Monday, February 27, 2012

Am I the Rich Man's Keeper?

After his first sermon on Lazarus and the Rich Man, Chrysostom came right back at his congregation with a second. Here he emphasized the bliss that awaited Lazarus and the misery prepared for the Rich Man in the afterlife. Chrysostom was on a roll, preaching judgement and the torments of hell, but then he looked at his frightened, uncomfortable flock and offered the following:

I know that what I say is painful, but I cannot tell you how great a benefit it contains. If that rich man had had someone to give him this kind of advice, instead of flatterers who always suggested what he wanted to hear, and who dragged him into luxurious living, he would not have fallen into that hell, nor undergone the unendurable torments, nor repented too late for consolation; but since they all made conversation for his pleasure, they handed him over to the fire. (44)
The culpability for the Rich Man's lack of charity extends beyond his personal avarice. Those with access to him supported his indulgence in luxury because it served their own interests:

"Yes, a sumptuous feast in your honor does sound delightful!" (Invite me!)
"Yes, you simply must treat yourself by investing in that wine cellar!" (Don't forget my glass!)
"Yes, those silk robes will look absolutely divine on you!" (When you tire of them, let me have them!)

We're all wheeling Trump to hell in that tiny Mercedes.
Chrysostom calls these sycophants out for being the nasty, little demons that they are, but he also makes plain that it isn't enough for us to ensure that our own greed isn't driving the Rich Man straight to hell. We need to be the ones countering the flatterers, speaking the hard words, and extolling the virtues of charity. We must be sure that we aren't enabling the Rich Man's vice by either our activity or our passivity. We are just as blameworthy if we let the Rich Man wheel into the fire by his own devices as if we pushed the cart ourselves.

So where does that leave us in ministry? Well, Chrysostom calls us to some tricky business. He points to the church's obligation to name greed, to oppose self-indulgence, and not simply to watch that she not engage in those activities herself. This isn't just, "Check yourself before you wreck yourself," but also, "Check your friend so he doesn't bust his rear-end." This is Christianity 101 stuff.  This is nothing more than our responsibility to foster our neighbor's relationship with God, but this one is going to be rough. This one is about having a conversation with our wealthiest trustee about his decision to purchase a second Cadillac. This one is about confronting couples with their plans for extravagant wedding flowers and $400 a person receptions. This one is about challenging a family's desire for a $15,000 casket for their beloved. This one is about the minister biting the hand that feeds her. Are we really ready for that?

          Chrysostom, John. St. John Chrysostom on Wealth and Poverty. Trans. Catharine P. Roth. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984.


  1. I have done this, and my hand has been bitten, badly. However, ministry and life go one and now I bring the Word to those at the end of their lives in hospice and hospital settings. God is good. Now I am The Rev. Dr. and live by the grace of God.

  2. Thanks for your comment! I hope you'll stop by and chat some more! I'd especially love to hear any wisdom or just experiences you might have regarding wealth and end of life issues.