Monday, February 26 (O.S., February 13), 2018: Monday of the Second Week of Lent; Venerable Martinian of Cæsarea in Palestine (c.422); New Hieromartyrs Priests Basil and Gabriel († 1919); New Hieromartyr Sylvester, Archbishop of Omsk († 1920); New Hieromartyrs Priests Zosimas, Nicholas, Basil, John, Leontius, Vladimir, Parthenius, John, John, Michael; Deacon Eugene; Venerable Martyrs Anna, Faith and Irene; Martyr Paul († 1938); Saint Stephen Nemanja (in monasticism Symeon), Prince of Serbia, the Myrrh-Gusher († 1200); Holy Apostle Aquila and his wife Priscilla (1st C); Saint Eulogius, Archbishop of Alexandria († 607-608); Venerable Zoe and Photina (5th C)
Like many Old Testament authors, the Prophet Isaiah see material wealth as a good thing and even, as in today’s reading a blessing from God. In the day of the Lord “the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel.” This wealth will belong to the holy ones of Jerusalem and to those washed clean by the Lord.
Poverty and deprivation, however, are a sign in Isaiah that the person has lost God’s favor because of his sin. In fact, just as God blesses His faithful followers with wealth, He brings ruin on those who fail to uphold the demands of justice.
To contemporary Christians, this all sounds crude. We’ve come to believe that the true blessings are spiritual, internal and, above all, non-material. Many Christians are simply uncomfortable with saying that God has blessed them materially.
Our reluctance to see wealth as a blessing can have an unfortunate result. However unintentionally, it walls off from God the material aspects of human life. Whether we think of material goods as a necessary evil or only as morally neutral, not seeing them as a blessing from God “frees” us from having to do the hard work of thinking about the morality right use of wealth.
And yet in Genesis, there is an intimate connection between our relationship with God and how we value–or not–the material world. Abel offers God “the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions.” He offers to God the best of what he has.
Cain, however, evidently just offers whatever he has at hand. He doesn’t take any care in choosing his offering. He is seemingly indifferent to the quality of the fruit he grows.
When we denigrate material wealth, we very quickly fall into the habit of offering to God not what is best in our life but whatever is convenient. If I scorn the material blessings that God gives me, I say in effect that I have nothing of value to offer. And how could it be otherwise since I don’t see any value in the things I have?
Over time this deadens my sense of gratitude to God. What might starts as sincere attempt to avoid being overly attached to material goods can quickly become lack of thankfulness to God. When this happens I become, in Solomon’s words, a scorner, a fool who will only “get disgrace.”
The material world is a blessing. Wealth is a blessing. Wisdom requires that I understand this. It also requires that I understand that material goods are not greatest of God’s blessing.
To prize wisdom above all else, I need to understand the value of things. If I don’t see the value of the harvest, how can I thank God for the fruit? If one lamb is as good as another, there are no choice lambs to sacrifice.
Wealth is good, wisdom is better. But both come to us from the hand of God.
I need to understand the value of passing things to understand the value of lasting wisdom.