Origens Commentary On The Gospel Of Matthew by Origen
30. The Sinning Brother.
|If thy brother sin against thee, go, shew him his fault between thee and him alone. | He, then, who attends closely to the expression, in proof of the surpassing philanthropy of Jesus, will say, that as the words do not suggest a difference of sins, they will act in a singular manner and contrary to the goodness of Jesus, who supply the thought, that these words are to be understood as being limited in their application to lesser sins. But another, also attending closely to the expression, and not wishing to introduce these extraneous thoughts, nor admitting that it is spoken about every sin, will say, that he who commits those great sins is not a brother, even if he be called a brother, as the Apostle says, |If any one that is named a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, etc., with such an one not to eat;| for no one who is an idolater, or a fornicator, or covetous, is a brother; for if he, who seems to bear the name of Christ, though he is named a brother, has something of the features of these, he would not rightly be called a brother. As then he, who says that such words are spoken about every sin, whether the sin be murder, or poisoning, or pæderasty, or anything of that sort, would give occasion of injury to the exceeding goodness of Christ, so, on the contrary, he who distinguishes between the brother and him who is called the brother, might teach that, in the case of the least of the sins of men, he who has not repented after the telling of the fault is to be reckoned as a Gentile and a publican, for sins which are |not unto death,| or, as the law has described them in the Book of Numbers, not |death-bringing.| This would seem to be very harsh; for I do not think that any one will readily be found who has not been censured thrice for the same form of sin, say, reviling, with which revilers abuse their neighbours, or those who are carried away by passion, or for over-drinking, or lying and idle words, or any of those things which exist in the masses. You will inquire, therefore, whether any observation of the passage has escaped the notice of those, who are influenced by their conception of the goodness of the Word, and grant pardon to those who have committed the greatest sins, as well as of those who teach that, in the case of the very least sins, he is to be reckoned as a Gentile and a publican, making him a stranger to the church, after he has committed three very trivial transgressions. But the following seems to me to have been overlooked by both of them, namely, the words, |Thou hast gained thy brother.| It is assigned by the Word to him only who heard, and He no longer applies it in the case of him who has stumbled twice or thrice and been censured; but that which was to be said about him who was censured twice or thrice, corresponding to the saying, |Thou hast gained thy brother,| He has left in the air, so to speak. He is not, therefore, altogether gained, nor will he altogether perish, or he will receive stripes. And attend carefully to the first passage, |If he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother,| and to the second passage, which is literally, |If he hear thee not, take with thyself one or two more, that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.| What, then, will happen to him who has been censured for the second time, after every word has been established by two or three witnesses, He has left us to conceive. And, again, |If he refuse to hear them| -- manifestly, the witnesses who have been taken -- |tell it,| he says, |to the church;| and He does not say what he will suffer if he does not hear the church, but He taught that if he refused to hear the church, then he who had thrice admonished, and had not been heard, was to regard him for the future as the Gentile and the publican. Therefore he is not altogether gained, nor will he altogether perish. But what at all he will suffer, who at first did not hear, but required witnesses, or even refused to hear these, but was brought to the church, God knows; for we do not declare it, according to the precept, |Judge not that ye be not judged,| |until the Lord come, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and make manifest the counsels of the hearts.| But, with reference to the seeming harshness in the case of those who have committed less sins, one might say that it is not possible for him who has not heard twice in succession to hear the third time, so as, on this account, no longer to be as a Gentile or a publican, or no longer to stand in need of the censure in presence of all the church. For we must bear in mind this, |So it is not the will of My Father in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.| For if |we must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad,| let each one with all his power do what he can so that he may not receive punishment for more evil things done in the body, even if he is going to receive back for all the wrongs which he has done; but it should be our ambition to procure the reward for a greater number of good deeds, since |with what measure we mete, it shall be measured to us,| and, |according to the works of our own hands shall it happen unto us,| and not in infinite wise, but either double or sevenfold shall sinners receive for their sins from the hand of the Lord; since He does not render unto any one according to the works of his hands, but more than that which he has done, for |Jerusalem,| as Isaiah taught, |received from the hand of the Lord double for her sins;| but the neighbours of Israel, whoever they may be, will receive sevenfold, according to the following expression in the Psalms, |Render unto our neighbours sevenfold into their bosom the reproach with which they have reproached Thee, O Lord.| And other forms of payment in return could be found, which, if we apprehend, we shall know that to repent after any sin, whatever its greatness, is advantageous, in order that, in addition to our not being punished for more offences, there may be some hope left to us concerning good deeds done afterwards at some time, even though, before them, thousands of errors have been committed by anyone of us. For it would be strange that evil deeds should be reckoned to any one, but the better which are done after the bad should profit nothing; which may also be learned from Ezekiel, by those who pay careful consideration to the things said about such cases.