Gregory of Nyssa: Starve your greed

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“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Isaiah 58:6-8

“Fast from evil-doing, discipline yourselves from covetousness, abstain from unjust profits, starve your greed for mammon, keep in your houses no snatched and stolen treasure. What use is it to keep meat out of your mouth if you wound your brother or sister by evil-doing? What advantage is it to forgo what is your own if you seize unjustly what belongs to the poor? What piety is it to drink water and thirst for blood, weaving treachery in the wickedness of your heart? Judas himself fasted with the eleven, but since he did not curb his love of money, his fasting availed him nothing to salvation.”

Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-394), the younger brother of Basil the Great and Bishop of Nyssa in Cappadocia, also known as one of the Cappadocian Fathers, in “On the Love of the Poor” based on the translation by Peter C. Phan in Social Thought (Wilmington: Glazier, 1984), revised and expanded by Helen Rhee in Wealth and Poverty in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) 71-72.

As we enter the second week of Lent we are reminded by Gregory of Nyssa not to miss the heart of it. Starving greed aims to change us, to discipline us to move away from covetousness, and to propel us toward sharing with the hungry and needy. From God’s perspective, those who don’t share are stealing for themselves what He intends for them to dispense. Giving alms is not optional, but rather, a demonstration of authentic faith.

What does your fasting and giving reveal to a watching world?

This is a rare week, indeed. Our daughter, Sophie, is home on Spring Break with her fiancé, Peter Gomez, and our son, Sammy, of course lives here and his girl friend, Emily Law, is interning here in Denver at a ministry during her final semester. We are enjoying a gift of special time together with all six of us for the first time ever. I am eager to catch up and to hear what God is teaching each of them on their Lenten journeys.