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MATTHEW - Chapter 11

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Matthew 11

Supplemental Commentary:

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

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

11, 1-6:  The Baptist's Deputation.  Parallel in Luke 7, 18 f.22 f.    1.  A general statement serving merely as a transition; the first part is the common conclusion to all the five great discourses of the First Gospel.    2.  When John had heard in prison: cf. 4, 12; 14, 3-12.  According to Josephus, John was imprisoned in the frontier fortress of Macherus, situated on a high plateau near the river Zirka Main, to the east of the Dead Sea.  John heard of the works of Christ from his own disciples (Luke).  Hearing of His miracles would have been no cause to doubt the Messiasship of Jesus.  He sent two of his disciples to say to him: literally in Greek, "having sent through his disciples, he said to him," i.e., he sent his disciples with this message.  The reading two of his disciples is taken from Luke.

3.  He who is to come is one of the regular titles of the Messias.  Why did the Baptist have his disciples ask Jesus this question?  According to a few Catholics and almost all non-Catholics Jesus did not measure up to the Baptist's expectations and idea of the Messias and John was beginning to doubt whether he had really pointed Him out correctly.  The traditional Catholic opinion holds that John never doubted for a moment that Jesus was the Messias; he asked this question not for his own sake but for the sake of the disciples who were somewhat scandalized by the conduct of Jesus (cf. 9, 14), jealous of His success (cf. John 3, 25 f), and who perhaps shared the ideas of the Messias common among the people.  This opinion is much more probable not only for a priori reasons, that God would not allow the Precursor of the Messias to waver in his faith, but also by reason of the context, especially our Lord's magnificent eulogy of the Baptist, that he was not a reed shaken by the wind (7).  Perhaps the situation was this: John's disciples in a spirit of jealousy told their master in prison of all the works of Jesus; John replied, "This is He of whom I said, 'He is to come after me.'  No one can receive anything unless it is given to him from heaven.  If you do not believe me, ask Him Himself."  (Cf. John 1, 15; 3, 27-30.)    4-6.  Jesus cannot answer the question directly by saying, "Yes, I am the Messias," for the people have a wrong idea of the Messias.  Therefore He lets John's disciples see the miracles that He was working at that very time (cf. Luke 7, 21) and points out how these miracles fulfill the Messianic prophecy of Isa. 35, 5 f; 61, 1.  He who has not a false idea of the Messias is not scandalized, i.e., does not trip up and stumble spiritually, when he sees the true Messias.

11, 7-19:  Christ's Witness Concerning John.    7-11.  Parallel in Luke 7, 24-28.  Christ's praise of the Baptist was spoken lest the people conclude from the question of his disciples that he himself had lost faith in Jesus.    7.  Christ waited till these disciples of John were going away before beginning His panegyric lest He seem to be currying the favor of the Baptist by flattering him before his disciples.  "What did you go out to the desert to see?" is repeated three times for emphasis.  On the crowds that were attracted to John's preaching, cf. 3, 5.  To see: literally in Greek, "to gaze upon" as a wonder.  The sense is not "Did you go out to the desert just to see the scenery, the reeds by the bank of the Jordan?" but rather figuratively, "Did you go out to see a weak man who wavers in his opinions like a reed shaken by the wind?"    8.  John's rough garments were one of his characteristics (cf. 3, 4).  There is probably an allusion here to the immoral luxury in the palace of Herod.    9 f.  John was more than a prophet, for while the prophets of the Old Testament pointed out the Messias at a distance, the Baptist pointed Him out directly and physically.  He thus fulfilled his office of messenger or precursor of the Lord spoken by the prophet Malachias (Mal. 3, 1).  The prophet speaks in the person of Christ, "before my face . . . my way before me," but our Lord, by changing the pronouns, quotes the words of God the Father addressing His Son.  In the Second Gospel these words are cited in the same manner by the Evangelist himself (cf. Mark 1, 2).    11.  A greater than John the Baptist is not be understood absolutely nor even as a comparison between him and all the others of the Old Dispensation but solely in regard to his prophetic office, i.e., "there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist" (Luke).  Yet the New Dispensation, in which every disciple of Christ is mystically united with the Son of God, is so far superior to the Old that even the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.    12 f.  Similar words in Luke 16, 16, but probably in a different sense.  The exact sense of this difficult passage is disputed.  Either: (a) Since the Old Dispensation came to an end with John, the kingdom of heaven, i.e., the New Dispensation, has been enduring violent assault, in Greek literally "is being violated," i.e., is being attacked by those who refuse to accept the change, and the violent, or "the violators," have been seizing it by force, in Greek literally, "are plundering it."  Or, (b) Because the Old Dispensation passed away with John, men are now rushing with violent enthusiasm to get into the kingdom of heaven, the New Dispensation, and they who rush through the crowd with force lay hold of the kingdom of heaven for themselves.  The first opinion seems to fit the actual historical circumstances much better than the second.  But it is to be noted that the Rabbis interpreted Mich. 2, 12 f in the sense that, when the Messias would come, there would be a violent tumult of men jostling one another in an effort to get into His kingdom.  The use of this text by ascetical writers in the sense that only they who do violence "to themselves" can enter the kingdom of heaven, would seem to be a mere accommodated sense.    13.  The whole Old Testament was a period of preparation which reached its climax and came to an end with John.    14.  Our Lord treats of the same question in Matt. 17, 10-13; Mark 9, 10-12.  Mal. 4, 5 f foretells the coming of Elias to prepare the people for the Messias.  The Jews understood this prophecy in the literal sense that Elias would come in person before the coming of Christ.  The reference to this prophecy in Luke 1, 17 shows that it was fulfilled in John the Baptist.  Jesus therefore in this eulogy of the Baptist tells the people who John really is: "He is Elias who was to come," i.e., he is the Elias foretold by Malachias.  Since a certain amount of good will is required to accept this interpretation of the prophecy, Christ says, "If you are willing to receive it," i.e., if you have the will to believe it.    15.  This phrase was frequently added by Christ to His sayings to emphasize their importance.

16-19.  The Stubborn Children.  Parallel in Luke 7, 31-35.  By means of a little parable Christ explains the reason why the men of His generation, especially the Scribes and Pharisees (cf. Luke 7, 30), accept neither the Baptist nor Himself.    16a.  An oratorical question, as if Jesus were seeking for a suitable comparison.  Cf. Mark 4, 30.    16b.  Who call to their companions: their "call" is not the words of 17 but the words of wedding songs and funeral songs that they sing in "playing wedding" and "playing funeral."  Luke reads, "calling to one another," i.e., alternately in two groups; this was the ordinary way of choral singing among the Jews at that time and has been preserved in the antiphonal singing of the Psalms in the liturgy.    17.  And say: the sense is, "This generation is like those peevish children who refuse to join in the games of the other children in the market place and to whom these children say, . . ."  Such an elliptical construction is not uncommon to the popular parables of our Lord.  The market place was the only open space in an ancient city and naturally served as the children's playground.  We have piped: i.e., played joyful music such as was used for dancing at a wedding.  For music and dancing at a feast, cf. Luke 15, 25.  You have not mourned: the children at play imitated the oriental custom of giving exaggerated signs of grief at a funeral (cf. Mark 5, 38).    18 f.  Application of the parable.  The men of this generation are like these peevish children: they are satisfied neither with John's asceticism nor with Christ's deep humanity, ignoring the stern preaching of the Baptist by saying, "He is demented," and rejecting the teaching of Jesus by saying, "He is a sinner like the rest of men."  And wisdom is justified by her children: the best Greek manuscripts in Matthew read, "by her works;" the reading "by her children" has been taken over from Luke; but both expressions are synonymous, for "children" is a common Semitic figure for "works."  The whole expression is evidently proverbial, as shown by use of the Greek aorist tense in the sense of a universal present, the so-called "gnomic aorist."  The sense of the proverb is probably this: a wise man proves that he is wise by his actions; therefore the way the Scribes and Pharisees act proves that they are fools.

11, 20-24:  The Impenitent Towns.  Parallel in Luke 10, 13-15.  It is doubtful on what occasion Jesus spoke these Woes against the towns that rejected His teachings.    21.  Corozain was evidently a town of some importance, for this town and Bethsaida are here compared with the two important cities of Tyre and Sidon on the Phoenician coast.  Today it is represented by a few ruins (Khirbet) known as Kerazeh, about two miles north of Tell Hum (Capharnaum), a mute witness of God's punishment.  This is the only place in which Corozain is mentioned in the New Testament, yet it was one of the towns in which most of His miracles were worked (20): a clear proof that our four Gospels give but a small part of our Lord's activity.  On the site of Bethsaida, see Commentary on 14, 13.  Tyre and Sidon are large commercial cities whose riches and luxury undoubtedly made them corrupt with sin and vice.  The frequent invectives of the Prophets (cf. especially Isa. 23; Ezech. 26-28) against these two cities had made the proverbial examples of wickedness.  Christ passed near them on one occasion, but it seemed He did not enter the cities themselves (cf. Matt. 15, 21; Mark 7, 24.31).  This region was almost entirely pagan, although there were probably small Jewish colonies there (cf. Mark 3, 8; Luke 6, 17); later on St. Paul found some Christians at Tyre (cf. Acts 21, 3-6).  Sackcloth and ashes are mentioned frequently in the Old Testament as the symbols of mourning and means of penance.  For a whole city doing penance in sackcloth and ashes, cf. Jon. 3, 5-8.    23.  "Shalt thou be exalted to heaven?" i.e., in pride.  These words are reminiscent of the words of Isaias (14, 13-15) against the king of Babylon.    24.  See Commentary on Matt. 10, 15.

11, 25-30:  Jesus Draws Men Gently to Himself.    25-27.  Parallel in Luke 10, 21 f.  The mystery of the Father and of the Son is revealed only to the humble.  Luke connects these words with the return of the seventy-two disciples from their mission.    25.  God chooses the lowly.  Cf. 1 Cor. 1, 26-29.  I praise thee: the Hebrew verb behind this expression signifies both praise and thanksgiving.  The Gospels speak often of Jesus praying to His heavenly Father; this is a sample of His prayers.  Lord of heaven and earth emphasizes the sovereignty of God as Creator of the universe; the same expression is used by St. Paul in his discourse at Athens (cf. Acts 17, 24).  The wise and the prudent are especially the Scribes and Pharisees who think themselves wise and clever.  The little ones: literally "infants," the humble and lowly (cf. Pss. 8, 3; 18, 8).  These things that thou didst reveal to them are the truths concerning the relationship between Jesus and His heavenly Father (27); these truths cannot be known by natural reason alone but require a divine revelation (cf. 16, 17; Gal. 1, 15 f).    26.  Yes, Father expresses the full accord of Christ's will with the will of His Father in this divine predilection of the lowly.    27.  All things have been delivered to me by my Father, especially all divine knowledge, for the verb used here refers especially to the handing down of knowledge.  These words place the Son, Jesus, on an absolute par with God the Father: the clearest possible proof of the divinity of Christ.  Since only the Father of Himself knows the Son and only the Son Himself knows the Father, it follows that man cannot have an adequate knowledge of either the Father or the Son except by revelation.  The true nature of the Father is known to those men alone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.  But the Father also in His good pleasure reveals the Son to the little ones (25 f).  God indeed offers this revelation to all men but the proud close their eyes to the light.  Hence by an act of deliberate choice, of predilection, God gives the efficacious grace to believe only to the humble.  On the whole passage, cf. John 1, 18; 5, 20a; 6, 44-46.66; etc.  This saying of Jesus that is preserved in two of the Synoptic Gospels bears a striking resemblance both in thought and in diction to the words of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel; an excellent argument for the authenticity of the words of Christ as recorded by St. John.

28-30.  Only in Matthew.  Since Jesus alone can teach men the true nature of God and His holy will in their regard, He now extends to all men this alluring invitation to be His disciples.  For similar invitations given by divine Wisdom, cf. Ecclus. 24, 26 f; 51, 31.34 f.    28.  All you who labor and are burdened, with the sorrows and afflictions of life but above all with the burden of sin which the Law cannot relieve (cf. Acts 13, 39; Rom. 3, 28).  The repose that Christ offers is spiritual rest and peace of heart.    29.  The Rabbis often spoke of the Old Testament as "the yoke of the Law"; Christ offers "His yoke" in its stead.  Learn from me, be taught by me, be my disciples: directly this is the object of the whole invitation, but the passage can also be understood in the extended sense as an invitation to make Christ the center of our devotional life.  For I am meek, etc.: this can also be translated, "that I am meek," etc. (so St. Augustine); but in the context the phrase is better understood as giving the reason.  On the meekness and humility of Jesus, cf. 12, 19 f.  You will find rest for your souls: the same words in Jer. 6, 16; cf. also Isa. 28, 12.    30.  Every commandment is a yoke, but Christ's yoke is easy to bear (cf. 1 John 5, 3).  The contrast is with the yoke of the Old Law, especially as interpreted by the Scribes, who made it really unbearable (cf. Matt. 23, 4; Acts 15, 10).

Confraternity Bible:

The Baptist's Deputation  1 Now it came to pass when Jesus had finished giving instructions to his twelve disciples, that he passed on from there to teach and preach in their towns.  2 But when John had heard in prison of the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples 3 to say to him, "Art thou he who is to come, or shall we look for another?"  4 And Jesus answering said to them, "Go and report to John what you have heard and seen: 5 the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise, the poor have the gospel preached to them.  6* And blessed is he who is not scandalized in me."

Christ's Witness Concerning John  7 Then, as they went away, Jesus began to say to the crowds concerning John, "What did you go out to the desert to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?  8 But what did you go out to see?  A man clothed in soft garments?  Behold, those who wear soft garments are in the houses of kings.  9 But what did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.  10* This is he of whom it is written,
'Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall make ready my way before thee." 
11 Amen I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen a greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  12 But from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has been enduring violent assault, and the violent have been seizing it by force.  13 For all the Prophets and the Law have prophesied until John.  14 And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elias who was to come.  15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

16 "But to what shall I liken this generation?  It is like children sitting in the market place, 17 who call to their companions, and say, 
'We have piped to you, and you have not danced; we have sung dirges, and you have not mourned.' 
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a devil!'  19* The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold a glutton and a wine-drinker, a friend of publicans and sinners!' And wisdom is justified by her children.

The Impenitent Towns  20 Then he began to reproach the towns in which most of his miracles were worked, because they had not repented.  21 "Woe to thee, Corozain! woe to thee, Bethsaida!  For if in Tyre and Sidon had been worked the miracles that have been worked in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  22 But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.  23 And thou, Capharnaum, shalt thou be exalted to heaven?  Thou shalt be thrust down to hell!  For if the miracles had been worked in Sodom that have been worked in thee, it would have remained to this day.  24 But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for thee."

Jesus Draws Men to Himself  25 At that time Jesus spoke and said, "I praise thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and prudent, and didst reveal them to little ones.  26 Yes, Father, for such was thy good pleasure.  27 All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and him to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your souls.  30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."


6: Scandalized in me: i.e., hindered from conceiving the truth concerning Christ.

10: Mal. 3, 1.

19: By her children: the Greek reads "by her works."