Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 18:21-19:1

Mat 18:21  Then came Peter unto him and said: Lord, how often shall my brother offend against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Mat 18:22  Jesus saith to him: I say not to thee, till seven times; but till seventy times seven times.

Here we have first a statement of doctrine, vv. 21, 22; secondly, its illustration by means of a parable, vv.23-35.

Doctrine on forgiveness. This is not merely the addition of a new topic of instruction [first fraternal correction, next fraternal forgiveness ; cf. Schegg]; nor is it a mere explanation of the degree of forgiveness the necessity of which is taught in the foregoing passage; nor is it a mere supplement to the preceding doctrine on fraternal correction; nor can the proper nexus between the preceding passage and the present be found in Luke 17:4 (Maldonado, Lapide); but we have here, as it were, a third step in our duties to our neighbor: first, he must be kept from erring; secondly, he must be corrected after erring; thirdly, he must be kindly received and forgiven on his return.

Then came Peter unto him and said, as the mouthpiece of the apostles [cf. Euthymius]. Till seven times is selected by Peter, either because it is a holy number [cf. Gen 4:15 ; Lev 26:21; Prov 24:16], or because it is about double what the scribes allowed; for according to the Rabbis it is dangerous to forgive twice, and not allowed to forgive four times [Yoma fol. 86, 2; Schottgen, Wunsche, p. 219; Ed. ii. p. 125; cf. Amos 2:1; Job 33:29], so that Peter must have considered seven times as something most liberal [cf. Chrysostom,  Euthymius]. The rendering seventy times seven times  [Theophilus, Jerome, Bede Baberi, Albert, etc)is more faithful to the original text and more mindful of the Hebrew manner of using multiples [cf. Dan 7:10; Rev 5:11 ; etc.] than the rendering “seventy-seven times ” [Origen,  Augustine serm. 83, 3; Bisping Ewald, etc], which seems to be based on symbolic considerations and on Gen 4:24.

Mat 18:23  Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened to a king, who would take an account of his servants.
Mat 18:24  And when he had begun to take the account, one as brought to him, that owed him ten thousand talents.

Parable: Therefore denotes that on account of its doctrine on forgiveness the kingdom of heaven is illustrated by the following parable [cf. Euthymius, Jerome]. Literally the Greek text  may be translated “royal man” or “human king” instead of king, because the Hebrews denoted an earthly king by “king of flesh and blood” so as to distinguish him from the king of heaven and earth fcf. Wunsche, p. 219]. Servants are not slaves, but all -the royal officers filling places of trust, and according to Oriental terminology they include all the subjects of the king, even the ministers of state . At the time of our Lord the Jews calculated according to the Attic talent, so that ” ten thousand talents ” were equivalent to about $12,000,000, or sixty million francs. or 2,250,000 pounds. If the Hebrew talent had been in use, the amount would have been nearly twice as great. The enormous debt serves to impress one with the grievousness of guilt contracted by sin.

Mat 18:25  And as he had not wherewith to pay it, his lord commanded that he should be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
Mat 18:26  But that servant falling down, besought him, saying: Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
Mat 18:27  And the lord of that servant being moved with pity, let him go and forgave him the debt.

His lord commanded that he should be sold, as was allowed by the old Roman law, by the custom of Oriental despots [cf. Herod, iii. 119], and probably also by Jewish law [cf. 2 Kings 4:1; Job 24:9], though Ex 22:2 treats of thieves, and Lev 25:39, 47 of one’s selling one’s self either to an Israelite or a stranger in case of need. The threatened punishment was the utmost that could be inflicted [Maldonado], and the lord probably intended only to induce the servant to have recourse to supplication [Chrysostom]. That servant falling down acknowledges his indebtedness, and in his affliction promises more than he can hope to accomplish; he is forgiven, not because there is hope that he can gain the sum of money he owes [cf. Orig.], but on account of his good will [Chrysostom]. The lord . . . forgave him the debt, thus granting more than the servant had dared to ask for, just as God acts with us [cf. Chrysostom, Theopylact]; such a donation was not wholly against the custom of Oriental princes whose prodigality is well known; even Roman emperors were at times guilty of extravagance: Nero, e. g., allowed the Persian prince Tiridates during his visit to Rome daily 200,000 drachmas, and on his departure the emperor gave him a present of fifty million drachmas [Dio Chrysostom 63, 2, 6 ; Suetonius  Nero, 60; Tacitus, h. i. 20].

Mat 18:28  But when that servant was gone out, he found one of his fellow-servants that owed him an hundred pence: and laying hold of him, he throttled him, saying: Pay what thou owest.
Mat 18:29  And his fellow-servant falling down, besought him, saying: Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
Mat 18:30  And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he paid the debt.
Mat 18:31  Now his fellow servants seeing what was done, were very much grieved, and they came, and told their lord all that was done.
Mat 18:32  Then his lord called him: and said to him: Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt, because thou besoughtest me:
Mat 18:33  Shouldst not thou then have had compassion also on thy fellow servant, even as I had compassion on thee?
Mat 18:34  And his lord being angry, delivered him to the torturers until he paid all the debt.

An hundred pence is equivalent to about $16-20, or 3-4 pounds; his fellow-servant’s debt amounts, therefore, to about the 600,000th part of his own. He throttled him  does not mean “he dragged him before the judge”, but he ill- treated him.”   His fellow-servant falling down, besought him ” so as to recall his own wretched condition from which he had escaped [verse 26, cf. Origen]. His fellowservants, the fellows of both servants, seeing what was [being] done, were very much grieved . . . and told their lord [exactly] all that was [had been] done. Chrysostom and Euthymius develop the guilt of the servant; for though there was great inequality between his own and his fellow-servant’s indebtedness, and great equality between his and his friend’s supplication, there was the greatest difference between his cruelty and his lord’s mercy. The lord first rebukes the servant for his wickedness; secondly, he recalls the benefit bestowed on him; thirdly, he infers the duty of the servant towards his fellow-servant [Thomas], a duty not indeed to forgive the debt, but at least to have compassion also on thy fellow-servant [Cajetan], a duty not springing from justice, but from equity [Dionysius Cajetan Sylveri; cf. Lapide]; fourthly, his lord being angry, delivered him to the torturer, not merely to the prison, but to the place in which according to Roman custom the debtors were subjected to corporal chastisement [cf. Livius ii. 23 ; Gellius, noct. att. xx. 1] in order to extort their hidden treasures or to move their friends to compassion and to payment in their stead. Since neither of these events could be expected according to the text of the parable, and since the servant himself could not hope ever to pay his debt, the clause  until he paid all his debt does not state a mere condition, nor does it prescind from the future payment or non-payment [cf. Keil], nor does it imply that the payment was made, but it denotes simply endless torture for the ungrateful debtor [Chrysostom, Euthymius, Theophylact, Paschasius, Thomas, Maldonado, Lapide, Baronius, Calmet, Bisping].

Mat 18:35  So also shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.

So also shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts  or in all sincerity [cf. Jerome; Matt 6:12-15]. In this authentic explanation of the parable we are taught, first, that our sins against God are infinitely greater and more numerous than our neighbors’ offences against us; secondly, that God will not extend his mercy to us, if we are not merciful to our neighbor [Euthymius]; thirdly, that we must always be ready to forgive our neighbor. The other details of the parable, the selling of wife and children [verse 25], the sadness of the fellow-servants [verse 31], and the recall on the part of the king of his former benefit [verse 34] are mere embellishments; the text does not therefore show either that on our committing a grievous sin of inclemency towards our neighbor, our former sins, already forgiven, revive as to their guilt and their punishment [cf. Origen, Chrysostom, Theophylact, Aug. serm. 83, 6, 7 ; de bapt. c. Donat. i. 12, n. 20 ; iii. 13 ; Gregory dial, lib. iv. c. 60; Bede, Rabanus, Paschasius], or that the former sins revive at least improperly in the new sin, since its malice is increased by the ingratitude we show for our own forgiveness [Thomas. 3 p. qu. 88 a. 2; Cajetan, Maldonado, Lapide]. The irrevocability of God’s favors is therefore not touched in the parable [cf. Thomas. 3 p. qu. 88, a. 1,3; Suarez. in 3 p. qu. 88, disp. 13].

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One Response to Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 18:21-19:1

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

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