Image: Young child shares his treasure, Tuktoyaktuk
In a similar way that the morality of the Judeo-Christian tradition has been formed by the handing down of the ten commandments, the Dene have been governed by their own tradition of law and right living. Nine traditional laws, which have been handed down for countless generous, form the core of teaching, and of these the premier or umbrella law is this, “Share what you have”.
When the Pharisees asked Jesus, which was the most important commandment Jesus responded, “Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself”. When the rich young man approached Jesus and asked, “What more should I do to inherit eternal life”, Jesus responded, “sell what you have and give to the poor”.
It is not a stretch of the imagination to see that our Christian tradition and the Dene tradition agree very much on this point that loving our neighbor and sharing what we have with them is a most important part of living a good moral life.
In the second letter to the Corinthians in today’s first reading, Paul goes even further to say that giving what we have to those who are in need must not just be done grudgingly out of obligation, the way one might hand over a check to the tax man in the spring time. Rather real sharing must be done cheerfully. We ought to give as if we were receiving the gift ourselves, with joy at our brother or sister’s good fortune.
Truthfully, it is our good fortune when we share generously. If everyone were to do the same, everyone would have what they needed. Should our fortunes fall and we found ourselves in need there would be little need for worry as we would quickly be looked after until that time when we could once again get back on our feet.
The Dene recognized this in the forming of their communities. No hunter could be guaranteed a good result on every hunting trip, the game was too unpredictable, and much was left to chance. But with many hunters the odds of finding food was far greater and with the law of sharing everyone was able to share in the catch and no one needed to worry about going hungry.
Our gospel reading today is about the grain of wheat which falls to the ground and dies resulting in a rich harvest. This is a different type of sharing and far more profound then just giving from our surplus. This is about the gift of self for the good of all and is reflected in the life of Saint Lawrence whose martyrdom we commemorate in today’s feast.
Saint Lawrence lived in third century Rome at a time when the Christian’s were being persecuted under the Emperor Valerian. When ordered to gather up the Church’s treasury and hand it over to the Emperor, Lawrence, a church deacon, took the Christian duty to share quite literally as he gathered everything of value that he could find and, rather than give it to the Emperor, quickly dispersed it to all the poor and needy in the countryside. For this brazen act of charity to the people and insolence toward Valerian, Lawrence shared the ultimate gift, the gift of his life as he was martyred in a most cruel fashion.
As far as giving cheerfully, Lawrence certainly had a sense of humor which he kept until his final moment on this earth. While he was being slowly tortured over hot coals Lawrence was said to have remarked, “you can turn me over now, I’m done on this side.”
Let us be attentive to our traditions that ask us to be generous and cheerful givers. May we never look over at our neighbors plate to see if they have more than us but only to make sure that they have enough.