22:31-34. Simeon, Simeon, behold Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you that your faith fail not: and do you also hereafter when converted strengthen your brethren. And he said to Him, Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death. But He said, I tell you, Peter, that the cock shall not crow to-day until you have thrice denied that You know Me.
THE prophet Isaiah bids those who embrace a life of piety towards Christ to go to the proclamations of the Gospel, saying, “You who thirst, go to the waters.” But these waters are not the material waters of earth, but rather are divine and spiritual, poured forth for us by Christ Himself. For He is the river of peace, and the torrent of pleasure, and the fountain of life. And so we have heard Himself plainly saying, “Whosoever thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” Come therefore, that here also we may delight ourselves in the sacred and divine streams which now from Him: for what says He to Peter? “Simeon, Simeon, behold Satan has asked for you to sift you like wheat: but I have prayed for you that your faith fail not.”
Now it is, I think, both necessary and profitable for us to know what the occasion was which led our Saviour’s words to this point. The blessed disciples then had been disputing with one another, “which of them was the great one:” but the Saviour of all, as the means whereby they obtained whatsoever was useful and necessary for their good, delivered them from the guilt of ambition, by putting away from them the striving after objects such as this, and persuading them to escape from the lust of preeminence, as from a pitfall of the devil. For He said, “he who is great among you, let him be as the youngest, and he who governs as he that serves.” And He further taught them that the season of honour is not so much this present time as that which is to be at the coming of His kingdom. For there they shall receive the rewards of their fidelity, and be partakers of His eternal glory, and wear a crown of surpassing honour, eating at His table, and sitting also upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
But lo! He also offers them a third assistance, as we read in the lessons before us. For He teaches us, that we must think humbly of ourselves, as being nothing, both as regards the nature of man and the readiness of our mind to fall away into sin, and as strengthened and being what we are only through Him and of Him. If therefore it is from Him that we borrow both our salvation, and our seeming to be something in virtue and piety, what reason have we for proud thoughts? For all we have is from Him, and of ourselves we have nothing. “For what have you that you did not receive? But if you also received it, why do you glory, as though you did not receive it?” So spoke the very wise Paul: and further, the blessed David also at one time says, “In God we shall make strength:” and at another again, “Our God is our house of refuge and our strength.” And the prophet Jeremiah also has somewhere said, “O Lord, my strength and my house of refuge, and my help in the days of trouble.” And the blessed Paul also may be brought forward, who says with great clearness, “I can do all things through Christ, Who strengthens me.” Yes, Christ Himself also somewhere says to us, “Without Me you can do nothing.11
Let us then glory not in ourselves, but rather in His gifts. And if this be the state of any one’s mind, what place can the desire of being set above other men find in him, when thus we are all both partakers of the same one grace, and also have the same Lord of hosts as the Giver both of our existence and of our ability to do well. To humble therefore our tendency to superciliousness, and to repress ambitious feelings, Christ shows that even he who seemed to be great is nothing and infirm. He therefore passes by the other disciples, and turns to him who is the foremost, and set at the head of the company, and says; “that Satan has many times desired to sift you as wheat:” that is, to search and try you, and expose you to intolerable blows. For it is Satan’s wont to attack men of more than ordinary excellence, and, like some fierce and arrogant barbarian, he challenges to single combat those of chief repute in the ways of piety. So he challenged Job, but was defeated by his patience, and the boaster fell, being vanquished by the endurance of that triumphant hero. But human nature he makes his prey, for it is infirm, and easy to be overcome: while he is harsh and pitiless and unappeasable in heart. For, as the sacred Scripture says of him, “His heart is hard as a stone: and he stands like an anvil that cannot be beaten out 6.” Yet he is placed under the feet of the saints by Christ’s might: for He has said, “Behold, I have given you to tread on serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.” “Satan therefore, He says, has desired to sift you like wheat: but I have offered supplication in your behalf, that your faith fail not.”
See again, He humbles Himself to us, and speaks according to the limits of man’s estate, and yet He is God by nature, even though He became flesh. For though He is the power of the Father, by Whom all things are preserved, and from Whom they obtain the ability to continue in well-being, He yet says that He offers supplication as a man. For it was necessary, yes necessary, for Him Who, for the dispensation’s sake, became like to us, to use also our words, when the occasion called Him thereto in accordance with what the dispensation itself required. “I have supplicated therefore, He says, that your faith fail not.” Now by this then He shows, that if he had been yielded up to Satan to be tempted, he would have proved altogether unfaithful: since, even when not so yielded up, he proved weak from human feebleness, being unable to bear the fear of death. For he denied Christ, when a young girl troubled him in the high priest’s palace by saying, “And you also are one of His disciples.”
The Saviour then forewarned him what would have been the result had he been yielded up to Satan’s temptation: but at the same time He offers him the word of consolation, and says, “And do you also hereafter, when converted, strengthen your brethren:” that is, be the support, and instructor and teacher of those who draw near to Me by faith. And moreover, admire the beautiful skill of the passage, and the surpassing greatness of the divine gentleness! For, lest his impending fall should lead the disciple to desperation, as though he would be expelled from the glories of the apostleship, and his former following (of Christ) lose its reward, because of his proving unable to bear the fear of death, and denying Him, at once Christ fills him with good hope, and grants him the confident assurance that he shall be counted worthy of the promised blessings, and gather the fruits of steadfastness. For He says, “And do you also, when converted, strengthen your brethren.” O what great and incomparable kindness! The disciple had not yet sickened with the malady of faithlessness, and already he has received the medicine of forgiveness: not yet had the sin been committed, and he receives pardon: not yet had he fallen, and the saving hand is held out: not yet had he faltered, and he is confirmed: for “do you, He says, when converted, strengthen your brethren.” So to speak belongs to One Who pardons, and restores him again to apostolic powers.
But Peter, in the ardour of his zeal, made profession of steadfastness and endurance to the last extremity, saying that he would manfully resist the terrors of death, and count nothing of bonds; but in so doing he erred from what was right. For he ought not, when the Saviour told him that he would prove weak to have contradicted Him, loudly protesting the contrary; for the Truth could not lie: but rather he ought to have asked strength of Him, that either he might not suffer this, or be rescued immediately from harm. But, as I have already said, being fervent in spirit, and warm in his love towards Christ, and of unrestrainable zeal in rightly performing those duties which become a disciple in his attendance upon his Master, he declares that he will endure to the last extremity: but he was rebuked for foolishly speaking against what was foreknown, and for his unreasonable haste in contradicting the Saviour’s words. For this reason He says, “Verily I tell you, that the cock shall not crow to-night, until you have thrice denied Me.” And this proved true. Let us not therefore think highly of ourselves, even if we see ourselves greatly distinguished for our virtues: rather let us offer up the praises of our thanksgivings to Christ Who redeems us, and Who also it is that grants us even the desire to be able to act rightly: by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, for over and ever, Amen.
22:35-38. And He said to them, When I sent you without purse and without bag and shoes, lacked you anything? And they said, Nothing. And He said to them, But now, he that has a purse, let him take it: and in like manner also a bag: and he that has not one, let him sell his garment, and buy a sword. For I say to you, that this that is written must be accomplished in Me, that he was numbered also with the transgressors. For that which concerns Me has an end. And they said, Lord, behold here are two swords. And He said to them, It is enough.
THE blessed Moses impressed the fear of God upon the Israelites by saying, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God: for our God is a consuming fire.” And another holy prophet has also said concerning Him, “His wrath consumes the princes, and the rocks are melted at Him.” Moreover the blessed David says of Him somewhere in the Psalms, “You are to be feared, and who shall rise up before You at Your wrath?” For what power of man, or of ought whatsoever that is created, can stand against the irresistible force of Almighty God? But His wrath does not descend upon any righteous man whatsoever;—-for God does not commit injustice;—-but upon those rather whose sins are numerous and intolerable, and their wickedness beyond bounds.
And as an example of what we have said, take that which happened to the Jewish multitudes after Christ rose from the dead, and ascended up to heaven. For God the Father sent to them His Son, inviting them to a service superior to the law, and to the knowledge of all good: He sent Him to free them from all guilt, and deliver them from the stains of sin; to bring them to the adoption of sons, to glory, to honour, and to the communion of the Holy Spirit; to life incorruptible; to never-ending glory; and to the kingdom of heaven. But though they ought eagerly to have hastened to this grace, and with grateful praises have honoured Him Who came to aid them, and joyfully have accepted the grace that is by faith, they did verily nothing of the kind, but betook themselves to the very reverse: for they rose up against Him, setting Him at nought by their disobedience, reviling even His divine signs, and after doing and saying every thing that was abominable, finally they crucified Him. And so it became their lot to suffer those things which the company also of the holy prophets had before proclaimed. For one of them said, “God shall put them far away, because they did not hear Him, and they shall be wanderers among the nations.” And again, “Because Jerusalem is forsaken, and Judah is fallen, and their tongues are with iniquity; they disobey the Lord; therefore now is their glory brought low, and the shame of their faces has stood up against them.” And in another place they are thus addressed as in the person of God over all; ” And now, because you have done all these works, and I spoke to you and you did not hear, and I called to you and you answered not: therefore will I do to this house, on which My name is called, and wherein you trust; and to this place which I have given to you and to your fathers as I did to Shilom: and I will cast you from before My face, as I cast away your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim.” For they were delivered up, as I have said, to desolation, and were dispersed over all the earth, their temple being consumed with fire, and all Judaea taken captive.
That this would be the case Christ had before announced to the disciples, the occasion which caused Him to speak upon this subject being some such as follows: He had forewarned the admirable Peter, that he would thrice deny Him, at the time namely of His seizure, when the band of Pilate’s soldiers with the officers of the Jews brought Him to the chief priests for judgment: for there Peter denied Him. And inasmuch as mention had now once been made of His seizure, and of his being taken before Caiaphas, there naturally followed upon this allusion a reference to that also which was next to come to pass, even His passion upon the cross: and then it was that He foretold the war about to burst upon the Jews, and which with unendurable violence spread like some river over all their land. On this account He says; “When I sent you without purse and without bag and shoes, lacked you anything? And they said, No.” For the Saviour sent the holy apostles, with the command to preach to the inhabitants of every village and city the gospel of the kingdom of heaven, and to heal every grief and every sickness among the people. And on their journey He bade them not to occupy themselves with things that concern the body, but rather without baggage and unencumbered, and resting all their hope of sustenance on Him, so to traverse the land: and this they also did, making themselves an example of praiseworthy and apostolic conduct. “But now, He says, he that has a purse, let him take it, and a bag in like manner.” Tell me then, was this because on second thoughts a more serviceable plan was devised? Would it have been better on the former occasion also to have had bag and purse? Or if not, what was the cause of so sudden a change? What need had the holy apostles of purse and bag? What answer must we give to this? That the saying in appearance had reference to them, but in reality applied to the person of every Jew: for they it rather was. whom Christ addressed. For He did not say that the holy apostles must get purse and bag, but that “whosoever has a purse, let him take it,” meaning thereby, that whosoever had property in the Jewish territories, should collect all that he had together, and flee, so that if he could any how save himself, he might do so. But any one who had not the means of equipping himself for travel, and who from extreme poverty must continue in the land, let even such one, He says, sell his cloak, and buy a sword: for henceforth the question with all those who continue in the land will not be whether they possess anything or not, but whether they can exist and preserve their lives. For war shall befal them with such unendurable impetuosity, that nothing shall be able to stand against it.
And next He tells them the cause of the evil, and of a tribulation so severe and irremediable befalling them, saying, “that He is about according to the Scriptures to be numbered with the transgressors,” plainly referring to His being hung upon the cross with the thieves who were crucified with Him, and so enduring a transgressor’s punishment: “and the dispensation, having come to this, will now have an end.” For He endured indeed for our sakes His saving passion, and thus far the daring wickedness of the Jews proceeded, and this was the consummation of their unbridled fury: but after the passion upon the cross every hand was powerless, “for the enemy had no advantage over Him, and the Son of wickedness could no more hurt Him.’” For He arose, having trampled upon the grave; He ascended up into heaven, He sat down on the right hand of God the Father; and hereafter He shall come, not in mean estate, as of old, nor in the measure of human nature, but in the glory of the Father, with the holy angels as His body-guard; and He shall sit also upon the throne of His glory, “judging the world in righteousness,” as it is written. Then, as the prophet says, “they shall look on Him Whom they pierced:” and Him Whom these wretched beings ridiculed, as they saw Him hang on the precious cross, they shall behold crowned with godlike glory, and in just retribution of their wickedness towards Him, shall fall into the pit of destruction. “What therefore, He says, concerns Me, has an end,” as far, that is, as relates to My suffering death in the flesh. And then shall those things which were foretold by the holy prophets in old time, happen to those who slew Him.
And in foretelling these things, the Lord was speaking of what was about to happen to the country of the Jews. But the divine disciples did not understand the deep meaning of what was said, but supposed rather that He meant that swords were necessary, because of the attack about to be made upon Him by the disciple who betrayed Him, and by those who were assembled to seize Him. For this reason they say, “Lord, behold, here are two swords.” And what is the Saviour’s reply? “It is enough.” Observe how, so to say, He even ridicules their speech, well knowing that the disciples not having understood the force of what was said, thought that swords were required, because of the attack about to be made upon Himself. Fixing His look therefore upon those things which happened to the Jews because of their wicked conduct towards Him, the Saviour, as I said, ridicules their speech, and says, “It is enough:” yes, forsooth, two swords are enough to bear the brunt of the war about to come upon them, to meet which many thousand swords were of no avail. For a mighty resistance was made by the pride of the Jews against the forces of Augustus Caesar: but they availed nothing; for they were besieged with overpowering might, and suffered all misery. For as the prophet Isaiah says, “That which the holy God purposes, who shall bring to nought? and His hand, when lifted up, who shall turn aside?” Let us beware therefore of provoking God to anger: for it is a fearful thing to fall into His hands. But to those who believe in Christ He is merciful; even to those who praise Him; who call Him their Redeemer and Deliverer; who minister to Him with spiritual service, and by all virtuous conduct: for if so we act and speak, Christ will make us His own; by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever, Amen.