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

And He spake this parable. A certain man had a fig-tree planted in his vineyard, and he came and sought fruit thereon, but found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Lo, three years indeed I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none. Cut it down therefore: why doth it make the ground also barren? But he answered and said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also: until I dig around it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit in the coming [year, well], and if not, thou shalt cut it down.

THE Psalmist shews the surpassing gentleness of Christ, the Saviour of us all, in these words; “Lord, what is man, that Thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that Thou visitest him?” For man upon earth, as far as his bodily nature is concerned, is dust and ashes: but he has been honoured by God, by having been made in His image and likeness: not in his bodily shape, that is, but rather because he is capable of being just and good, and fitted for all virtue. The Creator therefore takes care of him, as being His creature, and for the purpose of adorning the earth. For as the prophet Isaiah saith; “He made it not in vain, but that it should be inhabited:”—inhabited of course by a rational animal, who can discern with the eyes of the mind the Creator and Artificer of the Universe, and glorify Him like the spirits that are above But because by the deceiving arts of the serpent he had turned aside unto wickedness, and was held fast by the chains of sin, and removed far from God, Christ, to enable him once again to mount upwards, has sought him out, and fashioned him anew to what he was at first, and granted him repentance as the pathway to lead him unto salvation.

He proposes therefore a wise parable: but we ought perhaps first to explain what was the occasion which led to it, or what at all the necessity why He brought it forward.

There were therefore certain who told Christ, the Saviour of us all, that Pilate had put to death cruelly and without pity certain Galilæans, and mingled their blood with their sacrifices. And others that the tower near Shiloh had fallen, and eighteen persons perished beneath the ruins. And afterwards referring to these things, Christ had said to His hearers; “Verily, I say unto you, that except ye repent, ye also shall in like manner perish.” This was the head and root of the present parable, and that at which it was, as it were, aimed.

Now the outer sense of this passage needs not a single word for its explanation: but when we search into its inward and secret and unseen purport, it is, we affirm, as follows. The Israelites, after our Saviour’s crucifixion, were doomed to fall into the miseries they deserved, Jerusalem being captured, and its inhabitants slaughtered by the sword of the enemy. Nor were they to perish thus only, but their houses were to be burnt with fire, and even the temple of God demolished. It is probable therefore that He likens the synagogue of the Jews to a fig tree; for the sacred Scripture also compares them to various plants: to the vine, for instance, and the olive, and even to a forest. For the prophet Jeremiah at one time says of Jerusalem, or rather of its inhabitants; “Israel is a vine with many branches.” And again at another addressing it, he says; “The Lord hath called thy name a beautiful olive tree, well shaded in appearance: at its pruning time a fire was kindled in it: great was the tribulation that was upon it; its branches were destroyed.” And another of the holy prophets, comparing it to Mount Lebanon, thus speaks; “Open thy doors, O Lebanon, and the fire shall devour thy cedars.” For the forest that was in Jerusalem, even the people there, many as they were and innumerable, was destroyed as by fire. He takes therefore, as I said, the fig tree spoken of in the parable as a figure of the Jewish synagogue, that is, of the Israelites: and “three years,” He says, “He sought fruit upon it, and found none.” By which, I think, are signified to us those three periods during which the Jewish synagogue bore no fruit. The first of these, one may say, was that in which Moses and Aaron and his sons lived: who served God, holding the office of the priesthood according to the law. The second was the period of Jeshua, the son of Nun, and the judges who succeeded him. And the third, that in which the blessed prophets flourished down to the time of John the Baptist During these periods Israel brought forth no fruit.

But I can imagine persons making to this the following objection; ‘But Io! it did fulfil the service ordained by the law, and offered the sacrifices which consisted in the blood of victims and burning incense.’ But to this we reply: that in the writings of Moses there was only a type of the truth, and a gross and material service: there was not as yet a service simple, pure, and spiritual, such as we affirm God chiefly loves, having so learnt of Christ, Who said; “God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth.” As far therefore as regarded the good-will of the Father, and evidently that also of the Son, the service which consisted in shadows and types was unacceptable, being utterly without fruit in whatsoever appertains to a sweet spiritual savour. And therefore it was rejected: for so the Saviour teaches us, when saying to God the Father in heaven; “Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not: and whole burnt offerings, and sin offerings Thou didst not require.” And again by the voice of Isaiah He saith Himself to those who were seeking to fulfil it: “For who hath required this at your hands? Tread My court no more: if ye bring fine meal, it is in vain: incense is an abomination unto Me.” How therefore can that which God hates and abominates be supposed to be the rational and spiritual fruit of the soul, and acceptable unto Him?

He says therefore, “Lo, three years do I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none. Cut it down therefore: why doth it make the ground also useless.” As though He would say, Let the place of this barren fig tree be laid bare: for then there will come up or may be planted there some other tree. And this too was done: for the multitude of the Gentiles was summoned into its room, and took possession of the inheritance of the Israelites. It became the people of God; the plant of Paradise; a germ good and honourable; that knoweth how to bring forth fruit, not in shadows and types, but rather by a pure and perfectly stainless service, even that which is in spirit and in truth, as being offered to God, Who is an immaterial Being.

The owner then of the ground said, that the fig-tree, which during so long a time had been barren and without fruit, must be cut down. But the vinedresser, it says, besought him, saying; “Lord, let it alone this year also: until I dig around it and dung it: and if it bear fruit in the coming [year, well;] and if not, thou shalt cut it down.”

Now it is necessary to inquire, who is to be understood by the vinedresser. If then any one choose to affirm that it is the angel who was appointed by God as the guardian of the synagogue of the Jews, he would not miss a suitable interpretation. For we remember that the prophet Zechariah wrote, that one of the holy angels stood offering supplications for Jerusalem, and saying, “O Lord Almighty, how long wilt Thou not have mercy upon Jerusalem, and on the cities of Judah; which Thou hast abandoned, lo! for seventy years?” And it is written also in Exodus, that when the ruler of the land of the Egyptians with his warriors was pursuing after the Israelites, and was already upon the point of engaging with them in battle, the angel of God stood between the camp of the Israelites and of the Egyptians, and the one came not near the other all the night. There is therefore nothing unbefitting in supposing here also, that the holy angel who was the guardian of the synagogue offered supplications in its behalf, and prayed for a respite, if perchance yielding to better influence it might yet bring forth fruit.

But if any one should say that the vinedresser is the Son, this view also has a reason on its side not unbefitting right arguments. For “He is our Advocate with the Father,” “and our propitiation,” and the husbandman of our souls, Who pruneth away constantly whatever is to our hurt, and filleth us with rational and holy seeds, that so we may bring forth for Him fruits: and so He spake of Himself. “A sower went out to sow his seed.”

And it in no respect militates against the glory of the Son, that He assumes the character of the vinedresser: for the Father is Himself also found to have taken it, without being exposed to any blame for so doing. For the Son said to the holy apostles, “I am the Vine: ye are the branches: My Father is the Husbandman.” For the verbal expression must from time to time be made to accord with the suppositions which are laid down.

Let Him therefore be supposed to be the Advocate in our behalf: and He says, “Let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and dung it.” And what then is this year? But plainly this fourth year, this time subsequent to those former periods, is that in which the Only-begotten Word of God became man, to stir up like some husbandman by spiritual exhortations the Israelites who had withered away in sin, digging round them, and warming them, to make them “fervent in spirit.” For He repeatedly denounced against them destruction and ruin, wars and slaughters, burnings and captivities, and immitigable wrath: while, on the other hand, He promised, if they would believe on Him, and now at length become fruitful trees, that he would give them life and glory, the grace of adoption, the communion of the Holy Ghost, and the kingdom of heaven. But Israel was incapable of being taught even thus. It was still a barren fig tree, and continued so to be. It was cut down, therefore, that it might not make the ground useless: and in its stead there sprung up, as a fertile plant, the gentile church, beautiful, and fruit-bearing, deeply-rooted, and incapable of being shaken. For they have been counted as children unto Abraham, and have been ingrafted into the good olive-tree: for a root has been preserved, and Israel has not utterly perished.

But that it was doomed to be cut down, on account of its utter barrenness, the blessed John the Baptist also declared in these words; “Behold the axe is laid at the root of the trees: every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” And one of the holy prophets also

Behold there was a woman, which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years.

Now there was in the synagogue a woman who for eighteen years was bowed down by infirmity. And her case may prove of no little benefit to those who have understanding: for we must gather what is to our advantage from every quarter:—since by what happened to her we may see that Satan often receives authority over certain persons, such, namely, as fall into sin, and have grown lax in their efforts after piety. Whomsoever therefore he gets into his power, he involves, it may be in bodily diseases, since he delights in punishment and is merciless. And the opportunity for this the all-seeing God most wisely grants him, that being sore vexed by the burden of their misery, men may set themselves upon changing to a better course. For which reason St. Paul also delivered over to Satan a certain person at Corinth accused of fornication, “for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might be saved.” The woman therefore who was bowed down is said to have suffered this from the cruelty of the devil, according to our Master’s words, “Whom Satan hath bound for eighteen years:” God, as I said, so permitting it, either for her own sins, or rather by the operation of a universal and general law. For the accursed Satan is the cause of disease to the bodies of men, inasmuch as Adam’s transgression was, we affirm, his doing, and by means of it our human frames have become liable to infirmity and decay. But when this was the state of men, God, Who by His very nature is good, did not abandon us when suffering under the punishment of a protracted and incurable malady, but freed us from our bonds, revealing as the glorious remedy for the sufferings of mankind His own presence and manifestation in the world. For He came to fashion our state again to what it was originally: for “God, as it is written, made not death: neither hath He pleasure in the destruction of the living. For He created all things that they might have their being; and healthful were the generations of the world; and there is in them no poison of destruction,” “but by the envy of the devil death entered into the world.”

The Incarnation of the Word, and His assumption of human nature took place for the overthrow of death and destruction, and of that envy nourished against us by the wicked serpent, who was the first cause of evil. And this is plainly proved to us by facts themselves. And so He set free the daughter of Abraham from her protracted sickness, calling out and saying, “Woman, thou art loosed from thy infirmity.” A speech most worthy of God, and full of supernatural power: for with the kingly inclination of His will He drives away the disease. And He also lays His hands upon her: and immediately, it says, she was made straight. And hence too it is possible to see that His holy flesh bore in it the power and activity of God. For it was His own flesh, and not that of some other Son beside Him, distinct and separate from Him, as some most impiously imagine.

Ver. 14. And the ruler of the synagogue answered, being indignant, that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, &c.

And yet how ought he not rather to have wondered at Christ’s having freed from her bonds this daughter of Abraham? Thou hast seen her unexpectedly delivered from her misfortune: thou wast an eyewitness that the Physician prayed not, nor received as a boon from another the healing of the sick woman; but that He wrought it as a deed of power. As being the ruler of a synagogue, thou knowest, I suppose, the writings of Moses. Thou sawest him praying upon every occasion, and working nothing whatsoever by his own power. For when Mariam was struck with leprosy, for having merely spoken something against him in the way of reproach, and that true, “for he had taken, she says, unto himself an Ethiopian wife,” Moses could not overcome the disease, but, on the contrary, fell down before God, saying, “O God, I beseech Thee, heal her.” And not even so, though he besought it, was the penalty of her sin remitted her. And each one of the holy prophets, if anywhere at all they wrought any miracle, is seen to have done it by the power of God. But here observe, I pray, that Christ, the Saviour of all, offers no prayer, but refers the accomplishment of the matter to His own power, healing her by a word and the touch of the hand. For being Lord and God, He manifested His own flesh as of equal efficacy with Himself for the deliverance of men from their diseases. And hence it was intended that men should understand the purport of the mystery concerning Him. Had therefore the ruler of the synagogue been a man of understanding, he would have perceived Who and how great the Saviour was from so wonderful a miracle, nor would he have talked in the same ignorant manner as the multitudes, nor have accused those occupied with healing of a breach of the law respecting the traditional abstinence from labour on the sabbath day.

‘But plainly to heal is to labour.’ Is the law then broken when God shews mercy even on the sabbath day? Whom did He command to desist from labour? Himself? or was it not rather thee? If Himself, let His providence over us cease on the sabbath: let the sun rest from his daily course; let the rains not fall; let the springs of waters, and the streams of ever-flowing rivers, and the winds be still: but if He commanded thee to rest, blame not God because with power He has shewn mercy on any even on the sabbath. And why did He command men at all to rest upon the sabbath? It was, thou art told, that thy manservant, and thy ox, and thy horse, and all thy cattle might rest. When therefore He gives men rest by freeing them from their diseases, and thou forbiddest it, plainly thou breakest the law of the sabbath, in not permitting those to rest who are suffering under sickness and disease, and whom Satan had bound.

But the ruler of the unthankful synagogue, when he saw the woman whose limbs were crippled, and her body bent and crooked even to the ground, receiving mercy from Christ, and made perfectly upright by the touch alone of His hand, and walking with that erect gait which becometh man, and magnifying God for her deliverance, is vexed thereat, and burning with rage against the glory of the Lord, is entangled in envy, and calumniates the miracle; nevertheless he passes by our Lord, Who would have exposed his hypocrisy, and rebukes the multitudes, that his indignation might seem to be aroused for the sake of the sabbath day. But his object really was to prevail upon those who were dispersed throughout the week, and occupied with their labours, not to be spectators and admirers of the miracles of the Lord upon the sabbath, lest ever they also should believe.

But tell me, O thou slave of envy, what kind of work did the law forbid in commanding thee to abstain on the sabbath day from all manual labour? Does it forbid the labour of the mouth and speaking? Abstain then from eating and drinking, and conversing, and singing psalms on the sabbath. But if thou abstainest from these things, and dost not even read the law, what good is the sabbath to thee? If however thou confinest the prohibition to manual labour, how is the healing of a woman by a word a manual labour? But if thou callest it an act because the woman was actually healed, thou also performest an act in blaming her healing.

‘But says he, He said, thou art loosed from thy infirmity: and she is loosed.’ Well! dost not thou also unloose thy girdle on the sabbath? Dost not thou put off thy shoes, and make thy bed, and cleanse thy hands when dirtied with eating? Why then art thou so angry at the single word “thou art loosed?” And at what work did the woman labour after the word was spoken? Did she set about the craft of the brazier, or the carpenter, or the mason? Did she that very day begin weaving or working at the loom? ‘No. She was made straight, he says. It was the healing absolutely that is a labour.’ But no! thou art not really angry on account of the sabbath: but because thou seest Christ honoured, and worshipped as God, thou art frantic and choked with rage, and pinest with envy. Thou hast one thing concealed in thy heart, and professest and makest pretext of another; for which reason thou art most excellently convicted by the Lord, Who knoweth thy vain reasonings, and receivest the title which befits thee, in being called hypocrite and dissembler and insincere.

Ver. 15. Thou hypocrite! does not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?

Thou wonderest, He says, at Me, Who have loosed a daughter of Abraham; and yet thou givest rest to thy ox and thy ass, loosing them from their labours, and leading them away to watering: but when a human being suffering from sickness is marvellously healed, and God has shewn mercy, thou blamest both as transgressors: the One for having healed, and the other for being delivered from her malady.

Behold, I pray, the ruler of the synagogue, how a human being is of less account in his sight than a beast, since at least he counts his ox and his ass worthy of care on the sabbath, but in his envy would not have Christ deliver from her infirmity the woman who was bowed together, nor wishes her to recover her natural form.

But the envious ruler of the synagogue would have preferred the woman who was made straight to be bowed down after the manner of fourfooted beasts, rather than that she should recover the form fitting for man; having no other view than that Christ might not be magnified, nor be proclaimed as God by His deeds. But he is convicted of being a hypocrite, if at least he leads his dumb cattle upon the sabbath to watering, but is indignant that this woman, who was a daughter of Abraham by descent, and still more by her faith, should be freed from the chain of her infirmity. For he considers her deliverance from sickness as a transgression of the sabbath.

Ver. 17. All His adversaries were ashamed.

Shame fell then on those who had uttered these corrupt opinions: who had stumbled against the chief corner stone, and been broken; who had resisted the Physician, who had clashed against the wise Potter, when busied in straightening His crooked vessels: and there was no reply which they could make. They had unanswerably convicted themselves, and were put to silence, and in doubt what they should say. So had the Lord closed their audacious mouth. But the multitudes, who reaped the benefit of the miracles, were glad. For the glory and splendour of His works solved all inquiry and doubt in those who sought Him without malice.

Ver. 19. It is like a grain of mustard seed.

The comparison is an excellent one, and most fit to set before them what took place and happened at the divine and sacred preaching of the Gospel, to which He here gives the name of the kingdom of heaven; because it is through it that we gain the right of sharing Christ’s kingdom. At first then it was addressed to few persons, and within a narrow range, but afterwards it widened its influence, and spread abroad unto all nations. For at first it was spoken in Judæa only, where also the blessed disciples were very few in number: but when Israel disobeyed, the commandment was given to the holy apostles, “having gone to make disciples of all the nations, &c.” As therefore a grain of mustard seed is far inferior in size to the seeds of other plants, but shoots up to a great height, far beyond what is usual among herbs, so as for it even to become the lodging of many sparrows, so also the kingdom of heaven, even the new and sacred preaching of salvation, by which we are guided into every good work, and learn Him Who both by nature and verily is God, being at first addressed to but few persons, and as it were small and limited, shot up afterwards into rapid growth, and became the refuge of those who fled to it for shelter, and who may be compared to sparrows, because human things are but of small measure in comparison with God.

The law of Moses was given to the Israelites: but inasmuch as the inhabitants of earth could not be saved by the shadow which alone it contained and its material service, as a necessary consequence the saving preaching of the Gospel sprang up, and is spread abroad unto all under heaven.

And this the letter of the Mosaic law has signified to us in an ænigma: for it runs thus, “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Thou shall make unto thyself two trumpets of beaten metal, of silver shalt thou make them, and they shall be unto thee to call the synagogue together, and to move the camp.” And soon afterwards, “And the priests, the sons of Aaron, shall sound the trumpets, and it shall be a perpetual law for your generations.” By this then thou art intended to understand both the preparatory training of the law, and the perfectness attained to in Christ by the gospel mode of life, and the teaching which surpasses shadows and types. The law then is a trumpet, and equally so is the saving preaching of the Gospel; for by this name does the prophet Isaiah also make mention of it, saying, “And it shall come to pass on that day that they shall sound with the great trumpet.” For in very deed a great trumpet sounded forth by the voice of the holy apostles, not setting at nought the first [trumpet], but containing it also within it; for they ever prove what they say concerning Christ by the law and the prophets, making use of the testimonies of older times.

There were then two trumpets made of beaten silver, in which the silver signifies splendour; for every word of God is glorious, having in it none of the darkness of the world: and the hammering out of the metal shewed that the sacred and divine trumpet, that is, both the old and new preaching, would advance and grow onward: for that which is hammered out advances as it were continually onward, and extends in breadth and length. For at Christ’s rising for the inhabitants of earth, both the ancient law was to advance unto its spiritual interpretation; for so we preach it who have attained unto spiritual illumination in Christ: and the message of the Gospel was to spread until it embraced the whole world. And to the priests the law gave the use of the trumpets to command the people: but Christ gave the ministers of the new proclamations, by whom are meant the holy apostles, the command to preach Him and His precepts. For they proclaim His mystery, using as it were two trumpets, both preaching Him, as having been “from the beginning eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word,” and adding, in confirmation of their words, the true testimonies of the law and the prophets.

And it is no difficult thing to see, that the message of the Gospel preaching, being small at first, was soon to leap forth as it were unto great increase, inasmuch as God had foretold of it by the voice of Isaiah, “that the whole earth has been filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the deep waters that cover the seas.” For the preaching of salvation is everywhere poured forth like a sea, and its onward course is irresistible. And this too the God of all clearly told us by the voice of the prophet, “And judgment shall roll as the waters, and righteousness as an impassable flood.” For He gives the names of judgment and righteousness to the gospel message, and grants us the assurance that it shall roll over the world like waters and as a flood, whose rushing streams, as it violently pours along, no man can stay.

And the same method of explanation will hold good of the kingdom of God being also compared unto leaven. For the leaven is small in quantity, yet forthwith it seizes upon the whole mass, and quickly communicates to it its own properties. And the word of God operates in us in a similar manner: for when admitted within us, it makes us holy and without blame, and pervading our mind and heart, it renders us spiritual, that as Paul says, “Our whole body and spirit and soul may be kept blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And that the divine word is poured out even into the depth of our understanding, the God of all clearly shews, where He says by one of the holy prophets, “Behold the days come, saith the Lord, and I will accomplish upon the house of Israel and upon the house of Judah a new covenant, not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, because they have not continued in My covenant, and I have also rejected them, saith the Lord. But this is the covenant which I will make with them, after those days, saith the Lord, I will put My laws in their mind, and will write them on their hearts.”

We receive therefore the rational and divine leaven in our mind and understanding, that by this precious and holy and pure leaven we may be found spiritually unleavened, as having in us none of the wickedness of the world, but being rather pure and holy and partakers of 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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