I don’t really have the voice of a prophet. If I did I would eloquently indict both sides of the aisle for not really caring about the poor. Well, not caring enough that is. For if the Democrats cared enough they would have pushed the healthcare plan that was originally on the table when they had the majority’s rule in both the House and the Senate. It would have been a hell of a fight but they would have won. I think after three and a half years it is plain that they just didn’t care enough to have that fight. They fought hard enough to make us want to believe they cared but not too hard so that their other political priorities would not get compromised. If the Republicans cared enough they would have gone back to their local communities and mobilized their community leaders to find creative and unique ways to get healthcare to the people who need it so desperately. It could have been an insurgency that far surpassed what we all saw in Obama’s presidential race four years ago. They could have made a government sponsored healthcare plan completely irrelevant. Instead they put their political energy and power into rhetoric that would fortify their base’s fidelity to the omnipotent Market and conservative ideology. After all of their regurgitation of the Enlightenment’s worship of the Sovereign Individual they didn’t do much for the individuals that were in their charge as representatives of “the people”.
For the American Church I would have the most heated indictments for they have so utterly confused the nature of their citizenship in pledging their undying allegiance to the republic to the detriment of the missio Dei. For they have allowed the story of liberalism – a story that is entirely predisposed to be a counterfeit gospel that promises us salvation and freedom – to define for them key terms like life, freedom and justice. They have put down their crosses and picked up their flags.
But like I said, I’m no prophet. I’m a theologian. My task, in part, is not to speak into the world and Church with wind and fire but remind the Church of her story – her history of what it has meant to be a particular people while waiting for her groom to arrive – and share to the world God’s desire for reconciliation and redemption. And today I am reminded of St. John of Chrysostom’s second sermon on the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16:19-31. Below is a long passage of that sermon (you can find the full text here). Read it, digest it and begin to imagine what kind of world is possible if we become the people we are called to be – a royal priesthood saved by the grace of the Father.
On Lazarus and the Rich Man
We learn from this that all those whom we have de-spitefully treated or wronged will then meet us face to face. Still this man was not in any way wronged by the rich man: for the rich man did not seize any of his property; yet he bestowed not upon him any of his own. And since he did not bestow anything on him, he had the neglected poor man for his accuser. What mercy can he expect who has robbed other men’s goods, when he is surrounded by all those whom he has injured! No need is there of witnesses, none of accusers, none of evidences or proofs; but the very deeds themselves, whatsoever we have committed, will then be placed before our own eyes.
Behold, then, it is said, the man and his works. This also is robbery—-not to impart our good things to others. Very likely it may seem to you a strange saying; but wonder not at it, for I will, from the Divine Scriptures, bring testimony showing that not only robbery of other men’s goods, but also the not imparting our own good things to others,—-that this also is robbery, and covetous-ness, and fraud. What then is this testimony? God, rebuking the Jews, speaks thus through the prophet: “The earth has brought forth her fruit, and ye have not brought in the tithes; but the plunder of the poor is in your houses,” (Mal. iii. 10.) Since, it is said, ye have not given the customary oblations, ye have robbed the poor. This is said in order to show to the rich that they possess things which belong to the poor, even if their property be gained by inheritance,—-in fact, from what source so ever their substance be derived. And, again, in another place, it is said, “Do not deprive the poor of life,” (Ecclus. iv. 1.) Now, he who deprives, deprives some other man of property. It is said to be deprivation when we retain things taken from others. And in this way, therefore, we are taught that if we do not bestow alms, we shall be treated in the same way as those who have been extortioners. Our Lord’s things they are, from whencesoever we may obtain them. And if we distribute to the needy we shall obtain for ourselves great abundance. And for this it is that God has permitted you to possess much,—-not that you should spend it in fornication, in drunkenness, in gluttony, in rich clothing, or any other mode of luxury, but that you should distribute it to the needy. And just as if a receiver of taxes, having in charge the king’s property, should not distribute it to those for whom it is ordered, but should spend it for his own enjoyment, he would pay the penalty and come to ruin; thus also the rich man is, as it were, a receiver of goods which are destined to be dispensed to the poor—-to those of his fellow-servants who are in want. If he then should spend upon himself more than he really needs, he will pay hereafter a heavy penalty. For the things he has are not his own, but are the things of his fellow-servants.
Let us then be as sparing of our possessions as we should be of those of other people, that they may become really our own. In what manner, then, can we be as sparing of them as of those of other people? By not expending them on superfluous wants, nor for our own needs only, but by imparting them also to the poor. Even if you are a rich man, if you spend more than you need, you will render an account of the property which has been entrusted to you. This same thing happens in great households. Many in this way entrust their entire property into the hands of dependants; yet those who are thus trusted take care of the things delivered to them, and do not squander the deposit, but distribute to whomsoever and whensoever the master orders. The same thing do you. If you have received more than others, you have received it, not that you only should spend it, but that you should be a good steward of it for the advantage of others.
It is worth while to inquire here, why it was that the rich man beheld Lazarus, not in company with any other of the just, but in the bosom of Abraham? Abraham was hospitable, and that there might be this rebuke of his own inhospitality, therefore it was that the rich man saw Lazarus there. Abraham used to lie in wait for those who passed by, and constrain them to enter his abode; but this rich man neglected even one that lay within his very porch; and while he had such a treasure, such an opportunity of salvation, overlooked it each day, and did not show kindness to the poor man, even with respect to the necessaries of life. But the patriarch was not like this. He was the very opposite. Sitting at the tent-door he captured, as it were, all those that passed by, and as a fisher casting his net into the sea, draws up fishes, and draws up also, it may be, sometimes gold or pearls, so also he, a fisher of men, once entertained even angels; and there was this wonderful circumstance, that he did so without knowing it. The same thing also St Paul with much admiration insists on, in these words: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares,” (Heb. xiii. 2.) And well does he say unawares. For if they had knowingly received them with such good-will, they would have done no great or wonderful thing: all the praise depends on the fact that not knowing who they were that passed by, and supposing them to be simply wayfaring men, they with such alacrity invited them to enter. If when you receive some noble and honourable man you display such zeal as this, you do nothing wonderful; for the nobility of the guest obliges even the inhospitable often to show all kindness. It is this that is great and admirable,—-that when they are chance guests, wanderers, people of limited means, we receive them with great good-will. Thus also Christ, speaking of those who acted thus, said: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto Me,” (Matt. xxv. 45.) And again, “It is not the will of your Father that one of these little ones should perish,” (Matt. xviii. 14.) And again, “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were cast into the sea,” (Matt. xviii. 6.) And at all times Christ said much on behalf of the poor and lowly.
Since Abraham also was wise in this respect, he did not inquire of travelers as to who they were, or from whence they came, as we do in these days; but he simply received all who passed by. It becomes him that is truly well-disposed not to require an account of a man’s past life, but simply to relieve poverty and to satisfy want. The poor man has only one plea—-his poverty, and his being in want. Demand from him nothing more; but if he be the most wicked of all, and be in need of necessary food, you ought to satisfy his hunger. Thus did Christ command us to do, when he said, “Be ye like your Father which is in heaven, for He maketh His sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust,” (Matt. v. 45.) The merciful man is as a harbour to those who are in need; and the harbour receives all who are escaping shipwreck, and frees them from danger, whether they be evil or good; whatsoever kind of men they be that are in peril, it receives them into its shelter. You also, when you see a man suffering shipwreck on land through poverty, do not sit in judgment on him, nor require explanations, but relieve his distress. Why do you give yourself unnecessary trouble? God frees you from all such anxiety and labour. How many things would many men have said, and how many difficulties would they have caused, if God had commanded us to inquire accurately into a man’s life, his antecedents, the things which each man had previously done; and after this, to have pity on him! But now are we free from all this trouble. “Why, then, do we burden ourselves with superfluous cares? To be a judge is one thing, to be merciful is another. Mercy is called by that name for this reason, that it gives even to the unworthy. This again St Paul teaches, when he says, “Be not weary in doing good, indeed to all, but especially unto them that are of the household of faith,” (Gal. vi. 10.) If we are concerned and troubled about keeping the unworthy away, it will not be likely that the worthy come within our reach; but if we impart to the unworthy, also the worthy —-even those who are so worthy as to counterbalance all the rest—-will assuredly come under our influence. In this way it befell Abraham, of blessed memory, who, not troubling himself nor being inquisitive about these wayfarers, was once privileged to entertain even angels. Him let us zealously imitate, and also his descendant Job. For even he imitated with all diligence the magnanimity of his progenitor, and therefore spoke thus: “My door was open to every traveller,” (Job xxxi. 32, LXX.) It was not open to one and. closed to another, but open to all alike.
Thus, I beseech you, let us also do, not making a more minute inquiry than is necessary. For the need of the poor man is a sufficient cause of itself; and whosoever with this qualification should at any time come to us, let us not trouble ourselves further; for we do not minister to the character, but to the man: we have pity on him, not on account of his virtue, but on account of his calamity, in order that we also may gain that great mercy from the Lord—-that we also, though unworthy, may gain His favour. For if we seek for worthiness in our fellow-servants, and make diligent inquiry, the same also will God do to us; and if we demand explanations from our fellow-servants, we ourselves shall fail to gain favour from above. “With what judgment,” it is said, “ye judge, ye shall be judged,” (Matt. viii.)
But let us again turn our discourse to the subject on hand. Seeing this poor man, therefore, in the bosom of Abraham, the rich man said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus.” Why does he not address his words to Lazarus? It seems to me that he was ashamed and daunted, and that he thought that Lazarus would assuredly retain an angry remembrance of the things done to him. He would say within himself, “If I, while I enjoyed such abundance, and without any just complaint against him, neglected this man when he lived in such misery, and did not bestow upon him even the crumbs, much more will he who has been thus neglected, not yield to pity.” We do not say this to disparage Lazarus; for he was not at all thus disposed—-far from it; but the rich man, fearing such things as this, did not address him, but raised his voice to Abraham, whom he might suppose to be ignorant of what had happened. And now he strove to gain the service of that finger which he had often allowed to be licked by dogs.
What then did Abraham say to him? “Son! thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things,” (Luke xvi. 25.) Mark the wisdom—-mark the tenderness of the saint! He did not say, “Inhuman and cruel man! full of all wickedness! Having inflicted such evils on this man, dost thou now speak of benevolence, or pity, or compassion! Dost thou not blush! Art thou not ashamed!” But what does he say? “Son,” he saith, “thou receivedst thy good things.” For it is also written, “Thou shalt not add trouble to an afflicted soul,” (Ecclus. iv. 3.) The trouble which he has brought upon himself is sufficient. Besides this, and to the end that you may not suppose that he hinders Lazarus from going to the rich man because of any feeling of revenge for the past, Abraham addresses him as “son,” as if he would by this mode of address apologise for himself. “Whatever is in my power,” he implies, “I grant to thee; but to leave this place is not now in my power. Thou didst receive thy good things.” Why also did he not say “thou hadst”, but “thou receivedst”? Here I perceive a vast sea of thought opening out before us.
Therefore, keeping in mind with all care the things which have been already said, as well those now said as those yesterday, let us safely store them in the mind. By means of that which has been said, make yourselves better prepared to hear that which will be spoken on another occasion, and, if possible, remember all that has been said; and if that be not possible, I beg that, chiefest of all, you will remember constantly that not to share our own riches with the poor is a robbery of the poor, and a depriving them of their livelihood; and that that which we possess is not only our own, but also theirs. If our minds are disposed in accordance with this truth, we shall freely use all our possessions; we shall feed Christ while hungering here, and we shall lay up great treasures there; we shall, be enabled to attain future blessedness, by the grace and favour of our Lord, with whom, to the Father and the Holy Spirit, be glory, honour, might, now and ever, even to all eternity. Amen.