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

In this chapter, our Lord inculcates the avoidance of scandal, the forgiveness of injuries, and He points out the great power of faith (1–6). He next inculcates the virtue of humility on our part, by describing the unprofitable servant (7–10). We have next an account of the cure of nine lepers, and our Lord’s remarks on their want of gratitude (11–19). He next treats of the coming of the Kingdom of God, and of the final coming to judgment of the Son of Man (20–37).

We need not labour to trace any connexion between this and the preceding chapter, as some Commentators endeavour to do. It is very likely, St. Luke notes down what is recorded in the beginning of this chapter, from memory, of course under the influence of inspiration, without any reference to the preceding. It may be that the words of this and the following verses were spoken on two different occasions by our Blessed Lord (Matthew 18), and here.

1–4. (See Matthew 18:6–8, 21, 22.)

5. The words of this verse may be a detached and independent narrative, having no immediate or direct connexion with the preceding. Probably, they were uttered on the occasion of the fruitless attempt on the part of the Apostles to cast out a devil, which our Lord ascribes to their want of the necessary faith (Matthew 17:19, &c.), and the allusion to the example of the mustard seed in both places, here as well as there, renders this probable. On many other occasions, our Lord reproaches them for their weak faith (Matthew 8, 16, 17; Luke 8:25). He attributed their failure to their unbelief, or want of faith; they, therefore, ask Him to increase their faith (12:28).

It may be, that on one of these occasions to which St. Luke refers here without mentioning it, these words were uttered by the Apostles, in reply to these reproaches. Although the words may be inserted here independently by St. Luke, without any reference to the context, they can be connected with the preceding, thus: The precepts enjoined in the preceding chapter and here, regarding self-denial in parting with riches and giving abundant alms, contempt of pleasures, forgiveness of injuries, &c., were very hard to flesh and blood, impossible even to our corrupt nature of itself. It required no small amount of confidence in God, founded on faith, and of Divine supernatural grace to comply with them. Hence, they pray for an increase of this confidence and grace to enable them to accomplish His holy will in all things. While humbly acknowledging the weakness of their faith, the Apostles, at the same time, profess their belief in our Lord’s Divine power, since God alone could give or increase faith; and in commending their petition, He increases, to some degree, their faith, reserving its fullest increase till after His Ascension and the descent of the Holy Ghost on them.

6. (See Matthew 17:20.) In St. Matthew, our Lord speaks of removing a mountain, which probably was in view; here, He speaks of a “mulberry tree,” probably within immediate reach. The Greek is “sycamine tree,” which is said to be found in Egypt and Palestine, resembling a fig-tree in its fruit, and the mulberry in its leaves (Bloomfield). The Black-mulberry tree is called Sycamine in Greece (Kitto, Encyclopedia).

“Be thou rooted up,” &c. A natural impossibility, requiring a miracle for its accomplishment; so, also in the spiritual order, although the forgiveness of injuries as enjoined in the above, and the other duties prescribed by our Lord, be impossible to corrupt nature; still, grace and faith shall achieve all. They shall remove mountains of pride and obstinacy, and tear up by the roots confirmed habits of sensuality and sinful selfishness.

7–10. Some Expositors say there is no immediate connexion between this and the preceding; others, however, trace a direct connexion thus:—Our Lord having enjoined the performance of arduous precepts, now wishes to eradicate every feeling of pride and corrupt complacency which His followers might be tempted to entertain from the observance of these precepts; and He does this by introducing an example from the ordinary occurrences of human life, from the treatment which a faithful servant, who carries out the wishes of his master, receives. While he receives the wages due to his labours, he is entitled to no special thanks for having discharged his duty. Our Lord applies the example to the case of His servants at the conclusion of the parable (v. 10), “So you also,” &c.

“Plowing or feeding cattle,” are expressive of any of the ordinary occupations of servants. They, most likely, have no other application in the parable. “Go and sit down to meat … and afterwards thou shalt eat and drink,” convey, that those who labour in God’s service, must not forthwith expect the rest and reward in store for them. They must labour in their Heavenly Master’s service to the end, and accomplish God’s will not only in one point, but in all things. They must not only fulfil one precept, but all God’s precepts, and labour faithfully and unceasingly in whatever works He may enjoin on them to the end like the servant in question, who was obliged to attend his master on his return in the evening after having laboured in the field during the day.

“Doth he thank that servant?” &c. As in human affairs, the master does not “thank” or give any special mark of appreciation to the servant who discharges the prescribed duties, beyond the hire, the payment or remuneration, due to his labours; so, in the service of God, if we merely discharge the duties assigned to us, the omission of which would entail eternal woe, we are not to expect any special remuneration—“thanks”—any more than St. Paul expected (1 Cor 9:18, &c.), if he merely preached the Gospel, the neglect to do which, would involve him in eternal woe. It was only for a work of supererogation, the preaching of the Gospel gratuitously, he expected a special reward; and in this only had he any cause for glorying in the Lord. But, although the master does not “thank” his servant, or show any special recognition for his discharge of the prescribed duties, it by no means follows, that he does not reward him for his services, or that he fails to give him the stipulated hire or payment. So, in like manner, God rewards us for the observance of His Commandments, by giving us eternal life, which out of His infinite goodness He promises to those who, aided by His grace, keep the Commandments—“If thou wilt enter into life, keep the Commandments”—but, we can expect no “thanks” or special reward, on account of the mere performance of what is prescribed; as we had done nothing extraordinary or singular, deserving of special and cumulative reward. This is attached to the observance of the Evangelical counsels, of which our Lord speaks, when addressing the young man in the Gospel (Matthew 19:19, &c.), He says, “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast,” &c.

“So, you also, when you shall have done … unprofitable servants,” &c. The word “unprofitable” is opposed to deserving of “thanks,” as appears from the foregoing. What deserving of “thanks” means, has been explained in the foregoing, and illustrated by the conduct and teaching of St. Paul, in reference to the gratuitous preaching of the Gospel. It is observed, that our Lord does not say, “you are unprofitable servants;” but, “say you; we are unprofitable servants,” and, although our Lord would not tell us to say, what is not the truth, still He employs this form to commend humility, and make us acknowledge our worthlessness in His sight, even after having observed all His commandments.

He prefers this conclusion, “say you,” &c., and this application of the parable, before that, which the parable would naturally suggest, viz.: So neither shall God thank you, after you shall have performed all that is commanded you. This latter conclusion, our Lord does not use, because God renders great thanks, bestows great remuneration on His servants, after doing what they are bound to do, unlike earthly masters, who do not thank their servants in such cases. He uses the form employed here, to inculcate a lesson of humility, and make us acknowledge our unworthiness, in His sight, so far as we ourselves are concerned. He Himself would say to us, considering what we are, owing to His own grace, as He said of Job, “Vir simplex et rectus ac timens Deum, et recedens a malo” (Job 1:1); also, “Well done, good and faithful servant, because thou hast been faithful over a few things, &c.” (Matthew 25:21.) “Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you … for, I was hungry and you gave me to eat, &c.” (Matthew 25:35.)

“Unprofitable,” is differently understood by different Commentators. Some interpret it, we are unprofitable, because we bring no profit to our Master, who “stands not in need of our goods” (Psalm 15:2); and we owe Him all our services on the titles of Creation, Conservation, Redemption, &c., even although He proposed no reward at all. Hence, a motive for us not to glory in our acts, and to practise humility. In St. Matthew (25:30), the word has a different meaning, where he, whom our Lord designates as an “unprofitable servant,” is consigned to outer darkness. In this latter passage, he is expected to bring some profit to his master, for the talent confided to him. Instead of that, violating his master’s injunctions, he allows that talent to remain unemployed, and his master’s wealth thus to become unproductive. In the former case, our Lord Himself calls him “unprofitable;” here, we call ourselves such, out of humility.

Others, understand it, we are “unprofitable,” of ourselves, without God’s grace, left to our own weak nature, which would be of itself incapable of fulfilling our prescribed duties.

The most probable interpretation is that given in the preceding verse, where it is opposed to receiving “thanks,” or being entitled to any special recognition, as instanced in the case of St. Paul. This is the reason assigned here. We are “unprofitable servants,” in the sense, that we have done nothing extraordinary, nothing that we were not bound to, under pain of eternal woe; nothing, therefore, in which we should have special cause for glorying; nothing, that we did not owe on many titles of justice, to God. In this interpretation, it is opposed to the utility arising from the performance of works of supererogation, of carrying out the counsels of Evangelical perfection. This is not opposed to the Catholic doctrine of merit, which is abundantly proved from several passages of SS. Scripture. When we, looking at our own natural weakness, call ourselves “unprofitable servants,” then it is, that our Lord, regarding in us the fruits of His own grace, regarding us as sons of God (1 John 3:2); as heirs of God, and His own co-heirs, (Romans 8), will address us, “Well done, good and faithful servant … enter into the joy of thy Lord,” thus giving us the stipulated reward He promises us, as in the case of the labourers in the vineyard. (Matthew 20.)

11. We cannot determine for certain, to which journey of our Lord from Galilee to Jerusalem reference is made here. Nor, indeed, does the context here afford us any clue for ascertaining it. It may, possibly, refer to the journey mentioned (chap. 9:42, &c.), on which He had been treated so inhospitably by the Samaritans, towards whom He returned good for evil, by curing one of their countrymen of a loathsome leprosy. For, of the ten cured, one was a Samaritan. And His having passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee, is mentioned in allusion to the cure of the Samaritan leper with the nine others. This was His direct route to Jerusalem, through the confines of both provinces, by the road which passes between both.

12. “As He entered,” or was about to enter, “a certain village,” which was on the confines of both provinces. The cure here referred to took place outside the village, from which, by the law of Moses, those infected with leprosy were excluded. Hence, “they stood afar off,” as they were not allowed to come too near, for sanitary and mystical reasons, contemplated by the law of Moses. At what distance, lepers were obliged to keep aloof cannot be ascertained.

13. “They lifted up their voice.” As they could not approach too near (Leviticus 13:46), in order to be heard by Him, and also to show the earnestness and fervour of their supplication. They also joined in one common cry, in the hope that their joint cry for relief would be more efficacious. Jews and Samaritans, between whom there was no communication (John 4:9), cast aside their mutual religious differences, and became united from a sense of their common misery, and a strong desire of a cure, of which all were equally in quest.

“Jesus, Master.” The Greek word for “Master”—επιστατα—which is peculiar to St. Luke, and applied by him in several parts of his Gospel to our Lord only, (5:5; 8:24–45; 9:33–49), signifies, not merely a teacher, but a teacher vested with authority. It conveys, You can command all things, command this disease to depart from us. Comparing Luke 9:49, with Matthew 17:4; Mark 9:5, it signifies the same as κυριε, Lord, and Rabbi, Master. In Luke (9:49), it corresponds with διδασκαλε, Master, Teacher, in Mark 9:38.

“Have mercy on us.” They don’t specify in what they hoped to have Him exercise mercy. But, firmly believing in His power, they confided in His beneficent will to restore them to health, and remove their bodily leprosy.

14. “Whom when He saw,” not only with the eyes of the body, but also with the eyes of mercy, “He said: Go, show yourselves to the priests.” (See Matthew 8:4, &c.) Our Lord sends them to the priests, before He actually cures them, as He cured the leper (Matthew 8), in order to try their faith and test their obedience, and also make it clear, to whom they were indebted for their cure. Understanding our Lord’s command to contain an assurance that He would cure them—the priests had no power to cure, their part simply was to attest the cure and offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving as prescribed in the law of Moses, and restore them to society (Leviticus 13:14)—they obeyed at once, and were miraculously cared on their way. It is said by some, that, as our Lord could not recognise the Samaritan priests—priests of a false faith and worship—He meant that even the Samaritan would go to Jewish priests. Others say, that the “priests” meant, those belonging to each one’s religion. The Jewish priests, for the Jews; the Samaritan priest, for the Samaritan leper. Without raising any question as to our Lord’s sending the Samaritan to his own priest, as a minister of a schismatical worship, the advocates of this latter opinion might say, he was sent merely for a certificate of his restoration to health, which, likely, the Jewish priests would not give; and even, if given by them, it would not avail him. This did not necessarily entail a journey to Jerusalem on the part of the Jewish lepers. The priests of any locality could give the required attestation of the cure; and thus enable a cured leper to return to his house and kindred.

15. Whether he returned, after having shown himself to the priest, as our Lord commanded, and received the required certificate of his cure, or before it, when on his way he saw himself cured, is not quite clear from the context, although the words, “when he saw that he was made clean, he went back,” would seem in favour of the opinion that he returned the moment he saw himself cured. Having gone some distance, and probably out of our Redeemer’s sight, they perceived their cure. Most likely, they were also cleansed from the leprosy of sin. Our Redeemer, it is thought, usually conferred the grace of justification on those on whom He wrought a bodily cure, inspiring them with sentiments of true contrition.

“With a loud voice,” showing the intensity of his grateful feelings.

“Glorifying God,” who displayed His power and goodness in his cure, through Christ.

16. “And fell down on his face,” in prostrate adoration, “at His feet.” Before, he kept aloof; now, seeing himself cured, he ventured to approach nearer, even to His very feet.

“And he was a Samaritan.” The Evangelist adds this, to contrast the gratitude of this stranger, who belonged to a people who were not so favoured as the Jews, with the ingratitude of the nine others who were Jews.

(For the history of the Samaritans, see Matthew 10:5.)

17, 18. This interrogatory form is a more forcible way of enunciating the fact of their cure.

Our Lord would seem to reproach the nine others for their want of gratitude in not imitating the example of the Samaritan, who returned and gave thanks to his benefactor. “To give glory to God,” by openly proclaiming the exercise of His power and goodness in their cure through Christ. He does not say, “give glory to Me,” to convey, that the glory of every thing should be given to God alone, and that He sought His Father’s glory in all He did.

“But this stranger,” alien in religion and extraction. The circumstance of this man being a stranger to the Jewish religion, a member of a false and schismatical Church, between which and the Synagogue there was no communication, not even civil intercourse, only set forth, in a clearer light, the ingratitude of the Jews, God’s chosen people, on whom He bestowed so many and such signal favours; to whom the Son of God was sent to preach first, and by them ungratefully rejected.

“Where are the nine?” How applicable is not this question, in many instances, to Christians, who, after receiving wonderful cures of their bodily ailments and spiritual distempers from God, ungratefully forget all, and insult and outrage afresh the best of benefactors, relapsing into sin, like the swine wallowing in the mire, or the dog returning to his vomit; thus, crucifying again the Son of God, and making a mockery of Him.

19. “Arise,” from the posture in which he lay prostrate at His feet. “Go thy way?” Thou hast shown thy gratitude, in which the nine others were signally wanting.

“Thy faith,” whereby thou didst unhesitatingly believe in My power; and, confiding in My implied assurance of curing thee, on thy way to the priest, didst obey My mandate. “Hath made thee whole,” restored his bodily health, and most likely, cured him of the spiritual leprosy of sin, signified by the corporal leprosy from which he suffered. Our Lord, by ascribing the cure to faith, which concurred as a necessary disposition for effecting it, showed His great modesty, in not ascribing it to Himself, who accomplished it.

He, as usual, commends the great virtue of faith, as it was the foundation of the whole system of spiritual life, and of the religion He was about to establish. It was the virtue most needed to bring man back to God. For, as man first departed from God by pride of intellect, the affectation of knowledge like unto that of God; so, his first step in his return to God must be, by humbling that proud intellect, and rendering it captive to faith in embracing, on the sole authority of God, truths which it could not understand, since faith is the “argumentum non apparentium” (Heb. 11:1). (See 2 Cor. 10:4, 5.)

20. “And being asked by the Pharisees,” on some occasion or other. We need not trouble ourselves too much in tracing a connexion between this and the preceding. St. Luke oftentimes describes consecutively, in the same passage, events and occurrences that took place only at different times, on different occasions, and in different places.

“When the kingdom of God,” &c. Our Lord and the Baptist had, several times, spoken of the near approach of the kingdom of God. The Pharisees, who, in common with the great bulk of the Jewish nation, formed certain false carnal notions on this subject—expecting that the kingdom of this long-expected Messiah would be all earthly, exceeding in external splendour that of Solomon, subjecting all the nations of the earth to the power of the Jews—not having seen any signs of this long-desired state of things, now derisively ask Him when His kingdom, His glorious reign, would make its appearance.

Our Lord, seriously replying to their derisive taunts, tells them, “the kingdom of God cometh not with observation,” that is, with such signs as they expected, viz., the precursory manifestation of earthly pomp, or regal power and magnificence, which usher in earthly royalty; in other words, He tells them, that His kingdom is not earthly, but all spiritual; although, indeed, it might be said, that the first coming, too, of the Messiah, had its proper precursory signs, viz., prophecies fulfilled, miracles performed, heavenly manifestations, angels appearing at His birth, the Magi at the stable, the prophecies of Simeon and Anna, His wonderful doctrine, preaching, &c. The coming of the Son of God, as well as His reign, is twofold—the first, in humility and hidden privacy; the second, in majesty, which shall show itself in splendour and power all at once, “Deus manifeste veniet” (Psalm 49:3), so that there will be no mistake regarding it. Our Lord treats, in the first place, of His first coming, which was a preparation for the second, and, speaking of this first reign, He says:

21. No one can say regarding it, that the seat of royalty is here or there, in this city or that; and He shows the utter folly of His derisive interrogators, in looking for what is present with them. “For, lo, the kingdom of God is within you.” It is in your own power to embrace it. You need not mount to heaven to bring it down, nor cross the sea to fetch it (Deut. 30:11–14; Rom. 10:8, 9). Or, “within you,” may mean, it is all spiritual, in the hearts of good men, in which God reigns spiritually by faith, hope, and charity; and in yours, too, if you wish to correspond with God’s grace. In saying to the Pharisees, “it is within you,” our Lord does not mean, that they are of the kingdom of God; but that their contemporaries, who had grace and faith, and practised obedience and humility, were of it; that it was of such a nature as to be in the souls of men, and that they could be of it, if they pleased. Hence, it is said elsewhere, “the kingdom of God is come upon you” (Matthew 12:28); the word, “you,” denoting all men who wished to embrace it. Some understand “within you,” to mean, in the midst of you. “Where hath stood one in the midst of you, whom you know not” (John 1:26). Our Lord, in answering their question, passes from treating of the future kingdom to the present, as (in Matthew 17:11, 12; Mark 9:11) when asked about Elias, the Thesbite, He treats of the Baptist, his type or figure.

22. Turning from the unbelieving Pharisees, who derided Him, to His disciples, ever docile and respectful, He tells them that in the embarrassments, that they shall have hereafter to encounter, they will eagerly desire, even for one day, His society, such as they now enjoy, in order to receive advice and counsel how to act; but owing to His having ascended into heaven, they shall not have that advantage. To His disciples, He speaks of His glorious coming, typified by His coming to destroy Jerusalem by the hands of the Romans. Some understand the words to mean, that in the midst of the trials of this life, they would anxiously long to see our Lord’s coming on His own day in majesty to judge the world, and punish the enemies by whom they are now oppressed.

23. Between My ascension and final glorious coming, false prophets will arise, saying, “See here and see there.” Some understand this, of the time preceding the destruction of Jerusalem; others, of His final glorious coming in majesty, to take vengeance on His enemies, of whose unutterable woes at the end of the world, those endured at the taking of Jerusalem were an expressive type and figure (see Matthew 24, passim). There is no opposition between the words of this verse, and of verse 21. For, here, He speaks of false prophets; there (v. 21), of men in general, the purposes referred to in both places being different.

24. This may refer to His second coming in majesty; or, to His coming suddenly to destroy Jerusalem, and utterly extirpate, on account of their crimes and resistance to grace, the ungrateful Jewish nation. He shall come upon the Jews suddenly, like the lightning of heaven—an image of His unexpected coming at the end of the world, when He shall appear suddenly in His awful majesty (see Matthew 24:25–27).

25. But, before He comes in His glory and majesty, “He must first suffer many things, and be rejected by this generation,” of Jews now alive, who shall crucify Him and put Him to death. The same treatment is in store for all His followers. “Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21).

26, 27. (See Matthew 24:37–39.)

28. This example is recorded by St. Luke only, with a view to the lesson inculcated (v. 32).

30. “Even thus,” that is, after the examples of the unexpected suddenness with which God visited the sinful Antediluvians and the Sodomites, shall the Son of Man come suddenly and unexpectedly.

31. (See Matthew 24:17, 18.)

32. “Remember Lot’s wife” (Genesis 19:26). She was commanded by the Angel not to look back, while Sodom, &c., were being destroyed. Disobeying the Angel’s command, she, from a lingering longing and love for what she left behind her in Sodom, or from an undue anxiety about her friends and relations, looked back, and was turned into a pillar of salt, “a monument of an ineredulous soul” (Wisdom 10:7). Our Redeemer here cautions His followers, by the examples of the terrible fate of Lot’s wife, not to imitate her in looking back with an inordinate desire for earthly goods, or a desire to return to past sinful pursuits; but rather, to look forward to the goods to come, lest, when the day of the Lord shall have arrived, we may find ourselves irreparably involved in the punishment of the wicked.

33. (See Matthew 16:25; 10:39.)

34–36. (See Matthew 24:40, 41.)

“Where, Lord?” Our Lord had been speaking of the mysterious separation of the good and the bad; some to be taken, and others left. Not understanding all He had been saying in a style of almost prophetic mysteriousness, they ask Him, “where” those taken shall be brought to; or, “where,” the events He had been speaking of would take place. He answers in a general mysterious manner.

37. “Wheresoever,” &c. (See Matthew 24:28.)

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