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Matthew 26

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

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Verses 1-75

F. The Passion XXVI 1-XXVII 66. XXVI 1-5 The Conspiracy (Mark 14:1-2; Luke 22:1-2)— 1-2. The long discourse of chh 24-25 is over (note Mt’s familiar formula; cf. 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1). It is Wednesday, two days before the Friday of our Lord’s death.

3-4. Even as our Lord is speaking (if Mt’s usually vague ’then’ is here intended as a chronological note; otherwise cf.John 11:47-53) the Sanhedrin holds an informal meeting in the palace (not ’courtyard’; cf. Joüon, 159 f.) of its president Caiaphas (Iosepos Kaiaphas), high-priest from a.d. 18-36).

5. Haste is imperative yet the impending feast of the Pasch, anniversary of the birth of the nation, is an obstacle being a time of Messianic excitement. Moreover, the Galilean pilgrims and others have triumphantly escorted Jesus into the city on the previous Sunday. Had Judas not intervened it seems that the arrest would have been deferred.

6-13 Anointing at Bethany (Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8)— Though the incident took place on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, John 12:1, Mt and Mk place it in this Passion-context as a prophetic rehearsal of the burialrites.

6. The host bears the common name of Simon, one of ten such in NT. He has suffered from some form of leprosy (cf. 8:2, § 689b), hence his soubriquet. He was possibly the father of Martha, Mary and Lazarus (cf.John 12:2-3) but more probably all three were guests at Simon’s house.

7. From a flask of onyx (’alabaster-box’) Mary pours the ointment that would have cost a contemporary labourer his whole year’s salary or a Roman legionary sixteen months’ pay (300 denarii; Mark 14:5).

8-9. It would have bought bread for thousands, John 6:7. The extravagance shocks the utilitarian but it is a salutary warning that the protest is most loudly voiced by Judas, John 12:4, who had no love of the poor, John 12:6.10-11. Jesus is far from opposing efforts to conquer pauperism; he simply remarks a fact: the disciples will have ample opportunity after he has gone to care for the poor.

12-13. Consciously or unconsciously, Mary has lovingly enacted a prophecy of our Lord’s death. The generous tone of his prediction, remarkably fulfilled, is in sharp contrast to the mean protest of 9.

14-16 Judas at Work (Mt only)—Mt resumes the thread of the historical narrative after the break in 6-13. Presumably it is still Wednesday. The traitor, reproachfully called ’one of the twelve’, was the only non-Galilean Apostle, 10:1-4, §692e. He had evidently reached the conclusion that nothing material was to be gained from associating with a Messias who preached sacrifice and who had so little appreciation of the value of money, 9. The sum agreed upon for the treachery is the equivalent of 120 denarii; cf. 7, note. The ’pieces of silver’ are staters; cf. 17:24, note. The sum was a natural one for the priests to choose because the Law laid it down as the price for a human person (a slave; Exodus 21:32).

17-19 Preparation for the Supper; Thursday (Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13)—All the evangelists are agreed that our Lord died on the day preceding the Sabbath, i.e. on Friday, Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:31. The day of the Supper is therefore certainly Thursday.

17. The ’feast of the Azymes’ (i.e. of ’unleavened bread’), so called from the week’s abstention from leavened bread, was celebrated from the evening of 14th Nisan to the evening of 21st Nisan. On the evening of the 14th the paschal lamb was slain and the paschal supper celebrated with unleavened bread. The term ’feast of the Azymes’ (alternatively ’feast of the Pasch’) was applied in particular to the first day of the week’s feast, from sunset 14th to sunset 15th. The ’first day of the Azymes’ (Mt) ’on which it was necessary that the pasch should be killed’, Luke 22:7, is evidently used here (as e.g. in Josephus) in the wider sense of the phrase to include the whole day on the evening of which the paschal supper was eaten. It seems evident (Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11; see however WV 1, 362-5) that our Lord actually celebrated the Jewish paschal supper; cf. J. Jeremias, Die Abendmahlsworte Jesu, Göttingen, 19492. Nevertheless, John 18:28 makes it clear that our Lord’s enemies celebrated the paschal supper on the evening of the following day, Friday, and the Synoptics themselves describe the Friday morning as such a busy time for priest and Pharisee (Sanhedrin meeting, delation to Pilate, etc.) that it is difficult to imagine Friday being the 15th Nisan, one of the greatest feasts of the calendar with abstention from business and work. It seems probably that our Lord and the Galilean pilgrims celebrated the paschal supper on the day before the Jerusalemites, i.e. on the evening of Nisan 13th. If it were celebrated at all it would be with unleavened bread (essential to the paschal rite) and therefore the evangelists may speak of Nisan 13th as ’the first day of the Azymes’. cf. §§ 739e, 768a-c.18. Our Lord is outside the city (perhaps he has spent the night in prayer on Olivet, cf.Luke 21:37; John 18:2) but it was obligatory to eat the paschal lamb in Jerusalem, Bonsirven 2, 123. The disciples (Peter and John; Luke 22:8) are therefore sent into the city to one whose name the evangelists suppress, perhaps for prudence’ sake. It appears from Mt (’the Master saith’) that the man was a friend of our Lord and willing to put a private room at his disposal despite the crowded conditions of the town at festal times. The hour of our Lord’s destiny has struck (his ’time’—as in John 7:6-8).

20-25 Prophecy of Treason (Mark 14:17-21; Luke 22:14, Luke 22:21-23)—20. When the sun had set (cf.Exodus 12:8), the thirteen lay at table. The guests would lie on mats or mattresses, resting on the left arm, the right being used for eating. If the order was that of the Romann triclinium, three sides of the square (or oval) were used by the guests, the fourth being left open for convenience of service. (For positions at table cf.John 13:23 ff., § 802g). Judas, keeping up appearances, was still with the Apostles, but in the course of the meal our Lord attempts to touch his conscience.

21-23. Our Lord’s answer to the question of the troubled Apostles insists on the intimacy, not the identity, of the traitor. The traitor is at table now; he has dipped (or ’is dipping’ as in Mark 14:20; cf. Joüon 162) his herbs (first course of the paschal meal) in the dish of sauce that passes round the table.

24. That the Son of Man goes freely to his death (cf.John 8:14, John 8:21 f. etc.) is no excuse. 25. Judas probably puts his question in a low voice or possibly in concert with the others, 22. The answer is not a direct affirmative (Aramaic has hên or hen for ’yes’) but it agrees with the statement made and at the same time calls attention to the flact that the first speaker has provoked agreement; it therefore implicitly invites the first speaker to salutary reflection; cf. 26:64; 27:11. Judas must have left the table almost immediately—his knowledge of discovery would make his position intolerable; it is therefore improbable that he was present for the institution of the holy Eucharist. Luke 22:21 gives the impression that Judas was still at table for the Institution but his phrase is placed before the Institution by Matthew 26:23 and Mark 14:18.

26-29 The Holy Eucharist (Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:15-20; cf.1 Corinthians 11:23-25)—The Holy Eucharist appears to have been instituted within the framework of the paschal supper, but its importance eclipses the traditional Jewish elements which go unemphasized, therefore, in the gospel accounts. The institution took place probably when the principal course (the lamb) was over, 1 Corinthians 11:25.26. The bread is unleavened— the only type available after the noon preceding the paschal supper. Our Lord blesses it (or ’gives thanks’ over it: e?????sa?, e??a??st?sa? in Luke 22:19 and 1 Corinthians 11:24) and breaks. As he gives it to the disciples (Luke 22:19?d??e? ?????) he says ’This [that I hand to you] is my body’. In view of the clear belief and practice of the early Church it is becoming increasingly old-fashioned to question the plain meaning of the words; the present custom is rather to deny that Jesus spoke them and to credit them to Paul the ’sacramentalist’; cf. Coppens DBV(S) 2, 1150 f., 1155 f. 27. The chalice was in all probability the third cup of the paschal supper. It followed the eating of the lamb and, being itself followed by a long blessing, was called ’the chalice of benediction’; cf.1 Corinthians 11:16.28. A new covenant had been promised through Jeremias, Jeremiah 31:31; the old Sinaitic covenant had been sealed with the sacrificial blood of animals (Exodus 24:8 ’Behold the blood of the covenant!’). Both reference and inference are unmistakable—the new covenant is now being liturgically concluded with the sacrificial blood of Christ. The sacred blood is considered either in the state of being shed or as now dedicated to its shedding (???????µe???, present participle, possibly with future meaning; Joüon 163). The Apostles (’Drink ye all from it’) are to make the sacrifice their own and thus achieve its purpose which (most fully expressed by Mt) is the expiation of the sins of many (?p?? p????+??) by the death of One (cf. 20:28). 29 is placed by Luke 22:18 before the Institution, probably rightly because the reflexion is more naturally made before the thought of the Apostles has been raised to the higher plane of the chalice of Christ’s blood. The reason for its present place in Mt and Mk is that each, concerned only with those elements of the Last Supper which were to endure, does not speak of the first half of the paschal celebration. Consequently the cup, though the third, is mentioned only once and the dictum of 29 used by Jesus of an earlier cup, is perforce joined with the Eucharistic cup. ’This fruit of the vine’ (the phrase is taken from the Jewish ritual benediction) seems, therefore, to refer to the unconsecrated cup: our Lord declares his imminent death and the happy reunion in the eternal Kingdom (’of my Father’) where all is new, Apoc 21:1, 5. Note: St Luke appears to have in mind the ’Kingdom’ on earth, the Church, and the Eucharistic banquet which is the ’Pasch’ of the Messianic era; cf. RB 48 ( 1939) 357-93.

30-35 Prediction of Desertion and Denial (Mark 14:26-31; cf.Luke 22:31-34; John 13:36-38)—30. The Jewish paschal supper ends with the singing of the ’Hallel’ (’praise’) psalms, 113:8-18; 114-117 (Vg), and, the religious rite over, conversation turns to other topics. At the Last Supper it is our Lord who discourses, John 14:1-; John 17:24, but the discourse is not reported in the Synoptics. The time is probably about 10 p.m. and the little company passes through the town in an easterly direction, crosses the Kedron valley and turns left along the western slope of Olivet. A walk of nearly a mile brings them to Gethsemani.

31. Either on the way or while still in the supper-room (cf. Lk Jn; Mt’s ’then’ is often merely stylistic and not chronological) the disciples are told of their impending desertion: ’You will all lose courage over me’ (KNT). Our Lord quotes Zach 13:7 to illustrate the general principle that the flock owes its strength and unity to the shepherd (especially this flock to this shepherd). The illustration is borrowed from the history of king Sedecias, a timid ’shepherd’ who, attacked by the Babylonians, abandoned the capital and its inhabitants to their fate, 4 Kg 25:4. 32-35. In the general consternation the Resurrection prophecy again goes unheeded as also, it would appear, 28:10, the Galilean assignation. Peter’s indignation outdoes his respect and draws upon him a detailed prophecy of his own moral fall. The ’cock-crow’ in Mt is probably the second—the dawncrow at about 5 a.m. Mk mentions two, 14:30; the earliest cock-crow at paschal time is reported as 2:30 a.m., Lagrange, L’Evangile, 542. Between 35 and 36 there is a pregnant silence. Our Lord leaves the event to make reply, 25:56.

36-46 Gethsemani (Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:40-46)— 36-38. They come to a plot of land (??????) at the foot of the western slope of Olivet, facing the temple; a garden, John 18:1, called ’the oil-press’, ga? šemanî(m), doubtless because of some rustic installation among the olive-trees. Eight of the Apostles remain near the gate but. Peter, James and John, witnesses of Jesus’ glory (17:1-2; cf. 2 Peter 1:17-18) are invited to see him in his suffering. The prospect of his passion brings distress and dismay (WV) and mortal sadness. He asks his friends to remain wakeful with him.

39-44. In an attitude of complete prostration but with his human will deliberately turned to the Father he asks that the cup of sorrow (cf. 20:22) may pass him by if this may be done without upsetting the devine redemptive plan. There are two wills in Christ: the divine will and the human will. We may distinguish a double act in the human will: the act of the will which may be called ’instinctive’ (voluntas ut natura) and the deliberate, considered act (voluntas ut ratio). Our Lord’s instinctive will, true to its nature, shrank from suffering and death considered in themselves; his deliberate will embraced them for the sake of what they were to bring: the redemption of man in the way God willed it. ’Placebat enim Christo secundum voluntatem divinam . . . ut voluntas naturalis in ipso et voluntas sensualitatis secundum ordinem suae naturae moverentur’ ( ST 3, 8, 6). With the restlessness of sorrow he seeks the solace of his disciples but he asks them to pray not for him but for themselves. Peter’s loyalty, so eagerly expressed, 35, is not enough: without prayer, fear for bodily security will overwhelm the will. In his second prayer our Lord uses the words he taught his disciples to say, 6:10.

45-46. His first words, 45a, are perhaps a question: ’Are ye going to sleep on (t? ???p?µ) and take your rest?’ (* Plummer, Mt, 371) and he awakes them with ’Behold . . .’, stirring them to activity with ’Rise . . .’. Others prefer the tone of melancholy resignation to the disciples’ weakness: ’Very well, then, sleep; (it is too late to worry what you do), the hour has struck . . .; let us go to meet the traitor.

47-56 The Arrest (Mark 14:43-50; Luke 22:47-53; John 18:2-12)—47-49. Judas was familiar with this garden and with our Lord’s habits, John 18:2. He knew, too, that Jesus would not have gone to Bethany because paschal night was to be spent in Jerusalem or in the immediate neighbourhood. He now leads what is (to judge by their impromptu weapons) a casual gang hired for the purpose, but there is evidently an escort of Roman soldiery, John 18:3. The kiss (natural enough from disciple to maste r) is ostentatious (?ateF???se?) to avoid mistakes.

50. The clipped, and therefore obscure, Greek phrase (?F ? p??e?; lit. ’for what thou art come’) is interpreted as a question by DV (and KNT); more probably it is an exclamation either fully expressed (’for what a purpose art thou come!’, WV) or, perhaps better, cut short by emotion, e.g. ’(A kiss), friend, for such a purpose!’, Lagrange. Luke 22:48 appears to render this last sense.

51-54. Peter’s half-parried blow at Malchus, John 18:10, is rebuked by our Lord. Firstly, it is useless—violence must always take the consequence of violence and, in this case, the power is apparently on the wrong side. Secondly, it is unnecessary and undesired—the Son does not choose to exercise his power: twelve times six thousand armed angels, not eleven impotent Apostles, waited his word. But how, were he to give that word (’how, were it so . . . ?’ KNT), would this consort with the prophecies (e.g.Is 53) of a meekly suffering Messias?

55-56. Our Lord objects to the absurd drama of his arrest and to the show of violence. It implies that he is a dangerous bandit. Yet it must have been clear from his general habit of public teaching (’daily’ in the temple; cf. especially John 7:14; John 8:2, John 8:20, John 8:59; John 10:23) that he was no secret conspirator and that he could have been seized at any time. He thus lays bare the leaders’ fear of overt unpopular action, 26:5. The evangelist notes on his own account, 56, what our Lord had already said, 54—the whole incident is a prelude to the fulfilment of prophecy. He does not deem it necessary, however, to point out that the flight of the Apostles verifies our Lord’s recent forecast, 31.

57-68 Before the Council (Mark 14:53-65; cf.Luke 22:54-55, Luke 22:63-71 and John 18:12-14, 19-24)—57-58. The prisoner is taken back along the Kedron to the Gate of the Fountain at the SE. angle of the city-walls and so up the graded road to the palace of Caiaphas in the SW. quarter of the city. For Caiaphas cf. 26:3-4, §719a. To judge by the Talmud (cf. Edersheim 2, 533f.) night-trials were illegal, but details like this are dwarfed by the monstrous injustice of the whole process. Peter has followed at a safe distance; having reached the palace (a???; DV ’court’) he ventures into the court, Mark 14:54, to await the upshot (t????).

59-62. All three classes of the council are represented (chief priests, elders, scribes; cf. 57). This council (or ’Sanhedrin’ —the Greek s???d???? in Aramaic form) totalling 71 members was the supreme judiciary body of the Jewish nation and met under the presidency of the reigning high-priest. For capital trials a quorum of 23 sufficed, according to the Mishna, Sanhedrin 4:1; it is not, therefore, necessary to understand ’whole council’ strictly. The object of the meeting is to formulate a capital charge to present to the procurator, who alone had power to order execution of sentence; cf.John 18:31; Schürer 1, 2, 57 f.; Jos., Ant. 20, 9, 1. For appearance’ sake the formalities had to be observed (Numbers 35:30 etc.) and eventually the necessary two witnesses are found though even these are not in complete agreement, Mark 14:59. They pervert our Lord’s words, slightly in words, profoundly in sense; cf.John 2:19. The highpriest is not satisfied; he seeks a capital charge and hopes to condemn our Lord from his own mouth: ’Answerest thou naught? What is it that these men allege against thee?’ (WV). 63. Jesus, ignoring the trumpedup charge of the witnesses, will not refuse an answer to an independent and formal demand from the highest authority (’by the living’, and therefore avenging, ’God’): ’Tell us if thou be the Christ, the Son of God!’. The Rabbis never give the title ’Son of God’ to the Messias ( Bonsirven 1, 366 f.) and the Jewish writings about our Lord’s time are shy of it, Lagrange, Le Messianisme, 104 f. The titles ’Son of God’, ’Christ’, are therefore probably not equivalent for Caiaphas. But the term ’Son of God’ had been used of our Lord in his own circle, Matthew 16:16; John 11:27, and the fact was known outside that circle, 27:39-40. It is probable that Caiaphas, aware of all this, adds the title to the term ’Christ’ and so feels his way to a charge of blasphemy, a capital crime, Deuteronomy 13:2-6.

64. Mt’s ’thou hast said it’ is equivalent to Mk’s ’I am’ with a faintly ironical touch as if Caiaphas by using the terms already assumed their truth. Taking this fictional assent as starting-point our Lord proceeds to build upon it. ’Moreover’, he says solemnly, ’from now onwards (?p ??t?,cf. 23:39) you shall be witnesses of’ the situation described by Daniel. ’See’, in regard to apocalyptic vision is not so much physical vision as intellectual appreciation. The sentence is better punctuated: ’You shall see "the Son of Man", Daniel 7:13, "sitting on the right hand of the Power" [i.e. of the Almighty; cf.Ps 109 ( 110) 1] land "coming upon the clouds of heaven"’, Daniel 7:13. This punctuation by indicating a mere juxtaposition of tableaux removes the confusion of imagery. In effect, the ’sitting at the right hand’ and the ’coming upon the clouds’ indicate the same thing. The twinthrones for God and the Messias suggested by the psalm (and cf.Daniel 7:9) indicate a participation in the divine administration of the world. The same idea is found in the Daniel text where one ’like a son of man’ ’comes’ (i.e. to the Ancient of Days for investiture, not to the earth for Judgement) riding on the clouds to receive his Kingdom. In Daniel there is no suggestion of a ’coming’ in a distant perspective of ’Last Judgement’: it is a question of the new Messianic era. Jesus, too, speaks of the new era which begins now (?p ??t?) on earth; its glory is paradoxically inaugurated by the whole process of the Passion itself; cf. John 12:31-33.

65-66. The second of Caiaphas’s two questions (Christ? Son of God?) may have been asked after the reply of 64 as in Luke 22:66, Luke 22:70. In any case, it is clear that the high-priest takes our Lord’s transcendental Messianism for capital blasphemy. Jesus, therefore, is not claiming a mild, political Messianity though Caiaphas will find the ’Messias’ admission useful before the pagan tribunal. He tears his garments, from the neck downwards for a palm’s length, in the ritual manner prescribed for the hearing of blasphemous speech. For the religious court the case is clear, Leviticus 24:16; it remains to secure sentence from the procurator, 27:1. 67-68. Mt leaves us to understand that our Lord was blindfolded; cf. Mark 14:65; Luke 22:64. Those who strike him (not necessarily the Sanhedrists, even in Mt) defy him to use his prophetic or clairvoyant gifts; cf.Acts 23:2 for similar action of another high-priest.

69-75 Peter’s Denials (Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:56-62; John 18:17, 25-27)—Peter is in the open-air courtyard round which the palace was built (a??? as in 58 but here further defined by ???). Meanwhile, Jesus is on trial in an upstairs room, Mark 14:66, of the building itself. In the light of the fire, Luke 22:56, Peter is recognized by a maid; his public denial is not less real for being indirect. He moves from the light towards (???) the gate and another maid (the portress?) challenges him. The denial is formal this time. Then (’about an hour later’; Luke 22:59) Peter is once more at bay among many accusers. His Galilean dialect (confusion of the gutturals: ?eth ’ayin, ’aleph; difficulty with the vowels: a, i, o) proclaims him a northerner. The third denial is emphasized by oath and straightway signalized by the crowing of the cock for the second time; cf.Mark 14:68-72. It is a bitter reminder of our Lord’s words, 26:34.

The evangelists do not, as a rule, purpose to give the exact. words of speeches—of accusations and denials in this case—nor the exact order of events. From 26:34 we should expect three denials, but the combined gospel accounts suggest more by naming five different accusers at least. The solution probably lies (cf. Prat 2, 355 f.) in assigning the multiplicity of accusers to three groups only, thus:

First Denial: in the courtyard (Mt, Mk, Lk) by the fire (Mk, Lk). Accused by a maid (Mt, Mk, Lk), the portress (Jn). The cock crows for the first time (Mk). Second Denial: in the forecourt (Mk) near the door (Mt) a little later (Lk). Accused by the same maid (Mk ’the maid’) whose accusation is supported by others. (Jn) including another maid (Mt), a man (Lk). Third Denial: apparently by the fire again, a little later (Mt, Mk), after about an hour’s time (Lk). Accused by the bystanders (Mt, Mk) including another man (Lk) and a relation of Malchus (Jn): The cook crows for the second time (Mk) immediately (Mt, Mk, Lk, Jn).

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Matthew 26". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/matthew-26.html. 1951.
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