Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Give up "everything" or only "half"?

God worked a miracle through Peter by raising back to life a woman named, "Tabitha", from dead. My confirmation name, is "Tabitha".  Reflecting on this verse, the footnotes in the New American bible translation of scripture explains that in Greek and Aramaic, "Tabitha" translates to "Dorcas", which means "gazelle".  It comments that "gazelle" exemplifies the right attitude toward material posessions as expressed by Jesus in the Lucan Gospels: 6:30; 11:41; 12:33; 18:22; 19:8.  Here are the Lucan verses:

6:30 Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.
11:41 But as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.
12:33 Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an exhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy.
18:22 * When Jesus heard this he said to him, "There is still one thing left for you: sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
19:8 But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over."

As we can see, in verse 18:22, Jesus tells the rich young man to sell "all that he has", but in 19:8, Zacchaeus tells the Lord he will give half of his possessions to the poor. Jesus seemed pleased with Zacchaeus, although he was only giving half.  Why must the rich young man give everything and Zacchaeus only give half?  Keeping in mind the aspect of spiritual direction, and Jesus being the ultimate spiritual director, he is explaining to us through these verses that what each must do to enter the Kingdom of God, can vary.

To give away our possessions to the poor is a work that will help build up the Kingdom of God here on earth to the benefit of our eternal salvation.  But, most importantly, it glorifies God to the one that receives them.  Jesus knew the state of the soul of the rich young man and of Zacchaeus, thus he required different works from them.  He knew what they needed to do to grow closer to him, to continue to have an intimate encounter with him through the act of offering up and sacrificing possessions.  But, how do we know, personally, if our souls are in the state of the "rich young man" or Zacchaeus? 

Because Jesus did not leave us alone when he ascended to his Father in Heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit to help us intepret the Good News.  The Holy Spirit teaches through the Church.  Looking up verse 19:8 in the catechism, it points out that Zacchaeus was also making reparation for the times he may have collected more in taxes than what was required by law.  He had stolen.

[CCC, 2412] In virtue of commutative justice, reparation for injustice committed requires the restitution of stolen goods to their owner:

Jesus blesses Zacchaeus for his pledge: "If I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold." Those who, directly or indirectly, have taken possession of the goods of another, are obliged to make restitution of them, or to return the equivalent in kind or in money, if the goods have disappeared, as well as the profit or advantages their owner would have legitimately obtained from them. Likewise, all who in some manner have taken part in a theft or who have knowingly benefited from it - for example, those who ordered it, assisted in it, or received the stolen goods - are obliged to make restitution in proportion to their responsibility and to their share of what was stolen.

Now, the Catechism does not have any commentary on Luke 18:22.  But, Pope John Paul II's Encyclical, Veritatis Splendor goes into detail about why the rich young man in the parable must give up everything.

6. The dialogue of Jesus with the rich young man, related in the nineteenth chapter of Saint Matthew's Gospel, can serve as a useful guide for listening once more in a lively and direct way to his moral teaching: "Then someone came to him and said, 'Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?' And he said to him, 'Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments. 'He said to him, 'Which ones?' And Jesus said, 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' The young man said to him, 'I have kept all these; what do I still lack?' Jesus said to him, 'If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me' " (Mt 19:16-21).13

7. "Then someone came to him...". In the young man, whom Matthew's Gospel does not name, we can recognize every person who, consciously or not, approaches Christ the Redeemer of man and questions him about morality. For the young man, the question is not so much about rules to be followed, but about the full meaning of life. This is in fact the aspiration at the heart of every human decision and action, the quiet searching and interior prompting which sets freedom in motion. This question is ultimately an appeal to the absolute Good which attracts us and beckons us; it is the echo of a call from God who is the origin and goal of man's life.

So, we can see from the Holy Father's commentary that, although, both of the verses seem to be only about how much of one's possessions to give up, to delve deeper, is to find Good News that can affect not only the soul of the individual who offers and sacrifices posessions, but their fullest meaning is found when applied from a social ethics or social justic perspective.  Because they help us order ourselves to living a Christian life, the story of the rich young man teaches us to order all of our choices to the good, or God, in order to live a moral life.

It is through prayer that we can know how much to give up and how much to keep.  But, relative to civil society and to follow the commandement to love our neighbor, like the Ethiopian Eunoch said to Saint Phillip the apostle (Acts 8:27):  "how can I understand the scriptures unless someone teaches me?"  It is through the teaching authority of the Church that the soul finds a deeper meaning in scripture that affects and is relevant for all of civil society in this earthly kingdom.

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