My dear brothers and sisters in Christ
May Grace and Peace be yours in abundance through our Lord Jesus Christ who has shown us the way to the Father in his love for us. This weekend is Sacrificial Giving Sunday, the one weekend when I focus my homily on money. I promise you that, unless something drastic happens, I won’t preach about money again this year. Last week, it was really easy to talk about sacrificial giving to the parishes of Hancock County. The gospel story on the coin with Caesar’s image focused us on who has given us what we have and to whom we should give that in return. This week, it’s a little more challenging. In fact, to be honest, I was ready to give up focusing on sacrificial giving when I first read the readings. But, then it came to me. There’s something missing in today’s gospel that really drives home the idea of sacrificial giving.
In the gospel, Jesus is approached by some scholars of the law to settle a disputed question. He had just settled a question on the resurrection for the Sadducees by telling them, who didn’t believe in resurrection, that the teaching for it actually goes back to the first chapters of one of the books they still had in their Bible, the book of Genesis. When the Sadducees couldn’t trick him, the Pharisees send in one of their own to prove just how superior they are to the rival Sadducees. At the time of Jesus, there were 613 laws recognized by the Pharisees. There were 365 laws that prohibited something, one for each day of the year, and 268 laws that prescribed some kind of action, one for each bone in the human body. Jesus is asked if he can summarize all 613 laws in one short sentence by deeming one as most important. He begins by citing a prayer that every Jew prays daily called the Schema “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is God indeed. You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” But, Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on to give a second one that is “like” the first, which is traced to the book of Deuteronomy, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This answer seems to silence the Pharisees for the time being.
As I said to you, there is something that is amazing about this great commandment, as we have come to know this. After all this is supposed to be the driving force for all Christian legislation. This is supposed to be the way we order our lives. First we are to love God with our entire being and then love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. Think about your life for just a second. Is this the way we really order our life? I imagine if we were to write this for today, we’d be tempted to add a commandment and it would likely be first. The commandment would say something like, “Love yourself and be sure to pamper yourself with all that you need because you can’t love anyone else if you don’t love yourself first.” Yet, loving ourselves seems to be the last thing on Jesus’ mind. We are supposed to love others as much as we love ourselves. This does presuppose that we, in fact, love ourselves. But, I think it’s interesting that self love is the last concern on Jesus’ mind.
Let me give a concrete example of this in the way we use our money. When we get our paycheck, don’t we first think about all the bills that we are going to have to pay? There’s the car loan and the mortgage on the house and the credit card bill. Oh, and don’t forget water, gas, and electricity. And, if there’s extra, we probably think about putting it away for a rainy day or maybe putting it in the college fund for the kids. Maybe we even think of something we’d like to buy for ourselves, a book or a nice new sweater or a new wrench. Are we following Jesus’ commandments when we order it in this way? Shouldn’t our first concern be how much of our salary we should give back to God, whether through donating to the church or by giving to the poor and widows and orphans that the first reading was talking about today? We call this Sacrificial Giving Sunday because it challenges us on the sacrifice we can make in service to God. I know many of you already make sacrifices for this parish. You give of your time, talent, and treasure to see to it that this parish has the resources it needs to keep going and I want to thank you for the sacrifices you make. But, I know there are some who have given the same $1 or $5 contribution each week since they were kids and others who don’t give anything because they probably have never thought about the kinds of expenses that a parish has. I’d like to ask the latter two groups of people to take some time to reflect on how much money you can give. I’m not asking anyone to give more than they can but I think each of us, myself included, are called to make certain sacrifices in our own lives to live out the Great Commandment to love God and love our Neighbor.