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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 9

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

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Verses 1-38

IX 2-8 The Paralytic (Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26)—The series of miracles is continued and Mt still notes the wonder of the people, 8, 26, 31, 33. Yet a discordant note is now struck—the opposition of the Jewish religious leaders, 3, 11) 34. Mt, like Mk, connects the three incidents that follow (the paralytic, the call of Matthew, the fasting-question) but, unlike Mk, narrates them before the Jairus’s daughter miracle. Mt’s scheme is not chronological; moreover he is as usual less detailed than Mk. For his dogmatic purpose he tells only the essentials.

1. Our Lord re-enters the boat and again (Joüon) sails across the Lake back to ’his own town’ Capharnaum, which he had chosen as his centre (cf. 4:13) on the western shore.

2. The house was packed (Mk) and the bearers of the paralytic were forced to carry him up the outside staircase on to the flat roof. Part of this they removed, lowering the man through the gap’ (cf. Mark 2:4). Our Lord was touched by the faith of the paralytic and his friends. This faith, manifested by their extraordinary conduct, is more obvious in Mk than in Mt who omits the ’roof’ incident. It seems from our Lord’s first words that the paralytic’s hopeful courage is failing him at the thought of his unworthiness. The belief probably prevailed then (as later, of. SB 1, 495 and John 9:2) that sin was the cause of disease and that pardon must therefore precede cure.

3-4. The declaration that the man’s sins are even now being forgiven (?F?e?ta?) or are forgiven from this moment (?F???ta?) is actually a remission (cf. 3, Mark 2:7) The thoughts of the Scribes (and of the Pharisees; Lk) are not merely troubled by our Lord’s words, but actively and spontaneously hostile (’evil’ 4). His words, they consider, do an injury to God (ß?asF?µe?+?) since only the Offended can forgive the offence (Mk). That our Lord reads their thoughts is only the beginning of their discomfiture. Note that whereas Pharisee is the term for a school of thought, ’Scribe is that of the profession of students and teachers of the Mosaic Law. Not all the Scribes were Pharisees (some were Sadducees) nor all the Pharisees Scribes. From the time of the Babylonian exile ( 6th cent. b.c.) the study of the Law intensified and the profession of Scribe grew steadily in importance. With the Law as his text-book he expounded what we should call dogmatic and moral theology (haggadah and halakah). The Scribe was not fully-fledged until, after study from childhood, he attained his fortieth year. He received the title of ’Rabbi’ and his authority was said to be greater than that of the Law itself (cf. U. Holzmeister, S.J., Historia Aelatis Novi Testamenti, Rome 1932, 187-92. The qualified Scribe had his disciples who acted as preachers, instructors, etc. in the smaller towns, SB 1, 496-8).

5-7. The Scribes were thinking that it was easy to use a formula whose effectiveness no one could either verify or contest. It was impossible to prove that the sins were in fact forgiven; our Lord, therefore, proves that, where results can be checked, his formulae are not empty. Hence he deserves credence as God’s envoy even when he speaks of the invisible world. He concedes that to pronounce one formula (forgiveness) is as easy as pronouncing the other (physical cure) but defies their incredulity in the first case by confronting it with startling results in the second. ’He claims the power to forgive sins without saying whether it is in his own name or in God’s. Yet he does not say that he has received the power, but simply that he has competent authority. The most natural conclusion is, therefore, that he claims a divine prerogative’, Lagrange, Marc, 37. The term ’son of man’ (8:18 note) clearly does not mean in this place: Man (i.e. mankind in general, cf. Aramaic: bar ’naša’) since our Lord is vindicating a special prerogative for himself, just as his miracle of healing is a special prerogative. Nor is it, of itself, a Messianic title. Used in this context it means that our Lord, though a man among men, claims to exercise on earth the very authority that God wields from heaven. It it already a hint of the doctrine of the Incarnation.

8. The people are impressed by the miracle (’seeing it’), not by the invisible remission of sin. Filled with reverential awe they praise God for this miraculous power given to a ’son of man’ like themselves. Unlike the Scribes, 3, they forget the more significant part of the episode—the claim to remit sin.

9-13 Call of Matthew (Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32)— 9. Capharnaum lay at the place on the busy Damascus road where the province of Antipas touched on his brother Philip’s—hence the custom-house near the lakeside (Mk). Here were collected the tolls and dues. The publicans (te???a?), in the Gospel sense, were agents of the head-publicans (????te???a?; cf.Luke 19:3) who in turn were the representatives of those who bought from the State (in this case, from Antipas) the right to collect taxes. The demands of their masters and their own greed caused the agents to exploit the opportunities offered by ill-defined taxation and the ignorance of their victims. This conduct together with their professional association with Gentiles explains the common Gospel-phrase ’publicans and sinners’. Matthew (Heb. Mattai, prob. abbreviated from Mattatiah or ’gift of God appears in the lists of Apostles (Mt adds ’the publican’; cf. 10:3 note). There is no doubt that he is to be identified with the ’Levi’ of the parallel places in Mk, Lk. Two names for one person (even two Semitic names, like’ Matthew’ and ’Levi’) were not uncommon (e.g.1 Mac 2:2-5 and cf.Corp. Inser. Sem., Aram. 158; 486 quoted by Lagrange, Marc, 42). The evangelist is not ashamed to make open reference to his old profession, but Mk (followed by Lk) uses the less-known name possibly out of consideration ( Jerome).

10. To celebrate the great occasion Matthew invites his new master to a banquet (Lk) together with many old business-fellows and sinners’, careless livers, at least in the eyes of the legalist Pharisees.

11. The Pharisees were certainly not sitting at table. It is possible that, in the fashion of the country, they stood. at the door and watched; or perhaps they had the facts only on hearsay and their objections were put some time after. They did not venture (cf. 9:3-8!) to attack our Lord directly, but addressed their rabbinical scruples to the disciples.

12-13. Our Lord’s answer was in proverb-form. Others may fear the contagion of legal or spiritual ’disease’—not so the One who had come (i.e. into the world.—a hint of pre-existence, cf. Lebreton, History of the Dogma of the Trinity, Eng. trans. 1, 210 f.) to cure it. ’Read and comprehend the prophet’, he says: ’It is devotion I desire and not sacrifice’. The quotation (Os 6:6; from the Heb. as in 12:7 where it recurs more aptly) is used to emphasize God’s overwhelming preference for true inward devotion over the external observances even of the Law. The argument is the more cogent in that the prohibition of eating with Gentiles is found not in the Law, but in Pharisaic practice. The appreciation of this text should make them understand how much closer to God’s mind is our Lord’s conduct than their ungenerous cavils.

14-17 The Fasting-Question (Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39)—14. It is not clear that the incident followed Immediately upon the preceding (cf. Mt’s usual vague ’then’ and. Mark 2:18 note) though it is aptly mentioned in this place. The prime movers are, doubtless, the Pharisces (cf. Mk), but ’the disciples of John’ also take part. That our Lord’s disciples do not fast is an opportunity of attack for the Pharisees; for the disciples of the Baptist it is perhaps only a difficulty. (On the prominent place given to fasting in Jewish piety cf. Bonsirven, 2, 281-6; Edersheim, 1, 662-3.) The question has a Semitic form (e.g.Isaiah 5:4) better rendered ’How is it that thy disciples do not fast when we and the Pharisees fast so often?’ (KNT). 15. Our Lord answers that fasting, which bears the aspect of sorrow, ill becomes the joy the disciples feel in the presence of their master. Time enough for fasting (the first hint of the Passion) when the Master has been taken away from them (?pa?T?+?, cf.Isaiah 53:8 a??eta?). The image Jesus uses is that of a wedding-feast; cf. 22:2 note. The idea of the bridegroom would recall the Baptist’s words, John 3:29, to the Baptist’s disciples. The ’children of the bridal-chamber’ (in this case, our Lord’s disciples) are the benê ha?uppah or friends of the groom charged with the supervision of the celebrations. 16-17. Our Lord’s defence of his disciples is driven home by two comparisons. Both point to the one conclusion, namely, the imprudence and impossibility of uniting incompatibles: the new and the old. The patch (t? p????µa: DV ’fulness’) of undressed (’new’) cloth tears away from the cloak. Wine that is not completely fermented bursts the wineskins (of sheep- or goat-hide) rubbed thin by long use. In either case the imprudence is disastrous to both new and old. This dictum of our Lord’s is loaded with consequences, gradually appreciated by the Apostles when the time came for the definitive break with Judaism. For the present, however, the principle has immediate application only to the Pharisees’ fasting-observance.

18-26 The Woman with the Issue of Blood. Jalrus’s daughter (Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56)—Mt uses a transitional formula (18; cf. 12:46) not to be taken as deliberately indicative of chronological sequence. The incidents in this section are (Mk, Lk) to be placed immediately after 9:1b.18-19. A prominent official of the Capharnaum synagogue (Mt ?????; Mk and Lk: e?+?? t?+?? ????s??a?????) named Jairus (Mk, Lk) prostrated himself before Jesus asking a cure for his daughter, who was on the point of death (Mk, Lk) or (Mt—a celebrated difficulty) ’even now dead’. Our Lord and his disciples set out for Jairus’s house. On the way (Mk and Lk only) news was brought that the girl had died, but Jesus reassured the father. Mt, according to his custom, telescopes the whole incident. This explains his divergence from Mk-Lk in reporting the words of Jairus. He is content to sum up the successive thought, fear, faith of the father in one sentence which he puts on Jairus’s lips. Augustine, De Consensu Evangelistarum, 2, 28, 66, PL 34, 1110 f.: ’It is in the interests of brevity that Mt makes Jairus ask the Lord to do what in fact he did. . . . The two (Mk and Lk) give what Jairus actually said, Matthew what he wished and thought. . . . From examples of this kind we deduce a most useful and absolutely indispensable principle (of interpretation), viz. . . . that (a writer) oes not lie if he makes a person say what that person wishes rather than what he actually said’.

20-22. Meanwhile, before news is brought of the child’s death, a woman with a chronic haemorrhage, Luke 8:43, comes stealthily and timidly, but with great faith to touch our Lord’s cloak. To escape embarrassing notice, partly too because the malady conveyed a legal impurity, Leviticus 15:25-27, she touches the very edge of his outer garment—one of the multi-coloured tassels (?î?i?) worn by pious Jews at the four corners of the cloak (Numbers 15:37-41; on our Lord’s dress cf. Edersheim, 1, 620-6). She is immediately cured (Mk; Lk); not mere physical contact but her faith had already merited the miracle (Mt.). But she has not escaped notice. Our Lord knows what has happened, Mark 5:30; Luke 8:45, though Mt does not suggest that this knowledge is supernatural. 23. With Peter, James and John (Mk; Lk) our Lord enters the house of the dead girl and encounters the confused noise of the wailing sympathizers and the dismal music of professional flute-players (indispensable at Jewish funerals; cf. SB 1, 521).

24. He dismisses all this apparatus (’Get ye hence’; WVV) as useless. There is no cause for mourning; the girl is only asleep. Our Lord was to use a similar phrase of Lazarus, John 11:11. In each case he avoids the term ’dead’ because neither the girl nor Lazarus was irreparably dead (the usual implication of the word). That she is not still alive, however, is perfectly clear, Mark 5:35; hence the mocking incredulity.

25. When at last the mourners are persuaded to leave, our Lord, in the presence of the father and mother and of his favoured three (Mk), took the dead child by the hand (Mt; Mk; Lk).

26. Our Lord had taken precautions against undue publicity (24 f. and Mark 5:43) possibly because such a miracle might have provoked a Messianic crisis (cf. Lagrange, Le Messianisme, 176 ff.) yet, as Mt is accustomed to note, the report spread through the district.

27-31 The Two Blind Men of Capharnaum —(Mt only). The episode has, of its nature, certain similarities with that of the blind men of Jericho, 20:29-34, with which it is too confidently identified. The one common element that might be thought significant is the ’Sonof David’ cry which (if it be not imported from 20:31 —Lagrange) is natural enough at a time when miracles were inducing a Messianic atmosphere:

27. As Jesus leaves the house of Jairus, two blind men (two for mutual support—a not uncommon sight in Palestine) hail him as Son of David, i.e. as Messias; cf. 1:1 note.

28. It is perhaps for this very reason that our Lord does not acknowledge their cry (cf. note to 26) but waits until he reaches ’the house’ (probably Matthew’s; cf. 9:10) before he speaks to them. The ’pity’ they have asked of the Son of David is clearly the gift of sight and our Lord asks only if they believe in his power to heal. They answer ’yes’, adding a term of profound respect (’Lord’; Gk: ??+´??e; Aramaic: mâri).

29. The cure proves they have not lied. It will be noticed, however, that the faith though perfect did not work the miracle, but was our Lord’s required condition.

30. Jesus most strictly enjoins secrecy—the more strictly, no doubt, because they had already openly proclaimed his Messianic character. But Mt notes (again!) that they could not resist the temptation.

32-34 The Dumb Demoniac (cf.Luke 11:14-15)—When the two cured of blindness had left the house there was brought in a man whom diabolic possession had made dumb. The exorcism was effortless (contrast the Jewish exercisms; Edersheim, 2, 770-86). The remark of all: ’Never was the like seen in Israel’, is the result of this last of a series of miracles. It makes a fitting and characteristic epilogue to chh 8-9, yet Mt is forced also to note the wicked obstinacy of the spiritual leaders of the people. Their remark, too, is doubtless typical of their attitude to all the preceding miracles, and our Lord later exposes its intellectual dishonesty (12:22-37, see notes).

35-38 The Need for Missioners (Mark 6:6b; Luke 10:2; cf.John 4:35-38)—From our Lord’s work amongst the people Mt is now passing to his preparation of the Apostles. The Twelve had already been chosen before the Sermon (cf.Luke 6:12 ff.) and had witnessed our Lord’s work among the people—too much for a single human being.

35-36. Experience in Galilee (and beyond? ) showed the desperate case of the people. Our Lord was deeply moved (e+?sp?a???ísTð) for they were harried and abject (KNT) like shepherdless sheep; cf. 18:12-14. Their spiritual pastors had failed them.

37-38. The metaphor changes (cf.Luke 10:2 which perhaps retains the words in their true chronological place) but, shepherds or harvesters, men are needed for the work. Otherwise the sheep will perish and the harvest rot where it stands. As with his other gifts, so with this: God will provide if we ask. By the Incarnation the divine Son accepted certain human limitations. The world has a duty to pray for men to help our Saviour. It is his own command.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Matthew 9". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/matthew-9.html. 1951.
 
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