Origen, Homily 26 on Joshua and Matthew 27:25

Another of the last remaining references to Matthew 27:25 is found in the Homilies on Joshua by Origen, extant in a Latin translation-cum-paraphrase by Rufinus.  It is found in homily 26, and as this is short, I thought that I would post it here.  The translation is from the Fathers of the Church vol. 105,[1] and “Jesus” is of course the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua.  As usual, I omit the footnotes.

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HOMILY 26

Concerning why the rock swords were buried, and concerning the altar that the two and a half tribes that are across the Jordan erected [Jos.22]

It was said above that the sons of Israel gave a lot to Jesus on Mount Ephraim and that, when he had accepted the lot, “Jesus built a city there and dwelt in it.” But now Scripture repeats the same things again so that it may add this, that “in that city that he had built and in which he dwelt, Jesus concealed the rock swords,” that is, the knives made from stone, “with which he circumcised the sons of Israel in the wilderness.” Whence we also must repeat the exposition and explain what was added so that, God granting, the entire meaning of the Scripture may be completed.

And indeed we said above that even our Lord Jesus Christ asks us for a place he may build and in which he may live, and that we ought to become so clean of heart, and so sincere of mind, so holy in body and spirit, that he may both deign to ac-cept this place in our soul and to build it and dwell in it. And who do you think among all the people are so acceptable to God that they are worthy to be chosen for this? Or perhaps no individuals can be capable of this, but can the whole people and all the Church together barely be capable of receiving the Lord Jesus in themselves so that he may dwell in them?

Let us see, therefore, what is this place in which Jesus is bound to dwell. “In Mount Ephraim,” it says, that is, in the fruit bearing mountain. Who do you think among us are fruit bearing mountains, in whom Jesus may dwell? Surely those in whom exist “the fruit of the spirit: joy, peace, patience, love,” and the rest. Those, therefore, are the fruit bearing mountains who produce the fruit of the spirit and who are always lofty in mind and expectation. And although few are able to be like this, nevertheless, even if they are few, the Lord Jesus, who is the “true light” dwelling in them, will send forth the beams of his light also upon all the rest, those whom he has not yet, in this first round, judged worthy of his habitation.

2. Now, therefore, let us see what are the rock swords by which Jesus circumcises the sons of Israel. If you pray for us that our “word may’ be living and effective and sharper than every sword,”8 our Lord Jesus will also bring it to pass for us that the word of God that we speak to you may circumcise every un-cleanness, cut back impurities, separate vices from those who hear, and remove each thing by which the strength of the mind and natural efficiency is covered over. And thus, through the word of God, which here is called a rock sword, you too will be circumcised by Jesus and you will hear, “Today I have taken away from you the reproach of Egypt.”

For what good is it for us to have gone forth from Egypt and yet carry around with us the reproaches of Egypt? What good is it to travel through the wilderness, that is, what does it help us to have renounced this age in baptism but to retain the former filth of our behavior and the impurities of our carnal vices? Thus it is fitting, after the parting of the Red Sea, that is, after the grace of baptism, for the carnal vices of our old habits to be removed from us by means of our Lord Jesus, so that we can be free from the Egyptian reproaches.

Therefore, those rock swords and knives of stone, by which we are circumcised by Jesus a second time, are put in that place that Jesus requests and receives. In that place that he possesses in the soul of the righteous, he also conceals the swords. Often we display a sword called the Word of God, by which word sins are separated and purged from the souls of the hearers.10 There-fore, this power of the divine word is concealed in that place, to whom a discourse of knowledge and a discourse of wisdom is granted, so that at the opportune time that soul, which was filled up with the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge through the gift of the Spirit, may produce those swords in the Church and circumcise a second time those who need a second circumcision.

But because it says “rock swords,” that is, knives made from stone and not fashioned out of iron by the craft of an artisan, it indicates that this discourse of God that is able to cast away impurities from the hearts of the hearers does not come from grammatical or rhetorical art. It is neither beaten by the hammers of teachers nor polished by whetstones of studies, but it descends from that “rock that was cut without hands from the mountain and filled the earth” and distributed spiritual gifts to believers.

After these things Jesus assembles the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh, who had served as soldiers with him to overcome the foes of the Israelites, and he dismisses them to go to their inheritance with certain gifts given to them, as it is written. Whereby this seems to indicate the mystery that “when the fullness of the nations will come in,” they receive from the Lord Jesus what was promised to them, those who had been taught and instructed by Moses and who by prayers and entreaties brought aid to us who are placed in the contest. They have not yet “attained the promises,” waiting so that our calling might also be fulfilled, as the Apostle says. But now at last with the gifts they receive from Jesus they may attain the perfection that had been deferred for them so that each one may dwell in peace with every war and every battle ceasing.

3. After this it was read to us that the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh who were across Jordan had built “an immense altar.” But the other sons of Israel, not knowing why this altar had been erected, send Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, with ten men selected from each tribe. Therefore, if by chance they had made this as though departing from God, as if they had become apostates acting against the commandment of God, they would be assaulted by the other sons of Israel; but if not, the other sons might still learn the cause. But they give satisfaction about the altar and say, “We know that the true altar is among you where Jesus dwells. But we made this altar as an imitation of that altar that was erected among you, so that a type and image of the true altar may also be held among us, lest by chance tomorrow,” it says, “it may please you to say that the Jordan is the boundary between us and you and it itself determines this, and therefore you have no share in our altar.” These are the replies they sent.

But let us see what sacrament lies within this deed. The former people of the circumcision are represented in Reuben, who was the firstborn; but also in Gad, who also is the firstborn out of Zelpha; and Manasseh, no less a firstborn. But insofar as I say “firstborn,” I speak chronologically. Therefore, these things are said, not that it might be evident some division and separation is between us and those who were righteous before the coming of Christ, but that they might reveal themselves to still be our brothers even if they existed before the coming of Christ. For although they possessed an altar then before the coming of the Savior, nevertheless, they knew and perceived that it was not that true altar, but that it was a form and figure of what would be the true altar. Those persons knew this because the true victims and those who were able to take away sins were not offered on that altar that the firstborn people possessed, but on this one where Jesus was. Here the heavenly victims, here the true sacrifices are consumed. Therefore, they are made “one flock and one shepherd,” those former righteous ones and those who are now Christians.

But to prove these things I wish to make mention also of a certain story, so that, if only the Lord deigns to grant, we may be able to discover the spiritual explanation of it. Once the people fell down in the desert and died. Aaron the chief priest came and “stood in the midst of those who died and of those who lived,” so that the devastation of death might not advance even further among the rest And then came the true high priest, my Lord, and he came into the midst between those dying and the living. That is, he came between those Jews who accepted his presence and those who not only did not accept but killed themselves more completely than him, saying, “The blood of that one be upon us and upon our sons!” Whence also “all the righteous blood that has been poured forth upon the earth from the blood of the righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah whom they killed between the sanctuary and the altar will be required from that generation” that said, “His blood be upon us and upon our sons.”

Therefore, these are a part of the dead people because they do not properly perform either the feast of unleavened bread or the feast days. But “their feast days have been turned into sorrow and their songs into lamentations,” they who, even if they wished, could not celebrate the feast days in that place that the Lord God chose. And indeed we ourselves did not say to them, “You will have no part in this altar or in the inheritance of the Lord,” but they themselves of their own accord refute the true altar and the heavenly high priest and have been brought to such a point of unhappiness that they both lost the image and did not accept the truth. Therefore it is said to them, “Behold your house is left to you deserted.”

For the grace of the Holy Spirit has been transferred to the nations; the celebrations have been transferred to us because the high priest has passed over to us, not the imagined, but the true high priest, chosen “according to the order of Melchisedek.” It is necessary that he offer for us true sacrifices, that is, spiritual, where “the temple of God is built from living stones,” which is “the Church of the living God,” and where true Israel exists, in Christ Jesus our Lord, “to whom is the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen!”

  1. [1]Barbara J. Bruce (tr), Origen: Homilies on Joshua, in: Fathers of the Church 105 (2002), p.215-220