The Readings of today (Deuteronomy 6: 2-6 and Mark 12: 28b 34) are assertively clear on the need to make God our priority. The strong words of the readings require sincere and full commitment to an unrivaled expression of our love for God. Nothing less is good enough. To love God is the only true option.
Refusal to love God according to God’s category is nothing but a revolt. There is no mid-way. To reject God necessarily implies idolatry. This is true because idolatry simply means replacing God’s number 1 position with something else. Anything that occupies that first position in our priority list but God, be it the self, or another person, or spirit or thing, constitutes idolatry. In fact, not to love God above all, means a rejection of God, whose own love invites our appropriate response. The consequence is most grave because to love God is only a response. God always initiates love, by loving us, first.
According to the readings, still, the choice to love God includes also to love that, which God loves, especially humanity. From today’s biblical injunction, it is practically impossible to imagine to love God we cannot see, while we cannot love our neighbors, we see every day. John, the beloved apostle, condemns such dualistic misplacement or hypocrisy in 1 John 4:20. Whereas, a denial of love for God is a no, no option, any attempt to love God without its complementary love for neighbor, antagonizes the required sincerity and full commitment of the practice. Therefore, the number 1 priority, which is explained here, as a reserve for God and God alone, entails the inseparable love for neighbors. When we do likewise, we shall not be far from the kingdom of God.
God bless you,
Material poverty might be the most common type, but definitely not the only one. Spiritual poverty and voluntary poverty even though unpopular are still ennobling virtuous practices in the church. Whereas Christians are encouraged to show compassion toward the sympathetic circumstances of the material poor, they are equally invited to embrace spiritual and voluntary poverty. Ascetic living (or spiritual poverty) can be selective and optional, but voluntary poverty is open for all (including the material poor).
Voluntary poverty offers the golden opportunity to emulate the self-emptying of Christ in solidarity with the neediest. In essence, and according to John Chrysostom, one of the most renowned church fathers and a rhetorical homilist, poverty and riches are mere “masks” that shield the true inner personality. Chrysostom teaches that none of the masks truly constitutes an insurmountable barrier into the kingdom of heaven. The evidences in the first and second readings of today agree with the thesis of Chrysostom.
The incredible hospitable heart of the widow (a biblical synonym of poverty) of Zarephath (1Kgs 17: 10-16) challenges our individual and collective discipleship, as Christians. The story reconnects the priority of love for God, seen last weekend. The poor woman, despite her compassion for her son, was able to share with Elijah, the prophet of God, all she got, her last resort. Her awareness of the imminent risk of starving to death wasn’t enough barrier to evade hospitality. Amazingly, she even agreed and served a stranger, first.
Similar parallel is noticed in the gospel (Mk 12: 41-44), as Jesus observed how people make their offerings. From his vantage point, Jesus identified another widow as the most generous. Whereas others gave part of their plenty, the widow gave all she got. The criterion is not the quantity given, but the quality of heart that gives. Said differently, the willingness to share the little we got, with the neediest, is the main lesson that the two readings communicate.
These two widows have few things in common. They are true image of voluntary poverty, in solidarity with the neediest. Even though materially poor, they were not selfish. Both were materially detached. In truth, they rose beyond the lure of materiality and practiced voluntary poverty for the sake of God and humanity. They had God in their number one position, and neighbors in their number two position, while themselves occupied the number three position. Gale Sayers’ dictum: “God is first, others are second, and I am third,” articulates the exemplar hearts of these two anonymous women. The scripture left them anonymous such that anyone touched by their unusual generosity could step into the footprints they left in the shore of time.
Today’s society shows that many beggars understand and practice detachment, even with the least, they got. So, it is not actually how little we got that defines poverty, but how attached we are to what we got. The real poor are not the ones with few things, but rather the ones, who find no reason to share, whatever they got. Invariably, rather than set material poverty or wealth as criterion, it is evidently detachment from materiality (and never attachment) that determines a generous heart. If we listen well, at the most critical moment, detachment or voluntary poverty simply advises: “let go, and let God.” The widow of Zarephath heeded this advice, and lacked no more. Those, who heed such salvific advice at this time, eagerly await the second coming of Christ (Hebrew 9: 28).
God bless you, Fr. Levi