The Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
4 November 2018 at St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl
Deuteronomy 6, 2-6 + Psalm 18 + Hebrews 7, 23-28 + Mark 12, 28-34
Every now and then I have to tell myself that I am living in a remarkable, unique and special time in human history. I do that to keep from getting negative and discouraged. I convince myself that I am witnessing and living in an age that will fascinate historians for a long time. So, I keep on going through terrible times in our church, and troubling and divisive times in our nation. Then election time rolls around, and I am relieved because in two more days I’ll be able to watch TV again without all those assaulting and insulting political commercials. One of the things that pushes my panic button is that suggestion that we ask ourselves, “Am I better off today than I was four years ago?” My first instinct is to yell, “No way. My joints ache, my eye sight is less, I move more slowly, nap longer, and my hair is gone.”
What really gets to me about that question is how it appeals to personal selfishness. Why not ask if society is better off today than it was then? Nobody seems to want to go there. Somehow being better off has something to do with what you drive, where you live, and how often and where you can go out to eat, and what you wear when you do. Into this question steps a Scribe who respectfully gets into an interesting discussion with Jesus that gives us plenty to wonder about. From their discussion it becomes clear that the measure of our Love of God is determined by our love of our neighbor. In other words, if there is someone you can’t or have not felt some love for, there is some good reason to question how much you really do love God, and we can’t go watering this down by fooling around with the meaning of “love”. No matter what, love has to do with feelings. It seems to me that there are three possibilities: good feelings, bad feelings, or indifference. Only one of them works.
You can’t read much of the Scriptures without getting the idea that God is deeply concerned about the way we treat one another. Our faith and our vocation as disciples is to love, and when we do we will allow ourselves to feel another’s pain. We feel great by doing good, more so than by doing well materially or financially, because it is in our nature as God’s image. Generosity brings rewards, and joy springs up in us when we do something good for another. When we refuse or look the other way, a strange sadness comes over us.
Maimonides was a famous Jewish teacher in Spain in the 12th century. He outlined eight steps or degrees in what he called the ladder of charity.
The first and lowest degree is to give, but with reluctance. It is a gift of the hand, not of the heart.
The second is to give cheerfully, but not in proportion to the distress of the sufferer.
The third is to give cheerfully and in proportion to the need, but not until we are asked.
The fourth is to give cheerfully, proportionately and even unasked, but to put it into the poor man’s hand causing him shame.
The fifth is to give in such a way that the needy may receive the alms and know their benefactor, without the benefactor know them.
The sixth is to know the recipients of our charity, while remaining unknown to them.
The seventh is to bestow charity in such a way that the benefactor does not know the recipient, or the recipient the benefactor.
Finally, the finest way of all is to anticipate charity by preventing poverty. This can be done by giving a gift or a loan of money to enable another to get back on their feet, or by teaching them a trade, so that they can earn an honest living and be forced to the dreadful alternative of holding out his hand for charity.
Mark Twain once said: “One of the nicest things that can happen to a person is to do good by stealth and be found out by accident.” I