Tuesday, 14 February, 27 (O.S., February 27) 2018: Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent; Repose of Saint Cyril, Equal-to-the-Apostles and Teacher of the Slavs († 869); New Hieromartyr Onesimus, Bishop of Tula († 1937); New Hieromartyr Deacon Tryphon († 1938); Venerable Auxentius of Bithynia († 470); Venerable Isaacius, Recluse of the Kiev Caves († c. 1090); 12 Greek Master-Builders of the Dormition Cathedral in the Lavra of the Kiev Caves (11th C); Venerable Maron, Hermit of Syria (4th C); Holy Hierarch Abraham, Bishop of Carrhae in Upper Mesopotamia (5th C); Transfer of the relics of the Martyred Prince Michael of Chernigov and his councilor Theodore (1578); New Martyr George of Mytilene.
If wealth were morally bad then there could be no virtuous way to create, acquire, concentrate or much less use it. After all, as St Paul reminds us, we can’t “continue in sin that grace may abound” (see Romans 6:1ff, NKJV).
Whether we are talking about its material or less tangible (though no less real) forms wealth is fundamentally good. And because it is morally good, our use of wealth must likewise conform to the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God. Whatever its form–spiritual, intellectual, social, cultural no less than material–wealth makes moral demands on us that we can only meet if we are wise.
The reading from Isaiah sets the standard for wealth. Isaiah’s argument is easy to miss because (as if often the case with the Prophets) he tells us what we must NOT do with our wealth.
Having blessed “the house of Israel and the men of Judah,” God expects them to respond with justice. Instead of a People who pattern themselves after “the Lord of Hosts,” what He sees is “bloodshed,” what He hears is the”cry” of the oppressed for liberation.
It isn’t that some are rich and some are poor. Rather, the rich have rigged the system so that the poor remain poor. The rich have “join[ed] house to house” and added, “field to field until there is no more room” for the poor to live or work.
The rich have used their wealth not just to marginalize the poor but to keep from them the necessities of life. For this reason, God will reduce the rich to poverty. He will destroy the wealth they have and prevent them from again growing wealthy. “Surely many houses shall be desolate, large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant. For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath, and a homer of seed shall yield but an ephah.”
Having forgotten the lesson of Cain–that to be human, to be myself, is to be my brother’s keeper–the People of God people “go into exile” where “their honored men are dying of hunger, and their multitude is parched with thirst.”
Wealth must be used–invested if you will–in our neighbor so that he, in turn, can likewise invest in others. It isn’t enough to give the poor bread; we are called as well to help the poor fulfill their own vocation to care for others.
We are all of us, rich and poor alike, our brother’s keeper. It is in this shared obligation for each other that we find the moral principle to guide our relationship with wealth in its material and less tangible forms.
And if we fail to be our brother’s keeper? Then like the man in Proverbs who succumb to the blandishments of the “loose woman” whose lips “drip honey,” those who fail as to be their brother’s keeper soon discover that their wealth “is bitter as wormwood.”
Like the adulterer, the person who uses wealth for his own advantage at the expense of others will follow his mistress as “her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol.”
None of this, however, is to suggest wealth is evil; it isn’t. But wisdom requires that I use my wealth–in all its forms–not simply for my own benefit but for yours as well.
For Solomon, and so for us, the wise man is the one who avoids loose living, who loves ascetical discipline and accepts correction gracefully. Such a person will “drink water from [his] own cistern, flowing water from [his] own well.”