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

And He said unto another, Follow Me: but he said, Lord, suffer me to go first and bury my father. And Jesus said to him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.

IN Christ we have the head and teacher of every virtue. For “we are taught of God,” as the prophet declares, and moreover the wise Paul bears witness saying: “God, Who in manifold parts and manifold manners spake in old time to the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by the Son.” And what spake He by the Son? Plainly the gospel message of salvation, by means of which we are successfully guided into every kind of virtue, and advance in the praiseworthy and admirable pathway of the better life, so that by following His footsteps we gain the treasure of His gifts. The manner, then, in which we follow Him, and are counted worthy of those perfect and surpassing honours which were first bestowed upon the apostles, the lesson just laid before us clearly teaches us. “For He said, it tells us, unto another, Follow Me.”

Now the first point to consider is this: that in the preceding passage we learnt, that one drew near to Him, and said, “Teacher, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest:” but was rejected with scorn by Christ; first as being self called, and thrusting himself into honours which God bestows upon those only who are fit to receive them, and who as being announced by every excellent quality, and skilful in practising every good work and deed, are crowned by Christ, and inscribed in the companies of the holy teachers. But inasmuch as this man was not so disposed, he met with rebuke; for his mind was the dwelling of evil spirits, and full of all impurity. For the Saviour, indirectly touching his case, said; “The foxes have holes, and the birds of heaven a place to lodge in: but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head.”

Now at our last meeting we sufficiently discussed the manner in which this is to be understood by us. But here it was no self-called disciple who came, nor one presumptuously forward in promises of deeds thus praiseworthy: but, on the contrary, it was one called by Christ to the apostleship, as not unfitted for it. For he was honoured by the divine decree, and was doubtless holy, and venerable; and able to conform himself to the intention of the evangelic message. But he did not as yet know clearly in what way he ought to conduct himself in so great a matter; for he had perchance a father bowed down with old age: and thought himself acting in a manner highly pleasing to God in anxiously shewing him tenderness and fitting love. He knew, of course, as meeting with it in the books of the law, that the God of all has provided also for this, saying; “Honour thy father, and thy mother: that it may be well with thee: and that thou mayest live long upon the earth.” On being, therefore, summoned to the sacred ministry, and to the office of proclaiming the Gospel message:—for this is what was signified by Christ’s command to follow Him:—he is troubled in his human understanding, and asks for a delay of time enough to tend the old age of his parent. For “Suffer me,” he said, “first to go and bury my father.” And what we say is, not that he asked permission to bury his father, being already dead and laid out:—for Christ would not have forbidden this:—but he used the word “bury” instead of “that I may take care of his old age till his burial.”

What, then, was the Saviour’s answer? “Leave the dead burying their dead: but go thou, preach the kingdom of God.” For there were, no doubt, other guardians and relatives of his father: but as I consider dead, because they had not yet believed in Christ, nor been able to receive the new birth by holy baptism unto the life incorruptible. Let them, He says, bury their dead, because they also have within them a dead mind, nor as yet have been numbered among those who possess the life that is in Christ. From this, then, we learn, that the fear of God is to be set even above the reverence and love due to parents. For the law of Moses also, while it commanded, in the first place, that “thou shalt love the Lord God with all thy soul, and all thy might, and all thy heart:” put as second to it the honour due to parents, saying, “Honour thy father and thy mother.”

For come, and let us examine the matter in dispute, and inquire what is the reason why we consider the honour and love due to parents, not a thing to be neglected, but, on the contrary, carefully to be attended to. One may say, then, that is because we have our being by their means. But the God of all brought us into being, when we absolutely did not exist. He is the Creator and Maker of all: and, so to speak, the principle and radical essence of everything. For to everything existence is His gift. The father, then, and mother, were the means by which their offspring came into existence. Ought not, therefore, the primary Author justly to be loved more than the secondary and subsequent? And will not He Who gave the more precious gifts require of us the more marked honour? Our endeavours, therefore, to please our parents must give way to our love to God, and human duties must yield precedence to those which are divine. And this the Saviour has Himself taught us, saying, “He who loveth father mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me: and he who loveth son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me.” He does not say that they are condemned for simply loving, but for loving them more than Me. He permits sons and daughters, therefore, to love their parents, but not more than they do Him. When therefore any thing which concerns God’s glory has to be done, let no impediment stand in the way; let thy earnestness be without pretext: thy zealous exertions ardent and irrepressible. Forthwith let father and mother and children be disregarded, and the power of natural affection towards them cease, and yield the victory to the love of Christ.

So was that thrice-blessed Abraham tried: so was he justified, and called the friend of God: and counted worthy of surpassing honours. For what can equal in the balance the being a friend of God? What can this world offer comparable with a grace so glorious and admirable? He had one only-begotten and beloved son, who, after long delay, and scarcely, and in his old age had been given him. Upon him too rested all his hope of offspring: for it was said to him: “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” But as the sacred Scripture saith, “God tried Abraham, saying: Take thy beloved son, even him whom thou lovest, Isaac, and go to the high land, and offer him to Me for a whole burnt-offering, upon one of the mountains that I will tell thee.” Was God trying Abraham, as not foreknowing what would happen, and waiting to learn the result? But how can this be true? For He knows all things before they happen. Why therefore did He try him? That we by the fact might learn the old man’s love of God, and ready obedience, and unchanging earnestness in the dutiful performance of God’s will. And observe how God made him, so to speak, unready for the act, that the patriarch might obtain the more worthy admiration, as preferring nothing to his Lord’s will. “Take,” He says, not simply Isaac, but “thy son: the beloved one;—him whom thou hast loved.” This strengthened in his case the sting of natural affection. Oh! how mighty a turmoil of bitter thoughts rose up in the old man! For the force of innate affection naturally called him to compassion for the child. He had wished to be a father: for he had even lamented his childlessness unto God, when He promised to give him all that land which had been told him, and said, “Lord, what givest Thou me? and I dwell childless.” The law, therefore, of natural affection urged him to spare the lad; while the power of love towards God called him to ready obedience: and he was like some tree, driven to and fro by the violence of the winds; or like a ship at sea, reeling, so to speak, and staggering by the beating of the waves. But there was one true and powerful thought to which he held fast. For he considered, that though the lad were slain, and became the work and victim of the fire, as being a whole burnt-offering, well-pleasing to God: yet that He “was not unable to raise him up again, even from the dead.”

Much, therefore, at once was taught him by this event. For, in the first place, he learnt that ready obedience leads on to every blessing, and is the pathway to justification, and the pledge of friendship with God: and secondly, that God is able to raise again, even from the dead. And, moreover, he learnt what is more important, and more worthy of account, I mean the mystery of Christ: that for the salvation and life of the world God the Father was about to yield His own Son to the sacrifice: even Him, Who by nature was beloved, that is, Christ. And the blessed Paul confirms this, saying of Him: “He That spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.” The patriarch Abraham therefore learnt what kind of and how great a thing it is, not to spare his own son, the only-begotten and beloved. He then was found approved, because he set nothing above those things that are well-pleasing to God. Such Christ requires us to be, so as to love and prize what concerns His glory far above the ties of fleshly relationship.

And once more to look at it in another light. It was right that the power of love towards Him should outweigh with us even that of those who begat us in the flesh. He has given us God as a Father; for He said: “Call not any one father upon earth: for One is your Father Who is in heaven: and ye are all brethren.” And the wise John said of Him, “He came to His own, and His own received Him not: but to all who received Him He gave power to become the sons of God.” Ought they therefore who have Him as Father Who is Lord of heaven and earth: Who transcends all created things: Who is guarded by mighty cherubim: Who excels thrones and dominions, principalities and powers;—ought such, I say, to fall into so great folly, as not to set Him above all natural relationship? Can it be that we shall be guilty if we disregard the honour due to parents and children and brethren: but free from guilt, if we pay not the honour due to the Father of all? Hear what He plainly saith; “The son honoureth his father, and the servant his master: if I am a Father, where is My honour? and if I am a Master, where is My fear? saith the Lord Almighty.”

Fitly therefore did Christ make him who was called to the apostleship acquainted with apostolic conduct, and the spiritual manliness required for its discharge, by saying, “Leave the dead burying their dead: but go thou, preach the kingdom of God.” For such must the ministers of the divine message be. To whose wise teaching let us also in everything adhere, advancing onwards unto Christ: 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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