The law of the Lord is love. In His love for us,
God has given us our neighbors in need.
“The poor [we] will always have with [us]”
(Mark 14:7) because through service to them,
we learn to love.
Our sojourn in this world can be described as a school of learning to love. We were created by the God who is Love-personified for union with Him. How can we unite with love unless we first learn to love?
What is love?
Love is a denial of the self for someone else. It involves sacrifice. In love, we give up something that could otherwise benefit ourselves so that it may benefit someone else instead. It may be a gift of time, talent, or treasure. In love, we put the needs of others before our own. We learn to love by loving… it’s something we do, not study. Loving means giving. We find love in charity and generosity. We are called and commanded to love by our Lord.
I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another (John 13:34).
We are able to love because the God who is Love first loved us (1 John 4:19).
When our Lord and His Apostles came upon the man who was blind from birth, the Apostles asked whose sin was the cause of his trouble. Jesus replied that it wasn’t due to sin but rather an opportunity to show the works of God.
As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him” (John 9:1-3).
This man lived his life from birth for the encounter of this moment. Why was he blind? So that Jesus might show the power and majesty of God on this day. All of the time that came before led to this. His parents and all of the town testified that this man was blind and now, thanks to Jesus, he can see.
Just so, there are people in this world that need our love… our care and concern.
Years ago, I attended a Bible study at our parish with friends. A friend’s daughter was blind and confined to a wheelchair with palsied limbs. She was completely dependent on her family. Someone asked the priest at the study, “why is she cursed to have to live her life this way?” His reply has stayed with me all of these years, “So that we may give her our love.”
It seems cruel that she should have to be so dependent on the kindness of others but, in her need, she is actually blessing everyone around her. How can we provide for the needs of others except that they have needs? How can we show her the love we have to give unless she has need of our love? It is in her infirmity that she allows us to love her best.
Our Lord told us, “The poor [we] will always have with [us].” It always struck me as a little harsh that no matter what we do, we can’t eliminate poverty. We can’t create an actual utopia where no one has to go without the basic needs of life.
“The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them” (Mark 14:7).
Through our service to those in need, we may do good things for them. We may show them our love. We have ample opportunity to practice and an endless supply of needs.
I’ve heard it said that modern welfare systems are our best way to help the poor. When asked to give, many respond that they already pay their taxes and those taxes support programs for those in need. The problem with this thinking is the presence of the government in the transaction. Everything the government does is done with the threat of force. There are consequences for non-compliance. Forced charity destroys the morality in the exchange.
In a normal charitable situation, one person gives and another receives. The one who receives feels gratitude for the gift and the giver is warmed by the love that inspired the gift. It’s mutually beneficial. When the government gets involved, funds are extorted from the giver and the receiver has no human interaction. The result is entitlement by the receiver and resentment from the giver. Is there a place for a social safety net? Yes… but it shouldn’t replace true human charity. Doing so harms both the giver and the receiver.
All of us should strive to be a giver in this world even if we have little to give. Some may only be able to give the gift of gratitude… but that is indeed a generous gift! Our Lord loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7). He praised the poor widow who gave what seems so little because she gave from her necessity, not her surplus (Mark 12:42-44). Our goal in helping is to encourage others to rise in service to their neighbors. It’s a process of “paying it forward” where the help that is given is multiplied through the generosity of those who once received. Dependence on others isn’t meant to be a career path. It’s a condition that may be either curable or chronic.
Givers of charity are not immune to hardship themselves. When tragedy befalls us, we tend to curse our circumstances. We may lash out. We may despair. That’s the temptation of the devil working on our pride. Who are we to be so afflicted? If we pray, “Thy will be done”, we should be prepared for God to use us for His purposes… whether or not we recognize a blessing in our fortunes. We should rejoice to do our Father’s will in every way we are called. Take heart… God never does anything without purpose. Our struggles may be the lesson through which He is teaching others to love.
We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all. See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good [both] for each other and for all. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess 5:14-18).
Sometimes, God allows us to lose everything in this world so we can learn we have all we need in Him.
We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28).
Sometimes, God allows us to hit rock bottom so we can find solid ground for our faith.
Surely, I wait for the Lord;
who bends down to me and hears my cry,
Draws me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the muddy clay,
Sets my feet upon rock,
steadies my steps,
And puts a new song in my mouth,
a hymn to our God.
Many shall look on in fear
and they shall trust in the Lord (Psalm 40:2-4).
Sometimes, God allows us to face danger so we can learn to trust Him.
So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.
Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ [Jesus] will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little (1 Peter 5:6-10).
Sometimes, God allows us to be hurt by others so we may learn to forgive.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do (Col 3:12-13).
Sometimes, God allows us to know sorrow so we may learn true gratitude.
Blessed be the Lord,
who has heard the sound of my pleading.
The Lord is my strength and my shield,
in whom my heart trusts.
I am helped, so my heart rejoices;
with my song I praise him (Psalm 28:6-7).
As we encounter those who need the love we have to give, may we not harden our hearts. Let us give in a spirit of generosity, not just obligation. In all of our own trials and tribulations, may we humbly accept our role as a blessing to others as they are given an opportunity to show their love to us. Through the love we give, may we be conformed to the God who loved us so much He gave us everything… including His own life as the greatest sacrificial offering of love imaginable.
Lord, open my eyes to see how I may serve and to reflect on being a blessing to others in my own needs.