Actually, apart from faith in God, Jesus left nothing of the existing Jewish religious code standing except justice and good-heartedness to one’s fellows (Mt. 7:12; 19:16-19; 22:34-40; 23:23; 54:34-36). All other obligations: sacrifices in the temple (Mk. 12:32-34), prayers at fixed hours (Lk 5:33-34), ritual washings (Mk. 7:3), distinctions between permitted or forbidden foods (Mk. 7:19) and consequently, discrimination between religious (observant) and non-religious people (non-observant), had no value for him. He affirmed that the so-called “sinners” were nearer God than those who were held to be unspotted (Lk. 18:9-14); that is, he declared invalid what was properly speaking religious practice. What God values is that we be good to others (Lk. 10:30-37) and the only thing that stains a person is evil intentions, and harming one’s neighbor (Mk. 7:20-23). Jesus asked much more: it is not enough to not kill, despising is already killing (Mt. 6:21-22). To avoid false oaths is insufficient, one has to be utterly sincere (Mt. 5:33-37). Going beyond loving those who love you, you have to love and do good to those who do not love you (Mt. 5:43-45). What Jesus wants is true and sincere good-heartedness towards everyone revealed in every detail of daily life (Mt. 7:12). Jesus cares for those who seek him. He accepts invitations from the rich as well, but without concealing his message (Lk. 11:37-52; 14:1-14).
– Juan Mateos, Vatican Theologian 1917-2003
Earlier this week I added this to my “about” page on Facebook and posted it as my status, without the scripture references. Almost immediately, I was attacked by an Orthodox priestmonk and seminary professor who took this as an attack on the Liturgy. Now the author was a Vatican theologian, so he was obviously not attacking the liturgy and I pointed this out. This man continued his attacks and what he said was most disturbing to me as it indicated that he valued the Liturgy above Love. What St. Paul taught us in 1 Corinthians 13 is that the Liturgy is worthless without love. What Jesus teaches us in his vision of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25 is that the Liturgy is worthless without compassion for strangers, i.e., love for mankind. “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:8) A true liturgy should be all about love, and the atmosphere and the message attached to it, everything about it should equip the people to engage in lives of love for each other and for all mankind. It should never be about ethnic preservation or mere personal salvation. Then the medicine for our salvation can turn rancid and become a pickling agent to our souls.
A couple days later, I responded to yet another comment on a friend’s post, from yet another not so former evangelical who was busting on him for giving money to a beggar on the street. Why can’t we put this to rest, people? This is simple. Jesus told us to give to anyone who asks of us. Did He put qualifiers on it? Did He tell us to question their motives or morals? Was He stupid or unwise or unable to know our situation? Are we wiser than Jesus? OK, then. Just stop your stupid-enabling-psycho-babble-double-talk-which-is-just-an-excuse-for-you-to-feel-better-about-not-helping-because-that-is-what-your-greedy-self-wanted-to-do-anyway. Are you one of those hyper-Orthodox and Jesus’ word isn’t good enough for you; you need to hear it from “The Fathers”? OK, here goes:
“For if you wish to show kindness, you must not require an accounting of a person’s life, but merely correct his poverty and fill his need.”
“When you see on earth the man who has encountered the shipwreck of poverty, do not judge him, do not seek an account of his life, but free him from his misfortune.”
“Charity is so called because we give it even to the unworthy.”
“Need alone is the poor man’s worthiness . . .
“We do not provide for the manners, but for the man.”
“We show mercy on him not because of his virtue but because of his misfortune, in order that we ourselves may receive from the Master His great mercy.”
– St. John Chrysostom, Second Sermon on Lazarus and the Rich Man
On Friday, Deacon Herman shared the documentary “Marley” with us, about the life and career of Bob Marley. There were several things that were striking about his life. While the movie did not cover why he converted to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, I can understand why he did from the interviews that were included and how he lived his life. He was a serious almsgiver. Reporters would ask him if he was rich. He would ask them if they were talking about money. Then he would say: “What is that? I have people, lots of people, brothers and sisters! Friends. Love. That is the riches!” He was making millions at the time and he knew how to make a lot of money. He also knew how to give it away.
One of his bandmates said that wherever they would go, people would come up to him and ask him for money. He would ask them what their dream was, what their plan was and listen to it, then give them enough to make it happen. He was always doing this. He started out life poor, halfcaste and in the ghetto. He never forgot those roots. He was nurtured by a Rastafari master, but he got to see Haile Selassie I and he was honest enough to realize that the man did not think of himself as Jesus Christ reincarnate, but was, in fact, Ethiopian Orthodox. Orthodoxy has a rich theology of serving the poor, almsgiving, and the hope for the unity of all mankind. Bob was already more than halfway there. Very little catechesis was needed for such a soul as he, I’m sure. His whole life had been a catechesis of sorts.
What is my point? God is love. He calls us to be godly. That means first and foremost He calls us to love! Jesus said that all of the Commandments were fulfilled by love. Juan Mateus made a case from the Scripture that the Liturgy is worthless without love. St. John Chrysostom makes the case that we are not to judge those to whom we give alms, but merely obey Christ. Finally, we see the example of Bob Marley, who did not just give token, spare change alms, but intentionally earned as much as he could, so he would have more to give away. His paying audience was mainly upper, middle class, white, young people. He redistributed in the poorer neighborhoods. He gave in such a way as to make a difference in a person’s life, so they could make a new start.
So my point is this: One Love. It all flows from One Love as Bob Marley sang. That is God. If the Liturgy is just a way for us to preserve our ethnic heritage or language. If it is just a place to squabble over whose tones are better, or to showcase our excellent chorus, or which calendar is correct, or to interrupt it to scold someone for sitting, then you have missed the point. Love does not judge. Love is not stingy and does not keep a ledger sheet. Then there is the almsgiving example of Bob Marley. If you live a life centered in love, you don’t just give your leftovers or your scraps away. You live intentionally to use your gifts to help as many people as you can to the maximum benefit; or to rescue one exceptionally needy person, however God leads; but with intention, on a path of love. You can do this directly, if you have direct contact with needy people. If you do not, then give your money to agencies such as The King’s Jubilee. We will deliver your alms for you.