Here’s an excerpt from today’s gospel, and there is something there I had never noticed before:
The Lord said to him, “Oh you Pharisees!
Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish,
inside you are filled with plunder and evil.
Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?
But as to what is within, give alms,
and behold, everything will be clean for you.”
Before this was the famous “camel through the eye of a needle” quip. Notice that Jesus is dealing with the Pharisees, and he comes up with a solution for their hypocrisy and self righteousness that really nails it: “Give alms and everything will be clean for you.”
From time to time I will preach about what we politely call “stewardship”, and what a lot of blather we do churn out. All this talk about “time, talent and treasure”. All this talk about ‘stewardship of God’s resources’. Jesus didn’t talk like that. He said, “It is very difficult for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. That is to say, “It is very difficult for a rich person to be saved.” or to put it another way, “It is very easy for a rich person to go to hell.”
See what we don’t want to do…REALLY don’t want to do is offend the rich people or they will tootle off to another parish along with their check book. So we tiptoe through the minefield and talk about “perhaps giving a bit more seriously to the Lord’s work.” Even when you tiptoe you still get people grumbling…. “Meh…All Father does is talk about money!” which being translated is, “He’s not getting any money from me I’ll tell you that much!”
I want to cry out with the Lord–”You fools!” You don’t get it. I don’t give a camel’s hump whether you give your money to me or not. It’s not about me. It’s not even about our parish or the bills we need to pay. It’s about your and whether you are headed up or down. There’s only two ways, and if you’re not climbing up you’re headed down. It might be a slow, gentle, lazy decline, but the direction is still down.
On the money thing we miss the point entirely. The point of giving alms is not because the church needs a new roof or because we have to pay Father’s insurance or even because we should feed the hungry. We are supposed to give alms because it is the cure for our hypocrisy and self righteousness. The problem with rich people is not that they’re rich, but that they don’t think they need anything. The problem is not having nice things and being wealthy. The problem is that these things are obstacles to loving God and furthermore, they tend to make us feel not only self sufficient, but self made. We’re proud of how wealthy we are. It makes us feel good about ourselves, and these are the building blocks of becoming the kind of insufferable, self righteous, fools that Jesus condemns.
Do you want to make spiritual progress? Give more of your money away to help the poor. That’s the fastest way to move forward and it’s also very effective. When you give your money away you tell the money who’s in charge. You take control rather than the money taking control of you. When you consider the poor you also start to become humble and you can’t be self righteous for long if you get involved in giving money and time to the poor.
So forget all the image stuff, all the nice respectable Catholic stuff and do something radical for once. Give alms. Then everything will be clean for you.