Reflection: Cheap? Selfish? or Generous? Take Your Pick
by Father Don Thomas
Putting self before others is probably the easiest thing in the world to do, but probably not the wisest thing to do when one considers the challenges of the bible and the example of so many generous people of the past and present. In my life as a priest, I have always admired two qualities that have contributed to the success and growth of so many people. In my opinion those qualities or strongpoints are gratitude and generosity. It is about the latter, namely, generosity, that we will deal with in this particular reflection.
Let it be clear from the outset that it would be a mistake to relate this consideration only to money. To be really clear, let us put "money" at the very bottom of the list. My main incentive in writing this reflection is the hope that whoever reads it will be convinced that it really pays off to be generous with God and with others before it is too late. Being generous is like taking out an insurance policy that produces fantastic dividends.
The source of all wisdom is God Himself, and let us remind ourselves of the challenges and the rewards of generosity in Luke's gospel, 6:36-38. To paraphrase these passages, we have Jesus telling us that we should be merciful. Why? Because if we are, then our heavenly Father will be merciful to us. We seem ready to admit that we are all sinners, so would we not probably be seeking mercy ourselves some day? Those words assure us of how it can be easily available. By being merciful to others. Be generous with your mercy and God will be super generous with His. Sounds like a great deal to me!
Then, Jesus goes on to tell us to be generous with our charity by not judging others, and He guarantees us that we will not be judged or misjudged either. In this same passage, Jesus reminds us that we must not go around condemning others, and the benefit of that form of generosity will again guarantee us that we, in turn, will not be condemned. God's wisdom is getting more and more attractive as we concentrate on it. The beauty and attraction of this wisdom becomes even more evident when we listen to Jesus teaching us why we should be generous with our power to forgive. This is really a "biggie", especially when we pause to think of how many times we have been hurt in the past, and also how often our own relatives and so-called friends continue to offend, reject or actually badly hurt us. The challenge to forgive others, nevertheless, is there—forgive, and when your turn comes, you will be forgiven by my Heavenly Father. Don't forget, we are all sinners, so. . . .
Furthermore, not only is the challenge to forgive put forth, but the example of Christ is there to back it up as we reflect on how He forgave even those who crucified Him. Wow! Do we just rattle off the words in the Our Father, or could we all afford to pay more attention to that part about forgiving those who offend us? It's one thing to say it, and quite different to say it and then do it. We can all have problems with that, as illustrated by the angry words "I don't care if my soul goes to hell. I will never forgive my sister for what she did to my mother and our whole family. I will never forgive her". Sad, but it happens, and all we can do in those cases is to pray for a change of attitude before it is too late. The challenge and wisdom of Christ is clear to all of us. Be generous with your forgiveness, and keep in mind that none of us is perfect.. We all make mistakes; we are all sinners, and we too are in need of forgiveness. Christ clearly shows us a way to get it. Forgive, and you too will be forgiven.. We cannot afford to be stubborn about this.
Jesus tells us to give to others and gifts will be given to us in return. I do not think that the words of any preacher, like Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell or the late Bishop Sheen, can in any way be as effective in teaching us to be generous with our gifts as are the challenging words of Jesus Christ in this same scripture passage. Christ is telling us in effect that if we are cheap and stingy in dealing with others, we are being cheap and stingy with Him. (Recall here the basic doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, where we are told that whatever you do for others, you do for me , and when you refuse or deny others the food, the clothes, the drink. . . , you are refusing Me". On the other hand, when we are generous in helping others, it is the same as being generous with Christ. Can't you see that this is not just about money. It includes every aspect of our lives, like visiting the sick, going to the nursing home once in a while, giving up clothes and other things that we may never use or wear again—give them to some church or civic agency that can help others who have so little—when we have so much—the suggestions can go on and on, and still the list is endless. If we believe that in helping others and being generous with our time, our talents and our treasure, we are really sharing everything with Christ, that is such an enriching and precious bit of wisdom, because it so often takes the sting or the pain out of so many distasteful tasks and makes them so worthwhile.
Because we have to do so many of these chores anyway, doesn't it make a lot of sense that we can convince ourselves that it is Christ in that bed, it is Christ we are driving to the doctor, it is Christ to whom we are giving those clothes, it is Christ we are giving money to, and on and on ...what you do for others, you do for Me said Christ.
In conclusion, the most important, the most challenging and the most rewarding aspect in this question of generosity is summed up in the final passage of Luke's gospel that was quoted above (6:36-38), It is both a warning to those who are cheap and stingy, and a word of encouragement to those who are generous. Christ is simply letting us know that if we are cheap and stingy, if we measure out begrudgingly and selfishly, then that same method of measuring out to us will be used when our turn comes. On the other hand, if the measure we use for others is generous and used cheerfully, so that measure will be used by God when payoff time arrives. So the choice is clearly up to you and me. Do you want to be cheap? Do you want to be stingy? Or do you want to generous as God is in sharing with us all our material and spiritual blessings every day? You decide.
| Return to Fr. Thomas' Biography Page
Return to The Journals Cover Page