For most of us, generosity can be a risky proposition. Jesus calls into question this perspective of generosity as He reminds us today that our values are upside-down: that God’s fairness seems unjust; that the joy of receiving doesn't begin to compare with the joy of giving, that the clearest evidence of God's blessing in a person's life has less to do with how much He has than with how much He gives, and that God's work can be more clearly discerned in what He does with what you surrender—than with what He drops into your lap. These are counter-cultural revolutionary statements that call into question the economic realities under which we humans mostly operate. We know we're supposed to believe it and live it; we just struggle with finding a place for such a belief in the world in which we operate.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” And good thing too! We know from the readings today (this Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time) that God is generous to a degree that we cannot understand. God is generous to a point that to us limited humans, His generosity actually seems unfair! (Especially to those of us, here in this area of the world, where collective bargaining is a way of life!)
Maybe, in the end, it has to do with faith. People who choose to define blessedness by what they give and not what they receive do so because they believe that in one way or another, there is enough for everyone to enjoy. They trust! Where others fear shortage or being short-changed, these people see God's grace and plenty. When others give in to the impulse to hoard (like toilet paper in the early days of pandemic lockdown), the trusting people are ruled by the generosity of the Holy Spirit. Where others fear about their share and worry about comparing, trusting ones are content with what they have received and work at being happy to make do. Where others clutch their possessions more tightly out of fear, trusting persons’ hands are opened by the sharing nature of the One who opened his hands to the nails on the cross.
Make no mistake. This kind of generosity, this sharing can be risky. What if, after all, the world is right? What if you share generously and then, whenever and wherever the accounting is done it turns out that you don't have enough? What if you don't get your “fair share?” What if no one passes a portion of “your” bread and fish back to you? What if no one else acknowledges your contribution? That's all possible. And yet Jesus promises us that a lifestyle of giving, not receiving, is the way to live in true joy and under God. It strikes me that Jesus never lived a life of plenty and yet He always spoke of God's blessing as if he knew it first-hand. Maybe giving and sharing will open up whole new realms of joy and peace and abundance for you that receiving never even hints at...
So, how can we foster a more generous way of life? Like any discipline, it takes practice—that is, a willingness to start where we are now, with the hope that through time, grace, and experience, generosity will become an ingrained way of life for us all. Here are a few practical suggestions that you might consider trying in practicing generosity:
These are just a few ideas (thanks to Anthony De Mello!). I know that with prayer and consideration you may have other ideas too. (Share them!) God is so generous in all things, we can only try and be generous too. St. Paul reminds us today to conduct ourselves in a way to be “worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” Be generous, openhanded, charitable, compassionate—kind and merciful. Stop reading this and go find a thing and a way and a place to give. Time. Talent. Energy. Possessions. Money, of course. Food. Lose the fear and worry about stuff, and generously give away your love.
Keep singing in your hearts!
Just a Note: Something about how there is nothing (no thing) better than God, and His generosity…
Graves Into Gardens ft. Brandon Lake | Acoustic ... - YouTube
Today in the Old Testament reading from Sirach (this Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time), we hear: “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight… Forgive your neighbor’s injustice…set enmity aside…” We are told in this wisdom book to cease nourishing anger against another, to be merciful, to remember our last days and to let go of hate: this is the way to expect healing, mercy and forgiveness from God. The Gospel parable today is a “mirror” expressing this, too—and a reminder as we ramp up in politics and opinion in our country; and as we fight the effects of the pandemic and social and economic injustice.
Forgiveness given and forgiveness received are always the work of God’s grace. (Thank you, Rev Rohr!) Unearned and even undeserved forgiveness is necessary to break down the “quid pro quo” world we all know: it is where we have trade-offs, exchanges, and where one-hand-washing-the-other deals are made. True grace makes all things new; and nothing new can happen in those situations where forgiveness is needed and not extended. Without forgiveness we are doomed to just keep repeating the same old sin patterns: our illusions, half-truths, spinning the story, injustice, blaming and shaming, our self-lies, pride and prejudices, and our refusal to seek reconciliation.
“True Spirit-led forgiveness always frees and heals at least one of the parties involved, and hopefully both. True forgiveness also awakens and invites the hearts of others, most especially the offender. True forgiveness does not leave the offender feeling small and judged, but liberated and loved.” (Rev. Rohr) In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ parable teaches us this truth about forgiveness, love and grace. In any pain-filled situation we are called as disciples to always choose goodness: especially for that of the offender; in trusting that God’s goodness flows in all things and works through all situations.
So how to start the healing, how to forgive? I suggest we start with prayer—especially for those with whom you disagree on any or all issues. I have reprinted “The Five Finger Prayer” as a helpful guide to begin. In this time of social unrest, fear, division, sickness and strain—we can all use the prayers of and for each other.
Keep singing in your hearts!
The Five-Finger Prayer
1. Your thumb is nearest you. So begin your prayers by praying for those closest to you. They are the easiest to remember. To pray for our loved ones is, as the great Christian writer C. S. Lewis once said, a “sweet duty.”
2. The next finger is the pointing finger. Pray for those who teach and instruct (especially at the start of this school year during this pandemic) and those who heal—especially all our first responders along with all teachers, doctors, priests, parents, pastors and ministers. They need support and wisdom in pointing others in the right direction. Keep them in your prayers.
3. The next finger is the tallest finger. It reminds us of our leaders. In this time of toxic partisan division please pray for the president and all public servants; all leaders in business, industry and politics, and administrators. These people shape our nation and guide public opinion. They all very much need God's guidance in order to lead us to justice and peace for all persons.
4. The fourth finger is our ring finger. Surprising to many is the fact that this is our weakest finger (as any piano teacher will testify). It should remind us to pray for those who are weak, sick, sad, in trouble or in pain. They need your prayers day and night. You cannot pray too much for them.
5. And lastly comes our little finger; the smallest finger of all which is where we should place ourselves in relation to God and others. As Scripture says, “The least shall be the greatest among you.” Your pinkie should remind you to pray for yourself. By the time you have prayed for the other four groups, your own needs will be put into proper perspective and you will be able to pray for yourself more effectively.
We remember all God’s works in praying for others for God is as close as your own hand.
David J. Conrad, M.A. Theology. Our Director of Faith Formation.