“So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.” Matthew 1:17
The author has divided the genealogy into three sections, to show that even under three different forms of government the Jews didn’t do any better under any one type. Under all three, an aristocracy, a king and an oligarchy, they exhibited the same evils and took no advantage towards virtue being lead by priests, kings or leaders from the people.
So why then has the author (in the middle portion) passed over three kings and only listed twelve generations in the last section but called it fourteen? The first question I will leave for you to examine, it’s not necessary for me to explain everything to you, so that you do not grow apathetic, but the second I will explain. It seems to me that in this place, he puts in place of a generation both the time of captivity and Christ Himself, connecting Him to us in every means possible. The author does well to remind us of that captivity, making it known how that not even being in bondage could make them become more sober-minded. This further emphasizes the absolute necessity for Christ to come.
“Why then would Mark not do this, or trace Christ’s genealogy at all, but instead glosses over everything?” someone may ask. It seems to me that Matthew was the first to write his Gospel, and thus he writes out the genealogy with exactness and stops where he needs to. But Mark wrote afterwards, which is why he took the shortcut, affirming Matthew’s work to be true and his own opinion as well. Modern Scholars dispute this view of the order of authorship. However this has always been the position of the church about the order and frankly to me it doesn’t seem all that important.
So why then does Luke not only include a genealogy in his gospel but comes up with a greater number of ancestors? This was only natural, Matthew having paved the way, Luke seeks to teach us something extra on top of what Matthew has already written. Also each imitated their own teacher, Luke (who was under Paul) who writes in fullness like a river and Matthew (under Peter) who is a study in brevity.
Why didn’t Matthew say in the beginning of his Gospel “the vision which I saw,” or “the word which came unto me”? Because he was writing to men inclined to listen attentively to him. For the miracles which had been done cried out as a testimony, and the people who had received the word were exceedingly faithful. But in the case of the prophets there were not nearly as many miracles to serve as proof for them. Not to mention the veritable tribes of false prophets who were constantly harassing them, who the people (the Jews that is) gave even more credence to. This is why the prophets began their writings in such a way. The early days of Christianity were plagued by heretics and charlatans trying to push their own agenda and twist the message of Christ. The first seven councils of the Church were held to battle false teachings like what is being mentioned here.
And if miracles were ever done, it was for the sake of the foreigners, to increase the number of the converts and the manifestation of God’s power. This would remind their enemies, if they got lucky and took them captive and thought that they prevailed due to their own god’s might. Like in Egypt, from which no small “mixed multitude” went up, and after that, in Babylon, what happened with the fiery furnace and the dreams. And there were miracles wrought in the wilderness when they were alone, which was also done for us. For just like us, when we were in the wilderness of error, many wonderful works were done, but afterwards they stopped, when in all countries true religion had taken root.
What took place at later times were few and far between, for example, when the sun stood still in it’s course or when it was sent in the opposite direction. This you can see has happened in our case also. Even in our generation, because of a person who surpasses everyone in ungodliness, I mean of course the emperor Julian, many strange things have happened. Keep in mind where and when this message was originally given, Flavius Claudius Julianus was emperor between 361 and 363. He was marked with controversy by church due to his reinstatement of the former pagan religions. For this he earned the nickname “Julian the Apostate”. Catchy! When the Jews were attempting to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, fire burst out of the foundations, and totally stopped them all. When both Julian’s treasurer and his uncle (who was his namesake) made the sacred vessels the subject of their insolence, one was “eaten with worms and died” and the other “burst asunder in the midst”. In addition, the fountains failing, after sacrifices were made there and the famines that came to the cities when the emperor was there, this was a very great sign. For this is the usual way of God, to do such things when evils are multiplied and He sees his own people afflicted, their adversaries intoxicated with their dominion over the people, then he will display His own power; which he did in Persia for the Jews.
So, it is plain to see from what has been said that the author was not acting without a purpose, or by chance when he distributed Christ’s forefathers into three sections. And take note too, where he begins and where he ends. From Abraham to David, from David to the captivity of Babylon then to Christ Himself. From the beginning the author puts them both in close succession, David and Abraham, and also in conclusion he mentions them both in the same way. This is because (as I have already said) it was to these two that promises were made.
But why is it, that the author mentions the captivity of Babylon, but did not mention the descent into Egypt? Because the Jews were no longer afraid of the Egyptians, but the Babylonians they still dreaded. The Egyptian captivity was ancient, but the other still fresh in their minds and had happened more recently. They were carried into Egypt blameless, but into Babylon, transgression was the cause of their captivity.
In regard to their very names also, if you were to attempt to translate their etymologies, even here you can derive a great matter of divine speculation. Here you will find it is of great importance in regard to the New Testament. Abraham, Jacob, Solomon, Zorobabel, it was with specific purpose that these names were given. But to avoid becoming wearisome by running these all down at great length let us pass it by and move on to what is more urgent.
Having mentioned all Christ’s forefathers and ending with Joseph the author does not stop at this, but adds, “Joseph the husband of Mary”, intimating that it was for her sake that he traced Josephs genealogy. Then, for fear that after hearing “husband of Mary” you would think that Christ was born in the natural order of the world, pay attention to how he sets it right by the next statement. Essentially he says, “you have heard of a husband, a mother, a child and His name, now hear the manner of his birth.” Matthew 1:18 “Of what kind of birth are you telling me? You have already mentioned all His ancestors?” “I still wish to tell you the manner of His birth” Do you see how he awakens the hearer? As if he is about to tell something unusual, he promises to tell about the manner afterwards.
See the admirable order of the things he has mentioned so far. He did not proceed directly to the birth, but prepares us first, counting the generations from Abraham, David and the captivity in Babylon. He gives the careful listener reason to consider the times, showing that this is the Christ who was preached by the prophets. For when you have counted the generations and have learned by the times that this is He (that is the Christ) you will be ready to receive the miracle which took place at his birth. So being about to tell of a certain great thing, His birth by a virgin, he first shadows over the statement, till he has listed the generations, spoken of “a husband of Mary” and doesn’t even put a short description of the birth itself, but proceeds to number all the years, reminding the hearer that this is He, the one the patriarch Jacob said would come at length, when the Jewish rulers had come to an end. The one the prophet Daniel had proclaimed before, that He would come after so many weeks. In the book of Danial Chapter Nine there is a prophecy given speaking of 70 weeks (according to most English translations). It is believed that this also is in reference to the coming of Christ. It’s too complicated to list out here, but know that this number given does relate to a prophecy revealing the time of the coming of the Christ. And if you were to count the years spoken of to Daniel by the angel as a number of weeks, you will trace the time of the building of the city to Christs birth, showing that the two things agree with each other.
So how was he born then I ask. “when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph” Matthew 1:18 He does not say “virgin” but mearly “mother” so that his account would be easy to accept. And so having gotten their attention and prepared them to look for some ordinary thing the author amazes everyone with a marvelous fact saying “before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit”. He did not say “before she was brought to the bridegroom’s house” because she certainly would have already been there. It was the custom of the ancients to keep the fiance in their family home Genesis 19:8-14 at least in those places anyway, you may see the same traditions practiced there even today. This is why Lot’s sons-in-law were in his house with him. Mary herself was likely in the home with Joseph in the same manner.
And what is the purpose that she conceive during her engagement and not before? As I have already said, it was in order that what had taken place could be concealed awhile, and that the Virgin might escape every evil suspicion. Joseph, who had every right (above all others) to feel jealousy, is found recieving and cherishing her after her conception rather than making a show of her or doing anything degrading towards her. It is quite clear that he was fully persuaded that this was done by the operation of the Holy Spirit or he would not have kept her with him, ministering to her in all other things. And most properly the author says “she was ‘found’ with child”, the kind of expression that is rightly used in respect to things that are strange, something that has happened beyond all expectation.
Go no further and do not ask for anything more than what has been written. Do not question “but how could this work, with the Spirit overshadowing the virgin?”. For if it is impossible to explain the manner of formation when nature is at work, how can we explain the working of this miracle? To prevent wearying this author, or disturb him by continually asking questions he has told us who worked this miracle and then gotten out of the way. It is as if he is saying “For I know nothing more, but that what was done was the work of the Holy Spirit.”
Shame on those who busy themselves trying to explain this away naturally. If this birth, which has witnesses without number, was foretold so long ago, that was manifested and handled with human hands cannot be explained by any man, what excess of madness do they suffer from who try to rationalize it away? Neither Gabriel nor Matthew were able to say anything more but only that it was the work of the Spirit. But how it was done, or in what manner, neither of them have explained, for it was not possible for either.
Nor should you think that you have learned everything by hearing only “of the spirit”, for we are ignorant of many things even after what we have learned so far. For instance, how the Infinite is in a womb, how He that contains all things is carried unborn by a woman or how the Virgin bears a child and continues a virgin. How I ask you, did the Spirit frame that Temple? How did He take only a part of the flesh from her womb (not all of it) and caused it to grow, fashioning it? That He did come from the Virgins flesh is declared by Gabriel saying “that which was conceived in her” and by Paul who wrote “born of a woman” Galatians 4:4. In this way he silences those who say that Christ came to us through some kind of conduit. But if this true, why the need of a womb? If this was the case, then He has nothing in common with us, his body would have been of some other kind, not the matter which belongs to us. How would he have been descended from David? How was He a rod? How a Son of man? How was Mary His mother? How did he “take the form of a servant” [Philippians 2:7](https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Philippians 2:7&version=NASB) or how was “the Word made flesh” John 1:14″? Why would Paul say to the Romans “from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all” Romans 9:5. So, that He was one of us, of the same substance, born of the Virgins womb, is made clear by all these things and from more besides, but as to HOW these things were done is not shown. So do not inquire, but receive what has been revealed and do not be curious about what is kept secret.
“And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly” Matthew 1:19
Having explained that this was the work of the Holy Spirit, and without cohabitation, he establishes his statement another way. In case any one should say, “Where does this come from? Here he is reinforcing that Mary was a virgin and that Joseph had no physical part in Jesus conception Who has heard or has ever seen any such thing ever happen?” or in order to prevent you from suspecting the disciple having invented all these things to favor his Master, he introduces Joseph as contributing to the proof of the things mentioned by the virtue of what he underwent. In his narrative the author all but says “if you doubt me or suspect my testimony then believe her husband”. For Joseph he says, “her husband, being a righteous man”. By “a righteous man” he means that he is virtuous in all things. For freedom from covetousness is just, as is universal virtue. It is mostly in this latter sense that the Scripture uses the name of justice; as when it says “and that man was blameless, upright” Job 1:1 and again “they were both righteous in the sight of God” Luke 1:6. So being “just” (that is good and considerate) “he planned to send her away secretly”. So the author tells you what took place before Joseph’s being fully informed, that you will not mistrust what was done after he knew. However, a woman in such a position was not only likely to be made a public example of, but the law also commanded that she be punished. Consider that Joseph set aside not only the greater punishment but the smaller one as well (that is the disgrace). He was so far from punishing, he did not even try to make an example of her. Here you see a man possessing self-restraint and freed from the most tyrannical of passions. You know what an immense thing jealousy is, and that is why He said “For jealousy enrages a man, And he will not spare in the day of vengeance.” Proverbs 6:34 Here Chrysostom is denoting that Christ inspired the writer of this proverb and “Jealousy is as severe as the grave” Song of Solomon 8:6. We know as well that many have chosen to give up their lives rather than fall under the suspicion of jealousy. But in the case of Mary and Joseph it was no slight suspicion, the burden of her womb entirely convicting her. Nonetheless Joseph was so free from passion that he was unwilling to hurt the Virgin in even the smallest matter. To have kept her in his house would seem like a transgression of the law, but to expose her and bring her to trial would condemn her to die. So he does none of these things but conducts himself by a higher rule than the law. For grace having come, there will be many examples of that exalted citizenship. Like the sun, though not yet showing his beams, from far off does illuminate more than half the world. Likewise Christ, when about to rise from that womb, even before he came out, shone over all the world. And so, even before her labor, prophets danced for joy and women foretold what was to come even John not yet born, leaped in the womb. Consequently Joseph also exhibited great self-command, neither accusing nor upbraiding his betrothed, but only sought to put her away quietly.
Everything having come to a head, with everyone at their wits end, the angel comes to solve their difficulties. It is worth asking though, why the angel did not speak sooner, before her husband had such thoughts. The angel did not appear until after “he thought on it” and not before, for it says “While he thought on these things the angel came”. And yet he declared his good tidings to her even before she conceived. But this brings up another difficulty; before the angel spoke to Joseph, for what reason was the Virgin silent, who had already been visited by the angel? And why did she not put an end to his questions when she saw her betrothed in distress?
For what reason did the angel not speak before Joseph was troubled? In order to prevent Joseph from not believing the message, and the same thing happen to him as what happened to Zacharias. For once the pregnancy was visible, belief would become easier. But before it was apparent it would have not been as easy to receive the angels message. For this reason too, the Virgin held her peace. She did not think it likely to be credible with her betrothed husband, if she were to declare something unheard of, but rather that it would provoke him all the more, as if she were trying to cover up some secret sin. Since if she herself, who received such great favor from the Lord had reason to doubt saying “How can this be since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:34 how much more would he have doubted? Especially when hearing it from the woman who was under suspicion. So the Virgin says nothing to him, but the angel, at the right time, presents himself to Joseph.
Why then, you may ask, didn’t the angel come to the Virgin after her conception with his good tidings? He did this to avoid her being greatly troubled or agitated. It was likely that she could have desired to harm herself due to the stress and uncertainty, willing to strangle or stab herself rather than endure the disgrace. She was certainly a wondrous woman, Luke points out her excellency saying that when she heard the angels greeting, she did not faint or shrink away, nor did she blindly accept it but “was troubled” wondering “what manner of salutation this might be” Luke 1:29. Now even she, being of such a perfect sensitivity, would have been distracted with dismay at the thought of her shame, never expecting to convince anyone who would listen to her that she had not committed adultery. So to prevent these things, the angel came before the conception occurred. Besides all this, it was fitting that the womb that would carry the maker of all things be without blemish and the soul of the one worthy to become the minister of such mysteries be rid of all anxiety. For these reasons the angel spoke to the Virgin before the conception but waits to speak to Joseph till the time of his trouble.
Many people (of the simpler sort) not understanding what was just explained claim this is a discordance, because Luke says it was to Mary that the Angel gave his good tidings but Matthew says it was Joseph, not knowing that both took place. It would be at least another 35 years before an “official” cannon of scripture would be accepted by the Church. The Gospels (and any scripture) is still being copied by hand and dispersed by messenger. It’s not hard to imagine one town having only Matthews Gospel and another having Luke’s, leading to disagreements and confusion.
So the angel comes, when Joseph is troubled. In addition to the reasons mentioned, the angel shows its self command by deferring his arrival. But when Joseph was almost to the point of action, THEN he presents himself. “But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream” Matthew
And why did he not come openly as he did to the shepherds, Zacharias and the Virgin? Joseph was exceedingly full of faith, and did not need a vision. Mary, who received exceedingly good tidings (greater than what Zacharias received) even before the conception, needed this marvelous vision. Not to mention the shepherds who generally were rather dull and clownish. But take careful note of what Joseph did, after finding his fiance with child. This man’s self control is thoroughly displayed, his words and actions contributing to his faith, his history is freed from suspicion and shows that he felt what likely any husband would feel.
How then does the angel assure him? Hear and marvel at the wisdom of his words. Having arrived the angel says “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife”. Right away he brings David to mind (from who the Christ was to come) and does not allow him to be greatly disturbed, reminding him of his forefathers title and the promise made to his whole race. Why else would he call him “Son of David”?
And by saying “fear not” the angel signifies that Joseph was afraid, afraid that he might give offense to God by retaining an adulteress. If it had not been for this he would not have even thought of casting her out. So in every way the author points out that the angel came from God, making it clear what Joseph had planned to do and what he felt in his mind.
Now having mentioned her name, he did not stop at that, but added also “your wife”. Consider that he would not have called her this if she had been corrupted. The author also calls her “a wife” even though they are only engaged. This is common in the Scripture, for example to call one betrothed “son in law” even before marriage.
But what does it mean when it is said “to take unto you” ? I have tried to use the NASB version wherever possible. However this version was not available in 361AD (ha ha). Most likely the source of Gospels they had were written in Greek. In places Chrysostom seems to be paraphrasing but this could also be chalked up to translation issues. In any case I have attempted to keep the spirit of what is being said accurate and consistent. It means to retain her in his house, for he intended to send her away at this point. The angel is effectively saying “Mary, who you are putting aside, you should keep with you, God having commanded your commitment to her, not merely her parents. And he commits her to you not for marriage, but to dwell with you. My words to you are the Lords command for this commitment”. This is like the way Christ will latter commit her to his disciple. The church has taught from the beginning that Mary was a virgin the rest of her life. The traditional story handed down (note this is a tradition, not dogma or scripture) is that Joseph was a much older widower when he was engaged to Mary. It is also tradition that out of respect for the Mother of God he did not “know” her (in the biblical sense) even after Christ was born. The mentions of Jesus “brothers” use a word in Greek that means ANY family, cousins, half siblings etc. The fact that Jesus commuted his mother to a disciple and not a sibling speaks to the validity of this story.
Then having indirectly introduced the matter at hand the author does not mention the suspicion of her having done something evil, but in a more reverent and respectful manner he lets us know what is going on by mentioning Josephs troubled spirit. It is implied that the very thing that was giving Joseph concern, something he was preparing to cast her out over, this very thing I say was a just cause for him to retain her in his home. This more than totally did away with his distress. This message effectively tells Joseph, “She is not only free from unlawful intercourse, but has even risen above all nature by this conception. So do not only put away your fear, but rejoice more exceedingly ‘for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit'”.
What the angel came and told him was strange, surpassing man’s understanding and above all the laws of nature. How is he supposed to accept and believe these things, receiving a message unlike anything in human history? “By the things that are past (that is history), by these things revealed to him” I would answer. It was for this reason that all the things were laid out, what he thought, felt, feared and was resolved to do, that by these things he might be assured of this point.
Or rather the angel wins Joseph over to acceptance, not only by things from the past only, but also by things that were to come. It is if he says to Joseph “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus Matthew 1:21 So do not think that you will have no part in the ministry of this gift to mankind because he is born of the Holy Spirit. Although you have no part of His birth, the Virgin living untouched and that honor being uninjured, nonetheless the role of a father I give to you, to give Him his name ‘you shall call His name Jesus’. Although this offspring is not yours, you will exhibit a father’s care towards Him. For this reason I give you this name to call Him right off, to connect you with Him who will be born.”
Then to prevent anyone still suspecting Joseph to be the father, listen carefully to what follows. “She shall bring forth a Son”, he does not say “bring forth to YOU” but merely “she shall bring forth” settling it forever, since she did not bear a Son to Joseph but to the whole world.
For this reason as well the angel came bringing His name from Heaven, and by this intimating that this would be a wondrous birth, seeing as it was God Himself who sent the name from above by way of this angel to Joseph. This was not without purpose, but a treasure of ten thousand blessings. This is why the angel also interprets the name, and suggests good hope, once again leading Joseph to belief. To these good tidings we are more likely to be inclined and are all the more fond of their belief.
So having established Joseph’s faith by all history, present, future and the honor given to him, the angel brings up the prophet as well (all in good time), to give his suffrage in support of all these. But before introducing the prophets sayings, he proclaims first the good that will come to all the world through Him. And what are these things? Sins removed and done away with, “He will save His people from their sins”.
Here again this event is signified to be beyond all human expectation. He did not come to save anyone from a visible war, or attacking barbarians, but something far greater than these, from their sins he declares the glad news of deliverance; a work which had never been possible to anyone before. This was during the beginning of the fall of the roman empire, constantly under attack from the neighboring “barbarians” pushing into Romes territory. Really this applies to any people under threat of war or siege.
Buy why, you may ask, did he say “His people” seeming to exclude the Gentiles? The author did this to keep from startling his audience a while longer. If you listen with understanding the author implies the Gentiles as well. For “His people” are not the Jews only, but all who draw near and receive the knowledge that is from Him.
And take note how he also revealed to us His dignity, by calling the Jewish nation “His people”. This is the message of one implying nothing else but that He who is born is God’s child, and that the King of those on high is the subject of that message. For the forgiving of sins belongs to no other power, but only to that single essence. This clearly speaks to the divinity of Christ right in the Gospels. This was a topic fiercely debated by the Church when defending itself from heresies that sprang up constantly in those first centuries.
For as much as we have so far partaken of such a great gift, let us do everything we can to avoid dishonoring such a benefit. For if the way we lived before was worthy of punishment, much more now that we have received this honor and unspeakable benefit. I do not say this for no reason, but because I see many people after their baptism living more carelessly than the uninitiated, having nothing in particular to distinguish them in their way of life. For this reason you see, that it is impossible to see either in the market or in the Church who is a believer and who is not; unless you are present at the time of the mysteries and see who is removed and who remains within. The phrase “mysteries” refers here to Communion. The early church refereed to the sacraments (Baptism, Communion, Marriage, Confession, etc) as “the mysteries” because who can explain how any of it actually worked? It was taken as a matter of faith and simply obeyed. Not until centuries later (after the Schism of 1054) would the Roman Catholic Church try to “explain” some of these mysteries and only succeeded in making them seem arbitrary and man made. In response to this the reformers would demote these important acts of worship to mere symbols or ignore them altogether. Really, they ought to be distinguished not by their location, but by their way of life. For as a man’s outward dignities are naturally discovered by the outward signs that are invested in, so our dignity ought to be discernible by the soul. That is to say, the believer ought to be manifest not only by partaking of communion but also by a new way of life. The believer ought to be the light and salt of the world. But when you do not give light even to yourself, nor bandage up your own festering wounds, how should anyone know you are a believer? Because you have entered the holy waters? Certainly not! This act becomes a storehouse of punishment. For great honor bestowed upon someone who chooses not to live worthy of that honor stores up an increase of vengeance against himself. The believer ought to shine forth not only by what he has received form God, but also by his own contributions; and be discernible by everything, his walk, his look, his clothing, by his voice. I do not tell you this so that you will put on a show, but that by the rule you live your life by you will profit those who see you.
But now, whatever things I look to recognize you by, I find in every way you are distinguished by the opposite. If I try to know your status by your place, I see you spending your day at the horse races, at the theaters, scenes of lawlessness, in wicked assemblies in the market places and in the company of depraved men. If I look to your behavior and temperament, I see you continually laughing to excess, lax in your morality like a grinning and abandoned harlot. Cultural norms in third century suggested a calmer demeanor than what we are accustomed to nowadays. Being overly loud or mirthful was seen as a sign of disrespect. Sounds kind of boring to me but even we have social norms for when it is appropriate to laugh and goof around. If I look to your clothing, I see you dressing no better than someone on the stage, or to your followers, you are leading around parasites and flatterers. Theater would have been one of the only forms of entertainment they had back then, but there seems to be a shocking overlap in the loose morals of that venue and today’s broadcast TV. I take this statement to mean immodest dress, but it could also mean flashy or expensive clothing. If I listen to your words, I hear you say nothing wholesome, nothing necessary, nothing relevant to our way of life. If I look to your table I see a heavy charge that will be levied against you.
So tell me, what can I use to recognize the believer in you, while all these things I have mentioned are evidence to the contrary? And why do I say “the believer”? Because I cannot clearly make out if you are actually a man or not. When you are like an ass, kicking, bellowing like a bull, like a horse neighing after a woman (i.e. something to mate with). When you are a glutton like a bear, pampering your flesh like a mule and bare malice like a camel. When you prowl around like a wolf, wrathful as a serpent, stinging like the scorpion, decietful as the fox, treasuring poison of wickedness like and asp or viper and war against your brethren like an evil demon; how could I count you amonst men, when you bear none of the marks of a mans nature? Why can’t I find a single difference between a man and a wild beast when looking for the difference between the believer and the catechumen. The catechumen were a class of people who had professed their faith in Christ and wanted to join the corporate Church. Often there was a long waiting period (anywhere from six months to three years) that gave time to ensure the applicant was sincere in their faith. Contrast that with today’s church in America where my wife and I accidentally “joined” a church after attending a luncheon. Yikes. What should I call you? A wild beast? Certainly not, the wild beasts posses only some of these defects, but you heap them all together, far surpassing their brutishness. So then should I call you a devil? No, a devil is not enslaved by the rule of his belly, he also does not focus his love on riches. How can we call you a man when you have more faults than the wild beasts or devils?? and if you are not styled after a man, how can we address you as a believer?
And even more grievous than this, that being in such an evil state, we have no idea whatsoever of the deformity of our own soul, nor discern the hideousness of it. And yet when you are sitting at the hairdresser’s and getting your hair cut, you take the mirror, and examine with care the arrangement of your locks, and ask the people around you, even the hairdresser himself, if he has done a good job with what lays on your forehead. And being old, as is often the case, you are not ashamed of going wild with the fancies of youth while of your own soul, Again, this is a cultural norm concerning the behavior of the older generations. They were generally to be revered and act with some kind of dignity befitting their station. Even today we scoff at the “mid life crisis”, trying to recapture their youthful glory days often at comical expense. is not only deformed but transformed into a wild beast and made into some sort of Scylla or Chimaera (according to the heathen fable) without even the slightest perception. OK, these two are nasty even by Greek mythology standards. I can’t even think of a modern equivalent monster to compare them to. Seriously, google it. And yet in the case of the soul there is a mirror as well, a spiritual mirror, far more excellent and more serviceable than the physical one. For it not only shows our own deformity but transforms it too, if we are willing, into surpassing beauty. This mirror is the memory of good men, and the history of their blessed lives; the reading of the Scriptures; the laws given by God. If you are willing once only to look upon the portraiture of these holy me, you will both see the foulness of your own mind and having seen this will need nothing else to be set free from that deformity. He is referring here to an icon, which is a style of painting used from the very beginning of the Church. While still hiding in Catacombs, images of Christ and the saints were painted as a way to remember and honor them (some survive to this day). From those first days these specific images have been reproduced and used as tools to teach and draw people to God. The style of Byzantine icons are still used to this day for that very same reason.Because this mirror is useful for this purpose also, and makes the change easy. So let no man continue in the form of an irrational creature. For if a slave does not enter into the master’s house, how will you, having become like a wild beast, be able to even set foot within those heavenly vestibules. And why do I say a wild beast? No, someone like this who has changed their natural wildness into unnatural gentleness, what sort of plea will they having trained their own natural meekness into savageness, which is contrary to nature? When you exhibit that which is wild by nature in a gentle mood, but present yourself by nature so gentle, are actually unnaturally savage? You can tame a lion and make it obedient, but your own wrath you manifest wilder than any lion. But in this example there are problems, namely the beast is deprived of reason and whats more, it is the most wrathful of all creatures. Nevertheless by excellent wisdom given to you by God, you are able to overcome even that beasts nature. So how is it that you, who are able to gain victory over the nature of a beast, in your own case you give up the admirable quality of free will?
Furthermore, if I were to suggest that you try and make another man more gentle, what I have said would make it seem like this was an impossible thing. You might rightly object that you do not have full control of another persons disposition and that it cannot be totally up to you. But what about your own wild beast, a thing that does totally rely on you? What plea do you have then? What good excuse can you give, trying to tame yourself, regardless that you yourself are like a man turning into a beast, on the lion you are able to give it tameness above it’s nature, but for yourself you are unable to even preserve what is natural? While the wild beasts are brought into our very homes due to your efforts, you are (at your own hand) are cast down from the throne of the kingdom, thrust out into the madness of beasts. So, imagine, if you will, your wrath to be a kind of wild beast, and as much zeal as others give to taming lions, you should give in regards to yourself, making yourself to become gentle and meek. Because, this beastly nature has grievous teeth and claws and if you do not tame it, it will lay waste to all things. Not even the lion or serpent hsa such power to tear you apart as wrath, with its iron talons continually doing so. Since it scars not only the body alone, but the very health of the soul is also corrupted by it, devouring, rending, tearing to pieces with all it’s strength and making it useless for everything. If a man nourishes worms in his entrails, is unable to even breath, his inward parts all wasting away, how can we do anything noble with such a large serpent (that is wrath) eating up everything within us?
How then can we be free of this pest? What if there were a medicine that we could drink that would kill the worms and serpent within us? “And what kind of potion could this be, to have such power” you may ask. The precious Blood of Christ, if it is received with full assurance has the power to extinguish every disease of the soul; this, together with charity given to others and the careful reception of the divine scriptures. By all these things we will be able to subjugate the passions that mar our soul. Only then will we truely live, for we surely are in no better state than the dead. It cannot be, that while these passions live, we should live too, but we most certainly will perish. Unless we first kill them here in this life, they will be sure to kill us in the next; or rather, before that final death, they will exact of us, even here, the highest penalty. Every such passion is cruel, tyrannical and insatiable, never ceasing to devour us every day. Because “Its teeth are the teeth of a lion” Joel 1:6 and really even fiercer that that. For the lion, as soon as he is satisfied, decides to leave the carcass that has fallen in his path; but these passions are never satisfied, not leaving the man who they seized until they have set him near the devil. Their grasp is tyrannical and unshakable. Paul’s service to Christ, and Christ’s unshakable grasp on Paul is mirrored by the hold of these Passions over their victim. Paul rejected hell but was willing to give up his reward for Christs sake Romans 9:3 and the passions plaguing us demand the same devotion. Regardless of your entanglement, lust for women (or men), riches or glory, you laugh in the face of hell and abhor the kingdom of God, working the will of your captor. So do not doubt Paul when he says that he loved Christ. When some are found working in the service of their passions, how can this other’s devotion seem incredible? Our longing for Christ is so feeble in comparison because all our strength is consumed loving our passions. We rob and cheat and are slaves to our excessive pride, what could be more worthless?
Even if you stand out above everyone else you will still be no better than the lowest of men. In fact your own vanity will cause you to sink even lower. Because, when people who would be willing to give you glory and make you famous, actually mock you (because of your greed for their attention), how can this fail to embitter you? Look at anyone who has drawn public condemnation for their ill behavior and tell me that they are not harmed. It’s the same for someone who desires to commit adultery or fornication and is flattered or praised, that praise is actually an additional accusation against them. So for someone who desires glory, when they get it, that acclaim is counted against them.
So why would you bring down upon yourself the opposite thing that you are seeking? If you wish to be glorified, despise glory; this will make you more illustrious than any. Why go though what Nebuchadnezzar endured? He erected a statue, thinking that from an inanimate wooden statue he would gain an increase of fame. That he himself would appear more glorious with the help of something that is lifeless. Do you see the madness of this endeavor, how he sought honor but instead insulted himself? He relys on a lifeless thing to garner honor, rather than the living soul in his own body. Why would he raise this hunk of wood to a place of importance, trying to make himself beautiful, not by improving his way of life, but with planks of wood? This is like a man who thinks he is important, putting on airs because of the flooring in his home, or a beautiful kitchen rather than the fact that he is a man. Too many among us imitate this example. Some look to be admired for their clothing, others for their house, for their mule or chariot or for the style and size of their home. Since they have lost their right to be honored as men, they set about gathering glory from various other places, which is utterly ridiculous.
But as for the great and noble servants of God, they do not shine forth through these methods, but by a means much more becoming of them. They were once captives, slaves, youths, strangers and without any material goods of their own. They proved in their time, to be more worthy of awe than those who had been given an abundance of opportunities. And while Nebuchadnezzar found no satisfaction for his desires or a means to show his greatness through his idol, his endless armies and their leaders, his lands, his abundance of gold and all other pomp, these others, these servants, stripped of all these things, found sufficiency in their own high self-restraint. Through their example they showed up this ruler clothed in purple robes and crown, that his own “glory” was inferior to the ones who had nothing, like how the sun is more radiant than a pearl. These children were led before the whole world, captive and enslaved, and at the very sight of them the king was enraged. They stood there surrounded by all the captains and deputies of the armies, the governors and the whole amphitheater of the devil, with the terrible sound of the crowds pounding in their ears till the noise seemed to reach to heaven. The furnace flared to the very sky, and terrified the crowds who saw it, filling them with dismay. But none of these things dismayed the servants of God, but laughed derisively and scorned it all like merry children. And they exhibited their courage and meekness, crying out in a voice that could pierce that din saying “let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” Danial 3:18. They did not wish to disrespect the king, even by as much as one word, but only declared their faith. This is why they kept their speech short, essentially saying “There is a God in heaven who is able to deliver. Why show us the angry crowds, the fiery furnace, the terrible guards? Our Lord is higher and mightier than all of these”.
Then, as they considered that God may be willing to let them burn, they added ( for fear they would seem to be boasting falsely ) “Even if he does not (save us)”. If they had said “our sin is the reason He has not delivered us” the crowds would not have believed them. This is why they stay silent on the subject, though they speak of it in the furnace, over and over confessing their sins. But in front of the king they would say no such thing, only that even at the pain of death they would not give up their faith. This part of the story comes from the song of the three children. This part of Danial (which is removed from modern protestant bibles) was a part of the Greek Septuagint which would have been the version of the bible being used in those days. You can find the text of it online, but it basically tells the story of what happened INSIDE the fiery furnace and a hymn supposedly sung by the three men inside.
Even though they were slaves in a foreign land, deprived of any good thing, they did not do this for any reward or recompense, but out of love alone. They had lost their country, their freedom and all their possessions. Do not tell me about their honors in the kings courts, as holy and righteous as they were, they would have chosen ten thousand times over to be a beggar at home if they could have taken part in the blessings of the temple. It is written “I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” and “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside”. They would have gladly chosen to be outcasts at home than kings in Babylon. This is made clear by what they declare in the furnace, grieving their continued presence in exile. Although they themselves enjoyed great honors, they were vexed by the calamities that their countrymen suffered. This characteristic is especially common in saints, that no glory, honor or anything else could be more precious than their neighbor’s welfare. See, how even in the furnace they made supplication for the people before God. But we don’t even think about our brethren when we are free and about our business. Earlier, when the king was plagued by his dream, they did not seek to save themselves only but to help the common good. After all this, they do not account themselves to be wholly righteous, but retreat to the faith of their Fathers and offer to the king nothing more than a “contrite spirit”.
So let us imitate the example of these three men, because today also there is a golden image set up before us, the tyranny of Mammon. Mammon is the personification of greed or the love of wealth. But do not be distracted by all the noise, the pomp and circumstance of this world. Even if we have to be thrown into the furnace of poverty, we should choose that rather than worship at the idol of wealth for in that furnace there will be “a moist whistling wind”. Again this is from the song of the three children. The Heavenly presence in the furnace surrounded them with “a moist wind” protecting them from the fire. This imagery is used several times in the song and visited several times by Chrysostom in his message. So do not balk at hearing “a furnace of poverty”, because the three that were thrown into the fire were shown to be glorious, but the ones who worshiped were destroyed. Of course, in that example everything happened all at once, but in our case only part will be accomplished here and the rest on the other side. For those who have chosen poverty as a way to reject the worship of wealth, will be more glorious both here and on the other side, but those people who are rich unjustly here will pay the ultimate penalty.
Lazarus (from the parable of the poor and rich man) went through this furnace of poverty as well and was rendered no less glorious than the three, but the rich man who worshiped at the feet of that idol (i.e. wealth) was condemned to hell. Everything I have laid out here is an analogy like this. In this example the three were thrown into the furnace but sustained no injury, however the people who sat outside were destroyed by the fire. The saints walking through the river of fire will suffer no pain, in fact they will even appear joyful. But those who worshiped the false idol will be totally consumed by fire. So if anyone does not believe in hell, let them take a lesson from the things of this world and the story of the furnace, having no fear of the furnace of poverty, but instead fear the furnace of sin. One is the path to flame and torment, the other dew and refreshment, by one stands the devil, by the other angels wafting away the flame. Again, imagery from the song of the three children, noting the comfort given by God in the form of a comforting, wet wind to protect them from the fire.
So let the rich (who are stoking the furnace of poverty) hear these things. Although those Godly men and women will not be hurt by the fire (“the dew” coming to their aid), the rich will be like kindling to those flames, which they have stoked with their own hands.
Like how the angel went down into the furnace with those three, let us go down with the poor into the furnace of poverty, and by our giving we can make a “dewy air” and waft the flame aside, so that we can partake of their reward as well. Similarly the flames of hell may be scattered by the voice of Christ who said “I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat” Matthew 25:35. This voice will be with us through the flames instead of a “moist wind whistling”. So we should go down into that furnace of poverty with charity, see those with self-restraint walking there across burning coals, see that strange thing, beyond understanding, a man singing praise in the furnace, a man giving thanks in fire, chained to extreme poverty and yet offering praise to Christ. Since those who bear poverty with thankfulness really become equal to those three. There is no flame as terrible as poverty, so likely to light us on fire. But those three were not burned, instead, because of their giving thanks to the Lord they were set free from their bonds at once. In the same way, if you have fallen into poverty and you are thankful, the bonds are loosened and the fire extinguished. Rather (in an even more marvelous way), it is not extinguished but transformed into a fountain of water instead of flame, which is like what happened to those three in the furnace when they enjoyed a pure dew. The fire is may not be quenched, but those who are in it are protected from being burnt. You can see this in the lives of those who abide by the rules of wisdom, because they feel more secure than the rich, even in poverty.
So do not sit idly by, ignoring that furnace and showing no pity towards the poor, otherwise we may share the same fate of those executioners. If you do go down and take your stand with those three, the fire will no longer have any ability to harm you. But if you sit outside that furnace and neglect those in the flames of poverty that same flame will consume you. So go down into that fire so that you will not be consumed, do not sit outside of the fire, or the flame will catch hold of you. If it finds you among the poor, it will leave you untouched, but if you are removed and alienated from them it will run upon you quickly and catch you. So do not keep your distance from those cast into poverty. Do not obey when the devil gives the command to throw those who refused to worship wealth into the furnace of poverty, but be numbered among them who are cast in, so that you may be one of those who are saved and not one of the burned. To associate with the poor and being free from the subjection of the desire for wealth is a very effective fire extinguisher (or dew). People like this are wealthier than anyone, who have put under foot the desire for riches. Like the three who rejected the king and his idol, became more honorable and glorious than the king himself. Like this, if you despise the things of the world will become more honorable than all the world, like those holy men, “of whom the world was not worthy” Hebrews 11:38
So in order to become worthy of the things in Heaven, I bid you laugh to scorn the things of this world. This will make you more glorious here, and able to enjoy the good things to come, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ; to whom be glory and might for ever and ever. Amen