The life of charity and care for the poor is the Christian vocation. One can no more separate one’s faith from one’s actions towards those broken by want and violence than one can separate the heart from the body and still live. It is impossible. The care of the poor may gain a opening for further communication of the Gospel, but that is not its objective because care for the poor IS a proclamation of the Gospel, a visible witness to the reality of God’s love in Christ. Like the sacrament of the Table, charity proclaims the reality of Christ and his love. Indeed, our view of the reality of Christ’s body received in the sacrament of the Supper reinforces how we see Christ himself in the body, the lives, of those among us in prison, in want, sick, wounded, and distressed. The world’s pain must be met by our prayers and preaching but also by our actions of love which offer Christ to all as well.
Does your church boast in its worship and liturgy? Do not forget that the word ‘leitourgia’ is used in Scripture not only of worship, but of the collection to care for the needy, hungry, and broken as well (2 Corinthians 9). We cannot separate our claimed love for God from the reality of loving one’s neighbor. Tertullian of old was surely right when, drawing on an ancient Roman custom, he preached that charity was the brand – the slave mark – on the Christian that identified him as belonging to the true Master, Jesus Christ.
If we are his, we will love, not in word only but in deed. And by this love the world will know the reality of Christ and his saving work. The skeptic may not believe the message we proclaim, and may despise the love to which it testifies, or even decry the notion of love for others. But he will never be able to deny charity’s authenticity or power. The recipient likewise may not believe the message or even show the slightest degree of thanks – only one of ten healed lepers returned to Jesus to bless him for the healing he bestowed on them. This will always be so. Charity is not utility. Charity is the love of God in action, manifesting the Father’s gracious reign to all who are wounded. By making this our life, we simply bear faithful witness to this love, so supremely made visible in the life of Jesus himself, and confess ourselves to be members of his body, and citizens of his kingdom.
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