Haydock Catholic Bible Commentary
Bethphage, was a village of the priests, and signifies the house of figs and dates, or the house of the fountain, or of the flatterer, situated on the declivity of Mount Olivet, about a mile to the east of Jerusalem, a sabbath-day's journey. As Bethphage was probably so called from the fig and date trees growing there, Mount Olivet was from the great number of olive-trees: Greek: ton elaion. The triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem from Bethania, was on the first day of the week, answering to our Sunday, the very day on which, by the appointment of the law, (Exodus xii. 3.) the lamb was brought hither, to be sacrificed at the Passover. To shew, moreover, that in himself all the figures of the old law were realized, he chose that very night for the institution of the Passover of the new law, the blessed eucharist, which was appointed for the immolation of the paschal lamb in the old law, and the very day fro the redemption of the world, in which the people of God had formerly been redeemed from Egyptian bondage. ... When they were arrived to the mid-way between Bethania (which he had just quitted) and Bethphage, he sends two of his disciples. In Greek it is, Kai elthon eis Bethphage; i.e. eporeuonto, they were travelling to Bethphage, and were near the place, within sight of it, but had not reached it, as we learn from both St. Mark and St. Luke.
Go ye into the village; in Latin, Castellum, but in Greek, eis ten komen, which is, before you, contra vos, as Virgil says, Italiam contra. (Æneid i.) Some authors think it was Bethphage. (Haydock) --- An ass tied, and a colt with her. This colt, which never yet had been rid upon, represented the people of the Gentiles, to whom God had not given a written law, as he had done to the Jews. Here was manifestly fulfilled the prophecy of Zachary. Chap. ix. It was now the first day of the week, in which Christ suffered; he was pleased to enter into Jerusalem in a kind of triumph, the people making acclamations to him, as to their king and Messias. (Witham) --- Both Jews and Gentiles, figured by the ass and the colt, are to be loosed and conducted by the hands of the apostles of Christ to their Redeemer. The Gentiles, represented by the colt, though heretofore unclean, no sooner receive Jesus resting upon them, than they are freed from every stain and rendered perfectly clean. The zeal of the Gentiles, is spoken of by St. Paul, Romans xi. 25. Blindness in part has happened in Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles should come in. And so all Israel should be saved. (St. John Chrysostom, hom. lxvi.) --- As it is written, "there shall come out of Sion, he that shall deliver, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. And this is to them my covenant;" when I shall take away their sins. This prophecy of Isaias (lix. 20.) St. Paul applies to the conversion of the Jews; (ibid. [Romans xi. 25]) and thus both Jew and Gentile are to take up our Saviour's yoke, which is certainly sweet, and his burden light.
A prophecy of the coming of the Messias was here so manifestly accomplished in the person of Jesus, that I cannot but set down the words of the prophet Zachary, chap. ix. Ecce Rex tuus veniet tibi justus & Salvator, ipse pauper, & ascendens super Asinam, & super pullum filium Asinæ. They are no less clear in the Hebrew, and other languages. See the Protestant translation in the prophet Zacharias.
The Lord hath need. Not our Lord, or your Lord, but the Lord, viz. of all, both of the beasts and of their masters, and of every creature. Christ here discovers two of his own attributes, his omniscience and his supreme dominion. Now this was done not by accident, not through novelty or to avoid fatigue, but as the evangelist declares, to accomplish the prophecy of Isaias and of Zarcharias.
Mat 21:5 manuscripts read Isaias, others Zacharias: the text seems to be extracted from both, but particularly the latter, the sense of which is taken, though not verbatim, from the Septuagint version. See Isaias lxii. 2. and Zacharias ix. 9.
Sit thereon. St. Jerome reprobates the opinion of those who suppose that Christ rode upon both the ass and the colt, though without sufficient reason. The Greek indeed, epano auton, upon them, may be referred either to the beasts or to Greek: ta imatia, the garments; but the very general sentiment is, that he first sat upon the ass for a short time, and then mounted the colt. It may be asked why Jesus, who through humility had during his whole life travelled on foot, and in no one previous instance is found to have allowed himself the convenience of riding, should on this occasion enter Jerusalem riding? One reason was, as mentioned in note on ver. 4, supra, to fulfil the prophecy of Zarcharias, who had given this mark of the Messias. Hence St. John (Chrysostom, hom. lxvi.) challenges the Jews to shew him any other king of theirs, who had entered Jerusalem riding on an ass. Other reasons were, to give a faint specimen of his real kingly dignity before he suffered; to be publicly acknowledged for the Messias; to confirm the faith of his disciples; and to leave his enemies no excuse for their incredulity. On this, as on all other occasions, magnificence is admirably blended with humility, in our Saviour's actions. Even in this his triumph, we cannot help admiring his humility, in riding upon an ass. (Jansenius) --- The glorious reception he met with from the people, was perfectly voluntary on their parts, the genuine effusions of their hearts, and as such, infinitely superior to the vain and often forced parade bestowed upon earthly princes; and is commemorated in the blessing and distributing palms in the Catholic Church, on Palm-Sunday, all over the Christian world.
Hosanna, or hosiah-na, was an acclamation of the Jews: when applied to God, means save us, I beseech Thee; when applied to a sovereign prince, means vivat, in Latin, or long live the king. (Bible de Vence) --- Hosanna, says St. Jerome, is the same as, Save, I beseech thee. (Psalm cxvii.) Some will have the word Hosanna directed to Christ himself, and the sense to be, Save us, O thou Son of David; others understand Hosanna, directed to God, as if the people said, Save, O Lord, this our king; by which the people wished peace, safety, and prosperity to Jesus their Messias. (Witham) ---It appears that the Holy Ghost, on this occasion secretly inspired their tongues, and through their means caused loud thanks to be offered to Jesus, for an approaching blessing, of which as yet they had no conception. --- These same words of acclamation are daily used in the preface of the mass, and represent the exultations of both priest and people, expecting, as it were, and rejoicing at his coming. (Bristow)
Hosanna filio David. Greek: ta uio Dauid. See Maldonat.
Mat 21:10 entered by the golden gate which looks towards the east, and which was not far distant from the temple, where the procession terminated. There Jesus, as high priest, made his solemn entry into his Father's house.
The Prophet, &c. It was amidst these acclamations that Christ wept, and foretold the destruction of the city. (Luke xix. 42.) (Witham) --- It was not without great reason, that the whole city was so much disturbed with the triumphal entry of Jesus. Man was extolled as God, and God extolled in man. The elders, admiring his heavenly virtue, exclaimed, who is the king of glory! (Origen) --- This is Jesus, the prophet, (Greek: outos estin Iesous o prophetes,) the one promised by Moses, (Deuteronomy xvii. 15.) was the answer of the simple and candid people. (Jansenius)
And cast out all. Since the Jews came to the temple from all parts of Judea, such as came from a distance did not bring with them their sacrifices, but purchased them at Jerusalem. The money-changers were persons who lent out money to the poor, that they might purchase the victims, &c. But as the law forbade usury, they received other fruits, grapes, &c. in return. These persons, beyond a doubt, beheld a more than human brightness darting from his eyes, otherwise they would not have suffered him to act thus. In the same manner, the servants of the high priest fell down when they came to apprehend Jesus, at these words, I am he. (Nicholas de Lyra.) --- Into the temple. Into that part of it called the court of the Gentiles, where pigeons were to be sold for sacrifices, where there where tables of money-changers, &c. St. Jerome here admires this as one of the greatest of Christ's miracles, that a poor man should be permitted to cast the buyers and sellers out of the temple, to overturn their stalls, their money-tables, &c. without any opposition. (Witham)
My house shall. That man is a thief, and turns the temple of God into a den of thieves, who makes religion a cloak for his avarice. Of all the innumerable miracles which Jesus performed, none appear greater in my eyes than this: that one man, at that time so contemned [sic; condemned] and despised, who was afterwards nailed to the tree, should with his single power be able to expel from the temple that multitude of Scribes and Pharisees, who were so maliciously bent upon his destruction, and so greedy of gain. Something more than human appeared in his celestial countenance on this occasion, and the majesty of the divinity shewed itself in his looks and gestures. Igneum quiddam, atque sidereum radiabat ex oculis ejus, et divinitatis majestas lucebat in facie. (St. Jerome) --- Hence it is not to be wondered at, if in the utmost fear and consternation they fled away. (Menochius)
Hosanna. St. Augustine (lib. de doct. christ. chap. xi.) thinks this word is an interjection of joy, without any particular meaning, denoting only affection, as Rocha is an expression of indignation. This opinion seems supported by the interpreters not having translated either of these words, but retained them in the Greek and in the Latin versions. It seems more than probable, according to St. Jerome, that the whole sentence is taken from Psalm cxvii. 25 and 26, in which the supposition, hosanna will signify God save; the word me, though in the verse of the Psalm just mentioned, is not in the Hebrew. It is a familiar acclamation among the Jews, which they sung every day on the feast of the tabernacles, carrying branches in their hands. (The feast of the tabernacles was figurative of Christ's divinity, resting under the tabernacle of our humanity.) The manner in which it was chanted, was not unlike our litanies. First some name or attribute of the Deity was sung, as "For thy own sake, O Lord of Lords," to which the people answered, "hosanna," or "save us," "by thy covenant," "save us," "thy holy temple," "Hosanna, save us." These litanies were very long, and are said at present by the Jews in their synagogues. Many things have undoubtedly been added in process of time, but they most probably were in use from the beginning. (Jansenius)
Have you never read: Out of the mouth, &c. The words are Psalm viii. 3, which some apply to the praises the people gave to David, when he had conquered Goliath, but Christ applies them to the present circumstances. (Witham) --- It is here said, that from the mouth of children the Almighty, had perfected praise, as in Psalm viii. 3. in the Septuagint, to shew that their words did not proceed from their own minds, but that their tender tongues were employed by the power of God to sound forth his praise. (St. John Chrysostom, hom. lxviii.) --- It is evident from this and various other texts, that we ought to read the Old Testament with an eye to Christ, who was the end of the law.
And having viewed all about; (as we read in St. Mark xi. 11,) when the hour of evening was come, he went out of the city into Bethania, as usual, with the 12 apostles. Hence we may collect in how great poverty our Saviour lived, and how far he was from flattering the great ones of this world, since he could not find a friend to offer him his house for a night's repose, and to ease his fatigued members, but is obliged to go to Bethania, a small village, to the house of Martha and Mary. (St. Jerome)
In the morning, returning into the city, he was hungry. This hunger, though real and pressing, was mysterious, and affords an opportunity of giving instruction both to the Jews and to all his disciples. By the fig-tree, was represented the Jewish synagogue; the hunger of Christ was a figure of his extreme desire of finding it productive of good works, (and there is no time nor season when the servants of God can be excused from bringing for good works) answerable to the pains of cultivation he had taken for more than three years. The leaves were their pompous shew of exterior service, the barren foliage of legal rites, void of the internal spirit and good works, the only valuable produce of the tree. By the withering of the tree subsequent to Christ's imprecation, the reprobation and utter barrenness of the synagogue are represented. St. Mark observes, (xi. 13,) that it was not the season for figs; nor are we to suppose that our Saviour went up to the tree expecting to find fruit; but if some of the evangelists mention this circumstance, they only relate the surmises of the disciples. Though he had before shewn his power by innumerable miracles, Christ still thought this necessary to excite the hearts of his disciples to greater confidence. He had often exercised his power to do good, but now for the first time shews himself able to punish. Thus he testifies to the apostles and to the Jews themselves, that he could with a word have made his crucifiers wither away, and therefore that he willingly bore the extremity of the sufferings he should in a few days have to undergo. (St. John Chrysostom, hom. lxviii.)
The disciples, &c. This surprise of the disciples, at the sudden withering of the fig-tree, happened the following morning. See Mark xi. 20.
The baptism of John, by which is also understood his doctrine and preaching, was it from heaven or not? (Witham)
He will say to us: Why then did not you believe him? When he divers times bore witness to you that I am your Messias. (Witham)
A certain man had two sons, &c. The ancient interpreters, by the first son generally understand the Gentiles, as also publicans and scandalous sinners; and by the second, the Jewish people. The Gentiles, &c. who at the first did not, would not worship and serve God; yet afterwards they, as also publicans, and many sinners, received the faith, and being converted, became faithful servants of God, and saints: the Jews, or the greatest part of them, who pretended to be God's servants, and his people, rejected the gospel and their Messias; therefore this commination follows, the publicans, &c. shall go before you into the kingdom of God. (Witham) --- By these two sons are to be understood, says St. John Chrysostom, the Gentiles and the Jewish people; the latter our Redeemer wishes to make sensible of their own great ingratitude, and of the ready obedience of the cast-off Gentiles. For they having never heard the law, nor promised obedience have still shewn their submission by their works; whereas the Jews after promising to obey the voice of God, had neglected the performance. (Hom. lxviii.)
A certain master of a family, &c. This master is God; the vineyard, the Jews; the husbandmen, the Jewish priests; the servants, God's prophets, sent from time to time: the son, called (Mark xii. 6,) his only and most dear son, is our Saviour Jesus Christ, whom they persecuted to death. (Witham) --- By this parable, our Saviour teaches the Jews that the providence of God had wonderfully watched over them from the beginning, that nothing had been omitted to promote their salvation, and that notwithstanding his prophets had been put to most cruel deaths, still the Almighty was not turned away from them, but had at length sent down his only Son, who should suffer at their hands the inexpressible ignominies and tortures of his cross and passion. (St. John Chrysostom, hom. lxix.)
They will reverence, &c. This is not said, as if God were ignorant what the Jews would do to his only begotten Son, since in this very place he declares that they would condemn him to death; but, to shew what they ought to have done, and what he had a right to expect from them. (Nicholas de Lyra.)
Heir. From this text, it appears that the princes of the Jews knew Jesus to be the Messias, and that it was only through envy and malice they were so blinded as not to acknowledge him for the Son of God. When, therefore, the apostle says, (1 Corinthians ii. 8,) If they had known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; this, it is probable, must be understood of the common people, since we can hardly believe that the princes of the people were ignorant of it, as Christ had so repeatedly inculcated this truth, that he even says himself they had no excuse, and were only actuated by hatred against him and his Father. (St. John xv. 22.) (Tirinus) --- Inheritance, &c. It appears from St. John xi. that one of the motives why the Jews killed our Saviour was, lest if they let him live, all men should believe, and the Romans should come and destroy their nation. But the very means they took to secure their kingdom to themselves, hastened their downfall, and eventually caused their ruin; since in punishment of their crucifying Jesus Christ, their city and state were completely ruined under the Roman emperors Titus and Vespasian. (Nicholas de Lyra.)
He will bring those evil men to an evil end. This answer was made by some of them. Yet St. Luke (xx. 16,) tells us, that others among them, (whom we may take to be the Scribes and Pharisees) cried out, God forbid; seeing well enough that this was a prediction of their future ruin. (Witham) --- If we compare this text with St. Luke, it will appear that it was from the midst of the people that this answer was given, which was confirmed by Jesus Christ, and at which the high priests were so indignant, because they saw clearly it must fall upon themselves. (Bible de Vence)
The head of the corner. By these words, (Psalm cxvii,) which the Jews themselves expounded of their Messias, Christ shewed them, that although they, who should have been the architects, had rejected him, yet he should be the chief corner-stone to unite the Jews and the Gentiles, converted into one Christian Church, militant on earth and triumphant in heaven. See Acts iv. 11. (Witham) --- St. Augustine remarks, that this parable was addressed not only to the opponents of Christ's authority, but likewise to the people.
The kingdom of God shall be taken from you. By this dreadful conclusion he tells them in plain terms, that they shall be forsaken, and punished for their blindness and obstinacy. (Witham)
They understood that he spoke of them. This parable, though immediately addressed to the Jews, contains an admirable instruction for Christians. For, what the Jews have suffered for their wickedness and ingratitude, has also been the faith of many Christian kingdoms, and the mournful lot of many once flourishing happy churches, whose candlesticks are removed, and light extinct. The same conduct God observes with regard to particular persons, in punishment of their repeatedly abusing his graces; he at last withdraws them, and leaves the culprit to himself, and to the miserable consequences of this merited privation of grace.