Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, June 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 6

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

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Verses 1-34

VI 1-6 (7-15) 16-18 The New Spirit and Hypocrisy— The essential inwardness of the new era does not exclude the practice of external works with their danger of ostentation. Our Lord, therefore, warns his followers: Do not perform your acts of piety with a view to admiration. This intention robs the act of its spiritual value. For illustration our Lord takes three practices: alms, prayer, fasting, characteristic of Jewish piety, Tob 12:8. Each illustration is constructed on the same clearly marked plan: the practice, its abuse, condemnation of the abuse, advice; 2-4; 5-6; 16-18 7-15, a selfcontained instruction on prayer, break the sequence of these illustrations and have apparently been drawn into this place by the mention of prayer in 5-6 (Buzy, *Klostermann, Lagrange). This hypothesis is confirmed by the fact that they are grouped about the Our Father’ which is elsewhere in Lk, 11:1-4.

2-4. Almsgiving. The hypocrite (?p????t??, actor) has many subtle ways of publishing his philanthropy (’sounding a trumpet’ is metaphorical). Such conduct assumes the character of a mere transaction: he has bought public admiration; the business is finished; he has signed the receipt (the common technical sense of ?p???; DV ’has received’); he can expect no more. The striking and original picture of secrecy (the right hand hiding its beneficence from the left) even suggests the unhealthiness of reflecting upon one’s own good deeds. But nothing goes unseen of the Father (DV ’seeth in secret’, i.e. seeth what is secretly done) and the reward will come.

5-6. Prayer. Jesus does not condemn the practice of praying in public assemblies, Lk 18-19-the words of 6 are as hyperbolic as those of 3. Nor does he condemn the practice (in use among Moslems) of praying in the streets. He condemns the practice of deliberately striking a pious attitude for public notice.

7-15. Digression on Prayer (Luke 11:1-4)—First a warning, 7-8, then the ideal prayer, 9-13.

7-8. There must be no gabbling over empty formulae. This is superstition like that of the pagans who feared to omit from their prayer the name of one god or the mention of one request. The Christian is not forbidden to lay his needs before God (though he already knows them) but he should do so in simple, general terms, and in a trustful spirit. Needless ’to say, repetition of such simple prayer as the Rosary is by no means discouraged provided it does not become mechanical. We use repetition not to secure God’s attention, but to sustain our own.

9-13. The Ideal Prayer. Mt’s text of the ’Our Father’ is longer than Lk’s. There are three prayers for the glory of God (’hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done’) with an expansion (’as in heaven so on earth’) and three ’personal requests: : for food, forgiveness, freedom from temptation, with an expansion of this last (’but deliver us from evil’). Lk has neither of the expansions and omits ’Thy will be done’. The Jewish colouring of Mt’s text (obscured in Lk’s, cf.*Allen, 58) and its Semitic balance powerfully suggest that Mt represents the original form of the prayer, abbreviated and simplified by Lk. Lk, however, has probably given the prayer its exact chronological setting. Most of the phrases of the prayer are to be found in Jewish sources (cf. SB 1, 406-25) but its simple brevity and the deliberate exclusion of the spirit of Jewish, nationalism (markedly present, e.g. in the great Jewish prayer, the Tephillah or Shemoneh Esre) prove that though the body may be Jewish, the soul is Christian, (Buzy). The tenderness and trust of the whole prayer are revealed in the bold word ’Father’. The phrase ’our Father’ draws our Lord’s followers together as children of one family. It is fitting that the first ejaculations should be addressed to the Father’s honour which, however, is always inseparable from man’s benefit. The Christian prays that the holiness of the divine ’name’ (i.e. in Semitic expression, the person as known and revealed) may be recognized. Since this ’holiness’ is not only God’s sacred remoteness, Leviticus 10:3 etc., but his absolute moral perfection, Ez 36:21 ff., the recognition means man’s practical acceptance of his Father’s commands.

10. The second petition implies the same recognition but, this time, rather of God’s kingship establishing itself increasingly in the hearts of men. The third (’thy will be done’) declares clearly what is latent in the first two: effective acknowledgement of God as Father and King is accomplished by filial and loyal subjection. May this be as perfect as that of the angels! (Psalms 102:19 ff. ; Lagrange).

11. The second half of the prayer also has three members which, unlike those of the first half, are direct petitions for our needs. Of these, the first (’Give us this day our supersubstantial bread’: t?? ??t?? ?µ?+?? t?? ?p???s??? d?? ?µ?+?? s?µe???) is a request for the simple necessaries of life, embraced in the term ’bread’. The word’ supersubstantial ’ (Vg translation of ?p???s??? which, however, it renders ’daily,’ in Luke 11:3) suggests ’excellent ’, special’ (pe????s???) as it did for Jerome (PL 26, 43; cf. Prat II, 35 note) and favours a Eucharistic reference. Nevertheless, the word ?p???s??? (so far found only once elsewhere and with meaning uncertain, cf. JTS 35, 377) will not bear this translation. Etymolgicaly it means either ’necessary for subsistence (?p? + ??s?a) or ’ for the day that lies before us’ (?p? + ???+?sa, i.e. ’belonging to the coming’ day, cf.Proverbs 27:1, LXX). This second meaning, though in itself more probable, makes the phrase ’this day’ redundant. It may therefore be preferable to accept a third explanation (* Black, 149-53) and read ’Give us our bread day by day’ as a more exact rendering of an Aramaic idiom (wrongly translated in the Gk) which runs literally ’of today and the following day’. 12. The next petition is for forgiveness of sins, called’ debts ’in Mt and in common Jewish parlance (Lk has simplified to ’sins’). We ask forgiveness on conditions that must make us reflect on our own conduct towards those who have injured us (cf. 14 and 18:32-35).

13 is probably one petition put negatively and positively (the latter being omitted by Lk). It asks that our Father should not ’lead’ us into temptation. Since God tempts no man, James 1:13, the phrase ’lead us not’ may be understood ’permit us not to go’ (in the Semitic manner, cf. Joüon & WV note). Nor does the word ’temptation’ necessarily imply a direct invitation to sin; it may indicate circumstances which, for us, prove to be an occasion of sin. The prayer ends with a final cry for deliverance from all moral evil (probably—in view of Mt’s usual sense of t? p??????—not’ from the evil one’). The word ’Amen’ is a later, liturgical addition. So also are doxologies like: ’For thine is the kingdom . . .’, probably added (*Plummer) to avoid ending the prayer with the word’ evil’. 14-15 explain and underline in antithetic parallelism (cf. § 313e) the condition of divine forgiveness implied in the petition of 12. g

16-18. Fasting. The last of three illustrations contrasting true with merely professional piety. The time will come when our Lord’s disciples will, like the Pharisees, form a compact body of religious men. Like the Pharisees they will fast, 9:15. Our Lord warns them against the faults into which many of the Pharisees fell. Far from wearing gloomy looks and pulling long faces (?Fa???? ’ to disfigure’, or possibly ’to hide’ with a veil as in certain Jewish fasts) the disciple should take the greatest care to disguise his piety. The image used by our Lord even suggests the appearance of one on his way to a banquet!

19-34 Deep Root of the New Spirit: Absolute Trust (Luke 12:33-34; Luke 11:34-36; Luke 16:9-13; Luke 12:22-31)—It is not improbable that Mt has gathered to this place various sayings of our Lord. Nevertheless they constitute here a compact discourse pervaded by the one ideal: abandonment to the Father and the futility of all else.

19-21. Experience shows the uselessness of trust in worldly goods. Hoarded stuffs are the prey of moth and ’rust’ (ß??+?s??, lit. an ’eating’; more probably a variety of moth, or possibly ’ decay’); hoarded valuables are the prey of thieves. Not so (continues our Lord with elaborate Semitic antithesis) the treasure earned on earth, banked in heaven—real but intangible. Why not amass material goods? Because, says our Lord, 21, such conduct shows that the heart is not set on God alone. His reasoning assumes that his bearers recognize this last duty at least.

22-24. This sense ofdue proportion comes from a sound mind (’heart’ ; cf. 5:8 note) which guides the soul as the sound (?p???+??) eye, like a lamp, shows the body its way. But if the eye itself be diseased (or ’evil’, since the moral atmosphere hangs over the terms of the parable), ’then what darkness!’ It is already implied, 21, that exclusive choice must be made between God and gold. Each is in practice a jealous master. The slave of two masters is in an impossible position. Their interests are sure to clash: he will have to declare openly for one or the other (’hate’, ’love’) or, at least consult the interests of one (DV ’sustain’ ??t???µa?, cf.1 Thessalonians 5:14) and slight the other.

25-34. Because this divided service is impossible, we must renounce not only the anxious pursuit of wealth as an insurance against future need but algo anxiety about our present wants, for even this divides the heart. The central idea of the passage is therefore freedom from anxiety (µ???µ?a, preoccupation) and the word keeps recurring, 25, 2, 28, 31, 34. (’Mammon’, more accurately ’mamon’, is a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic mamôna’, frequent in the Palestinian Talmud and cf.Ecclus 31:8 where mamôn, late Hebrew, means ’wealth’. The Semitic form—instead of the usual Gk word p???+?t??—is left here possibly because ’Mamon’ is personified, Joüon).

25. The two primary needs are food and clothing. Food keeps the soul (life, f???) in the body, clothing protects the body itself. Our Lord’s argument is briefly expressed. It implies that, since soul and body are ’greater gifts’ (KNT) than their necessities, God who gave the gifts can and will surely sustain them by providing for their needs. Naturally, this does not exclude placing our needs trustfully before God; cf. 6:11; 7:11. Jesus goes on to demonstrate his point from God’s conduct towards even his lesser creatures—the birds (proving the ’food’ point; 27 belongs to this little section) and the flowers (’clothing’; 28-30).

26. Even animals make prudent provision and our Lord does not condemn them. He is attacking only worry—an exclusively human failing and inexcusable because man alone is conscious of a Father in heaven and of his own rank in the Creator’s order.

27. If this argument does not convince, appeal may be made to the obvious uselessness of being anxious (µe??µ??+?? as in 25; DV ’taking thought’). This will not add to life a single span. ????U|1F77a, DV ’stature’, may equally mean ’age; p?+????, DV ’cubit’, i.e. the Hebrew measure c 1 1/2 ft, may be used metaphorically for a span of life-time; cf.Psalms 38:6. ’Age’ is certainly more probable in the parallel place in Luke 12:25 by reason of the preceding parable, Luke 12:16-20; it is perhaps more probable here also (cf. 25) especially as length of life, not of figure, is the common anxiety.

28-30. The ’lily of the field’ (called ’grass’ or ’herb’ in 30) is a simple flower (not, therefore, the gladiolus etc.). It is possibly the wild narcissus or the mayweed with its daisy-like flower (anthemis); cf. RB 54 ( 1947) 362-4. These are more beautiful in their God-given simplicity than Israel’s richest potentate in his manmade splendour; 3 Kg 10. If the Creator so cares for his creature, how much more the Father for his children! Man’s years outlast the season of the flowers and, at the end, he is to be gathered into the granary of eternity, 13:30, whereas the dead herb is destined only to serve man’s humbler needs. The inference is obvious: only those (so many!) with less than a modicum of trust could fail to see it.

31-33. Bringing to a close his attack on these daily anxieties our Lord tells his Jewish audience that such preoccupation reduces them to the level of heathens and, moreover, insult the providence and love of the Father. The kingdom and its justness must be the first object of daily care. The kingdom in this connexion is the way of life God requires of his subjects—a way that our Lord has been explaining; cf. 5:20. Provided (and this is understood) man calmly pursues his labour, God will provide. 34. Do not add today’s anxiety to the morrow’s sum of worry; the morrow will have anxieties of its own (WV). God’s providence allows a certain daily measure of difficulty; the prudent proportion should not be upset. Since 34 speaks of difficulties in general—?a??a, DV ’evil’— and not merely of anxieties; since also it speaks not of the present but of the morrow, it has a viewpoint rather different from 25-33. This, plus its omission by Lk possibly indicates that the words were originally spoken in another context.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Matthew 6". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/matthew-6.html. 1951.
 
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