Yesterday I posted an icon with the quote from St. Basil the Great where he wrote, “Property is theft.” It went viral with over 2,000 views in the first 12 hours and 38 shares. A friend wondered if he was speaking to monastics when he wrote this. He may have been. I don’t think it matters. It jives with the principles he enunciates everywhere else in his teachings to non-monastics and with the teachings of the other Fathers, Jesus, the Apostles, the Law and the Prophets. This ministry is called “The King’s Jubilee” based on Jesus’ message in Luke 4 where he proclaimed Himself and the Church to be the fulfilment of Isaiah 60. This is all based on the jubilary proclamation: “The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it!” This proclamation precludes private property. All we have, and, in fact, our very beings, belong to God. God is no respecter of persons, so if another of his children has need of something we happen to have, we have no right to hold on to it. It is theft to hold on to it. St. Basil, St. Ambrose, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. John Chrysostom all said so.
Somehow we don’t hear sermons on this. We hear justifications for holding on to wealth to make sure our children have all of the advantages in life. Are we teaching our children to live by faith and to serve the poor and to live in community with their brothers and sisters or to live like the world with a Christian gloss? This is what St. Basil the Great has to say on the subject:
“But wealth is necessary for rearing children,” someone will say. This is a specious excuse for greed; although you speak as though children were your concern, you betray the inclinations of your own heart. Do not impute guilt to the guiltless! They have their own Master who will care for their needs. They received their being from God, and God will provide what they need to live. Was the commandment found in the Gospel, “If you wish to be perfect, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor,” not written for the married? After seeking the blessing of children from the Lord, and being found worthy to become parents, did you at once add the following, “Give me children, that I might not attain the Kingdom of Heaven?”
- St. Basil, “To the Rich” (On Social Justice, p.54, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press)
We did not play Santa Claus with our daughters. We always told them the true story of St. Nicholas. We felt if we lied to them about Santa Claus and they found out about that, they would wonder what else we may have lied to them about. We also do not like the whole “gimme” covetousness culture that goes along with Santa Claus. We brought ex-offenders into our home who had no other home plan. I was a full-time prison minister and lived by faith of what came in in donations to support us. I once was hitch-hiking home from leading a Bible study in Graterford Prison and a couple picked me up. They apologized for how messy their car was, because they were living in it. Well, two of our daughters doubled up in a bedroom and the couple lived with us for the winter. God provided for us and them. God protected us. Have you met our four daughters? They don’t have high powered jobs or a lot of money, but they are kind and compassionate and use what they have to serve those in need. They are serious about their Christianity. Children learn what they live.
Last year I saw this billboard around Allentown that said, “Santa Gives More to Rich Kids Than Poor Kids. Stop Lying to Your Children About Santa Claus.” I thought that was an “in your face” way of going about it, but sometimes that is what it takes. The Christmas message is supposed to be the Christian message. The Christian message is not the prosperity gospel of wish fulfilment and Santa Claus gimme. It is that of sharing and equality among all peoples. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” “The rough places made plain.” “The valleys exalted and the mountains brought low.” “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
This is not the time to get angry about people who say “Happy Holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas!” and turn it into some sort of false martyrdom. That doesn’t make us any friends. It’s time to renew our commitment and put Christ back into Christian. Let us serve the poor in His Name. Let us learn to live more simply that others may simply live. Let us live our lives in such a way that all will know that we are His disciples, so they may glorify God with us.