Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Without Cost You Are To Give

July 9, 2009

Thursday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Saint Augustine Zhao Rong, priest and martyr, and his companions, martyrs

"Come closer to me," he told his brothers. When they had done so, he said: "I am your brother Joseph, whom you once sold into Egypt. But now do not be distressed, and do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here. It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you.” Genesis 45:1-5

As you go, make this proclamation: 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give. Matthew 10:7-8


Dear Lord, can the kingdom of heaven really be at hand? Are we that close to the utopian, everlasting life you promise when we “follow” you? Maybe I have it pretty good in this life and world but so many others do not. This is a time of uncertainty just like it was when Mary and Joseph trekked to Bethlehem for the census. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive our selfishness. Lead us not into sin and keep us from the reaches of those who would blind us to the needs of the poor. Amen.


The model of servant-leader that Jesus portrayed is so embedded into today’s Bible stories that it is hard to disconnect Joseph’s benevolence from that of the Messiah who came after him – the Messiah providing food and drink for everlasting life. The fact that unselfish charity in the face of cruelty is the model upon which Jesus wants us to base our lives also comes through loud and clear in the commissioning of the disciples in Matthew 10. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.

These scriptures come to us in a new light – the light of Charity in Truth, the fourth encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI. In this new document, Benedict weaves a consistent ethic of economic life along side a consistent ethic of social life. The sacramental ethics of life are firmly rooted in the sacred scripture and in the foundation of Catholic Social Teaching. Caritas in Veritas adds another stone to the rocks of the Church laid by Pope Paul VI with Populorum Progressio and John Paul II with Sollicitudo rei socialis. This tradition continues to apply the teachings of the church to our present moment – a tradition reaching back to the economic encyclical Rerum Novarum by Leo XIII on Capital and Labor from May 1891.

These Holy Fathers and the late John Cardinal Bernardin might be smiling as they read this document in light of the historical continuity and unity of message preached and imperfectly practiced over these centuries. However, neither they nor we should be smiling at the persistently inequitable economic conditions that persist and expand in our world today marked especially by the ever-widening divides between the rich and the middle and the middle and the poor.

The new encyclical is Pope Benedict’s latest wake-up call to us…a wake up call no less urgent than the one felt by Joseph when he reached the epiphany that his slavery paved the way for him to be in a place and moment in which he could save his family from hunger. As John Paul II noted, “time maintains a constant and unchanging rhythm. Today however we have the impression that it is passing ever more quickly, especially by reason of the multiplication and complexity of the phenomena in the midst of which we live.” Such an observation is every more important in today’s situation where not only do millions of people live on $2 per day or less, eat dirt paste made into cookies in the hot tropical sun, and lack basic food, water, clothing and medicine while even the criminals in our society have their needs met more adequately than free people find in the developing world.

We need another Joseph to come into the world and lead us by example so we can be inspired to greatness to alleviate the suffering of our extended families. Rather than focusing on the death and life of another celebrity, maybe we need to plant our feet firmly on the ground so we see the needs surrounding us as we reach for the heavens to alleviate that suffering rather than leaving flowers at the gates of Buckingham Palace, Neverland, or wherever the next instant memorial will be erected by adoring fans.


We can not count on the forces of the world to do good in and of themselves. That is why Pope Benedict reminds us, “The sharing of goods and resources, from which authentic development proceeds, is not guaranteed by merely technical progress and relationships of utility, but by the potential of love that overcomes evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21), opening up the path towards reciprocity of consciences and liberties.”

This is the trail that Joseph blazed in Genesis. This is the path that the disciples followed when commissioned to go out into the world. This is the direction in which we are invited, urged and commanded to follow if we are truly followers of Jesus.

What are we to do in our jobs in light of massive unemployment? What are we to do with our savings in light of scarce resources elsewhere? What are we to do about the dream of retirement when so many in the world will never retire until they rest in God?

Pope Benedict tries hard to wake us up. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to these moral and ethical quandaries that we balance when we accept the invitation from Jesus to “Follow me.”