The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” 2 Samuel 12:1-7a
“The poor are to be advised one way and the rich another. To the former, we should offer solace against tribulation, and to the latter, we should make them fear pride… It is possible for a rich [person] to be humble and for a poor [person] to be proud. Therefore, the preacher must quickly adapt words to the life of the listener so as to destroy the pride of the poor all the more sternly (especially if this one is not even humbled by poverty). Likewise, the preacher should gently encourage the rich who are humble (so long as they are not exalted by their abundance). Sometimes, however, even a proud [person] is to be placated by a gentle exhortation, because tough wounds are often softened by gentle mitigation and the rage of a disturbed person is often restored to sanity by the gentle words of a physician… Sometimes when we censure the powerful of this world, it is better to engage them as though we are speaking of someone else. And then, after they have pronounced a just sentence on what they believe to be someone else’s actions, they are to be struck in an appropriate manner with the reality of their own guilt. This way, a mind that is elated by its temporal authority cannot reject a judgment against itself, because it was its own ruling that trampled upon the neck of pride; and it will not be able to defend itself, being bound by the sentence of its own mouth. It was for this reason that the prophet Nathan had come to reprove the king and asked for his judgment as though the case were between a poor man and a rich man.”
Gregory the Great (c. 540-604) in The Book of Pastoral Rule (Crestwood: St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 2007) 90-92. Gregory is the fourth of the Four Doctors of the Western Church. He wrote this rule as a guide for clergy. This excerpt suggest how to speak to the rich and poor about money. It’s brilliant, and it’s fitting to share after some exceptional meetings with seminary leaders this week in California from whence I returned late last night.
While we must communicate differently with the rich and poor as they face different challenges, this counsel from Gregory the Great regarding how to speak to the rich and powerful really resonates with me. Wanting nothing from them, but rather, something for them, we must in our communications paint pictures that help them take positive steps on their journey. To blatantly tell them what they are doing wrong often does not get us (or them) very far.
So how can we encourage others to take steps that may seem obvious to us but may be unclear to them? For the humble, we must be gentle. With the proud and powerful, we might do well to tell stories like Nathan, the prophet, did with David. In “speaking of someone else” we must not encourage people to take just one step toward obedience, but rather, help them “trample on the neck of pride,” realizing, like David, they have sinned and must change directions immediately.Read more