I have Leviticus on my mind. Now before you ask, “Father, are you OK? Are you feeling alright?” please know that I have Leviticus on my mind because at my parish a group is reading the Bible straight through from Genesis to Revelation, and this past week we discussed Leviticus. It’s been a while since I’ve spent time in Leviticus, so I think I was able to come to it with a more-or-less fresh perspective. What struck me most about Leviticus this last time through is that Leviticus is a book of imagination. In Leviticus, the writer(s) imagines what it is like to be God and to be madly in love with human beings. Leviticus imagines God desiring a relationship with us that is 1) continuous, 2) abiding, and 3) progressive. Continuous, because Leviticus is filled with laws that help bring people to a continuous awareness of God in all aspects of life. Abiding, because in Leviticus God wants to share life with us so much that God asks the people to carry the Tent of Meeting with them wherever they go. And progressive, because God wants His relationship with us to become progressively more intimate, growing until God converses with us in our own “Holy of Holies,” as it were, in the innermost part of our “tent.”
Leviticus is a beautiful portrayal of the relationship that is possible – that God fervently desires! – with human beings.
I mention Leviticus because today’s Gospel lesson reminds me of Leviticus and how much God loves us and wants to share life with us. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus loves the young man: “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” And Jesus invites the young man – as He invites all of us – into deeper relationship. “Look how much I’ve given you,” God says in effect to the young man. “Here, right in front of you, is my Son, my beloved, whom I sent into the world. And He is talking with you, inviting you to go deeper:”
Go, sell what you have, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.
“I’ve given you so much,” God says. “Why not be just as generous in return?” Not only did God share His life with us by speaking to us from the Holy of Holies within the Tent, God shared his life with us by sending Jesus to become one of us, to tell and show us in-person how much God loves us and wants to share life with us, in a continuous, abiding and progressive relationship. In Jesus God gives all God’s self to us, withholding nothing! In today’s Gospel lesson, God invites us to give back to God.
One of the most powerful ways to give of ourselves to God is to give of our wealth. It is not easy to give of our wealth:
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.
But if we give, giving to God is the shortest, most direct way to increase our sense of self-offering, our response to God’s self-offering to us. For when we give of our wealth to God, it orients the rest of our life God-ward as well. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
As a guest preacher, I have no stake in whether you give to the Order of St. Anne or to any other church; that is, I have no financial stake in whether you give. But as a priest, I do have a stake in the health of our souls.
In Deuteronomy, one of Leviticus’ neighbors in the Pentateuch, God calls us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength and with all your mind” (Deut 6:5). God wants all of us – all of our heart, strength and mind. And I bet, deep-down, that’s what we want, too: to give all of ourselves to God, withholding nothing as God withholds nothing from us. Because deep-down we know that we were created to share life with God, and we know that the healthiest thing for our soul to do is to respond wholeheartedly to Jesus’ invitation. Giving generously is healthy for our soul. To give 10% of our income – the Church’s standard for giving – may seem like a lot at first, but it feels great once you’ve done it. “Don’t give until it hurts,” one of my parishioners likes to say, “Give until it feels good.” It feels great to give generously because, when we do, we share in God’s generosity to us, and we open ourselves to receiving exactly what our heart wants: deeper relationship with Him.
Leviticus invites us to imagine the relationship God desires with us – a loving, intimate relationship that is continuous, abiding and progressive. Jesus seeks the same with the young man in today’s Gospel; and Jesus seeks the same with each one of us. I wonder if this month might be an opportunity to consider our own response to Jesus’ invitation. Does our response fulfill and satisfy our soul? Is our relationship with God where we desire it to be? One of the best ways to increase our satisfaction, our joy, in our relationship with God is to give generously.
Though I was not there when he visited Boston in 1979, some of my colleagues stood in the cold and rain to hear Pope John Paul II celebrate Mass on the Common. The Pope preached on this morning’s text. He urged his listeners not to be like the young man and to go away grieving. “Do not go away sad,” he said. One of the best ways to make sure we do not go away sad is to Give. Draw closer. Accept Jesus’ invitation into a continuous, abiding and progressive relationship. Do not be like that young man. “Do not go away sad.”