Is 58:7-10 / Ps 112:4-5, 6-7, 8-9 / 1 Cor 2:1-5 / Mt 5:13-16
Isaiah is the great prophet for the coming Messiah and so it should not surprise us that his admonitions about charity deeply reflect our Lord’s ministry to the poor, the hungry, the hurting and the oppressed. Faith in the Lord has always included both doctrinal truths and a particular discipleship of giving and caring for others. This was not unique to Christians as the same God first made himself known to the Jews. The Lord does not ask but commands— share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and homeless, cloth the naked— remain faithful and supportive of your people. Such generosity is noted as enlightenment to the mind and heart of God. It makes possible a healing and vindication that will be fully realized in Jesus Christ.
The text from Isaiah emphasizes that if we are available to the hurting and the marginalized then God will hear our prayers for help. There is this reciprocity that Jesus echoes— it is in forgiving others and you will be forgiven. Note that while the Lord first lists the charitable activities we should pursue, he next lists what must be avoided— oppression, false accusation and malicious speech. You cannot be counted among the children of God if you manipulate or keep others in bondage. You cannot be a harbinger of truth if you are in the grips of deception and lies. You cannot expect your words of prayer to be received by the Lord when those same lips speak words of hatred and condemnation against others.
We often treat charity as if it is something exceptional that should incur praise and thanks. The Communists wrongly interpreted it as a sentiment given Christians because of what they called a “pie-in-the-sky” enticement. In other words, we do good only so as to go to heaven. What they could not appreciate, lacking the gift of faith, is that the main motivation for Christian outreach to others is supernatural love. Believers are to so thoroughly love the Lord that this love spills over and includes both friends and enemies. Many critics regard this as a virtue that conflicts with our selfish and fallen human nature. While there is truth in this, it is also a virtue that builds upon the new man or new creation in Christ. Human nature is divinized by grace or made more than it was before. Charity is not just something you do, but the person you become— it opens us to the transformation of holiness.
One of the great literary philosophers Ayn Rand actually rejected the command of the Gospel and instead of speaking of selfishness as a vice she urged a reversal of values wherein one would regard such egoism as a virtue. Speaking about the motives of individuals in society and the nature of proper government, she condemned altruism as destructive and counterproductive to our aims. Believe it or not, there are many politicians and judges that subscribe to her thinking. However, even if they feign religious faith, her ideas signify an anti-gospel. There are no supermen and life is not just all about you— your possessions, your power, your wealth, and your security. Rand once said in an interview when asked about Jesus, “It is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors.” Yes, she repudiated the sacrificial love of Christ that is realized again and again in the lives of saints and martyrs. She utterly rejected the notion of faith and espoused what is called objectivist atheism when speaking about reason. She would argue there is no life after death and no reward and so you have to take what you can now because this is the only life you will know. This thinking is the rationale for tax incentives given for charitable donations. It is argued that unless people get something in return, they will be less likely to remember the poor and the needy. But while many may take advantage of such offerings, it is not the principal reason why the saints are good and giving. I had a friend in this parish that died a few years ago. It was only after he died that many came forward to list the many things he did for them, for the children and the poor. We were all taken aback but his many acts of kindness. He did not tell anyone. He did what he did for the love of God and his fellow men and women.
When we find out about such men and women or when heroic sacrifices are made, we are moved and inspired. As the psalm says, “The just man is a light in darkness to the upright.” This theme of light is again taken up in today’s Gospel when Jesus tells his disciples, “You are the light of the world.” He does not mean just individually, because it is the Church that is “a city set on a mountain [that] cannot be hidden.” Literally, just as Jerusalem is built on a fortified high ground, the Church is the New Jerusalem— and together we must proclaim the truths revealed to us and we must live out our discipleship in love. He adds, “Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Christ would have our charity be contagious. We want to please and honor almighty God. As Christians, we desire that the heavenly Father will look down upon us and see something of his Son reflected in our fidelity and charity.