The Divine Lamp

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St Cyril of Alexandria’s Homiletic Commentary on John 5:1-15

Posted by Dim Bulb on April 5, 2011

Note: St Cyril’s commentary begins with verse 2.

Jn 5:2, 3, 4 After this was the feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is at Jerusalem the pool which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel of the Lord used to go down at a certain season into the pool, and trouble the water: whosoever therefore first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.

Not for nothing does the blessed Evangelist straightway connect with what has been said the Saviour’s return thence to Jerusalem: but his aim probably was to shew how superior in obedience were the aliens to the Jews, how great a difference of habit and manners is seen between them. For thus and in no other way could we learn, that by the just judgment of God Who ruleth all and knoweth not to accept the person of man, Israel with reason falleth from the hope, and the fulness of the Gentiles is brought in in his place. It is not hard by looking at the contrast of the chapters 12 to test what has been said. He shewed therefore that He had by one miracle saved the city of the Samaritans, by one likewise the nobleman, and by it had profited full surely (I ween) and exceeding much those who were therein. Having by these things testified the extreme readiness of the aliens to obedience, he brings the Miracle-worker back to Jerusalem, and shews Him accomplishing a God-befitting act. For He wondrously frees the paralytic from a most inveterate disease even as He had the nobleman’s son just dying. But the one believed with his whole house, and confessed that Jesus is God, while the others. who ought to have been astonished, straightway desire to kill, and persecute, as though blasphemously transgressing, their Benefactor, themselves against themselves pronouncing more shameful condemnation in that they are found to fall short of the understanding of the |236 aliens, and their piety towards Christ. And this it was which was spoken of them in the Psalms, as to our Lord Jesus, Thou shalt make them the back. For they having been set in the first rank because of the election of the fathers, will come last and after the calling of the Gentiles. For when the fulness of the Gentiles is come in, then shall all Israel be saved.

This line of thought the well-arranged order of the compilation of chapters brings forth to us. But we will make accurate inquiry part by part of the meaning of single verses.

Jn 5:5, 6    And a certain man was there which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time,

The Jews having celebrated their feast of unleavened bread, in which it is their custom to kill the sheep, to wit, at the time of the Passover, Christ departeth from Jerusalem, and mingleth with the Samaritans and aliens, and teacheth among them, being grieved at the stubbornness of the Jews. And having barely returned at the holy Pentecost (for this was the next solemnity in Jerusalem and at no great interval), He heals at the waters of the pool the paralytic, who had passed long time in sickness (for it was even his thirty-eighth year): but who had not yet attained unto the perfect number of the Law, I speak of four times ten or forty.

Here then will end the course of the history; but we must transform again the typical letter unto its spiritual interpretation. That Jesus grieved departs from Jerusalem after the killing of the sheep, goes to the Samaritans and Galileans, and preaches among them the word of salvation, what else will this mean, save His actual withdrawal from the Jews, after His sacrifice and Death at Jerusalem upon the Precious Cross, when He at length began to freely give Himself to them of the Gentiles and aliens, bidding it to be shewn to His Disciples after His Resurrection, that He goeth before them all into Galilee? But His return again at the fulfilment of the weeks of |237 holy Pentecost to Jerusalem, signifies as it were in types and darkly, that there will be of His Loving Kindness a return of our Saviour to the Jews in the last ages of the present world, wherein they who have been saved through faith in Him, shall celebrate the all-holy feasts of the saving Passion. But that the paralytic is healed before the full time of the law, signifies again by a corresponding type, that Israel having blasphemously raged against Christ, will be infirm and paralytic and will spend a long time in doing nothing; yet will not depart to complete punishment, but will have some visitation from the Saviour, and will himself too be healed at the pool by obedience and faith. But that the number forty is perfect according to the Divine Law, will be by no means hard to learn by them who have once read the Divine Scriptures. 7 Jesus saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered Him,

An evident proof of the extreme goodness of Christ, that He doth not wait for entreaties from the sick, but forecometh their request by His Loving Kindness. For He runneth, as you see, to him as he lieth, and compassionateth him that was sick without comfort. But the enquiry whether he would like to be relieved from his infirmity was not that of one asking out of ignorance a thing manifest and evident to all, but of one stirring up to more earnest desire, and inciting to most diligent entreaty. The question whether he willed to obtain what he longed for is big with a kind of force and expression, that He has the power to give, and is even now ready thereto, and only waits for the request of him who receiveth the grace.

Jn 5:8 Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise.

About the day of the holy Pentecost, Angels coming down from heaven used to trouble the water of the pool, then they would make the plash therefrom the herald of their presence. And the water would be sanctified by |238 the holy spirits, and whoever was beforehand of the multitude of sick people in getting down, he would come up again disburdened of the suffering that troubled him,, yet to one alone, him who first seized it, was the might of healing meted out. But this too was a sign of the benefit of the law by the hands of Angels, which extended to the one race of the Jews alone, and healed none other save they. For from Dan so called even unto Beer-sheba, the commandments given by Moses were spoken, ministered by Angels in Mount Sinai in the days afterwards marked out as the holy Pentecost. For this reason, the water too of the pool used not to be troubled at any other time, signifying therethrough the descent of the holy Angels thereon. The paralytic then not having any one to thrust him into the water, with the disease that holds him, was bewailing the want of healers, saying, I have no man, to wit to let him down into the water. For he fully expected that Jesus would tell and advise him this.

Jn 5:9 Take up thy bed and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.

God-befitting the injunction, and possessing clearest evidence of power and authority above man. For He prays not for the loosing of his sickness for the patient, lest He too should seem to be as one of the holy Prophets, but as the Lord of Powers He commandeth with authority that it be so, telling him to go home rejoicing, to take his bed on his shoulders, to be a memento to the beholders of the might of Him That had healed him. Forthwith the sick man does as is bidden him, and by obedience and faith he gaineth to himself the thrice longed for grace. But since in the foregoing we introduced him as the image and type of the multitude of the Jews, who should be healed in the last times: come let us think of something again harmonizing with the thoughts hereto pertaining, analagous to those before examined. |239

On the Sabbath day doth Christ heal the man, when healed He immediately enjoins him to break through the custom of the law, inducing him to walk on the Sabbath and this laden with his bed, although God clearly cries aloud by one of the holy Prophets, Neither carry forth a burthen out of your house on the Sabbath day. And no one I suppose who is sober-minded would say that the man was rendered a despiser or unruly to the Divine commands, but that as in a type Christ was making known to the Jews, that they should be healed by obedience and faith in the last times of the world (for this I think the Sabbath signifies, being the last day of the week): but that having once received the healing through faith, and having been re-modelled unto newness of life, it was necessary that the oldness of the letter of the law should become of no effect, and that the typical worship as it were in shadows and the vain observance of Jewish custom should be rejected. Hence (I think) the blessed Paul too taking occasion of speech writes to them who after the faith were returning again to the Law, I say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing; and again, Ye are severed from Christ, whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace.

Jn 5:10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day, it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.

Most seasonably (I think) doth He cry over them, Hear now this O foolish people and heartless, which have eyes and see not. For what can be more uninstructed than such people, or what greater in senselessness? For they do not even admit into their mind that they ought to wonder at the Power of the Healer: but being bitter reprovers, and skilled in this alone, they lay the charge of breaking the law about him who had just and with difficulty recovered from a long disease, and foolishly bid him lie down again, as though the honour due to the Sabbath were paid by having to be ill. |240

Jn 5:11, 12 He answered them, He That made me whole, He said unto me, Take up thy bed and walk. They asked him therefore

The sentence is replete with, wisest meaning and repulsive of the stubbornness of the Jews. For in that they say that it is not lawful on the sabbath day to take up his bed and go home, devising an accusation of breaking the law against him that was healed, needs does he bring against them a more resolved defence, saying that he had been ordered to walk by Him, Who was manifested to him as the Giver of health, all but saying something of this sort, Most worthy of honour (sirs) do I say that Ho is, even though He bid me violate the honour of the sabbath, Who hath so great power and grace, as to drive away my disease. For if excellence in these things belongeth not to every chance man, but will befit rather God-befitting Power and Might, how (saith he) shall the worker of these things do wrong? or how shall not He Who is possessed of God-befitting Power surely counsel what is well-pleasing to God? The speech then has within itself some pungent meaning.

Jn 5:13, 14    What Man is He Which said unto thee, Take up thy bed and walk? But he that was healed wist not Who it was: for Jesus had conveyed Himself away, a multitude being in the place. Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple and said unto him,

Insatiable unto bloodshed is the mind of the Jews. For they search out who it was who had commanded this, with design to involve Him together with the miraculously healed (for he alone, it seems, was like to be vexing them in respect of the Sabbath, who had but now escaped impassable toils and snares, and had been drawn away from the very gates of death) but he could not tell his Physician, although they make diligent enquiries, Christ having well and economically concealed Himself, that He might escape the present heat of their anger. And not as though He could suffer anything of necessity, unless He willed to suffer, doth He practise flight: but making Himself an Example to us in this also. |241

Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come to thee.

Being hid at first economically, He appears again economically, observing the time fit for each. For it was not possible that ought should be done by Him Who knew no sin, which should not really have its fit reason. The reason then of His speaking to him He made a message for his soul’s health, saying that it behoved him to transgress no more, lest he be tormented by worse evils than those past. Herein He teaches that not only does God treasure wp man’s transgressions unto the judgment to come, but manifoldly scourgeth those yet living in their bodies, even before the great and notable day of Him. That shall judge all. But that we are oftentimes smitten when we stumble and grieve God, the most wise Paul will testify, crying, For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep: for if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged: but when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, thai we be not condemned with the world.

Jn 5:15 The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus Which had made him whole.

He makes Jesus known to the Jews, not that they by daring to do anything against Him should be found to be blasphemers, but in order that, if they too should be willing to be healed by Him, they might know the wondrous Physician. For observe how this was his aim. For he does not come like one of the faultfinders, and say that it was Jesus Who had bidden him walk on the Sabbath day, but Which had made him whole. But this was the part of one doing nought save only making known his Physician.

6 Responses to “St Cyril of Alexandria’s Homiletic Commentary on John 5:1-15”

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