By Evan Kardaras, Sub-Deacon at St. Mary & St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church, Bexley, Australia.
(Sermon given at a Sunday Liturgy, August 2018)
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you. Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” – James 5:1-8
I’m going to do something a little different today, we’ll have a look at the Catholicon and then have a look at the Gospel.
St James is having a go at the rich people. Or is he? Let’s have a look. He says to the rich:
- Weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you!
- Your riches are corrupted, and your garments or clothing are moth-eaten.
- Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire.
- You have heaped up treasure in the last days.
- You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter.
St James says some harsh words here. He says that even though they are so wealthy; in God’s eyes their wealth is actually corrupted, corroded and moth eaten. In other words their wealth is unclean, broken, and useless before God. It may have value before people, but before God it’s useless. He actual says that their wealth will be a witness, or in other words evidence that will lead to their condemnation.
Why? Is the problem here in being rich? King David was extremely rich, a man of God’s own heart. He made mistakes, but he was still a faithful servant of the Lord, and a wealthy one at that. Abraham was also extremely wealthy. He much livestock and many servants. He was called father of all nations and the father of faith. Is the problem then the wealth?
No, if David and Abraham are rich and still blessed before God, and clearly faithful servants of God, then the problem here isn’t the wealth, it’s something else. So what’s the problem?
St James clarifies this in the epistle where he says:
- The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.
- You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.
So we see that St James is having a go at them, not for being wealthy, but for what they did with their wealth. They kept their wealth to themselves. They didn’t give wages to those who worked for them, they were unjust in their treatment of others, they hated or murdered others, remember that when we hate others, our Lord said it’s like we have murdered them in our hearts.
So even if they didn’t literally murder other people, their greed and selfishness was an example of a total lack of love for the poor, and thus we can call it murder, murder of the poor and weak, through a love of self and love of money. We see then brothers and sisters, that the problem here isn’t money, it’s the heart of the person who sees his belongings as belonging to him, and not as gifts from God that have been given to him to help and serve others. And this doesn’t only apply to money.
What if I have allot of wisdom and I keep it from others, or knowledge, or what about if I have any other talent, but I keep it to myself, I don’t serve the other, then isn’t this also a form of spiritual or intellectual greed? There’s not just physical poverty, what about spiritual poverty? I may keep my money to myself, and then I don’t alleviate physical poverty.
What about if I keep my time to myself, my love to myself, my knowledge of Christ to myself, then aren’t I contributing to the spiritual poverty of someone else? If I don’t give time to serve, I don’t give time to listen to others, I don’t give time to love others, then aren’t I leaving them in a state of spiritual poverty?
There’s an amazing quote from an early Church Father who I love very much on this topic. St. John Chrysostom says:
“If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door you will not find him in the chalice”.
I love this passage. For me it’s a holy wake up call.
Let’s read it again:
“If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door you will not find him in the chalice”.
In the times of St John, there were many poor people in Constantinople, and they would of course wait at the Church doors and beg for alms, for any gift. If you go to Egypt you still see this today, many poor people congregate outside a Church on Sunday, as if to test us to see if we will have love as we walk into Church or whether we will reject Christ in the homeless and somehow deceive ourselves into thinking we’ll meet Him in the Church if we leave Him hungry on the street.
Remember though it’s not just about money. If I don’t take the time to use not only my wealth, but also my time, energy, talents, love, knowledge, wisdom, or any other God given talent to meet Christ in the person of the poor man, whether poor physically or spiritually, then I won’t meet Christ in Church or in the Chalice.
This is extremely important. We believe the Holy Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, and we do very well to believe this as it’s what the Church has believed from its earliest days until today. But if I don’t live the gospel, if I don’t give of myself, to alleviate any form of poverty, physical or spiritual through my God given talents, then I will not benefit from the Holy Eucharist, and these are not my words, they are the words of St John Chrysostom.
At the last judgment, what does our Lord say:
“‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; thirsty you gave Me drink; I was a stranger you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; sick and you visited Me; in prison and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, give You drink, see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ Jesus says: ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ 44 “Then they also will answer Him,[b] saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
So we see that is serving another person, in loving another person, we meet Christ face to face. This is why St John Chrysostom says if we can’t meet Christ in our poor brother, whether, he’s physically or spiritually poor, then we won’t be able to meet Him, our Lord, in the Eucharist. For me this is extremely important brothers and sisters, actually it’s vital. We are proud to be Christians, Orthodox, but this means nothing if I don’t love God as much as I can and my neighbour as myself.
So practically how do I do this. Each one of us has talents. Someone has so much energy to organise things and to love others, another is an absolute I.T. genius, awesome, use these talents to serve and help others. In doing so you have loved and served Christ. Another is a sports teacher, awesome use this talent to serve others, another a science teacher, accountant, whatever. I can use these talents in such a way to give of my time and energy to love and serve others. Or I may not have these talents, but be very simple, then I have time to help and serve, and a simple heart to love with. We all have something to give.
So it’s not just about money. We should all be giving of our money to tithe, to the Church or to a charity, anywhere as long as we are giving somewhere to help others. But we also need to give of our love, time and energy. For some giving money is easy. How about sacrificing my time to serve and show Christ to others through my love and if necessary through my words?
Let’s now move to the gospel.
“When the day began to wear away, the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.” But He said to them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. Then He said to His disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of fifty.” And they did so, and made them all sit down. Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude. So they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them.” – Luke 9:12-17
We see our Lord full of love and concerned for those who are following Him. We see Him feed thousands of people with five loaves and two fish. In the passage where our Lord feeds the four thousand, it’s another similar miracle, he says the following:
“I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar.”
I’m sure these words apply here too. Our Lord, so full of love, doesn’t only tend to the spiritual needs through His exalted spiritual teachings about loving and serving others, but also feels compassion on the multitude. He knows they are hungry and may faint from hunger if they go home without food.
So he does a wonderful miracle and feeds five thousand men, meaning at least fifteen thousand people if there was at least one woman to each man, and one child. In other words there would have been a massive multitude, and he feeds every single one of them. And there were even left overs. Twelve baskets, perhaps this was symbolic of the twelve apostles who would then feed the rest of humanity, from the food or spiritual grace they themselves received from Christ.
But we see this deep love and concern from our Lord for the whole human person, not only does he come to teach us to know Him, to love one another, to save us, but to also cater to our every need. He feeds us spiritually and physically, catering to the whole person. This is a model for us to learn from.
Perhaps this is why these two readings have been placed together today. So we can learn to overcome our greed, our love of selves, our laziness, our selfishness and start to seek the lost and to love all, serve all, and sacrifice ourselves for all. And in doing this we have the perfect model our Lord Jesus to lead us and teach us through His example, sacrificing all His time and energy to serve and love others and to cater to all their needs, physical, spiritual and intellectual. We are called to do the same.
It’s great to give money, but what the world needs today is not just money, but love, affection, kindness; the poor and broken whether physically or spiritually poor. People need our time, to get off the couch and onto the streets, to get off the couch and into the Church. To sacrifice myself to serve others like the almighty God left His heavenly throne to wash my feet and to die on the cross for my sins.
May our Good Lord today help us all brothers and sisters, repent in our hearts if we see we have not lived as Christians, but have been living for ourselves, and give us a new heart today and every day to love Him and love every person as best as we can, so that we can meet Christ in our neighbour and also be able to actually meet Christ in the chalice and not come to meet Him and hear Him say I do not know you.
Glory be to God forever more amen.