Dave Brisbin 12.3.23
Amid the holidays, ‘tis the season for giving. Expectation and requests bombard from every form of media and family and cultural traditions. Trying to come up with perfect gifts for family, friends, clients, prospects, bosses, those who matter in your life, those who can give back, those who can’t—how much feels like obligation and how much freely blows like wind into the shopping, decorating, cooking, planning?

Giving shouldn’t be complicated, but it can be…tied up with many conflicts of interest. Ancient Jews considered charitable giving one of three measures of a person’s righteousness, along with prayer and fasting. The rabbinic tradition, with its typically legal perspective, had defined giving to death with numbers and percentages, reduced it to rules and obligations. And with all that emphasis at stake, those following the rules naturally wanted everyone to know just how righteously giving they were.

Jesus lays his ax right at the root of these conflicts.

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In religious circles we often hear that we can’t out-give God or that our tithes and offerings will come back to us 100-fold. True as that may be spiritually, if that is our intent, then our giving has become mere investment. And as soon as we put a number or percentage on a gift, it’s just a tax. Jesus teaches us to give so that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing—preserving the anonymity of the giver and the dignity of the receiver, removing the conflicts that make giving not a gift.

It’s a first step in chipping away at the God-complex we have about giving: the need to be in the superior, controlled position of the giver rather than the vulnerable dependence of the receiver. Until we have received, what do we have to give? Until we recognize that all we have of any lasting value is a free gift we could never give ourselves, how will we ever know the vulnerability and gratitude that animates all true giving? The difference between a gift and an investment or tax, is the fear of not knowing that we’re merely caretakers, constantly receiving, and all we can ever do is regift what has already been given. Freely and secretly.

 

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