Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Are We Generous or Calculative?

As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. "I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."
- Luke 21:1-4

In this Gospel passage, the poor widow put in two very small copper coins into the temple treasury. In today's currency, two very small copper coins would have been considered as a pittance, approximately $1.50 in total. These days, you can hardly buy anything with $1.50, so what the poor widow gave seems to be a very small offering, but I've known many, many people - much better off than the widow - who put in $1 when the collection bag or plate is passed and feel good about themselves. But for the widow, this $1.50 is all she has.

The poor widow is destitute, probably living off the charity of her neighbours. She has just a tiny bit in her possession, but she wants to give it. It does not matter that she won't have food for the evening meal. She wants to give it. People are watching the rich depositing their large offerings. But no one sees the poverty-stricken widow, who reached into her rags to withdraw these two small copper coins and deposit them into the collection box. No one sees the look of joy on her face as she gives to God the little she has. No one sees. No one notices. But God notices, Jesus notices. And He says to His disciples - "Did you see that!?" They look over where He is pointing. All they see is a tired old widow shuffling away from the collection box. "She gave more than all of those rich people put together," Jesus tells them, and they look at Him in astonishment. What!? Such a pittance compared to the thousands the rich are giving, and Jesus says that the widow has given more? His disciples may have wondered: Has Jesus gone nuts? Lost His marbles? Lost track of reality? Gone cuckoo?

But Jesus continues. "All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." Is Jesus telling us to surrender all our wealth here? Actually, no. What Jesus is actually trying to demonstrate to us is about proportional giving.

So what is proportional giving? In proportional giving, Jesus is teaching us that how much we give is in proportion and relation to how much we have: "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked" (Luke 12:48). Proportional giving means one is willing to make sacrifices joyfully and willingly, treating it as a blessing to give to God. Of course, we don't win extra points with God when we give sacrificially. This is not a contest. But know that when you make sacrifices for God, He is watching. It doesn't matter if no one else sees or knows, and perhaps it is better that they do not, but God sees and knows your giving. Jesus reminds us, "Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (Matthew 6:4). Proportional giving also means that we should not despise our small gifts to God. Sometimes we fall under the worldly spell that "bigger must be better." That's not true of our giving to God. We are to give what we are able and as much as we are able, whether small or great.

But I notice that, many a times, the poor seem to give a substantially larger proportion of their income to God than the wealthy. Why is this? Perhaps the reason could be because the poor tend to give out of love, while the wealthy tend to give out of duty. The poor give till it hurts. The wealthy do not often give enough so that it ever hurts. Moreover, we may have come across some wealthy people who give generously, with the motivation to control the parish and the parish priest. What such persons want and expect is for the church and the parish priest to do things their way, or they may withhold their giving. Such persons think that they have the clout and power by using their money and wealth to manipulate the parish and the parish priest. But if we happen to be having such mentality, attitude or expectations, then are we trying to build God's Kingdom according to His Ways, or are we trying to build our own kingdom, where we can lord it over others and expect others to kow-tow to our whims and fancies?

Ultimately, perhaps the question we need to sincerely and honestly ask ourselves is this: are we giving our fair share? Is what we are giving proportionate to what we have? Are we willing to give till it hurts, or are we withholding our giving, thinking that what we have is too little or not enough (even though, in reality, we actually do have enough, sometimes more than we really need)? We don't give because God "needs" our contribution. We give in order to honour Him with our substance. Whether large or small, we give to worship God. As St. Paul reminds us: "Do not forget: thin sowing means thin reaping; the more you sow, the more you reap. Each one should give what he has decided in his own mind, not grudgingly or because he is made to, for God loves a cheerful giver. And there is no limit to the blessings which God can send you – he will make sure that you will always have all you need for yourselves in every possible circumstance, and still have something to spare for all sorts of good works." (2 Corinthians 9:6-10).

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