Tag Archives: generosity


My only brother-in-law, for many years an Air Force pilot, told me of a friend of his who was flying his jet over San Antonio, Texas, when he had to radio the tower that his craft was losing power and therefore was descending rapidly. He was instructed to put the plane into an attitude that would take it unmanned beyond the city and then, having done that, to bail out.

Aware that the safety of the people below depended on his maintaining what control he possibly could, he stayed with the plane, trying in every way he could to guide it over the city and into the woods beyond. He must have been thinking of his young wife and baby as he did just that, realizing that his chances of evacuation and survival at that point would be very near zero. He died as the plane crashed in an uninhabited area.

It was certain that what this young airman did was literally to give his life so that others would be spared a horrible death. Sometimes what we do for each other in the spirit of the Gospel does come down to those black & white terms: people do give their lives for the sake of others. The person who goes to war believing it is a just cause, the person who steps in front of the weapon aimed at another, the person who flings the child to safety and is fatally wounded by the careening vehicle — these are typical of such altruistic behavior, no matter how rare they may be.

Most of the time, though, the events are not so dramatic, but they are cut from the same cloth. Ordinarily, it is in little ways that we deliberately diminish our own lives so that others, in some way, may live more fully — or, indeed, live at all. We think immediately of our mothers and fathers who gave of their time, their rest, their convenience, their material possessions only so that their children could have and enjoy what little was available. We think also of those many persons who have shared a bodily organ in order to make possible the survival of someone else.

What Jesus had in mind, you can be sure, when he formed his community of followers, was that we should live not only seeking to increase our own pleasures and leisure and property, but also sacrificing appropriately for the sake of others — our time, sleep, pleasures, money, even health. That’s what would distinguish his true disciples.

And then he said so emphatically that that sort of lifestyle, essentially giving and generous, would always be rewarded by the God he knew as Father, who, he said, sees everything.

If we are willing to take the chance of giving away anything, any part of us, material or spiritual, in his name when it is clear that someone else’s need for it is far greater than our own, we’ve got to be convinced that that is the right, the best, and the most life-giving thing to do.



Because Jesus made it such an important priority in his teaching, we often talk about the spirit of poverty. Is that a myth for us fortunate people who want for nothing essential and have so many comforts besides?

But, short of absolute poverty – of giving away everything we own and then living with only what is absolutely necessary for life — what can we and should we do?

For the past 60 years I’ve been going to the Trappist Monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts, sometimes just for a day. I think it’s good for me to expose my mind & heart to the wisdom of men who see the world through the lens of virtually uninterrupted attention to the presence of Jesus.

But my monk-friends’ life of monastic simplicity, of owning absolutely nothing, is not for me; I’m sure of that. My spirit of poverty has to be expressed in other ways. To the rich young man who asked Jesus what he needed to do in order to reach eternal life, Jesus said that his charitable caring for others was enough and then reminded him that there was another option open to him: if he chose to, he could sell everything he owned, give the money to the poor, and follow him in a special way. It was an option, not a requirement; the young man would know somehow after prayer and reflection whether it was for him or not.

I think that most of us middle class American Christians identify with that rich young man. If that is so, we are left with a requirement that has to be met: Jesus expects us to determine what our stewardship pattern should be, asking ourselves questions like these:

Do we ever do without something we’d like to have so that someone else may have something he or she desperately needs?

Are we generous in sharing the use of the things we own?

Do we in general try to make do with our possessions and not keep replacing them just for the sake of novelty?

Do we make sure that a decent portion of our income, no matter what earning category we are in or what our present needs are, goes to those who are in dire need?

Are we willing to share our time with those who need our attention, even if that is inconvenient for us?

Do we practice good ecology in the use of fuel and food and other gifts of the earth, not merely to save money but to make more available to those who have not enough for a basically human life?

And so on…

The power of the middle class, the power of the Christian community, is in doing good together. None of us can eradicate degrading poverty and provide for millions of our fellow humans. What is asked of us, what is expected from us who say we are the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, is to act in harmony with the best efforts of good people everywhere – of whatever religion or nationality. The church will have become fully the Body of Christ on earth when such generous, conscientious sharing is its normal way of life. In the meantime, as we move closer and closer to that goal, each of us who hear the Gospel must act now if we are going to give an acceptable account of our stewardship.

To be a partner with Jesus in providing for others a share in the necessities of life is a work so satisfying and so peace-giving that we will inevitably discover that Jesus calls us, not really to do without, but to gain so much more.


Let’s start with the last reading, Jesus’ story as told by St. Matthew and that we just heard. I think no one would deny that the agreement between the boss and the workers is logical. It’s honest and just. They agreed to be paid a certain amount of money for a decided-upon number of hours of labor. And both they and the boss kept their word at the end of the day. No problem there.

But, enter the latecomers, who began to work pretty near closing time. For whatever personal reason, the boss decides to pay them the same as he was paying those who worked much longer hours . All emotional feelings aside, who can say that the “early birds” were being in any way cheated? Really no one.

On the surface of the issue, it does seem at first that the charge of unfairness can be defended; but deeper analysis reveals that, strictly speaking, the boss’s generosity to those who were hired late in the day has nothing to do with what he owed those those who had worked longer.

(I must, though, add parenthetically that this is no way to foster peace and harmony among the workers!)

It was decades ago that I began to suspect that Jesus was deliberately trying to upset his hearers, both those in his own day and us today, as a way of making us all think more deeply about life. And I have developed that line of thought into four possibilities of what he had in mind and intention:

That whether life has been kind or cruel to us, we are fortunate to have lived at all, because life is ultimately beautiful and unending beyond our deaths.

2. That we are not created to live in isolation — unnoticed, unwanted, and unrelated to others; no, we are called by the God of Life into relationship with God and our fellow humans, from which we are destined to gain a share in the eternal life of God.

3. That however competitive our progress in the present world must be, there should be no competition among the people of God. All are beneficiaries of God’s boundless mercy and love.

4. That God does not give us merely what is our due: God goes far beyond that always, gifting us with wild generosity and forgetting our offenses. There are no rules or restraints, no limits to God’s love, no conditions.

It seems to me that this Gospel story is aimed at our tidiness, our self-assured sense of justice, having all the “ducks” of our life in neat little rows. We are the ones who impose limits and all kinds of regulations which are perceived as putting us in good favor with God. But the truth is that God’s love is unmeasured and unchained. We have only to receive it with gratitude and joy and pass it on generously and forgivingly to others.

Jesus, with attractive stories like this one today, is coaxing us into a more reckless way of life patterned after the life of the one he called Father. He says, over and over again, “Just live, do good, be kind and generous and forgiving — and let happen what happens.”

The simple truth is that God will happen!