A Good Name is Better Than RichesFr. Barnabas Powell
“Smiling faces, smiling faces, sometimes, they don’t tell the truth, smiling faces, smiling faces, tell lies, and I’ve got proof…” The Temptations did this song in 1971 and it’s a favorite. But its message is all too familiar. Sometimes, a friend turns out to be no friend at all. Sometimes, the smiling mask someone wears hides an evil and jealous intent. And too often we learn about this the hard way. It hurts, doesn’t it? “Beware of the handshake that hides a snake!” Oh my!
You don’t have to get too far into adulthood before you are confronted with the sad reality that some people will smile at you and then turn around and stab you in the back. Betrayal is one of the most devastating experiences in our lives, and none of us are immune to this reality. So, what do you do when you’re betrayed? The temptation is for revenge. But the old saying holds true “When you seek revenge, dig two graves.”
The Faith invites us to a place of spiritual maturity that gives us the ability to soberly process betrayal in a way that leads to healing and peace. But it’s going to take real humility, wisdom, and maturity to get there. Jesus was betrayed, and He gives us the perfect icon of how to handle injustice.
Look at our lesson today in Proverbs 21:23-22:4:
He who keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble. “Scoffer” is the name of the proud, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride. The desire of the sluggard kills him for his hands refuse to labor. All day long the wicked covets, but the righteous gives and does not hold back. The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with evil intent. A false witness will perish, but the word of a man who hears will endure. A wicked man puts on a bold face, but an upright man considers his ways. No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel, can avail against the LORD. The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD. A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. The rich and the poor meet together; the LORD is the maker of them all. A prudent man sees danger and hides himself; but the simple go on, and suffer for it. The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life.
Right off the bat, our Proverbs writer reveals a powerful principle for peace in your life: Watch your tongue! Over and over again, the Fathers encourage us to love silence over speaking. And the reason for this is that a considered word is better than the noise of muck talking. I tease people all the time that the sound of my voice comforts me, but, in truth, the ability to cherish silence and fast from speaking is a treasure that brings peace!
Our wise writer then goes on to use a favorite tool of his in contrasting the difference between the foolish and the wise.
It seems that being foolish extends to being lazy as well as being thoughtless in speech. And this laziness leads to destruction, especially in a culture of the time when survival depended on waking up every day and being focused on survival! But foolishness in actions and speech originates in the heart of a man, so our wise guide reveals that even the religious sacrifices of the wicked are meaningless because they are motivated by wickedness instead of loving devotion. And here our wise guide gets to the heart of the matter.
You see, you can do even good things with wrong or selfish intent and end up making good things evil things, or at least empty things. Over and over again we see betrayal dress as friendship only to be revealed as treachery in the end when we discover the treasonous person only wanted a relationship, a friendship for their benefit. And when you’re on the receiving end of that painful betrayal, you have to ask yourself if you were blinded by your own hunger for companionship. When we foolishly think we can be satisfied in our souls with anything less than our relationship with God, we all fall for the trap of leaning too heavily on others who were never made to bear the weight of our expectations!
But our wise guide isn’t finished with us. He reminds us that even after we’ve done all the preparation we can to fight the battles of our lives, ultimately, victory always belongs to God. And that mindset is vital to me because even my very strength to plan, prepare, to be disciplined, is a gift from God to me. That humble and wise attitude keeps me free from arrogance and prideful blindness!
You can’t read about the holy monk-martyrs we remember today and not see that a good name is even more valuable than anything. The monks Claudius, Diodore, Victor, Victorinus, Pappias, Nicephorus, and Serapion contested for the Lord in the mid to late 3rd Century and all died rather than deny Christ. They valued their integrity more than they valued justice for themselves. They valued their “good name” more than their own survival. These real examples of real people making real choices based on eternal values invite you and me to approach Holy Week determined to place eternal things above the temporary!
Today, as we approach Lazarus Saturday, do you have a good name? Turns out, what makes a good name flows from being a wise person, and wisdom begins with my relationship with Jesus! Being mature enough to handle betrayal with wisdom, to insist that your integrity is worth protecting and worth valuing keeps your life free from the blindness that makes it easy for others to trick you with false friendships! Living a Normal Orthodox Life sets you free to become by grace what Christ is by nature.
P.S. Your Martyrs, O Lord, in their courageous contest for You received as the prize the crowns of incorruption and life from You, our immortal God. For since they possessed Your strength, they cast down the tyrants and wholly destroyed the demons’ strengthless presumption. O Christ God, by their prayers, save our souls, since You are merciful.