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

And the chief priests and scribes sought that same hour to lay hands upon Him; and they feared the people: for they knew that He had spoken this parable concerning them. And having watched for an opportunity, they sent unto Him spies, making pretence of being just men, to find occasion against Him in His speech, that they might deliver Him unto the rule and authority of the governor. And they asked Him, saying, Teacher, we know that Thou speakest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest persons, but teachest the way of God in truth. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Cæsar, or not? But He perceived their wickedness, and said unto them, Shew me a denarius. And they shewed one unto Him. And He said, Whose is the image upon it and superscription? And they said, Cæsar’s. And He said unto them, Give therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s, and unto God the things which are God’s. And they could not blame the word before the people; and they wondered at His answer, and were silent.

AGAIN is the gang of the Pharisees inflamed with unbridled rage: they draw the bow of their envy; they gnash their teeth at Him Who calleth them unto life; they savagely attack Him Who seeketh to save, and Who humbled Himself from His supreme and godlike glory unto our estate; and they plot His death Who became man that He might abolish death. And the sole cause which hindered their shameless audacity, the wise Evangelist shews us by saying, that “they feared the people.” He understood therefore that they were restrained by no feeling whatsoever of piety towards God; the commandment given by Moses, which plainly says, “Thou shalt not kill the holy and the just,” put no bridle upon their violence: but they had regard to the fear of man far more than to the reverence due unto God.

But what was the cause of their giving way to such harsh and unmitigated fury? “They knew, it says, that He had spoken this parable concerning them.” And what parable? Plainly that by which He had shown that as being wicked and faithless husbandmen, they had mocked and slain the holy prophets, who had been sent unto them by God, to stir them up to honour Him, by bringing forth abundant spiritual fruits: and had similarly treated even the Son Himself, the Lord of the vineyard. For they slew Him also, saying, “This is the heir: come, let us kill Him, that the inheritance may be ours.” But they missed their mark, and provoked God to anger, or rather resisted the decrees from above, and whetted against themselves the divine wrath. For “being evil, they perished evilly;” and were rejected from being husbandmen, and the Lord of the farm gave the vineyard unto others. This then was the reason for which they murmured against Christ: and yet, how was it not rather their duty, having been taught what was about to happen, to escape from the danger, and leap over its toils? And the way so to do was straightforward and easy. Let them accept Him Who calleth them unto salvation: let them honour by faith Him Who justifieth the wicked; Who absolveth from all guilt; and by His grace, that remembereth not evil, saveth those who are entangled in sins.

But these bold and obdurate men, being ready for evil only, entertain no such purpose as this, but with their mind full of the craftiness of the devil, betake themselves to wicked devices. They lay snares for Christ, and contrive a trap for an accusation against Him, and gather pretexts for falsely accusing Him. Already are they meditating, and plotting in their bitterness, the lying words they uttered against Him before Pilate. They suborned men therefore who falsely assumed to themselves the reputation of goodness, like a borrowed mask; while really they were wicked in their characters, and their heart full of gall and error and all false speaking. They made pretence then of being kind and just: they imagined that they could deceive Him Who knoweth secrets, when having one purpose in mind and heart, they utter words altogether unlike their wicked knaveries. For they perchance forgot God, Who says, “Who is this that hideth from Me his purpose? and shutteth up his words in his heart, and thinketh that from Me he hideth them?” For, as Solomon says, “Hell and destruction are open unto the Lord: how therefore must not also the minds of men?” But thou drewest near unto Christ the Saviour of all as unto a mere man, and therefore thou thoughtest that thou couldst deceive Him. This was the cause of thy ignorant behaviour: but it had been better to have reflected, that the Word being God was made in fashion like unto us; but was nevertheless proved by divine and ineffable miracles, and by His godlike glory, not to be a mere man only, such as thou art, but to be God, as the splendour of His deeds proclaimed. He was in appearance a man like unto us, but He gave sight to the blind; He raised the dead from their graves; He commanded those who already had seen corruption to hasten back to life; He rebuked the seas, and appeared unto the disciples, walking upon the waves, as they were sailing once upon the sea of Tiberias. It was in their power therefore to have seen from actual facts that He was not a man only, but rather God also as well as man.

But this they would not even admit into their minds: how could they? but drew near, tempting Him; and hiding from Him their fraudulent purpose, they address Him with gentle words, being like savage beasts wrapt in lambs’ clothing. Such were they whom the prophet David also rebuked, saying, “Their words are smoother than oil: and yet are they the points of spears.” And again, “Their tongue pierceth like the point of a spear: the words of their mouth are deceitful: he speaketh peaceably to his neighbour: and there is enmity in his soul.” But what do they say? “Teacher, we know that Thou speakest and teachest rightly, nor dost Thou accept persons, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Cæsar, or not?” O what polluted knavery! For the God of all willed indeed for Israel to be exempt from human dominion: but because they trampled under foot the divine laws, and despising utterly the commandment given unto them, betook themselves to their own devices, they had fallen under the hand of those who at that time held dominion over them: who also imposed upon them tribute, and tax, and the yoke of an unwonted slavery. For the prophet Jeremiah also lamented over Jerusalem as though she had already suffered this fate, saying, “How hath the populous city sat solitary! She that was chief of the countries hath become tributary!”

Their object therefore, it says, was to deliver “Him unto the authority of the governor:” for they expected that certainly and without doubt they would hear Him say, that it was not lawful to give tribute unto Cæsar. How therefore did Christ overcome their craftiness? “Shew Me, He says, a denarius.” And when it was shewn Him, again He asks, “Whose is the image upon it and superscription? And they said, Cæsar’s.” And what does Christ reply thereto? “Give unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s, and unto God the things which are God’s.” For those whose office it is to govern impose a tribute of money upon their subjects: but God requires of us of things corruptible and transitory even nothing, but rather willing obedience and submission; faith and love; and the sweet savour of good works. These things the Israelites ought to have offered unto God: but they were careless and contemptuous, and too ready to betake themselves to every thing that was base.

“They wondered therefore at His answer,” and that “before all the people,” that is, before many witnesses. And yet, as though they had forgotten these things, when they led Jesus unto Pilate, they brought this very accusation against Him: for they said, “We found this man perverting the people, and forbidding to give tribute unto Cæsar.” Thou wonderedst at His answer; thou wast unable to deceive Him; thou wentest away ashamed: and how then madest thou thy own wickedness the point of an accusation against Him? What therefore does the Saviour say of them by the voice of the Psalmist? “That without cause have they hid for Me the destruction of their snare: without reason have they reproached My soul. Let a snare come upon them which they know not: and let the net which they hid for Me catch themselves, and let them fall into their own snare.” For so verily they did fall; for because they delivered Jesus unto Pilate, they were themselves given over to destruction, and the Roman host consumed them with fire and sword, and burnt up all their land, and even the glorious temple that was among them.

Such were the wages of their wicked behaviour against Christ: but let us, carefully avoiding these sins, and honouring by faith the Word of God, Who for our sakes and in our stead became man, be diligent in crowning Him with unceasing praises: by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father, be praise and dominion, with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Amen.








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