Do you remember what special year we’re in? No, I don’t mean the Olympics. We’re having a Special Jubilee Year of Mercy – to help us be more grateful for God’s mercy to us, and so to make us more merciful to others. So how’s that going?
One reason it’s not easy is because ‘mercy’ can seem pretty vague. But because we’re Christian, and so very material as well as spiritual, we have a practice called the Corporal and Spiritual Works Of Mercy: seven of each. The Corporal or physical works of mercy are: to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to visit the sick, to ransom the captive, to bury the dead. The Spiritual Works are: to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to admonish sinners, to bear wrongs patiently, to give offences willingly, to comfort the afflicted, to pray for the living & dead.
These lists are not optional for a Christian: they are the teaching of Jesus, and what he will judge us on when we die. I know I am loving properly if I am doing these things.
In today’s readings Jesus focuses on one of these: feed the hungry. In the first reading Jesus warns those who profit off the backs of the poor: Listen to this, you who trample on the needy. Okay, we don’t trample on the needy. But do we help them? If we don’t that mean we are ignoring them and walking around as if they aren’t there: trampling them, in other words. And Jesus warns us about this at the end: The Lord swears it by the pride of Jacob, ‘Never will I forget a single thing you have done.’
But why do I have to give my hard-earned money to people who have not worked for it? One reason is because the poor are Jesus, and if we do not share with the poor then we are not sharing with Jesus. A second reason is that anything good we have is not really ours: fundamentally, we did not earn it, we don’t have a right to it and we don’t deserve it. This can sound very shocking. But it is really true: because it is not thanks to me that I was born in a country which is relatively well off, where education is not too hard to find, with the standards of living and water and health are amongst the highest in the world. It is not thanks to me that my family was harmonious enough for me to grow up in a relatively ordered way, and that there were jobs to find, and that there was a house I could afford to buy. And it is not thanks to me that I exist. All these things are pure, undeserved gift from a God who for some reason decided to give them to me and also decided that billions across the world would not receive this. You and I are not better than the others who don’t have it. Why then does God give it to me? It’s because he expects me to understand that I am, as Jesus points out in today’s gospel, a steward, entrusted with God’s goods with his expectation that I share them with those who don’t have them.
So how much of our resources should we share? I will say only three things about this:
- No one can tell you how much to give. . .except God who can, so at least once a year its good to ask him if we could give more.
- One good option might be to give 10%. The church does not say we must give 10%. I only say maybe this is a simple way to keep myself accountable to the poor. And of course God can manage our finances much better than we can.
- While making sure that we fulfil our responsibilities, especially to our health and our families, we should also be able to say, however much we give, that we give generously to the poor. Because God is generous with you. And me.
So out of justice and out of a desire to be good Christians let us take some time this week to use our reason, and also ask God, in the light of our responsibilities, whether or not we can be more generous to the poor. Amen.