Continuing my trudge through the Church Fathers, I once again find myself pleasantly surprised by John Chrysostom and glad I didn’t skip over him to the second series of more diverse authors (and this is a real temptation, given that I do want to know just what Sozomen and Theodoret and the rest have to say–especially since I’m not entirely sure who they are). This may not continue–I’m only a few pages into Chrysostom’s Homilies on Matthew, and maybe the bulk of the book is terrible. But if this is the case, the first homily is still spectacular and worth your time.
He begins by reflecting on fallen human nature. We used to have direct communion with God, but now are so sinful that we cannot stand to be in His presence and instead need the written Word. Yet even with God’s revelation teaspoon-fed to us in writing, we still pursue our own desires and sins rather than longing for fellowship with Him. To justify ourselves in this rejection of His Word, we point out where the Bible seems to be wrong. Disagreements between the authors of the Gospels, for example. Chrysostom turns these disagreements into an apologetic for their authenticity–if they agreed in every detail they would then be suspect. But because they agree on the big points (the Incarnation/Crucifixion/Resurrection, etc) and have different details, we can trust that they contain the words of different individuals about the same events written with different audiences in mind.
In the case of Matthew, it was written to a Jewish audience who believed in the authority of the Old Testament and were waiting for the promised Messiah. What Matthew gives us is the picture of that Messiah’s life and the kingdom He establishes in opposition to the kingdoms of the world–both those that actually exist and those that were created in fantasy by Plato and other philosophers. Our kingdom is one which anyone can come to: all are capable of repentance and faith, and the subsequent obedience that flows from a transformed life.
This is not to say Christ’s kingdom is full of virtuous individuals. Even the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew disproves that! Instead we are sinners of all times who have been forgiven and drawn into a community by our Savior, and looking forward to the coming City of God in which we will live in peace with him and with each other.
To be fair, the translation I’m reading has all of the difficulties of the 19th century translations–archaic language (intentionally done that way, given the theory at the time that old stuff should sound old-timey), dense print in double-columned pages, etc. And even with all of that, Chrysostom’s homily is as I said above, still absolutely worth the time and effort.