“Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:26-37)

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, John Martin, 1852
The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, John Martin, 1852

καὶ καθὼς ἐγένετο ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Νῶε, οὕτως ἔσται καὶ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου· ἤσθιον, ἔπινον, ἐγάμουν, ἐξεγαμίζοντο, ἄχρι ἧς ἡμέρας εἰσῆλθε Νῶε εἰς τὴν κιβωτόν, καὶ ἦλθεν ὁ κατακλυσμὸς καὶ ἀπώλεσεν ἅπαντας. ὁμοίως καὶ ὡς ἐγένετο ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Λώτ· ἤσθιον, ἔπινον, ἠγόραζον, ἐπώλουν, ἐφύτευον, ᾠκοδόμουν· ᾗ δὲ ἡμέρᾳ ἐξῆλθε Λὼτ ἀπὸ Σοδόμων, ἔβρεξε πῦρ καὶ θεῖον ἀπ᾿ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ἀπώλεσεν ἅπαντας. κατὰ τὰ αὐτὰ ἔσται ᾗ ἡμέρᾳ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἀποκαλύπτεται. ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ὃς ἔσται ἐπὶ τοῦ δώματος καὶ τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ, μὴ καταβάτω ἆραι αὐτά, καὶ ὁ ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ ὁμοίως μὴ ἐπιστρεψάτω εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω. μνημονεύετε τῆς γυναικὸς Λώτ. ὃς ἐὰν ζητήσῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ σῶσαι, ἀπολέσει αὐτήν, καὶ ὃς ἐὰν ἀπολέσῃ αὐτήν, ζωογονήσει αὐτήν. λέγω ὑμῖν, ταύτῃ τῇ νυκτὶ δύο ἔσονται ἐπὶ κλίνης μιᾶς, εἷς παραληφθήσεται καὶ ὁ ἕτερος ἀφεθήσεται· δύο ἔσονται ἀλήθουσαι ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό, μία παραληφθήσεται καὶ ἡ ἑτέρα ἀφεθήσεται· δύο ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ, εἷς παραληφθήσεται καὶ ὁ ἕτερος ἀφεθήσεται. καὶ ἀποκριθέντες λέγουσιν αὐτῷ· ποῦ, Κύριε; ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· ὅπου τὸ σῶμα, ἐκεῖ ἐπισυναχθήσονται καὶ οἱ ἀετοί.

As it happened in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People ate, drank, got married and were given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered into the ark; and the flood came, destroying them all. Likewise, as it also happened in the days of Lot: people ate, drank, bought, sold, planted and built. But in the day that Lot went out from Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from the sky which destroyed them all. It will be the same in the day that the Son of Man is revealed. In that day, whoever is on the housetop, having his goods in the house, should not go down to take them away! Likewise, whoever is in the field should not return. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you that in that night, there will be two people in one bed! One will be taken, and the other will be left. There will be two grinding grain together. One will be taken, and the other will be left. Two will be in the field: one will be taken, and the other left. In reply, the disciples asked him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, Where the body is, there the eagles will also be assembled.

Luke 17:26-37, Eastern Orthodox Bible New Testament

 


17:26-37

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Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his lift shall preserve it (Luke 17:33).  One must understand this as follows: to save your life means to pity yourself, while to lose your life means not to pity yourself – that is, on the path of the Lord’s commandments, or in working for the Lord.  So, it is like this: he who works for the Lord, fulfilling His commandments without pitying himself, is saved, while he who pities himself perishes. If you pity yourself, you will unfailingly turn out to be a transgressor of the commandments and, consequently, an unprofitable servant. And what is the sentence for an unprofitable servant? Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 25:30). Make an effort to observe yourself, if only for a single day, and you will see that self-pity distorts all of our works and kills the desire to do them. Without labor and effort, you will not do anything; but if you are grieved at forcing yourself – it all stops there. There are things you must do, like it or not. Such things are done without fail, difficult as they may be. But here self-pity is overcome by self-pity. If you do not do them, there will be nothing to eat. But since the things required by the commandments are not of that nature, then in the face of self-pity they are always omitted. Likewise, out of self-pity allowances are made when it comes to bad deeds. One hates to refuse himself what he wants and so the desire is fulfilled, even though it is either outright sinful, or will lead to sin. Thus it always goes with one who pities himself – what he should do, he does not do, and what he should not do, he indulges himself in doing; and he ends up good for nothing. What salvation can there be in this?

St. Theophan the Recluse (Russia, 19th c.), Thoughts for Each Day of the Year (tr. from the Russian by Lisa Marie Baranov, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2010)

 


17:26-30

As it happened in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People ate, drank, got married and were given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered into the ark; and the flood came, destroying them all. Likewise, as it also happened in the days of Lot: people ate, drank, bought, sold, planted and built. But in the day that Lot went out from Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from the sky which destroyed them all. It will be the same in the day that the Son of Man is revealed.

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By further examples the Lord indicates the suddenness and the unexpectedness of His second coming. Just as the flood came suddenly at the time of Noah and carried everyone away, just as suddenly will He come again. By referring to the men at the time of flood, and to the Sodomites, He also indicates that when the Antichrist comes shameful pleasures will be commonplace among people, and they will become lewd sensualists, abandoning themselves to unlawful pleasures. This is just as the Apostle said, that in the last days men would become lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God [II Tim 3:4]. It is fitting that wickedness should flourish during the reign of the deceiver, for he is the vile haunt of every evil and every sin. For what other way of life than his own would he make to prevail among the wretched generation of men at that time? Can anything pure arise out of uncleanliness? Therefore the people of that time will be given over to every voluptuous pleasure just as in the time of Noah, not expecting anything unpleasant in the future. and disbelieving anyone who speaks to them of unpleasant things that will happen to them. Even so did the people disbelieve the warnings of Noah and Lot.

St. Theophylact of Ochrid (Macedonia, 11th c.), Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke (tr. from the Greek by Fr. Christopher Stade; Chrysostom Press, 2004)

 


17:31-33

In that day, whoever is on the housetop, having his goods in the house, should not go down to take them away! Likewise, whoever is in the field should not return. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it.

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In that day of the coming of the Antichrist, he who is on the housetop, that is, he who has attained the heights of virtue, let him not come down from that place, nor let him become lax in the practice of virtue for any worldly reason. For all the things of this life, no matter whether they be used by one man unto virtue, or by another unto vice, are nothing more than pots and pans. Therefore let him who is standing on the heights of virtue not come down for the sake of anything worldly, nor let him fall from that height. Instead let him stand firmly against wickedness and not become weak and cowardly. And he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. He that is in the field, meaning, in this world laboring for virtue, should not turn back but should reach forward to the things that are before him. As the Lord says in another place, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God [Lk 9:62]. He adds the example of Lot’s wife, who looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt [Gen 19:26]. This signifies that she had not fled from wickedness, but had stayed behind in that foul and brackish state, and became completely wicked. And thus immobile and fixed in her wickedness, it was as if the defeat she had suffered had been inscribed on a pillar for all to read as a memorial. Then the Lord speaks words which follow from what He has just said, Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it. During the persecutions of the Antichrist, He is saying, let no one indulge himself in cares for his own life. If he does so, he shall lose it. But whoever gives himself over to danger and slaughter shall be saved, because he did not submit to the Antichrist’s tyranny on account of his love of life. The Lord had just said. “Let him who is on a high place of virtue not come down because he regards the affairs of this life and his resolve is weakened by wealth and possessions, and thus he abandons his resistance.” Now He says, “Let him go forward on the path, [as did Lot]. I do not only say, Let him not come down from virtue because of worldly goods, but I go further: let him not abandon virtue for the sake of anything external whatsoever. Let not even the desire to preserve his life incline him towards that deceiver and persecutor, the Antichrist.” Matthew says that the Lord spoke all these things in regard to the capture of Jerusalem, indicating the assault of enemies and that when the Romans attacked, they should flee without turning back; and those on the rooftops should not come down to get anything that they might need, but should flee at once, for there would be no time to spare in which to make preparations: nor should those in the fields return to the house. And those in the house should flee [Mat 24:14-22]. Do not wonder [that in Luke’s Gospel the Lord speaks of these things in reference to His second coming]. Because these things happened when Jerusalem was captured, it does not follow that they will not happen again when the Antichrist comes. Indeed, at the time of the end of the world, there will be unendurable affliction.

St. Theophylact of Ochrid

 


17:31a

In that day, whoever is on the housetop, having his goods in the house, should not go down to take them away!

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He strengthens them for the remembrance of the last day and the final time. He commands them to disregard all earthly and temporal matters. and look only unto one end, the duty namely of everyone saving his soul. As to the one on the housetop, he apparently means the man who is at ease, living in wealth and worldly glory. For those always upon the housetops are conspicuous in the eyes of them who are around the house. Let him at that time make no account of the goods stored up in his house.

St. Cyril of Alexandria (5th c.), Homilies on the Gospel According to St. Luke, Homily 118

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If anyone is placed on the roof, that is, already on the heights, having ascended the summit of his house and his outstanding virtues, let him not return to the earthly works of this world. Therefore the roof is the office of a lofty mind and the summit of the soul, so that the naked weakness of the body is concealed

St. Ambrose of Milan (4th c.), Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke

 


17:31b

Likewise, whoever is in the field should not return.

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To the one in the field – that is, anyone found devoted to industry and occupied in labors, and who is earnestly desirous of spiritual fruitfulness and gathering the wages of virtuous toil – let him hold firmly to this diligence. Let him not return back

St. Cyril of Alexandria

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How may I understand what is the field unless Jesus Himself teaches me, saying, No one, having put his hand upon the plow, and looking to the things behind, is fit for the kingdom of God [Lk 9:62]? The idler sits in the farmhouse, the industrious sows in the field; the weak at the hearth, the strong at the plow. A field is full of flowers, it is full of diverse fruits. So plow your field if you would be sent to the kingdom of God. Let your field flower, fruitful with good deserts

St. Ambrose of Milan

 


17:34-36

I tell you that in that night, there will be two people in one bed! One will be taken, and the other will be left. There will be two grinding grain together. One will be taken, and the other will be left.

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The Lord scrutinizes not the public obedience, but the private disposition; for if ye offer aright and do not rightly divide, the sacrifice is not acceptable to God [cf. Gen. 4:7]. Therefore from one bed – for it is the bed of human weakness, because it is written: May the Lord help him on his bed of pain; the whole of his confinement in his sickness hast Thou turned to the better [Ps. 40:3 LXX]* – the one is left, the other is taken

Two women are working in one field: one will be taken (the good sower, who has not sown upon the road, but upon plowed and cultivated land, so that the earth multiplies fruit pressed by humility not scattered by ostentation), and the other will be left (the sower of tares, from which a contemptible flour is made) …. Nor is it unknown to interpret two peoples, namely, that in this world, which is very often likened to a field [cf. Mt. 13:38], there are two peoples, the one of believers, the other which does not believe, who will receive the reward of their merits; and, therefore, the one which is faithful is taken, the other which is faithless is left.

Then the two women grinding are two souls, or, surely, the Church and the Synagogue; for an image in Holy Writ is wont to be not only single, but manifold, so that one saying may encompass many aspects. Thus, the mind of the flesh, and the soul of the flesh, and the Synagogue, gather the wheat and grind the flour which is offered in vain [cf. Is. 1:13]; but the mind which is the recipient of salvation, or the Church of God, refines and grinds the spiritual flour of the true law.

St. Ambrose of Milan

*St. Ambrose probably followed the Old Latin version of the Psalms, which was based on the pre-Christian Greek Septuagint. The King James Version, based on a medieval Masoretic transcription (Psalm 41:3) reads: The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: Thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness, but according to the apparatus in the JPS Tanakh (Oxford, 2004), the meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain.


17:34-37

“I tell you that in that night, there will be two people in one bed! One will be taken, and the other will be left. There will be two grinding grain together. One will be taken, and the other will be left.” Two will be in the field: one will be taken, and the other left. In reply, the disciples asked him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the body is, there the eagles will also be assembled.”

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Here again we learn how sudden and unexpected His second coming will be. By saying that there will be two on one couch, He shows the leisure and unconcern in which His coming will find them. The two women grinding together are another indication that His coming will be unexpected. We also learn that His coming will be in the night. He is saying, therefore, that of the wealthy, whose riches allow them to take their ease upon their couches, some will be saved, and some will not. Because He had said before that it is hard for a rich man to be saved [Mt 19:23, Mk 10:23], now He shows that not all the rich perish and that not all the poor are saved. Of the rich, one is taken and caught up into the resurrection of the Lord [I Th 4:17], because he is light in spirit and heavenly, while another is left below, condemned. Likewise, of the poor, whom He signifies by mentioning those who grind flour, one will be saved and another will not. Not all the poor are righteous: some of them are thieves and pickpockets. By those grinding, therefore, He indicates the toilsome life of the poor. The disciples ask, “Where, Lord, will they go who shall be taken?” and He answers, Where the corpse is, there also will the eagles be. This means, Where the Son of Man is, there also will all the saints be, for they are light and soaring, unlike those heavy with sin who are left below. When the Son of Man, Who died for our sake and was laid out as a corpse, appears from the heavens, all the saints and angels will gather around Him, just as all the birds which feed on flesh gather around a dead body, With them He will come in the glory of the Father and with ineffable splendor. He called the time of His coming night because of its unexpectedness and because it would bring darkness to sinners. But for the righteous, Light will arise, and indeed they themselves will shine like the Sun.

St. Theophylact of Ochrid

 


17:34a

I tell you that in that night, there will be two people in one bed!

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He calls the time of judgment night, because, as I imagine, of His advent being unknown and unexpected. The prophet says, Woe to you that desire the day of the Lord! What is the day of the Lord to you? Whereas it is darkness, and not light [Amos 5: 18]. Christ also says elsewhere: It is needful for Me to be working the works of the One Who sent Me while it is day; night cometh when no one is able to be working [Jn 9:4].

St. Cyril of Alexandria

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He fittingly said “night” because Antichrist is the hour of darkness, inasmuch as he spreads darkness in the hearts of men, when he says he is the Christ; and false prophets shall arise and say that now Jesus is in the desert, so that they now mock with the error of vague conjecture in the inner places [Mt 24:24,26; Lk 17:21,23] …. But Christ, like flashing lightning [Mt 24:27; Lk 17:24], scatters the spheres of His light throughout the world. He does not wander through the desert, nor is He enclosed in some other places … but He shines with the light of His splendor, so that we may see His glory in that night of the resurrection.

St. Ambrose of Milan

 


17:34b

One will be taken, and the other will be left

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He seems to hint at those who live in rest and plenty, and are equal to one another, as far as regards their being possessed of worldly affluence; for the bed is the symbol of rest. How or in what manner shall one be taken and one left? It is because not all those who are possessed of wealth and ease in this world are wicked and merciless. The rich man who makes for himself friends by his use of the unrighteous mammon, this man is taken; but the other, who was not thus minded, shall be left.

St. Cyril of Alexandria

 


17:37b

Where the body is, there the eagles will also be assembled.

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He hints at a great and profound mystery: That He shall descend from heaven to judge the world in righteousness. He will send His angels, and they shall choose the righteous and the holy from among the sinners, and bring them near to Him; but the others they will leave …. He says, therefore, just as when a corpse is exposed, carnivorous birds assemble to it, so when the Son of Man shall appear, then certainly shall the eagles, even those who fly aloft and rise superior to earthly things, shall hasten to Him

St. Cyril of Alexandria

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The souls of the righteous are likened unto eagles, because they seek the heights …. Joseph received the body from Pilate [Jn 19:38]. Does it not seem to you that the eagles round the body are Mary the wife of Cleopas, Mary Magdalene, and the Mother of the Lord [Jn 19:25], and the assembly of the apostles round the Lord’s tomb? Do there not seem to you to be eagles round the body, when the Son of Man comes with perceptible clouds [Rev 1:7]? There is also a body of which it is said, For My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink [Jn 6:55]. Round this body too there are eagles which fly on spiritual wings. Round the body there are also eagles which believe that Jesus has come in the flesh, because Every spirit which confesseth that Jesus Christ hath come in the flesh is of God [1 Jn 4:2]. … The body is also the Church, in which we are renewed in the spirit [Eph 4:23], through the grace of Baptism, and the frailties of old age are restored for ages of new life.

St. Ambrose of Milan

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