“How needy is he, and not rich, whose need witnesses against him that even from the abject and the beggars he needs to receive a gift. He is truly a bondman, and many are his masters: he renders service to money, to riches, and possessions. His lords are void of mercy, for they grant him no repose. Flee, and live in poverty; as a mother she pities her beloved. Seek thou refuge in indigence, who nourishes her children with choice things. …
“Who has granted to thee thing of dust, to be rich among poverty? … Sufficient for thee is thy daily bread that comes of the sweat of thy face. Let this be the measure of thy need, that which the day gives thee;and if thou findest for thyself a feast, take of it that which thou needest. Thou shalt not take in a day, the provision of days, for the belly keeps no treasure. … In purity, strengthen thyself, that thou may gain from it profit.” ~St. Ephraim the Syrian
The Needy Rich
It really sounds strange to say the wealthy are needy. Strange, yet true! In many cases, it is partly their neediness that has made them so wealthy. The rich crave recognition. They crave something, but are not sure what. They seek material wealth to prove they are important. Or they seek it because they feel empty, but don’t know what is missing from their lives. They are needy rich, because they want something, need something, and that is what being needy is all about.
Even though they have far more than they physically need, mentally and emotionally, they need more. It is something like an anorexic person who always thinks they need to lose more weight, no matter how skinny they get. And it should be treated as a serious illness, just as anorexia is. Until then, however, we need to recognize that this is not normal or healthy behavior. Nature provides enough for everyone’s actual needs. When the greedy, needy rich take far more than they need, others must do without.
St. Ephraim says these needy rich are bondmen because they re truly slaves to many. They think themselves rulers, yet they pulled around like an animal on a leash by the almighty dollar. They can be manipulated by any and all who offer to increase their wealth, or offer them some rare bit of matter they don’t already have.
Live in Poverty
St. Ephraim advises we choose to live in poverty rather than be needy rich, but that may not be any better. It is true that many poor people are happier, more generous, and less stressed than the wealthy. It is also true that there are mean, greedy people who live in poverty. Just being heartless and greedy doesn’t make you wealthy. It does mean you are likely to pursue that path to the bitter end, even if you never succeed at it.
But living in poverty doesn’t necessarily mean you must have nothing. You can live without the greed and heartlessness, and still have material possessions. The key is to have what you need, and no more. If you are fortunate enough to get a large sum of money, say by winning a lottery, share your good fortune with others. Most importantly, no matter how many material possessions you have, don’t get attached to them. Then you are no better than the needy rich. And those attachments will hold back your spiritual growth.
Strengthen in Purity
What St. Ephraim means here is that when we resist temptation of any kind, we strengthen ourselves. This, of course, is a good thing.
When we resist the temptation to hoard, we are less likely to hoard in the future. We have strengthened ourselves. Have you ever noticed how so many elderly people become hoarders? They may collect old magazines, newspapers, elephant statues, or other material objects. There are a number of reasons for this that I won’t get into now. My point is that they were once strong and resisted the temptation to hoard. But with age, they lose some mental as well as physical strength. As a result, they are open to hoarding.
When we resist the temptation to be callous to other people, and instead offer to help, it is not a sign of weakness at all. It is strength. Real strength comes in doing what you know is right, even when other think it is foolish. And resisting anything that might make you part of the needy rich is giving us strength. Mental and spiritual strength that will serve us well in the afterlife.