“However much you exceed in wealth, so much so do you fall short in love”

You call him teacher, and you won’t do his lessons? You acknowledge him to be good, and what he gives you you throw away? But, surely, he who is good supplies good things; this is obvious. Although what you ask about is eternal life, you give proof of being utterly addicted to the enjoyment of this present life. What, after all, is this hard, heavy, burdensome word which the Teacher has put forward? “Sell what you have, and give to the poor.” If he had laid upon you agricultural toils, or hazardous mercantile ventures, or so many other troubles which are incidental to the life of the wealthy, then you’d have had cause for sorrow, taking the order badly; but when he calls you by so easy a road, without toil or sweat, to show yourself an inheritor of eternal life, you are not glad for the ease of salvation, but you go away pained at heart and mourning, making useless for yourself all that you had labored at beforehand. For if, as you say, you’ve not murdered, nor committed adultery, nor stolen, nor witnessed against someone a false witness, you make such exertions unprofitable to you when you fail to add on the remainder, by which alone you might be able to enter into the kingdom of God. And if a physician had declared to you that he could fully mend you of some physical disfigurement you had by nature or disease, wouldn’t you have heard him gladly? But when the great Physician of souls desires to make you whole of your deficiencies in things that matter most, you don’t accept the favor, but mourn and put on a gloomy face.

Now, you are obviously very far from having observed one commandment at least, and you falsely swore that you had kept it, namely, that you’ve loved your neighbor as yourself. For see: the Lord’s commandment proves you to be utterly lacking in real love. For if what you’ve claimed were true, that you have kept from your youth the commandment of love, and have given to each person as much as to yourself, how has it come to you, this abundance of money? For it takes wealth to care for the needy: a little paid out for the necessity of each person you take on, and all at once everything gets parceled out, and is spent upon them. Thus, the man who loves his neighbor as himself will have acquired no more than what his neighbor has; whereas you, visibly, have acquired a lot. Where has this come from? Or is it not clear, that it comes from making your private enjoyment more important than helping other people? Therefore, however much you exceed in wealth, so much so do you fall short in love: else long since you’d have taken care to be divorced from your money, if you had loved your neighbor. But now your money sticks to you closer than the limbs of your body, and he who would separate you from it grieves you more than someone who would cut off your vital parts. For if you had clothed the naked, if you had given your bread to the hungry, if you had opened your doors to every stranger, if you’d become a father to orphans, if you had suffered together with all the powerless, what possessions would now be causing you despondency? Why should you now be upset to put aside what’s left, when you’d long since have taken care to distribute these things to the needy? Now, on a market day, no one is sorry to barter his goods and get in return such things as he has need of; but to the extent that he purchases things of greater value with what is cheaper, he rejoices, having gotten a better deal than his trading-partner. But you, by contrast, mourn, in giving gold, and silver, and goods — that is, offering stones and dust — in order to obtain the blessed life. …

And it seems to me that the sickness of this young man, and of those who resemble him, is much like that of a traveller, who, longing to visit some city and having just about finished his way there, lodges at an inn outside the walls, where, upon some trifling impulse, he is averted, and so both makes his previous effort useless, and deprives himself of a view of the wonders of the city. And of such a nature are those who engage to do the other commandments, then turn around for the sake of gathering wealth. I’ve seen many who will fast, pray, groan, and display every kind of pious exertion, so long as it costs them nothing, but who will not so much as toss a red cent to those who are suffering. What good do they get from their remaining virtue? For the kingdom of heaven does not admit them; for, as it says, “It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Lk 18:25). But, while this statement is so plain, and its speaker so unerring, scarcely anyone is persuaded by it. “So how are we supposed to live without possessions?” they say. “What kind of life will that be, selling everything, being dispossessed of everything?” Don’t ask me for the rationale of the Master’s commandments. He who lays down the law knows how to bring even what is incapable into accordance with the law. But as for you, your heart is tested as on a balance, to see if it shall incline towards the true life or towards immediate gratification. For it is right for those who are prudent in their reasonings to regard the use of money as a matter of stewardship, not of selfish enjoyment; and those who lay it aside ought to rejoice as though separated from things alien, not be embittered as though deprived of what is nearest and dearest. So why become depressed? Why are you so sick at heart, when you hear the words, “Sell your possessions”? For if, on the one hand, these possessions could follow you into the afterlife, they should not therefore be highly valued, when next to the prizes that await there they should be thrown into the shade; on the other hand, if they must stay here, why don’t we sell them and get back from them what can be gained? When you give up gold, and acquire a horse, you are not in poor spirits; but when it comes to giving up things corruptible, and receiving in return the kingdom of heaven, you weep, and deny the asker, and shake your head at the gift, having your mind set upon a thousand and one ways of spending money. …

I would like you to take a short vacation from works of iniquity, and give your calculations a rest, so that you might seriously consider the kind of end towards which these preoccupations are heading. You have such and such an amount of arable land, and of wooded land so much more: hills, plains, valleys, rivers, streams. What, then, comes next? Don’t six feet of earth, in all, await you? Won’t the weight of a few stones suffice to keep your weary flesh? What is it that you toil over? To what end do you work iniquity? Why do your hands glean a thing that yields no fruit? Yes, and if only it were merely fruitless, and not also fuel for eternal fire! Will you never sober up from this intoxication? never heal your reasonings? never come to yourself? Won’t you set before your eyes the judgment seat of Christ? What will you have to say for yourself, when there shall stand about you in a circle those you have wronged, all of them crying against you before the righteous Judge? What will you do? What lawyers will you bribe? What witnesses will you produce? How will you corrupt that wholly undeceivable Judge? You’ll find no slick talker there, no verbal spin, to steal the strength of the Judge of truth. No lackeys follow you, nor money, nor dignity of place; deserted by friends, deserted of helpers, without an advocate, without defense, you will be left utterly ashamed, abashed, dejected, abandoned, speechless. For all around, in whatever direction you turn your gaze, you clearly see the images of your misdeeds: here the tears of orphans, there a widow’s groanings, elsewhere the poor you stepped on, servants you tore to shreds, neighbors you enraged: all will withstand you; the wicked choir of your evil deeds will tangle you in snares. For just as the shadow trails the body, so do sins trail souls, giving a precise outline of their actions. Thus there is no prevarication there, but the mouth and every shameless thing are stopped. Each man’s own actions are called to witness against him, not by sounding a voice, but according to the very appearances of whatever was done. How should I set before your eyes these horrors? If you hear, if you are stirred, be mindful of that day in which “the wrath of God shall be revealed from heaven” (Rom 1:18). Bear in mind Christ’s glorious coming, when the dead shall arise, “they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (Jn 5:29). Then shall there be eternal shame to sinners, “a fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries” (Heb 10:27). Let these things cause you to mourn, and do not mourn because of the commandment. How should I put you out of cheer? What should I say? You don’t desire the kingdom? You don’t fear hell? Where shall a healing be found for your soul? If horrors don’t terrify, if glories don’t attract, we are talking to a heart of stone.

St Basil the Great

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