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

In this verse, after referring to a signal punishment inflicted on some Galileans, our Lord explains in what light we are to regard God’s judgments, and shows the necessity of penance for all (1–5). The barren fig tree (6–9). The healing of the crooked woman on the Sabbath day, and His crushing reply, on the occasion, to the ruler of the synagogue (10–17). The parables of the mustard seed and of the leaven (18–21). The strait gate—the rejection from God’s kingdom of the Jewish people (22–30). His reply to those who warned Him of Herod’s designs (31–34). His lamentation over Jerusalem (34, 35).

1. “And there were present.” The Greek—παρησαν—signifies, “there came up,” as in Matthew (26:50), “at that very time,” while our Lord was delivering the discourses referred to in the preceding chapter, “some that told Him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices,” with the blood of their sacrifices. This is a bold, figurative form of expression, signifying “whom Pilate slew while they were attending at sacrifice,” an occurrence of an atrocious nature, generally regarded as a clear manifestation of God’s wrath towards sinners, whose guilt must have involved special enormity. Who these Galileans were, or when or wherefore the occurrence referred to took place, is not recorded. Commentators generally understand the Galileans to be certain seditious followers of Judas of Galilee, called the Gaulonite, whose chief error was, that the Jews, as being the chosen people of God, owed allegiance to God alone, as their king, and that it was unbecoming in them to pay taxes, or show any marks of allegiance to the Romans, who were Pagans and unbelievers. Judas himself miserably perished in his rebellion; and his adherents were dispersed by Quirinus (Acts 5:37). His followers survived him up to the time of our Redeemer, as we are informed by St. Jerome (c. 5 ad Titum), and by Josephus; and these gave expression to the seditious sentiments entertained by their founder. It is thought they gave utterance to these disloyal sentiments on the occasion here referred to, while sacrifices were offered up in the Temple, in punishment of which they were put to death in the very Temple by Pilate, who had his soldiers close by in the fort Antonia, and sternly crushed, with a firm hand, such attempts at revolution. This is the interpretation, or, rather, opinion, commonly adopted. Some, however, with Maldonatus, understand the occurrence to refer to the slaughter of some Samaritans at a village named Taribatha, at the foot of Mount Garazim, which they were about to ascend, under the guidance of an impostor, who promised to show them the sacred vessels buried there by Moses. On this occasion, Pilate had possession of the hill before them, with his forces, horse and foot, and slew them (Josephus Antiq. Lib. 18, c. 7; Hegesippus, Lib. 2, do. excid. Jerusalem). But these authors make no mention of sacrifices. However, the people mentioned here are called Galileans, and not Samaritans, and the Galileans were scrupulously exact in offering sacrifice in the Temple of Jerusalem only. Moreover, Pilate’s jurisdiction did not comprise Galilee Hence, it is in the Temple of Jerusalem, this occurrence must, on some occasion, have taken place. Others refer it to different occasions; but, the first opinion seems the more probable. It is likely that the event was of very recent date, and that these men who announced it to our Lord, implied that the sufferers must have been guilty of sins of peculiar enormity; or, they may have in view to elicit from Him, as in the case of the man born blind (John 9), what grievous sins these Galileaus had committed to draw down on them such signal punishment. For, from our Lord’s answer (next verse), correcting their erroneous notions on this point, they seemed to think, that the infliction of grievous and extraordinary punishment (which, though apparently fortuitous in the course of human events, is fixed and determined by the providence of God), was a proof of enormous and exceptional crime on the part of those so punished (Acts 28:3, 4). The Jews were greatly addicted to these views (John 9:2, 3). Against this false notion, the argument of the whole book of Job is specially directed.

2. Our Lord combats this false opinion, and shows them, that exceptional punishment is not always a proof of exceptional guilt; that God, out of a large number of sinners equally guilty, selects some for signal punishment, as is often done in the decimation of an army, as a warning and lesson to the rest, although all may be equally deserving of punishment; and from this, He takes occasion to inculcate on all the necessity of penance, if, being equally guilty, they wish to escape the like fate. He admits that these Galileans met with deserved punishment for their sins—although in some cases it happens that the just are visited with great temporal calamities, to test their virtue and increase their merit—and He proclaims that His hearers were equally guilty and deserving of equally great punishment. In truth, God by an effect of His goodness, punishes in this life, those whom He wishes to spare in the next; and, on the other hand, He allows the wicked to enjoy the fruits of their iniquity here, reserving them, as the victims of His everlasting wrath in hell (Job 21:9–13; 12:6).

3. “Likewise,” all, without exception, shall be punished, if not in this world, most certainly, in the world to come; or, in a most miserable manner, even if different in its mode of execution, “mors peccatorum pessima.” “Likewise,” while certainly involving eternal death to all unrepenting sinners, likely, refers to the same kind of punishment in store for many whom our Lord addressed. For, we learn from Josephus (and likely our Lord had this in view), that under the government of Cumanus, 20,000 Jews were destroyed about the Temple (Antiq., Lib. xx. c. 5); that, when the Idumeans were admitted by the Zealots into Jerusalem, 8,500 of the High Priest’s party were destroyed; so that “the entire Temple overflowed with blood” (De Bel. Jud., Lib. iv., c. 5); that the three ruling factions, who domineered in the city, before the Romans were admitted, had “everywhere polluted the Temple with slaughter;” that the priests were slain while sacrificing; that several of those who came to worship were slain in presence of their sacrifices; the dead bodies of foreigners and natives were indiscriminately heaped together, and the altar polluted with their blood. (De Bel. Jud., Lib. vi., c. 5, &c.)

4, 5. The occurrence here recorded is not described anywhere else. “Siloe,” was a fountain in the south-east of Jerusalem, at the foot of Mount Sion, from which water was supplied to the city (Nehemias 3:15; John 9:7). It had a lofty tower quite near it, on the city walls. On some occasion of very recent date, and still fresh in the recollection of our Lord’s hearers, this tower fell and killed eighteen men, who were there at the time, manifestly inhabitants of Jerusalem. “Were they debtors above all the men that dwell in Jerusalem?” These were signally and justly punished for crimes, in the perpetration of which the other inhabitants of the city were equally guilty. They were punished as a warning and lesson to those who were mercifully spared. Our Lord adduces this second example, to show the Jews that they were debtors to the Divine justice on account of their sins, as well as the Galileans, of whom mention was made above. (5.) He declares, that those punished were not greater sinners, nor were they greater debtors to Divine justice, than the rest of their fellow-citizens, whom God mercifully spared. But unless the latter do penance, they “likewise,” shall, without exception, or, in the same way, be punished, certainly hereafter; and, very probably, even in this life. Forty years after this, vast multitudes of the Jews were killed under the falling towers and walls of their city. (Josephus de Bel. Jud., Lib. vi., &c.)

6, 7. Our Lord had menaced them, that unless they did penance, and produced fruits worthy of penance (3:8), they would all perish. He illustrates their condition, and the punishment that ultimately awaits them, by the parable of the fig-tree. The fig-tree bore no fruit; neither did they perform good works; the owner waited patiently three years; so does God wait for them; the fig-tree having become utterly useless, is cut down; so shall they.

“Three years.” If the fig-tree after failing for two years, brings forth no fruit the third year, it never yields. This parable is accommodated by some Commentators to the Jewish synagogue. But, the illustration applies to all unrepenting sinners, whose final doom is represented by that of the fig-tree in the parable.

8, 9. These verses contain the ornamental parts of the parable. They, at the same time, convey to us an idea of the great patience and long-suffering of God in regard to impenitent sinners, with whom He bears, and to whom He repeatedly tenders His graces and loving invitations to return to Him by penance, and by the performance of good works.

10. “And He was teaching,” means, He was in the habit of teaching—“in their,” or, (as in Greek) “in one of their synagogues”—“synagogue, on the Sabbath.” On the Sabbath days, the Jews assembled in their synagogues, for the purpose of having the Sacred Scriptures explained, and of prayer, as Christians frequent their churches, on Sundays and holidays (see Matthew 4:23). Our Lord avails Himself of the public occasion of their assembling in the synagogue to perform the miracle here recorded.

11. “A spirit of infirmity,” an inveterate infirmity caused by an evil spirit (v. 16). “Eighteen years,” of an inveterate nature and incurable by human skill. Evil spirits, by Divine permission, cause diseases and bodily harm in many instances (Job 2; Psalms 77:49; 90:6; Mark 9:5; Luke 4:33). “Bent down,” &c. She almost crept along the ground.

12, 13. Our Lord rarely worked miracles, unasked. Here, with the view of reprehending the superstition of the Pharisees, in regard to Sabbatical observances, for which reprehension He saw that the murmuring about to take place, would furnish a befitting occasion—He calls the woman to Him, and viewing her with the eyes of mercy, lays His hand upon her, which indicates His power, and He pronounces her cured; He Himself, by His Almighty power, curing her, at the same time. “Loosed from thy infirmity.” Loosed, because her sinews and muscles had been hitherto contracted. “Immediately she was straight,” the curvature was gone, and she assumed her natural straightness of body. She “glorified God,” acknowledging and loudly proclaiming the intervention of Divine power in her favour. No doubt, the multitude present, joined her in doing so.

14. “The ruler of the synagogue,” one of the presidents of the synagogue, speaking in the name of the rest. It seems there were several rulers in each synagogue, no doubt, with due subordination (Matthew 9:18; Mark 5:22; Acts 13:5, 15). “Being angry,” or affecting to be so.

“That Jesus had healed,” miraculously effected a cure, without human appliances, by the sole operation of His power. His anger was ostensibly caused by his great zeal in regard to what he affected to consider as a violation of the Sabbath publicly, in the very synagogue, where the ordinances of the law are inculcated; but, in reality it proceeded from envy, and the knowledge that a miracle thus publicly performed would redound to the glory of our Lord.

“Answering said to the multitude.” Our Redeemer had frequently before this chastised the Pharisees for their ignorance and hypocrisy. Fearing a similar castigation, the man addressed not our Lord, but the multitude. He would rather see the wretched woman for ever suffering and bent to the earth, than see our Lord glorified by curing her.

15. “Ye hypocrites,” who affect sanctity which you do not possess;—in this case, they affected zeal for the law, when envy alone influenced them (see Matthew 7:5; 15:7).—He addresses the Ruler and those who shared in his sentiments. He exposes them by a reference to their own mode of acting, in certain cases, on the Sabbath day.

16. He shows that the cure of the woman was not a servile, but a Divine work, most worthy of the Sabbath, as it tended to glorify God, the Lord of the Sabbath. Every word is emphatic, and shows the indignity of preferring a brute beast to a human being. The antithesis is most marked, between “the daughter of Abraham,” and “an ox or ass;” the loosing of spiritual bonds in a human being, and the corporal loosing of a brute animal; the length of time this woman had been suffering, “eighteen years,” and the few hours the brute animal had been bound; the loosing of the animal required time and labour; that of the woman was performed in an instant; the woman was restored to perfect health and sanctity, the beast was only watered for the time (A. Lapide). “Loosed from this bond,” so grievous and afflicting.

17. “Were ashamed,” because, being convicted of calumny, and unable to make any reply, the exposure of their dishonesty and ignorance rendered them subjects of derision.

18, 19. “Therefore,” being inferential, conveys, that as our Lord after confounding His enemies, inspired the people with confidence, He deemed this a fitting occasion for speaking to them with profit concerning His kingdom, and for proposing illustrative parables to draw them towards it (see Matthew 13:31, 32).

20, 21. (Matthew 13:33.)

22. It is not necessary to trace a connexion between the several events recorded by the Evangelist. Here, however, the connexion seems to be, that our Lord having in the above referred to the amplitude of His kingdom (v. 19), now shows that but few enter it, as appears from the answer given by Him to a certain man, who interrogated Him when passing “through the cities and towns” on His way to Jerusalem. Likely, there is reference here to the towns and cities of Judea, whither He had sent His seventy-two disciples before Him. He speaks of the cities, &c., of Judea and Perea also (v. 31); for, Herod’s jurisdiction lay in Galilee and Perea. Probably, He was making his way to Jerusalem, to attend some festival; it is not known for certain which festival may be referred to.

23, 24. As He was journeying, “a certain man,” who heard Him discoursing concerning eternal salvation, “said to Him.” Our Lord declines answering the idle question regarding the number of those saved. He, however, gives a practical and useful reply regarding the mode of securing eternal salvation, and insinuates that but few adopt the necessary means, and, by pursuing the rugged course of penance, enter on the narrow road of virtue; so that but few consequently are saved. “Strive.” The Greek word, αγωνιζεσθε, is a strong term, implying great exertion. “Many shall seek to enter” the kingdom of glory, “and shall not be able,” because they neglected to enter on the narrow and rugged road of virtue, which alone conducts to it. The few comparatively saved are understood by some, to be spoken of the entire human race, the great majority of whom are infidels, and are thus outside the Church, and consequently outside the way of salvation. But, whether the greater number of the members of the Church are saved or damned, it is hard to say. Some hold the former opinion, because the greater number receive the Sacraments at death; others, the latter, on account of the lives of Christians so little in accordance with their Christian profession. St. Augustine’s rule is, as men live, so they die. The views of St. Chrysostom (Hom. 40, ad Populum Antioch), and of St. Augustine (Lib. 4, contra Cresconium, c. 53), are alarming. They seem very harsh and improbable (see Matthew 7:14, Commentary on.)

25. Our Lord follows up the subject of exclusion from the kingdom of heaven in the subjoined parable, which, in its literal sense, peculiarly applies to the Jews, who saw our Lord on earth. “Ate and drank in His presence,” &c. In its application, it embraces all Christians, who shall earnestly desire, and shall call in vain for admittance; and it is conveyed, that calling him Lord, or alleging past relations of familiarity will not avail, if they neglected good works. In that case, He shall neither know nor acknowledge them. In the parable, “the Master of the house” represents our Lord Himself; and, although it strictly refers to the Jews in the first instance, it may, by accommodation, be referred to all Christians who, in a still higher sense can say, when they approach the holy table, “we have eaten and drunk,” &c.

26. “But when.” The Greek means, “but, from the time,” or, “when once He shall be gone in,” &c. For, “shall be gone in,” the Greek is ἐγερθῇ, “has risen up,” to go and see that the doors are properly secured (Matthew 25:10).

27. (See Matthew 7:22, 23.)

28, 29. (See Matthew 8:11, 12.)

30. (See Matthew 19:30; 20:16.)

31. “The same day,” on which He delivered the preceding discourse, and alluded to the transferring of the Gospel from the Jews to the Gentiles.

“Some of the Pharisees,” who were found scattered through every part of Judea and Galilee. These were the greatest enemies of our Lord, and against them, He never fails to hurl His most unsparing denunciations, publicly reproaching them with their hypocrisy, envy, avarice, &c. (Matthew 23:13–36.) On this occasion, these hypocrites, stung with envy at our Lord’s preaching, and maddened at His success among the people, who were becoming alienated from themselves, affect benevolence towards Him for whose death they were really anxious. They tell him “to depart.” “For Herod hath a mind to kill thee.” This probably occurred in Perea. Others, with Maldonatus, think it occurred in Galilee. It is, however, to be borne in mind, that the Evangelist had already referred to our Lord’s departure from Galilee (9:52; Matthew 19:1). It may be, that the Evangelist here recapitulates his former narrative. Some hold that the Pharisees themselves feigned and concocted this, and that it was utterly untrue; inasmuch as Herod was most anxious to see our Lord, and was greatly pleased when, at His Passion, He was sent to him by Pilate. It may, however, be, that Herod, who was a perfect master of dissimulation, as he seemed to show respect for the Baptist (Mark 6:20), though he afterwards put him to death, entertained feelings of a version for our Lord, for having borne testimony to the innocence of John, and would be glad to make away with Him, although affecting respect and a desire to see Him. Some infer from our Lord’s answer, telling them to go back and tell Herod his answer (32, 33), that the Pharisees and Herod had a previous understanding on the subject, and that Herod was desirous of sending Him away from his territories without incurring the odium of putting Him to death.

32. “Tell that fox,” so called on account of his astuteness and cunning. Our Lord thus shows, He is not afraid of the countenance of the mighty in the discharge of His duty. He, the powerful “Lion of the tribe of Juda,” was not afraid of a cunning, timid fox. The Sovereign King of Heaven fearlessly pronounces judgment, and describes the character of a weak creature. Some think, that by “that fox” (Greek, “this fox”), our Lord meant the man who spoke to Him, regarding Herod’s intentions, and the whole of the Pharisees who, assuming the character of Herod, are denounced by our Lord as timid hypocrites and cunning dissemblers. When addressing them, our Lord directly speaks of Herod, of whom He shows He was not afraid.

“Behold I cast out devils,” &c. I am engaged in works of beneficence, for which I am deserving of gratitude and good will, rather than hatred or envy. I am under no apprehension of him or of you in the fearless performance of these works of mercy. I mean to continue doing so, for the short time still remaining to Me. “To-day and to-morrow,” mean, a short time.

“And the third day.” Shortly after that. “I am consummated.” My end is come, when I shall have consummated all that had been assigned to Me to do, and fully accomplished the end of My mission here on earth.

33. “Nevertheless.” Although the time remaining for Me is but brief, that is no reason why I should remain inactive, or timidly yield to idle threats. In spite of you and Herod, I shall preach and labour. “I must walk.” According to the decrees of My Father, I am freely to continue working in the same way, advancing from place to place—“walk” means, to work—to the very last moment of My life. Neither need I fear that Herod will kill Me, nor shall I remain here in Perea. I shall push forwards towards Jerusalem, “because it cannot be,” looking to the ordinary course of events—looking to what has generally occurred although from time to time, there may be cases of exception—“that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.” It seems to be a sad privilege, almost exclusively reserved for the inhabitants of Jerusalem—to which the following apostrophe has reference (v. 34), that they should be the murderers of the prophets in general. And I predict that in the decrees of My Father, they are destined to be the murderers of Me also, the Lord and Chief of all the prophets. Hence, I need have no dread of death at the hands of Herod. This is reserved for the unhappy Jerusalem. Several prophets were killed away from Jerusalem. Some in Samaria by Jozabel (3 Kings 18:13; 19:10). Neither was Jeremias nor Ezechiel killed there; the former was killed in Egypt, the latter in Chaldea, as we are informed by Epiphanius (in eorum Vita).

34, 35. (See Matthew 23:37–39.)

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