WEEK 11 02
Excelling in Faith: Forgiveness, Compassion and Generosity
(2 Cor 8:1-9; Ps 146; Mt 5:43-48)
“You have heard it said, but I say to you …”
With that simple statement, Jesus opens up a whole new way of being in this world for us – to make both forgiveness and compassion our way of life. St Paul, in the first reading, adds the quality of generosity to a genuine Christian life.
Those words of Jesus, innocent enough, are actually loaded with explosive power to the Jews of Jesus’ day. The Torah, or first five books of the bible, were the supreme authority for the Jewish people, and the centerpiece of the Holy of Holies where they believed God dwelt in the Temple.
For Jesus to say, “You have heard it said … but I say to you” was to put himself above the Torah, to assert within himself an even greater authority. No wonder they accused him of blasphemy.
What Jesus taught as an authority greater than the Torah, is just as revolutionary – to love our enemies, rather than hate them, and to be just as compassionate as is our heavenly Father.
To love one’s enemies is essentially to forgive them, and in Matthew 18, Jesus explains how that is done. Very simply, when someone hurts us, instead of reacting in kind, we are to simply go to that person and share with them, if at all possible, how we feel about what they have done, tell them we are trying to forgive them, and let it go. That is one of the best ways to love – forgiving someone who makes themselves our enemy.
To be compassionate is to feel in one’s guts the pain of the other person; to walk a mile in their shoes, without judgment; to meet them where they are at and to take them a step further, to care for them and help them along life’s path any way that we can. It is this attitude and behavior that will truly make us children of God.
The Macedonians, and the Corinthians to whom Paul writes about, seem to be exemplary in this regard, exuding joy and generosity in a time of affliction and poverty, and doing all they could to help out their fellow believers back in Jerusalem. Paul blesses them all profusely – the grace of God is at work among them; they have a wealth of generosity, and excel in faith, witness, knowledge, eagerness to serve, love and especially generosity. He then tests the genuineness of their love by imitating the generosity of Jesus, who gave his life for them, and for us.
These early Christians are modelling for us, I believe, a challenge to be more generous in our response to the love God has offered us through Jesus, and then poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. We could all probably do better in giving of our time, treasure and talent to others. Should we not also, each one of us, young and old, be tithing those things as well – giving ten percent of our time, our finances and our talents, to the service of the poor especially?
I find joy in giving back to the archdiocese most of my salary, since I am not working directly in the archdiocese any more, as well as freely giving to various charities, so that my bank account as a bishop does not become too big and make me uncomfortable! After all, what does money in a bank do to help others?
More importantly, I try to tithe my time in prayer, and when I do the math, it actually is working. Given twenty-four hours in a day, over two hours should be in prayer. So, with a holy hour each morning, as well as the divine office throughout the day, the Eucharist and a rosary, and sometimes more – I find myself tithing my time in prayer. Now the challenge is to try to find ways to serve God’s poor more consistently, so that I can truly be compassionate as our heavenly Father is compassionate.
The Eucharist is a celebration where rich and poor are all equal – no one is better than anyone else. We gather around the table of the Word and Eucharist to soak God’s unconditional love as forgiveness and healing, and are then sent out to share that love with others.
So, let us take Jesus and St Paul at their word, and excel in faith by putting forgiveness, compassion and generosity at the center of our lives.