Father Callan’s Commentary on Matthew 14:1-12

Text in red are additions provided by The Divine Lamp blog.

Mat 14:1  At that time Herod the Tetrarch heard the fame of Jesus.

At that time; i.e., some time after the death of John the Baptist. John was beheaded after the mission of the Apostles, as recorded in chapter x; and it was after the return of the Apostles from their mission that John’s death was made known to our Lord. Cf. Mark 6:14; Luke 9:7 ff.

Herod the Tetrarch. A tetrarch was a ruler of a fourth part of a province or kingdom. The Herod here spoken of was Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great who had put to death the Holy Innocents. This tetrarch was surnamed “Antipas,” and was the one before whom our Lord was mocked (Luke 23:11). Upon the death of Herod the Great, his kingdom was divided by the Emperor Augustus as follows: half of the territory — embracing Idumea, Samaria, and Judea — was given to Archelaus with the title of Ethnarch; the other half was divided into two equal parts, called tetrarchies. One of these tetrarchies, composed of Galilee and Peraea, fell to the lot of Herod Antipas; while the other, comprising Ituraea, Trachonitis, Gaulanitis, Auranitis and Batanea, was handed over to Herod Philip II, the son whom Herod the Great had by Cleopatra of Jerusalem. St. Luke 3:1 speaks of Lysanias as tetrarch of Abilene which lay to the north of Ituraea, but it is uncertain whether this small state was ever a part of Herod the Great’s domains.

Heard of the fame of Jesus. It seems strange that Herod had not before learned of the wondrous works of the Saviour, but this can be accounted for by his frequent absences, his preoccupations in temporal affairs, and his little interest in things religious.

Mat 14:2  And he said to his servants: This is John the Baptist: he is risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works shew forth themselves in him.

This is John the Baptist, etc. From this it would seem that Herod believed in the resurrection of the dead, either because he was imbued with the errors of Pythagoras, according to which, the souls of the departed just were thought to exist in the bodies of other men; or because he had heard before of others coming back from the dead, such as the son of the widow of Sarephta (1 Kings
17), the son of the woman of Sunam (2 Kings 4), etc.

Mat 14:3  For Herod had apprehended John and bound him, and put him into prison, because of Herodias, his brother’s wife.

Had apprehended John; i.e., at the beginning of the public ministry of our Lord (Matt 4:12). John, at the time, was preaching in Peraea within the territory of the incestuous tetrarch; and yet he did not recoil from denouncing in boldest terms this sinful ruler.

His brother’s wife. This brother was Philip, brother of Herod, but not the tetrarch of Ituraea. This Philip was son of Herod the Great by Mariamne and was the half-brother, consequently, of the tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitis, also named Philip.

Mat 14:4  For John said to him: It is not lawful for thee to have her.

John said to him; i.e., to Herod Antipas. It is not lawful, etc., because her husband, Herod Philip, was still living, and because his own wife was also still alive. See Lev 18:16; 20:21.

Mat 14:5  And having a mind to put him to death, he feared the people: because they esteemed him as a prophet.

Having a mind to put him to death. This recalls the machinations of Herod Antipas’ father, Herod the Great, upon hearing of the birth of the Messiah in Matt 2:1-18. Like many of the Jewish leaders Herod Antipas feared the people (Matt 21:46; 26:3-5). 

The Glossa Ordinaria: “The fear of God amends us, the fear of man torments us, but alters not our will; it rather renders us more impatient to sin as it has held us back for a time from our indulgence.” 

The holiness and courage of the Baptist stands in marked contrast to the sinful and vacillating character of the king.

Mat 14:6  But on Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before them: and pleased Herod.

The daughter of Herodias, whose name was Salome, “the damsel,” who was the daughter of Herodias and Herod Philip; she afterwards married Philip the tetrarch, her uncle.

Mat 14:7  Whereupon he promised with an oath, to give her whatsoever she would ask of him.

Rash oaths are by their very nature dangerous and can lead to grievous sins (Judges 11:29 ff.).  The person who utters such oaths incurs guilt: Or if any one utters with his lips a rash oath to do evil or to do good, any sort of rash oath that men swear, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it he shall in any of these be guilty (Lev 5:4, RSV).
Mat 14:8  But she being instructed before by her mother, said: Give me here in a dish the head of John the Baptist.

Being instructed by her mother. In seeking the death of the prophet John Herodias shows herself to be a figure very much like one of the most notorious figures in the Bible, namely, Jezebel (1 Kings 19:2).

Mat 14:9  And the king was struck sad: yet because of his oath, and for them that sat with him at table, he commanded it to be given.

The king who was unwilling to abide by God’s word concerning marriage (see above note on 14:4) cannot bring himself to disregard his own word, and this due to human respect.

Chrysostom: “If he was afraid to have so many witnesses of his perjury, how much more ought he to have feared so many witnesses of a murder?”

Mat 14:10  And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.

John in prison, in the castle of Machaerus, beyond the Jordan, near the Dead Sea.

Mat 14:11  And his head was brought in a dish: and it was given to the damsel, and she brought it to her mother.

The banquet revelry of Herod has led to a scene wherein the head of the Baptist is placed upon a serving platter.

Mat 14:12  And his disciples came and took the body, and buried it, and came and told Jesus.

Foreshadows what will happen with the body of Jesus: And when it was evening, there came a certain rich man of Arimathea, named Joseph, who also himself was a disciple of Jesus.  He went to Pilate and asked the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded that the body should be delivered. And Joseph taking the body wrapped it up in a clean linen cloth:  And laid it in his own new monument, which he had hewed out in a rock. And he rolled a great stone to the door of the monument and went his way (Matt 27:57-60).

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2 Responses to Father Callan’s Commentary on Matthew 14:1-12

  1. Pingback: This Week’s Commentaries: Sunday, July 28-Sunday, August 4, 2013 | stjoeofoblog

  2. Pingback: Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 14:13-21 | stjoeofoblog

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