Unselfish Giving Or Show Business?

Unselfie

I make a living with some awareness of a social environment and what makes people tick.  One incentive that goes into what motivates actions of individuals will always be making sure they are liked.  In fact, one of the tops things people say is looked for by women towards the men in their lives is kindness.  So if that were to get out as more common knowledge there would be one more reason for single ladies to process a kind act as wondering if it was sincere are that of a suitor for her affections (to put it politely).  Really, one could wonder a lot if someone kind acts are really without agenda and can be sure only if you “catch them in the act”  in that you see them doing right and they had no way of knowing that they were a “suspect” of being a true giver.

But there is one person that has been proposed to catch such people in the act of unquestionable kindness: God.  Jesus decided one day on a mountain speech, with those who were intent in being His followers, to juxtapose giving in holiness versus giving for recognition.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4).

Jesus here speaks a mouthful in that again truth is spoken to those in positions of religious power who have overall lost track of the most basic traits of what the kingdom of God is supposed to be like.  The loud and proud givers among them have combined a pride of place to their religious oligarchy with themselves as individuals.  Their show describe by Jesus is all about bragging to the world that they are kind and powerful with the grace to bequeath alms to the commoners.

Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. —-It is implied by such a show that the receivers and their witnesses will see them with some special point of recognition.  Jesus congratulates them with a backhanded compliment because their reward is limited.

do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. —- What Jesus is getting to is how the right giving should be so pure that one does not even deliberate in their thoughts anything complicated and especially about their own identity.  They just see a need and do not worry about the currency of public favor.

Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you— Ideally the one who is tied into living out the life of Jesus Christ is conscious enough about the presence of God in all they do so the hope of the right reward is always there.  To do this is no small matter but to have an attitude of having a prayerful disposition when you go out to meet the world every day.  That is to be in the world but not of it as if their opinion makes you rise or fall.  From there one can be called religious and it would not be all about the show.

This sunk into the mindset of the Church.  So much they about twenty or thirty years later a kinsman of Jesus said the following:

 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27).

To give rightly?  No agenda? No politics?  So radical.  Such a change in getting that stain out it could be called brainwashing.  Speaking as one disciple of Jesus who is very much a work in progress, I hope so. And I pray that during this lenten season my heart would be awakened to God’s ongoing presence and His call to make a difference through my left and right hand.

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Where Love Can Rock The World

Augustus Tolton

I have been renewing my memory about a hero of mine.  He lived in the late 1800’s and suffered a lot of oppression for the color of his skin.  His name was Augustus Tolton and he was the first African-American priest ever.  Some people in his parish and all of the American Catholoc seminaries did not like the idea of him becoming a priest.  But that did not stop the priests and nuns of his community from sending him to be schooled in the Vatican.  He came back many years later speaking Latin, Italian and German and holding mass in Chicago.  Some priests told the parishioners that if they went to a mass that he held they could not say they had really gone to church.  Some of his fellow called him a priest with an ugly redial epithet attached.

But Father Augustus never let that get him down.  He was known to have a pattern of humility and forgiveness and be equally available to love and serve those who accepted him and those who did not.   He walked in a loving agenda when it was not convenient.

One day on a hill with his disciples Jesus laid down the gauntlet of loving not only your neighbor but also your enemy.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 

I remember years ago receiving some semi-formal education about eros love.  It is a Greek word that was used in different situations that included romantic love.  Although that could be a very clean romantic love, we also get the word erotic out of it.  A thread that is in that is, “I love you, based on what I can get out of you” if the eros love is an end in itself.

But if it is based on agape, the source and destination is contemplated in the person with such  a higher purpose.   Agape is love founded in the infinite, powerful intentions of God who wants the world to be reconciled to Him.  Agape has been ultimately demonstrated by the atonement by Jesus Christ on the cross.

Through the years, the Church had to walk out this thing about God’s love where it applied to their persecutors.  They forgave them and blessed them. And where it came to a persecutor responsible for Christian deaths, they had to learn to receive them when Saul of Tarsus become a Christian himself.  Years later as an apostle he penned these words.

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

I heard Scott Hahn in an mp3 recently say that if Paul had applied himself to philosophy alone would have surpassed Plato and Aristotle.  Though I would not disagree with that assessment, his philosopher mind for this thing about love was at least as much from the University of Hard Knocks as it was any philosophical learning.  More specifically, Paul had years of formation as a Christian where the Church took him in and treated him like a brother.  Paul was simply passing on what he received in word and deed.

We will have our times where was have the opportunity to curse but must remember to bless in love instead.

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

This perfection is about being completed in the design of the Creator that we would love in accordance with His will as Father.  What father would want to see his children in a bitter loop with each other?  None.  By taking the cup of blessing in love, a choice that one can make in free will, the person that has does right in love and knows what love is would put flesh on this calling of Jesus and be a participant in the ongoing timeline of salvation for the world.   Acts of charity is nice.  Philosophy of charity is quaint.  But loving ones enemies is the calling of The Church to rock the world.

Helping Over Hurting

Helping Hands

There was a woman in Iran that had a sentence that was favorable to her expressed interests.  Not something that happens every day for women in that country.  There was a disturbed, bitter man that wanted her to share his romantic intentions.  When she did not feel the same way in return he attached her with a cup of acid and threw it in her face so she was blinded.  The police caught him and he was put on trial.

Going by their interpretation of Islam he was sentenced to be blinded the same way and she would be allowed to execute the sentence.  There was some, only some, international protest against the sentence and cries for mercy for the victim to have.  Some would say that this would be a natural consequence and others that revenge cannot be the highest standard.

Then the day came for sentence to be carried out.  The man was strapped down on a bed so he could not move.The woman was led over with her hand guided with the cup of acid so it would be positioned right over his face.  But then mercy won out.  She took pity on him and he may even see the light of day out of a prison someday.

In its purest representation Christianity shines brightly the message of forgiveness.  It does not deny the reality that in this world there are mechanisms in place for punishment that fits the crime but the challenge is that there can always be a better perspective than that.  One important start of this line of thinking by Jesus was on a mountain where he spoke like a new Moses but with a new perspective on this.

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you (Matthew 5:38-42).

But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also—Turning the other cheek does not sound appealing.  To turn the other cheek in worldly wisdom is interpreted in the Scottish proverb, “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice shame on me.”  The desire to not be taken advantage of is natural but to fight for every last right may not be worth so many other blessings.  I remember years ago I had a dispute with someone over finances who was a very good friend of mine.  We parted ways acrimoniously but through the years I came to second guess what my motives were and remind myself how life is too short.  I found my friend and reconciled with him.  We are good friends again but I wish I could have those five years back.  Case in point for preserving one thing but losing another thing far more important to a peaceful life.

and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; —-As for getting sued, Jesus ups the ante even more by asking us to go deeper in out insecurity.  If it is kind of cold, you need a coat.  If it is very cold you need a cloak.  But in both cases these are materials which are replaceable. It would ruin your day by the lack of warmth if it is winter but more particularly from a loss of power.    However by surrendering and adding more to it you really get the right power back because the most basic and necessary call we have is to give.

give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile— The pressure is increasing from Jesus even more where it hurts because his listeners considered themselves spiritual but also anti- Roman government.  Thank God American Christians don’t have extreme anti-government tendencies.  Oh, there are?  In place of revolt that the Jews would think was their mandate in light of salvation history that they understood, Jesus urges extra service above and beyond what was on the books.  Service in a tough context is not just a flowery love language but an expression of God’s power in brokenness.  It is the kind that would influence the served, even a Roman soldier to praise God for such good deeds and maybe convert.  “Preach the gospel at all times.  If needed use words” (St. Francis of Assissi).

Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you —After breaking down with what is situational, Jesus is bringing this message of a call to bless others materially and unconditionally to a principled level.  Do they have ears to hear it?  Do we?

To perceive those transactions and when they come up it is easy to counter with loopholes.  In a different passage of scripture Jesus is asked, “Who is my neighbor?”  He answers  this Pharisee who likely had prejudice against the Samaritans the story of the Good Samaritan.  The moral of that story is that the person we are indebted to in charity and high regard is anyone we have contact with.  Even someone your culture calls a half-breed idol worshipper.

I must confess I have my loopholes against charity to the needy.  Hardly a week goes by without someone coming up to me asking for money.  Due to my education and experience I see the chances are too high that my money will go to a drug habit.  However, that does not stop me from treating them to lunch, having a conversation and using some skill set from my prior work to help them get a job and other resources.  Where is my loophole there?  Me and my comfort zone.  Me and my “rights”.  That is what is stopping me and in some way or other it is what stops many of us.

So of the passages I have written on from the Sermon On The Mount, this is the toughest so far.  Jesus’ method in this passage goes from hand to head in that he goes from situational to principle so one can spiritually perceive those instances of relational transaction whether big or small that we can participate in the kingdom of God where it matters most: to the least of His brethren (Matthew 25).

What would be dangerous is if Jesus did not stop there.  If he went from hand to head to heart on this message then that would be very uncomfortable.  In fact He did not stop there.  His full message is to serve in perception our of the greatest gift of all: love.  And that includes loving our enemies.  Jesus is a very inconvenient Messiah indeed.  And exactly what we need as we continue to read His words from a message on a mountain.

Oath Games and Who Really Loses.

Oaths

“Trust me” is a term that many use but too few are worthy of saying.  People want to be trusted for relationships, work, special responsibilities and in some cases for a second chances when the level of trustworthiness of an individual is in question.

One way to make ones self be trusted is collateral but in more common context with ones word.  But even ones word has been made to have its special glitter which really leads to playing games on statuses that are really above the real domain of mankind.  I might call it an “oath game” and it has been played for thousands of years.

But about 30 AD in a Roman ruled mountainside Jesus had some things to say about oaths and He does not play games.  He is known by even non-Christian admirers for overturning the tables of the money changers in temple but here he overturns the metaphorical tables where people were using oaths in religious language.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.[n], or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or “No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37).

I would like to start at the end about the “evil one” reference.  Is that harsh?  Really no.  Commitment that is sincere is really not complicated nor is it meant to be.  Making an oath engenders a punishment on the swearer and tells the person they are swearing to that they are to trust them because the of consequence of the entities make them want to follow through.  That does not speak of the person’s individual integrity.  The rule for the oaths are either implicitly or explicitly based on fear and punishment.  This is so far from the perfect love that Christ wanted and still wants for this world.

Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God— This is important to start with on this point because swearing by heaven presupposes that it is not God’ throne.  To them take that thought out in the vocabulary one could say the swearer is playing God and putting God as irrelevant.

…or by the earth, for it is his footstool. — Forget the phrase that “the devil is in the details”, when it is really God who is in the details.  Psalms says often that the glory of God fills the earth.  At the risk of mixing metaphors, His feet are on this earth because He is always trying to get His foot in the door of our hearts.  Our response is hopefully going to be cooperation with the assumption that His kingdom should come on earth at it is in heaven.

or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King—– This is more profound for the modern day reader than one might think.  Jesus was a Jew speaking to fellow Jews who understood history for them through a lens of what modern day theologians call salvation history.  This is predicated that God had His sovereign hand on Israel with the establishment of covenants using vocabulary that was at times liturgical (sacrifices, ceremony) and royal.  In this reference, it would be a good time for Jesus to use the term how it was the city of the great King.  Bu Jesus makes a point that salvation history does not stop as a sentimental value but in the context of an ongoing, breaking authority.  Among modern day people that profess to be be holy, a sad trap to get into is to speak Christian-ese and declare how their movement is the most anointed thing of God and they have grabbed it like it was their own pet.  When they do this, they are watering down the ongoing covenantal ways of God that have been ongoing through the gospel likewise as a convenient and subjective goose bump.

And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black—  So at this point Jesus is saying that not only can you slap your integrity onto heaven, earth and a religious card but you cannot do this on your life.  God is really in control on all of your personal details.  Maybe the idea Jesus has here that with oaths like this, you are your own worst enemy in thinking that you are not subject to the timeline of mortality.  Every one of those signals of our aging is a reminder that you are not a god.

So with all of these vain oaths eliminated and the hearer of Jesus words processing them, what should they include?  What should we?  I like what Job said, “God is in heaven and your are on earth, so let your words be few.”  Whether we are in a commitment setting directly related to religious or secular affairs, we should remember in our hearts that the fear or awe of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  And thus instead of worrying about the collateral of our reputation before men first, we should devote ourselves to being true to Creator who created us and say test to His will and assurances.