Part 3 of my Lenten Series

…over at The Catholic Weekly looks at the question “Why Are You Giving Alms?

Jesus is the Word made flesh, not the Word made word. When God chose to save us, he did it, not by sending Thoughts and Prayers, but by becoming a baby who grew up to be a working stiff that paid his taxes and gave beggars actual money when they asked for it.

More than this, he died in the flesh on an actual cross of real wood, not on a metaphorical one of vague ideas about “giving back to the community”.  And when he rose from the dead, he did it in his body as well, leaving behind an empty tomb and offering his disciples his hands and feet to handle and a wound in his side for Thomas to put his finger into.

So when Jesus talks about the Jewish disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, he puts the most concrete one—almsgiving—first.  Because there are few stronger tests of how serious we are about putting love of God first and love of neighbour second than actually putting love of money third.
That’s why Jesus focuses entirely on the question of our motives for almsgiving in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4)

Not a word about who to give to, nor about how much, nor about how often is found here.  There is nothing about only giving to the Truly Deserving. (Jesus’ sole counsel on that score is “Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42), which is why Dorothy Day remarks that “The gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and undeserving poor.”

Indeed, the only counsel Jesus gives on this score is to practice lousy “wealth management”, get no return on our investment, and make absolutely sure that the people we give to will never ever repay us:

“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14)

But in Matthew 6, none of that matters.  The only thing that matters is our motive.  Make sure that your almsgiving is done to please God and not to impress man.  For, of course, virtue signaling is as old as the human race and it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to buy the love of God or the praises of men by spreading around some money.

More here.


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