Thoughts from the Early Church

Commentary by John Chrysostom

“Blessed are you who are poor … woe to you who are rich.” (Lk 6:20-24)

Only Christians have a true sense of values; their joys and sorrows are not the same as other people’s. The sight of a wounded boxer wearing a victor’s crown would make someone ignorant of the games think only of the boxer’s wounds and how painful they must be. Such a person would know nothing of the happiness the crown gives.

When we suffer anything for Christ’s sake, should do so not only with courage, but even with joy.

And it is the same when people see the things we suffer without knowing why we do so. It naturally seems to them to be suffering pure and simple. They see us struggling and facing danger, but beyond their vision are the rewards, the crowns of victory—we hope to gain through the contest!

When Paul said, We possess nothing, and yet we have everything, what did he mean by “everything”? Wealth of both the earthly and the spiritual order. Did he not possess every earthly gift when whole cities received him as an angel, when people were ready to pluck out their eyes for him, or bare their necks to the sword?

But if you would think of spiritual blessings, you will see that it was in these above all that he was rich. The King of the universe and Lord of angels loved him so much that he shared his secrets with him.

Did he not surpass all others in wealth then? Did he not possess all things? Had it been otherwise, demons would not have been subject to him, nor sickness and suffering put to flight by his presence.

We too, then, when we suffer anything for Christ’s sake, should do so not only with courage, but even with joy.

If we have to go hungry, let us be glad as if we were at a banquet.
If we are insulted, let us be elated as though we had
     been showered with praises.
If we lose all we possess, let us consider ourselves the gainers.
If we provide for the poor, let us regard ourselves as the recipients.

Anyone who does not give in this way will find it difficult to give at all.

So when you wish to distribute alms, do not think only of what you are giving away; think rather of what you are gaining, for your gain will exceed your loss.

And not only in the matter of almsgiving, but also with every virtue you practice: do not think of the painful effort involved, but of the sweetness of the reward; and above all remember that your struggles are for the sake of our Lord Jesus.

Then you will easily rise above them, and live out your whole lifetime in happiness; for nothing brings more happiness than a good conscience.

Homily on Second Corinthians 12, 4: Bareille, t. 17, 480-481

John Chrysostom (c. 347-407) was born at Antioch and studied under Diodore of Tarsus, the leader of the Antiochene school of theology. After a period of great austerity as a hermit, he returned to Antioch where he was ordained deacon in 381 and priest in 386. From 386 to 397 it was his duty to preach in the principal church of the city, and his best homilies, which earned him the title “Chrysostomos” or “the golden-mouthed,” were preached at this time. In 397 Chrysostom became patriarch of Constantinople, where his efforts to reform the court, clergy, and people led to his exile in 404 and finally to his death from the hardships imposed on him. Chrysostom stressed the divinity of Christ against the Arians and his full humanity against the Apollinarians, but he had no speculative bent. He was above all a pastor of souls, and was one of the most attractive personalities of the early Church.

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson