Spiritual Gems from the Gospel of Matthew (Holy Cross Orthodox Press) is a collection of passages from the homilies of St. John Chyrsostom.
Translated and edited by Robert Charles Hill, a prolific and highly regarded translator of the saint’s works, the book includes 80 excerpts from St. John’s homilies on Matthew’s gospel.
Hill’s aim is to provide the reader with those passages in which the saint “gets straight to the heart of Jesus’ message…and applies it to the people of his time and ours.”
Although the book can be read in one sitting, reading each of the homilies one day at a time, and spending some time in reflection on each as part of your spiritual reading, would produce better results.
I am going to take us through nine of these excerpts. I will excerpt these excerpts to pull from each one what I consider to be the heart of the message in each.
We are born with Jesus
“…he was born of the flesh so that you might be born in the spirit, he was born of a woman so that you might cease to be the son of a woman.”
To think of how we are born with Jesus at his birth is a different way of thinking about the Nativity.
St. John suggests that we consider how with the birth of Jesus we are given a life.
This life opens to us the possibility of union with God. Because he was born as a man, we can become through him sons of God.
Like us Jesus, God incarnate, was born of a woman. Like him, and through him, we become adopted sons of God when we are baptized.
To reap the benefits of this sonship, however, we must live a Christian life.
St. John’s approach to the Nativity also is a different way of stating what St. Athanasius states when he says: “… the Son of God became man, so that we might become God.”
The Magi, Mt 2:1-10
“Let us also, then, follow the Magi….Let us keep ourselves from earthly things: though it was in Persia that the Magi saw the star, it was when they left Persia that they spied the Sun of Justice.”
To bring their gifts to Jesus at his birth the Magi had to leave their own land.
Seeing the Son of God in the manger was without a doubt a life-changing experience for the Magi. If they had stayed in Persia, they would not have seen the new-born Son of God.
Like the Magi who followed the star to see and pay homage to the Christ child, we must leave the land we know, the world of earthly things, to follow Christ.
This is difficult for many to do and even accept.
Yet turning away from the ways of the world, the pleasures of the world, is not only for saints, monks, and clergy.
Each Christian must turn away from the world and set his sight on Christ.
There is an important distinction about the world that we must consider. In Scripture, the world has two meanings, one positive and one negative.
The first is the creation of the world by God or God’s creation, which is positive or good.
The second is the world of man, or earthly things, which leads us away from God and so is negative or bad.
St. John teaches us with this passage that the call to self-renunciation for the Christian has been a core element of Christianity from the very birth of Jesus Christ.
I am sure that he would tell us that the models of the Blessed Virgin and St. John the Baptist teach us the same.
He also would reach back into the Old Testament for other models.
But here, he wants us to consider carefully the birth of Jesus Christ.
Satan and temptation, Mt 4:1-11
“We ourselves are not so anxious for our salvation as he is for our ruin….Let us do nothing that pleases him, this being the way to everything pleasing to God.”
It is often said that while we sleep, Satan and demons never sleep. They are always looking for ways to steal our souls.
We have spoken about this before. The Lord was led out into the desert by the Holy Spirit after his baptism where he would be tempted by Satan.
In the desert, Our Lord defeats Satan. In defeating Satan, he shows us how Satan will tempt us and how we are to respond. He shows us how to reject the false promises of Satan.
“Place no faith in him [Satan] at all, block your ears hate his attempts at flattery, and at the time he makes greater promises, then shun him more resolutely.”
The world tempts us with false promises. These include wealth, possessions, pleasures.
Many in the world fall to these temptations. Many in the world today believe that they are in control, not God.
Many reject God’s order to live by their own disorder.
Satan is ruining them because they do everything to please themselves, and so they please Satan instead of living to please God.
A Christian must do everything he can in this life to please God.
To do this, we must be watchful, ever vigilant. We must be more anxious for our salvation than Satan is for our damnation.
Poor in spirit, Mt 5:3
“Why did he not say the humble but the poor? Because the latter is more significant than the former: he is speaking here of those in fear and trembling at God’s command.”
Pride defeated Satan:
“…expecting to become God, he lost even what he had. Since then, this was the capital vice, and the root and source of wickedness.”
Being poor in spirit is the remedy to being prideful:
“Christ prepared a remedy to match the ailment.”
To be poor in spirit does not mean to be financially poor, even though a Christian will have a different attitude toward earthly riches than others.
To be poor in spirit means to turn your life over completely to God.
To be poor in spirit means that we understand that we have nothing without God.
To be poor in spirit means that we put God first, before all else.
To be poor in spirit means that when we put God first, we are rich, although the world may not understand this.
To be poor in spirit means you live by commandments and not the world’s or your own.
To be poor in spirit ensures that you are anxious for your salvation.
Beatitudes, Mt 5:11
“So do not think that the prize is for the poor in spirit only: it is also for those who hunger for righteousness, for the meek and for all the others without exception.”
We cannot live only one beatitude, we must live by all of the beatitudes, which are a summary of Our Lord’s teachings.
If we live each, we will be rewarded with the Lord’s peace in this life and salvation in the next.
Salt of the earth, Mt 5:13
Our Lord tells the apostles, and each of us:
“Your responsibility will be not for your own life but for the whole world: far from sending you to two cities, or ten, or twenty, or even a single nation like the prophets, I am sending you to land and sea and to the whole world, ill-disposed as it is.”
“…those who are gentle and open, merciful and righteous do not confine their good deeds to their own benefit, but ensure that these excellent springs flow over to the benefit of others as well.”
St. John reminds us that commandments of Our Lord are more demanding than those of the Old Testament.
He reminds us that while we have responsibility for our own salvation, we have responsibility for the salvation of others.
Our Lord sent the apostles out into the world to bring the light of Christ to all corners of the earth.
A Christian’s good deeds in these corners of the earth is for the benefit of those in that part of the world.
The Christian, like Christ, will be rejected by others, but he will still live for Christ. And in living for Christ, he will do good for others.
Light of the world, Mt 5:14
A Christian is salt for the earth, but he also is a light for the world. He is a light in the darkness of the world that cannot be hidden:
“Do not have in mind he is saying, in fact, that we are seated here, in tiny corner: you will be as conspicuous as a city on a mountain top, as a lamp in a house shining on a lamp-stand.”
One who lives a Christian life stands out in the world. He is not like others. His life becomes a beacon of light for others.
His light helps illuminate the way of Christ.
Angry words, Mt 5:22
“…why is it, tell me, the commandment seems demanding? Are you not aware that the majority of punishments and sins have their beginning in words?”
The Lord tells us that if we call another a fool we are liable.
He tells us, then that what we say and think about others matters for our salvation.
The monk lives many hours in silence. We too must know when to be silent.
We must know when to speak and when not to speak.
We also must watch what we think and say. We must watch our words, spoken aloud or as thoughts.
When we understand that we can sin with words, we no longer will think the Lord is demanding when he tells us that if we call another a fool we are liable for hell.
One who calls another a fool without repenting is not watchful. One who is not watchful pleases Satan, not God.
Enemies, Mt 5:44
“…he did not bid you simply to love but even to pray….”
Loving your enemies, hard as it is, is not enough.
Our Lord holds us to a higher standard. This is why we pray each night for those who love us and those who hate us.
We cannot respond to hate with hate. We must respond to hate with love.
[Notes from our June 16, 2018, talk]