Anthony_Sermons - (THE OFFERING OF THE THREE MAGI)
9. At that time shall a present be brought to the Lord of hosts, from a people rent and torn in pieces:
from a terrible people, alter which there hath been no other: from a nation expecting, and trodden under foot, whose rivers have spoiled their land. (Is 18,7)
This prophecy in Isaiah 18 refers to the conversion of the Gentiles, whose first-fruits (the Magi) today brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus Christ, the Lord of the angelic hosts. Malachi 1 says:
From the rising of the sun even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles: and in every place there is sacrifice and there is offered to my name a clean oblation, saith the Lord of hosts. (Ml 1,11)
But in order that we may better understand the misery of the Gentiles and the mercy of God the deliverer, we will briefly comment on each word.
The Gentile race (of which we are children) was torn away from God by the worship of idols; and so Hosea 4 says of the idolatrous Jews who followed Jeroboam:
Ephraim is a partaker with idols: let him alone, (for) their banquet is separated. (OS ,
Jeroboam (‘division of the people’), according to III Kings 12,
made two golden calves, and said to them: Go ye up no more to Jerusalem; behold thy gods, O Israel, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt. (1R 12,28)
It was also torn in pieces by the hostility of the devil, as we may read in the ‘Passions’ of several Apostles, because "the devil took from those who worshipped him sight, hearing and mobility; and inflicted various sufferings on them."8 So Mark 9 says:
And crying out and greatly tearing him, he went out of him; (Mc 9,25)
They that were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. (Lc 6,18)
It was terrible in its ferocity; so that Habbakuk 1 says:
Behold, I will raise up the Chaldeans, a bitter and swift nation, marching upon the breadth of the earth, to possess the dwelling-places that are not their own. (Ha 1,6)
The three Magi came from the region of the Persians and Chaldeans to worship the Lord. After them there was no people so terrible, as the text of Habbakuk continues:
They are dreadful and terrible:
their horses are lighter than leopards and swifter than evening wolves. (Ha 1,7)
There follows: from a nation expecting. They were expecting the fulfilment of Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 14:
A star shall rise out of Jacob,
and a sceptre (or ‘a man’) shall spring up from Israel. (Nb 24,17)
Trodden under foot, by various wars. Just as they trod others underfoot, so they were trodden under foot by others; the Chaldeans destroyed Jerusalem, and were destroyed in turn by Cyrus and Darius. And they were swallowed up not only by strangers, but even by themselves. So there follows: whose rivers have spoiled their land, a reference to civil war and bloodshed.
Let us therefore give thanks to Jesus Christ, who has deigned to receive this day a gift from such a faithless and barbarous people, and to gather his Church from them, which is ourselves. To him be honour and glory through endless ages. Amen.
10. At that time, etc. Note that seven kinds of mortal sin are referred to in this text; some are now converted to penitence by the grace of God, who were once entangled in them. The ‘people who are rent’ is pride; ‘torn in pieces’ refers to avarice; ‘terrible’ is wrath; the ‘people expecting’ is vainglory; ‘trodden under foot’ is envy; the ‘two rivers’ are gluttony and lust. Let us deal with each.
The ‘people who are rent’ are the people of the proud. As the wind uproots a tree, so pride separates man from God; so that Job 19 says:
He hath taken away my hope, as from a tree that is plucked up. (Jb 19,10)
Man’s hope is God; he is cut off from it when he is torn away from the root of humility by the wind of pride. No wonder, for pride is seeking to go above one’s proper station, while humility seeks lowliness. The proud man climbs, but God comes down. What could be more contrary or opposite? The former seeks the heights, the latter the depths. He is torn away from him, and cannot please him or cling to him unless he is humble. The root is the life of the tree; humility is the life of man. If someone has a beautiful and fruitful tree in his garden, and finds it uprooted by the wind, is he not grieved? Of course he is! How much more is it to be lamented, when our soul is torn by the wind of pride from her Creator, who hates pride above all things, who ‘resists the proud’ (cf. 1P 5,5) and who ‘has put down the mighty’ (cf. Lc 1,52). Pride has a fall; he who is down is safer that he who is up; and so, as Seneca9 says, "Betake yourself to little things; you cannot fall from them."
11. The ‘people torn in pieces’ is the people of the avaricious and usurers. Just as birds and beasts tear a corpse to pieces, so the demons tear the hearts of misers and usurers with avarice. So Nahum 3 says:
Woe to thee, O city of blood, all full of lies and violence:
rapine shall not depart from thee. (Na 3,1)
‘The life of the soul is in the blood’ (cf. Dt 12,23), and the life-blood of the poor is what he owns. Take away a man’s blood, or a poor man’s property, and each will die. So robbers and usurers who take away what belongs to others are called ‘a city of blood’. Natural History says that elephants are very cold blooded, and poisonous serpents greatly desire to drink their blood; and so, when it is very hot, they attack them to draw off their blood.
In the same way misers and usurers, who are infected by the poison of avarice, thirst for what belongs to other people. The blood of the poor is cold, and so is their property. Poverty and nakedness do not let them keep warm. Under the burning heat of need, they attack them and apply themselves so as to suck their blood.
So: Woe to thee, O city of blood, all full of lies and violence, etc. There is lying in the tongue, violence in the heart, and rapine in the hand. It says in the last chapter of the
second book of Maccabees that Judas commanded that the tongue of the wicked Nicanor should be cut out and given to the birds (cf. 2M 15,33). Nicanor (meaning ‘a standing lamp’) is the usurer who wants to stand and give light, but who quickly falls and is put out. So Job 21 says:
How often shall the lamp of the wicked be put out? (Jb 21,17)
And chapter 18:
Shall not the light of the wicked be extinguished, and the flame of his fire not shine?
The light shall be dark in his tabernacle:
And the lamp that is over him shall be put out. (Jb 18,5-6)
A lamp has two things, light and heat. So the miser has the light of human favour and the heat of temporal wealth. When he is extinguished in death, he is deprived of both. Because his tongue was divided in many lies, it will be cut up and given to the demons; or else, he will be punished in many ways for sins of the tongue. His heart will be torn, because "what he gained with toil and kept with fear, he loses with grief."10 The devil keeps tight hold of a usurer: his hand by means of robbery, so that he should not give alms; his heart by means of gaining by violence, so that he should not think of good; his tongue by lying, so that he should not offer prayer or anything else good.
12. The ‘terrible people’ are the wrathful and angry. So Job 16 says of the devil or of the angry man:
He hath gathered together his fury against me;
and threatening he hath gnashed with his teeth upon me.
My enemy hath beheld me with terrible eyes. (Jb 16,10)
See how terrible it is, when a man burns with anger: his forehead frowns, his countenance is pale, his nostrils flare, his eyes are grim, his lips livid, his teeth grind, his hands flail about. Such a man seems nothing less than a terrible monster! So there is added: alter which there hath been no other man so cruel and bestial. In Daniel 4, it says of Nabuchodonosor:
Let his heart be changed from man’s and let a beast’s heart be given him. (Da 4,13)
"Do not understand this as a bodily change; Nabuchodonosor suffered an alienation of the mind. He lost the power of speech, and seemed to himself like an ox in his foreparts, and a lion in his hind-quarters."11 The man who burns with anger is alienated in mind and loses the power of right speech. First he shakes his horns like an ox, in threats and blasphemies; then he tears like a lion with his hands and feet.
13. The ‘people expecting’ are hypocrites and vainglorious. For every work they do, they expect the reward of praise, like hirelings. It says in John 10 that
The hireling seeth the wolf coming and leaveth the sheep and flieth. (Jn 10,12)
The wolf is the devil’s temptation, and the sheep are good thoughts. He who works, not for love of justice, but for the reward of vainglory, easily gives way to temptation and, if he had any good intentions, he abandons them. The Psalm says of this ‘expecting’,
All the beasts of the field shall drink; the wild asses shall expect in their thirst. (Ps 103,11)
Note that there are two kinds of wild ass. One lives in Spain and has no horns; the other lives in Greece and has horns. There are two kinds of hypocrite. Some hypocrites seem to have no horns, because when injured they appear meek, when in trouble they are quiet, and they refuse to accept honours. But in all this they act craftily, because in fleeing glory they are really seeking glory. Other hypocrites have horns; at the first verbal injury they put up the horns of pride, and show outwardly what they are like inwardly.
The wild ass or ‘onager’ is named from ‘ager1, ‘field’. The field is the world (Mt 13,38). Hypocrites of either kind are ‘asses of the world’, which they serve in expectation of the reward of praise or money; and they do this ‘in their thirst’, with which they burn and so are restless until they drink something. But ‘the beasts’, simple people, shall drink with joy out of the Saviour’s fountains (Is 12,3). He has two fountains, grace and glory. They drink of the first in reality, and of the second in hope, and will in the future drink of it in its beauty.
14. The ‘people trodden under foot’ are the envious, who are tortured and trodden down by other people’s happiness. "You will not find the torture of the Sicilian tyrant to be worse than envy."12 So I Kings 18 says:
Saul slew his thousands, and David his ten thousands. And Saul was exceeding angry, and this word was displeasing in his eyes, and he aid: They have given David ten thousands, and to me they have given but a thousand. What can he have more but the kingdom? And Saul did not look on David with a good eye from that day and forward. (1S 18,7-9)
See how he was tortured, how he was trodden underfoot!
15. The ‘rivers’ are gluttony and lust, Chobar and Tigris, the two rivers of Babylon (cf. Ez 1,1-3 Da 10,4). Chobar means ‘heaviness’, and this is gluttony, of which Luke 21
And take heed to yourselves, lest perhaps your hearts be overcharged with surfeitings and drunkenness and the cares of this life; and that day come upon you suddenly. (Lc 21,34)
The tiger is a beast with distinctive markings, wonderful in strength and speed, and the Tigris is named after it. This is lust. It is striped with the markings of various pleasures; it is strong in suggestion and swift to pass into action. Blessed Bernard13 says, "It torments regarding the future, without satisfying in the present, or giving pleasure for what is past." These two rivers have spoiled the land (the mind) of the man who has them, because little by little they swallow him up.
We have heard about the misery of all these things; let us consider also the mercy of God, who frees us from such miseries. Behold, at this time of divine kindness and mercy, the gift of penitence is brought by the aforesaid sinners to Jesus Christ, the Lord of hosts, that is, of the heavenly powers. You too, beloved, should bring your gifts with the three Magi: the gold of contrition, the incense of confession and the myrrh of satisfaction, so that you may receive the gift of glory from Jesus Christ himself in heaven. May he grant this, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
1 P.COMESTOR, Historia scholastica, in Evangelia, 5; PL 198.1540
2 VERGIL, Eclogue IV,7
3 INNOCENT III, Sermon 2, on the Lord’s Nativity; PL 217.457
4 P.COMESTOR, Historia scholastica, in Evangelia, 6; PL 198.1541-2
5 cf. INNOCENT III, Sermon 7, on the Epiphany; PL 217.485
6 GREGORY, Homilies on the Gospels, 33,2; PL 76.1240
7 P.COMESTOR, Historia scholastica, liber Exodi, 30; PL 198.1157
8 This is reminiscent of several passages in the ACTA SANCTORUM.
9 SENECA, Epistola 20
10 cf. BERNARD, De conversione ad clericos, 8,14; PL 182.842
11 P.COMESTOR, Historia scholastica, liber Danielis 4; PL 198.1452
12 cf. HORACE, Epistola 1,2,58-59
The copyright in this translation belongs to the author, Revd Dr S.R.P. Spilsbury
1. At that time, Simon Peter said to Jesus: Behold, we have left all things and followed thee (Mt 19,27). In this Gospel two things are noted: the Apostolic eminence in the Judgement, and the reward of those who relinquish transitory things.
2. The Apostolic eminence: Behold, we have left all things.
Peter, a swift runner pursuing his course (Jr 2,23), says: Behold, we have left all things "You did right, Peter; you could not follow a running man if you were burdened."1 Superior to Paul, he had heard the Lord say:
Amen I say to you that a rich man shall hardly enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 19,23) So, to enter easily, he left all things.
What ‘all things’? We must leave outward and inward things, possessions and the desire to possess, so that nothing remains to us. The Lord says in Isaiah 14:
I will destroy the name of Babylon, and the remains, and the bud, and the offspring. (Is 14,22)
The ‘name of Babylon’ is the name of ownership- ‘mine’, ‘yours’. Christ destroyed in his Apostles not only this ‘name’, but the ‘remains’ of ownership. And not only this, but the ‘bud’ (the temptation to have things) and the ‘offspring’ (the desire to possess). Happy are those religious in whom these things are destroyed, and who can truly say: Behold, we have left all things.
See the Apostles flying! Isaiah 60 says:
Who are these that fly as clouds, and as doves to their windows? (Is 60,8)
Clouds are light; the Apostles, light because they have put away the burden of the world, fly after Jesus. Job 37 says:
Knowest thou the great paths of the clouds, and the perfect knowledges? (Jb 37,16)
The ‘great paths’ are the leaving of all things. They are narrow in our pilgrimage, but great in reward. ‘Perfect knowledge’ is to love Jesus and to go after him. These were the ways and the knowledge of the Apostles, who flew like doves to their windows. The ‘windows’ are openings to the outside. The Apostles, and apostolic men, are simple and innocent as doves; and so they fly from earthly things, and keep guard over the windows of their senses, so as not to go out through them to the things they have left behind. Through those windows the silly dove who lost her heart went out. Genesis 34 tells how
Dina went out to see the women of the country; and Sichem took her and ravished her virginity. (cf. Gn 34,1-2)
In the same way the unhappy soul is carried out through the senses of the body, to see the beauties of the world; and when she has wandered this way and that, she is seized by the devil through her consent, and ravished by her action. How different the two flights! These fly from earthly things to those above; she flies from those above to earthly things. She flies to the devil, but they to Christ.
3. So there follows: and followed thee. (Mt 19,27). For your sake we have left all things and become poor. But because you are rich, we have followed you, so that you may make us rich. Most wretched of all men are those religious who have left all things, yet have not followed Christ. A double evil will fall on them. All outward comfort is absent; no inward comfort is present; if worldly men lacked the latter, at least they would have outward things. We have followed thee, creatures following the Creator, sons after their father, chicks to their mother, hungry men to bread, thirsty men to drink, sick men to the doctor, tired men to a place of rest, exiles to paradise. We have followed thee: We run in the odour of thy ointments (cf. Ct 1,3), because
The sweet smell of thy ointments are above all aromatical spices (Ct 4,10)
Natural History says that the panther has a wonderful beauty, and its smell is so sweet that it surpasses all perfumes. So, when the other animals perceive its scent, they come together at once and follow her. And they are wonderfully refreshed by her scent and by looking at her. Our Lord Jesus Christ, whose great beauty and sweetness the blessed experience in heaven, and the just taste here on earth. As soon as the Apostles sensed this sweetness, at once they left all things and followed him.
We have followed thee; what will there be for us? (Mt 19,27). Job 3 says:
As they that dig for a treasure;
they also rejoice exceedingly when they have found the grave. (Jb 3,21-22)
A treasure in a grave, God in the flesh taken from the Virgin. Now you have found the treasure, you Apostles, now you have it entirely. What more to you seek? What will there be for us? What more can there be for you? Keep what you have found, because it is all you are seeking; as Baruch 3 says:
Where thee is wisdom, where is prudence, strength, understanding, length of days and life,
the light of the eyes and peace. (cf. Ba 3,12 Ba 3,14)
The wisdom that created everything, the prudence that governs everything, the strength which restrains the devil, the understanding which penetrates all things. The length of life that perpetuates its followers, the food that satisfies them, the light that makes bright and the peace that gives rest.
4. There follows:
But Jesus said to them: Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me. (Mt 19,28)
He did not say, ‘who have left everything’, but, ‘who have followed’. This is proper to Apostles and perfect souls. Many leave what is theirs, and yet do not follow Christ; I would say, rather, that they cling on to themselves. If you want to follow, and follow through, you must leave yourself behind. He who follows another along the way must look at that other, whom he has made his guide, not at himself. To leave oneself is to put no trust in oneself, to regard oneself as useless, when one has done all that was commanded (cf. Lc 17,10); to despise oneself as ‘a dead dog or a single flea’ (cf. 1R 24,15), to give oneself precedence over no-one in one’s heart, but to reckon oneself as lower even than the greatest sinners; and to consider all one’s justices as the rag of a menstruous woman (cf. Is 64,6). It is to have oneself before one’s eyes and mourn as for someone dead, to abase oneself in everything and cast oneself totally on God. Let us listen to what is promised to those who follow in this way.
In the regeneration: the first regeneration is in the soul, in Baptism; the second, on the body, is in the Judgement, when the dead shall rise incorrupt. When the son of man shall sit (exercising the power of judgement in the form of a servant who is judged), on the seat of his majesty (in the Church wherein his omnipotence shall appear), you also shall sit on twelve seats (Mt 19,28). If only the twelve Apostles will sit with Christ in the judgement, sitting upon twelve thrones, where will Paul sit, that ‘vessel of election’ (Ac 9,15), turned today from a wolf into a lamb, he who ‘laboured more than all’ (cf. 1Co 15,10), who was caught up to the third heaven, and heard secrets which it is not granted to man to utter (cf. 2Co 12,2 2Co 12,4)? Where, pray, will so great a man sit, if there will be only twelve seats for the judges in that Judgement? He himself said, particularly, Know you not that we shall judge angels? (1Co 6,3) (meaning the evil ones).
We must recognise from this that the number twelve represents the fulness of power, and the twelve tribes of Israel stand for all those to be judged. See how poor men, together with the poor Jesus, son of the poor little Virgin, will ‘judge the world in equity’ (cf. Ps 9,9 Ps 95,13). Job 36 says:
God saveth not the wicked: and he giveth judgement for the poor. (Jb 36,5-6)
‘The poor’, he says, not the rich whose glory is their shame (Ph 3,19). They will indeed be shamed, when they see those whom they had sometime in derision and for a parable of reproach.(cf. Sg 5,3), sitting with Christ at the judgement, and sitting in judgement themselves.
5. The reward of those who relinquish transitory things: And every one that hath left house, etc. (Mt 19,29), that is, ‘all who have preferred my love to all the affections of the flesh.’
6. Morally. The ‘house’ represents bad habit, the ‘sisters’ are wandering thoughts, the ‘father’ is the devil and the ‘mother’ sensuality. The ‘wife’ is the vanity of the world, the ‘children’ are works, and the ‘field’ is care. According to the order of human generation, we reckon too the generation of the sinner, who from being a child of God becomes a child of the devil. The sinner is begotten from the devil’s temptation and sensual concupiscence, as from two seeds. So it says in Ezekiel 16:
Thy father was Amorrhite and thy mother a Cethite (Ez 16,3)
Amorrhite means ‘making bitter’. How bitter the devil is, they know who are infected with his ‘sweetness’- for his sweetness is a worm. No one tastes bitterness like the person who has previously tasted a sweet drink. Habbakuk 2 says:
Woe to him that giveth drink to his friend and presenteth his gall and making him drunk, that he may behold his nakedness! Thou art filled with shame instead of glory. (Ha 2,236)
To deceive more readily, and make the sinner drink more surely, the devil first proffers the honey of delight; so that even as it is quaffed with pleasure, the bitterness of death is taken in as well. And so the sinner, the devil’s friend, is stripped of God’s grace here and now, and in time to come will be filled with the shame of hell instead of the glory of the world.
Cethite means ‘broken’, and stands for sensual desire which must be broken beneath the yoke of humility. Ecclesiasticus 33 says:
The yoke and the thong bend a stiff neck, and continual labours bow a slave. Torture and fetters are for a malicious slave; send him to work, that he be not idle. For idleness hath taught much evil. (Si 33,27-29)
The slave is sensuality, and its pride must be bent under the yoke of humility, so that its wantonness be restrained by the torture of abstinence and the fetters of obedience.
Behold the sinner’s father and mother, and his ‘brothers’ are the unlawful appetites of the senses. These are Joseph’s brothers, who put him an old pit (cf. Gn 37,20). Joseph is the human spirit, and the ‘old pit’ is mortal sin or hell. As John 7 puts it, these brothers want the spirit to go up to this festival (cf. Jn 7,8), temporal glory. Job 6 says of them:
my brethren have passed by me, as the torrent that passeth swiftly in the valleys. (Jb 6,15)
They run to the filthy valleys. The carnal senses rush down to the valleys of gluttony and lust, caring nothing for the misery of the spirit.
The ‘sister’, of the same seed as the ‘brother’, stands for the realm of thought. The sinner’s ‘sisters’ are wanton thoughts of the mind, arising from the seed of the devil’s suggestions, and Ezekiel 23 says of them:
There were two women, daughters of one mother; and they committed fornication in Egypt. Their names were Oolla the elder and Ooliba her younger sister. (Ez 23,2-4)
There are two kinds of thought that especially corrupt the sinner's mind today. They are desire for money and lustful pleasure, which are like two sisters who commit fornication.
The ‘wife’ of the sinner is worldly vanity. This is Jezebel, the wife of Achab, of who is said in III Kings 21:
His wife Jezebel set him on, and he became abominable, insomuch as he followed idols. 1R 21,25-26)
Jezebel means ‘issue of blood’, or ‘blood-stained’, or ‘dunghill’. She is the vanity of the world from which flows the blood of every sin, and which at the point of death will be turned into a dunghill. And so, I Maccabees 2 says:
The glory of a sinful man is dung and worms. Today he is lifted up, and tomorrow he shall not be found, because he is returned into the earth, and his thought is come to nothing. (1M 2,62-63)
This wife will not let her husband remain in peace, she incites him to follow idols (all kinds of sins), and so he becomes abominable to God.
7. After the devil gives his son a wife, he wants him to beget children of her, the ‘grandchildren’ of the devil, meaning vain and dark works, deserving eternal death. In II Esdras 13, Nehemiah says:
I saw Jews that married Moabite wives: and their children spoke in the speech of Azotus, and could not speak the Jews’ language. (Ne 13,23-24)
Moab means ‘from the father’, and Azotus ‘blaze’ or ‘fire’. Today, many Christians and religious take ‘wives’, worldly vanities, begotten of the devil, by who they produce ‘children’ (works) who don’t know how to ‘speak the Jews’ language’ (that is, to praise God), but only that of Azotus, the blaze of gluttony and lust, and the fire of avarice.
Behold ‘a wicked and perverse generation’ (Dt 32,5), to which the devil gives the house of evil custom. This is the house and iron furnace of Egypt, of which Exodus 13 says:
Remember this day in which you came forth out of Egypt, and out of the house of bondage. (Ex 13,3)
The ‘day’ is the sun shining upon the earth, the ‘sun’ being the grace of God which, when it enlightens the mind, sets free from the bondage of bad habit. ‘This day’ the sinner should remember that he is already freed, and he should give thanks always.
The devil also gives the ‘field’ of earthly care: one’s ‘field’ is whatever one works in. Genesis 4 says that:
Cain said to Abel his brother: Let us go forth abroad. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and slew him. (Gn 4,8)
Cain means ‘possession’, and Abel ‘struggle’ (Gn 4,1). In the field of earthly care, the possession of riches kills the struggle of penitence. This is Haceldama, that is to say, the field of blood (Ac 1,19). And the text speaks of ‘fields’ rather than ‘field’, because earthly cares are many.
Whoever leaves all these shall receive an hundredfold (Mt 19,29), spiritually, here and now; for this is what they are worth in comparison, like a hundred compared to a handful. Mark says:
A hundred times as much now in this time, with persecutions, (Mc 10,30)
Meaning that he will taste the joy of the kingdom even in this life full of persecutions,
And in the future everlasting life. (Mt 19,29)
May he who is blessed for ever lead us into its possession.
8. Genesis 14 tells how Joseph commanded his silver cup to be put in the sack of the younger, Benjamin (cf. Gn 44,1-2). There is something similar in Proverbs 10:
The tongue of the just is as silver. (Pr 10,20)
Benjamin was first called Benoni, ‘son of my sorrow’, but afterwards Benjamin, ‘son of the right hand’ (cf. Gn 35,18). He stands for blessed Paul, who says of himself in Philippians 3:
I was circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; according to the Law a Pharisee, according to zeal persecuting the Church of God. (Ph 3,5-6)
Behold Benoni: first he was a son of sorrow, the son of the right hand. Acts 9 says: Saul, as yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, etc. (Ac 9,1). Saul means ‘temptation’, and where there is temptation there is sorrow. Acts 8 says:
Saul made havoc of the Church, entering in from house to house and dragging away men and women to prison. (Ac 8,3)
The head of the Church was in heaven, the feet walked upon the earth, and Saul trod upon them. That is why the head in heaven cried out: Saul, Saul, whypersecutest thou me? (Ac 9,4 Ac 22 Ac 7). Saul tempted, and Christ as it were sorrowed, and cried out, "Temptation, temptation, why are you persecuting me? And what will be the consequence for you? Indeed, there will be consequences! For one persecution you will receive five times, forty stripes save one (2Co 11,24).You will have temptations in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers (cf. 2Co 11,26). You are a son of sorrow, and you will bear sorrow, for you will be thrice beaten with rods, once stoned, thrice shipwrecked (cf. 2Co 11,25)."
We have heard about Benoni; let us now hear about Benjamin, and how he was converted today from a ‘son of sorrow’ into a ‘son of the right hand’, today lying down as a wolf and rising up as a lamb! Luke says:
And as he went on his journey, it came to pass that he drew nigh to Damascus. And suddenly a light from heaven shined round about him. And falling on the ground he heard a voice saying to him (in Hebrew): Saul, etc. (Ac 9,3-4)
Your right hand is your ‘outer’ hand. The right hand of the Almighty gave him such a cuff, on his neck as hard as a rhinoceros’s, that he made him fall to the ground. A light from heaven shone round him at mid-day, brighter than the noon-day sun. So gentle and kind, the correction of that right hand! To strike with a scourge of light, to rebuke with a voice of gentleness: Why persecutest thou me? (Ac 9,4). Today was fulfilled what the Scripture says:
The right hand of the Lord hath wrought strength. (Ps 117,16)
By casting down Saul the persecutor, the Lord’s right hand raised him up, making a wolf into a lamb, a persecutor into a preacher of the Church.
9. The right hand of the Lord wrought strength, when he put the silver cup in the mouth of his sack. So it says:
Go thy way, Ananias, for this man is to me a vessel of election, to carry my name before the Gntiles and kings and the children of Israel. (Ac 9,15)
The silver cup is clear and eloquent wisdom; and ‘Joseph’ (Christ), by a special prerogative, put it in the heart and mouth of young Benjamin (Paul). Benjamin was last and least of all his brothers; and Paul, in I Corinthians 15, says:
Last of all, he was seen also by me, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, etc. (1Co 15,8-9)
His very name means ‘little’, you might say there was none smaller! O humility of the ‘least’! He does not glory or boast about the gifts of wisdom and eloquence, the greatness of revelations and miracles, the hidden secrets he heard; he just laments the persecution of the Church which he was responsible for. I am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God (1Co 15,9). Woe to us poor wretches, who turn our eyes away from the evils we have done, so as not to see them! And if there be one good deed (which is almost nothing) we have done, we gaze on it and display it to others. We ought rather to copy those false beggars who, to get money, hide their fine clothing and display their nakedness and need to the rich people of this world. In the same way, we should hide any good we have, and display the wretchedness of our guilt and weakness, so as to receive the gift of grace from the Lord.
So let us give thanks to Jesus of Nazareth, who today made for us a wonderful teacher out of a persecutor; and may he enlighten us with his teaching, he who is blessed for ever. Amen.
Anthony_Sermons - (THE OFFERING OF THE THREE MAGI)