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Chapter 16

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The leaven of the Pharisees. The questioning in Caesarea.

The rebuking of Peter who objected that Christ would suffer.

1. The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting Him, asked that He show them a sign from heaven. Although the Pharisees and Sadducees were at odds over their teachings, they conspired together against Christ. They ask for a sign from heaven, such as making the sun or the moon stand still, as they believed that signs on earth were by demonic power and by Beelzebub. But they were mindless not to remember that even Moses in Egypt did many signs on the earth and that the fire from heaven which descended on Job’s flocks was from the devil. So, then, not all things from heaven are of God and neither are all things on the earth of the demons.

2-4. He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and threatening. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? He reproves them for their request, the purpose of which was only to test, and He calls them hypocrites, saying, "As it is with the phenomena of the sky where the sign of a storm differs from the sign of calm weather, and one who sees the sign of a storm would not expect calm weather, nor would one seeing the sign of calm weather expect a storm, so too must you think about Me. For this time of My appearing differs from that which is to come. Now there is need for signs on earth, but signs in heaven are reserved for that time when the sun will be extinguished, the moon will be hidden, and the heavens will be changed." A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign: and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah. And He left them and departed. He calls them "a wicked generation" for tempting Him, and "adulterous" for deserting God and going over to the devil’s side. Although they asked for a sign from heaven, He gives only the sign of Jonah, which is, that for three days He will be in the belly of the great whale of death, and then He will rise. Yet you might say that this sign too is from heaven, for at His death the sun was darkened and all creation was changed. Mark the words "there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah." It was for them that the signs were given, that is, the signs took place for their sakes, yet they did not believe. This is why He left them as incurable and departed.

5-6. And when His disciples were come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. Just as leaven is both sour and old, so too the sour teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees, with its moldering traditions of the elders, ate away at souls. And just as leaven is a mixture of water and flour, so the teaching of the Pharisees is a mixture of their speech and their corrupted life. He did not say openly to them, "Beware of the teaching of the Pharisees," so that He might remind them of the signs done with the loaves.

7-12. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread. But Jesus, aware of this, said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread? Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets (kophinoi) ye took up? Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets (spyridas) ye took up? How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees? Then understood they how that He bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. They thought that He was telling them to guard themselves against the stain of Jewish food, which is why they discussed among themselves that they had not brought any bread. He upbraids them for being mindless and of little faith. They were mindless by not remembering how many He had fed with how many loaves; they showed little faith by not believing that Christ Himself could provide bread even if they had not bought any bread from the Jews. As He rebuked them rather sharply — for meekness is not good on every occasion — they immediately understood that by "leaven" He meant "teaching"; such is the effect of a judicious rebuke on any occasion.

13. When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am? The evangelist mentions the founder of the city, Philip, because there is another Caesarea, of Strato, and it was not in the latter, but in the former, that Christ asked them the question. He leads the disciples far away from the Jews so that they could speak boldly without fear of anyone. First He asks for the opinion of the multitude so that the disciples would be directed upwards to a greater understanding and not fall into the same lowliness of understanding as that of the people. He does not ask them, "Who do the Pharisees say that I am?" but "Who do men say?" referring to the guileless multitude.

14. And they said, Some say that Thou art John the Baptist: some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. Among those who called Him John was Herod, who thought that John after rising from the dead had also received the gift of working miracles. Those who thought He was Elijah did so because of the way in which Christ rebuked and because Elijah was expected to return. Those who thought He was Jeremiah, did so because of His natural wisdom acquired without any instruction. For while Jeremiah was yet a child, he was commanded to prophesy.

15-16. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. Once again Peter leaps forward with fervor and confesses that He is truly the Son of God. He did not say, "Thou art the anointed one, a son of God," without the article "the," but with the article, "the Son," that is, He Who is the One and the Only, not a son by grace, but He Who is begotten of the same essence as the Father. For there were also many other christs, anointed ones, such as all the priests and kings; but the Christ, with the article, there is but One.

17. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar Jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father Who is in heaven. He calls Peter blessed for having received knowledge by divine grace. And by commending Peter, He thereby shows the opinions of other men to be false. For He calls him "Bar Jona," that is, "son of Jona," as if saying, "Just as you are the son of Jona, so am I the Son of My Father in heaven, and of one essence with Him." He calls this knowledge "revelation," speaking of hidden and unknown things that were disclosed by the Father.

18. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it. The Lord gives Peter a great reward, that the Church will be built on him. Since Peter confessed Him as Son of God, the Lord says, "This confession which you have made shall be the foundation of those who believe, so that every man who intends to build the house of faith shall lay down this confession as the foundation." For even if we should construct a myriad of virtues, but we do not have as a foundation the orthodox confession, our construction is rotten. By saying "My Church" He shows that He is the Master of all, for the whole universe is the servant of God. The gates of hades are those persecutors who from time to time would send the Christians to hades. But the heretics, too, are gates leading to hades. The Church, then, has prevailed over many persecutors and many heretics. The Church is also each one of us who has become a house of God. For if we have been established on the confession of Christ, the gates of hades, which are our sins, will not prevail against us. It was from these gates that David, too, had been lifted up when he said, "O Thou that dost raise me up from the gates of death" (Ps. 9:13). From what gates, O David? From those twin gates of murder and adultery.

19. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of the heavens: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in the heavens; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in the heavens. He spoke as God, with authority, "I will give unto thee." For as the Father gave you the revelation, so I give you the keys. By "keys" understand that which binds or looses transgressions, namely, penance or absolution; for those who, like Peter, have been deemed worthy of the grace of the episcopate, have the authority to absolve or to bind. Even though the words "I will give unto thee" were spoken to Peter alone, yet they were given to all the apostles. Why? Because He said, "Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted." Also, the words "I will give" indicate a future time, namely, after the Resurrection. "The heavens" also mean the virtues, and the keys to the heavens are labors. For by laboring we enter into each of the virtues as if by means of keys that are used to open. If I do not labor but only know the good, I possess only the key of knowledge but remain outside. That man is bound in the heavens, that is, in the virtues, who does not walk in them, but he who is diligent in acquiring virtues is loosed in them. Therefore let us not have sins, so that we may not be bound by the chains of our own sins.

20. Then charged He His disciples that they should tell no man that He was the Christ. Before the Cross, Christ wanted to obscure His own glory. For if, before the Passion, men heard that He was God and then saw Him suffering, how could they not be scandalized? This is why He hid Himself from the multitude, so that after the Resurrection He might be known without causing any scandal, the Holy Spirit removing all doubt by means of the miracles performed.

21. From that time forth began Jesus to show unto His disciples how that He must go unto Jerusalem and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. To them He foretells the Passion, lest it come upon them unexpectedly and they be scandalized, thinking that He suffered unwillingly and without foreknowing it. When they had heard, in Peter’s confession, that He was the Son of God, then He also revealed the Passion to them. But to the sorrow He adds the joy, that He would rise on the third day.

22. Then Peter took Him and began to rebuke Him, saying, Be it far from Thee, Lord, this shall not be unto Thee. Peter rightly confessed what had been revealed; in what had not been revealed, he erred: that we may learn that Peter did not utter that great truth without God’s help. Not wanting Christ to suffer, and being ignorant of the mystery of the Resurrection, Peter said, "Be it far from Thee, Lord, this shall not be unto Thee."

23. But He turned and said unto Peter, Get thee behind Me, Satan: thou art an offense unto Me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of man. When Peter spoke rightly, Christ called him blessed, but when he was irrationally dismayed, and did not want Him to suffer, then Christ rebuked him and said, "Get thee behind Me, Satan." "Satan" means "the adversary." "Get thee behind Me," that is, do not oppose Me, but follow My will. He calls Peter this because Satan, too, did not wish Christ to suffer. What He is saying, then, is this: with human reasoning you think that suffering does not befit Me, but you fail to understand that by this means God is accomplishing salvation and that this, on the contrary, greatly befits Me.

24. Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man desireth to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. "Then" — when? When He had rebuked Peter. Wishing to show that Peter erred in hindering Him from suffering, He said, "You are hindering Me, but I say to you that not only is My not suffering harmful to you [since without it you cannot be saved], but neither can you be saved unless you yourself also die, nor can anyone else, whether man or woman, rich or poor. He says "desireth’’ to show that virtue hinges on free will and not coercion. He who follows behind Jesus is not he who only confesses Him to be the Son of God, but rather it is he who also undergoes all tribulations and endures them. Christ’s words, "Let him deny himself," indicate utter denial. That is to say, let him not be kindly disposed towards his own body, let him look down on it, just as we have the expression "So and so denied so and so." Therefore no one should have any friendship towards the body, so that he can take up his cross, that is, choose death and even eagerly desire the most ignominious death, for this is what the cross meant to the ancients. But He also said, "Let him follow Me, for many robbers and thieves are crucified but they are not My disciples." So "let him follow," that is, let him also show forth every other virtue. The one who yesterday was dissolute denies himself and today he is temperate. Such was Paul who had denied himself when he said, "I live yet it is no longer I, but Christ that liveth in me" (Gal. 2:20). He that has mortified and crucified himself to the world is he that takes up his cross.

25. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it, and whosoever would lose his life for My sake shall find it. He exhorts us to confess Christ even at the cost of a martyr’s death. For he who denies Christ, finds his life in the present, that is, he saves his own life, but he also loses it later. But he who confesses Christ as a martyr, loses his life, but for Christ’s sake, and so he "shall find it" incorrupt and eternal.

26-27. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then He shall reward every man according to His works. Let us suppose, He says, that you have gained the whole world: what profit is it if your body prospers while your soul suffers ill? That would be as if the lady of the house dressed in tattered rags, while her maidservants were gorgeously arrayed. For in the age to come a man can give nothing in exchange for his soul. Here one can give tears, sighs, and alms, but there, nothing. For it is a Judge who takes no bribes that will receive us, and He judges each one according to his deeds. But He is also awesome and dreadful, and comes in His glory with His angels, not in lowly form.

28. Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, who shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. He had said that the Son of Man would come in His glory. So that they would not disbelieve Him, He says "there be some here" who would see, as far as they were able, the glory of the second coming in the Transfiguration. At the same time He shows what great glory will belong to those who suffer for His sake. For as His flesh shone like lightning on that occasion, so in due proportion will the saints shine forth then at His second coming. Here He is hinting at Peter, James and John, whom He took with Him on the mountain and showed them His kingdom, that is, the future condition in which He would come and both He and the righteous would be radiant. He is saying, therefore, "Some of you here shall not die until you have seen Me transfigured." See, then, that it is those who stand firm in goodness who see Jesus radiantly transfigured, and they are ever advancing in faith and in the commandments.

Subpages (1): Chapter 17