“If I Were a Rich Man…”

Fr. Gabriel Bilas | 30 November 2021

One of my favorite movies of all time is Fiddler on the Roof, with Topol playing Tevye, the simple village farmer living in a Jewish Community in Eastern Europe around the turn of last century.  There is this song and a particular scene that came to mind as I was reflecting on the epistle reading this morning, where Tevye is having a conversation with his future son in law Perchik, who is commenting on the social changes going on in the country.  At one point in their conversation, the young man loudly proclaims: “Tevye, money is the world’s curse!”, to which Tevye looks up at the sky and tells God: “And may the Lord smite me with that curse!”  He then goes on to sing that very famous song: “If I were a rich man…” where he dreams about all of the ways his life would be different if He was rich.

On this weekend following our National Day of Thanksgiving, as we continue our march towards the Nativity, I wanted to refocus our hearts away from the secular world, take a step back, and answer the question:  What does it truly mean to be rich?

Except for days like Thanksgiving, where most people are giving thanks for what they have been given in life, being rich is typically seen the way Tevye sees it…having a lot of wealth, prominence, and power.  In “If I were a rich man…”, Tevye doesn’t just want riches and servants to bark orders at.  He wants the prominence and power of the rabbis, who would then come to him and ask for Tevye’s input and his leadership.

Our own culture would say that to be “rich” would equate to Tevye’s view, because we live in the richest country in the world, where the combined wealth of our citizens is 126,340 BILLION dollars…accounting for the top 30% of the entire world’s wealth.  As Orthodox Christians, this constantly being surrounded by material prosperity makes our goal of living the angelic life with Christ so much more difficult, because eventually, just as has happened in our own culture, we have lost sight of the answer to that question:  What does it mean to be rich?

I was reading from the works of Bishop Augoustinos of Greece this past week, who was commenting on St. Paul’s Epistle today where he says that “God is rich…(not with billions of dollars) with mercy. “ His Grace said:

“Certainly, God is very rich.  He is the only one who could be called rich.  But O how different He is from the “rich” of this world!  Everything He made, He didn’t make for Himself, but for mankind.  And he made it all in abundance, so that nothing would be lacking!”

In other words, God pours forth his riches upon all of creation, giving every living thing everything they need in this life.

 Are you hungry?  Here is fruit from the trees, bread from the field, milk from the cows, fish from the river, and meat from the animals.

Are you Thirsty?  Here is water from the sky, filtered by the reeds, and filling the rivers and the lakes.  Drink and be satisfied!

Are you cold?  Here is cotton from the fields, and wool from the sheep to make clothing, to protect yourself from the harshness of the weather.

Are you sick?  Here are herbs from the earth and medicines to cool the fever.

Are you bored?  Look around and gaze at the beauty of the world.  Gaze at the stars and wonder at the grandeur of the heavens.  Listen to the music of the birds, and the movement of the ocean waves.

Are you sad or experiencing difficulty like so many out there who are missing loved ones during the Nativity Season?  I give you the Church, acting as a blanket to comfort you and to pull you through your losses.

Not only do we have the ability to taste food, see the sky, smell the flowers, and feel the grass beneath our feet, but God has also given us a brain to think and to judge with.  We were given a conscience to decipher what is right and wrong.  We were given the riches of freedom to choose good or evil.  We were given wealth through the Holy Scripture and the church, to illuminate our paths so that we don’t get lost!

What does it mean to be rich?  To participate and be in communion with the mercies of God, who has given us EVERYTHING we need to draw closer to Him.

Tevye, like so many of us in the world, needs to change his tune to “Glory to God, I’m a rich man….ya va divi divi divi divi divi divi dum.  All day long I give thanks unto my God, because I am a wealthy man!”

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