A Season of Lent: Almsgiving, the call to Christian charity

We must reverence them for being dirty…

“Suddenly a leper came and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” He said, “be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” (Matthew 8:3)

“In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’” (Luke 10: 30-35)

Lenten Prayer: Lord God, You came to give honour to the least, those forgotten, overlooked and misjudged. You came to give first place to the last, those left behind, misunderstood and undervalued. You came to give a warm welcome to the lost, those who are orphaned, abandoned and destitute. Help us to be your ears to listen to their cries. Help us to be your voice speaking out love and acceptance. Help us to be your feet walking beside those in need. Help us to be your hands to clothe, feed and shelter them. You came for the least, the lost and last of this world. Lord, hear our prayer. Ora Pro Nobis.

Almsgiving is not just giving money; it is any corporal act of mercy, a mercy that requires a sacrifice on our part of self, time and money.  What are they? Feeding the hungry. …Giving drink to the thirsty. …Clothing the naked. …Sheltering the homeless. …Visiting the sick. …Visiting the imprisoned. …Burying the dead.  All actions that involve us.  Personal action.  Christ touched the leper.  The good Samaritan came back to make sure the man was still being cared for.  They didn’t stick money in an envelope and not know what was actually being done with it.  With the myriad of non-profit programs we have gotten into the lazy habit of distancing ourselves from the almsgiving Christ was talking about, that the Saints of the past would have recognized.  Non-profits, especially faith-based non profits, do provide a legitimate amount of service to those in need.  Indeed, they employ people, who often are struggling through life themselves.  But that isn’t where Christ wants us to stop.  Today Chesterton helps us look at how Christ wants to involve us in actually looking at those in need with our own eyes, helping them with our own hands, giving to them what we give to ourselves.

“In their talk about Thomas Becket and such saints and heroes they make soap more important than soul; they reject godliness whenever it is not cleanliness. If we resent this about remote saints and heroes, we should resent it more about the many saints and heroes of the slums, whose unclean hands cleanse the world. Dirt is evil chiefly as evidence of sloth; but the fact remains that the classes that wash most are those that work least. Concerning these, the practical course is simple; soap should be urged on them and advertised as what it is—a luxury. With regard to the poor also the practical course is not hard to harmonize with our thesis. If we want to give poor people soap we must set out deliberately to give them luxuries. If we will not make them rich enough to be clean, then emphatically we must do what we did with the saints. We must reverence them for being dirty.” – G. K. Chesterton, On Education In Cleanliness, What’s Wrong With the World, 1910

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