The fifth day of Lent

Monday after 1 Lent

We have previously quoted from Keeping Lent & Eastertime, a little booklet from Liturgy Training Publications, on the subject of almsgiving, one of the principal traditional disciplines of Lent. Here is the quote again: "All year we tolerate the intolerable:  that there are adults and children without nourishment, sick and elderly people and prisoners without visitors, refugees without homes.  The gospel we believed shapes a church that gives alms of every kind:  bread for the hungry, time for the lonely, energy to change systems that oppress and torture and kill people.  Freed by our fasting and formed by our prayer, we have alms to give during Lent.  Lent is not to make up for our sins but to battle with evil, with sin.  It is not to be gotten over with, but to shape the church into the kingdom of God.  That's why we do it gladly." 

The Good Samaritan, George Frederic Watts, d. 1904When we understand almsgiving in the narrow sense of giving money to the needy, we risk missing the point entirely. Sometimes, money is just what is needed to address the needs of our neighbor, but true almsgiving comes from the heart and is a matter of becoming personally engaged with those we serve. We cannot always do this personally. We may not be able to travel to the places where victims of drought, disease, warfare, and natural catastrophe are in need of our help. A check may be the right way to help in those cases. At the same time, we must open our eyes to the needs of those who are in our midst, not passing by on the other side of the road, but being aware and available to our local neighbor whose need is just as important. In the familiar parable, the Good Samaritan personally dressed the wounds of the wounded stranger he encountered on the road. He personally transported him to a place of safety. And only then did he "write a check," paying in advance for the man's care, and promising to pay any additional costs when he returned. 

As you begin your Lenten almsgiving, consider whether there is a very personal commitment that you can make to a neighbor, either a friend or a stranger, to aid them in their need. This might be a renewed commitment to visit regularly with someone who is housebound, or to make a daily phone call to someone who lives alone. It might be volunteering to participate in a ministry to prisoners in a local jail. Enrolling in training to serve on the local volunteer rescue squad would be a long term commitment that would extend your Lenten almsgiving to a year round ministry of service to those in danger. Opportunities abound. As Jesus said to the lawyer who questioned him, "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10:37)

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