John Chrysostom was a desert monk, living a harshly ascetical life, but a life that was fulfilling for him. After twelve years of service as a priest in Syria, he was brought to Constantinople in an imperial ruse to make him bishop. Even though the beginnings of his episcopal service were thus clouded in intrigue, his service as a bishop in one of the most important sees of the Eastern Church was incredible. He quickly made efforts to clean up the Church, deposing bishops who had bribed their way into office, and refusing to become beholden to any political authorities. His preaching was the hallmark of his service. He was called "golden-mouthed" and his sermons were steeped in great knowledge of the Scriptures and spiritual insight. Some of his sermons were over two hours! (But, don't worry, I'll try to keep this one under an hour or so…) He tended to be aloof, but energetic and outspoken, especially in the pulpit. Soon he began to draw ire from the politically powerful, and was falsely accused of heresy. The Empress Eudoxia finally had him exiled, and he died in exile in the year 407.
John Chrysostom was a great preacher of today's Gospel reading. Against the politically powerful and those who bought their place in society, he preached "woe to you who are rich, woe to you who are filled now, woe to you who laugh." Against religious leaders who were beholden to the politically powerful, he preached "woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way." Far more significant, though, is that he lived the beatitudes, and lived as one who was truly blessed when "people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil." He knew that the most important judge of his ministry did not sit on an earthly throne, but rather had Kingship in heaven. And he knew that even death in exile was not too great a price to receive the heavenly reward.
Our task is to live those beatitudes well. We are blessed when we are poor, because the riches of God are incomparable. We are truly blessed when we hunger, because only God can really fill us. We are blessed when we grieve, because God can comfort us and give us true peace. We are blessed when people hate us, because God's love is beyond all price. There is a price to pay for all this blessedness, of course. We may, like John Chrysostom, suffer the ill thoughts of others. We may not have everything we hunger for in this life. But we must be confident that living the Beatitudes will lead us to the rejoicing and leaping for joy of which Jesus speaks today.