The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


God's lesson of generosity

It's how we learn to unclench our fists

"You’d give away the shirt off your back,” one of my locker-room buddies teased another. “But then you’d be arrested for creating a public disturbance.” We took stock of Susan’s ample frame—and burst out laughing. Susan laughed loudest, as generous with her laughter as with her clothes. As we got into our cars, Susan rumbled away in a wreck that has seen a decade on the road, while the rest of us hopped into the latest that Detroit or Tokyo had to offer. Susan had less than any of us. Yet she lived with an abundance that contrasted sharply with our anxiety over making ends meet. She embodied generosity.

Jesus described generosity in his puzzling statement: “To all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29). This isn’t a punishing prediction, nor does it describe a regressive divine economy that would give tax cuts to the rich while squeezing the poor.

Rather, Jesus stated a simple fact: a generous person feels overwhelmed with abundance. She is free to share her possessions. In contrast, the ungenerous person feels underwhelmed with what she has. In her mind her possessions—emotional, spiritual or material—are under constant siege. She lives in a state of scarcity, so she hoards what she has, lest “even what she has be taken away.” Generosity, in contrast, is a gift that keeps on giving. Indeed, this gift of the Spirit frees us from our possessions and frees us for belonging to Christ. Finally, as we pattern our giving on Christ’s gift, we step into a divine circle of generosity.

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