Early Church Fathers
Matthew Chapter 15, Verse 21 And Matthew Chapter 15, Verse 22
Matthew Chapter 15, Verse 21 And Matthew Chapter 15, Verse 22
"And Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto Him,1 saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil."
But Mark saith, that "He could not behid,"2 though He had entered into the house. And why did He go at all into these parts? When He had set them free from the observance of meats, then to the Gentiles also He goes on to open a door, proceeding in due course; even as Peter, having been first directed to annul this law, is sent to Cornelius.3
But if any one should say, "How then, while saying to His disciples, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles,"4 doth He Himself admit her?" first, this would be our reply, that what He enjoined upon His disciples, He was not Himself also tied to; secondly, that not in order to preach did He depart; which indeed Mark likewise intimating said, He even hid Himself, yet was not concealed.
For as His not hastening to them first was a part of the regular course of His proceedings, so to drive them away when coming to Him was unworthy of His love to man. For if the flying ought to be pursued, much more ought the pursuing not to be avoided.
See at any rate how worthy this woman is of every benefit. For she durst not even come to Jerusalem, fearing, and accounting herself unworthy. For were it not for this, she would have come there, as is evident both from her present earnestness, and from her coming out of her own coasts.
And some also taking it as an allegory say, that when Christ came out of Judea, then the church ventured to approach Him, coming out herself also from her own coasts. For it is said, "Forget thine own people and thy father's house."5 For both Christ went out of His borders, and the woman out of her borders, and so it became possible for them to fall in with each other: thus He saith, "Behold a woman of Canaan coming out of her own coasts."
The evangelist speaks against the woman, that he may show forth her marvellous act, and celebrate her praise the more. For when thou hearest of a Canaanitish woman, thou shouldest call to mind those wicked nations, who overset from their foundations the very laws of nature. And being reminded of these, consider also the power of Christ's advent. For they who were cast out, that they might not pervert any Jews, these appeared so much better disposed than the Jews, as even to come out of their coasts, and approach Christ; while those were driving Him away, even on His coming unto them.
2. Having then come unto Him, she saith nothing else, but "Have mercy on me," and by her cry brings about them many spectators. For indeed it was a pitiful spectacle to see a woman crying aloud in so great affliction, and that woman a mother, and entreating for a daughter, and for a daughter in such evil case: she not even venturing to bring into the Master's sight her that was possessed, but leaving her to lie at home, and herself making the entreaty.
And she tells her affliction only, and adds nothing more; neither doth she drag the physician to her house, like that nobleman, saying, "Come and lay thy hand upon her," and, "Come down ere my child die."6
But having described both her calamity, and the intensity of the disease, she pleads the Lord's mercy, and cries aloud; and she saith not, "Have mercy on my daughter," but, "Have mercy on me." For she indeed is insensible of her disease, but it is I that suffer her innumerable woes; my disease is with consciousness, my madness with perception of itself.
2. "But He answered her not a word."7
What is this new and strange thing? the Jews in their perverseness He leads on, and blaspheming He entreats them, and tempting Him He dismisses them not; but to her, running unto Him, and entreating, and beseeching Him, to her who had been educated neither in the law, nor in the prophets, and was exhibiting so great reverence; to her He doth not vouchsafe so much as an answer.
Whom would not this have offended, seeing the facts so opposite to the report? For whereas they had heard, that He went about the villages healing, her, when she had come to Him, He utterly repels. And who would not have been moved by her affliction, and by the supplication she made for her daughter in such evil case? For not as one worthy, nor as demanding a due, not so did she approach Him, but she entreated that she might find mercy, and merely gave a lamentable account of her own affliction; yet is she not counted worthy of so much as an answer.
Perhaps many of the hearers were offended, but she was not offended. And why say I, of the hearers? For I suppose that even the very disciples must have been in some degree affected at the woman's affliction, and have been greatly troubled, and out of heart.
Nevertheless not even in this trouble did they venture to say, "Grant her this favor," but, "His disciples came and besought Him, saying, Send her away, for she crieth after us." For we too, when we wish to persuade any one, oftentimes say the contrary.
But Christ saith, "I am not sent, but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel."8
What then did the woman, after she heard this? Was she silent, and did she desist? or did she relax her earnestness? By no means, but she was the more instant. But it is not so with us; rather, when we fail to obtain, we desist; whereas it ought to make us the more urgent.
And yet, who would not have been driven to perplexity by the word which was then spoken? Why His silence were enough to drive her to despair, but His answer did so very much more. For together with herself, to see them also in utter perplexity that were pleading with her, and to hear that the thing is even impossible to be done, was enough to cast her into unspeakable perplexity.
Yet nevertheless the woman was not perplexed, but on seeing her advocates prevail nothing, she made herself shameless with a goodly shamelessness.
For whereas before this she had not ventured so much as to come in sight (for "she crieth," it is said, "after us"), when one might expect that she should rather depart further off in utter despair, at that very time she comes nearer, and worships, saying, "Lord, help me."9
What is this, O woman? Hast thou then greater confidence than the apostles? more abundant strength? "Confidence and strength," saith she, "by no means; nay, I am even full of shame. Yet nevertheless my very shamelessness do I put forward for entreaty; He will respect my confidence." And what is this? Heardest thou not Him saying, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel? "I heard," saith she, "but He Himself is Lord." Wherefore neither did she say, "Entreat and beseech," but, "Help me."
3. What then saith Christ? Not even with all this was He satisfied, but He makes her perplexity yet more intense again, saying,
"It is not meet to take the children's bread and to cast it to the dogs."10
And when He vouchsafed her a word, then He smote her more sharply than by His silence. And no longer doth He refer the cause to another, nor say, "I am not sent," but the more urgent she makes her entreaty, so much the more doth He also urge His denial. And He calls them no longer "sheep," but "children," and her "a dog."
What then saith the woman? Out of His own very words she frames her plea. "Why, though I be a dog," said she, "I am not an alien."
Justly did Christ say, "For judgment am I come."11 The woman practises high self-command, and shows forth all endurance and faith, and this, receiving insult; but they, courted and honored, requite it with the contrary.
For, "that food is necessary for the children," saith she, "I also know; yet neither am I forbidden, being a dog. For were it unlawful to receive, neither would it be lawful to partake of the crumbs; but if, though in scanty measure, they ought to be partakers, neither am I forbidden, though I be a dog; nay, rather on this ground am I most surely a partaker, if I am a dog."
With this intent did Christ put her off, for He knew she would say this; for this did He deny the grant, that He might exhibit her high self-command.
For if He had not meant to give, neither would He have given afterwards, nor would He have stopped her mouth again. But as He doth in the case of the centurion, saying, "I will come and heal him,"12 that we might learn the godly fear of that man, and might hear him say, "I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof;"13 and as He doth in the case of her that had the issue of blood, saying, "I perceive that virtue hath gone out of me,"14 that He might make her faith manifest; and as in the case of the Samaritan woman, that He might show how not even upon reproof she desists:15 so also here, He would not that so great virtue in the woman should be hid. Not in insult then were His words spoken, but calling her forth, and revealing the treasure laid up in her.
But do thou, I pray thee, together with her faith see also her humility. For He had called the Jews "children," but she was not satisfied with this, but even called them "masters;" so far was she from grieving at the praises of others.
"Why, the dogs also,"16 saith she, "eat of the crumbs that fall from their master's table."17
Seest thou the woman's wisdom, how she did not venture so much as to say a word against it, nor was stung by other men's praises, nor was indignant at the reproach? Seest thou her constancy? He said, "It is not meet," and she said, "Truth, Lord;" He called them "children," but she "masters;" He used the name of a dog, but she added also the dog's act. Seest thou this woman's humility?
Hear the proud language of the Jews. "We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man;"18 and, "We be born of God."19 But not so this woman, rather she calls herself a dog, and them masters; sofor this she became a child. What then saith Christ? "O woman, great is thy faith."20
Yea, therefore did He put her off, that He might proclaim aloud this saying, that He might crown the woman.
"Be it unto thee even as thou wilt." Now what He saith is like this: "Thy faith indeed is able to effect even greater things than these; nevertheless, Be it unto thee even as thou wilt."
This was akin to that voice that said, "Let the Heaven be, and it was."21
"And her daughter was made whole from that very hour."
Seest thou how this woman too contributed not a little to the healing of her daughter? For to this purpose neither did Christ say, "Let thy little daughter be made whole," but, "Great is thy faith, be it unto thee even as thou wilt;" to teach thee that the words were not used at random, nor were they flattering words, but great was the power of her faith.
The certain test, however, and demonstration thereof, He left to the issue of events. Her daughter accordingly was straightway healed.
But mark thou, I pray thee, how when the apostles had failed, and had not succeeded, this woman had success. So great a thing is assiduity in prayer. Yea, He had even rather be solicited by us, guilty as we are, for those who belong to us, than by others in our behalf. And yet they had more liberty to speak; but she exhibited much endurance.
And by the issue He also excused Himself to His disciples for the delay, and showed that with reason He had not assented to their request.
4. "And Jesus departed from thence, and came nigh unto the sea of Galilee; and went up into the mountain, and sat down there. And great multitudes came unto Him, having with them those that were lame, blind, maimed, dumb; and cast them22 at His feet; and He healed them, insomuch that the multitudes wondered, when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see, and they glorified the God of Israel."23
Now He goes about Himself, now sits awaiting the diseased, and hath the lame brought up unto the mountain. And no longer do they touch so much as His garment, but advance a higher step, being cast at His feet: and they showed their faith doubly, first, by going up into the mountain though lame, then by wanting nothing else but to be cast at His feet only.
And great was the marvel and strange, to see them that were carried walking, the blind needing not any to lead them by the hand. Yea, both the multitude of the healed, and the facility of their cure amazed them.
Seest thou, how the woman indeed He healed with so much delay, but these immediately? not because these are better than she is, but because she is more faithful than they. Therefore, while in her case He defers and delays, to manifest her constancy; on these He bestows the gift immediately, stopping the mouths of the unbelieving Jews, and cutting away from them every plea. For the greater favors one hath received, so much the more is he liable to punishment, if he be insensible, and the very honor make him no better. Therefore you see the rich also proving wicked, are more punished than the poor, for not being softened even by their prosperity. For tell me not that they gave alms. Since if they gave not in proportion to their substance, not even so shall they escape; our alms being judged not by the measure of our gifts, but by the largeness24 of our mind. But if these suffer punishment, much more they that are eager about unnecessary things; who build houses of two and three stories, but despise the hungry; who give heed to covetousness, but neglect alms-giving.
5. But since the discourse hath fallen on almsgiving, come then, let us resume again to-day that argument, which I was making three days ago concerning benevolence, and left unfinished. Ye remember, when lately I was speaking of vanity about your shoes, and of that empty trouble, and the luxury of the young, that it was from almsgiving that our discourse passed on to those charges against you. What were the matters then at that time brought forward? That almsgiving is a kind of art, having its workshop in Heaven, and for its teacher, not man, but God. Then inquiring what is an art, and what not an art, we came upon fruitless labors, and evil devices, amongst which we made mention also of this art concerning men's shoes.
Have ye then recalled it to mind? Come now, let us to-day also resume what we then said, and let us show how almsgiving is an art, and better than all arts. For if the peculiarity of art is to issue in something useful, and nothing is more useful than almsgiving, very evidently this is both an art, and better than all arts. For it makes for us not shoes, nor doth it weave garments, nor build houses that are of clay; but it procures life everlasting, and snatches us from the hands of death, and in either life shows us glorious, and builds the mansions that are in Heaven, and those eternal tabernacles.
This suffers not our lamps to go out, nor that we should appear at the marriage having filthy garments, but washes them, and renders them purer than snow. "For though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow."25 It suffers us not to fall, where that rich man fell, nor to hear those fearful words, but it leads us into the bosom of Abraham.
And indeed of the arts of this life, each severally takes and keeps one good work; as agriculture the feeding us; weaving the clothing us; or rather not so much as this; for it is in no wise sufficient alone to contribute to us its own part. And, if thou wilt, let us try agriculture first. Why, if it hath not the smith's art, that it may borrow from it spade, and ploughshare, and sickle, and axe, and other things besides; and that of the carpenter, so as both to frame a plough, and to prepare a yoke and a cart to bruise the ears; and the currier's, to make also the leathern harness; and the builder's, to build a stable for the bullocks that plough, and houses for the husbandmen that sow; and the woodman's, to cut wood; and the baker's after all these, it is found nowhere.
So also the art of weaving, when it produces anything, calls many arts, together with itself, to assist it in the works set before it; and if they be not present and stretch forth the hand, this too stands, like the former, at a loss. And indeed every one of the arts stands in need of the other.
But when alms is to be given, we want nothing else, but the disposition only is required. And if thou say that money is needed, and houses and clothes and shoes; read those words of Christ, which He spake concerning the widow,26 and cease from this anxiety. For though thou be exceedingly poor, and of them that beg, if thou cast in two mites, thou hast effected all; though thou give but a barley cake, having only this, thou art arrived at the end of the art.
This science then let us receive, and bring to perfection. For truly it is a better thing to know this, than to be a king, and to wear a diadem. For this is not its only advantage, that it needs not other things, but it is also able to accomplish a variety of objects, both many and of all kinds. Thus, it both builds houses that continue forever in Heaven; and teaches them that have brought it to perfection, how they may escape the never-dying death; and bestows on thee treasures that are never spent, but escape all injury, both from robbers, and from worms, and from moths, and from time.
And yet, were it but for the preservation of wheat that any one had taught thee this, what wouldest thou not have given, to be able to preserve thy grain unconsumed for many years? But behold, this teaches thee the same not concerning wheat only, but concerning all things, and shows how both thy goods and thy soul and thy body may remain unconsumed.
And why should we rehearse particularly all the good effects of this art? For this teaches thee how thou mayest become like God, which is the sum of all good things whatsoever.
Seest thou how the work thereof is not one, but many? Without needing any other art, it builds houses, it weaves garments, it stores up treasures which cannot be taken from us, it makes us get the better of death, and prevail over the devil; it renders us like God.
What now can be more profitable than this art? For while the other arts, as well as what I have mentioned, both end with our present life, and when the artists are diseased, are found nowhere; and their works have no power to endure, and they need much labor and time, and innumerable other things; this one, when the world hath passed away, then it becomes more than ever conspicuous; when we are dead, then it shines out brighter than ever, and exhibits the works which it hath accomplished. And neither time nor labor, nor any such travail, doth it need; but is active even in thy sickness, and in thine old age, and migrates with thee into the life to come, and never forsakes thee. This makes thee to surpass in ability both sophists and rhetoricians. For such as are approved in those arts have many to envy them, but they who shine in this have thousands to pray for them. And those indeed stand at men's judgment seat, pleading for them that are wronged, and often too for them that do wrong; but this virtue stands by the judgment seat of Christ, not only pleading, but persuading the judge Himself to plead for him that is judged, and to give sentence in his favor: though his sins have been very many, almsgiving doth both crown and proclaim him. For "give alms, and all things shall be clean."27
And why do I speak of the things to come? Since in our present life, should we ask men which they would rather, that there should be many sophists and rhetoricians, or many that give alms, and love their fellow men, thou wilt hear them choose the latter; and very reasonably. For if oratory were taken away, our life will be nothing the worse; for indeed even before this, it had continued a long time; but if thou take away the showing of mercy, all is lost and undone. And as men could not sail on the sea, if harbors and roadsteads were blocked up; so neither could this life hold together, if thou take away mercy, and compassion, and love to man.
6. Therefore God hath not at all left them to reasoning only, but many parts thereof He hath implanted by the absolute power of nature herself. Thus do fathers pity children, thus mothers, thus children parents; and not in the case of men only, but of all the brutes also; thus brothers pity brothers, and kinsmen, and connexions; thus man pities man. For we have somewhat even from nature prone to mercy.
Therefore also we feel indignation in behalf of them that are wronged, and seeing men killed we are overcome, and beholding them as they mourn, we weep. For because it is God's will that it should be very perfectly performed, He commanded nature to contribute much hereunto, signifying that this is exceedingly the object of His care.
Considering then these things, let us bring both ourselves and our children and them that pertain to us unto the school of mercy, and this above all things let man learn, since even this is man. "For a man is a great thing, and a merciful man a precious thing;"28 so that unless one hath this, one hath fallen away even from being a man. This renders them wise. And why marvel at this being man? This is God. For, "be ye," saith He, "merciful as your Father?"29
Let us learn therefore to be merciful on all accounts, but chiefly, because we too need much mercy. And let us reckon ourselves as not even living, at such time as we are not showing mercy. But by mercy, I mean that which is free from covetousness. For if he that is contented with his own, and imparts to no man, is not merciful, how is he that takes the goods of other men merciful, though he give without limit? For if merely to enjoy one's own be inhumanity, much more to defraud others. If they that have done no wrong are punished, because they imparted not, much more they, who even take what is others.
Say not therefore this, "One is injured, another receives mercy." For this is the grievous thing. Since it were meet that the injured should be the same with the receiver of the mercy: but now, while wounding some, thou art healing them whom thou hast not wounded, when thou oughtest to heal the same; or rather not so much as to wound them. For he is not humane who smites and heals, but he that heals such as have been smitten by others. Heal therefore thine own evil acts, not another's; or rather do not smite at all, nor cast down (for this is the conduct of a mocker), but raise up them that are cast down.
For neither is it possible by the same measure of almsgiving to cure the evil result of covetousness. For if thou hast unjustly gotten a farthing, it is not a farthing that thou needest again for almsgiving, to remove the sin that comes of thine unjust gain, but a talent. Therefore the thief being taken pays fourfold, but he that spoils by violence is worse than he that steals. And if this last ought to give fourfold30 what he stole, the extortioner should give tenfold and much more; and it is much if even so he can make atonement for his injustice; for of almsgiving not even then will he receive the reward. Therefore saith Zacchaeus, "I will restore what I have taken by false accusation fourfold, and the half of my goods I will give to the poor."31 And if under the law one ought to give fourfold, much more under grace; if he that steals, much more he that spoils by violence. For besides the damage, in this case the in-suit too is great. So that even if thou give an hundredfold, thou hast not yet given the whole.
Seest thou how not without cause I said, If thou take but a farthing by violence, and pay back a talent, scarcely even so dost thou remedy it? But if scarcely by doing this; when thou reversest the order, and hast taken by violence whole fortunes, yet bestowest but little, and not to them either that have been wronged, but to others in their stead; what kind of plea wilt thou have? what favor? what hope of salvation?
Wouldest thou learn how bad a deed thou doest in so giving alms? Hear the Scripture that saith, "As one that killeth the son before his father's eyes, so is he that bringeth a sacrifice of the goods of the poor."32
This denunciation then let us write in our minds before we depart, this let us write on our walls, this on our hands, this in our conscience, this everywhere; that at least the fear of it being vigorous in our minds, may restrain our hands from daily murders. For extortion is a more grievous thing than murder, consuming the poor man by little and little.
In order then that we may be pure from this pollution, let us exercise ourselves in these thoughts, both by ourselves and to one another. For so shall we both be more forward to show mercy, and receive undiminished the reward for it, and enjoy the eternal good things, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ; to whom be glory and might with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, now and always, and world without end. Amen.