Chrysostom hom. on Mt 66
66 Mt 20,29-30
“And as they departed from Jericho, great multitudes followed Him. And, behold, two blind men sitting by the wayside, when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, Thou Son of David.”
See whence He passed unto Jerusalem, and where He abode before this, with regard to which it seems to me especially worthy of inquiry, wherefore He went not away even long before this from thence unto Galilee, but through Samaria. But this we will leave to them that are fond of learning. For if any one were disposed to search the matter out carefully, he will find that John intimates it well, and hath expressed the cause.1
But let us keep to the things set before us, and let us listen to these blind men, who were better than many that see. For neither having a guide, nor being able to see Him when come near to them, nevertheless they strove to come unto Him, and began to cry with a loud voice, and when rebuked for speaking, they cried the more. For such is the nature of an enduring soul, by the very things that hinder, it is borne up.
But Christ suffered them to be rebuked, that their earnestness might the more appear, and that thou mightest learn that worthily they enjoy the benefits of their cure. Therefore He doth not so much as ask, “Do ye believe?” as He doth with many; for their cry, and their coming unto Him, sufficed to make their faith manifest.
Hence learn, O beloved, that though we be very vile and outcast, but yet approach God with earnestness, even by ourselves we shall be able to effect whatsoever we ask. See, for instance, these men, how, having none of the apostles to plead with them, but rather many to stop their mouths, they were able to pass over the hindrances, and to come unto Jesus Himself. And yet the evangelist bears witness to no confidence of life2 in them, but earnestness sufficed them instead of all.
These then let us also emulate. Though God defer the gift, though there be many withdrawing us, let us not desist from asking. For in this way most of all shall we win God to us. See at least even here, how not poverty, not blindness, not their being unheard, not their being rebuked by the multitude, not anything else, impeded their exceeding earnestness. Such is the nature of a fervent and toiling soul.
What then saith Christ? “He called them, and said, What will ye that I should do unto you? They say unto Him, Lord, that our eyes may be opened.”3 Wherefore cloth He ask them? Lest any one should think that when they wish to receive one thing, He giveth them another thing. For indeed it is usual with Him on every occasion, first to make manifest and discover to all the virtue of those He is healing, and then to apply the cure, for one reason, that He might lead on the others likewise to emulation; and for another, that He might show that they were enjoying the gift worthily. This, for instance, He did with respect to the Canaanitish woman also, this too in the case of the centurion, this again as to her that had the issue of blood, or rather that marvellous woman even anticipated the Lord’s inquiry; but not so did He pass her by, but even after the cure makes her manifest. Such earnest care had He on every occasion to proclaim the good deeds of them that come to Him, and to show them to be much greater than they are,4 which He doth here also.
Then, when they said what they wished, He had compassion on them, and touched them. For this alone is the cause of their cure, for which also He came into the world. But nevertheless, although it be mercy and grace, it seeks for the worthy.
But that they were worthy is manifest, both from what they cried out, and from the fact that, when they had received, they did not hasten away, as many do, being ungrateful after the benefits. Nay, they were not like this, but were both persevering before the gift, and after the gift grateful, for “they followed Him.”
“And when He drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and was come to Bethphage, unto the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples, saying, Go into the village over against you, and ye shall find an ass tied, and a coIt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any man say aught unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he sendeth them. And this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Zechariah the prophet, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh to thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.”5
And yet He had often entered Jerusalem before, but never with so much circumstance. What then is the cause? It was the beginning then of the dispensation; and neither was He very well known, nor the time of His passion near; wherefore He mixed with them with less distinction, and more disguising Himseif. For He would not have been held in admiration, had He so appeared, and He would have excited them to greater anger. But when He had both given them sufficient proof of His power, and the cross was at the doors, He makes Himself then more conspicuous, and doeth with greater circumstance all the things that were likely to inflame them. For it was indeed possible for this to have been done at the beginning also; but it was not profitable nor expedient it should be so.
But do thou observe, I pray thee. how many miracles are done, and how many prophecies are fulfilled. He said, “Ye shall find an ass;” He foretold that no man should hinder them, but that all, when they heard, should hold their peace.
But this is no small condemnation of the Jews, if them that were never known to Him, neither had appeared before Him, He persuades to give up their own property, and to say nothing against it, and that by His disciples, while these, being present with Him at the working of His miracles, were not persuaded.
2. And do not account what was done to be a small thing. For who persuaded them, when their own property was taken from them, and that, when they were perhaps poor men and husbandmen, not to forbid it? Why say I not to forbid it? not to ask, or even if they asked, to hold their peace, and give it up. For indeed both things were alike marvellous, as well, if they said nothing, when their beasts were dragged away, or if having spoken, and heard, “The Lord hath need of them,” they yielded and withstood not, and this when they see not Him, but His disciples.
By these things He teaches them, that it was in His power to have entirely hindered the Jews also, even against their will, when they were proceeding to attack Him, and to have made them speechless, but He would not.
And another thing again together with these doth He teach the disciples, to give whatever He should ask; and, though he should require them to yield up their very life, to give even this, and not to gainsay. For if even strangers gave up to Him, much more ought they to strip themselves of all things.
And besides what we have said, He was fulfilling also another prophecy, one which was twofold, one part in words, and another in deeds. And that in deeds was, by the sitting on the ass; and that by words, the prediction of Zacharias; because he had said, that the King should sit on an ass. And He, having sat and having fulfilled it, gave to the prophecy another beginning again, by what He was doing typifying beforehand the things to come.
How and in what manner? He proclaimed beforehand the calling of the unclean Gentiles, and that He should rest upon them, and that they should yield to Him and follow Him, and prophecy succeeded to prophecy.
But to me He seemeth not for this object only to sit on the ass, but also as affording us a standard of self-denial. For not only did He fulfill prophecies, nor did He only plant the doctrines of the truth, but by these very things He was correcting our practice for us, everywhere setting us rules of necessary use, and by all means amending our life.
For this cause, I say, even when He was to be born He sought not a splendid house, nor a mother rich and distinguished, but a poor woman, and one that had a carpenter as her betrothed husband; and is born in a shed, and laid in a manger: and choosing His disciples, He chose not orators and wise men, not rich men and nobly born, but poor men, and of poor families, and in every way undistinguished; and providing His table, at one time He sets before Himself barley loaves, and at another at the very moment commands the disciples to buy at the market. And making His couch, He makes it of grass, and putting on raiment, He clothes Himself in what is cheap, and in no respect different from the common sort; and a house He did not so much as possess. And if He had to go from place to place, He did this travelling on foot, and so travelling, as even to grow weary. And sitting, He requires no throne nor pillow, but sits on the ground, sometimes in the mountain, and sometimes by the well, and not merely by the well, but also alone, and talks with a Samaritan woman.
Again, setting measures of sorrow, when He had need to mourn, He weeps moderately, everywhere setting us rules, as I have said, and limits how far one ought to proceed, and not any further. So for this intent now also, since it happens that some are weak and have need of beasts to carry them, in this too He fixes a measure, showing that one ought not to yoke horses or mules to be borne by them, but to use an ass, and not to proceed further, and everywhere to be limited by the want.
But let us look also at the prophecy, that by words, that by acts. What then is the prophecy? “Behold, thy King cometh to thee, meek, and riding on an ass, and a young colt;”6 not driving chariots, like the rest of the kings, not demanding tributes, not thrusting men off, and leading about guards, but displaying His great meekness even hereby.
Ask then the Jew, what King came to Jerusalem borne on an ass? Nay, he could not mention, but this alone.
But He did these things, as I said, signifying beforehand the things to come. For here the church is signified by the colt, and the new people, which was once unclean, but which, after Jesus sat on them, became clean. And see the image preserved throughout. I mean that the disciples loose the asses For by the apostles, both they and we were called; by the apostles were we brought near. But because our acceptance provoked them also to emulation, therefore the ass appears following the colt. For after Christ hath sat on the Gentiles, then shall they also come moving us to emulation.7 And Paul declaring this, said, “That blindnesss in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in; and so all Israel shall be saved.”8 For that it was a prophecy is evident from what is said. For neither would the prophet have cared to express with such great exactness the age of the ass, unless this had been so.
But not these things only are signified by what is said, but also that the apostles should bring them with ease. For as here, no man gainsaid them so as to keep the asses, so neither with regard to the Gentiles was any one able to prevent them, of those who were before masters of them.
But He doth not sit on the bare colt, but on the apostles’ garments. For after they had taken the colt, they then gave up all, even as Paul also said, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls.”9
But mark how tractable the colt, how being unbroken, and having never known the rein, he was not restive, but went on orderly; which thing itself was a prophecy of the future, signifying the submissiveness of the Gentiles, and their sudden conversion to good order. For all things did that word work, which said, “Loose him, and bring him to me:” so that the unmanageable became orderly, and the unclean thenceforth clean.
3. But see the baseness of the Jews. He had wrought so many miracles, and never were they thus amazed at Him; but when they saw a multitude running together, then they marvel. “For all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? But the multitudes said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.”10 And when they thought they were saying something great, even then were their thoughts earthly, and low, and dragging on the ground.11
But these things He did, not as displaying any pomp, but at once, as I have said, both fulfilling a prophecy, and teaching self-denial, and at the same time also comforting His disciples, who were grieving for His death, and showing them that He suffers all these things willingly. And mark thou, I pray thee, the accuracy of the prophet, how he foretold all things. And some things David, some things Zechariah, had proclaimed beforehand. Let us also do likewise, and let us sing hymns, and give up our garments to them that bear Him. For what should we deserve, when some clothe the ass on which He was set, and others strew the garments even under her feet; but we, seeing him naked, and not being even commanded to strip ourselves, but to spend of what is laid by, not even so are liberal? And when they indeed attend upon Him before and behind, but we, when He cometh unto us, send Him away, and thrust Him off and insult Him.
How sore a punishment do these things deserve, how great vengeance! Thy Lord cometh unto thee in need, and thou art not willing so much as to listen to His entreaty, but thou blamest and rebukest Him, and this, when thou hast heard such words as these. But if in giving one loaf, and a little money, thou art so mean, and haughty, and backward; if thou hadst to empty out all, what wouldest thou become?
Seest thou not those that show their magnificence in the theatre, how much they give away to the harlots? but thou givest not so much as the half, nay often not the smallest part. But the devil is exhorting to give to whom it may chance, procuring us hell, and thou givest; but Christ to the needy, promising a kingdom, and thou, far from giving, dost rather insult them, and thou choosest rather to obey the devil, that thou mightest be punished, than to submit to Christ, and be saved.
And what could be worse than this frenzy? One procures hell, the other a kingdom, and ye leave the latter, and run unto the former. And this ye send away, when He cometh unto you, that when he is far off, ye call unto you. And what you do is the same as if a king bearing a royal robe, and offering a diadem, did not win your choice, but a robber brandishing a sword at you, and threatening death, were to win it.
Considering these things then, beloved, let us discern the truth at length though late, and let us grow sober. For I am now ashamed of speaking of almsgiving, because that having often spoken on this subject, I have effected nothing worth the exhortation. For some increase indeed hath there been, but not so much as I wished. For I see you sowing, but not with a liberal hand. Wherefore I fear too lest ye also “reap sparingly.”12
For in proof that we do sow sparingly, let us inquire, if it seem good, which13 are more numerous in the city, poor or rich; and which they, who are neither14 poor nor rich, but have a middle place. As, for instance, a tenth part is of rich, and a tenth of the poor that have nothing at all, and the rest of the middle sort.
Let us distribute then amongst the poor the whole multitude of the city, and ye will see the disgrace how great it is. For the very rich indeed are but few, but those that come next to them are many; again, the poor are much fewer than these. Nevertheless, although there are so many that are able to feed the hungry, many go to sleep in their hunger, not because those that have are not able with ease to succor them, but because of their great barbarity and inhumanity. For if both the wealthy, and those next to them, were to distribute amongst themselves those who are in need of bread and raiment, scarcely would one poor person fall to the share of fifty men or even a hundred. Yet nevertheless, though in such great abundance of persons to assist them, they are wailing every day. And that thou mayest learn the inhumanity of the others, when the church is possessed of a revenue of one of the lowest among the wealthy, and not of the very rich, consider how many widows it succors every day, how many virgins; for indeed the list of them hath already reached unto the number of three thousand. Together with these, she succors them that dwell in the prison, the sick in the caravansera, the healthy, those that are absent from their home, those that are maimed in their bodies, those that wait upon the altar; and with respect to food and raiment, them that casually come every day; and her substance is in no respect diminished. So that if ten men only were thus willing to spend, there would be no poor.
4. And what, it will be said, are our children to inherit? The principal remains, and the income again is become more abundant, the goods being stored up for them in Heaven.
But are ye not willing to do this? At least do it by the half, at least by the third part, at least by the fourth part at least by the tenth. For owing to God’s favor, it were possible for our city to nourish the poor of ten cities.
And if ye will, let us make some calculation15 in proof of this; or rather there is no need so much as of reckoning; for of itself the easiness of the thing is discernible. See at least, upon public occasions, how much one house hath often not been backward to spend, and hath not had so much as a little feeling of the expense, which service if each of the rich were willing to perform for the poor, in a brief moment of time he would have seized on Heaven.
What plea then will there be? what shadow of defense, when not even of the things from which we must assuredly be separated, when taken away from hence, not even of these do we impart to the needy with as much liberality as others to those on the stage, and this when we are to reap so many benefits therefrom? For we ought indeed, even though we were always to be here, not even so to be sparing of this good expenditure; but when after a little time, we are to be removed from hence, and dragged away naked from all, what kind of defense shall we have for not even out of our income giving to the hungry and distressed?16
For neither do I constrain thee to lessen thy possessions, not because I do not wish it, but because I see thee very backward. It is not then this I say, but spend of your fruits, and treasure up nothing from these. It is enough for thee to have the money of thine income pouring in on thee as from a fountain; make the poor sharers with thee, and become a good steward of the things given thee of God.
But I pay tribute, one may say. For this cause then dost thou despise, because in this case no one demands it of thee? And the other, who, should the earth bear, or should it not bear, takes by force, and extorts, thou darest not gainsay; but Him that is so mild, and then only demands, when the earth bears, thou answerest not even to a word? And who will deliver thee from those intolerable punishments? There is no one. For if, because in the other case a very sore punishment will ensue to thee for not giving, therefore thou becomest diligent about the payment, consider here too is one more sore; not to be bound, neither to be cast into prison, but to depart into the eternal fire.
For all reasons then let us pay these tributes first: for great is the facility, and greater the reward; and more abundant the gain, and worse the punishments to us if we are obstinate. For a punishment cometh upon us, which hath no end.
But if thou tell me of the soldier’s fighting for thee with the barbarians, there is here too a camp, that of the poor, and a war, which the poor are waging for thee. For when they receive, by praying they make God propitious; and making Him propitious, they repulse, instead of barbarians, the assaults of the devils; they suffer not the evil one to be violent, neither to attack us continually, but they relax his might.
5. Seeing therefore these soldiers every day fighting in thy behalf with the devil by their supplications and prayers, demand of thyself this good contribution, their nourishment. For this King being mild hath not assigned thee any to demand it of thee, but desires thou shouldest give it willingly; though thou pay by little and little, He receives it; though being in difficulty, thou shouldest pay after a long time, He cloth not press him that hath not.
Let us not then despise His long-suffering; let us treasure up for ourselves, not wrath, but salvation; not death, but life; not punishment and vengeance, but honors and crowns. There is no need in this case to pay a hire for the conveyance of the things contributed; there is no need in this case to labor in turning them into money. If thou givest them up, the Lord Himself removes them into Heaven; He Himself makes the traffic the more gainful for thee.
There is no need here to find one to carry in what thou hast contributed; contribute only, and straightway it goeth up, not that others may be maintained as soldiers, but that it may remain for thee with great profit. For here17 whatsoever thou mayest have given, it is not possible to recover; but there thou wilt receive them again with much honor, and shalt gain greater, and more spiritual gains. Here the gifts are a demand; there a loan, and money at interest, and a debt.
Yea farther, God hath given thee bonds. For” he that showeth mercy to a poor man,” it is said, “lendeth to the Lord.”18 He gave thee also an earnest, and bail, and this being God! What sort of earnest? The things in the present life, the visible, the spiritual things, the foretaste of the things to come.
Why then dost thou delay, and why art thou backward, having received so many things already, looking for so many things?
For what thou hast received are these: He Himseif made thee a body, He Himself put in thee a soul, He honored with speech thee alone of the things on the earth, He gave thee the use of all the things that are seen, He bestowed on thee the knowledge of Himself, He gave up His Son for thee, He gave thee a baptism full of so many good things, He gave thee a holy table, He promised a kingdom, and the good things that cannot be told.
Having then received so many good things, having to receive so many, again I say the same thing, art thou making petty reckoning about perishing riches, and what excuse wilt thou have?
But art thou looking altogether at thy children? and dost draw back for the sake of these? Nay, rather teach them also to gain such gains. For if thou hadst money lent out and bearing interest, and thou hadst a grateful debtor, thou wouldest ten thousand times rather choose instead of the gold to leave the bond to thy child, so that he should have the large income from it, and not be constrained to go about, and seek for others to borrow it.
And now give this bond to thy children, and leave God a debtor to them. Thou dost not sell thy lands, and give to thy children, but leavest them, that the income may remain, and that they may have a greater increase of riches from thence; but this bond, which is more productive than any land or revenue, and bears so many fruits, this art thou afraid to leave to them? What great folly must this be, and frenzy. And this when thou knowest, that though thou shouldest leave it to them, thou thyself also shall again take it away with thee.
Of this nature are the things spiritual; they have great munificence. Let us not then be beggarly; neither be inhuman and savage towards ourselves, but let us traffic in that good merchandise; that we may both ourselves take it away with us when we depart, and leave it to our own children, and attain to the good things to come, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom be unto the Father, together with the Holy Ghost, glory, might, honor, now and ever, and world without end. Amen.
1 Jn 4,1, and .
2 parjrJhsivan bivou. Claim of access on account of good life).
3 Mt 20,32-33.
4 The words, “and to show them to be much greater than they are,” are rejected by Montfaucon on the authority of two Mss. but defended by Mr. Field. [They are found in all the Mss. collated by the latter editor, with one exception.—R.] It seems to be true that our Lord sometirnes encouraged faith, and brought out good example, by putting on an action a higher meaning and intention than was at all fully formed in the mind of the doer).
5 . [The textual variations are reproduced in the above rendering. The most interesting variation is ajpostevllei (“he sendeth ”), the reading attested in Mc 11,3. It implies in the latter passage the promise to send back the colt to the owners).
6 Za 9,9.
7 Or, “emulating us,” parazhlou`nte").
8 [ R. V., a hardening.]
9 Rm 11,25-26.
10 2Co 12,15.
11 Mt 21,10-11. [The Greek text agrees with that of the received.—R.]
13 2Co 9,6.
14 [“who are more numerous.”
“and who are they that are neither,” etc.—R.]
17 [The translation has been altered here to conform to the use of “’here” and “there” in the original.—R.]
18 Pr 19,17.
67 Mt 21,12-13
“And Jesus went into the temple,1 and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrow the tables of the money-changers and the seats of them that sold doves, and saith unto them, It is written, my house shall be called a house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”2
This John likewise saith, but he in the beginning of his Gospel, this at the end. Whence it is probable this was done twice, and at different seasons.
And it is evident both from the times, and from their reply. For there He came at the very passover, but here much before. And there the Jews say, “What sign showest thou us?”3 but here they hold their peace, although reproved, because He was now marvelled at amongst all men.
And this is a heavier charge against the Jews, that when He had done this not once only, but a second time, they continued in their trafficking, and said that He was an adversary of God, when they ought even from hence to have learnt His honor for His Father and His own might. For indeed He also wrought miracles, and they saw His words agreeing with His works.
But not even so were they persuaded, but “were sore displeased,” and this while they heard the prophet crying aloud, and the children in a manner beyond their age proclaiming Him. Wherefore also He Himself sets up Isaiah against them as an accuser, saying, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.4
But not in this way only doth He show His authority, but also by His healing divers in firmities. “For the blind and the tame came unto Him, and He healed them,”5 and His power and authority He indicates.
But they not even so would be persuaded, but together with the rest of the miracles hearing even the children proclaiming, were ready to choke, and say, “Hearest thou not what these say?6 And yet it was Christ’s part to have said this to them, “Hear ye not what these say?” for the children were singing to Him as to God.
What then saith He? Since they were speaking against things manifest, He applies His correction more in the way of reproof, saying, “Have ye never read, Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise?” And well did He say, “Out of the mouth.” For what was said was not of their understanding, but of His power giving articulation to their tongue yet immature.
And this was also a type of the Gentiles lisping, and sounding forth at once great things with understanding and faith.
And for the apostles also there was from hence no small consolation. For that they might not be perplexed, how being unlearned they should be able to publish the gospel, the children anticipate them, and remove all their anxiety, teaching them, that He would grant them utterance, who made even these to sing praises.
And not so only, but the miracle showed that He is Creator even of nature. The children then, although of age immature, uttered things that had a clear meaning, and were in accordance with those above, but the men things teeming with frenzy and madness. For such is the nature of wickedness.
Forasmuch then as there were many things to provoke them, from the multitude, from the casting out of the sellers, from the miracles, from the children, He again leaves them, giving room to the swelling passion, and not willing to begin His teaching, test boiling with envy they should be the more displeased at His sayings.
“Now in the morning as He returned into the city, He was an hungered.”7 How is He an hungered in the morning? When He permits the flesh, then it shows its feeling. “And when He saw a fig tree in the way, He came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only.”8 Another evangelist saith, “The time of figs was not yet;”9 but if it was not time, how doth the other evangelist say, “He came, if haply He might find fruit thereon.” Whence it is manifest that this belongs to the suspicion of His disciples, who were yet in a somewhat imperfect state. For indeed the evangelists in many places record the suspicions of the disciples.
1 [The words “of God” are omitted in the text here. So three of our best Greek Mss. and R. V. rnargin.—R.]
2 [R. V., “robbers.”]
3 Jn 2,18.
4 Is 56,7.
5 Mt 21,14.
6 Mt 21,16. [R. V., “are saying.”]
7 Mt 21,18.
Like as this then was their suspicion, so also was it too to suppose it was cursed for this cause, because of having no fruit. Wherefore then was it cursed? For the disciples’ sakes, that they might have confidence. For because everywhere He conferred benefits, but punished no man; and it was needful that He should afford them a demonstrative proof of His power to take vengeance also, that both the disciples might learn, and the Jews, that being able to blast them that crucify Him, of His own will He submits, and does not blast them; and it was not His will to show forth this upon men; upon the plant did He furnish the proof of His might in taking vengeance. But when unto places, or unto plants, or unto brutes, any such thing as this is done, be not curious, neither say, how was the fig-tree justly dried up, if it was not the time of figs; for this it is the utmost trifling to say; but behold the miracle, and admire and glorify the worker thereof.
Since in the case also of the swine that were drowned, many have said this, working out the argument of justice; but neither there should one give heed, for these again are brutes, even as that was a plant without life.
Wherefore then was the act invested with such an appearance, and with this plea for a curse? As I said, this was the disciple’s suspicion.
But if it was not yet time, vainly do some say the law is here meant. For the fruit of this was faith, and then was the time of this fruit, and it had indeed borne it; “For already10 are the fields white to harvest,” saith He; and, “I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labor.”11
2. Not any therefore of these things doth He here intimate, but it is what I said, He displays His power to punish, and this is shown by saying, “The time was not yet,” making it clear that of this special purpose He went, and not for hunger, but for His disciples’ sake, who indeed marvelled exceedingly, although many miracles had been done greater; but, as I said, this was strange, for now first He showed forth His power to take vengeance. Wherefore not in any other, but in the moistest of all planted things did He work the miracle, so that hence also the miracle appeared greater.
And that thou mightest learn, that for their sakes this was done, that He might train them to feel confidence, hear what He saith afterwards. But what saith He? “Ye also shall do greater things, if ye are willing to believe and to be confident in prayer.” Seest thou that all is done for their sake, so that they might not be afraid and tremble at plots against them? Wherefore He saith this a second time also, to make them cleave to prayer and faith. For not this only shall ye do, but also shall remove mountains; and many more things shall ye do, being confident in faith and prayer.”12
But the boastful and arrogant Jews, wishing to interrupt His teaching, came unto Him, and asked, “By what authority doest thou these things?”13 For since they could not object against the miracles, they bring forward against Him the correction of the traffickers in the temple. And this in John also they appear to ask, although not in these words, but with the same intent. For there too they say, “What sign showest thou unto us? seeing that thou doest these things.” But there He answers them, saying, “Destroy this temple, and I in three days will raise it up,”14 whereas here He drives them into a difficulty. Whence it is manifest, that then indeed was the beginning and prelude of the miracles, but here the end.
But what they say is this: Hast thou received the teacher’s chair? Hast thou been ordained a priest, that thou didst display such authority? it is said. And yet He had done nothing implying arrogance, but had been careful for the good order of the temple, yet nevertheless having nothing to say, they object against this. And indeed when He cast them out, they did not dare to say anything, because of the miracles, but when He showed Himself, then they find fault with Him.
What then saith He? He doth not answer them directly, to show that, if they had been willing to see His authority, they could; but He asks them again, saying, “The baptism of John, whence is it? From heaven, or of men?”15
And what sort of inference is this? The greatest surely. For if they had said, from heaven, He would have said unto them, why then diet ye not believe him? For if they had believed, they would not have asked these things. For of Him John had said, “I am not worthy to loose the latchet of His shoe; and, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world;” and, “This is the Son of God;”16 and, “He that cometh from above is above all;”17 and, “His fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor.”18 So that if they had believed him, there was nothing to hinder them from knowing by what authority Christ doeth these things.
After this, because they, dealing craftily, said, “We know not,” He said not, neither know I, but what? “Neither tell I you.”19 For if indeed they had been ignorant it would have been requisite for them to be instructed; but since they were dealing craftily with good reason He answers them nothing.
And how was it they did not say that the baptism was of men? “They feared the people”20 it is said. Seest thou a perverse heart? It, every case they despise God and do all things for the sake of men. For this man too they feared for their sakes not reverencing the saint21 but on account of men? and they were not willing to believe in Christ, because of men, and all their evils were engendered to them from hence.
After this, He saith, “What think ye? A man had two sons; and he saith to the first, go, work to-day in the vineyard. But he answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go sir: and went not. Whether then of them twain did the will of his father? They say, the first.”22
Again He convicts them by a parable, intimating both their unreasonable obstinacy, and the submissiveness of those who were utterly condemned by them. For these two children declare what came to pass with respect to both the Gentiles and the Jews. For the former not having undertaken to obey, neither having become hearers of the law, showed forth their obedience in their works; and the latter having said, “All that the Lord shall speak, we will do, and will hearken,”23 in their works were disobedient. And for this reason, let me add, that they might not think the law would benefit them, He shows that this self-same thing condemns them, like as Paul also saith,” Not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.”24 For this intent, that He might make them even self-condemned, He causes the judgment to be delivered by themselves, like as He does also in the ensuing parable of the vineyard.
3. And that this might be done, He makes trial of the accusation in the person of an other. For since they were not willing to confess directly, He by a parable drives them on to what He desired.
But when, not understanding His sayings, they had delivered the judgment, He unfolds His concealed meaning after this, and saith, “Publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of Heaven before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not; but the publicans25 believed him; and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterwards, that ye might believe him.26
For if He had said simply, harlots go before you, the word would have seemed to them to be offensive; but now, being uttered after their own judgment it appears to be not too hard.
Therefore He adds also the accusation. What then is this? “John came,” He saith, “unto you,” not unto them, and not this only, but; also “in the way of righteousness.” “For neither with this can ye find fault, that he was some careless one, and of no profit; but both his life was irreprehensible, and his care for you great, and ye gave no heed to him.”
And with this there is another charge also, that publicans gave heed; and with this, again another, that “not even after them did ye. For ye should have done so even before them, but not to do it even after them was to be deprived of all excuse;” and unspeakable was both the praise of the one, and the charge against the other. “To you he came, and ye accepted him not; he came not to them, and they receive him, and not even them did ye take for instructors.”
See by how many things is shown the commendation of those, and the charge against these. To you he came, not to them. Ye believed not, this offended not them. They believed, this profited not you.
But the word, “go before you,” is not as though these were following, but as having a hope, if they were willing. For nothing, so much as jealousy, rouses the grosser sort. Therefore He is ever saying, “The first shall be last, and the last first.” Therefore He brought in both harlots and publicans, that they might provoke them to jealousy.
For these two indeed are chief sins, engendered of violent lust, the one of sexual desire, the other of the desire of money. And He indicates that this especially was hearing the law of God, to believe John. For it was not of grace only, that harlots entered in, but also of righteousness. For not, as continuing harlots, did they enter in, but having obeyed and believed, and having been purified and converted, so did they enter in.
Seest thou how He rendered His discourse less offensive, and more penetrating, by the parable, by His bringing in the harlots? For neither did He say at once, wherefore believed ye not John? but what was much more pricking, when, He had put forward the publicans and the harlots, then He added this, by the order of their actions convicting their unpardonable conduct, and showing that for fear of men they do all things, and for vainglory. For they did not confess Christ for fear, test they should be put out of the synagogue; and again, of John they dared not speak evil, and not even this from reverence, but for fear. All which things He convicted by His sayings, and with more severity afterwards did He go on to inflict the blow, saying, “But ye, when ye knew it, repented not afterwards, that ye might believe him.”
For an evil thing it is not at the first to choose the good, but it is a heavier charge not even to be brought round. For this above all maketh many wicked, which I see to be the case with some now from extreme insensibility.
But let no one be like this; but though he be sunk down to the extremity of wickedness, let him not despair of the change for the better. For it is an easy thing to rise up out of the very abysses of wickedness.
Heard ye not how that harlot, that went beyond all in lasciviousness, outshone all in godly reverence. Not the harlot in the gospels do I mean, but the one in our generation, who came from Phoenice, that most lawless city. For she was once a harlot among us, having the first honors on the stage, and great was her name everywhere, not in our city only, but even as far as the Cilicians and Cappadocians. And many estates did she ruin, and many orphans did she overthrow; and many accused her of sorcery also, as weaving such toils not by her beauty of person only, but also by her drugs. This harlot once won even the brother of the empress, for mighty indeed was her tyranny.
But all at once, I know not how, or rather I do know well, for it was being so minded, and converting, and bringing down upon herself God’s grace, she despised all those things, and having cast away the arts of the devils, mounted up to heaven.
And indeed nothing was more vile than she was, when she was on the stage; nevertheless, afterwards she outwent many in exceeding continence, and having clad herself with sackcloth, all her time she thus disciplined herself. On the account of this woman both the governor was stirred up, and soldiers armed, yet they had not strength to carry her off to the stage, nor to lead her away from the virgins that had received her.
This woman having been counted worthy of the unutterable mysteries, and having exhibited a diligence proportionate to the grace (given her) so ended her life, having washed off all through grace, and after her baptism having shown forth much self-restraint. For not even a mere sight of herself did she allow to those who were once her lovers, when they had come for this, having shut herself up, and having passed many years, as it were, in a prison. Thus “shall the last be first, and the first last;” thus do we in every case need a fervent soul, and there is nothing to hinder one from becoming great and admirable:
4. Let no man then of them that live in vice despair; let no man who lives in virtue slumber. Let neither this last be confident, for often the harlot will pass him by; nor let the other despair, for it is possible for him to pass by even the first. Hear what God saith unto Jerusalem, “I said, after she had committed all these whoredoms, Turn thou unto me, and she returned not.”27 When we have come back unto the earnest love of God, He remembers not the former things. God is not as man, for He reproaches us not with the past, neither doth He say, Why wast thou absent so long a time? when we repent; only let us approach Him as we ought. Let us cleave to Him earnestly, and rivet our hearts to His fear.
Such things have been done not under the new covenant only, but even under the old. For what was worse than Manasseh? but he was able to appease God. What more blessed than Solomon? but when he slumbered, he fell. Or rather I can show even both things to have taken place in one, in the father of this man, for he the same person became at different times both good and bad. What more blessed than Judas? but he became a traitor. What more wretched than Matthew? but he became an evangelist. What worse than Paul? but he became an apostle. What more to be envied than Simon? but he became even himself the most wretched of all.
How many other such changes wouldest thou see, both to have taken place of old, and now taking place every day? For this reason then I say, Neither let him on the stave despair, nor let him in the church be confident. For to this last it is said, “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall;”28 and to the other, “Shall not he that falleth arise?”29 and, “Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees.”30 Again, to these He saith, “Watch;” but to those, “Awake, thou that sleepest and arise from the dead.”31 For these need to preserve what they have, and those to become what they are not; these to preserve their health, those to be delivered from their infirmity, for they are sick; but many even of the sick become healthy, and of the healthy many by remissness grow infirm.
To the one then He saith, “Behold, thou art made whole, sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee;”32 but to these, “Wilt thou be made whole? Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.”33 For a dreadful, dreadful palsy is sin, or rather it is not palsy only, but also somewhat else more grievous. For such a one is not only in inactivity as to good works, but also in the active doing of evil works. But nevertheless, though thou be so disposed, and be willing to rouse thyself a little, all the terrors are at an end.
Though thou hast been so “thirty and eight years,” and art earnest to become whole, there is no one to hinder thee. Christ is present now also, and saith, “Take up thy bed,” only be willing to rouse thyself, despair not. Hast thou no man? but thou hast God. Hast thou no one to put thee into the pool? but thou hast Him who suffers thee not to need the pool. Hast thou had no one to cast thee in there? but thou hast Him that commands thee to take up thy bed.
Thou mayest not say, “While I am coming, another steppeth down before me.”34 For if it be thy will to go down into the fountain, there is none to hinder thee. Grace is not consumed, is not spent, it is a kind of fountain springing up constantly; by His fullness are we all healed both soul and body. Let us come unto it then even now. For Rahab also was a harlot, yet was she saved; and the thief was a murderer, yet he became a citizen of paradise; and while Judas being with his Master perished, the thief being on a cross became a disciple. Such are the wonderful works of God. Thus the magi approved themselves, thus the publican became an evangelist, thus the blasphemer an apostle.
8 Mt 21,19.
9 Mc 11,13. [The passage is freely cited; “of figs” is applied here and below by the translator.—R.]
10 Jn 4,35.
11 Jn 4,38.
12 Mt 21,21-22. [Paraphrased.]
13 Mt 21,23.
14 Jn 2,18-19. [The emphatic ejgwv is inserted here.—R.]
15 Mt 21,25. [“Is” substituted for “was”.—R.]
16 Jn 1,27 Jn 1,29 Jn 1,34.
17 Jn 4,31.
18 Mt 3,12.
19 Mt 21,27.
20 Mt 21,26
21 to;n a[ndra, the (great) man).
23 . [There are a few slight variations from the received text.]
24 Ex 19,8
25 Rm 2,13. [The article is given before novmou in both instances; against the best Mss. authorities in Rm 2,13.—R.]
26 “and harlots” omitted here.]
27 Mt 21,31-32.
28 Jr 3,7.
29 1Co 10,12.
30 Jr 8,4.
31 He 12,12.
32 Ep 5,14.
33 Jn 5,14.
34 ; comp. Mt 9,6.
5. Look at these things, and never despair, but be ever confident, and rouse thyself. Lay hold only on the way that leads thither, and thou wilt advance quickly. Shut not up the doors, close not up the entrance. Short is the present life, small the labor. But though it were great, not even so ought one to decline it. For if thou toil not at this most glorious toil that is spent upon repentance and virtue, in the world thou wilt assuredly toil and weary thyself in other ways. But if both in the one and the other there be labor, why do we not choose that which hath its fruit abundant, and its recompense greater.
Yet neither is this labor and that the same. For in worldly pursuits are continual perils, and losses one upon another, and the hope uncertain; great is the servility, and the expenditure alike of wealth, and of bodies, and of souls; and then the return of the fruits is far below our expectation, if perchance it should grow up.
For neither doth toil upon worldly matters everywhere bear fruit; nay but even, when it hath not failed, but has brought forth its produce even abundantly, short is the time wherein it continues.
For when thou art grown old, and hast no longer after that the feeling of enjoyment in perfection, then and not till then doth the labor bear thee its recompense. And whereas the labor was with the body in its vigor, the fruit and the enjoyment is with one grown old and languid, when time has dulled even the feeling, although if it had not dulled it, the expectation of the end suffers us not to find pleasure.
But in the other case not so, but the labor is in corruption and a dying body, but the crown in one incorruptible, and immortal, and having no end. And the labor is both first and short-lived; but the reward both subsequent and endless, that with security thou mayest take thy rest after that, looking for nothing unpleasant.
For neither mayest thou fear change any more or loss as here. What sort of good things, then, are these, which are both insecure, and short-lived, and earthly, and vanishing before they have appeared, and acquired with many toils? And what good things are equal to those, that are immovable, that grow not old, that have no toil, that even at the time of the conflicts bring thee crowns?
For he that despises money even here already receives his reward, being freed from anxiety, from rivalry, from false accusation, from plotting from envy. He that is temperate, and lives orderly, even before his departure, is crowned and lives in pleasure, being delivered from unseemliness, ridicule, dangers of accusation,35 and the other things that are to be feared. All the remaining parts of virtue likewise make us a return here already.
In order therefore that we may attain unto both the present and the future blessings, let us flee from vice and choose virtue. For thus shall we both enjoy delight, and obtain the crowns to come, unto which God grant we may all attain, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might forever and ever. Amen.
35 Jn 5,7.
Chrysostom hom. on Mt 66