Making Charity

Monday, Jul 30th, 2012

                Returning to the work of the President's Office is a great joy; however, I continue to reflect on the many opportunities for learning that this pilgrimage to Israel offered.  Some of the learning was in preparation as others helped me think about the implications of the journey.
 
                A good colleague in interfaith relations here in Kansas City is Marvin Szneler, who leads the Jewish Community Relations Bureau and American Jewish Committee office.  At a meeting prior to my departure, he opened his wallet and handed me some cash, requesting that I make charity for him in Israel (shaliach mitzvah). He told me this was a a traditional custom when folks journeyed to the Holy Land.  He recalled his parents in Poland following this custom.  Further, he said I do not want to know what you have done with the money.  I trust that you will honor my request.  And I did, adding money to his.
 
               The Charity of St ElizabethDuring my study at the Shalom Hartman Institute, I learned that he was providing more than I realized.  Not only did his request allow me to represent his good will to someone in need, by his action he was also offering a prayer for my safe return.  Thankfully, my cohort and I have returned to our various ecclesial and educational responsibilities filled with memory and hope.
 
                Psalm 14:2 speaks of God's concern for right living: "The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God."  The Psalm continues with lament that "They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one" (v. 3).  Were this the only Psalm in the Bible, we might despair!  Others bless those who walk in the pathways of righteousness.  Yet, Psalm 14 pricks an easy conscience that presumes his or her way is pleasing to God.
 
                The Gospel reading recounts the miracle of the multiplication of two fish and barley loaves, a young boy's generous gift (John 6:1-12).  A traditional interpretation of this narrative is that our small offerings are transformed by God's own abundance, and it is so.  Generosity spawns generosity, and God gathers up our charity for larger community building purposes.  In a day when the extremities of poverty grow apace, a disposition to stand with the impoverished and offer concrete assistance can multiply impact.  I trust that the funds Marvin and I offered will encourage, even if in a small way, a person struggling to provide for his family.
 
                Having the capacity to "make charity"  is a privilege, and we can grow in our understanding of God's economics.  God's house-holding (oikonomia) of the world requires that we not cling to personal possessions too tightly.  They are entrusted to us for the common good, in my judgment.  To believe this--and to live accordingly--requires a conversion of the heart and the purse; Luther said the latter was the most difficult.  He was right, yet believed it could happen.  So do I.
 
Molly T. Marshall
 
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