“For [Rabbula] wisely understood in his soul that the decorations of this world and the anxiety of riches, like briars and thorns, choke the seed of the word of God in the unwary, and it does not produce fruits [cf. Matt. 13:3-9]. Because of this, he labored to hurl from himself all the hard burden of the chains of riches [cf. Matt. 19:16-30], so that the word of God that he received might easily sprout up within him and yield fruits thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold [cf. Matt. 13:18-23; Mark 4:3-20]. Thus with joy he accepted the command of our Lord: “Whosoever does not leave behind all his possessions cannot be my disciple” [Luke 12:13-21; 14:26-27, 33]. He diligently distributed and gave all that he had to the poor so that his righteousness would stand firm forever. He even sold his estates and he properly distributed to the needy the money he received from their sale, so that, by the means of them, his deposits to the heavenly treasury, along with their profits, might mount up. There his treasures would be kept safe for him. He set free all his slaves, both those born in the hours and those bought by money, and he provisioned and sent away in peace each and every one of them. He instructed, taught, and brought some of them to the monasteries…”
Rabulla of Edessa (c. 350-435) in The Heroic Deeds of Mar Rabbula, translated by Robert Doran in Stewards of the Poor: The Man of God Rabbula, and Hiba in Fifth Century Edessa (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 2006), 71-72, 76-78, 85-86, as recounted by Helen Rhee in Wealth and Poverty in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) 149-150.
If you are unfamiliar with Rabulla of Edessa, the final generosity champion cited in this exploration of wealth and poverty in early Christianity, then join the club. I had not heard of him either.
Rhee adds helpful background about this heroic character (xlv-xlvi): “Rabbula not only gives all his wealth, but channels all the private contributions to and accumulated wealth of the church in Edessa to support widows, orphans, the poor, and the sick. Rabbula argued that Christians ought to give away their surplus, living on only what is necessary in life; whatever the church receives from these faithful should be used to provide for the needs of the poor. His love for the poor is highlighted by restoring the hospital for the men and building one for the women of the city. Though idealized, the Life shows Rabbula in action, in actual engagement and interactions with the poor, as their patron – praying for them, caring for them, and comforting them through his touch, especially the lepers. This is how the church serves the welfare of the city.”
In reflecting on Rabbula and the example of prominent saints of the first five centuries, the Spirit led me to meditate on today’s Scripture, which was cited in one of the texts associated with today’s reading. It is the most repeated expression in the New Testament. I cite it along with today’s post from Rabbula of Edessa with this admonition: I can’t make you join me in following the example of these joyful and diligent distributors, but can say this, if you do, you won’t regret it, now and for eternity.
“Let the person who has ears listen!” That, of course, includes everyone. May our lives and churches follow their example.Read more