Gregory of Nazianzus: Meanness and Avarice or Liberality and Kindness

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Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:17-19

“If you were full of leprosy, that shapeless evil, yet you scraped off the evil matter, and received again the Image whole. Show your cleansing to me, your Priest, that I may recognize how much more precious it is than the legal one. Do not range yourself with the nine unthankful men, but imitate the tenth. For although he was a Samaritan, yet he was of better mind than the others. Make certain that you will not break out again with evil ulcers, and find the indisposition of your body hard to heal. Yesterday meanness and avarice were withering your hand; today let liberality and kindness stretch it out. It is a noble cure for a weak hand to disperse abroad, to give to the poor, to pour out the things which we possess abundantly, till we reach the very bottom.”

Gregory of Nazianzus (329–389) in “The Oration on Holy Baptism” Oration XL.XXXIV, preached in Constantinople on 6 January 381, translated by Charles Gordon Brown and James Edward Swallow.

Here, Gregory of Nazianzus, the patriarch of Constantinople and the third of three Cappadocian Fathers, connects liberality (or generosity) with kindness. He rightly notes that the opposite of such living appears as meanness and avarice. These sinful vices contribute to our own weakness and disease.

Notice what Jesus says to the foreigner who returns to thank Him for healing his hand. “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Think about it. One minute his hand is weak, and the next minute it is strong. Jesus attributes the healing to His faith. Jesus could have said, “Rise and go, my power made you well.” But He doesn’t.

Why does this matter? To overcome meanness and avarice, Gregory shows us the way of healing. We must live by faith and chose the only “noble cure” which is to “disperse abroad” and hold nothing back. Only when we do this by faith, does Jesus transform our mean and avaricious hands (and hearts) into liberal and kind ones.