The beatitude of the poor is one of the more difficult both to understand and to live well. The temptation to hold on to one’s wealth as though it were something necessary that we can’t part with hides cleverly behind the guise of false prudence. I don’t want to give any money to this beggar because they will not use it well: they will buy drugs or alcohol. I will hold on to my money instead so that some day I can use it for something important. St Paul gives us the example of living both in poverty and in abundance.1
In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks us to consider how valuable our limbs are if they are causing us to sin. How much is our money/wealth truly worth if it is preparing us for a very long very hot bath in the eternal hell-spa of doom? But just as our members – our limbs – do not cause us to sin, neither does wealth cause us to sin. The more attached to it we are, the more we consider it indispensable for our lives, the more it weighs us down. The more we use whatever wealth we have generously for others, for their needs and well-being, the lighter it makes us and the less sad we will be to see it go. If one day we are truly poor, it won’t matter if we have money or not.
For the person who gives his wealth to the poor does not lose it but keeps every penny. This is why the Preacher said: “Cast your bread upon the waters,” that is, upon the apparent corruption and decadence of this world, and it will not be lost, but rather it will preserve us from destruction.2
CAESARIUS OF ARLES:
Riches cannot harm a good person, because he spends them kindly. Likewise they cannot help an evil person as long as he keeps them avariciously or wastes them in dissipation.3
By refusing to give alms the rich think that they have done well in saving their treasure, and indeed they have, though they have not seen what it will be used for, namely, their own condemnation.4
What then? Has luxury been condemned? It certainly has—so why do you continue to strive for it? A man has made bread, but the excess has been trimmed away. A man has made wine, but the excess has been cut off there also. God desires that we should pray not for impure food but for souls set free from excess. For everything that God has created is good, and nothing which has been received with thanks is to be despised.5
CAESARIUS OF ARLES:
Those of us who have been careless up to now can, with God’s help, correct ourselves, provide that we are willing to dispense more generously those alms which we have given sparingly up to now. SERMONS 199.5.6
Let none of you think, brothers, that the Lord is here commending the cutting off of members. His meaning is that the incentive should be cut off, not the members. The causes which allure to sin are to be cut off, in order that our thought, borne up on the chariot of sight, may push toward the love of God, supported by the bodily senses. So do not give loose reins to the eyes of the flesh as if you were wanton horses, eager to turn their running away from the commandments. Subject the bodily sight to the judgment of the mind. Do not permit these eyes of ours, which God intended to be viewers and witnesses of his work, to become procurers of evil desire.7
SALVIAN THE PRESBYTER:
Knowing that the lights of the eyes are like windows to our hearts, and that all corrupt desires enter us through the eyes, as if through a natural crevice, our Lord asks us to veil them from wandering about, in order to resist the spreading of their toxic illusions, so those illusions will not take ever firmer root in our hearts, having first budded in the eye.8
This is the worst aspect of evil, that it does not allow those who fall into it even to see the seriousness of their own diseased state, but as they lie in the mire, they think they are enjoying perfumes. So they do not have the slightest inclination to free themselves.9
- Phil. 4:12.
- COMMENTARY ON JAMES. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 54). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMONS 35.4. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 54). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- CONCERNING THE EPISTLE OF ST. JAMES. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 54). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- CATENA. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 55). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 55). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- RECOGNITIONS OF CLEMENT 7.1.37. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 124). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON THE GOVERNANCE OF GOD 3.8. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 125). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 125). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.