Drop Dead Generous

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Even the ability to help others and to give our time and possessions to them can be ‘possessed’ with attachment if by these actions we are really forcing ourselves on others and obligating them to ourselves. For in that case we are trying to buy them and get possession of them by the favors we do for them.
— Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude (1956)

The young men had hardly rid the room of Ananias' corpse when Sapphira, his wife, traced his steps and stood before the Apostle Peter: "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” She dropped dead in a heap of lies (Acts 5).

The Spirit knit hearts together in those early church days; none of them said anything was her or his own. They shared all in common, selling lands and laying the proceeds at the feet of the apostles. The apostles distributed the proceeds as needs arose.

We need not read between the lines, but rather read the previous lines, to realize that just prior to Ananias and Sapphira's gift and shocking death, Barnabas had sold his land and given all the money to the Church. The text leads us to believe - I think - that Ananias and Sapphira sought to appear more generous than they were, generous like that "son of encouragement" Barnabas, and so they too sold their land and lied about how much they received in order to appear more generous than they really were. The couple faked the appearance of generosity in order to receive, not to give. Selling land wasn't obligatory. Peter makes this clear: "While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?"

Generosity is not measured by amounts but intent. Is the gift meaningful to the giver? Is it given without compulsion? Is the gift expected? Is it given without the desire to control or gain status? 

Sometimes stewardship teaching makes so much of generosity that generosity in itself becomes an attempt to gain status and favor with God and others. In that moment, "generosity" ceases to be generous. True generosity is simple, liminal and takes no thought for itself.

Tommy BrownComment