A Catholic Reading of the Book of Matthew
Posted by Tony Listi on June 10, 2010
Often in theological debates, Christians start throwing Scripture verses around from all parts of the Bible. While all Scripture is the Word of God and thus must be consistent in such a way that a coherent, non-contradictory message is present, I think this haphazard cafeteria/smorgasbord style of using Scripture can be very unhelpful, even dangerous at times.
For we Christians cannot forget or deny that human beings, with their own human stylistic traits, emphases, and paradigms, did indeed write the Bible. Thus it seems certain that Christians can more fully understand the written Word by digesting it book by book, carefully examining and taking into account the unique context, tradition, and perspective contained within and historically surrounding each book. This method also seems to me an eminently, though perhaps not distinctly, Catholic approach to Scripture and its interpretation.
Thus I’d like to present how a traditional, conservative Catholic reads and interprets Scripture on a book by book basis. In this way, a Protestant may come to know what exactly a Catholic sees, thinks, and feels when he reads the Bible. Perhaps in this way and on this basis of what is our common ground, our common tradition, namely certain books of Scripture, the Body may be made one and whole again as Jesus prayed it would be and intended it to be…. Plus I’m tired of Protestants telling me I’ve never read the Bible (when I have) and that they are the “champions” of Scripture (when they aren’t).
The Book of Matthew
I can’t help but think that, of the four gospels, the Gospel according to Matthew is the least favorite version of Protestants. In fact, it may be the book of the Bible that Protestants ignore the most. I think they’d rather read St. Paul’s emphasis on faith rather than Our Lord’s emphasis on obedience to God and His Church.
Why? Because it is probably the most Jewish and Catholic of the gospels. More specifically:
- It is the gospel in which Peter is given the keys of the kingdom and named the Rock of the Church, a title of power and Scriptural significance, facts that Protestants fail to adequately account for in their own doctrine and practice. This gospel also features Peter prominently, evidencing his primacy. (4:18; 7:24-27; 14:28-31; 15:15; 16:12, 16-19, 22-23; 17:1, 4, 24-27; 19:27; 23:1-3, 13; 26:31-37, 40-41, 56-58, 69-75) Click here for 50 Scriptural citations throughout the Bible that evidence Peter’s pre-eminence.
- It is the gospel that perhaps most supports the notion of the Church as necessarily a unified, visible, hierarchical, authoritative, indefectible, and even sacramental institution. (4:5-7; 5:17-18; 7:28-29; 9:6-8; 10:1-5, 20, 40; 11:1; 13:11, 16-17, 36, 52; 14:22; 15:3-9; 16:12; 17:1; 18:2-4, 7, 15-18; 19:28; 20:17, 25-28; 21:23-24; 23:1-3; 26:14, 20, 26-28; 26:36-37, 47; 28:16, 19-20)
- It contradicts sola Scriptura by invoking Judaic prophecies and doctrines that can’t be found in the Old Testament. (2:23; 7:12; 23:1-3)
- Over and over again, the need for perseverance in obedience and good works (in and through faith) are emphasized as necessary for salvation and that salvation is not certainly assured through mental assent. There are different levels of faith. The Church is composed of both the saved and the damned. (3:8-10; 4:17; 5:16-44; 6:1-18, 30; 7:12-27, 30-33; 8:5-13, 26; 9:20-22, 27-29; 10:22, 42; 11:19; 12:33-37, 50; 13:3-8, 19-23, 20-30, 41-42, 47-50; 14:31; 15:23-28; 16:27; 17:19-20; 18:8-9, 34-35; 19:16-17; 21:19-21, 41-43; 22:10-14; 23:23; 24:10-13, 24, 44-51; 25:1-46; 26:31-35)
- It affirms the Catholic sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation/Confession. (9:6-8)
- Jesus is presented as a new Moses, a new lawgiver, not an abolitionist of the law or the founder of a lawless religion. He fulfills the law. He makes certain laws of the Decalogue more strict. (5:17-44; 7:12; 19:3-9; 23:23)
- The Jesus of Matthew is also more harsh and demanding in character than the Jesus portrayed in other gospels. He is the Judge on the Last Day. (7:21-23; 12:36-37; 13:41-42; 16:27; 25:1-46)
- The Catholic view of sexuality, marriage, divorce, and celibacy is demonstrated in this gospel. (1:18-19; 4:22; 5:31-32; 19:3-12, 27; 22:29-30)
Moreover, this gospel was the most highly esteemed in the early church. This is indicated by:
- The early view that it was written first
- Its placement in the Bible as the first gospel before the other three
- The fact that it is quoted more frequently than the other three in the noncanonical literature of early Christianity
Additionally, scholars believe that the material for Matthew’s gospel was drawn from both written and oral traditions, including Mark’s gospel, Q, and M (a collection of other distinct sources known only to the author).
I’m not going to comment on every single verse but rather on the ones relevant to the Protestant-Catholic divide or general conservative Christian doctrine. Emphases are mine.
1:18-19 “When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.’” This verse brings to mind the issues of pre-marital sex and cohabitation. The former is clearly condemned. The second is implicitly condemned; a man takes a woman into his home only when she is his wife.
2:16 “When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.” This brings to mind the issue of abortion/infanticide. The USA is not the first nation to be the enemy of very young, innocent human life.
2:23 “And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’” This prophecy cannot be found in the Old Testament. It is an oral tradition, an oral prophecy. With respect to the Old Testament, it is an unbiblical tradition. St. Matthew here demonstrates that he doesn’t believe in sola Scriptura (which in itself is nonsensical seeing as the Bible didn’t exist at the time this gospel was written).
3:8-10 “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance…. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire…. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” What does this say about the Protestant doctrine of sola fide? Seems to me that John the Baptist says good deeds, “good fruit,” are necessary for repentance and thus salvation. They are not merely evidence of salvation but required evidence of salvation, insofar as one is able to (spare me the thief on the cross nonsense). True repentance requires a change of conduct/behavior. And what else could the “fire” here mean but hell? Well, the Catholic may propose Purgatory as an alternative meaning, but of course, the Protestant rejects that belief too. Do Protestants live their lives as if “the ax” is at their “root”? I don’t think so.
4:4 “He [Jesus] said in reply, ‘It is written: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”‘” Jesus is the living Word come forth from God. The Eucharist by which Catholics live spiritually is not “bread alone” but the Word, Jesus himself. Scripture is not the only Word of God; it is the written Word.
4:5-7 “Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you” and “with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered him, ‘Again it is written, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”‘” The devil quotes Scripture. Jesus quotes Scripture back. We can all quote Scripture. It is the right interpretation, the authoritative one, that matters! Also, Jesus is ever obedient to the Father. So should we be to enter the kingdom. And we must continually turn back to him when we stumble and fall from grace.
4:17 “From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Repentance is necessary before one can receive Christ’s forgiveness. Repentance is a complete change of heart and conduct, not mere mental assent. Moreover, because we struggle with sin our entire earthly lives, repentance never ends. One does not merely repent once and for all. One cannot repent of sins one has not even committed yet. It is through continual repentance that we demonstrate a living and saving faith and that we are able to receive forgiveness for each sin that ruptures our faith, our relationship with God.
4:18 “As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen.” Peter is the first disciple to be mentioned in the gospel and the first to be called. His Christ-given name of “Rock” is cited before the gospel narrative tells of it.
4:22 “…and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.” The disciples left everything, including family, to follow Jesus. This is indirect support for the vows of povery and celibacy that Catholic clergy take upon themselves.
5:16 “Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Jesus says good deeds that affect others are a “must.”
5:17-18 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law….” Some prescriptions of the Mosaic law will “pass away” with the new age that Jesus’ death and resurrection will usher in. But some will stay in force. Who determines which will pass away and which will stay? Jesus (as the following verses show) and his chosen apostles who have authority to “bind and loose.” But we’ll get to that….
5:20 “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Considering the way the scribes and Pharisees are condemned in this gospel and others, I can’t help but wonder if Jesus is setting the bar kind of low, haha. Just kidding, but it really is a somewhat puzzling verse. Regardless though, “righteousness” for Matthew is not merely a matter of faith but also one of deeds. In fact, Jesus then goes on to make the law for Christians even stricter and harder to obey:
5:22, 27-28, 33-34, 38-44 “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna…. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart…. Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all…. You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you….” Here Jesus deepens and extends certain precepts of the Mosaic law. Jesus doesn’t do this so that we can ignore him and “sin boldly.”
5:29-30 “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.” Just as good deeds are necessary to enter the kingdom, sin leads to damnation. Sin is a serious issue for the disciple of Christ: no sacrifice is too large to avoid sin and thus avoid hell. And remember, Jesus says all this to not just the crowds but also his followers (5:1) whom many Protestants consider to be already saved.
5:31-32 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.’ But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Again, Jesus deepens the law. The Mosaic law recognized divorce as legitimate, but He asserts an absolute prohibition of divorce. Infidelity is no excuse for divorce. The “unlawful” marriage referred to is incest of various kinds, which did happen among Gentiles of the time.
6:1-4, 6, 18 “(But) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you…. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you…. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” God repays/rewards us according to our deeds. It is a very interesting economic and even capitalist analogy. Of course, no number of good deeds can take away/atone for even the smallest sin, the recompense for which is death and the remedy for which is Christ’s death. We cannot buy our way to heaven with good deeds, and yet Scripture is clear that they are necessary and taken into account by God. How mysterious but true…. It is not enough to avoid sin (which no one does perfectly anyway); we must do good as we are able to.
6:9-13 “This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name….” The prayer goes on. Jesus gives us the very words we should use when praying. The traditional Catholic prayer the “Our Father” comes right out of this Scripture passage. Why is it then that I hardly ever hear Protestants use these words of our Lord when they pray? Indeed, in my experience, they don’t even use a couple of key elements from the prayer: asking for forgiveness and asking for deliverance from evil (In their minds, many Protestants have already been forgiven and delivered, I guess.) I can understand wanting to use words that come from the heart, and I’m not saying new or spontaneous prayers should never be used. But the words of a traditional prayer can come from the heart, and shouldn’t there be at least some sort of balance between using one’s own words and those our Lord taught us? There is something disturbing in the notion that one would or should never use the exact words, more or less, that Jesus told us to use.
6:30, 33 ”If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?… But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”" Little faith? What can such a phrase mean to the Protestant? Apparently, there are different degrees of faithfulness to God because one can obey Him in different degrees. Also, these verses must make no sense to the Protestant: “I have faith already, so why do I need to seek the kingdom and God’s righteousness? The kingdom is already here because of my faith, and I don’t have to seek righteousness because Jesus has imputed all righteousness to me already in his death.” Protestantism thus contradicts Scripture.
7:1-6 “Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces.” This is not a prohibition against recognizing the faults of others, which would be hardly compatible with verses 5 and 6 but against passing judgment in a spirit of arrogance, forgetful of one’s own faults.
7:12 “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.” Another Jewish law that is still in force.
Also, the Golden Rule cannot be found in the Old Testament. Thus it too is an unbiblical tradition with respect to the Old Testament. Matthew here demonstrates that he doesn not believe in sola Scriptura.
7:13-14 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” If only a few will enter the kingdom, does it make sense that mere mental assent to the idea that Jesus is Lord and Savior rather than an all-encompassing life that sincerely strives to live out that idea is the source of salvation?
7:15-20 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them.” How are we to distinguish between true and false teachers of the faith? By the consequences or fruits of their teachings. What have been the consequences of Protestantism’s doctrine of Sola Interpretatio Scripturae Privata Mea (“My Personal Interpretation of Scripture Alone,” aka sola Scriptura)? Schism after schism after schism and an ever-increasing dilution and corruption of the Christian faith by individual egos that reject the original apostolic teaching and authority. Moreover, the doctrine has led to a de facto theological relativism that has necessarily given birth to moral relativism and political atrocities in the modern time. What have been the consequences of Protestantism’s sola fide? Some “Christians” who think they can “sin boldly” (Luther’s phrase) because they know with “certainty” that they are “already saved.” And again, Jesus says that those disciples of his who do not “bear good fruit” will be cast into the “fire.”
7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name? Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’” Again, “evildoers” will not enter the kingdom of heaven, even though they call upon and acknowledge Jesus as “Lord, Lord” with their mouths. Supposing these verses and Rom 10:9 do contradict each other (they don’t), who are you going to believe: Jesus or Paul?
God knows beforehand who will run the race to the end and persevere. So of course, God “never knew” those whom He knew would choose to reject Him. From the God’s eye-view, of course no one “falls from grace” because God is timeless and eternal. From the God’s eye-view, each of us are either the saved or the damned because there is no time sequence, because God knows already what the state of our soul is at death. But from the human perspective, we fall from grace mortally, repent, and receive grace again and then fall from grace again, over and over again (unless we develop a strong saintly spiritual life).
7:24-27 “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.” Jesus uses an analogy to illustrate his point. Again, those who do not put Jesus’ words into practice will be swept away and perish. Actions count. Do Protestants not believe that actions speak louder than words? Moreover, what does this parable tell us about Peter, the Rock of the Church? The church founded upon Peter will not be swept away by the waves of evil, confusion, heresy, and uncertainty that flood this world.
7:28-29 “When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” Indeed, the Judeo-Christian tradition with regard to correct teaching is that certain religious leaders have authority and some do not. Yet Protestantism nonsensically makes every believer the ultimate authority. The result is theological and moral chaos.
8:5, 8, 10, 13 “When he entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him and appealed to him…. Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed…. Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith…. You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.” I have pulled out these verses to make a point about the intimate and necessary relationship between a true, living faith and action/obedience/works. Yes, the centurion had faith, but he had a certain kind of faith. It was a faith so strong that he acted, that he approached and appealed to Jesus. Faith in the sense of mere mental belief did not save the servant from sickness but rather a faith combined with an actual deed.
8:26 “He said to them, ‘Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?’ Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm.” Again, this reiterates my previous point that there are different kinds of faith. There are those of “little faith” who do not act according to their faith, and it is not at all certain that they will be saved. For a faith without fruit is dead (James 2:20)
9:6-8 “‘But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins‘ –he then said to the paralytic, ‘Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.’ He rose and went home. When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to human beings.” What are Protestants to make of this? This verse clearly states that God gave men the authority to forgive sins on earth. If you doubt my translation, it is the same in the KJV. This verse is Scriptural evidence, if not proof, for the validity of the Catholic sacrament of penance/reconciliation in which the priest has the authority to forgive sins in the name of and by the power of Jesus Christ.
9:13 “Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” I examine this verse because of its potential use by Protestants against the sacrifice of the Catholic mass. But Jesus is quoting Old Testament Scripture (Hos 6:6) in which the term “sacrifice” has a very specific meaning, namely the ritual blood sacrifice of animals on the altar. Thus Jesus is telling the Pharisees that if mercy and love are greater than these animal sacrifices, how much more then are they greater than the laws of ritual purification (avoidance of sinners and Gentiles)? Much greater. The Catholic mass does NOT continue the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament. Rather it commemorates the Last Supper and actually makes present the one and only effective merciful ”blood sacrifice” for Christians: the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus calls it a sacrifice (Mt 26:28). St. Paul calls the mass a sacrifice (1 Cor 10:16-20).
9:20, 22 “A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak…. Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, ‘Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.’” Again, as with 8:5-13, my point is that this woman had a certain kind of faith, a faith that was matched by action, in this case coming up behind Jesus and touching his tassel.
9:27-29 “And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed (him), crying out, ‘Son of David, have pity on us!’ When he entered the house, the blind men approached him and Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I can do this’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ they said to him. Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘Let it be done for you according to your faith.’” Again, as with 8:5-13 and 9:20-22, my point is that these blind men had a certain kind of faith, a faith that was matched by action, in this case their following Jesus, crying out to him, and approaching him.
10:1-2, 5 “Then he summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon called Peter…. Jesus sent out these twelve….” Jesus did not give authority to all of his followers/disciples; he gave it only to twelve of them alone whom he chose and sent out (thus the name “apostle” which means “one who is sent”). The importance and authority of these twelve as opposed to Jesus’ other followers is highlighted by the fact that St. Matthew and other gospel writers actually list their names. Moreover, the primacy of Peter is noted in that he is mentioned first, as in all the other lists of the Twelve. What good is authority if one does not know who has it? Notice that the Twelve are to engage in the same activities as Jesus. When one combines the fact of the exclusivity of authority with that of apostolic succession attested to elsewhere in Scripture (choice of Matthias to replace Judas, Act 1:21-26; Timothy as Paul’s successor, 2 Tim 2:2), one can see the authority of the Catholic Church is derived from the apostles, on whom Paul says the Church is founded (Eph 2:20). It is important to note that while Luke (6:13) and probably Mark (4:10) explicitly distinguish between the Twelve and the rest of Jesus’ followers, Matthew seems to use the term “disciples” throughout to refer to the Twelve.
10:20 “For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” The apostles speak with the authority and truth of the Spirit, as do their successors whom they have chosen and their successors up until the present day in the Catholic Church. For with the laying on of hands, the apostles give this Spirit to another.
10:22 “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.” Again, one is not saved instantly and forever through a vocal confession of faith. Rather, one must persevere in the faith and endure its trials until the end of one’s life to achieve salvation.
10:34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” This is a wonderful reminder to all Christians out there who have a “live and let live” approach to their faith. That is the wrong approach. The Christian faith is and always has been a source of division, conflict, and confrontation. Peace comes through an acceptance of Jesus Christ, not of worldly and neo-pagan evils like abortion and homosexual behavior. Christians are called to confront the evils of this world but prudently without creating worse evils in the process. And sometimes things do reach a tragic point at which violence must be used. Otherwise, the Muslim Empire would have crushed and subjugated the whole of Christendom, extinguishing the one true faith.
10:40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” We are still in Chapter 10 and Jesus is still speaking to the Twelve. Again, as with 10:20, the Twelve are distinguished with a special dignity as God’s representatives on earth, as intermediaries between the people and God. Thus whoever receives the apostolic commands in obedience also receives Jesus and the Father in obedience.
10:42 “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple–amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” Another puzzle for Protestants because many think it is impossible for them to lose their reward, namely assured salvation. And yet this verse clearly implies that salvation can indeed be lost in some sense.
11:1 “When Jesus finished giving these commands to his twelve disciples, he went away from that place to teach and to preach in their towns.” Again, this verse eliminates all doubt about who exactly Jesus was talking to throughout Ch. 10.
11:19 “But wisdom is vindicated by her works.” Protestants have an instinctual, theological distaste for any mention of “works.” And thus I quote this verse in which works are presented very positively. Let’s not forget that Jesus (divine, personified Wisdom) did indeed perform good works and that they were an integral part of his mission because they vindicated him from false accusations.
12:29 “How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and steal his property, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.” For all you leftist “Christians” out there: Jesus recognizes the validity of private property and that theft is evil. Indeed the left uses the power of government and the abuse of the law to “tie up” the American people before plundering them of their property.
12:30 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Again, like 10:34, let this dispel any delusions that Jesus just wants to get along with everybody and that we should do the same. Jesus draws a line in the sand. Christianity is absolutist. Interestingly but not surprisingly, this is reminiscent of George W. Bush’s speech before Congress after 9/11 warning the world, “You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror.” No, I’m not comparing Bush to Jesus, but this may be where Bush’s line came from.
12:33, 35 “Either declare the tree good and its fruit is good, or declare the tree rotten and its fruit is rotten, for a tree is known by its fruit…. A good person brings forth good out of a store of goodness, but an evil person brings forth evil out of a store of evil” Again, an emphasis on good works brought forth, the fruit of real faith. See my comments on 7:15-20.
12:36-37 “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Youch, sounds harsh. But the actions, including what we say, of both the saved and damned will be judged by Christ. We are called to be perfect and holy, as God is, even in our speech.
12:39 “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.” This verse calls to mind all the atheists, agnostics, and “rationalists” of all sorts who demand a sign from God before they will believe. Yet they will not examine and test the signs that have already been given (i.e. the historical documents of Scripture and the testimony therein and of other historical sources, the empirical consequences of the authentic Christian faith). No, it is not that God does not give signs, but that evil people ignore and dismiss the signs already given because they prefer their evil to the will of God. They have no humility and no reverence for anything but their own egos and thus they are unable to understand.
12:50 “For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” Again, one must do the will of the Father to join the family of the saved in heaven.
13:3-8 (Parable of the Sower) See my comments below on the verses in which Jesus explains the parable. This parable is a refutation of sola fide.
13:11 “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.” Jesus is speaking to the twelve disciples. And again, Jesus treats them differently from everyone else. He is preparing them for their unique mission and authority with regard to the Church.
13:12 “To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Again, for all you “Christians” who hold Marxist views: this saying of Jesus is contrary to the Marxist dictum of “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” True, Jesus is not talking specifically about material possessions here, but he is affirming and approving of a fact that applies to both the material and spiritual world: the fact of inequality and hierarchy. Just as the industrious/productive are not equal to the lazy/unproductive, the saints are not equal to the damned. Those who know and practice how to create wealth will get wealthier; those who know and practice holiness will become holier. Likewise, the individual Christian does not have equal religious authority as that of the bishop and pope.
13:16-17 “But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” Again, the twelve disciples are privileged, not of their own merit but through God’s gift of grace.
13:19-23 “The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” Here Jesus explains the parable. The point is that it is not enough to hear the gospel and mentally accept it in an abstract way. That is not true faith, and yet that is what many Protestants call “faith.” In fact, the Christian who does not understand the faith can have his “faith” stolen away by the devil. The Christian who does not have a deep faith can lose it and “fall away” when suffering inevitably comes. The Christian who does not have a faith strong enough to resist worldly idols will have a sterile/dead “faith” that “bears no fruit” in good works (cf. Jam 2:26). In each of the three cases, the so-called “Christian” does not really have faith and thus does not really have salvation. What kind of faith do you have?
13:29-30 “He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”‘” These verses illustrate two lessons. First, God exercises the virtue of prudence in allowing evil “weeds” to exist. He does it for the benefit of the elect. Thus we too should exercise prudence in all our activities in our attempts to promote charity and oppose evil. Also, for those of you who think everyone is going to heaven, this passage refutes that notion. Weeds don’t go to heaven. Moreover, the apostles are warned not to anticipate the final judgment by the definitive exclusion of sinners from the kingdom. There are to be patient, preach repentance, and leave judgment to God.
13:36 “Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house. His disciples approached him and said, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.’” Jesus speaks to the crowds in parables but only explains the parables to the Twelve. Again, the Twelve are set apart for a special mission and unique authority.
13:41-42 “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” Again, not everyone is making it to heaven. Evildoers do not have salvation, regardless of their claims to “faith.”
13:47-50 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind…. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace….” The Church has people “of every kind.” The Church IS catholic, universal, a church of all races. There are also sinners who are in some sense members of the Church in that they claim membership and may go through the motions. If they do not truly repent and have a change of heart, they will not attain salvation despite their superficial membership in the Church. And again, the wicked will not see salvation, regardless of their claims to “faith” and membership in the Church.
13:52 “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” Remember, Jesus dismissed the crowds and is only talking to the twelve disciples here. The Twelve were uniquely “instructed in the kingdom” by Jesus and thus have authority over the Church just as the husband, “the head of the household,” does over the family. Moreover, the apostles are indeed given authority to bring forth “new” teachings as warranted by the circumstances of the Christian family (e.g. prohibiting embryonic stem cell research and cloning), teachings that are faithful to Christ’s original teaching.
14:19-20 “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over.” Catholics see the feeding(s) of the large crowds as an anticipation and foreshadowing of the Last Supper and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The word “fragments” (Greek klasmata) is used, in the singular, of the broken bread of the Eucharist in Didache 9:3-4. This episode also recalls God’s feeding of Israel in the desert with manna. See the Bread of Life Discourse in the gospel of John (Ch. 6).
14:22 “Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.” Again, further evidence of a distinction between the twelve disciples and other crowds of followers. Church governance is not a democracy.
14:28-31 “Peter said to him in reply, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how (strong) the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” A story featuring Peter is highlighted by Matthew. Again, this is evidence of the primacy of Peter. What other apostle is mentioned by name in the gospels more than Peter? No one. It is not a particularly flattering story for Peter, but it is symbolic of the Catholic faith that Jesus will not allow the Church built on the Rock of Peter to sink. And of course, there’s that phrase again “little faith” (see previous comments).
15:3, 6, 9 “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?… You have nullified the word of God for the sake of your tradition. ‘…in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’” Protestants like to say that Catholic sacraments and traditions are of man and not of God, but they are actually attested to, more or less, in Scripture and very compatible with Scripture. Moreover, the historical record demonstrates that Catholic beliefs and practices go back to the early Church while distinctly Protestant doctrines go back only five centuries or so (or pop up here and there among wildly errant heretics who even Protestants would recognize as such). So these verses have much more sting for Protestantism than for Catholicism. The former’s doctrines of Sola Interpretatio Mea Privata Scripturae, assured salvation, sola fide, and the rejection of apostolic traditions are actually all man-made traditions that the apostles would not recognize as Christian.
15:15 “Then Peter said to him in reply, ‘Explain (this) parable to us.’” Here, as in other places in the New Testament, Peter speaks on behalf of all the Twelve. Another piece of evidence for his primacy.
15:23, 25, 27-28 “His disciples came and asked him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.’… But the woman came and did him homage, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’… She said, ‘Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.’ Then Jesus said to her in reply, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’” Again, as with 8:5-13 and 9:20-22 and 9:27-29, my point is that this woman had a certain kind of faith, a faith that was matched by action, in this case her persistent calling out to Jesus and the apostles, doing him homage, and her prescient reply to Jesus.
15:36 “Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, gave thanks, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.” See my comment for 14:19-20.
16:4 “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” See my comments for 12:39.
16:12 “Then they understood that he was not telling them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Jesus asserts his own authority to rescind traditional Jewish laws. Interestingly, this warning comes right before Jesus confers great authority upon St. Peter.
16:16-19 “Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’” This is the key Catholic passage that stymies Protestants. The first thing to notice is that Jesus confers upon Simon a new name, Peter, which literally means “rock.” So Jesus is actually using a play on words: “you are Rock, and upon this rock….” “Rock” is a highly significant title in Scripture and no other apostle receives a new name or title from Jesus. Next, Jesus says that His church is built upon the rock that is Peter. Protestants have desperately tried to deny that Peter is the rock either by ignoring the literal translation or by gender gymnastics, saying the gender of rock and Peter don’t match. This is such a flimsy exegetical route because Jesus spoke Aramaic in which the gender “problem” disappears. Moreover, this church will not succumb to death; it will prevail over death. Combine Peter’s title with Jesus’ parable at 7:24-27 and then you have a church that will not be swept away by the raging rain, floods, and winds of time, space, and fallen human nature. Then Jesus, still talking to Peter, says He will give him alone the “keys to the kingdom of heaven.” Thus there is an intimate connection between, but not an identification of, the Church and the kingdom of heaven. Now at that time and place in history, keys were strong symbols of power and authority that belonged to great rulers. In fact, it probably refers back to Isaiah 22:15-25 where Eliakim is given “the key of the house of David” which he authoritative “opens and shuts” (22:22), keys which are passed down as with the succession of popes. Lastly, Jesus confers upon Peter (and later on the other eleven) the authority to “bind and loose.” Again, the Christian has to consider the cultural context of such a phrase to truly understand what this verse of Scripture is saying. That phrase, “bind and loose,” is found often in rabbinical literature. It refers to the giving of binding, authoritative teaching and also to excommunication from the religious community. All of this is strong, if not conclusive, Scriptural support for papal primacy and authority.
16:26 “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” Spiritual/moral needs and obligations take precedence over material needs. Alleviating poverty through state-enforced plunder and violence (among other immoral things) is not Christian.
16:27 “For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.” Again, both faith and works are necessary.
16:22-23 “Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, ‘God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you. ‘He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.’” Ironically, right after he is given authority in Scripture, Peter shows himself to be ignorant of the importance of the mission of Jesus. This episode does not have any bearing on the authority Peter was given by Christ. Jesus doesn’t take the authority back of anything. Peter just doesn’t fully understand yet what Jesus has to do. Keep in mind this is the first time in the gospel that Jesus predicts His own passion and death. None of the disciples understood then.
17:1 “After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.” Jesus established a hierarchy among the Twelve during his earthly ministry. Peter, James, and John were part of an inner circle. As with the transfiguration here, Jesus again sets these three apart in the Garden of Gethsemane (26:37). Peter is mentioned first, as usual, and is always part of the inner circle. This is more evidence of his primacy. There was a hierarchy among the Twelve, apparently three-tiered. There’s a three-tiered system now: bishop, cardinal, pope.
17:4 “Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’” As is typical in Scripture, Peter then speaks on behalf of all the disciples, or the three of them in this instance. This is more evidence of his primacy.
17:19-20 “Then the disciples approached Jesus in private and said, ‘Why could we not drive it out?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’” Again, as with 6:30, 8:26, and 15:28, there are different degrees of faithfulness to God. The faith of one Christian is not just as good as the faith of any other Christian.
17:24-25 “When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, ‘Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?‘ ‘Yes,’ he said.“ Again, it is Peter mentioned in Scripture. The collectors approach him, not another disciple. And he speaks on behalf of Jesus. This is more evidence of his primacy.
17:25-27 “When he came into the house, before he had time to speak, Jesus asked him, ‘What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?’ When he said, ‘From foreigners,’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the subjects are exempt. But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you.’” Here we have one of many private conversations and episodes between Peter and Jesus. How many private conversations does Jesus have with other disciples in Scripture? Few to none, I believe. Moreover, Jesus miraculously pays the tax for Peter, not for any other disciple. This is more evidence of his primacy. It should also be noted that Jesus pays the tax not because he has to but to keep the peace temporarily. That seems to be the same situation of conservatives right now paying unfair taxes to D.C.
18:2-4 “He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” What? The greatest is not the one who most cleverly and talentedly interprets Scripture according to his or her private reason?! Yep, that’s right. Child-like humility and obedience to the legitimate authority of the Church is necessary. In fact, it is the first step in responsibly using one’s reason to understand traditional Catholic doctrines.
18:7 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” False teachers and abusive Church leaders will receive great punishment, if not damnation. Note that such abuses “must come” according to Jesus. But sinful conduct by clergy cannot undermine the Church that Jesus promised would prevail. And the fact that it has prevailed for almost 2000 yrs despite some heinous historical abuses by its leaders is evidence of this promise.
18:8-9 “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into fiery Gehenna.” As with 5:29-30, just as good deeds are necessary to enter the kingdom, sin leads to damnation. Sin is a serious issue for the disciple of Christ: no sacrifice is too large to avoid sin and thus avoid hell.
18:10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” Scriptural evidence, if not proof, for guardian angels.
18:15, 17-18 “”If your brother sins (against you)…. If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The bracketed words “against you” are widely attested but they are not in the important codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus or in some other textual witnesses. This broadens the potential sin in question, including heresy. The “church” referred to here is the local church. Now what is the point of Jesus saying “tell the church” unless the church actually has real authority as a visible, unified, identifiable institution? The judgment of the local church (which we know from elsewhere in Scripture and from history was headed by a presbyter/bishop) is binding, ratified in heaven. These verses also justify the Catholic doctrine of excommunication, the expulsion of a defiant, unrepentant sinner/heretic from the community. The important point here is that individual Christians, though obligated to forgive, do not bind and loose. What was previously granted to Peter alone is granted to the other eleven. All of Chapter 18 seems to be addressed to the Twelve alone (verse 1: “At that time the disciples approached Jesus….”). This is the original, traditional interpretation of these verses.
18:34-35 “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” Forgiveness for the Christian depends not merely on faith but also on obedience to the will of God. One element of that obedience is forgiving everyone who sins against you. We must forgive to be forgiven. The Father’s forgiveness, already given, will be withdrawn at the final judgment for those who have not imitated His forgiveness by forgiving others. No one can “pay back the whole debt” without God.
19:3-6, 9 “Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?’ He said in reply, ‘Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator “made them male and female” and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate…. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.’ As in 5:31-32, Jesus deepens the law. The Mosaic law recognized divorce as legitimate, but he asserts an absolute prohibition of divorce. Infidelity is no excuse for divorce. The “unlawful” marriage referred to is incest of various kinds, which did happen among Gentiles of the time.
19:10-12 “[His] disciples said to him, ‘If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ He answered, ‘Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted.’ Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.’” This must be a very puzzling passage for the Protestant, who rejects vocational celibacy. Protestantism ignores these verses and this command from Jesus, for there are no Protestants who renounce marriage and take vows of celibacy. The religious life which includes a vow of celibacy is a calling, a vocation, something “that is granted” to a person. If Protestant hostility to celibacy can’t be Scriptural, it has to derive from perverted modern notions about sexuality and self-indulgence.
19:14 “Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” See note for 18:2-4. Also, this account is understood by some as intended to justify the practice of infant baptism. That interpretation is based principally on the command not to prevent the children from coming, since that word sometimes has a baptismal connotation in the New Testament (Acts 8:36). I think the many Scriptural attestations to whole households being baptized is a much stronger justification though (e.g. 1 Cor 1:16).
19:16-17 “Now someone approached him and said, ‘Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?’ He answered him, ‘Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’” Again, obedience to the commandments of God, esp. the 10 foundational ones, is necessary to have eternal life, i.e. salvation. Notice Jesus does NOT say: “You don’t have to do anything at all, let alone anything good. Just believe in me and sin boldly all you want.”
19:21 “Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” Every self-proclaimed biblical literalist/fundamentalist should be a naked, wandering beggar who doesn’t even possess a Bible. Protestants arbitrarily and unauthoritatively pick and choose when they want to take a certain passage literally and when they want to take it figuratively. Jesus gave this command only to this man who approached him; it is a command for one who seeks extraordinary perfection. The fundamental lesson is that Christians must be willing to let go of any superfluous personal possessions to help the poor in their community. We must not be possessed by our own possessions. This verse is justification for the vow of poverty that Catholic clergy take.
19:22-24 “When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’” The rich are under heavy scrutiny by God because they have the most to give to the poor in charitable compassion and are often too attached to their wealth. Moreover, in those ancient times, the rich usually did not obtain their wealth by moral means (i.e. providing goods and services in the marketplace) but through coercion and inheritance. Actual renunciation of all riches is not demanded of all; Matthew counts the rich Joseph of Arimathea to be a disciple of Jesus. The “poor in spirit” will enter the kingdom (5:3).
19:27 “Then Peter said to him in reply, ‘We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?’” Again, Peter is mentioned and speaks on behalf of the Twelve. This is more evidence of his primacy. This is also Scriptural support for priestly celibacy. The apostles gave up their wives or at least marital relations with them.
19:28 “Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’” The Twelve are set apart from all other followers of Jesus. They were given governing authority over the New Israel that did not end with their deaths. And they will participate in the authority of Christ apparently at the Last Judgment. (This verse also helps confirm that when Matthew says “disciples,” he means the Twelve.)
20:14-15 “Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? (Or) am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?” This parable of the workers in the vineyard teaches Christians that salvation doesn’t depend on when someone becomes a Christian. We cannot be jealous or bitter toward such people like the older son in the parable of the prodigal son. One could convert on one’s deathbed or maybe even after death perhaps if one had never had a chance to hear the gospel. But such a conversion must be sincere to be saving, and a life full of wickedness may preclude such last minute sincerity.
20:17 “As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve (disciples) aside by themselves, and said to them on the way….” Again, in Matthew, “disciples” refers to the Twelve, who are given special attention and authority by Jesus among all his followers. That the Twelve seem to grumble among themselves in Scripture about who is the greatest is also evidence that they were treated differently by Jesus relative to the rest of his followers.
20:25-28 “But Jesus summoned them and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” Jesus does not deny that some have authority and that some do not. Rather, he explains how the Twelve are to exercise the authority that he has conferred upon them. This verse is the inspiration for Pope Gregory the Great’s (and all subsequent popes’) title: Servus Servorum Dei. Also the last line indicates that “many,” but not all, will accept the grace, salvation, service, and ransom that Jesus offers all mankind. Also, what implications do you think this verse has for slavery as an institution?
21:12-13 “Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those engaged in selling and buying there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And he said to them, ‘It is written: “My house shall be a house of prayer,” but you are making it a den of thieves.’” Buying, selling, and money-changing in themselves are not evil. These market activities were not secular in nature but directly related to Jewish worship in the temple. Thus Jesus is actually asserting is authority over the Jewish authorities in this episode.
21:19 “Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went over to it, but found nothing on it except leaves. And he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again.’ And immediately the fig tree withered.” This cursing of the fig tree is not random but means something symbolically. It is a sign of the judgment that is to come upon Israel who, with all its apparent piety, lacks the fruit of good deeds (Matthew 3:10) and will soon bear the punishment of its fruitlessness (Matthew 21:43). Some scholars propose that this story is the development in tradition of a parable of Jesus about the destiny of a fruitless tree, such as Luke 13:6-9. Again, one MUST bear fruit to achieve salvation.
21:21 “Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, if you have faith and do not waver, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,” it will be done.’” It is possible to waver from the faith. Thus one can indeed lose one’s faith and fall from grace through willful disobedience.
21:23-24 “When he had come into the temple area, the chief priests and the elders of the people approached him as he was teaching and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?’ Jesus said to them in reply, ‘I shall ask you one question, and if you answer it for me, then I shall tell you by what authority I do these things.’” Jesus does not deny that religious authority exists, for often he appeals to his own authority apart from Scripture. Religious truth is dependent on legitimately established authority. By what authority do Protestants believe what they do? None. They have no authority and never have, going all the way back to Luther. They have no authority to interpret Scripture definitively and to live by their own interpretations. Scripture is secondary but complementary to legitimate authority, whether it be Jesus or the Church, which established Scripture’s Table of Contents (an unbiblical tradition of Protestants).
21:41 “They answered him, ‘He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.’” Again, this parable teaches that the Christian must “give God the produce” if he really believes. Action is necessary.
21:43 “Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” The kingdom of God will be taken away from any Protestant (and any Christian) who does not produce fruit worthy of the kingdom.
22:10-14 “The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.” The parable of the wedding feast (salvation in Isaiah 25:6) is also indicative of Catholic doctrine. The first to be invited into God’s kingdom are the Jews, but they reject the invitation. Then God invites the Gentiles, but not everyone who nominally accepts the Lord’s invitation in “faith” is chosen to stay. The true Christian wears the “wedding garment” of good deeds. Those who do not are cast out into hell and receive the same punishment as those who refused to believe to begin with. One cannot merely waltz into heaven because one wants to; one must prepare oneself for the occasion through obedience.
22:20-21 “He said to them, ‘Whose image is this and whose inscription?’ They replied, ‘Caesar’s.’ At that he said to them, ‘Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.’” Here Jesus establishes the principle of the institutional separation of church and state. He side-steps the trap of the Pharisees by merely restating the classical definition of justice. He is silent on what exactly does belong to the state. It is implied apparently that we must pay taxes for legitimate government functions, but this verse is not a blank check for tyranny/socialism.
22:29-30 “Jesus said to them in reply, ‘You are misled because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven.’” The sexual relationships of this world will be transcended; the risen body will be the work of the creative power of God. Sex is a sacred instrument of love and procreation, but, contrary to modern sexolatry, it is NOT essential for happiness, fulfillment, or salvation of any kind. There will be no sexuality in heaven.
23:1-3 “Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.’” The authoritative “chair of Moses” was replaced by the authoritative “chair of St. Peter.” Jesus tells his disciples to temporarily observe the Mosaic law for now, but the context of the rest of Scripture makes it clear that the early Church had to and did break off from Jewish authority with regard to what laws and practices were binding.
Also, the “chair of Moses” cannot be found in Old Testament Scripture, making it an unbiblical tradition with respect to the Old Testament. This further undermines the heretical notion of sola Scriptura.
23:13 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.” The locking by the Pharisees is in stark contrast to the opening by St. Peter who was given the keys to the kingdom by Jesus (Mt 16:19). The purpose of the authority expressed by that metaphor is to give entrance into the kingdom (the kingdom is closed only to those who reject the authority); here the charge is made by Jesus that the authority of the scribes and Pharisees is exercised in such a way as to be an obstacle to entrance. Also cf. Lk 11:52 where the accusation against the “scholars of the law” (Matthew’s scribes) is that they “have taken away the key of knowledge.” The keys of St. Peter restore Christian truth.
23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. (But) these you should have done, without neglecting the others.” Besides rejecting Jesus and participating in his murder, the sin of the Pharisees was not that they had the law or observed the law. It is that they perverted the law in some cases and ignored the most important laws, especially with regard to inner moral purity. And Jesus isn’t denouncing tithes here either; He is merely pointing out their relative value morally.
23:37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling!” Just like the Jews of old, we all have a choice. God yearns to save all, but we must willfully choose to believe and obey to take advantage of the free offer of grace. The coexistence of grace and free will is a mystery, but both must be accepted.
24:10-13 “And then many will be led into sin; they will betray and hate one another.Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved.” I think there have been many apostates and false prophets, esp. within the more liberal Christian churches, but these churches are the children of the Protestant Revolution and its heresy of Sola Interpretatio Mea Privata Scripturae. And thus there has been an increase in evildoing in America over time. But he who perseveres in the true faith to the end will be saved. That’s right: it doesn’t matter if you once professed Jesus to be your Lord and Savior sometime in the past. Who we are, what we believe, and what we have done by the time of our death is what matters most for our salvation, not some long gone instant of a profession of faith.
24:24 “False messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if that were possible, even the elect.” Notice that this verse seems to contradict certainty of assured salvation.
24:44-46, 48-51 “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master on his arrival finds doing so…. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is long delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eat and drink with drunkards, the servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” Wicked, hypocritical servants will be punished, even clergy. Now tell me, what is it in Protestantism that demands preparedness in any sense of the word? Nothing. One merely “believes” and then goes about one’s merry way in life. Sure, many Protestants strive to be and even achieve great holiness here on earth, but that is not for the purpose of preparation in the urgent and dire Scriptural sense. Such obedience is apparently optional to the Protestant. “Faith” has prepared all for them, which is silly. One mere mental assent to Jesus as Lord and Savior is not preparation nor faith. Preparation is a process over time and requires action and discipline. Husband and wife are faithful over time, not merely because they said “I do” on their wedding day that began their unique relationship.
All of Chapter 25 is about salvation and the Final Judgment.
25:1-13 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise ones replied, ‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’ While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” This is another parable stressing preparedness to enter the kingdom of heaven. See me previous comment. Again, it is not enough to merely want to enter the kingdom, acknowledging the Bridegroom; one must be ready for it in obedience. To fall asleep is to sin and fall away from grace and the faith.
25:14-30 “It will be as when a man who was going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one–to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money. After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ (Then) the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’ His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’” God is “a demanding person.” He demands obedience, though He will mercifully forgive sins that we sincerely repent. The “wicked, lazy servant” was punished for what he did NOT do; this would be sins of omission. If we do not return an “interest” to God in the form of obedience and good works “each according to his ability,” then we will be thrown “into the darkness outside,” i.e. hell. Also, again, Jesus uses a very capitalist parable that mentions a kind of “usury.” Interesting….
25:31-46 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Jesus cites actions for why the sheep are let into the kingdom of heaven. The goats are damned for what they did not do, as with the “wicked, lazy servant.” Again, not everyone gets into heaven.
26:6-11 “Now when Jesus was in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil, and poured it on his head while he was reclining at table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant and said, ‘Why this waste? It could have been sold for much, and the money given to the poor.’ Since Jesus knew this, he said to them, ‘Why do you make trouble for the woman? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me.’” This passage supports the Catholic practice of “costly” church buildings, chalices, statues, stain glass, organs, and other material objects that glorify God. Helping the poor is NOT the first commandment.
26:14 “Then one of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests….” Again, there is something special about “the Twelve” as opposed to all the followers of Jesus.
26:20 “When it was evening, he reclined at table with the Twelve.” Again, there is something special about “the Twelve” as opposed to all the followers of Jesus. Only they were at the Last Supper.
26:26-28 “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.’” Here Jesus institutes the sacrament of the Eucharist. Jesus is very short and to the point, according to Matthew. There is no indication whatsoever that Jesus is speaking figuratively, which wouldn’t make any sense really. Plus this literal interpretation is the original, traditional interpretation of the early Church which believed in transustantiation. Ireneaus, early father transub
26:31-35 “Then Jesus said to them, ‘This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken, for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed”; but after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee.’ Peter said to him in reply, ‘Though all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Amen, I say to you, this very night before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all the disciples spoke likewise.” Faith in Jesus can be shaken, despite what we presently say and think. Again, Peter is highlighted from among the Twelve. This is more evidence of his primacy.
26:36-37 “Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress.” As with the transfiguration scene (17:1), the inner circle of three disciples with Peter alone mentioned first and by name.
26:40-41 “He said to Peter, ‘So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’” Again, only Peter is addressed.
26:47 “While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived….” Again, “the Twelve” is distinguished among Jesus’ followers.
26:52-54 “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way?’” I note this passage only to combat notions of pacifism that infect some Christian denominations. Jesus doesn’t say throw the sword away but to put it ”back into its sheath.” Then was not the time to act heroically on behalf of a friend. Jesus could have defended Himself if He wanted to. But He was obedient to the Father, so that the Scripture prophecies could be fulfilled.
26:56, 58 “Then all the disciples left him and fled…. Peter was following him at a distance as far as the high priest’s courtyard, and going inside he sat down with the servants to see the outcome.” Peter alone, according to Matthew, did not leave and flee. More evidence of primacy.
26:69-70 “Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. One of the maids came over to him and said, ‘You too were with Jesus the Galilean.’ But he denied it in front of everyone….” Again, an episode that highlights Peter alone. There are few such gospel stories that focus on other individual disciples; there are many of just Peter.
27:57-60 “When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who was himself a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be handed over. Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it (in) clean linen and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock.” The reason I note this passage is because it shows a rich man who is deemed a follower of Jesus, even though he is rich. He uses his riches in the service of God, for a tomb for Jesus. Remember, we’re still looking at the same gospel where Jesus told the young man to sell all his possessions. Obviously, one doesn’t have to be completely destitute to be a disciple. In fact, Scripture gives hints that relatively wealthy women supported the ministry of Jesus and his disciples (Lk 8:5)
28:16 “The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.” This is more confirmation that when Matthew says “disciples” elsewhere, he means the Twelve.
28:19-20 “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Jesus tells the apostles to go make the Church catholic, i.e. universal. This is also the only verse in Scripture that even comes close to supporting the doctrine of the Trinity, the tradition of the Triune God. The verse does not explicitly and comprehensively lay out the doctrine of the Trinity, yet Protestants still believe it. One might say this is an “unbiblical” tradition that Protestants still choose to believe. Jesus is only speaking to the 11 here. While we are all called to evangelize and teach others, only the apostles and their successors may teach with binding authority. Lastly, Jesus is ever -present in the Church until He comes again, esp. in the Eucharist and through the Holy Spirit.