March 23, 2021
Giving What Isn’t Mine
You are not your own. (1Corinthians 6:19)
Paul’s radical position on “being in Christ” entails the death of the self. Somehow, Christ’s death was also our death, as he states in another letter: “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). For the Corinthians, you are not your own meant a thorough shift in behavior. Rather than you, yourself, deciding what to do with your body, it is now considered a “temple of the Holy Spirit,” with all its associated behavioral consequences (specifically here referring to sexuality). The underlying metaphor goes deeper. What if we really believed that our lives were no longer our own? What would it mean to live a life that wasn’t mine?
There’s a beautiful story about Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, giving away a donated diamond ring. Since the early 1930s, Day had lived in community houses among the poor of New York, in the strong conviction that Jesus called us to share our lives with the marginalized. Peter Maurin, her friend and source of inspiration, used to say that the destitute on the street, the impoverished workers, the drunks and the prostitutes were Christ in disguise.
Sharing their housing, food and money, the Catholic workers and some Protestants, lived in voluntary poverty; preaching and living the Gospel. The donated diamond ring could have meant food for the communal soup kitchen, money for the rent, and more profoundly, a sign of goodwill from the community. Still, Dorothy gave it away to an elderly woman who regularly joined them for dinner. When asked why, Dorothy replied that the woman could do with it what she wanted. "Do you suppose God created diamonds only for the rich?" (Selected Writings, 1983)
With these few words, Dorothy Day illustrates Paul’s call to live in Christ, to give without strategic deliberation or well-meant concern. (What if they buy alcohol or drugs!) Indeed, her deep spiritual path with Jesus led her to say: “The Gospel takes away our right forever to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.” When Christ lives through us he will give, as he always has, to sinners like you and me. Jesus spoke about his Father who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5), urging us to love like the Father loves. From this perspective, giving is not so much a charitable act, as a natural consequence of our death and our life in Christ. We give what wasn’t ours to begin with and we give graciously because he gave first and continues to shower us with his mercies.
Giver of life, help me to not cling on to what I have. Liberate me from the desire for material wealth and fill me with your giving love.