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“Now learn a parable of the fig tree; when his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.”28062806 [R.V., “Now from the fig-tree learn her parable: when her branch is now become tender, and putteth forth its leaves, ye know that the summer is nigh; even so ye also, when ye see all these things, know ye that he (or, it) is nigh, even at the doors.”]
Forasmuch as He had said, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days;” but they sought of this, after how long a time it should be, and desired to know in particular the very day, therefore He puts also the similitude of the fig tree, indicating that the interval was not great, but that in quick succession would occur His advent also. And this He declared not by the parable alone, but by the words that follow, saying, “know that it is near, even at the doors.”28072807 [The comment seems to imply a preference for the interpretation: “it is nigh,” i.e., the day of the Lord’s coming.—R.]
Whereby He foretells another thing also, a spiritual summer, and a calm that should be on that day (after the present tempest) for the righteous; but to the sinners the contrary, winter after summer, which He declares in what follows, saying, that the day shall come upon them, when they are living in luxury.
But not for this intent only did He put forward this about the fig tree, in order to declare the interval; for it was possible to have set this before them in other ways as well; but that he might hereby also confirm His saying, as assuredly thus to come to pass. For as this of the fig tree is of necessity, so that too. For thus, wherever He is minded to speak of that which will assuredly come to pass, He brings forward the necessary courses of nature, both Himself, and the blessed Paul imitating Him. Therefore also when speaking of His resurrection, He saith, “When the corn of wheat hath fallen into the earth, except it die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”28082808 John xii. 24. Whereby also the blessed Paul being instructed uses the same similitude,28092809 [A clause is omitted here: “reasoning with the Corinthians about the resurrection.”—R.]“Thou fool,” he saith, “that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die.”28102810 1 Cor. xv. 36.
After this, that they might not straightway return to it again, and say, “When?” he brings to their remembrance the things that had been said, saying, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled!”28112811 Matt. xxiv. 34. [R.V., “pass away” and “accomplished.”] All these things. What things? I pray thee. Those about Jerusalem, those about the wars, about the famines, about the pestilences, about the earthquakes, about the false Christs, about the false prophets, about the sowing of the gospel everywhere, the seditions, the tumults, all the other things, which we said were to occur until His coming. How then, one may ask, did He say, “This generation?” Speaking not of the generation then living, but of that of the believers. For He is wont to distinguish a generation not by times only, 445 but also by the mode of religious service, and practice; as when He saith, “This is the generation of them that seek the Lord.”28122812 Ps. xxiv. 6.
For what He said above, “All these must come to pass,”28132813 Matt. xxiv. 6.and again, “the gospel shall be preached,”28142814 Matt. xxiv. 14.this He declares here also, saying, All these things shall surely come to pass, and the generation of the faithful shall remain, cut off by none of the things that have been mentioned. For both Jerusalem shall perish, and the more part of the Jews shall be destroyed, but over this generation shall nothing prevail, not famine, not pestilence, not earthquake, nor the tumults of wars, not false Christs, not false prophets, not deceivers, not traitors, not those that cause to offend, not the false brethren, nor any other such like temptation whatever.
Then to lead them on more in faith, He saith, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away;”28152815 Matt. xxiv. 35.that is, it were more easy for these firm, fixed, and immoveable bodies to be blotted out, than for ought of my words to fall to the ground. And he who gainsays these things, let him test His sayings, and when he hath found them true (for so he surely will find them) from what is past, let him believe also the things to come, and let him search out all things with diligence, and he will see the actual events bearing witness to the truth of the prophecy. And the elements He hath brought forward, at once to declare, that the church is of more honor than Heaven and earth, and at the same time to indicate Himself by this also to be maker of all. For since He was speaking of the end, a thing disbelieved by many, He brought forward Heaven and earth, indicating His unspeakable power, and showing with great authority, that He is Lord of all, and by these things rendering His sayings deserving of credit, even with those who are much given to doubt.
“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of Heaven,28162816 [R.V., “no man, not even the angels of heaven.”]neither the Son,28172817 Matt. xxiv. 36. Comp. Mark xiii. 32. [The received text (and A.V.) omit “neither the Son” in Matthew, but not in Mark. The R.V., with our best mss., inserts the phrase in Matthew. The Fathers vary, but Chrysostom accepts it and comments upon it. Still the last clause, as given above, agrees exactly with Mark xiii. 32, and differs from Matt. xxiv. 36.—R.]but the Father.” By saying, not the angels, He stopped their mouths, that they should not seek to learn what these angels know not; and by saying, “neither the Son,” forbids them not only to learn, but even to inquire. For in proof that therefore He said this, see after His resurrection, when He saw they were become over curious, how He stopped their mouths more decidedly. For now indeed He hath mentioned infallible signs, many and endless; but then He saith merely, “It is not for you to know times or seasons.” And then that they might not say, we are driven to perplexity, we are utterly scorned, we are not held worthy so much as of this, He says, “which the Father hath put in His own power.”28182818 Acts i. 7. [R.V., “set within his own authority.”] And this, because He was exceedingly careful to honor them, and to conceal nothing from them. Therefore He refers it to His Father, both to make the thing awful, and to exclude that of which He had spoken from their inquiry. Since if it be not this, but He is ignorant of it, when will He know it? Will it be together with us? But who would say this? And the Father He knoweth clearly, even as clearly as He knoweth the Son; and of the day is He ignorant? Moreover, “the Spirit indeed searcheth even the deep things of God,”28192819 1 Cor. ii. 10.and doth not He know so much as the time of the judgment? But how He ought to judge He knoweth, and of the secrets of each He hath a full perception; and what is far more common than that, of this could He be ignorant? And how, if “all things were made by Him, and without Him was not even one thing made,”28202820 John i. 3. [Literally rendered.]was He ignorant of the day? For He who made the worlds,28212821 ανα.it is quite plain that He made the times also; and if the times, even that day. How then is He ignorant of that which He made?
2. And ye indeed say that ye know even His substance,28222822 Arians [The word οσαν, here used, was the current term in the Arian controversy.—R.]but that the Son not even the day, the Son, who is always in the bosom of the Father; and yet His substance is much greater than the days, even infinitely greater. How then, while assigning to yourselves the greater things, do you not allow even the less to the Son, “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”28232823 Col. ii. 3. But neither do you know what God is in His substance, though ten thousand times ye talk thus madly, neither is the Son ignorant of the day, but is even in full certainty thereof.
For this cause, I say, when He had told all things, both the times and the seasons, and had brought it to the very doors (“for it is near,” He saith, “even at the doors”), He was silent as to the day. For if thou seek after the day and hour, thou shalt not hear them of me, saith He; but if of times and preludes, without hiding anything, I will tell thee all exactly.446
For that indeed I am not ignorant of it, I have shown by many things; having mentioned intervals, and all the things that are to occur, and how short from this present time until the day itself (for this did the parable of the fig tree indicate), and I lead thee to the very vestibule; and if I do not open unto thee the doors, this also I do for your good.
And that thou mayest learn by another thing also, that the silence is not a mark of ignorance on His part, see, together with what we have mentioned, how He sets forth another sign also. “But as in the days of Noe they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that the flood came, and took all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be.”28242824 Matt. xxiv. 38, 39. [The passage is abridged.] And these things He spake, showing that He should come on a sudden, and unexpectedly, and when the more part were living luxuriously. For Paul too saith this, writing on this wise, “When they shall speak of peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them;” and to show how unexpected, He said, “as travail upon a woman with child.”28252825 1 Thess. v. 3. How then doth He say, “after the tribulation of those days?” For if there be luxury then, and peace, and safety, as Paul saith, how doth He say, “after the tribulation of those days?” If there be luxury, how is there tribulation? Luxury for them that are in a state of insensibility and peace. Therefore He said not, when there is peace, but “when they speak of peace and safety,” indicating their insensibility to be such as of those in Noah’s time, for that amid such evils they lived in luxury.
But not so the righteous, but they were passing their time in tribulation and dejection. Whereby He shows, that when Antichrist is come, the pursuit of unlawful pleasures shall be more eager among the transgressors, and those that have learnt to despair of their own salvation. Then shall be gluttony, then revellings, and drunkenness. Wherefore also most of all He puts forth an example corresponding to the thing. For like as when the ark was making, they believed not, saith He; but while it was set in the midst of them, proclaiming beforehand the evils that are to come, they, when they saw it, lived in pleasure, just as though nothing dreadful were about to take place; so also now, Antichrist indeed shall appear, after whom is the end, and the punishments at the end, and vengeance intolerable; but they that are held by the intoxication of wickedness shall not so much as perceive the dreadful nature of the things that are on the point of being done. Wherefore also Paul saith, “as travail upon a woman with child,” even so shall those fearful and incurable evils come upon them.
And wherefore did He not speak of the ills in Sodom? It was His will to introduce an example embracing all men,28262826 καθολικν.and disbelieved after it was foretold. So therefore, as by the more part the things to come are disbelieved, He confirms those things by the past, terrifying their minds. And together with the points I have mentioned, He shows this also, that of the former things also He was the doer. Then again He sets another sign, by all which things He makes it evident, that He is not ignorant of the day. And what is the sign? “Then shall two be in the field; one shall be taken, and one left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill, one shall be taken, and one left. Watch therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.”28272827 Matt. xxiv. 40–42. [The citation agrees with the received text, except in the omission of the articles in verse 40. R.V., “is taken,” “ is left,” in verses 40, 41.—R.] And all these things are both proofs that He knew, and calculated to turn them from their inquiry. So for this cause He spake also of the days of Noe, for this cause He said too, “Two shall be on the bed,” signifying this, that He should come upon them thus unexpectedly, when they were thus without thought, and “two women grinding at the mill,” which also of itself is not the employment of them that are taking thought.
And together with this, He declares that as well servants as masters should be both taken and left, both those who are at ease, and those in toil, as well from the one rank as from the other; even as in the Old Testament He saith, “From him that sitteth upon the throne to the captive woman that is at the mill.”28282828 Exod. xi. 5. [LXX., both altered and abridged.] For since He had said, that hardly are the rich saved, He shows that not even these are altogether lost, neither are the poor saved all of them, but both out of these and out of those are men saved, and lost.
After this again, that they may not ask about it, He added, “Watch therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.”28302830 Matt. xxiv. 42. He said not, “I know not,” but, “ye know not.” For when He had brought 447 them well nigh to the very hour, and had placed them there, again He deters them from the inquiry, from a desire that they should be striving always. Therefore He saith, “Watch,” showing that for the sake of this, He did not tell it.
“But know this, that if the good man of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh.”28312831 Matt. xxiv. 43, 44. [R.V., “if the master of the house had known in what watch the thief was coming,…to be broken through.…in an hour ye think not,” etc.]
For this intent He tells them not, in order that they may watch, that they may be always ready; therefore He saith, When ye look not for it, then He will come, desiring that they should be anxiously waiting, and continually in virtuous action.
But His meaning is like this: if the common sort of men knew when they were to die, they would surely strive earnestly at that hour.
3. In order therefore that they may strive, not at that hour only, therefore He tells them not either the common hour, or the hour of each, desiring them to be ever looking for this, that they may be always striving. Wherefore He made the end of each man’s life also uncertain.
After this, He openly calls Himself Lord, having nowhere spoken so distinctly. But here He seems to me also to put to shame the careless, that not even as much care as they that expect a thief have taken for their money, not even this much do these take for their own soul. For they indeed, when they expect it, watch, and suffer none of the things in their house to be carried off; but ye, although knowing that He will come, and come assuredly, continue not watching, saith He, and ready so as not to be carried away hence unprepared. So that the day cometh unto destruction for them that sleep. For as that man, if he had known, would have escaped, so also ye, if ye be ready, escape free.
Then, as He had fallen upon the mention of the judgment, He directs His discourse to the teachers next, speaking of punishment and honors; and having put first them that do right, He ends with them that continue in sin, making His discourse to close with that which is alarming.
Wherefore He first saith this, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his Lord shall set over28322832 [The future tense is peculiar to this citation, also the addition of “their.”—R.] His household to give them their meat in their28332833 See last note.due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his Lord when He cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, that He shall make him ruler over all His goods.”28342834 Matt. xxiv. 45–47. [R.V., “that he will set him over all that he hath.” The translator has made a similar change in verse 45.—R.]
Tell me, is this too the language of one who is in ignorance? For if because He said, “neither doth the Son know,” thou sayest He is ignorant of it; as He saith, “who then?” what wilt thou say? Wilt thou say He is ignorant of this too? Away with the thought. For not even one of them that are frantic would say this. And yet in the former case one might assign a cause; but here not even this. And what when He said, “Peter, lovest thou me?”28352835 John xxi. 16.asking it, knew He not so much as this? nor when He said, “Where have ye laid him?”28362836 John xi. 34.
And the Father too will be found to be saying such things. For He Himself likewise saith, “Adam, where art thou?”28372837 Gen. iii. 9.and, “The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is waxed great before me. I will go down therefore, and see whether their doings be according to their cry which cometh unto me, and if not, I will know.”28382838 Gen. xviii. 20, 21. And elsewhere He saith, “Whether they will hear, whether they will understand.”28392839 Ezek. ii. 5. And in the gospel too, “It may be they will reverence my Son:”28402840 Luke xx. 13. [In Homily LXVIII. this form of the saying is cited as occurring in Matthew (xxi. 37).—R.]all which are expressions of ignorance. But not in ignorance did He say these things, but as compassing objects such as became Him: in the case of Adam, that He might drive him to make an excuse for his sin: in that of the Sodomites, that He might teach us never to be positive, till we are present at the very deeds; in that of the prophet, that the prediction might not appear in the judgment of the foolish a kind of compulsion to disobedience; and in the parable in the gospel, that He might show that they ought to have done this, and to have reverenced the Son: but here, as well that they may not be curious, nor over busy again, as that He might indicate that this was a rare and precious thing. And see of what great ignorance this saying is indicative, if at least He know not even him that is set over. For He blesses him indeed, “For blessed,” saith He, “is that servant;” but He saith not who this is. “For who is he,” He saith, “whom His Lord shall set over?” and, “Blessed is he whom He shall find so doing.”
But these things are spoken not of money 448 only, but also of speech, and of power, and of gifts, and of every stewardship, wherewith each is entrusted. This parable would suit rulers in the state also, for every one is bound to make full use of what he hath for the common advantage. If it be wisdom thou hast, if power, if wealth, if what it may, let it not be for the hurt of thy fellow-servants, neither for thine own ruin. For this cause, therefore, He requires both things of him, wisdom, and fidelity: for sin arises from folly also. He calls him faithful then, because he hath purloined nothing, neither misspent his Lord’s goods without aim or fruit; and wise, because he knew how to dispense the things given him, according as was fit. For indeed we have need of both things, as well not to purloin the goods of our Master, as also to dispense them as is fit. But if the one be wanting, the other halteth. For if he be faithful and steal not, yet were to waste and to spend upon that which concerned him not, great were the blame; and if he should know how to dispense it well, yet were to purloin, again there is no common charge against him.
And let us also that have money listen to these things. For not unto teachers only doth He discourse, but also unto the rich. For either sort were entrusted with riches; those that teach with the more necessary wealth, ye with what is inferior. When then at the time that the teachers are scattering abroad the greater, ye are not willing to show forth your liberality even in the less, or rather not liberality but honesty (for ye give the things of another), what excuse will you have? But now, before the punishment of them that do the contrary things, let us hear the honor of him that approveth himself. “For verily I say unto you, He will set him over all His goods.”
What can be equal to this honor? what manner of speech will be able to set forth the dignity, the blessedness, when the King of Heaven, He that possesseth all things, is about to set a man over “all His goods?” Wherefore also He calleth him wise, because he knew, not to give up great things for small, but having been temperate here, hath attained to Heaven.
4. After this, as He ever doth, not by the honor only laid up for the good, but also by the punishment threatened against the wicked, doth He correct the hearers. Wherefore also He added, “But and if the evil servant say in his heart, my Lord delayeth His coming; and shall begin to smite his fellow servants, and shall eat and drink with the drunken: the Lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for Him, and in an hour that he is not aware of,28412841 [R.V., “when he expecteth not, and in an hour when he knoweth not.”]and shall cut him asunder,28422842 [R.V. margin, “severely scourge him.”]and shall appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”28432843 Matt. xxiv. 48–51. [The textual variations are slight, and are indicated in the emendations of the A.V. appearing in the above rendering.—R.]
But if any one should say, Seest thou what a thought hath entered into his mind, because of the day’s not being known, “my Lord,” he saith, “delayeth His coming?” we should affirm, that it was not because the day is not known, but because the servant is evil. Else wherefore came not this thought into the heart of the faithful and wise servant. For what, even though the Lord tarry, O wretched man, surely thou lookest that He will come. Why then dost thou not take care?
Hence then we learn, that He doth not so much as tarry. For this judgment is not the Lord’s, but that of the evil servant’s mind, wherefore also he is blamed for this. For in proof that He doth not tarry, hear Paul saying, “The Lord is at hand, be careful for nothing;”28442844 Phil. iv. 5, 6.and, “He that cometh will come, and will not tarry.”28452845 Heb. x. 37.
But do thou hear also what followeth, and learn how continually He reminds them of their ignorance of the day, showing that this is profitable to the servants, and fitted to waken and thoroughly to rouse them. For what though some gained nothing hereby? For neither by other things profitable for them were some profited, but nevertheless He ceaseth not to do His part.
What then is the purport of that which followeth? “For He shall come in a day when he looketh not for Him, and in an hour that he is not aware of;”28462846 Matt. xxiv. 50.and shall inflict upon him extreme punishment. Seest thou how even everywhere He puts this, the fact of their ignorance, indicating that it was profitable, and by this making them always earnest minded? For this is the point at which He labors, that we should be always on the watch; and since it is always in luxury that we are supine, but in afflictions we are braced up, therefore everywhere He saith this, that when there is relaxation, then come the terrors. And as further back He showed this by the example of Noah, even so here He saith it is, when that servant is drunken, when he is beating, and that his punishment shall be intolerable.
But let us not regard only the punishment appointed for him, but let us look to this other point too, lest we ourselves also be un 449 awares to ourselves doing the same things. For to this servant are they like, who have money, and give not to the needy. For thou too art steward of thine own possessions, not less than he who dispenses the alms of the church. As then he has not a right to squander at random and at hazard the things given by you for the poor, since they were given for the maintenance of the poor; even so neither mayest thou squander thine own. For even though thou hast received an inheritance from thy father, and hast in this way all thou possessest: even thus all are God’s. And then thou for thy part desirest that what thou hast given should be thus carefully dispensed, and thinkest thou not that God will require His own of us with greater strictness, or that He suffers them to be wasted at random? These things are not, they are not so. Because for this end, He left these things in thine hand, in order “to give them their meat in due season.” But what meaneth, “in due season?” To the needy, to the hungry. For like as thou gavest to thy fellow-servant to dispense, even so doth the Lord will thee too to spend these things on what is needful. Therefore though He was able to take them away from thee, He left them, that thou mightest have opportunity to show forth virtue; that bringing us into need one of another, He might make our love for one another more fervent.
But thou, when thou hast received, so far from giving, dost even beat. And yet if not to give be blame, what excuse is there for beating? But this, it seems to me, He speaks, hinting at the insolent, and the covetous, and indicating the charge to be heavy, when they beat them, whom they were commanded to feed.
5. But He seemeth to be here hinting also at those that live in luxury, since for luxury too there is laid up a great punishment. “For He eateth and drinketh,” it is said, “with the drunken,” pointing at gluttony. For not for this purpose didst thou receive, that thou should spend it on luxury, but that thou shouldest lay it out on alms. What! are they thine own things which thou hast? With the goods of the poor hast thou been entrusted, though thou be possessed of them by honest labor, or though it be by inheritance from thy father. What, could not God have taken away these things from thee? But He doth not this, to give thee power to be liberal to the poor.
But mark thou, I pray thee, how throughout all the parables He punishes them that lay not out their money upon the needy. For neither had the virgins robbed other men’s goods, but they had not given their own; neither had he that buried the one talent embezzled, but he had not doubled; neither are they that overlooked the hungry punished, because they seized the possessions of others, but because they did not lay out their own, like as also this servant.
Let us hearken, as many as please the belly, as many as lay out on costly banquets the riches that pertain not at all to us, but belong to the needy. For do not, because out of great love to man thou art commanded to give as of thine, therefore suppose these things to be indeed thine own. He lent them to thee, that thou mightest be able to approve thyself. Do not then suppose them to be thine, when giving Him His own. For neither, if thou hadst lent to any one, that he might go and be able to find means of gain, wouldest thou say the money was his. To thee then also hath God given, that thou mightest traffic for Heaven. Make not then the exceeding greatness of His love to man a cause of ingratitude.
Consider of what prayer it were a worthy object, to be able to find after baptism a way to do away one’s sins. If He had not said this, Give alms, how many would have said, Would it were possible to give money, and so be freed from the ills to come! But since this hath become possible, again are they become supine.
“But I give,” thou sayest. And what is this? Thou hast not yet given as much as she, who cast in the two mites; or rather not so much as the half, nor a very small part of what she gave, but thou layest out the greater part on useless expenses, on banquets, and drunkenness, and extreme extravagance; now bidding, now bidden; now spending, now constraining others to spend; so that the punishment is even rendered twofold for thee, both from what thyself doest, and what thou movest others to do. See at any rate how He Himself blames His servant for this. “For he eateth,” He saith, “and drinketh with the drunken.” For not the drunken only, but those that are with them, doth He punish, and very fitly, because (together with corrupting their own selves) they make light also of the salvation of others. But nothing does so much provoke God, as for us to be inclined to overlook the things that concern our neighbor. Wherefore showing His anger, He commands him to be cut asunder. Therefore He also affirmed love to be a distinguishing mark of His disciples, since it is altogether necessary that he who loveth should take thought for the things of his beloved.450
To this way then let us hold, for this is especially the way that leads up to Heaven, which renders men followers of Christ, which makes them, as far as possible, like God. See at any rate how these virtues are more needful, which have their dwelling by this way. And, if ye will, let us make an inquiry into them, and let us bring forth the sentences from the judgment of God.
Let there be then two ways of most holy life, and let the one secure the goodness of him that practises it, but the other of his neighbor also. Let us see whether is the more approved and leads us to the summit of virtue. Surely he, who seeks his own things only, will receive even from Paul endless blame, and when I say from Paul, I mean from Christ, but the other commendations and crowns. Whence is this evident? Hear what His language is to one, what to the other. “Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.”28472847 1 Cor. x. 24. Seest thou he rejects the one, and brings in the other? Again, “Let every one of you please his neighbor for good to edification.” Then comes also the praise beyond words with an admonition, “For even Christ pleased not Himself.”28482848 Rom. xv. 2, 3.
Even these judgments then are sufficient to show the victory; but that this may be done even superabundantly, let us see amongst good works, which are confined to ourselves, and which pass over from us to others also. Fasting then, and lying on the bare ground, and keeping virginity, and a self-denying life, these things bring their advantage to the persons themselves who do them; but those that pass from ourselves to our neighbors are almsgiving, teaching, charity. Hear then Paul in this matter also saying, “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, I am nothing profited.”28492849 1 Cor. xiii. 3.
6. Seest thou it in itself gloriously celebrated, and crowned?
But if ye be willing, from a third point also let us compare them; and let the one fast, and deny himself, and be a martyr, and be burnt to death, but let another delay his martyrdom for his neighbor’s edification; and let him not only delay it, but let him even depart without martyrdom; who will be the more approved after his removal hence? We need not have many words, nor a long circumlocution. For the blessed Paul is at hand, giving his judgment, and saying, “To depart and to be with Christ is better, nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you;”28502850 Philip. i. 23, 24.even to his removal unto Christ did he prefer his neighbor’s edification. For this is in the highest sense to be with Christ, even to be doing His will, but nothing is so much His will, as that which is for one’s neighbor’s good.
Wilt thou that I tell thee a fourth proof also of these things? “Peter, lovest thou me,” saith He; “Feed my sheep:”28512851 John xxi. 15–17.and having asked him a third time, declared this to be an infallible proof of love. But not to priests only is this said, but to every one of us also, who are also entrusted with a little flock. For do not despise it, because it is a little flock: For “my Father,” He saith, “hath pleasure in them.”28522852 Luke xii. 32. Each of us hath a sheep, let him lead that to the proper pastures. And let the man, as soon as he has risen from his bed, seek after nothing else, but how he may do and say something whereby he may render his whole house more reverent. The woman again, let her be indeed a good housekeeper; but before attending to this, let her have another more needful care, that the whole household may work the works of Heaven. For if in worldly matters, before attending to the affairs of our household, we labor diligently to pay public dues, that we may not for our undutifulness in these matters be beaten and dragged to the market places, and suffer ten thousand unseemly things; much more ought we to do this in things spiritual, and to render what is due to God, the King of all, first, that we may not come to that place, “where is gnashing of teeth.”
And after these virtues let us seek, which together with our own salvation will be able in the greatest degree to profit our neighbor. Such is almsgiving, such is prayer, or rather even this latter is by the former made efficacious, and furnished with wings. “For thy prayers,” it is said, “and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.”28532853 Acts x. 4. But not prayers only, but fasting also hath its strength from hence. Shouldest thou fast without almsgiving; the act is not so much as counted for fasting; but such a one is worse than a gluttonous man and a drunkard; and so much worse, as cruelty is a more grievous thing than luxury. And why do I speak of fasting? Though thou practise self-denial, though thou practise virginity, thou art set without the bridechamber, if thou hast not almsgiving. And yet what is equal to virginity, which not even in the new dispensation hath come under the compulsion of law, on account of its high excellence? but nevertheless it is cast 451 out, when it hath not almsgiving. But if virgins are cast out, because they have not this in due abundance, who will be able without this to obtain pardon? There is no man, but he must quite of necessity perish, who hath not this.
For, if in worldly matters no man lives for himself, but artisan, and soldier, and husbandman, and merchant, all of them contribute to the common good, and to their neighbor’s advantage; much more ought we to do this in things spiritual. For this is most properly to live: since he at least who is living for himself only, and overlooking all others, is useless, and is not so much as a human being, nor of our race.
What then, thou wouldest say, if I neglect my own interests, while seeking after the good of the rest? It is not possible, for one who seeks after the good of the rest to overlook his own; for he who seeks after the good of the rest pains no man, but pities all, helps them to the utmost of his powers; will rob no man, will covet the goods of no man, will not steal, will not bear false witness; will abstain from all wickedness, will apply himself to all virtue, and will pray for his enemies, and do good to them that plot against him, and will neither revile any, nor speak ill of them, though he hear from them ten thousand evil things; but will speak the words of the apostle: “Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?”28542854 2 Cor. xi. 29. But when looking to our own good, it is not quite sure that the good of the rest will follow.
By all which things being persuaded that it is not possible for one to be saved, who hath not looked to the common good, and seeing this man that was cut asunder, and him that buried his talent, let us choose this way, that we may also attain unto eternal life, unto which God grant we may all attain, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory, world without end. Amen.
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