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

In this chapter is recorded the cure of the dropsical man by our Lord on the Sabbath-day (1–6). He inculcates humility (7–11), and points out whom we should invite to our feasts, if we expect spiritual remuneration (12–15). The Parable of the great Supper (15–24). The necessity of prudent forethought on the part of His disciples (25–35).

1. “And it came to pass.” St. Luke, who alone mentions this occurrence, does not say when it took place, whether in immediate connexion with what precedes, or on some other occasion.

2. “One of the chiefs of the Pharisees,” a man of great consideration, position and influence among them. He was by sect, a “Pharisee,” and possessed some authority and dignity among the people; or, the words may mean, He was one of the rulers of the synagogue, and by sect a Pharisee; for, the rulers of the synagogue were not all Pharisees (John 7:48).

“To eat bread,” means, “to take food.” The Jews enjoyed better cheer on the Sabbath and festival than on other days (Tobias 2:9). No doubt, our Redeemer was invited on the occasion; and although He well knew the deadly hostility of the sect towards Him, He still went, wishing to avail Himself of every opportunity of doing good. From the following words, “they were watching Him,” many infer that the Pharisee invited Him from the motive of finding something censurable in His conduct.

“And they were watching Him.” “And,” is superfluous, or it may be used for then. “They,” viz., those present, “the lawyers and Pharisees” (v. 3).

This man, afflicted with the dropsy, was either introduced by the Pharisees on purpose to see if our Lord would cure him on the Sabbath; or, the man himself who, doubtless, was well known to the family of the house, may have presented himself before they sat down to table, in the hope that our Lord, seeing his miserable condition, would of Himself cure him without being asked to do so, as it was the Sabbath day.

3. “Answering,” is used to signify, in the Gospel, beginning to speak (see Matthew 11:25); or, “answering” their hidden thoughts and tacit questionings within themselves. “Is it lawful?” &c. Our Lord well knew their minds, and that they would censure Him as a violator of the Sabbath; still, He puts the question to confound them; if they answered affirmatively, then, they would have no grounds for censuring the act of curing; if negatively, then, He would have an opportunity of proving the contrary (as in v. 5).

4. They were afraid, if they answered affirmatively, of contradicting their own teaching; if negatively, of being refuted by Him as contradicting their own practice. “Taking him,” touching him with His hand, to show the exercise of Divine power. “Healed him,” all of a sudden, “and sent him away,” rejoicing in the cure that had been mercifully wrought on him, in the presence of all.

5. “Answering” (see above). By an argumentum a minori ad majus, He proves, from their own mode of acting in certain cases, the lawfulness of the act He had been after performing. He performs it first, and then justifies it. The taking of an ass or an ox out of a pit involved more servile work and bodily labour than the cure of the dropsical man; and the cure of a human being was of greater value than the preservation of a brute animal. (See 13:15, &c.) For “an ass,” some MSS., among them the Vatican, have ὕιος, a son. But, the Vulgate is the most probable—“ass and ox” are put for any domestic animal, as they are the domestic animals most common.

6. Although convicted by the evident force of His reasoning, and His reference to their own practical interpretation of the law in cases of less importance than that now in question; still, envy prevented them from giving utterance to what they must have thought regarding our Lord’s mode of acting; hence, they held their tongues.

7. Having cured the infirm man of bodily disease, He now wishes to cure them of the spiritual disease under which He saw them labouring, viz., ambition and pride. The Pharisees looked upon themselves as raised above others by their external profession of sanctity, and, therefore, entitled to greater respect. They watched Him. He now, in turn, watches them in a spirit of charity. He spoke to them after they were seated at table, a parable founded on what He witnessed, viz., their anxiety to secure the most honourable places at table; and while adducing this parable or example relating directly to the practice of humility at marriage feasts, under it, He meant to inculcate a lesson of humility for all other occasions as well. This is the moral conclusion pointed out in verse 11. It is not, strictly speaking, a “parable.” It is rather an example, conveying a lesson of humility in all cases; or, it may be, that our Lord proposed a parable, omitted by St. Luke, of which this is the application (Maldonatus).

10. Similar is the lesson inculcated (Proverbs 25:6; Ecclesiasticus 3:20, &c.) While referring to human glory, which alone influenced the Pharisees, our Lord inculcates true humility, by the external humiliation in this case; self-abasement before God and man (Philip. 2:3, &c.), which will exalt us before God here and hereafter.

11. This is the general decree of God, raising the humble, depressing the proud, as well in the sight of God as of men, lowering and raising them in their relations towards God and man (see Matthew 23:12).

12. After having inculcated a lesson of humility in regard to His fellow guests, our Lord now addressing His host, recompences him by a return of spiritual food, viz., a remedy against avarice, which he much needed—for the corporal food which He deigned to receive at his hands, although He needed no corporal food, as it is He that opens His hand and fills every animal with benediction.

“Who are rich.” that is, invite not thy rich friends. “Rich,” affects the preceding. One may invite his poor friends with as much spiritual remuneration as any other poor.

“Lest they invite thee again,” &c. To be liberal to those who are likely to make a return, is, according to St. Ambrose, a feeling or sentiment of avarice. “Hospitalem remuneraturis esse affectus est avaritiæ.” Cicero gives utterance to a similar sentiment (Lib. 1, de officiis). So, does Pliny (Lib. 9, Epist. 30). Our Lord does not here forbid our inviting friends, relatives, &c., as this would have the effect of cementing concord and charity, which He Himself wishes on all occasions to promote. He merely counsels us, if we wish to derive the greatest spiritual profit and the greatest amount of merit from the exercise of hospitality, to invite the poor, from whom we expect no return. Thus our motives will be more pure, and our actions performed for God alone, who will not be outdone in generosity at the proper time.

13. “Call the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind,” who are poor. The word “poor,” affects all. If they were rich, it mattered not whether they were maimed, or lame, &c., so far as the remuneration hereafter was concerned.

14. “Thou shalt be blessed.” As regards the full remuneration in the life to come is concerned, since you can expect none in this, as they have it not in their power. Having hidden your goods in the bosom of the poor, you have made God your debtor. Full “recompense shall be made to thee in the resurrection of the just,” that is, in the everlasting life to come, both as to soul and body. Then, unlike the remuneration received in this life, which is only temporary and transitory in its effects, an eternal weight of glory shall be bestowed on us for the smallest relief given in God’s name to the least of our brethren. Our Lord speaks as if the resurrection were for the just alone; because they alone shall rise to glory, and shall receive the reward of good works. The wicked shall rise, but only to receive condemnation.

15. One of those who sat at table, touched with what our Lord had said regarding the rewards to be given in the resurrection of the just, to such as invited the poor, &c., to their banquet, cried out, from an anxious desire of being partaker of these delights, “Blessed is he that shall eat bread,” &c., that is, partake of food, shall sit down to the banquet prepared for the just, “in the kingdom of God,” when the just shall be inebriated with the plenty of God’s house, and shall drink of the torrents of His delights. It may be, that this man entertained carnal notions regarding the delights of the life to come, and thought they consisted in eating and drinking and all sorts of good cheer. Others, with (Jansenius Gandav.) are of opinion, that he did not entertain such carnal notions; because, our Lord, as appears from the following, would seem to confirm his ideas rather than correct them.

16. In the following parable, our Lord shows, that many of the chief men among the Jews who had been invited to the joys of God’s kingdom, which He, pursuing the subject, represents under the figure of an earthly banquet, would be excluded from it, owing to their own fault; and, that those whom they contemned among both Jews and Gentiles would be admitted to the places of honour and enjoyment which they forfeited by their sins and neglect, nay more, by their resistance to divine grace and God’s gracious calls. Whatever difference of opinion may exist as to the meaning of the several parts of this parable, there is none whatever as to its scope and object. It directly and immediately refers to the reprobation of the Jews and the calling of the Gentile world to the Gospel. The very words of the parable, and the context, evidently convey this; and our Lord employs the parable of the great Supper, as the least offensive way of conveying to that unhappy people, the dreadful sentence of reprobation which they had provoked against themselves, in punishment of their repeated resistance to grace.

Although the present parable is conveyed in different words and under different circumstances of time and place from that (chap. 22:1, &c., of Matthew), still, the scope and application of both is substantially the same. The “certain man,” refers to Almighty God. The concluding words, “my supper,” &c., would show it applies to our Lord, who was God, as well as man. The “great supper” is variously interpreted. Some understand it of the Incarnation of the Son of God, when He wedded human nature indissolubly to Himself, and united it personally to the Divine Word.

But, as there is question of a feast, and its accompanying enjoyment, it seems more likely, that the “great supper,”—“great;” because worthy, of the Sovereign munificence of the King of Heaven—refers to the mystery of man’s redemption, and to the manifold and superabundant graces plentifully dispensed in the New Law, as the result of the Incarnation or marriage-union of the Son of God with human nature; and also to the inconceivable glory and heavenly bliss, to which these graces of the New Law securely conduct us. This eternal glory and bliss in the Church triumphant, in the life to come, commences from faith here, where we are members of the Church militant. This primary and literal signification contains, probably, under it another, or mystical signification, a thing by no means uncommon in SS. Scripture (Gal. 4:24; Hebrews 1:5). The supper may, by accommodation, be applied to the “great supper,” of the adorable Eucharist, wherein the Son of God has left Himself to us to the end of time, a perpetual memorial of His love and wonders. This is one of the greatest sources of grace in the New Law, already referred to. The Church accommodates the passage to the adorable Eucharist, in the Gospel of Sunday within Oct. of Corpus Christi.

“And called many.” The entire Jewish people. He called them first, through the ministry of John the Baptist. Our Lord Himself next, preached to them in person, employing the same theme as the Baptist, “do penance,” &c. Lastly, He sent His Apostles and disciples to invite them and reclaim them. It may be said, with truth, that God had specially and by anticipation called the Jews to a share in this banquet before it actually took place. They were His chosen inheritance, with whom he deposited His oracles. All their privileges having reference to this special invitation, are summed up. (Rom. 9:4, &c.) They had been occasionally favoured with the ministry of His prophets, whose threats and promises might be regarded in the light of so many invitations to partake beforehand, of that “great supper,” in which was to be eaten, “the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world” (Apoc. 13:8).

17. “His servant,” represents the Apostles and preachers of the Gospel. “At supper time,” giving a more special and particular invitation to those who previously received a general invitation (see Matthew 22:3).

“Now all things are ready.” Now they can taste by faith and grace, beforehand, of the joys and bliss of that kingdom thrown open by the death of Christ.

18. (See Matthew 22:3.) To the Jews, in the first place, the invitation was confined by Divine appointment. “Go ye not into the ways of the Gentiles.… But go ye rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6), was the injunction given to the Apostles. But the Jews refused coming, on several frivolous pretexts. Inordinate attachment to the things of earth—a characteristic feature of the Jewish people at all times—proved an obstacle to one class, and made them despise the riches of Heaven. “I have bought a farm, and must needs go see it.”

19. A feeling of undue curiosity, a sceptical spirit of doubting inquiry, and intellectual pride prevented others. “I have bought five yoke,” &c.

20. The gratification of impure passions and sensual delights prevented a third class. “I have married a wife,” &c. In a word, the three great leading maxims which rule this world, and domineer over men, viz., “the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16)—the great obstacles to the salvation of the world at all times, and signally at present—prevented the Jews from embracing the Gospel, which inculcated on its followers the opposite principles, viz., the mortification of the flesh, with its vices and concupiscences—the mortification of avarice, in the practice of poverty, and in detachment from the passing goods of this life, in view of those never-failing goods in the life to come; and the mortification of pride, in the practice of humility. These latter are the leading principles of that new life which Jesus Christ came down to renew with His Spirit; the opposite of those cherished by this sinful world which He came down to rescue and redeem.

21. On the servant announcing the result of the invitation, the master of the household becomes exceedingly angry. His servants, the Apostles, are sent out to call in the most abject and despised among the Jews. He himself, His Apostles and disciples execute this commission throughout the whole extent of Judea and Galilee. The haughty, proud Pharisees and priests are rejected. The weak, foolish, and contemptible are called, in order to confound the strong, the wise, and the powerful. “The Publicans and harlots go before them into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 21:31). According to the most common opinion, the preaching indicated in this verse took place before our Lord’s death, and was confined to the poor, ignorant, and repentant sinners among the Jews. “The streets and lanes of the city,” indicate the precincts of Jerusalem and Judea.

22. Notwithstanding the number of the Jews who obeyed the call of our Lord and His Apostles, still the supper hall was not filled. It was comparatively empty. Then, the king issues another commission. The Apostles, after they had been endued with strength from on high, and after the fulness of the Spirit had been poured down upon them, go forth, armed with a commission different from that which they received on a former occasion, viz., to confine their labours to the narrow precincts of Judea, and only to look after “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The plenitude of the Gentiles is now to be admitted. The Apostles are to “preach the Gospel to every creature,” to “go out into the hedges and highways,” into the neglected and uncultivated regions of the Gentiles, hitherto sunk in vice and error. They are to employ the most cogent of arguments, viz., miracles, together with the example of holy, laborious, unselfish, mortified lives, “in ostensione spiritus et virtutis,” to induce them to obey the Divine call, and thus, in a certain sense, “to compel” their stubborn wills to bend their necks under the yoke of faith, to offer that holy violence, which alone carries, as it were, by assault, the kingdom of heaven, and thus induce them “to enter;” so that, “the house,” the Church of God, the ante-room of the banquet hall in heaven, “may be filled,” and they may pass, from the Church militant on earth, to the joys of the Church triumphant in heaven. The explanation of “compel” above given, which supposes full exercise of free will, strongly influenced by powerfully persuasive external motives, aided internally by the operation of God’s efficacious graces, leaves no room for the false charge brought against Christianity, that it is to be embraced against man’s will, and that persecution for religious opinions is here sanctioned. The spirit of Christianity is essentially a spirit of mildness. It allows no other force to be used in bringing Pagans into the Church, save that species of moral persuasion and pressing invitation which we employ in urging men to receive benefits at our hands: as Lot compelled the angels (Genesis 19:3), and the disciples compelled our Lord, at Emmaus (Luke 24:29. It is in this way the Church wishes to compel men to embrace the faith. (2 Tim. 4:2, &c.) The “assent by stripes,” sometimes employed, is denounced by Gregory the Great, when prohibiting the persecution of the Jews at Rome, for refusing to embrace the faith. The Church never approved of the persecution of heretics as such, and if any examples be adduced where violence was used, these are not to be attributed to the Church, any more than other misdeeds of individual members. Heretics are, in many instances, violators of the civil laws; rebels to the constituted authorities. For such crimes, they are justly visited with temporal punishment. There is nothing preposterous in the Church visiting with punishment her rebellious children, and thus endeavouring to bring them back to a sense of duty, any more than there would be for loving parents to reduce disobedient children to a sense of duty by punishing them. It was thus God Himself brought back St. Paul, on the road to Damascus. The Church herself, in her Liturgy, calls on God to force our stubborn wills, leaving us still their free exercise. “Ad Te nostras cliam rebelles compelle propitius voluntates.” In this passage, there is no question of heretics at all; but, of Pagans, towards whom the Apostles, who received this commission, never used violence of any sort (Calmet).

24. “But I say to you,” &c. This is a dreadful sentence of reprobation pronounced against the Jews, who resisted the call to grace. They shall be for ever excluded from the bliss of God’s kingdom—from those ineffable delights, “which neither eye hath seen,” &c.; and for ever consigned to the excruciating tortures of hell. “Because I called, and you refused … I will also laugh in your destruction, and will mock when that shall come to you which you feared. When sudden calamity shall fall on you, and destruction Then they shall call upon Me, and I will not hear; they shall rise in the morning, and shall not find Me” (Prov. 1:24–28). “You shall seek Me, and shall not find Me, and where I am, thither you cannot come” (John 7:34). “I go, and you shall seek Me, and you shall die in your sin” (John 8:21). This is true at all times, of obstinate, unrepenting sinners, who are deaf to God’s gracious invitations to mercy and penance.

The same excuses are alleged every day, by men who are deaf to God’s call and command to approach the Holy Eucharist, which is, indeed, “a great supper.” He lovingly threatens them: “Amen, Amen, I say unto you, unless you eat,” &c., and graciously invites them, “He who eats of this bread, shall live for ever;” still, they are insensible. They are called upon every year to approach. They allege frivolous excuses, and sometimes the same as those mentioned in the Gospel. Would to God the threat of dying in their sins, of being deprived of the Holy Eucharist at death, of calling in vain on God, when too late, of being delivered over to final impenitence, were not so frequently seen verified in regard to such, “They shall call, I will not hear.” “They shall die in their sins.” Good God! what a dreadful judgment of reprobation.

25. “Great multitudes went with Him”—accompanied Him on His way to Jerusalem (chap. 13:22), as if proclaiming that they wished to be among His followers and disciples. Taking occasion, from seeing them following Him, our Lord, turning to them, informs them, that in order to be His disciple, it was not enough to approach Him, or follow Him on foot; one must be prepared for crosses and mortifications—for sacrificing, when required, all human affections—to give up all that is nearest and dearest to us.

26. (See Matthew 10:37.) “Hate,” not simply, but so far as they are opposed to Christ; also, in a comparative sense, of loving less, of loving them less than Christ, of loving Him more, and this shown in act, when required. Similar is the phrase, “dilexi Jacob, Esau odio habui.” The same is expressed by St. Matthew (10:37), “He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me.” The words of our Lord here are even stronger than those in St. Matthew. We must not only love Him more than them, more than our own lives; but, we must even positively “hate,” not them, but whatever is in them that withdraws us from the love of Christ. We must hate in ourselves, and refuse to ourselves whatever is opposed to Him, and contrary to His law. For, the law of Christ often forbids things contrary to our wicked desires and inclinations.

27–33. (See Matthew 10:38; 16:24.) In this verse, our Lord shows how we are to hate our own souls, by adding, “whosoever doth not carry his cross,” &c. The word “disciple,” is understood by some, of the profession of the Christian faith, the following of our Lord, common to all Christians. In this sense, adopted by Maldonatus, the renunciation, the hatred here mentioned, is strictly preceptive; and means, that sooner than abandon Christ and His faith, we should sacrifice every thing else, be it ever so near or dear to us. Others, with Jansenius, maintain, there is question of being His disciple, like the Apostles and seventy-two disciples, and although the words may, in a general sense, apply to all Christians in regard to giving up all, sooner than abandon Christ, trampling on our own corrupt inclinations, and bearing every kind of persecution and suffering for His sake, still, the words, according to this latter opinion, apply to those who give up every thing in this world, and obey the Evangelical counsels, for the love of Him. In this sense, the words merely convey a counsel. The two following parables, or examples drawn from the ordinary concerns of life, having reference to business of great worldly importance, failure in which would involve great loss and disgrace, would seem greatly in favour of this latter opinion. The case of the builder of the tower reckoning beforehand his resources, and making his undertaking—his difficult and expensive work—dependent on his calculations, clearly enough applies to the Christian who may voluntarily resolve to embrace the state of Evangelical perfection, to which he is not strictly bound. This latter should carefully measure his strength, aided by God’s grace, with the difficulties of the state he aspires to, and should he not have good grounds, amounting to a moral certainty, for believing in his power to persevere, he should not embrace it, lest afterwards, if obliged to give it up, he should expose himself to scorn and ridicule, like the builder of the unfinished house. The same is true of the example of the king about to embark in war. The application could not be easily seen in reference to the embracing of Christianity. Our Redeemer would hardly insinuate, that it was free under any circumstances, for any one to decline this important work, to decline the conflict with the enemy of man’s salvation, or to enter into any compromise with him in fighting the battle of the Lord. The same is rendered more probable still, by the conclusion and application of the example (v. 33), “So likewise every one of you that doth not renounce all that he possesses, cannot be My disciple,” as if He said; you are not only to measure your strength in reference to giving up all you hold most dear, for My sake, if you wish to aspire to a state of Evangelical perfection. You must go further still, and renounce all you have in the world, if you aspire to the privilege of being more closely united to Me.

Maldonatus and others, however, who maintain there is question of embracing and retaining the faith, at every sacrifice, say, that our Lord, by the examples adduced, only means to convey, that the embracing of the Christian law, and the observance of its precepts, are not a very easy matter; and hence, as happens in regard to arduous or important worldly business, when men are about to embark on any difficult or expensive undertaking, such as raising an edifice or waging war, they consider their strength and resources; so ought Christians on embracing the law and faith of Christ, and taking on them His yoke, bear in mind, that it is not a very easy matter, involving no trouble or sacrifice, they are undertaking; that it is not a life of enjoyment, bringing with it great temporal advantages or glory, such as the crowds following our Lord vainly imagined, in regard to our Lord’s coming kingdom, which they are embracing; that they should then prepare well for its arduous duties. For, it would be a lesser evil, however enormous, never to have embraced the truth, than after having done so, to turn back (2 Peter 2:21). Whatever in the examples adduced may serve to illustrate these points, are pertinent; the rest, ornamental. There is no use, therefore, in dwelling on the meaning of the word, “tower,” nor on the bearing of the compromise, which the king proposes to make. There can be no compromise with the enemy of salvation, no peace or terms with him. Such peace would be utter ruin and destruction. Hence, there can be no application of this portion of the parable in the interpretation of Maldonatus. If the interpretation of Jansenius, who understands it of mere counsel, were adopted; then, there might be some room for application to the subject. It is agreed on all hands, that there are several circumstances in the literal recital of parables of a merely ornamental character, having no reference to the subject, which the parable is intended to illustrate. This observation will save interpreters much trouble and embarrassment in endeavouring to apply several circumstances in the examples here adduced, since these circumstances are merely ornamental, and not meant to be applied at all, in truth, utterly inapplicable.

34. “Salt is good,” for seasoning and preserving human food. This would seem to show, that in the above parables, our Lord is primarily and directly treating of the Apostles and disciples who observe the counsels of Evangelical perfection. For, it is in regard to the Apostles, our Lord uses this similitude elsewhere (Matthew 5:13; Mark 9:49). No doubt, the words apply, in a secondary sense, to Christians at all times, who, by their good example, should entice the infidels to the faith, and confirm their brethren in the faith and practice of good works. This shows the admirable power of our Lord’s teaching, which may be suited to different descriptions of men, at different ages, according to their wants and exigencies.

“But, if the salt shall lose its savour” (see Matthew 5:13). It is only while it retains its active properties, that salt is “good,” that is, useful and efficacious for preserving food. But, if it loses its active properties, it becomes unsavoury, and is good for nothing; it even renders the land sterile on which it is cast, at St. Jerome tells us.

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