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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 17

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-26

XVII 1-9 The Transfiguration (Mark 9:1-8; Luke 9:28-36; cf. 2 Peter 1:16 ff.)—1. The Father had already revealed the divinity of his Son to Peter, 16:17, he now, about one week later, reveals it more publicly. As his companions our Lord takes (pa?a?aµß??e?;cf. 4:5, 8) the three favoured witnesses of one of his greatest miracles, Mark 5:37, and of his deepest distress, Mark 14:33. The ’high mountain apart’ is not Hermon but, according to a 4th cent. tradition, probably Tabor, a few miles SE. of Nazareth and two or three days’ direct journey from Caesarea Philippi; it rises, symmetrical and isolated, about 1,000 ft above the plain.

2. Before the eyes of the disciples the aspect of Jesus was profoundly changed (µeteµ??F?T?), the result of an inner brilliance affecting even his garments (read, with the best MSS: ’white as light’).

3. Moses the legislator and Elias the prophet-champion of Yahwism (cf.Ecclus 48:1-10) show by their presence that the old order is not destroyed but fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus —fulfilled even in the ’scandal’ of the Cross, the subject of their converse with him, Luke 9:31. Wearied with the climb in the August heat the three Apostles are asleep; they waken to see the vision (Lk).

4. Peter’s suggestion is a wild one (Mk, Lk), based apparently on the assumption that Moses and Elias have come to stay and to herald Jesus in his glory. ’It is fortunate we are here’, he says (tr. Osty, Les Evangiles Synoptiques, Paris 1947). He means that, being there, he and his companions will be able to improvise lodgings (huts of branches). He forgets that such guests need no shelter.

5. As in the OT (cf.Exodus 24:15; Exodus 33:9-11 etc.) the cloud is the visible manifestation of the divine presence. It envelops them all. The Voice repeats the words spoken at the Baptism, 3:17, and approves Peter’s profession, 16:17, but the added command (’hear ye him’) warns the Apostles against questioning the words of the Son; cf. 16:22.

6-9. The glory passes and Jesus is once more the familiar friend. He enjoins silence: the vision is not to be spoken of until after the Resurrection, presumably to avoid premature and mistaken Messianic enthusiasm. Few, knowing of the Transfiguration, would learn to appreciate the necessity of the Cross.

10-13 The Precursor (Mark 9:10-12)—The appearance and disappearance of Elias have been troubling the Apostles. He had appeared after our Lord and disappeared without furthering our Lord’s mission in any way. This was not the Elias, herald of the Messias, depicted by the Scribes (cf. Edersheim 2, 706-9: SB 4, 764-98) from their reading of the prophet Malachy (Malachi 4:5-6; DV). Our Lord grants the expression of the scribal teaching: Elias is to come and restore (i.e. bring back to perfection) . . ., but he corrects its perspective. This herald-Elias has already come in the person of the Baptist. The ’great day of the Lord’ before which Elias was to come, Malachi 4:5, is therefore the day of Messianic visitation. Jesus declares the profound sense of the prophecy (missed by the Scribes): not the person but the spirit of Elias returns—in the person of the Baptist; cf.Luke 1:17. (With many Catholic commentators, e.g. Lagrange, Pirot, Allo, Van Hoonacker, we find here no justification for asserting the physical return of Elias before the final judgement.) Our Lord then turns this discussion to advantage: if the great Elias is the martyred Baptist, it is not surprising that the glorious Messias should prove to be the crucified Son of Man. The fate of the Baptist was a hint of God’s Messianic plan. John was a precursor in more ways than one.

14-20 The Possessed Epileptic (Mark 9:11-28; Luke 9:37-44a)—14. It seems that the night was spent on the hill, Luke 9:37. On the following day Jesus and the Three descend to find a crowd gathered round three groups: the nine Apostles, certain Scribes (Mk; their presence suggests Galilee rather than the Hermon district), and a father with his son. The boy has all the symptoms of epilepsy, Mark 9:17-25, called ’lunacy’ by the ancients by reason of its periodicity. 15-16. In the absence of Jesus the father has approached the disciples, without success; he now eagerly approaches the Master. Our Lord’s tone is one of lament rather than of rebuke. His words ’are not merely those of a man among men; it is a divine being speaking—one whose own home is heaven’, Lagrange, Lk, 277. The lament embraces the whole faithless and misguided (DV ’perverse’) human race among whom our Lord came to work. It is immediately evoked, however, by the impotence of his own Apostles (their own fault, cf. 18-19) and perhaps by the malevolence of the carping Scribes, Mark 9:13.

17. The child was not only epileptic but possessed, since our Lord not only cures but exorcizcs, Mark 9:34; Luke 9:43. The father, however, does not distinguish the two states nor does our Lord instruct him. Jesus did not come to teach the natural sciences.

18-19. The Apostles puzzled at their inability to exorcize (their first failure?) ask the reason. Our Lord underlines his earlier hint (’unbelieving’ generation; 16)—lack of confidence in God. The tiniest grain of such ’faith’ (cf. 13:32) can work the impossible. He uses the current rabbinic hyperbole of ’moving mountains’ ( SB 1, 759), suitable to their situation at the foot of Tabor. 20. This verse is probably to be omitted with the 4th cent. uncials B and S as a harmonization with Mark 9:28, where see note.

21-22 Second Prediction of the Passion (Mark 9:29-31; Luke 9:44b-45)— ’While they were still together in Galilee’ (KNT) or ’while they were gathering together (at some rendezvous) in Galilee’ (s?st?eF?µ???? a?t?+??) and about to leave for Jerusalem, our Lord again warns the disciples of his death. ’Betrayed [better ’delivered’] into the hands of men’ takes the place of the ’suffering from the ancients, scribes, high-priests’ of the first prediction (16:21, see note). The phrase suggests a terrible fate, 2 Kg 24:14, and there is pathetic irony in the juxtaposition of ’Son of Man’ and ’the hands of men’.

23-36 The Temple Tax (Mt only)—23. From Tabor it is a full day’s walk direct to Capharnaum. On their arrival, Peter is approached by the tax-collectors for the tribute which, in the absence of Jesus and the Apostles, has evidently become overdue. The ’didrachma’, or two-drachma silver-piece (WV ’florin’) is the annual subscription towards the upkeep of the temple. (1 Greek drachma = 1/4 stater = 1/4 Jewish shekel = 1 Roman denarius. The denarius was the recognized daily wage of a labourer; cf.Matthew 20:2). This tribute affected all male Jews at home and abroad, aged twenty and over. The subscription was traditional (cf.Exodus 30:11-16; Nehemiah 10:32-34), the amount fluctuating. The diffident approach of the collectors (who were usually local men) may be due to respect for the dignity of their great townsman; they were aware that priests at least were not forced to pay the temple-tax.

24-25. Peter, knowing his master’s custom, unhesitatingly answers ’Yes’ and goes into the house (his own? cf. 9:10, 28; 13:1, 36) where Jesus is staying. Our Lord forestalls (DV ’prevented’—a Latinism) Peter’s words. He already knows Peter’s difficulty—either supernaturally or because he has overheard the conversation. He frames a small parable in the form of a question the answer to which is obvious. ’Tribute’ (t????—customs dues) and ’custom’ (??+??s?? —direct, capitation, tax) would certainly not be exacted of members of an oriental royal family—the royal children are exempt. Now the temple-dues are a tribeate ’which each offers to God’, Jos., Ant.18, 9, 1. It is therefore clear (especially to Peter who has recently confessed the divine sonship) that Jesus is exempt.

26. Nevertheless, refusal to pay would savour of impiety for those ignorant of our Lord’s dignity and rights. Doubtless the necessary money could have been obtained by ordinary means but the miraculous means chosen has the advantage of avoiding the ’scandal’ while yielding nothing to the principle (’the children are exempt’) because the money does not come from the apostolic purse after all. The miracle is certainly one of supernatural knowledge, probably more, though the hemichromis sacra of Lake Galilee has been found with e.g. pebbles in its mouth (cf. Buzy 233; Prat 1, 455). Simon here (as the disciples elsewhere; 12:1-8) is associated with the immunity of One who is greater than the temple. (The incident of the’ stater’ miracle is discountenanced in many circles as a pious story later [c a.d. 97?] elaborated partly to clear up early difficulties on the relationship of early Church and State—cf. Kilpatrick, Origins., 41 f.—partly to enhance the dignity of Peter and of the Roman church. This accusation is subject to the general remarks regarding ’Form Criticism’ [cf. § 33k-o] but in particular it should be observed that late invention is improbable for this passage. After the destruction of the temple in a.d. 70 the tax remained but was diverted to the temple of Jupiter at Rome; Jos., BJ7, 6, 6. Against this background the argument of Jesus [resting on the fact that the collection was for his Father’s temple] would be meaningless.)

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Matthew 17". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/matthew-17.html. 1951.
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