Early Church Fathers
Sermon LII. [CII. Ben.]
On the words of the gospel, Luke x. 16, "He that rejecteth you rejecteth me."
1. What our Lord Jesus Crist at that that time spake to His disciples was put in writing, and prepared for us to hear. And so we have heard His words. For what profit would it be to us if He were seen, and were not heard? And now it is no hurt, that He is not seen, and yet is heard. He saith then, "He that despiseth you, despiseth Me."1 If to the Apostles only He said, "He that despiseth you, despiseth Me;" do ye despise us. But if His word reach to us, and He hath called us, and set us in their place, see that ye despise not us, lest the wrong ye shall do unto us reach to Him. For if ye fear not us, fear Him who said, "He that despiseth you, despiseth Me." But why do we, who are unwilling to be despised by you, speak to you, except that we may have joy of your good conversation? Let your good works be the solace of our perils. Live well, that ye may not die ill.
2. And in these words which I have spoken, "Live well, that ye may not die ill," do not think of those who it may be have lived evilly, and have died in their beds; and the pomp of their funeral has been displayed, and they have been laid in costly coffins, in sepulchres prepared with exceeding beauty and labour; nor because each one of you perhaps is saying, "I should wish so to die," do ye think that it is a vain thing I have chosen to say; when I said that I would that ye should live well, that ye may not die ill? On the other hand, the case of some one, it may be, occurs to you, who has both lived well, and according to the opinion of men has died ill; perhaps he has died from the fall of a house, has died by shipwreck, has died by wild beasts; and each carnal man is saying in his heart, "What good is it to live well? See this man has so lived, and in this wise has he died." "Return therefore to your heart;" and if ye are faithful ones, ye will find Christ there; He speaketh to you there. For I cry aloud, but He in silence giveth more instruction. I speak by the sound of words; He speaketh within by the fear of the thoughts. May He then engraft my word in your heart; for I have taken upon me to say, "Live well, that ye may not die ill." See, for faith is in your hearts, and Christ dwelleth there, and it is His place to teach what I desire to give utterance to.
3. Remember that rich and that poor man in the Gospel; "the rich man clothed in purple and fine linen," and crammed with daily feastings; and the poor man "lying before" the rich man's gate, hungry, and looking for "the crumbs from his table, full of sores, licked" by "dogs."2 Remember, I say; and whence do ye remember, but because Christ is there in your hearts? Tell me, what have ye asked Him within, and what hath He answered. For he goes on to say, "It came to pass that that poor man died, and was t carried by the Angels into Abraham's bosom.The rich man also died, and was buried inhell. And being in torments he lifted up his eyes, and saw Lazarus resting in Abraham's bosom. Then he cried, saying, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip his finger in water, and drop it on my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame."3 Proud in the world,4 in hell a beggar! For that poor man did attain to his crumbs; but the other attained not to the drop of water. Of these two then, tell me, which died well, and which died ill? Do not ask the eyes, return to the heart. For if ye ask the eyes, they will answer you falsely. For vastly splendid, and disguised with much worldly show, are the honours which could be paid to that rich man in his death. What crowds of mourning slaves and handmaids might there be! what pompous train of dependants! what splendid funeral obsequies! what costliness of burial! I suppose he was overwhelmed with spices. What shall we say then, Brethren, that he died well, or died ill? If ye ask the eyes, he died very well;if ye enquire of your inner Master, he died most ill.
4. If then those haughty men who keep their own goods to themselves, and bestow none of them upon the poor, die in this way; how do they die who plunder the goods of others? Therefore have I said with true reason, "Live well, that ye die not ill," that ye die not as that rich man died. Nothing proves an evil death, but the time after death. On the other hand, look at that poor man; not with the eyes, for so ye will err; let faith look at him, let the heart see him. Set him before your eyes lying on the ground, "full of sores, and the dogs" coming and "licking his sores." Now when ye recall him before your eyes in this guise, immediately ye loathe him, ye turn your face away, and stop your nostrils: see then with the eyes of the heart. "He died, and was carried by the Angels into Abraham's bosom." The rich man's family was seen bewailing him; the Angels were not seen rejoicing. What then did Abraham answer the rich man? "Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst good things."5 Thou thoughtest nothing good, but what thou hadst in this life. Thou hast received them; but those days are past; and thou hast lost the whole; and thou hast remained behind to be tormented in hell."
5. Opportune then was it, Brethren, that those words should be spoken to you. Have respect unto the poor, whether lying on the ground, or walking; have respect unto the poor, do good works. Ye who are wont so to do, do it still and ye who are not wont to do so, do it now. Let the number of those who do good works increase; since the number of the faithful increases also. Ye do not yet see how great is the good ye do; for so the husbandman also sees not the crop when he sows, but he trusts the ground. Wherefore dost thou not trust God? Our harvest will come. Think, that we are busy in travail now, are working in travail now, but sure to receive, as it is written, "They went on and wept as they cast their seed; but they shall surely come with exultation, bringing their sheaves with them."6