IN TOUGH economic times – such as the United States is currently experiencing with high gas and food prices, climbing unemployment rates, and a saturated housing market darkened by foreclosures – one might well ask, "Where does giving fit in?" Is there a place for personal philanthropy in an economy squeezed by shortfalls?
The average citizen may feel as though giving is the last item on the priority list. And yet, for many, giving to others is a demand difficult to overlook. Jesus counseled: "If you give to others, you will be given a full amount in return. It will be packed down, shaken together, and spilling over into your lap. The way you treat others is the way you will be treated" (Luke 6:38, Contemporary English Version). Everyone has opportunities to give. And regardless of one's financial situation, the simple act of helping another brings the kind of return that can't be quantified.
Perhaps that's why a recent news headline on CNN.com, featuring a family from Atlanta is so heartwarming: "Sale of 1 house will help 30 villages." When the 15-year-old daughter began to challenge her family to think about ways they could make a difference in the world, her mom came up with the idea of selling their dream home and donating half of the proceeds (some $800,000) to a chosen charity. While this was no easy decision, the entire family backed the idea and recently moved into a home half the size of their former one. The money from the sale is slated to go toward creating sustainable solutions for 30 villages in Africa.
Many people might say it's easy for the wealthy to give, but not at all practical for those who are just barely making it. And it might be equally easy to fall into the trap of envying those who seem to have more than enough to give. Again, Jesus' promise is reassuring: "If you give to others, you will be given a full amount in return" – spilling over, no less! His words explain the divine law that supports the spirit of true giving.
A wealthy tax collector, known for embezzling funds for his own gain, once came to Jesus, climbing a tree just to get a glimpse of the Master as he spoke to a large crowd. Soon, he found himself entertaining Jesus at his own home. The Bible says Zacchæus "received him joyfully" (see Luke, chap. 19). In fact, he was so changed by this encounter with Jesus that he announced he would give half of his property to the poor.
Why did Zacchæus experience such a sea change of thought? His desire to give back wasn't simply philanthropic, but a clear reformation of character. He must have realized that doing right by his neighbor was built into the very fabric of his being; it was an unavoidable, joyous aspect of life that brings freedom and greater satisfaction than amassing material wealth ever could. Mary Baker Eddy echoed Jesus' teachings in this statement in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures": "Giving does not impoverish us in the service of our Maker, neither does withholding enrich us" (p. 79).
Jesus also encountered a poor widow who contributed her two mites to the public treasury (see Mark 12:41-44). He told his disciples that she had given the most. Her ability to give was independent of material wealth. Her actions showed a confidence in the divine law that supports and freely gives to all. What matters is not how much is in the bank account, but how we view our assets. The Christ-view never analyzes matter, never quantifies and then draws conclusions. It lifts us to the new Zacchæus-view – an elevated path of joy and freedom, rather than a path of fear and limitation.
With all the talk of plunging stock markets and how to shield assets, it's helpful to evaluate our unchanging assets, which are sheltered and protected by divine laws. The ability to give freely is one of those assets. And it can't be usurped by a strictly material view of wealth. As was the case with the Atlanta family, the higher impulse to give displaces the urge to hold on to and protect what we have. When a pure love impels thought and action, obeying Christ's bidding is the most natural thing in the world.
Adapted from the Christian Science Sentinel.