[Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, I occasionally post selections from a 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. When there are lacunae in the Durham edition, I draw from R. M. Healey’s edition. Click here for the link to his formatting of the lectionary.]
Patristic Lectionary – 1 March 2021 – Monday in the Second Week of Lent
[The image is Jacques Tissot’s “The Rich Young Man Went Away Sorrowful” (“Le jeune homme riche s’en alla triste”) (1886-1896) (Matthew 19:22. See also Mk 10:17-30 and Lk 18:18-27)]
Deuteronomy 24:1 – 25:4
“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favour in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a bill of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter husband dislikes her and writes her a bill of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring guilt upon the land which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance.
“When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, to be happy with his wife whom he has taken.
“No man shall take a mill or an upper millstone in pledge; for he would be taking a life in pledge.
“If a man is found stealing one of his brethren, the people of Israel, and if he treats him as a slave or sells him, then that thief shall die; so you shall purge the evil from the midst of you.
“Take heed, in an attack of leprosy, to be very careful to do according to all that the Levitical priests shall direct you; as I commanded them, so you shall be careful to do. Remember what the LORD your God did to Miriam on the way as you came forth out of Egypt.
“When you make your neighbour a loan of any sort, you shall not go into his house to fetch his pledge. You shall stand outside, and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring the pledge out to you. And if he is a poor man, you shall not sleep in his pledge; when the sun goes down, you shall restore to him the pledge that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you; and it shall be righteousness to you before the LORD your God.
“You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brethren or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns; you shall give him his hire on the day he earns it, before the sun goes down (for he is poor, and sets his heart upon it); lest he cry against you to the LORD, and it be sin in you.
“The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin.
“You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge; “ but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.
“When you reap your harvest in your field, and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow; that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this.
“If there is a dispute between men, and they come into court, and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty, then if the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence with a number of stripes in proportion to his offence. Forty stripes may be given him, but not more; lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight.
“You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.
“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead shall not be married outside the family to a stranger; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, and take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.”
Pope St. John Paul II
Veritatis Splendor 19, 21-23
Once one has renounced one’s own wealth and one’s very self, the way of perfection consists in the following of Jesus. This is precisely the conclusion of Jesus’ conversation with the young man: Come, follow me. The marvellous grandeur of this invitation will only be fully perceived by the disciples after Christ’s Resurrection, when the Holy Spirit leads them to all truth. Being a follower of Christ means becoming conformed to him who became a servant even to giving himself on the Cross. This is the effect of grace, of the active presence of the Holy Spirit in us. Having become one with Christ, the Christian becomes a member of his Body, which is the Church. By the work of the Spirit, Baptism radically configures the faithful to Christ in the Paschal Mystery of his death and resurrection. Having died to sin, those who are baptized receive new life: alive for God in Christ Jesus, they are called to walk by the Spirit and to manifest the Spirit’s fruits in their lives.
The conclusion of Jesus’ conversation with the rich young man, however, is very poignant: When the young man heard this, he went away sorrowful, for he had many possessions. Not only the rich man but the disciples themselves are taken aback by Jesus’ call to discipleship, the demands of which transcend human aspirations and abilities: When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ But the Master refers them to God’s power: With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
In the same chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus, interpreting the Mosaic Law on marriage, rejects the right to divorce, appealing to a ‘beginning’ more fundamental and more authoritative than the Law of Moses: God’s original plan for mankind. This is a plan which man, after sin, has no longer been able to live up to: For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. Jesus’ appeal to the ‘beginning’ dismays the disciples, who remark: If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry. And Jesus, referring specifically to the charism of celibacy for the Kingdom of Heaven, but stating a general rule, indicates the new and surprising possibility opened up to man by God’s grace. He said to them: ‘Not everyone can accept this saying, but only those to whom it is given.’
To imitate and live out the love of Christ is not possible for man by his own strength alone, he becomes capable of this love only by virtue of a gift received. As the Lord Jesus receives the love of his Father, so he in turn freely communicates that love to his disciples: As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. Christ’s gift is his Spirit, whose first fruit is charity: God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. Love and life according to the Gospel cannot be thought of first and foremost as a kind of precept, because what they demand is beyond man’s abilities. They are possible only as a result of a gift of God who heals, restores and transforms the human heart by his grace: For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.