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Sermon On Alms

Now it will surely be worth while to inquire who these saints are; for he mentions them not only here but elsewhere as well, when he says, “But now I shall go to Jerusalem, to minister unto the saints.” (Rom. 15:25). And Luke, in the Acts, when a great famine was threatening, speaks of these same saints as follows: “And the disciples, every man according to his ability, purposed to send relief to the brethren who dwelt in Jerusalem.” (Acts 11:29). And again, in a passage which I have already quoted, he says: “Only that we should be mindful of the poor: which same thing also I was careful to do.” (Gal. 2:10). Verily after we had divided our work, so that I ministered to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews, we decided by common consent, he says, that this division should not apply to the poor. When they were preaching, Paul preached to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews, but in caring for the poor, they did not arrange that the one should devote his services to the poor of the Jews, the other only to the poor of the Gentiles; but both of them labored diligently for the poor of the Jews. And it is on that account that he said: “Only that we should be mindful of the poor: which same thing also I was careful to do”.

Who then are these of whom he speaks both in the epistle to the Romans and in the epistle to the Galatians, and in whose behalf he exhorts the Macedonians also? They are the Jewish poor, who dwelt in Jerusalem.

And why is he so deeply concerned for them? Were there not paupers and mendicants in every state? Why does he send relief preferably to these and why does he solicit everyone in their behalf? Surely not without good reason, nor by chance, nor through respect for persons; but rather because it would be serviceable and profitable.

We must, however, go into the question a little more deeply. When the kingdom of the Jews had fallen to pieces and when they crucified Jesus, they had fulfilled the prophecy concerning them, “We have no king but Cæsar” (John 19:15), and were at length subjected to Roman rule and were not, as before, their own masters. They were not exactly slaves, as now they are, but were formed into military bands, and paid tribute to the emperors and received praetors from them. Moreover, for the most part they had their own laws, and punished offenders among their number according to traditional judgments. That they paid tribute to the Romans is well-known from the fact that they asked Jesus, tempting him, “Master, … is it lawful to give tribute to Cæsar or not?” To which Jesus answered, commanding them to show the coin: “Render … to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s; and to God, the things that are God’s.” (Matt. 22:17–21). Besides, Luke says that the temple was in the hands of tribunes and soldiers. (Luke 22:52). These are not insignificant proofs that the Jews had been made subject to the Romans. But that they had their own laws is evident from the fact that they stoned Stephen, even though he had not been tried at the tribunal; that they slew James, the brother of the Lord; and that they crucified Christ himself, even though the judge acquitted him of all guilt. Wherefore he washed his hands, saying: “I am innocent of this blood.” (Matt. 27:24). And because he saw that they were very importunate, he did not make the decision himself, but withdrew. And they, taking matters into their own hands, later completed their work. Frequently, too, they attacked Paul.

And thus it came to pass that, because they had their own tribunal, their compatriots who believed suffered more severely than others. To be sure, in the other cities there were tribunals and laws and magistrates; but the Gentiles were not permitted arbitrarily to slay or stone those of their countrymen who fell away from the established faith, or to do them any injury. And if anyone was found to have done such a thing contrary to the decision of the judges, he was punished. To the Jews, however, great liberty was granted in this respect. Wherefore those of them who believed suffered greater ills than all the rest, as if they had been carried away into the midst of wolves, and no one rose up to deliver them. Yea, forsooth, they often scourged Paul. Hear his own words: “Of the Jews five times did I receive forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, …” (2 Cor. 11:24–25).

That what I have been saying is not conjecture is shown by what Paul himself says in writing to the Hebrews: “But call to mind the former days, wherein, being illuminated, you endured a great fight of afflictions. And on the one hand indeed, by reproaches and tribulations, were made a gazing-stock; and on the other, became companions of them that were used in such sort. For … you took with joy the being stripped of your own goods, knowing that you have a better and a lasting substance in heaven.” (Heb. 10:32–34). And when he was exhorting the Thessalonians, he called to their minds the sufferings of those other Christians: “For you, brethren, are become followers of the churches of God which are in Judea, …: for you also have suffered the same things from your own countrymen, even as they have from the Jews.” (1 Thess. 2:15).

Therefore, because they suffered more grievously than all the others, and were not only treated without mercy, but were even plundered and robbed of everything they possessed and were everywhere driven out, it is with justice that he urges everyone to take upon himself their protection. Again, he exhorts the Corinthians in their behalf with these words: “Now concerning the collections for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, so do ye also.” (1 Cor. 16:1).








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