Emulate Lazarus

Daily Reading for September 26 • The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

A dreadful thing, in truth, is poverty, as all who have had experience of it know. For no words can express the trouble which they endure who live in poverty, without knowing the relief of true philosophy. And in the case of Lazarus, there was not only this evil, but bodily weakness superadded, and that in the highest degree. . . . Many people are often in ill health, but they do not at the same time lack necessary food. Others may live in utter poverty, but they may enjoy health; and the blessing on the one hand may counterbalance the evil on the other; but in the case we are considering, both these evils came together.

Suppose, however, that there may be some alleviation even in weakness and in poverty. But this cannot be, when in such a state of desertion. For if there were no one connected with him or at his home, to pity him, yet he might have met with compassion from some of the beholders, when lying before the public; but in this case the utter lack of helpers increased the afore-mentioned evils. And the being laid at the gate of the rich man added to his distress. If he had been placed in a desert and uninhabited place when he suffered this neglect, he would not have felt such grief; for the fact of there being no one nigh would have led him, even though unwillingly, to submit to these unavoidable evils; but being placed in the midst of so many people carousing and rejoicing, and meeting with not the slightest attention from any of them, made the thought of his own woes more bitter, and the more inflamed his grief. . . . For if the rich man had been just, if he had been gentle, if he had been worthy of admiration, full of all virtue, the thought would not thus have grieved Lazarus. But now, when the rich man was living in wickedness, proceeding to the extreme of evil, displaying such inhumanity, and acting as an enemy, passing him by as shamelessly and pitilessly as though he were a stone; . . . just as if he had come for the very purpose of being a witness of another’s prosperity, he was laid at his gate, having life only sufficient to make him sensible of his own ills. He suffered, as it were, shipwreck at the very harbour’s mouth, and was consumed with thirst at the very edge of the spring. . . .

And even in addition to this, there was yet another thing, namely, that his character was maligned by foolish men. For the generality of men are accustomed, when they see any in hunger and thirst, or living in great trouble, not to entertain any charitable feeling respecting them, but rather to pass judgment on their life by their misfortunes, and to suppose that they are thus afflicted entirely on account of their wickedness; and they say to each other many things of this kind—foolishly no doubt—but still they say so: — “This man, if he were favourably regarded by God, would not have been suffered to be afflicted with poverty and other woes.” In this way it happened to Job and to Paul. . . .

Knowing, therefore, these things, let us act wisely, and let us not say that if God loved such a one, He would not have allowed him to be in poverty. This very thing is the greatest token of love. For “whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (Heb. xii. 6). And again, “My son, if thou dost purpose to serve the Lord, prepare thy soul for trial, make ready thy heart, and be strong” (Ecclesiasticus ii. 1). . . . Let us not say such things; and if we see others speaking thus, let us refute them, let us boldly arise and put a stop to such shameless speech. . . .

Taking all this, therefore, into consideration, beloved, think those blessed, not who live in wealth, but in virtue; think those miserable, not those who live in poverty, but in wickedness: let us look not at the present, but at the future; let us examine, not the outward appearance, but the conscience of each man; and following after the virtue and the bliss of right actions, let us, whether we be wealthy or poor, emulate Lazarus.

From a homily delivered at Antioch by John Chrysostom, Discourse 1 of Four Discourses, Chiefly on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus; found at


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