Blood-Bought Beauty
Monday of Epiphany 4
29 January 2018
Things are not always what they seem. Amazingly, we envy the "celebrities" whose flawless, airbrushed faces adorn the star magazines like, People. These celebrity Twinkies are more to be pitied than excoriated, for they are dupes of our godless age seeking godlings to adore. No people has ever been so wicked as to deny the existence of God, and so we have simply denied the God of heaven and earth only to deify a class of people identifiable by their riches and notoriety. We moon after them wishing that we could be as beautiful or rich as they are. Our deities are marked by the debauchery that arises when the spiritually immature are given boundless wealth to squander. We follow their follies like the Greeks followed the savage indiscretions of the Olympian gods, excusing their own human excess and savagery by attributing to the gods the same actions and motivations as their own. We honor and fête those whose excesses lead them to rehabilitation hospitals, multiple and successive adulteries, and who live lonely and paranoid lives behind walls hiding huge swimming and posh mansions. I find it sad that so much ink and airtime is burned up reporting the latest escapades of Kim Kardashian. Sadder yet, is that there are those who envy such a life.
One of my favorite Tony Bennett songs is "With Plenty of Money and You." Mr. Bennett croons persuasively "I am certain, honey, that life would be sunny, with plenty of money and you." This encapsulates the view that money is the solution to problems, despite its being "the root of all evil," as Mr. Bennett also laments. Mark Twain quipped, "The lack of money is the root of all evil," not the love of money. However, money is in itself neither good nor bad, but what is done with it is the issue. Do we use it to glorify God and serve our neighbor, or to glorify and serve ourselves? God requires us to answer that question whether we are rich or poor.
We should not envy those whose riches are used to satisfy themselves and their depraved desires. What is good about losing your soul for the momentary and fleeting pleasures that might be purchased with filthy lucre? What is truly rich about becoming a slave to alcohol? What is freeing about sexual escapades where there is only using and being used? How is it mind-expanding to depend on mind numbing drugs to get through another indolent day? What we call living large is too often not living at all. Our heavenly Father wants more for us, and He wants it quite passionately in Christ our Savior. He does not desire to spoil our fun, but to give us true joy. He wants to free us from our vices by sending the crosses we need, whether we be rich or poor.
We should not be taken in by the debauched proxies of true joy, any more than an ugly man handsomely attired is no longer ugly. External appearances can be gussied up by throwing money at them. However, true spiritual beauty cannot be conferred on them with wasteful excess. A sow's ear cannot be turned into a silk purse, no matter how much money could be thrown away on such an alchemistic project. True spiritual beauty belongs to those whose lives are covered by the beautiful robe of Christ's righteousness, a beauty already bought and paid for by His holy, precious blood. In that blood is true beauty.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   John Chrysostom
"Many things that happen do not take place according to God's mind, but arise from our wickedness. You should not say then, 'Why is one man rich who is wicked, and another poor who is righteous?' For first of all, one may account for these things by saying that the righteous person does not receive any harm from his poverty, instead, he receives even a greater addition of honor; and that the bad man in his riches possesses but a store of punishment on his future road, unless he is changed. Even before punishment, often his riches become to him the cause of many evils, and lead him into ten thousand pitfalls. God permits teach others not to be mad nor rave after money.
"'How is it then, when a man being wicked is rich, and suffers nothing dreadful?' you ask. Since if being good he has wealth, he has it justly. But if bad, what shall we say? Even therein he is to be pitied. For wealth added to wickedness aggravates the mischief. But a person who is a good man, and poor is in no way injured. A bad man, who is poor is justly so and deserves it, or rather it is even beneficial to him. But you say, 'What of a person who received his riches from his ancestors and lavishes it upon harlots and parasites, and suffers no evil?' What are you saying? That he frequents prostitutes and that he suffers no evils? That he is drunken, and you think that he is in luxury? He wastes his time in idleness, and you think he is to be envied? No, what could be worse than this wealth that destroys the very soul? If the man's body had been broken and maimed, you would say that his was a cause of great lamentation, wouldn't you? But look, his whole soul is mutilated, and yet you count him even happy? And you contend that he does not perceive it. Well then, for this very reason again he is to be pitied, as all frantic persons are. For he that knows he is sick will of course both seek the physician and submit to remedies; but he that is unaware of sickness will have no chance at all of deliverance. Tell me, could you call such a one happy?
"But we should not be amazed, for the greater part of mankind is ignorant of the true love of wisdom. Therefore, we suffer the extreme penalty, being chastised and not even withdrawing ourselves from the punishment. For this reason there are rages, depression, and continual disturbances; because when God has shown us a life without sorrow, the life of virtue, we leave this and mark out another way, the way of riches and money, full of infinite evils. It is as if a person did not know how to recognize the beauty of human bodies but attributed beauty to the clothes and the ornaments worn. Thus when he saw a handsome woman possessed of natural beauty, he would quickly pass by her, but when he beheld one who was ugly, ill shaped, and deformed, but clothed in beautiful garments, he would take her for his wife. So also in a similar way, the multitude is affected about virtue and vice. They are attracted to the one that is deformed by nature because of her external decorations, but turn away from the one that is fair and lovely, because her beauty is unadorned, for which reason they ought to choose especially her."

John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 29.8
Psalm 49

Hear this, all peoples! Give ear, all inhabitants of the world, both low and high, rich and poor together! My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding. I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre. Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me, those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches? Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit. For he sees that even the wise die; the fool and the stupid alike must perish and leave their wealth to others. Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places to all generations, though they called lands by their own names. Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish. This is the path of those who have foolish confidence; yet after them people approve of their boasts. Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Be not afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house increases. For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not go down after him. For though, while he lives, he counts himself blessed,- and though you get praise when you do well for yourself- his soul will go to the generation of his fathers, who will never again see light. Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish. (ESV)
Lord Jesus Christ, rescue us from greed and lustful desire for riches. You bore our poverty that you might confer the richness of Your grace upon us. Help us to be rich in Your righteousness and disdain the riches of this life. Shower us ever with Your precious blood that we might be rich in blessings until we inherit what Your meekness has earned. Amen.
For Susan Singer, that the Lord would grant her strength and courage as she undergoes medical testing
For all those who are caught in the idolatry that glorifies wickedness rather than godliness and true piety, that they might be freed from their delusion and be converted to the true faith
For President Matthew Harrison of the LCMS, that the Lord his God would support him all his days and that he might live in peace by knowing the grace of Christ
Art: DAVID, Gerard  Triptych of Jean Des Trompes (1505)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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