My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
My friends, in today’s scripture readings, we encounter two great lessons. Of course, we have the lesson which is given to us by our Lord in today’s Gospel, in which we heard the parable of the talents, which parable should be well known to us, and we will speak about that in a moment.
But we also find today a great lesson in today’s epistle, a foundational lesson, and one of which we should be often reminded. It does us very well to reflect briefly on it before we move on to the parable of the talents.
For Saint Paul today exhorts the Corinthians, and through him the Church exhorts each of us, in saying: “[W]e helping do exhort you, that you receive not the grace of God in vain.”
“[T]hat you receive not the grace of God in vain.”
Now we can speak about grace, we can consider grace week in and week out, we can even receive the grace of God, which is communicated to us in the mysteries of the Church. But it is very possible to receive the grace of God in vain. And what is meant by this? How is it that the grace of God can be received in vain? Well, let us look at the words of the epistle.
The phrase that is rendered, and quite rightly rendered, as “in vain” in English translation has an even more elemental and even more bleak meaning when we read it in the liturgical languages. We see “Eis kenon” in the Greek, “in vacuum” in Latin, “votŝè” in Slavonic. They all are in agreement and all mean the same thing, and that is: “into a vaccuum,” “into a void,” “unto an emptiness.” Do not receive the grace of God into a void. That is, the grace of God is not to be received and tossed away into nothingness. It is not to be received and nothing done with it. It is not to be received and nothing worked by it. The grace of God is not given as if a reward in itself that is to be locked away, but as precious as it is, it is also truly a tool by which God works within the soul and within this world. And when we close it off into its own void, unable to reach and interact with anything, then this is truly receiving the grace of God in vain. So thus does Saint Paul today exhort us, saying: “that you receive not the grace of God in vain.” “In vacuum.” “Eis kenon.” “Votŝè.” “Unto a void.”
It behooves each and every one of us to recall this; and to ask ourselves what kind of voids are we ourselves are guilty of placing around the grace of God that He gives to us? Do we allow the grace of God to guide us in dealing withour lives? Do we allow the grace of God to work within us when we deal every day with family, with friends, with co-workers, even with strangers? Or do we consider grace something that is just for church, just for Sundays, just for when we come together and say prayers?
Do we work in grace with those only whom we find pleasant in some way, but then lock the grace away in its own void when dealing with those who irritate us?
Do we sing of the glory of God when we are together in prayer, and then send the grace of God off into it’s own empty place when it comes to catering to our own sin?
Let us hear the words of Saint Paul, then. Let us hear what he says: “We helping do exhort you, that you receive not the grace of God in vain.”
And further, he continues, “For He saith: In an accepted time have I heard thee; and in the day of salvation have I helped thee. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
When are we to work in the grace of God? Always. For “now is the acceptable time,” “now is the day of salvation.” There is no “unacceptable time” for the grace of God to be received in its fulness. There is no time within our life which has no bearing on our salvation. We must be reminded of this truth constantly, my dear friends. We must remind ourselves of this constantly, and we must be working constantly in grace.
The Lord in His wisdom and His mercy offers to us constant opportunity to work in the grace which He gives to us. And that is precisely what we hear in today’s Gospel, getting back to the parable which we heard, the parable of the talents.
Now a talent is a large amount of money. It’s a very large amount of money, equal to approximately one-hundred pounds of precious metal. In our times, for example, a talent of gold would be worth something in the neighborhood of one and a half million dollars. For most of us – and certainly for the servants in today’s Gospel – this is a fairly considerable amount of money simply to be given by someone, to be worked with in accordance with one’s ability.
Now, in our modern language, a talent is an ability. But that is not precisely what is meant in today’s gospel. Of course, we are expected to work with the abilities – in the modern sense “talents” – that we have. But we see in today’s parable that abilities and talents are two different things. For we read in today’s Gospel, we see: “and to one he gave five talents, and to another two, and to another one, to every one according to his proper ability.” That is, the abilites of the servants and the talents that they were given with which to work, they are two different things, even though they are very, very closely connected.
So the talents are these extremely large amounts of money which belong to the Lord but are placed in the care of the servants. And the abilities are those things which are interior to the person. The same holds true today. We have what we might call our interior talents, which are either innate or – more often – which we grow and develop through practice, that kind of “talent.” So we have these “talents” in the modern sense; these abilities.
But we also have the talents of which today’s gospel speaks – that is, those things which do not belong to us, but rather which belong to the Lord, but which He has placed in our care, in our responsibility, according to our ability, so that we might work in them and with them. These talents are those precious things that are placed by God into our lives and in our responsibility – remember last week when we spoke about responsibility? The ability to respond to that which has been given to you? They have been placed by God within our responsibility so that we might work in them and make response for the work which is done with the goods of the Lord.
Now what are the talents – the treasures – which God places in our lives with which we are to work? What are they? Well, they are manifold, my dear friends. They are dictated by our own abilities, by our situation in life, by our jobs, our relationships, and by our state of life.
For example, for those of you who are parents, children are certainly a “talent” in this sense of God – for they are a great and precious treasure belonging to the Lord in which you are called to work according to your ability. The teacher also has care of the “talent” as it were of the children, to be raised according to the truth and the love of God. The farmer has care of the “talent” of the land, and produces the food thereon for the nourishment of all. The crafstman, the pilgirm, the bus driver, the sewer worker… they all have charge of various “talents” that are placed in their care by the benevolent Lord so that grace may work through them and in them in those things that they have under their care. Our very life itself is a “talent” – a possession of inestimable value – given to us by God in which we are called to work by His grace.
Each and every one of us has the particular situations, the talents, daily which belong to God but which are given to us in which we are to work. Opportunities of grace: the greatest of treasures. We see this in other people, our friends, even in our enemies; all of these belong to God, for He is the creator of all, but they are placed in our responsibility according to our abilities so that we might work in them, and God’s grace might work in us.
There are those of you listening to this today who assuredly have great opportunities right now before you. Opportunities to work within the grace which is offered through the instrumentation of God’s church. Opportunities to answer the call of God in ways known unto Him and unto you. The grace that is offered is offered not unto emptiness, unto a sterile void, but unto working in the vast talents entrusted to you, the untold riches placed within your responsibility and control, so that good may come of it. So that you, too, may hear upon the day of judgment, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
Now, in the distribution of the talents, we see that some receive more and some receive fewer, according, as it says in the Gospel, to their ability. But the one who received one talent – and did nothing with his talent and with his opportunity – he is the one who is held up as cautionary example to us.
We see that the Lord even says to him: “Wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sow not, and gather where I have not strewed: thou oughtest therefore to have committed my money to the bankers, and at my coming I should have received my own with usury.”
And just very quickly, I will say that usury is not a good thing, my dear friends. You’ve heard me speak about that on many an occasion, and God willing I will speak about it again. It is not a good thing. Our Lord is today not commending usury, but He is telling us a couple of things in this. First, He is expressing the same sentiment as He does in Saint John’s Apocalypse when He says, “I know thy works, that thou art neither hot nor cold. I would thou wert cold, or hot. But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.”
But secondly, and more importantly, is that even those to whom little opportunity of grace is given, still it is a good thing that they work, in the little that they have, even imperfectly. In these times, today, of rampant apostasy and societal degeneracy, there are still many who are seeking to do the will of God, doing their absolute best with the very, very limited opportunity and knowledge they have. All that they do with what God has given them can be put to their credit by God Almighty, imperfect though it may be. That is why our Lord says you could have at least committed my money to the bankers, so that I might have received my own with usury.
Many work today in very imperfect ways, but at least they are making the effort to work with what little they have.
And finally, in the figure of the servant who buried his talent, our Lord gives to us the example of one who truly receives the grace of God in vain. One who digs a hole and hides away that which the Lord has entrusted to him. Instead of working in it, he placed it in its own void, all the while deliberately fooling himself into thinking he was doing something that would please his lord. But ultimately we hear the dread sentence delivered unto this servant: “The unprofitable servant cast ye out into the exterior darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
May God save us from such a fate ourselves!
Rather, let us hasten to do the will of God, for it is later than you think. Let us hasten to bring forth the fruits of the talents which have been given to us. Let us do it today, this moment, right now.
Pray with me, dear friends: O Lord, thou hast vouchsafed to us many talents. May we respond unto them and work within them according to our abilities, and according to Thy will.
For behold now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation.
Saint John Chrysostom – from Homily LXXVIII on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew
“Then He spake again another parable. A man travelling into a far country, called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods; to one five talents, to another two, to another one, to every man according to his several ability, and took his journey. Then, when the two had brought him the double, he that had been entrusted with the one talent brought it alone, and being blamed saith, I knew that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed; and I was afraid, and hid thy talent; lo! there thou hast that is thine. His Lord answered and said, Thou wicked servant, thou knewest that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not strawed: thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I might have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it to him that hath ten talents. For to him that hath shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly; but from him that hath not, shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
And if in Luke the parable of the talents is otherwise put, this is to be said, that the one is really different from the other. For in that, from the one capital different degrees of increase were made, for from one pound one brought five, another ten; wherefore neither did they obtain the same recompense; but here, it is the contrary, and the crown is accordingly equal. For he that received two gave two, and he that had received the five again in like manner; but there since from the same beginning one made the greater, one the less, increase; as might be expected, in the rewards also, they do not enjoy the same.
But see Him everywhere, not requiring it again immediately. For in the case of the vineyard, He let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country; and here He committed to them the talents, and took His journey, that thou mightest learn His long-suffering. And to me He seems to say these things, to intimate the resurrection. But here it is no more a vineyard and husbandmen, but all servants. For not to rulers only, nor to Jews, but to all, doth He address His discourse. And they who bring a return unto Him confess frankly, both what is their own, and what their Master’s. And the one saith, Lord, “Thou gavest me five talents;” and the other saith, “two,” indicating that from Him they received the source of their gain, and they are very thankful, and reckon all to Him.
What then saith the Master? “Well done, thou good” (for this is goodness to look to one’s neighbor) “and faithful servant; thou wast faithful over few things, I will set thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord,” meaning by this expression all blessedness.
But not so that other one, but how? “I knew that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou sowedst not, and gathering where thou strawedst not: and I was afraid, and hid thy talent: lo, there thou hast that is thine.” What then the Master? “Thou oughtest to have put my money to the exchangers,” that is, “that oughtest to have spoken, to have admonished, to have advised.” But are they disobedient? Yet this is nought to thee.
What could be more gentle than this? For men indeed do not so, but him that hath put out the money at usury, even him do they make also responsible to require it again. But He not so; but, Thou oughtest, He saith, to have put it out, and to have committed the requiring of it again to me. And I should have required it with increase; by increase upon the hearing, meaning the showing forth of the works. Thou oughtest to have done that which is easier, and to have left to me what is more difficult. Forasmuch then as he did not this, “Take,” saith He, “the talent from him, and give it to him that hath ten talents? For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” What then is this? He that hath a gift of word and teaching to profit thereby, and useth it not, will lose the gift also; but he that giveth diligence, will gain to himself the gift in more abundance; even as the other loseth what he had received. But not to this is the penalty limited for him that is slothful, but even intolerable is the punishment, and with the punishment the sentence, which is full of a heavy accusation. For “cast ye,” saith He, “the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Seest thou how not only the spoiler, and the covetous, nor only the doer of evil things, but also he that doeth not good things, is punished with extreme punishment.
Let us hearken then to these words. As we have opportunity, let us help on our salvation, let us get oil for our lamps, let us labor to add to our talent. For if we be backward, and spend our time in sloth here, no one will pity us any more hereafter, though we should wail ten thousand times. He also that had on the filthy garments condemned himself, and profited nothing. He also that had the one talent restored that which was committed to his charge, and yet was condemned. The virgins again entreated, and came unto Him and knocked, and all in vain, and without effect.
Knowing then these things, let us contribute alike wealth, and diligence, and protection, and all things for our neighbor’s advantage. For the talents here are each person’s ability, whether in the way of protection, or in money, or in teaching, or in what thing soever of the kind. Let no man say, I have but one talent, and can do nothing; for thou canal even by one approve thyself. For thou art not poorer than that widow; thou art not more uninstructed than Peter and John. who were both “unlearned and ignorant men;” but nevertheless, since they showed forth a zeal, and did all things for the common good, they attained to Heaven. For nothing is so pleasing to God, as to live for the common advantage.
For this end God gave us speech, and hands, and feet, and strength of body, and mind, and understanding, that we might use all these things, both for our own salvation, and for our neighbor’s advantage. For not for hymns only and thanksgivings is our speech serviceable to us, but it is profitable also for instruction and admonition. And if indeed we used it to this end, we should be imitating our Master; but if for the opposite ends, the devil. Since Peter also, when he confessed the Christ, was blessed, as having spoken the words of the Father; but when he refused the cross, and dissuaded it, he was severely reproved, as savoring the things of the devil. But if where the saying was of ignorance, so heavy is the blame, when we of our own will commit many sins, what favor shall we have?
Such things then let us speak, that of themselves they may be evidently the words of Christ. For not only if I should say, “Arise, and walk;” neither if I should say, “Tabitha, arise,” then only do I speak Christ’s words, but much more if being reviled I bless, if being despitefully used I pray for him that doeth despite to me. Lately indeed I said, that our tongue is a hand laying hold on the feet of God; but now much more do I say, that our tongue is a tongue imitating the tongue of Christ, if it show forth the strictness that becometh us, if we speak those things which He wills. But what are the things which He wills us to speak? Words full of gentleness and meekness, even as also He Himself used to speak, saying to them that were insulting Him, “I have not a devil;” and again, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil.” If thou also speak in this way; if thou speak for thy neighbor’s amendment, thou wilt obtain a tongue like that tongue. And these things God Himself saith; “For he that bringeth out the precious from the vile, shall be as my mouth;” such are His words.
When therefore thy tongue is as Christ’s tongue, and thy mouth is become the mouth of the Father, and thou art a temple of the Holy Ghost, then what kind of honor could be equal to this? For not even if thy mouth were made of gold, no nor even of precious stones, would it shine like as now, when lit up with the ornament of meekness. For what is more lovely than a mouth that knoweth not how to insult, but is used to bless and give good words? But if thou canst not bear to bless him that curses thee, hold thy peace, and accomplish but this for the time; and proceeding in order, and striving as thou oughtest, thou wilt attain to that other point also, and wilt acquire such a mouth, as we have spoken of.
4. And do not account the saying to be rash. For the Lord is loving to man, and the gift cometh of His goodness. It is rash to have a mouth like the devil, to have a tongue resembling that of an evil demon, especially for him that partakes of such mysteries, and communicates of the very flesh of the Lord. Reflecting then on these things, become like Him, to the utmost of thy power. No longer then will the devil be able so much as to look thee in the face, when thou art become such a one as this. For indeed he recognizes the image of the King, he knows the weapons of Christ, whereby he was worsted. And what are these? Gentleness and meekness. For when on the mountain Christ overthrew and laid low the devil who was assaulting him, it was not by making it known that He was Christ, but He entrapped him by these sayings, He took him by gentleness, he turned him to flight by meekness. Thou also must do this; shouldest thou see a man become a devil, and coming against thee, even so do thou likewise overcome. Christ gave thee also power to become like Him, so far as thy ability extends. Be not afraid at hearing this. The fear is not to be like Him. Speak then after His manner, and thou art become in this respect such as He, so far as it is possible for one who is a man to become so.
Wherefore greater is he that thus speaks, than he that prophecies. For this is entirely a gift, but in the other is also thy labor and toil. Teach thy soul to frame thee a mouth like to Christ’s mouth. For it can create such things, if it will; it knows the art, if it be not remiss. And how is such a mouth made? one may ask. By what kind of colorings? by what kind of material? By no colorings, indeed, or material; but by virtue only, and meekness, and humility.
Let us see also how a devil’s mouth is made; that we may never frame that. How then is it made? By curses, by insults, by envy, by perjury. For when any one speaks his words, he takes his tongue. What kind of excuse then shall we have; or rather, what manner of punishment shall we not undergo; when this our tongue, wherewith we are allowed to taste of the Lord’s flesh, when this, I say, we overlook, speaking the devil’s words?
Let us not overlook it, but let us use all diligence, in order to train it to imitate its Lord. For if we train it to this, it will place us with great confidence at Christ’s judgment seat. Unless any one know how to speak thus, the judge will not so much as hear him. For like as when the judge chances to be a Roman, he will not hear the defense of one who knows not how to speak thus; so likewise Christ, unless thou speak after His fashion, will not hear thee, nor give heed.
Let us learn therefore to speak in such wise as our Judge is wont to hear; let it be our endeavor to imitate that tongue. And shouldest thou fall into grief, take heed lest the tyranny of despondency pervert thy tongue, but that thou speak like Christ. For He too mourned for Lazarus and Judas. Shouldest thou fall into fear, seek again to speak even as He. For He Himself fell into fear for thy sake, with regard to His manhood. Do thou also say, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”
And if thou shouldest lament, weep calmly as He. Shouldest thou fall into plots and sorrows, treat these too as Christ. For indeed He had plots laid against Him, and was in sorrow, and saith, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” And all the examples He presented to thee. in order that thou shouldest continually observe the same measures, and not destroy the rules that have been given thee. So shalt thou be able to have a mouth like His mouth, so while treading on the earth, thou wilt show forth a tongue like to that of Him who sits on high; thou wilt maintain the limits He observed in despondency, in anger, in suffering, in agony.
How many are they of you that desire to see His form? Behold, it is possible, not to see Him only, but also to become like Him; if we are in earnest.
Let us not delay then. He doth not so readily accept prophets’ lips, as those of meek and forbearing men. “For many will say unto me,” He saith, “Have we not prophesied in Thy name? And I will say unto them, I know you not.”
But the lips of Moses, because he was exceeding gentle and meek (“for Moses,” it is said, “was a meek man above all the men which were upon the face of the earth”), He so accepted and loved, as to say, “Face to face, mouth to mouth. did He speak, as a man speaketh unto his friend.”
Thou wilt not command devils now, but thou shalt then command the fire of hell, if thou keep thy mouth like to Christ’s mouth. Thou shalt command the abyss of fire, and shalt say unto it, “Peace, be still,” and with great confidence shalt set foot in the Heavens, and enjoy the kingdom; unto which God grant all of us to attain, 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 always, and world without end. Amen.
Saint John Chrysostom – Homily LXXI on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew
“But when the Pharisees had heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together; and one of them, which was a lawyer, asked Him a question, tempting Him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?”
Again does the evangelist express the cause, for which they ought to have held their peace, and marks their boldness by this also. How and in what way? Because when those others were put to silence, these again assail Him. For when they ought even for this to hold their peace, they strive to urge further their former endeavors, and put forward the lawyer, not desiring to learn, but making a trial of Him, and ask, “What is the first commandment?”
For since the first commandment was this, “You shall love the Lord your God,” thinking that He would afford them some handle, as though He would amend it, for the sake of showing that Himself too was God, they propose the question. What then says Christ? Indicating from what they were led to this; from having no charity, from pining with envy, from being seized by jealousy, He says,”You shall love the Lord your God. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
But wherefore “like this?” Because this makes the way for that, and by it is again established; “For every one that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light;” (John 3:20) and again, “The fool has said in his heart, There is no God.” And what in consequence of this? “They are corrupt, and become abominable in their ways.” And again, “The love of money is the root of all evils; which while some coveted after they have erred from the faith;” (1 Timothy 6:10) and, “He that loves me, will keep my commandment.”
But His commandments, and the sum of them, are, “You shall love the Lord your God, and your neighbor as yourself.” If therefore to love God is to love one’s neighbor, “For if you love me,” He says, “O Peter, feed my sheep,” (John 21:16-17) but to love one’s neighbor works a keeping of the commandments, with reason does He say, “On these hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:40)
So therefore what He did before, this He does here also. I mean, that both there, when asked about the manner of the resurrection, He also taught a resurrection, instruct ing them beyond what they inquired; and here, being asked the first commandment, He rehearses the second also, which is not much inferior to that (for though second, it is like that), intimating to them, whence the question had arisen, that it was from hatred. “For charity envies not.” (1 Corinthians 13:4) By this He shows Himself to be submissive both to the law and to the prophets.
But wherefore does Matthew say that he asked, tempting Him, but Mark the contrary? “For when Jesus,” he says, “saw that he answered discreetly, He said to him, You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34)
They are not contradicting each other, but indeed fully agreeing. For he asked indeed, tempting, at the beginning, but being benefitted by the answer, was commended. For not at the beginning did He commend him, but when he had said, “That to love his neighbor is more than whole burnt sacrifices,” then He says, “You are not far from the kingdom;” because he overlooked low things, and embraced the first principle of virtue. For indeed all those are for the sake of this, as well the Sabbath as the rest.
And not even so did He make His commendation perfect, but yet deficient. For His saying, “You are not far off,” indicates that he is yet falling short, that he might seek after what was deficient.
But if, when He said, “There is one God, and there is none other but He,” He commended him, wonder not, but by this too observe, how He answers according to the opinion of them that come unto Him. For although men say ten thousand things about Christ unworthy of His glory, yet this at any rate they will not dare to say, that He is not God at all. Wherefore then does He praise him that said, that beside the Father, there is no other God?
Not excepting Himself from being God; away with the thought; but since it was not yet time to disclose His Godhead, He suffers him to remain in the former doctrine, and praises him for knowing well the ancient principles, so as to make him fit for the doctrine of the New Testament, which He is bringing in its season.
And besides, the saying, “There is one God, and there is none other but He,” both in the Old Testament and everywhere, is spoken not to the rejection of the Son, but to make the distinction from idols. So that when praising this man also, who had thus spoken, He praises him in this mind.
Then since He had answered, He asks also in turn, “What think ye of Christ, whose Son is He? They say unto Him, The Son of David.”
See after how many miracles, after how many signs, after how many questions, after how great a display of His unanimity with the Father, as well in words, as in deeds; after having praised this man that said, that there is one God, He asks the question, that they may not be able to say, that He did miracles indeed, yet was an adversary to the law, and a foe to God.
Therefore, after so many things, He asks these questions, secretly leading them on to confess Him also to be God. And the disciples He asked first what the others say, and then themselves; but these not so; for surely they would have said a deceiver, and a wicked one, as speaking all things without fear. So for this cause He inquires for the opinion of these men themselves.
For since He was now about to go on to His passion, He sees forth the prophecy that plainly proclaims Him to be Lord; and not as having come to do this without occasion, nor as having made this His aim, but from a reasonable cause.
For having asked them first, since they answered not the truth concerning Him (for they said He was a mere man), to overthrow their mistaken opinion, He thus introduces David proclaiming His Godhead. For they indeed supposed that He was a mere man, wherefore also they said, “the Son of David;” but He to correct this brings in the prophet witnessing to His being Lord, and the genuineness of His Sonship, and His equality in honor with His Father.
And not even at this does He stop, but in order to move them to fear, He adds what follows also, saying, “Till I make Your enemies Your footstool;” that at least in this way He might gain them over.
And that they may not say, that it was in flattery he so called Him, and that this was a human judgment, see what He says, “How then does David in spirit call Him Lord?” See how submissively He introduces the sentence and judgment concerning Himself. First, He had said, “What do you think? Whose Son is He?” so by a question to bring them to an answer. Then since they said, “the Son of David,” He said not, “And yet David says these things,” but again in this order of a question, “How then does David in spirit call Him Lord?” in order that the sayings might not give offense to them. Wherefore neither did He say, What think ye of me, but of Christ. For this reason the apostles also reasoned submissively, saying, “Let us speak freely of the Patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried.” (Acts 2:29)
And He Himself too in like manner for this cause introduces the doctrine in the way of question and inference, saying, “How then does David in spirit call Him Lord, saying, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit on my right hand, until I make Your foes Your footstool;” (Matthew 22:44) and again, “If David then call Him Lord, how is He then his Son,” (Matthew 22:45) not taking away the fact that He is his Son, away with the thought; for He would not then have reproved Peter for this, but to correct their secret thoughts. So that when He says, “How is He his Son?” He means this, not so as you say. For they said, that He is Son only, and not also Lord. And this after the testimony, and then submissively, “If David then call Him Lord, how is He his Son?”
But, nevertheless, even when they had heard these things, they answered nothing, for neither did they wish to learn any of the things that were needful. Wherefore He Himself adds and says, that “He is his Lord.” Or rather not even this very thing does He say without support, but having taken the prophet with Him, because of His being exceedingly distrusted by them, and evil reported of among them. To which fact we ought to have special regard, and if anything be said by Him that is lowly and submissive, not to be offended, for the cause is this, with many other things also, that He talks with them in condescension.
Wherefore now also He delivers His doctrine in the manner of question and answer; but He darkly intimates even in this way His dignity. For it was not as much to be called Lord of the Jews, as of David.
But mark thou also, I pray you, how seasonable it is. For when He had said, “There is one Lord,” then He spoke of Himself that He is Lord, and showed it by prophecy, no more by His works only. And He shows the Father Himself taking vengeance upon them in His behalf, for He says, “Until I make Your enemies Your footstool,” and great unanimity even hereby on the part of Him that begot Him towards Himself, and honor. And upon His reasonings with them He does set this end high and great, and sufficient to close fast their mouths.
For they were silent from thenceforth, not willingly, but from their having nothing to say; and they received so deadly a blow, as no longer to dare to attempt the same things any more. For, “no one,” it is said, “dared from that day forth ask Him any more questions.” (Matthew 22:46)
And this was no little advantage to the multitude. Therefore also unto them does He henceforth direct His word, having removed the wolves, and having repulsed their plots.
For those men gained nothing, taken captive by vainglory, and having fallen upon this terrible passion. For terrible is this passion and many-headed, for some set their heart upon power for the sake of this, some on wealth, some on strength. But proceeding in order it goes on unto almsgiving also, and fasting, and prayers, and teaching, and many are the heads of this monster.
But to be vainglorious indeed about those other things is nothing wonderful; but to be so about fasting and prayer, this is strange and lamentable.
But that we may not again blame only, come and let us tell the means, by which we shall avoid this. Against whom shall we prepare to contend first, against those that are vainglorious of money, or those of dress, or those of places of power, or those of sciences, or those of art, or those of their person, or those of beauty, or those of ornaments, or those of cruelty, or those of humanity and almsgiving, or those of wickedness, or those of death, or those after death? For indeed, as I have said, this passion has many links, and goes on beyond our life. For such a one, it is said, is dead, and that he may be held in admiration, has charged that such and such things be done; and therefore such a one is poor, such a one rich.
For the grievous thing is this, that even of opposite things is it made up.
Against whom then shall we stand, and let ourselves in array first? For one and the same discourse suffices not against all. Will ye then that it be against them that are vainglorious about almsgiving?
To me at least it seems well; for exceedingly do I love this thing, and am pained at seeing it marred, and vainglory plotting against it, like a pandering nurse against some royal damsel. For she feeds her in deed, but for disgrace and mischief, prostituting her and commanding her to despise her father; but to deck herself to please unholy and often despicable men; and invests her with such a dress, as strangers wish, disgraceful, and dishonorable, not such as the father.
Come now, then, let us take our aim against these; and let there be an almsgiving made in abundance for display to the multitude. Surely then, first vainglory leads her out of her Father’s chamber. And whereas her Father requires not to appear so much as to the left hand, Matthew 6:3 she displays her to the slaves, and to the vulgar, that have not even known her.
Do you see a harlot, and pander, casting her into the love of foolish men, that according as they require, so she may order herself? Do you desire to see how it renders such a soul not a harlot only, but insane also?
Mark then her mind. For when she lets go heaven and runs after fugitives and menial slaves, pursuing through streets and lanes them that hate her, the ugly and deformed, them that are not willing so much as to look at her, them that, when she burns with love towards them, hate her, what can be more insane than this? For no one do the multitude hate so much, as those that want the glory they have to bestow. Countless accusations at least do they frame against them, and the result is the same, as if any one were to bring down a virgin daughter of the king from the royal throne, and to require her to prostitute herself to gladiators, who abhorred her. These then, as much as you pursue them, so much do they turn away from you; but God, if you seek the glory that comes from Him, so much the more both draws you unto Himself, and commends you, and great is the reward He renders unto you.
But if you are minded in another way also to discern the mischief thereof, when you give for display and ostentation, consider how great the sorrow that then comes upon you, and how continual the desponding, while Christ’s voice is heard in your ears, saying, “You have lost all your reward.” (Matthew 6:1) For in every matter indeed vainglory is a bad thing, yet most of all in beneficence, for it is the utmost cruelty, making a show of the calamities of others, and all but upbraiding those in poverty. For if to mention one’s own good actions is to upbraid, what do you think it is to publish them even to many others.
How then shall we escape the danger? If we learn how to give alms, if we see after whose good report we are to seek. For tell me, who has the skill of almsgiving? Plainly, it is God, who has made known the thing, who best of all knows it, and practises it without limit. What then? If you are learning to be a wrestler, to whom do you look? Or to whom do you display your doings in the wrestling school, to the seller of herbs, and of fish, or to the trainer? And yet they are many, and he is one. What then, if while he admires you, others deride you, will you not with him deride them?
What, if you are learning to box, will you not look in like manner to him who knows how to teach this? And if you are practising oratory, will you not accept the praise of the teacher of rhetoric, and despise the rest.
How then is it other than absurd, in other arts to look to the teacher only, but here to do the contrary? Although the loss be not equal. For there, if you wrestle according to the opinion of the multitude, and not that of the teacher, the loss is in the wrestling; but here it is in eternal life. You have become like to God in giving alms; be thou then like Him in not making a display. For even He said, when healing, that they should tell no man.
But do you desire to be called merciful among men? And what is the gain? The gain is nothing; but the loss infinite. For these very persons, whom you call to be witnesses, become robbers of your treasures that are in the heavens; or rather not these, but ourselves, who spoil our own possessions, and scatter what we have laid up above.
O new calamity! This strange passion. Where moth corrupts not, nor thief breaks through, vainglory scatters. This is the moth of those treasures there; this the thief of our wealth in heaven; this steals away the riches that cannot be spoiled; this mars and corrupts all. For because the devil saw that that place is impregnable to thieves and to the worm, and the other plots against them, he by vainglory steals away the wealth.
But do you desire glory? Does not then that suffice you which is given by the receiver himself, that from our gracious God, but do you set your heart on that from men also? Take heed, lest you undergo the contrary, lest some condemn you as not showing mercy, but making a display, and seeking honor, as making a show of the calamities of others.
For indeed the showing of mercy is a mystery. Shut therefore the doors, that none may see what it is not pious to display. For our mysteries too are above all things, a showing of God’s mercy and loving-kindness. According to His great mercy, He had mercy on us being disobedient.
And the first prayer too is full of mercy, when we entreat for the energumens; and the second again, for others under penance seeking for much mercy; and the third also for ourselves, and this puts forward the innocent children of the people entreating God for mercy. For since we condemn ourselves for sins, for them that have sinned much and deserve to be blamed we ourselves cry; but for ourselves the children; for the imitators of whose simplicity the kingdom of heaven is reserved. For this image shows this, that they who are like those children, lowly and simple, these above all men are able to deliver the guilty by their prayers.
But the mystery itself, of how much mercy, of how much love to man it is full, the initiated know.
Do thou then, when according to your power you are showing mercy to a man, shut the doors, let the object of your mercy see it only; but if it be possible, not even he. But if you set them open, you are profanely exposing your mystery.
Consider that the very person, whose praise you seek, even himself will condemn you; and if he be a friend, will accuse you to himself; but if an enemy, he will deride you unto others also. And you will undergo the opposite of what you desire. For you indeed desire that he should call you the merciful man; but he will not call you this, but the vainglorious, the man-pleaser, and other names far more grievous than these.
But if you should hide it, he will call you all that is opposite to this; the merciful, the kind. For God suffers it not to be hidden; but if you conceal it, the other will make it known, and greater will be the admiration, and more abundant the gain. So that even for this very object of being glorified, to make a display is against us; for with respect to the thing unto which we most hasten and press, as to this most especially is this thing against us. For so far from obtaining the credit of being merciful, we obtain even the contrary, and besides this, great is the loss we undergo.
For every motive then let us abstain from this, and set our love on God’s praise alone. For thus shall we both attain to honor here, and enjoy the eternal blessings, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might world without end. Amen.
Saint John Chrysostom – Homily LXIX on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew
Do you see both in the former parable and in this the difference between the Son and the servants? Do you see at once the great affinity between both parables, and the great difference also? For this also indicates God’s long-suffering, and His great providential care, and the Jews’ ingratitude.
But this parable has something also more than the other. For it proclaims beforehand both the casting out of the Jews, and the calling of the Gentiles; and it indicates together with this also the strictness of the life required, and how great the punishment appointed for the careless.
And well is this placed after the other. For since He had said, It shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof, He declares next to what kind of nation; and not this only, but He also again sets forth His providential care towards the Jews as past utterance. For there He appears before His crucifixion bidding them; but here even after He is slain, He still urges them, striving to win them over. And when they deserved to have suffered the most grievous punishment, then He both presses them to the marriage, and honors them with the highest honor. And see how both there He calls not the Gentiles first, but the Jews, and here again. But as there, when they would not receive Him, but even slew Him when He had come, then He gave away the vineyard; thus here too, when they were not willing to be present at the marriage, then He called others.
What then could be more ungrateful than they, when being bidden to a marriage they rush away? For who would not choose to come to a marriage, and that a King’s marriage, and of a King making a marriage for a Son?
And wherefore is it called a marriage? One may say. That you might learn God’s tender care, His yearning towards us, the cheerfulness of the state of things, that there is nothing sorrowful there, nor sad, but all things are full of spiritual joy. Therefore also John calls Him a bridegroom, therefore Paul again says, “For I have espoused you to one husband;” (2 Corinthians 11:2) and, “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.” (Ephesians 5:32)
Why then is not the bride said to be espoused to Him, but to the Son? Because she that is espoused to the Son, is espoused to the Father. For it is indifferent in Scripture that the one or the other should be said, because of the identity of the substance.
Hereby He proclaimed the resurrection also. For since in what went before He had spoken of the death, He shows that even after the death, then is the marriage, then the bridegroom.
But not even so do these become better men nor more gentle, than which what can be worse? For this again is a third accusation. The first that they killed the prophets; then the son; afterwards that even when they had slain Him, and were bidden unto the marriage of Him that was slain, by the very one that was slain, they come not, but feign excuses, yokes of oxen, and pieces of ground, and wives. And yet the excuses seem to be reasonable; but hence we learn, though the things which hinder us be necessary, to set the things spiritual at a higher price than all.
And He not suddenly, but a long time before. For, Tell, He says, them that are bidden; and again, Call them that were bidden; which circumstance makes the charge against them heavier. And when were they bidden? By all the prophets; by John again; for unto Christ he would pass all on, saying, “He must increase, I must decrease;” (John 3:30) by the Son Himself again, “Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you;” and again, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” (John 7:37)
But not by words only, but also by actions did He bid them, after His ascension by Peter, and those with him. For He that wrought effectually in Peter, it is said, to the apostleship of the circumcision, was mighty also in me towards the Gentiles.
For since on seeing the Son, they were angry and slew Him, He bids them again by His servants. And unto what does He bid them? Unto labors, and toils, and sweat? Nay but unto pleasure. For, My oxen, He says, and my fatlings are killed. See how complete His banquet, how great His munificence.
And not even this shamed them, but the more long-suffering He showed, so much the more were they hardened. For not for press of business, but from making light of it, they did not come.
How then do some bring forward marriages, others yokes of oxen? These things surely are of want of leisure.
By no means, for when spiritual things call us, there is no press of business that has the power of necessity.
And to me they seem moreover to make use of these excuses, putting forward these things as cloke for their negligence. And not this only is the grievous thing, that they came not, but also that which is a far more violent and furious act, to have even beaten them that came, and to have used them despitefully, and to have slain them; this is worse than the former. For those others came, demanding produce and fruits, and were slain; but these, bidding them to the marriage of Him that had been slain by them, and these again are murdered.
What is equal to this madness? This Paul also was laying to their charge, when he said, Who both killed the Lord, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us.
Moreover, that they may not say, He is an adversary of God, and therefore we do not come, hear what they say who are bidding them; that it is the father who is making the marriage, and that it is He who is bidding them.
What then did He after these things? Since they were not willing to come, yea and also slew those that came unto them; He burns up their cities, and sent His armies and slew them.
And these things He says, declaring beforehand the things that took place under Vespasian and Titus, and that they provoked the father also, by not believing in Him; it is the father at any rate who was avenging.
And for this reason let me add, not straightway after Christ was slain did the capture take place, but after forty years, that He might show His long suffering, when they had slain Stephen, when they had put James to death, when they had spitefully entreated the apostles.
Do you see the truth of the event, and its quickness? For while John was yet living, and many other of them that were with Christ, these things came to pass, and they that had heard these words were witnesses of the events.
See then care utterable. He had planted a vineyard; He had done all things, and finished; when His servants had been put to death, He sent other servants; when those had been slain, He sent the son; and when He was put to death, He bids them to the marriage. They would not come. After this He sends other servants, and they slew these also.
Then upon this He slays them, as being incurably diseased. For that they were incurably diseased, was proved not by their acts only, but by the fact, that even when harlots and publicans had believed, they did these things. So that, not by their own crimes alone, but also from what others were able to do aright, these men are condemned,
But if any one should say, that not then were they out of the Gentiles called, I mean, when the apostles had been beaten and had suffered ten thousand things, but straightway after the resurrection (for then He said to them, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19)) We would say, that both before the crucifixion, and after the crucifixion, they addressed themselves to them first. For both before the crucifixion, He says to them, “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel;” (Matthew 10:6) and after the crucifixion, so far from forbidding, He even commanded them to address themselves to the Jews. For though He said, “Make disciples of all nations,” yet when on the point of ascending into Heaven, He declared that unto those first they were to address themselves; “For, you shall receive power,” says He, “after that the Holy Ghost has come upon you, and you shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judæa, and unto the uttermost part of the earth;” (Acts 1:8) and Paul again, “He that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, was mighty in me also toward the Gentiles.” Therefore the apostles also went first unto the Jews, and when they had tarried a long time in Jerusalem, and then had been driven away by them, in this way they were scattered abroad unto the Gentiles.
2. And see thou even herein His bounty; “As many as you shall find,” says He, “bid to the marriage.” For before this, as I said, they addressed themselves both to Jews and Greeks, tarrying for the most part in Judæa; but since they continued to lay plots against them, hear Paul interpreting this parable, and saying thus, “It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you, but since you judge yourselves unworthy, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.”
Therefore Christ also says, “The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy.”
He knew this indeed even before, but that He might leave them no pretext of a shameless sort of contradiction, although He knew it, to them first He both came and sent, both stopping their mouths, and teaching us to fulfill all our parts, though no one should derive any profit.
Since then they were not worthy, go ye, says He, into the highways, and as many as you shall find, bid; both the common sort, and the outcasts. For because He had said in every way, “The harlots and publicans shall inherit heaven;” and, “The first shall be last, and the last first;” He shows that justly do these things come to pass; which more than anything stung the Jews, and goaded them far more grievously than their overthrow, to see those from the Gentiles brought into their privileges, and into far greater than theirs.
Then in order that not even these should put confidence in their faith alone, He discourses unto them also concerning the judgment to be passed upon wicked actions; to them that have not yet believed, of coming unto Him by faith, and to them that have believed, of care with respect to their life. For the garment is life and practice.
And yet the calling was of grace; wherefore then does He take a strict account? Because although to be called and to be cleansed was of grace, yet, when called and clothed in clean garments, to continue keeping them so, this is of the diligence of them that are called.
The being called was not of merit, but of grace. It was fit therefore to make a return for the grace, and not to show forth such great wickedness after the honor. But I have not enjoyed, one may say, so much advantage as the Jews. Nay, but you have enjoyed far greater benefits. For what things were being prepared for them throughout all their time, these you have received at once, not being worthy. Wherefore Paul also says, “And that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy.” (Romans 15:9) For what things were due to them, these you have received.
Wherefore also great is the punishment appointed for them that have been remiss. For as they did despite by not coming, so also thou by thus sitting down with a corrupt life. For to come in with filthy garments is this namely, to depart hence having one’s life impure; wherefore also he was speechless.
Do you see how, although the fact was so manifest, He does not punish at once, until he himself, who has sinned, has passed the sentence? For by having nothing to reply he condemned himself, and so is taken away to the unutterable torments.
For do not now, on hearing of darkness, suppose he is punished by this, by sending into a place where there is no light only, but where there is also weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 22:13) And this He says, indicating the intolerable pains.
Hear ye, as many as having partaken of the mysteries, and having been present at the marriage, clothe your souls with filthy deeds. Hear whence you were called.
From the highway. Being what? Lame and halt in soul, which is a much more grievous thing than the mutilation of the body. Reverence the love of Him, who called you, and let no one continue to have filthy garments, but let each of you busy himself about the clothing of your soul.
Hear, you women; hear, you men; we need not these garments that are bespangled with gold, that adorn our outward parts, but those others, that adorn the inward. Whilst we have these former, it is difficult to put on those latter. It is not possible at the same time to deck both soul and body. It is not possible at the same time both to serve mammon, and to obey Christ as we ought.
Let us put off us therefore this grievous tyranny. For neither if any one were to adorn your house by hanging it with golden curtains, and were to make you sit there in rags, naked, would you endure it with meekness. But lo, now you do this to yourself, decking the house of your soul, I mean the body, with curtains beyond number, but leaving the soul itself to sit in rags. Do you not know that the king ought to be adorned more than the city? So therefore while for the city hangings are prepared of linen, for the king there is a purple robe and a diadem. Even so do thou wrap the body with a much meaner dress, but the mind do thou clothe in purple, and put a crown on it, and set it on a high and conspicuous chariot. For now you are doing the opposite, decking the city in various ways, but suffering the king, the mind, to be dragged bound after the brute passions.
Do you not remember, that you are bidden to a marriage, and to God’s marriage? Do you not consider how the soul that is bidden ought to enter into those chambers, clad, and decked with fringes of gold?
3. Will you that I show you them that are clad thus, them that have on a marriage garment?
Call to mind those holy persons, of whom I discoursed to you of late, them that wear garments of hair, them that dwell in the deserts. These above all are the wearers of the garments of that wedding; this is evident from hence, that how many soever purple robes thou were to give them, they would not choose to receive them; but much as a king, if any one were to take the beggar’s rags, and exhort him to put them on, would abhor the clothing, so would those persons also his purple robe. And from no other cause have they this feeling, but because of knowing the beauty of their own raiment. Therefore even that purple robe they spurn like the spider’s web. For these things has their sackcloth taught them; for indeed they are far more exalted and more glorious than the very king who reigns.
And if you were able to open the doors of the mind, and to look upon their soul, and all their ornaments within, surely you would fall down upon the earth, not bearing the glory of their beauty, and the splendor of those garments, and the lightning brightness of their conscience.
For we could tell also of men of old, great and to be admired; but since visible examples lead on more those of grosser souls, therefore do I send you even to the tabernacles of those holy persons. For they have nothing sorrowful, but as if in heaven they had pitched their tents, even so are they encamped far off the wearisome things of this present life, in campaign against the devils; and as in choirs, so do they war against him. Therefore I say, they have fixed their tents, and have fled from cities, and markets, and houses. For he that wars cannot sit in a house, but he must make his habitation of a temporary kind, as on the point of removing straightway, and so dwell. Such are all those persons, contrary to us. For we indeed live not as in a camp, but as in a city at peace.
For who in a camp ever lays foundation, and builds himself a house, which he is soon after to leave? There is not one; but should any one attempt it, he is put to death as a traitor. Who in a camp buys acres of land, and makes for himself trades? There is not one, and very reasonably. For you have come here, they would say, to fight, not to traffic; why then do you trouble yourself about the place, which in a little time you will leave? When we are gone away to our country, do these things.
The same do I now say to you also. When we have removed to the city that is above, do these things: or rather you will have no need of labors there; after that the king will do all things for you. But here it is enough to dig a ditch round only, and to fix a palisade, but of building houses there is no need.
Hear what was the life of the Scythians, that lived in their wagons, such, as they say, are the habits of the shepherd tribes. So ought Christians to live; to go about the world, warring against the devil, rescuing the captives held in subjection by him, and to be in freedom from all worldly things.
Why do you prepare a house, O man, that you may bind yourself more? Why do you bury a treasure, and invite the enemy against yourself? Why do you compass yourself with walls, and prepare a prison for yourself?
But if these things seem to you to be hard, let us go away unto the tents of those men, that by their deeds we may learn the easiness thereof. For they having set up huts, if they must depart from these, depart like as soldiers, having left their camp in peace. For so likewise are they encamped, or rather even much more beautifully.
For indeed it is more pleasant to behold a desert containing huts of monks in close succession, than soldiers stretching the canvas in a camp, and fixing spears, and suspending from the point of the spears saffron garments, and a multitude of men having heads of brass, and the bosses of the shields glistening much, and men armed all throughout with steel, and royal courts hastily made, and ground levelled far, and men dining and piping. For neither is this spectacle so delightful as that of which I now speak.
For if we were to go away into the wilderness, and look at the tents of Christ’s soldiers, we shall see not canvas stretched, neither points of spears, nor golden garments making a royal pavilion; but like as if any one upon an earth much larger than this earth, yea infinite, had stretched out many heavens, strange and awful would be the sight he showed; even so may one see here.
For in nothing are their lodging-places in a condition inferior to the heavens; for the angels lodge with them, and the Lord of the angels. For if they came to Abraham, a man having a wife, and bringing up children, because they saw him hospitable; when they find much more abundant virtue, and a man delivered from the body, and in the flesh disregarding the flesh, much more do they tarry there, and celebrate the choral feast that becomes them. For there is moreover a table among them pure from all covetousness, and full of self-denial.
No streams of blood are among them, nor cutting up of flesh, nor heaviness of head, nor dainty cooking, neither are there unpleasing smells of meat among them, nor disagreeable smoke, neither runnings and tumults, and disturbances, and wearisome clamors; but bread and water, the latter from a pure fountain, the former from honest labor. But if any time they should be minded to feast more sumptuously, their sumptuousness consists of fruits, and greater is the pleasure there than at royal tables. There is no fear there, or trembling; no ruler accuses, no wife provokes, no child casts into sadness, no dis orderly mirth dissipates, no multitude of flatterers puffs up; but the table is an angel’s table free from all such turmoil.
And for a couch they have grass only beneath them, like as Christ did when making a dinner in the wilderness. And many of them do this, not being even under shelter, but for a roof they have heaven, and the moon instead of the light of a candle, not wanting oil, nor one to attend to it; on them alone does it shine worthily from on high.
4. This table even angels from heaven beholding are delighted and pleased. For if over one sinner that repents they rejoice, over so many just men imitating them, what will they not do? There are not master and slave; all are slaves, all free men. And do not think the saying to be a dark proverb, for they are indeed slaves one of another, and masters one of another.
They have no occasion to be in sadness when evening has overtaken them, as many men feel, revolving the anxious thoughts that spring from the evils of the day. They have no occasion after their supper to be careful about robbers, and to shut the doors, and to put bars against them, neither to dread the other ills, of which many are afraid, extinguishing their candles with strict care, lest a spark anywhere should set the house on fire.
And their conversation again is full of the same calm. For they talk not of these things, whereof we discourse, that are nothing to us; such a one is made governor, such a one has ceased to be governor; such a one is dead, and another has succeeded to the inheritance, and all such like, but always about the things to come do they speak and seek wisdom; and as though dwelling in another world, as though they had migrated unto heaven itself, as living there, even so all their conversation is about the things there, about Abraham’s bosom, about the crowns of the saints, about the choiring with Christ; and of things present they have neither any memory nor thought, but like as we should not deign to speak at all of what the ants do in their holes and clefts; so neither do they of what we do; but about the King that is above, about the war in which they are engaged, about the devil’s crafts, about the good deeds which the saints have achieved.
Wherein therefore are we different from ants, when compared with them? For like as they care for the things of the body, so also do we; and would it were for these alone: but now it is even for things far worse. For not for necessary things only do we care like them, but also for things superfluous. For those insects pursue a business free from all blame, but we follow after all covetousness, and not even the ways of ants do we imitate, but the ways of wolves, but the ways of leopards, or rather we are even worse than these. For to them nature has assigned that they should be thus fed, but us God has honored with speech, and a sense of equity, and we have become worse than the wild beasts.
And whereas we are worse than the brutes, those men are equal to the angels, being strangers and pilgrims as to the things here; and all things in them are made different from us, clothing, and food, and house, and shoes, and speech. And if any one were to hear them conversing and us, then he would know full well, how they indeed are citizens of heaven, but we are not worthy so much as of the earth.
So that therefore, when any one invested with rank has come unto them, then is all inflated pride found utterly vain. For the laborer there, and he that has no experience of worldly affairs, sits near him that is a commander of troops, and prides himself on his authority, upon the grass, upon a mean cushion. For there are none to extol him, none to puff him up; but the same result takes place, as if any one were to go to a goldsmith, and a garden of roses, for he receives some brightness from the gold and from the roses; so they too, gaining a little from the splendor of these, are delivered from their former arrogance. And like as if any were to go upon a high place, though he be exceedingly short, he appears high; so these too, coming unto their exalted minds, appear like them, so long as they abide there, but when they are gone down are abased again, on descending from that height.
A king is nothing among them, a governor is nothing; but like as we, when children are playing at these things, laugh; so do they also utterly spurn the inflamed pride of them who strut without. And this is evident from hence, that if any one would give them a kingdom to possess in security, they would never take it; yet they would take it, unless their thoughts were upon what is greater than it, unless they accounted the thing to be but for a season.
What then? Shall we not go over unto blessedness so great? Shall we not come unto these angels; shall we not receive clean garments, and join in the ceremonies of this wedding feast; but shall we continue begging, in no respect in a better condition than the poor in the streets, or rather in a state far worse and more wretched? For much worse than these are they that are rich in evil ways, and it is better to beg than to spoil, for the one has excuse, but the other brings punishment; and the beggar in no degree offends God, but this other both men and God; and undergoes the labors of rapine, but all the enjoyment thereof other men often reap.
Knowing then these things, let us lay aside all covetousness, and covet the things above, with great earnestness taking the kingdom by force. (Matthew 11:12) For it cannot be, it cannot be that any one who is remiss should enter therein.
But God grant that we all having become earnest, and watchful may attain thereto, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might, world without end. Amen.
In what, then, are we different from ants, when compared to them? For just as they care for the things of the body, so also do we; and would it were for these alone; but not, it is even for things far worse. For not for necessary things only do we care like them, but also for things superfluous. For those insects pursue a business free from all blame, but we follow after all covetousness, and not even the ways of ants do we imitate, but the ways of wolves, but the ways of leopards… or rather we are even worse than these. For to them nature has assigned that they should be thus fed, but us God hath honoured with speech, and a sense of equity, and we are become worse than the wild beasts.
– St. John Chrysostom, Homil. LXIX 4.
They used to say about Abba Dioscurus that his bread was made of barley and lentils, and that at the beginning of each year he would set himself with some new task of ascetic excellence, saying, “This year I will not converse with any man,” or, “I will not speak at all,” or, “I will not eat food which hath been boiled,” or, “I will not eat fruit,” or, “I will not eat vegetables.” He began each year with resolutions of some kind and carried them out, and each year he set himself some new task.