Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Who, thinkest thou? This altercation for superiority among the apostles, whilst they were upon their road to Judea, might have arisen from another cause besides the precedence given by Jesus Christ to Peter above, as St. Chrysostom (hom. lix. in Mat.) affirms. A report prevailed among the disciples, that Christ would soon die; and they wished to know who would be the first, when he was gone. (Jansenius) — Or expecting that by his future resurrection he would enter into full possession of his temporal kingdom, they wished to learn which of them should be the greater in this new and glorious state. Calmet supposes that Peter was not with them, but that he had gone before with his Master to Capharnaum. (Calmet)
Ver. 2. And Jesus calling … a little child. In St. Mark (ix. 32.) we find that Jesus did this in the house, when they were arrived at Capharnaum.
Ver. 3. You shall not enter, &c. i.e. you shall have no place in my kingdom of glory, in heaven, where none shall find admittance but they that are truly humble. (Witham) — Our Lord in this and the next chapter teaches us, 1st, To sit down in the lowest place; 2nd, to bear patiently with our neighbor; 3rd, not to scandalize a weak brother; 4th, mildly to correct him when faulty; and 5thly, to forgive him when repentant.
Ver. 4. Greater in the kingdom of heaven, because more conformable to me here on earth. Humble souls, who are little in their own eyes, are so dear and closely united to the Almighty, that Christ declares them to be the most acceptable, the first in merit, not highest in authority or dignity either in church or state, as some idle fanatics pretend. (Jansenius) — The kingdom of heaven is not the reward of ambition, but the boon of simplicity and humility.
Ver. 5. He that shall receive. To receive, in the style of the Scriptures, is to honour and favour, to be charitable, and kind to any one. (Witham) — Who does not admire here the great goodness of God! Jesus, knowing that he was soon to leave the world, and that his disciples would no longer have it in their power to manifest their charity for him by their kind services, substitutes the poor in his place, declaring, that if they receive or honour them, they received Christ himself. (Denis the Carthusian) — What greater proof can we wish for the merit of good works!!!
Ver. 6. But he that shall scandalize, shall by their evil doctrine or example draw others into sinful ways. The words scandalize, and scandal, being sufficiently understood, and authorized by use, both in English and French, might I thought be retained. The words offend and offences, in Protestant translation, do not express sufficiently the sense. (Witham) — That is, shall put a stumbling-block in their way, and cause them to fall into sin. (Challoner) — By these strong expressions of our Lord, we may judge of the enormity and malice of scandal. Rather than be the cause of scandal to any of the faithful, and occasion the loss of his soul, we must be ready to undergo every torment, yes, and suffer death itself. (Denis the Carthusian) — The ancient punishment among the Greeks for sacrilege was drowning, with a mill-stone fastened about the neck, according to Diodorus Siculus.
Ver. 7. It must needs be, not absolutely, but the weakness and wickedness of the world considered that scandals should happen. (Witham) — Considering the wickedness and corruption of the world, such things always will happen; but the judgments of God, though slow, will be terrible in the extreme. Lento quidem gradu Divina procedit Vindicta, sed tarditatem gravitate compensat. (Val. Max.) — We must not suppose for a moment that Christ subjects human actions to the control of rigid fatality. It is not the prescience or prediction of Christ, which causes these evils to take place; they do not happen, because Christ foretold them; but, Christ foretold them, because they would infallibly happen. The Almighty permits scandals, because the good are benefited by them, making them more diligent and more watchful: witness the great virtue of Job, of Joseph, and many others perfected in temptation. If the less virtuous receive any detriment from scandals, they owe it to their own sloth and laziness. (St. Chrysostom, hom. lx.) — Jesus Christ pronounces a double wo to the man who bringeth scandal, and to the world which is punished by it. But why, asks St. Chrysostom does he bewail the miseries of the world, when it depended upon him to stretch forth his hand and remove them? He imitates the conduct of a good physician, who, after prescribing various remedies, feels himself obliged to declare to his patient, that by neglecting the prescriptions, he is increasing his distemper. Jesus Christ had left the throne of his glory, taken upon him the form of a servant, and suffered the greatest extremities, but seeing man so perverse as to reap no advantage from all he had done and suffered for him, he weeps over his miserable state. Nor is this without its particular fruit; for it frequently happens, that whom good counsel cannot move, prayers and tears, and the relation of the dismal consequences attendant on sin, bring to repentance. This also manifests his tenderness and boundless charity, since he weeps over the people, who of all others most contradicted him. (St. Chrysostom, hom. lx.)
Ver. 8. And if thy hand, or thy foot, &c. These comparisons are to make us sensible, that we must quit and renounce what is most dear to us, sooner than remain in the occasions of offending God. (Witham) — These words more properly mean our relatives and friends, who are united to us as closely as the different members of the body. This he had touched upon before, yet he again repeats it, for nothing is so pernicious, nothing so dangerous, as the company and conversation of the dissolute. Connections of friendship and affinity, are sometimes more powerful in inclining us to good or evil, than open compulsion. On this account Christ, with great earnestness, commands us to cut with those most near and dear to us, when they are to us the immediate occasions of scandal. (St. Chrysostom, hom. lx.)
Ver. 10. Their angels. The Jews also believed that men had their good angels, or angels appointed to be their guardians. See Genesis xlviii. 16. (Witham) — Observe the dignity of the humble and little, whom the world despises. They have angels constantly pleading their cause in the divine presence. They are now weak and unable to defend themselves, but they have their advocates in heaven, accusing those who offer them any injury or scandal. It is evident from many parts of Scripture, that angels are appointed guardians of kingdoms, countries, cities, and even individuals, Exodus xxiii. Daniel x. Apocalypse xii. & alibi. The angel of the Lord shall encamp round about them that fear him, and he shall deliver them. (Psalm xxxiii.) St. Jerome does not hesitate to affirm that every man has an angel assigned him at his birth, which he confirms from Chap. xii, of Acts, where it is related that the girl thought she saw Peter’s angel. The thing is so plain, that Calvin, dares not deny it, and yet he will needs doubt of it. (Lib. i. Inst. chap. xiv. sect. 7.) Origen thinks that only the just have their guardian angels, and these only at their baptism. The opinion of St. Augustine is universal in the Catholic Church. “I esteem it, O my God, an inestimable benefit, that thou hast granted me an angel to guide me from the moment of my birth, to my death.” (De dilig. Deo. Medit. chap. xii.) How much are we indebted to the Providence of God, for extending itself also to the wicked. They likewise have their angels, without whose assistance they would fall into many more grievous sins, and the evil spirits would have more power over them. Let us then with gratitude remember our dignity, and fear to commit any thing in their presence, which may make them grieve and withdraw from us their protection and assistance.
Ver. 12. If a man have a hundred sheep. This is to shew the goodness and mercy of God towards sinners. By the one sheep, some understand all mankind, and by the ninety-nine, the angels in heaven. (Witham) — Jesus Christ manifests his tender regard and solicitude for us poor weak creatures, by becoming himself the Son of man, thus abandoning in some measure the angels who are in heaven. He is come down upon earth to save by his death what was lost, imitating thus, with regard to men, the conduct themselves observe with regard to their sheep. (Bible de Vence) — In the Greek, it is dubious whether the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine in the mountains, or, whether he himself goeth into the mountains in quest of the lost sheep.
Ver. 14. Even so it is not. Here some may perhaps object, that since the Almighty does not wish any of his little ones to perish, he must consequently wish all to be saved, and therefore that all will be saved. Now this is not the case: the will of the Almighty is therefore sometimes frustrated in its effects, which is contrary to Scripture. To this objection, St. John Damascene replies, that in God we must distinguish two distinct wills; the one antecedent, the other consequent. A person wills a thing antecedently, when he wills it merely as considered in itself. For instance, a prince wishes his subjects to live, in as much as they are all his subjects. But a person wills a thing consequently, when he will a thing in consideration of some particular circumstance. Thus, though the king wishes all his subject to live, he nevertheless wills that some should die, if they turn traitors, or disorganize the peace of society. In the same manner, the Almighty wishes none of his little ones to perish, in as much as they are all his creatures, made to his own image, and destined for the kingdom of glory; though it is equally certain that he wills the eternal punishment of many who have turned away from his service, and followed iniquity. If we observe this distinction, it is easy to see what our Saviour meant, when he said that it was not the will of his Father that any of these little ones should perish. (St. John Damascene)
Ver. 15. Offend against thee. St. Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and St. Jerome understand from this verse, that the injured person is to go and admonish his brother. Other understand against thee, to mean in thy presence, or to thy knowledge, because fraternal correction is a duty, not only when our brother offends us, but likewise when he offends against his neighbour, and much more when he offends God. It is moreover a duty not peculiar to the injured, but common to all. When the offence is not personal, our advice will be less interested. This precept, though positive, is only obligatory, when it is likely to profit your brother, as charity is the only motive for observing it. Therefore, it not only may, but ought to be omitted, when the contrary effect is likely to ensue, whether it be owing to the perversity of the sinner, or the circumstances of the admonisher. (Jansenius)
Ver. 17. Tell the church. This not only shews the order of fraternal correction, but also every man’s duty in submitting to the judgment of the Church. (Witham) — There cannot be a plainer condemnation of those who make particular creeds, and will not submit the articles of their belief to the judgment of the authority appointed by Christ. (Haydock)
Ver. 18. Whatsoever you shall bind, &c. The power of binding and loosing, which in a more eminent manner was promised to St. Peter, is here promised to the other apostles and their successors, bishops and priests. (Witham) — The power of binding and loosing, conferred on St. Peter, excelled that granted to the other apostles, inasmuch as to St. Peter, who was head and pastor of the whole Church, was granted jurisdiction over the other apostles, while these received no power over each other, much less over St. Peter. (Tirinus) — Priests receive a power not only to loose, but also to bind, as St. Ambrose writeth against the Novatians, who allowed the latter, but denied the former power to priests. (Lib. i. de pœnit. chap. ii.) (Bristow)
Ver. 19. That if two of you. From these words, we learn how superior is public to private prayer. The efficacy of the former is attributed to the presence of Christ in those assemblies. The Father, for his Son’s sake, will grant petitions thus offered. (Jansenius) — The fervour of one will supply for the weakness and distractions of the other.
Ver. 20. There am I in the midst of them. This is understood of such assemblies only, as are gathered in the name and authority of Christ; and in unity of the Church of Christ. (St. Cyprian, de Unitate Ecclesiĉ.) (Challoner) — St. Chrysostom, Theophylactus, and Euthymius explain the words in his name, thus, assembled by authority received from Christ, in the manner appointed by him, or for his sake, and seeking nothing by his glory. Hence we may see what confidence we may place in an œcumenical council lawfully assembled. (Tirinus) (St. Gregory, lib. vii. Regist. Epist. cxii.)
Ver. 21. St. Peter knew the Jews to be much given to revenge; he therefore thought it a great proof of superior virtue to be able to forgive seven times. It was for this reason he proposed this question to our Lord; who, to shew how much he esteemed charity, immediately answered, not only seven times, but seventy times seven times. He does not mean to say that this number must be the bounds of our forgiving; we must forgive to the end, and never take revenge, however often our brother offend against us. There must be no end of forgiving poor culprits that sincerely repent, either in the sacrament of penance, or one man another his offences. (Bristow) — To recommend this great virtue more forcibly, he subjoins the parable of the king taking his accounts: and, from the great severity there exercised, he intimates how rigid will his heavenly Father be to those who forgive not their enemies. (Denis the Carthusian)
Ver. 22. Till seventy times seven; i.e. 490 times; but it is put by way of an unlimited number, to signify we must pardon private injuries, though even so often done to us. (Witham) — When our brother sins against us, we must grieve for his sake over the evil he has committed; but for ourselves we ought greatly to rejoice, because we are thereby made like our heavenly Father, who bids the sun to shine upon the good and the bad. But if the thought of having to imitate God alarm us, though it should not seem difficult to a true lover of God, let us place before our eyes the examples of his favourite servants. Let us imitate Joseph, who though reduced to a state of the most abject servitude, by the hatred of his unnatural brethren, yet in the affliction of his heart, employed all his power to succour them in their afflictions. Let us imitate Moses, who after a thousand injuries, raised his fervent supplications in behalf of his people. Let us imitate the blessed Paul, who, though daily suffering a thousand afflictions from the Jews, still wished to become an anathema for their salvation. Let us imitate Stephen, who, when the stones of his persecutors were covering him with wounds, prayed that the Almighty would pardon their sin. Let us follow these admirable examples, then shall we extinguish the flames of anger, then will our heavenly Father grant us the forgiveness of our sins, through the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ. (St. Chrysostom, hom. lxii.)
Ver. 24. Ten thousand talents. It is put as an example for an immense sum. It is not certainly agreed what was the value of a talent. A talent of gold is said to be 4900 lb.; of silver 375 lb. See Walton’s Prologomena, Dr. Harris’s Lexicon, &c. (Witham) — The 10,000 talents, according to some authors, amount to £1,875,000 sterling, i.e., 740,000 times as much as his fellow-servant owed him; the hundred pence amounting to not more than £3 2s. 6d.
Ver. 35. So also shall my heavenly Father do to you. In this parable the master is said to have remitted the debt, and yet afterwards to have punished the servant for it. God doth not in this manner with us. But we may here observe, once for all, that in parables, diverse things are only ornamental to the parable itself; and a caution and restriction is to be used in applying them. (Witham) — Not that God will revoke a pardon once granted; for this would be contrary to his infinite mercy, and his works are without repentance. It means that God will not pardon, or rather that he will severely punish the ingratitude and inhumanity of the man, who, after having received from God the most liberal pardon of his grievous transgressions, refuses to forgive the slightest offence committed against him by his neighbour, who is a member, nay a son of his God. This ingratitude may justly be compared with the 10,000 talents, as every grievous offence committed against God, exceeds, in an infinite degree, any offence against man. (Tirinus) — This forgiveness must be real, not pretended; from the heart, and not in word and appearance only; sacrificing all desire of revenge, all anger, hatred and resentment, at the shrine of charity.
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Christ teaches humility, to beware of scandal, and to flee the occasions of sin: to denounce to the church incorrigible sinners, and to look upon such as refuse to hear the church as heathens. He promises to his disciples the power of binding and loosing: and that he will be in the midst of their assemblies. No forgiveness for them that will not forgive.
1 At *that hour the disciples came to Jesus, saying: Who, thinkest thou, is the greater in the kingdom of heaven?
2 *And Jesus calling unto him a little child, set him in the midst of them,
3 And said: Amen I say unto you, *unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven.
5 And he that shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me.
6 *But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a mill-stone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
7 Wo to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless wo to that man by whom the scandal cometh.
8 *And if thy hand or thy foot scandalize thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee. It is better for thee to enter into life maimed or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into everlasting fire.
9 And if thy eye scandalize thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee. It is better for thee with one eye to enter into life, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
10 Take heed that you despise not one of these little ones: for I say to you, *that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.
11 *For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.
12 *What think you? If a man have a hundred sheep, and one of them should go astray; doth he not leave the ninety-nine in the mountains, and go to seek that which is gone astray?
13 And if it so be that he find it, amen, I say to you, he rejoiceth more for that than for the ninety-nine that went not astray.
14 Even so it is not the will of your Father, who is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.
15 *But if thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and reprove him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother.
16 But if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more, *that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand.
17 *And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican.
18 *Amen, I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.
19 Again I say to you, that if two of you shall agree upon earth, concerning any thing whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done to them by my Father, who is in heaven.
20 For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
21 Then Peter came unto him, and said: *Lord, how often shall my brother offend against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?
22 Jesus said to him: I say not to thee, till seven times; but till seventy times seven:
23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened to a king, who would take an account of his servants.
24 And when he had begun to take the account, one was brought to him, that owed him ten thousand talents.
25 And as he had not wherewith to pay it, his lord commanded that he should be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had, and payment be made.
26 But that servant falling down, besought him, saying: Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
27 And the lord of that servant being moved with pity, let him go, and forgave him the debt.
28 But when that servant was gone out, he found one of his fellow-servants that owed him a hundred pence: and laying hold of him, throttled him, saying: Pay what thou owest.
29 And his fellow-servant falling down, besought him, saying: Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
31 Now his fellow-servants seeing what was done, were very much grieved, and they came, and told their lord all that was done.
32 Then his lord called him: and said to him: Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt, because thou besoughtest me.
33 Shouldst not thou then have had compassion also on thy fellow-servant, even as I had compassion on thee?
34 And his lord being angry, delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all the debt.
35 So also shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.
1: about the year AD. 32.; Mark ix. 33.; Luke ix. 46.
2: Matthew xix. 14.
3: 1 Corinthians xiv. 20.
6: Mark ix. 41.; Luke xvii. 2.
8: Matthew v. 30.; Mark ix. 42.
10: Psalm xxxiii. 8.
11: Luke xix. 10.
12: Luke xv. 4.
15: Leviticus xix. 17.; Ecclesiasticus xix. 13.; Luke xvii. 3.; James v. 19.
16: Deuteronomy xix. 15.; John viii. 17.; 2 Corinthians xiii. 1.; Hebrews x. 28.
17: 1 Corinthians v. 9.; 2 Thessalonians iii. 14.
18: John xx. 23.
21: Luke xvii. 4.