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A Commentary Upon The Gospel According To Saint Luke -St. Cyril

It is impossible but that offences come.

WHAT are the offences which Christ mentions as being in every way certain to happen? Offences then are of two kinds: for some are against the glory of the Supreme Being, and assail That Substance Which transcends all, as far at least as regards the purpose of the contrivers of them: while other offences happen from time to time against ourselves, and proceed no further than to the injury of some of the brethren, who are our partners in the faith. For whatever heresies have been invented, and every argument which opposes itself to the truth, resist really the glory of the supreme Godhead, by drawing away those who are caught therein from the uprightness and exactness of the sacred doctrines. And such were the offences concerning which the Saviour Himself again somewhere said, “Woe to the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come: but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh.” For offences of this kind, caused I mean by unholy heretics, are not levelled against some single individual, but are aimed rather against the world, that is, against the inhabitants of the whole earth. And the inventors of such offences the blessed Paul rebukes, saying, “But in thus sinning against the brethren, and wounding their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.” And that such offences might not prevail over the faithful, God somewhere spake unto those who are the ambassadors of the upright word of truth, and skilful in teaching it, saying, “Go through My gates, and make a pathway for My people, and cast away the stones out of the way.” And the Saviour has attached a bitter penalty against those who lay such stumblingblocks in men’s road.

Perhaps, however, these are not the offences here referred to, but those rather, which very frequently from human infirmity happen between friends and brethren: and the accompanying discourse which immediately follows these opening remarks, and which speaks of our pardoning the brethren in case they ever sin against us, leads us to the idea that these were the offences meant. And what then are these offences? Mean and annoying actions, I suppose; fits of anger, whether on good grounds or without justification; insults; slanders very frequently; and other stumbling blocks akin and similar to these. Such, He says, must needs come. Is this then because God, Who governs all, obliges men to their commission? Away with the thought: for from Him comes nothing that is evil, yea! rather He is the fountain of all virtue. Why then must they happen? Plainly because of our infirmity: “for in many things we all of us stumble,” as it is written. Nevertheless there will be woe, He says, to the man who lays the stumbling blocks in the way: for He does not leave indifference in these things without rebuke, but restrains it rather by fear of punishment. Nevertheless He commands us to bear with patience those who occasion them.

Ver. 4. If seven times in the day he sin against thee.

For if, He says, he who sins against thee repent and acknowledge his fault, thou shalt forgive him: and that not once only, but very many times. For we must not shew ourselves deficient in mutual love, and neglect forbearance, because any one is weak, and again and again offends; but must rather imitate those whose business it is to heal our bodily maladies, and who do not tend a sick man once only or twice, but just as often as he chances to fall ill. For let us remember that we also are liable to infirmities, and overpowered by our passions: and such being the case, we pray that those whose duty it is to rebuke us, and who possess the authority to punish us, may shew themselves kind to us and forgiving. It is our duty therefore, having a common feeling for our mutual infirmities, “to bear one another’s burdens; for so we shall fulfil the law of Christ.” And observe also, that in the Gospel according to Matthew, Peter makes the inquiry, “How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive Him?” And thereupon the Lord tells the Apostles, ‘that though he sin seven times in the day; that is, frequently, and shall as often acknowledge ‘his fault, thou shalt forgive him.’

Ver. 5. The Apostles said unto the Lord, Add unto us faith.

That which necessarily gives joy to the soul of the saints is not the possession of transitory and earthly goods; for they are corruptible, and easily lost; but of such rather as render those that receive them reverend and blessed, even the spiritual graces which are God’s gift. And of these one of special value is faith, by which I mean the having been brought unto a belief in Christ, the Saviour of us all: which also Paul recognised as being the chief of all our blessings; for he said, that “without faith it was impossible ever to have pleased (God): for by it the elders obtained their testimony.” Observe therefore the holy apostles emulating the conduct of the saints of old time. For what do they ask of Christ? “Add unto us faith,” They do not ask faith simply, lest thou shouldst imagine them to be without faith; but they rather ask of Christ an addition to their faith, and to be strengthened therein. For faith partly depends upon ourselves, and partly is the gift of the divine grace: for the commencement of it depends upon ourselves, and to maintain confidence and faith in God with all our power; but the confirmation and strength necessary for this comes from the divine grace: for which reason, because all things are possible with God, the Lord says, that “all things are possible unto him that believeth.” For the power which comes unto us through faith is of God. And knowing this, the blessed Paul also says in the first Epistle to the Corinthians: “For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom: and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit: and to another faith in the same Spirit.” Thou seest that he has placed faith also in the catalogue of spiritual graces. And this the disciples requested they might receive of the Saviour, contributing also that which was of themselves: and He granted it unto them after the fulfilment of the dispensation, by the descent upon them of the Holy Ghost: for before the resurrection their faith was so feeble, that they were liable even to the charge of littleness of faith.

For the Saviour of all was sailing once, for instance, with the holy apostles upon the lake or sea of Tiberias, and purposely permitted Himself to fall asleep: and when a violent storm agitated the surge, and raised a mighty wave against the vessel, they were greatly troubled, so that they even roused the Lord from sleep, saying, “Master, save us, we perish.” And He, it says, arose, and rebuked the waves, and changed the savageness of the tempest into a calm. But He greatly blamed the holy apostles, saying, “Where is your faith?” For they ought not to have been troubled in any respect whatsoever, when the Sovereign of the universe was present with them, at Whom all His works tremble and shake. And if we must add a further and similar example, I will mention one. He commanded the holy apostles to go on board the vessel, and precede Him unto the opposite side of the lake: and they of course did to. And when they had rowed, it says, about thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea, and were greatly terrified, imagining that they saw a spectre. But when He called out unto them, saying, “It is I: be not afraid;” Peter said, “If it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water: and He said, Come.” And having leaped down from the ship, he began to walk unto Him. But when, it says, he saw the wind and the wave, he was terrified: and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, help me:” and He saved him in his danger, but again rebuked him, saying, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” And that at the season of the passion, when the band of soldiers, and wicked officers, came to seize Jesus, they all forsook Him and fled, and Peter also denied Him, being terrified at a maidservant, is well known.

Thou hast seen the disciples while still possessed of but little faith: now wonder at them when they had obtained an increase of their faith from Christ, the Saviour of us all. He commanded them “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise,” until they should be clothed with power from on high. But when the power from on high had descended upon them in the shape of fiery tongues, even the grace which is through the Holy Ghost, then indeed they became bold and manly and fervent in the Spirit, so as even to despise death, and to count as nothing the dangers with which they were threatened from unbelievers; yea, and then too they became able to work miracles.

But that to be confirmed in the faith is a great and special grace, the Lord shews by saying, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, hot, that is, and fervent, ye might have said to the sycamine tree, Be thou uprooted in the sea, and it would have obeyed you.” For he who confides in Christ trusts not to his own strength, but rather assigns to Him the power of performing all things. From Him then confessedly comes the accomplishment of all good things in men’s souls: but they nevertheless must prepare themselves to receive this great grace. For if the power of faith remove that which is fixed and rooted in the ground, one may say absolutely that there is nothing so immovable as that faith cannot shake it, if its removal be required. The earth accordingly was shaken when the apostles were praying, as the Acts of the Apostles record: and so, on the other hand, faith stays those things which are in motion, as the rapid course of a running river, and the ceaseless way of the lights which move in heaven. This, however, we must carefully notice, that God does not excite an empty astonishment or vain wondering, but that such things are far from the divine Substance, Which is free from pride and boasting, and altogether true, for the sole good and safety of mankind. And this I say, that no one may expect from sacred faith and the divine power useless changes, for instance, of the elements, or the removal of mountains and plants; nor give way to impiety, as though the word were not true, if these things come not so to pass: nor again count faith weak, if it cannot accomplish such things. Let the thing be but useful for some real benefit, and the power will not be wanting.

Ver. 7. But which of you having a servant ploughing or feeding cattle.

In the verses which precede a long and important discourse has been addressed to us by the Lord, to shew unto us the paths which lead unto honour, and to manifest the glories of the blameless life, that making progress therein, and advancing zealously unto whatsoever is admirable we may attain unto “the prize of our high calling.” But since it is the nature of the mind of man ever to be carried away unto vaingloriousness, and to be afflicted most readily with a tendency thereto; and since a pretext for this fault is often given by the being distinguished before God for some of the noblest virtues; and since it is a sin grievous and hateful unto God:—for the serpent, the author of evil, leads men sometimes into such a state of mind, as for them to imagine perhaps that God even owes them the highest honours, when their life is glorious and distinguished:—to draw us away from such passions, He sets before us the purport of the lessons which have just been read, teaching us thereby, under the form of an example, that the might of sovereign authority demands everywhere of its slaves subjection as a debt. For the lord, He says, will not acknowledge any gratitude to the slave, even if all that is due be done by him, according to what becomes the condition of a slave.

Here observe, I pray, that the disciples, yea, all who are subject to the sceptre of Christ the Saviour of us all, are encouraged unto industry, but that, not as though they rendered unto Him their service as a favour, but as discharging the debt of obedience incumbent upon slaves. And hereby the accursed malady of vainglory is done away. For if thou doest that which is thy due, why pridest thou thyself? Seest thou not that if thou dischargest not thy debt, there is danger: and that if thou dost discharge it, no gratitude is owed thee? Which truth that admirable servant Paul having well learnt and understood, says, “If I preach the gospel, I have no cause of boasting; for a necessity is laid upon me: but woe unto me if I preach not the gospel.” And again, “I am a debtor, he says, of the preaching of the doctrine, both to Greeks and barbarians, both to wise and foolish.” If therefore thou hast done well, and hast kept the divine commands, and hast obeyed thy Lord, ask not honour of God as thy due, but rather draw near, supplicating for the gifts of His bounty. Bear in mind that also among us, masters acknowledge no gratitude when any of their slaves perform their appointed service, though often by their bounty they gain the goodwill of their faithful servants, and so beget in them a more ready alacrity. Similarly God demands of us the service of slaves, using the right of His sovereign authority: but as being good and bountiful. He promises also rewards to those who labour. And the greatness of His bounty far surpasses the labours of His subjects, as Paul shall prove unto you, writing, “The sufferings of the present season are not worthy to the glory about to be revealed upon us.” Yea! though we are slaves, He calls us sons, and crowns us with the honour which becometh children. And observe that each one, having first attended to his own flesh, so must take charge of the good of others: for he “who cannot govern his own house well, how shall he take care of the church?”

Ver. 12. Ten lepers met him.

Again the Saviour manifests unto us His glory, and by working godlike miracles, endeavours to win senseless Israel unto faith, obdurate though he was, and unbelieving. What argument then will avail him at the day of judgment for refusing to accept salvation through Christ? Especially when they themselves heard His words, and were eyewitnesses of His ineffable miracles? For which reason He said Himself of them, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin.” And again, “If I had not done among them the works which no other man did, they had not had sin, but now they have both seen and hated both Me and My Father.” The cleansing of the lepers, as I said just above, was a plain demonstration (of His miraculous power): for by the law of Moses they were shut out of the cities and villages, as being impure.

This then will suffice, I suppose, for introductory remarks. The lepers then having met the Saviour, earnestly besought Him to free them from their misery, and called Him Master, that is, Teacher.

No one pitied them when suffering this malady: but He Who had appeared on earth for this very reason, and had become man that He might shew pity unto all, He was moved with compassion for them, and had mercy upon them.

Ver. 14. He said unto them, Go and shew yourselves unto the priests.

And why did He not rather say, “I will, be ye cleansed;” as he did in the case of another leper; but commanded them rather to shew themselves unto the priests? It was because the law gave directions to this effect to those who were delivered from leprosy: for it commanded them to shew themselves to the priests, and to offer a sacrifice for their cleansing. He commanded them therefore to go, as being already healed, and, that they might, so to speak, bear witness to the priests, as the rulers of the Jews, and ever envious of His glory, that wonderfully, and beyond their hope, they had been delivered from their misfortune by Christ’s willing that they should be healed. He did not heal them first, but sent them to the priests, because the priests knew the marks of leprosy, and of its being healed. He sent them to the priests, and with them He sent also the healing. What however was the law of leprosy, and what the rules for its purification, and what the meaning of each of the particulars commanded by the law, we have more fully described at the commencement of our Saviour’s miracles as recorded by Luke, and referring thither such as are anxious for learning, let us now proceed to what follows. The nine then, as being Jews, falling into a thankless forgetfulness, did not return to give glory to God: by which He shews that Israel was hard of heart, and utterly unthankful: but the stranger,—for as being a Samaritan he was of foreign race, having been brought thither from Assyria: for the phrase is not without meaning, “in the middle of Samaria and Galilee:”—returned with a loud voice to glorify God. It shews therefore that the Samaritans were grateful, but that the Jews, even when benefited, were ungrateful.

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