The Readings for the Memorial of Anthony of Padua, Doctor (C2)
Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.Matthew 5:42 (NABRE)
THIS IS A HARD saying for anyone living in a city or for anyone who works in charity. In fact it may be a hard saying for any who stand and chat outside any church at all.
I was at another parish on Saturday Night, celebrating the parish’s feast of title and visiting old friends. After a vigil service there was a party and then, after a while, the party ended. We were standing outside saying our good byes when a young man came and asked us for food. On a Sunday (when they serve a full lunch) I know the pastor would have given him a plate of whatever was available. But after a night of finger food and pomegranate punch there was nothing left. How to deal with this situation?
To complicate matters he was not the sort of polite person you’d want to help. He started with words but indicated he was coming to a church to talk to “good Christian people” as if he were launching them to a guilt trip rather than an ask for help. One might even imagine him standing outside the party (you could hear us in the open windows) waiting for this moment just to see how people would act.
Additionally it was not my parish so I waited for the locals to do (or not do) as they felt. I don’t feel we Christians passed the test offered by this verse from Matthew. We lost our Charity someplace and forgot to pray to St Anthony to help us find it.
But, really Jesus? Give to anyone who asks?
Our normal solution in these days is to either support (or not) government programs. That is not what Jesus is suggesting here. I’m sure there are lots of places to get food in this city – I work at one. But Jesus is not talking about a new agency or program. The whole point of the Sermon on the Mount (where our passage comes from, today) is not FDR’s New Deal, not Eisenhower’s Great Society. The Sermon on the Mount is not about Liberation Theology or setting up Social Justice Movements. The whole point comes just a couple of verses later at v. 48: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” While we will get more of this verse tomorrow, the point is clear: the Sermon on the Mount is a personal sermon filled with ways not to make a Justice-filled City on earth, but to fill the earth with Righteous People who do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
So, give to anyone who asks?
When I go to confession I find myself confessing the same sins, over and over. I am there with contrition. I don’t want to sin again. But especially some things just seem to happen. And they are the same things over and over. Yet, the priest gives absolution. God forgives. How many times have I asked for forgiveness in the same tone of voice the young man used on Saturday night? And yet God forgives, moves me more deeply to pray, moves me (over decades) to come closer to the fire that he may refine me more. How, instead, would it be if the priest (or even God) said, “Why should I absolve you?” or “You’re just going to go away and squander this grace on sins again.” Or “How do I know you’re deserving?” or if the priest just silently shrugged his shoulders and, hands in pockets, mouthed sorry and walked away?
Give to anyone who asks.
This verse tends us towards perfection by urging us to give as God gives. God the Father pours himself out, the Son pours himself out to honor the Father, the Spirit is poured out on us from the Father and the Son. We are to pour ourselves out to anyone who asks. God pours out from infinity to our finitude. We tend to feel as if we’re giving from limited resources and – in fear – we worry that there will be nothing left for our needs later.
If one were to give away everything for God (not just because someone asked, but exactly to be like God) how could it be wrong? Where would God take us if we gave away everything to be like him?