Prayer and fasting are good, but better than either is almsgiving accompanied by righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than abundance with wickedness. It is better to give alms than to store up gold; for almsgiving saves one from death and expiates every sin. Those who regularly give alms shall enjoy a full life; but those habitually guilty of sin are their own worst enemies…
What is the problem with the scribes anyway? They “like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers.”
The best way I know to understand this is to inquire within my own experience. What do I like about long robes and accepting seats of honor? What do I do about devouring the houses of widows and covering all that with lengthy prayers?
Simple. When people give honor to my role, I take it personally. When folks invite me to sit at the head table or go first in the line at dinners, I take it as saying something about ME. I can’t say that I actually devour houses of widows, but do I cover, or try to cover, ulterior motives with long prayers or “holy” speeches. You bet.
I’ve been rector of the Jesuit community here for 18 months and 28 days (at this writing). But who’s counting, right? I think it’s pretty cool that my new title is “Very Reverend Father.” I need to use that more.
What does this have to do with Raphael’s great insights? For one, I’m generous in such a way that it’s occasion-specific. I have a hard time giving alms or what alms represent. There’s a part of me that says, “Watch it! Don’t give too much! You’ll deplete your reserves, and then what? You’ll be wretched and poor.” I don’t always trust the fullness of giving that Jesus commends in the gospel. (He may actually condemn the organization that leads widows to impoverish themselves. That’s another story.)
I think it’s at least as important to note what our reactions are concerning almsgiving as it is to give. Does the fear of emptiness compel you to hang on to stuff, to not share it out? That makes our relationship with Christ so much more complicated, since it’s so hard to admit all that. At the same time, it makes our relationship with Christ so much simpler. We are sinners. Christ loves and accepts us. Is that enough?
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