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

This chapter contains an exhortation addressed by our Lord to His disciples, on several subjects, (1–9). He speaks of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (10). He cautions the people against avarice, the evils of which He illustrates by the parable of the covetous rich man (13–21). He exhorts them not to be too solicitous about earthly things, but to place their confidence in God, and to be liberal in bestowing alms (22–34). He exhorts them to vigilance against His coming to demand an account from them (35–48). He points out the object of His coming on earth, and some of its effects, in the persecutions that are to follow (49–53). The signs of His coming, of which they were wilfully ignorant (54–59).

1. “And when great multitudes (the Greek is, myriads, signifying great numbers), “stood about Him, so that they trod on one another, He began, &c.” The following words are described by St. Matthew, as having been uttered under different circumstances, It may be, that our Lord, on account of their importance, uttered them more than once (see Matthew 16:6–12). The Pharisees were the greatest enemies to the spread of the Gospel, and employed every means to turn the people aside from following our Lord. Hence, His unsparing denunciations of these hypocrites. He thus intends to guard the simple people against these wolves in sheep’s clothing. After “disciples,” the Greek has, πρωτον, first. He addressed them first, having afterwards (verse 54) addressed the people, principally, if not exclusively.

2. This has reference to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, which, one day, will be publicly exposed to the gaze of men; or, it may refer to the Gospel which is now partly concealed and opposed, and shall, one day, overcoming all obstacles, be proclaimed to the entire world. The words contain an adagial meaning, conveying to the Apostles, that the merit of their labours and sufferings for the Gospel, and the hypocrisy of their enemies, shall, one day, be revealed to all men.

3. (See Matthew 10:26, 27.)

4, 5. (See Matthew 10:28.)

6, 7. (See Matthew 10:29–31.)

8, 9. (See Matthew 10:32, 33.)

10. (See Matthew 12:31.)

11, 12. (See Matthew 10:18–20.)

13. St. Luke does not record the circumstances of this difference among the brothers, nor the merits of the case which our Lord was called upon to settle; nor does he say whether both parties appealed to Him either as umpire, arbitrator, or Judge—or only one party appealed to Him, on account of His influence among the people. We need not suppose the party spoken of regarded our Lord as the promised Messiah, who was to be the protector of the poor (Psalm 71:1, 2). According to the law of inheritance among the Jews, the first-born was to obtain a double portion of his father’s property (Deut. 21:17). Some authors hold, that in the case of inheritance by the mother, the property was to be divided equally among all (Selden de Success. in bona, c. 5, 6).

14. Our Lord, seeing that this man was more intent on earthly gain than on heavenly treasures, or, on the attainment of these spiritual joys, of which He had been treating, at once refuses to take up the case; and in His reply, He denies, while reprehending this man for his unseasonable interruption, that it was any business of His to interfere in such matters. They had civil judges to go to, to arrange their differences. “Man”—a form of expression used to denote, He knew him not (chap. 22:58–60). Our Lord does not here deny His judicial power, or His right, or that of His Church—in which point the Anabaptists err—to interfere if He pleased, since He was constituted “King of kings and Lord of lords,” &c., and He, also, gave His Church the plenitude of His authority; but, He here wishes to convey, that the primary end of His mission was not, to arrange temporal disputes, or to interfere in secular matters; thus, teaching His followers and the ministers of His Gospel, that spiritual matters should primarily engross all their attention; and temporal matters should be embarked in only as a secondary concern, and subordinate, as means, to the spiritual and eternal welfare of souls. He also desired not to favour the opinions of the carnal Jews, who expected in their Messiah, a powerful, earthly Prince and Conqueror. Circumstances do sometimes arise, rendering it imperative on those engaged in the Sacred Ministry, to embark in temporal concerns, as a necessary means of advancing the spiritual welfare of their people, and of averting great spiritual evils and dangers.

He who had come on earth for Divine purposes, properly declined meddling in earthly strife, and having to judge the living and the dead, and to pass sentence on them according to their deserts, He does not vouchsafe to be judge of lawsuits and to act as umpire in regard to possessions (St. Ambrose, Lib. 7, in Luc. n. 121). “Bene terrena despicit, qui propter divina descenderat,” says the same Father (hic).

15. Taking occasion from this man’s petition, which seemed to savour of avarice, He now warns His followers against “all covetousness,” not only as regards the desire of other men’s property; but, also as regards an excessive attachment to one’s own. Hence, the words, “all covetousness.” “He said to them,” His disciples and the crowd that was present. It may be, He addressed the two brothers, if present, who were contending about the inheritance. “Take heed and guard against all covetousness.” From the present case, take a lesson, and beware of all inordinate love for riches and earthly possessions. “For a man’s life, &c.” The happiness and prolongation of man’s life in this world are not brought about by the possession of riches; but, rather the contrary; that is to say, corroding cares and shortening of one’s days, owing to the temptations to commit excess, are produced by earthly possessions.

16. To illustrate His precepts on the subject of avarice, and to show the utter folly of excessive attachment to the things of this earth and over-confidence in riches, as the means of prolonging life, or rendering it happy, our Lord proposes a very striking and startling similitude, founded on an event which might have happened, or, at least, which was possible.

“The land.” The Greek word means, “farm,” or large number of fields, like those of the men reproached by Isaias (5:8). “Brought forth plenty of fruit,” yielded an abundant produce.

17, 18. The increase of riches produced not peace, but anxiety and disquietude. St. Basil (Hom. de Avaritia), observes, that this rich man, in the midst of his riches, felt all the disquietude of the poor, when they are in want of bread or necessary subsistence. He never thought of bestowing his superfluities on the poor. His ears were deaf to their cries. Instead of destroying his granaries to enlarge them, he should have opened them to the poor, to feed the hungry, and like Joseph of old, should have proclaimed to all who were in want to come and receive aid at his hands.

“And my goods,” refers to those already stored there. “All things that are grown to me,” the increased produce of the present year.

19. “My soul,” an emphatic expression for, myself. It refers to the prolongation of his life. “My soul.” The following is the soliloquy of this rich man with himself: “for many years;” but who promised him “many years,” nay, a single day to enjoy them?

“Take thy rest,” &c. Indulge in all kinds of animal gratification, and enjoy all kinds of sensual delight, deny thyself no pleasure. “O, singular, egregious folly,” cries out St. Basil, “if you had the soul of a hog, what else could you enunciate?”

20. The rich man thus pondered secretly in his own mind; for, “he thought within himself” (v. 17). But, his thoughts were heard and examined in Heaven, which is not slow in pronouncing judgment on him. “But God said to him,” either by some secret inspiration, or some sudden mortal stroke, sending him a mortal disease, which was taking him out of life and thus showing his folly; or by an angel, “thou fool,” while thou hast not a day which thou canst call thine own, thou promisest thyself many years, on which all thy calculations of long happiness are based. Such is the judgment, not of man, but of Divine wisdom regarding him, and, indeed, it is not difficult even for man, enlightened by faith, to pronounce the same.

“This night.” This very night on which thou dost calculate on a long life, “they require” a form of personal for impersonal, by no means rare, either in Greek or Hebrew, signifying, “shall be required,” thy soul shall be required. It may also be understood personally, of God and His angels. The angels, as ministers of God’s decree, by a just judgment, “require his soul,” and cut short the thread of his life, that very night. “Require that soul,” about whose enjoyments during many long years to come, the rich man was so solicitous.

“And whose shall the things be,” &c. Certainly not thine own, since thy works alone shall accompany thee. They may, possibly, come to some worthless heir; to the very man whom thou abhorrest most. Thou canst not say, to whom they may fall, whether to stranger or relative, friend or foe (Ecclesiastes 11:19). (Psalm 38:7), “He knoweth not for whom he shall gather those things.”

21. This is the moral conclusion from the above. Such shall be the end and sad fate of him who, engrossed with acquiring and accumulating temporal wealth for his own selfish purposes, for his own pleasure and gratification—“for himself” (only), is opposed to “towards God”—is regardless of acquiring true riches for himself. “Not rich towards God,” rich in good works, which please God, especially in distributing our wealth to the needy poor, His representatives on earth, and thus having our treasures laid up in heaven. “Rich towards God,” means rich in good works; “rich” in bestowing our goods on God, who will reward us liberally hereafter. The man who makes God his heir, need not fear if suddenly called out of this life; he is prepared; he has sent his treasures before him, securely laid up for him in heaven. The Greek word for “rich,” πλουτων, is a participle, signifying “making himself rich in God,” by the practice of those virtues, especially charity to the poor, and by the acquisition of merits, which constitute riches in God.

22–28. (See Matthew 6:25–32.)

29. “And be not lifted up on high” (μη μετεωριζεσθε), is understood by St. Augustine and others, to mean, should riches abound with you, be not, on that account, elated or puffed up with pride. Similar is the Apostle’s admonition, “Charge the rich of this world not to be high-minded” (1 Tim. 6:17). The Greek word, however, in the latter place, is different. It is, μη ὑψηλοφρονειν. Others give it the meaning of anxiously fluctuating alternately, between hope and fear. The Greek word, which signifies “to be lifted up,” or, suspended, is allusive to the tossing of vessels high in air on the lofty billows, and then descending to the very depths, an image of great anxiety (Bloom-field). The words represent inconstancy of mind; now, thinking of this; then, of that; passing from thought to thought, and always aspiring to something higher, suspended between conflicting hopes and fears.

32. “Fear not.” Indulge not in excessive anxiety about your future sustenance, or the necessary means of existence. “Little flock.” The disciples of our Lord were then few in number, of lowly condition, of little or no earthly consideration; “little,” in comparison with the number of the reprobates; “little,” compared with unbelievers, “little,” on account of their humility. He terms them, “flock,” to show that He was their Pastor; they, the objects of His tenderest care and solicitude, and under the special providence of His Heavenly Father.

“For it hath pleased your Father.” For, out of His own gratuitous goodness, God, who is, in a special manner, “your Father,” and loves you as His dearest children, has been pleased “to give you a kingdom,” to make you sharers in the joys and honours of His heavenly kingdom, in case you persevere in serving Him faithfully; now, if He has done what is greater, will He not provide you with what is of less consideration and less value—the necessary means of temporal existence? Let the consideration of this heavenly kingdom destined for you, one day, relieve you, of any inordinate fear of wanting the necessaries of life.

33. And in order to become more fit to inherit this heavenly kingdom in store for you, to the attainment of which earthly possessions are an obstacle and a drawback; disencumbering yourselves of these obstacles, go, and “sell what you possess, and give alms,” give the produce to the poor and needy, following My example, and showing you are not anxious about earthly goods, casting your care on God’s providence. This is merely a counsel of perfection, but not a strict precept. (Matthew 19:21, &c.)

“Bags which grow not old,” and allow not their contents to slip through and be lost. “Bags that grow not old,” are the bosoms of the poor, to whom alms are seasonably given. “An unfailing treasure,” &c. By works of piety and charity (see Matthew 6:20).

34. (See Matthew 6:21.)

35. Having encouraged His followers to divest themselves of all solicitude about earthly things, He now inculcates on all, constant vigilance in expectation of this kingdom of God, which is not distant, but at hand. During the entire course of your lives, “let your loins be girl.” This is allusive to the customs of Eastern people, men as well as women, who wore long flowing garments. They used girdles around the waist, to shorten and draw up their flowing robes, when commencing any work, performing any active service, or setting out on a journey. “And lamps burning in your hands,” to be ready at a moment.

36. “Like men who wait,” &c. When servants were expecting their master home from the wedding, which took place at night, they always had their garments gathered up, and the lamps at hand, so as to attend to his call at once, without any delay. This is, of course, allegorical. It denotes the constant, never-ceasing vigilance with which we should prepare for our Lord’s coming to call us out of life. We should “have our loins girt,” being always engaged in His service, doing whatever we do, suffering whatever we are doomed to suffer for His glory, keeping Him before our minds in all things, having the lamp of faith trimmed with the oil of good works, unlike the foolish virgins, whose lamps were not properly or sufficiently trimmed in this way, at the last moment, not having their faith enlivened by charity.

37. “Blessed.” In the allegorical sense, blessed with an eternal crown of glory, with an abundance of never-ending delights, which it has not been given to the mind of man to contemplate.

“He shall gird Himself,” &c. In the literal sense, it is a thing which very seldom occurs, that the master ministers to his faithful servants. However, our Lord supposes it to happen, that a generous master, after having himself enjoyed the pleasures of a banquet, and finding his servants ready to attend to his call on his return, would himself in turn, prepare them a banquet in reward for their fidelity, serve and wait on them. At all events, the parable or illustration is meant to convey the generesity with which God will reward His faithful servants, whom He shall make partakers of His bliss in His heavenly kingdom.

38. “Second … third watch.” (See Matthew 14:25). In the parable, there is no mention of the first or fourth watch; because, the first was too early an hour for returning from a banquet; the fourth, too late. The usual hours for returning are mentioned. The example is meant to convey to us, that we may be called to an account at any period of life, and that whenever called, even should He delay His coming, we should be always found watching and ready, persevering in good works, without ceasing or intermission (as in Luke 21:34–36).

39. He now, by another parable, points out the necessity of unceasing vigilance, on account of the uncertainty of the time of His coming, and also on account of the punishment of neglect. We should be always ready, owing to the uncertainty of the time of His coming, lest we should be surprised, like the householder, who neglected watching against the attack of the nightly thief. It is supposed in the Greek reading, which is in the past tense, ἤδει—εγρηγορησεν—αφηκεν, “had known, would have watched, would not have suffered his house,” &c.—that the house had been robbed, and its goods rifled. His goods were rifled; because, not knowing the time of the thief’s approach, he did not watch. Hence, we should be constantly on the watch for our Lord’s coming, lest we be found unprepared; for, to those, who watch not, He shall come like the nightly thief (see Matthew 24:42–44).

41. “Peter said to Him,” &c. Peter knew that he and the other Apostles were appointed as householders in charge of the family of God; that several things were said, which seemed to apply to them exclusively: “little flock” (v. 32); “He shall gird Himself,” &c. (v. 37). But vigilance applied to all; hence, his question. Whether the above exhortations to vigilance did not apply to others as well as to those entrusted with the care of the family, our Lord, without directly answering Peter, conveys in the following, that while it concerned all, it specially applied to the Apostles and prelates of the Church, whose responsibility is greater, and whose accounts are to be demanded with greater exactitude, “to whom much hath been given,” &c. (v. 48).

42, 44. (See Matthew 24:45–47.)

45, 46. (See Matthew 24:48–51.)

47, 48. To the above, our Lord subjoins another parable, showing the different degrees of punishment to be inflicted on offenders according to the lights they received and the graces they abused; this served as an answer to Peter, and showed him, that the Apostles were principally concerned, in what He had been saying, owing to their great graces and privileges. “And did things worthy of stripes.” This supposes that it is not for voluntary ignorance, but, for positive offences the party is to be punished—offences, no doubt, less grievous than those of the man, who received greater lights, and had greater knowledge of his Master’s will. No doubt, all have some knowledge of God’s will. From the light of reason, all know the leading principles of the law. But, some are favoured with greater lights than others, and the punishment of their crimes, cæteris paribus, greater, unless the heinousness of the crimes of the less enlightened, of themselves far exceeded the sins of the enlightened.

“To whom much hath been given,” &c. These are general assertions, conveying general truths, easily comprehended even in reference to human affairs. “Much given,” may refer to gifts conferred for one’s own use and sanctification. “Committed much,” probably, refers to gifts conferred on men, confided to their care and government, for the benefit of others.

49. “I am come,” &c. These words may have been spoken by our Lord at a different time, from the foregoing; and we need not trouble ourselves, with tracing any consecutive connexion between them; as St. Luke is wont to string together several things spoken by our Lord on different occasions. Others (Jansen. Gandav.) trace a connexion in this way: our Lord had been, in the foregoing, encouraging the Apostles to the faithful performance of their duties, from the consideration that they were His stewards, the dispensers of His goods—an office entailing the heaviest responsibility. He now points out what He expects from them, and how they are to dispense His goods, viz., in propagating the Gospel; in suffering for it; thus, producing abundant fruit.

By “fire,” some understand the Holy Ghost and His gifts; especially charity, fervour, zeal (Cant. 8:6), and to this, the Church refers, on the Saturday after Pentecost, “illo nos igne … quem Dominus noster, misit in terram et voluit vehementer accendi,” and this fire of Divine love embraces the fire of tribulation also. The Apostles inflamed with Divine love, braved and overcame all tribulations and sufferings, in the cause of the Gospel, of which our Lord forewarned them, as near at hand (A. Lapide). Others understand it, of the fire of Evangelical preaching, which the Holy Ghost inflames. Hence, He descended on the Apostles, about to enter on this duty, in the form of tongues of fire. This Evangelical preaching, unlike the Old Law, or any human doctrine, which is cold and inoperative, set in a blaze the hearts of men; pervading all places, it purged the elect, and fired the impious with an unjust hatred against the Gospel (Psalm 118) “ignitum eloquium tuum,” &c. “Sermo Domini ut ignis exestuans in cordo meo” (Jerem. 20:9). This fire our Lord brought from heaven, and He wished His Apostles to enkindle it on throughout the earth (Jansen. Gandav.).

Others, understand it of the fire of persecution, which they say is more in accordance with the context, “I have a baptism,” &c. According to these, our Lord wishes to fortify His Apostles against the persecutions they were to be subject to. And to inspire them with greater fortitude, He says, He Himself was the first to pass through the ordeal. In the same sense, He says, He came to bring “not peace, but the sword” (Matthew 10:34); and He predicts, that, considering human depravity, the preaching of the Gospel would be the occasion of great divisions, of great sufferings and persecutions, for those who preach and for those who embrace it. It was, however, by such sufferings and persecutions, that, our Lord meant to break down the power of Satan. These alone were the means for securing heaven. This is the meaning of “fire” in many parts of Scripture (Psalm 65:12; Isaias 43:2; Ecclesias. 51:6). This is the interpretation of Tertullian, followed by Maldonatus, Calmet, Lucas Brugensis, &c.

“And what will I?” &c. I am anxious that these embers of charity be enkindled in the hearts of all men, or that these sufferings and persecutions—the portion of my elect—be enkindled everywhere by the preaching of the Gospel, when my Apostles shall enter the lists with the enemies of man, the world, the devil, and the flesh, and shall have to suffer in consequence, persecutions which await myself in the first instance, and await all, who wish to live piously here below (1 Tim. 3:12). But, it is by means of the sufferings which my followers bravely endure, the powers of the enemy are to be utterly defeated and destroyed.

Instead of, “what will I but that it be enkindled” (Vulgate), “quid volo nisi ut accendatur?” in the Greek it is, “what will I, since it has been already enkindled,” ει ηδη ανηφθη. This is interpreted by some, thus: Since it has been already enkindled in the hearts of my disciples and throughout Judea—“what will I,” but that it be enkindled still more, throughout the earth? According to this interpretation, adopted by St. Cyril and by Cajetan, the sentence, as it stands, is imperfect till the words, “but that it be enkindled,” &c., are added, to complete the sense. By others (Theophylact, &c.), they are interpreted thus: Since it is already enkindled, I have no other wish. In this is implied the desire that it be more and more enkindled. Of the words understood in this sense, the Vulgate “quid volo,” &c., is a clear expression. My only desire is, that this fire which I sent upon the earth be enkindled more and more by you in every place. Euthymius interprets it thus: If the fire which I came to send be enkindled, as it really is in you, what more do I desire in this world? What more am I waiting for? The time for returning to my Father is, therefore, just at hand.

50. “And I have a baptism,” &c. For, “and,” the Greek is, δε, but, as if He said; but before this fire,—whether understood of Divine love or suffering,—can be fully scattered on the earth, I must first suffer, in order to give an example of suffering to others, and induce them to scatter the fire of persecution throughout the earth after my example—or to scatter this fire of divine love; since it is, by My blood of the cross, that the fire of Divine love and charity is to be lit up, as well by the grace which My suffering merited, as by the considerations which it suggests in the minds of all men. “Baptism” signifies suffering; because, our Lord was to be fully immersed in His own blood, as the body in baptism is immersed in water; and He was baptized in another sense; because, He was to be wholly immersed, plunged in suffering, “as the man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmities.” Moreover, water, according to the prevalent notions, was expressive of suffering. (See Matthew 20:22, &c.)

“And how am I straitened?” &c. These words express not His fears, as is supposed by some, but His anxious, longing desire to redeem mankind by His sufferings and death of the cross. As “hope deferred afflicts the soul” (Proverbs 13:12); so also, do deferred desires. Our Lord thus anxiously wished for His own death, not for His own sake, but for ours, to save us from sin and to satisfy His Father’s justice. His fear of death at His Passion took place in the inferior part of His soul; the present desire, in the superior (see Matthew 26:38).

51. As the fire which our Lord came to scatter on the earth, would be the occasion of disturbances, divisions and persecutions, He forewarns His disciples of this in time, lest they should be hereafter disturbed. (See Matthew 10:34, &c.)

52, 53. “Henceforth,” after the promulgation of the Gospel, where union reigned, such as can exist among unbelievers. “Five shall be divided, three against two.” (53.) “Shall be divided.” When three of five embrace the faith, they shall be divided against the two unbelievers; and this will of course reciprocally provoke, or rather entail the division of two against three; or if two embrace the faith, while three remain in a state of infidelity, the result shall be the same. The “five,” are “father,” “mother,” “son,” “daughter,” “daughter-in-law.” For “mother,” includes the relation of “mother-in-law” towards her son’s wife, supposed to be living in the same house. Our Lord here predicts the most dreadful domestic divisions between those most closely united, in consequence of the spread of the Gospel, when one party would give up every earthly feeling and his natural affections sooner than abandon the faith, while unbelievers shall rage against those who, embracing the faith of Christ, have abandoned the false religion of their fathers.

54, 55. “A cloud rising out of the west,” is a certain prognostic of rainy weather, “you say,” from observation and past experience, “and so it happeneth,” generally (see 3 Kings 18:44).

56. (See Matthew 16:3.) “Hypocrites.” In this He points to the Scribes and Pharisees, many of whom, with their followers, were probably among the “multitudes” whom our Lord addresses here (v. 54). These “hypocrites,” owing to their voluntary blindness, disguising from themselves the truth of what they saw, and inflated with a vain idea of their Jewish justice, refused to submit themselves to the justice of God, condemning them by the mouth of Jesus Christ, who had only in view their correction. Although well versed in judging rightly of sensible things, they were blind to the important concern, relating to the coming of Christ and its signs, contained in the prediction of the prophecies regarding Him.

57, 58. According to some Expositors (Ven. Bede among the rest), our Lord, in these words, anticipates or answers an objection which the illiterate crowd might raise against their knowing the Messiah from the signs alleged, on the ground, that they were utterly ignorant of Scripture and the prophecies. From their own consciences and from natural reason, aided by grace, which God refuses to none who ask it, they should know, that He who performed the works whereof they were witnesses, which no other man did, was the expected Messiah; and they should judge justly of what is fit and proper regarding Him. According to this interpretation, there is reference here to the foregoing. What follows would be a different argument or subject altogether. From the Greek, however, which runs thus: “For when thou goest with thy adversary,” &c., it would seem rather to be connected with what follows, and to have reference to man’s reconciliation with God, while there is time, which is illustrated by a human example drawn from the conduct or mode of acting on the part of men when about to appear in judgment before an earthly judge. The example does not seem to have reference to the same thing or occasion spoken of (Matthew 5:25.) For, here, there is question of reconciliation with God; there, with our neighbour. The words would then mean: why do you not judge, from what occurs among yourselves, from what you are wont to do in human transactions, of what it is right and just for you to do in reference to spiritual and eternal interests, in the work of reconciliation with God, which is now presented to you by me. (58). For when there is question of human obligations and debts, real or personal, if about to be brought before a judge, what do you do? Do you not arrange with your adversary on the way to the trial, in order to escape a greater punishment and loss? So should you make peace with God by penance and faith in Me, His Eternal Son, before the day of just retribution and vengeance arrives, and irreparable ruin befal you.

59. (See Matthew 5:25, 26.)

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