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Thursday, July 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 7

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

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Verses 1-29

VII 1-27 The New Spirit in Action— Before the concluding exhortation to action, 13-27, our Lord gives two pieces of advice for those to whom he has explained the new spirit. The first, 1-6, concerns the relationship of the Christian with his fellows; the second, 7-11, of the Christian with God by prayer. There is no clear connexion of the sections within the chapter nor of this chapter with the preceding.

1-6 Judge not! (Luke 6:37-42)—Condemnation of our neighbour (like forgiveness; 6:12) brings a like answer from God. In this sense (but cf.Luke 6:38 note) the rabbinic saying ’measure for measure’ is true, SB 1, 444 f. But even on the human plane such procedure is unjust and absurd. By a remark involuntarily echoed in our own conscience our Lord shows it. Psychologically we are quick to see (and to magnify) our own faults in others (’lynx to our neighbours, mole to ourselves’, La Fontaine, Fables, 1, 7; cf. Lagrange). We see the splinter (???F??, a dry particle of sawn wood) in his eye and miss the plank in our own—this is the true proportion and it escapes us. Yet we kindly (and hypocritically) offer to remove what we are too blind to see. 6. Yet a discreet assessment of our fellow’s dispositions is sometimes necessary as when, for instance, there is danger of sacrilegious profanation. Indiscretion in such matters may turn indifference to malevolence, thus uselessly harming our neighbour, injuring ourselves, wasting what is precious and sacred. Our Lord speaks, as it seems, of prudence in expounding the mysteries of the kingdom; he himself later, 13:10-15, shows the example. The principle was applied in the early Church (cf.Didache, 9, 5) to the question of nonadmission of the unbaptized to the Holy Eucharist. Our Lord compares the indiscretion to that of offering sacred (sacrificial meat?) or precious things to mere brutes which turn on the giver with disappointed ferocity. The comparison is a general one. We should not seek therefore to identify the ’swine’, e.g. with pagans, nor the ’dogs’ with lapsed Christians, nor to regard the terms as a pointed insult. The animals together represent the religiously unappreciative; their distinction is merely graphic and stylistic in the manner of Semitic parallelism. This paralielism will be all the more marked if we accept the not improbable suggestion (adopted by * Black, 146-8) that the Aramaic has been mistranslated or subjected to interpretation and originally read: Give not a precious ring (Aram. qe?aša’) to dogs’. Our present text (t? ?????, DV ’that which is holy’) supposes an original Aramaic qu?ša’.

7-11 Prayer Sure of a Hearing (Luke 11:9-13)—In Lk this passage is not included in the Sermon, and it is unexpected in this place in Mt, though it would aptly follow 6:33.

7-8. It is a constant divine law that prayer is never unanswered. Provided we pray as our Lord taught his disciples, 6:9-13, a door will be opened to us (by God, as in the similar use of the impersonal in 2, 19).

9-11. To doubt this would be to insult our Father. Even human fathers, with all their imperfections, are capable of perfect paternal love. How much more the heavenly Father who is perfection itself! He will not disappoint the hungry children with a stone that looks like bread nor with a serpent (equally useless for food) which has perchance been netted with the fish; cf. RB55 ( 1948) 195-8. The ’serpent’ may be identified with the tropidonotus lesselatus, sometimes hooked, and presumably netted, in the Lake of Galilee. Hence (in the absence of any similarity, comparable to the bread-stone similarity, between the ’serpent’ and any known Galilean fish) the fish-serpent juxtaposition.

12. The Golden Rule (cf.Luke 6:31)—The whole message of the ancient Scriptures which our Lord had come to fulfil (5:17 note) is summed up: In all things that concerns our fellows (practical charity, forgiveness, kindly’ judgements, etc.) our best available standard of conduct is the treatment we should like to receive (though perhaps do not) from him. This eliminates the interest we have in ourselves or rather shares it with our neighbour, thus restoring the balance. Mt evidently takes this love of neighbour to include the love of God which is its true motive, 22:34-40. For a negative form of the Golden Rule cf.Tob 4:16. The original setting of the maxim is perhaps, as in Luke 6:31, after the ’retaliation’ section, 5:38-42, though it would as suitably follow the ’Judge not’ passage, 7:1-5. The falling cadence at the end of the verse and the echo of 5:17 give the impression that the Sermon proper is now at an end. This prepares us for the concluding exhortation to serious action. 688a

13-27 Call to Action— The Christian’must not follow the majority, 13-14, nor run after every specious teacher, 15-20, nor be content with mere protessions of loyalty or even with the grace of miracle-working, 21-23. He must do the will of the Father as declared by the Son, otherwise his efforts are wasted, 24-27.

13-14. (Luke 13:23f.). Our Lord does not minimize the difficulty of the Christian way of life, but laments the fewness of those who in fact follow it. He uses images familiar to. Jewish teachers (SB 1, 461 if.). The ’citygate’ (p???), or possibly ’defile’ (Joüon), through which we enter upon the way is as narrow as the path is narrow (’strait) to which it leads. That there are few who walk this way is a fact of experience. It does not follow that only these reach the goal—who can calculate the mercy of God? Our Lord does not intend to define the number of the ’elect ’—a question which he refuses to answer in Luke 13:23 f. It is the practical solution that counts: Strive to enter by the narrow door, Luke 13:24. The answer to the theoretical question is not useful to man; God reserves. the knowledge to himself, ST 1, 23, 7 corp. We know that ’God wishes all men to be saved, 1 Timothy 2:4, and this is solid foundation for our hope. 15-20. Beware of false guides! cf.Luke 6:43-44. Again there is no close connexion with what precedes, but the passage has been drawn into this place by the idea of finding the right way, 14. Our Lord here deals not with the personal morals of those who falsely claim to bear a message from God (false ’prophets’), but with the damaging effects of their teaching. Doubtless he has the Pharisees in mind, but he is providing for the more distant future, too. These false teachers will bear the appearance of belonging to the flock of Christ, hence the danger. Heresies live on their modicum of truth. But underneath that skin, error devours the duped victim. Yet how recognize the false teacher? A little patience and the effect of their work (’fruit by an abrupt change of metaphor) will betray them. That grapes and figs do not appear on thorns and thistles is a commonplace of experience. And so indeed it is with any tree (DV ’even so, every’). It does not, 17, nay cannot, 18, produce fruit alien to its nature. The rotten tree (sap???, decayed, or corrupt in the moral sense cf.Ephesians 4:22) will bring forth ’evil’ (p??????, wicked) fruit. The adjectives, which are susceptible of a moral interpretation, have been chosen with a view to the application of the comparison.

19. Parenthetically Mt prophesies the punishment of these false teachers (or possibly the certain elimination of their teaching) in the words of the Baptist, 3:10; cf.Luke 3:9.

20. The passage closes as it began (cf. 16a), summing-up what has been said (’inclusion’). 21-23. Lip-service etc. insufficient; Luke 6:46; Luke 13:26f. Our Lord is passing to his concluding appeal for serious action. He has just spoken, 15-20, of false teachers; he speaks now of the danger of self-deception—the danger of presuming upon the prilege of belonging officially to the fellowship of Jesus. 21. (Luke 6:46 The gates of heaven do not open to the urgent cry: Lord, Lord! (cf. 25:11 note) but to those who do the will (good pleasure) of God. Jesus, with quiet assurance, uses the phrase ’my Father as again in 26:39, 42. He teaches the disciples to say our Father’, 6:9, but studiously avoids the phrase himself—his sonship is not of the common sort.

22-23. (Luke 13:25, Luke 13:27). Not even preaching on the authority of Jesus. (DV ’prophesied in thy name’) nor exorcism nor miracles worked through that same authority will, in themselves, qualify preacher or wonder-worker for entrance when he comes to stand at heaven’s gate. Unless such a one has also ’done the will of the Father’, our Lord will openly declare that even while working these prodigies the man was never truly of his company, Jesus himself significantly assumes the power of expulsion from the kingdom of those who, ignoring the will of the Father, have worked nothing but iniquity (???µ?a, cf.Psalms 6:9). 24-27. Concluding Appeal (Luke 6:47-49). Two parables in elaborate antithesis. The man who hears and acts upon our Lord’s teaching has a firm dwelling. The torrential winter rains, the streams in flood, high winds (like those that brought houses down in Jericho in 1912, Lagrange) will not disturb it. Not so the man who builds on thin, crumbling earth (?µµ??).

28-29. Mt rounds off the Sermon with the formula he reserves for the end of his five great groups of discourse, 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1. All were amazed at the matter of the discourse and the manner of the Teacher. They were used to the Scribes and Pharisees who repeatedly appealed to the authority of Scripture and of the teachers of repute who had preceded them. But our Lord had interpreted, even modified, the Scriptures, 5:21-47, and this without appeal to any authority (DV ’power’) but his own.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Matthew 7". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/matthew-7.html. 1951.
 
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