Dear Parish Faithful,
Turning one more time to St. John Chrysostom’s homilies on the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, we again encounter his inimitable manner of challenging conventional notions of everyday reality – in this case notions of wealth and poverty Basing his interpretation of how the Gospel itself challenges us to rethink some of our most basic notions, St. John aspires to guide us in the process of thinking anew of what we perceive to be “true” wealth and “true “ poverty. St. John is trying to place our understanding of wealth and poverty within the wider context of our needs and desires. What do we need? What do we desire? Are needs and desires synonymous or are they often in conflict? In a passage from his homilies on the parable, he writes the following:
Let us learn from this man not to call the rich lucky nor the poor unfortunate. Rather, if we are to tell the truth, the rich man is not the one who has collected many possessions but the one who needs few possessions; and the poor man is not the one who has no possessions but the one who has many desires. We ought to consider this the definition of poverty and wealth. So if you see someone greedy for many things, you should consider him the poorest of all, even if he has acquired everyone’s money. If, on the other hand, you see someone with few needs, you should count him the richest of all, even if he has acquired nothing.
In a society as materialistically oriented as our own, these are rather subversive ideas. You will not hear them from a politician. Only God alone knows to what extent our desires far outstrip our needs. We are daily subjected to a merciless assault on our senses, pounding into our minds a myriad of desires that convince us that we are still “missing something” – in this case actual “things” – without which we remain poor and incomplete. As Christians we probably do not do so well in combating these assaults. And thus we find ourselves caught between the call of the Gospel and the lure of endless acquisitiveness. Of course, no one wants to languish in the hopeless plight of Lazarus. In fact, it is our responsibility as Christians to relieve the sufferings of any Lazarus that we may encounter, rather than idealize or romanticize such abject poverty. (Poverty does not exist because God wills it, but rather because we, as human beings, allow it, at least to the extent of our indifference toward alleviating it). Yet, is the rich man of the parable anymore desirable as an image to aspire toward? The figure in the parable is a rather pitiable character in the end: empty, regretful and languishing in the torment of not being able to go back and do it the “right way.”
St. John Chrysostom - “the Golden-Mouth” - has the gift of bringing the parables to life in a challenging manner so that we can rethink some of our most common notions.