What sort of peace is it that Jesus asks them to pronounce upon entering each house? And what kind of peace is it of which the angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace”? And if Jesus came not to bring peace, why did all the prophets publish peace as good news? Because this more than anything is peace: when the disease is removed. This is peace: when the cancer is cut away. Only with such radical surgery is it possible for heaven to be reunited to earth. Only in this way does the physician preserve the healthy tissue of the body. The incurable part must be amputated. Only in this way does the military commander preserve the peace: by cutting off those in rebellion. Thus it was also in the case of the tower of Babel, that their evil peace was ended by their good discord. Peace therefore was accomplished.1
He had said previously, “What I tell you in the dark, declare in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops.” He now explains what follows after this proclamation. The whole world is divided against itself for the sake of faith in Christ. Every house contains both unbelievers and believers. And a necessary conflict has been sent to break an evil peace. It is written in Genesis that God did a similar thing to the rebellious people who streamed out of the east and rushed to build a tower, by which they meant to reach the heights of heaven. God divided their languages. For this same reason David prays in the psalm, “O God, scatter the peoples who delight in war.”2
He said this to bring fathers to greater gentleness and children to greater freedom, just at the point where love might be most tempted to hinder them. He bids parents not to attempt what is impossible by assuming that their love of their children can be rightly compared with their love toward God. He instructs the children not to attempt what is impossible by seeking to make their love of parents greater than their love of God.
Then lest his hearers should become riled or count this saying as too demanding, see how he turns the argument even further in a more drastic direction. For after saying “who hates not father and mother,” he even adds, “and his own life!” So do not compare love of God merely with love of parents, brothers and sisters and wife. If you are serious, compare it with the love of your very life. For nothing is dearer to you than your life. Yet if you are also not ready to give up this love, in all things you must bear the opposite lot.3
The man who bears his own cross is one who, if necessary, is ready to face any danger for the sake of God, up to and including death, rather than abandon Christ. He is ready to be tortured any day, because of his way of life. Even if he does not suffer anything as great as death, he will still receive mercy. For it is the intention that is rewarded, not the deed. Intentions come from our free choice, but a deed is accomplished only through the grace of God.
“He who finds his life will lose it.” It is better to die for God’s sake and live eternally than to live for the sake of human interests and suffer eternal death. He died for us, although he was incapable of dying unless he wished to. How much more ought we to die for him, we who are mortal even if we do not wish to be? If our Lord died for his servants without even a reward, it is more than equitable that a servant should die for the Lord and be rewarded besides.4
See how great is the impairment to those who have an exaggerated love for their own life. And how great is the blessing to those who are ready to give up their lives for a well-ordered love! So he bids his disciples to be willing to give up parents, children, natural relationships, kinships, the world and even their own lives. How onerous are these injunctions! But then he immediately sets forth the greater blessings of rightly ordered love. Thus these instructions, Jesus says, are so far from harming that they in fact are of greatest benefit. It is their opposites that injure. He then counsels them, as he so often does, in accord with the very desires that they already possess. Why should you be willing to give up your life? Only because you love it inordinately. So for the very reason of loving it ordinately, you will scorn loving it inordinately, and so it will be to your advantage to the highest degree. You will then in the truest sense love your life.
Jesus does not reason in this way only in the case of the love of parents or children. He teaches the same with regard to your very life, which is nearest to you of all.5
By the word prophet he means to signify all preachers of Christ, and by “righteous man” he means every Christian person. For not only teachers may wander from city to city because of persecution but so may all righteous Christians who believe in Christ. And so “because he is a prophet” means “as a prophet of Christ.” And “because he is a righteous man” means a righteous servant of Christ. Now, two things must happen if this good deed is to have its reward. You must both receive a Christian and receive that one as a Christian, whether a minister or a lay believer. But you will not receive the reward of a Christian if you do not receive a Christian, nor will you receive a reward if you receive a Christian but do not receive that one as a Christian. Thus what is the meaning of “He who receives a prophet because he is a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward, and he who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward”? This means that whatever reward there is for the traveler, the one who receives that traveler for God’s sake will have the same reward. And so these two are made equal, both the one who suffers for God’s sake and the other who gives refreshment for God’s sake.6
After Jesus commissioned the apostles, he proceeded to separate himself from them, to give them room and opportunity to do what he had called them to do. For while he was present with them and healing others, no one would be inclined to approach them.7
Perhaps it is in this sense that God is said to have hardened the heart of Pharaoh, because the substance of his heart was obviously such as to elicit from the Sun of justice not his illumination but his power to harden and to scorch. That no doubt was the reason why this same Pharaoh afflicted the life of the Hebrews with hard work and wore them out with clay and bricks. And certainly the works that he devised came from a heart as miry and muddy! And as the visible sun contracts and hardens the substance of clay, so with the same rays by which he enlightened the people of Israel and by means of those rays’ same properties the Sun of justice hardened the heart of Pharaoh that harbored muddy devices.8
GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS:
I have already lived through many paschs, which was the fruit of a long life. But now I desire a purer pasch: to depart from this Egypt, the heavy and dark Egypt of this life, and to be freed from the clay and bricks that held us in bondage and to pass over to the land of promise.9
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 35.1. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 210). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 1.10.34. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 211). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 35.2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 212). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INCOMPLETE WORK ON MATTHEW, HOMILY 26. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 212). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 35.2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 213). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INCOMPLETE WORK ON MATTHEW, HOMILY 26. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (pp. 214–215). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 36.1. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 217). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON THE SONG OF SONGS 2.2. Lienhard, J. T., & Rombs, R. J. (Eds.). (2001). Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (p. 2). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- LETTER 120. Lienhard, J. T., & Rombs, R. J. (Eds.). (2001). Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (p. 3). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.