Luke 7:31-35. To what therefore shall I liken the men of this generation, and to what are they like? They are like to children sitting in the market-place, and calling one to another, and saying, We have played unto you, and ye have not danced: we have wailed unto you, and ye have not wept. For John the Baptist came, neither eating bread, nor drinking wine, and ye say, that he hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking: and ye say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a wine drinker: a friend of publicans and sinners. And wisdom is justified of her children.
Those who have a sound mind examine everything, rejecting the false, but receiving and praising that which is without blame. And such the wise Paul also requires us to be, where writing he said: “Be ye wise money-changers; prove all things, and hold that which is good: abstain from every evil kind.” We therefore also, as I said, must closely examine with the discerning eye of the mind whatever is done, and search into the nature of actions, that so we may approve of that which is without blame, while we reject that which is counterfeit. But if, making no distinctions, we run the risk of passing an evil sentence upon things highly praiseworthy: and of deeming that which is evil fit for commendation and applause, the prophet’s words will apply to us: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil: who call bitter sweet, and sweet bitter: who put light for darkness, and darkness for light.” Such was the character of the Israelites, and especially of those whose lot it was to be their chiefs, the Scribes namely and Pharisees: of whom Christ said, “To what shall I liken the men of this generation? and so on.”
There was perchance a sort of game among the Jewish children, something of this kind. A troop of youths was divided into two parts: who, making sport of the confusion in the world, and the uneven course of its affairs, and the painful and rapid change from one extreme to the other, played some of them on instruments of music: while the rest wailed. But neither did the mourners share the merriment of those who were playing music and rejoicing: nor again did those with the instruments of music join in the sorrow of those who were weeping: and finally, they reproached one another with their want of sympathy, so to speak, and absence of affection. For the one party would say, “We have played unto you, and ye have not danced:” to which the others would rejoin, “We have wailed unto you, and ye have not wept.” Christ declares, therefore, that both the Jewish populace, and their rulers, were in some such state of feeling as this;
For John says He came, says, neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and they say, that he hath a devil: the Son of man came eating and drinking; and they say, Behold! a man gluttonous, and a wine drinker, a friend of publicans and sinners.
By what then wilt thou be won unto the faith, O foolish Pharisee, when thou thus blamest all things indifferently, nor countest anything worthy of thy praise? The blessed Baptist was the forerunner of the Saviour, saying, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” For he was a man fit to win confidence, and able to persuade, as having even from them the testimony that his life was noble, and worthy of admiration. For he dwelt in the deserts, clad in poor and rough clothing, and scarcely allaying the necessities of the body with locusts and wild honey. Thou wentest out to see him as one who was holy, and had attained to the perfection of all virtue. And dost thou venture afterwards to speak ill of such a one? of one who ought rather to be counted worthy of all admiration? Dost thou say that he hath a devil, who by fastings is mortifying the law of sin that lurks in our fleshly members, and wars against the law of our mind? What is greater than a life of abstinence? For the very fact of being able to rebuke wisely those pleasures that lead to evil, and to cast over them as a bridle the laboriousness of a life of abstinence, how is not this a great and excellent thing! The blessed Baptist was entirely devoted to piety unto Christ; nor was there in him the very slightest regard either for fleshly lusts, or for the things of this world. Having altogether abandoned, therefore, the vain and unprofitable distractions of this world, he laboured at one, and that a very urgent task, of blamelessly fulfilling the ministry entrusted to him. For he was commanded to preach, saying: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” Tell me, dost thou think that this man hath a devil? one over whom the tyranny of Satan had no power; who was the captive of no evil lusts; who had overleapt the pitfalls of the base love of the flesh; who had commanded the herds of demons to be still, and manfully resisted their attacks. For verily he could not have attained to this glory and virtue but through Christ, Who is exalted above Satan, who tempts and gnashes his teeth at the prosperity of the saints. Art thou not ashamed, then, of slandering one who had attained to so great patience and endurance, and had wound chaplets of manly virtue round his head? Hast thou whetted thy tongue even at him, and ventured basely to calumniate him, by affirming that he is a madman, and contemptible, and not in his right mind? Let us, then, see what is on the other side, and which seems, as it were, to follow a different course from the Baptist’s conduct. Christ was not in the wilderness, but rather made the city His habitation in company with the holy Apostles: He did not eat locusts and wild honey: His clothing was not of camel’s hair, nor had He a leathern girdle upon his loins. His mode of life rather was such as is usual in towns, with no such hardness in it as that practised by the holy Baptist. Dost thou, then, praise Him at least? Dost thou approve of His easiness of approach, and His freely mixing with others, and entire carelessness about His diet? By no means. Thy censoriousness extended even unto Christ: for thou saidst, “Behold a man gluttonous, and drinking wine! a friend of publicans and sinners!” Because thou hast occasionally seen Jesus faring luxuriously, does He appear to thee a drinker of wine, and a carouser, and gluttonous? How canst thou prove this? For when once upon a time Mary and Martha received Him at Bethany, and one of them was distracted with overmuch service, Christ is seen preventing excess, and reducing us to a bare sufficiency. For He said, “Martha, Martha: thou art careful, and hurried about many things: but few things are required, or one.” And such He was constantly and everywhere.
But dost thou accuse Him because He went about with publicans and sinners? And is this the cause of thine offence? But what detriment can it be imagined that Christ suffered, from His willingness to be with sinners? He was not liable at all to be taken by their sins, being entirely beyond the reach of fault. He even said, at one time: “The prince of this world cometh, and will find nothing in Me?” at another, again: “Who of you rebuketh Me because of sin?” He could in no respect therefore be contaminated by being with sinners.
But thou sayest, the law of Moses commanded that “we should not hold converse with the wicked.” Let us, however, study the object of the law: let us see for what cause it forbade the Israelites holding intercourse with the wicked, and mingling with the deceivers. Now the truth most certainly is, that the law of Moses ordained these things, not so much that thou mightest vaunt thyself over others, and make the commandment a reason for boasting; but rather, because thy mind is weak, and readily drawn aside into folly, and because thy heart runs willingly after evil pleasures, it would free thee from the wish to be with those whose life is culpable, lest thou shouldst become like them in mind, and foolishly be caught in their snare. “For evil communications corrupt good manners.” Thou receivedst the commandment therefore as a safeguard for thy infirmity.
For if thou hadst been established in virtue, and thy mind steadfast in the fear of God, the law would not have hindered thee from holding useful intercourse with those who were weak, in order that they might become imitators of thy piety, and learn to emulate thy doings: that walking in the steps of thy zeal, they might advance to that which is more excellent. Conceive, therefore, no proud imaginings, since, even in the commandment of Moses, thou art accused of infirmity. Thou blamest Christ for going about with sinners and publicans. Is it because thou art afraid lest He should suffer from their contamination? Tell me, then, dost thou imagine that He also shares thy frailness? Art thou entirely ignorant of the mysteries respecting Him? That the Word being God was with us: that is, was incarnate for our sakes? That the Father sent Him “not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Now it belongs to one who condemns, to avoid the company of such as are still in their sins: but it is the part of him who wishes to save to be with them, and admonish them, and prevail upon them to change from their disgraceful courses, and instead of the path of wickedness, to choose the way that leadeth to eternal life. “He came not to call the righteous, hut sinners, to repentance.” And as He said Himself, “They that are whole need not a Physician: but they that are sick.” Why therefore dost thou blame Him for loving man so well, and find fault with His godlike gentleness? Why reproach Him for being kind to us, and healing our sickness? And yet every body praises physicians, not when they avoid those who are sick, but when they are constantly with them, and by the resources of their art bring them gradually back to sound health. And why then, since Jesus is the Physician of souls and spirits, dost thou blame Him for saving sinners?
He could sustain no pollution, even though He ate with sinners: for yon bright sun sheds its radiance upon, and visits every thing under heaven: it chances, then, that impurities also are found lying exposed to it: but that which pours down this radiance is not in the least defiled, even though it shed it on matters so abominable.3 Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Sun of Righteousness: a wicked man, then, in no way whatsoever defiles Him, though close at His side, and eating with Him.
And thus much, then, we have said respecting Christ the Saviour of us all. It is not, however, perhaps unlikely, that some may object, and say; ‘Does not also the new and saving preaching of the Gospel plainly command us to withdraw from the communications of impure men? For most wise Paul also wrote to some: “I have written unto you in the epistle, that ye hold no intercourse with fornicators: If any one called a brother be a fornicator, or a drunkard, or covetous, or an extortioner, or idolater: with such a one no not to eat.” It had been fitting, therefore, for Christ to have been the type to us of this behaviour.’ Thou hast missed thy measure, my beloved! Thou wishest to vie with thy Master’s sovereign dignity: Thou catchest at that which is above thy nature. Consider the infirmity of thy mind. Christ was God: but thou art a man, tyrannized over by fleshly pleasures, with a mind easily beguiled into error, and readily made the prey of sins. If, however, thou feelest confident of thy ability manfully to maintain a blameless course of conduct, and also to admonish others, there is nothing to hinder even thee from wishing to be with the wicked and sinloving. For often the admonitions of spiritually-minded e men have profited those who are in sin. If, on the contrary, thou thyself art scarcely saved, even when keeping far away from the company of the evil, maintain thy carefulness in this respect. Call to thy remembrance the writer of the book of Proverbs, who says; “He that walketh with the wise, shall become wise: but he who walketh with fools, shall become known.” And again, “He that toucheth pitch shall be defiled.” And again also the blessed David: “With the holy, thou wilt become holy; and with the pure, thou wilt become pure: with the elect, thou wilt become elect; and with the crooked, thou wilt be made crooked.” In order, then, “that thou mayest be delivered like a roc from the nets,” flee from wicked men; keep apart from those who cannot be restrained from pollution; and supplicate Christ to purify thy corruptions, or rather all thy human weaknesses. For the Word that came from God is God, even though He became flesh, that is, man: by Whom and with Whom to God the Father, be praise and dominion, with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever, Amen.