CHRISTIAN STEWARDSHIP: A PLEASING SACRIFICE
Reflection for the Solemnity of The Epiphany of the Lord
Fr. Charlie Fox, Spiritual Director, St. Paul Street Evangelization (www.streetevangelization.com)
Although the song “We Three Kings” leaps to mind on the feast of the Epiphany, I want to reference another Christmas carol today. One of the most touching lines in “The Little Drummer Boy,” comes when the little drummer boy sings, “I have no gift to bring…that’s fit to give the King”.
We know the Little Drummer boy resolves his dilemma by playing his drum for the Baby Jesus, expressed in another touching line, “I played my drum for him…I played my best for him.” But it might be good for us to pause a moment and consider the problem the Little Drummer Boy raises: he doesn’t have a gift fit for the King, the Baby Jesus. In a certain sense, he’s right. Nobody has a gift that by itself is “fit” for Jesus.
The three magi, who in today’s Gospel bring Jesus the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, seem to be bringing Jesus fitting gifts. We know the symbolic meaning of each: gold for a king, frankincense for a priest, and myrrh, which points ahead to Jesus’ death on the Cross for us. Yes, there is a sense in which these gifts are fitting, but we should also recognize that at least on the surface, there is no gift any of us can give that by itself is truly worthy of God.
The key is to look more deeply at the gifts we give to God. What we will find is that what makes our gifts “fitting” for the Lord in the deepest sense is that they are the very best we have to offer and that we offer them in union with Jesus.
Moving right to a practical point, giving the Lord our best is exactly what the Church needs all of us to do. The most important thing about our giving and our actively pitching in to meet the needs of apostolates like St. Paul Street Evangelization, the needs of our parishes, the needs of our dioceses, and the needs of the Universal Church is spiritual side of it, that this is one of the ways that we bring gifts to the Lord Jesus. And there is a lesson in the feast of the Epiphany, and throughout Sacred Scripture, that ought to challenge us and to reassure us about the gifts we bring.
First, the challenge. It is a serious responsibility to bring to the Lord the very best we can. To take the example of the gold brought by the magi, we know that gold has for centuries been held as precious because of its beauty, delicacy, and scarcity. In other words, it is one of our most precious metals. Yet gold did not make a great gift for Jesus because God needs gold, or because gold is worthy of Him. God is infinitely greater than any material object. He needs nothing and is not “helped” by anything we give Him. Yet the fact that the magi gave to God the very best they had to offer made the gift of gold a worthy gift.
What counts when we give to God is not the external value of what we give, even though we do, of course, have practical expenses to meet. And in this regard even the word “generosity” can sometimes deceptive as a measure of our giving, as we tend automatically to describe large gifts as “generous”.
Now, big gifts are often generous, but it is also possible for them to be stingy. The same is true of small gifts. The single best word to use as we consider any of our gifts to God, is whether or not they are sacrificial. Now, before our mind becomes crowded with slogans like “no pain, no gain,” it’s important to say that “sacrifice” here is not a synonym for “painful,” although some sting is usually involved. The first meaning of sacrifice, in fact, comes from its Latin root words sacra and facere and means literally, “to make holy.”
When we give our gifts to God, we make them) holy, we set them apart and dedicate them to God. For example, there is a reason the offertory collection takes place at the time it does during the Mass. We take up the collection before the offertory prayers, when the bread and wine are offered to God before being “made holy” themselves, changed into Christ’s Body and Blood. What we give at the offertory and, by extension, any support we give to the work of the Church with our time, talent, and treasure is a sharing in the sacrifice that happens at the altar.
Again, this is not about the money per se, but about the personal sacrifice the giving of money represents. All of our personal sacrifices are caught up in the Sacrifice of the Mass. We need to see everything we dedicate to God each week as being connected to what is happening at the altar on Sunday.
So that is the challenge, but there is also reassurance in the standard of sacrificial giving, especially if we feel we don’t have a lot to offer. You are not expected to give one penny more or one minute more than what God asks of you, no more than what represents a worthy gift and sacrifice to Him. Those who can’t give much but are truly giving all they can should remember the story of the widow’s mite in the Gospels of Mark and Luke: the two coins given by a poor widow is worth more to Jesus than the “big gifts” made by the people who were wealthy but ungenerous.
Surely, there were other wealthy people who gave sacrificial gifts to the Temple, as there have always been wealthy people who give generously and sacrificially…just not these particular people in the story. And the most important contrast here is not in the amounts given. The difference in the amounts only highlights the primary importance of the sacrifice involved.
The widow, the Little Drummer Boy, and the three magi we remember today, all shared this spirit of sacrifice. None of them gave to God anything He needs, anything that, materially speaking, is worthy of Him. But all of them gave God something beautiful and fitting because they gave God their very best. That is exactly what the Lord asks of you and of me. God has given us His best, His only Son, born at Bethlehem for our salvation. May the same Jesus we receive today in Holy Communion help us to give ourselves completely back to Him.
[Pictured: Girolamo da Santacroce, “The Adoration of the Three Kings”]