The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

St Cyril of Alexandria’s Homiletic Commentary on Luke 11:42-48

Posted by Dim Bulb on October 11, 2013

This post contains two sermons by St Cyril. The first is on Lk 11:42-44, and second is on Lk 11:45-48.

11:42-44. But woe unto you, Pharisees! who tithe mint and rue and all herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God. But these things ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Woe unto you, Pharisees! for you love the uppermost seat in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets. Woe unto you! for you are as those graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them know it not.

THOSE who are exact observers of the sacred commandments do not venture in any way whatsoever to offend the God of all. For they feel the truth of what is written, “That whosoever shall keep the whole law, but shall offend in one particular, becomes guilty of all. For He Who said, You shall not commit adultery, said also, You shall not kill. If then you do not commit adultery, but yet kill, you are become a transgressor of the law.” The transgression therefore of one commandment transgresses the law, that is, proves the man to be without the law. But when any one disregards those commandments, which especially are important above the rest, what words will he find able to save him from deserved punishment? That the Pharisees then merited these severe censures, the Lord proved against them, saying, “Woe unto you, Pharisees! who tithe mint and rue and all herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God. These things ought you to have done, and not to pass by the other, that is, to leave them undone.” For while they omitted, as of no importance, those duties which they were especially bound to practice, as, for instance, judgment and the love of God, they carefully and scrupulously observed, or rather commanded the people subject to their authority to observe, those commandments only which were a way and means of great revenues for themselves. |384

Put more fully to explain these things to you, my beloved, I must speak as follows. The law of Moses commanded tithes to be offered to the priests by the Israelites. For it spoke thus; “The sons of Levi shall have no inheritance among the children of Israel. The offerings of the Lord are their inheritance.” For whatsoever was offered by any one for the glory of God, on the score I mean of tithe, this God set apart for those whose office it was to minister; and this was their inheritance. But inasmuch as the Pharisees above all others were covetous, and fond of disgraceful gains, they commanded that this law of tithing should be observed carefully and scrupulously, so as not even to omit the most paltry and insignificant herbs; while they carelessly disregarded what they ought to have observed, namely, the more essential commandments given by Moses; such, for instance, as judgment, by which is meant justice in passing judgment, and the love of God. For it would have been a just judgment, and an upright sentence, to have considered every thing that was commanded deserving of equal care and attention, and not to neglect things of primary importance, while they paid a scrupulous regard to those only which were to their profit. And the effect of love to God would have been to avoid making Him angry in any respect, and to dread the violation of any part whatsoever of the law.

Or to put it in another light, one may say, that judgment would have been to decree just sentences, and to make upon no matter whatsoever an unfair decision. And this too was disregarded by the Pharisees; for the Spirit rebuked them by the voice of David, thus saying, “God arose in the congregation of the Gods, and in the midst of the Gods He judges. How long will you judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked?” He accused them also by the voice of Isaiah, saying, “How has the faithful city Zion, that was full of judgment, become a harlot? Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. Your silver is adulterate: your merchants mingle the wine with water: your princes are disobedient, the partners of thieves, loving bribes, running after recompense: they judge not the fatherless, and regard not the suit of the widow.” For to judge unjustly is not the part of those who practice love to the brethren, but the crime rather |385 of an iniquitous mind, and a plain proof of a falling away into sin. While therefore you tithe mint, He says, and rue, and every herb, and ordain that the commandment upon these points is to be strictly kept, you deign to give no attention to the weightier matters of the law, to those commandments, I mean, which are more especially necessary and beneficial to the soul, and by means of which you might prove yourselves honourable and holy, and full of such praises as become those whose desire it is to love God, and please Him.

And He adds yet another woe to those already spoken, saying, “Woe unto you, Pharisees, who love the uppermost seat in the synagogues, and greetings in the market places,” Is then this reproof useful to the Pharisees only? Not so: for the benefit of it extends even unto us: for by the rebukes He addressed to them, He effects also our improvement. For true it is, that those who are perfect in mind, and lovers of upright conduct, find in the rebukes of others the means of their own safety. For they of course avoid imitating them, and do not expose themselves to being caught in similar faults. The accusation therefore which Christ brings against the Pharisees, that they seek for greetings in the market places, and the uppermost seats in the synagogues, or meetings, shows that they were fond of praise, and wont to indulge themselves in empty ostentation, and an absurd superciliousness. And what can be worse than this? or how must not such conduct be hateful to every man, as being boastful and annoying, and destitute of the praises of virtue, and intent solely upon stealing the reputation of being honourable. And how must not he be incomparably superior to men thus disposed, who is poor in spirit, and gentle, and affable; not loving boasting, but courteous; not deceiving men by outside and fictitious disguises, but being rather a true worshipper, and adorned with that rational beauty which the divine Word imprints in us by means of all virtue and holiness and righteousness.

For if we must prove ourselves better than others,—-and there is nothing to prevent this,—-let the sentence of superiority be given us of God, by our excelling them in point of conduct and morals, and in a wise and blameless knowledge of the sacred scriptures. For to be saluted by others, and seated higher |386 than one’s friends, does not at all prove us to be persons of merit: for this is possessed by many, who, so far from being virtuous, are rather lovers of pleasure, and lovers of sin. For they wrest honours from every one, because of their possessing either vast wealth or worldly power.

But that our being admired by others without investigation and inconsiderately, and without their knowing our real state, does not at all make us elect in the presence of God, Who knows all things, the Saviour at once demonstrates by Saying; “Woe unto you, for you are as those graves which appear not, and the men who walk over them know it not,” Observe, I pray, very clearly the force of the example. Those who desire to be saluted by every one in the marketplace, and anxiously consider it a great matter to have the foremost seats in the synagogues, differ in no respect from graves that appear not, which on the outside are beautifully adorned, but are full of all impurity. See here, I pray, that hypocrisy is utterly blamed: for it is a hateful malady, both towards God and men. For whatsoever the hypocrite seems, and is thought to be, that he is not: but he borrows, so to speak, the reputation of goodness, and thereby accuses his real baseness: for the very thing which he praises and admires, he will not practise. But it is a thing impossible for you long to hide your hypocrisy: for just as the figures painted in pictures fall off, as time dries up the colours, so also hypocrisies, after escaping observation for a very little time, are soon convicted of being really nothing.

We then must be true worshippers, and not as wishing to please men, lest we fall from being servants of Christ. For so the blessed Paul somewhere speaks; “For now do I persuade men or God? or do I seek to please men? If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” For suppositions in matters of moral excellence are simply ridiculous, and worthy neither of account nor admiration. For just as in gold coins, that which is counterfeit and faulty is rejected, so the hypocrite is regarded with scorn both by God and men. But he who is |387 true meets with admiration; just, for instance, as Nathaniel, of whom Christ said, “Behold one truly an Israelite, in whom is no guile.” He who is such is esteemed before God; he is counted worthy of crowns and honours; has a glorious hope given him; and is “a fellow-citizen with the saints, and of the household of God.”

Let us therefore flee from the malady of hypocrisy: and may there rather dwell within us a pure and uncorrupt mind, resplendent with glorious virtues. For this will unite us unto Christ; by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever, Amen. |388

11:45-48. Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto Him, Teacher, in saying these things you reproach us also. And He said, Also unto you, lawyers, woe! for you burden men with burdens heavy and grievous to be borne; and you yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe unto you! for you build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. Therefore you bear witness, and approve of the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and you build their sepulchres.

REPROOF is ever, so to speak, a thing difficult for any man to bear: but it is not without profit to the soberminded: for it leads them to the duty of performing those things which make them worthy of honour, and lovers of virtuous pursuits. But those who run into wickedness with all eagerness, and whose heart is set against admonition, are hurried into greater sins by the very things that should have made them more soberminded, and are only hardened by the words of those who try to benefit them. And, as an example of this state of mind, behold those who among the Jews were called lawyers. For the Saviour of all was rebuking the Pharisees, as men that were wandering far from the right way, and fallen into unbecoming practices. For He blamed them as being boasters, as hypocrites, as loving greetings in the markets, and as wishing to sit in front of everybody else in the synagogues: and He further called them “whited sepulchres, which on the outside are beautiful, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all impurity.” At these things the band of wicked lawyers was indignant, and one of them stood up to controvert the Saviour’s declarations, and said; “Teacher, in saying these things, You reproach us also.” Oh what great ignorance! what blindness in mind and understanding unto every thing necessary! These men subject themselves to blame: or rather the force of truth showed them to be liable to the same accusations as the Pharisees, and of one mind with them, and partners of their |389 evil deeds, if they thus consider that what Christ said unto the others was spoken also against them. For tell me, for what reason are you angry? When any reproof is addressed to the Pharisees, you say that you are reproached. You confess therefore your deeds. You are conscious, of course, to thyself of being a similar character. But if you consider it a reproach for ought of this sort to be said of you, and nevertheless do not alter your behaviour, it is your own conduct you are found blaming. If you hate reproof as being a reproach, show thyself superior to the faults with which you are charged: or rather do not regard as a reproach the word of correction. Do you not see that those who heal the bodies of men converse with the sick upon the causes which have brought on their maladies, and use pungent drugs to counteract what has happened: but no one is angry with them on this account, or regards what they say as a reproach. But you are weak-minded in bearing admonitions, nor consent to learn what those passions are which are bringing injury to your heart. Far better would it be to love reproof, and ask for deliverance from your maladies, and healing for the ulcers of your soul. Far better were it rather to say, “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed: save me, and I shall be saved: for You are my praise.”

Nothing however of this sort enters the mind of the lawyers, but they venture even to say; “In speaking these things, You reproach us also:” ignorantly giving the name of reproach to a reproof which was for their benefit and advantage. What then does Christ reply? He makes His reproof yet more severe, and humbles their empty pride, thus saying; “Also to you, lawyers, woe! for you burden men with burdens heavy and grievous to be borne: and you yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.” He frames His argument against them out of a plain example. For the law was confessedly grievous to the Israelites, as the divine disciples also acknowledged. For they even rebuked those who were endeavouring to make such as had already believed desire to return to the legal ritual: for they said; “And now why tempt you God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear? And the Saviour Himself taught us this, crying out and saying; “Come |390 unto Me, all you weary, and heavy laden; and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and you shall find rest for your-selves.” Weary then and heavy laden are those, He says, who are under the law: while He calls Himself meek, as though the law had nothing in it of this character. For, as Paul says; “Whosoever has despised Moses’ law is put to death without mercy at the mouth of two or three witnesses.” Woe to you, therefore, He says, O lawyers: for while you bind burdens grievous to be borne, and intolerable to carry, and lay them on those who are under the law, you yourselves will not touch them. For while commanding that the ordinance of Moses should be kept inviolate, and passing sentence of death upon any who despise it, they themselves paid not the slightest heed to the duty of performing its precepts. As accustomed thus to act, the wise Paul also rebukes them, saying; “Behold you are called a Jew, and rest in the law, and make your boast of God; and know His will, and discern the things that are more excellent, being instructed by the law; and are confident of thyself, that you are a guide of the blind; an instructor of those without understanding; a teacher of babes; and that you have the form of knowledge and of truth in the law. You therefore that teach others, teach you not thyself? you that say that men should not steal, do you steal? you that say that men should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? And you that despise idols, do you plunder the sanctuary? And you that boast in the law, by the transgression of the law despise you God?” For the teacher is rejected with infamy when his conduct does not agree with his words. Upon him our Saviour also passes the sentence of severe punishment: “for whosoever,” He says, “has taught and done, shall be called great: but whosoever shall teach and not do, he shall ” be called small in the kingdom of heaven.” And for the same reason the disciple of the Saviour also writes to us; “Let there not be many teachers among you, my brethren; knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we all of us commit wrong.”

And having thus shown the worthlessness of this abominable crew of lawyers, He goes on to utter a common reproof to all |391 the chiefs of the Jews: “Woe unto you! for you build the sepulchres of the prophets: and your fathers killed them. Therefore you bear witness, and approve of the deeds of your fathers; for they indeed killed them, and you build their sepulchres.” Let us then carefully examine what the Saviour means; for what wicked act can we say that they were guilty of in building the tombs of the saints? Were they not rather doing them distinguished honour? What doubt can there be of this? It is necessary therefore to see what it is which Christ teaches us. The ancestors then of the Jews had from time to time put the holy prophets to death, when bringing them the word of God, and leading them unto the right way: but their descendants, acknowledging that the prophets were holy and venerable men, built over them sepulchres or tombs, as bestowing upon them an honour suitable to the saints. Their fathers therefore slew them; but they, as believing that they were prophets and holy men. became the judges of those that slew them. For by determining to pay honour to those who had been put to death, they thereby accused the others of having done wrongfully. But they, who condemned their fathers for such cruel murders, were about to incur the guilt of equal crimes, and to commit the same, or rather more abominable offences. For they slew the Prince of Life, the Saviour and Deliverer of all: and added also to their wickedness towards Him other abominable murders. For Stephen was put to death, not as being accused of any thing base, but rather for admonishing them, and speaking unto them what is contained in the inspired Scriptures. And other crimes besides were committed by them against every saint who preached unto them the Gospel message of salvation.

The lawyers therefore and Pharisees were reproved in every way, as being haters of God, and boastful, and lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God: and as everywhere hating to be saved. For this reason Christ added always that word “woe,” as something peculiarly theirs: by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever, Amen. |392  |393  (source)

One Response to “St Cyril of Alexandria’s Homiletic Commentary on Luke 11:42-48”

  1. […] St Cyril of Alexandria’s Homiletic Commentary on Luke 11:42-46. On 42-48. […]

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