September 29, 2019

Homily on the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Luke (St. Gregory Palamas)

Homily Forty-Five

On the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Luke Which Says
"As Ye Would That Men Should Do To You,
Do Ye Also To Them Likewise"

Also Against Userers

By St. Gregory Palamas

1. He who alone fashioned our hearts, who understands all our works: (cf. Ps. 33:15Lxx), who was manifested to us through flesh and deigned to become our teacher, seeks from us, now that He is re-making us, the very things which He originally put in our souls when He created them, but which have been spoilt. In the beginning He formed us in a manner that was appropriate to His future teaching, and later He renders that teaching suitable for the way we were originally made, so all he was doing was cleansing His creature’s beauty which had been obscured by the addition of sin. Nothing shows this more clearly than the words of today’s Gospel reading, which we propose to elucidate: "As ye would", it says, “that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31). The prophet Isaiah did well to prophesy that, “The Lord will give a brief word upon the earth” (Isa. 10:23 Lxx). For in this short pronouncement He included every virtue, every commandment, and virtually every good deed and thought. That is why, according to the evangelist Matthew, when the Lord had said these words, He added, “for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12). Elsewhere, summing up His teaching, He said that all the law and the prophets hung on the two commandments to love God and love our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40). Now, however, He has gathered everything into one and included not only the righteousness found in the law and the prophets, but absolutely every type of good deed dome among men, since He is not making laws now for just one race, but for the whole world, or rather, for all those who come to Him through faith from every nation under heaven.

2. Not only did He encompass in these words each of the commandments He had given us, He also showed that every one of them is innate in us. This is what James the Lord’s brother is referring to when he exhorts us to “Lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (Jas. 1:21). And it is this that God declared beforehand through the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “I will make a new covenant with them; I will put my laws in their mind” (cf. Jer. 31:31,33), for the exercise of will based on judgement is a function of the mind. Now that the Lord has revealed that all the gospel precepts are inscribed within us, He commands and ordains that we should order our lives in accordance with them. Being the lover of goodness and friend of man, He has put into our nature the knowledge of how we should act.

3. When He said, "As you would that men should do to you, do you also to them likewise" (Luke 6:31), the Lord was demonstrating through this summary of His counsel that every gospel commandment was not only innate in human nature, but also just, easy and to our advantage, readily comprehensible to all and self-evident. What do I mean? Surely you are aware that it is bad to be angry with your brother and pour abuse on him, especially without cause, and that you yourself are unwilling to be the object of his anger or rebuke? Nor is this an opinion that you reach after some thought; rather, you are immediately vexed when anger and insults are directed at you, and you try to avoid them in any way you can, refusing to accept them because they are obviously evil, wrong, and unprofitable. You feel the same when another man looks at your wife with passion and curiosity, or when someone tells you a lie, not only to harm you, but on any subject at all. In short, we feel the same about everything the gospel commandments forbid. What needs to be said about those sinful acts which the ancient law had already prohibited: murder, adultery, breaking oaths, injustice and the like? Or about their opposite virtues and our satisfaction with people who practice them towards us? Do you see that you know for yourself each one of the commandments, and consider it just and beneficial? Not only that, but you also deem it to be easy. Otherwise you would not think that anyone who was angry with you, told lies or schemed against you in some way, deserved much blame, if you really did suppose that it was difficult or impossible for him to abstain from each of these evils.

4. Let it not be the case that when you are badly treated by someone else, but being insulted, deceived or harmed, you make a correct judgement, but when you yourself insult your neighbor, treat him unjustly and attempt to cheat him, you form a judgement without reaching the same verdict on identical actions. As a fair judge you should not do to anyone whatever obvious evils you do not wish to suffer at his hands, and whatever good things you wish to experience from another person, let him be treated in that same way by you. Perhaps you are asking someone for assistance, or something else you need, and you really want to receive it, as you consider it beneficial? Why not? So when someone desires something from you, strive to appear self-consistent, think it good that he should receive something from you, and put it into action. What, however, if he wants from you more than you have? By means of what you do have, show that if you possessed more you would give it. "For if there be first a willing mind", says Paul, "it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not" (2 Cor. 8:12). Do you want to be loved by everyone and granted pardon? Do you regard being blamed as distressing and hard to bear, especially if you have done very little wrong? Love everyone yourself, be quick to forgive, avoid passing judgment, seeing, as it were, yourself in every man, and making this the basis for your verdicts, attitudes and actions. "For so is the will of God", says Peter, the chief apostle, "that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men" (1 Pet. 2:15), meaning those among us who hate without cause and are unwilling to give to others what they desire to receive from them.

5. Anyone who does not want the same things for his fellow human beings or pass the same judgement on them as he wishes for himself, is certainly foolish, particularly as this judgement and this wish are an inherent part of our nature. For it is a natural impulse in all of us to want to be loved and well treated by others as much as by ourselves. The will to do good and to be as well disposed towards all as we are towards ourselves is therefore also inborn in us. We were all made in the image of Him who is good. Then when sin entered and multiplied, it did not extinguish our self-love, since it was not at all opposed to that, but it cooled down love for one another, the crown the virtues, changed it and rendered it useless. As a result, He who renews our nature, recalling it to the grace of His own image and putting His laws, as the prophet tells us, in our hearts (Jer. 31:33), says “As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31), and “If ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? For sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again” (Luke 6:32, 34).

6. In this passage, He refers to those who are not called by His name and those who do not order their lives according to the gospel, as sinners, including them all in the same category, for it is of no benefit to us to be called Christians if we act no differently from the heathen. Just as the great Paul told the Jews, “Circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision” (Rom 2:35), so now Christ tells us through the Gospel, “You who are Mine will find grace in My presence if you keep my Commandments, but if you do nothing more than sinners do, loving those who love you and doing good to those who do the same to you, you will have no confidence towards Me on that account.” He does not speak like this to deter people from loving or doing good or lending to those who will repay them, but He shows that such acts do not earn a reward, so they have their recompense here and now, and do not bring any grace to the soul, nor cleanse it from the ingrained defilement of sin. When these things are present they bring the soul absolutely no profit or grace by way of eternal recompense, but the lack of them causes profound guilt and loss. People who do not even love those who love and care for them in return are worse than tax collectors and sinners. So how much worse are those who repay the love and concern of others with hostile words and deeds! Such men clearly include those who rebel against the rulers of the city, in spite of the fact that they shoulder the considerable burden of taking care of them every day; those who do not regard the rulers appointed by God with the good favour they deserve (cf. Rom. 13:1-2); those who do not humble themselves under the mighty hand of God (cf. 1 Pet. 5:6), but disobey Christ's Church and are annoyed for no reason with the guardians of the Church, even though they exert themselves on their behalf and desire, pray for, and do everything good and profitable for them, as far as is in their power.

7. As for those who are unwilling to lend to borrowers who promise to repay in full and on time, but demand payment with interest, and high interest at that, and without it will not allow their tax or their money to be seen, they are almost lawless and worse than sinners, obeying neither the old law nor the new covenant. For this latter exhorts us to lend even to people from whom we cannot hope to receive back the loan (cf. Luke 6:34), whereas the ancient law states, "Thou shalt not lend thy money upon usury" (Lev. 25:37; cf. Deut. 23:19-20), commends the man who "putteth not out his money to usury" (Ps. 15:5), and considers it necessary to flee from the city where interest and guile are at work in the streets (cf. Ps. 55:11 Lxx), that is to say, openly. Do you observe how the userer deprives not only his own soul but also the community of its good reputation, inflicting on it the charge of inhumanity, and doing the whole city in general a considerable injustice? He is one of its citizens and everything he has acquired from it, but he does not use his possessions for its good. To those who have nothing he is unwilling to lend, and to those who have something, however meagre, he lends at interest, in order cunningly to take from them what little they have to live on. Perhaps that is the prophet links deceit and usury, saying, "I would wander far off, and remain in the wilderness, for I have seen violence and strife in the city, usury and guile depart not from her streets" (Ps. 55:7,9,11 Lxx).

8. The man who lends at interest is eager to grow rich with sins rather than money, destroying both the borrower's livelihood and his own soul. For interest payments are like a brood of vipers nesting in the bosom of those who love money, foreshadowing the fact that such men will not escape from the unsleeping worms threatened for the age to come (cf. Mark 9:44, 46, 48). If one of them were to say, however, "As you do not allow me to receive interest, I shall keep my surplus money by me, and shall not offer it to those who need to borrow", he should be aware that he is holding the mothers of those vipers in his breast, who will also be for him the mothers of those unsleeping worms.

9. That is why the Lord, leading us away from these evils which result from excess wealth, commands us to love and do good even to our enemies, and to lend to those who cannot repay, without giving up hope. For, He says, "Your reward shall be great, and ye shall be children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the thankful and to the evil" (Luke 6:35). "Do not imagine", He says, "that if you do good to evildoers and give to borrowers who will not pay you back, that what is yours will be lost. For now is the time for sowing good works, but the season for harvesting them is the age to come." So do not despair during the appointed period between seedtime and harvest, but know that you will gather in what is yours many times over, just as those who do wrong now will reap their own evils. Whatever anybody sows here, he will harvest there, but with a great increase.

10. If here you make yourself like the Son of God through your actions and show yourself kind towards all, as He is kind to everyone, there you will receive likeness to Him, and more besides. The light of the glory of the Most High will shine around you, and you will be eternally with those, in whose company Christ our God will be among gods (Ps. 82:1), distributing the honours of eternal blessedness. He revealed this by adding, "And ye shall be children of the Highest: for He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil" (Luke 6:35). For this purpose the Son of God bowed the heavens and came down to earth, became the Son of man, spoke and acted as He did, finally suffered and died for us, rose again and went up to heaven once more, to make us heavenly, immortal and sons of God. So the things He now asks of is, that we should love our enemies, do good, and lend to those unable to repay, are not only fitting and beneficial for us, as has already been demonstrated, but are also small in comparison with what He gave. He gave Himself for us, who not only had nothing to give in return, but who had previously shown ourselves in many ways to be ungrateful and evil. By contrast, He urges us to lend what we have in excess and to do good with what we possess. What do we have, and how much? And for the sake of these trifles He gives us in exchange likeness to Himself, sublime adoption as sons, and heavenly rewards, saying, "Be ye merciful, even as your Father which is in heaven is merciful" (Luke 6:36, cf. Matt. 5:48).

11. To Him, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, belong all glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.

From Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies, Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009.