Support Site Improvements

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

St. Matthew describes in this chapter a twofold miracle performed by our Lord on coming down from the mountain, whereby He confirmed the doctrine recorded in the three preceding chapters. By a mere touch of His hand, He cures a man covered all over with a loathsome leprosy and, after curing him, He tells him what to do (1–4). He next cures the servant of a Centurion, and takes occasion, from the great faith of this Gentile centurion, which He highly eulogizes, to predict the call of the Gentiles and rejection of the Jews (5–13). The Evangelist, in the remainder of this, c. 8 and c. 9, records events which occurred before the Sermon on the Mount, and which, in the order of narrative, should be placed at the end of c. 4. He describes the perfect cure of Peter’s mother-in-law, who was very ill in fever (14–15), the cure of demoniacs, and of men afflicted with other maladies, thereby fulfilling the prophecy of lsaias regarding Him (16–17). He gives instructions, in order to avoid the crowds, to cross over to the opposite, or eastern, shore of the Lake of Tiberias (18). We have next given the reply of our Lord to two men who were desirous of attaching themselves to Him. He cautions the one against expecting that in His service he has anything else to expect save poverty and privation (19–20). The call He gives the other was so urgent that He refuses him permission to go home and bury his father (21–22). While crossing the lake, our Lord being asleep, the disciples, in terror of their lives, awake Him, and He at once calms the raging hurricane, which created a feeling of wonder in those who witnessed the miracle (23–27). We next have a description of the cure of two fierce demoniacs, in the country of the Gerasens, where our Lord landed (28–29); and the chapter concludes with an account of the entrance of the dispossessed demons into a large herd of swine, that precipitated themselves headlong into the sea, on which account, the unhappy Gerasens wished our Lord to leave their country (30–34).

1. “And when He was come down from the mountain.” According to St. Luke (6:17), if we suppose that he and St. Matthew record the same discourse, the preceding discourse was delivered, not on the mountain top, but “in a plain place,” which may be easily understood, of a level plain on the mountain’s side, where the multitude heard it, after our Redeemer had previously descended from the top of the mountain (Luke 6:17). The words mean: When our Lord had delivered the preceding discourse, in the level plain on the mountain’s side, in presence of the multitude, He came down to the foot of the mountain and wished to go elsewhere. “Great multitudes,” influenced by the heavenly discourse they were after hearing, and by the miracles they saw Him perform (Luke 6:18), “followed Him.” St. Matthew having omitted what was supplied by St. Luke, relative to the circumstances of this discourse, and particularly the previous descent of our Redeemer into the plain, where He delivered the discourse to the multitude, now records His descent to the foot of the mountain, into the low country, where the miracles, now about to be recorded, were performed. St. Matthew omits (c. 5:1) what St. Luke records, or, rather, supplements (c. 6:17), and he now records His descent from the mountain altogether, which St. Luke, who makes no mention of His descent to the foot of the mountain, omits. The opinion of Maldonatus, who holds that the preceding discourse, given in chaps. 5, 6, 7, is composed of several discourses delivered, on different occasions, by our Lord, is refuted (c. 5:1, which see).

2. “And behold a leper,” &c. “Behold,” conveys, that this occurred immediately after His descent from the mountain. St. Luke (6) and St. Mark (1) describe this miraculous cure of a leper in almost the same words employed here by St. Matthew. Hence, commentators agree that the three Evangelists refer to the same occurrence; the order of time and place, circumstantially detailed here by St. Matthew, is the one commonly adopted. The two other Evangelists do not so minutely describe the order of events, as St. Matthew does. “A leper.” St. Luke (5:12) describes him as “full of leprosy,” covered all over with it. The Jewish law (Lev. 13:46), as well as the general usage of mankind, for sanitary reasons, prevented men afflicted with this loathsome and contagious disease from associating with their fellow-men. Hence, when St. Luke says (c. 5), this cure took place “in a certain city,” it means, close by, or, in the suburbs of, a certain city, most likely, Capharnaum.

There are several passages in SS. Scripture, where, in a place, signifies, close by it. Thus, in Scriptural usage, our Lord’s Passion is said to have happened in Jerusalem, because it occurred on a mountain close by it. Also (Heb. 9:4), the urn of manna is said to be in the ark, although only alongside of it. (Josue 10:10; Judg. 18:12, &c.) It is held by some, that lepers were not prevented by the law of Moses from entering cities, but only from dwelling in them; and that leprosy, if contagious at all, which is denied by many, was not communicated by mere touch. For, the priests came constantly in contact with lepers. Hence, in order to prove dangerous, it was necessary to live with lepers and breathe the same air with them. In Leviticus (13:12) we find, that if a man were entirely covered, all over his body, with leprosy, he would be regarded as clean, as if the disease in such a case were working itself out. Lepers, though excluded from the Jewish places of residence, were not excluded from the Christian churches. St. Matthew and St. Luke may be reconciled by saying, our Lord met the leper in the streets or entrance to Capharnaum. St. Matthew’s account may be so understood. In truth, he does not mention the precise place where the miracle was performed.

And adored Him,” with supreme adoration due to God alone. (St. Mark (1:40) describes him as “falling on his knees.” St. Luke (5:12), as “falling on his face,”) which is plainly indicated by the words of the leper: “Lord, if Thou wilt,” &c., a clear profession of faith in our Lord’s omnipotent power; as if he said: Thou needest not have recourse to any other power external to Thyself; Thou needest not employ any appliances of the healing art. By a mere act of Thy will, a simple word or wish, Thou canst effect the desired cure.

The leper here illustrates the prayer recommended by St. James; he “asks in faith, nothing wavering” (Jas. 1:6). “Qui voluntatem rogat, de virtute non dubitat” (St. Jerome, in hunc locum). As leprosy was but a type of sin, those who feel the dreadful curse of sin should have recourse to Jesus Christ, and, like the leper, cry out, with undoubting confidence in the Divine goodness and power, while availing themselves of the means of remission instituted by Him, “Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.”

3. Our Lord, at once answering to his petition, shows He has the will as well as the power; and instantly cleanses him. The ceremony of touching him with His hand, while a mere word or volition would do, had for object, as we are informed by St. Chrysostom (Hom. 26 in Mattheum), to show, that He was above the ceremonial law, which forbade coming in contact with lepers (although the existence of such a law is denied by some, as we shall see hereafter), and that nothing could be impure in regard to Him, who was the source of purity; and that, far from being rendered impure by contact, the Divine touch of the flesh of the adorable Word rendered clean everything it touched. The example of Eliseus (4 Kings 4:34) touching the dead child, would show that the works of Divine power were above ritualistic observances, as in the case of the touch of a dead body.

4. Our Redeemer here inculcates three precepts or lessons—1st. Of humility; “see thou tell no man.” 2nd. Of obedience; “go, show thyself to the priest.” 3rd. Of gratitude; “offer the gift which Moses,” &c.

See thou tell no man,” &c., may mean, see thou tell no one until first thou shalt show thyself to the priest; lest, on learning the miraculous cure from rumour, before they pronounced him clean, the priests would refuse to certify it; and thus, furnish some pretext for rejecting the miracle. Hence, in promulgating it, the leper did not afterwards violate the mandate or the prohibition, which had principally for object to teach men a lesson of humility, by avoiding all vain ostentatious display, as Tertullian understands it (Lib. 4, contra Marcionem), and by concealing, as much as possible, unless where the glory of God requires the contrary, their virtuous actions. This our Lord sanctions by His own example (Mark 5:37–40; 7:23; 9:1), and when afterwards publishing the miracle (Mark 1:45), the leper, most likely, did not regard the words of our Lord as strictly mandatory in the literal sense, but as given only from a feeling of humility, on our Lord’s part.

But, go, show thyself to the priest.” St. Mark has (1:44), “to the chief of the priests,” which may refer to the priest, who, in his turn, presided over the other priests then on active duty in the temple. Or, it may be, that the Jewish High Priest reserved to himself the declaration regarding cleansing from leprosy.

Offer the gift,” a lamb; in case of poverty, two turtles, or two young pigeons (Lev. 14:13–21).

Which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.” If the word, “testimony,” be joined to “commanded,” then, the words mean, that Moses commanded such gifts in the case of cleansing from leprosy, as a statute or law, to be enforced by the priests. The law is often called “a testimony” in SS. Scripture. Others connect it with the word, “offer;” and, then, it means; present the prescribed gift, the acceptance of which by the priests shall be a testimony, or public authentic recognition on their part, of the truth and reality of the miracle; or, it may mean, it shall render them inexcusable, and prove as a testimony against them, in case they hereafter reject and calumniate our Redeemer, whose miraculous works they recognize; or, accuse Him of being an enemy of the law, whose observance of the law they themselves could bear witness to.

Unto them,” i.e., the entire sacerdotal order, meant by the word, priest, taken in a distributive sense. Others understand it, of the Jewish people. The former is the more probable. It may, possibly, refer to both priests and people. If the man did not show himself to the priests, they would probably reject the miracle, and hold him still legally unclean, and liable to be excluded from human society. It would serve as a testimony, and would promote God’s glory to witness the miracle, says St. Jerome (in haunc locum), whether they believed or not. If they believed, they would themselves be saved and cured from the criminal leprosy of sin; if they believed not, then, they would be inexcusable, in not rendering testimony to truth; and convicted of injustice for having accused Him of being an enemy of the law. In either case, God’s glory would be advanced.

5. The probability is, that the preceding miracle was performed near, or in the suburbs of, Capharnaum, or in some town on His way from the Mount. The narrative of St. Luke and St. Matthew may be very easily reconciled, if we suppose the cure of the leper to be performed on His entrance into Capharnaum. The narrative of St. Matthew, referring in this verse to “when He had entered Capharnaum,” admits of this interpretation and mode of solution.

There came to Him a centurion.” The time, place, and other circumstances would seem to render it clear, that the miracle here recorded is the same as that mentioned by St. Luke (c. 7) The trifling diversity in the narrative of both Evangelists is easily explained, and both are easily reconciled. When St. Luke says (c. 7:3, &c.), he sent some influential friends, “the ancients of the Jews,” to our Redeemer; that He went with them, and when near the house the centurion sent his friends to meet Him, and through them addressed Him, all this presents no discrepancy whatever in regard to what St. Matthew records here, as it may be said, with truth, that a man himself says, what he says through others, or employed others to say for him. The Greek commentators (St. Chrysostom, Theophylact, &c.) say, the words of St. Matthew ought to be understood literally, that the elders of the Jews, on behalf of the centurion, first accosted our Lord (as St. Luke says); that when the centurion found that our Lord Himself meant to come, he sent his friends, who addressed Him, as is recorded by St. Luke (7); and that then the centurion himself finally met Him quite close to his house, and addressed Him, as is mentioned here by St. Matthew.

6. “Servant.” St. Luke has “my slave” (δουλος). But, the word here employed (παις) may mean, either a boy or a slave. Hence, it means, “a boy slave,” much prized by the centurion, as St. Luke informs us.

7. “I will come,” &c. These words were addressed to “the ancients of the Jews” (Luke 7:3). It is deserving of remark, and has been frequently observed by interpreters, that when there is question of a poor slave, our Redeemer goes to visit him in person, although his master, the centurion, did not ask Him; but in the case of the Ruler’s son, He cures him only at a distance (John 4:50).

8. “Lord, I am not worthy,” &c. These words the centurion commissioned his friends to express in his name as our Lord was approaching his house; and hence, he expressed them through others. Or, if we adopt the interpretation of St. Chrysostom, they may have been personally uttered by the centurion himself, on seeing the Redeemer approaching his house.

Only say the word,” a Hebrew phrase, signifying, only command it; only express a wish, and it shall be well with my afflicted servant. It would appear from St. Luke, that, in the first instance, when the centurion employed the mediation of the Jewish ancients, he wished Him to come. Now, his faith is increased and enlightened, as Jesus approaches his house; and he unhesitatingly proclaimed His omnipotence.

9. “Under authority,” means, as St. Luke expresses it, “subject to authority,” a subordinate, subject to higher officers, captains or generals. “Having soldiers under me.” This he says not out of vain ostentation, but to show why his commands are obeyed. The conclusion, which may be regarded as, an argumentum a minori ad majus, so expressive of the great faith of the centurion, is: If I, a mere man, myself subject to others above me, can command my subordinates, and by my mere word, ensure a ready compliance and obedience from them, how much more canst Thou, who art Sovereign Lord of all things, subject to no one, having no one over or above Thee, command diseases and bodily infirmities, and by Thy mere word, insure the most perfect obedience and compliance with Thy wishes, “Mare et venti obediunt ei.”

10. “Marvelled,” i.e., expressed wonder at this external manifestation of faith, which may be explained, consistently with our Lord’s omniscience, as St. Thomas explains it (3 Part, q. 15, Art. 18), thus; although, in virtue of His Divine omniscience, our Lord knew the faith of the centurion already, and, moreover, could not be ignorant of it, as it was He Himself that inspired the centurion by His heavenly grace; still, He really and interiorly marvelled, owing to the experimental knowledge of the fact; just as the astronomer, who predicts an eclipse, expresses his admiration and astonishment on witnessing it actually taking place. Others, with St. Augustine, &c., understand the word to convey the mere external expression of His praise, and commendation of it; and of astonishment, as evidenced by His whole external appearance and countenance. It may, probably, also, denote the expression of commendation conveyed in the following words: “Amen I say to you,” &c.

In Israel,” the Jewish people, the depositaries of God’s oracles, favoured with His special graces and revelations. In the Greek it is more expressive still (ουδε εν τω Ισραηλ), “neither in Israel.” From this, it would appear that the centurion was a Gentile, a Roman soldier. Our Redeemer says, He did not find such faith, as was shown by a Pagan soldier, among the carnal descendants of Abraham. In this, He did not surely refer to those who, from the very nature of things, and the well-known evidence of facts, were excepted, such as the Blessed Virgin, John the Baptist, the ancient Patriarchs and Prophets, the Apostles, as when speaking of the Baptist He says, “No greater arose among the born of women.” Nor, of course, did He include Himself. Or the words may be confined to the period of His public mission; since He began to preach publicly and work miracles, He found no such instance of faith in the mass of the Jewish people in general.

11. “And I say to you,” &c. The centurion being a Gentile, as clearly appears from the contrast, “in Israel,” as also from the words of the ancients of the Jews, “He loveth our nation” (Luke 7:5), our Redeemer takes occasion, by way of digression, to refer to the vocation of the Gentiles and the rejection of the Jews—a subject referred to by the Prophets in many places, but especially by Isaias (43:5, 6, 10)—after which digression, He resumes the subject of the centurion’s appeal.

That many,” attracted by God’s grace, like the centurion, “shall come from the East,” &c., from the four quarters of the globe, and the remotest regions of the Gentiles—the Gentiles may be called, “many,” compared with the Jews—“and shall sit down with Abraham,” &c., the Patriarchs, the three great Princes of Israel, and fathers of the spiritual sons of promise, to whom were first made the promises of eternal bliss.

Shall sit down,” is allusive to the recumbent posture in which the ancients partook of their banquets—a fit emblem of the bliss they shall, one day, fully enjoy, in supreme security and rest. Our Redeemer, in accordance with a Scriptural usage, represents the eternal bliss of the saints, under the figure of an earthly banquet.

The kingdom of heaven,” conveys an idea of the joys of that blessed country in which the saints shall enjoy God for ever and ever.

12. “The children of the kingdom.” The natural descendants, according to the flesh, of the Patriarchs, born in Judea, which was a type of heaven; and as they had a claim to the type, it would seem but natural, that they had a claim to the thing typified also. And, in truth, the Jews seemed to claim the spiritual inheritance of justification which conducted to heaven, as a kind of hereditary birthright transmitted to them, as sons of Abraham (vide Ep. ad Rom.) To them, the Gospel of the kingdom was first preached.

Exterior darkness.” The words are found in St. Matthew only, here and in c. 22:13; 25:30. They have, undoubtedly, reference to the darkness of hell, that land of misery and darkness, where everlasting horror dwells. “Darkness,” also conveys the idea of a close prison (Psa. 106; Isa. 49). “Exterior,” according to some interpreters, is allusive to the metaphor of the banquet, which in the East, usually took place at night. Within the banquet hall, was a profusion of lights; without, darkness. Everything outside the banquet hall was darkness, compared with the brilliancy which reigned within. In hell, there is physical darkness. The damned are also deprived of the light of God’s beatific vision, said to be hell’s greatest torment. According to these, the words mean: They shall be cast out of God’s bright kingdom, outside which there is but darkness. Others, seeing the word, “exterior,” to be used (c. 25), where there is no allusion to a feast, interpret “exterior darkness,” to mean, darkness of the densest kind in that deep and profound abyss, which is situated outside the brightness of this world, under or within the earth, where the light of the sun never reaches. Others, take the word in a superlative sense, to mean the densest darkness, farthest off from the brightness of God’s kingdom and the light of His glorious effulgence.

Weeping and gnashing of teeth.” These words, used by St. Matthew, not only here, but also in chapters 13, 22, 24, 25, and once by St. Luke (13), are explained by some to denote the extreme cold and heat of hell; the latter producing “weeping;” the former, “gnashing of teeth.” St. Jerome, in his commentary on Job, as also on St. Matthew (10) seems to hold this opinion, for which there is some foundation, in the words of Job (24:19). The meaning of the words of Job is, however, questioned by others. Hence, the matter is uncertain. (See Jansenius, c. xlv.) Maldonatus holds that there is real weeping &c., in hell. A. Lapide maintains, there is real gnashing of teeth, but not real weeping or shedding of tears; and St. Jerome, taking the words literally, infers from them, the resurrection of the body. The words mean, excessive pain, rage or horror; the former, indicated by the word, “weeping;” the latter, by the words, “gnashing of teeth.” Even profane authors refer to the torture of dying soldiers, who were afflicted with “stridor dentium.”

13. “Go”—a Hebrew form of expression, implying that his request was granted—go home, in a joyous mood, “and as thou hast believed,” that in virtue of my Divine power, I could, although absent, cure thy servant, “so be it done to thee.” “In that hour,” i.e., at the very instant Jesus told him to go home, conveying, that He had granted his request.

14. The two preceding miracles were performed by our Redeemer, after delivering the Sermon on the Mount. The following miracle and all the events recorded in the remaining portion of this and in the ninth chapters, took place before the Sermon on the Mount, as appears from the other Evangelists. This appears clear also from the fact, that our Redeemer had, previous to the sermon, selected the twelve Apostles, of whom St. Matthew was one. Now, the Apostle relates, in c. 9, his first call to be one of our Redeemer’s disciples previous to his adoption into the Apostolic college. Hence, the remainder of this chapter, together with c. 9, should have been, in due order, inserted at c. 4:22.

And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house,” &c. From Mark (1:22, &c.), and Luke (4:32, &c.), it appears that our Redeemer, after having called Peter and Andrew (Matt. 4:18), entered Capharnaum; and after having preached in the synagogue and having cured a demoniac, He went to the house of Peter.

Peter’s house,” is said by some to be the house of his mother-in-law, called “Peter’s,” because, whenever he came from Bethsaida, his native place (John 1:44), to Capharnaum, he most likely stopped there. It is also called “the house of Simon and Andrew” (Mark 1:29), as, probably, both stopped at the house of Peter’s mother-in-law when at Capharnaum. Some say it refers to the house of Peter’s father at Bethsaida, which was but a short distance from Capharnaum. It is, however, clearly inferred from St. Mark and St. Luke, that the miracle took place at Capharnaum. St. Mark (1:33) says, “all the city was gathered together at the door.” He spoke of no other city, save Capharnaum. St. Luke says (4:38), “Jesus rising up out of the synagogue, went into Simon’s house,” which shows it was in the city or near it. Most likely, our Redeemer went there, for the purpose of taking food, as the hour for dining had arrived. (St. Chrysostom, Theophylact, &c.) It is called “Peter’s house,” as it was his, formerly, before he left all to follow Christ.

His mother-in-law.” Peter is the only one of the Apostles of whose marriage we have any Scriptural record; and if others among them were married, they ceased cohabiting with their wives, “Eece reliquimus omnia.” “Sick of a fever.” It seems she was very ill, as St. Luke (4:38), calls it, “a great fever.”

15. “And He touched her hand.” St. Mark, “He took her by the hand” (1:31); St. Luke (4:39), “standing over her” i.e., close by her, inclining towards the sick bed, “He commanded the fever,” i.e., in a menacing, authoritative way, He commanded the fever to leave her, “and she arose (St. Luke adds, ‘immediately’) and ministered.” Physicians tell us, and it is known from experience, that persons, on their immediate recovery from fever, are very weak. Peter’s mother-in-law was perfectly restored and vigorous. Her serving them at table shows, therefore, that her cure was at once complete and miraculous.

16. “When evening was come.” St. Luke says (4:40), “when the sun was down.” The cure of the demoniac in the synagogue, and of Peter’s wife, which occurred on the Sabbath day (Mark 1:21; Luke 4:31), had excited the attention of the Jews, who, however, before bringing their sick to Him, waited for the evening and the setting of the sun, when, according to the Jewish computation of their feasts, which was from evening to evening (Lev. 23), the Sabbath was over, as they considered it unlawful to have any work performed on the Sabbath. Hence, as the Sabbath was over at sunset, they bring their sick and infirm to Peter’s house, where He tarried, to be cured by Him. How many spiritual cures have been performed, even to the present day, in Peter’s house, which is God’s holy Church. In mentioning the lateness of the hour, the Evangelist, probably, wishes to convey, that our Lord heeded not any inconvenience, whenever an opportunity presented itself, of doing good. “Possessed with devils,” shows actual real possession; otherwise, the whole account would be illusory. The expulsion of those wicked spirits, proved the superior power of Christ.

17. “That it might be fulfilled,” &c. “That” which is the same as “so that,” denotes the consequence or effect. The effect of these cures, was the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaias (53:4). The Prophet in this passage, refers to sins primarily. But, he also refers to corporal diseases, as the manifest effects and clear types of sin. The Jews, themselves, regarded these diseases as the punishment of sin; and our Redeemer, when curing bodily diseases, usually premised with saying, “Thy sins are forgiven.” The cause is first removed, and then the effect or punishment. Hence, as the Prophet referred to sin and its punishment, the words of Isaias have a double fulfilment in the removal of bodily distempers, and the remission of sin in consideration of the future merits of Christ. Theologians generally hold, that, the words of Isaias are applied by St. Matthew here, in sensu accommoditio. The Socinian argument, who confine the prophecy of Isaias to the removal of bodily distempers only, is fully answered by a reference to St. Peter, who (1 Ep. 2:24), interprets the words of Isaias (53:5–12), of the remission of sin, and the satisfaction paid for it on the cross. So that whatever interpretation may be given of Isaias (53:4), here quoted by St. Matthew, it is certain, that verses 5–12 of that chapter refer to the atonement for sin by the sufferings of Christ on the cross.

St. Jerome has rendered the original Hebrew of Isaias thus in the Vulgate: “Vere languores nostros ipse tulit et dolores nostros ipse portavit.” These words, viewed as referring to sin, will mean: He bore our sins as to imputability, and He endured on the cross the sorrows and tortures we should be enduring for all eternity, if He had not graciously vouchsafed to become a vicarious offering in our stead. Viewed in regard to corporal diseases, as applied here by St. Matthew, the words will mean, “He took” our infirmities, not in the sense, that He took upon Him these corporal diseases, which would not be becoming for Him, and would prevent His ministry, although He submitted to the common infirmities of our nature not unbecoming Him, such as hunger, thirst, lassitude, &c.; but, in the sense, that He took them away from the people, by healing them, a meaning which the Greek, ελαβε, and the corresponding Hebrew word, nasa, often bears. Similar is the phrase, “qui tollit peccata mundi.” “And bore our diseases.” While sympathizing with the sick, He bore their sorrows, as St. Jerome renders it, dolores nostros, by removing their diseases. St. Paul uses the word, “bear,” to signify sympathy. “Alter alterius onera portate.” The word, “portavit” (bore), may mean, not taking on oneself, but taking off another, and lightening his burden, in which sense the Hebrew word, sabal, as well as its cognate word, nasa, “auferre” is taken. (Vide Forerius in Isaiam liii.) Hence, the words, as referring to bodily diseases, mean, “He took our infirmities,” i.e., He took them away, by curing us of them; “and He bore our diseases,” not on His own shoulders; but, He lightened on us this load of diseases under which we were groaning, and carried them off elsewhere from us. The Septuagint for “infirmities,” is, αμαρτιας, sins.

18. Wishing to avoid the crowds, whom the fame of His miraculous cures had attracted to Him, thus leaving us an example of disregard for human applause, He gave orders to cross to the opposite or eastern shore of the Sea of Tiberias. Mark (1:35), and Luke (4:42), say, He left Capharnaum early in the morning, and went to some desert place to pray; and there the crowds found Him, and in order to avoid them, He gave orders to cross to the opposite or eastern shore of the lake. There is some apparent difference in the order in which the following events are recorded by SS. Mark, Luke, and Matthew. Interpreters are generally agreed that the arrangement adopted by St. Matthew is the correct one. The two other Evangelists describe these events as having taken place without any reference to the precise order in which they occurred. Indeed, the very form of expression used by them would clearly indicate, they meant to narrate the events as having occurred, some time or other; while St. Matthew is particular in detailing the very order in which they occurred.

19. When our Redeemer was on His way to the lake, which He was soon to cross, this scribe or doctor of the law, of his own accord, offered to become one of His constant followers. St. Hilary reads the words interrogatively, “Master, shall I follow Thee?” &c.

20. Our Redeemer, without either accepting or refusing his offer, and seeing the interested views by which he was very probably actuated (as interpreters of Scripture and the holy Fathers, generally, infer from the words addressed to him by our Redeemer), tells him if he expected in Christ’s kingdom, worldly glory, or wealth, he was greatly mistaken. Similar was His reply to the mother of the sons of Zebedee (20:22), and the young man mentioned (19:21).

The foxes,” animals which, far from being protected, are hunted down by man.

The birds of the air,” which seem to be utterly careless about any provision for themselves, subsisting solely on the chance pittance which Providence throws in their way. Some of the Holy Fathers interpret these words mystically, as denoting the man’s cunning and dissimulation, represented by the word, “foxes;” his pride and boasting, by “the birds of the air;” others suppose the scribe to be sincere in his offer, and they take the words of our Redeemer not to imply insincerity, but to indicate the difficulties and privations to be largely shared in by His constant followers.

The Son of man,” a child descended from the first man, Adam (Barradius) Ezechiel, who was a type of Christ, was called so, also, by the Angels, who addressed him. These words indicate the great humiliation and self-denial of our Redeemer in the mystery of His Incarnation. Although “Son of God,” He vouchsafed, for our sakes, to become also the Son of (sinful) man, to assume all the common infirmities of human nature (its corruption and sinfulness excepted); and, all who wish to be partakers of His plentiful redemption, must, like Him, endure crosses and privations. This is implied in the words of our Redeemer to the scribe in question.

21. “Another of His disciples,” who was one of His disciples, or who was to be one hereafter. All the disciples of our Lord did not attach themselves to Him constantly. Thus, we see, Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple of our Lord; but, occult, from fear of the Jews. The same is probably true of the man in question. And now, he is invited to become a constant follower of our Lord. This man, whose chief drawback, as far as we can gather from this passage, was, that he seemed to have rather too much sensibility in regard to natural ties and human affections, was pressed by our Redeemer to forego the pious duty of burying his father, the urgent call to follow Christ being one of still more imperative necessity. Some commentators considering our Redeemer’s refusal to grant so short a space of time for discharging a natural and religious duty, a corporal work of mercy, to be rather harsh and apparently opposed to that spirit of kindness He always displayed, think, the father of the young man was not dead at all, but only in extreme old age. So that the young man meant to ask to be left with his aged father till he closed his eyes and performed the last offices dictated by filial piety. However, from the following words, it seems more probable, the father was actually dead; and our Redeemer must have seen, from the peculiar circumstances of the case and person, good reasons, unknown to us, for urging his immediate compliance, without any delay whatsoever.

22. “Follow Me.” From St. Luke (9:59), it would appear, the words of the preceding verse (21) were spoken by the disciple in reply to our Redeemer’s invitation. Hence, the words of this verse contain a second call to follow our Lord, uttered after the disciple begged to be allowed to go and bury his father. In truth, the words of v. 21 would imply that our Lord asked him to follow Him. And now, the word, “follow,” is repeated in this verse a second time.

Suffer the dead,” i.e., those who are dead in infidelity and sin, “to bury their dead,” i.e., whose souls are, by death, separated from their bodies. Hence, the word, “dead,” bears a different signification in both cases. In the first place, it means, spiritually dead—“suffer the dead”—who are only concerned about the present world, and never think of following Christ; in the second, “to bury their dead,” those corporally dead. St. Luke (9:60), says, our Lord added, “but, go thou and preach the kingdom of of God.” From these words of St. Luke, we see that if two incompatible duties occur, we must attend to the more necessary and important. The duty of “preaching the kingdom of God” and ministering to the necessities of the soul and concerns of spiritual life and death, being a spiritual work, should be attended to before the performance of a corporal work of mercy, such as ministering to the necessities of the body and the concerns of this life.

St. Luke states (9:61), that our Redeemer rejected, with a sharp rebuke, another, who before following Him, wished for some time to settle his temporal affairs; or, rather, to take leave of his friends and domestics, telling him impliedly, that by “putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, he became unfit for the kingdom of God.” From this, we can easily see, with what undivided care, a minister of the Gospel must devote himself to the exclusive discharge of his spiritual duties, without embarrassing himself with temporal matters, save in as far as they subserve the spiritual and eternal interests, which frequently does occur. “No man, being a soldier to God, entangleth himself with worldly business.” (2 Tim. 2) No doubt, this is universally true, and should be ever attended to by the ministers of religion; and to every good minister of religion, it is a cross, and a great source of annoyance, to be placed in circumstances, where temporal, political, and other worldly matters become a matter of duty, in defence of the rights of the Church, of his own people, of Christian education, &c. But, however annoying and irksome, they still become a duty, especially in a country like ours. Woe to those men, who, out of love of ease or Pharisaical affectation of superior sanctity, and detachment from the world, or from the corrupt motive of catering to the prejudices of the great, and of thus becoming accepted partakers of their bounty, by inglorious indolence and love of ease, betray the rights of the Church, the best interests of religion, and the permanent, enduring interests of civil society.

From the preceding verses (20–22), we can clearly see the dispositions which should animate all those who wish to enter on the Gospel ministry—1st. Disinterestedness; 2ndly. A generous promptitude in obeying the higher Divine call, to be retarded by no obstacles, no considerations of other duties, however urgent or plausible.

23. “His disciples followed Him” into the ship, to cross the lake with Him.

24. “A great tempest.” The Greek, word “σεισμος,” generally signifies an earthquake; but in Luke 8:25; Mark 4:37, the word used is λαιλαψ, which denotes a hurricane. All lakes bounded by mountain ranges are subject to such.

But He was asleep.” This was a natural sleep, brought on by our Lord’s own voluntary act, with the view of showing His human nature, and that He was subjected to its ordinary wants; and also, of showing His own power, of testing the faith of His disciples, and of confirming it, by a display of His Divine power. This boat, as indeed does the whole passage, in a mystical sense, represent God’s holy Church, through every phase of her chequered history.

St. Chrysostom tells us (Hom. 23, in Mattheum), that the sea represents the world; the wind and storm, the attempts of evil spirits, and wicked men, to upset the Church. The sleep of our Lord, while the hurricane was raging, reminds us that, sometimes, He permits persecution, and other trials, to assail His Church, to such a pitch of violence, as to threaten her utter destruction, which, no doubt, humanly speaking, they would long since have compassed, only that the Almighty helmsman, when fervently invoked by His suffering children, awakes from His sleep, allays the storm, restores tranquillity in His own good time; and, after testing the faith and heroism of His followers, scatters her enemies, humbling them to the dust, and showing how little human malice, or human strength, can prevail against the never-failing promises of an Almighty and Infinitely veracious God. Never, perhaps, did a more violent hurricane assail the Church of God, never did the enemies of God, devils, and their wicked instruments, the powers of this world, combine, with more apparent success, to swamp the vessel of God’s Church, than at this moment. But the children of God know on whom they have to lean. They have unbounded confidence in the midst of the storm, which assails them. They have Him on board, whom “the sea and the winds must obey,” who, by a single fiat of His will, can at once destroy their enemies. Relying on His promises, and holy protection, they never cease to cry out, with the firmest confidence of being finally heard, Lord, save us, we perish.”

25. “We perish.” We are on the very point of perishing, and of being lost.

26. “O ye of little faith?” This He probably said before the miracle, as St. Matthew, who is careful to observe the order of events, records it, although Mark and Luke say, it was after it. This excessive fear, which St. Mark tells us (4:38), made them imagine that our Lord was utterly unconcerned for them, shows how weak their faith was. They had on board the Lord God, whose Divine eye never sleeps. The suddenness of the storm, or, as the Evangelists express it, of the hurricane, which overtook them, utterly bewildered them; so that they hardly knew what they were about. They were not long accustomed, at this time, to the converse of our Lord; and, hence, it was no wonder, that the dreadful danger that they were in, should have caused such fear.

He commanded.” The Greek word means, to command authoritatively. St. Mark (4:39), gives us the form of command used. “Peace, be still.” While His sleep indicated His humanity, this miracle proved His divinity. God alone can command the elements; according to the words of the Psalmist, “Thou rulest the power of the sea, and appeasest the motion of the waves thereof” (Psa. 88); also, “He said the word, and there arose a storm of wind, and the waves thereof were lifted up,” &c. (Psa. 106:25) The words of this verse are strongly figurative, and expressive of the sovereign power of our Blessed Lord over all creation, animated and inanimate.

And there came a great calm,” without a vestige of the storm remaining. This shows the reality of the miracle. For, after a great storm, and commotion of the waters, the waves also continue, for some time, in a state of agitation, and the sea never becomes suddenly calm, save in case of a miracle, as here.

27. “The men wondered.” This may refer both to the disciples and to the men who manned the boat, as well as to those in the other boats which accompanied them across (Mark 4:36). It may also include the multitudes on the shore.

What manner of man is this?” He must be surely, something even more than we regarded Him. He has worked greater wonders than Moses or any other. The very elements are obedient to His will. It need hardly be observed, that the whole occurrence which took place, while our Redeemer and His disciples were crossing the lake, was clearly typical of the future condition and circumstances of God’s holy Church, and never more so than at the present moment (A.D. 1876).

28. “Of the Gerasens.” There is a diversity of manuscript readings here. Some Greek copies have “Gadarenes;” others read, “Gergesenes.”

Two” men. St. Mark 5:2; Luke 8:29, without denying that there were two, speak only of one, either because this one was more remarkably fierce, and savage than the other—and Mark and Luke only meant to narrate the substance of what took place—or, because only one fully appreciated the blessing conferred on him, and wished to follow our Divine Redeemer (Luke 8:38). The two Evangelists describe the wretched condition of this demoniac, to show the malice of the demons, and the great power of our Lord.

Coming out of the sepulchres.” It was required by the law of Moses, that the sepulchres should be built outside the cities, towns, and villages. They were constructed in the shape of vaults, of such size as to allow several persons to enter them. These wretched men were impelled by the cruel demons to take up their abode, in these dismal, lonely places, far away from any intercourse with men. Probably, the superior power of our Lord compelled these demons to bring their wretched victims to meet Him, so as to have His power and mercy displayed in their regard.

29. “They cried out.” After our Lord, as Mark (5:8); Luke (8:29) tell us, had ordered the demons to go out of the bodies of the possessed.

What have we to do with Thee, Jesus Son of God?” The Greek, “τι ημιν και σοι,” can hardly be literally translated, so as to bear any intelligible meaning. Hence, the above translation is rather explanatory than literal. “Quid nobis et tibi.” These words must be interpreted, according to circumstances. They generally, and perhaps, always, convey the idea of obsecration, entreaty, or remonstrance. Here, probably, they mean—As you command us to give up the possession of these men, we ask, what have we done to Thee, thus to torture us, and exercise Thy power over us? What have you to say to us, or we to you in this matter? We only torment sinners. We have nothing to do with Thee, the Son of God, who art infinite sanctity, incapable of sin.

Art Thou come hither before the time to torment us?” Some of the fallen spirits were dragged down with infernal ropes to the lower hell (2 Peter 2; Jude 1); others were permitted at large, to dwell in the air, and on the earth. Hence, called the “Prince of the powers of the air” (Eph. 2); “Spirits of wickedness in high places.” (Eph. 6) It is the opinion of St. Thomas (1 P. q. 64, Art. 4 ad 3), and of others, that wherever they are, they carry the torments of hell fire about them, God so arranging it, by His infinite power, that the fire of hell would act on them at a distance, not to speak of the pain of loss. These haughty spirits were tortured by the very presence of Christ, as St. Jerome tells us (in Matth. 8) Moreover, in their pride, they would regard it as an aggravation of the infernal torture they were already enduring, to be expelled by a Superior Power, and be sent, before the time, to the infernal abyss (Luke 8:31), into which they are finally to be cast, or driven out of the country (Mark 5:10), perhaps into some desert region. They would thus, be deprived of the fiendish pleasure of injuring the earth, by causing storms, sterility, diseases, and of tempting mankind. It may be, that while at large, roaming through earth and air, they suffer less than when confined to hell.

Before the time,” i.e., before the Day of Judgment; after which they were to be cast into the abyss. They were afraid that our Redeemer was anticipating the Day of Judgment, to cast them into the depth of hell.

To torment,” means, increase, aggravate the tortures they were already enduring.

Jesus, Son of God.” Most likely, at this time, the devil knew Him, from the several miracles and wonders He performed, to be the Son of God, although he may have doubted it at the temptation, (c. 4) St. Luke (8:29) says—“When he saw Jesus, he fell down before Him,” rendering Him, from compulsion, Divine adoration, “credunt Demones et contremiscunt.” The words of St. Paul (1 Cor. 2), prove nothing to the contrary. St. Paul does not say, the devils did not know Christ to be God. He only says, they were ignorant of the economy of redemption, and the consequences of His death. For, it is not clear, they would not, out of sheer malice and hatred, have crucified Him, even though they knew Him to be Son of God. (See Commentary, 1 Cor. 2:8)

30. And there was, not far from them.” The Greek reading is affirmative (μακραν, “a great way off”). But the Vulgate reading, “non longe,” is, most likely, the correct reading; both because it is found so in all old and modern Latin codices, in all ancient interpreters, except Euthymius; as also, because it accords better with Mark and Luke. The former says, “near the mountain” (c. 5:11); Luke (8:32), “on the mountain,” which was at hand. Both those readings are easily reconciled, inasmuch as the herd, being very large, “about two thousand” (Mark 5:13), some of them were on the mountain; more of them, “near” it.

31. The devils asked for three things—1st. Not to be cast into the abyss of hell. 2nd. Not to be sent out of the country, where, from their acquaintance with the dispositions of the people, they could do much mischief, and more effectually act on their known tendencies. 3rd. To be allowed to enter the herd of swine, in case they were cast out of the bodies of the two men possessed. They were very numerous. Their name was Legion (Mark 5:9). The reason why the devils wished to enter the swine is supposed to be, to create indignation among the people at the destruction of their property, and thus cause them to reject our Redeemer’s ministry. The event justified their anticipations. They, moreover, desired to show their hatred of man, by the injury done him in his property, as they were not permitted to do injury to persons.

32. “Go.” There can be no doubt, that our Lord, as Sovereign Master of all things, could, in virtue of His high dominion, permit this destruction of property; and as He had, undoubtedly, in view in this act, besides God’s glory, to succour man’s spiritual necessities, it is not to be wondered at, if so many of these animals are destroyed to succour man’s corporal wants, that a few, on this occasion, would be destroyed to succour his spiritual and more urgent necessities. Several reasons are assigned by interpreters why our Lord permitted the demons to enter the swine. 1. To spread abroad the miracle of the expulsion of the devils from those possessed. 2. To show the number of the demons; and, that they can do nothing without the Divine permission; also to show their malignity, and how they would torture and destroy men, if God permitted them. Some commentators say, our Redeemer permitted the destruction of the swine to punish those who kept them, and exposed themselves to the danger of partaking of swine’s flesh, contrary to the law of Moses. However, the law of Moses, nowhere prohibits the Jewish people from feeding swine for the purposes of traffic, or any other purposes than the eating of them. Moreover, although this district was formerly possessed by the half-tribe of Manasses and the tribe of Gad, whence some call the city Gadara; still, as it was on the confines of the Gentiles, it is not unlikely many Pagans tended swine, who could use swine flesh without sin, and who might be the lawful owners of the herd in question. And it is expressly stated by Josephus (Lib. de Bello, cap. 2), that the district beyond the Jordan was inhabited by Jews and Syrians conjointly. Our Lord might also have in view, to meet the errors of the Sadducees, who denied the existence of spirits, and of future Rationalists, who denied the personality of demons, and said, that in these several possessions, there was question of mere diseases. For, by what propriety of language could the Evangelists say, “they,” i.e., diseases, “going out, went into the swine?”

The whole herd.” St. Mark tells us, they amounted to “about two thousand.”

The entrance of the demons into the herd of swine, in a mystical sense, shows what a fit habitation for unclean spirits are the bodies of the unchaste, who wallow in the mire of uncleanness, of which the swine are a fit emblem.

Into the sea,” i.e., the Sea of Galilee, of which there was mention in this chapter.

33. The swineherds, terrified at what they saw, “told everything,” and especially regarding the cure performed on the men who were possessed by devils.

34. “The whole city,” i.e., a great number of citizens, moved, probably, from curiosity, went out to see one, of whose miraculous wonders they heard so much.

Besought Him,” &c. This was, probably, dictated by a fear of any further temporal disaster. Influenced by a fear of temporal loss, they wished to forego the blessing of His presence among them, who had performed so many wonders in favour of the possessed. Hence, proving unworthy of His presence, our Lord, unwilling to cast the priceless pearl of His Holy Word and ministrations before swine, left their country, and recrossed the lake.

Copyright ©1999-2023 Wildfire Fellowship, Inc all rights reserved