Friday, July 07, 2006

Giving Of Ourselves

One of my very favorite Catholic bloggers is Steve Bogners. His posts on his site Catholicism, Holiness and Spirituality are thought provoking and challenging. His most recent entry really got me thinking.

He posts on last Sunday's reading, taken from 2 Corinthians 8:7-15. Paul writes,

"Remember how generous the Lord Jesus was: he was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty. This does not mean that to give relief to others you ought to make things difficult for yourselves: it is a question of balancing what happens to be your surplus now against their present need, and one day they may have something to spare that will supply your own need. That is how we strike a balance: as scripture says: The man who gathered much had none too much, the man who gathered little did not go short."
Of course, my theologically trained mind immediately zooms in on Paul's description of Jesus: "he was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty." Is this an early reference to the divinity and pre-existence of Jesus? Well, that's for another day.

While I was off in the clouds contemplating the meaning of the first verse, Steve was actually paying attention to the rest of the reading, which discusses giving to the poor.

He reports what his pastor said during the homily: "It is not that you ought to relieve other people's needs and leave yourself in a hardship; but there should be a fair balance."

He then reflects on this.

What is a fair balance? How do we determine a fair balance? Fairness, I think, looks different depending on one's perspective. Suppose I've worked hard to get a good education, and then used it to get a good job, working hard to advance my position and my earnings so that I'll have money to buy a nice house, send the kids to a private school, and take nice vacations. From the perspective of a person who grew up in the inner city or in parts of rural America, with no father and poor public schooling, without a sense of direction or achievement who struggles to make ends meet, how much charity on my part is 'a fair balance'?
I highly encourage you to read the whole thing. His conclusion is especially poignant.

One of the dangers, in my opinion, of living in a capitalistic society is believing that we deserve what we earn and have a right to keep it all to ourselves. Everything we earn is due to God's grace, and I think that Jesus doesn't want us to be selfish with the products of God's grace. I suppose that as we get closer to actually living the Gospel, the question of what exactly
determines 'a fair balance' simply fades away.
In the comment-box, someone mentions a 1979 homily given by John Paul II. He said, "You must never be content to leave [the poor] just the crumbs from the feast. You must take of your substance, and not just of your abundance, in order to help them. And you must treat them like a guest at your family table" [Homily at Yankee Standium, 1979; cited from U.S.A.: The Message of Justice, Peace and Love (Boston: The Daughters of St. Paul, 1979), 81].

In connection with this theme, I want to mention another passage.

One of the most challenging stories in all of the Gospels, I believe, is that story of the rich young man. I come back to it over and over again. My favorite version of the story is found in Mark 10:17-22.

The rich man--or the "ruler" in Mark--runs up to Jesus and asks him what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments: "You know the commandments: `Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother'" (Mark 10:19)

The man's response is amazing. "Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth" (Mark 10:20). He tells Jesus that he's kept all of the commandments--from his youth no less!

Can any of us say that?! That we've never lied, or shown dishonor to our parents, etc.?--that seems impossible!

But here's the remarkable thing--Jesus, who knows all, doesn't contradict him. He doesn't challenge him on his assertion. He doesn't say, "Come now, you know better than that." Instead, Jesus lets the assertion stand. Mark tells us, "Jesus looking upon him, loved him, and said to him, 'You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.' (Mark 10:21).

The man could have dropped everything and followed Jesus. He could have been the thirteenth apostle! What an invitation! But, instead, he went away "sad"--he loved his money more than Jesus. His name has been lost to history and all we remember him for is his, "No."

Keeping the commandments are not enough. What matters is love--loving Jesus more than anything else. Jesus challenged the man to give up his wealth, because it was something he loved more than our Lord.
I think that's the question we always need to ask ourselves. It's not whether we should have money--it's whether we love our money more than Jesus. Do we love our success, our new plasma television, our status, our favorite television show, our friends--whatever--more than Jesus?

When we give to the poor we need to ask ourselves, are really giving of ourselves or just whatever is extra? Are we really give God ourselves, or the left-overs?

That seems to be the issue to me.

Jesus gives us this challenge because he looks on us and loves us. He knows selfishness only leads to sadness. To keep one's life, one must give it away--to God, and to others. That's what Christ does--he gives His life for us: he was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty.

1 comment:

Steve Bogner said...

Michael - Thanks for the mention, and I'm glad you find my blog useful.

Keep up the good work here!