Patristic Lectionary—21 September 2020, St. Matthew, Apostle, Evangelist

Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, I occasionally post selections from Durham University’s two-year lectionary for the Divine Office that draws mostly from patristic writings.  The lectionary was initially edited by Stephen Mark Holmes (University of Edinburgh School of Divinity) and subsequently re-edited and formatted by Michele Freyhauf (Durham University).  Click here for the link to the lectionary.]

Patristic Lectionary—21 September 2020, St. Matthew, Apostle, Evangelist

[The image is of Andrea di Lione’s painting, “Tobit Burying the Dead” (1640s).  Tobit (the cloaked figure) directs the burial of Jews Tobit 2:7) killed by Sennacherib and in defiance of Sennacherib’s orders that the murdered Israelites were to be left un-buried (Tobit 1:17-20).]

Tobit 2:1 – 3:6

The Troubles of Tobit the Righteous and His Speech

When I arrived home and my wife Anna and my son Tobias were restored to me, at the feast of Pentecost, which is the sacred festival of the seven weeks, a good dinner was prepared for me and I sat down to eat. Upon seeing the abundance of food I said to my son, “Go and bring whatever poor man of our brethren you may find who is mindful of the Lord, and I will wait for you.” But he came back and said, “Father, one of our people has been strangled and thrown into the marketplace.” So before I tasted anything I sprang up and removed the body to a place of shelter until sunset. And when I returned I washed myself and ate my food in sorrow. Then I remembered the prophecy of Amos, how he said, “Your feasts shall be turned into mourning, and all your festivities into lamentation.” And I wept.

When the sun had set I went and dug a grave and buried the body. And my neighbours laughed at me and said, “He is no longer afraid that he will be put to death for doing this; he once ran away, and here he is burying the dead again!” On the same night I returned from burying him, and because I was defiled I slept by the wall of the courtyard, and my face was uncovered. I did not know that there were sparrows on the wall and their fresh droppings fell into my open eyes and white films formed on my eyes. I went to physicians, but they did not help me. Ahikar, however, took care of me until he went to Elymais.

Then my wife Anna earned money at women’s work. She used to send the product to the owners. Once when they paid her wages, they also gave her a kid; and when she returned to me it began to bleat. So I said to her, “Where did you get the kid? It is not stolen, is it? Return it to the owners; for it is not right to eat what is stolen.” And she said, “It was given to me as a gift in addition to my wages.” But I did not believe her and told her to return it to the owners; and I blushed for her. Then she replied to me, “Where are your charities and your righteous deeds? You seem to know everything!”

Then in my grief I wept, and I prayed in anguish, saying, “Righteous art thou, O Lord; all thy deeds and all they ways are mercy and truth, and thou dost render true and righteous judgment for ever. 

Remember me and look favourably upon me; do not punish me for my sins and for my unwitting offences and those which my fathers committed before thee. For they disobeyed thy commandments, and thou gavest us over to plunder, captivity, and death; thou madest us a byword of reproach in all the nations among which we have been dispersed. And now thy many judgments are true in exacting penalty from me for my sins and those of my fathers, because we did not keep thy commandments. For we did not walk in truth before thee. And now deal with me according to thy pleasure; command my spirit to be taken up, that I may depart and become dust. For it is better for me to die than to live, because I have heard false reproaches, and great is the sorrow within me.

Command that I now be released from my distress to go to the eternal abode; do not turn thy face away from me.”

St. Maximus of Turin

Sermon 41, 1-2 (Ancient Christian Writers 50 [1989], tr. Boniface Ramsey, O.P.

If you paid close attention to the section of the Gospel that was read, that section would have moved your feelings deeply. For the Lord, as Scripture says, upon having been told by someone that he would follow him wherever he went for the sake of religious service, says instead to another person: Follow me. And, having spurned and disdained the one, he chooses the other in his place – a person who expected nothing and was silent, although a voluntary offering is usually more acceptable, and service is more pleasing when it is spontaneously rendered and not commanded.

Why is the one rejected, then? Why is he refused as if he were unworthy? For the Lord says to him: The foxes have holes and the birds of heaven have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. This is the first thing that we must consider, therefore – that the Lord is not an accepter of persons, for he is a just and even-handed judge, but that he gives love in repayment of virtuous deeds and does not choose the one who is quick with words and slow in devotion but the one whose tongue is silent and whose mind is devout. About such a one the Prophet says: If you practise silence you will appear to be wise, but with regard to the one who speaks at every occasion Scripture has it: not everyone who says to me: Lord, Lord, but the one who does my will. From this we learn, then, that the Lord ought not to be cried out to so much from the mouth as from the heart.

Therefore he takes the one who is silent and who expects nothing. His tongue was silent, to be sure, but he spoke in spirit. For we understand how devoted he was who, as he himself maintained, left his dead father so as to lay hold of the Lord of life. For he says: First permit me to go and bury my father. The one who he had left behind as dead he begs that he might return and bury. Sorrow did not hold him nor death detain him, because he was hastening to life. He had not yet closed the eyes of the dead man, nor yet buried the stiff limbs, But as soon as he learned that the Lord had come he forgot the feeling of filial piety, believing that there was a greater piety in loving Christ more than one’s parents. Perhaps he had read the prophetic passage that says: Forget your people and your father’s house. So he forgot his father and remembered his Saviour. Perhaps he had also heard the Lord’s Gospel words: The one who loves his father or mother more is not worthy of me. Thus, as Tobit is justified because he abandons his meal for the sake of a burial, this man is approved because he abandons the burial of his father for the sake of Christ. For the one is not afraid to pass over his meal because some earthly work intervenes, while the other fears lest some delay cause him to omit the eating of heavenly bread. Hence, although in consideration of Christ we owe burial to everyone, this man forsook his father’s burial out of love for Christ.

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