Monday, November 17, 2014

That Could be Sold and the Money Given to the Poor

I am becoming instinctively aware that there is a certain realm of the dignity of the human person that is graspable, but hasn't been grasped by me.

I could run to blame it on temperament or upbringing or other things, but maybe instead I should just look at it and see what there is to see.

(Geez, this is one of the things that zings me about November daily blogging, but then again it is one of the reasons I do it: it makes me vulnerable to my own thoughts.)

What conjures all this up in me is a certain event I'm watching develop which has reminded me of both a Scripture and a comment I once heard made that I think unintentionally quoted that same Scripture in a way I was able to recognize as unnecessarily sad. The said Scripture verse comes out of the mouth of Judas Iscariot, no less: "That could be sold and the money given to the poor." Scripture makes it clear that Judas had no real concern for the poor; he was a thief and was looking for a bigger treasury to steal from.

Now, before I go further, I wonder exactly how Judas stole. Did he take coins and deposit them in whatever banking system there was? Did he hand them off to his family? Did he make sure that he unevenly distributed whatever he bought for Jesus and the disciples, giving himself first and best dibs on food and supplies? When he was out to buy fish and bread did he pick up an extra chocolate bar, just for him? Whatever it was, somehow he took unto himself something that belonged to others.

And who were the poor, to Judas? Were they the unfortunate ones, people for whom he cared deeply? Was his heart filled with compassion? No, they were an excuse. He used other people's misery as an excuse to take stuff for himself. He may have even believed that the extra money he sought really was for them, because I'm sure some was indeed given to the poor. But in reality they were an excuse for him to pursue his comfort.

(Now here's a thought: was Jesus some kind of lame mismanager for not kicking Judas out of his position? Did Jesus not realize what Judas was doing?)

We have to remember what it was that prompted this comment: Mary was "wasting" expensive ointment on Jesus, expressing love in what Jesus saw as a prophetic and symbolic gesture: she was getting him ready for his burial. Jesus approved of her extravagant act of love. Was He somehow unmindful of the poor and starving? Such a thought should not even be articulated. As always, He values love above all things, and He knows that the sacrificial love involved in Mary's offering is worthy of acceptance and that His own offering of His life is the singlemost worthy act ever to be performed on earth. His death is worthy of all reverence.

Perhaps right here is the crux of the matter: why did Jesus offer His life? Because that singlemost worship-worthy act was for me. You. Him. Her. It was because human beings have immense dignity that Jesus gave His life. Because we are God's creatures, and the Blessed Trinity considers us worthy of Divine Blood as the price to pay for our ransom.

That's where I stagger and fall over and can't quite take it in.

That second time I mentioned, when I had heard words like this, was a few years ago when by odd circumstance a Protestant relative of mine happened to witness a May Crowning, with lots of children bringing flowers their families had purchased to lay before a statue of Mary. "They could have given that money to the poor!" was the almost knee-jerk response to witnessing this understandably difficult-to-digest event. What was really being said: Mary doesn't deserve that kind of honor. It's a waste to put flowers in front of a hunk of plaster!

Catholics understand (or at least are slightly more likely to understand) that teaching children to express love to God for the gift of our spiritual Mother is of great value. We understand what loving Mary means. She has immense dignity. Loving her is right.

Now I think of my own thoughts rumbling through me. My history of dealing with money, the poor, my own needs, and my own sense of dignity has not been without violence. The only natural virtues I learned to develop in this regard have been miserliness and suspicion. (Perhaps, deep down, Judas just couldn't trust in care for him coming from anyone but him. Maybe he stole because he couldn't entrust his dignity to anyone else. And so he lost it.)

For probably 15 years, the Lord has been enlarging my heart towards the poor to the point that I really long to effectively give more away. But giving things away, I realize, means nothing without love, as 1 Corinthians 13:3 makes clear. And love, if it is like God's love, is rooted in the reality of the incredible dignity of the human person -- that dignity that is worth dying for. We all possess a dignity which we need to learn to entrust to others, and we need to have the experience of it being honored and respected by them. And we need to extend that honor and respect to those, especially, who do not have it for themselves.

To really be able to look at another person and say, not "You're worth spending ten bucks on" but "You are worth dying for," especially with no personal gain to be necessarily had in return, well now, there's something worth opening myself to the Lord for.

Because that sounds Christ-like, doesn't it?

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