What I tell you in darkness, that speak in light: and what you hear in the ear, that preach upon the housetops.
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Eusebius of Emesa
But someone may ask, “If it is good to speak in the light, why did he himself speak in darkness? And if it is good to preach from the housetops, why did he himself quietly speak into their ears?” He keeps quiet because it is timely, but he instructs the disciples to proclaim and preach his words. He is not afraid—it is, rather, for ignorant people to fear the Lord Jesus. He is carefully managing his speech, much like a steward manages money. At times he keeps silent and at other appropriate times he speaks openly.
That which I tell you We must not suppose that our Saviour was accustomed to deliver his instructions to his apostles in the secret of the night, or teach them in private by whispers. But here he uses a figure of speech, to convey to the minds of his apostles the insignificancy of Judea, where he was speaking in comparison of the whole world, which they were to instruct; and the low whisper of his voice, compared to the sound which they shall send forth to the ends of the earth. (St. Chrysostom, hom. xxxv.)
Upon the house-tops. The tops of the houses in Palestine were flat, and the inhabitants were accustomed to assemble on them and discourse together in great numbers. To preach, therefore, on the top of a house, is the same as to preach where there is a great concourse of people. (Menochius)
We do not take this to mean that the Lord was accustomed to preach at night and to transmit his teaching in the dark. Rather, to those who are carnal, everything he said is darkness, and to unbelievers his word is night. … Therefore Jesus commands that those things which were said in the darkness should be preached in the light. In this way the things he secretly whispered into their ears will be heard from the housetops, from on high, through those who speak as heralds.
Yet it was not at all darkness, when He was saying these things; neither was He dis coursing unto them in the ear; but He used a strong figure, thus speaking. That is, because He was conversing with them alone, and in a small corner of Palestine, therefore He said, in darkness, and in the ear; contrasting the boldness of speech, which He was hereafter to confer on them, with the tone of the conversation which was then going on. For not to one, or two, or three cities, but to the whole world you shall preach, says He, traversing land and sea, the inhabited country, and the desert; to princes alike and tribes, to philosophers and orators, saying all with open face, and with all boldness of speech. Therefore, He said, On the house tops, and, In the light, without any shrinking, and with all freedom.
And wherefore said He not only, Preach on the housetops, and Speak in the light, but added also, What I tell you in darkness, and What ye hear in the ear? It was to raise up their spirits. ...
The point is not that Jesus was literally whispering into their ears or speaking in physical darkness. Rather, he was here pressing a strong figure of speech. He was conversing with them quietly and alone in a small corner of Palestine. In contrast with this tone of voice, they would soon be preaching with a boldness of speech that would in due time be conferred upon them. The metaphor of whispering in the ear in a dark place, in this present quietness, is contrasted with what is to come. For they were soon to be commissioned to speak not to one or two or three cities but to the whole world. They would soon be traversing land and sea, amid inhabited countries and across deserts, addressing both princes and tribes, philosophers and orators, telling it like it is with an open face and with all boldness of speech. The Gospel of Matthew, Homily
Those things, He says, which I have spoken to you alone and in one place, for that is what is meant by "in the ear" and "in darkness" you must teach with boldness in a strong voice so that all may hear you. But since dangers are also a consequence of boldness, He adds: