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Third Sunday of the Great Fast

Mk. 8:34-9:1 [Parallels at Mt. 10:38-39, 16:24-28; Lk 9:23-27; 14:26-27]

Patristic Commentary

overview: A false relationship with this world cannot be the basis for a true relation­ship with eternity (augustine). To love God and the world equally is to love neither God nor the world (the so-called sec­ond letter of clement), We provoke God's displeasure when we love God's gifts more than God himself (caesarius of arles). As no one can be a Christian and re­main ashamed of Christ (cyprian), so can no one both avoid suffering and confess Christ as Lord. Finally it is one's own cruci­form body that becomes a cross (tertullian). We are not called, however, to become more burdened by our own crosses than by his (augustine). The right reorder­ing of our earthly loves is made possible only by grace (caesarius of arles). Believers are made able to fulfill this seemingly heavy requirement because his gifts supply the strength for doing his tasks. Rightly under­stood the call to be ready to lose one's life does not encourage masochistic self-hare (augustine). The right enjoyment of things given to us depends upon their virtuous re­ception (clement of alexandria). This is the mystery of the incarnation: His glory was hid in his suffering in the flesh and only gradually began to be fully revealed in his res­urrection (cyril of alexandria). The glory of the Father is beheld in the crucified Son raised from the dead (gregory of nyssa). The absurdity of the crucifixion shows the radical nature of God's love, prov­ing itself by its very implausibility (tertullian).

8;34a Let Him Deny Himself

what seems hard, love makes easy.

augustine: How hard and painful does this appear! The Lord has required that "whoever will come after him must deny him­self." But what he commands is neither hard nor painful when he himself helps us in such a way so that the very thing he requires may be accomplished.... For whatever seems hard in what is enjoined, love makes easy. sermons on new testament les­sons 46.1.

he helps effect what he commands.

caesarius of arles: What he commands is not difficult, since he helps to effect what he commands... .Just as we are lost through loving ourselves, so we are found by denying ourselves. Love of self was the ruin of the first man. If he had not loved himself in the wrong order, he would have been willing to be subject to God, preferring God to self. sermons 159.

8:34b Take Up HisCross

body as cross. tertullian;"Your cross" means your own anxieties and your sufferings in your own body, which itself is shaped in a way already like a cross. on idolatry 12.

bearing with vexation. caesarius OF arles; What does this mean, "take up a cross"? It means he will bear with whatever is troublesome, and in this very act he will be following me. When he has begun to fol­low me according to my teaching and pre­cepts, he will find many people contradicting him and standing in his way, many who not only deride but even persecute him. More­over, this is true, not only of pagans who are outside the church, but also of those who seem to be in it visibly, but are outside of it because of the perversity of their deeds. Al­though these glory in merely the title of Christian, they continually persecute faithful Christians. Such belong to the members of the church in the same way that bad blood is in the body. Therefore, if you wish to fol­low Christ, do not delay in carrying his cross; tolerate sinners, but do not yield to them. Do not let the false happiness of the wicked corrupt you. You do well to despise all things for the sake of Christ, in order that you may be fit for his companionship. ser­mons 159.5.


suffering momentarily. augustine: Turn, rather, to these teachings, my very dear friend: take up your cross and follow the Lord. For, when I noticed that you were being slowed down in your divine purpose by your preoccupation with domestic cares, I felt that you were being carried and dragged along by your cross rather than that you were carrying it. What else does the cross mean than the mortality of this flesh? This is our very own cross which the Lord commands us to carry that we may be as well armed as possible in following him. We suffer momentarily until death is swallowed up in victory. Then this cross itself will be crucified. The cross will be nailed to the fear of God, We would hardly be able to carry it now if it forever resisted us with free and un­fettered limbs. There is no other way for you to follow the Lord except by carrying it, for how can you follow him if you are not his? letters, 243, To laetus."

8;35 Whoever Loses His Life

deflecting self-hate. augustine: This precept by which we are enjoined to lose our life does not mean that a person should kill himself, which would be an un­forgivable crime, but it does mean that one should kill that in oneself which is unduly attached to the earthly, which makes one take inordinate pleasure in this present life to the neglect of the life to come.This is the meaning of "shall hate his life" and "shall lose it." Embedded in the same ad­monition he speaks most openly of the profit of gaining one's life when he says: "He that loses his life in this world shall find it unto life eternal. "letters, 243, to LAETUS.


walking requires Two feet. caesarius of arles: When the Lord tells us in the Gos­pel that anyone who wants to be his follower must renounce himself, the injunction seems harsh; we think he is imposing a burden on us. But an order is no burden when it is given by one who helps in carrying it out. To what place are we to follow Christ if not where he has already gone? We know that he has risen and ascended into heaven; there, then, we must follow him. There is no cause for despair—by ourselves we can do noth­ing, but we have Christ's promise.... One who claims to abide in Christ ought to walk as he walked. Would you follow Christ? Then be humble as he was humble. Do not scorn his lowliness if you want to reach his exaltation. Human sin made the road rough. Christ's resurrection leveled it. By passing over it himself he transformed the narrowest of tracks into a royal highway. Two feet are needed to run along this highway; they are humility and charity. Everyone wants to get to the top—well, the first step to take is hu­mility. Why take strides that are too big for you—do you want to fall instead of going up? Begin with the first step, humility, and you will already be climbing. sermons 159, 1.4-6.


8:36 What Does It Profit One to Gain the Whole World?


the enjoyment OF earthly goods. clem­ent of alexandria: Those who neglect good works may fail to grasp just how much the good work of God has benefited them. Hence they are less capable of pray­ing fittingly so as to receive good things from God. And even if they receive them, they will likely be unaware of what has been given them. And even if they enjoy them, they will not enjoy worthily what they have not understood. For from their lack of knowledge they will not grasp how to use the good things given them. And from their impulsiveness they will remain ignorant of how to avail themselves of the divine gifts offered. stromata 6.14.


inordinate love OF THE world. the so-called second letter of clement: This world talks of adultery and corruption and love of money and deceit, but that world says farewell to these things. We cannot, then, be friends equally of both, but we must say farewell to this to possess the other. We think that it is better to despise the things below, for they are small and passing and perishable, and to love the things which are truly there, things good and imperishable. the so-called second letter OF clem­ent 6.


on rightly loving THE world. caesarius of arles: While there is much in the world to love, it is best loved in relation to the One who made it. The world is beautiful, but much fairer is the One who fashioned it. The world is glorious, but more delightful is the One by whom the world was established. Therefore, let us labor as much as we can, be­loved, that love of the world as such may not overwhelm us, and that we may nor love the creature more than the creator. God has given us earthly possessions in order that we may love him with our whole heart and soul. But sometimes we provoke God's dis­pleasure against us when we love his gifts more than God himself. The same thing hap­pens in human relationships. Suppose some­one gives a special gift to his protege. But the protege then begins to despise the giver, and loves the gift more than the one who gave. Suppose he comes to think of the giver no longer as friend but enemy. Just so it is with our relationship with God. We love more those who love us for ourselves rather than our gifts. So God is known to love those who love him more than the earthly gifts he gives. sermons 159.6.


8;38a Whoever Is Ashamed of Me


the contempt OF shame. tertullian; The faithful are not ashamed that the Son of God was crucified. Hence they are shame­less in a good sense through their contempt of shame, and foolish in a happy sense. The crucifixion was indeed a shameful event, viewed humanly. Yes, the Son of God died!This is to be believed precisely amid its be­ing an offense to humanity. The Son was buried! He rose from the dead! This fact is made all the more poignant by seeming all the more absurd. But how could any of this be true if he himself was not truly the Onehe made himself known to be? on the flesh of christ 5.


facing persecution. tertullian: If I avoid suffering, I am ashamed to confess:

"Blessed are they who suffer persecution for my name's sake."Unhappy, therefore, are they who, by running away, refuse to suffer as God at times requires. "He who shall en­dure to the end shall be saved." How then, when you ask me to flee, would I be endur­ing to the end? flight in time of persecu­tion 7.


on being unashamed. cyprian: Does he think himself a Christian who is either ashamed or fears to be a Christian? How can he be with Christ, who either blushes or fears to belong to Christ? the lapsed 28.


8:38b When He Comes in the Glory of His Father


the glory OF god hid IN suffering.

cyril of alexandria: He who as God was beyond suffering, suffered in his own flesh as a human being. When he became flesh, being God, he did not in any way cease to be God. Precisely as he entered into the created order, he remained above creation. He remained as giver of the law when he came to serve "under the law."He retained the inviolable divine dignity precisely when he took on "the form of a slave." It was precisely as only begotten Son that he became "the firstborn among many brothers," while still remaining the only begotten. So why should it seem so strange that he should suffer in the flesh according to his humanity, even while tran­scending suffering according to his divinity? Thus the ever astute Paul says that the Word himself who is "in the form of God"and equal to God the Father "became obe­dient even unto death, death of the cross," letters, 55, To anastasius and the monks.


his undivided glory. gregory OF nyssa: The Son does not divide the glory with the Father, but receives the glory of the Father in its entirety, even as the Father re­ceives all the glory of the Son. against eunomius 2.6.

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