Saturday, 8 February 2014

Gospel for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany



Earlier in the week I posted some notes on this Sunday's Gospel, Matthew 13:24-30 which go the use of parables more generally.  The earlier post also provides the exposition on the parable that Jesus gave to the disciples in verses 34-43.  Today, the Matins readings on it, in which St Augustine considers the question of which is worse - heretics, or Catholics that fail to act on their beliefs.

First though, the Gospel itself again:

24 Aliam parabolam proposuit illis, dicens: Simile factum est regnum cælorum homini, qui seminavit bonum semen in agro suo: 25 cum autem dormirent homines, venit inimicus ejus, et superseminavit zizania in medio tritici, et abiit. 26 Cum autem crevisset herba, et fructum fecisset, tunc apparuerunt et zizania. 27 Accedentes autem servi patrisfamilias, dixerunt ei: Domine, nonne bonum semen seminasti in agro tuo? unde ergo habet zizania? 28 Et ait illis: Inimicus homo hoc fecit. Servi autem dixerunt ei: Vis, imus, et colligimus ea? 29 Et ait: Non: ne forte colligentes zizania, eradicetis simul cum eis et triticum. 30 Sinite utraque crescere usque ad messem, et in tempore messis dicam messoribus: Colligite primum zizania, et alligate ea in fasciculos ad comburendum: triticum autem congregate in horreum meum. 


And the English:

[24] Another parable he proposed to them, saying: The kingdom of heaven is likened to a man that sowed good seeds in his field. [25] But while men were asleep, his enemy came and oversowed cockle among the wheat and went his way. [26] And when the blade was sprung up, and had brought forth fruit, then appeared also the cockle. [27] And the servants of the goodman of the house coming said to him: Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? whence then hath it cockle? [28] And he said to them: An enemy hath done this. And the servants said to him: Wilt thou that we go and gather it up? [29] And he said: No, lest perhaps gathering up the cockle, you root up the wheat also together with it. [30] Suffer both to grow until the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers: Gather up first the cockle, and bind it into bundles to burn, but the wheat gather ye into my barn. 

Matins Readings

(Reading 9): When the Shepherds of the Church wax careless, and since the Apostles sleep the sleep of death, cometh the devil, and soweth them whom the Lord calleth a seed of evil-doers. Now, are these seed of evil-doers the heretics, or Catholics of bad lives? It is possible to call even the heretics a seed of evil-doers because they have sprung up from the seed of the Gospel, and been begotten in the Name of Christ, though afterwards they have turned after crooked ways and lying doctrines.

(Reading 10):But whereas it is written that they were sown in the midst of the wheat, we ought haply to understand that they are of one communion with the righteous. Nevertheless, forasmuch as the Lord saith, The field is the world, (and not, the Church,) we may well understand that the seed of evil doers are the heretics, since in this world they are mingled together with the good, not in one common Communion, but only under one common name of Christian. 

(Reading 11): But they which are of one faith with the good seed, and yet are themselves worthless, may more fitly be likened to straw than to tares, since the straw springeth from one soil and one root with the good ear. However, as touching the net cast into the sea, and enclosing a great multitude of fishes, both bad and good, we may well understand that by the bad are meant Catholics of bad lives. 

(Reading 12): For the sea is one thing whereby we may understand to be signified the world; and the net another, which seemeth to signify our faith, or the Communion of one Church. Between heretics and sinful Catholics there is this difference, that heretics believe a lie, and sinful Catholics believe the truth, but live not as they believe.

Matthew 14:22-36



The concluding section of Matthew 14 shows the disciples in fear at Jesus walking on the water:

22 Et statim compulit Jesus discipulos ascendere in naviculam, et præcedere eum trans fretum, donec dimitteret turbas. 23 Et dimissa turba, ascendit in montem solus orare. Vespere autem facto solus erat ibi: 24 navicula autem in medio mari jactabatur fluctibus: erat enim contrarius ventus. 25 Quarta enim vigilia noctis, venit ad eos ambulans super mare. 26 Et videntes eum super mare ambulantem, turbati sunt, dicentes: Quia phantasma est. Et præ timore clamaverunt. 27 Statimque Jesus locutus est eis, dicens: Habete fiduciam: ego sum, nolite timere. 28 Respondens autem Petrus, dixit: Domine, si tu es, jube me ad te venire super aquas. 29 At ipse ait: Veni. Et descendens Petrus de navicula, ambulabat super aquam ut veniret ad Jesum. 30 Videns vero ventum validum, timuit: et cum cœpisset mergi, clamavit dicens: Domine, salvum me fac. 31 Et continuo Jesus extendens manum, apprehendit eum: et ait illi: Modicæ fidei, quare dubitasti? 32 Et cum ascendissent in naviculam, cessavit ventus. 33 Qui autem in navicula erant, venerunt, et adoraverunt eum, dicentes: Vere Filius Dei es.34 Et cum transfretassent, venerunt in terram Genesar. 35 Et cum cognovissent eum viri loci illius, miserunt in universam regionem illam, et obtulerunt ei omnes male habentes: 36 et rogabant eum ut vel fimbriam vestimenti ejus tangerent. Et quicumque tetigerunt, salvi facti sunt.

Or:

[22] And forthwith Jesus obliged his disciples to go up into the boat, and to go before him over the water, till he dismissed the people. [23] And having dismissed the multitude, he went into a mountain alone to pray. And when it was evening, he was there alone. [24] But the boat in the midst of the sea was tossed with the waves: for the wind was contrary. [25] And in the fourth watch of the night, he came to them walking upon the sea. [26] And they seeing him walk upon the sea, were troubled, saying: It is an apparition. And they cried out for fear. [27] And immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying: Be of good heart: it is I, fear ye not. [28] And Peter making answer, said: Lord, if it be thou, bid me come to thee upon the waters. [29] And he said: Come. And Peter going down out of the boat, walked upon the water to come to Jesus. [30] But seeing the wind strong, he was afraid: and when he began to sink, he cried out, saying: Lord, save me. [31] And immediately Jesus stretching forth his hand took hold of him, and said to him: O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt? [32] And when they were come up into the boat, the wind ceased. [33] And they that were in the boat came and adored him, saying: Indeed thou art the Son of God. [34] And having passed the water, they came into the country of Genesar. [35] And when the men of that place had knowledge of him, they sent into all that country, and brought to him all that were diseased. [36] And they besought him that they might touch but the hem of his garment. And as many as touched, were made whole.

Commentary

St John Chrysostom's homily on this section of the text draws out lessons for us on both prayer and fear.

First we must pray:

For what purpose does He go up into the mountain? To teach us, that loneliness and retirement is good, when we are to pray to God. With this view, you see, He is continually withdrawing into the wilderness, and there often spends the whole night in prayer, teaching us earnestly to seek such quietness in our prayers, as the time and place may confer. For the wilderness is the mother of quiet; it is a calm and a harbor, delivering us from all turmoils.

Secondly we must learn to cope with suffering and turmoil, for by through them we are strengthened:

He Himself then went up there with this object, but the disciples are tossed with the waves again, and undergo a storm, equal even to the former. But whereas before they had Him in the ship when this befell them, now they were alone by themselves. Thus gently and by degrees He excites and urges them on for the better, even to the bearing all nobly. Accordingly we see, that when they were first near that danger, He was present, though asleep, so as readily to give them relief; but now leading them to a greater degree of endurance, He does not even this, but departs, and in mid sea permits the storm to arise, so that they might not so much as look for a hope of preservation from any quarter; and He lets them be tempest-tost all the night, thoroughly to awaken, as I suppose, their hardened heart.

For such is the nature of the fear, which the time concurs with the rough weather in producing. And together with the compunction, He cast them also into a greater longing for Himself, and a continual remembrance of Him.

Accordingly, neither did He present Himself to them at once. For, in the fourth watch, so it is said, of the night, He went unto them, walking upon the sea; Matthew 14:25 instructing them not hastily to seek for deliverance; from their pressing dangers, but to bear all occurrences manfully. At all events, when they looked to be delivered, then was their fear again heightened. For,

When the disciples, it is said, saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit: and they cried out for fear.

Yea, and He constantly does so; when He is on the point of removing our terrors, He brings upon us other worse things, and more alarming: which we see took place then also. For together with the storm, the sight too troubled them, no less than the storm. Therefore neither did He remove the darkness, nor straightway make Himself manifest, training them, as I said, by the continuance of these fears, and instructing them to be ready to endure. This He did in the case of Job also; for when He was on the point of removing the terror and the temptation, then He suffered the end to grow more grievous; I mean not for his children's death, or the words of his wife, but because of the reproaches, both of his servants and of his friends. And when He was about to rescue Jacob from his affliction in the strange land, He allowed his trouble to be awakened and aggravated: in that his father-in-law first overtook him and threatened death, and then his brother coming immediately after, suspended over him the extremest danger.

For since one cannot be tempted both for a long time and severely; when the righteous are on the point of coming to an end of their conflicts, He, willing them to gain the more, enhances their struggles. Which He did in the case of Abraham too, appointing for his last conflict that about his child. For thus even things intolerable will be tolerable, when they are so brought upon us, as to have their removal near, at the very doors.

Straightway Jesus spoke unto them, saying, Be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid. Matthew 14:27

This word removed their fear, and caused them to take confidence. For as they knew Him not by sight, because of His marvellous kind of motion, and because of the time, He makes Himself manifest by His voice.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Matthew 14:1-21



Chapter 14 of St Matthew's Gospel returns us to the story of St John the Baptist, and Our Lord's reaction to his death, including the story of the feeding of the five thousand:

1 In illo tempore audivit Herodes tetrarcha famam Jesu: 2 et ait pueris suis: Hic est Joannes Baptista: ipse surrexit a mortuis, et ideo virtutes operantur in eo. 3 Herodes enim tenuit Joannem, et alligavit eum: et posuit in carcerem propter Herodiadem uxorem fratris sui. 4 Dicebat enim illi Joannes: Non licet tibi habere eam. 5 Et volens illum occidere, timuit populum: quia sicut prophetam eum habebant. 6 Die autem natalis Herodis saltavit filia Herodiadis in medio, et placuit Herodi: 7 unde cum juramento pollicitus est ei dare quodcumque postulasset ab eo. 8 At illa præmonita a matre sua: Da mihi, inquit, hic in disco caput Joannis Baptistæ. 9 Et contristatus est rex: propter juramentum autem, et eos qui pariter recumbebant, jussit dari. 10 Misitque et decollavit Joannem in carcere. 11 Et allatum est caput ejus in disco, et datum est puellæ, et attulit matri suæ. 12 Et accedentes discipuli ejus, tulerunt corpus ejus, et sepelierunt illud: et venientes nuntiaverunt Jesu.13 Quod cum audisset Jesus, secessit inde in navicula, in locum desertum seorsum: et cum audissent turbæ, secutæ sunt eum pedestres de civitatibus. 14 Et exiens vidit turbam multam, et misertus est eis, et curavit languidos eorum.15 Vespere autem facto, accesserunt ad eum discipuli ejus, dicentes: Desertus est locus, et hora jam præteriit: dimitte turbas, ut euntes in castella, emant sibi escas. 16 Jesus autem dixit eis: Non habent necesse ire: date illis vos manducare. 17 Responderunt ei: Non habemus hic nisi quinque panes et duos pisces. 18 Qui ait eis: Afferte mihi illos huc. 19 Et cum jussisset turbam discumbere super fœnum, acceptis quinque panibus et duobus piscibus, aspiciens in cælum benedixit, et fregit, et dedit discipulis panes, discipuli autem turbis. 20 Et manducaverunt omnes, et saturati sunt. Et tulerunt reliquias, duodecim cophinos fragmentorum plenos. 21 Manducantium autem fuit numerus quinque millia virorum, exceptis mulieribus et parvulis.

And in the Douay-Rheims translation:

At the time Herod the Tetrarch heard the fame of Jesus. [2] And he said to his servants: This is John the Baptist: he is risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works shew forth themselves in him. [3] For Herod had apprehended John and bound him, and put him into prison, because of Herodias, his brother' s wife. [4] For John said to him: It is not lawful for thee to have her. [5] And having a mind to put him to death, he feared the people: because they esteemed him as a prophet. [6] But on Herod' s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before them: and pleased Herod. [7] Whereupon he promised with an oath, to give her whatsoever she would ask of him. [8] But she being instructed before by her mother, said: Give me here in a dish the head of John the Baptist. [9] And the king was struck sad: yet because of his oath, and for them that sat with him at table, he commanded it to be given. [10] And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.[11] And his head was brought in a dish: and it was given to the damsel, and she brought it to her mother. [12] And his disciples came and took the body, and buried it, and came and told Jesus. [13] Which when Jesus had heard, he retired from thence by boat, into a desert place apart, and the multitudes having heard of it, followed him on foot out of the cities. [14] And he coming forth saw a great multitude, and had compassion on them, and healed their sick. [15] And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying: This is a desert place, and the hour is now past: send away the multitudes, that going into the towns, they may buy themselves victuals.[16] But Jesus said to them, They have no need to go: give you them to eat. [17] They answered him: We have not here, but five loaves, and two fishes. [18] He said to them: Bring them hither to me. [19] And when he had commanded the multitudes to sit down upon the grass, he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitudes. [20] And they did all eat, and were filled. And they took up what remained, twelve full baskets of fragments.[21] And the number of them that did eat, was five thousand men, besides women and children.

Commentary

St Hilary offers a helpful spiritual interpretation of the symbolism of these events.

First, John stands for the upholding of the Law, from which the people were seduced away by the pursuit of pleasure:

"Mystically, John represents the Law; for the Law preached Christ, and John came of the Law, preaching Christ out of the Law. Herod is the Prince of the people and the Prince of the people bears the name and the cause of the whole body put under him. John then warned Herod that he should not take to him his brother's wife...On the birthday, that is amidst the enjoyments of the things of the body, the daughter of Herodias danced; for pleasure, as it were springing from unbelief, was carried in its alluring course throughout the whole of Israel, and the nation bound itself thereto as by an oath, for sin and worldly pleasures the Israelites sold the gifts of eternal life. 

She (Pleasure), at the suggestion of her mother Unbelief, begged that there should be given her the head of John, that is, the glory of the Law; but the people knowing the good that was in the Law, yielded these terms to pleasure, not without sorrow for its own danger, conscious that it ought not to have given up so great glory of its teachers. But forced by its sins, as by the force of an oath, as well as overcome by the fear, and corrupted by the example of the neighboring princes, it sorrowfully yields to the blandishments of pleasure. So among the other gratifications of a debauched people the head of John is brought in a dish, that is by the loss of the Law, the pleasures of the body, and worldly luxury is increased. It is carried by the damsel to her mother; thus depraved Israel offered up the glory of the Law to pleasure and unbelief. The times of the Law being expired, and buried with John, his disciples declare what is done to the Lord, coming, that is, to the Gospels from the Law.

On hearing the news of St John's death, Jesus withdraws via a boat into the desert, symbolising the Church:

Mystically; The Word of God, on the close of the Law, entered the ship, that is, the Church; and departed into the desert, that is, leaving to walk with Israel, He passes into breasts void of Divine knowledge. The multitude learning this, follows the Lord out of the city into the desert, going, that is, from the Synagogue to the Church. 

When the people follow him, even in his mourning he has compassion on them, healing them and feeding them:

The Lord sees them, and has compassion upon them, and heals all sickness and infirmity, that is, He cleanses their obstructed minds, and unbelieving hearts for the understanding of the new preaching... But there was a complete series of types to be set forth; for as yet it was not given the Apostles to make and minister the heavenly bread, the food of eternal life; and their answer thus belongs to the chain of spiritual interpretation; they were as yet confined to the five loaves, that is, the five books of the Law, and the two fishes, that is, the preaching of the Prophets and of John. 

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Matthew 13:44-58



Today's parables from Matthew 13 are the hidden treasure, the pearl and the fishing net:

44 Simile est regnum cælorum thesauro abscondito in agro: quem qui invenit homo, abscondit, et præ gaudio illius vadit, et vendit universa quæ habet, et emit agrum illum. 45 Iterum simile est regnum cælorum homini negotiatori, quærenti bonas margaritas. 46 Inventa autem una pretiosa margarita, abiit, et vendidit omnia quæ habuit, et emit eam. 47 Iterum simile est regnum cælorum sagenæ missæ in mare, et ex omni genere piscium congreganti. 48 Quam, cum impleta esset, educentes, et secus littus sedentes, elegerunt bonis in vasa, malos autem foras miserunt. 49 Sic erit in consummatione sæculi: exibunt angeli, et separabunt malos de medio justorum, 50 et mittent eos in caminum ignis: ibi erit fletus, et stridor dentium. 51 Intellexistis hæc omnia? Dicunt ei: Etiam. 52 Ait illis: Ideo omnis scriba doctus in regno cælorum, similis est homini patrifamilias, qui profert de thesauro suo nova et vetera. 53 Et factum est, cum consummasset Jesus parabolas istas, transiit inde. 54 Et veniens in patriam suam, docebat eos in synagogis eorum, ita ut mirarentur, et dicerent: Unde huic sapientia hæc, et virtutes? 55 Nonne hic est fabri filius? nonne mater ejus dicitur Maria, et fratres ejus, Jacobus, et Joseph, et Simon, et Judas? 56 et sorores ejus, nonne omnes apud nos sunt? unde ergo huic omnia ista? 57 Et scandalizabantur in eo. Jesus autem dixit eis: Non est propheta sine honore, nisi in patria sua, et in domo sua. 58 Et non fecit ibi virtutes multas propter incredulitatem illorum.

And in English:

[44] The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in a field. Which a man having found, hid it, and for joy thereof goeth, and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. [45] Again the kingdom of heaven is like to a merchant seeking good pearls. [46] Who when he had found one pearl of great price, went his way, and sold all that he had, and bought it. [47] Again the kingdom of heaven is like to a net cast into the sea, and gathering together of all kind of fishes. [48] Which, when it was filled, they drew out, and sitting by the shore, they chose out the good into vessels, but the bad they cast forth. [49] So shall it be at the end of the world. The angels shall go out, and shall separate the wicked from among the just. [50] And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. [51] Have ye understood all these things? They say to him: Yes. [52] He said unto them: Therefore every scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven, is like to a man that is a householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure new things and old. [53] And it came to pass: when Jesus had finished these parables, he passed from thence. [54] And coming into his own country, he taught them in their synagogues, so that they wondered and said: How came this man by this wisdom and miracles? [55] Is not this the carpenter' s son? Is not his mother called Mary, and his brethren James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Jude: [56] And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence therefore hath he all these things? [57] And they were scandalized in his regard. But Jesus said to them: A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house. [58] And he wrought not many miracles there, because of their unbelief.

Commentary

On these verses, it is hard to go past St John Chrysostom's commentary (Homily 47) on the importance of lectio divina, including on the Old Testament, which takes its cure from verse 51-52:

"Having then uttered all this, and concluded His discourse in a tone to cause fear, and signified that these are the majority of cases (for He dwelt more on them). He says,

Have ye understood all these things? They say unto Him, Yea, Lord.

Then because they understood, He again praises them, saying,

Therefore every Scribe, which is instructed in the Kingdom of Heaven, is like a man that is an householder, which brings forth out of his treasure things new and old. Matthew 13:52

Wherefore elsewhere also He says, I will send you wise men and scribes. Matthew 23:34 Do you see how so far from excluding the Old Testament, He even commends it, and speaks publicly in favor of it, calling it a treasure?

So that as many as are ignorant of the divine Scriptures cannot be householders; such as neither have of themselves, nor receive of others, but neglect their own case, perishing with famine. And not these only, but the heretics too, are excluded from this blessing. For they bring not forth things new and old. For they have not the old things, wherefore neither have they the new; even as they who have not the new, neither have they the old, but are deprived of both. For these are bound up and interwoven one with another.

Let us then hear, as many of us as neglect the reading of the Scriptures, to what harm we are subjecting ourselves, to what poverty. For when are we to apply ourselves to the real practice of virtue, who do not so much as know the very laws according to which our practice should be guided? But while the rich, those who are mad about wealth, are constantly shaking out their garments, that they may not become moth-eaten; do you, seeing forgetfulness worse than any moth wasting your soul, neglect conversing with books? Do you not thrust away from you the pest, adorn your soul, look continually upon the image of virtue, and acquaint yourself with her members and her head? For she too has a head and members more seemly than any graceful and beautiful body...

And her mouth is wisdom and understanding, and the knowledge of spiritual hymns. And her heart, acquaintance with Scripture, and maintenance of sound doctrines, and benevolence, and kindness. And as without this last there is no living, so without that other is never any salvation. Yea, for from that all her excellencies have birth. She has also for feet and hands the manifestations of her good works. She has a soul too, godliness. She has likewise a bosom of gold, and firmer than adamant, even fortitude; and all may be taken captive more easily than that bosom may be riven asunder. And the spirit that is in the brain and heart, is charity."


Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Matthew 13:24-43



Today, the parable of  the cockle (weeds), the mustard seed and the leaven.  Verses 24-30 form this Sunday's Gospel reading (for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany).  You can find the Matins readings for it here:

24 Aliam parabolam proposuit illis, dicens: Simile factum est regnum cælorum homini, qui seminavit bonum semen in agro suo: 25 cum autem dormirent homines, venit inimicus ejus, et superseminavit zizania in medio tritici, et abiit. 26 Cum autem crevisset herba, et fructum fecisset, tunc apparuerunt et zizania. 27 Accedentes autem servi patrisfamilias, dixerunt ei: Domine, nonne bonum semen seminasti in agro tuo? unde ergo habet zizania? 28 Et ait illis: Inimicus homo hoc fecit. Servi autem dixerunt ei: Vis, imus, et colligimus ea? 29 Et ait: Non: ne forte colligentes zizania, eradicetis simul cum eis et triticum. 30 Sinite utraque crescere usque ad messem, et in tempore messis dicam messoribus: Colligite primum zizania, et alligate ea in fasciculos ad comburendum: triticum autem congregate in horreum meum. 

31 Aliam parabolam proposuit eis dicens: Simile est regnum cælorum grano sinapis, quod accipiens homo seminavit in agro suo: 32 quod minimum quidem est omnibus seminibus: cum autem creverit, majus est omnibus oleribus, et fit arbor, ita ut volucres cæli veniant, et habitent in ramis ejus. 

33 Aliam parabolam locutus est eis: Simile est regnum cælorum fermento, quod acceptum mulier abscondit in farinæ satis tribus, donec fermentatum est totum. 

34 Hæc omnia locutus est Jesus in parabolis ad turbas: et sine parabolis non loquebatur eis: 35 ut impleretur quod dictum erat per prophetam dicentem: Aperiam in parabolis os meum; eructabo abscondita a constitutione mundi. 36 Tunc, dimissis turbis, venit in domum: et accesserunt ad eum discipuli ejus, dicentes: Edissere nobis parabolam zizaniorum agri. 

37 Qui respondens ait illis: Qui seminat bonum semen, est Filius hominis. 38 Ager autem est mundus. Bonum vero semen, hi sunt filii regnum. Zizania autem, filii sunt nequam. 39 Inimicus autem, qui seminavit ea, est diabolus. Messis vero, consummatio sæculi est. Messores autem, angeli sunt. 40 Sicut ergo colliguntur zizania, et igni comburuntur: sic erit in consummatione sæculi. 41 Mittet Filius hominis angelos suos, et colligent de regno ejus omnia scandala, et eos qui faciunt iniquitatem: 42 et mittent eos in caminum ignis. Ibi erit fletus et stridor dentium. 43 Tunc justi fulgebunt sicut sol in regno Patris eorum. Qui habet aures audiendi, audiat.

And the English:

[24] Another parable he proposed to them, saying: The kingdom of heaven is likened to a man that sowed good seeds in his field. [25] But while men were asleep, his enemy came and oversowed cockle among the wheat and went his way. [26] And when the blade was sprung up, and had brought forth fruit, then appeared also the cockle. [27] And the servants of the goodman of the house coming said to him: Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? whence then hath it cockle? [28] And he said to them: An enemy hath done this. And the servants said to him: Wilt thou that we go and gather it up? [29] And he said: No, lest perhaps gathering up the cockle, you root up the wheat also together with it. [30] Suffer both to grow until the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers: Gather up first the cockle, and bind it into bundles to burn, but the wheat gather ye into my barn. 

[31] Another parable he proposed unto them, saying: The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field. [32] Which is the least indeed of all seeds; but when it is grown up, it is greater than all herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come, and dwell in the branches thereof. [33] 

Another parable he spoke to them: The kingdom of heaven is like to leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened. 

[34] All these things Jesus spoke in parables to the multitudes: and without parables he did not speak to them. [35] That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world. [36] Then having sent away the multitudes, he came into the house, and his disciples came to him, saying: Expound to us the parable of the cockle of the field. 

[37] Who made answer and said to them: He that soweth the good seed, is the Son of man. [38] And the field, is the world. And the good seed are the children of the kingdom. And the cockle, are the children of the wicked one. [39] And the enemy that sowed them, is the devil. But the harvest is the end of the world. And the reapers are the angels. [40] Even as cockle therefore is gathered up, and burnt with fire: so shall it be at the end of the world. [41] The Son of man shall send his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all scandals, and them that work iniquity. [42] And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. [43] Then shall the just shine as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

Commentary

St John Chrysostom's sermon on today's section of St Matthew's Gospel is extremely apposite to the problems facing the contemporary Church.

First he deals with the warning Our Lord provides, in these parables, of the prevalence of heresy and false prelates within the Church, and the need for perseverance in the face of their evil:

"What is the difference between this, and the parable before it? There He speaks of them that have not at all holden with Him, but have started aside, and have thrown away the seed; but here He means the societies of the heretics. For in order that not even this might disturb His disciples, He foretells it also, after having taught them why He speaks in parables. The former parable then means their not receiving Him; this, their receiving corrupters. For indeed this also is a part of the devil's craft, by the side of the truth always to bring in error, painting thereon many resemblances, so as easily to cheat the deceivable. Therefore He calls it not any other seed, but tares; which in appearance are somewhat like wheat...

Then He mentions also the manner of his device. For while men slept, says He. It is no small danger, which He hereby suspends over our rulers, to whom especially is entrusted the keeping of the field; and not the rulers only, but the subjects too...

And these things Christ says, instructing us to be always wakeful. For, says He, though thou quite escape those harms, there is yet another harm. For as in those instances the wayside, and the rock, and the thorns, so here again sleep occasions our ruin; so that there is need of continual watchfulness. Wherefore He also said, He that endures to the end, the same shall be saved. Matthew 10:22

Something like this took place even at the beginning. Many of the prelates, I mean, bringing into the churches wicked men, disguised heresiarchs, gave great facility to the laying that kind of snare. For the devil needs not even to take any trouble, when he has once planted them among us."

The proper response to such weeds, he argues, is care for those who are genuinely faithful, and do what we can to counter false teachings, attacking the sin not the sinner:

"And mark also the affection of the servants. I mean, what haste they are in at once to root up the tares, even though they do it indiscreetly; which shows their anxiety for the crop, and that they are looking to one thing only, not to the punishment of that enemy, but to the preservation of the seed sown. For of course this other is not the urgent consideration...

But what means, Lest ye root up the wheat with them? Either He means this, If you are to take up arms, and to kill the heretics, many of the saints also must needs be overthrown with them; or that of the very tares it is likely that many may change and become wheat. If therefore ye root them up beforehand, you injure that which is to become wheat, slaying some, in whom there is yet room for change and improvement. He does not therefore forbid our checking heretics, and stopping their mouths, and taking away their freedom of speech, and breaking up their assemblies and confederacies, but our killing and slaying them.

Finally, commenting on the mustard see and the leaven, he urges us to the 'New' Evangelisation:

"...For say not this to me: What shall we be able to do, twelve men, throwing ourselves upon so vast a multitude? Nay, for this very thing most of all makes your might conspicuous, that you mix with the multitude and are not put to flight. As therefore the leaven then leavens the lump when it comes close to the meal, and not simply close, but so as to be actually mixed with it (for He said not, put, simply, but hid); so also ye, when you cleave to your enemies, and are made one with them, then shall you get the better of them. And as the leaven, though it be buried, yet is not destroyed, but little by little transmutes all into its own condition; of like sort will the event be here also, with respect to the gospel. Fear ye not then, because I said there would be much injurious dealing: for even so shall you shine forth, and get the better of all...

Now if twelve men leavened the whole world, imagine how great our baseness, in that when we being so many are not able to amend them that remain; we, who ought to be enough for ten thousand worlds, and to become leaven to them...

...Do you see how everywhere practice is required, and the proof by works? For by their fruits, says He, you shall know them. Matthew 7:16 And what commends our own life? Is it indeed a display of miracles, or the perfection of an excellent conversation? Very evidently it is the second...

Do you see that our practice has more power to do good? By practice I mean, not your fasting, nor yet your strewing sackcloth and ashes under you, but if you despise wealth, as it ought to be despised; if you be kindly affectioned, if you give your bread to the hungry, if you control anger, if you cast out vainglory, if you put away envy... For the greatest thing is charity, and moderation, and almsgiving; which hits a higher mark even than virginity.

Wherefore, if you desire to become equal to the apostles, there is nothing to hinder you. For to have arrived at this virtue only suffices for your not at all falling short of them. Let no one therefore wait for miracles....

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Matthew 13: 1-23



Chapter thirteen of St Matthew's Gospel presents us with a series of parables and images of the kingdom of heaven, and Our Lord's exposition of them - and the reasons for the use of parables - to the disciples.

Today, the parable of the sower:

1 In illo die exiens Jesus de domo, sedebat secus mare. 2 Et congregatæ sunt ad eum turbæ multæ, ita ut naviculam ascendens sederet: et omnis turba stabat in littore, 3 et locutus est eis multa in parabolis, dicens: Ecce exiit qui seminat, seminare. 4 Et dum seminat, quædam ceciderunt secus viam, et venerunt volucres cæli, et comederunt ea. 5 Alia autem ceciderunt in petrosa, ubi non habebant terram multam: et continuo exorta sunt, quia non habebant altitudinem terræ: 6 sole autem orto æstuaverunt; et quia non habebant radicem, aruerunt. 7 Alia autem ceciderunt in spinas: et creverunt spinæ, et suffocaverunt ea. 8 Alia autem ceciderunt in terram bonam: et dabant fructum, aliud centesimum, aliud sexagesimum, aliud trigesimum. 9 Qui habet aures audiendi, audiat.10 Et accedentes discipuli dixerunt ei: Quare in parabolis loqueris eis? 11 Qui respondens, ait illis: Quia vobis datum est nosse mysteria regni cælorum: illis autem non est datum. 12 Qui enim habet, dabitur ei, et abundabit: qui autem non habet, et quod habet auferetur ab eo. 13 Ideo in parabolis loquor eis: quia videntes non vident, et audientes non audiunt, neque intelligunt. 14 Et adimpletur in eis prophetia Isaiæ, dicentis: Auditu audietis, et non intelligetis: et videntes videbitis, et non videbitis. 15  Incrassatum est enim cor populi hujus, et auribus graviter audierunt, et oculos suos clauserunt: nequando videant oculis, et auribus audiant, et corde intelligant, et convertantur, et sanem eos.18 Vos ergo audite parabolam seminantis. 19 Omnis qui audit verbum regni, et non intelligit, venit malus, et rapit quod seminatum est in corde ejus: hic est qui secus viam seminatus est. 20 Qui autem super petrosa seminatus est, hic est qui verbum audit, et continuo cum gaudio accipit illud: 21 non habet autem in se radicem, sed est temporalis: facta autem tribulatione et persecutione propter verbum, continuo scandalizatur. 22 Qui autem seminatus est in spinis, hic est qui verbum audit, et sollicitudo sæculi istius, et fallacia divitiarum suffocat verbum, et sine fructu efficitur. 23 Qui vero in terram bonam seminatus est, hic est qui audit verbum, et intelligit, et fructum affert, et facit aliud quidem centesimum, aliud autem sexagesimum, aliud vero trigesimum.

And the English:

The same day Jesus going out of the house, sat by the sea side. [2] And great multitudes were gathered unto him, so that he went up into a boat and sat: and all the multitude stood on the shore. [3] And he spoke to them many things in parables, saying: Behold the sower went forth to sow. [4] And whilst he soweth some fell by the way side, and the birds of the air came and ate them up. [5] And other some fell upon stony ground, where they had not much earth: and they sprung up immediately, because they had no deepness of earth. [6] And when the sun was up they were scorched: and because they had not root, they withered away. [7] And others fell among thorns: and the thorns grew up and choked them. [8] And others fell upon good ground: and they brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, and some thirtyfold. [9] He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. [10] And his disciples came and said to him: Why speakest thou to them in parables? [11] Who answered and said to them: Because to you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven: but to them it is not given. [12] For he that hath, to him shall be given, and he shall abound: but he that hath not, from him shall be taken away that also which he hath. [13] Therefore do I speak to them in parables: because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. [14] And the prophecy of Isaias is fulfilled in them, who saith: By hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand: and seeing you shall see, and shall not perceive. [15] For the heart of this people is grown gross, and with their ears they have been dull of hearing, and their eyes they have shut: lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. [16] But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. [17] For, amen, I say to you, many prophets and just men have desired to see the things that you see, and have not seen them, and to hear the things that you hear and have not heard them. [18] Hear you therefore the parable of the sower. [19] When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, there cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart: this is he that received the seed by the way side. [20] And he that received the seed upon stony ground, is he that heareth the word, and immediately receiveth it with joy. [21] Yet hath he not root in himself, but is only for a time: and when there ariseth tribulation and persecution because of the word, he is presently scandalized. [22] And he that received the seed among thorns, is he that heareth the word, and the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choketh up the word, and he becometh fruitless. [23] But he that received the seed upon good ground, is he that heareth the word, and understandeth, and beareth fruit, and yieldeth the one an hundredfold, and another sixty, and another thirty. 

Commentary

It is helpful to ponder the significance of the setting, and the idea of hidden meanings in the teaching, and the implications of this for us.

Here are some selections from the Catena Aurea on the setting:

RABAN; For not only the Lord's words and actions, but His journeying also, and the places in which He works His mighty works and preaches, are full of heavenly sacraments. After the discourse held in the house, wherein with wicked blasphemy He had been said to have a demon, He went out and taught by the sea, to signify that having left Judea because of their sinful unbelief, He would pass to the salvation of the Gentiles. For the hearts of the Gentiles, long proud and unbelieving, are rightly likened to the swelling and bitter waves of the sea And who knows not that Judea was by faith the house of the Lord. 

JEROME; For it must be considered, that the multitude could not enter into the house to Jesus, nor be there where the Apostles heard mysteries; therefore the Lord in mercy to them departed out of the house, and sat near the sea of this world, that great numbers might be gathered to Him, and that they might hear on the seashore what they were not worthy to hear within; And great multitudes were gathered to him, so that he went into a ship, and sat down, and all the people stood on the shore. 

HILARY; There is moreover a reason in the subject of His discourse why the Lord should sit in the ship, and the multitude stand on the shore. For He was about to speak in parables, and by this action signifies that they who were without the Church could have no understanding of the Divine Word. The ship offers a type of the Church, within which the word of life is placed, and is preached to those without, and who as being barren sand cannot understand it. 

And on the use of parables:

CHRYS; He had not done thus on the mount; He had not framed His discourse by parables. For there were the multitudes only, and a mixed crowd but here the Scribes and Pharisees. But He speaks in parables not for this reason only, but to make His sayings plainer, and fix them more fully in the memory, by sayings things before the eyes. 

JEROME; And it is to be noted, that He spoke not all things to them in parables, but many things for had He spoken all things in parables, the people would have departed without benefit. He mingles things plain with things dark, that by those things which they understand they may be incited to get knowledge of the things they understand not. The multitude also is not of one opinion, but of divers wills in divers matters, whence He speaks to them in many parables, that each according to their several dispositions parables receive some portion of His teaching. 

CHRYS; He first sets forth a parable to make His hearers more attentive; and because He was about to speak enigmatically, He attracts the attention by this first parable, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow his seed. 

CHRYS; But that what He had said might be made more manifest He adds, Therefore I speak to them in parables. because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. Had this been a natural blindness, He ought to have opened their eyes; but forasmuch as it is voluntary, therefore He said not simply, 'They see not,' but Seeing they see not. For they had seen the demons going out, and they said, He casts out demons by Beelzebub, they heard that He drew all men to God, and they say, This man is not of God. Therefore because they spoke the man contrary to what they saw and heard, to see and to hear is taken from them; for they profit nothing, but rather fall under judgment. For this reason He spoke to them at first not in parables, but with much clearness; but because the perverted all they saw and heard, He now speaks in parables 

REMIG; And it should be noted, that not only what He spoke but also what He did, were parables, that is, signs of things spiritual, which He clearly shows when He says, That seeing they may not see; but words are heard and not seen. 

GLOSS; That is, with the hearing you shall hear words, but shall not understand the hidden meaning of those words; seeing you shall see My flesh indeed, but shall not discern the divinity. 

Monday, 3 February 2014

Matthew 12:38-50


Resuming, today, our prayerful reading of the Gospel of St Matthew in the light of the tradition of the Church, today the concluding verses of St Matthew 12, which contains two key passages.  The first is the demand for a sign; the answer is that they will receive one in the Resurrection, foreshadowed in the story of Jonah.  The second is about our true family in Christ:

38 Tunc responderunt ei quidam de scribis et pharisæis, dicentes: Magister, volumus a te signum videre. 39 Qui respondens ait illis: Generatio mala et adultera signum quærit: et signum non dabitur ei, nisi signum Jonæ prophetæ. 40 Sicut enim fuit Jonas in ventre ceti tribus diebus, et tribus noctibus, sic erit Filius hominis in corde terræ tribus diebus et tribus noctibus. 41 Viri Ninivitæ surgent in judicio cum generatione ista, et condemnabunt eam: quia pœnitentiam egerunt in prædicatione Jonæ, et ecce plus quam Jonas hic. 42 Regina austri surget in judicio cum generatione ista, et condemnabit eam: quia venit a finibus terræ audire sapientiam Salomonis, et ecce plus quam Salomon hic.43 Cum autem immundus spiritus exierit ab homine, ambulat per loca arida, quærens requiem, et non invenit. 44 Tunc dicit: Revertar in domum meam, unde exivi. Et veniens invenit eam vacantem, scopis mundatam, et ornatam. 45 Tunc vadit, et assumit septem alios spiritus secum nequiores se, et intrantes habitant ibi: et fiunt novissima hominis illius pejora prioribus. Sic erit et generationi huic pessimæ.46 Adhuc eo loquente ad turbas, ecce mater ejus et fratres stabant foris, quærentes loqui ei. 47 Dixit autem ei quidam: Ecce mater tua, et fratres tui foris stant quærentes te. 48 At ipse respondens dicenti sibi, ait: Quæ est mater mea, et qui sunt fratres mei? 49 Et extendens manum in discipulos suos, dixit: Ecce mater mea, et fratres mei. 50 Quicumque enim fecerit voluntatem Patris mei, qui in cælis est, ipse meus frater, et soror, et mater est.

In English:

[38] Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying: Master we would see a sign from thee. [39] Who answering said to them: An evil and adulterous generation seeketh a sign: and a sign shall not be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet. [40] For as Jonas was in the whale' s belly three days and three nights: so shall the Son of man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.
[41] The men of Ninive shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they did penance at the preaching of Jonas. And behold a greater than Jonas here. [42] The queen of the south shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold a greater than Solomon here. [43] And when an unclean spirit is gone out of a man he walketh through dry places seeking rest, and findeth none. [44] Then he saith: I will return into my house from whence I came out. And coming he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. [45] Then he goeth, and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is made worse than the first. So shall it be also to this wicked generation.[46] As he was yet speaking to the multitudes, behold his mother and his brethren stood without, seeking to speak to him. [47] And one said unto him: Behold thy mother and thy brethren stand without, seeking thee. [48] But he answering him that told him, said: Who is my mother, and who are my brethren? [49] And stretching forth his hand towards his disciples, he said: Behold my mother and my brethren. [50] For whosoever shall do the will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.

Commentary

The desire for signs and miracles is always with us, and St John Chrysostom's Homily 43 on St Matthew provides some great food for thought on this:

Where now are they that seek after signs? Let them hear that a considerate mind is needed, and if this be wanting, signs are of no profit. See, for instance, how the Ninevites without signs believed, while these, after so many miracles, grew worse, and made themselves an habitation of innumerable devils, and brought on themselves ten thousand calamities; and very naturally. For when a man, being once delivered from his ills, fails to be corrected, he will suffer far worse than before. Yea, therefore He said, he finds no rest, to indicate, that positively and of necessity such an one will be overtaken by the ambush of the devils. Since surely by these two things he ought to have been sobered, by his former sufferings, and by his deliverance; or rather a third thing also is added, the threat of having still worse to endure. But yet by none of these were they made better.

All this might be seasonably said, not of them only, but of us also, when after having been enlightened, Hebrews 6:4 and delivered from our former ills, we again cleave unto the same wickedness, for more grievous also thenceforth will be the punishment of our subsequent sins. Therefore to the sick of the palsy also Christ said, Behold, you are made whole; sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto you; John 5:14 and this to a man who was thirty-eight years in his infirmity. And what, one might ask, was he to suffer worse than this? Something far worse, and more intolerable. For far be it from us, that we should endure as much as we are capable of enduring. For God is at no loss for inflictions. For according to the greatness of His mercy, so also is His wrath....

And this I say, because I know many, who like Pharaoh are even now saying, I know not God, Exodus 5:2 and making those that are in their power cleave to the clay and to the bricks. How many, though God bids them assauge their threatening, Ephesians 6:9 cannot bear so much as to relax the toil!

But we have no Red Sea now, to pass through afterwards. But we have a sea of fire, a sea not like that, either in kind or in size, but far greater and fiercer, having its waves of fire, of some strange and horrible fire. A great abyss is there, of most intolerable flame. Since everywhere fire may be seen roving quickly round, like some savage wild beast. And if here this sensible and material fire leaped like a wild beast out of the furnace, and sprang upon those who were sitting without, Daniel 3:22 what will not that other fire do to such as have fallen into it?...

What then shall we do there? ...Let us show forth then a new kind of life... Let us kindle then His fire; let us cause them that are sitting in darkness to be delivered from their error.... Let us not then make vain pretexts, but let us provide a thoroughly good mind, and whatsoever we may be, we shall surely attain to virtue, and arrive at the good things to come; by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom be unto the Father, together with the Holy Ghost, glory, might, honor, now and ever, and world without end. Amen.