By Deacon Tom
As the ranks of the vaccinated continue to grow and the restrictions on our travel and gathering together gradually lessen, it will become easier for us to resume our volunteering and charitable giving to the less fortunate. St. Paul reminds us:
“whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do so as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:6-8)
Charity—the sharing of resources—would have been in the forefront of the minds of every 1st-century Jew or Christian. Principally, because as a minority and subservient class to the Romans, the audiences of Jesus and St. Paul were responsible for taking care of themselves. They couldn’t rely on outside help to assist the poor, the sick, the widow, the orphan or the elderly among them. There was no welfare system, no food stamps, no social security and no public health care of any kind. In fact, the Roman government was far more likely to oppress and persecute the early Christians and Jews than they were to provide programs for their well-being. It is against this backdrop that Jesus and St. Paul remind their followers of their obligation to care for the less fortunate. But as is so often the case with Jesus, he raises the stakes and tells his followers that although it is important to care for our brothers and sisters, it is equally important that we do so in the right way.
How We Give Matters
The Scriptures remind us that one of the ways we are called to holiness is through God-like generosity—giving freely and without expectation of something in return. Giving not for recognition, acclaim, reputation or standing within the community, but simply to help those in need. This type of giving also honors our God who is hidden from human sight and rewards each of us without fanfare. And we are reminded in Paul’s letter that God loves a cheerful giver.
For me at least, giving cheerfully can be a real challenge. I recognize my Christian obligation, and I’m content to give in ways that my left hand doesn’t know what my right hand is doing. I tell myself that there is no need to covet or hoard resources as I genuinely believe that God will provide. And yet, when I write that check or reach into my wallet, when I pack the box of food for someone or sort produce or canned goods, I must admit that smiles are too often missing from my face. My sharing of my time, talent and treasure can resemble more an act of obligation than an act of joy.
Giving out of obligation is the antithesis of God-like generosity. We can be sure of this because God’s gifts to us offer no benefit to God. God needs nothing from us; therefore we can conclude that God derives great joy in simply giving to us: Giving us his Son for our salvation. free of charge; giving us forgiveness of our sins; giving us the Holy Spirit; giving us the Church; giving us many blessings, giving us the health and talents that we need to work and make a living. And while we may never have all that we want, we are assured that we will have all that we need. In fact, within our society, the majority of us have more than we need. Today, we are reminded that we are called to cheerfully share from our excess.
Give Your Time for Real Growth
While our monetary gifts are always welcomed, the need for our time is equally, if not even more, important. I would argue that our physical intervention to meet the needs of the less fortunate also offers a bonus that we can rarely experience when mailing a check. When we face those whom we serve, we are likely to encounter their appreciative smiles. And more often than not, their contagious smiles will lead to the edges of our mouths turning upward. Our hearts will be warmed, and our charitable efforts will help us grow in holiness and cheerfulness. Ultimately, our faith in Jesus and our generous sharing with the less fortunate will honor God and lead us to the eternal treasure of happiness in heaven. In the meantime, let us cheerfully share our resources with those in need.