Today I read John Chrysostom's first sermon on “Lazarus and the Rich Man.” You can read it here too. I’ll spend a few posts on this sermon since it's lush with material for meditation, but I want to start with one particularly captivating image.
Part of the genius of this sermon is that Chrysostom delivers this masterful portrayal of the evils of excess on the day after the big new year’s festival. Now Chrysostom begins by lavishing great praise on the virtue of those who stayed in the church all night praying rather than participating in the shameful drunken debauchery that the festival brought, but come on! You and I and certainly Chrysostom know that not everyone hearing this sermon was at his wholesome, prayer-filled lock-in eating collard greens and black-eyed peas. No, this little homily right here is for those whose throats are sore not from singing psalms but from yelling, “Woooooooo!” and “Let’s streak the forum!” all night long.
After congratulating the virtuous while keeping his eyes sternly set on the, um, “others,” Chrysostom turns to the task of examining the sin of extravagance. The argument is basic: The luxuries we have are material evidence that we had the means to provide charity but we chose to indulge our own vanity instead. Chrysostom then invites his congregation to view extravagant jewels, posh clothes and fine perfumes not as adornments which enhance one’s beauty but as vile objects marking the sin of self indulgence at the expense of love of neighbor. This is where things get awesome:
For the fragrance of the body and the clothes would be a sign of the stench and filthiness of the inner man. When the devil attacks and breaks down the soul with self-indulgence, and fills it with great frivolity, then he wipes off the stain of his own corruption on the body also with perfumes. Just as those who are continually afflicted with a nasal discharge and catarrh will stain their clothes, their hands and their faces as they continually wipe off the discharge from their noses, so also the soul of this wicked man will wipe off the discharge of evil on his body.1
|Oh, no! It looks like Satan sneezed all over Kanye!|
1 John Chrysostom, St. John Chrysostom on Wealth and Poverty (trans. Catharine P. Roth; Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984) 26.