“The readings today present both invitation and warning. Invitation I would way to generosity both receiving generously and giving generously and a warning I think to what you might call a lack of generosity, a turning in on one’s self. It’s really a warning against the effects of sin.
In the first reading (it didn’t have it in the passage today, but if you read a few lines before you would see that) Moses is overwhelmed by the demands of the people. They’re constantly complaining, constantly wanting this, not satisfied with what’s going on and he goes to God and he says, ‘I can’t take it anymore. I can’t bear these people anymore.’ God says, ‘I’ll give you some help. Assemble 70 elders.’ And so he invites elders to come and God said, ‘I will lay the spirit upon them so they can help you in this difficult task.’ But two of them don’t show up to the meeting, but they get the spirit anyway and they start preaching charismatically and prophetically about God and Joshua comes to Moses and he said, ‘They weren’t there, but look what they’re doing! They’re prophesying! Stop them Moses!’ And Moses said, ‘Stop them? Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets? Would that the Lord would bestow His spirit upon them all! What are you complaining about, Joshua? This is a good thing. The Lord’s spirit is at work.’ Moses celebrates God’s generosity. God’s generosity is authentic. It’s not picky or fussy, but freely offered to anyone willing to accept his gifts.
We have something similar happening in the Gospel. St. John comes to Jesus and he says, ‘Someone who is not part of our group is casting out demons in your name and we tried to stop them.’ Jesus said, ‘Do not prevent them for whoever is not against us is for us. The Father’s given them a gift to do good. Do not interfere with that.’ Jesus said, ‘Anyone who gives even a cup of water to drink to someone who belongs to Christ, Amen I say to you he won’t lose his reward. Anyone who responds to God’s gifts with a generous heart won’t be denied.’
Now the second reading from St. James is a little more harsh. It’s a harsh condemnation against the rich, but especially those who lack generosity. It’s not because they’re rich that he’s critiquing them, it’s because they’re stingy. It’s because they refuse to be generous because they hoard their gifts and they don’t share them. They’ve turned in on themselves. I think I’ve said this before, but one of the Latin words for sin is curvatus in se, to turn in on yourself, to make yourself kinda the center of everything. He warns of the dangers of this disordered love of self of wealth of greed of over-attachment to pleasure and comfort. In the Gospel Jesus does something different. Now he’s using hyperbole. You have to acknowledge that because if he wasn’t then a lot of the apostles would be walking around with one foot and an arm missing and one eye out because we know they were sinners like we are, but Jesus is using hyperbole to make a point about not tolerating sin at the risk of losing your salvation. Sin is often a form of selfishness of turning in on one’s self of focusing too much on me and my needs. God’s word invites us to turn to the Lord in an attitude of humility and facility receptive to His generosity and He invites us also to be generous, not be stingy with the blessings we receive. We don’t all get the same blessings. We don’t all have wealth. Some do. We don’t all have talent. Some do. We don’t all have good looks. Some do. We don’t all have great strength or lots of energy. Some do, but whatever those gifts are we’re invited to be generous. We’re also invited to celebrate when others are gifted and offer our gifts for the good of others because when we do that, guess who else benefits? We do. Every time you come to Mass you and I encounter divine generosity. It’s an invitation to respond to that generous gift with generosity. We receive a saving gift, the effect of the cross. It’s made present to us. The Eucharist sustains us. Jesus gives himself to us to help us through the ups and downs of life to strengthen us for our ultimate purpose, Heaven. Every Mass is an encounter with this great gift and we’re called to be generous in response to share not only our talents, but especially that gift, the gift of Jesus that we receive, His divine love to share with others.
As a priest, I’m in a position to observe in a special way both generosity and its opposite, stinginess. I’m so often amazed and truly humbled how some people are so generous. They give so much without wanting recognition without wanting people to know what they are doing. They give in unbelievable ways, not just financially, not everybody has those means, but some who do. Not all rich people are selfish. Many are extremely generous, but even those who don’t have financial wealth give of their time and of their energies and of their attention in ways that they don’t even want to be acknowledged. I’m also approached by others who are often miserable and come to me in tears. Despite their many, many blessings, their many possessions because they’ve turned in on themselves. They’re preoccupied with themself. They’ve walled themself in and now they’re in prison. Generosity is always good for us as well as it is for the people we are generous with. At the end of every Mass you are sent, maybe some of the most important words, ‘Go now, you’re sent.’ Sent to be generous with the gifts you’ve been given with the truth that you’ve encountered, to use your hands and your feet and your eyes in service of God’s generosity not for your own selfish desires. Now the Lord doesn’t want you to cut off your hand or your foot or pluck out your eye. What He wants is for you to use them and all your abilities in non-sinful ways, in ways that are generous and good that fulfill His purpose and lead you closer to your ultimate destiny, ways that celebrate and share the gifts that you’ve received especially the gift of His love. Share it. Offer it. Let it grow. Through your own generosity let others encounter God’s generosity. It benefits both you and those with whom you share.