There are greater gifts than money. There are times when a glass of water is more precious than money (Mt. 10:42). The man who was robbed and left for dead needed a Good Samaritan to help him. This good neighbor did not care what it cost to help a stranger. He even promised to pay for extended care of this unfortunate man (Lk. 10:25-37). What can be more memorable than the boy who gave his five small loaves of bread and two small fish to Jesus, in order to feed a hungry crowd? It would have been much easier to share it with Andrew; yet, Andrew unselfishly revealed that there was some bread available (Jn. 6:8-9). Who can forget Zacchaeus? He was that “wee little man” with the big heart. After he met Jesus, Zacchaeus gave half of his goods to the poor and Zacchaeus restored undue collections four-fold (Lk. 19:1-10). One just wonders, where Zacchaeus found the means to do all that? There also was one leper who came back to give thanks for his healing and he was a Samaritan. To Jesus, that thanks meant more than a purse filled with coins. How disappointed Jesus was when the others did not return to pay homage (Lk.17: 11-19). And to show that one must not be afraid to give, Jesus dealt rather strangely with that Syrian woman from Phoenicia. In a crude way, he told her that it was unfair to give the bread of the children to dogs. She quickly responded, that she was not asking for the bread, but only for the crumbs that the children dropped (Mk. 7:24-30). Those who are truly in need do not ask for much.
There were a number of people who gave to Jesus and expected nothing in return. Again, only one of the wise men gave gold. The other two gave frankincense and myrrh (Mt. 2:11). If we should wonder how Jesus earned his keep, while He was ministering, then turn to Luke 8:1-3. The women of means traveled with him and his disciples, and the women of means took care of their needs. There were two men by the name of Simon, one a Pharisee and the other a leper. Both had women visitors. The one that came to the Pharisee’s home, anointed Jesus feet, wept, kissed Jesus’ feet, and dried them with her hair. Jesus told this Simon that this woman did what he had failed to do, and that she loved much and much will be forgiven (Lk. 7:36-50). In the leper’s house, the woman poured oil on Jesus’ head. When Jesus’ own disciples criticized her for not giving that costly ointment to the poor, Jesus told them that she did what they should have done; anoint Jesus for his burial, and that He would leave them soon, while the poor would always be with them (Mk. 14:3-9). The most noble of all the gifts came from Joseph of Arimathea. This man gave his grave, located in his garden, to Jesus, the One, who had nowhere to lay his head. Joseph of Arimathea also was brave enough to ask for the body of Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea properly prepared the Jesus’ body and he laid Jesus’ body to rest before the Sabbath set in (Jn. 19:38-42). Otherwise, Jesus’ body would have ended up in the criminal’s burial ground. Jesus’ body would have been disgraced or Jesus’ body even would have been banned from the resurrection. What was so remarkable about all these people was that their gifts were not only valuable, but also that these gifts were sacrificial; yet, they received nothing in return. In addition to giving to the poor and needy, Jesus advocated wages to those who earned them. Jesus cautioned us to be weary of people who do not make proper use of gifts. And Jesus warned of benefactors who exact unwarranted penalties for sustaining their generosity.
This world depends on laborers and they deserve wages. Wages are essential for paying bills and taxes. Even the kingdom of God, on earth, requires revenues for its operation. Hence, it was necessary to render to Caesar the things that were the State’s and to God the things that the Church needs for operation (Mk. 12:17). In Jesus’ opinion, there was a great harvest ready to be harvested, except there were few laborers (Mt. 9:37-38). There has been a major change in the world. Now we have far too many harvesters and not enough planters and sowers to raise crops. Jesus stressed the need for sowing so the “blessed” (producers) do not run out of the means to give. I was a farmer and we did sow seed into the land, and only twenty-five percent of the seed gave us food. It was enough for our needs and more for others. Think how North American prospered when small farmers, shopkeepers, craftsmen, traders, and a host of small entrepreneurs built the continent. There were far more givers than receivers.
We allowed ourselves be enticed with “bigger is better.” We let men like Joseph, in Egypt, consolidate our food supply, and put it in the hands of a king or a state (government). When Joseph was finished, Pharaoh owed everything and every soul. Joseph saved Egypt and his family from starvation; but what did Joseph create? Joseph left behind an economy, which was run by forced laborer and slaves. When Pharaoh’s people revolted, he forced the Hebrews to plant and harvest his fields for straw to build his pyramids. Pharaoh also was one of the first to abort Hebrew boys (Ex. 1-2, 5). I am not Joseph, but I have seen Hitler’s Germany end in twelve years, Poland in twenty years, and Stalin’s Russia in seventy years. These nations had put their trust in a handful of individuals, who drained off the fat of their land and the land of others. They took everything we had including some lives. Imagine, had Joseph told the people to store and not waste, what the outcome of history would have been? I know what ours will be, if we do not return to the land that can feed us from the labor off our own hands, and not from someone else’s profits.
Unfortunately, we want a little more than we deserve; in fact, we demand more than those, who employ us can afford (Lk. 3:14). When their profit margin dips into their capital, they take their tax shelter and move their business elsewhere where people work for a fraction. The same manufacturer ships his product back to us and we buy it at the same prize as if it was produced in our country. We, the little greedy laborers, have out-maneuvered ourselves. We end up being wardens of the state until the tax base collapses. What happens when the state or benefactors runs out of supplies? I can tell you exactly what happens because I was born and raised in such states. They ceased to exist and foreigners move in to collect their debts and exploit the resources we tried to pass on to our children. I was one of those children that did not receive a single penny. I had no choice in what I could keep or what I could give (Mt. 5:40).
We are in America where such things cannot happen. I did believe this when I came to this country to study for the ministry in 1958. At that time, this nation grew in prosperity and power. I grew with it by moving up to larger Churches. I soon learned that the Lord had to keep me humble for the people kept me poor. In 1980, we moved out West to a Church where we could buy our own home. For the next twenty years we kept selling and buying homes until we felt comfortable to face retirement. We had a substantial nest egg and a lovely home on over two acres, all paid for. You know what happened. Some smart men, in our government, forced lenders to finance housing for people that depended on employers that could no longer pay high wages. Two out of three of our sons lost nearly everything. We were all millionaires and now we live on borrowed money. It was not the Lord who took it but bad business decisions. There is a great need to teach us how to manage our income.
Jesus did teach his prospective “makarioi” how to manage money. God has the means to supply all our needs (Phil. 4:19), only God has put us humans in charge of the gathering and the distribution. The laborer was a servant and deserved his wages for the gathering and the distribution of the benefactor’s gratuity (Mt. 24:45). A worker had the right to agree for how much he was willing to work for and not to make demands against his own agreement (Mt. 20:1-16). Good work will be recognized (Mt. 12:36). No employer has the right to withhold wages (Mt. 12:9). Especially, the “makarioi” were to respect income or money. God’s people are not exempt from gains and losses. They are in the world and they must adapt to the unexpected changes, which are far too frequent. It is very helpful to build some relationship with a lender that can assist a Christian in need. Jesus instructed his disciples to make friends with people of means in the world for such times when other Christians can no longer assist (Lk. 16:1-9). It can be fatal when one does not invest what little one has to increase his chances of surviving in this world. Jesus illustrated this issue with the “Parable on Talents” (Mt. 25:14-30). The servant with the five and the one with the two talents doubled their investments and they could reinvest twice as much. The one with the one talent spent all his energy to keep it safe for his benefactor and he lost his one talent. He ended up with nothing. People with nothing can give nothing. It is when one gives, in order to receive, that one receives back. It was to such people that the tithe became necessary (Lev. 27:30).
Givers have difficult choices in identifying real needs. My wife and I are both on disability that we have paid into and legally earned. We are not sponging off the taxes of property owners and others, who worked hard to build for their retirements. In fact, our taxes on our home have continued being raised for those, who refuse to work, but our pensions have not increased to match the taxes. Please do not tell me you cannot work. I have done it for sixty-three years without the use of my hands. I would be humiliated to accept help from people, who live on less than people on welfare. For that reason, we have built ourselves enough income so we can stay in our home, which the banks own. We are blessed because we have created the blessings. We had a will and the determination to build something we could call our own. My family was driven from their home in the Ukraine in 1939 and from another place in Western Poland in 1945. Within months, our father found a small farm we could acquire; but, the Russians drove us to West Germany, where father found another farm, which would have been mine; that is, if I had not lost the use of my hands. Every time my parents were forced to give up what they had, they renewed their will to end up with more than they gave away. Were my parents “makarioi” or are we? All I can say, regardless how tragic my losses have been, they have been outdistanced by my gains. I am overwhelmed at our children, who have gone through tragedy and losses, and they are coming back with renewed energy and strength. They are displaying the attitude and aptitude of the “makarioi.” Praises be to God!
Giving is a very special art. Most of it is superficial and indifferent. Thanks to everyone who gives. The most effective giving is the giving of oneself. As long as the self is left out, giving is impersonal and ineffective. It becomes meaningful when the self takes up the cross and carries it to the finish. The difference is that Christians are called upon being burden bearers and not problem solvers (Gal. 6:2). They are to bear each other’s burdens and let the burdened one find the solution that is best for him or her. Someone once said, “Generosity does not come naturally; it must be taught.” Pindar wrote, “Every gift, though it be small, is in reality great if given with affection.” And the vision of Sir Launfal was, “Who gives himself, with his alms, feeds three: himself, his hungering neighbor, and me” (Do. 109). Yet, without the me being a makarios, the other two will go hungry.