God Wants You More Than Your Gift

God Wants You More Than Your Gift

5th Sunday after Pentecost

The collect prayer for this fifth Sunday after Pentecost, is, like so many of the ancient Roman orations, a masterpiece of composition that loses much in the translation. Nevertheless, let’s attempt this rendering:

O God, Thou hast prepared for those who love Thee, goods that cannot be seen with the eyes of our flesh, for they are invisible; pour into our hearts a true loving affection for Thee, in such a way that as we love Thee in all things and above all things, we might obtain what Thou hast promised, for it exceeds all our desires.

First of all, we are reminded that God has prepared invisible goods to reward those who love Him. This simple mention takes us right away into the realm of the supernatural; it lifts up our minds and hearts to the other world, which is much more real than the one we see with the eyes of our bodies, but which for the moment is invisible to us, except through faith. Now, to obtain the goods of that world, we must of necessity love their Author, that is to say, God, the source of all things. We must love Him, not with a natural kind of affection, but with a supernatural love, and such a love we cannot find in ourselves. This is why we ask God to pour it into our hearts. St Paul reminds the Romans that this love of God is poured into our hearts by the Holy Ghost who is given to us (Romans 5).

Once we receive this love in baptism, in confirmation, and every time we receive any sacrament worthily, it is destined to grow in us, to increase, and to help us love God in all things and above all things, in all people, in every soul we encounter. Here we need to remind ourselves of the word of St John: If any man say, I love God, and hates his brother; he is a liar. For he that loves not his brother, whom he sees, how can he love God, whom he sees not? (1 Jn 4:2) It is by loving those whom we see that we prove our love for God whom we do not see, and merit to see Him face to face in His eternal kingdom, where all our desires will not only be fulfilled but exceeded. Indeed, as the prophet Isaiah already told us, and St Paul quotes: What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9).

It is this same lesson that both the Epistle and Gospel convey to us today. In the Gospel, which is taken from the sermon on the Mount, the Lord presents the case of one who is bringing an offering to God’s altar, and who, when he is about to offer it up, remembers that his brother holds something against him. Our Lord is emphatic: even though this man is doing something eminently good in coming to God’s altar,  he must leave his offering and go first to seek reconciliation with the offended brother. Why is that? Quite simply because, as St Augustine says in commenting on this passage, God wants you more than your gift, and He cannot really have you if you are in conflict with your brother. For he that loves not his brother, whom he sees, how can he love God, whom he does not see?

The fact is that we can easily delude ourselves into thinking we are good people because there are certain good things that we do: we pray, go to Mass, confess, give alms, fast, etc. The truth of the matter is that the Lord has given us really only one ultimate criteria to know whether or not we love Him, whether or not all the rest is real and true or just a show, and that is whether or not we love our brother, whether or not we know how to forgive our brother and accept his apologies, whether or not we know how to ask forgiveness when we ourselves have been in the wrong. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (Jn 13:35).

To fail to forgive a brother is to lock that brother up in the prison of his resentment, it is to refuse him the freedom of loving service to God. We must be very careful not to put our neighbours into categories. So and so told me a lie, therefore he is a liar. So and so stole some money, therefore she is a thief. So and so broke a rule, so he is lawless. To say such a thing could very well be to pronounce a curse on our brother. This is why the words of our Lord in today’s Gospel are so severe: Whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou Fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. What does this mean if not that when we put people into categories and declare them, at the tribunal of our own heart, to be sinners, we lock them up and throw away the key. We prove that we do not love them at all, but only seek revenge. Such is not the Christian way. It never has been and never will be. Indeed, with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you (Mt 7:2).

The Christian way is outlined by St Peter in the epistle: All of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing (1 Peter 3:8-9). The apostle goes on to point out that the Lord hates evil and evildoers, and so you can be sure that justice will be done in God’s time, for revenge is His. He knows the secrets of hearts and He will give to each his due.

As for us, we must always be prepared to show mercy rather than judgment, and if because of it, we have to suffer for what is right, then blessed are we, for then we know for sure that the Spirit of God rests upon us.