What does it mean to have a generous spirit? Webster’s dictionary provides many definitions that are helpful:
- characterized by a noble and kindly attitude;
- giving or sharing in abundance and without hesitation;
- being more than enough without being excessive.
The concept of generosity has many meanings. Often we equate it with giving money to charity or other civic groups. But being generous is more than that. It also includes:
- showing a readiness to give more of something than is strictly necessary or expected;
- showing kindness toward others;
- liberal in giving or sharing; unselfish; free from meanness or smallness of mind or character.
It’s a big idea, and one the church has a lot to say about. In fact, Jesus speaks to the theme of generosity more than anything else in scripture. Just think of the parables – or teaching stories – that quickly come to mind:
- the poor widow who gives her last two copper coins;
- the good Samaritan who stops to assist a man overcome by thieves;
- the rich man who seeks eternal life but cannot give up his possessions when asked for by Jesus;
- the feeding of the 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fishes.
There are countless others.
These are not just meant to be comforting words. They are weaved through the readings each Sunday to reinforce our understanding that giving is a good thing; that extravagant generosity is something worth aspiring toward.
The concept of being generous of spirit is an attitude that one can adopt, and it can become a way in which one engages with the world. Being generous of spirit does not depend upon how one is treated; it can be adopted irrespective of the response or circumstance. And it can be simple – a smile to a passerby on the street, comforting words when someone is grief-stricken or providing freshly baked banana bread for the family that just moved in next door.
On more than one occasion, I can recall how good I felt when the person in the que in front of me at the Tim Hortons drive-through paid for my coffee. That sort of generosity becomes contagious, as small acts of kindness have a profound impact on our overall disposition.
People who are generous of spirit are genuinely happy for others’ good fortune, irrespective of their own circumstances. They tend to look for and assume the best in people and treat all people with the same degree of respect and acceptance. They go beyond mere tolerance; they tend to be more considerate and can include greater differences in their own beliefs or values.
A generous spirit looks to the good in all things. He or she does their best, expects the best and thinks the best of others. There is no room for idle meddling in another’s affairs or looking down on people of low regard.
Surprisingly, it tends to be those of low regard, low income, limited means and education that we can learn the most from about being generous. The poor widow had such profound faith in God that she gave all she owned. In her poverty, she gave everything she had. In this story we exalt the small, the meek, the defenseless – those who are ignored and overlooked. Her story is even more powerful in that she was a woman in a society that provided little for widows and those without an inheritance.
Society – even the church – is comprised of some who never give. Yet this is totally at odds with the message of Christ. Matthew 6:3 says “when you give.” Notice what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say “if you give.” It says, “when you give.” Giving is assumed; it is not a maybe.
The act of giving to the Lord from our bounty has a transformative effect. Even under Roman occupation, the Jewish people gave. It was part of who they were. It can be a part of who we are.
Jean Vanier – the founder of L ’Arche, an international network of homes for people with severe disabilities – says it’s a privilege to give, and giving honours our relationship with God and is a symbol of the generosity of life that Jesus led. To be asked to give is a sacred invitation, an opportunity to participate in something bigger than ourselves – to participate in a dream.
Our churches do the same thing when they invite your offering. Giving is an opportunity to participate in the dream of your parish and to be part of its influence on the people who worship there and touch those in our community. Your giving makes mission possible.
So, how generous of spirit are you?