Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh on Giving

Arabic original here.

The Theology of the Morsel

Christ was generous, giving, unsparing, bountiful, distributing freely... His disciples were miserly, slow to give, closed-fisted, lovers of money... The saints and righteous ones among them sacrificed like their Master, imitating Him in all things, but most of them, including those who held primary positions in the early Church, remained stingy, tight-fisted and insensitive to the poor.

This is what led Saint Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444), in his commentary on the multiplication of the loaves and fishes and the feeding of the five thousand men and their families (John 6:1-15), to say, "We find in the beginning that the disciples were by their nature hesitated to give to the hungry, but the Savior gave them an abundance from which there was a surplus of crumbs. This teaches us also that if we give a little money for the glory of God, we will receive richer grace... Therefore we must not be hesitant regarding sharing love towards the brothers, but rather we must cast off  hesitation and fear which lead to being ungenerous to the guest and put on good courage. Thus we stand firm in hope in firm faith in God's ability to multiply the smallest of our good deeds."

There are three pillars in Christianity: faith, hope and love. The destructive temptation that might shake any one of these or all three and so shake the entire faith is the temptation of money. The miser, if he prefers miserliness to love of the poor, cannot rely on love. The rich and self-satisfied person lacks hope. The faith of both the miser and the rich person is stronger in what they own than in God: "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24). There is either faith in God or faith in this perishing world.

What Jesus' disciples failed to do was done by the poor widow whom Jesus praised with these words: "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had" (Luke 21:3-4). This box was dedicated to helping the poor and needy and was there anyone who was poorer than a widow who had no support and no provider? Nevertheless, a poor widow gave everything she had for the sustenance of the poor. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Christianity!

Saint Ambrose, bishop of Milan (d. 397), sees that the widow symbolizes the Church. She is a symbol of the entire Church. The Church is not a church if she is not like the widow who gives everything she possesses to the poor. Ambrose says, "The widow symbolizes the Church because she cast into the holy treasury a gift by which she heals the wounds of the poor and eases the sighing of every wayfarer." We may add to Ambrose's words the persecuted, those expelled from their homes, the victims of wars, and refugees...

Blessed Augustine, bishop of Annaba [i.e., Hippo] (d. 430), believes that prayer has two wings, without which we cannot reach God. In his explanation of the Lord's words "Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you" (Luke 6:37-38), Augustine surmises, "These are the two wings of prayer by which it flies to God. Forgive wrongdoers what they have done and give to those in need... What do you want from the Lord? Mercy. Give, and  it will be given to you. What do you want from the Lord? Pardon. Pardon, so that you may be pardoned."

From beginning to end, at no point is there in the Bible a single word that justifies not giving. Any discourse that calls for not giving and excuses the hesitancy of the reluctant to show mercy and love is not a Christian discourse, even if it is pronounced from the highest pulpits of teaching in the Church. "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). This, ladies and gentlemen, is Christianity!

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