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

In this chapter St. Mark describes our Lord’s Transfiguration (1–9). His solution of the doubts of His Apostles regarding the coming of Elias (10–12). The cure of a boy possessed by a deaf and dumb devil (13–26). The reason why the disciples were powerless to cast him out (27–28). His prediction regarding His approaching death (29–31). Instructions regarding humility (34–40). The grievousness of the sin of scandal—the obligation of avoiding it, be the sacrifice and privation caused thereby ever so great or so painful. The dreadful evils, the excruciating, never-ending tortures that await the unrepenting sinner in hell (41–49).

1–8. (See Matt. 17:1–9).

9. “They kept the word to themselves,” i.e., they strictly observed the silence enjoined on them by our Lord, regarding His Transfiguration (v. 8). “Word,” means, by a Hebrew idiom, the fact of the Transfiguration. Hence, St. Luke, explaining St. Mark, says (9:36), “And they held their peace, and told no one in those days any of these things which they had seen.”

Questioning together,” &c. They were inquiring of one another what was the meaning of the words, “when He shall be risen from the dead.” Not that the Apostles doubted concerning the resurrection of the body in general. The resurrection of the flesh was among the doctrines believed by the Jews, the Sadducees excepted (2 Mach. 12:43; 7:14; John 11:24). They were ignorant of the circumstances of His resurrection, its time, His death, which should precede it, &c., or of its consequences in regard to themselves. They were filled with the idea of His establishing a glorious kingdom on earth, in which they would occupy the most honourable places, and fill the highest offices. Remembering, however, the rebuke administered to Peter, they durst not question Him on the subject.

10. And they asked Him.” “And,” connects this with the foregoing, as if He said, on their way down from the mountain (v. 8), and before they reached the other Apostles and the crowd (v. 13).

Why then do the Pharisees?” &c. “Then,” or, therefore, is not found in most Greek copies; but, it is found in most Latin copies, in the Syriac interpretation, and St. Matthew (18:10).

This question was probably suggested by the appearance of Elias at the Transfiguration, and his departure immediately after, coupled with the declaration made by our Lord (8:39), that some of them would see the kingdom of God to have come in power. Imagining this prediction or declaration to have been verified in His glorious appearance, which they were after witnessing, the Apostles raise a doubt as to what their teachers, the Scribes, had taught them regarding the coming of Elias to precede Him. But remembering the rebuke administered to Peter (8:33), on the subject of our Lord’s Passion, they dreaded to ask Him any questions directly regarding His resurrection, and its consequences, which caused them such perplexity, and very likely they expected to glean the desired information, or solution of their doubts from the reply to the question they propose, regarding the predicted coming of Elias. It is not unlikely, that the enemies of our Lord founded an argument against our Lord’s Divinity and Messiaship, on the non-appearance of Elias. For, in the prophecy of Malachias (4:5), it was predicted, “Behold I send you Elias the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” Relying on this prophecy, the Jews confidently awaited the coming of Elias to prepare the way for their expected Messiah, before He entered on His glorious reign on earth. Such they hoped for, and still hope for, in accordance with their carnal notions. They confounded the twofold coming of the Messiah. The first coming was to be in mercy, in order to save the world. Elias was to precede this coming, not in his own person; but, in that of the Baptist, who was Elias in spirit, and was destined to prepare the way of the Lord, “in the spirit and power of Elias” (Luke 1:17). To this our Redeemer refers (v. 12). The second coming shall be in majesty to judge the world, and execute vengeance on the impious. Hence, called, “the dreadful day of the Lord.” Elias himself in person, as the Septuagint terms him, “Elias the Thesbite,” shall precede this coming. To this our Redeemer refers (v. 11).

11. In this verse, our Lord refers to the future coming of Elias before the end of the world. “Shall restore all things,” is commonly understood of His being instrumental in converting the remnant of the Jewish people, or, at least, in labouring hard and zealously to do so, although the success may not correspond with the effort made. “He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children; and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Mal. 4:6), which, according to the Septuagint is, “He shall restore the heart of the fathers to the children.” By His preaching, He shall effect that many of the Jews who shall be then living, shall imitate and return to the faith of the ancient Patriarchs, and believe in their Messiah, long since come, in whom the Patriarchs believed, and whom with joy they beheld at a distant futurity. “Abraham saw my day, and was glad”—of the Baptist, it is said, “He shall convert many of the children of Israel … turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children” (Luke 1:16–17).

And as it is written of the Son of man.” These words, according to some, may be an exclamation, conveying, how our Lord desired to suffer, and wished that this, as a subject of the greatest importance, should be brought under the notice of the Apostles. For, already had Moses and Elias spoken of it in their presence, “dicebant excessum ejus quem completurus erat in Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). Similar is the exclamation (Luke 12:49), “I am come to cast fire on the earth, and what will I, but that it be kindled?

Others understand the words to convey, that as it was predicted of our Lord Himself, that He should suffer, the same treatment would be given to Elias in person, as had been already shown to Elias in spirit, viz., the Baptist. Our Redeemer would thus wish to fortify His Apostles against the scandal of His Passion, by showing, that sufferings, and even death, were at all times the portion and lot of the most eminent Saints. Hence, the words are thus filled up or completed: “And as it is written of the Son of man,” &c., so, the same shall happen to Elias (Ven. Bede). Others, connect the words thus: Elias “shall restore all things,” and shall explain to the Jews of his day, “as it is written,” &c., viz., the prophecies regarding the ignominious treatment, death, and Passion of the Son of man, what had been at all times a source of scandal, a stumbling-block to the Jews.

12. This refers to Elias in spirit, or the Baptist. The disciple understood our Lord to refer to him (Matt. 17:13). (“And they have done to him,” &c.; see Matt. 17:12.) “As it is written of him.” As there is no prophecy regarding the sufferings of John the Baptist, commentators differ in their explanation of these words. Some connect, “as it written of him,” immediately with the words, “Elias also is come … as it written of him,” in the prophecies which have reference to John the Baptist (Mal. 3:1); and these include in a parenthesis, the words (“and they have done to him whatsoever they would”). Others say, the words, “of him,” refer to Elias, and then the passage would mean: They have done to John the Baptist, things similar to what the Scripture tells us was done to Elias. For, although Elias escaped death; still, he was subjected to the greatest persecution in the same cause for which John suffered, viz., in defending the laws of God, in the case of a furious woman. Isaias suffered from Jezabel; the Baptist, from Herodias.

13–28. (See Matt. 17:14–20.) This wretched boy was possessed by a dumb devil (v. 24). And, moreover, he was an epileptic (Matt. 17:14).

16. “My son.” St. Luke says, “his only son” (9:38).

18. These words are addressed by our Lord to Jewish people, to whose want of faith He ascribes the unsuccessful efforts of the Apostles in regard to the expulsion of the demon. He speaks to His Apostles afterwards, in private (v. 27). Moreover, “generation,” designates an entire people, rather than a handful of men such as the Apostles. He could hardly be said to be “with” the Apostles. They were rather with Him. Not so, however, as regards the Jewish people (Patrizzi).

19. “And when he had seen him.” It is difficult to determine from the Greek, και ιδων αυτον, who is the subject, and who the predicate, here. The phrase would seem to be an instance of the Anacoluthon form (Beelen, Grammatica Græcitatis), and of a sort of Nominative absolute. Grammatically, “him,” in the words, “had seen him,” cannot refer to “spirit,” which is the neuter gender (πνευμα), but logically, it should (Patrizzi, in hunc locum), as if the Evangelist said: When the wicked spirit saw our Lord, he convulsed the boy. It may also mean, when our Lord looked at the boy, the very look and presence of our Lord so affected the wicked spirit, that he at once agitated the frame of the wretched boy, of whom he had possession.

20. Our Lord asks the question, to give an idea of the great power exerted in the expulsion of this demon, and the difficulty of the cure arising from the inveteracy of the disorder.

21. This man’s faith was different from that of the leper, who said, “If Thou willest, Thou canst make me clean.” But here says, “If Thou canst do anything,” &c.

22. The father of the boy says to our Lord, “If Thou canst,” &c., our Lord indirectly rebuking him for his want of faith, and implicitly attributing the failure of the Apostles to want of faith on the part of those who asked for the cure, says, “If thou canst believe.” Not that our Lord conveys, that any man can have faith of himself, but, that if he have not faith, it is his own fault; it is because he places an obstacle to God’s heavenly grace and inspirations.

All things are possible,” &c. Faith on the part of him who prays, makes all things possible of attainment, from the infinite power of God; and hence, this man should not have doubtingly said, “If Thou canst.”

23. “Help my unbelief,” i.e., perfect my weak, infirm, imperfect faith. Supply what is wanting to it, increase it to such a degree, as to make me worthy to obtain the desired object of my petition, to which I fear the imperfection of my faith may be an obstacle. The unhappy man, although possessing faith, “I believe,” adds this out of an intense anxiety to receive that degree of faith, which would be necessary to obtain his earnest request.

24, 25. It is quite evident that this could not be true of a mere natural disease, as the Rationalists would have it. How command a disease to go out and not return? How could the disease cry out, while leaving the boy, he went out of him?

29. “They passed.” The Greek word, παρεπορευοντο, according to some, means, to pass by, or alongside the confines of “Galilee.” The Vatican MS. has επορευοντο δια, passed through, &c. Our Lord passed hurriedly and privately from the vicinity of Thabor or Cæsarea Philippi, where He performed the miracle just recorded, through the entire of Galilee, so as to reach Capharnaum unobserved. Hence, He performed no miracles, nor did He preach on the way. Probably, among His reasons for privacy, was His desire to proceed to Jerusalem for the last time, in such a way, that nothing could interfere with the sacrifice He wished to offer there voluntarily for the redemption of the world, and that the people of Galilee would place no obstacle in His way, by attempting to detain Him among them for the purpose of profiting by His teaching and miraculous cures.

30. (See Matt. 17:21–22).

31. They knew well He spoke of His death. For, St. Matthew informs us, “they were troubled exceedingly.” What they did not understand was, not the certain and future taking place of it; but, the mode, the mysterious economy, the consequences of the sad event, or how to reconcile it with the near approach of His glorious reign, which they were anxiously awaiting.

They were afraid to ask Him,” mindful of the rebuke given to Peter (8:33).

32. While on their way, the thought which of them would be the greater, occupied them (Luke 9:46); here (5:33); and on their arrival at Capharnaum, those who demanded the tribute came and spoke to Peter on the subject (Matt. 22:23), Then our Lord questioned them about their thoughts and disputes on the way.

33. “They held their peace,” probably out of a feeling of shame, as the subject of their disputes argued a spirit of ambition (see Matt. 18:1, &c., where the apparent discrepancy between the narrative of the Evangelists on this matter is fully explained).

34. “Sitting down,” in the house, where, it would seem, not only the twelve, but others were assembled, as appears from His calling to Him and embracing a little child (v. 35), who was among them. He called the twelve apart, so that they heard what He wished to say.

If any man desire to be first,” &c. This, according to some interpreters, conveys a rebuke, and denotes the punishment of ambition and pride; just like the words, “whosoever exalts himself, shall be humbled;” “the first shall be last,” &c. Others, more probably, understand it, in a sense more in accordance with our Redeemer’s gentleness, to point out the line of conduct a disciple of Christ should follow, in order to become the first of all (see Matt. 18:3).

35. The lesson which our Redeemer meant to convey in embracing this little child and placing him in the midst of them, is clearly illustrative of the preceding sentence, and conveys, that humility and simple innocence of life are necessary dispositions for attaining a high place in God’s kingdom. Our Lord Himself so explains it (Matt. 18:3, 4).

36. “Receive,” treat with honour and respect, and practically relieve and succour in his necessity. “One such child,” any of those who become, like this little child, humble, and last of all, for My sake (see Matt. 18:5).

37. “John”—the Apostle—“answered Him, saying.” Answered, by Hebrew usage, often signifies, to begin to speak, and is frequently so employed in the Gospels, when no question preceded (Matt. 11:25; 21). This interruption in the midst of our Lord’s discourse, had no connexion with the subject treated of; and hence, our Redeemer resumes the subject at verse 41. The incident is, however, recorded here by St. Mark, and by St. Luke (11:49). It may be, that the allusion made by our Lord to His “name,” reminded John of what he now mentions regarding the man whom he saw casting out devils in our Lord’s name. The man in question may have invoked our Lord’s power and authority—“in Thy name”—and John may have doubted the propriety of prohibiting him from doing so, and hence, he consults our Lord. Although, to the Apostles only was the power of casting out devils publicly and solemnly given, still, it was not confined to them exclusively; others, besides, had the power, and successfully exercised it in the early ages (16:17). The followers of our Lord, who joined the body of His disciples, ought, one would think, be invested with the powers bestowed on Judas Iscariot, the traitor, who exercised the power of casting out demons.

Who followeth not us,” did not belong to our body, or was not associated with us. It is likely, this man had faith in our Lord, without strength or courage enough to embrace the austerities of the Apostolic life. St. John does not say, who followeth not Thee, who believeth not in Thee. In forbidding the man to work miracles, the Apostles acted from a zeal for the honour of their Master, dreading lest the common use of His name might be derogatory to His dignity. Similar is the feeling expressed by Josue, in regard to Moses (Num. 11:28). They supposed that this man was nut duly authorized or commanded by our Lord; and hence, as His authorized legates, they interpose to guard the dignity of their Master.

And we forbade him,” to which is added in the Greek, “because he followeth not us.” The Vatican MS. has the words here only, but not before the words, “we forbade him,” as is found in the Vulgate.

38. Our Lord, while mildly abstaining from censuring the act of His Apostles, tells them not to repeat the prohibition; and conveying more than He expresses; He gives as reason, that no man works a miracle in His name, who must not praise and admire the power of Him, in whose name of power he performs such wonders. This our Lord expresses, by merely saying, that such a man could not possibly blaspheme or speak ill of Him (1 Cor. 12:3). For if so, his own mode of acting would commit him; and men would say, if you thus speak ill of Him, why use His name and power. In the words of our Lord, “speak ill of Me,” it is implied, that such a man should speak well of Him, and help to propagate His Gospel. Hence, without approving of the motives by which the man was actuated, our Lord does not wish that the Apostles would prevent an act in itself, good and tending to God’s glory, be the motive of it what it may (Philip. 1:18).

Soon,” i.e., readily. In some few instances, men may work miracles in the name of our Lord, and speak ill of Him, as in case of Judas Iscariot. But such instances are very rare and exceptional.

39. He assigns another reason for not prohibiting him, viz., that this man—although not associated with them—by not being against them, was for them. He does their work; and like them, commends the name and power of Christ to men. In the preceding verse (37), He shows, that this man cannot be against them; in this, He shows, that the man in question is for them, as their assistant and co-operator. This is reconciled with what is said (Matt. 12:30), “He that is not with Me is against Me,” in this way: In this latter text is meant generally, not the man who does not follow Christ personally, like the Apostles but, the man who neither is favourable to Christ, nor does the things that are Christ’s, whose case is altogether different from that contemplated here. Moreover, in St. Matthew, there is question of a man who is not with our Lord, “with Me;” here, of man who is not with the Apostles, “… against you … for you.” Others say that our Lord here, lays down a rule for guidance in judging others, that as long as a man’s acts do not prove him to be bad, he is presumed to be good. And hence, whatever this man’s intentions were, his acts being good, he was to be judged as such, and not prevented from pursuing the same course.

40. This is generally assigned as a third reason, to prove, they should not prohibit Him to expel demons. For, if the man who gives a cup of cold water in the name of Christ, who gives it to his followers, because “they belong to Christ,” out of the love for Christ, shall not lose his reward, be it temporal or eternal, according as he may be capable of meriting it, how much more shall this man be entitled to a reward, who does what is still more charitable, in curing the afflicted, and does so in the name of Christ, thus advancing His glory? The reward, in case the man who does the good work have not faith, could not be eternal. It may, however, help to his receiving the gift of faith, and for disposing him to receive it. If there be question of our having the faith, then, the work, if done from a good motive, shall be entitled to a supernatural and eternal reward. Commentators assign this third reason as an argumentum a minori ad majus.

41. As our Lord was interrupted in His discourse (v. 37), He resumes it here again, so that this verse (41) is to be connected immediately with verse 36. “Whosoever shall scandalize,” &c. (See Matt. 18:6–9).

43–47. The repetition of the words of these verses, points out the dreadful severity of the pains of hell. Hence, St. Augustine exclaims, “quem non terreat ista repetitio et illius pænæ comminatio tarn vehemens ore Divino” (De Civ. Dei, Lib. xxi. c. 8). The undying worm and unextinguishable fire, referred to in the last chapter of Isaias, where he treats of the felicity of the just, and the punishment of the impious, denotes the twofold punishment of the reprobate in hell, as is elsewhere written, “duplici contritione (of soul and body) contere cos.” By “worm,” is meant the undying remorse of conscience, the continuous recollection of evil done. There are, however, many commentators who understand the word literally, of worms, which will gnaw their flesh, in the fire of hell. These worms are preserved there, for the punishment of the wicked, by the power of God; and, as there is no doubt but there is question of real fire, which, by the power of God, acts on spirits, why not also say the same of the worms? This is held by St. Augustine (Lib. xxi. c. 9, de Civit. Dei); Basil, in Psa. 33; Cyril Oratio de exitu animæ; Innocent III., de Contemplat. Mundi, c. 21; Gregory the Great; Chrysostom, &c. Fire, the most active of all agencies, is employed to torture their bodies.

48. In this verse is assigned a reason why “their fire is not extinguished,” and the damned are not utterly consumed by the fire of hell. As regards “every one”—of the reprobate—the fire in which he shall be immersed shall act on him as salt, the properties of which are to burn and preserve. So, also, the power of God shall impart an undying efficacy to the fire of hell, to torture its victims, and preserve them unconsumed for ever.

And every victim,” &c. This is allusive to the law, requiring that every victim offered to God in the Old Law (Lev. 2:13), should be first seasoned with salt; be, the damned, being victims of God’s eternal justice, which they can never satisfy, must, while thus offered, that is to say, for ever, be seasoned with the salt of hell’s fire. “And,” is generally interpreted “as,” “every one shall,” &c., “as every victim,” &c., or, it may be, a quotation from Leviticus.

Others understand the words of this verse to have reference to the good, who would be stimulated to the exceedingly torturing process of plucking out the eye, and tearing off the hand, when necessary for salvation. For, as the victims of old should be seasoned with salt, so also those who offer themselves as victims to God, and desire to please Him, must be seasoned with the salt of tribulation, which fire often signifies.

49. “Salt is good,” for seasoning and preserving human food. “But if the salt,” &c. There is no means for restoring to salt its savour once lost. The mention of “salt,” in the preceding, furnishes our Lord with an occasion of exhorting His Apostles to give up the contentions about superiority, which gave rise to His present discourse (v. 36). “Salt” preserves from corruption; it is an emblem of wisdom. Hence, He exhorts the Apostles to preserve this quality of prudence, wisdom, and discretion, of which salt is the emblem, and thus, by giving up their contentions, to preserve peace among themselves. This they will the more easily accomplish, if, under the guidance of heavenly wisdom, giving up all ideas of human ambition, they cease to dispute about priority or pre-eminence of any kind. For, nothing is so calculated to estrange men from the doctrine of their preachers, as to see them disputing among one another, seeking pre-eminence above one another, seeking themselves, and not the interests of Jesus Christ.

Patrizzi (in hunc locum) interprets the words of this verse to mean, that “salt,” wherewith the damned are salted, is good to be meditated upon, and always kept in mind, to preserve us from sin, “memorare novissima tua et in æternum non peccabis.” “But, if the salt become unsavoury,” that is, if you lose all recollection of these torments of fire, its power and efficacy, whereby it should have preserved you from sin, you shall utterly fail, and you have no means of supplying the defect. “Have salt in you,” i.e. always remember the thought of hell fire, “and have peace,” &c. This has reference to the contention among the Apostles. This is, however, rather a moral than a literal interpretation of the passage.

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