The Lord has given us words. These words lead us back to His presence, to the truth about Him, and why we are here. The words of revelation have an incredible power to bring us back to the path of truth and salvation. To follow where the words lead us force us to let go of the thoughts, practices, or words that are incompatible but have become part of our way of life. In all of this, in the pain of our conscience, the guilt and the shame, God reaches out gently and lovingly. His words purify, clarify, and give us the space to respond freely. Our response to these words is an act both inspired by and carried by grace. Grace allows the disciples of Christ to respond humbly and confidently in times of persecution. Those who are concerned about preserving their human and earthly life at all costs, who see death as the ultimate evil, are unable to cooperate with the consoling grace of God.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is trying to suggest that all manner of evil will occur to his disciples. A Christian must come to terms with the fact that God is not in the business of sparing his children from suffering and persecution. “Deliver us from the Evil One,” is a petition we must repeat regularly and urgently. The difficulties in life should send us back to God’s Word and to a deeper trust in His mercy, grace and providence. God’s Providence does not hinge on us making good decisions – the good decisions we make are only really good to the extent that they are a willing cooperation with Providence.
From their childhood they read the prophets, but they crucified him whom the prophets had foretold. We did not hear the divine prophecies, but we did worship him of whom they prophesied. And so they are pitiful because they rejected the blessings that were sent to them, while others seized hold of these blessings and drew them to themselves. Although they had been called to the adoption of sons, they fell to kinship with dogs; we who were dogs received the strength, through God’s grace, to put aside the irrational nature that was ours and to rise to the honor of sons.1
THEODORE OF MOPSUESTIA:
You could really demonstrate that a wise and understanding person is the one with knowledge of what has been said and with zeal for the things by which it is possible for people who avoid evil and zealously practice good to be established in freedom from lower things and in enjoyment of higher things. This is because everything done by God is marked by great correctness, with which he also applies punishment to the fallen and knows how to achieve their salvation when they repent. You could also demonstrate that the righteous are those of their number who also know how to profit from each category and who develop greater self-control from the punishments, on the one hand, while taking the enjoyment of the good things stemming from repentance as a stimulus to virtue, on the other. You could also demonstrate that the impious are those who deserve troubles in every way and of every kind, gaining nothing from them, stuck fast in a downward direction, and as a result not able to understand anything of their duty. 2
For this reason, therefore, he called the former “sheep” but called the latter not “like wolves” but fully “wolves,” since people, who are God’s creatures, though they may be good, always have in them something evil according to the flesh. And one is called a sheep insofar as one is good; yet like a sheep, however, insofar as one is not fully good. For one who does not know God can have nothing good in himself. So one is referred to as a “wolf,” not “like a wolf,” because he has nothing good in himself and does not know God in himself.3
Again he is preparing them for this new sort of combat. They are to suffer wrong and willingly permit others to inflict punishment upon them. This is meant to teach them that the victory is in suffering evil for the sake of good. By this means their eternal trophies are being prepared. He does not instruct them to fight and resist those who would persecute them. All he promises them is that they will suffer with him the utmost ills.4
They were not putting Jesus’ commands to some pragmatic test. Rather, they simply yielded and obeyed. And this obedience did not come from their own moral excellence as such but rather itself was a gift of grace from their teacher. Whatever fearful things they were to face, the more so would they be given grace to face them.5
It is as though he said to them, “You see me hungry, and you believe that I am the heavenly bread. You see me thirsty, and you believe that I am the spring of water welling up to eternal life. You believe in me and declare that I speak the truth. How are we to understand this human faculty that sees one thing and believes another and then professes that belief? So, if now at a time when there is no danger, my grace is at work in you, how much more will it be in you when persecution comes? For he who sustains you in peace will help you all the more in war.”6
But now he adds “Beware of men,” for he intends to show that of all evils human beings are the worst. In fact, if you compare them with the wild animals, you will find that they are the worst. For though an animal may show cruelty, its cruelty falls short of human cruelty since an animal is irrational. When a person, who is rational, is cruel, it is not easy to escape his or her cruelty. If you compare a human with a snake, you will find that a human is worse than a snake. Even though a snake is venomous, it is afraid of people. If it can take them by surprise, it will bite them; but if it cannot, it will flee. People are venomous like a snake, but they do not have a snake’s fear. Therefore, as long as a person has the time, he lies in wait like a snake. If he comes upon his prey, he will lunge forward like a wild animal. The moment a snake is threatened, it becomes deadly; but if it is not threatened, it slithers away. People, even when not threatened, fly into a rage; and they rage even more against those who have not threatened them. In short, every wild animal has a peculiar evil of its own, whereas humanity has within its will every evil.7
“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” This is said because many begin but few reach the end. There is always pleasure in the beginning, but the end is the time of testing. For no one can endure with God to the end without becoming a person who belongs to God by means of grace. Everything done because of the flesh is mortal. The body is itself impermanent. But what is done because of God is eternal, just as God is eternal. What is glorious is not to begin something good but to reach the end in a good way. Hence the very essence of a good life is a good death. Firmness of heart can reach the end. Fleshly desire often starts some good thing but cannot reach the end except by the grace of God. So then, now that you have turned to God and begun to serve God and do the works of righteousness, never think back on your previous deeds. Think about your end. The contemplation of our previous good service leads to pride, but the contemplation of our end leads to holy reverence. This is the meaning of “the one who endures to the end will be saved.”8
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA:
Jesus commands his disciples to flee from one town to the next, and from that one to another. In saying this he is not telling his disciples to be cowardly. He is telling them not to cast themselves into dangers and die at once, for that would be a loss to those who otherwise will benefit from the teaching.9
- DISCOURSES AGAINST JUDAIZING CHRISTIANS 1.2.1. Ferreiro, A. (2003). Introduction to the Twelve Prophets. In A. Ferreiro (Ed.), The Twelve Prophets (p. 55). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON HOSEA 14.10. Ferreiro, A. (2003). Introduction to the Twelve Prophets. In A. Ferreiro (Ed.), The Twelve Prophets (p. 56). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INCOMPLETE WORK ON MATTHEW, HOMILY 24. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 199). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 33.2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 199). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 33.3. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 200). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INCOMPLETE WORK ON MATTHEW, HOMILY 24. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 201). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INCOMPLETE WORK ON MATTHEW, HOMILY 24. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (pp. 201–202). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INCOMPLETE WORK ON MATTHEW, HOMILY 24. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 202). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- FRAGMENT 120. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 203). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.