November 17, 2019

Sermon on the Parable of the Rich Fool (St. Cyril of Alexandria)

By St. Cyril of Alexandria

Commentary on the Gospel of Luke

Sermon 89

Luke 12:13-21

And one of the multitude said unto Him, "Teacher, bid my brother divide with me the inheritance." But He said unto him, "Man, who made Me a judge or a divider over you?" And He said unto them, "Take heed, and keep yourselves from all greediness: for a man's life is not from his possessions by reason of his having a superfluity." And He spoke a parable unto them, saying, "The land of a certain rich man brought forth unto him plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, because I have not where to gather my fruits?' And he said, 'This will I do: I will pull down my storehouses, and build greater: and there will I gather all my crops and my goods. And I will say to myself, Self, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, enjoy thyself.' But God said unto him, 'You fool, this night they demand of you your soul. But whose shall those things be which you have provided?' So is he that lays up treasures for himself, and is not rich toward God."

Paul, as a wise man, recommends constancy in prayer: for he said, "Pray without ceasing." And in very truth it is a thing full of benefit. But I say this, that whosoever draws near unto God, ought not to do so carelessly; nor may he offer unbefitting petitions. And one may very justly affirm, of a multitude of petitions, that they are unbefitting, and such as are not suitable for God to give, nor beneficial for us to receive. And if we will direct the penetrating glance of the mind upon the passage before us, we shall see without difficulty the truth of what I have said. For a certain man drew near to Christ, the Savior of us all, and said, "Teacher, bid my brother divide with me the inheritance. But He said unto him, Man, who set Me as judge or divider over you?" For the Son indeed, when He appeared in our likeness, was set by God the Father as "Head and King over Sion, His holy mount," according to the Psalmist's words: and the nature of His office He again Himself makes plain, "For I am come, He says, to preach the commandment of the Lord." And what is this? Our virtue-loving Master wishes us to depart far from all earthly and temporal matters; to flee from the love of the flesh, and from the vain anxiety of business, and from base lusts; to set no value on hoards, to despise wealth, and the love of gain; to be good and loving unto one another; not to lay up treasures upon earth; to be superior to strife and envy, not quarreling with the brethren, but rather giving way to them, even though they seek to gain an advantage over us; "for from him, He says, who takes away what is yours, demand it not again;" and rather to strive after all those things which are useful and necessary for the salvation of the soul. And for those who habitually thus live, Christ lays down laws by which they become illustrious and praiseworthy. For He said, "Possess neither silver nor gold: nor two coats, nor scrip, nor brass in your purses." And again, "Make for yourselves purses that grow not old: a treasure that does not fail for ever in heaven." And when a young man drew near saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" "Go, He answered, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven, and come after Me." To those therefore who bow down to Him the obedient neck of their minds, He both gives commandments and appoints laws: He lays down for them precepts, distributes to them the heavenly inheritance, gives them spiritual blessings, and is a storehouse for them of never-failing gifts. While for those who think only of earthly things, and whose heart is set on wealth, and their mind hardened, and unmerciful, and without gentleness or love for the poor, to such He will justly say, " Who set Me as ruler or divider over you? He rejects the man therefore as troublesome, and as having no desire to learn ought fitting for him to know.

But He does not leave us without instruction: for having found, so to speak, a seasonable opportunity, He frames a profitable and saving discourse; and protesting as it were against them, declares, "Take heed, and keep yourselves from all covetousness." He showed us that pitfall of the devil, covetousness, a thing hateful to God, and which the wise Paul even calls idolatry, perhaps as being suitable for those only who know not God, or as being equal in the balance with the defilement of those men who choose to serve stocks and stones. It is a snare of evil spirits, by which they drag down man's soul to the meshes of hell. For this reason He says very justly, as setting them on their guard, "Take heed and keep yourselves from all covetousness:" that is, from great and small, and from defrauding any one whoever he may be. For as I said, it is a thing hateful to God and men. For who does not flee from him who uses violence, and is rapacious and greedy, and ready for iniquity in those things to which he has no right, and who with avaricious hand gathers that which is not his? What beast of prey does not such a man surpass in savageness? Than what rocks is he not more hard? For the heart of him who is defrauded is torn, and even melted sometimes by the penetrating pain as it were by fire: but he takes pleasure therein, and is merry, and makes the pains of them that suffer a cause of rejoicing. For the wronged man is sure generally to be one without power, who can but raise his eyes to Him Who alone is able to be angry for what he has suffered. And He, because He is just and good, accepts his supplication, and pities the tears of the sufferer, and brings punishment on those who have done the wrong.

And this you may learn from what He Himself says thereupon by the mouth of the holy prophets; "Therefore because you have bruised the heads of the poor, and taken from them chosen gifts, you shall build houses of carved stone, but you shall not dwell therein: and you shall plant desirable vineyards, but you shall not drink of their wine. For I know your many wickednesses, and mighty are your sins." And again, "Woe unto those who add house to house, and join field to field, that they may take away something from their neighbor. Will you dwell alone in the earth? For these things have been heard in the ears of the Lord of hosts. For though your houses be many, they shall be a desolation: though they be great and fair, there shall be none to inhabit them. For the ground that ten yoke of oxen till shall produce one pitcher full: and he that sows six artabae shall gather three measures," Although therefore houses and fields may be the fruit of the oppression of others, yet these, He says, shall lie waste, without inhabitants, and shall yield no profit whatsoever to those who will act wickedly, because the just wrath of God is poured out upon them. In every way therefore there is no profit in covetousness.

And to view it in yet another light; it avails nothing, because a man's life, as He says, is not from his possessions, by reason of his having a superfluity. And this is plainly true: for the duration of a man's life is not extended in proportion to his wealth, nor does the sum of his life run parallel with that of his wicked gains. And this the Savior has clearly and manifestly shown us, by very excellently adding the present parable in connection with His previous argument. "For the ground, He said, of a certain rich man brought forth abundant crops." Consider it exactly, that you may admire the beautiful art of the discourse. For He has not pointed out to us an estate of which one portion only brought forth abundant harvests; but the whole of it was fertile for its owner, showing thereby the vastness of his wealth. Similar to this is that passage of one of the holy apostles; "Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped your land, which is of you kept back by fraud, cries out: and the supplications of those that reaped have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth." The Savior therefore said that all his estate brought forth abundant harvests. 

What therefore does the rich man do, surrounded by a profusion of so many blessings beyond all numbering? In distress and anxiety he utters the words of poverty. "For what, he says, shall I do? The man who is in want of necessaries constantly ejaculates this miserable language: but lo! one here of boundless wealth uses similar expressions. He determined then to build more spacious storehouses: he purposed to enjoy for himself alone those revenues that were sufficient for a populous city. He looks not to the future; he raises not his eyes to God; he does not count it worth his while to gain for the mind those treasures which are above in heaven: he does not cherish love for the poor, nor desire the estimation to be gained thereby: he sympathizes not with suffering; it gives him no pain, nor awakens his pity. And what is still more irrational, he settles for himself the duration of his life, as if he would reap this too from the ground: for he says, "I will say to myself, Self, you have goods laid up for many years; eat, drink, enjoy thyself." 'But, O rich man, one may say, you have indeed storehouses for your fruits, but from where will you obtain your many years? for by the decree of God your life is shortened. For God, it tells us, said unto him, You fool, this night they shall require of you your soul. But whose shall these things be that you have prepared?'

It is true therefore, that a man's life is not from his possessions, by reason of his having a superfluity: but very blessed, and of glorious hope is he who is rich towards God. And who is he? Evidently one who loves not wealth, but virtue rather, and to whom few things are sufficient: and whose hand is open to the necessities of the indigent, comforting the sorrows of those in poverty, according to his means, and the utmost of his power. It is he who gathers in the storehouses that are above, and lays up treasures in heaven. Such a one shall find the usury of his virtue, and the recompense of his upright and blameless life; Christ shall bless him: by Whom, and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever, Amen.