Sunday’s Gospel on generosity and the need to renounce greed, is reflection worth continuing. Last week in the Breviary St. Basil the Great (in Hom. De caritate, 3, 6: PG 31, 266-267, 275) provided a reflection that amounts to an investment strategy not just for the near future of old age, but for eternity. Challenging though the saint’s thoughts are, they are also consoling and sensible. Lets listen to his instruction.
Out of no intended disrespect for the saint, I would like to add some of my own comments in plain red text along with his reflections, and to adjust the order of his remarks just a bit. His teaching is in bold, black italics. To read his commentary fully and in order click here: On Generosity
And thus St. Basil begins with a challenge, rooted in a blessing:
Man should be like the earth and bear fruit; he should not let inanimate matter appear to surpass him. The earth bears crops for your benefit, not for its own, but when you give to the poor, you are bearing fruit which you will gather in for yourself, since the reward for good deeds goes to those who perform them.
So, St Basil begins with a “humbling” challenge: Do not let dirt (humus) be more virtuous and profitable than you! In a way it is a play on the Lord’s image that if we who are called to be Salt of the Earth become flat, we are good for nothing, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. (cf Matt 5:13).
But in a magnificent description of grace and mercy, St Basil contrasts the comparison and reminds us that God in his mercy allows his grace to become our merit. That is to say, God, who will never be outdone in generosity will surely not let our deeds of mercy go unrewarded, even though these deeds are really the result of his grace, not our own unaided flesh. God will never forget the mercy we have shown and if we stay in the grace of friendship with him as a member of Christ Body, we will surely not loose our reward. And thus Scripture says,
- Give and it shall be given unto you (Luke 6:38)
- Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy! (Matt 5:7).
- Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done (Prov 19:17).
- A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. (Prov 11:25)
Yes, always remember, generosity to the poor will be rewarded by God to those who remain faithful. Fear not to be generous for God will not be outdone by us in generosity. He will reward, he will repay!
And thus, St Basil continues:
Give to a hungry man, and what you give becomes yours, and indeed it returns to you with interest. As the sower profits from wheat that falls onto the ground, so will you profit greatly in the world to come from the bread that you place before a hungry man….In the presence of the universal judge, all the people will surround you, acclaim you as a public benefactor, and tell of your generosity and kindness.
And here St. Basil invokes the “investment strategy” given by the Lord Himself who said,
- Mat 6:19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
- Luke 16:9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
- And echoed by St. Paul: Command [the wealthy] to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:18-19)
And so here is given to us a good investment strategy. Namely, that we should store up our treasure in heaven so that, not only will it not be harmed or stolen, but also that it will be for blessing on the day of judgment!
It works like this: We store up treasure in heaven, not by putting it in some sort of balloon or rocket and sending it up, rather, we store it up in heaven by placing it in the hands of the needy and poor. What we generously give does not just go out and away, it goes UP and is “stored” in heaven for us, where it earns heavenly interest (as our Saint here notes). Scripture says, Cast your bread upon the waters: after many days it will come back to you (Ecclesiastes 11:1).
But not only is it “stored up” in heaven, but it also acts as an assurance on the day of judgment. Jesus says in the quote above that we ought to make friends for ourselves through out generous use of money.
Who are these friends? The poor! The needy! They are our investment brokers for the day of judgment and the world to come. The Lord says that when our wealth ultimately fails us (and it will fail us at death which we cannot buy our way of) they (i.e. the poor) will welcome you to eternal dwellings!
Imagine that on the day of judgment as you go before the Judgment Seat, multitudes of poor crying out, “Have mercy on this one Lord, for he was merciful to us!” Ah, what a blessed sound that will be! And the Lord hears the cry of the poor. I don’t know about you, But I am going to need a few folks praying and testifying for me on Judgement Day, and the poor and needy will be important advocates.
Yes, the Lord says, they (the poor) will welcome you to eternal dwellings and St. Paul affirms that the wealthy who bless the poor will lay up a firm foundation for the coming age.
So listen to your heavenly investment broker Jesus, who says, be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you (Luke 11:41). Listen also to Jesus’ fellow investment analysts, St. Paul and St Basil, who insist that we will lay a firm foundation for the day of judgment and profit greatly in the World to come.
To be sure, generosity to the poor will NOT be the only thing we are judged on, but it sure will help on that DAY, standing before the Lord, if we loved the poor and needy! And frankly, most of us are going to need every help we can get.
You are going to leave your money behind you here whether you wish to or not. On the other hand, you will take with you to the Lord the honor that you have won through good works.
And here St. Basil echoes Scripture which says, Henceforth, Blessed are those who die in the Lord. Let them rest from their labors, for their good deeds go with them. Even so, saith the Spirit (Rev 14:13)
Do you not see how people throw away their wealth on theatrical performances, boxing contests, mimes and fights between men and wild beasts, which are sickening to see, and all for the sake of fleeting honor and popular applause? If you are miserly with your money, how can you expect any similar honor?
Pay attention here. We do well to ask if we throw a lot of money away on passing, foolish or empty things. What are our versions of “theatrical performances,” “boxing contests” etc.?
Look, the Lord is not telling us never to go and see a movie, or sports event. But if we so easily spend money on this stuff, why not things that matter more and profit eternally?
And we ought to be careful with the many excesses of the modern age that often go unremarked. Most people older than 50 or so, who were middle class, grew up in a home of 1200 – 1500 square feet, had larger family sizes, and did just fine. Is it really necessary that homes today should routinely be 3500+ square feet with great rooms, cathedral ceilings, entertainment centers, and granite counter tops? Is it really that necessary? And why?
Again I am not trying to make lots of rules for you. I live in a nice rectory, generously bestowed and maintained by the people of God. St Paul also says, elsewhere, that our care of others ought not gravely harm us (cf 2 Cor 8:13). But honestly, don’t a lot of us have questions to ask in these affluent times about some of the excesses of the American Dream?
And if you choose to make such purchases, I am not your judge in this matter, or you mine. But surely we all have questions to ask ourselves. Is everything I want really needed? And, more importantly, does my extravagance harm the poor and needy? Further, is my use of money wise, from an eternal perspective?
You decide, but these are questions we all ought to ask.
Your reward for the right use of the things in this world will be everlasting glory, a crown of righteousness, and the kingdom of heaven; God will welcome you, the angels will praise you, all men who have existed since the world began will call you blessed. Do you care nothing for these things, and spurn the hopes that lie in the future for the sake of your present enjoyment?
Amen! What is more important to us, comfort here, or glory there?
Come, distribute your wealth freely, give generously to those who are in need. Earn for yourself the psalmist’s praise: He gave freely to the poor; his righteousness will endure for ever. – Yes
How grateful you should be to your own benefactor; how you should beam with joy at the honor of having other people come to your door, instead of being obliged to go to theirs! But you are now ill-humored and unapproachable; you avoid meeting people, in case you might be forced to loosen your purse-strings even a little. You can say only one thing: “I have nothing to give you. I am only a poor man.” A poor man you certainly are, and destitute of all real riches; you are poor in love, generosity, faith in God and hope for eternal happiness.
My, my my! Don’t be poor in things eternal, don’t be poor in what matters to God.
This song says, “You may have all this world….Give me Jesus.”