Juan de Maldonado’s Commentary on Matthew 21:1-11

Mat 21:1  And when they drew nigh to Jerusalem and were come to Bethphage, unto mount Olivet, then Jesus sent two disciples,

BETHPHAGE was situated at the foot of the Mount of Olives, close to Jerusalem (S. Luke 21:37). S. Mark (11:) says: “When they were drawing near to Jerusalem and Bethania, at the Mount of Olives,” &c. ; S. Luke 19:29: “It came to pass when He was come -nigh to Bethphage and Bethania, unto the mount called Olivet, He sent two of His disciples”. Bethphage and Bethany were about equidistant from Jerusalem, for S. Matthew says: “When they drew nigh to Jerusalem and were come to Bethphage;”  and S. Mark: “When they were drawing near to Jerusalem and to Bethany”. Bethphage was about a
Sabbath day’s journey from Jerusalem (Acts 1:12), which Origen states to have been one mile. Others think that it was two miles. S. John (11:18) says that it was fifteen furlongs distant. Christ most probably, when at Jerusalem, went at night to the Mount of Olives, as S. Luke says (Lk 21:37); and He may have frequented the house of Mary the sister of Lazarus, which, as S. John (Jn 12:1) tells us, was in Bethany.

Mat 21:2  Saying to them: Go ye into the village that is over against you: and immediately you shall find an ass tied and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to me.

S. Mark and S. John speak of the colt alone; S. Matthew describes it as a she-ass, to state the whole event as it happened, and to show that the words of Zacharias (Zech 9:9) were fulfilled, who seems to speak not only of the colt but also of the ass; the latter being perhaps mentioned to show that the colt was so young as not yet to have carried a rider, as described by S. Mark 11:2 and S. Luke 19:30; for colts are not separated from their dams until they can carry. The other Evangelists only mention the foal, because on this alone Christ sat.

Mat 21:3  And if any man shall say anything to you, say ye that the Lord hath need of them. And forthwith he will let them go.
Mat 21:4  Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying:

This was done. The meaning is twofold. It may be intended either:

1. To signify, not the cause, but the effect, as explained in the note on chapter 2:15, as if it were said that Christ did so that the prophecy of Zacharias might be fulfilled; or,

2. To show the final cause, as if the Evangelist meant that Christ desired to enter Jerusalem on an ass, to show that the prophecy of Zacharias applied to Him. This appears more likely; for S. Chrysostom and The Author
say on this passage, “that it is not to be supposed that Christ chose to enter Jerusalem on an ass without a reason, or any signification of mystery, when He had never entered it so before. His chief reason may have been, perhaps, to compel the Jews to acknowledge Him as the King and Messiah from that prophecy. For, as S. Chrysostom argues, what other king of the Jews ever entered Jerusalem on an ass of whom this prophecy could possibly be understood? S. Chrysostom gives another reason: He did it to show the Apostles and all men an example of humility. The Author offers a third: that Christ wished by this act to cause enmity in the minds of those Jews who were against Him, that, now the time of His death was come, He might irritate them against Him and cause them to give Him over to death; as at other times, when His death was not near, He had been accustomed to deliver Himself out of their hands, as related by S. Luke (Lk 4:30). He also appears to have wished to place before the eyes of the Apostles the nature of His kingdom, which consisted of humanity.

Mat 21:5  Tell ye the daughter of Sion: Behold thy king cometh to thee, meek and sitting upon an ass and a colt, the foal of her that is used to the yoke.

Tell ye the daughter of Sion. These words are not in Zacharias (i.e., Zechariah), but either the Evangelist added them in explanation, or he put into one the words of Zacharias and Isaiah 62:11. The latter says: “Tell the daughter of Zion her Saviour cometh”; Zacharias says: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem. Behold, thy King will come to thee: the just and Saviour; He is poor, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass” (Zech 9:9). S. Matthew did not cite all the words of the prophecy because, as shall be explained hereafter, they were not necessary; nor did he follow the Hebrew version, but, as in many other places, that of the LXX.

Daughters of Sion. This is a Hebraism, and a Synecdoche; a Hebraism, as
the city is termed “a daughter,” an expression often found in the Sacred Writings and among the Greek poets. The Latins followed them, and frequently called their cities by the names of women. And a Synecdoche, as taking a part for the whole; for Sion was a mountain on which only part of the city was built. The city was called Sion because the palace was on it. S. John cites the prophecy in other words (Jn 12:15), following the meaning rather than the words. For the Prophet says “Rejoice,” and the Evangelist “Fear not”; for he who rejoices does not fear.

Behold thy king. The Prophet seems to point, as it were with his finger, to the long-expected Messiah, as now at hand, and before their eyes. Although Zacharias used the future, it was no doubt according to the Hebrew idiom that he put that tense for the present. The LXX., knowing this, rendered the passage by the present, as S. Matthew has done: יבוא  לך

Cometh to thee. These words are to be taken together, as is clear from
the Hebrew context: יבוא  לך veniet tibi. The Prophet signifies to the daughter of Zion that her King is come to her that is, He whom she has expected for so many ages. For he says that He was sent properly to the daughter of Zion that is, the Jewish people; for Christ had not come but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, as He had said (Matt 15:24). They, therefore, who join the words “to thee” to that which follows “meek,” as if He were meek to thee
not angry, not elated, not cruel although they shoot well, shoot beyond the mark.

Meek. The Hebrew is עני  “pauper”; but the LXX. converted it intoπραυς  “meek,” because they probably read עניו  and the Evangelist followed them, though with no prejudice to the meaning of the Prophet; for the poor are mostly humble and meek, and the two words in Hebrew are derived from the same root.

Sitting upon an ass, and a colt. A question arises here as to how Christ could sit both upon an ass and a colt. Some, as S. Jerome and Bede, think that the words must be understood allegorically; others, that Christ not only sat upon both, but that He sat upon the ass first and the colt afterwards. This they regard as a mystery. They think the ass to have represented the Jews, on which Christ sat first, and the colt the Gentiles, to which He passed on when He had left the Jews; so Theophylact, Strabus, and others. But it is clear from the other Evangelists that Christ sat only on the colt; both because they make no mention of the ass, and because SS. Mark and Luke show that mysterii causa, He would not sit on either a female or a male ass, but only on a colt on which no man had ever sat. Whether this was because He desired to fore show the Gentiles as being yet rude and unbroken, or that it did not become Him to sit on an ass on which other men had sat, or, as some think, that He might show His power in making an unbroken colt submit to Him. (see Edward Sri’s commentary on this passage in the CATHOLIC COMMENTARY ON SACRED SCRIPTURE).

There is another question, how S. Matthew seems not merely to intimate that Christ sat both on the ass and the colt, and not on one alone, but to state plainly that He did so. Some say that the Greek word ονον, although meaning
both a male and female ass, should be rendered asinum and not asinam; as if, by a repetition common among the Hebrews, who often express the same thing by different words, to show that there was only one animal, and not two, as if the Evangelist had said sitting upon an ass and a colt the foal of an ass, which had been broken to the yoke. The Hebrew word חמור, chamor, used here by the Prophets, almost always means the male animal; very seldom the female.

Euthymius is of this opinion, and it seems very probable; but we should observe that S. Matthew speaks so as to leave no doubt that he meant to say that Christ sat upon a female ass, and a colt; nor was it without reason that the word which in the Prophet is doubtful, and may be taken to mean either a male or female animal, is rendered by him without ambiguity by the latter; especially as neither Jonathas the Chaldean Paraphrast nor the LXX. had so
rendered it. Our version appears quite correct in using the word asina (female ass); for Christ, in verse 2, spoke of an ass and her colt where the Greek participle δεδεμενην “bound,” being in the feminine, removes all ambiguity.

I approve, therefore, the opinion of those who say that the Evangelist spoke by Synecdoche or Syllepsis, as we speak of one thing by the expression of more than one; as when it is said that the Apostles murmured about the ointment, when it is clear that Judas alone did so; and as we are told that the thieves at the Crucifixion railed, when another Evangelist says that only one did so. I think that the Evangelist said designedly asinam and not asinum,
and so spoke as to show that Christ seemed to have sat upon each, so that if a person should understand the Prophet in this sense, namely, that the coming King would sit on an ass and a colt both, he could not blame the Prophet as if the prophecy were not fulfilled in Christ. Why, then, did the Apostles spread their garments, not only upon the colt, but also upon the ass? as is said in
verse 7. Euthymius answers that it was because they did not know which of the two Christ would prefer the ass or the colt. This is not probable, however, because when S. Mark and S. Luke say that Christ said to those whom
He sent to loose the colt, “You shall find the colt of an ass tied, on which no man hath ever sitten” (S. Luke 19:30), they could not be ignorant that Christ would choose to ride, not upon the ass, but upon the colt. We shall, therefore, answer the question better by saying that the Evangelist spoke, as in other cases, by Syllepsis.

Mat 21:6  And the disciples going, did as Jesus commanded them.
Mat 21:7  And they brought the ass and the colt and laid their garments upon them and made him sit thereon.

The words  “sit thereon,” επανω αυτων, may apply either to the ass, or to the garments, as is observed by Euthymius and Theophylact.

Mat 21:8  And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way: and others cut boughs from the trees and strewed them in the way.

And a very great multitude. This multitude was composed of those who had followed Christ to Jerusalem for the sake of the miracles, as is clear from S. John 12:12. The Apostles appear to have begun the rejoicing (S. Luke 19:37).

Mat 21:9  And the multitudes that went before and that followed cried, saying: Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.

Hosanna to the son of David. Many different meanings of these words have been given; some have taken them to be a mere exclamation of rejoicing or entreaty. S. Jerome to Damasus objects to S. Hilary’s assertion that it means “Redemption of the house of David”; an idea which S. Ambrose (On S. Luke xix.) may be thought to have borrowed from him; each, as shall be shown by and by, was unjustly blamed. Others, as Euthymius, think that the words were a hymn, meaning “Praise to God”. Others, again, understand by them, the boughs which the Jews used to carry on the feast of Tabernacles, crying, “Hosanna, Hosanna”; they who carried them being accustomed to cry “Hosanna,” and the boughs themselves having gained the title of “Hosanna” from being thus carried. The Jews in memory of this custom are supposed to have now broken off the branches, and cried, “Hosanna,” as if they had said, “Cut them off and give them to the Son of David”.

But this seems questionable. Because it does not seem, probable that the multitude would have been induced by the custom of tabernacles to carry branches before Christ, because He had no part in them; they being only carried to commemorate the time during which the Jews were dwelling in tents, and it is not to be supposed that the multitude, more especially when under the guidance of the Apostles, would have cut down branches from the trees without reason.

The opinion of S. Jerome, then, both on this passage and in his Epistle to Damasus, seems most probable, that Hosanna means only הושׁ  נא “Preserve, I pray Thee”-salvum fac obsecro-and is taken from Ps 118:25.

But it is doubtful to whom, as the agent (personam agentem), and to whom as the object (patiens), the words apply. All ancient commentators seem to refer them to Christ as the former, and to the multitude as the latter; as
if they said: “Save us, O Son of David”. S. Irenaeus (iv. 24), Origen (Tract, xv. on S. Matt.), S. Hilary (Can. xxi.), S. Ambrose (On S. Luke xix.), S. Jerome and Bede (in loc.) S. Hilary, and S. Ambrose had this meaning when they said that “Hosanna” meant “Redemption of the house of David,” as if the multitude which cried “Hosanna,” that is, “Save, I beseech Thee,” had professed by that word that Christ was come, as the Redeemer of the house of David.

But there is much to be urged against this view.

1. The multitude does not seem to have thought of Christ as the true God and Redeemer; as, on the other hand, they were not ignorant that the hymn of “Hosanna” was not sung but to the true God alone.

2. Because the words which immediately followed, “Blessed is He who cometh in the name of the Lord,” are referred to Christ, not as the agent (persona agens) but as the one blessed, for they did not pray Christ to bless Himself, but that God would bless Him.

3. In the Psalm from which the words are taken, “Hosanna” is referred, not to Him “who cometh in the name of the Lord,” but to God, and it is not to be supposed that the multitude, much less the Apostles, who went before, spoke the words in any other sense than that in which they were uttered by David.

4. The meaning does not agree, for what sense is there in saying, “Save us to the Son of David” (Salva nos filio David); and although some authorities, and S. Irenaeus among them, read “O Son” (fili not filio), yet the texts of both the Greek and Latin versions unite in reading the dative and not the vocative.

5. If we follow this explanation, the question will arise, How we are to understand what immediately follows: “Hosanna in the highest? ” For, what meaning is there in “Save us, O Son of David, in the highest”? I entirely accept the opinion of the moderns, who say that the words should be referred to God as the agent, and to Christ as the object. For the people prayed to God to keep and prosper the new king so long wished for, as in Psalm 45:4, 5. David speaks of Christ: “Gird Thy sword upon Thy thigh, O Thou most mighty; with Thy comeliness and Thy beauty set out, proceed prosperously, and reign”; and as
we are accustomed to pray for the prosperity of new kings, and to cry “Vivat Rex” and as the Jews of old did; as 1 Sam 10:24; 1 Kings 1:25, 39, 40, and many other like passages of Scripture show.

This “Hosanna,” then, has the same meaning as Vivat Rex; and the people’s carrying palm branches resembled the custom of their own and other nations, of carrying boughs of trees to celebrate victories and triumphs (i
Macc 13:51).

The idea, therefore, of those who would refer the whole ceremony to the festival of Tabernacles, cannot be received. For in that feast the people carried branches, not in token of joy, but in commemoration. But this multitude carried them like those who are triumphant and rejoicing. It is clear, besides, that all who take this view must wholly do away with the mystery of this remarkable act. Nor can we doubt that the multitude acted by no blind and unreasoning impulse, but by deliberate design or, more probably, divine impulse, that all might understand that what David said of the future Messiah was fulfilled in Christ. A strong argument for this opinion is seen in verse 15, when even infants are said to have cried out in the same words. They could only have done this by divine influence; not by custom or
any human design, so that they did not now cry out Vivat Rex, but, in its place, “Hosanna”.

But it will be objected that this explanation is at variance with the Greek and Latin construction; for when the multitude prayed God to keep Christ, it did not say, “Hosanna to the Son” (Filio) but “Hosanna the Son (Filium) of David”. The reply is that this is a Hebraism which both the Greek and Latin follow. For the Hebrew word ישׁע is found not only with the accusative, but also with the dative case, as in Dent 22:27; Joshua 10:4; Judges 7:2; 1 Sam 25:26; Ps 44:4; 86:16.

Blessed is He that cometh. That is, May His coming be blessed, as cited before
from Ps 118:25-26.

In the name of the Lord. These words mean not only one who was sent by God, but also one who bore the person of God, who through him visited His people. S. Mark adds (Mk 11:10): “Blessed be the kingdom of our father David that cometh, Hosanna in the highest”. The repetition of the word “Hosanna” is
the result of strong feeling. One of the best explanations of “Hosanna in the highest” seems to be that the Greek pronoun ο should be understood after “Hosanna qui es in altissimis,” an example of which ellipsis is found in Ps 148:1.

Mat 21:10  And when he was come into Jerusalem, the whole city was moved, saying: Who is this?

The whole city was moved. It is not to be believed to the letter that every individual person in the city was moved, but at least the greater part of the city was so; e.g., the Scribes, Pharisees and priests, who were the chief people in authority. In like manner, the Evangelist says (chapter 2:3), that the whole city was moved by the arrival of the Magi. But the city was not moved now by joy, or wonder, or fear, but by envy and malignity, at seeing Christ received with such honour; as the following words seem to signify.

Who is this ? They were not ignorant who Christ was, for they had known Him now three years. They meant, Who is He that He should receive so much honour ? So the men of Nazareth had said: “Is not this the carpenter’s son?”
(Matt 13:55).

Mat 21:11  And the people said: This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee

And the people. That is, the multitude which followed Him, not the people of Jerusalem. S. Matthew opposes the multitude who followed Christ to the citizens of Jerusalem. The latter asked in contempt and envy, “Who is this?” the former answered in faith. “This is Jesus the Prophet from Nazareth”. The word “prophet” here does not include any prophet whatever, but that Messiah promised of old, and long expected. This is clear from the preceding acclamation, “Hosanna,” and “Blessed is He,” &c. For the Messiah had been promised, not only under the name of a King, but also of a Prophet (as in Deut 18:15), which S. Peter (Acts 3) and S. Stephen (Acts 7:37) explain of Christ.

Of Nazareth. Christ had three places of abode Bethlehem, in which He was born; Nazareth, in which He was brought up; and Capernaum, in which He mostly lived as has been explained on Matt 9:1.

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2 Responses to Juan de Maldonado’s Commentary on Matthew 21:1-11

  1. Pingback: Commentaries on the Processional Gospel for Palm Sunday, Year A (Matthew 21:1-11) | stjoeofoblog

  2. Pingback: Commentaries for Palm Sunday, Year A | stjoeofoblog

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