How do we give?

“Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).  We all know there are various ‘measures’ of giving  –  some give willingly and with abundant generosity, some give grudgingly, some give of their superfluity, of what they don’t really need, some give of the little they have and really feel it  –  but just what is involved in giving as Jesus asks us to?  And what is this ‘good measure’ that will be poured into our own laps?  Sometimes we can be rather subtly lured into a kind of giving, attractively presented to us, but which is really about receiving.  We are all familiar with the appeals of various charities or fundraising endeavours, for example, that promise that in return for our giving we will be in the draw to win some fantastic prize.  There’s something in it for us!  The attraction of the chance to win something or personally benefit in some way can be a strong motivator.  But here is a story that will rattle any complacency about that!  In a conversation about poverty and charity with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Pope Francis told this story:

“Once, when I was bishop, I was sent an invitation for a benefit dinner for Caritas.  Those who attended were the cream of the crop, as they say.  I decided not to go.  That day, the president at the time was in attendance and, after the first course, a gold Rolex was auctioned off.  What a disgrace; how humiliating.  That was a bad use of charity.  It sought a person who would use this watch for vanity in order to feed the poor.  Sometimes things are done in the name of charity that are not charitable; they are like crude caricatures of a good intention.  There is no charity without love, and if vanity is part of helping the needy, there is no love; it is feigned charity”.

Some very challenging thoughts here!  It is not uncommon today to find people paying huge amounts to attend such things as gala dinners to raise much needed funds which are put to wonderful use, and make a significant contribution to improving the lives of those in need.  We cannot deny that there is good in that, and many supporters of those events might wonder just what might be questionable about it  –  those who have much, enjoying a lavish dinner or bidding for something expensive, and in the process helping those less fortunate than they are.  And of course, nothing is amiss there.  Nothing, that is, if you are looking at it from a secular perspective.  It is simple humanitarian aid, and yes, there is a level of generosity in it too, even though it is self-rewarding.  But not if we are Christian, not if we profess to be a follower of Jesus.  Not if we take the Incarnation seriously.  And not, if we take seriously the invitation of Jesus to remember that whatever we do to anyone, to the least of our sisters and brothers, we do to him.  And certainly not if we want to receive that ‘good measure’ he spoke of.  Why? 

Pope Francis calls this feigned charity.  It is pretend charity.  Elsewhere in that same conversation he says:  “There are things that are called works of charity when, in reality, they are social-conscience calming activities.  These kinds of programmes are carried out in order to feel good about oneself, but love always requires a person to go out from himself, to truly give himself to others”.  Our pope does not mince his words!  And he is in good company when he speaks in this way because what he says takes us right into the heart of Incarnation.  And as we think about the Incarnation and what this means for us, we begin to see just what it has to say to us about charity, about the manner of our giving.  

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Ms Kerry McCullough

Dean of Mission