Thoughts on Chrysostom's First Sermon on Matthew
Chrysostom notes the many difficulties in the text of Matthew. He says that it may be plain at first site but when one focuses on the text many question arises. What is interesting is the amount of preparation for his sermon that he called his congregation to do. He says that they will not get anything out of his teaching if they do not thoughtfully prepare before hand.
In his first homily he asks several question. Here is a sampling:
- Why is the genealogy traced through Joseph if he is not Jesus’ biological father?
- Why can Jesus be said to come from David when the forefathers of Mary are not known?
- Why does Matthew pass over eminent women but focus on four that are “famed for some bad thing?”
- Why did he omit three kings in the genealogy?
- If he speaks of 14 generations why does the 3rd set not have 14 generations?
- Why do Matthew and Luke both trace the genealogy of Joseph but have different number of names and starting points?
- How was Elizabeth, who was from the Levitical tribe, kinswoman to Mary?
He tells his congregation that if they are going to learn they must prepare and seek the answers to these questions apart from his preaching. Only then, if he sees an eagerness to learn from them, will he “endeavor to add the solution” but if they are not preparing and seeking out answers on their own he will “conceal both the difficulties and their solution in obedience to the divine law.” His reason is rooted in an allusion to Matthew 7:6, “Give not the holy things to the dogs, neither cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet.” And who are these people that are the dogs and swine? They are the ones who do not “account these things as precious and venerable.” This is a serious offense because to Chrysostom the ones who do not prepare before hand are not taking the Scriptures seriously. He laments, “where God is speaking, they will not bear to tarry even a little time.”
This section of the homily brings up some interesting questions:
First, how many people had access to the text of Matthew at this time? From this section it seems that everyone had some type of access to at least the text for the next sermon. How big was his congregation? Did they memorize the passage for the next gathering or copy it somewhere? Did they have some type of “study groups” or was this all individual? Did Chrysostom check in and ask questions to see if they had pondered the passage?
Second, how does Chrysostom go about answers the questions he poses? Many of the questions that he poses are still questions for todays scholars.
Third, what is the history of interpretation of Matthew 7:6 up to this point and where does it go from here. For Chrysostom the holy things are the Scriptures and the interpretation of them. The only other interpretation of this passage that I know of (I would be interested to researching this more) is in Didache 9:5. This passage says, “But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptized into the name of the Lord, for the Lord has also spoken concerning this:”Do not give what is holy to dogs.“ For the Didachist the holy things is participation in the Eucharist and you are a ”dog” if you have not been baptized. These interpretations are similar but not quite the same. For Chrysostom, if one is uninterested in the Scriptures then this makes them the dog or swine but for the Didachist baptism is the criteria for being a dog and swine.
I love the quote that Chrysostom ends his homily with. He compares the Gospel of Matthew as entering into a holy city that is leading the reader to the royal throne where Christ sits. He concludes,
If we would order ourselves wisely, the grace itself of the Spirit will lead us in great perfection, and we shall arrive at the very royal throne, and attain to all good things, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might, together with the Father and the Holy Ghost, now and always, even for ever and ever. Amen.