I am making an assumption that I think is true about most readers: We have made a choice to be charitable to some individual or a group. What I think we forget pretty quickly is not the effect that has on the person to whom we were generous, but the effect it has on those of us who choose to be generous. Whenever we take the time to care for or serve another, especially those who have nothing to give back to us in return, we walk away from that experience and know the rightness of our choice. There is a place in our spirit where we know that we are doing the right thing. In fact, many times we could say that we get more out of the experience than we think the receiver might get. The initial choice to be generous is difficult, might entail a sacrifice or at least an inconvenience, but enlivens our spirits and helps us be anchored in the right direction.
In the Gospel for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we hear the familiar story about a rich man and a poor man who sat outside his door. Lazarus had dogs licking on his sores, and the rich man just passed him as if he didn’t exist. The story Jesus is telling us has consequences to it. Jesus talks about our inability to consistently act the way we’re supposed to act. We live in a numbness that keeps us satisfied with the status quo, as we walk or drive past or step over the poor among us. We experience on a daily basis those who are in need and, for the most part, we pass them by. Many of us have chosen to live in areas where we don’t have to see the poor if we don’t want to. We ignore the poor who are living under highway overpasses, and we make judgments about those who stand at street corners begging for change. We certainly know that we have more than enough of the basics of life and that others exist who do not have the same privilege. And yet we forget the rightness of our spirit when we choose to sacrifice for the sake of another.
We heard recently, in the Gospel reading about the Prodigal Son, about the incredible love of the father for his two sons, but we shouldn’t forget that our choices have consequences. Especially for those who have been given much, much is expected and demanded by God. All through the Scriptures, we are reminded that the poor and those who live on the margins of our societies are God’s first priority and should be ours. We hear from the story of Lazarus and the rich man that there are truly no excuses that will ring true to God for our willingness to step over the poor. That attitude and those choices have consequences for us. Our lack of generosity makes us more poor, causing us to die from the inside out.
The haunting message of the Gospel is certainly meant to wake us up, but it also calls us into action. We come from various economic strata in our society but each of us could, if we chose, be sacrificial in our giving for the sake of others. What might it be like to wake up every morning and have the poor in our minds and hearts? When we anticipate shopping at the grocery store or buying some clothing or going to the home repair shop, what would it take for us to make room in our shopping lists for the poor who live among us? When we look at that extra money that we have beyond our basic needs, what would it take to designate a portion of that for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul?
Take time this week to remember the blessing of giving and the blessing that comes to us in the giving. Enjoy the richness of God’s presence when we are connected with all around us.
Father Donald Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.