Counting Beans vs. Handing Over the Pot

There are a number of instances in the Gospel where the Pharisees or others come up with clever questions to try to trip up Jesus. If a woman has seven husbands in her lifetime, which will she be married to in heaven? Should we pay taxes to Caesar? Moses said divorce was OK, what about you? And so on.

As someone observed in a talk I heard the other night, although we tend to disparage or make fun of the Pharisees for their trickiness, the reality is we often behave much the same way. How much of a Mass do I have to attend for it to “count”? (In high school, we took the position that it counted so long as we were there from the Gospel through communion…and we stood outside Church til the Gospel started and marched right out the door on the way back from receiving the Eucharist.) How much do I have to do to be a good Catholic? Which rules do I have to follow to say I did enough? The image that comes to my mind when I think of such behavior is Scrooge, grudgingly counting coins out of his money box to pay Bob Cratchit his wages.

We get such contrasting images to that kind of behavior in the Bible. Such expansive images of giving and of love. Think of the woman taking a jar of expensive nard and using it to anoint the feet of Jesus. Of Peter and other other fisherman leaving their boats and nets behind and going off to follow Jesus. Of Mary saying yes to what could easily have been her death sentence when the Holy Spirit came calling. And then, of course, Jesus, who gives the ultimate, giving his own life for the sake of love.

We’re not called to be bean counters, trying to get by through satisfaction of some minimum set of standards, like kids at an amusement park trying to gather up enough tickets to win a prize. Instead, we are called to a radical, total self-giving. An expansive gift of the self and a willingness to be an open channel through which God’s love can flow freely.

Let’s lay aside the games of the Pharisees. Our call is elsewhere.