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 11:52-12:7

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 7, 2015

This post contains two sermons encompassing Lk 11:52-12:7.

11:52 … 12:1-3. Woe unto you, lawyers: for you have taken away the key of knowledge: you entered not in, and those that are entering in you hindered. And as He came out from thence, the scribes and Pharisees began to urge Him vehemently, and to put Him to silences about many things, lying in wait to catch something out of his mouth. Meanwhile many myriads of the people having assembled, so that they trod one upon another, He began to say unto His disciples first of all, Beware in yourselves of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed: neither hid, that shall not be known. All things whatsoever you have spoken in darkness, shall be heard in the light: and that which you have spoken in the ear in chambers, shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.

THOSE who search the sacred Scriptures, and know the Lord’s will, if they are virtuous men, and anxious for the people’s good, and skilled in leading them aright unto every thing that is admirable, shall be rewarded with every blessing, if they discharge their duties with earnestness. And of this the Saviour assures us where He says, “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his Lord has set over his household, to give them meat in its season? Blessed is that servant, whom his Lord shall come and find so doing: verily, I say unto you, that he will set him over all that he has.” But if he be indolent, and neglectful, and a cause of offence to those entrusted to his charge, so as for them to fall from the right way, most miserable is he, and in danger of hopeless punishment. For again Christ Himself has said; “Whosoever therefore shall offend one of these little ones, which believe in Me, it were better for him that the millstone of an ass were hung about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea.”  |394

Of faults thus grievous, Christ proved them guilty who professed to be skilled in the law; the scribes, I mean, and lawyers: and for this reason he said unto them; “Also to you lawyers woe! who have taken away the key of knowledge.” By the key of knowledge we consider that the law itself is meant, and justification in Christ, by faith I mean in Him. For though the law was in shadow and type, yet those types shape out to us the truth, and those shadows depict to us in manifold ways the mystery of Christ. A lamb was sacrificed according to the law of Moses; they ate its flesh, they anointed the lintels with its blood, and overcame the destroyer. But the blood of a mere sheep could not turn away death. It was Christ then Who was typified under the form of a lamb, Who endures to be the victim for the life of the world, and saves by His blood those who are partakers of Him. And one might mention many other instances as well, by means of which we can discern the mystery of Christ, sketched out in the shadows of the law. And He Himself once when speaking to the Jews said, “There is one that accuses you, even Moses, in whom you trusted. For if you had believed Moses, you would have also believed Me; for he wrote of Me.” And again; Search the Scriptures: for in them you think that you have eternal life; and it is they that testify of Me. And you are not willing to come unto Me, that you may have life.” For every word of divinely inspired Scripture looks unto Him, and refers to Him. And whether it be Moses who speaks, he, as has been shown, was typifying Christ: or be it the holy prophets that you name, they also proclaimed to us in manifold ways the mystery of Christ, preaching beforehand the salvation that is by Him.

It was the duty therefore of those who were called lawyers, because they studied the law of Moses, and were well acquainted with the words of the holy prophets, to open, so to speak, to the Jewish multitudes the doors of knowledge. For the law directs men unto Christ, and the pious announcements of the holy prophets lead, as I said, to the acknowledgment of Him. But this the so-called lawyers did not do, but on the contrary they took away the key of knowledge, by which you are to understand the guidance of the law, or really faith in Christ. For by faith is the knowledge of the truth, as the |395 prophet Isaiah somewhere says; ” If you will not believe, neither shall you understand.” This same way of salvation by faith in Christ He before declared unto us by the holy prophets, saying; “Yet a little, a little while, and he that comes shall come, and shall not tarry. And whosoever shall draw back, in him My soul shall have no pleasure.” And what is meant by a person’s drawing back is his giving way to slothfulness. When therefore He says, that no one of those who have been called must draw back, it means, that if he grow slothful in his progress towards the grace which is by faith, My soul shall have no pleasure in him.

But that the fathers were proved by faith, the examination of their deeds demonstrates. Take, for instance, the patriarch Abraham, who was called the friend of God: what is written of him? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness: and he was called the friend of God.” And it is written again; “By faith Noah, when it was revealed to him of things not seen as yet, prepared the ark for the saving of his house, in which few, that is, eight persons, were saved by water.” And the blessed Paul has laid down for us a definition, so to speak, or rather a general law, thus saying; “Without faith it is impossible for any one whatsoever to please God.” “For by it, he said, the elders, that is, those in old time, obtained a good report.”

But these so-called lawyers had taken away the key of knowledge; for they would not let men believe in Christ the Saviour of all. He wrought miracles in manifold ways; raising the dead from their graves; restoring beyond all hope their sight to the blind; making the lame whole in their feet; cleansing lepers; and rebuking unclean spirits. But they, though it was their duty to regard Him with admiration because of these things, despised His divine signs: and making the people entrusted to their charge to stumble, they said; “This man casts not out devils but in Beelzebub the prince of the devils.” Here then you see them taking away the key of knowledge. He taught in their synagogues; He revealed to His hearers that good and acceptable and perfect will of God the Father; but they cannot leave even these His instructions without blame: for they called out to the multitudes, “He has a devil, and is utterly mad. Why hear you |396 Him?” In truth therefore they took away the key of knowledge: they went not in themselves, and the others they hindered.

And thus being indignant at this reproof, ”they began,” it says, “to urge Him vehemently;” by which is meant, to attack Him with cunning, and oppose Him, and show their hatred of Him. And they ventured also, it says, even “to put Him to silence about many things.” And what again is the meaning of their putting Him to silence? It is that they required Him at once, and so to speak, without consideration to make answer to their wicked questions; expecting forsooth that he would fall, and say something or other open to objection. But they knew not that He was God; or rather, they were despisers, and proud and contemptuous. And therefore it was that Christ told His friends, that is, His disciples, to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and scribes,” meaning by leaven their false pretence. For hypocrisy is a thing hateful to God, and abominated by man, bringing no reward, and utterly useless for the salvation of the soul, or rather the cause of its perdition. For though sometimes it may escape detection for a little, yet before long it is sure to be laid bare, and bring upon them disgrace; like ill-featured women, when they are stripped of that external embellishment which they had produced by artificial means.

Hypocrisy therefore is a thing foreign to the character of the saints: for that it is impossible for those things that are done and said by us to escape the eye of the Deity, He showed by saying; “For there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed: neither hid that shall not be known.” For all our words and deeds shall be revealed at the day of judgment. Hypocrisy therefore is superfluous trouble; and our duty is to prove ourselves true worshippers, serving God with free and open countenance, not submitting our judgment to those who take away the key of knowledge, but seeing even in the law the mystery of Christ, and seizing upon the words of the holy prophets to confirm our knowledge of Him. For this His disciple also taught us thus saying; “We have for confirmation the word of prophecy, into which you do well to look, as upon a torch shining in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the star of light arise in your hearts.” |397 On us then who are in Christ the day has shone, and the star of the rational dawn has arisen, possessing as we do a correct and blameless knowledge of Him: for He has Himself put into our mind and heart divine knowledge, being the Saviour and Lord of all; by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever, Amen. |398

12:4-7. And I say unto you, My friends, Fear not them that kill the body, and afterwards have nothing more to do. But I will show you Whom you shall fear: fear Him Who after He has killed has power to cast into hell: yea, I say unto you, fear Him. Are not five sparrows sold for two halfpence; and not one of them is forgotten before God. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not: you are of more value than many sparrows.

PATIENCE, and an enduring and courageous mind, form the impenetrable armour of the saints: for they render them approved and resplendent with the praises of piety. For one also of the holy apostles thus spake, at one time; “In patience possess you your souls:” at another; “You have need of patience, that by doing the will of God, you may receive the promise.” By such manly virtues we become famous, and praiseworthy, and renowned among men everywhere, and worthy of honours and the blessings that are prepared for the saints: even those which “eye has not seen, nor ear heard,” as wise Paul says. And how must not those things be worth the gaining and admirable, which surpass our understanding and reason? And therefore, as I said, He prepares those who love Him for spiritual fortitude, thus speaking; “I say unto you, My friends.”

His present discourse therefore does not, as it seems, belong to every one absolutely: but, on the contrary, to those only who evidently love Him with all their heart, and can fitly say; “Who shall separate me from the love of Christ? shall  |399 tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” For those who have as yet no sure and certain and well-founded love of Him, as long as they live in tranquil times, may indeed possibly preserve their faith in Him: but if distress or persecution harass them a little, they turn away and forsake Him, losing, together with their faith, that which stirred them up to love Him. For just as young plants, which have lately sprung up, cannot endure the violence of too tempestuous a wind, because they have not as yet struck their roots deep; while those which are firmly fixed, and well rooted, remain secure in the ground, even though a gale of fierce winds shake them: so those whose mind is not yet firmly and securely fixed upon Him are very easily drawn aside, and readily desert; while those who have stored up and possais in mind and heart a secure and unwavering love of Him, are unalterable in mind, and unwavering in heart, being superior to all indolence, and looking with contempt upon the most intolerable dangers, and making a mock at terrors, so as even to ridicule the violence of death. The commandment therefore so to act belongs to those who love Him.

But who are those who love Him? They are, so to speak, such as are like-minded with Him, and anxious to follow in His footsteps. And to this His disciple encourages us by saying; “Forasmuch then as Christ has suffered for us in the flesh, do you for His sake arm yourselves with the same mind.” He laid down His life for us, and was “among the dead as one free.” For death did not attack Him, as it attacks us, because of sin: for He was and is far removed from all sin, and incapable of iniquity: but of His own will He endured it for our sakes, because of His boundless love toward us. For listen to Him as He plainly says; “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” And how then is it not a most base thing not to return to Christ, as a most necessary debt, that which we have received of Him? |400 And, to put it in another light; as being His friends, we ought not to fear death, but rather imitate the faith of the holy fathers. The patriarch Abraham, when tempted, offered his only-begotten son Isaac, “accounting that God was able to raise him up even from the dead.” What terror of death, therefore, can assail us, now that “Life has abolished death?” for Christ is “the Resurrection and the Life.”

And this too we must bear in mind, that the crowns are to be won by labour. It is strong exertion united with skill that perfects those mighty athletes in the games. It is courage and a brave mind that are most serviceable to those who are skilled in battles: while the man who throws away his shield is ridiculed even by the foe: and if the runaway live, he leads a life of disgrace. But he who was steadfast in the battle, and stood stoutly and courageously with all his might against the enemy, is honoured if he win the victory; and if he fall, is looked upon with admiration. And so ought we to reckon for ourselves; for to endure patiently, and maintain the conflict with courage, brings with it great reward, and is highly desirable, and wins for us the blessings bestowed by God: while to refuse to suffer death in the flesh for the love of Christ, brings upon us lasting, or rather never-ending punishment. For the wrath of man reaches at most to the body, and the death of the flesh is the utmost that they can contrive against us: but when God punishes, the loss reaches not to the flesh alone;—-how could it?—-but the wretched soul also is cast alone; with it into torments. Let our lot therefore rather be the honoured death; for it makes us mount up to the commencement of an eternal life, to which of necessity are attached those blessings also which come from the divine bounty: and let us flee from and despise a life of shame; a life accursed, and of short duration, and which leads down to bitter and everlasting torment.

And to bestow yet another means of succour upon our minds, He forcibly added; “that five sparrows are scarcely perhaps worth two halfpence, and yet not one of them is forgotten before God.” And further, He said; “that also the |401 separate hairs of your head are all numbered.” Consider, therefore, how great care He takes of those that love Him. For if the Preserver of the universe extends His aid to things thus worthless, and descends, so to speak, to the smallest animals, how can He forget those who love Him, especially when He takes so great care of them, and deigns so to visit them, as to know exactly each particular of their state, and even how many are the hairs of their head?

Where, then, is the vain and senseless babbling of heathen boasting? “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For some of them entirely deny the providence of God: while others make it reach down as far only as the moon, and set bounds to it, as though they had had this authority committed to them. Unto such we would say: Is the providence of God too weak to reach down to that which is below, and even as far as unto us, or is the Creator of all too weary to see what we do? If then they say that it is too weak, this is mere stupidity, and nothing else. But if they represent the divine nature as subject to indolence, they make it thereby liable also to envy. And this again is blasphemy, and a crime than which none is greater. But they answer, it is giving trouble to the divine and supreme will to impose upon it the care of all these earthly matters. They know not how great is that nature which the mind cannot understand nor speech describe, and which rules over all. For to it all things are small: and so the blessed prophet Isaiah teaches us where he says; “If it is true that all the nations are as a drop from a cask, and are reckoned as the turn of a balance, and shall be counted as spittle, to what have you likened the Lord?” For what is one drop from a cask? and what is the turn of a balance? and what too is spittle?—-that is, a single expectoration? If therefore this be the position of all things towards God, how can it be a great matter to Him, or one that occasions Him trouble, to have the care of all things? The noxious sentiments therefore of the heathen are bereft of reason.

Let us therefore not doubt but that with rich hand He will bestow His grace upon those who love Him. For either He |402 will not permit us to fall into temptation: or if, by His wise purpose, He permit us to be taken in the snare, in order that we may gain glory by suffering. He will most assuredly grant us the power to bear it. And of this the blessed Paul is our witness, who says; “God is powerful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able, but will with the temptation also make a way of egress, that you may be able to bear it.” For He Who is the Saviour and Lord of us all, is the Lord of powers: by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever, Amen. |403 (source)

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