A couple of years ago I was sitting at the exit of a Costco. A cab full of groceries in the truck and on the seat one of Costco’s rotisserie chickens. It’s one of my boys’ favorite meals. It was hot, just of the spit, and my mouth was watering at the smell.
In the median was a man holding a cardboard sign. “Hungry. Please Help.” I kept my eyes straight ahead, willing the light to change to green. It finally did. I drove past the man and away.
The Allure of “My”
Unfortunately, that’s a true story. It’s been several years, but I still see that man in my memory. I still feel the sting of stinginess. It would have been easy for me to role down the window and hand him the chicken, or any of the other groceries on my seat and floor. It would have been a matter of a few dollars and a few minutes to go back in the store and get another. I wish I had. I have felt guilty about those five minutes ever since.
Not sharing what I could have afforded to share and helping someone who seemed to be in genuine need (he wasn’t asking for money—although I am sure he would have taken some) revealed something about myself that I’ve had to wrestle with. Not only am I not generous, I may in fact be quite selfish. These things were mine, and for my family.
Money and the Bible
What’s the most challenging passage of the Bible for you about money? When it comes to money and possessions, the Bible has plenty to say. Most of it challenging. From examples of giving more than people can afford to part with to warnings about worrying over basic things like food and clothing to redefining gain as “godliness with contentment,” the Bible challenges us to think carefully about how we view money, possessions, and generosity.
Consider for a moment that one of the most frequent indictments the prophets leveled against ancient Israel is that they were not taking care of those in need. They were not following the laws God set down to that ensured care for those who were desperate and destitute. Money has a way of getting in the way. We can talk ourselves into the wisdom of stinginess and even hoarding.
A Convicting Parable
Jesus once told the parable of the Good Samaritan to answer a question about who constituted a neighbor. That wasn’t meant to be a description of how to be generous, but the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that it does that at least as well as it defines a neighbor.
Remember the story? A man is attacked on the road and left for dead. A couple of religious leaders shy away from helping him. A third man, one that no one hearing the story expected to be helpful or hospitable, stopped and took care of the man. The actions of the Samaritan fly in the face of the most common reasons we are not generous: I don’t have_____ to give. You fill in the blank, and you fill in the reason you don’t have it (for me it usually boils down to some version of I need what I have for me and mine).
But the Samaritan’s generosity doesn’t really leave us with any room for claiming that what we have is ours alone. Keeping in mind that this is a parable and not a historical event, let’s look at how Jesus relays the Samaritan’s generosity.
He Gave His Time
The Samaritan was on his way somewhere to do something. His plans did not include taking the time to take care of a man who was beaten and battered. The Samaritan set aside his own plans and gave his time to the man who needed it.
He Gave His Resources
In the story, the Samaritan takes out oil and clothe and bandages the man’s wounds. These were his own supplies. Whether he was a merchant and they were his product or they were simply his for his own use, he gave them for the health and benefit of the man lying in the road.
He Gave His Money
Having taken the time to help, and using his own resources, the Samaritan put the man on his donkey and took him to an inn and paid for his recuperation time. He gave his money, the money he had earned and that was for the security and needs of his own family, that the other man hadn’t worked for (getting close to any of your reasons for not giving yet?), and used it.
But he didn’t stop there. Although certainly we can say he has done a great deal to this point. Giving all this to and for the man, he asked the inn keeper to continue the work he, the Samaritan, had started. He asked the inn keeper to take care of him and said that he would be reimbursed for any expense incurred. He looked out for the future of the injured man.
Generosity Learning Curve
I know, this is a parable. We can make up any details we want and assume any background we want. But, it seems that part of the reason Jesus told the parable this way, was to include the details. He could have just said that the Samaritan stopped to help. Jesus went out of his way to give the specifics of how the Samaritan acted like a neighbor. We’re meant to think about the details.
I’d like to think that if I saw a man that clearly in need of help I would stop and do anything and everything I could. But that’s also part of the story. Remember the two religious leaders who went out of their way not to help? Jesus included them because even in the face of legitimate and dire need, generosity is not a given.
It’s easy to rationalize our avoidance. Reasons why we cannot give (time, money, or resources) seem to spring up unsummoned and they can be persuasive. But they are also clearly wrong.
Opportunities to be generous surround us everyday. And given the reality that we can be generous with a wide variety of resources, we have to ask ourselves why or why aren’t we going to be generous. What do you have to give? To whom can you give it?