Early Church Fathers
John xiii. 36.-"Simon Peter said unto Him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go thou canst not follow Me now, but thou shalt follow Me afterwards."
[1.] A Great thing1 is love, and stronger than fire itself, and it goeth up to the very heaven; there is2 no hindrance which can restrain its tearing3 force. And so the most fervent Peter, when he hears, "Whither I go ye cannot come," what saith he? "Lord, whither goest thou?" and this he said, not so much from wish to learn, as from desire to follow. To say openly, "I go," he dared not yet, but, "Whither goest thou?" Christ answered, not to his words, but to his thoughts. For that this was his wish, is clear from what Christ said, "Whither I go thou canst not follow Me now." Seest thou that he longed for the following Him, and therefore asked the question? And when he heard, "thou shalt follow Me afterwards," not even so did he restrain his longing, and, though he had gainedgood hopes, he is so eager as to say,
Ver. 37. "Why cannot I follow Thee now? I will lay down my life for Thee."
When he had shaken off the dread of being the traitor, and was shown to be one of His own,4 he afterwards asked boldly himself, while the others held their peace. "What sayest thou, Peter? He said, `thou canst not,' and thou sayest, `I can'? Therefore thou shalt know from this temptation that thy love is nothing without the presence of the impulse5 from above." Whence it is clear that in care for him He allowed even that fall. He desired indeed to teach him even by the first words, but when he continued in his vehemence, He did not indeed throw or force him into the denial, but left him alone, that he might learn his own weakness. Christ had said that He must be betrayed; Peter replied, "Be it far from Thee, Lord; this shall not happen unto Thee." (Matt. xvi. 22.) He was rebuked, but not instructed. On the contrary, when Christ desired to wash his feet, he said, "Thou shall never wash my feet."6 (Ver. 8.) Again, when he hears, "Thou canst not follow Me now," he saith, "Though all deny Thee, I will not deny Thee." Since then it was likely that he would be lifted up to folly by his practice of contradiction, Jesus next teacheth him not to oppose Him. This too Luke implies, when he telleth us that Christ said, "And I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not" (Luke xxii. 32); that is, "that thou be not finally lost." In every way teaching him humility, and proving that human nature by itself is nothing. But, since great love made him apt for contradiction, He now sobereth him, that he might not in after times be subject to this, when he should have received the stewardship of the world, but remembering what he had suffered, might know himself. And look at the violence of his fall; it did not happen to him once or twice, but he was so beside himself, that in a short tithe thrice did he utter the words of denial, that he might learn that he did not so love as he was loved. And yet, to one who had so fallen He saith again, "Lovest thou Me more than these?" So that the denial was caused not by the cooling of his love, but from his having been stripped of aid from above. He accepteth then Peter's love, but cutteth off the spirit of contradiction engendered by it. "For if thou lovest, thou oughtest to obey Him who is beloved. I said7 to thee and to those with thee, `Thou canst not'; why art thou contentious? Knowest thou what a thing it is to contradict God? But since thou wilt not learn in this way that it is impossible that what I say should not come to pass, thou shalt learn8 it in the denial." And yet this appeared to thee to be much more incredible. For this thou did, not even understand, but of that thou hadst the knowledge9 in thy heart. Yet still that came to pass which was not even10 expected.
"I will lay down my life for Thee." For since he had heard, "Greater love than this hath, no man,"11 he straightway sprang forward, insatiably eager and desirous to reach even to the highest pitch of virtue. But Christ, to show that it belonged to Himself alone to promise these things with authority, saith,
Ver. 38. "Before the cock crow."12
That is, "now"; there was but a little interval. He spake when it was late at night, and the first and second watch was past.
Chap. xiv. ver. 1. "Let not your heart be troubled."
This He saith, because it was probable that when they heard they would be troubled. For if the leader of their band, one so entirely fervent, was told that before the cock crew he should thrice deny his Master, it was likely that they would expect to have to undergo some great reverse, sufficient to bend even souls of adamant. Since then it was probable that they considering these things would be astounded, see how He comforteth them, saying, "Let not your heart be troubled." By this first word showing the power of His Godhead, because, what they had in their hearts He knew and brought to light.
"Ye believe in God, believe also in Me." That is, "All dangers shall pass you by, for faith in Me and in My Father is more powerful than the things which come upon you, and will permit no evil thing to prevail against you." Then He addeth,
Ver. 2. "In My Father's house are many mansions."
As He comforteth Peter when bewildered13 by saying, "but thou shall follow afterwards," so also He gives this glimpse of hope to the others. For lest they should think that the promise was given to him alone, He saith, "In My Father's house are many mansions."
"If it were not so I would have said to you, I go14 to prepare a place for you."
That is, "The same place which receiveth Peter shall receive you." For a great abundance of dwellings is there, and it may not be said that they need preparation. When He said, "Ye cannot follow Me now," that they might not deem that they were finally cut off, He added,
Ver. 3.15 "That where I am, there ye may be also." "So earnest have I been concerning this matter,16 that I should already have been given up to it,17 had not preparation been made long ago for you." Showing them that they ought to be very bold and confident. Then that He may not seem to speak as though enticing them, but that they may believe the thing to be so, He addeth,
[2.] Ver. 4. "And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know."
Seest thou that He giveth them proof that these things were not said without a meaning? And He used these words, because He knew in Himself that their souls now desired to learn this. For Peter said what he said, not in order to learn, but that he might follow. But when Peter had been rebuked, and Christ had declared18 that to be possible which for the time seemed impossible,19 and when the apparent impossibility led him to desire to know the matter exactly, therefore He saith to the others, "And the way ye know." For as when He hath said, "Thou shalt deny Me," before any one spake a word, searching into their hearts, He said, "Be not troubled," so here also by saying "Ye know," He disclosed the desire which was in their heart, and Himself giveth them an excuse for questioning. Now the, "Whither goest Thou?" Peter used from a very loving affection, Thomas from cowardice.
Ver. 5. "Lord,20 we know not whither Thou goest."21
"The place," he saith, "we know not, and how shall we know the way leading thither?" And observe with what submissiveness he speaks; he saith not, "tell us the place," but, "we know not whither Thou goest"; for all had long yearned to hear this. If the Jews questioned among themselves when they heard (of His departure), although desirous to be rid of Him much more would those desire to learn, who wished never to be separated from Him. They feared therefore to ask Him, but yet they asked Him, from their great love and anxiety. What then saith Christ?
Ver. 6. "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me."
"Why then, when He was asked by Peter, `Whither goest Thou,' did He not say directly, `I go to the Father, but ye cannot come now'? Why did He put in a circuit of so many words, placing together questions and answers? With good reason He told not this to the Jews; but why not to these?" He had indeed said both to these and to the Jews, that He came forth from God, and was going to God, now He saith the same thing more clearly than before. Besides, to the Jews He spake not so clearly; for had He said, "Ye cannot come to the Father but by Me," they would straightway hard deemed the matter mere boasting; but now by concealing this, He threw them22 into perplexity. "But why," saith some one, "did He speak thus both to the disciples and to Peter?" He knew his great forwardness, and that he would by reason of this23 the more press on and trouble Him; in order therefore to lead him away, He hideth the matter. Having then succeeded in what He wished by the obscurity and by veiling His speech, He again discloseth the matter. After saying, "Where I am, no man can come," He addeth, "In My Father's house are many mansions"; and again, "No man cometh to the Father but by Me." This He would not tell them at first, in order not to throw them into greater despondency, but, now that He hath soothed them, He telleth them. For by Peter's rebuke He cast out24 much of their despondency; and dreading lest they should beaddressed in the same way, they were the more restrained. "I am the Way." This is the proof of the, "No man cometh to the Father but by Me";25 and, "the Truth, and the Life," of this, "that these things shall surely be." "There is then no falsehood with Me, if I am `the Truth'; if I am `Life' also, not even death shall be able to hinder you from coming to Me. Besides; if I am `the Way,' ye will need none to lead you by the hand; if I am also `the Truth,' My words are no falsehoods; if I am also `Life,' though ye die ye shall obtain what I have told you." Now His being "the Way," they both understood and allowed, but the rest they knew not. They did not indeed venture to say what they knew not. Still they gained great consolation from His being "the Way." "If," saith He, "I have sole authority to bring26 to the Father, ye shall surely come thither; for neither is it possible to come by any other way." But by saying before, "No man can come to Me except the Father draw him"; and again, "If I be lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men unto Me" (c. xii. 32); and again, "No man cometh to the Father but by Me" (c. xiv. 6); He showeth Himself equal to Him who begat Him. But how after saying, "Whither I go ye know, and the way ye know," hath He added,
Ver. 7. "If ye had known Me, ye should have known My Father also; and from henceforth ye know Him, and have seen Him"?
He doth not contradict Himself; they knew Him indeed, but not so as they ought. God they knew, but the Father not yet. For afterwards, the Spirit having come upon them wrought27 in them all knowledge. What He saith is of this kind. "Had ye known My Essence and My Dignity, ye would have known that of the Father also; and henceforth ye shall know Him, and have seen Him," (the one belonging to the future, the other to the present,) that is, "by Me." By "sight," He meaneth knowledge by intellectual perception. For those who are seen we may see and not know; but those who are known we cannot know and not know. Wherefore He saith, "and ye have seen Him"; just as it saith, "was seen also of Angels." (1 Tim. iii. 16.) Yet the very Essence was not seen; yet it saith that He "was seen," that is, as far as it was possible for them to see. These words are used, that thou mayest learn that28 the man who hath seen Him29 knoweth Him who begat Him. But they beheld Him not in His unveiled Essence, but clothed with flesh. He is wont elsewhere to put "sight" for "knowledge"; as when He saith,"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."(Matt. v. 8.) By "pure," He meaneth not those who are free from fornication only, but from all sins. For every sin brings filth upon the soul.
[3.] Let us then use every means to wipe off the filthiness. But first the font cleanseth, afterwards other ways also, many and of all kinds. For God, being merciful, hath even after this30 given to us various ways of31 reconciliation, of all which the first is that by alms-doing. "By alms-deeds," it saith, "and deeds of faith sins are cleansed away." (Ecclus. iii. 30.) By alms-doing I do not mean that which is maintained by injustice, for this is not alms-doing, but savageness and inhumanity. What profits it to strip one man and clothe another? For we ought to begin the action with mercy, but this is inhumanity. If we give away everything that we have got from other people, it is no gain to us. And this Zacchaeus shows, who on that occasion said, that he propitiated God by giving four times as much as he had taken. (Luke xix. 8.) But we, when we plunder unboundedly, and give but little, think that we make God propitious, whereas we do rather32 exasperate Him. For tell me, if thou shouldest drag a dead and rotten ass from the waysides and lanes, and bring it to the altar, would not all stone thee as accursed and polluted?33 Well then, if I prove that a sacrifice procured by plunder is more polluted than this, what defense shall we obtain? Let us suppose that some article has been obtained by plunder, is it not of fouler scent than a dead ass? Wouldest thou learn how great is the rottenness of sin? Hear the Prophet saying, "My wounds stank, and were corrupt." (Ps. xxxviii. 5, Ps. xxxviii. 5 LXX.) And dost thou in words entreat God to forget thy misdeeds, and dost thou by what thou thyself doest, robbing and grasping, and placing thy sin upon the altar, cause Him to remember them continually? But now, this is not the only sin, but there is one more grievous than this, that thou defilest the souls of the saints.34 For the altar is but a stone, and is consecrated, but they ever bear with them Christ Himself; and darest thou to send thither any of such impurity? "No," saith one, "not the same money, but other." Mockery this, and trifling. Knowest thou not, that if one drop of injustice fall on a great quantity of wealth, the whole is defiled? And just as a man by casting dung into a pure fountain makes it all unclean, so also in the case of riches, anything ill-gotten entering in makes them to be tainted with the ill savor from itself. Then we wash our hands when we enter into church, but our hearts not so. Why, do our hands send forth a voice? It is the soul that utters35 the words: to that God looketh; cleanness of the body is of no use, while that is defiled. What profits it, if thou wipe clean thine outward hands, while thou hast those within impure? For the terrible thing and that which subverts all good is this, that while we are fearful about trifles, we care not for important matters. To pray with unwashed hands is a matter indifferent; but to do it with an unwashed mind, this is the extreme of all evils. Hear what was said to the Jews who busied themselves about such outward impurities. "Wash thine heart from wickedness, how long shall there be in thee thoughts of thy labors?"36 (Jer. iv. 14.) Let us also wash ourselves, not with mire, but with fair water, with alms-doing, not with covetousness. First get free from rapine, and then show forth alms-deeds. Let us "decline from evil, and do good." (Ps. xxxvii. 27.) Stay thy hands from covetousness, and so bring them to alms-giving. But if with the same hands we strip one set of persons,37 though we may not clothe the others with what has been taken38 from them, yet we shall not thus escape punishment. For that which is the groundwork39 of the propitiation is made the groundwork of all wickedness. Better not show mercy, than show it thus; since for Cain also it had been better not to have40 brought his offering at all. Now if he who brought too little angered God, when one gives what is another's, how shall not he anger Him? "I commanded thee," He will say, "not to steal, and honorest thou Me from that thou hast stolen? What thinkest thou? That I am pleased with these things?" Then shall He say to thee, "Thou thoughtest wickedly that I am even such an one as thyself; I will rebuke thee, and set before thy face thy sins." (Ps. l. 21, Ps. l. 21 LXX.) But may it not come to pass that any one of us hear this voice, but having wrought pure alms-deeds, and having our lamps burning, so may we enter into the bride-chamber by the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with the Father and the Holy Ghost41 be glory for ever and ever. Amen.