August 10

St Lawrence

Have you suffered for doing good? How have you faced your adversaries?

"This side's done, turn me over..." The legend of St. Lawrence has always been a favorite of mine (besides the fact he is my name's sake). His response in the face of a torturous death defined the Yiddish term "chutzpah," sheer audacity. But the reason for his martyrdom is even more attractive. He died to provide the poor their due. He died for the ministry of charity. This is the theme for his feast day.

First Reading: 2 Corinthians 9:6-10

6 This (is the point), the (one) sowing sparingly reaps sparingly, and the (one) sowing good works reaps good works. 7 Accordingly, each (person) should chose (freely) from the heart, not out of sorrow or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 God is able to surpass every favor for you, so that, always having a sufficiency in all things, you might abound in every good work, 9 just as in was written (in the Scriptures)

"He scatters, he gives to the poor,
his righteousness remains unto the age."

10 The (One) supplying seed for the (one) sowing and bread for food will supply (you) with and multiply your seed, and will cause the fruits of your righteousness to grow.

9:7 "God loves a cheerful giver." This is an addition to the Septuagint version of Proverbs 22:8 ("He who sows wickedness reaps trouble, and the rod of his fury will be destroyed." World English Bible); it exists only in this Greek translation.

9:9 "He scatters, he gives to the poor, his righteousness remains unto the age." The Septuagint version of Psalm 112:9ab ("He has dispersed, he has given to the poor. His righteousness endures forever." World English Bible).

Christians do not believe in pure karma. The phrase "What comes around, goes around" has limited value. Christians do believe that God gives all of us mighty gifts; we are to pass these gifts onto others. If we act as pure recipient and not as instruments of divine favor, we will miss out on the fruit of that gift. This is the key to understanding 2 Corinthians 9:6: "The person who sows a little will only receive a little; the person who sows in abundance will receive in abundance." The rest of this passage flows from this insight. We are to give freely, not begrudgingly or because we have to. But, ultimately, all gifts come from God, and he gives us far more than we need or deserve. He gives us life and love and comfort. He gives us the power to give to others and the power to bear the fruits of kindness, compassion, and morality.

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Gospel: John 12:24-26

Jesus said to his disciples:

24 Amen, Amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falling to the ground dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it carries much fruit. 25 The one loving his (life) destroys it. The one hating his (life) in this world will save it into eternal life.

26 If someone might give service to ME, let him follow (me). Where I AM, there also will be MY servant. If someone might give service to ME, the Father will honor him.

12:25 "(life)" is literally "soul." Jew did not think of the soul as separate part or different aspect of the person. They did not divide the person into body and soul. For the contemporaries of Jesus, "soul" equaled "life" or better "they way one spends his or her life." In this sense, life was a set of daily activities that reflected a person's real values.

"loving (life)...hating (life)" The culture of Jesus used extreme and exaggerated language to make a point. Jesus was not talking about the extremes of self-indulgence vs. self-abasement (even self-abasement performed out of pride is a form of self-indulgence). He used the language to clarify a comparison of values. Does one dedicate his or her life to promote the self or to promote the good of others?

In this passage, Jesus' monologue can be divided into two parts: 1) the self-giving of the Son and his followers and 2) the glory of the Father and the Son. In first part, Jesus defined the glory of the Son as his death and resurrection. His followers are assembled, the Jewish old-timers and the Gentile neophytes. They were gathered by his reputation (i.e., his 'glory"). Now he would reveal what that glory meant: dying to self.

The analogy of the wheat grain addressed the priorities of people. Those who selfishly clung to life would remain on the stalk alone, and would wither away. Those who gave their lives to others would die, but see others live and would enjoy eternal life. They would bear "much fruit." Notice those who gave up their lives unselfishly followed Jesus to his death. Jesus did not follow them.

The glory of Jesus was a paradox with external and internal dimensions. Externally, the common people in antiquity viewed death on the cross as the ultimate shame. Yet, the self-giving of Jesus revealed his status as the only Son of God. Hence, he had the greatest "glory," for he obeyed the will of his Father. (Remember, in a group-oriented culture, obedience to the patriarch was equivalent to family loyalty; what one did for the "father" of the clan benefited the entire family).

But, through his obedience, Jesus revealed his glory as God's "Servant." This image was the internal paradox of the community. To be a servant of the Lord (his follower), one must serve him and others. The servant served the servants, creating an equality among the followers of Jesus. So, the "glory" of the Christian community lie in humility, the quality of giving true deference to others. Leadership was to exercised in love and humble service, not in power and brutality. The Father would honor those who truly followed in the footsteps of the Master. For the Father loved the humble.

Like Our Lord and St. Lawrence, we must be willing to die for the good of others, especially the poor. Our death might not be physical, but it will be demanding, even if the death is the denial of self, done one moment at a time.

Pray for the strength to serve others, even when it is inconvenient. Pray for those who criticize you for your service.