I confess to have found the first reading quite challenging to me personally. The writer of the book of Proverbs says: "...do not refuse a kindness to anyone who begs it, if it is in your power to perform it. Do not say to your neighbor, 'go away! Come another time! I will give it you tomorrow,' if you can do it now." I confess to having done that: denied kindness when it was in my power to grant it, or sent people off to come another day, when I could have executed their requests on that day. As I reflected on my past mistakes, a certain uneasiness also cropped in: can I realistically promise to comply with this teaching in the future? Can I grant the requests of all who ask, just because it is in my power to grant them? Can I answer them always immediately? Then other questions cropped in as well: suppose people simply want to abuse my kindness? Suppose they are simply lazy, and by indulging their requests I am encouraging them to continue depending on alms? Does really God answer every request, and does he answer immediately? I said to myself, not even God does that! In the same way that he does not give a snake to one of his children who ask for a fish, (Luke 11:11), so also he cannot give a snake to the stupid child who asks for a snake as a playing toy. God always answers our prayers as Jesus assured us (Luke 11:10), but he sometimes answers them in ways different from our expectations, and sometimes at times which we did not expect.
Granting kindness to whoever asks does not mean indulging every desire of everyone who asks, nor does it mean encouraging people to avoid their responsibility. I cannot exercise this teaching blindly without applying prudence or sound judgment. Jesus did a lot of good to so many, but he did not indulge every capricious desire. When Peter told him that everyone was looking for him because of the miracles they had experienced the previous day, Jrsus replied that they should go elsewhere to preach, for that is why he had come (Mark 1:37-38). When a young man asked him to tell his brother to give him his share of inheritance, Jesus asked him: "who appointed me arbitrator of your property?" (Luke 12:13-14). When the Jews came looking for him after the miracle of the loaves, he did not indulge their desire for more free bread (John 6:27-27).
However, we have to be careful not to pre-empty this teaching or to justify our hardness of heart before human need, in the name of exercising prudence. My denial of a favor must be motivated by the good to the one who asks and not by personal convenience, or the fear that if I give I do not remain with enough for self. Trust in Providence and love of neighbor as self require that often I must spend myself up to the point when it hurts, when i render myself vulnerable. When I do this then I set my light on a lamp-stand for all to see.
25th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Monday, 22nd September 2014