Almsgiving and prayer

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Well, if yesterday’s reading from the Book of Genesis reminded us of our quest for knowledge of good and evil, todays readings remind us that learning the difference between the two has a bit of a learning curve. Moses Lv 19:1-2, 11-18 in his address to the children of Israel tells them what they should do to be holy in the eyes of God. Jesus in his address Mt 25:31-46  does much of the same as He reminds the disciples that they will be separated like goats versus sheep. He explains to His flock what they must do to remain in His fold. Making decisions has its consequences, one must learn the difference between good and evil. Errors, often made, are a fact of life. There are of course different ways of discovering the difference between good and evil, there are different techniques of making sound moral choices. Moses and Jesus do have their own approaches. For Moses law becomes a tool of choice. For Jesus it is prayer and spirit. Jesus does pray a lot, He often distances himself from the crowd to pray. Jesus also gives instruction, he teaches that we must treat others as God treats us. Today’s discourse is all about charity, it is about feeding the hungry and giving drink to those who thirst. It is about clothing the naked, giving shelter to the homeless, and welcoming the stranger. Jesus preaches good behavior.

Two of Lent’s themes are emphasized in today’s gospel. The obvious one is Charity, and often in today’s culture that is interpreted as almsgiving. Give food to the hungry, and clothing to the naked, and shelter to the homeless are all forms of almsgiving. They are all forms of giving out of Christian love. Charity is love.

For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’

The other Lenten theme is prayer, though that is not as noticeable as Charity. In deciding between good and evil takes discernment and it takes guidance. Moses offered guidance through the law. Jesus offered the same trough teachings, parables, sermons, miracles, and prayer. The last, prayer, takes many forms one of which is reading scripture. Mass is a form of prayer too. Both Moses and Jesus are offering a sermon to the people; that is a common feature of liturgy. Prayer takes many forms.

To go back to charity, often charitable acts are reduced to “giving to the poor” and the poor are frequently reduced to those who are economically in distress. To be hungry certainly can be those who are deprived of food, it also includes those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Often those with the least in economic terms offer the most to others in spiritual terms. That is a subtle reminder that a charitable act should not depreciate or underestimate the value of the receiver. Often the charitable donation should be seen as a payment made for a service rendered. Giving to the homeless serves as a stark reminder of the value and dignity of every life. Those facing hardship often pay a hefty price teaching the wealthy that simple lesson. Prayer and almsgiving should not be separated, one enhances the other.

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