Wealth is a Mask for the Poor

St. John Chrysostom discusses the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man lived his life in comfort, and Lazarus had been a poor beggar at the rich man’s gate. After death, Lazarus was comforted in paradise, while the rich man suffered the torments of hell, begging for Lazarus to cool his tongue with a single drop of water.

In this context, St. John Chrysostom describes wealth and poverty in terms of “masks” that are worn by actors on a stage:

Finally the rich man became a suppliant to the poor man and begged from the table of this man who earlier had gone hungry and been exposed to the mouths of dogs.

The situation was reversed, and everyone learned who was really the rich man and was really the poor man, and that Lazarus was the most affluent of all but the other was the poorest of all.

For just as on the stage actors enter with the masks of kings, generals, doctors, teachers, professors, and soldiers, without themselves being anything of the sort, so in the present life poverty and wealth are only masks.

If you are sitting in the theater and see one of the actors wearing the mask of a king, you do not call him fortunate or think that he is a king, nor would you wish to become what he is; but since you know that he is some tradesman, perhaps a rope-maker or a coppersmith or something of the sort, you do not call him fortunate because of his mask and his costume, nor do you judge his social class by them, but reject this evidence because of the cheapness of his other garb.

In the same way even here, sitting in this world as if in a theatre and looking at the players on the stage, when you see many rich people, do not think that they are truly rich, but that they are wearing the masks of rich people. Just as that man who acts the part of king or general on the stage often turns out to be the poorest of all.

If you take off his mask, open up his conscience, and enter into his mind, you will often find there a great poverty of virtue: you will find that he belongs to the lowest class of all. Just as in the theater, when evening falls and the audience departs, and the kings and generals go outside to remove the costumes of their roles, they are revealed to everyone thereafter appearing to be exactly what they are; so also now when death arrives and the theater is dissolved, everyone puts off the masks of wealth or poverty and departs to the other world. When all are judged by their deeds alone, some are revealed truly wealthy, others poor, some of high class, others of no account.

Often indeed one of those who are rich in this life turns out to be the poorest of all in the other life, even like this rich man. For when the evening took him, that is to say death, and he departed from the theater of the present life, and put aside his mask, he was revealed as the poorest of all in that other world; so poor indeed that he was not master even of a drop of water, but had to beg for this and did not even obtain it by begging. What could be poorer than this poverty?

St. John Chrysostom (4th century)
Second Homily on Lazarus and the Rich Man

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About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
This entry was posted in Luke 16:19-27, Money. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Wealth is a Mask for the Poor

  1. Ruth Conrad says:

    Thank you. Very thought provoking and great reminder. Love you Joseph. Aunt Ruth

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