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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 51

Tractate 51 (John 12:12-26)

1. After our Lord's raising of one to life, who had been four days dead, to the utter amazement of the Jews, some of whom believed on seeing it, and others perished in their envy, because of that sweet savor which is unto life to some, and to others unto death; 2 Corinthians 2:15 after He had sat down to meat with Lazarus— the one who had been dead and raised to life— reclining also at table, and after the pouring on His feet of the ointment which had filled the house with its odor; and after the Jews also had shown their own spiritual abandonment in conceiving the useless cruelty and the monstrously foolish and insane guilt of slaying Lazarus;— of all which we have spoken as we could, by the grace of the Lord, in previous discourses: let your Charity now notice how abundant before our Lord's passion was the fruit that appeared of His preaching, and how large was the flock of lost sheep of the house of Israel which had heard the Shepherd's voice.

2. For the Gospel, the reading of which you have just been listening to, says: On the next day much people that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went forth to meet Him, and cried, Hosanna: blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord as the King of Israel. The branches of palm trees are laudatory emblems, significant of victory, because the Lord was about to overcome death by dying, and by the trophy of His cross to triumph over the devil, the prince of death. The exclamation used by the worshipping people is Hosanna, indicating, as some who know the Hebrew language affirm, rather a state of mind than having any positive significance; just as in our own tongue we have what are called interjections, as when in our grief we say, Alas! Or in our joy, Ha! Or in our admiration, O how fine! Where O! expresses only the feeling of the admirer. Of the same class must we believe this word to be, as it has failed to find an interpretation both in Greek and Latin, like that other, Whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca. For this also is allowed to be an interjection, expressive of angry feelings.

3. But when it is said, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord, [as] the King of Israel, by in the name of the Lord we are rather to understand in the name of God the Father, although it might also be understood as in His own name, inasmuch as He is also Himself the Lord. As we find Scripture also saying in another place, The Lord rained [upon Sodom fire] from the Lord. Genesis 19:24 But His own words are a better guide to our understanding, when He says, I have come in my Father's name, and you receive me not: another will come in his own name, and him you will receive. For the true teacher of humility is Christ, who humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Philippians 2:8 But He does not lose His divinity in teaching us humility; in the one He is the Father's equal, in the other He is assimilated to us. By that which made Him the equal of the Father, He called us into existence; and by that in which He is like us, He redeemed us from ruin.

4. These, then, were the words of praise addressed to Jesus by the multitude, Hosanna: blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel. What a cross of mental suffering must the Jewish rulers have endured when they heard so great a multitude proclaiming Christ as their King! But what honor was it to the Lord to be King of Israel? What great thing was it to the King of eternity to become the King of men? For Christ's kingship over Israel was not for the purpose of exacting tribute, of putting swords into His soldiers' hands, of subduing His enemies by open warfare; but He was King of Israel in exercising kingly authority over their inward natures, in consulting for their eternal interests, in bringing into His heavenly kingdom those whose faith, and hope, and love were centred in Himself. Accordingly, for the Son of God, the Father's equal, the Word by whom all things were made, in His good pleasure to be King of Israel, was an act of condescension and not of promotion; a token of compassion, and not any increase of power. For He who was called on earth the King of the Jews, is in the heavens the Lord of angels.

5. And Jesus, when He had found a young ass, sat thereon. Here the account is briefly given: for how it all happened may be found at full length in the other evangelists. But there is appended to the circumstance itself a testimony from the prophets, to make it evident that He in whom was fulfilled all they read in Scripture, was entirely misunderstood by the evil-minded rulers of the Jews. Jesus, then, found a young ass, and sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Zion: behold, your King comes, sitting on an ass's colt. Among that people, then, was the daughter of Zion to be found; for Zion is the same as Jerusalem. Among that very people, I say, reprobate and blind as they were, was the daughter of Zion, to whom it was said, Fear not, daughter of Zion: behold, your King comes, sitting on an ass's colt. This daughter of Zion, who was thus divinely addressed, was among those sheep that were hearing the Shepherd's voice, and in that multitude which was celebrating the Lord's coming with such religious zeal, and accompanying Him in such warlike array. To her was it said, Fear not: acknowledge Him whom you are now extolling, and give not way to fear when He comes to suffering; for by the shedding of His blood is your guilt to be blotted out, and your life restored. But by the ass's colt, on which no man had ever sat (for so it is found recorded in the other evangelists), we are to understand the Gentile nations which had not received the law of the Lord; by the ass, on the other hand (for both animals were brought to the Lord), that people of His which came of the nation of Israel, and was already so far subdued as to recognize its Master's crib.

6. These things understood not His disciples at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, that is, when He had manifested the power of His resurrection, then remembered they that these things were written of Him, and they had done these things unto Him, that is, they did nothing else but what had been written concerning Him. In short, mentally comparing with the contents of Scripture what was accomplished both prior to and in the course of our Lord's passion, they found this also therein, that it was in accordance with the utterance of the prophets that He sat on an ass's colt.

7. The people, therefore, that was with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb, and raised him from the dead, bare record. For this cause the crowd also met Him, for that they heard that He had done this miracle. The Pharisees, therefore, said among themselves: Perceive ye that we prevail nothing? Behold, the whole world is gone after Him. Mob set mob in motion. But why are you, blinded mob that you are, filled with envy because the world has gone after its Maker?

8. And there were certain Gentiles among them that had come up to worship at the feast: the same came therefore to Philip, who was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip comes and tells Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus. Let us hearken to the Lord's reply. See how the Jews wish to kill Him, the Gentiles to see Him; and yet those, too, were of the Jews who cried, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel. Here, then, were they of the circumcision and they of the uncircumcision, like two house walls running from different directions and meeting together with the kiss of peace, in the one faith of Christ. Let us listen, then, to the voice of the Cornerstone: And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour has come that the Son of man should be glorified. Perhaps some one supposes here that He spoke of Himself as glorified, because the Gentiles wished to see Him. Such is not the case. But He saw the Gentiles themselves in all nations coming to the faith after His own passion and resurrection, because, as the apostle says, Blindness in part has happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles should be come in. Romans 11:25 Taking occasion, therefore, from those Gentiles who desired to see Him, He announces the future fullness of the Gentile nations, and promises the near approach of the hour when He should be glorified Himself, and when, on its consummation in heaven, the Gentile nations should be brought to the faith. To this it is that the prediction pointed, Be Thou exalted, O God, above the heavens, and Your glory above all the earth. Such is the fullness of the Gentiles, of which the apostle says, Blindness in part is happened to Israel, till the fullness of the Gentiles come in.

9. But the height of His glorification had to be preceded by the depth of His passion. Accordingly, He went on to add, Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone; but if it die, it brings forth much fruit. But He spoke of Himself. He Himself was the grain that had to die, and be multiplied; to suffer death through the unbelief of the Jews, and to be multiplied in the faith of many nations.

10. And now, by way of exhortation to follow in the path of His own passion, He adds, He that loves his life shall lose it, which may be understood in two ways: He that loves shall lose, that is, If you love, be ready to lose; if you would possess life in Christ, be not afraid of death for Christ. Or otherwise, He that loves his life shall lose it. Do not love for fear of losing; love it not here, lest you lose it in eternity. But what I have said last seems better to correspond with the meaning of the Gospel, for there follow the words, And he that hates his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. So that when it is said in the previous clause, He that loves, there is to be understood in this world, he it is that shall lose it. But he that hates, that is, in this world, is he that shall keep it unto life eternal. Surely a profound and strange declaration as to the measure of a man's love for his own life that leads to its destruction, and of his hatred to it that secures its preservation! If in a sinful way you love it, then do you really hate it; if in a way accordant with what is good you have hated it, then have you really loved it. Happy they who have so hated their life while keeping it, that their love shall not cause them to lose it. But beware of harboring the notion that you may court self-destruction by any such understanding of your duty to hate your life in this world. For on such grounds it is that certain wrong-minded and perverted people, who, with regard to themselves, are murderers of a specially cruel and impious character, commit themselves to the flames, suffocate themselves in water, dash themselves against a precipice, and perish. This was no teaching of Christ's, who, on the other hand, met the devil's suggestion of a precipice with the answer, Get behind me, Satan; for it is written, You shall not tempt the Lord your God. Matthew 4:7 To Peter also He said, signifying by what death he should glorify God, When you were young, you girded yourself, and walked whither you would, but when you shall be old, another shall gird you, and carry you whither you would not; — where He made it sufficiently plain that it is not by himself but by another that one must be slain who follows in the footsteps of Christ. And so, when one's case has reached the crisis that this condition is placed before him, either that he must act contrary to the divine commandment or quit this life, and that a man is compelled to choose one or other of the two by the persecutor who is threatening him with death, in such circumstances let him prefer dying in the love of God to living under His anger, in such circumstances let him hate his life in this world that he may keep it unto life eternal.

11. If any man serve me, let him follow me. What is that, let him follow me, but just, let him imitate me? Because Christ suffered for us, says the Apostle Peter, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps. 1 Peter 2:21 Here you have the meaning of the words, If any man serve me, let him follow me. But with what result? What wages? What reward? And where I am, He says, there shall also my servant be. Let Him be freely loved, that so the reward of the service done Him may be to be with Him. For where will one be well apart from Him, or when will one come to feel himself in an evil case in company with Him? Hear it still more plainly: If any man serve me, him will my Father honor. And what will be the honor but to be with His Son? For of what He said before, Where I am, there shall also my servant be, we may understand Him as giving the explanation, when He says here, him will my Father honor. For what greater honor can await an adopted son than to be with the Only-begotten; not, indeed, as raised to the level of His Godhead, but made a partaker of His eternity?

12. But it becomes us rather to inquire what is to be understood by this serving of Christ to which there is attached so great a reward. For if we have taken up the idea that the serving of Christ is the preparation of what is needful for the body, or the cooking and serving up of food, or the mixing of drink and handing the cup to one at the supper table; this, indeed, was done to Him by those who had the privilege of His bodily presence, as in the case of Martha and Mary, when Lazarus also was one of those who sat at the table. But in that sort of way Christ was served also by the reprobate Judas; for it was he also who had the money bag; and although he had the exceeding wickedness to steal of its contents, yet it was he also who provided what was needful for the meal. And so also, when our Lord said to him, What you do, do quickly, there were some who thought that He only gave him orders to make some needful preparations for the feast-day, or to give something to the poor. In no sense, therefore, was it of this class of servants that the Lord said, Where I am, there shall also my servant be, and If any man serve me, him will my Father honor; for we see that Judas, who served in this way, became an object of reprobation rather than of honor. Why, then, go elsewhere to find out what this serving of Christ implies, and not rather see its disclosure in the words themselves? For when He said, If any man serve me, let him follow me, He wished it to be understood just as if He had said, If any man does not follow me, he serves me not. And those, therefore, are the servants of Jesus Christ, who seek not their own things, but the things that are Jesus Christ's. Philippians 2:21 For let him follow me is just this: Let him walk in my ways, and not in his own; as it is written elsewhere, He that says he abides in Christ, ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked. 1 John 2:6 For he ought, if supplying food to the hungry, to do it in the way of mercy and not of boasting, seeking therein nothing else but the doing of good, and not letting his left hand know what his right hand does; Matthew 6:3 in other words, that all thought of self-seeking should be utterly estranged from a work of charity. He that serves in this way serves Christ, and will have it rightly said to him, Inasmuch as you did it unto one of the least of those who are mine, you did it unto me. Matthew 25:40 And thus doing not only those acts of mercy that pertain to the body, but every good work, for the sake of Christ (for then will all be good, because Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes Romans 10:4), he is Christ's servant even to that work of special love, which is to lay down his life for the brethren, for that were to lay it down also for Christ. For this also will He say hereafter in behalf of His members: Inasmuch as you did it for these, you have done it for me. And certainly it was in reference to such a work that He was also pleased to make and to style Himself a servant, when He says, Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto [served], but to minister [serve], and to lay down His life for many. Matthew 20:28 Every one, therefore, is the servant of Christ in the same way as Christ also is a servant. And he that serves Christ in this way will be honored by His Father with the signal honor of being with His Son, and having nothing wanting to his happiness for ever.

13. Accordingly, brethren, when you hear the Lord saying, Where I am, there shall also my servant be, do not think merely of good bishops and clergymen. But be yourselves also in your own way serving Christ, by good lives, by giving alms, by preaching His name and doctrine as you can; and every father of a family also, be acknowledging in this name the affection he owes as a parent to his family. For Christ's sake, and for the sake of life eternal, let him be warning, and teaching, and exhorting, and correcting all his household; let him show kindliness, and exercise discipline; and so in his own house he will be filling an ecclesiastical and kind of episcopal office, and serving Christ, that he may be with Him for ever. For even that noblest service of suffering has been rendered by many of your class; for many who were neither bishops nor clergy, but young men and virgins, those advanced in years with those who were not, many married persons both male and female, many fathers and mothers of families, have served Christ even to the laying down of their lives in martyrdom for His sake, and have been honored by the Father in receiving crowns of exceeding glory.

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Source. Translated by John Gibb. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 7. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1701051.htm>.

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