So Resplendent a Lamp

From “Homily 20, On the Acts of the Apostles” (400)

In my view, there is nothing so frigid as a Christian who does not care about the salvation of other people. It is useless to plead poverty in this respect, for the poor widow who put two copper coins in the treasury will be your accuser. So will Peter who said, “Silver and gold have I none,” and indeed Paul was so por that he often went hungry and without the basic necessities of life. Nor can you plead humble birth because the apostles were of humble origin and from obscure families. You cannot claim lack of education, because they too were illiterate. And do not plead sickness because Timothy suffered poor health, and was often ill. Everyone can be of service to their neighbor if only we exercise our responsibilities.

Look at the trees of the forest. See how sturdy they are, how beautiful, how tall, and how smooth their bark; but they do not bear fruit. If we had a garden we would prefer to plant pomegranates or olive trees. The other trees may be delightful to look at but they are not grown for profit, or if they are, it is very small. People who are concerned only for themselves are like those trees of the forest — no, they are not even as worthwhile. At least forest timber can be used for building houses and fortifications, whereas they are good only for the bonfire. They are like the foolish virgins in the parable: chaste certainly, discreet and modest too, but useless. That is why they were rejected. Such is the fate of all who do not nourish Christ.

You should reflect on the fact that none of them is charged with specific sins such as perjury or fornication; they are charged simply with being of no service to their fellow men and women. Take the example of the man who went and buried his talent. He led a blameless life but a life that was not of service to others. How can such a person be called a Christian? If yeast when it is mixed with the flour fails to leaven the dough, how can it be called yeast? Or again, if perfume cannot be sensed by those present, how can it be called perfume in any meaningful sense? So do not say, “I cannot encourage others to become Christians, it is impossible;” because if you were really a Christian, it would be impossible for you not to do so.

In the natural world, the way things behave is an expression of their properties. It is the same situation here; what I am describing belongs to the very nature of being a Christian. So do not insult God. To claim that the sun cannot shine or that a Christian cannot do good is insulting to God and reveals you as a liar. If we get our lives ordered the rest will follow as a natural consequence. It is impossible for the light of a Christian to be hidden; it is impossible for so resplendent a lamp to be concealed.

St. John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407) was Archbishop of Constantinople, and one of the greatest preachers of his era. He is traditionally counted among the Four Great Doctors of the Eastern Church. The Homilies on I Corinthians were preached early in his ministry in Constantinople. His feast day is September 13.


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