Mar 1, 2011

"Be not sparing . . ."

"Lord, we have left everything to follow you." 

“Give until it hurts.” “The time to give is when you feel you can’t.” So goes the thinking behind the true meaning of sacrifice. If I just give from my leftovers what kind of sacrifice is that? Well, at least I’ll have a clean refrigerator!

Sacrifice is not a popular word in today’s culture. I recently spoke to a parishioner about their two adult children, both in their thirties. They were bemoaning the fact that even though one of them is married with one child and another on the way, they still want to live as if they are single; their overall lifestyle hasn’t changed dramatically. They want it all.

“I don’t know about this generation,” they said. To a certain extent they are right. Not about “this generation” necessarily but rather about our resistance to sacrifice. “If I give, what’s left for me? I can’t give because I can barely make it on what I have.” Well, it isn’t all about money as much as it is about our integrity as disciples of Christ.

This Tuesday’s readings, both from Sirach 35: 1-12 and the Gospel from Mark 10: 28-31 call us to reflect on the “give until it hurts” slogan. Let’s be clear about the word “hurts” because as Sirach speaks today we hear, “In a generous spirit pay homage to the LORD, be not sparing of freewill gifts. With each contribution show a cheerful countenance . . . Give to the Most High as he has given to you, generously, according to your means . . .” (Sir 35: 10). The “hurts” word is not essentially about physical pain but more about adopting a selfless spirit. It is not about an entitlement attitude.

In the Gospel passage, Peter questions Jesus: “We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus retorts, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake . . . who will not receive a hundred times more . . .”

Although these readings make an illusion to financial offerings when we hear Sirach say, “. . . pay your tithes in a spirit of joy . . .” the overall vision is to adopt a spirit of generosity not to be noticed by others but to imitate God himself. So often Jesus would call his disciples (that’s you and me) to what may seem like unreachable heights of love for our enemies for example. Yet, what he is asking of us is to imitate God. Jesus himself becomes the prime example of a generous spirit to the very end in the sacrifice of his own life for our sakes.

Whether it’s financial, our time, our prayers, our daily small sacrifices for the Lord, all must be done as an act of faith. Simply put, I don’t think I can live without this money but I will give anyway and trust that the Lord will take care of me. I really don’t have the time to answer this need but I will do it anyway and not worry about my wants.

As Sirach reminds us, “For the LORD is one who always repays and he will give back to you sevenfold . . .” Do you believe that? As we approach Lent next week, it may be good to give it a try now and then.