Thursday, December 26, 2013

Navarre Bible Commentary:
Feast of St. Stephen, First Martyr

Martyrdom of St. Stephen by Bernardo Daddi

Matthew 10:17-22

Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE)
17 Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour;20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.
Cited in the Catechism:  In promulgating the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Blessed John Paul II explained that the Catechism "is a statement of the Church's faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium."  He went on to "declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion" (Fidei Depositum). Passages from this Gospel reading are cited in the Catechism, paragraph 161, 728 and 1821.
Jesus’ instructions to the apostles
10:16–23. The instructions and warnings Jesus gives here apply right through the history of the Church. It is difficult for the world to understand the way of God. Sometimes there will be persecutions, sometimes indifference to the Gospel or failure to understand it. Genuine commitment to Jesus always involves effort—which is not surprising, because Jesus himself was a sign of contradiction; indeed, if that were not the experience of a Christian, he would have to ask himself whether he was not in fact a worldly person. There are certain worldly things a Christian cannot compromise about, no matter how much they are in fashion. Therefore, Christian life inevitably involves nonconformity with anything that goes against faith and morals (cf. Rom 12:2). It is not surprising that a Christian’s life often involves choosing between heroism and treachery. Difficulties of this sort should not make us afraid: we are not alone, we can count on the powerful help of our Father God to give us strength and daring.

10:20. Here Jesus teaches the completely supernatural character of the witness he asks his disciples to bear. The documented accounts of a host of Christian martyrs prove that he has kept this promise: they bear eloquent witness to the serenity and wisdom of often uneducated people, some of them scarcely more than children. The teaching contained in this verse provides the basis for the fortitude and confidence a Christian should have whenever he has to profess his faith in difficult situations. He will not be alone, for the Holy Spirit will give him words of divine wisdom.

10:23. In interpreting this text, the first thing is to reject the view of rationalists who argue that Jesus was convinced that soon he would come in glory and the world would come to an end. That interpretation is clearly at odds with many passages of the Gospel and the New Testament. Clearly, Jesus refers to himself when he speaks of the “Son of man”, whose glory will be manifested in this way. The most cogent interpretation is that Jesus is referring here, primarily, to the historical event of the first Jewish war against Rome, which ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple in the year 70, and which led to the scattering of the Jewish people. But this event, which would occur a few years after Jesus’ death, is an image or a prophetic symbol of the end of the world (cf. the note on Mt 24:1). The coming of Christ in glory will happen at a time which God has not revealed. Uncertainty about the end of the world helps Christians and the Church to be ever-vigilant.

10:24–25. Jesus uses these two proverbs to hint at the future that awaits his disciples: their greatest glory will consist in imitating the Master, being identified with him, even if this means being despised and persecuted as he was before them: his example is what guides a Christian; as he himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). Beelzebul (cf. Lk 11:15) was the name of the idol of the ancient Philistine city of Ekron. The Jews later used the word to describe the devil or the prince of devils (cf. Mt 12:24), and their hatred of Jesus led them to the extreme of applying it to him.

To equip them for the persecution and misunderstanding which Christians will suffer (Jn 15:18), Jesus encourages them by promising to stay close to them. Towards the end of his life he will call them his friends (Jn 15:15) and little children (Jn 13:33).

10:26–27. Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid of calumny and detraction. A day will come when everyone will come to know the whole truth about everyone else, their real intentions, the true dispositions of their souls. In the meantime, those who belong to God may be misrepresented by those who resort to lies, out of malice or passion. These are the hidden things which will be made known.

Christ also tells the apostles to speak out clearly. Jesus’ divine teaching method led him to speak to the crowds in parables so that they came to discover his true personality by easy stages. After the coming of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:8), the apostles would have to preach from the rooftops about what Jesus had taught them.

We too have to make Christ’s doctrine known in its entirety, without any ambiguity, without being influenced by false prudence or fear of the consequences.

Source: The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries. Biblical text from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.

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