At that time, the disciples came to Jesus, saying: Who thinkest thou is the greater in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus calling unto him a little child, set him in the midst of them, and said: Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven. And he that shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me.
Verse 1. Who, thinkest thou? This altercation for superiority among the apostles, whilst they were upon their road to Judea, might have arisen from another cause besides the precedence given by Jesus Christ to Peter above, as S. Chrysostom (hom. lix. in Mat.) affirms. A report prevailed among the disciples, that Christ would soon die; and they wished to know who would be the first, when he was gone. Jans. — Or expecting that by his future resurrection he would enter into full possession of his temporal kingdom, they wished to learn which of them should be the greater in this new and glorious state. Calmet supposes that Peter was not with them, but that he had gone before with his Master to Capharnaum. C.
Verse 2. And Jesus calling… a little child. In S. Mark (ix. 32.) we find that Jesus did this in the house, when they were arrived at Capharnaum.
Verse 3. You shall not enter, &c. i.e. you shall have no place in my kingdom of glory, in heaven, where none shall find admittance but they that are truly humble. Wi. — Our Lord in this and the next chapter teaches us, 1st, To sit down in the lowest place; 2nd, to bear patiently with our neighbor; 3rd, not to scandalize a weak brother; 4th, mildly to correct him when faulty; and 5thly, to forgive him when repentant.
Verse 4. Greater in the kingdom of heaven, because more conformable to me here on earth. Humble souls, who are little in their own eyes, are so dear and closely united to the Almighty, that Christ declares them to be the most acceptable, the first in merit, not highest in authority or dignity either in church or state, as some idle fanatics pretend. Jans. — The kingdom of heaven is not the reward of ambition, but the boon of simplicity and humility.
Verse 5. He that shall receive. To receive, in the style of the Scriptures, is to honour and favour, to be charitable, and kind to any one. Wi. — Who does not admire here the great goodness of God! Jesus, knowing that he was soon to leave the world, and that his disciples would no longer have it in their power to manifest their charity for him by their kind services, substitutes the poor in his place, declaring, that if they receive or honour them, they received Christ himself. Dion. Carth. — What greater proof can we wish for the merit of good works!!!
1. At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 2. And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 3. And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 6. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
JEROME. The disciples seeing one piece of money paid both for Peter and the Lord, conceived from this equality of ransom that Peter was preferred before all the rest of the Apostles.
CHRYSOSTOM. Thus they suffered a human passion, which the Evangelist denotes by saying, At the same time come the disciples to Jesus, saying, Who, we pray thee, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Ashamed to shew the feeling which was working within, they do not say openly, Why have you honoured Peter above us? but they ask in general, Who is the greatest? When in the transfiguration they saw three distinguished, namely, Peter, James, and John, they had no such feeling, but now that one is singled out for especial honour, then they are grieved. But do you remember, first, that it was nothing in this world that they sought; and, secondly, that they afterwards laid aside this feeling? Even their failings are above us, whose enquiry is not, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? but, Who is greatest in the kingdom of the world?
ORIGEN. Herein we ought to be imitators of the disciples, that when any question of doubt arises among us, and we find not how to settle it, We should with one consent go to Jesus, Who is able to enlighten the hearts of men to the explication of every perplexity. We shall also consult some of the doctors, who are thought most eminent in the Churches. But in that they asked this question, the disciples knew that there was not an equality among the saints in the kingdom of heaven; what they yet sought to learn was, how they were so, and lived as greater and less. Or, from what the Lord had said above, they knew Who was the best and who was great; but out of many great, who was the greatest, this Was not clear to them.
JEROME. Jesus seeing their thoughts would heal their ambitious strivings, by arousing an emulation in lowliness; whence it follows, And Jesus calling a little child, set him in the midst of them.
CHRYSOSTOM. He chose, I suppose, quite an infant, devoid of any of the passions.
JEROME. One whose tender age should express to them the innocence which they should have. But truly He set Himself in the midst of them, a little one who had come not to be ministered unto, but to minister; (Mat. 20:28.) that He might be a pattern of holiness. Others interpret the little one of the Holy Spirit, whom He set in the hearts of His disciples, to change their pride into humility. (Vid. Origen. in loc.) And he said. Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. He does not enjoin on the Apostles the age, but the innocence of infants, which they have by virtue of their years, but to which these might attain by striving; that they should be children in malice, not in understanding. As though He had said, As this child, whom I set before you as a pattern, is not obstinate in anger, when injured does not bear it in mind, has no emotion at the sight of a fair woman, does not think one thing while he speaks another; so ye, unless ye have the like innocence and purity of mind, shall not be able to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
HILARY. He calls infants all who believe through the hearing of faith; for such follow their father, love their mother, know not to will that which is evil, do not bear hate, or speak lies, trust what is told them, and believe what they hear to be true. But the letter is thus interpreted.
GLOSS. (interlin.) Except ye be converted from this ambition and jealousy in which you are at present, and become all of you as innocent and humble in disposition as you are weak, in your years, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven; and since there is none other road to enter in, whoso shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven; for by how much a man is humble now, by so much shall he be exalted in the kingdom of heaven.
REMIGIUS. In the understanding of grace, or in ecclesiastical dignity, or at least in everlasting blessedness.
JEROME. Or otherwise; Whoso shall humble himself as this little child, that is, whoso shall humble himself after My example, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. It follows, And whoso receiveth one such little one in my name, receiveth me.
CHRYSOSTOM. Not only if ye become such yourselves, but also if for My sake you shall pay honour to other such, ye receive reward; and as the return for the honour you pay them, I entail upon you the kingdom. He puts indeed what is far greater, Receiveth me.
JEROME. For whoever is such that he imitates Christ’s humility and innocence, Christ is received by him; and by way of caution, that the Apostles should not think, when such are come to them, that it is to themselves that the honour is paid, He adds, that they are to be received not for their own desert, but in honour of their Master.
CHRYSOSTOM. And to make this word the rather received. He subjoins a penalty in what follows, Whoso offendeth one of these little ones, & c. as though he had said, As those who for My sake honour one of these, have their reward, so they who dishonour shall undergo the extreme punishment. And marvel not that He calls an evil word an offence, for many of feeble spirit are offended by only being despised,
JEROME. Observe that he who is offended is a little one, for the greater hearts do not take offences. And though it may be a general declaration against all who scandalize any, yet from the connection of the discourse it may be said specially to the Apostles; for in asking who should be greatest in the kingdom of heaven, they seemed to be contending for preeminence among themselves; and if they had persisted in this fault, they might have scandalized those whom they called to the faith, seeing the Apostles contending among themselves for the preference.
ORIGEN. But how can he who has been converted, and become as a little child, be yet liable to be scandalized? This may be thus explained. Every one who believes on the Son of God, and walks after evangelic acts, is converted and walks as a little child; but he who is not converted that he may become as a child, it is impossible that he should enter into the kingdom of heaven. But in every congregation of believers, there are some only newly converted that they may become as little children, but not yet made such; these are the little ones in Christ, and these are they that receive offence.
JEROME. When it is said, It is better for him that a mill-stone be hanged about his neck, He speaks according to the custom of the province; for among the Jews this was the punishment of the greater criminals, to drown them by a stone tied to them. It is better for him, because it is far better to receive a brief punishment for a fault, than to be reserved for eternal torments.
CHRYSOSTOM. To correspond with the foregoing, He should have said here, Receiveth not Me, which were bitterer than any punishment; but because they were dull, and the before-named punishment did not move them, by a familiar instance He shews that punishment awaited them; for He therefore says, it were better for him, because another more grievous punishment awaits him.
HILARY. Mystically; The work of the mill is a toil of blindness, for the beasts having their eyes closed are driven round in a circle, and under the type of an ass we often find the Gentiles figured, who are held in the ignorance of blind labour; while the Jews have the path of knowledge set before them in the Law, who if they offend Christ’s Apostles it were better for them, that having their necks made fast to a mill-stone, they should be drowned in the sea, that is, kept under labour and in the depths of ignorance, as the Gentiles; for it were better for them that they should have never known Christ, than not to have received the Lord of the Prophets.
GREGORY. (Mor. vi. 37.) Otherwise; What is denoted by the sea, but the world, and what by the mill-stone, but earthly action? which, when it binds the neck in the yoke of vain desires, sends it to a dull round of toil. There arc some who leave earthly action, and bond themselves to aims of contemplation beyond the reach of intellect, laying aside humility, and so not only throw themselves into error, but also cast many weak ones out of the bosom of truth. Whoso then offends one of the least of mine, it were better for him that a mill-stone be tied about his neck, and he be cast into the sea; that is, it were better for a perverted heart to be entirely occupied with worldly business, than to be at leisure for contemplative studies to the hurt of many.
AUGUSTINE. (Quæst. Ev. i. 24) Otherwise; Whoso offendeth one of these little ones, that is so humble as He would have his disciples to be, by not obeying, or by opposing, (as the Apostle says of Alexander,) it were better for him, that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and he be drowned in the depths of the sea, (2 Tim. 4:15.) that is, it were better for him that desire of the things of the world, to which the blind and foolish are tied down, should sink him by its load to destruction.