One of the three pillars of Lent is giving alms. This along with prayer and fasting constitutes the summary of our activity during this season. Of course, there are other things that constitute our focus. Confessing our sins, for example is premiere. Reaching out to those who long for our company, and many other such activities are all certainly part of the activity of the season. The giving of alms is highly praised in both the Old and the New Testament.
If one of your kindred is in need in any community in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor close your hand against your kin who is in need. Instead, you shall freely open your hand and generously lend what suffices to meet that need. (Deuteronomy 15:7-8 NAB)
Here we can see one example of an ageless principal to be found everywhere in the Bible. The Israelites were to care for those who were poor. It was only fair that they would do so, since God was merciful to them. We should consider this carefully since it is a principal of justice and fairness. God will make firm what is just. We can see this in the word, “eleemosynary”. Its origin is in the description of a king, or some powerful person, who bends down to help someone in need. God has done this for us and we should follow his example to do the same. Jesus makes it a law, a rather dramatic law concerning the powerful helping the less than powerful:
Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:41-44 NAB)
The account of the rich young man is quite to the point:
Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22 NAB)
I will pass on a little story that parallels this scene in Matthew’s Gospel. I am completely unsure of the truthfulness of this story and I probably should not pass it on, but I will … with the idea that someone may recognize it and prove it true … or false. We all know of the scene at the crucifixion of the rich young man who went away sad because his riches blinded him to the truth. Well as the story goes, the rich young man suffered a turn of fate in which he lost everything, including his wife and his family. The same thing happened to Job, who lost everything.
This got worse for the rich young man who turned to crime to survive. Once, there was an altercation in a bar that he frequented. There was a flash of steel and soon a capital offense could be added to his list of woes. As he lay in his jail cell awaiting execution for his crimes, he began to reminisce about the sad progression of events. Jesus had given him the promise of eternal life; all he needed to do was to follow Jesus. What greatness he could have enjoyed. The outcome of a person’s life cannot be predicted, save that to follow Jesus is in every way the satisfaction of the goal of our life.
Since every Christian story has a good ending this should as well. As the rich young man was motionless on his cross he heard a familiar voice. The mellow reassuring voice of Jesus could be made out amidst the taunts of the crowd and the moan of the two criminals. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus never forgets us or abandons us. “Today you will be with me in paradise.”