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November 24, 2019

Two Sermons on the Rich Young Ruler (St. Cyril of Alexandria)

By St. Cyril of Alexandria

Commentary on the Gospel of Luke

Sermon 122

Luke 18:18-27

And a certain ruler asked Him, saying, Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why do you call Me good? No-one is good, but one, God. You know the commandments: You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear witness falsely; honour your father and your mother. And he said, All these have I kept from my youth. And when Jesus heard these things, He said unto him; You still lack one thing: sell all that you have, and distribute to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. And Jesus seeing it said, How hardly shall they that have gold enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to enter in through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. And they that heard it said, And who can live? And He said, The things which are impossible with men, are possible with God.

Those who believe that the Word, Who shone forth from the very substance of God the Father, is by nature and truly God, draw near to Him as unto an omniscient God, Who, as the Psalmist says, "tries the hearts and reins;" and sees all that passes in us: "for all things are naked, and spread out before His eyes," according to the expression of the blessed Paul. But we do not find the Jewish multitudes thus disposed: for they with their princes and teachers were in error, and saw not with the eyes of their mind the glory of Christ. Rather they looked upon Him as one like unto us: as a mere man, I mean; and not as God rather, Who had become man. They approached Him therefore to make trial of Him, and lay for Him the nets of their craftiness.

And this you may learn by what has now been read. For a ruler, it says, asked Him, saying, "Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said unto him, "Why do you call Me good? None is good but one, God." Now he, who is here called a Ruler, and who fancied himself to be learned in the law, and supposed that he had been accurately taught therein, imagined that he could convict Christ of dishonoring the commandment spoken by the most wise Moses, and of introducing laws of His own. For it was the object of the Jews to prove that Christ opposed and resisted the former commandments, to establish, as I said, new laws, of His own authority, in opposition to those previously existing, that their wicked conduct towards Him might have a specious pretext, he draws near therefore, and makes pretense of speaking kindly: for he calls Him Teacher, and styles Him Good, and professes himself desirous of being a disciple. For "what, he says, shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Observe therefore how he mixes up flattery with fraud and deceit, like one who mingles wormwood with honey: for he supposed that he could in this way deceive Him. Of such men one of the holy prophets said, "Their tongue is a piercing lance: the words of their mouth are deceitful. To his neighbor he speaks peacefully: but there is enmity in his soul." And again the wise Psalmist also thus speaks of them: "Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness." And again, "Their words are smoother than oil: and yet are they spears."

He therefore flatters Jesus, and attempts to deceive Him, making pretense of being well-disposed to Him. And what does the Omniscient reply, "Who, as it is written, takes the wise in their craftiness?" "Why do you call Me good? None is good but one, God," You see how He proved at once that he was neither wise nor learned, though the ruler of a synagogue of the Jews. For if, He says, you did not believe that I am God, and the clothing of the flesh has led you astray, why did you apply to Me epithets suitable to the supreme nature alone, while still you supposed Me to be a mere man like unto yourself, and not superior to the limits of human nature? In the nature that transcends all, even in God only, is found the attribute of being by nature, and unchangeably good: but the angels, and we upon earth, are good by resembling Him, or rather by participation of Him. For as He is what He is, and this is His Name, and His everlasting memorial for all generations; but we exist and come into being by being made partakers of Him Who really exists: so He indeed is good, or the good absolutely, but angels and men are good, only by being made, as I said, partakers of the good God. Let therefore the being good be set apart as the special property of God over all alone, essentially attached to His nature, and His peculiar attribute. If, however, He says, I do not seem to you to be truly God, then you have ignorantly and foolishly applied to Me the properties and virtues of the divine nature, at the very time when you imagine me to be a mere man, one that is who never is invested with goodness, the property of the unchangeable nature, but only gains it by the assent of the divine will. And such then was the purport of what Christ spoke.

But those perchance will not assent to the correctness of this explanation, whose minds are perverted by sharing in the wickedness of Arius. For they make the Son inferior to the supremacy and glory of God the Father: or rather, they contend that He is not the Son; for they both eject Him from being by nature and truly God, and thrust Him away from having really been born, lest men should believe that He is also equal in substance to Him Who begat Him. For they assert, as though they had obtained a reason for their blasphemy from the passage now before us, 'Behold, He has clearly and expressly denied that He is good, and set it apart as something appropriate to God the Father only: but truly had He been equal to Him in substance, and sprung from Him by nature, how would not He also be good as being God?'

Let this then be our reply to our opponents. Since all correct and exact reasoning acknowledges a son to be consubstantial with the father, how is He not good, as being God? For He cannot but be God, if He be consubstantial with Him Who is by nature God. For surely they will not affirm, however extreme may be the audacity into which they have fallen, that from a good father a son has sprung who is not good. For to this we have the Savior's own testimony, Who thus speaks; "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruits." How from a good root has there shot forth an evil sprout? Or how from a sweet fountain can there How a bitter river? Was there ever a time when there was no Father, seeing that He is the Father eternally? But He is the Father, because He has begotten, and this is the reason why He bears this name, and not as being one who borrows the title by resemblance to some other person. For from Him all paternity in heaven and earth is named. We conclude therefore that the fruit of the good God is the good Son.

And in another way: as most wise Paul, says, "He is the image of the invisible God:" and the image, because He displays in His own nature the beauty of Him Who fathered Him. How therefore can we see in the Son, Who is not good, the Father, Who is by nature and truly good? "He is the brightness and likeness of His person:" but if He be not good, as the senseless heretic asserts, but the Father is by nature good, it is a brightness different in nature, and that possesses not the splendor of Him Who bade it shine. And the likeness too is counterfeit, or rather is now no likeness at all: for it represents not Him Whose likeness it is, if, as all must allow, that which is not good is the contrary of that which is good.

And much more might one say in opposition to them upon this point: but that our discourse may not extend to an unreasonable length, and be burdensome to any, we will say no more at present, and hold in as with a bridle our earnestness in this matter; but at our next meeting we will continue our explanation of the meaning of this passage from the Gospel, should Christ once again assemble us here: by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father, be praise and dominion with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever, Amen.

Sermon 123

Luke 18:18-27

I perceive you assembled here with great earnestness and zeal; and, as I suppose, you have come to exact a debt. I then, for my part, acknowledge that I promised at our last meeting to complete what was wanting to my discourse: and I have come to pay it as unto children, praying Christ, our common Savior, to impart to my mind His divine light, and give utterance to my tongue, that I may benefit both you and myself. For Paul has somewhere written, "The husbandman who labors must first eat of the fruits."

Let me then bring back to your remembrance first of all what has already been considered, and then we will proceed to what remains.

The blessed Evangelist therefore said, "And a certain ruler asked Him, saying, Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And He said unto him, Why do you call Me good? No-one is good, but one, God:" and so on with the rest of the lesson. Now we have already explained what is the meaning of this passage in the Gospel, and enough has been said to you upon that point: for we showed both that by nature and truly the Son is good as also He is Who begat Him; and that the answer, "Why do you call Me good? No-one is good, but one, God," was spoken relatively to the questioner. Let us therefore direct our inquiry to the Scriptures which follow.

What then says this chief of the synagogue of the Jews? "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He does not ask with a view to learn; for then his question would have been worthy of all praise: but his object was to prove, that Christ did not permit them to retain the Mosaic commandments, but led rather His disciples and followers unto new laws enacted by Himself. For on this pretext they rebuked the people under their charge, saying of Christ, our common Savior, "He has a devil, and is mad: why hear you Him?" For they said that He had a devil, and was mad, on the supposition that He had set up his own laws against those which had been given from above, from God. True rather would it be to affirm of them that they had a devil, and were utterly mad, for resisting the Lord of the law, Who had come not so much to destroy the commandment which had been given of old, and of which Moses was the minister, as to fulfill it, according to His own words: for He transformed the shadow into the truth.

The chief of the synagogue therefore expected to hear Christ say, Cease, O man, from the writings of Moses; abandon the shadow; they were but types, and nothing more; draw near therefore rather to My commandments, which you have in the Gospel: but He did not so answer, because He discerned by His godlike knowledge the object of him who tempted Him. As though then He had no other commandments, but those only given by Moses, He sends the man unto them, and says, "You know the commandments." And lest he should say, that He referred to His own commandments, He enumerates those contained in the law, and says; "You shall not kill: you shall not commit adultery: neither shall you bear false witness." And what reply does this cunning schemer in wickedness make, or rather this very ignorant and senseless person? For he thought that even though He Whom he asked was God, yet nevertheless he could easily cajole Him into answering whatever he chose. But as the sacred Scripture says, "The prey falls not to the lot of the crafty."

For though he had shot wide of his mark, and missed his prey, he yet ventures to bait for Him another snare: for he said, "All these have I kept from my youth." He might therefore well hear from us in answer, O foolish Pharisee, "you bear witness of yourself; your witness is not true." But omitting now this argument, let us see in what way Christ repelled His bitter and malignant foe. For while He might have said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for their's is the kingdom of heaven: blessed are the meek: blessed are the pure in heart:" He tells him nothing of this kind, but because he was fond of lucre and very rich, He proceeds at once to that which would grieve him, and says, "Sell all that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me," This was torture to the heart of that covetous man, who so prided himself upon his keeping of the law. It proved him at once both frail and weak, and altogether unfit for the reception of the new message of the gospel. And we too learn how true that is which Christ spoke; "No man puts new wine into old wine-skins; else the skins burst, and the wine is spilt: but new wine is put into new wine-skins." For the chief of the synagogue of the Jews proves to be but an old wine-skin, that cannot hold the new wine, but bursts and becomes useless. For he was saddened, although he had received a lesson that would have won for him eternal life.

But those who have received in them by faith Him Who makes all things new, even Christ, are not rent asunder by receiving from Him the new wine. For when they have but newly received from Him the word of the gospel message, which gladdens the heart of man, they become superior to wealth and the love of lucre: their mind is established in courage: they set no value on temporal things, but thirst rather after things eternal: they honor a voluntary poverty, and are earnest in love to the brethren. For, as it is written in the Acts of the holy Apostles, "As many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet; and distribution was made unto every one according to his need,"

As the ruler therefore was too infirm of purpose, and could not be prevailed upon even to listen to the advice of selling his possessions, although it would have been good for him, and full of reward, our Lord lays bare the malady which has its lair in the rich, thus saying, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And I say unto you, that it is easier for a camel to enter in through the eye of a needle, than a rich man into the kingdom of God." Now by a camel He means not the animal of that name, but a thick cable rather: for it is the custom of those well versed in navigation to call the thicker cables "camels."

Observe however, that He does not altogether cut away the hope of the rich, but reserves for them a place and way of salvation. For He did not say that it is impossible for a rich man to enter in, but that he does so with difficulty.

When the blessed disciples heard these words, they objected, saying, "And who can live?" And their plea was for those who had wealth and possessions. For we know, they say, that no one will ever be persuaded to abandon his wealth and riches: "Who then can be saved?" But what does the Lord reply? "The things that are impossible with men, are possible with God." He has reserved therefore for those who possess wealth the possibility of being counted worthy, if they will, of the kingdom of God: for even though they refuse entirely to abandon what they have, yet it is possible for them in another way to attain unto honor. And the Savior has Himself showed us how and in what way this can happen, saying, "Make to yourselves friends of the unrighteous mammon: that when it has failed, they may receive you into eternal tabernacles." For there is nothing to prevent the rich, if they will, from making the poor partakers and sharers of the abundance which they possess. What hinders him who has plentiful possessions from being affable of address, and ready to communicate to others, easily prevailed upon to give, and compassionate, and full of that generous pity which is well-pleasing to God. Not unrewarded, nor unprofitable shall we find carefulness in this respect; for "mercy boasts over judgment," as it is written.

By every argument therefore, and in every way does our common Savior and Lord benefit us: by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father, be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.