Archives for posts with tag: generosity

A government worker abused his power, extorting money and growing rich on the backs of his already beleaguered constituency. He was roundly hated, but after a local disturbance involving a celebrity known for his compassion, he paid back all those he had cheated four times over and also gave half his money to the poor.

A woman married a successful businessman. She indulged herself in luxuries and traveled extensively. Little did she think that one day, after meeting a traveling Jewish teacher, she would she be using her husband’s money—with his permission—to support this teacher and his other students, funding their works of mercy as they went.

An heir to his father’s wealth, a man who had never worked a day in his life, became a socially prominent figure. Yet one day he saw hanging from a cross the bloodied corpse of a traveling Jewish teacher whom he had secretly followed. He knew that he must—he wanted to—give up his expensive burial plot to bury this man’s body. He boldly went to the Governor to ask permission, risking everything.

Zaccheus, Joanna, Joseph of Arimathea, their back-stories somewhat fictionalized but not their transformations, are distinguished in Scripture for their generosity. In fact, most of what we know about them is that when they met Jesus, they gave sacrificially.

Most of us are not asked to sacrifice our lives for our faith. But our reputations, our money, our time? It happens every day, yet it seems so hard to act faithfully, let alone sacrificially. Where can we get the power to act like Zaccheus, Joanna, and even Joseph of Arimathea, giving away the tomb where he himself was to be buried? Where can we find the joy in giving like the hymn writer who sang,

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

Joseph saw what we are asked to see: Christ crucified, and his blood, which flowed both because of Jesus’ sorrow at our sin and his love in spite of it. So Joseph ‘boldly’ risked his reputation and social position, and he also gave away something of great material value. Seeing the sorrow and love of Jesus gives us the power to find a gift to give that is greater than if we owned ‘the whole realm of nature.’

photo: xollob58


A fellow parent at my children’s school was telling me about the older Italian woman who was her landlord when she lived in Boston’s North End about twenty years ago.

“So she invited me in for lemonade one day and we had a nice chat. And then she said, ‘You know, I realize you’re just getting started in your career, and so I’m sorry about this but I’m afraid I’m going to have to raise the rent.’ So I thought for a minute and remembered the elderly couple below me and my roommate. They were on a fixed income and this would be really tough on them.

“I asked my landlord about them. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I’ve been worried about what will happen when I raise their rent, but I don’t know what else I can do.’ The man who lived below me was a fixture in our community; everyone knew him. He would even save my parking place by sitting in a chair out front, and nobody ever bothered him. He’d been very kind, you know? So I said to my landlord, ‘Why don’t you just add the difference in their rent to our new rent. We can cover it. We’ll just drink less beer.’”

My friend had absorbed the cost.

I had two takeaways from her story. The first was that true generosity is cheerfully paying for something that someone else owes, but cannot afford, especially when it is a hardship to do so. Jesus did this for us, and he did it for those who had not ‘been kind’ but rather for those who were estranged, like lost sheep. Disobedient. Clueless. He cheerfully gave to us out of love, though it cost him everything.

The second takeaway was how powerful a strong community can be, both positively and negatively. My friend’s landlord, she recounted with laughter, would stop her on the street and say, “I didn’t see you at church this week!” And her landlord and others from the neighborhood, which was racially quite homogenous, would also look askance at her when she brought overseas friends from a different culture to visit. They’d ask her about it and she’d explain that she was showing them what a great place it was to live.

Within the church, there can be both loving accountability and also sanctimonious judgmentalism. In the community that Jesus has redeemed and which the Spirit is making holy, there is no room for fear of the ‘other.’ Rather, there is a generosity of spirit, which has a concern for others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3). And there is a generosity of self, which makes us vulnerable, even as Jesus himself was when he asked his disciples at Gesthemane to ‘stay here and keep watch with me’ (Matthew 26:38b). This redeemed community generously and boldly carries others’ burdens and also fearlessly and humbly lets others help carry our own.

What can we each be doing in our neighborhoods to demonstrate both generosity and community?

+ In your circle of friends think creatively and proactively about individuals’ needs that you hear about. Pool funds or resources to meet them.

+ If you are a Christian, during Lent plan to give something up and give that something to another.

+ Let your friends know when you need help—be specific.

+ Be aware of your neighbors’ needs in your building. Surprise an elderly or poor neighbor with a gift that they couldn’t afford. Or an intangible one they can’t reciprocate.

+ Stop and talk with people on your street. Meet the business owners or workers. Greet and thank the local firefighters or police officers.

What if someone actually tooks seriously the words, sell what you have and give to the poor? As you watch this, doesn’t it make you want to have this kind of bravery and faith?

Asking someone to share something can be met with resistance or, often, rejection.

But what if sharing something—even something of real scarcity like design space on corporate letterhead—could actually be freeing and personally regenerating?

That’s the subject of a post on ‘shared space’ in Print Magazine.