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Lead Us Not into Temptation, BUT… Finish the Sentence! (Part 2)

A guest post bFr Andrew Dalton, LC (andrew.dalton@upra.org).

This post is the third in a series of guest posts in response to Dr. Mark Ward’s post on the LogosTalk Blog that addressed Pope Francis’s recent comments on the translation of the Our Father .  The first guest post addressed the context of the Pope’s comments.  The second, and the first part of this one, focused more directly on the Our Father.

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt 6:13). The Our Father ends with one two-part request. What therefore God hath joined, let not man put asunder. This unity is good news for the interpreter. If the sixth petition seems enigmatic, the seventh sheds light on its meaning. To understand the whole, we will need to understand four principle parts: 1) lead into 2) temptation, 3) deliver, and 4) evil.

In my previous post, we explored the first key term, eispherō (to lead into). I argued that Scripture does not distinguish God’s active and permissive will. Especially in light of Matthew 26:41, it is likely that, for Matthew, “lead us not into temptation” is interchangeable with “do not let us enter into temptation.”

In what follows, I shall have to address several open questions:

  1. What does peirasmos mean: trial, temptation, or both?
  2. How does our answer affect our understanding of eispherō?
  3. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that the Greek verb eispherō also carries the force of “do not let us yield to temptation” (cf. CCC 2846). Can such a position be defended?
  4. For Matthew, the Tempter is clearly Satan. Does the Father tempt us too?
  5. Why does the Father sometimes lead us into temptation?
  6. What does “but deliver us from evil” mean with regard to the sixth petition?

The Second Key Term: Temptation (peirasmos)

The noun πειρασμός (peirasmos) comes from the verb πειράζω (peirazō), which means “to test or to tempt.” Two basic concepts underlie one Greek word, so the sixth petition means, 1) “do not bring us into trial,” 2) “do not bring us into temptation,” or 3) “do not bring us into trial or temptation.”

Clarifying the Concepts

It is important to distinguish these terms. A “trial” refers to a source of suffering. A “temptation” signifies a specific type of trial (or test). Every “temptation” implies a trial, but not every “trial” implies a temptation. A “trial” has no necessary relationship to sin, but “temptation” means enticement to sin. To experience temptation is not to commit sin, but to consent to temptation is. Discovering your sister’s secret piggy bank is one thing; stealing it is another. Temptation is not a cause of sin, but it is an occasion of sin. (No, the devil did not make you do it, but he did make it easy for you to do!) An effect depends upon a cause, but the relationship between an effect and an occasion is not one of dependence (or contingency). Temptation can and often does result in sin, but not necessarily. Temptation is spiritual danger (cf. 1 Cor 10:13); sin is spiritual harm or death (1 John 5:16-17).

An illustration will help clarify these concepts further. Temptation is like a slippery slope leading to a lava pit. To sin is to plummet into the pit. Falling into temptation is one thing; falling after temptation is another. Temptation should not be conflated with sin, but the concept of sin is included in its definition. Whereas the word “trial” bespeaks a state of suffering, “temptation” is always referential (or better, intentional), like a vector with a known destination: unless you counter it, it will conduce to sin. If grace is the way to virtue, temptation is the way to sin.

The graphic above can be read allegorically. Man holds a string in his Hand, the other end of which the Tempter tugs, hoping Man will take the “way in” to sin. The Deliverer offers a “way out” (ἔκβασις, ekbasis, cf. 1 Cor 10:13): Man must unhand Temptation and cling to Grace. Which to choose? That is the question. All the drama lies in the Hand—a fitting symbol for the human will. “If you choose, you can keep the commandments” (Sir 15:13). The enemy can only harm those who give consent, just as God can only crown the one who “competes according to the rules” (2 Tim 2:5). Consent, then, constitutes the crucial line between virtue and vice, between victory and the fall.

The graphic also helps correct a misreading of the sixth petition. Translations like “do not let us enter into temptation”—and its close relative, “do not let us fall into temptation”—should not be taken to mean, “do not let us fall into sin,” except by way of a fortiori extrapolation. If we pray, “Do not let us take the way to Vegas,” then we have all the more reason to pray, “Do not let us arrive to Vegas.” Nevertheless, the words of these two expressions are not equivalent, nor do they carry the same force. Only by inference can we speak to the moment of arrival, for the moment mentioned was that of departure.

Matthew’s Iconic Peirasmos Passage

Matthew gives his own picture of peirasmos: the garden of Gethsemane illuminates the sixth (and seventh) petition. How does this portrait shed light on the notion of “entering into” peirasmos?

Jesus takes a small band of apostles to the garden, among them James and John. These same brothers once asked for a share in Christ’s glory, to which Jesus responded, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matt 20:22). He went on to say, “You will drink my cup” (Matt 20:22). When will they? Matthew’s readers did not have to wait long to know. Indeed, Jesus commanded that the disciples share in his cup just moments before getting to Gethsemane. At the Last Supper, Jesus took a cup, which he called “my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28). Then, in the garden, the image of the cup reappears. Jesus prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matt 26:39). Yet, this prayer he did not wish to pray alone.

Jesus told the disciples, “watch with me” (Matt 26:38). Again he instructed them, “pray that [ἵνα, hina] you may not enter into temptation” (Matt 26:41). Now, pious preaching has sometimes assumed that the disciples must watch and pray in order to console Christ. Perhaps that is part of his purpose, yet the reason Jesus gives is different. They must pray primarily for their sake, not his. Peirasmos is at hand, and unless they are vigilant and prayerful, they will enter into it.

But what does it mean to enter in? The circumstances clarify the answer. The disciples are seduced by sleep, again and again. As they enter into temptation, their peirasmos begins, but no fall is automatic or immediate. Jesus’ repeated pleas suggest that there is still time to escape what temptation tends toward—namely, sin—if only they would heed his voice.

Yes, Jesus brings his disciples to the slippery slope, as it were. One might say that he “leads” them into a place or period of peirasmos. In the measure they persist in slumber, despite divine exhortation, they are “yielding” more completely, “entering” more deeply into temptation.

Do Not Let Us Yield to Temptation

Reread in this light, “lead us not into temptation,” is not equivalent to “do not let us sin.” The expression, “in (times of) temptation, do not let us fall” is equally wrong. Falling “into” (εἰς, eis) temptation marks the beginning of a process; falling “in” temptation could mark the end of one (as in falling “when” tempted).  In the Our Father, on the other hand, we pray, “do not let us yield an inch along the slippery slope; do not let us give the devil a chance to work on us (cf. Eph 4:27); do not allow us to take the way that leads to sin” (cf. CCC 2846).

Who is the Tempter?

Having analyzed two key terms (eispherō and peirasmos), we are better poised to consider the problem of the sixth petition: if “it is necessary that temptations come” (Matt 18:7), and if sometimes God does “lead into” the place of temptation (Matt 4:1), why does Jesus teach his disciples to pray, “Father, do not bring us into temptation?”

But does the Father tempt us? To answer, we have to put the key terms together.

Two actions (leading into and tempting) leave room for two agents (a leader and a tempter). Alternatively, one agent may accomplish both actions. Therefore, the sixth petition is open to two possible interpretations: (1) Father, lead us not into the place where you tempt us; or (2) Father, lead us not into the place where the enemy tempts us. Which interpretation is right?

Scripture clearly shows which interpretation is wrong. According to James 1:13, God himself tempts no one. The verb in that verse is πειράζω (peirazō). God is never the agent who entices someone to sin. That is not to say, however, that God never leads anyone into a time or place of enticement. In fact, God the Spirit did “lead” Jesus into the desert “to be tempted by the devil” (Matt 4:1). Yes, “tempted”—not “tested”—is the proper translation (pace Yaceczko), as the devil’s commands make clear (Matt 4:6, 9). If some commentators think it “absurd” that “one of God’s creatures could ‘tempt’ him,” it is because they fail to consider a Tempter who fails in a vain pursuit. Clearly, God led at least one person into temptation. Now, he is not the cause of the tempting, but he can be the cause of the leading in. Dr. Ward puts it simply: “God can lead us into temptation without being the tempter.”

This distinction has escaped some great minds. Donald Hagner argues that “testing”—not “temptation”—“is to be preferred because God does not lead into temptation (cf. Jas 1:13).” This is a non sequitur. Unfortunately, D. A. Carson and John Nolland use the same faulty reasoning. Moreover, James 1:13 does not say “God does not lead into temptation.” Rather, it says, “God tempts no one.” The mistake is to assume that the tempter must be the one who is leading into temptation. Once the non-necessity of this identification is noted, James 1:13 offers no support for “testing” in lieu of “temptation.”

To his credit, Dr. Ward avoids this error. Nevertheless, when he suggests that the Pope try the translation, “Do not lead us into hard testing” or “Lead us not into trials,” he does so by appealing to some commentators who use deficient reasoning to reach their conclusions. Now, those conclusions are true—i.e., we can rightly pray, “do not bring us into the test” (as Catholics in Hong Kong will attest)—because the word peirasmos carries this general sense, and because this is one dimension of the prayer’s meaning. (In passing, I should say that “testing” is preferable to “the test” since there is no article in Greek.)

There is no reason, however, to exclude the specific meaning (“temptation”). Et-et, non aut-aut. Moreover, the trial that we are most interested in not being led into is the trial of temptation. For this reason, the traditional translation is better than “testing” or “trial.” Whereas “hard testing” is directly associated with suffering, “temptation” is directly oriented toward sin. When facing the latter, we risk greater loss. The God who protects us from “testing” is big, but the God who keeps us from “temptation” is bigger.

If translators feel constrained to use only one word, “temptation” is better than “trial.” Still, the Italian adage is true: “traduttore, traditore,” which I (traitorously) render, “every translator is a traitor.” Every translation presupposes and presents an interpretation. Either translation of peirasmos—“trial” or “temptation”—reduces the semantic scope of the original word. To avoid limiting the original affirmation, we could pray, “lead us not into trial or temptation.”

We should pause to contemplate what this implies. If both words are viable translations—such that “trial” or “temptation” in the place of peirasmos would render a true statement—then God can lead us into trials and temptations. It is timely to mention that in Greek, “lead us not” (μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς, mē eisenenkēs), is an aorist subjunctive, not a present one. This may suggest that the one who prays is aware that God will not always keep away every temptation.

The toughest question is, “Why would our heavenly Father ever want to lead us into either trial or temptation?” The seventh petition will cast considerable light upon this confusion, but so will a Matthean metaphor for temptation. Let us begin with the latter.

Matthew’s Metaphor for Temptation

In this study, we are trying to surmise how Matthew understands the expression, “lead us not into temptation.” Ordinary prose is only one tool an author uses to describe reality, and so, in addition to peirasmos and peirazō, we should examine what synonyms and metaphors of temptation Matthew employs. What does his language show? Is there a difference between a cause and an occasion of sin? If so, which is temptation?

Matthew himself helps answer these questions, and modern translations have detected the answer. To explain how this is the case, first note some synonyms of “temptation.” Modern dictionaries list several: e.g. “enticement, attraction, seduction.” Matthew, however, uses none of these. Yet, in Matthew 18:7-8, he does use a figure: the “stumbling block,” (σκάνδαλον, skandalon) and its corresponding verb, “to make to stumble” (σκανδαλίζω, skandalizō).

An overly literal translation of this passage might read as follows:

Woe to the world from the stumbling-blocks! for there is a necessity for the stumbling-blocks to come, but woe to that man through whom the stumbling-block doth come! And if thy hand or thy foot doth cause thee to stumble, cut them off and cast from thee (Matt 18:7f, Young’s Literal Translation).

Most translations, however, rightly see in Matthew’s “stumbling block” a metaphorical reference to “sin” even though the word never appears: ta skandala are “temptations to sin,” and skandalizō is “to cause to sin.” Consider the ESV translation:

Woe to the world for temptations to sin [τῶν σκανδάλων, tōn skandalōn]! For it is necessary that temptations [τὰ σκάνδαλα, ta skandala] come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation [τὸ σκάνδαλον, to skandalon] comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin [σκανδαλίζει, skandalizei], cut it off and throw it away (Matt 18:7f ESV).

Consider how Matthew’s metaphor reveals a truth about the causal dynamics of temptation. How does a “stumbling block” (skandalon) “cause” one to fall? Does a block of stone tackle the passerby? Does an inanimate object positively cause one to stumble? Obviously not. Granted, if placed in the middle of the road, such a stone makes it easy for one to fall. To be precise, it is the occasion, not the cause, of stumbling. This truth shines through in one Spanish translation of skandalizō: “And if your hand or foot is an occasion for you to sin, cut it off” (Si, pues, tu mano o tu pie te es ocasión de pecado, córtatelo) (cf. Matt 18:8 in the Biblia de Jerusalén Latinoamericana).

Notice what translators have recognized: 1) ta skandala can be rendered “temptations to sin,” even if the words are not literally equivalent; 2) this choice is justified because Matthew has described an occasion for falling, viz, a stumbling block that occasions one to trip; 3) therefore, translators understand “temptation” to be an occasion of sin.

One might object, “What about some translations that read, ‘And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away’” (Matt 18:8)? Surely, temptation is seen as the cause of sin.

The conclusion does not necessarily follow. I have no contention with this kind of “overreach” precisely because hagiographers have a habit of dodging the distinction between the active and passive will. Given the scenario given by the evangelist, it is clear that this so-called “cause” is, in fact, no more than an “occasion.” If not, why do so many stones fail to result in a fall? Here, “cause” carries the force of “occasion.”

In this knowledge, “lead us not into temptation” is equivalent to “do not let us take the road riddled with the stumbling blocks,” i.e., “lead us not into an occasion of sin.” Strictly speaking, it is not equivalent to “lead us not into a cause of sin.” Even further removed is the expression, “do not let us sin.” These requests might be good, pious and salutary, but they are not what Matthew’s text has expressed, nor do they reflect his own understanding of temptation.

In passing, we should note a confirmation of the thesis presented in the previous post, namely that Scripture often uses active-will language where there is no active-will reality. The stone that “scandalizes us does not scheme, much less execute, our fall, but it does sometimes occasion our collapse. Of course, many times we pass it by unscathed. There is no necessary causal relationship (contingency) between the effect (the fall) and the occasion (the stumbling block/temptation).

The Third Key Term: Evil (ponēros)

Let us segue out of the sixth petition and into the seventh—“but deliver us from evil”—which finishes the sentence. This commonplace nomenclature of “sixth petition” and “seventh petition” is a mere rhetorical convenience. Together they form one complete thought.

Since we have just examined peirasmos, which can have the broad meaning “trial,” it is timely to examine “evil,” which is similar. I find three Matthean synonyms of peirasmos, understood as “trial”: trouble (κακία, kakia), affliction (μαλακία, malakia), and evil (πονηρός, ponēros). This last word appears in the Our Father. What range of meanings does it have?

Matthew uses the word ponēros to refer to wicked people (Matt 5:39, 45; 12:34f; 13:49; 22:10), wicked thoughts (Matt 9:4), wicked dispositions (Matt 20:15), sickness (Matt 6:23), suffering (Matt 5:11), an enemy (Matt 5:38), or Satan (Matt 13:19, 38).

No single English translation can reproduce the rich ambiguity of the Greek: ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ, alla rhysai hēmas apo tou ponērou. “But deliver us from evil” is only one possibility of the text. The form πονηροῦ (ponērou) could be the genitive of the neuter πονηρόν (ponēron, evil), or it could be the genitive of the masculine πονηρός (ponēros, Evil One). Interestingly, the Nova Vulgata opts for the latter (sed libera nos a Malo, cf. Matt 6:13). Thus, there is another possible link between the peirasmos and ponērou: the “evil one” (cf. Matt 13:38) is called “the tempter” (ὁ πειράζων, ho peirazōn) only in Matthew 4:3.

For Matthew, then, the Tempter is clearly Satan. But could the Father be one too? Matthew does not explicitly answer this question, but we do find light in the New Testament.

God never wants our spiritual harm (sin) because he loves us, and “to love” means to will the good of another. Yet, God sometimes wants to expose us to spiritual danger (peirasmos) for the same reason (cf. Jas 1:2-4). To revisit a metaphor, God sometimes leads his people to the slippery slope, not to destroy them, but “that he might humble [them] and test [them], to do [them] good in the end” (Deut 8:16).

If it seems cruel for a father to treat his child in this way, we should recall Paul’s promise: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13).

Paul explicitly recognizes a divine allowance. Apparently, God will let you to be tempted (cf. also Matt 4:1, 18:7), but “he will not allow [ἐάσει, easei] you be tempted beyond your ability.” Rather, he will supply you the grace to overcome temptation: “with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape.” Here, the emphatic adverb καί (kai), meaning “also,” suggests that God does leave room for the Tempter to operate, but not so much that the fall is inevitable.

Still, the fall is possible and, de facto, frequent. If this divine allowance results in our defeat, contrary to his intention, why does he allow it? To answer that question, we must analyze the last term, “to deliver.”

The Fourth Key Term: Deliver (rhyomai)

The verb “deliver” (ῥῦσαι, rhysai) comes from the verb ῥύομαι (rhyomai), which has two basic meanings: 1) to spare or 2) to rescue. Therefore, the seventh petition means, 1) “spare us evil/the evil one,” or 2) “rescue us from evil/the evil one,” or 3) “spare and rescue us from evil/the evil one.”

An illustration will help distinguish these two meanings of “deliver.” Two ships bound for London were boarding passengers—one in New York, the other in New Jersey. Hearing news of inclement weather, the captain in New York canceled his trip, and the passengers went home. The captain in New Jersey, however, decided to set sail. Two days later, a storm hit, and the ship sunk. A team rescued only one passenger. The story illustrates two ways of being delivered. The passengers from New York were spared the storm; in this way, they were delivered. Among the New Jersey passengers, none were spared the storm, but one was rescued. In other words, “spare” and “rescue” are two different ways of being “delivered.”

Deliver as Spare

Let us consider the first possibility, “deliver” as “spare.” The psalms certainly give a precedent for this meaning. “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, […] that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine” (Ps 33:18f, cf. LXX).  Many prayers for deliverance seem to envision the evasion of evil: e.g., “Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord! I have fled to you for refuge” (Ps 143:9). Now, if the enemy on the horizon happens to be the prince of demons, there will be especially strong incentive to pray, “Spare us the evil one,” i.e., “keep him far away!”

Deliver as Rescue

Sometimes, however, “deliver” does not signify “spare” at all. Consider Psalm 34:19 (cf. LXX): “Many are the evils of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” Obviously, one who experiences “many evils” cannot be “spared” them. In this context, “deliver” means “rescue,” and not “spare.”

Which meaning of “deliver” best fits the Our Father: “spare,” “rescue,” or both? The answer will need to accommodate the adversative conjunction, “but” (ἀλλὰ, alla), that begins the seventh petition.

Accommodating Alla

“Lead us not into peirasmos, but (alla) spare us evil.” Does this formulation make sense? Not really. The first and second halves are too similar to make sense of the adversative conjunction, which signals some sort of antithesis. If this were the best reading, another conjunction would work better: “keep us from peirasmos,” and “keep us from evil.” I suspect this misreading lurks behind the Spanish mistranslation, “and deliver us from evil” (y líbranos de mal).

If ponēros means “the evil one,” however, “spare” could make sense of the conjunction. To explain, imagine two doors: behind the first one lies testing/temptation, behind the second one, Satan himself. You might be inclined to pray, “Father, lead me not into door one, but—please, please—spare me door two!” In other words, the adversative conjunction could contemplate a “worst-case scenario” (cf. France).

Though logical, I doubt this is the primary meaning of the seventh petition. We must consider the possibility that “deliver” means “rescue.”

“Rescue us from evil/the evil one” makes much better sense, especially in light of our analysis of temptation. Temptation is the occasion of sin, and de facto often leads to sin. Temptations must come (cf. Matt 18:7), and we might yield to them, fall down, or even die spiritually (cf. Luke 15:24; Col 2:13; 1 John 5:16). We might commit all kinds of ungodly sins, but hope should never die. For “the Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob; and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins” (Rom 11:26).

The seventh petition, therefore, goes beyond the notion of protection from peirasmos and even addresses sin. In this way, the seventh petition extends and intensifies the meaning of the sixth. One very important dimension of the seventh petition (unmentioned by the sixth) echoes the prayer of the psalmist, “Deliver me from all my transgressions” (Ps 39:8). As seen above, if the sixth petition can reach this idea at all, it is only by way of inference, i.e., a fortiori extrapolation.

In sum, the sixth and seventh petitions convey the following: “Father, lead us not into peirasmos, but (if it is not possible, given that some temptation must come) rescue us from evil/the evil one.” This reading accounts best for the adversative conjunction that binds the sixth and seventh petitions together. Therefore, the seventh petition is best taken to mean, “Father, if and when we find ourselves in any spiritual danger, whether hard testing or temptation, rescue us from whatever risk remains and from whatever damage is actually done.”

“Rescue us from evil/the evil one” also makes better sense in light of Christ’s own story.  

In Gethsemane, Jesus Taught Us to Pray, “Rescue Us.”  

Jesus’ own life story lends further support to the idea that “deliver us” in the seventh petition means “rescue us” more than “spare us” (though the worst-case scenario remains one possibility of the text). He taught his disciples how to pray not only with his words, but also by his behavior.

In Gethsemane, Christ commanded Peter to pray that he may not enter into peirasmos. Yet, the Father did not spare Jesus death-like sorrow or the fury of the cross, despite his prayer. “My father,” he prayed, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matt 26:39). Jesus’ request parallels the seventh petition. Now, as we have seen, “but rescue us from evil” follows a tacit recognition that some peirasmos must come, i.e., that it is not always possible to be spared every storm. Jesus recognizes this fact quite explicitly when he adds, “nevertheless [πλήν, plēn], not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39).

One Matthean redaction of Mark’s Gethsemane pericope is especially worth noting for our study. In Mark, Jesus prays, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36; cf. Matt 26:39). Matthew alters his source in such a way that his readers hear more easily an echo of the Our Father. Only in Matthew does Jesus add, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matt 26:42). This redaction may give us a window into Matthew’s mind.

Matthew’s reference to the final “thou-petition” (cf. Matt 6:10b) endorses the methodology of juxtaposing and comparing these two pericopes, that each may be interpreted in the light of the other.

     Matt 6:10 γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου

     Matt 26:42 γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου

Given the verbatim phraseology, it is likely that Matthew interpreted the Our Father in light of Christ’s agony. Moreover, it underscores the inexorable unity of the Lord’s Prayer, from beginning to end. Ever trustful in his Father, Jesus endured peirasmos (and even physical death), but the Father did not deny the anguished supplications of his son. Jesus knew he could always appeal to his Father (cf. Matt 26:36). As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews makes clear, early Christians read the agony in just this light: “[Jesus] was heard because of his reverence” (Heb 5:7).

Yet, one might ask, if Jesus’ prayer was accepted by the Father, why then was he not delivered from the cross?

He was! He just was not spared. Rather, he was rescued. God raised him from the dead (cf. Matt 28:6). For Jesus, “deliverance” meant post mortem resurrection.

What a sobering truth for every disciple who takes up the Lord’s Prayer!

Conclusion: Praying the Our Father with Matthean Minds

In the sixth petition, we ask for protection from temptation, not to enter into it, not to yield to its seductive power. Moreover, we ask to be kept far away from trial, aware that we will not be fully spared—and in this, the prayer of the disciple parallels Christ’s. And we finish the thought with a request for rescue from spiritual danger and deliverance from spiritual death (the seventh petition). In this way, our two-part petition parallels our Lord’s prayer in the garden.

If Christ endured trial and temptation (cf. Heb 4:15), even a cruciform peirasmos, and if he is “the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6), then we who are his followers must be ready “to take up [our] cross” (Matt 16:24). Indeed, our whole life in this world is peirasmos (cf. Job 7:1), and Jesus prayed, not that the Father “take [us] out of [it], but that [he] keep [us] from the evil one” (John 17:15). Per crucem, ad lucem!

To conclude, let us summarize the general sense of the Lord’s perfect prayer, as given by the Gospel of Matthew, having studied it in context.

Heavenly Father, spare us trial, temptation, and the evil one. But, if you see fit that we be exposed to some spiritual danger, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Do not let us enter into temptation. Some trials and temptations are bound to beset us, yet not one which you do not allow. If we do yield an inch along the slippery slope of temptation, rescue us before we fall. If we fall, then deliver us from our sin.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Fr. Andrew Dalton, LC teaches Biblical Greek and Hebrew while pursuing doctoral studies at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome. He obtained a licentiate degree in Biblical Theology from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross and a post-graduate certificate in Shroud Studies. A board member of Othonia, he lectures internationally on the Turin Shroud and The Biblical Theology of the Passion for the Science and Faith Institute in Rome.

The very stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone

 The very stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

This coming Sunday is the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time. To help you prepare to enter more deeply into Matthew 21:33–46 at worship, here is an excerpt from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew.


42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it. 44 And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on any one, it will crush him.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 But when they tried to arrest him, they feared the multitudes, because they held him to be a prophet.[1]

Jesus saith to them. Here, the confirmation of the judgment is related. Firstly, a passage of Scripture is cited; and secondly, its explanation is related. He says, Have you never read in the Scriptures (this is found in Psalm 117:22): The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? And He points out four things. Firstly, He points out their reprobation; secondly, He points out their dignity; thirdly, He points out the reason for their reprobation; and fourthly, He points out their admiration. He says, The stone, etc. The stone is Christ, who is called a stone based upon many similitudes. “Behold I will lay a stone in the foundations of Sion, a corner stone,” etc., (Is. 28:16). The builders are the Apostles. Let every man take heed how he builds. Hence, that rock, which they rejected, meaning which they cast away, the same is become, meaning is constituted, the head of the corner, meaning the head of the Jews and the Gentiles. Hence, He was made the head of the Church. But they could say: He made Himself the head; for that reason, He says: By the Lord this has been done. “The right hand of the Lord hath wrought strength” (Ps. 117:16). And what sort of exaltation is this? And it is wonderful in our eyes; “Behold ye among the nations, and see: wonder, and be astonished: for a work is done in your days, which no man will believe when it shall be told” (Hab. 1:5). Their dignity was so great that it could only have been produced through the grace of God. “By grace you are saved through Christ” (Eph. 2:8). Afterwards, He expounds the passage; and He makes two conclusions. Firstly, He expounds what was said in the parable; and secondly, He expounds what was said in the passage. It is said, therefore, Therefore I say to you that the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, meaning Sacred Scripture, because you will lose the understanding of Sacred Scripture. “He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart and be converted: and I should heal them” (Jn. 12:40). Or, you will lose your authority over the Church of the faithful, because their glory has been transferred to others. And shall be given to a nation yielding the fruits thereof. “Behold I have given him for a witness to the people, for a leader and a master to the Gentiles. Behold thou shalt call a nation, which thou knewest not: and the nations that knew not thee shall run to thee” (Is. 55:4–5). But how shall it be given to them? Above, it was said that He let it out, here, however, that it is given: because when it does not yield fruit, it is said to be let out, or rented; but when it is given, then it bears fruit. He indicates a twofold punishment, And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken. It is expounded, according to Jerome, as follows: He falls upon a rock, meaning Christ, who holds the faith from Him, that is to say, from Christ, but falls by sin because he acts against Him. The reason why sinners fall is because they do not have charity. But on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder. Christ, however, falls upon unbelievers. There is this difference, namely, that when a vessel falls upon a rock, the vessel is not broken because of the rock, but because of the way that it fell, inasmuch as it fell from a greater height; but when a rock falls upon a vessel, it breaks it according to the weight of the rock. So a man, when he falls upon a rock, which is Christ, then he is broken according to the greatness of the sin; but when he becomes an unbeliever, he is completely crushed. Or someone falls upon a rock when he perishes by his own free choice; but then a rock, in fact, falls upon him, when Christ punishes him, and then the whole man is crushed. “I shall beat them as small as the dust before the wind” (Ps. 17:43). The time of wickedness follows, And seeking to lay hands on him, they feared the multitudes, because they held him as a prophet. And the meaning of these words is clear.[2]


To dig deeper in your own devotional time, contemplate these verses in the Verbum Bible Study software. Or, if you don’t yet own it, request St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthewavailable this month at a special discount.

[1] The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Mt 21:42–46). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
[2] Thomas Aquinas. (2012). Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew. (P. M. Kimball, Trans.) (pp. 696–706). Dolorosa Press.

By what authority are you doing these things?

"By what authority are you doing these things?" (Mt 21:23)

This coming Sunday is the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time. To help you prepare to enter more deeply into Matthew 21:23–32 at worship, here is an excerpt from The Navarre Bible commentary series.


The authority of Jesus is questioned

23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you a question; and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, where was it from? From heaven or from men?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From men,’ we are afraid of the multitude; for all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.[1]

21:23–27. When the chief priests and elders ask “By what authority are you doing these things?” they are referring both to his teaching and to his self-assured public actions—throwing the traders out of the temple, entering Jerusalem in triumph, allowing the children to acclaim him, curing the sick, etc. What they want him to do is to prove that he has authority to act in this way or to admit openly that he is the Messiah. However, Jesus knows that they are not well-intentioned and he declines to give them a direct answer; he prefers to put a question to them that forces them to make their own attitude clear. He seeks to provoke them into examining their consciences and changing their whole approach.

Parable of the two sons

32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.[1]

21:32. St John the Baptist had shown the way to sanctification by proclaiming the imminence of the Kingdom of God and by preaching conversion. The scribes and Pharisees would not believe him, yet they boasted of their faithfulness to God’s teaching. They were like the son who says “I will go” and then does not go; the tax collectors and prostitutes who repented and corrected the course of their lives will enter the Kingdom before them: they are like the other son who says “I will not”, but then does go. Our Lord stresses that penance and conversion can set people on the road to holiness even if they have been living apart from God for a long time.[2]


To dig deeper in your own devotional time, contemplate these verses in the Verbum Bible Study software. Or, if you don’t yet own it, request The Navarre Bible: Saint Matthew’s Gospelavailable this month at a special discount.

[1] The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Mt 21:23–27). San Francisco: Ignatius Press
[2
] Saint Matthew’s Gospel. (2005). (pp. 142–143). Dublin; New York: Four Courts Press; Scepter Publishers

 

So the last will be first, and the first last

So the last will be first, and the first last.

This coming Sunday is the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time. To help you prepare to enter more deeply into Matthew 20:1–16 at worship, here is the passage and an excerpt from The Navarre Bible commentary series.


“For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place; and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.” [1]

Parable of the labourers in the vineyard

This parable is addressed to the Jewish people, whom God called at an early hour, centuries ago. Now the Gentiles are also being called—with an equal right to form part of the new people of God, the Church. In both cases it is a matter of a gratuitous, unmerited, invitation; therefore, those who were the “first” to receive the call have no grounds for complaining when God calls the “last” and gives them the same reward—membership of his people. At first sight the labourers of the first hour seem to have a genuine grievance—because they do not realize that to have a job in the Lord’s vineyard is a divine gift. Jesus leaves us in no doubt that although he calls us to follow different ways, all receive the same reward—heaven.[2]


To dig deeper in your own devotional time, contemplate these verses in the Verbum Bible Study software. Or, if you don’t yet own it, request The Navarre Bible: Saint Matthew’s Gospelavailable this month at a special discount.

[1] The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Mt 20:1–16). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
[2] Saint Matthew’s Gospel. (2005). (p. 135). Dublin; New York: Four Courts Press; Scepter Publishers.

I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven

21 ¶ Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

This coming Sunday is the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. To help you prepare to enter more deeply into Matthew 18:21–35 at worship, here is the passage and an excerpt from The Navarre Bible commentary series.


21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; 25 and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me; 33 and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” [1]

Forgiveness of injuries. Parable of the unforgiving servant

18:21–35. Peter’s question and particularly Jesus’ reply prescribe the spirit of understanding and mercy which should govern Christians’ behaviour.

In Hebrew the figure of seventy times seven means the same as “always” (cf. Gen 4:24): “Therefore, our Lord did not limit forgiveness to a fixed number, but declared that it must be continuous and forever” (St John Chrysostom, Hom. on St Matthew, 6). Here also we can see the contrast between man’s ungenerous, calculating approach to forgiveness, and God’s infinite mercy. The parable also clearly shows that we are totally in God’s debt. A talent was the equivalent of six thousand denarii, and a denarius a working man’s daily wage. Ten thousand talents, an enormous sum, gives us an idea of the immense value attaching to the pardon we receive from God. Overall, the parable teaches that we must always forgive our brothers, and must do so wholeheartedly.

“Force yourself, if necessary, always to forgive those who offend you, from the very first moment. For the greatest injury or offence that you can suffer from them is as nothing compared with what God has pardoned you” (St Josemaría Escrivá, The Way, 452).[2]


To dig deeper in your own devotional time, contemplate these verses in the Verbum Bible Study software. Or, if you don’t yet own it, request The Navarre Bible: Saint Matthew’s Gospelavailable this month at a special discount.

 

[1] The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Mt 18:21–35). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
[2] Saint Matthew’s Gospel. (2005). (p. 131). Dublin; New York: Four Courts Press; Scepter Publishers.

For God sent the Son, not to condemn, but to save

For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. Rejoice in this great victory by reflecting on John 3:13–21 with an excerpt from The Navarre Bible commentary series.


No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man.

3:13. This is a formal declaration of the divinity of Jesus. No one has gone up into heaven and, therefore, no one can have perfect knowledge of God’s secrets, except God himself who became man and came down from heaven—Jesus, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Son of man foretold in the Old Testament (cf. Dan 7:13), to whom has been given eternal lordship over all peoples.

The Word does not stop being God on becoming man: even when he is on earth as man, he is in heaven as God. It is only after the Resurrection and the Ascension that Jesus is in heaven as man also.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

3:14–15. The bronze serpent which Moses set up on a pole was established by God to cure those who had been bitten by the poisonous serpents in the desert (cf. Num 21:8–9). Jesus compares this with his crucifixion, to show the value of his being raised up on the cross: those who look on him with faith can obtain salvation. We could say that the good thief was the first to experience the saving power of Christ on the cross: he saw the crucified Jesus, the King of Israel, the Messiah, and was immediately promised that he would be in Paradise that very day (cf. Lk 23:39–43).

The Son of God took on our human nature to make known the hidden mystery of God’s own life (cf. Mk 4:11; Jn 1:18; 3:1–13; Eph 3:9) and to free from sin and death those who look at him with faith and love and who accept the cross of every day.

The faith of which our Lord speaks is not just intellectual acceptance of the truths he has taught: it involves recognizing him as Son of God (cf. 1 Jn 5:1), sharing his very life (cf. Jn 1:12) and surrendering ourselves out of love and therefore becoming like him (cf. Jn 10:27; 1 Jn 3:2). But this faith is a gift of God (cf. Jn 3:3, 5–8), and we should ask him to strengthen it and increase it as the Apostles did: Lord “increase our faith!” (Lk 17:5). While faith is a supernatural, free gift, it is also a virtue, a good habit, which a person can practise and thereby develop: so the Christian, who already has the divine gift of faith, needs with the help of grace to make explicit acts of faith in order to make this virtue grow.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.

3:16–21. These words, so charged with meaning, summarize how Christ’s death is the supreme sign of God’s love for men (cf. the section on charity, pp. 30ff above). “ ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son’ for its salvation. All our religion is a revelation of God’s kindness, mercy and love for us. ‘God is love’ (1 Jn 4:16), that is, love poured forth unsparingly. All is summed up in this supreme truth, which explains and illuminates everything. The story of Jesus must be seen in this light. ‘(He) loved me’, St Paul writes. Each of us can and must repeat it for himself—‘He loved me, and gave himself for me’ (Gal 2:20)” (Paul VI, Homily on Corpus Christi, 13 June 1976).

Christ’s self-surrender is a pressing call to respond to his great love for us: “If it is true that God has created us, that he has redeemed us, that he loves us so much that he has given up his only-begotten Son for us (cf. Jn 3:16), that he waits for us—every day!—as eagerly as the father of the prodigal son did (cf. Lk 15:11–32), how can we doubt that he wants us to respond to him with all our love? The strange thing would be not to talk to God, to draw away and forget him, and busy ourselves in activities which are closed to the constant promptings of his grace” (St Josemaría Escrivá, Friends of God, 251).

“Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. This […] is why Christ the Redeemer ‘fully reveals man to himself’. If we may use the expression, this is the human dimension of the mystery of the Redemption. In this dimension man finds again the greatness, dignity and value that belong to his humanity. […] The one who wishes to understand himself thoroughly […] must, with his unrest and uncertainty and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ. He must, so to speak, enter into him with all his own self, he must ‘appropriate’ and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself. If this profound process takes place within him, he then bears fruit not only of adoration of God but also of deep wonder at himself. How precious must man be in the eyes of the Creator, if he ‘gained so great a Redeemer’ (Roman Missal, Exultet at Easter Vigil), and if God ‘gave his only Son’ in order that man ‘should not perish but have eternal life’. […]

“Increasingly contemplating the whole of Christ’s mystery, the Church knows with all the certainty of faith that the Redemption that took place through the Cross has definitively restored his dignity to man and given back meaning to his life in the world, a meaning that was lost to a considerable extent because of sin. And for that reason, the Redemption was accomplished in the paschal mystery, leading through the Cross and death to Resurrection” (John Paul II, Redemptor hominis, 10).

Jesus demands that we have faith in him as a first prerequisite to sharing in his love. Faith brings us out of darkness into the light, and sets us on the road to salvation. “He who does not believe is condemned already” (v. 18). “The words of Christ are at once words of judgment and grace, of life and death. For it is only by putting to death that which is old that we can come to newness of life. Now, although this refers primarily to people, it is also true of various worldly goods which bear the mark both of man’s sin and the blessing of God. […] No one is freed from sin by himself or by his own efforts, no one is raised above himself or completely delivered from his own weakness, solitude or slavery; all have need of Christ, who is the model, master, liberator, saviour, and giver of life. Even in the secular history of mankind the Gospel has acted as a leaven in the interests of liberty and progress, and it always offers itself as a leaven with regard to brotherhood, unity and peace” (Vatican II, Ad gentes, 8).[1]


To dig deeper in your own devotional time, contemplate these verses in the Verbum Bible Study software.

[1] Saint John’s Gospel. (2005). (pp. 63–65). Dublin; New York: Four Courts Press; Scepter Publishers.

“Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven”

Truly, 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.

This coming Sunday is the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time. To help you prepare to enter more deeply into Matthew 18:15-20 at worship, here is an excerpt from The Navarre Bible commentary series.


18:15–17. Here our Lord calls on us to work with him for the sanctification of others by means of fraternal correction, which is one of the ways we can do so. He speaks as sternly about the sin of omission as he did about that of scandal (cf. Chrysostom, Hom. on St Matthew, 61).

There is an obligation on us to correct others. Our Lord identifies three stages in correction: 1) alone; 2) in the presence of one or two witnesses; and 3) before the Church. The first stage refers to causing scandal and to secret or private sins; here correction should be given privately, just to the person himself, to avoid unnecessarily publicizing a private matter and also to avoid hurting the person and to make it easier for him to mend his ways. If this correction does not have the desired effect, and the matter is a serious one, resort should be had to the second stage—looking for one or two friends, in case they have more influence on him. The last stage is formal judicial correction by reference to the Church authorities. If a sinner does not accept this correction, he should be excommunicated that is, separated from communion with the Church and sacraments.

18:18. This verse needs to be understood in connexion with the authority previously promised to Peter (cf. Mt 16:13–19): it is the hierarchy of the Church that exercises this power given by Christ to Peter, to the apostles and their lawful successors—the Pope and the bishops.[1]


Why do you think the power to bind and to loose given to the Church by Jesus immediately follows his lesson about fraternal correction?
How might this connect to John 20:23 or Matthew 6:14?

To dig deeper in your own devotional time, contemplate these verses in the Verbum Bible Study software. Or, if you don’t yet own it, request The Navarre Bible: Saint Matthew’s Gospelavailable this month at a special discount.

[1] Saint Matthew’s Gospel. (2005). (pp. 129–130). Dublin; New York: Four Courts Press; Scepter Publishers.

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”

You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God

This coming Sunday is the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time. To help you prepare for worship, consider these timeless insights from St. Jerome on the classic passage in defense of the primacy and papal office of St. Peter.

16:15–16. “But you, who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Wise reader, notice from what follows and from the context of the words that the apostles are by no means called men, but gods. For though he had said: “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” he has added: “But you, who do you say that I am?” For the former, since they are thinking human things, are men, but you who are gods, who do you consider me to be? Representing all the apostles, Peter professes: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He calls him a living God in comparison with those gods that are thought to be gods but are dead. This refers to Saturn, Jove, Ceres, Liberus, Hercules, and the rest of the portents of the idols.

16:17. Jesus answered and said to him: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” For the apostle’s testimony concerning himself, Jesus repays in turn. Peter had said: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” A true confession received its reward: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona.” Why? Because flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but the Father has revealed it. What flesh and blood was not able to reveal, the grace of the Holy Spirit has revealed. Therefore, because of his confession, a name is allotted to him that has been revealed by the Holy Spirit, whose son he is to be called. For indeed, in our language Bar-Jona sounds like “son of the dove.”15 Others take it more simply, that Simon, that is, Peter, is the son of John in accordance with the question found in another passage: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He answered: “Lord, you know.”17 They think there has been a corruption through the fault of the copyists, so that in place of Bar-Johanna, that is, “son of John,” it was written Bar-Jona, with one syllable having been deleted. Now Johanna is translated “grace of the Lord.” Both names can be interpreted mystically. Thus “dove” signifies the Holy Spirit, and “grace of God” signifies a spiritual gift. Moreover, compare his words: “For flesh and blood has not revealed it to you,” with the apostolic narrative in which it says: “I did not immediately take counsel with flesh and blood.”19 In that passage [Paul] is signifying the Jews by the term “flesh and blood.” Thus here too, by another interpretation, it is shown that Christ was revealed to him as the Son of God, not through the teaching of the Pharisees, but by the grace of God.

16:18. “And I say to you.” What do his words mean: “And I say to you”? [They mean this:] Since you have said to me: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” “I also say to you,” not with empty words that have no effect, but “I say to you” because with me to have spoken is to have done.

16:18. “For you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” He himself gave light to the apostles that they might be called the light of the world, and the other designations that were allotted from the Lord. In the same way, to Simon,21 who believed in Christ the rock [petra], was granted the name of Peter [Petrus]. And in accordance with the metaphor of rock [petra], it is rightly said to him: “I will build my Church” upon you.

16:19. “And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound also in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed also in heaven.” The bishops and priests do not understand this passage. They assume for themselves some of the superciliousness of the Pharisees when they either condemn the innocent or think that they can loose the guilty. Yet in the sight of God it is not the verdict of the priests but the life of the accused that is examined.26 We read in Leviticus about lepers that they are commanded to show themselves to the priests and, if they have leprosy, then they are established as unclean by the priest. This does not mean that the priests make them leprous and unclean, but that they have knowledge of the leprous and the non-leprous, and they can discern who is clean and who is unclean. Therefore, just as in that passage it is the priest who “makes” the leper unclean, so also here the priest or bishop binds or looses, not those who are innocent or guilty, but because of his own office. When he hears the various kinds of sins, he knows who should be bound, and who should be loosed.[1]

Do you know which passage in Isaiah is connected with the handing of the keys in Matthew 16:19? To dig deeper in your own devotional time, contemplate these verses in the Verbum Bible Study software. Or, if you don’t yet own it, request Jerome’s commentary—available this month at a special discount.

[1] Jerome. (2008). Commentary on Matthew. (T. P. Halton, Ed., T. P. Scheck, Trans.) (Vol. 117, pp. 190–192). Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press.

Have pity on me, Lord, son of David

Jesus and the Canaanite Woman

This coming Sunday is the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time. To help you prepare for worship, consider these timeless insights from St. Jerome on Sunday’s Gospel reading.

15:21. And having gone out from there, Jesus withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. He leaves his false accusers, the scribes and Pharisees, and goes to the district of Tyre and Sidon in order to cure the residents of Tyre and Sidon. But a Canaanite woman leaves her native land and cries out to procure healing for her daughter. Observe that this Canaanite daughter is healed in the fifteenth place.

15:22. “Have pity on me, Lord, son of David, my daughter is badly vexed by a demon.” She knew to call him “son of David” because she had already come forth from her land and had left the error of the Tyrians and Sidonians by a change of place and of faith. “My daughter is badly vexed by a demon.” I believe that the daughter of the Church refers to the souls of believers, which were badly vexed by a demon. They did not know the Creator and were worshiping stone.

15:23. He answered her not a word. [His silence was] due not to some sort of pharisaical arrogance or superciliousness of the scribes, but that he might not seem to be opposed to his own statement by which he had commanded: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles and do not enter into the cities of the Samaritans.” For he was unwilling to give an occasion to his false accusers, and he was reserving the perfected salvation of the Gentiles for the time of his Passion and Resurrection.

15:23. And his disciples came and were asking him, saying: “Dismiss her, because she is calling out after us.” Even at that time the disciples did not know the mysteries of the Lord. They were either moved by compassion to make this request for the Canaanite woman (whom another evangelist calls a Syrophoenician), or they were longing to be free from her importunity, since she was calling out repeatedly, not as if for a kind physician, but for a harsh one.

15:24. “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He is not saying that he was not also sent to the Gentiles, but that he was sent first to Israel. In that way the transference to the Gentiles would be just, since Israel did not receive the Gospel. He has expressly said: “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Thus, on the basis of this passage, we can also understand the one wandering sheep of another parable.

15:25. But she came and worshiped him, saying. In the person of the Canaanite woman, we should admire the faith, patience, and humility of the Church: faith, by which she believed that her daughter could be healed; patience, by which she perseveres in prayer, after having been so often scorned; humility, by which she compares herself not with dogs but with puppies. Now, pagans are called dogs on account of their idolatry. They have surrendered themselves to the eating of blood, and by the bodies of the dead are carried off into madness. Note that this Canaanite woman with persistence first calls him son of David, then Lord, and finally she worships him as God.

15:27. But she said: “Yes, Lord, for even the puppies eat from the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters.” I know, she says, that I do not deserve the sons’ bread. I am incapable of taking whole food or of sitting at the table with the Father. But I am content with what is left over for the puppies, so that by the humility of crumbs I might come to the greatness of the whole loaf. Oh, what a marvelous transformation of things! Israel was once a son, and we were the dogs. The arrangement of the titles is changed due to the difference in faith. Of Israel it is later said: “Many dogs have surrounded me”; and: “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the mutilation.” But with the Syrophoenician woman and with the woman who flowed with blood, we have heard: “Great is your faith; let it be done to you according to your faith”; and: “Daughter, your faith has saved you.”

How might this scene with the Canaanite woman help us understand the relationship of Christianity with other religions? To dig deeper in your own devotional time, contemplate these verses in the Verbum Bible Study software. Or, if you don’t yet own it, request Jerome’s commentary—available this month at a special discount.

Jerome. (2008). Commentary on Matthew. (T. P. Halton, Ed., T. P. Scheck, Trans.) (Vol. 117, pp. 182–183). Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press.

Lord, save me!

Lord, save me.

This coming Sunday is the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. We now continue our reflection of timeless insights from St. Jerome on Sunday’s Gospel reading.

14:30. But when he saw the strong wind, he was afraid, and, beginning to sink, he shouted out, saying: “Lord, save me!” The faith of his heart was burning, but human weakness dragged him into the depths. Therefore, he is abandoned for a little while in temptation, that his faith might increase and he might understand that he has been saved not by the easiness of a request but by the Lord’s power.
14:31. And Jesus at once stretched forth his hand and took hold of him and said to him: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Because the apostle Peter had grown a little afraid, Jesus said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Now we have spoken above about Peter’s faith and ardor of mind. It was he who had courageously asked the Savior, saying, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”273 If this is so, what will Jesus say to us, who do not even have the smallest particle of this little faith?
14:33. Those who were in the boat came and worshiped him, saying: “Truly you are the Son of God.” At a single sign when the tranquility of the sea is restored, which normally happens after occasional heavy storms, the sailors and passengers confess that he is truly the Son of God; and yet in the Church Arius proclaims him to be a creature!

Peter made that leap of faith onto the water, but each step of the way was met with trepidation, and he began to sink. “Lord, save me,” he cried. We’ve all cried out like that before, desperately in need of God’s help, but God is always there, steadying us like an anchor. To dig deeper in your own devotional time, contemplate these verses in the Verbum Bible Study software. Or, if you don’t yet own it, request Jerome’s commentary—available this month at a special discount.

Jerome. (2008). Commentary on Matthew. (T. P. Halton, Ed., T. P. Scheck, Trans.) (Vol. 117, p. 176). Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press.

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