Almsgiving is a funny old word. It means “to give money to the poor”. It is a powerful word. We can trace the root back thousands of years and through more than one language to ancient Greek – and there, “almsgiving” is a cousin to “have mercy.” This is what we do when we give our wealth to those who are poor – we give our mercy.
In 12th century France there was a debate whether or not the poor had the right to insist on their own justice. It was widely accepted that almsgiving was right and good but the action left those in poverty being seen as objects in the lives of the wealthy, and not subjects of their own lives.
I wish that I could say with confidence that our thinking had changed since then, but it’s not entirely true. So often the charity that we dispense to the poor through our public collections comes with strings attached or is done in ways that highlight the generosity and goodness of the giver. The method and means don’t seem to treat the people in poverty as subjects of their own lives but as objects of our giving.
To be merciful in the way that almsgiving asks of us, we have to look to Matthew 6, where often on Ash Wednesday, we read:
Matthew 6:1 "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 "So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
One of the ways that we do almsgiving here is truly a lived experience of having mercy and giving our wealth – in secret – to those who are poor. We do this through the pastor’s discretionary fund. $2,000 of our offerings budgeted to give to individuals for their needs – buying clean pants, food, or gas; paying past due utility bills and rent; or probably some other needs that are even too personal or shameful to share with us.
I would like to invite you to dig deeper this Lent and make a contribution to this fund as a part of your almsgiving practice. You can see the special flyer in your bulletin for more information on how. As for the why, it’s because I want to invite you to practice storing up your treasure in a new place; not in the good feelings that come when people see how generous you are or in the satisfaction of knowing that you’re part of the solution, not the problem; but in the place where mercy lives and generates life abundant enough to sustain you and the poor people you live with.
Christ the Good Shepherd
Various editorials, articles, and other items of interest.