Written by Lillian Daniel
"Listen carefully to what I am saying—and be wary of the shrewd advice that tells you how to get ahead in the world on your own. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. Stinginess impoverishes," Jesus said. - Mark 4:24-26
A well-dressed woman at a religion conference told me that she had learned that it was harder for rich people to experience God's love than the poor. "The poor," she explained, "have so little that they have to rely on God's love so much more. They just seem so much happier." This was presumably why she delighted in mission work overseas, where the poor were "just so grateful."
She was inspired by the people she served, saying, "They offer me so much more than I offer them." Well, at least that last part I could imagine to be true, but not for the reasons she imagined.
She continued to explain that the people who have less, have less to worry about, and that was why they were closer to God. "In some ways, I truly envy them," she said. "It is just easier for them to experience God's grace." For that reason, she believed that it was more worthwhile for her to offer her presence than her money.
I have heard rich people say that the poor are lucky before. But I have yet to hear a poor person say it.
Yes, Jesus does say that we get closer to God by giving away what we have. But the poor do not get closer to God by having less. Most people in the world are not poor by choice. They are poor because other people have more than their fair share. Whole nations steeped in poverty are not an accident of fate. Whole nations who enjoy most of the world's wealth are not God's will.
"Generosity begets generosity," Jesus says. Generosity ought to inspire others to be generous. Mission trips are miraculous faith-filled pilgrimages when they alert us to the injustice in the world and inspire us to be generous and to change things. Mission trips are self-serving vacations when we come back thinking that the poor we met overseas are the lucky ones.
We can admire the poor people we meet, and we can respect them, but to call them lucky is ridiculous. When generosity begets stupidity it wasn't really generosity to begin with. But when generosity begets more generosity, it is the real thing.
Dear God, give bread to those who are hungry and a hunger and thirst for justice to those who have plenty. Amen.
Lillian Daniel, author of When "Spiritual But Not Religious" is Not Enough, has a chapter in the anthology, What My Mother Gave Me: Thirty-one Women on the Gifts That Mattered Most. Follow her on twitter @lillianfdaniel.