By St. Cyril of Alexandria
Commentary on the Gospel of Luke
And see, a certain lawyer stood up, tempting Him, and saying, Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And He said to Him, What is written in the law? how do you read? And he answered and said, That you shall love the Lord your God from all your heart, and from all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind: and your neighbour as yourself. And He said to him, You have answered rightly: this do, and you shall live. But he, wanting to justify himself said to Jesus; And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answered, and said; A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who, when they had stripped and beaten him, went away, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed him by. And in like manner also a Levite, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed him by. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to him; and when he saw him, he felt pity: and he went to him, and bound up his wounds, and poured upon them oil and wine. And having mounted him on his own beast, he brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the day after he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, Take care of him: and if you spend any thing more, when I come again I will repay you. Which therefore of these three do you think was neighbour to him that fell among the thieves? And he said; He that was merciful to him. And Jesus said to him, Go, and do likewise.
A most base pest, my beloved, is double-dealing and hypocrisy in our actions and conduct; and for a man to make pretence of pleasant-spoken words, and of a tongue anointed, so to speak, with the honey of deception, while the heart is full of utter bitterness. Of such we say, in the words of one of the holy prophets, "Their tongue is a piercing arrow: the words of their mouth are deceitful: he speaks peacefully to his neighbor, and enmity is in his heart." And again; "Their words are smoother than oil, yet are they arrows:" by which is meant that they have the force of darts falling violently and shot forth from bows.
The proof of my assertion is close at hand: for let us examine the lawyer's words: let us strip off his borrowed countenance: let us lay bare his scheming: let us view his pleasant words sprung from deceit, and the guile which they conceal. "For see," it says, "a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted Him, saying, Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" By a lawyer, the blessed evangelist here meant, according to the custom of the Jews, one acquainted with the law, or at least having the reputation of knowing it, though in reality he knew it not. This man imagined that he could entrap Christ; and in what way I will mention. Certain tale-makers, accustomed to talk at random, went about everywhere in Judaea and Jerusalem itself, accusing Christ, and saying, that He taught that the commandment given by Moses was of no use, and refused to pay any attention to the law given of old to the fathers, while He Himself introduced new doctrines, and spoke to all who would fear God things out of His own mind, which were not in accordance with the law that was given of old. There were even then believers, who resisted the words of these men, everywhere accepting the saving tidings of the gospel. The lawyer therefore wishing, or even expecting to be able to entrap Christ, and get Him to say something against Moses, and affirm that His own doctrine was far better than the commandment of which Moses was the minister, drew near tempting Him, and saying, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
But any one who thoroughly understands the mystery of the Incarnation may well say to him, If you had been skillful in the law, and in the meaning of its hidden teaching, it would not have escaped you Who He is you venture to tempt. For you thought that He was a mere man, and that only; and not rather God, Who appeared in human likeness, and Who knows what is secret, and can look into the hearts of those who approach Him. In manifold ways is the Emmanuel depicted to you by the shadowing of Moses. You saw Him there sacrificed as a lamb, yet vanquishing the destroyer, and abolishing death by His blood. You saw Him in the arrangement of the ark, in which was deposited the divine law: for He was in His holy flesh like as in an ark, being the Word of the Father, the Son that was fathered of Him by nature. You saw Him as the mercy-seat in the holy tabernacle, around which stood the Seraphim [Cherubim]: for He is our mercy-seat for pardon of our sins. Yes! and just like man, He is glorified by the Seraphim, who are the intelligent and holy powers above; for they stand around His divine and exalted throne. You saw Him as the candlestick with seven lamps in the Holy of Holies: for abundant is the Savior's light to those who hurry into the inner tabernacle. You saw Him as the bread placed upon the table: for He is the living bread, that came down from heaven, and gives life to the world. You saw Him as the brazen serpent that was raised on high as a sign, and being looked upon healed the bites of the serpents: for though He was like us, in the form therefore of that which is evil, as being in our form, nevertheless He is by nature good, and continues to be that which He was. For the serpent is the type of wickedness; but yet, by being lifted up, and enduring the cross for us, He rendered powerless the bites of those rational serpents, who are no other than Satan, and the wicked powers under his command.
But though the lawyer was invested with the reputation of being instructed in the law, nevertheless He Who is marked out by the shadowing of the law was completely unknown to him, even though He was proclaimed of old by the words of the holy prophets. For had he not been sunk in utter ignorance, how could he have drawn near to Him as to a mere man? Or how have ventured to tempt God, Who tries the hearts and reins, and to Whom nothing that is in us is hidden? For he says, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Do you call Him Teacher, when you wilt not submit to learn? Do you make a pretense of honoring Him, Whom you hope to entrap, and do you place as the bait upon your hook the pleasantness of words?
But what would you learn? "For what, he says, shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Observe again, I pray, the malice in the lawyer's words. For he might have said, What shall I do to be saved, or to please God, and receive reward of Him? But this he passes by, and uses rather the Savior's expressions, pouring ridicule upon His head. For as it was the custom of our common Savior Christ to speak constantly of eternal life to as many as drew near to Him, the haughty lawyer to ridicule Him, as I said, makes use of His own expressions.
Now had you been truly desirous of learning, you would have heard from Him the things that lead on to eternal life: but as you wickedly tempt Him, you will hear nothing more than those commands only which were given to them of old time by Moses". For "What," says He, "is written in the law? How do you read?" And on the lawyer's repeating what is enacted in the law, as if to punish his wickedness, and reprove his malicious purpose, Christ, as knowing all things, says, "You have answered rightly: this do, and you shall live." The lawyer has missed his prey; he has shot wide of the mark, his wickedness is unsuccessful, the sting of envy has ceased, the net of deceit is torn asunder, his sowing bears no fruit, his toil gains no profit: and like some ship that misfortune has overwhelmed, he has suffered a bitter wreck. Let us therefore cry out against him in the words of Jeremiah, "You are found, and caught, because you have stood up against the Lord."
But having, as I said, missed his prey, he falls headlong into vanity; he is hurried from one pitfall to another, from snare to snare, from deceit to pride: vices, so to speak, lend him to one another, and he is tossed about everywhere, one wickedness as soon as it has seized him thrusting him on to another, and carrying him wherever it may chance, and easily making him wander from destruction to destruction. For he does not ask in order that he may learn, but as the Evangelist said, "wishing to justify himself." For observe how from self-love as well as pride he shamelessly called out, "And who is my neighbor?" And is there no one, O lawyer, like you? Do you raise yourself above every one? Be less supercilious: Remember what the author of the book of Proverbs says, "that those who know themselves are wise." He exalts himself therefore, and breathes forth proud things, and boasts himself in vain imaginations: but he learnt of Christ, that as he was destitute of love towards his neighbors, the bare profession only of being learned in the law profited him in no way whatsoever. For God over all looks at works rather, and gives not praise to bare and merely fictitious professions.
Very skillfully therefore does the Savior of all weave the parable of him who fell into the hands of thieves, saying, that when he was lying half dead, and in the last extremity of evil, a priest passed by, and in like manner a Levite, without feeling towards him any sentiment of humanity, or dropping upon him the oil of compassionate love; but rather, their mind was unsympathizing and cruel towards him. But one of another race, a Samaritan, fulfilled the law of love. Justly therefore He asked, which of these three he thinks was the sufferer's neighbor. And he said, "He that wrought mercy with him." And to this Christ added, "Go you also, and act in like manner." You have seen, O lawyer, and it has been proved by the parable, that it is of no avail whatsoever to any man, to be set up by empty names, and to pride himself upon unmeaning and ridiculous titles, so long as the excellence of deeds does not accompany them. For the dignity of the priesthood is unavailing to its owners, and equally so is the being called learned in the law, to those who are so reputed, unless they excel also in deeds. For lo! a crown of love is being twined for him who loves his neighbor: and he proves to be a Samaritan. Nor is he rejected on this account: for he who was foremost among the disciples, even the blessed Peter, testified, thus writing, "In truth I perceive that God is not a respecter of persons: but in every nation, whosoever fears Him, and works righteousness, is accepted by Him." For Christ, Who loves our virtues, accepts all who are diligent in good pursuits: by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever, Amen.