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MATTHEW - Chapter 9

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Matthew 9

Supplemental Commentary:

I.  THE PUBLIC MINISTRY OF JESUS   3-25 (continued)

3.  Second Period of the Ministry in Galilee and Across its Lake  5, 1 -- 15, 20 (continued)

9, 1-8:  A Paralytic at Capharnaum.  Parallels with more details in Mark 2, 1-12 and Luke 5, 17-26.  Both Mark and Luke place this event as the first of the five disputes with the Pharisees before the Choice of the Twelve and the Sermon on the Mount.    1.  His own town is Capharnaum (cf. Mark 2, 1).  However this return to Capharnaum after the expulsion of the demons in Gerasa is not to be connected with this cure of the paralytic.    2.  The pallet mentioned here was a sort of mat on which a sick person could be carried as on a modern stretcher.  These men showed their faith not merely in bringing the paralytic to be cured by Jesus but in the extraordinary means that they used to achieve this end, as narrated in the other Synoptic Gospels.  Instead of merely curing the paralytic Jesus first bestowed a greater boon upon him, the forgiveness of his sins.  He did so primarily in order to prove to the Scribes that, if He had the power to work miraculous cures, He also had the distinctly divine prerogative of forgiving sin.    3.  If Jesus were not divine, the Scribes would have been entirely justified in concluding "This man blasphemes."    4.  Jesus gives the Scribes further proof of His supernatural power by showing them that He is able to read their hidden thoughts.    5 f.  Not only are these words of Christ almost exactly the same in all three Gospels but, what is more extraordinary, in all three Gospels the words of Christ are interrupted by the clause, then he said to the paralytic, which we might without irreverence call a sort of "stage-direction."  Such a remarkable agreement cannot possibly be explained except by the assumption that here all three Synoptic Gospels clearly depend on one original source.  Christ's argument is: it is no easier for one to work the sudden cure of a paralytic than it is to forgive sin; if He can do the one He can also do the other.  Christ as the Son of Man, in His human nature, has this power of forgiving sin.  Therefore He could also communicate it to His Apostles (cf. Matt. 18, 18; John 20, 22), but just as they worked miracles only in His name (cf. Acts 3, 6), so also they and their successors can forgive sins only in His name, by His authority.    8.  The crowds . . .  were struck with fear: i.e., they were filled with reverential awe at the sight of the manifestation of such divine power.

9, 9-13:  The Call of Matthew.  Parallels in Mark 2, 13-17 and Luke 5, 27-32.  This is the occasion of the second conflict with the Scribes and Pharisees, which Mark and Luke place before the Sermon on the Mount.    9.  Concerning St. Matthew and his call to the apostolate, see Introduction.  Since Matthew was sitting in the tax-collector's place, the site of his call was probably a custom-house at the border.  According to Mark this was near the seaside; therefore probably where the Jordan entered the lake, the border between the domains of Herod Antipas and Philip.    10.  In the house, i.e., of Matthew (cf. parallels).  He held this banquet to celebrate his call.  Among the friends whom he invited were many publicans (tax-collectors) and sinners.  Since the Pharisees considered all publicans to be sinners, the second term really means "and other sinners."    11.  Oriental banquets are semi-public functions; thus the Pharisees saw this one.  Their adverse criticism, which they did not dare to make directly to the Master, was most likely uttered only after the celebration was over.  They endeavored to seduce the disciples from the Master by implying that no holy Rabbi would so act.  Cf. the same accusation in Matt. 11, 19; Luke 15, 2; 19, 7.    12 f.  Jesus answers their objection by three arguments.  (a) By comparing His spiritual ministry to the corporal administration of a physician; just as the latter cannot avoid contact with the sick, so neither can He avoid the spiritually sick.  (b) By showing the true nature of religion as taught by the prophet Osee (Os. 6, 6).  Only in Matthew, here and in 12, 7.  Mercy shown to one's fellow-man is more pleasing to God than sacrifice offered directly to Him.  (c) By stating the essential nature of His Messianic office, the salvation of sinners.  These words of Christ not only justify His consorting with sinners but at the same time show why the rigorist Pharisees can have no part in His kingdom, for they exclude themselves from His aid by pretending to be just and spiritually healthy.  The first requisite for admission into the Kingdom of Heaven is humble acknowledgment that we are sinners and stand in need of Christ's salvation (cf. Rom. 3, 23; 1 John 1, 8-10).  Go and learn what this means is a Rabbinical formula frequently used in the Talmud to introduce an argument from Scripture.

9, 14-17:  The Question of Fasting.  Parallels in Mark 2, 18-22 and Luke 5, 33-38; the third of the five disputes which took place before the Sermon on the Mount.  On the Jewish custom of fasting, see Commentary on Matt. 6, 16-18.    14.  Now that the Baptist was in prison, his disciples were probably somewhat jealous of the success of Jesus and His disciples.  But their question on fasting seems to have been prompted by the Pharisees: "Why do we and the Pharisees often fast . . . ?"  This was another attempt on the part of the latter to discredit Jesus as being too lax.  Jesus answers their question by explaining that: (a) in the future His disciples will indeed fast but such penance is inopportune during the present happy period of His short sojourn with them on earth; (b) He does not wish His disciples to fast at present lest they seem to imitate the spirit of the Pharisees.  The Christians' motive in fasting is fundamentally different from that of the Pharisees or even that of the disciples of John.  These two different spirits cannot be combined without doing damage to both.  This He illustrates by two simple comparisons.    15.  Christ demonstrates the inopportuneness of fasting at present by comparing the period of His public ministry to a wedding feast.  The Baptist had already compared Jesus to a bridegroom (cf. John 3, 29).  The Apostles also likened the union of Christ with His Church to the espousals of a bridegroom with his bride (cf. 2 Cor. 11, 2; Apoc. 21, 2.9 f; 22, 17).  The wedding guests: literally in Greek, "the sons of the bridal chamber," which expression reproduces the Hebrew title for the chosen companions of the bridegroom who had a special part to play at a Jewish wedding.  These are the Apostles.  This term is to be distinguished from that of "the friend of the bridegroom" (John 3, 29) who was something like our "best man."  This part was played by St. John the Baptist.  The bridegroom shall be taken away from them: the verb implies a violent separation, a reference to Christ's death on the cross.  Then they will fast points not only to the time but also to the reason of their fasting: that is, the penance and fasting of Christ's disciples have a special relation to His Passion and Death.  Hence the Lenten fast of the Church.  Christian penance receives its special efficacy from its union with the sufferings and death of Christ.  Therefore it differs essentially from the fasting of the Old Dispensation which sought justification in the works of the Law (cf. Rom. 3-5).    16 f.  To try to combine these two forms of penance would be as harmful as putting a patch of raw cloth on an old garment or pouring new wine into old wine-skins. Raw cloth is the newly woven material that has not yet been properly treated against shrinkage.  To cut a piece from this for a patch not only damages the new cloth (cf. Luke 5, 36) but the later shrinkage rends the old cloth to which it is attached.  In the Near East the skins of animals are often used as containers for liquids.  New wine is still subject to some fermentation; old wine-skins are not as strong as new ones and might not be able to stand this pressure.  A similar figure in Job 32, 19.

9, 18-26:  The Ruler's Daughter; the Woman with a Hemorrhage.  Parallels with more details in Mark 5, 22-43 and Luke 8, 41-56.  These two Gospels place these events immediately after Christ's return from the country of the Gerasenes.  The site was one of the towns with a synagogue on the western shore of the lake; perhaps Capharnaum.  All three Gospels insert the account of the cure of the woman with a hemorrhage within the narrative about the ruler's daughter; while the order of events was certainly such as described, still this peculiar literary arrangement is undoubtedly due to the original source from which all three Gospels are derived.    18.  A ruler: from the other Gospels we know that he was a ruler of the synagogue and that his name was Jairus.  Worshipped him: paid homage to him, i.e., "he fell at his feet" (Mark 5, 22).  "My daughter has just now died": Matthew summarizes; at the first request of her father the girl was at the point of death, but she was dead before they reached the house (cf. parallels).    20.  This woman was suffering from a pathological condition of what is otherwise the normal function of menstruation.  Her disease rendered her legally unclean (cf. Lev. 15, 25-30).  The tassel of his cloak: at each of the four corners of their cloak the Jews attached a tassel by means of a blue cord to remind themselves of the obligation of keeping the commandments of the Lord (cf. Num. 15, 38 f).  To show their zeal for the Law the Pharisees wore very large tassels (cf. Matt. 23, 5).  Besides this woman other people were cured by touching one of the tassels of our Lord's cloak (cf. Matt. 14, 36).  There was nothing superstitious in this.  It was merely a way of expressing one's faith in the wearer of the cloak.  This woman chose this means probably from humility and embarrassment.  She was cured at the moment she touched the tassel even before Christ spoke to her (cf. parallels).    23.  The flute players and the crowd making a din: i.e., the professional mourners, the usual accompaniment of a funeral in the Near East.    24.  Christ said, "The girl is sleeping, not dead," partly to conceal the miracle and partly to teach the true nature of death, because for a Christian death is only sleep in which he who has fallen asleep in the Lord awaits the resurrection.  But this girl's death was a reality, as the mourners knew.  All the people except the girl's parents and the three most intimate of the Apostles were put out of the room, so that the miracle might remain a secret (cf. parallels).    26.  Matthew alone mentions this fact that the secret naturally could not be kept.

9, 27-31:  Two Blind Men.  Only in Matthew.  Son of David: one of the typically Messianic titles.    28.  The house: probably our Lord's own house at Capharnaum.  Christ waited until He was away from the public gaze before curing the blind men, in order to keep the miracle a secret (cf. 30).  This miracle stresses the necessity of faith on the part of those who seek miracles from Jesus.  Such faith requires not only that one firmly believe that He is the Christ and has the power to work the miracle but also that one sincerely trust that He will do it.

9, 32-34:  A Dumb Demoniac.  Only in Matthew.  There is a very similar account in Luke 11, 14 f, but since the latter passage is paralleled by Matt. 12, 22-24, this event must be distinct.    32.  As they were going out: i.e., from the house mentioned in 28.    33.  It is clear from this that the man's speechlessness was the result of his being possessed by the devil.  34. See Commentary on 12, 24.

9, 35 -- 10, 15:  The Mission of the Apostles.    35-38.  Reason for this mission: the great amount of spiritual work to be done for the people and the impossibility, humanly speaking, for Jesus to do it all alone during the short time at His disposal.    35.  The same preaching tour of Jesus throughout Galilee is referred to in Mark 6, 6b.  Similar words, but referring to an earlier journey, in Matt. 4, 23.    36.  Similar words in Mark 6, 34 introducing the first multiplication of the loaves.  The Israelites, abandoned by their leaders, are likewise compared to sheep without a shepherd in Num. 27, 17; Ezech. 34, 5.    37 f.  The same words of Christ in Luke 10, 2 introducing the mission of the Seventy-two Disciples.  For a similar thought, souls ripe for the kingdom of God likened to the white grain at harvest-time, cf. John 4, 35b.  The figure here is taken from the custom of hiring extra help at the harvest.  [Commentary on this section is continued at the beginning of the next chapter.]

Confraternity Bible:

A Paralytic at Capharnaum  1 And getting into a boat, he crossed over and came to his own town.  2 And behold, they brought to him a paralytic lying on a pallet.  And Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the paralytic, "Take courage, son; thy sins are forgiven thee."  3 And behold, some of the Scribes said within themselves, "This man blasphemes."  4 And Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, "Why do you harbor evil thoughts in your hearts?  5 For which is easier, to say, 'Thy sins are forgiven thee,' or to say, 'Arise, and walk'?  6 But that you may know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins"--then he said to the paralytic--"Arise, take up thy pallet and go to thy house."  7 And he arose, and went away to his house.  8 But when the crowds saw it, they were struck with fear, and glorified God who had given such power to men.

The Call of Matthew  9 Now as Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting in the tax-collector's place, and said to him, "Follow me."  And he arose and followed him.  10 And it came to pass as he was at table in the house, that, behold, many publicans and sinners came to the table with Jesus and his disciples.  11 And the Pharisees seeing it, said to his disciples, "Why does your master eat with publicans and sinners?  12 But Jesus heard it, and said, "It is not the healthy who need a physician, but they who are sick.  13 But go, and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.'  For I have come to call sinners, not the just.

The Question of Fasting  14 At that time the disciples of John came to him, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees often fast, whereas thy disciples do not fast?  15 And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then they will fast.  16 And no one puts a patch of raw cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse rent is made.  17 Nor do people pour new wine into old wineskins, else the skins burst, the wine is spilt, and the skins are ruined.  But they put new wine into fresh skins, and both are saved."

The Ruler's Daughter  18 As he was saying this to them, behold, a ruler came up and worshipped him, saying, "My daughter has just now died; but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she will return to life."  19 And Jesus arose and followed him, and so did his disciples.

20 Now a woman who for twelve years had been suffering from hemorrhage, came up behind him and touched the tassel of his cloak, 21 saying to herself, "If I touch but his cloak I shall be saved."  22 But Jesus, turning and seeing her, said, "Take courage, daughter; thy faith has saved thee."  And the woman was restored to health from that moment.

23 And when Jesus came to the ruler's house, and saw the flute players and the crowd making a din, he said, 24 "Begone, the girl is asleep, not dead."  And they laughed him to scorn.  25 But when the crowd had been put out, he went in and took her by the hand; and the girl arose.  26 And the report of this spread throughout all that district.

Two Blind Men  27 Now as Jesus was passing on from there, two blind men followed him, crying out and saying, "Have pity on us, Son of David!"  28 And when he had reached the house, the blind men came to him.  And Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I can do this to you?"  They answered  him, "Yes, Lord."  29 Then he touched their eyes, saying, "Let it be done to you according to your faith."  30 And their eyes were opened.  And Jesus strictly charged them, saying, "See that no one knows of this!"  31 But they went out and spread his fame abroad throughout all that district.

A Dumb Demoniac  32 Now as they were going out, behold, there was brought to him a dumb man possessed by a devil.  33 And when the devil had been cast out, the dumb man spoke; and the crowds marvelled, saying, "Never has the like been seen in Israel."  24 But the Pharisees said, "By the prince of devils he casts out devils."

The Mission of the Apostles  35 And Jesus was going about all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every kind of disease and infirmity.  36 But seeing the crowds, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were bewildered and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.  37 Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest indeed is great, but the laborers are few.  38 Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest."