By Juli McCullagh
Give alms from what you have and look, everything will be clean for you. Luke 11:41
We get things backwards quite often, in our good intentions, in our security, in our way of life. We hear the admonition to give of ourselves, give our 10% tithe, perform our works of mercy and our acts of charity. We listen to the Gospel (you know, the one so often read on Christ the King Sunday just before the Advent shopping season begins and we get in the Christmas spirit through buying things we don’t need and eating food that makes our clothes too tight) about the sheep and the goats and feeding Christ whom we find in the hungry and the homeless and the abandoned. Somehow, in our comfort, we think that it is we who are giving when we write a check or visit the sick or even when we sponsor helpful programs to bring our brethren in places foreign and familiar a little closer to the comforts and the standards of living which we take for granted and cannot imagine anyone being happy or satisfied without. We know that we are the ones with all the blessings and it is our duty to share those blessings with those who have not. It is simple redistribution. We give. Others receive.
Well, sure, I guess. That’s what it looks like. But what about… and then, in whatever time it takes for us to understand, it dawns on us that we are not the only ones doing the giving in these transactions. Something else is at work here, something that pries open our guarded hearts and wounds us in a glimpse of understanding.
God is full of surprises.
Just read the testimonies of the Haitian Pilgrims who go armed with charity and good works and medicines and generators and plans for schools and clinics and lunch programs. They come home changed. They received gifts in their works of mercy they cannot put in the bank or hang on a wall. But just talk to them and look at the photographs they want to show us. These are not photographs you will see in the New York Times or on a 20/20 report. All you see in those media
is the poverty and corruption and misery. In the photos our Pilgrims share of the devastated landscape, the shacks of cardboard and scrap metal, you can hear the children laugh. Look at the photographs of the elderly women with love
wrapped like a mantel around them, giving that love freely to all who come near. Some are blind, some have diseases we no longer tolerate in our land of plenty, most are frail, but yet, they laugh, they cry, they hope, they love. And in their weakness they break through our defenses and our certainties. They break straight through to our well-protected hearts and teach us.
But what do they teach us?
If we are inclined to a spiritual nature, they teach us to pray. In our practical and sensible prayerful undertakings we request relief from their poverty, their hunger, their illnesses. We pray to be guided in the service we can offer, in the gifts we can share, in the funds we can direct their way, in the buildings we can construct and the lessons we can teach from our success. We let our imaginations and our better nature wander over the possibilities of how we can teach them to be more successful, like us, and partake of the good things in life. And that is good. We need to do that. We need to open our hearts and our minds and our pocketbooks and share our abundance.
If we stay at prayer a little longer, though, we begin to learn some things beyond checking off items on our works of mercy to-do list. Prayer raises uncomfortable questions and irritates us in the places we thought we had life figured out. All day we are bombarded with images of success and glamour and conveniences and newer and faster and better and bigger. We have a culture that celebrates the ridiculously rich and vain. We scoff at the vanity of these famous for being famous folks, yet, deep in our hearts we do believe that a certain level of comfort and security are necessary for a happy life. We work hard, go to school, and put in overtime. We know that money cannot buy happiness yet we hedge our bets and gather around us our comforts as best we can. Then, without meaning to, we resemble a certain Mr. Scrooge when he complains to his spirit guide on seeing the Cratchets celebrating that they have no business being happy since they are so poor, to which the spirit retorts you have no business being miserable, you are so rich. We are struck to the core of our
conceit when we see that the light of love and life shines in the happy eyes of God’s poorest children. And perhaps, that’s when we begin to realize that it is in giving that we receive and what we receive is a new heart.
I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I shall remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit within you and make you keep my laws and respect and practice my judgments. Ezekiel 36:26-28