Wednesday, October 26, 2005

More Blessed to Give

When you want to find something that Jesus said during his public ministry, you go to the four Gospels, right? Right. But there’s something He said that isn’t found in the four Gospels. You will find it in the Acts of the Apostles (and I don’t mean Jesus’ short pre-Ascension speech in the beginning). It was something St Paul remembered, which was obviously already part of the tradition, since he himself did not hear Jesus speak, except in post-Ascension visions. “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).

Jesus was in the habit of bestowing blessings, and of telling us what makes for the blessed life. He gave us the beatitudes. He told St Thomas that those who believe without seeing are more blessed than those who want to see first. Now He tells us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. That may sound like Christian common sense, and it is, but how often do we really manifest our blessed generosity, and how often are we the ones hoping (or demanding!) to receive?

It is true that we cannot give what we do not have, but maybe we’re not sufficiently aware of how much we have. We are already much better off (at least materially) than most of the world. “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16). We have received the Holy Spirit and many gifts, so now what is our calling? “Freely have you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Jesus, the “Man for others,” has given us the example through his life, and especially the sacrifice thereof. He shows us how it is more blessed to give.

Because of original sin, we are all basically selfish. We want to know: what’s in it for me, how I can benefit or get some advantage in any given situation, how does every circumstance or relationship affect me, I’m taking care of my interests, needs, desires before those of others. It is said that the theme song of Hell is “I Did it My Way,” and such is only the ultimate and logical conclusion to a life of selfishness.

Jesus says that the blessing is in the giving. Sometimes we do experience that blessing since, if we are at least trying to follow Christ, we will do good for others from time to time, even at some personal cost. But we are called to a blessed life, not merely to a few piecemeal acts of charity by which we reassure ourselves that we are still Christians.

The paradox in all this is that if we seek only to receive, we will never be satisfied, and we will end up destroying our souls, even depriving them ultimately of the very capacity for happiness. But if we seek to give, seek first the Kingdom of God with all that entails, Jesus promises that we will in fact receive all we need from the providential hand of the heavenly Father.

The life of a blessed giver (and a cheerful one, adds St Paul in 2Cor. 9:7) is a rewarding life, a life that knows the peace and blessing promised in the beatitudes. It is not easy, for we are always at war with our inveterate selfishness, but in time our hearts, our minds, will change, will adapt to the rhythms of the Gospel (this is metanoia, conversion, repentance). We will have acquired the heart of a servant; we will have put on the mind of Christ. Then giving will be the most natural thing to do. (You can start enjoying the blessedness of giving even now by clicking the link on the column to the right: Help the hungry and poor.)

No one gives what he does not have? True enough, but in the end no one will have if he does not give. The Greek makarios is translated as both “blessed” and “happy.” You will be both by following the word and example of your Lord Jesus.