Thursday, February 01, 2007

True Giving, Leaving the "World," Spiritual Blindness, Total Commitment


When Jesus used the memorable phrase, "Let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing," he was talking about giving gifts of material generosity. In his day, as in our own, it was common for people to give large material or monetary gifts, and then, to announce their gift to the whole community. This egocentricity and self-display contradicted the whole idea behind generous and sincere giving. So, he told his disciples to give gifts, as they could afford, but to do so only in secret. This secret was to be so hidden, so secretive, that the giver would not allow even her "other hand" to be aware of it. This language was symbolic of the fact that, when giving gifts to others, we were to keep the matter deeply and seriously confidential. This would prohibit any kind of bragging or boasting about our gifts to others. It would also tend to make sure that our generosity came from the right motive-- Love for the other rather than selfish conceits or arrogance, or "bragging rights," in which we would boast about our giving. (This would contaminate or pollute the pure motive that should be behind all giving.) These words, if taken seriously, would prohibit a Christian from accepting any kind of public rewards, awards, or recognition for her good works. She could not, for example, attend a public meeting or banquet designed to draw attention to her work. Nor could she accept the accolade of articles in the newspaper celebrating her good works. (We do still have such fine examples of "anonymous" generosity in our midst.)

It was also symbolic language used in the text, by Jesus, "Let the dead bury their dead." (mt. 18: 22). The context of this verse was that people were being asked to "follow" Jesus. But one man wanted to go and bury his father. Perhaps his father was not yet dead, and his intent was to return to his home-town and wait until his father died, years later, and then to bury him. Or perhaps his father had recently died. But Jesus wanted to make clear that the time to follow Him is NOW, not later. So, Jesus, perhaps with a touch of humor, advised that those who were spiritually dead could attend to the matters of this world. But when He called us to follow Him, he called us "out of " this world; and so, no obligation of this world was, or should be, more important than His message of Love and forgiveness.

In advising that the "blind" should not follow the "blind," Jesus was telling people that the mere possession of a specialized degree in even spiritual education did not give any interior Light. The religious leaders, then as now, were often as "blind" to the wisdom of Love as the people. They, and their Scriptures, also written by imperfect men, were not to be trusted. In following God or Love, one must follow the heart. This warning about spiritual blindness applies to a wide spectrum of ministers, priests, pastors, elders, gurus, and self-appointed "spiritual teachers."

Again, He spoke symbolically when he said, 'If your eye makes you stumble, tear it out. For it is better to enter the Kingdom with one eye than to perish with both.' This means that nothing-- even something so precious as your eyes-- is more important than following the Way of Love that Jesus taught. We should be willing to give up anything-- any material possession, any amount of money, even any part of our own bodies, even our lives-- to follow the Way of Love. Happily, in modern times, the Way does not make harsh demands, but there were times and places throughout history when one had to give her very life to follow the Way of Jesus.

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