August 27, 2023

Homily Two for the Twelfth Sunday of Matthew - On Wealth and the Wealthy (St. Luke of Simferopol)

Homily on Wealth and the Wealthy 
(Mark 10:23–27)
By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on February 11, 1945)

The Lord said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!" (Matt. 19:16–21; Mark 10:23–24). But don't think that the Lord said this only about rich people who have a lot of money. No, this applies to all those who strive for wealth with their soul and thirst for it with all their heart, and there are such among the poor and the destitute.

All of us Christians need to learn the proper attitude to wealth commanded by the Lord. Even the apostles, those who were closest to God of all people, when they heard His words, were horrified and asked in amazement: “Who can be saved”, if this is impossible even for the rich (see Mark 10:26)? Why were they so surprised? They were Jews, and the Jews then believed that wealth was God's blessing. The Israelite people looked at the rich with great respect and thought that if a person received a blessing from God with wealth, then he was close to Him. But the Lord answered: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25).

The Apostle James also speaks negatively about the rich: “Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called” (James 2:5–7)? About satiety with wealth, Jesus Christ spoke even more clearly in the Sermon on the Mount: “Woe to you rich! For you have already received your consolation. Woe to you who are now satiated! For you will hunger” (Luke 6:24–25). They will get hungry and suffer from inescapable hunger, because wealth is a terrible burden, a huge burden that pulls down, not allowing you to raise your eyes to the heavens. For do you not know that the rich man is the slave of his treasures, and “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34). And the hearts of the rich are locked in chests of money, along with moths.

In order to enter the kingdom of heaven, one must strive unceasingly for the eternal truth of God with all one's heart, one must be a servant of goodness. And can he strive for heaven, who is bound by his wealth to the earth, he who serves not the spirit, but the flesh, living for his own pleasure and tranquility? When all desires are directed towards the pleasure of the flesh, towards desires, then there is no place for higher spiritual quests for truth and goodness, for wealth is almost always acquired by untruth.

On the huge capitals of American billionaires accumulated during the war, on this unrighteous wealth, lies the seal of the devil, for they are insatiable, and the more they profit, the more they are eager to acquire. They are eager to gain power over the whole world - economic and inextricably linked with it political. They start new wars against those who do not want to be under their rule.

Where, tell me, is mercy, love, pity and compassion? And if the heart of the rich is full of things that are contrary to love, then there is no place for them in the kingdom of God.

Poverty is commanded to all monks: when taking the monastic vows, people take a vow of non-possession. A genuine monk should be content with monastic food and clothing, which he receives from the monastery, and no longer strive for anything earthly.

There are also merciful people in the world who spend their wealth to help the poor. For example, Saint Paulinas the Merciful, so called because his mercy was limitless, he gave everything to the sick and unfortunate. In his unstoppable desire to help everyone, the Saint came to amazing deeds.

In his time - at the beginning of the 5th century - wild vandals attacked the country where he was a bishop, ruined it and took away many unfortunate people into captivity. Saint Paulinas the Merciful began to use all his funds for the ransom of prisoners. The people learned about this, and relatives of the captives began to come to the Saint, and he redeemed them. One day a woman came, her only son was taken away, and with tears she asked to save him. But the Saint could not redeem the young man, because by that time he had nothing left.

Then he conceived an amazing deed and says to the grieving mother: “Well, I myself will go to the vandals, let them take me prisoner instead of your son.” And he did as he said. Having become a slave to a barbarian prince, the Saint diligently performed the most difficult work. The prince looked with surprise at his humble industriousness, meekness and silence. For a long time the prince could not find out anything, and, finally, he decided to ask directly. Learning that he had a bishop as a slave, he was horrified and offered Saint Paulinas freedom, wanted to bestow gold on him. However, the Saint refused and asked for one thing: "Free all my captive compatriots." The prince of the Vandals was so struck by the greatness of the soul of the Christian bishop that he gave the order to release all the captives taken from his country.

Another example - Saint Anthony the Great - shows how Christians should use wealth. Anthony at the age of twenty lost his parents, from whom he was left a huge inheritance. Hearing once, during the Liturgy, the Gospel words: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Matt. 19:21), he immediately distributed everything and went into the Egyptian desert, taking nothing with him. From God, however, he received such a spiritual treasure, with which the gold of the whole world could not be compared, for which he was called "the Great".

This is the only way to treat wealth. If we are not rich, there is no need to wish to become rich, but to try to subdue our flesh to the spirit, to refine it so that it becomes like a thread and easily passes through the narrow gates into the Kingdom of God. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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