During the Nativity fast, Orthodox Christians are on a journey that culminates with the celebration of the Birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This journey continually brings us face to face with the issue of giving: The Father gave His Son…The Magi gave gifts…Saint Nicholas gave in secret…and even we give gifts to the people we love in our lives. But the call of God concerning giving goes far beyond Christmas presents.
My travels often take me to downtown areas in big cities. Walking around the streets brings me face to face with many poor and homeless folks. I suspect that each one of us has experienced that awkward moment as we tried to look the other way…making self-talk to justify why we shouldn’t give them any money: “I am not a rich person.” “They will likely spend it on drugs and alcohol.” “They could get a job if they really wanted one.” “Everyone is asking me for money.” And so on, and so on…
I will share more of my own struggle with this issue later in this article. But first, here are a couple of thoughts to ponder. As the Nativity Fast gets under way, Orthodox Christians will be hearing this passage from the Holy Gospel (9th Sunday of Luke):
The Gospel of Luke 12:16-21 – The Lord said this parable: “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” As he said these things, he cried out: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
At the suggestion of a dear friend and brother in Christ, I purchased a copy of St. Basil’s book, On Social Justice. Here’s a quote from a section of that book entitled:
“I Will Tear Down My Barns”…
How many precepts you ignore, since your ears are plugged with avarice! How much gratitude you ought to have shown to your Benefactor!
How joyful and radiant you ought to have been that you are not one of those who crowd in at others doors, but rather others are knocking at your door!
But now you lower your eyes and quicken your step, muttering hasty responses, lest anyone pry some small coin from your grasp. You know how to say only one thing:
“I do not have, I cannot give, I myself am poor.”
You are poor indeed and bereft of all goodness: poor in love, poor in kindness, poor in faith towards God, poor in eternal hope.
Make your brothers and sisters sharers of your grain; give to the needy today what rots away tomorrow. Truly, this is the worst kind of avarice: not even to share perishable goods with those in need. (Saint Basil, “On Social Justice”, p.68-69)
St. Basil’s description of someone lowering their eyes and making excuses has been accurate of me far too many times in those situations. Finally one day, another dear friend and brother in Christ taught me an incredible lesson. He showed me how to put 20 one dollar bills in my pocket when leaving the hotel…just for those encounters.
It is easy to justify not giving to someone in need…I have failed more than I have succeeded. It is a struggle…a warfare…that must be fought by each of us if we have any hope of overcoming our own selfishness and greed. I can assure you that when I succeed in putting a dollar or two in the hands of someone in need, there is such a victory being proclaimed over my self-centered heart.
The Lord calls us to loosen the grip on our wealth and give to those in need. He asks this of us, not to punish us, but to truly help us. Like the rich man in the Gospel reading, we can easily be consumed by our self-centered greed and it becomes like chains around our souls…binding us and consuming us. The Lord wants to set us free from this bondage.
As we make our this journey, may we lift up our eyes and see those in need: those poor, those hungry, those in prison, those homeless, those suffering…and in seeing, may we all give from the abundance that God has already given us. For those of you who live and work in a city where you encounter the poor and needy every day, perhaps there is a local mission or downtown Church that would use your gifts to feed, clothe, and offer shelter to those very folks. OCPM (Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry) stands ready to assist with helping those in prison. Wherever and however we see the need…may the Lord strengthen us to share from what the Lord has provided us.
God bless you on your journey!!