23:1-5, 18, 19. And the whole multitude arose and led Him to Pilate. And they began to accuse Him, saying, We found this man perverting our people, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and saying of Himself that He is Christ, a King. And Pilate asked Him, saying, Are You the King of the Jews? And He answered him, and said, You say. Then said Pilate to the chief priests and the multitudes, I find no cause at all in this Man. But they vehemently asserted, that He perverts the people, teaching in all Judaea, and having begun from Galilee even to this place. And they cried out, the whole multitude at once, saying, Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas: who for some sedition made in the city and for murder was cast into prison.
A disgraceful malady, my brethren, is want of understanding and folly of heart, accompanied by the inventions of base thoughts, which lead men on to every thing that is wicked, and often even make us sin against the glory of God. And this we can see was the case with the synagogue of the Jews; for they sinned against Christ, and therefore they have suffered all misery, being condemned by the just sentence of God to that fate to which they brought Him, Who would have raised them up to life. For they led Jesus to Pilate, and were themselves too delivered up to the hosts of the Romans, who took all their land captive, and stormed also their city which previously had been the holy and the noble, and gave those who were dwelling therein as a prey to sword and fire. In them therefore were fulfilled the predictions of the holy prophets: for one says, “Woe to the wicked: evils shall happen to him, according to the works of his hands.” And another, “As you have done, so shall it be done to you: your retribution shall be recompensed upon your head.”
But let us see what was the manner of their wickedness, and what also they said to Pilate, when framing their accusations against our common Saviour Christ. “We found this man perverting our people, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and saying of Himself that He is Christ a King.” And yet, but a short time before He was tried by you, and of questions such as this no point was raised; only He was asked, whether He were the Christ. This it was which you then sought to learn, and beside it absolutely nothing. And so, meeting your questions, He sought to show both that He is the Christ, and that by nature and truly He is the Son of God the Father. For He said, “You shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power.” And tell me, I pray, whose is it to sit with the Father, but His Who by nature is the Son? For of all that is made nothing whatsoever may boast of sitting on the throne of Deity: for every created being is put under the feet of the divine and supreme nature, Which rules over all, and transcends every thing whatsoever which has been brought into being. God the Father alone is set upon the throne high and lifted up, but He shares His seat with the Son, Who is ever with Him, and sprang by nature from Him. You had obtained therefore for yourselves by your question the full assurance that He is the Christ. But in your eagerness to accuse of blasphemy Him Who had revealed to you His glory, you said, “Why need we any further witnesses? for we have heard from His mouth.” And how then forgetting all this, or rather in your malice passing by those things for which He was judged by you, make you an array of charges of an entirely different nature, saying, “We found this man perverting our people?” Tell us in what this perversion consisted! What He taught was repentance. Where did He forbid to give tribute to Caesar? In reality you sent certain of your body to Him, |710 with those who are called Herodians, to tempt Him, saying, “Teacher, is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” And thereupon Christ said to them, “Show me a denarius of the poll tax: and asked, Whose is the image and superscription on the denarius which you have brought? And when they replied; Caesar’s, He said, Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Where then did He forbid to give tribute to Caesar? But their sole purpose was to bring down to death Him Who was raising them up to life. This was the object of their stratagems, and of the base deeds which they contrived, and of the falsehoods they invented, and the bitter words which ran from their wicked tongue. And yet the law loudly proclaims to you, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.” And again, “The holy and the just you shall not kill.”
At language thus unbridled in its violence God in his anger has somewhere said, by one of the holy prophets, “But draw you near, you wicked children, you seed of adulterers and the harlot: at Whom made you merry? and against Whom opened you your mouth? and against Whom sent you forth your tongue? Are you not sons of perdition; and an iniquitous seed?” And the prophet David also somewhere describes them in the Psalms, thus addressing God the Father in heaven, “Scatter them in Your might, and restrain them, O Lord, my helper. The sin of their mouth is the word of their lips, and they shall be taken in their pride.” For having given loose to their unbridled tongue against Christ, and, so to speak, “lifted up their horn on high, and spoken iniquity against God,” as it is written, they fell in their pride. Surely it was their duty, priding themselves as they did upon their knowledge of the divine laws, to have remembered that God says, “The pious and the just you shall not kill:” but they had no regard whatsoever to the respect due to the law, but being led on by an unrestrainable impetuosity into whatsoever pleased themselves alone, without examination of its nature, they invented numerous charges, heaping up against Christ accusations which were neither true nor capable of being proved. But they were convicted of being even more wicked than an idolater. For Pilate, acquitting Jesus of all blame, openly said, “I find no cause at all in this Man:” and this, not once only, but three times.
“But they vehemently protested, He perverts the people, “teaching in all Judaea, and having begun from Galilee (continues) even to this place.” Again they change from their former accusations, and invent pretexts for laying sins to His charge, and gather fresh opportunities for slandering Him. “For He perverts, they say, the people, teaching throughout all Galilee even to this place.” But while they accuse Him of teaching, they are silent as to what He taught, being afraid, I imagine, lest perhaps even Pilate himself should be found among the number of the believers. For if he had heard Christ unfold His mystery, he might have ceased perhaps from serving henceforth gods falsely so called, as having admitted the light of the true knowledge of God to dwell within him, and possessing in his mind and heart the medicine of that sacred and saving message which is by Christ. For what were the doctrines of Christ? He called to the true knowledge of God them that were in error, and serving the creature in His stead. Whoever drew near to Him He desired should be resplendent with the glories of righteousness; that they should be irreproachable and good; gentle and merciful; wise and holy; of upright and blameless lives. With great cunning therefore they say that He taught, but were silent as to the nature of His doctrines. But even when so speaking, Pilate rebuked them, excusing himself, and saying, “I find no cause at all in Him.” ” For you have brought me, he says, This Man, as one Who upturns the people, and behold, I having tried Him in your presence, have not found in This Man any cause of those things whereof you accuse Him. No, nor yet Herod: for he has sent Him back to us: and, behold, nothing is done by Him worthy of death.” Lo! those who know the divine laws, and with haughty countenance say, “We are Moses’ disciples,” beseech that He may be condemned to death, Who is guilty of no base action, yes, rather Who is the Head and Teacher of all piety, and Who renders those who believe in Him skilful in every virtue: and when he whose duty it was to judge Him acquitted Him, to make their doom of torment more severe, they earnestly beg that He Who was guilty of no base deed might suffer as from them the penalty of death. ” For the whole multitude cried out, saying, Away with this Man: but loose to us Barabbas.” Plainly therefore “they denied the Holy and the Just, and, as the blessed Peter says, asked for a murderer to be granted to them,” that they might be sharers of his lot, and partners in his guilt. And this it was their lot to suffer. For they were given up to destruction and slaughter, and perished together with their whole race. “For they cried out, it says, saying, Crucify Him, crucify Him.” And this their unholy cry the Lord blamed, saying, by the voice of Jeremiah, “I have left My house, I have abandoned My inheritance: I have given My dearly beloved, My soul, into the hand of her enemies. My inheritance has become to Me like a lion in a thicket: it has uttered its voice against Me; therefore I have hated it.” It was hated therefore because as a lion it sprang upon Christ, and uttered a cruel and pitiless cry against Him: but we praise Christ, Who for our sakes and in our stead suffered in the flesh: by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and over. Amen.
23:24-31. And Pilate gave sentence that their request should be done. And he released him who for sedition and murder was cast into prison, for whom they asked: but he delivered Jesus to their will. And as they led Him away, they laid hold upon Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country; and on him they laid the cross to carry it after Jesus. And there followed Him a great company of people, and of women, who bewailed and lamented Him. And Jesus turned Himself to them, and said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves and your children. For behold the days come, in which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps that never gave nurture. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall upon us: and to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?
“THE fear of God is an abomination to evildoers:” and the saying is true; for the sacred Scripture cannot lie. For the desire to live in an upright and holy manner is altogether alien from those who love wickedness: and because the violence of their passions attacks thorn like a savage beast, they will not listen to the words of those who admonish them, but reckon as their enemies whoever would instruct them in the duty of living well. It was this feeling which made the Jewish multitudes hate Christ: and yet what He summoned them to was salvation, and the forgiveness of sin: to a mode of life worthy of admiration: to a righteousness superior to the law; and to a spiritual service higher than types and shadows.
They had brought the holy One and the Just to Pilate, uttering against Him language violent and unrestrained, and pouring forth falsely-invented accusations: and so long did they persist in the vehemence wherewith they accused Him, that at length Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they desired, although he had publicly said, “I find no wickedness in this man.” But they, it says, cried out, “Away with Him, crucify Him.” For this very cry, unmerciful and unlawful, the Lord had reproved them by the voice of the prophet Isaiah; for thus it is written, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts, a plant new and beloved, is the man of Judah: and I looked that he should do justice, but he wrought iniquity: and not righteousness, but a cry.” And in another place He said of them, “Woe to them, in that they have gone far from Me: wretched are they, for they have sinned against Me: but I redeemed them, and they spoke falsely against Me.” And again, “Their princes shall fall by the sword, because of the rudeness of their tongue.”
Pilate therefore, it says, gave sentence that what they desired should be done: but better for them had it been, if the will of Pilate had prevailed, and the sentence had been, to set the Lord free from all fault, and to deliver the Innocent and the Just from His bonds. But they resisted, and vehemently opposed, and so gained a victory that was the mother of their undoing; that prepared for them the snare; that was the nurse of their ruin; and affianced them to severe and inevitable misery.
Yet here behold, I pray, that rebellious serpent driven from his empire over us all, and digging for himself and the wicked hosts that serve him the pit of destruction. For as the Psalmist says, “The heathen are caught in the destruction they have made: in the snare which they set is their own foot taken. The Lord is known as executing judgments: in the works of his hands is the sinner taken.” For the works of his hands proved his snare, and “he fell into the pit that he had made: and his labour returned upon his head, and his iniquity descended upon his own pate:” for he was driven away, as I said, from his pride over us. And this the Saviour has taught us: for when He was about to endure for us His saving passion, He said, “Now is the judgment of this world: now is the prince of this world cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, shall draw all men to Me,” He led Jesus therefore to the cross, that being lifted up He might draw all men to Him, and that thus he might be left stripped of his worshippers, who in the height of his pride had ventured to say, “The whole world will I hold in my hand as a nest, and as eggs that are left will I take it up, and there is no one shall escape from me, or speak against me.” You did not expect then that any one would rise up against you when you were seizing what was not your own. The prophets however dared to do so, though by your instigations the Israelites were incited continually to violence and foul murders. Then there rose up against you and spoke against you the Lord of all, having taken the form of a slave; appearing in prophetic measure, though the Giver of all prophecy and knowledge; in lowliness of glory, though high and transcending all; in weakness such as ours, though the Lord of hosts. And you did not recognise the Saviour, and as the prophet Jeremiah says, “You were found and caught, because you stood up against the Lord.” And how were you caught? In that those who were in darkness and the ignorance which you caused received light; those who wandered in error were brought into the right way; your harsh and overbearing dominion fell; the sting of sin was done away; and death was slain by Christ’s death. Such are the benefits wrought for us by the Redeemer’s passion. Lead therefore, yes, lead Jesus to the cross that shall be your ruin: pile up for yourself the inextinguishable flame: dig the pit into which you shall be cast, being trampled under foot of those that fear Him. If you behold Him crucified and hung upon a tree, and laugh therefore; you shall see Him, and that soon, risen from the dead, and then shall you wail for death because it has fallen. Weep without restraint at the sight of destruction overthrown: weep as He refashions man’s nature to life; as He reduces sin into subjection which with you had savagely tyrannized over us: and henceforth no more accuse any one who is weak; “for it is God That justifies: who is he that condemns?” and as the Psalmist says, “All iniquity shall stop its mouth.”
The Redeemer therefore was led to His saving passion: but they laid His cross, it says, upon Simon the Cyrenian. Another holy evangelist, however, tells us that the Lord Himself carried, the tree: and necessarily both the one and the other are true. For the Saviour indeed bore the cross, but in the middle of the way perhaps the Cyrenian met them, and they seized him, and made him carry it instead. And there is an important reason for the fact, that Christ the Saviour of all did carry the cross: for it is said of Him by the voice of Isaiah, that “to us a Child is born: a Son also is given us, Whose government is upon His shoulder.” For His government was the cross, by which He became King over the world, if so be that it is true that ” He became obedient to the Father to death, even the death of the cross: for this reason God also has greatly exalted Him, and given Him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus Christ every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and of things under the earth: and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
And this also, I think, it is important here to observe, that when the blessed Abraham went up to the mountain that had been shown him, that there he might sacrifice Isaac, according to God’s command, he laid the wood upon the lad; and he was a type of Christ carrying His own cross upon His shoulders, and going up to the glory of His passion. For that His passion was Christ’s glory, He has Himself taught us, saying, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him, If God be glorified in Him, God shall also glorify Him in Himself, and shall immediately glorify Him.”
He was going therefore to the place of crucifixion: and there followed Him women weeping, as well as many others. For constantly, so to speak, the female sex is given to tears, and of a disposition ready to sink at the approach of aught that is sorrowful. ‘But, O daughters of Jerusalem, He says, stay those tears on My account: cease your wailings: and weep rather for yourselves, and your children: for the days, He says, shall come, in which barrenness shall be preferable to women than to have borne children.” How, or in what manner? Because when the war fell upon the country of the Jews, they all perished utterly, small and great: and infants with their mothers, and sons with their fathers, were destroyed without distinction. Then, He says, shall men count it above all price to be crushed under hills and mountains; for in extreme miseries those misfortunes which are less severely cruel become, so to speak, desirable. “For if, says He, they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?”
But it is worth our while to see what the Saviour’s meaning is in these words. For the saying is shaped in the form of a parable, or an example rather, but is pregnant with a spiritual signification: and it intends, I think, to suggest perhaps what follows. He calls Himself the green tree, that namely which has leaves and fruit and flowers. But His fruits were doctrines and exhortations and the manifestation of a godlike power in His divine and ineffable miracles. For which of His works is not more than our admiration can equal? He raised the dead to life, He cleansed lepers, He healed the blind, and the other deeds He wrought are such as arouse in us the most perfect praise. But though these were His works, yet did the Roman officers, or rather Pilate who condemned Him, and passed upon Him an unjust sentence, inflict upon Him these cruel mockeries. When therefore, He says, the Roman commanders have inflicted upon Me such things, though they see Me adorned with such great glory and praise, what will they do to Israel, perceiving him to be a dry and fruitless stock? For in him they will behold nothing admirable, for the sake of which he might perchance have been counted by them worthy of honour and mercy. Plainly they will burn him with fire, without showing him mercy, yes rather he will suffer the cruelties prompted by savage rage. For such were the miseries into which the Israelites fell, when God, Who judges righteously, exacted of them the punishment of their wickedness against Christ. But upon us, who have believed in Him, Christ bestows grace and blessing; by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.