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23.  The Withdrawal of Jesus.

And the disciples of John having come bury his remains, and “they went and told Jesus.” 5325   And He withdrew to a desert place,—that is, the Gentiles—and after the killing of the prophet multitudes followed Him from the cities everywhere; seeing which to be great He had compassion on them, and healed their sick; and afterwards with the loaves which were blessed and multiplied from a few loaves He feeds those who followed Him.  “Now when Jesus heard it He withdrew thence in a boat to a desert place apart.” 5326   The letter teaches us to withdraw as far as it is in our power from those who persecute us, and from expected conspiracies through words; for this would be to act according to prudence; and, when one can keep outside of critical positions, to go to meet them is rash and headstrong.  For who would still hesitate about avoiding such things, when not only did Jesus retreat in view of what happened to John, but also taught and said, “If they persecute you in this city, flee ye into the other”? 5327   When a temptation comes which is not in our power to avoid, we must endure it with exceeding nobleness and courage; but, when it is in our power to avoid it, not to do so is rash.  But since after the letter we must also investigate the place according to the mystical meaning, we must say that, when prophecy was plotted against among the Jews and destroyed, because of their giving honour to matters of birthdays, and in respect of their reception of vain movements which, though conceived by the ruler of the wicked and those who feast along with him to be regular and pleasing to them, were irregular and out of tune, if truth be umpire, then Jesus withdraws from the place in which prophecy was attacked and condemned; and He withdraws to the place which had been barren of God among the Gentiles, in order that the Word of God, when the kingdom was taken from the Jews and “given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof,” 5328 might be among the Gentiles; and, on p. 430 account of it, “the children of the desolate one,” who had not been instructed either in the law or the prophets, “might be more than of her who has the husband,” 5329 that is, the law.  When, then, the word was of old among the Jews, it was not so among them as it is among the Gentiles; wherefore it is said that, “in a boat,”—that is, in the body—He went to the desert place apart, when He heard about the killing of the prophet.  And, having come into the desert place apart, He was in it, because that the Word dwelt apart, and His teaching was contrary to the customs and usages which obtained among the Gentiles.  And the crowds among the Gentiles, when they heard that Jesus had come to stay in their desert, and that He was apart, as we have already reported, followed Him from their own cities, because each had left the superstitious customs of his fathers and come to the law of Christ.  And by land they followed Him, and not in a boat, inasmuch as not with the body but with the soul only, and with the resolution to which they had been persuaded by the Word, they followed the Image of God.  And to them Jesus comes out, as they were not able to go to Him, in order that, having gone to those who were without, He might lead within those who were without.  And great is the crowd without to whom the Word of God goes out, and, having poured out upon it the light of His “visitation,” beholds it; and, seeing that they were rather deserving of being pitied, because they were in such circumstances, as a lover of men He who was impassible suffered the emotion of pity, and not only had pity but healed their sick, who had sicknesses diverse and of every kind arising from their wickedness.



Matt. xiv. 12.


Matt. xiv. 13.


Matt. x. 23.


Matt. xxi. 43.


Isa. 54:1, Gal. 4:27.

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