Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What Did You Steal Today?

Chrysostom doesn't pull any punches in his second sermon on Lazarus and the Rich Man. The following section is particularly condemning:

"See the man," He says, "and his works: indeed this also is theft, not to share one's possessions." Perhaps this statement seems surprising to you, but do not be surprised. I shall bring you testimony from the divine Scriptures, saying that not only the theft of others' goods but also the failure to share one's own goods with others is theft and swindle and defraudation. What is this testimony? Accusing the Jews by the prophet, God says, "The earth has brought forth her increase, and you have not brought forth your tithes; but the theft of the poor is in your houses." Since you have not given the accustomed offerings, He says, you have stolen the goods of the poor. He says this to show the rich that they hold the goods of the poor even if they have inherited them from their fathers or no matter how they have gathered their wealth. And elsewhere the Scripture says, "Deprive not the poor of his living." To deprive is to take what belongs to another; for it is called deprivation when we take and keep what belongs to others. By this we are taught that when we do not show mercy, we will be punished just like those who steal. For our money is the Lord's, however we may have gathered it. If we provide for those in need, we shall obtain great plenty. This is why God has allowed you to have more: not for you to waste on prostitutes, drink, fancy food, expensive clothes and all the other kinds of indolence, but for you to distribute to those in need. Just as an official in the imperial treasury, if he neglects to distribute where he is ordered, but spends instead for his own indolence, pays the penalty and is put to death, so also the rich man is a kind of steward of the money which is owed for distribution to the poor. He is directed to distribute it to his fellow servants who are in want. So if he spends more on himself than his need requires, he will pay the harshest penalty hereafter. For his own goods are not his own, but belong to his fellow servants. (49-50)
Christina, stop buying shoes and get that baby some pants.
Will that preach? Anything that one has beyond her needs, beyond what she requires to live, is an excess that she owes to the poor so that their needs are met. When one doesn't fulfill that obligation, one deprives the poor of what is rightfully theirs. God demands that no one suffer any need. God demands that no one go hungry or thirsty or without shelter or medical care, and the moment that anyone does, (and we know that they do), we are presented with nothing but evidence that the rest of us are stealing their very lives from them.

Run and tell that.

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

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