Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

St Basil on Wealth and Social Justice

Saint Basil the Great's central message regarding wealth, is that every pound we earn, and each possession that we own is not ours to keep for ourselves. Everything we gain, own, or possess, are gifts from God, given to us in order to share with our fellow human beings; distributing our wealth fairly, making sure people around us do not suffer, starve or lack their essential needs. 

The rich will always exist, in every age and context, but they have been given these material gifts in order to willingly and freely share their fortune with the less well off members of society.

In Matthew 19, we read the parable of the rich young man, approaching Christ asking 'what good deed must I do to have eternal life?' The Lord tells him that he should keep to His commandments: 'You shall not kill, you shall not bear false witness, you shall love your neighbour as yourself.' The young man assures Christ that 'all these I have observed; what do I lack?' Jesus states that he should then 'sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; and come follow me.' After hearing these words, the rich man abandoned the Lord sorrowfully, as his possessions meant far too much to him. Even to the extent that he would give up eternal life for them. Christ then concludes that ''it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.'

Following on from these somewhat harsh, yet moving words of the Lord, Saint Basil emphasises that this young man was in fact a liar; by claiming he loved his neighbours as himself, while allowing others around him to suffer and starve due to their lack of money and essentials. His life was centred around his own wealth, and wellbeing; rather than the importance of sharing these gifts to assist people in poorer conditions and situations. For this reason, Saint Basil argues that the more rich one becomes, the less able they are to love their neighbours. 

As Christians living within a society centred on consumerism and materialism, we are called to live a life of self-sacrifice. Life in Christ is not in any way compatible with a life of self-interest, self-centredness, gain and greed. As Christ sacrificed Himself for us, we should freely and lovingly sacrifice our own time and possessions, sharing our wealth and resources with people less fortunate:

'Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee? And the King will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren, you did it for me.' (Matthew 25:37-40)

 - Guidance from Fr Vassilios Papavassiliou's discussion on St Basil the Great's 'On Social Justice,' a selection of homilies on the subject of wealth and poverty delivered in the fourth century. 

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