Tuesday, February 24th

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  Matthew 6:2-4

 

“Alms” means giving financial gifts to alleviate the suffering of the poor.  Every religion encourages such giving.  Certainly the recipient would appreciate the gift.  Jesus obviously encourages such generosity.  At the same time, there is something in such giving that Jesus clearly discourages.

 

I think it safe to say that we have all given alms.  We have donated to worthy institutions that seek to provide direct support to the poor – food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, services to those who suffer.  We have (albeit with mixed feelings) handed money to people on the street or out of our car windows at intersections.  We have probably helped out relatives in difficult times.  We have given generously to our congregations and beyond our congregations.  We have given to camps and colleges and hospitals and schools.  A portion of our taxes goes to care for the poor where we live and around the world.

 

I think it is also safe to say that such giving feels good.  Even if we wonder what that guy is going to do with the $5 we just gave him…it still felt good to give.  When we wrote checks and sent them off to help the survivors of disasters it helped us the next time we heard a news story about how bad people were hurting.  It feels good to be helpful, to be generous, to share out of what we have been given.  The reason it feels good is because God created us that way.  Generosity is a gift of the Spirit built into us.  When we give, we make a difference.  It feels good.  That is the Father’s reward.

 

It is one thing to give to the poor, it is quite another to use the poor.  It is one thing to be generous, it is quite another to use our giving as a stepping stone to personal honor and glory or as blood money to cover up our guilt over how we obtained the money in the first place.  At some point the need for charity needs to give way to the pursuit of justice.

 

We know there is a fine line in there.  Jesus does too and he calls us on it.  His concern is for our hearts, our souls, just as much as for the needs of the poor.

 

The invitation he offers here is to give for the sake of giving, not for the sake of what we hope to receive in return.  There isn’t anything wrong with your name on a donor’s list or a plaque on the wall or your name in the paper…unless the pursuit of such recognition robs you of the reward of doing the right thing.

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, our world is filled with need and our world is filled with the resources to meet those needs.  You have graciously provided all that is needed.  Help us discern how to give help that is truly helpful and fill us with selfless generosity, especially toward the poor and the suffering.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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