St Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr

August 10 is the day the church honors St. Lawrence, a saint who lived from 225 to 258 AD. I am interested in this little-known saint for a number of reasons.

He was originally from Spain, where some of my family lives, he has a fascinating story related to his martyrdom, and both my son-in-law and grandson have Lawrence as their middle names.

Lawrence ended up in Rome where he became the chief of the seven deacons in the early church. He was given the job of managing the church’s property and finances.

Valerian, the Roman emperor at that time, believed that the church had lots of treasure. He ordered Lawrence to produce the church’s treasure so that he could confiscate it. Lawrence agreed to do so but on the day he was to present the treasure he brought before the emperor the poor whose lives had been touched by Christian charity. The poor, Lawrence insisted, were the treasure of the church.

This did not go over well with the emperor who had Lawrence jailed and later executed by roasting him on a gridiron. Lawrence’s martyrdom made a deep and lasting impression on the early church and the celebration of his feast day spread rapidly.

Lawrence’s lesson is still true today. The poor and downtrodden are the true treasure of the church not any worldly wealth.

Jesus says in Matthew 25:

[31] “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. [32] Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. [33] And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. [34] Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. [35] For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, [36] I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ [37] Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? [38] And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? [39] And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ [40] And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:31-40, ESV)

Acts 4 describes how the early church took care of those in need:

[32] Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. [33] And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. [34] There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold [35] and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:32-35, ESV)

And Paul has this to say in I Timothy 6

[17] As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. [18] They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, [19] thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (I Timothy 6:17-19, ESV)

So Lawrence had plenty of Scriptural support for maintaining that the true treasure of the church is the poor. Imagine if all church members would recognize what Lawrence did, that our true treasure lies in caring for the poor and downtrodden. What a difference it would make in the world.

Lawrence’s witness also brings up the topic of church and state relations. Valerian stands in a long line of earthly rulers who thought they could help themselves to whatever belonged to the church. But if the church is completely focused on caring for the poor the government would leave it alone because it would not be interested in anything that the church has. In fact it would be glad for all the church was doing for the less fortunate because then the government would not have to do it.

Happy St. Lawrence Day!

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