A kindness received should be returned with a freer hand. This is shown by the example of the earth. A passage from Solomon about feasting is adduced to prove the same, and is expounded later in a spiritual sense.
160. It is also right 233 that more regard should be paid to him who has conferred some benefit or gift upon thee, if he ever is reduced to want. For what is so contrary to ones duty as not to return what one has received? Nor do I think that a return of equal value should be made, but a greater. One ought to make up for the enjoyment of a kindness one has received from another, to such an extent as to help that person, even to putting an end to his needs. For not to be the better in returning than in conferring a kindness, is to be the inferior; for he who was the first to give was the first in point of time, and also first in showing a kind disposition.
161. Wherefore we must imitate the nature of the earth 234 in this respect, which is wont to return the seed she has received, multiplied a thousand-fold. And so it is written: “As a field is the foolish man, and as a vineyard is the man without sense. If thou leavest him, he will be made desolate.” 235 As a field also is the wise man, so as to return the seed given him in fuller measure, as though it had been lent to him on interest. The earth either produces fruits of its own accord, or pays back and restores, what it was entrusted with, in fruitful abundance. In both these ways a return is due from thee, when thou enterest upon the use of thy fathers possession, that thou mayest not be left to lie as an unfruitful field. It may be that a man can make an excuse for not giving anything, but how can he excuse himself for not returning what was given? It is hardly right not to give anything; it is certainly not right to make no return for kindness done to oneself. 236
162. Therefore Solomon says well: “When thou sittest to eat at the table of a ruler consider diligently what is before thee, and put forth thine hand, knowing that it behoves thee to make such preparations. But if thou art insatiable, be not desirous of his dainties, for they have but a deceptive life.” 237 I have written these words as I wish that we all should follow them. It is a good thing to do a service, but he who knows not how to return one is very hard. The earth herself supplies an example of kindliness. She provides fruits of her own accord, which thou didst not sow; she also returns many-fold what she has received. It is not right for thee to deny knowledge of money paid in to thee, and how can it be right to let a service done go without notice? In the book of Proverbs also it is said: that the p. 28 repayment of kindness has such great power with God, that through it, even in the day of destruction, a man may find grace, though his sins outweigh all else. 238 And why need I bring forward other examples when the Lord Himself promises in the Gospel a fuller reward to the merits of the saints, and exhorts us to do good works, saying: “Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven; give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, shaken together and running over, shall men give into your bosom.” 239
163. But the feasting that Solomon speaks of has not to do with common food only, but it is to be understood as having to do with good works. For how can the soul be feasted in better wise than on good works; or what can so easily fill the mind of the just as the knowledge of a good work done? What pleasanter food is there than to do the will of God? The Lord has told us that He had this food alone in abundance, as it is written in the Gospel, saying: “My food is to do the will of My Father which is in heaven.” 240
164. In this food let us delight of which the prophet says: “Delight thou in the Lord.” 241 In this food they delight, who have with wonderful knowledge learnt to take in the higher delights; who can know what that delight is which is pure and which can be understood by the mind. Let us therefore eat the bread of wisdom, and let us be filled with the word of God. For the life of man made in the image of God consists not in bread alone, but in every word that cometh from God. 242 About the cup, too, holy Job says, plainly enough: “As the earth waiteth for the rain, so did they for my words.” 243
Prov. xxiv. 30 [LXX].27:236 27:237
Prov. xxiii. 1 [LXX.].28:238
Allusion is made to Ecclesiasticus 3.31.28:239 28:240
S. John iv. 34.28:241 28:242
S. Matt. iv. 4.28:243