Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 16:21-27

Text in red are my additions.

21. From that time Jesus began to show to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the ancients, and scribes, and chief priests, and be put to death, and the third day rise again.

In this section we have first the scandal of Peter, Matt 16:21-23; then the description of the Christian cross, Matt 16:24-28.

a. Scandal of Peter. “From that time” denotes the period when Jesus had been acknowledged by Peter as the Son of the living God; it was some time after the third Easter in Christ’s public life, about ten months before his death.  “Jesus began to show” clearly what till then he had only hinted at [cf. Jn 2:19; Jn 3:14]: “that he must go to Jerusalem,” according to the will of his Father [cf. Matt 17:10, 21; Matt 20:18; Matt 26:54; Luke 24:25-27, 46], “and suffer many things from the ancients, and scribes, and chief priests,” i. e. from the civil, religious, and learned authorities of the nation [cf. Matt 2:4], The slowness of the apostles to understand the clear words “he must … be put to death, and the third day rise again” [cf. Mark 9:31; Luke 18:34] may be explained first as agreeing with the general obscurity of prophecies before their fulfilment; secondly, the prophecy was contrary to the apostles’ wishes, and therefore hard to believe; thirdly, they might suspect that Jesus spoke in a parable, and this the more, because Hosea 6:2-3 employs a similar metaphor; finally, the minds of the apostles at the time of the passion were so disturbed that they could hardly be expected to recall even the clearest prophecies. That Jesus predicted his resurrection clearly is seen from Matt 28:6; Luke 24:6-8.

22. And Peter taking him, began to rebuke him, saying: Lord, be it far from thee, this shall not be unto thee.
23. Who turning, said to Peter : Go behind me, Satan, thou art a scandal unto me, because thou savorest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men.

“And Peter taking him” apart, “began to rebuke him,” but was interrupted after the first words. “Lord, be it far from thee ” is a strong expostulation [cf.  1 Macc 2:21]; “this shall not be unto thee ” is either explanatory of the foregoing words, or a prayer, or again a confident declaration on Peter’s part. “Who turning,” either to Peter with a stern countenance, or from Peter in indignation.  “Go behind me,” i. e. out of my sight.  “Satan” is addressed to the devil, according to Hilary, Chrysologus, [serm. 27], andMarcellus [cf. Euseb. cont. Marcell. i. 2], so that our Lord said: “Go behind me [Peter]; Satan, thou art a scandal to me”; but the context demands that the word be referred to Peter. Not as if Peter had pronounced his words at the suggestion of the devil, nor as if  “Satan” in the New Testament too could be regarded as an appellative meaning “adversary” [Num 22:22; 1 Sam 29:4; 2 Sam 19:23; 1 Kings 5:18, etc.; cf. Origen, Chrysostom, Euthymius, Theophylact, Jerome, Bede, etc.]; but because Peter, speaking from human affection for Jesus, suggested what the devil himself had suggested in the temptation [Matt 4:3-9], so that the apostle materially at least furthered the devil’s cause [cf. Chrysostom, Euthymius]. Hence Peter was “a scandal” unto Jesus, savoring “the things that are of men,” i. e. measuring them according to a human standard, not estimating them according to the light of revelation.

24. Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
25. For he that will save his life, shall lose it; and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it.
26. For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul?
27. For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then will he render to every man according to his works.
28. Amen, I say to you, there are some of them that stand here, that shall not taste death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

b. The Christian Cross. “If any man will come after me” denotes that Christ does not force men to become his disciples. “Let him deny himself” by disregarding his inordinate affections for pleasure and honor, and for all the sources of pleasure and honor, and let him show in word and deed that “Christ liveth in him” [Gal 2:20]. The follower of Jesus must not only “deny himself,” but also “take up his cross” [cf. Mt 10:38] as those condemned to death were wont to do. “And follow me” is not a mere equivalent of self-denial and carrying the cross, but denotes also the necessity of perseverance in both and the manner in which both must be fulfilled [cf. Heb 12:2-4; 1 Pet 2:21]. Alb. shows that Jesus adds three reasons for following him in self-denial and the carrying of the cross: First, this is the only way to be saved [cf. Mt 10:39]; just as the only way to renew and multiply the grain of corn is to sow it and thus seemingly to destroy it, so the only way to find life is to lose it. Secondly, it is the only profitable manner of life, for the “gain of the whole world” cannot, either in intensity, or in duration, be compared with “the loss of [one’s] own soul”; one cannot profitably exchange any earthly good whatever for a happy eternity. Thirdly, it is the only secure manner of life, “for the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father” [cf. Jn 17:5; Mt 24:30] “with his angels” [cf. Mt 24:31; Mk 13:27; 1 Thess 4:15], “and then will he render to every man according to his works,” a reward described in Mt 25:34, 41; Rom 2:9-10. Jesus urges the foregoing three reasons by another consideration: “Some of them that stand here . . . shall not taste,” or experience [cf. Jn 8:52; Heb 2:9], “death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” In the Old Testament the coming of God signifies his special manifestation either by way of justice or mercy [cf. Isa 3:14; 26:21; 30:27; 35:4; 40:10; 42:13; 51:14; 64:15, 18; Micah 1:3; Hab 3:3; etc.]. The “coming of the Son of man” mentioned in the present passage must therefore refer to a special manifestation of the Son of man. Some commentators, Cyril of Alexandria, Chrysostom, Euthymius, Theophylact, Hilary, Jerome, Maldonado, see in this manifestation the transfiguration which is told immediately after the present passage; but first, the preceding verse leads us to expect a manifestation of justice, not of mercy; secondly, an event happening “after six days” would have hardly been introduced by the phrase “there are some of them that stand here, that shall not taste death”; thirdly, in his transfiguration the Son of man did not come “in his kingdom” One or more of these reasons militate against the opinion that the “coming of the Son of man” refers to the foundation of the Church; or that it refers to the time after the resurrection; or to the three foregoing events; or to two of them; or to the last judgment; or to the ascension, to the manifestation of grace in the Church militant, and to the transfiguration (see my note below); or even to the contemplation and knowledge of the Word. If we identify the “coming of the Son of man” with the manifestation of his justice in the destruction of Jerusalem, we satisfy not only the three considerations already stated, but follow the analogy of Matt 24:3 ff. where the last judgment is connected with the destruction of Jerusalem.

NOTE: Most modern scholars accept the view of Cyril of Alexandria, Chrysostom, Euthymius, Theophylact, Hilary, Jerome, Maldonado, etc., that “the coming of the Son of Man” refers to the transfiguration. This is why this particular passage is read the day before the Feast of the Transfiguration.

Father Maas objects to this by noting that the preceding verse leads us to expect a manifestation of justice, not of mercy. He seems to have forgotten that God’s justice and mercy are not mutually exclusive, even when speaking of His punitive rather than His saving justice.

…(M)ercy is in a certain sense contrasted with God’s justice, and in many cases is shown to be not only more powerful than that justice but also more profound. Even the Old Testament teaches that, although justice is an authentic virtue in man, and in God signifies transcendent perfection nevertheless love is “greater” than justice: greater in the sense that it is primary and fundamental. Love, so to speak, conditions justice and, in the final analysis, justice serves love. The primacy and superiority of love vis-a-vis justice – this is a mark of the whole of revelation – are revealed precisely through mercy. This seemed so obvious to the psalmists and prophets that the very term justice ended up by meaning the salvation accomplished by the Lord and His mercy.53 Mercy differs from justice, but is not in opposition to it, if we admit in the history of man – as the Old Testament precisely does-the presence of God, who already as Creator has linked Himself to His creature with a particular love. Love, by its very nature, excludes hatred and ill – will towards the one to whom He once gave the gift of Himself: Nihil odisti eorum quae fecisti, “you hold nothing of what you have made in abhorrence.”54 These words indicate the profound basis of the relationship between justice and mercy in God, in His relations with man and the world. They tell us that we must seek the life-giving roots and intimate reasons for this relationship by going back to “the beginning,” in the very mystery of creation. They foreshadow in the context of the Old Covenant the full revelation of God, who is “love. (Pope John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia [“Rich  In Mercy”] 3:4)

Father Maas also objects that an event happening “after six days” would have hardly been introduced by the phrase ” there are some of them that stand here, that shall not taste death”.

Answer: Father Maas understands “taste death” here as meaning either physical death or as a symbol of eternal damnation (I think he has the latter in mind). Both meanings are possible but he hasn’t considered the possibility that “taste death” refers to the rejection of discipleship which leads to final damnation and which we might term a living death. In rejecting discipleship one has already tasted death, and this decision to imbibe death now will be ratified at the judgment. What our Lord means is that some of his listeners will not choose to embrace living death which leads to damnation by rejecting him and his teaching until after “some” of them “see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.”

Finally, Father Maas objects that in his transfiguration the Son of man did not come “in his kingdom.”

Answer: The Greek word translated as “kingdom” is βασιλεία (Basileia), a word with a wide range of meaning. According to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon the word can mean:

1) royal power, kingship, dominion, rule

  • 1a) not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom
  • 1b) of the royal power of Jesus as the triumphant Messiah
  • 1c) of the royal power and dignity conferred on Christians in the Messiah’s kingdom

2) a kingdom, the territory subject to the rule of a king
3) used in the N.T. to refer to the reign of the Messiah.

Jesus’ right to rule, the manifestation of his royal power and dignity etc., are all revealed in the transfiguration via the symbols used and the words of the Father: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him. In his transfiguration, the three disciples who are with him see not his kingdom, but his kingly dignity and power coming forth.

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One Response to Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 16:21-27

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A | stjoeofoblog

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