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Sermon On Alms

Now what follows I do not say without good reason, for most people question the poor inquisitively, inquire their native land, their manner of life, their character, trade, and their physical condition, making accusations and demanding a thousand statements in regard to their health. Because of this many of them pretend that their bodies are mutilated, and feign injury in order to move our hard-hearted indifference. And although it is serious to reproach them in this wise in summer, yet it is not so serious as in winter. For then, when they are oppressed by the cold, would it not be the height of cruelty to show oneself so harsh and inhuman a judge as to make no allowance for men who are without employment?

Then why did Paul, someone will say, give out this law to the Thessalonians: “If any man will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thess. 3:10)? It was that you too might hearken to these things, and that you might rule not only the life of your fellow-man but also your own by these words. Truly the laws of Paul were made not only for the poor but for us also.

Now I am going to say something annoying and disagreeable. I know you will be angry; but I will say it nevertheless. For I am saying it not to offend but to correct. We reproach them with idleness—which is often excusable—yet we perpetrate sins far more serious than idleness. But I, you will say, have a paternal inheritance. Well then, tell me, because that man is poor and was born of poor parents and did not have wealthy ancestors, is he on that account worthy of death? Surely for that very reason he would deserve commiseration and pity from the rich. You, forsooth, who spend the day in the theaters, or at the assemblies and in conversation, from which no profit results, reproaching many others while thinking that you yourself do nothing wrong or unprofitable; do you condemn this poor wretch, who is engaged all day in prayers, tears, and a thousand miseries; do you drag him to the tribunal and require him to give an account of himself? Are these, I ask you, the attributes of the human soul? Therefore when you say, What shall we say to Paul? I reply that you shall quote these words to yourself and not to the poor. And furthermore, do not stop with his threats but read also his mercy; for he who says, “If any man doth not work, neither let him eat,” added, “But you, brethren, be not weary in well-doing” (2 Thess. 3:13).

But to what extent do they seek to deceive you? They are fugitives, they say, strangers, worthless creatures, who have left their native land and are gathering in our city. Do you resent this, tell me, and do you pluck the crown of honor from your city, because all men consider it a common refuge, and prefer it to their own land? Nay, rather, for this reason you ought to exult and rejoice, that to you, as if to some common market, they all run, and consider this city their common mother.

Do not, I beseech you, tarnish so great a glory; do not destroy this ancient renown of your fathers. For once upon a time, when famine was threatening to envelope the whole earth, the inhabitants of this city sent not a little money through Barnabas and Paul to the people of Jerusalem, the very ones of whom I have been speaking (Acts 11:30).

Of what mercy then and of what grace would we be worthy, when our own ancestors relieved far distant sufferers with their money and even hastened to their aid in person, if we drive away those who take refuge with us from other lands and require them to give an account of themselves, even though we know that we ourselves are the greatest of sinners? Nay, if God should examine us as closely as we examine the case of the poor, we would not obtain any grace or mercy. For “With what judgment you judge”, He says, “you shall be judged” (Matt. 7:2). Be therefore merciful and kindly affectioned toward your fellow-servant; and forgive many sins, and exercise mercy, that so you may yourself obtain a like judgment.

Why do you make so much trouble for yourself? Why do you investigate so carefully? If God had commanded us to inquire into the lives of others, to demand reports from them and to investigate their habits minutely, would not many be indignant? Would they not say among themselves, What is the purpose of this anyway? God has given us a difficult task. Can we investigate the life of others? Do we know what sins such a one has committed? Would not many say things of this sort? But as it is, when He has excused us from an investigation of this nature, and has promised to give us a perfect reward, whether they be good or sinful who receive our alms, we bring all this trouble on ourselves.

And whence have you evidence, you will say, that we shall receive our reward whether we give to good men or to sinful? From what God himself has said: “Pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: that you may be like your Father who is in heaven, who maketh His sun to rise upon the just and the unjust” (Matt. 5:44–45). Therefore even as your Lord, although countless men blaspheme Him and practice fornication, steal, rob, dig up graves, commit sins without end, does not withdraw His universal bounty, but brings forth the common sunlight, the common rains, and the fruits of the earth, showing His loving-kindness toward men; so do you also, and when you have opportunity for showing mercy and kindness, then help the poor, satisfy their hunger, deliver them from wretchedness, and inquire no further. For if we investigate the lives of men too carefully, we shall never have pity on anyone; but, entangled in this ill-timed and fruitless curiosity, we shall remain devoid of all helpfulness and we shall furthermore be performing a burdensome task which is neither advantageous nor necessary.

Wherefore, I beseech you, let us cast aside this inopportune curiosity and give alms to all the poor, and let us do it generously, that we, too, on that day of judgment, may receive from God abundant pity and kindness; which I pray we may all obtain, through the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with the Father and the Holy Ghost be glory and power and honor, now and forever, world without end. AMEN.

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