June 16, 2009 – Tuesday, Week 11
2 Corinthians 8:1-9 / Psalm 146 / Matthew 5:43-48
The collection taken to assist the struggling church of Jerusalem was viewed by Paul as a testament to the unity of the whole Church and the charity that must exist among brothers and sisters in faith. Jew or Gentile was not significant; the need and their common faith in Christ took precedence. The generosity of Macedonia was held up as an example to the Corinthians. God’s favor or grace could be mediated between the members and communities within the Church. Despite the troubles they were facing, they could still remember the struggle of others.
The measure of such generosity is understood within the terms of sacrifice. I recall the story of an African woman whose people were facing starvation. She was given a small ration of bread but there was no milk for her small baby. She would take the bread and carefully chew it in her mouth. Then she would literally take the food from her own mouth and nourish her infant. One day they found her dead with the baby crying in her arms. She starved to death so that her child might have a chance to live. Similarly, our Lord laid down his life so that we might live. He was safe in his heaven and could have abandoned us. But such was his love that he would endure suffering and death on our behalf. It is this generosity of God which we are to live out in our concern for others. The Macedonians supposedly gave, not because they were required to do so, but because the generous spirit of God was part of their own identity. It was second nature to them. Such willingness to give often takes us by surprise, especially given how grasping and self-preoccupied men might become. Endorsing the work of Titus and others, the Corinthians were also beseeched to freely practice their faith with charity and generosity. What the psalmist says aptly applies to the Lord and those who would imitate him: “Who keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets captives free.”
In a few weeks my parish will have a Holy Land vendor sell his goods after weekend Masses. The money supports the Christian families in Bethlehem. Their numbers have dwindled. They face terrible hardships and prejudice. Tourism and the numbers making pilgrimage are way down. Because many of us cannot go there, they are trying to come to us. Our generosity makes possible the continued presence of Christians in the land where it all began.
Generosity is one thing, but what the Gospel asks of us might sound like madness. Loving your enemies and praying for those who hurt us is not the way the world works. It would be far easier to curse and damn those we hate. There is no way to explain away the admonitions of Christ. Imagine the person you love more than anyone else in the world. Now, how would you feel if someone hurts him or her— or worse! How do you forgive? Given what we did to Jesus, how could he forgive us? Maybe we are not where we should be yet, but I suspect that God is not finished with those who try to love and forgive as he does. Spiritual perfection may not come in a moment, but maybe right now it is enough to dispose ourselves to God’s transformative grace. Help us Lord, to be more and more like your Son.