BE PERFECT IN GIVING
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 Cor 8:1-9; Ps 145:2,5-9; Mt 5:43-48 ]
In the first reading, we read of Paul’s passionate appeal to the Corinthians to help the Mother Church in Jerusalem which was going through very difficult times especially financially. The Mother Church was poor and in need of financial assistance. They would have failed in their duty if they did not support the Mother Church that gave birth to the local churches. Indeed, it is only right that all churches are called to help the Mother Church. Today, this is still being done. The local Church remits money to the Mother Church in Rome. The parishes continue to support the archdiocese in her activities both financially and in activities. Besides supporting the Mother Church, local churches have a duty to help sister churches that are also in need.
What is the basis for giving generously to churches that are in need? Firstly, Paul underscored the importance of gratitude to God’s generosity. Paul reminded the Corinthians of their blessings. He said, “You always have the most of everything – of faith, of eloquence, of understanding, of keenness for any cause, and the biggest share of our affection – so we expect you to put the most into this work of mercy too.” Indeed, the Corinthians had received much from God. They had all the blessings of both material and spiritual wealth. They should not be selfish and be concerned with just their own community.
Consequently, those who have been blessed more should give more. This is the basic principle of giving. Everything we have comes from God; our talents, our health, our resources, our career, our business and our friends. The responsorial psalm reiterates this truth. “He is happy who is helped by Jacob’s God, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who alone made heaven and earth, the seas and all they contain. It is he who keeps faith forever, who is just to those who are oppressed. It is he who gives bread to the hungry, the Lord, who sets prisoners free. It is the Lord who gives sight to the blind, who raises up those who are bowed down, the Lord, who protects the stranger and upholds the widow and orphan.” So most of what we have were given, even before we can cooperate with the gifts that God has blessed us with. Whilst we might have worked hard to be where we are today, without the prior gifts of health and opportunities, we would never have made it to where we are today. Since God has blessed us, we have a responsibility to bless others with what we have received.
Giving is also a sign of our appreciation and gratitude to God. Paul wrote, “It is not an order that I am giving you; I am just testing the genuineness of your love against the keenness of others.” If we are truly grateful for what we have received, then we will want to share it with others. This is the test of gratitude and true love of God. We cannot claim that we are deeply in love with God if we do not care for His larger family, His brothers and sisters who are deprived of their needs. How can any member of the family be living in plenty and in luxury when there are members within his family who are in poverty? So if we love God and Christ’s Church, His mystical body, then we must endeavor to support our sister churches, particularly, the Mother Church.
Secondly, Paul gave the wonderful example of the Christians in Macedonia. They were going through great trials and sufferings themselves, yet they were constantly cheerful and ironically, even in their “intense poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity.” They did not wallow in self-pity. On the contrary, because of their own sufferings and poverty, they could feel for the Mother Church in Jerusalem even more. It is true that often the most generous people are not the rich but the poor people. This is because unless you have been poor, you will never fully understand the meaning of poverty and deprivation. These are just concepts without experience. But those of us who have been poor before tend to be more generous because we feel for the poor. Now that we are better off, we feel the need to help them just as we had been helped by God. No one should ever say that he or she is too poor to help. This is because even if we are poor, there will be some who are even poorer than us. That makes us richer than them!
But the Christian churches in Macedonia were not only generous but they sincerely gave from the heart. Paul wrote, “I can swear that they gave not only as much as they could afford, but far more, and quite spontaneously, begging and begging us for the favour of sharing in this service to the saints.” They were giving not because they were compelled to give or even obliged, but simply because they sympathized with the poor Mother Church in Jerusalem and they truly wanted to send relief to their brothers and sisters in the faith. It was considered a great privilege for them to participate in this work of mercy. Such was the generosity and kindness of the Christians in Macedonia.
But what was the secret of the Macedonians’ generosity? Paul said, “What was quite unexpected, they offered their own selves first to God and, under God, to us.” From them, we learn another principle of giving. Before we give things or resources or time to others, we must first offer ourselves to God. All giving ultimately is giving to God. Once we are clear that we are giving to God in thanksgiving and gratitude, and as a sacrifice of love, we will then decide practically how much to give. When we give, the question should not be, “how much should I give?” This is a secondary question. The primary question is “have I given myself to God completely?” Only when we have done so, may we then ask the secondary question, “how much should I give” in the context of our limited resources and responsibility towards those under our charge.
The exemplar of all giving is Christ Himself. Paul said, “Remember how generous the Lord Jesus was: he was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty.” Christ emptied Himself of His divinity and became poor for our sake. He came to identify Himself with us so that He could be the compassionate high priest, one who has been with us in every way, including temptation, except sin. (cf Heb 4:15) “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:16) Because Jesus had shared our sufferings, we can be sure that He would be most compassionate towards us as well.
But we still have not arrived at the heart and depth of giving. The greatest act of giving is for-giving. We can give away material things and share our resources with others. But it is very difficult to forgive our loved ones and those who have hurt us badly. True giving is when we forgive our enemies and love them. This is what Jesus asks of us in the gospel. “You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ To bless and love our enemies is the highest form of giving anyone can give. This is why Jesus is the perfect example of giving. He came to give not only of Himself through the Incarnation, His works of mercy, the miracles of healing and exorcism. But He came to forgive us our sins and reconcile us with His Father by His death on the cross, praying and justifying us by saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34)
In so doing, Jesus demonstrated the perfect love of His Father. “You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” His perfection in giving is seen by the way He “causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike.” Thus, Jesus remarked, “If you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not?” So if we want to be known as sons of our Father in heaven, then we must perfect ourselves in love through giving and forgiving.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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