Costly Generosity

Dr. Jill Peláez Baumgaertner

We want you to know, brothers and sisters about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints—and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. (2 Corinthians 8:1-7)

In this letter Paul describes the generosity of very poor but overwhelmingly generous congregations in Macedonia. At the Jewish feast of Purim there is a regulation that however poor a person is, he or she must find someone poorer and give that person a gift. My friend Lizzie, who made her living cleaning houses, did not have any wealth. She could barely read and write. She was a single mother of two until her 16-year-old son was killed by a gunshot. That left her, her daughter, and her daughter’s baby—oh, yes, and Lizzie even took in the baby of a friend who could not care for the child herself. Every year at Thanksgiving Lizzie had open house all day—for anyone from the neighborhood who wanted to come:  she would pile her table high with the food she had spent several days preparing. She’d bring them all in and feed them until they were satisfied—Lizzie, who didn’t own a car, who had nothing, gave everything she had.

Giving alms means making the needs of others our own, especially the needy of our world. And they are here—all around us. We don’t have to go far to find them:  children, the elderly, the sick, the suffering, our next-door neighbors. What can we give them?  Our time, our talent, the food they need, the money that will help them out of a pinch. Whatever we give, however, should be something that costs us—not because we are trying to work out our salvation with good works—but because costly generosity is the only appropriate response to the gift of Life that Christ has given us.

Prayer: Lord God, help us to do better—to recognize the needs of others and to respond to them, realizing that we exist for others and to glorify you. In Christ’s name, Amen.                                                                                                                      

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