in society, veils unjust conditions imposed by the strongest, or a shared mediocrity. The Gospel awakens everywhere a critical spirit; so that the presence of only one Christian living by the truth is enough to worry many persons: John 3:20; 15:18.
The Gospel moves us to make decisions with greater freedom, disregarding the criticism of those close to us whenever we are convinced that they cannot understand the Gospel values which motivate us. Take, for example, a pregnant girl resisting her parents’ advice to obtain an abortion. Christians have been persecuted in many countries for teaching that divine law is above parental authority, which was considered the supreme authority. Thus it happened with the ancient Romans and, more recently, in Korea and China.
Moreover, the devil stirs up persecutions against every person who becomes converted, in order to scare her and make her turn away.
He is not worthy… (v. 37). Jesus addresses this to others besides missionaries or persons with an exceptional mission. Each one must break away from forms of dependency within the family, which do not nurture the human and spiritual growth of the members. One who loves Christ finds a thousand and one opportunities to free himself from activities, entertainments and worries about his own family, which keep both him and the family at a mediocre level.

• 11.1 See commentary on Lk 7:18.
Jesus has sent the first missionaries: for Matthew it is the time to show how the Kingdom comes – the coming of which they have proclaimed. The visit of the disciples of John will help us to understand what Jesus brings and what cannot be expected of him.
The paragraph which follows in 11:25 will show in its way that what is all-important in the Kingdom is the person of Jesus himself.
Good news is reaching the poor… (v. 5). Jesus’ message includes a preferential love of God for the poor and for those who share with them in their poverty. The Gospel is not for them also, but for them first.

EVANGELIZATION OF THE POOR AS A PRIORITY
Good news is reaching the poor (v. 5). This text is to be read together with Luke 1:52; 4:18; 6:20; 10:23.
It would be wrong to interpret this text as thinking only that God asks of us to catechize less instructed people, or those of lower condition in life. In the time of Jesus the Pharisees already thought their duty was to teach simple and uneducated people; Jesus instead sent his apostles, poor among the poor, to enable them to discover the presence and working of God the Father. The concrete life of the rural and urban poor is the context in which fundamental experiences occur that will renew the world and the spiritual life of everyone.
V. 6. See another way of translating this sentence in Luke 7:23.
V. 11. No one greater than John the Baptist has come forward. This verse refers to a prophet or to a political leader.
V. 12. This sentence could also be translated: “The kingdom of heaven is advancing forcefully.” The kingdom of God is the moving force that makes history progress, taking advantage of both gentle and violent changes in human life. The believers are called to participate actively in this constant transformation. Death and resurrection are at work among us and all over the world.

• 20. Chorazin and Bethsaida: these two cities were the seats of higher schools of religion but had not received the Gospel. Tyre and Sidon: two pagan cities, cursed by the prophets.

• 25. Jesus’ prayer impressed the disciples. In this text it is a short prayer, prompted by the most recent events; events and daily life are also a source of prayer.
You have hidden these things. Intelligent people are not excluded from the faith, of course, but it is the glory of God that faith should not seem to be the privilege of the wise and the intelligent; human wisdom never gives what is essential and often hides it. There were in Palestine at the time some wise people and many others who pretended to be so, but they were rarely seen among the disciples of Jesus.
Everything has been entrusted to me. God does what is needed for people to have always and in all places thousands of ways of knowing him. In this life it is only through Jesus that we have the revelation of the Father.
Must we translate “learn from me for I am…” or “learn from me that I am…”? The humility of Jesus reveals to us the humility of God who never seeks to put us down or intimidate us, but instead always wants to raise us to him. Such humility does not prevent him from being God, and he may exact everything from us because he does not use external force: his influence reaches to the depths of our heart. See Lk 10:21.
Come to me: I will not relieve you of your load but by placing my yoke on you, I give you the means of carrying the load.
Jesus plays with the two words yoke and load, for the Jews used to call “load” the divine teachings imparted to pupils, and yoke the balancing of the teacher’s sentences, which should be learned by heart.
Jesus, the patient and humble teacher, enables us to see the mercy of God in our lives and in our own cross. He shows us the love of God even in the requirements of the Law. Only God is Good; and good is the authority of Christ.

• 12.1 This chapter records the conflicts of Jesus with the Pharisees regarding the Sabbath. Why does the gospel make so much of these conflicts? Perhaps because at the time of Jesus the heavy load of religious obligations was a formidable obstacle for those searching for God. It may have been also because the Christians lost no time making new laws to which they gave an exaggerated importance. If Jesus deliberately violated the most sacred of the laws given by God to Moses, what about our ecclesiastical laws not guaranteed by the Word of God? In the name of man-made laws, adapted to a context that is not ours, Christian communities have at times been paralyzed and we let millions of people look for churches where they have the communities and pastors they have been deprived of.

• 22. See commentary on Mark 3:22.
Your own people (v. 27). Jesus refers here to the Jewish exorcists who cast out demons with prayers and formularies, as told in Acts 19:13.
Slander against the Holy Spirit. This means attributing to the devil the good actions of the Spirit, as we see in Mark 3:30.
Either in this age or in the age to come (v. 32). This is a Jewish idiom meaning that this sin cannot be forgiven, by God or people. How can God forgive one who puts himself out of reach of the forgiving God?
If you have a sound tree (v. 33). This is another application of the sentence read in 7:16. It deals here with the accusation against the Pharisees: they slander whatever is good because they have an evil heart.
Your own words will declare you either innocent or guilty (v. 37). See Lk 19:22. Not only the isolated acts of our life are to be judged. Throughout the years we have built up a practical philosophy and a vision of existence. Beginning with that we judge all which in other people questions our own choices. It is that itself, these words with which we justify ourselves and condemn others, that deserve to be condemned.

• 38. Jesus did not perform any miracle that day, because the experts in religion were demanding an account of him, instead of listening to him.
An evil and unfaithful people. Gospel says in fact: “evil and adulterous”. This expression in the Bible means the unfaithful believer who, without denying God in words, keeps other gods to himself.
The story of the unclean spirit, meaning the devil, is directed towards the contemporaries of Jesus. They accepted John’s call to conversion and for a while changed their way of life. Theirs was not a real experience of God, neither did they discover the inner power that would have enabled them to persevere, and so their blindness remained.
The Ninivites: see Jonah 3:5.
The Queen of the South: 1 Kings 10.
The sign of Jonah is the resurrection of Jesus. The similarity seen in the three days that Jonah was in the belly of the fish and the time Jesus spent in the tomb is somewhat forced.

• 46. His mother and his brothers. If they were true brothers of Jesus, sons of Mary, the Gospel would say: “his mother and the sons of his mother,” for this was the Jewish manner of speaking. See commentary on Mark 3:31.

• 13.1 Here we have the beginning of the third “discourse of Jesus” in Matthew’s Gospel (see Introduction). Jesus had his apostles proclaim the coming of the Kingdom; the first signs were seen: healings and victories over demons but opposition was not wanting and it would seem that on the whole, people did not respond. What must we think of this “Kingdom of God” which changes very little of real life? Matthew replies with the following seven parables.
Jesus uses comparisons just as simple country folk and working people usually do. Proverbs and parables have always been an effective way of teaching wisdom. But we must observe that a parable is not just any comparison; its characteristic is to awaken in the listeners an awareness of their present situation and oblige them to make a decision.
For those listening to Jesus, the reign of God signified first of all a liberation of his oppressed people, and this called for clear explanation. Jesus, for his part, could only give an answer to those who accompanied him; for the Kingdom is one of those things that cannot be seen as long as one has no belief in it. Jesus will only speak of it in images and we will understand according to the degree of our experience of that Kingdom which is developing throughout the world.
For this parable of the Sower which gives the general direction of this chapter, see the commentary of Mk 4:1 and Lk 8:4.

• 10. To you it has been given to know the secrets of the Kingdom. To you who took Christ’s call seriously and decided to follow him. Because you came to be the co-workers of Christ, the Father will reveal to you his secrets.
The quotation from Isaiah that follows may shock us due to the fact of our not fully understanding Hebrew expressions. Does Jesus speak in parables because the audience does not want to understand, or so that they will not understand? It could be both at the same time (compare vv. 13 and 15, and also 35). See the commentary on Mk 4:11.
For the one who has will be given more. Here has means produce, bear as does the tree that “has” fruit. It will be given to those who are fruitful.
The kingdom of heaven. We already said that “Heaven” was a Jewish expression referring to God. The kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of God, as the Father of Heaven is God the Father. Not realizing this, many have mistakenly thought that the Gospel announced only the kingdom of God in Heaven after our present life. Actually Jesus came to tell us that God had come to rule among us.
Kingdom or Reign of God? See commentary on Lk 8:10.

• 18. Who will welcome the Word of God? This has nothing to do with intelligence or ability to reflect, or interest in religious things: those who are open to hope receive the Word.
Those along the footpath are those not interested in the word they have received, perhaps because they cannot see further than their own interests (they are selfish), or perhaps they have taken another direction in life.
Next come those who do not dare to face contradiction and are easily discouraged and cowed: these are soon burnt. Yet to hope means to be firm despite any obstacle. If God puts us on a road in life, this road will lead somewhere. Hope is courage and endurance.
Next are those that fell among the thistles. They are believers, but the fruits to be harvested along the difficult path seem not to satisfy them. They want to “save their lives,” to serve God and Money at the same time. They are dragged down by their aim of winning material success, and hope in the kingdom of God becomes but a flimsy desire for them.

• 24. With the parable of the weeds, Jesus answers those who are scandalized at seeing evil everywhere. Good and bad will be mixed till the end of the world. Good and evil will always be found together in persons and institutions.
God respects people. He knows that temptation is often stronger than their good intentions and they need time to find and to choose steadily what is good.
God is patient. The reconciliation of so many contradictory groups, forces and cultural currents active in the world will be attained only at the end of time. In the meantime we are not to label any of them as “the” good ones and “the” bad ones.
Jesus himself commented on this parable: see v. 36.

• 31. With the parable of the mustard seed Jesus shows us that the kingdom of God must be a sign; it has to be something very noticeable in the world.
Any spiritual aspiration, cultural innovation or revolutionary movement must be expressed concretely, through one or several institutions, to make it a clearer and more visible entity. Likewise Jesus projects his Church as the bearer (not the owner) of the kingdom of God. Church means: “Assembly of those called together.” Two of the characteristics of this Church are indicated here:
– first it must be very visible and fruitful for the world, like a tree giving shade to birds;
– secondly, it must be immersed in human reality.
Believers are not to separate themselves from those who do not believe, for they are the yeast of the world.
Jesus does not want an “invisible Church,” that is an emotional fellowship and spiritual communion among all those in the whole world who believe in him. He wants a gigantic tree (in another place Jesus says: a city built on a hill), so that everyone can recognize that the seed was good and full of life. We need organized Christian communities, and ties between these communities, a hierarchy… Nevertheless the believers are not to enclose themselves in their chapels or little communities or to spend all their energies working for “their” Church. They must be useful and fruitful in the world together with all people of goodwill.
Let them be yeast for the dough, not small separate and finer dough. The yeast transforms human history, not by bringing all people into the Church, but by infusing into human activity the spirit that gives life to humankind.

• 34. Jesus taught all this to the crowds by means of parables. On reading Matthew 13:12, we might think that Jesus speaks in parables in order to hide his teaching. Here we find another explanation that corrects and completes the first. Jesus spoke in parables because that was the best method to convey a teaching relevant for all times.
I will speak in parables. These are the first words of Psalm 78, as adapted by the evangelist. He means that the secrets of the kingdom of God revealed by Jesus answer the most important questions of humankind.
From the beginning of civilization, people were confronted with problems and challenges they could not solve on their own, and Jesus offers the key to these contradictions. Science has discovered many elements of human destiny; we have still to discover who we are.
Jesus’ answer is not given as a theory and it upsets the “little intellectuals” who are used to the language of books. He gives us something much richer with these images or enigmas which require some creativity and to which we have to return. Each of us will have to ponder them as long as we live, and humankind as long as history. Only with time shall we discover all that they mean.

• 36. The field is the world. This parable does not refer to what happens within each of us, or only in the Church, as described in the net (13:47). Rather it teaches that the kingdom of God exists and grows in the world, in all dimensions of the secular world. Sacred history is more than an ancient history in the land of Jesus; it is the entire human story of which the risen Christ is Lord.
So will it be at the end of time. Jesus speaks to us of a judgment. The expectation of God’s judgment on the world was an essential element of prophetic teaching. Let us not only see in it a desire for vengeance on the part of honest people who suffered. To know for certain that our life will be judged by one who knows us through and through is one of the bases of the Christian vision of existence. This enables us to understand the tragic character of the decisions we make from day to day directing us either to the truth or a refusal of the light.
This certitude shocks many of our contemporaries just as in the past it terrified the majority of people. It is for that reason they have often taken refuge in metempsychosis – a series of existences. The faults of the present life could be rectified in the one that followed. The importance of our choices is doubted, and the sense of sin is blurred just as is the sense of the presence of God. Before long we could doubt the unique value of our life and of the human person.
While reaffirming the judgment, this short parable contains an extremely revolutionary element: the judgment is God’s secret and up to the end of the world, both good and evil are in each of us, as well as in institutions. When we read the Bible, we are perhaps shocked to see that not only in the Old Testament but also even in the New, the world is constantly divided between the good and the wicked. It seems to us that it should not be: the inner being of a human is a deep mystery. There isn’t a group of the good (we, of course, and those who believe in God, and those who observe the same morality that we observe…) and then the others. Why then does Jesus divide humans?
Our quick reply is that Jesus has spoken as the prophets spoke. To speak of the good and the wicked was a simple way, suitable to the mentality of people less developed than ourselves, to show that each one of us, in each of our acts, takes a step in one of two opposed directions. For centuries women and men have felt themselves interpreted by this way of speaking: it is still effective and pedagogic for us on many occasions. It is very important to understand that Jesus is not duped by images. For the majority of us, the separation is not made, even if after a conversion or two, until we have taken decisive steps.
The servants represent the believers, but especially the “supervisors” of the Church. Their zeal for repressing those they judge as straying in order to preserve what seems good to them may well be tainted interiorly. They would like to suppress all the errors. Rather they rely too much on force, or on authority. If the “masters” of the faith were not to give the faithful the possibility to think for themselves and make mistakes, the Church would be without life.
God prefers to let matters clarify: he wants people to learn from experience. Evil is part of the mystery of the cross; in doing what is good and living in the light we defeat evil (Rom 12:21).

• 44. The parables of the treasure and the pearl invite us not to let opportunities pass by, when the kingdom of God comes to us.
Some have been waiting for years for that word, or person or sign of hope that would give new meaning to their lives. One day they found it. Sometimes it was found through simple things: a forgiving word, a friendly smile, a first commitment offered to them and accepted. Then they understood that this was the way to gain all they were waiting for, and they entered the Kingdom happily.
The parable says: he hides it again. Ordinarily it is God who hides the treasure again after having shown it to us, for it will be really ours when we have worked for it and persevered.
Everything must be sold. We have to divest ourselves of all those habits, pleasures… that occupy our hearts without filling them. When trials come upon us like a frosty, icy night, we should not forget the treasure we have once seen, until we recover it. Plato, the great pagan philosopher, said, “It is during the night that it is beautiful to believe in the light.”
“The pearl” is, in a certain sense, Christ himself. He alone gives meaning to all the sacrifices of a Christian life. These are not really “sacrifices,” but the search for a love that has already been proven.

EVIL IN THE CHURCH
• 47. The Church has given the Kingdom to those who entered, but some of them belong to the visible family of the chosen ones, without having the spirit of the Kingdom.
By speaking of the net, Jesus reminds us that the first activity of the Church must be mission: “to catch people.” Many of them surely will not persevere, but a Church that closes itself would die.
How we would like to have a perfect Church made of upright persons, in which each one would discover the gifts of God! Christ, however, did not want a Church like that, nor is that the way for the Church to save the world.
HELL
They will throw them into the blazing furnace. This affirmation which we have already seen (13:30) only confirms what the whole Bible says: we shall be judged and the plenitude of life offered to those who will be “in” God will have as counterpart the despairing lot of those who have refused life.
The Church has always spoken, according to the terms of the Bible, of an eternal hell. She has also adopted towards the twelfth century the word “purgatory” to designate the painful purification the saved will experience, unless they have already known on earth the terrible burning of the pure love of God.
The affirmation of purgatory shocks those who have not experienced divine holiness which is never without a burning of everything that belongs to us; have they ever really pondered what “becoming God in God” exacts of us? Hell does not hurt less. We know, of course, that fire is only a figure and we should not interpret it as a vengeance of God: it is the “damned” who are unable to renounce the harrowing solitude in which they have enclosed themselves; it is at the same time their enjoyment and their torture. However, we no longer accept the idea of pain that has no end and we readily support this with philosophic argument.
Certainly Jesus spoke the language of his time, not ours. This division of the world into good and bad was present in all culture. It is also certain that Jesus had deep and true knowledge of God and human beings. Had he found in this punishment something contrary to the infinite goodness of God he would have said so without any concern of scandal. He has spoken as he did because the infinite love of God does not take away our freedom to escape him and defy him.
However it is to be noted that Jesus does not only speak of condemnation for some horrible crimes: loss or salvation is an option for all. We must also recognize that he does not speak according to our categories of hell and purgatory: Gehenna (Mt 5:22; 10:28), or fire (Mk 9:42) are imprecise terms that can designate both at the same time. The “fire of hell” is said to be “eternal” in several places (Mk 9:47; Mt 18:8; Mt 25:41), but this word has not exactly the meaning we give it: it could be something that goes beyond our experience of time.
We can then ask questions, but we must also question ourselves on two matters. Firstly, to speak of what God should or should not do is rather like asking him to be just. But “justice” is not something that exists in itself: it is only an aspect of the mystery of God. What do we know of his mystery? Then let us not teach him justice. We must also reply to this question: if Jesus wanted to say that certain people go to unending suffering, how must he say it in order that we may not doubt it?
The mystery remains. If we understood to what God invites us – and for an eternity in its truest sense, and that life is unique and that here below we shall give our response and finally give birth to our eternity – are there words too strong for someone who has lost everything?

• 53. Compare Luke 4:14. See commentary on Mark 3:31.

• 14.1 For chapters 14 and 15 see commentaries on Mark 6 and 7.
It would seem that this series of narratives that occupy chapters 14 and 15 and the beginning of chapter 16 formed a collection dating from the first years of the Church; an identical collection is found in Mark and a part in Luke. As in all these texts that have been passed on orally over a time, there were general ideas and keywords that helped them to be linked to each other. Here bread must have been one of the common themes.
Do not forget that bread was by far the main food and to eat bread signified to have a meal (15:2).
On the other hand there were few needs besides food and clothing, so religion gave much importance to everything related to food and cooking. That explains the questions presented in these chapters and the answers given by Jesus. Even the bread of the children (15:26) gave the opportunity to complete the teaching about the eucharist that was drawn from the two miracles of the loaves.

• 13. See commentary on Mark 6:32 and John 6.

• 22. See commentary on Mark 6:45.
They were terrified: thinking that it was a ghost. The apostles shared the same fears and superstitions that their kinsfolk had. Only in time would they reach mature faith which drives away these paralyzing beliefs.
Command me to come to you (v. 28). Matthew is not interested in emphasizing Peter’s doubt, but his faith. Peter alone dared to attempt something that seemed to be reserved for Jesus, and after joining his companions again in the boat he was, though soaked, the happiest of them all.
Man of little faith (v. 31). Once more Jesus’ reproaches are addressed to his best disciples (as in 6:30; 8:26; 16:8; 17:20) – in order to convince future disciples, like us, that much is still lacking in our faith.

• 15.1 See commentary on Mark 7:1.
They don’t wash their hands. The Pharisees uphold something that is excellent and which we ourselves practice. Jesus’ vision, however, goes further: all these good customs and religious practices (feasts and meditations included) easily become a smoke screen, hiding the essential from us: a constant readiness to listen to God’s call, a simple trust in his mercy which alone can save us.

• 10. See commentary on Mark 7:14.
Using only human criteria, human societies are not able to distinguish good from evil.
For the Jewish people, the worship of God was everything and they felt very much concerned about exactly who and what things were worthy of being part of this worship. Thus they made a distinction between the clean and the unclean. Jesus shows that true purity is that of the heart.
It could be that the code for correct behavior in our society and its numerous goodwill institutions be just a modern way of distinguishing the pure and the impure. In the Church itself, in past centuries, there has been a tendency to attribute to sacred ministers a “purity” that reserved to them the handling of sacred things. It is one of the reasons why in the Middle Ages Communion was not given in the hand, as had been the custom for over ten centuries.

• 29. On two occasions Jesus multiplied bread. It is one of his miracles that most impresses us.
The word “miracle” is often devalued. The Bible uses different words to denote what clearly appears as an act of God: sign, wonder, work of power. Miracle in its full meaning is all that at the same time: a sign by which God makes us discover his will or the invisible order of the world, a wonder that disconcerts our limited vision, a work which God alone is capable of doing.
The multiplication of loaves is the kind of miracle which most shocks our contemporaries and their absolute faith in the “laws of nature” that God himself would not have the power to surpass, or which he could not ignore without contradicting himself. Many do not openly deny the testimony of the apostles, but they avoid taking any stand and say for example: “The miracle is still more beautiful if we imagine that Jesus merely invited the people to share their individual snacks, so that finally there was enough for everyone: a miracle of solidarity!”
Here the Gospel is not praising solidarity: it wishes rather to celebrate the absolute freedom of God and of Christ: nature itself must be silent, because here the dead are raised to life. For a Christian, creation is not a huge machine that God has passed on to people as he abdicated; it is a reflection of God where the laws – shadows of the wisdom, the order and the justice that are in God – never exclude his freedom.
Throughout all Christian history the Lord has multiplied and continues to multiply bread, items of food and even canned food for those who have given everything or risked all for him: many are able to witness to this.

• 16.1 They asked for some heavenly sign. They want a miracle that will undoubtedly be the work of God.
No sign will be given to them. Jesus refuses to prove his authority by multiplying miracles. People who love truth and seek what is right will recognize the seal of God in the deeds of Jesus – and of his followers – no matter how many speak ill of them.
The sign of Jonah is the resurrection of Jesus (see 12:40). Yet this resurrection that is the most decisive sign, will be understandable only to the believers. Thus people who demand miracles before they will believe, receive no answer.
Verses 2-4: the sentences we put in parenthesis are lacking in the oldest manuscripts.

• 5. The Gospel has kept very little of all that would have been exchanged between Jesus and his apostles over the long months of their life together. How fortunate that at least they recorded here one of the many stupid things uttered in his presence! If they misunderstood his warning, it was that they were over concerned with important matters that it would be better for everyone to leave in the hands of God.
Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. See commentary on Mark 8:11.
Very often the Gospel associates these two names. We have already seen that the Sadducees were the party of the chief priests. They were by family right, responsible for the national and religious life of the people of God. The Pharisees for their part were a party devoted to defending the law of God. They were enemies of the Sadducees. Let us not say: “They were perverse people.” Opposition to Jesus came quite naturally from the civil and religious authorities of his people. How could God visit his people and be welcomed by the majority of its leaders, if they feel and act as owners of their titles, of their authority, of their own merits?

• 13. One parable of the kingdom of God already foretold the Church (Mt 13:31-33). This present text openly refers to the Church:
– it tells us what its foundation is: faith in Jesus, the Christ and Son of God;
– it focuses on the primacy of Peter among all the apostles;
– it suggests that the Church will always need a visible head. This is the successor of Peter, the pope.
Faith in the Son of God, which Peter, among the apostles is the first to proclaim, really comes from God. This faith is not a human opinion, or a sentimental attachment. It does not come from flesh and blood, an expression that for the Jews meant what is purely human, what a human being does and understands by his own capacity. The words with which Jesus greets Peter, happy are you, Simon, are true for all the believers. For it is the Father who has chosen us and has brought us to Christ: see John 6:37; 6:44.
Next the primacy of Peter is emphasized. His name was Simon, but Jesus gave him this surname of Rock, foreseeing that he would be for his Church a foundation rock (Jn 1:40). This change of his name attests that a mission is given to him as happened to Abraham and Jacob (Gen 17:5 and 32:19). Other texts attest to the leadership and faith of Peter: Mt 10:2; 14:28; 17:25; Lk 5:8-10; 22:32; Jn 6:68; 21:15-19.
Is what Jesus tells Peter true also of his successors? No one can deny that even in the Old Testament God wanted his people to have a visible head. Jerusalem and the nation had as their center the Temple and the kings, sons of David. When God chose David, the first king of Israel, he promised him that his sons would rule the Kingdom of God forever: this promise was fulfilled in Christ. Now Jesus chooses Peter to be forever the visible foundation of the building. In the future his successors will be for the Church, what Peter was in the early Church.
For the Jews, to bind and to unbind (v. 19) meant to state what is forbidden and what is allowed. So Peter and his successors will have the last word about what is, or is not, the faith of the Church. The history of the primitive Church shows that already in the first centuries the local churches were conscious of the supreme authority of the bishop of Rome, successor of Peter. His role could not but develop in the course of history, which was all the more necessary because of the growing tensions between Christians, and diverse continents and cultures endlessly divided in their religious expressions. In spite of the fact that as humans Peter’s successors can commit mistakes, Christ does not ignore what they ultimately decide on: whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.
The recognition of this mission of Peter’s successor, however, does not mean that his word drowns all other voices in a silent Church, or that his authority justifies a structure that might crush life.
This text does not contradict other statements of the Gospel that are equally important, where the basis of the Church is a “college” of apostles, where nothing is done without dialogue. Peter is the “door keeper” (Mk 13:34) but he is neither “master” nor “Father” (Mt 23:9).
His authority is only genuine in a Church where all have the right to express themselves, where the leaders are not only imposed, but also accepted.
The powers of death (v. 18). The text says “the gates of Hades.” “Gates” here signifies “Power”; as for Hades, it designates the netherworld, the world of the dead and demonic powers. Even if deathly strength tried to crush the Church, or sow there the seed of corruption it would not be prevented from accomplishing its mission of salvation. A part of Revelation (Rev 12-17) depicts such a confrontation.
The fact that Peter is the foundation of the Church does not contradict other verses that say that its basis is the Twelve Apostles (Eph 2:20 and Rev 21:14). They also receive the power to bind or loose in John 20:21, but in this case it refers clearly to the forgiveness of sins.
Upon reading the narratives in Mk 8:27 and Lk 9:18, some questions regarding Peter’s faith arise: see commentary on Lk 9:18.
Jesus, Rock and Foundation: Mk 12:10; 1 Cor 3:11; 1 P 2:6.

• 21. See commentary on Mark 8:31.
Get behind me, Satan… (v. 23). When Peter stands in front of Jesus to block the way to the cross, Jesus recognizes in his words the same spirit that tempted him in the desert. Jesus calls him Satan, meaning tempter. Let Peter get behind Jesus and follow him as is proper for a disciple.
Whoever chooses to save his life will lose it. Jesus draws attention to the great option of every human life: we cannot discover God; we cannot make a success of life without sacrificing it. All the rest is idle talk. The option terrifies us in the same measure that life for us seems promising. It is also the reason why marriage and family frighten many.
He will find his life (v. 25). In 10:39 we translated this phrase: “benefit one’s life”.

• 17.1 See commentaries on Mark 9:2 and Luke 9:28.

• 14. See commentary on Mark 9:14.
Verse 21 is lacking in many old texts: compare with Mk 8:28-29.

• 22. Several times Jesus announced his death: see 16:21; 20:17. Never did he present it as a misfortune that might counteract his mission. John will say that Jesus looked for it as the means for giving glory to his Father and reconciling humankind (Jn 17). Jesus speaks of himself in the third person: the Son of Man, because he looks at his destiny as an outsider. This is the will of his Father, and he is not concerned about himself.

• 24. All the Jews paid a tax for the maintenance of the Temple.
The collectors approach Peter as owner of the house where Jesus also lives.
Jesus observes the Law, but takes this opportunity to give a hint as to who he is: the collectors do not realize they are addressing “the Son.” Notice how the Lord has control over all creatures even fish, and see also his intimate solidarity with Peter.
The coin mentioned in 27 was worth the Temple tax. Matthew may have had a special interest for this story because at the time he wrote Christians of Jewish origins were wondering whether they should be still paying this tax.

• 18.1 Here we have the beginning of the fourth Discourse of Matthew’s Gospel, not very consonant but centered on the life of the community. Those who say “Our Father” are not isolated. In place of the nation of Israel, Jesus offers them his Church, which is first of all community of communities.
6-11: concern for the little ones;
12-14: care for those who have strayed;
15-20: a fraternal community in the presence of Christ;
21-35: a community of pardon.
For the commentary on verses 1-5 see Mk 9:33.

THE LITTLE ONES
With verse 5 we pass from the children to the little ones, that is, simple people (such a child refers perhaps to the lowly one). They are little, because they do not count for much in society.
Woe to the world because of so many scandals. Must we recall the real meaning of the word “scandal”? “Scandalon” in Greek is the little pebble that when unnoticed causes a fall: scandal is not something that makes noise or causes a stir in society but which leads consciences astray and causes those who seemed honest to fall.
Jesus then speaks (v. 7) of the harm caused by social pressures. Many times the little ones strive to raise their standard of living and become more self-reliant, better educated and able to earn more. Often enough, society puts obstacles in the way of anyone who does not want to play dirty and who refuses to imitate the lifestyle of selfish persons. Because of this, the little ones will have to give up, to accept failure, to lose an eye before losing the most important thing, which is to live in the sight of God.
It is better for you to enter life without a hand or a foot. Jesus stresses the incomparable value of eternal life. At times, to gain the Kingdom we will have to sacrifice even our job, our security and our life.
Woe to the world because of so many scandals (v. 7). Sometimes it is an individual who leads others to sin; at other times it is society itself with its corruption, violence and unjust social structures. Jesus invites us to be aware of sin, personal and social: the bad structures will be destroyed, no matter how, by tears and blood (Lk 23:28).
These scandals necessarily come. Jesus lived in a world of violence, but apparently he did not complain about the situation. He did not encourage us to dream of paradise on earth. While some Christian communities aspire to be a flock of sheep meekly surrounding their shepherd, Jesus has a different vision of Christian life.
The real world, the one God is saving, was not created to be an oasis of happiness, but a place where free persons grow through their struggles. Scandals are part and parcel of this world, but the power of evil does not diminish in any way the glory that God will receive in the end. Through suffering and hunger for justice God will awaken love and make it grow.
Verse 10: See commentary on Dn 12:6.

• 12. The parable of the one hundred sheep is also found in the Gospel of Luke (15:1). It teaches us several things: Jesus’ special concern for sinners and those who stray and, therefore, the missionary dimension of his apostolate. In fact, Jesus came “to seek and save the lost” (Lk 19:10), “to call the outcasts, not the respectable people” (Mt 9:13). This attitude should impel our parishes and Christian communities to constantly reach out to the unchurched and marginalized, instead of just working with those who already are in touch with the Church.

• 15. If your brother or sister has sinned… Jesus had told Peter before: Whatever you tie on earth will be tied in Heaven. He declares it now for the whole Church. The believers must attempt to settle their suits among themselves, knowing that Christ is among them, as signified in his name Emmanuel: God-with-us.
The text of 18:15 is doubtful. Perhaps it was written if your brother or sister has sinned, go … in which case it would refer to the effort of the Christian community to correct one who has gone astray.
Gathered in the name of Jesus (v. 20). The prayer of the community, of the apostolic group, of the Christian couple.
Have we noticed that this chapter on the Church is so short? Yet Matthew is the one who is most concerned about the Church of Jesus, whether in the parables of the kingdom or in Peter’s profession of faith.
Jesus does not seem to have said anything whatsoever to his apostles about structures that would emerge (or even disappear): nothing but a community spirit. Welcome for the poor and lowly, never-ending forgiveness and acceptance of others, prayer of a community that has apostolic ambitions and cries to God to give what is asked of him; there we have the sum total of the wisdom and means the Church has in order to confront all that challenges its evangelization.
While we participate in the common activities, overcoming unavoidable conflicts, and persevering in apostolic work, we grow as children of God in truth, thus knowing the Father in truth. The Church, therefore, is that sacred place where we find God, and to express this reality we say that the Church is “the sacrament of God.”
We also speak of several “sacraments”: baptism, eucharist… Some people want to receive the sacraments without having any commitment to the Church; they forget that religious rites confer the grace of God because they are gestures of the Church, which is “the” sacrament of God. God is not contained inside things, but rather reveals himself through the family of Christ, where he wants us to find him: Whatever you tie on earth… Our faithfulness within the Christian community, even if we have to dissent from it, is a sign that we are in the grace of God.

• 21. Seventy-seven times. Compare with Genesis 4:24. Forgiveness must replace the thirst for revenge.
This is about the forgiveness of one who returns repentant: see Luke 17:1.

• 23. THE PARDON
The offenses we suffer from our companions are nothing compared with our offenses against God. While God forgives all, we do not even give others enough breathing space. God does not demand his rights, but we, in demanding them, behave like wicked servants (see Mt 5:43).
This parable goes beyond personal problems. The world needs, above everything else, the forgiveness of God, and those who want a more just society will not achieve it through accusations and hatred.
The parable helps us understand much better another verse in the Bible: Revenge is mine, says the Lord; I will pay each one according to his own conduct. God will not demand an account regarding his own rights, (what we owe him), but regarding the rights of the little ones who, unable to pay, were deprived of them. He will also demand an accounting regarding those who were sorry for their sins but were not forgiven by others.
The fourth Discourse of Matthew’s Gospel ends with this parable on the duty to forgive. The Church has not always been as holy as she should have been. Yet nobody can deny that, at all times, in the Church the mercy of God has been preached and people have learned to forgive.

• 19.1 See commentary on Mark 10:2; Matthew 5:31.
Every human society has had its laws on marriage, and it was the same for Israel. There was then a law on divorce, in harmony with the difference of status accorded by society to man and woman; it was in Scripture (Dt 24:1). Jesus does not want to be involved in the discussions of teachers and interpreters of the Law: he opposes this law with another word of Scripture which presents God’s point of view regarding human attitudes which he tolerates.
In doing this Jesus shows how he brings the Law to “perfection” (5:17), but clearly this “law of God” can only be heard by those who have received the Spirit from Jesus, a fact that is emphasized in the reaction of the disciples (v. 10).
Better not to marry (v. 10). Jesus does not apologize for these demanding words. He only proposes something more difficult to understand. He praises those to whom have been given to choose celibacy as a way of life for love of the Kingdom.

• 16. See commentary on Mark 10:17.
Jesus faces a question. He discloses three aspects and gives three answers:
Only one is Good (v. 17). This man has been captivated by the personality of Jesus, and Jesus, as always, directs him to the Father. There is, in fact, a distortion to Christian faith, dangerous as it is subtle: to speak only of Jesus: “Jesus sees you…” “Jesus loves you…” “Jesus is love…” as if we were not living for God. Love of the Father means wanting to be perfect as the Father is and working for his Kingdom. First of all it needs to be free, and the rich can only be free through voluntary poverty.
This man also wanted to know how to receive eternal life (the text says in Hebrew style “to have in heritage”) and Jesus will clearly state at the end, that even if we obey the commandments, we do not “merit” eternal life: salvation is always a gift of God.
Finally there is the question that bothers us most for all that touches money affects us deeply, and it is there that the Gospel shocks us: it is easier for a camel…
The call of the rich young man has always been considered the model of the religious, apostolic vocation. Without effective, voluntary poverty a person will never attain union with God that is the goal of the true religious. Besides, as long as the apostles share the life of comfortable people, they will be able to be their friends but they will never have deep conversions nor will they during this time reach the immense world of the poor.
The problem of poverty is also at the heart of the family in today’s world: for the greater number, believers or non-believers, the joys and blessings that God showers on a large family will only be given to those who have ceased to evaluate everything according to the criteria of money and security.

• 20.1 THE MASTERS
Many are surprised at this parable. They find it unfair to give the same reward to everyone, without taking into account the labor and sacrifices of everyone.
Without doubt Jesus wanted to shock us and shatter the idea we obstinately cling to: that we have merits that God must recognize. However we should pay closer attention to the story: Jesus makes a comparison, not of several laborers, but of several groups of laborers. Each group represents a nation or a social class, and while some of them have long ago received the word of God, others have just become believers.
All throughout history, God has been calling different people to work in his vineyard. He called Abraham first and placed his descendants in charge of his work in the world. Later on, during the time of Moses many others joined his group in order to leave Egypt and that has continued throughout history. The elders never cease to claim their right to receive better treatment than the others. Actually the vineyard has not been confided to them exclusively.
Then, with the coming of Christ, the Gospel was brought to other nations that were until then pagan. They came into the Church and shaped Christianity. They also claimed to be owners of the kingdom of God and the Church.
To this day, there are also social groups that are amazed when the Church criticizes their demand for privileges and does not assign them the first benches in the temple for they had always believed that the Church was theirs.
In this parable, all are treated on equal terms and receive one silver coin each. Let them be happy for having been invited to work, as they were unemployed.

• 20. See commentary on Mark 10:35. Compare Matthew 20:23 and Mark 10:46.

• 21.1 See commentary on Mark 11. Matthew, Mark and Luke place the incident about those selling in the Temple at the time of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. John, on the other hand, situates this event at the beginning of Jesus’ mission. Once more we see how each of the evangelists disposes of events following the plan he has chosen to develop the mystery of Salvation. Their aim is not to draw up a life of Jesus where events would be placed in the exact order in which they occurred.
Besides, there are several details in this triumphant entrance of Jesus that remind us more of the Feast of the Tabernacles (which was celebrated in September), than of the days before the Passover:
– The joyous spirit of the people is more appropriate to that feastday, which was the most popular of all.
– The branches and palms, as in the procession of the feastday, on the way to the fountain of Siloe, while singing Psalm 118: “Blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord!” and shouts of “Hosannah!” (that is: Save us!).
– Mention of the Mountain of Olives, where tents of branches and leaves were erected for the feast.
See, in this respect, Zec 14 that refers to this feastday (14:16) and foretells the purification of the Temple.
Very possibly, the evangelists placed the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem on the eve of the Passover for the simple reason that they only related one trip of Jesus to Jerusalem.
They arrived at Bethphage. The small village of Bethphage was the entrance to the district of Jerusalem towards the east. According to the Law, the Passover should be celebrated in Jerusalem, but the city was not big enough to accommodate more than a hundred and fifty thousand pilgrims for the festival. So it was necessary to enlarge the juridical limits of Jerusalem, embracing therefore some small villages like Bethphage. During those days, Jesus also used to lodge in Bethany (21:17).

• 12. See commentary on Mark 11:15.
Jesus cleanses the Temple, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 14:21. Malachi 3 also foretold this event: The Lord would come to purify his people and his temple. Jesus comes as a prophet to demand respect for God. Also, as God, he inaugurates the new era of religion in spirit and in truth. That is how John also understood this event in John 2:21, where he speaks of the new Temple, Christ.
You have got perfect praise (v. 16). These words of Psalm 8 were addressed to God, but Jesus applies them to himself, as he did with some other Scriptural texts.

• 18. This incident helps us understand the strange behavior of Jesus in looking for figs out of season and then cursing the tree as if it were responsible. Jesus behaved this way for a purpose: to call something to the attention of the apostles, through a teaching method used by the prophets. The fig tree is a figure of the Jewish people, who did not produce the fruits expected by God.

• 23. Jesus is what we would call today a simple layman. He respects the priests of the people of God and their high priest. He shows however that if they want others to be accountable, for their part they must be ready to take a stand on the things of God when the people need this. They had been and were unwilling to give such a response in the case of John the Baptist.

• 28. This parable refers to the refusal of the chief priests to recognize John the Baptist as a messenger of God.
A good number of sinners were converted by John’s preaching and confessed their sins. Such people were well disposed to receive the message of Jesus that opened for them the kingdom of God and showed them the true face of God the Father. Because of that, they were ahead of the priests, who were indifferent to John’s call, for they felt neither the desire nor the need to change.
Every parish that carries out a mission experiences the same thing: many uncommitted Christians will neither work as missionaries, nor receive them, believing they do not need conversion.

• 22.1 THE BANQUET
This parable contains two parts.
In the first part, God invites us to a banquet where there is a place for everyone. All through history he has been sending his prophets to preach justice, the mercy of God and trust in him. The Jewish nation, however, did not heed God’s call through these prophets and now will pay even less heed to Jesus. God’s plan will not fail. He will send his apostles to preach the Gospel in foreign nations (go to the exits of the ways) so that non-Jews, too, may enter the Church. Some Jews, however, the selected few among so many called, will be the first members of the Church.
The king celebrates the wedding of his son, Christ, who deserves to be called “the bride-groom” of humankind (Mk 2:19), because he has become one body with it. All throughout history the Risen Christ gathers together mortal and divided human beings. The Spirit of God will transform and raise them from the dead, so that they may sit at the table of the living, according to the parable.
The only table of Christ that Christians usually know is the Eucharist. While taking part in it, we must not forget what has been said above. Our meeting in the Mass should remind us that God calls us to prepare, in our daily lives, for the banquet reserved by him for all humankind. Ours is the task of uniting and reconciling all people.
What if we do not answer? Then, little by little, the life of the holy and universal Church will be withdrawn from our assemblies of comfortable Christians, and others will be called to take charge of the work of God: invite to the wedding.
The second part of the parable points this out: You, Christians, who are already inside the Church, do you wear the new garment – a life of justice, honesty and trustworthiness?
Let us not believe that the surprised guest who was not properly dressed for the occasion was some kind of poor person. No, for it was customary during those times to supply all guests with the robe they should wear at the banquet. This one could have put on the robe but did not, so he had nothing to answer.

• 14. Many are called (v. 14). Some are disturbed upon reading this: does it mean that only a few persons will be saved?
If we associate this sentence with the first part of the parable, it means that, of those first invited, few will enter the banquet. These guests were the Jews and very few, indeed, entered the Church of Jesus. Interpreted in connection with the second part of the parable, it would mean that few of those entering the Church have the necessary dispositions, so the majority would be condemned at the time of judgment. This contradicts what was related in the parable, because only one of the guests was thrown out.
It is better not to associate this saying too much with the parable of the banquet, because we find it also in other places in the Gospel. Here Jesus advises us (as in 7:13) that only a few discover through the Gospel true freedom and new life. Then, are they saved? Yes and no – because salvation, for Jesus, does not mean to escape from the punishment of hell, but to reach perfection.

• 15. See the commentary in Mk 12:13.

• 23. See the commentary in Mk 12:18.
In verse 24 the text reads: “take as a wife the sister-in-law and raise a descendant to his brother.”

• 23.1 The fifth Discourse of Matthew’s Gospel begins here. Only a few days separate us from Jesus’ departure from this world and it is here that Matthew places the words and parables of Jesus that enlighten the disciples on the attitude to adopt in face of the times to come. Scarcely born, the Church will have to face the formidable opposition of Jewish power, especially that of the Pharisees. She will therefore follow her own way and separate herself from the Jewish communities. This is the main theme of chapter 23. Chapter 24 declares that God will confirm this separation through the ruin of the Jewish nation. The Church, then, should turn towards the future and await the return of Christ. Let her not waste time in waiting for the end of the world but be always ready in active vigilance: this is chapter 25.

• 2. RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES
Jesus was not from the tribe of Levi, to which the priests and those in charge of religious activities belonged. He did not, likewise, belong to any religious association, as the Pharisees did. He was on the side of the people and saw how the leaders of God’s people and the organized religious elite acted.
Obviously Matthew wants the words of Jesus to fall on the ears of important personages in the communities. Jesus judges in advance the authorities of the Church and more especially any group that sees itself the better, the more aware and the more efficacious. The Pharisees pretended to be just that, and in a sense they were.
The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees sat on the seat of Moses. The Gospel says it with more precision: they have seated themselves in the chair of Moses. This rather ironic formula suggests that the ambitious appropriate to themselves the authority over the people of God and that to a certain point God tolerates it. Matthew, in recording these words of Jesus, wants to preserve in the Church fundamental equality. It is the whole Church that enjoys the Holy Spirit, and the heads or doctors will have no authority unless they are deeply rooted in the community’s life.
Paul will speak of Christ and the Church using the comparison of the head and the body (Eph 5:25). Likewise in the Church the authority of the bishop goes hand in hand with fidelity to the Church that he governs. He has accepted the Church as it is and does not seek to impose his own projects.
Do all they say. The bad example of the authorities does not discredit the word of God. Nor does it lessen the principle of authority. Their bad attitude discredits only their pretense at being superior to others. They cannot renounce their authority on the pretext of humble service and then carry out what the majority has decided.
Jesus speaks of the form of authority. Do not be called master or father. Do not be called “master,” the one “who knows” and before whom one is silent; neither must you be called “father,” the one who is venerated and imitated, forgetting to look directly at the One who alone is good. No one in the Church should eclipse the only “Father.”
Doubtless everyone will say that the word “Father” is simply the expression of respectful affection but Jesus affirms that the word has perverse effects.
The purity of faith, which submits to God alone, always suffers because of the cult of personality. The Church should be a community of free persons able to speak frankly.

• 13. You shut the door to the kingdom of heaven (v. 13). Do not forget that “the kingdom of Heaven” means the kingdom of God. Many teachers of the people of God are an obstacle on the path leading to the true knowledge of God the Father. Even in the smallest village, the Jews had teachers of the Law but in fact, crowds came to Jesus to ask for what those priests and teachers did not give them. How can we forget that even in the Church religious education is often limited to moral compartment and keeping within religious norms? Hearing and constantly meditating on the Word of God would have favored the awakening of great ambitions: the search for God and apostolic creativity.
You say: To swear by the treasure of the Temple (vv. 16-22). Jesus refers to the common practices in his time. Some teachers found ways to get around certain oaths. In that manner, clever people could swear falsely and deceive their opponents by swearing firmly without promising much.

THE DEFENDERS OF THE FAITH
How could Jesus call such men hypocrites when they were so versed in the knowledge of the Bible?
In the language of Jesus, the word “hypocrite” equally denotes what is superficial as well as the one who makes light of what is of God. All the Pharisees were obviously not hypocrites; but Jesus denounces a frequent deformation in the religious elite. He calls us to be wary of those institutions born of possessors of wealth and culture who aspire to direct others – and the Church – without having learned from the poor or practiced true humility.
The mystery of God is so deep that no one can present himself as his lieutenant. The Pharisees trained, taught and gained many followers in the faith but their fasts and alms were already rewarded. Pride and love of money were given their place.

THE PROPHETS
• 29. We have on one side “the prophets” and on the other those who “kill the prophets.” The Bible shows us that the prophets meet with much opposition among the people of God and especially among its leaders.
There is a people of God and this people has necessarily its institutions which help it to be faithful to its mission. In fact this people follows their reflexes and social prejudices, and the whole institution, even if born of the Spirit, becomes heavy and hardens with time. Prophets are readily condemned when they challenge peace and unity in mediocrity or even unfaithfulness to the word of God.
The Jewish people, harassed by foreigners, closed ranks around the Temple, religious practice and the Pharisee group. Moved by fear, the Jews did what any society would do when threatened: they became fanatically conservative and felt secure in the institutions God had given them in the past. (We are at present experiencing the same phenomenon. Our generation suddenly finds itself facing, in all areas, crises and threats for which it was not prepared; all our certitudes are questioned, and because of this we see emerging in all religions fundamentalist groups offering an appearance of safety by enclosing themselves in structures and systems of thought – or no thought – inherited from the past.)
The defenders of the Jewish community were not ready to listen to their prophet. It was one thing to honor the prophets of the past and keep the sacred books, another to accept the criticism addressed to them by God, not in the sacred books, but from the lips of Jesus, the carpenter.
Thus it was that the prominent Jews let the moment when God visited them slip by – following the path that would lead their nation to ruin.
The example of the Jewish nation must serve as a warning to us. Are our Christian communities, confronted today by a major crisis, able to build a poorer and more demanding Church? Will they be less preoccupied with their personal survival rather than giving the Gospel to the world?

• 37. How harshly Jesus speaks! Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 587 B.C. If we read the prophets, we find that Jerusalem’s destruction was a punishment for its crimes. Now, Jesus announces another destruction of wider historical consequences: the blood of the prophets, the blood of Christ, the blood of the first Christians killed by the Jews.
You will be left with an empty Temple. The presence of God in his Temple would leave them once more and be established among the converted pagans, as in Ez 8. There will be no further intervention by God to establish his Kingdom in Israel among the Jewish people until the day they welcome the Christ.

• 24.1 With reference to this great discourse see commentary on Mark 13.
In this discourse the Gospel uses the style of apocalyptic books (see the Introduction to Revelation). In this kind of literature signs announced great events. Hence the question of those closest to Jesus: “What will be the sign of your coming at the end of time?”
The discourse that follows comprises words pronounced by Jesus in very diverse circumstances. Jesus refuses speculation and reminds us that Christian history is one of persecution; he encourages us to be faithful.
In paragraph 24:4-28 Jesus speaks of the days of trial (vv. 21 and 29) that will conclude with the destruction of Jerusalem that Jesus’ listeners will witness. It will be possible to run away before the disaster occurs (vv. 15-20).
The idol of the invader. The Gospel repeats an expression of Daniel (9:27) to indicate on this occasion, the taking over of the Temple by the Roman troops (see commentary on Mk 13:14).
It will be a time for evangelization, a time for persecutions and for Christians’ testimony before the Jewish and pagan worlds (vv. 9-14). The Jewish people who did not recognize Jesus as their Savior, will let other saviors, or messiahs, stir them up against the Romans.
In paragraph 26-28, Jesus shows that this general confusion about the true savior is very far removed from what will happen when he returns at the end of time.
In paragraph 29-31 Jesus talks about his glorious coming. Then Jesus again asserts two things: the events and signs that refer to the end of Jerusalem will take place in the present generation (vv. 32-35). The day of Jesus (vv. 36 and 42) will come much later.
The comparison of the two men (or women) working together means that, upon the coming of Jesus, the Judgment will take place, and there might be a separation within the same social or family group: some headed towards the Lord, others to be condemned (vv. 37 and 41).
Why is it that the Gospel draws a parallel with the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of time? Simple, because Matthew addresses Christians who have just experienced the first event and are awaiting the second. It is the moment when there emerges the Christian vision of the history of these two great stages.
First, we have the time of the Old Testament. God taught the people of Israel and nurtured their development in order that their history and experiences be enlightening for other peoples. At the end of this period, Jesus came during a national crisis to give them the full knowledge of their mission as a people of God. A minority believed, but the nation did not convert and crashed.
The message is then presented to other nations, and thus began the time of the New Testament. The Church teaches all peoples who must mature as nations and Christians. The Bible implies that New Testament times are leading up to a universal crisis where the Gospel will more than ever be a reality: “Believe or you will die.” It is then that both the New Testament and history will end.

• 25.1 FAITHFULNESS
The three parables that follow tell us how to await the return of Christ, being alert and active. The first, “the ten bridesmaids” is the most beautiful parable on fidelity. The ten girls followed the custom of waiting through the night for the bridegroom who will be accompanied to his house. The bridegroom is late, something that should astonish no one. The bride is not mentioned: perhaps they will discover at the end that there was no other than themselves.
They fell asleep. Once the sun has set, all is dark and nothing more can be done (Jn 9:4). No further work except fidelity of heart (Dt 5:2): oil will be needed to keep the flame alive.
Here as in other places, the Gospel shows us that more than conversion and enthusiasm is needed: it is necessary to last (7-24). Being sure of having a reserve of oil is to take the means that enable us to persevere in our vocation.
Some will say that Matthew has placed this parable here for the benefit of the first Christians, for after having awaited the return of Christ, they saw that nothing happened. Error! Jesus speaks to the believers of all times. For them one day or another fidelity becomes burdensome: “I did not know to what I was committing myself.” There lies the grandeur of fidelity. It cannot be known in advance; giving one’s hand to God is a jump into the unknown. Only through this perseverance can we be saved (Mt 24:13), in other words, find ourselves.
The Lord demands faithfulness and perseverance from those he has chosen: this is how we save a world that seeks truth everywhere and does not know to which Lord to surrender.

• 14. TO WORK – TO TRUST ONESELF
During the time of Jesus, a talent was an amount, thirty kilograms of precious metal, but in this parable when Jesus spoke of talents he referred to the abilities given by God to each of us. Since then, people came to understand the word “talent” in this sense.
Good and faithful servant (v. 21). Faithful: it would be better translated: “reliable.” We do not find any word of religious vocabulary in this parable.
God sees the way one has used his talents, and the sin is to have kept for self what one has received. What condemnation of a society where it is usual to enjoy and consume what has been received: a better human formation and knowledge inherited from the homeland which should be transmitted to one’s descendants, the blessings and benefits of a family where the parents knew how to sacrifice themselves for their children, and perhaps the Word of God to be carried out in order to realize God’s great plan for the world.
I will entrust you with much more. What we achieve on earth is not definitive but only the scaffolding: quite other will be the riches that God will distribute to those who will live in him.
You know that I reap where I have not sown (v. 26). As in Luke 18:1, Jesus is aware of our unavowed defiance towards God and takes us at our word. If we do not aspire to the place that the husband reserves for a wife (25:1), let us try at least not to be useless servants.
There are many opportunities for us to take initiatives, but we often are afraid to put ourselves forward: “I am not the most qualified.” What if those who are qualified have not budged? Then, take the talent from him and give it to someone else.

• 31. THE UNIVERSAL JUDGEMENT
We know that Christians are a minority in the world. As we do now, the Jews wondered about the majority of nations in the world, who were not among the Chosen People and did not know about God or his promises. The Jews envisioned a huge multitude, ready to “devour them,” a restless world where God should one day impose his Law. They used to call them: the nations.
Jesus goes beyond these narrow perspectives and shows us how he will judge everyone, making no distinctions based on origins when he comes as King of all nations. All those who, without knowing Christ, have shared in the common destiny of humankind, will be judged by him. In fact, he never abandoned them, but placed at their side “those little ones who are his brothers and sisters,” as his representatives.
See, Christ reveals the innumerable human deeds that have built what is best in our civilization, and people brought before him look with amazement at the God whom they loved or despised in the person of their neighbor. Although the majority of them never thought of the afterlife, the kingdom of God is presented to them with its only law: Love.
There is no neutral place. The fire means the torment of those who condemned themselves by closing and freezing their hearts so that they became incapable of love: now the splendor of God, who is love, burns and pains them.
Whenever you did this to these little ones who are my brothers and sisters (v. 40). Jesus speaks of looking after our neighbor, be he friend or foe, not of serving the community, or a class, or a nation in general, because using these words, we often exclude a group of our brothers and sisters, who do not belong to our nation or to our class. On the other hand, one who really loves, acknowledges his sisters and brothers without giving too much importance to any labels: it is the person who exists and lives for God.
And these will go into eternal punishment (v. 46). There is something that shocks us today in the division of the good and the wicked, and it seems to us to be an outdated view (see com. on Mt 13:36). In one sense it is true. Up to the recent times people were mainly “of one idea.” It did not take long for youth to see what were the options in life, rarely did a person find more than one religion in the local milieu and she would choose either the “right” road or the “wrong” road. Some conversions for better or worse would follow (Ez 8), but humanity seemed to be divided between the good and the evil. Today it is quite different: the choices we make are extremely complex and it takes time to discern clearly. All of life or much of it today may be lived by a person who has within the self a good and an evil being at the same time.
Let us understand then that Jesus spoke the language of the prophets, schematizing options. In fact Jesus denounces, not heinous crimes but selfishness in daily life as is found in each of us, and he depicts, like a father to his children the end towards which we are heading. It is to be hoped that the great majority will not reject the truth; certain persons consciously choose their own ruin and unfortunately are capable of continuing in their choice to the bitter end.
To say that God is so good that he will save them at the last moment is to affirm something that Jesus never intended to say. It would mean that all that a person lived through was of slight importance and that our freedom was no more than a game.
What Jesus says about judging non-Christian people likewise applies to us. But we would be mistaken if we repeatedly presented this parable as expressing the totality of Christian duties. What the world needs above all is not bread and water and clothing, but the truth and the hope that God entrusted to his chosen people. Christians would be unfaithful to their mission if they confined themselves to merely talking about assistance, housing and the like and forgot what is really life for humankind – first, the knowledge and love of their Lord. He will always be first and we need him to be so for us. He takes as done to himself all that we do for our sisters and brothers but does not want to be confused with them.

• 47. See commentary on Mark 14:43.
The kiss of Judas: this was the usual way a disciple greeted his master.
He drew his sword (v. 51). Peter, like other apostles who took part in resistance movements against Roman oppression, brought swords (Lk 22:49).
He who uses the sword. This sentence does not condemn soldiers and policemen in a world of violence, but Jesus asserts that weapons do not establish the kingdom of God, nor do they lead to life. Force leads to death (in one way or another) for those (and for the institutions) who use it, even where it is necessary.

• 57. We find two accusations against Jesus. The first: I am able to destroy (v. 61) is false in one sense, but it refers to the words Jesus had spoken about replacing the Temple of Jerusalem with another religion centered in his own person (Jn 2:19) and that was indeed subversive. Nothing was more sacred to the Jews than the Temple of Jerusalem, and to attack the Temple was, at the same time, to threaten the position of the priests whose power was based on the fact that they alone could perform sacrificial rites in the Temple. They also amassed wealth from offerings and taxes that the people paid to the temple. In defending the holy things, they were also protecting their own interests.
For the second accusation, which is the most important, see commentary on Mark 14:53.
Jesus kept silent (v. 63). Not out of contempt for those men, who were the religious authorities, but because he saw it was useless to argue with them. He remained silent and felt confident, as do those who put their cause in the hands of God.
It is just as you say (v. 64). Perhaps this answer of Jesus should be translated: “You are the one saying it,” which is to say that Jesus did not agree with the terms used by Caiaphas. The expression “Son of God” signified the kings and saviors of Israel, and Jesus is the Son of God in a very different sense. Jesus identifies himself with the prophecy of Daniel 7:13, announcing a Savior, a Son of Man, who comes directly from God from all eternity.

• 69. This denial by Peter is most amazing. His friend John is well known in the house of the high priest and Peter was introduced as his friend (Jn 18:16). The young girl knows very well who John is and does not say anything beyond an ironic word to Peter. Nobody is threatening him, least of all the men; instead they mock him for his provincial Galilean accent, the same as Jesus’ accent! It was enough to make Peter lose his composure.
In placing this episode just after the witness of Jesus in the presence of the High Priest, the Gospel intends to contrast Peter’s attitude with that of his Master.

• 27.1 Why this second appearance of Jesus before the Supreme Council or Sanhedrin? It is difficult to find agreement on this point in the Gospels.
It would seem that during the night Jesus was presented to Annas, ex-high priest, (succeeded by five sons and son-in-law Caiaphas). He retained real authority among the great priestly families. The Sanhedrin was not complete: the seventy-one members could not be accommodated in the house of Caiaphas. Besides, the Council could not legally hold a session during the night; so it met in the morning.
For the enemies of Jesus this private interrogation was the most important, and that is why Matthew and Mark place there all that they know of the trial of Jesus (Mt 26:57-64).

• 3. Judas, as soon as he betrays Jesus, disappears from the scene and dies. We do not even know what happened with the thirty coins: see Acts 1:18.

• 15. According to very old texts of the Gospel of Matthew the name of the troublemaker was Jesus, his nickname being Barabbas. Pilate proposes to the people a choice between Jesus called Barabbas and Jesus called the Messiah.

• 24. Pilate asked for water… (v. 24). The Jews understood this gesture as a clear expression of his refusal to become the judge or accuser of Jesus (see Dt 21:6; Ps 26:6).

• 27. In the inner yard called the Pretorium, the soldiers make fun of Jesus in full view of Pilate and all the people employed in the palace.
Twisting a crown of thorns, they forced it onto his head (v. 29). In all probability, local reed was woven in the form of a cap and entwined with long thorns.
The soldiers enjoy the game of the fallen king. In many cultures the king was a divine character and, at the same time, often became the victim responsible for all evils. Therefore, the game of the king was known in many places. One engraved tile that was a soldiers’ game has been found in Jerusalem. On it is seen the journey of the king through many trials ending with his assassination.
The soldiers made this game a reality, without realizing how true it actually was. A triumphal Procession with Palms led to the arrest of Jesus, but the humiliation of Jesus prepared him to be the king, the Savior of all, as told in the story of Joseph (Gen 37-44), or more vividly described by the Prophet Isaiah (52:13).
Jesus is Savior, because he is the victim. He broke the mechanism of violence, because he suffered the greatest violence without becoming violent himself. In his humiliation, Jesus shows the greatness and the power of God. He took upon himself all the humiliations of the defenseless, the dejected, the victims on whom were heaped the mindless violence of peoples and their leaders. Jesus bears the sin of the world, as announced by Isaiah. In the future, no one will be able to look at him without discovering their own wickedness, and mourning for him who was their victim (Zec 12:12). From this encounter with God, hated and killed, (and so different from the God worshiped in heaven) will gush waters of pardon and purification (Zec 13:1).
They offered him wine mixed with gall (v. 34). According to Mark, they gave him bittersweet wine, a drink of the soldiers, mixed with myrrh, to dull the pain. This drink had probably been prepared according to custom by the charitable women of Jerusalem, perhaps the same mentioned by Luke in 23:28. Matthew speaks of wine with bile (a detestable drink) to give us an inkling of all the bitterness that Jesus had to swallow, and also to recall Psalm 69:22.
They also crucified two bandits with him (v. 38). Perhaps they were, like Barabbas, nationalist terrorists opposed to the Romans. They could have been the companions of Barabbas, and their execution enhanced the favor done to Ba-rabbas. If so, they would have to die along with Jesus instead of Barabbas. They could also have belonged to a group of bandits who assaulted and robbed pilgrims in the hills of Palestine.
This is Jesus, the king of the Jews (v. 37). For Pilate and the people in general, this expression signified a nationalist leader in the movement for liberation from the Roman yoke.
The Jews are the people of God and the Father arranged that they would be associated, in a very special way, with the salvation Christ brings. In fact, they were later subjected to many trials and persecutions. Many Jews have suffered like Jesus without believing in him, but confident in the promises of God and in the kingdom of Justice. Jesus is really their king.
In Latin, the letters I.N.R.I. (that we read on crucifixes) are the initial letters of Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

• 51. This paragraph declares in apocalyptic style that the death of Jesus marked the completion of definitive salvation. Some apparitions of dead persons were interpreted as a sign of fulfillment of the prophecies of Daniel (12:2) referring to the Day of Salvation. The open tombs signify that the Risen Christ conquers the kingdom of the dead.

• 28.1 THE RISEN CHURCH
On the apparitions of the risen Jesus, see the commentary on Lk 24:1.
This first paragraph is still in apocalyptic style, with its resplendent angel and another earthquake. The Gospel refuses to describe a triumphal departure of Jesus, as his readers would have preferred. The risen Jesus is only seen by those who believe: the women who look for him will see him, the soldiers and rulers who do not seek him will not understand.
The evangelist mentions the names of Mary of Magdala and the other Mary, the mother of James and of Joseph (Mt 27:55), two of the “brothers of Jesus” (Mt 13:55), his closest cousins. (She is a relative of Mary, the mother of Jesus, Jn 19:25).
Suddenly, Jesus met them on the way (v. 9). It is obvious that Matthew is combining two different events; one, the discovery of the empty tomb, and the other, which happened later on, the apparition of Jesus to Mary Magdalene alone as related in John 20:11-18.
Set out for Galilee (v. 10). Why did Jesus say this date if he was going to appear later that same day in Jerusalem? (Lk 24:13-42). It is not clear. Probably the evangelists combined several apparitions to simplify their narration. Anyway, time was needed for the apostles to believe in the Resurrection and understand something about it. After the two apparitions in Jerusalem, in which Jesus tried to convince them that he was not a phantom or a spirit, they would have to return to their provinces and environments, far away from the city that had caused them such trauma, in order to ponder what they had experienced. In Galilee, Jesus will manifest himself differently, making them understand that he is already glorified, that his existence is earthly no more.
A woman, Mary Magdalene, conveys the message, in order to indicate that, in the Church, not everything will come from the authorities. God communicates with whomever he wishes, giving prophetic messages to simple people and to women.
The resurrection of Christ is the pivotal point of the Gospel; yet Matthew reports it briefly. Why? Because when Matthew wrote his Gospel, the Resurrection was considered too great an event to put into writing: rather, it should be proclaimed and witnessed to by the Spirit at work in the Christian communities.
Are we in a different situation? The Church that talks of the Risen Christ should never be a powerful Church but a Risen Church. If the Church finds itself in a situation where there is no apparent hope of salvation, yet it is revived by the power of God; if in each generation the Church seems doomed to die because of its ancient structures, its worldly ways or the persecution it undergoes, yet it is nevertheless given new energies and new apostles by the Lord, then the Church is a witness that the Lord has risen and has given her the power to rise.

• 16. EVANGELIZATION – THE TRINITY
Jesus sent his apostles to evangelize the world.
The last apparition is related in a very simple way: no sudden appearance, no fear – no physical demonstration of the reality of Jesus. What is important are the words of Jesus Master.
Although some doubted (v. 17). With this, Matthew sums up the last apparitions of Jesus. Not all the disciples of Jesus (the Eleven and the rest) believed so quickly in the resurrection of Jesus.
Make disciples from all nations (v.19). Jesus, following the example of Jewish teachers of his time, gathered around him a group of disciples who lived with him. The teacher knew his disciples and the disciples knew the teacher by sharing everyday life. The same holds true today: evangelization implies interpersonal sharing.
To evangelize means to help someone ponder his former experiences until he can recognize in the person of Christ, in his death and resurrection, the truth that lights up his own life.
Those who believe will be baptized in the one Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the Three Persons Christ taught us about. Of course, he named them separately because the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Holy Spirit; in spite of that, the Three are the same God. Upon entering the Church, the baptized will enter into communion with the Father, with the Son and with the Holy Spirit. The Church is, before anything else, communion.
See Acts 19:5 regarding baptism in the Name of the Lord Jesus.
Teach them to fulfill all that I have commanded you (v. 20). These instructions of Jesus have first place in Matthew’s Gospel; they are in the five discourses and we are to do the will of the Father just as Jesus has revealed it.
I am with you always. Here we find again the certitude which the name Emmanuel already expressed in 1:23: Jesus is God-with-us until the end of time. The first generation Christians thought that Christ would not delay in returning but at the time the Gospel was written, they already understood that history would continue; the nation of Israel rejected the salvation offered to her and only a minority believed. Jesus was now committing himself to his apostles and to his Church and now began to build the Church of his apostles.
The Catholic Church is different from Protestant or Evangelical churches, because it was founded by the apostles of Jesus. Only she feels obliged to remain united around the successors of the apostles, the bishops; this unity and continuity are at times hard to maintain, especially in situations where it would seem easier to form a new reformed community alongside her. Obedience to the will of the Father is the means by which he purifies and strengthens our faith. Jesus is and remains “Lord” regarding the destiny of “his” Church.

 

May 26, 2007 - Posted by | Christian Community Bible, Commentary

1 Comment »

  1. […] Matthew Mark Luke John Acts Romans 1st Corinthians 2nd Corinthians Galatians Ephesians Philippians […]

    Pingback by Commentaries « Ang Bagong Magandang Balita Biblia | May 27, 2007


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