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Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Things of this Life

Now my discourse is for the women. A woman often has a garment woven with gold, and this she shakes, wraps up in linen, keeps with care, trembles for it, and has no enjoyment of it. For either she dies, or she becomes a widow. Or, even if none of these things happen, yet from fear lest wearing it out by continual use, she should deprive herself of it, she deprives herself of it in another way, by sparing it. But she passes it on [you say] to another. But neither is this clear: and even if she should pass it on, the other again will also use it in the same way. And if any one will search their houses, he will find that the most costly garments and other choice things, are tended with special honor, as if they were living masters. For she does not use them habitually, but fears and trembles, driving away moths and the other things that are wont to eat them, and laying most of them in perfumes and spices, nor permitting all persons to be counted worthy of the sight of them, but oftentimes carefully putting them in order herself with her husband.

Tell me: did not Paul with reason call covetousness "idolatry"? (Col. iii. 5.) For these show as great honor to their garments, their gold, as they to their idols.

How long shall we stir up the mire? How long shall we be fixed to the clay and the brickmaking? For as they toiled for the King of the Egyptians, so do we also toil for the devil, and are scourged with far more grievous stripes. For by how much the soul surpasses the body, by so much does anxiety the weals of scourging. We are scourged every day, we are full of fear, in anxiety, in trembling. But if we will groan, if we will look up to God, He sendeth to us, not Moses, nor Aaron, but His own Word, and compunction. When this [word] has come, and taken hold of our souls, He will free from the bitter slavery, He will bring us forth out of Egypt, from unprofitable and vain zeal, from slavery which brings no gain. For they indeed went forth after having at least received golden [ornaments], the wages for building, but we [receive] nothing: and would it were nothing. For indeed we also receive, not golden ornaments, but the evils of Egypt, sins and chastisements and punishments.

Let us then learn to be made use of, let us learn to be spitefully treated; this is the part of a Christian. Let us think lightly of golden raiment, let us think lightly of money, that we may not think lightly of our salvation. Let us think lightly of money and not think lightly of the soul. For this is chastised, this is punished: those things remain here, but the soul departeth yonder. Why, tell me, dost thou cut thyself to pieces, without perceiving it?

These things I say to the overreaching. And it is well to say also to those who are overreached. Bear their overreachings generously; they are ruining themselves, not you. You indeed they defraud of your money, but they strip themselves of the good will and help of God. And he that is stripped of that, though he clothe himself with the whole wealth of the world, is of all men most poor: and so he who is the poorest of all, if he have this, is the wealthiest of all. For "the Lord" (it is said) "is my shepherd, and I shall lack nothing." (Ps. xxiii. 1.)

Tell me now, if thou hadst had a husband, a great and admirable man, who thoroughly loved thee and cared for thee, and then knewest that he would live always, and not die before thee, and would give thee all things to enjoy in security, as thine own: wouldst thou then have wished to possess anything? Even if thou hadst been stripped of all, wouldst thou not have thought thyself the richer for this?

Why then dost thou grieve? Because thou hast no property? But consider that thou hast had the occasion of sin taken away. But is it because thou hadst [property] and hast been deprived of it? But thou hast acquired the good will of God. And how have I acquired it (you say)? He has said, "Wherefore do ye not rather suffer wrong?" (1 Cor. vi. 7.) He hath said, "Blessed are they who bear all things with thankfulness." Consider therefore how great good will thou wilt enjoy, if thou showest forth those things by [thy] works. For one thing only is required from us, "in all things to give thanks" to God, and [then] we have all things in abundance. I mean, for instance: hast thou lost ten thousand pounds of gold? Forthwith give thanks unto God, and thou hast acquired ten times ten thousand, by that word and thanksgiving.

For tell me when dost thou account Job blessed? When he had so many camels, and flocks, and herds, or when he uttered that saying: "The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away"? (Job i. 21.) Therefore also the devil causes us losses, not that he may take away our goods only, for he knows that is nothing, but that through them he may compel us to utter some blasphemy. So in the case of the blessed Job too, he did not strive after this only, to make him poor, but also to make him a blasphemer. At any rate, when he had stripped him of everything, observe what he says to him through his wife, "Say some word against the Lord, and die." (Job ii. 9.) And yet, O accursed one, thou hadst stripped him of everything. 'But' (he says) 'this is not what I was striving for; for I have not yet accomplished that for which I did all. I was striving to deprive him of God's help: for this cause I deprived him of his goods too. This is what I wish, that other is nothing. If this be not gained, he not only has not been injured at all, but has even been benefited.' Thou seest that even that wicked demon knows how great is the loss in this matter?

And see him plotting the treachery through the wife. Hear this, ye husbands, as many as have wives that are fond of money, and compel you to blaspheme God. Call Job to mind. But let us see, if it please you, his great moderation, how he silenced her. "Wherefore" (he says) "hast thou spoken as one of the foolish women [speaketh]?" (Job ii. 10.) Of a truth "evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Cor. xv. 33), at all times indeed, but particularly in calamies: then they who give evil advice have strength. For if the soul is even of itself prone to impatience, how much more, when there is also an adviser. Is it not thrust into a pit? A wife is a great good, as also a great evil. For because a wife is a great [good], observe from what point he [Satan] wishes to break through the strong wall. 'The depriving him of his property' (he says) 'did not take him; the loss has produced no great effect.' Therefore he says, 'If indeed he will curse thee to thy face.' (Job ii. 5.) You see whither he was aspiring.[1]

If then we bear [losses] thankfully, we shall recover even these things; and if we should not recover them, our reward will be greater. For when he had wrestled nobly, then God restored to him these things also. When He had shown the devil, that it is not for these things that he serves Him, then He restored them also to him.

For such is He. When God sees that we are not riveted to things of this life, then He gives them to us. When He sees that we set a higher value on things spiritual, then He also bestows on us things carnal. But not first, lest we should break away from things spiritual: and to spare us He does not give carnal things, to keep us away from them, even against our will.

Not so (you say) but if I receive [them], I am satisfied, and am the more thankful. It is false, O man, for then especially wilt thou be thoughtless.

ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, HOMILY XX, ON THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS (HEBREWS x. 26, 27)