Charity is not love

I must admit that I struggled to find meaning in the readings for this week. I read them several times, I read what others had to say about them but nothing emerged. The collect points us to trust in God, trust that with time God’s desires for the world will come to fruition, trust that our prayers for a just and loving world will be answered. From Luke we heard that the persistence of the widowed woman ultimately paid off, but I found this parable hard to relate to. The second letter to Timothy caught my attention regarding the purpose of scripture, and Jeremiah caught my attention with the idea that God will put the law within them and write it in their hearts; but how do these things go together? How do they boil down to trusting God?

            Jeremiah is longing for and announcing the day when all believers will know God’s law so intimately that they will live and breath it every day of their lives. Paul is telling Timothy that when he is unsure of what to do then turn to scripture. From Luke, we hear of a judge who is without compassion, and his encounter with a widow who will not give up on her desire to get justice under the law. Clearly the judge does not have God’s law in his heart, for the law of God is love and as he has no respect for the woman he clearly does not act with love.

            To trust God is to let go of our need to be in control and doing so is an act of love, but it is not easy and we fail daily. We know from scripture that God wishes us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, which can be interpreted in many ways. For some of us it means that we must be defenders of the downtrodden, for others it means that we are courteous and polite to strangers, for others it means that we give money to charity. All of these could be signs of the love of God that resides within us, but are they acts of love, are they instances when we are putting God first, or are they things that simply make us feel good?

            As Paul suggested I thought about the example of Jesus as revealed through scripture and as I reflected, I realized that in every encounter between Jesus and the people was personal. Jesus did not go about the world giving out food and sandals; he spoke of the love of God and made himself available to the people who were ignored or forgotten by their so-called neighbors. His prayers were often focused on what God would have him do, and he never once asked God to intervene or grant his fondest wish. His prayers were about fulfilling God’s will and implementing God’s justice.

            Armed with this realization let’s return to the parable of the judge and the widow. The widow is clearly a patient and trusting person who is willing to wait. The judge is clearly a selfish and egocentric person, who does not care about God’s justice, he cares only for himself and since he is feeling annoyed about the window’s persistence, he decides to do what she is asking so that she will leave him alone. While an extreme example, I think that we can all identify with the judge. How often do we give to charity because we feel badly for the people afflicted and want to help? But is feeling badly and giving money love? How often do we engage in social justice work, writing our political leaders or joining a march because we believe it is the right thing to do? But, is believing it to be the right thing to do an act of love? Is giving money or joining a march God’s will? I see nothing in scripture to lead me to believe so. Which doesn’t mean that we should not do these things, we simply need to be aware that doing them does not bring us closer to God, nor will they bring about God’s justice.

            If we want to be closer to God then we must draw closer to each other, because it is in our relationships with other people that we are able to experience the Love of God. The presence of God is never more palpable than when we share an important and intimate moment with another person. The love of God, while always present, is shared when we embrace for the peace; it is shared when the clergy place the body of Christ in your hand and when the Lay eucharistic ministry offers you the blood of Christ; it is shared when we lay our hands on one another and ask God to be with us and heal us. The healing does not come from God’s direct intervention, it comes from knowing that God is present as we invoke their name and place our trust in them, it comes from the knowledge that the person who is praying with us sees us without judgement or agenda. In those brief moments of interaction, we are truly open to and experiencing the love of God. No number of good deeds are going to bring about the justice the widow in all of us desires because good deeds are about us, not God. Love requires intimacy, it requires looking our neighbors in the eyes and sharing both their joy and their pain and it requires us to walk with them because when we do so we are revealing God’s presence to that moment. To reach that level of intimacy with one another, to allow the love that is God to pass from one person to another, we must break down the barriers we place around our hearts. Barriers such as anger, pride, selfishness, and even shame, which is a sign of fear. When we build these barriers around ourselves we are both selfishly trying to keep God in us, hoping that the Holy Spirit will some how make it all better and we are, at the same time, making it impossible for God to work through the people who care about us because when we turn inward we are making the choice to rely on ourselves; perhaps believing that we can power through it with God’s help. The truth though is that God does not work that way, God works through us to reach other people because love requires intimacy, it requires that we support each other, that we listen to each other, and that we do so without an agenda or judgement.

            As we enter the holy silence, I ask that we reflect on whether we are the judge or the widow. Do we impatiently do things because we think they are right or do we quietly await God’s justice, holding the world in prayer?