The spirit of the NAME GOD is upon me, because the NAME has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the NAME, a day of vindication by our God. Isaiah 61: 1-11
When one writes essays or biographies one has an introduction, a thesis statement, the body of the story and the conclusion. Matthew and Luke’s introductions are the nativity. The Temptation follows this, and the thesis statement.
Matthew’s thesis statement is, “The Accuser left him and, behold, messengers came and ministered to him.
Mark’s thesis statement is, “He was in the wilderness forty days tempted of Satan; And he was with the living beings; And the messengers ministered unto him.
Each of these thesis statements are brief. The Accuser and the Pharisees in these stories play very similar roles. The messengers are the Apostles. The living beings are us, at least us in the person of the first century Jews.
Luke’s theses statement patterns after our first reading. If we read the first chapter of The Ethics of the Fathers and compare it with a reading from St. James we see why this is important.
- Shammai would say: Make your Torah study a permanent fixture of your life. Say little and do much. And receive every man with a pleasant countenance.
- Rabban Gamliel would say: Assume for yourself a master; stay away from doubt; and do not accustom yourself to tithe by estimation. (Compare with James, “But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind.)”
- His son, Shimon, would say: All my life I have been raised among the wise, and I have found nothing better for the body than silence. The essential thing is not study, but deed. And one who speaks excessively brings on deviation.
At first reading sections fifteen and 17 contradict each other. One says Torah study is important, the second states how its not important. Shimon may well have been our Simeon from Luke’s nativity, the one who greets Jesus in the temple when he’s born. Together with section fifteen it says that Torah study is important, but it means nothing if deeds don’t follow.
James tells us in his first chapter, “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves. If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror: he sees himself, and goes away, and straightway forgets what manner of man he was. The one who stoops sideways into the Tam instruction of freedom, perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, such a one shall be blessed in what he does.”
A key word hear means to stoop sideways, like one who is with a small child and stoops down to pay attention to that child. The person who stoops sideways is like Shammai who studies the Torah with diligence, reading it in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. He gets a master to explain what Torah means in light of tradition. [i]
James points to the essence of the question with is examples. The hearer of the word reads it for debate, to defend who he is as a person. He uses Torah to point to himself. The doer of the Word focuses meditates upon it. He looks at it from all angles. St. Augustine was once asked which version of the Bible was the right one. St. Augustine says of differing interpretations, “the examination of a number of texts has often thrown light upon some of the more obscure passages…[ii] In essence, St. Augustine says to read all the translations.
What separates Jesus from the rest of humanity isn’t that he read Torah, but that he did the Torah. He embodied it. It is Luke who has it right. It is interesting to note that Jesus never quotes Scripture to the masses. He says in the Sermon on the Mount, “You heard that it was said,” not “Scripture says.” In debating the Pharisees and Satan, he quotes Torah and the prophets early and often. He knew and studied Scripture. What set him apart was act.
What was the act? Now that is what our first reading is all about. “He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the NAME and a day of vindication by our God.
This brings us to what it means to be a Christian. Do we not mean we were born of Christ? Does not St. Paul say, “So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.” Therefore, to be like Christ is to love the poor as fellow children. That means not making excuses like, “The Church should do that and not the state,” and then give only 1.5% of our income as Catholics. Think this 1.5% isn’t accurate? Take your net pay, the pay on your last paycheck and divide that into how much is in that envelope you’re about to turn in. If it’s less that 1.5%, there’s your proof. If it’s about 2% you give what most protestants give. If it’s 4% you give about what most poor protestants give.
How much should we give? Luke as John the Baptist say, “He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.”
Rather than give a precise figure, however, let us look at that first reading again. “The spirit of the NAME GOD is upon me, because the NAME has anointed me.” The Holy Spirit is within us. The Jewish Community notes how first God rescued the Jewish people from Egypt/Oppression. Then and only then does he take them to Sinai. It’s only when they are rescued that he gives them Torah/instruction. We don’t follow Torah to get to heaven/salvation. We follow Torah because we’re already there. How much we give is a litmus test of how much of that salvation, how much of God’s Presence in the Eucharist gets into our hearts, first through hearing the Word, and then by how much of him we receive in the Eucharist.
When Jesus is asked the first commandment he quotes, not the Ten Words, but the Shema. “Hear Israel, (You who quarrel with God) God is Almighty, God is One. Love God with All your Hearts, all your Animate Being, and with all your measure. If we’re patriotic, that means loving God with our patriotism, and that means helping God serve the people through the state. Yes, it means the church through Peter’s Pence and other forms of church charity. Yes, it means through volunteer work and donations to other charitable groups, but yes, it means with everything. God doesn’t want 10%. He wants ten time 10%. He wants it all and he wants it to serve the least of our brothers.
Remember the example of St. James. If we give to serve ourselves, we’re just looking in the mirror and then forgetting who we are. Then we become paranoid and think the world is out to get us. If we serve God first, if Torah and Gospel are our focus, we will prevail.
[i] Augustine, Saint. The Complete Works of Saint Augustine: The Confessions, On Grace and Free Will, The City of God, On Christian Doctrine, Expositions on the Book Of Psalms, … (50 Books With Active Table of Contents) (Kindle Locations 25349-25350). . Kindle Edition.
[ii] Augustine, Saint. The Complete Works of Saint Augustine: The Confessions, On Grace and Free Will, The City of God, On Christian Doctrine, Expositions on the Book Of Psalms, … (50 Books With Active Table of Contents) (Kindle Location 25365). . Kindle Edition.