Synopsis of some early Christian interpretations


This is a continuation of the discussion of the Gospel Reading for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost. (See the preceding post).

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) in his Sermones (Sermons) wrote, “When he is eaten, he nourishes without diminishing. So do not be afraid, brothers and sisters, of eating this bread, in case we should possibly finish it and find nothing to eat later on…”

According to John Chrysostom (344/354- 407), bishop of Constantinople,  in his Homilies on the Gospel of John, Jesus “knew how precious a thing life was in people’s eyes, and therefore he repeats his promise of life often…he offers life without end”.

Hilary of Pointiers (315-367) observed that “Jesus already knew what was on their minds and knows what is on ours too”. St. Augustine added that, for this very reason, the act of believing is a gift and not a merit “as the Father sometimes has to ‘drag’ us to Christ”. This is a truth that has been lost by some segments of Christianity which have made faith another “work of the law”.

Similarly, Jerome (347-420) noted that the truth Jesus spoke to that crowd in Capernaum was hard to hear, just as it has always been and will continue to be. Tertullian (155/160 -225/250) saw this as help in determining who truly sought to follow Jesus and who did half-heartedly. According to Chrysostom, Jesus did not compel the disciples to stay with him but he also sought to discern their motivation.

Athanasius of Alexandria (295-373) noted that what mattered to Jesus was not the number of disciples but rather their faithfulness. Thus, Peter response, “To whom shall we go?” implied “who or what could possibly be better to follow than their Lord?”.

Regarding Jesus’ knowledge of Judas’ intentions, Cyril of Alexandria (375-444) observed that Jesus did not expose him to the other disciples, but gave them an opportunity for introspection. For Augustine, this indicates that “God can take what was meant for evil and turn even that into good”.

Obviously, these thoughts give us a glimpse of these early Christian thinkers’ background and experience. Hopefully, they also give us something to think of our own experiences today.

For a detailed study, see Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament, IVA, edited by Joel C. Elowsky, (Inter Varsity Press) 2006.


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