Reconciliation On Wealth and Poverty: We Own Nothing

For our money is the Lord’s, however we may have gathered it.  If we provide for those in need, we shall obtain plenty.  This is why God allowed you to have more; not to waste it on prostitutes, drink, fancy food, expensive clothes, and all other kinds of indolence, but for you to distribute to those in need. 

John Chrysostom, Second Sermon on Lazarus and the Rich Man (1)

 

Perhaps one of the greatest roadblocks to reconciliation is the myth that we own something.  That we go out to work, earn a salary, put a little in a savings account, make a few investments, purchase a few things, receive tax returns, get company bonuses, get promotions on the job, inherit something from a deceased relative and we can call these things, “ours.”  I confess that I am like everyone else.  I have a car, house, and an earned paycheck like most everyone else.  But, none of these things are really mine.  Though paid for, the car can be totalled in one accident.  The mortgage company owns the house.  The company I work for can decide that they no longer need my services.  The truth is that God has granted me an income and possessions.  The Psalmist spells it out perfectly, “The earth is the Lord’s and its fullness.  The world and all who dwell therein.” (2).  I don’t own a thing.  None of us do.

Monks and nuns live in communities where nothing is considered to be his or her own.  Macarius the Great caught a man in the act of stealing from his hermitage.  Rather than stop the thief, the saint helped him tie up the goods on his donkey and sent him on his way (3).  As he spent time as a monastic before becoming a priest and bishop, John Chrysostom understood the need for people to reject the idea of ownership.  Instead, he taught that we are merely stewards of God’s possessions and wealth and we are called to take only what we need for ourselves and distribute the rest to those in need (4).

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Chances are that Chrysostom did not pull such an idea out of a vacuum.  Discussing the end times with the disciples Jesus describes a servant placed in charge by his master to give food at the proper time to his fellow servants (5).  As our Lord tells the parable, the steward felt he had plenty of time to follow his master’s orders and began to abuse his fellows, over indulge, and spend time with drunkards.  The end result of the steward is no different from the land owner who sought to tear down his barns and build bigger ones (6), rich man with Lazarus (7).  If we are responsible to live on what we need and share the rest with others, there is a blessing.  If we are irresponsible and indulge ourselves on our excesses, we will have to answer God on the day of judgement.

Going back to the Lord’s parable in Matthew, when we fail to be responsible to distribute to our brothers and sisters according to God’s will, we open the doors of our hearts to gluttony, intoxication, and apathy and hostility to others.  Likewise the land owner may have put in the labor to gain such a crop that was larger than his barns, God still called him a ‘fool’ for not sharing the resources to the point where they could fit in the structures he had.  In the parable used by Chrysostom, Abraham, the patriarch who welcomed strangers – entertaining angels in the process, embraced the poor and sick Lazarus in heaven while the rich man who had him at his gate in life was eternally separated from the welcomed soul as he burned in torment (8).

biblical quote help poor

If the idea of us having a right to our excesses and not share our resources separates us from God, it can’t help but to separate us from each other. We aren’t satisfied with what we have as commercialism persuades us to keep up with the latest fashion.  We buy the latest model to keep pace with neighbors and boast against rivals.  If someone refuses to buy into this mentality, we say such a person is behind the times, or just being cheap.  If someone cannot afford a place to live and proper food, it is because he made the wrong decisions and don’t deserve aid nor pity.  Thus, we kick them around as we indulge ourselves and spend time with the indulgent.  We deny them access to resources as we keep them for ourselves.  We are even so blind to the needs of others that we can’t even see our brothers and sisters at our gates.  The more we behave like this, the more we risk God Himself calling us ‘fools,’ thrown away from His presence, and into a torment where there is no relief.

Conventional wisdom says we should live within our means.  A deeper spiritual wisdom, that seen by Chrysostom and other saints, urges us to live within our needs.  We don’t have to chase after the newest time-saving gadgets (and still complain that we don’t have enough hours in a day).  Just because a restaurant has a ‘all you can eat’ buffet, does it mean we should?  And even for those of us who for whatever reason cannot afford to live in luxury, let us share compassion for those who society despises and ignores.  We can give our time to people who are forgotten about and pushed aside in our world where so many people look our for “me, my four, and no more.”  In all things, let us be committed to inward spiritual growth so that God can direct us on how best to show His light to others.

 

 

  1. John Chrysostom, On Wealth and Poverty, SVS Press, pgs. 49, 50
  2. Psalm 23 (24):1, Orthodox Study Bible
  3. Fr. Jerome Sanderson, Saints of Africa, Christ the Savior Brotherhood, pg. 28
  4. Chrysostom, pg. 50
  5. Matthew 24:45-51
  6. Luke 12:16-21
  7. Luke 16:19-26
  8. Chrysostom, pgs. 50, 51
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