St. Basil was one of the most powerful leaders the Church has known, and that’s because he followed up his preaching to the people with action. His legacy of generosity and his preaching to the people that they MUST develop the discipline of generosity in their own lives echoes loudly in the ears of the Church to this day!
Look what he said: “The shoes rotting in your closet belong to the person with no shoes! You do wrong you could help, but fail to help.” As I look around my own house and see the abundance of clothes, shoes, and even food that I sometimes have to throw out because of rot, I confess I feel these words especially strong.
And it is no mistake that the Church gives us the same story back to back as we enter the Triodion Period in preparation for Great Lent!
Look at our lesson today in Mark 12:38-44:
The Lord said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and to have salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” And he sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.”
Notice, please, where the Lord begins His confrontation with us all in His message. He starts with the example of the well off in society. It seems He always does this not because it’s bad to be well off, but it’s DANGEROUS to be well off. The danger of being asleep in a false sense of security warrants the Lord’s strong words. It would be wise to pay attention to that reality.
The Lord even goes so far as to say these blind, well off, people will receive greater condemnation BECAUSE their thoughtlessness resulted in the poor suffering! It isn’t the wealth that’s the problem for the Lord. In fact, St. Basil insists that the poor exist to provide a means of salvation for the rich and the rich exist so that the poor will be saved. One saint even said, “When a beggar extends his hand to you, he is not asking for money, but offering you the kingdom of God!”
Our struggle is never about the money. We don’t have any money problems in the Church. We have a perspective problem. Our money is an icon of our work, our time, and even our security. And this icon invites me to struggle with the Truth that only God can ultimately provide my truest security and safety. If I build my life on the shifting sands of my own abilities or the stock market or my career or even my inheritance, I will find that all of those “safety nets” have holes in them. My spiritual struggle, and make no mistake, this is a spiritual struggle, is to learn to depend on God for my peace and security, and not on my own strengths.
And the only way to learn this vital lesson is through generosity; through true sacrificial giving!
It is in this hard work the Church invited me to confront in Great Lent as one of the Three Pillars of Lent is Generosity. My freedom to be generous is in direct correlation to my spiritual maturity! Period. Full Stop. End of discussion. There is no escaping this fundamental truth, and there is no way to successfully hide from the implications of both a generous life and a stingy life. And your closets reveal which life you are living! All those extra shoes, all those extra clothes, all that extra food belongs to the poor and you’ve stolen these from the poor.
Today, well, it seems that “spring cleaning” is going to take on a spiritual dimension this year for me. I pray it does the same for you. And I pray that these preparation Sundays for Great Lent won’t escape your attention as we all struggle to be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, I confess I am asleep to just how much I struggle with being a generous person. I confess I hoard some things like clothes and money and food to help me not be afraid. But I should put all that fear in Your hands, Lord, and rest in the truth that You love me and know my needs and you will give me the strength to live a balanced life and not a life deluded by the false security of my things! Please help me this year to really unburden my life with all the excess that hide me from my own lack of faith in You. Amen!