St Cyril of Alexandria’s Homiletic Commentary on Luke 13:6-9

PLEASE NOTE that parts of  St Cyril’s exposition of Luke’s Gospel did not survive the passing of the ages and, unfortunately, his treatment of this parable is one of those parts.

13:6-9. And He spoke this parable. A certain man had a fig-tree planted in his vineyard, and he came and sought fruit thereon, but found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Lo, three years indeed I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none. Out it down therefore: why does it make the ground also barren? But he answered and said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also: until I dig around it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit in the coming [year, well], and if not, you shall cut it down.

THE Psalmist shows the surpassing gentleness of Christ, the Saviour of us all, in these words; “Lord, what is man, that You art mindful of him, or the son of man, that You visit him?” For man upon earth, as far as his bodily nature is concerned, is dust and ashes: but he has been honoured by God, by having been made in His image and likeness: not in his bodily shape, that is, but rather because he is capable of being just and good, and fitted for all virtue. The Creator therefore takes care of him, as being His creature, and for the purpose of adorning the earth. For as the prophet Isaiah says; “He made it not in vain, but that it should be inhabited:”—-inhabited of course by a rational animal, who can discern with the eyes of the mind the Creator and Artificer of the Universe, and glorify Him like the spirits that are above. Put because by the deceiving arts of the serpent he had turned aside unto wickedness, and was held fast by the chains of sin, and removed far from God, Christ, to enable him |447 once again to mount upwards, has sought him out, and fashioned him anew to what he was at first, and granted him repentance as the pathway to lead him unto salvation.

He proposes therefore a wise parable: but we ought perhaps first to explain what was the occasion which led to it, or what at all the necessity why He brought it forward.

There were therefore certain who told Christ, the Saviour of us all, that Pilate had put to death cruelly and without pity certain Galilaeans, and mingled their blood with their sacrifices. And others that the tower near Shiloh had fallen, and eighteen persons perished beneath the ruins. And afterwards referring to these things, Christ had said to His hearers; “Verily, I say unto you, that except you repent, you also shall in like manner perish.” This was the head and root of the present parable, and that at which it was, as it were, aimed.

Now the outer sense of this passage needs not a single word for its explanation: but when we search into its inward and secret and unseen purport, it is, we affirm, as follows. The Israelites, after our Saviour’s crucifixion, were doomed to fall into the miseries they deserved, Jerusalem being captured, and its inhabitants slaughtered by the sword of the enemy. Nor were they to perish thus only, but their houses were to be burnt with fire, and even the temple of God demolished. It is probable therefore that He likens the synagogue of the Jews to a fig tree; for the sacred Scripture also compares them to various plants: to the vine, for instance, and the olive, and even to a forest. For the prophet Jeremiah at one time says of Jerusalem, or rather of its inhabitants; “Israel is a vine with many branches.” And again at another addressing it, he says; “The Lord has called your name a beautiful olive tree, well shaded in appearance: at its pruning time a fire was kindled in it: great was the tribulation that was upon it; its branches were destroyed.” And another of the holy prophets, comparing it to Mount Lebanon, thus speaks; “Open your doors, O Lebanon, and the fire shall devour your cedars.” For the forest that was in Jerusalem, even the people there, many as they were and innumerable, was destroyed as by fire. He takes therefore, as I said, the fig tree spoken of in the parable as a figure of the Jewish synagogue, that is, of the Israelites: and “three years,” He says, “He |448 sought fruit upon it, and found none.” By which, I think, are signified to us those three periods during which the Jewish synagogue bore no fruit. The first of these, one may say, was that in which Moses and Aaron and his sons lived: who served God, holding the office of the priesthood according to the law. The second was the period of Jeshua, the son of Nun, and the judges who succeeded him. And the third, that in which the blessed prophets flourished down to the time of John the Baptist During these periods Israel brought forth no fruit.

But I can imagine persons making to this the following objection; ‘But lo! it did fulfil the service ordained by the law, and offered the sacrifices which consisted in the blood of victims and burning incense.’ But to this we reply: that in the writings of Moses there was only a type of the truth, and a gross and material service: there was not as yet a service simple, pure, and spiritual, such as we affirm God chiefly loves, having so learnt of Christ, Who said; “God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth.” As far therefore as regarded the good-will of the Father, and evidently that also of the Son, the service which consisted in shadows and types was unacceptable, being utterly without fruit in whatsoever appertains to a sweet spiritual savour. And therefore it was rejected: for so the Saviour teaches us, when saying to God the Father in heaven; “Sacrifice and offering You would not: and whole burnt offerings, and sin offerings You did not require.” And again by the voice of Isaiah He says Himself to those who were seeking to fulfil it: “For who has required this at your hands? Tread My court no more: if you bring fine meal, it is in vain: incense is an abomination unto Me.” How therefore can that which God hates and abominates be supposed to be the rational and spiritual fruit of the soul, and acceptable unto Him?

He says therefore, “Lo, three years do I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none. Cut it down therefore: why does it make the ground also useless.” As though He would say, Let the place of this barren fig tree be laid bare: for then there will come up or may be planted there some other tree. And this too was done:. for the multitude of the Gentiles was summoned into its room, and took possession of |449 the inheritance of the Israelites. It became the people of God; the plant of Paradise; a germ good and honourable; that knows how to bring forth fruit, not in shadows and types, but rather by a pure and perfectly stainless service, even that which is in spirit and in truth, as being offered to God, Who is an immaterial Being.

The owner then of the ground said, that the fig-tree, which during so long a time had been barren and without fruit, must be cut down. But the vinedresser, it says, besought him, saying; “Lord, let it alone this year also: until I dig around it and dung it: and if it bear fruit in the coming [year, well;] and if not, you shall cut it down.”

Now it is necessary to inquire, who is to be understood by the vinedresser. If then any one choose to affirm that it is the angel who was appointed by God as the guardian of the synagogue of the Jews, he would not miss a suitable interpretation. For we remember that the prophet Zechariah wrote, that one of the holy angels stood offering supplications for Jerusalem, and saying, “O Lord Almighty, how long will You not have mercy upon Jerusalem, and on the cities of Judah; which You have abandoned, lo! for seventy years?” And it is written also in Exodus, that when the ruler of the land of the Egyptians with his warriors was pursuing after the Israelites, and was already upon the point of engaging with them in battle, the angel of God stood between the camp of the Israelites and of the Egyptians, and the one came not near the other all the night. There is therefore nothing unbefitting in supposing here also, that the holy angel who was the guardian of the synagogue offered supplications in its behalf, and prayed for a respite, if perchance yielding to better influence it might yet bring forth fruit.

But if any one should say that the vinedresser is the Son, this view also, has a reason on its side not unbefitting right arguments. For “He is our Advocate with the Father,” “and our propitiation,” and the husbandman of our souls, Who prunes away constantly whatever is to our hurt, and fills us with rational and holy seeds, that so we may bring forth for Him fruits: and so He spoke of Himself. ” A sower went out to sow his seed.”

And it in no respect militates against the glory of the |450 Son, that He assumes the character of the vinedresser: for the leather is Himself also found to have taken it, without being exposed to any blame for so doing. For the Son said to the holy apostles, ” I am the Vine: you are the branches: My Father is the Husbandman.” For the verbal expression must from time to time be made to accord with the suppositions which are laid down.

Let Him therefore be supposed to be the Advocate in our behalf: and He says, “Let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and dung it.” And what then is this year? But plainly this fourth year, this time subsequent to those former periods, is that in which the Only-begotten Word of God became man, to stir up like some husbandman by spiritual exhortations the Israelites who had withered away in sin, digging round them, and warning them, to make them “fervent in spirit.” For He repeatedly denounced against them destruction and ruin, wars and slaughters, burnings and captivities, and immitigable wrath: while, on the other hand, He promised, if they would believe on Him, and now at length become fruitful trees, that he would give them life and glory, the grace of adoption, the communion of the Holy Spirit, and the kingdom of heaven. But Israel was incapable of being taught even thus. It was still a barren fig tree, and continued so to be. It was cut down, therefore, that it might not make the ground useless: and in its stead there sprung up, as a fertile plant, the gentile church, beautiful, and fruit-bearing, deeply-rooted, and incapable of being shaken. For they have been counted as children unto Abraham, and have been ingrafted into the good olive-tree: for a root has been preserved, and Israel has not utterly perished.

But that it was doomed to be cut down, on account of its utter barrenness, the blessed John the Baptist also declared in these words; “Behold the axe is laid at the root of the trees: every tree therefore that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” And one of the holy prophets also … 

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One Response to St Cyril of Alexandria’s Homiletic Commentary on Luke 13:6-9

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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