December 8, 2019

Sermon on the Healing of the Crippled Woman on the Sabbath (St. Cyril of Alexandria)

By St. Cyril of Alexandria

(Though a homily by Cyril of Alexandria in full does not exist of Luke 13:10-17, the following are anonymous extracts ascribed to him.)

Behold there was a woman, who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years.

Now there was in the synagogue a woman who for eighteen years was bowed down by infirmity. And her case may prove of no little benefit to those who have understanding: for we must gather what is to our advantage from every quarter:----since by what happened to her we may see that Satan often receives authority over certain persons, such, namely, as fall into sin, and have grown lax in their efforts after piety. Whomsoever therefore he gets into his power, he involves, it may be, in bodily diseases, since he delights in punishment and is merciless. And the opportunity for this the all-seeing God most wisely grants him, that being sore vexed by the burden of their misery, men may sot themselves upon changing to a better course. For which reason St. Paul also delivered over to Satan a certain person at Corinth accused of fornication, "for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might be saved." The woman therefore who was bowed down is said to have suffered this from the cruelty of the devil, according to our Master's words, "Whom Satan has bound for eighteen years:" God, as I said, so permitting it, either for her own sins, or rather by the operation of a universal and general law. For the accursed Satan is the cause of disease to the bodies of men, inasmuch as Adam's transgression was, we affirm, his doing, and by means of it our human frames have become liable to infirmity and decay. But when this was the state of men. God, Who by His very nature is good, did not abandon us when suffering under the punishment of a protracted and incurable malady, but freed us from our bonds, revealing as the glorious remedy for the sufferings of mankind His own presence and manifestation in the world. For He came to fashion our state again to what it was originally: for "God, as it is written, made not death: neither has He pleasure in the destruction of the living. For He created all things that they might have their being; and healthful were the generations of the world; and there is in them no poison of destruction," "but by the envy of the devil death entered into the world."

The Incarnation of the Word, and His assumption of human nature took place for the overthrow of death and destruction, and of that envy nourished against us by the wicked serpent, who was the first cause of evil. And this is plainly proved to us by facts themselves. And so He set free the daughter of Abraham from her protracted sickness, calling out and saying, "Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity." A speech most worthy of God, and full of supernatural power: for with the kingly inclination of His will He drives away the disease. And He also lays His hands upon her: and immediately, it says, she was made straight. And hence too it is possible to sec that His holy flesh bore in it the power and activity of God. For it was His own flesh, and not that of some other Son beside Him, distinct and separate from Him, as some most impiously imagine.

And the ruler of the synagogue answered, being indignant, that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day.

And yet how ought he not rather to have wondered at Christ's having freed from her bonds this daughter of Abraham? You have seen her unexpectedly delivered from her misfortune: you were an eyewitness that the Physician prayed not, nor received as a boon from another the healing of the sick woman; but that He wrought it as a deed of power. As being the ruler of a synagogue, you know, I suppose, the writings of Moses. You saw him praying upon every occasion, and working nothing whatsoever by his own power. For when Mariam was struck with leprosy, for having merely spoken something against him in the way of reproach, and that true, "for he had taken, she says, unto himself an Ethiopian wife," Moses could not overcome the disease, but, on the contrary, fell down before God, saying, "O God, I beseech You, heal her." And not even so, though he besought it, was the penalty of her sin remitted her. And each one of the holy prophets, if anywhere at all they wrought any miracle, is seen to have done it by the power of God. But here observe, 1 pray, that Christ, the Savior of all, offers no prayer, but refers the accomplishment of the matter to His own power, healing her by a word and the touch of the hand. For being Lord and God, He manifested His own flesh as of equal efficacy with Himself for the deliverance of men from their diseases. And hence it was intended that men should understand the purport of the mystery concerning Him. Had therefore the ruler of the synagogue been a man of understanding, he would have perceived Who and how great the Savior was from so wonderful a miracle, nor would he have talked in the same ignorant manner as the multitudes, nor have accused those occupied with healing of a breach of the law respecting the traditional abstinence from labor on the sabbath day.

'But plainly to heal is to labor.' Is the law then broken when God shows mercy even on the sabbath day? Whom did He command to desist from labor? Himself? or was it not rather you? If Himself, let His providence over us cease on the sabbath: let the sun rest from his daily course; let the rains not fall; let the springs of waters, and the streams of ever-flowing rivers, and the winds be still: but if He commanded you to rest, blame not God because with power He has shown mercy on any even on the sabbath. And why did He command men at all to rest upon the sabbath? It was, you art told, that your manservant, and your ox, and your horse, and all your cattle might rest. When therefore He gives men rest by freeing them from their diseases, and you forbid it, plainly you break the law of the sabbath, in not permitting those to rest who are suffering under sickness and disease, and whom Satan had bound.

But the ruler of the unthankful synagogue, when he saw the woman whose limbs were crippled, and her body bent and crooked even to the ground, receiving mercy from Christ, and made perfectly upright by the touch alone of His hand, and walking with that erect gait which becomes man, and magnifying God for her deliverance, is vexed thereat, and burning with rage against the glory of the Lord, is entangled in envy, and calumniates the miracle; nevertheless he passes by our Lord, Who would have exposed his hypocrisy, and rebukes the multitudes, that his indignation might seem to be aroused for the |454 sake of the sabbath day. But his object really was to prevail upon those who were dispersed throughout the week, and occupied with their labors, not to be spectators and admirers of the miracles of the Lord upon the sabbath, lest ever they also should believe.

But tell me, O you slave of envy, what kind of work did the law forbid in commanding you to abstain on the sabbath day from all manual labor? Does it forbid the labor of the mouth and speaking? Abstain then from eating and drinking, and conversing, and singing psalms on the sabbath. But if you abstain from these things, and do not even read the law, what good is the sabbath to you? If however you confine the prohibition to manual labor, how is the healing of a woman by a word a manual labor? But if you call it an act because the woman was actually healed, you also perform an act in blaming her healing.

'But says he, He said, you are loosed from your infirmity: and she is loosed.' Well! do not you also unloose your girdle on the sabbath? Do not you put off your shoes, and make your bed, and cleanse your hands when dirtied with eating? Why then are you so angry at the single word "you art loosed?" And at what work did the woman labor after the word was spoken? Did she set about the craft of the brazier, or the carpenter, or the mason? Did she that very day begin weaving or working at the loom? 'No. She was made straight, he says. It was the healing absolutely that is a labor.' But no! you are not really angry on account of the sabbath: but because you see Christ honored, and worshiped as God, you are frantic and choked with rage, and pine with envy. You have one thing concealed in your heart, and profess and make pretext of another; for which reason you art most excellently convicted by the Lord, Who knows your vain reasonings, and receive the title which befits you, in being called hypocrite and dissembler and insincere. 

You hypocrite! does not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?

You wonder, He says, at Me, Who have loosed a daughter of Abraham; and yet you give rest to your ox and your ass, loosing them from their labors, and leading them away to watering: but when a human being suffering from sickness is marvelously healed, and God has shown mercy, you blame both as transgressors: the One for having healed, and the other for being delivered from her malady.

Behold, I pray, the ruler of the synagogue, how a human being is of less account in his sight than a beast, since at least he counts his ox and his ass worthy of care on the sabbath, but in his envy would not have Christ deliver from her infirmity the woman who was bowed together, nor wishes her to recover her natural form.

But the envious ruler of the synagogue would have preferred the woman who was made straight to be bowed down after the manner of four-footed beasts, rather than that she should recover the form fitting for man; having no other view than that Christ might not he magnified, nor he proclaimed as God by His deeds. But he is convicted of being a hypocrite, if at least he leads his dumb cattle upon the sabbath to watering, but is indignant that this woman, who was a daughter of Abraham by descent, and still more by her faith, should be freed from the chain of her infirmity. For he considers her deliverance from sickness as a transgression of the sabbath.

All His adversaries were ashamed.

Shame fell then on those who had uttered these corrupt opinions: who had stumbled against the chief corner stone, and been broken; who had resisted the Physician, who had clashed against the wise Potter, when busied in straightening His crooked vessels: and there was no reply which they could make. They had unanswerably convicted themselves, and were put to silence, and in doubt what they should say. So had the Lord closed their audacious mouth. But the multitudes, who reaped the benefit of the miracles, were glad. For the glory and splendor of His works solved all inquiry and doubt in those who sought Him without malice.