On the day of prosperity do not forget affliction, and on the day of affliction do not forget prosperity (Sir. 11:27).
The wisdom literature of the Bible sometimes gives us very concrete and everyday proverbs, things we can ponder and enact in any day and any place. Saint Gregory the Great elucidates the commonsense meaning of this proverb for us, writing:
If a man receives God’s gifts, but forgets his affliction, he can fall through his own excessive joy. On the other hand, when a man is bruised by scourges, but is not at all consoled by the thought of the blessings he has been fortunate to receive, he is completely cast down. Thus both attitudes must be united so that one may be supported by the other: the memory of the gift can temper the pain of affliction, and the foreboding and fear of the affliction can modify the gift (Moral Reflections on Job, 3.15).
It’s eminently sensible, right? We can all be certain that in our lives there will be both good times and bad, that there will be blessings but also afflictions. In good times, remembering the bad keeps us from getting a swelled head. In bad times, remembering the good is a great comfort—especially when we remember that the good is a gift from our loving Father and Creator.
But perhaps we can push this proverb a little deeper and find in it another spiritual meaning. After all, the Old Testament contains, in a hidden way, the mysteries of Christ. Let us rephrase the proverb slightly: On the day of your prosperity, do not forget Christ’s affliction, and on the day of your affliction, do not forget Christ’s prosperity.
Remembering Christ’s affliction during our own times of prosperity should fill us with gratitude, knowing that we “were ransomed from [our] futile conduct, handed on by [our] ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18-19). More than keeping us from an excessive opinion of our own talents, thinking that we deserve the prosperity we enjoy, this remembrance also prevents us from regarding anything as deservedly our own. Everything we have is a gift, and every blessing comes to us through Jesus Christ, who merited our salvation by his blood.
On the other hand, remembering Christ’s prosperity in the midst of affliction is more effective than any worldly comfort. For Christ sits at the right hand of the Father, his glorified body bearing the wounds of his passion yet still residing in unutterable bliss. It is there, in his Father’s house, “which has many rooms,” that he has told us he is going to prepare a place for us (Jn. 14:2). In this remembrance is true and lasting consolation, and “in this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials” (1 Pet. 1:6).
Image: Gebhard Fugel, By the Waters of Babylon