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

The Evangelist commences his Gospel with the preaching of St. John the Baptist, which was in accordance with the predictions of the ancient Prophets (1–8). He next describes the Baptism of our Lord; the descent of the Holy Ghost on Him; His temptation by the devil; His preaching after the imprisonment of the Baptist (9–15). The call of Simon and Andrew, John and James (16–20). His preaching in the Synagogue, where He miraculously cured a man possessed by an unclean spirit (21–28). The cure of Peter’s mother-in-law and of several others, some of them possessed by wicked spirits (29–35). The cure of the leper (36–45).

1. “The beginning of the Gospel,” &c. The words mean: The joyous tidings of salvation wrought by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, began, in accordance with the predictions of the prophets, and of Isaias in particular (vv. 2, 3), with the ministry and preaching of John the Baptist in the desert (v. 4).

The words of verse 1 are understood by some to be the title of this Gospel of St. Mark, and to form a complete, absolute sentence, independent of what follows. According to these, the words of verses 2, 3, “As it is written,” &c., commence a conditional sentence, dependant for its absolute completeness on verse 4, thus: “As the Prophet Isaias predicted in the words, A voice of one crying, &c., prepare ye the way of the Lord;” so (v. 4), “John”—the Baptist, in fulfilment of this prophecy—“was in the desert baptizing,” &c. These expositors say, the words of verse 1 are placed absolutely here, as St. Matthew places absolutely, the opening words of his Gospel, “Liber generationis Jesu Christi filii David,” &c.

In support of this construction, which makes the words of verse 2, “As it is written,” &c., the commencement of a sentence, completed or rendered absolute in verse 4, they say, this is the very same idea conveyed in St. Luke, in an inverted form, (3:2, &c.), “the word of the Lord was made unto John … as it was written in the book of the sayings of Isaias,” &c.

Others maintain, that the words of this verse (1) are not the title, but the Preface or Introduction to the Gospel, as the words, “The beginning,” clearly show, and that they are to be connected with the words of verse 4, the intermediate verses, 2, 3, being, to some extent, parenthetical. The beginning of the joyous message of salvation brought about by Jesus Christ, the Son of God (2, 3, in accordance with the prediction of the Prophets), was as follows: “John was in the desert,” &c. (verse 4). This seems to be the more probable construction (see Patrizzi, Lib. iii., Disser. xliv. 1, 2).

It is observed by commentators, that each of the four Evangelists commences his Gospel in a way quite peculiar to himself. Matthew and John commence with our Lord’s generation. The former, with His Human; the latter, with His Divine and Eternal Generation; while Mark and Luke open the Gospel with the history of our Lord’s precursor; the former, with the history of his preaching and ministry; the latter, with the history of his wonderful and miraculous birth.

Of the Gospel.” The word, “Gospel,” here signifies, not a book or writing, as it does when we use the words the “Gospel of St. Matthew, St. Mark,” &c.; but, the doctrine or joyous message of salvation through Jesus Christ, preached to the world, in which sense it is said, “Believe the Gospel” (verse 15); “Preach the Gospel to every creature,” (16:15). “Of Jesus Christ.” Some interpreters (Rosenmuller Schol. in hunc locum, &c.) understand “of,” to mean, concerning Jesus Christ, as in the phrase, the Gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23); “the Gospel of peace” (Ephes. 6:15). The preaching, then, of this joyous message concerning Christ, might be said to have commenced with John, although obscurely and remotely predicted by others; because, he immediately proclaimed Christ, and commenced with the same theme of preaching that He afterwards commenced with, viz., “Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” which was to lead to the spiritual and eternal blessings secured by the Gospel. “Do penance,” the first theme of Evangelical preaching, was commenced by John, and perfected by Christ.

The Son of God.” As St. Matthew commences his Gospel with the history of Christ as “son of David, the son of Abraham,” thus literally describing His human nature; so, Mark, the disciple of St. Peter, proclaims in a sense equally literal, His Divine nature, by styling Him, “the Son of God,” thus re-echoing the memorable confession of St. Peter, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16).

2, 3. “As it is written in Isaias the Prophet, ‘Behold I send,’ ” &c. The words of verse 3 are taken from Isaias; but, the words of verse 2 are quoted from Malachias (3:1). Hence, interpreters are more or less perplexed in endeavouring to explain why the quotation, taken partly from Malachias, partly from Isaias, should be exclusively ascribed by St. Mark to the latter. In the ordinary Greek reading it is, εν τοις προφηταις, as is written, in the Prophets. In this reading the difficulties at once vanish. But the Vulgate reading, besides being the reading of all Latin copies, is that of most versions, the Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Persian, Arabic, and found in all the writings of the holy Fathers, who quote from this passage, and also of many Greek copies, of which seven are quoted by Mill (Nov. Græc. Test, in Marcum i. 2). among them the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Cantabrigensis. Among critics, Griesbach (Nov. Test, in Marcum i. 2), prefers the Vulgate to the ordinary Greek reading. The question, then, with those who adopt the Vulgate, is, how to explain the above difficulty. Some, with St. Augustine, say, that as Isaias was the more celebrated, and had prophesied before Malachias in reference to the Baptist; hence, the Evangelist, having principally in his mind to quote Isaias, who was the first to prophesy on the subject of the Baptist’s mission, incidentally inserted the prophecy of Malachias, to show the thorough agreement of the Prophets on this important point, and quotes only Isaias. The words, “Behold I send my Angel,” &c. (Mal. 3:1), refers to the same person, John the Baptist, and to the same preparation is referred to by Isaias in the words, “A voice of one … prepare ye the ways of the Lord,” &c. This preparation is more especially and particularly mentioned by the Baptist, “Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Others, with Patrizzi, account for it in this way (Lib. iii. Disser. xlv. 16–19). First, after noticing that the quotation here is not called, the prophecy of Isaias: nor said to be spoken by Isaias; but, “written in Isaias,” that is, in the Book of Isaias the Prophet, these interpreters observe, that the Jews were wont to name each book of the Bible, from the first word with which it commenced; thus they called the Book of Genesis, Beresith; Proverbs, Misle, &c. So, also, probably, it was usual with them to classify the books of Sacred Scripture under the heads of Law, Prophets, Psalms, and to quote a passage contained in any one book, included under any division, from the first book which headed that division. Hence, as Isaias headed the volume of the Book of Prophets, any quotation from the other Prophets would be quoted from Isaias, or from the volume commencing with Isaias the Prophet. Our Lord Himself quoting the books of the Old Testament, that referred to Him, divides them, in accordance with Jewish usage, into “the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). “PSALMS” is quoted for all the Hagiographa, it being the first book of the volume designated by that name.

As it is written,” &c. The Evangelist quotes the Prophets, to add greater weight to the testimony and preaching of the Baptist, whose public mission was not casual or fortuitous, as it had been long before predicted by the Prophets. Hence, his teaching contained nothing novel; all he said, and all he did, were not the result of any human arrangements. They had been long before arranged by God’s providence.

Behold I send My Angel,” &c. (Mal. 3:1.) These words had been already applied by our Lord Himself to the Baptist (Matt. 11:10). The reading in the Evangelists differs somewhat from that of the Prophet, as well in the Hebrew as in the Septuagint. In the Hebrew it is, Behold I send MY Angel … before MY face. The Septuagint differs from this only in one word. Instead of, “I send,” it is in the future, “I shall send.” Here it is, “before Thy face … prepare Thy way, before Thee.” But, this trifling difference does not prejudice the substantial identity of meaning in both. Neither do the Evangelists, nor our Lord, always quote the identical words of the Prophets. They content themselves sometimes with quoting the true sense of a passage. St. Jerome (in Isaiam, Lib. iii. c. 7), tells us, “in multis testimoniis quæ Apostoli vel Evangelistæ de veteribus Libris assumpserunt, curiosius attendendum est, non eos verborum ordinem secutos esse sed sensum.” The words here quoted are, according to the Evangelist, addressed by God the Father to His Son, the Messiah, whom the Jews were anxiously expecting to come to His temple (see Matt. 11:10).

3. (See Matt. 3:3).

4. “Baptizing and preaching,” &c. There is an inversion of order here. John first preached the Baptism of Penance, and afterwards, baptized. By this, some understand the baptism of Christ, which John announced to be near at hand. It remitted sin, and required Penance as a necessary disposition. Hence, St. Peter says (Acts 2:38), “Do penance, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ.” It is more likely, however, that it refers to John’s own baptism, called “Baptism of Penance,” because, it brought men to penance, and was, as it were, a certain protestation, whereby men professed they would do penance, and received it in testimony of their desire to change their former sinful lives, and enter on a new life of penance, for the purpose of obtaining the remission of their sins. This remission was to come from their belief in the Gospel, and from the baptism of Christ, for which John’s baptism prepared and disposed them. John’s baptism did not, of itself, remit sin, nor did it confer sanctifying grace (see Matt. 3:6). It only disposed men, after doing penance, for receiving the Gospel, and the baptism of Christ, whose superior excellence John made the coming of the people to receive his own baptism, the befitting occasion of proclaiming and testifying to, with the full force of his own sacred character and authority.

5–8. (See Matt. 3:4–10).

11. “Thou art,” &c. The same is the form of words in St. Luke, also (3:22). In St. Matthew (3:17) it is, “This is My beloved Son,” &c. But, as Jerome, already referred to, observes, the sacred writers, when quoting the words of others, regard not so much the words as the sense. The sense here is the same, whether the Heavenly Father speaks of His Son, or speaks to Him directly.

12. (See Matt. 4:1.) “Drove Him,” shows the efficacy of the Holy Ghost, who dwelt in our Lord in all His fulness, and influenced Him to act energetically, but freely.

13. “With the beasts,” shows the utterly desolate condition of the desert where He was (see Matt. 4:1–11).

14. “According to the natural course of events,” the history of John’s imprisonment recorded (6:17–20), should be given here. But St. Mark, following St. Matthew, describes the history of John’s imprisonment and death together, when the occasion arose after John’s death for referring to them.

Our Lord came to Jerusalem for the Paschal solemnity (John 2:13), and remained in Judea while John was exercising his ministry (John 3:22–31). After John’s imprisonment, He returned from Judea to Galilee, as is mentioned here, and Matt. 4:12.

The kingdom of God,” has the same signification as “kingdom of heaven,” in St. Matthew, by whom alone the words, “kingdom of heaven,” are used.

Preaching the Gospel.” After John was confined, our Redeemer commenced to preach publicly, and opened with the same theme as John, thus confirming John’s preaching and doctrine.

15. “The time is accomplished,” i.e., the time of grace, of salvation, of superabundant mercy, brought about by the Saviour, predetermined from eternity, foretold by the Law and the Prophets, and long and anxiously expected by you. “And the kingdom of God is at hand.” In order, therefore, to benefit by the season of grace and prepare for the kingdom of God, you must adopt the necessary means. These are, to “repent,” of your former sinful lives, and “believe the Gospel,” to unhesitatingly believe in the joyous message of salvation, and all the truths it proposes for belief. This is a brief summary of all our Lord’s preaching during His life. Faith in all the truths of the Gospel and works expressed in the word, “repent” (see Matt. 4:17). For meaning of word, repent” (see Matt. 3:2).

16–20. (See Matt. 4:18–22).

21. “They enter Capharnaum,” after returning from the borders of the lake, where He walked, and called the Apostles (see Matt. 4:13).

Forthwith,” does not mean, that He went straight to the synagogue on His return from the lake; for, it was not on a Sabbath-day the call of the Apostles took place, since they were engaged, when called, in fishing and mending their nets (verses 16–19). Nor does it convey, that our Lord entered the synagogue for the first time. For, as appears from Matthew and Luke, He did so often before this. It only means that, at the nearest fitting opportunity, the next Sabbath-day, He entered the synagogue to teach, and continued to do so on subsequent befitting occasions, on Sabbaths and festivals, when the people came together to hear the Word of God.

22. “And they were astonished,” &c. St. Luke says the same (4:32). The Greek word, εξεπλησσοντο, means, they were wonderfully struck, or, enraptured (see Matt. 7:28, 29).

Scribes.” (See Matt. 2:4).

23. “Synagogue.” (See Matt. 4:23.) “A man with an unclean spirit.” This man may have been in the synagogue before our Lord arrived there; or, probably, he may have been brought there to be cured by our Lord, in presence of so many witnesses who assembled in the synagogue (John 18:20), God’s providence so arranging it, in order that our Lord might thus confirm His teaching by a miracle. The devil does not shrink from holy places, where he “takes away the Word out of the hearts of many” (Luke 8:12).

With an unclean spirit.” The Greek for “with,” is, in, conveying, that the man in question was completely overpowered and regulated by the spirit, just as we say of a man prostrate from fever, he is IN fever. In, often signifies, with; or, having. Thus, a man is said to be in arms, i.e., carrying arms.

The spirit is called “unclean,” because, delighting in, and stimulating to, acts of up uncleanness. (See Matt. 10:1, &c.) The Greek of St. Luke (4:33), has, “the spirit of an unclean devil,” which is a blending together of synonymous terms, to express more forcibly the idea of a spirit who was an unclean devil. The word, δαιμων (devil), was used by the ancients, sometimes in a good sense (St. Augustine, de Civitate Dei, Lib. 9; Plato, in Timeo, Lactantius, Lib. 21). Plato applied the word even to the Great Ruler of the universe. St. Augustine, however, observes, in the same book, that in SS. Scripture the word always designates evil, wicked spirits, the implacable enemies of the human race, whom they are permitted sometimes to harass externally. At other times they are, by Divine permission, allowed to do so internally, entering man’s body and dwelling there as in a place of abode; nay, acting upon him, employing all his members at will, speaking through him, or depriving him of speech or hearing. That they sometimes resided within man is clear from our Redeemer expelling and driving them out. Such as were thus possessed were called by the Latins, arreptitii; by the Greeks, energumeni, because worked upon by some being existing within them. The number of those thus afflicted was greater in the days of our Redeemer than afterwards, God so arranging it in order to show the power of His Son over the devils, whose empire He destroyed by His coming. (Jansenius Gandav., c. xxviii.)

And he cried out.” The presence of Christ so tortured the demon, who felt the Divine power of our Lord, and probably anticipated his own expulsion, that he cried out, or rather made the possessed man cry out.

24. “What have we to do with thee, Jesus of Nazareth?” (See Matt. 8:29.) What have we done to provoke your interference with us? The Greek here has, ἔα, which is omitted in the Vulgate and Syriac versions altogether. The Vulgate has it in Luke (4:34), sine, “let us alone.” Some commentators understand it merely as a simple exclamation, like the Latin, Ah.

To destroy us.” To complete our destruction, by ruining our power and driving us prematurely to the infernal abyss, in reserve for us, where our tortures shall be finally consummated and aggravated by our being deprived of the malicious power to injure men.

The Holy One of God.” We mean you no harm. We fully acknowledge you to be “the Holy One,” &c. This was probably said with a view of conciliating our Lord, and of inducing Him not to expel him. “The Holy One”—the Messiah—who by excellence is Holy, long since predicted by the Prophets as such, and specially styled by Daniel (9:24), “the Saint of saints.”

25. “Threatened him, saying.” Commanding him with power and majesty, 1st, to “speak no more,” as He would not have the spirit of wickedness speak in praise of infinite purity and sanctity, nor did He wish to receive any testimony of truth from the father of lies, this wicked, deceitful spirit, or have any communication whatever with him. Moreover, the time for manifesting who He was had not yet arrived. Hence, He strictly charges the Apostles (8:30), not to say He was the Christ. 2ndly. He commanded him to go out of the man possessed.

26. “Tearing him.” Endeavouring to tear him, and agitating him by violent convulsions. That he did not actually tear his limbs, we are assured by St. Luke, who says (4:35), “he hurt him not at all.” The demon was permitted thus to attempt to tear him, to show his malice, and the magnitude of the benefit resulting from the cure, which freed him from so malicious a spirit; and the greatness of our Lord’s power was shown in His not permitting the wicked demon to injure the man.

It is remarked by Patrizzi (in hunc locum), that this instance alone would suffice to refute those who admit nothing in Energuments, but the natural form of disease; for, who could threaten or rebuke a disease, and order it to be silent? or how could a disease, crying out with a loud voice, go out of a man?

27. “With power,” without any prayers to God, any rites whatsoever, by His sole word of command, He drives him out, unlike the exorcists among the Jews (Matt. 12:27; Acts 19:13).

Amozed,” or astounded. The Greek word, εθαμβησαν, expresses amazement, mixed with terror, θαμβος.

This new doctrine,” about the kingdom of heaven, &c., hitherto unheard of, must be Divine and heavenly, since the man who propounds it is gifted with the Divine power, which, by His sole word, He exercises over the demons.

29. The above occurrence took place on the Sabbath (vv. 21–23); and on the same Sabbath occurred what follows, as is clear from this passage, and also from Luke 4:38. This miracle is omitted by St. Matthew, but recorded by St. Luke (4:33).

30, 31. (See Matt. 8:14, 15).

32. See Matt. 8:16, where the reason is assigned for their having waited till after sunset, when the Jewish Sabbath ceased. From this, as well as Luke (4:40), it seems clear, the cases referred to here occurred on the evening of the same Sabbath-day referred to above. St. Mark pointedly says, it was “after sunset,” to show he referred to the Jewish Sabbath.

He also distinguishes “those possessed with devils,” from those “that were ill,” to convey to us that the former were really possessed (τους δαιμονιζομενους).

34. Here He also distinguishes “many diseases,” from “devils,” whom He “cast out,” and suffered them not “to speak, for they knew Him.” How could these words be understood of natural diseases, as Rationalists would have it?

Because, they knew Him.” Most likely, the devil knew Him to be the Son of God. Nor are the words of St. Paul (1 Cor. 2), opposed to this (see Matt. 8:29).

It is observed by some commentators (Patrizzi, &c.), that the occurrences which took place at Peter’s house are more fully recorded here by St. Mark (29–34) than they had been by St. Matthew (8:14–16), which seems to corroborate the tradition of the ancients, that it was under St. Peter’s supervision, Mark wrote his Gospel. It is also observed that what refers to St. Peter (vv. 37, 38), has been recorded by Mark only.

35. “Very early.” This is not opposed to what St. Luke says (4:42), “And when it was day,” as it is probable both refer to the morning twilight, when there was some darkness, and still it was in a certain sense, “day.”

Our Lord went into the desert—1st. To give us an example of humility, to teach us, whenever we have performed any praiseworthy actions, to avoid all human applause, and decline all occasions of receiving the incense of human praise and flattery. 2ndly. As is expressly mentioned here, to pray to His Heavenly Father, to thank Him for the benefits already bestowed through His ministry, and to invoke the Divine benedictions on His future labours. This, too, was intended for our instruction.

36, 37. This is easily reconciled with St. Luke, “the multitude sought Him.” St. Luke does not deny what St. Mark states here. The multitude sought Him, after He was found by Peter, and those who were with Him, viz., Andrew, James and John. Both accounts are strictly true.

38. Most likely, the Apostles desired, without expressing it, that He would return to Capharnaum, where He was so much sought after by the people; and our Redeemer meets this tacit wish, on their part, by saying, that other cities, to whom He had not yet preached, required Him more than the Capharnaites did, who had been already so singularly favoured with His preaching and miracles.

And He saith to them” i.e., the Apostles. Luke (4:43) says, He said the same to the multitudes, that sought to detain Him among them. Addressing the Apostles, “to this purpose I am come,” thereby asserting His own Divine authority. Addressing the multitudes (Luke 4:43), “I am sent,” by My Heavenly Father, thereby asserting the authority of His Father. Addressing the multitude, He speaks with greater humility of Himself than when addressing His disciples privately, to whom He makes known His own Divine power and authority. He came and was sent, not to receive human applause, but to do the work of His Father.

40–44. (See Matt. 8:2–4).

44. “To the High Priest.” In the Greek copies it is, “to the Priest,” as it is also read in the Vulgate of Matthew and Luke (5:14), and in the law, relating to the cleansing of a leprous man. (Lev. 14:2, &c.)

45. How he could do this without violating the substance or spirit of our Lord’s injunction (see Matt. 8:4; 9:31).

He could not,” without being followed by admiring crowds, which He did not wish, “go openly,” which conveys, that He was to go privately and unexpectedly, “into the city,” which some understand of Capharnaum; others, of the cities in general of Galilee, where He was engaged in preaching the Gospel.

They flocked to Him from all sides.” The Evangelist, here, probably, refers to occasions, like those recorded by Matthew (14:13; 15:30; Luke 9:11; John 6), when our Lord had recourse to a miracle to save the vast multitudes from starvation.

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