Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Two Models of Religion

Wednesday: 19 June, 2013 –– 11th Week in Ordinary Time
2 Corinthians 9:6–11 / Psalm 112:1–4, 9 / Matthew 6:1–6, 16–18
Two Models of Religion

“Religion” is getting bad press these days. There are certainly awful things to give religion a bad name, and Jesus names some here: people who are so stuck on themselves that they do religious things to get attention. Of course, there are worse things than that done in the name of religion, but Jesus wants us to know that even doing legitimate “religious” things for the wrong reason is odious.

Again, it’s not that giving, praying and fasting are bad things. Jesus says, When you give.... When you pray.... When you fast.... There is the explicit assumption those things will be done, but the issue is how and why –– not ostentatiously and not for personal glory. The Psalm says that the man who fears the Lord.... lavishly gives to the poor.... The focus, you see, is on the Lord. As people who have received mercy and grace, we in turn give to others. This is the healthy cycle of prayer and fasting and giving.

The Epistle gives the proper model: God loves a cheerful giver. When our hearts are so turned to the Lord that we live in an awareness of his gifts to us, we cannot help but have an attitude that wants to gift and bless others. Paul tells the Corinthians: You are being enriched in every way for all generosity.... In other words,  God gives to us so we can give to others. This is “right religion” (and James gives explicit support to this in his letter, Jm 1:27).

When I was child there was a Sunday School song we learned. I have forgotten the last part of it, but the first part is indelibly stamped in my memory: Jesus and others and you –– what a wonderful way to spell JOY...  This is what the readings are telling us today. When our focus is on ourselves it only brings misery to us and those around us. When we choose to focus on the Lord and allow that to shape our attitude toward others, we find ourselves giving and forgiving and modeling just the kind of religion that brings honor to God (and that he, in turn, honors). Jesus and others and you –– what a wonderful way to spell JOY....

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