Transforming Charity

Preached in Jerusalem, Sunday 7th August 2022

Isaiah 1:1 & 10-20 | St Luke 12: 32-40

Open our ears, O Lord, to hear your word and know your voice. Speak to our hearts and strengthen our wills, that we may serve you now and always. Amen

Money, it’s something most of us would like more of. It’s something that, in recent months, has stretched less and less as the cost of living has increased due to war in Ukraine, amidst other things. Nevertheless, there are still those, and an increasing number, who are able to donate large amounts of money to others and yet still retain, even enhance, their own standing and power. But are they missing the point of what the Gospels tell us charity really is?

Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, reminds us that there is no law against charity.[1] However, there is a big difference between billionaires donating a small amount of their wealth at no personal cost to themselves and the charity, or caritas, we are called to as Christians. Caritas is that selfless, unconditional, and voluntary loving kindness we see in Jesus – it’s the way Jesus loves us, and the way we are all called to love others. It can begin with the way we behave towards our neighbours or giving what we can to those in need. But that’s not where caritas ends.

A Christian with a true heart of charity begins to question, sooner or later, why are there so many poor, why are the needs so endless? By poor here, I don’t mean financially, I mean anyone in the margins of society, the definition of poor held to by generations of liberation theologians who strive to ask; what are the conditions that create so much suffering in the world, and what can we do to change those conditions? We see it all around us, from the near slum conditions suffered by some African communities in Tel Aviv, to the communities of Masafer Yatta, south of Hebron, who face imminent expulsion from their lands, and those in Gaza facing the current bombardment.

Poet William Blake in his poem Holy Thursday, wonders how “such a rich and fruitful land” is full of “babes reduc’d to misery” and “so many children poor.”[2] He is, in these words, speaking about London in the early 19th century, but the sentiment still holds true around the world and at this time.

Such questions about why suffering exists can be dangerous as many have found. Brazilian Catholic Archbishop, Hélder Câmara, often called the ‘Bishop of Slums’ once said, “When I gave food to the poor, they called me a saint; when I asked why there were so many poor, they called me a communist.” We see this danger highlighted today in Nicaragua where, in the town of Sébaco, Bishop Rolando Álvarez is under threat of arrest for speaking out against injustices. 

At the end of it all, the hope of the poor will never be in human politics – human politics always tends towards corruption. The place where we can look to find hope, the place we are called to live into, to build up, as we listen for the cries of the poor around us, can only by the Kingdom of God.

In the Gospel reading this morning, we heard Jesus say to his followers: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. Sell your possessions, give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus’ central message during his life on earth was that the Kingdom of God was near. And Jesus’ hope was that God’s kingdom would transform life on earth, in the here and now. In the Lord’s Prayer we ask, “your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” It is the earth that needs transformation into the way of God’s Kingdom.

The same concerns are echoed in the reading from Isaiah. In the very first lines, Isaiah lays accusations at the feet of the leaders of Judah: “Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!”

Sodom and Gomorrah were considered evil places, but not for the reasons you might think. The prophet Ezekiel says, “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”[3] If that’s the definition of sodomy that they had plenty of food for themselves, but didn’t share it with those in need – then who are the Sodomites of today?

Isaiah accuses the rulers and elite in Jerusalem of behaving like the people of Sodom. They don’t try to “rescue the oppressed,” they fail to “defend the orphan,” or “plead the widow.” They think that they can win God’s favour by making all the proper sacrifices in the temple, but that doesn’t matter. The only way to please God is to seek justice for the poor.

Justice sits at the heart of Jesus’ message about the Kingdom of God. In God’s kingdom, there will be no suffering, and the resources God has given us will be shared equitably so that everyone has enough, and no one is left on the margins.

As citizens of God’s kingdom, we live under the charity, the caritas of God. And as we strive to bear witness to God’s loving kindness towards us, as we extend that charity to others, our caritas must lead us inevitably on the pathway to justice. When help the poor, we move closer to them. When we serve them, we are able to listen to them. And in their cries, we hear the voice of God – and God’s voice cannot help but change us, transforming our vision of what the world ought to be, and inspiring us to come together and strive for the justice of God’s Kingdom. 


[1] Galatians 5:23


[3] Ezekiel 16:49-50

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