Saturday, June 20, 2009

Repost: Giving and Gathering

A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them.

Ecclesiastes 3.1, 5

The Redistribution Principle

In a time when redistribution of wealth has become an unexpected hot button, it’s good to revisit Jesus’s teaching of the principle. Its opponents try to scare us off with complicated economic and political theory, but it’s fairly rudimentary. “Give, and it will be given to you,” Jesus said. “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6.38)

Sharing wealth creates wealth. This holds true with everything we give—money, time, tolerance, good will, and so forth. As Jesus instructed, how much we give determines how much comes back. Some pulpit charlatans have exploited this concept all the way to the bank, promising outlandish profits on modest, one-time gifts. But Christ’s redistribution principle isn’t a Ponzi scheme—it’s a cycle. Giving lets us gather, gathering lets us give. Jesus tells His disciples, “Freely you have received, freely give.” While practicing the principle yields substantial dividends, its operative factor isn’t ROI. It’s IOR—investment of returns.

Risks and Shelters

Financial gurus categorize investments as risks or shelters, counseling clients to weigh what they have now against what they desire in the long run. If they can afford temporary exposure, advisors recommend riskier investments with higher earning potential. If investors need stability, they’re advised to shelter their holdings in safer, less profitable ventures. Timing is everything—knowing when to buy and sell, when to take chances and when to take cover. This is literally what Solomon means by scattering stones and gathering them. At times our lives are so full and secure, we can afford to tear our house apart and give big chunks of it to those worse off than we. We can expose ourselves to risk. At other times, our coffers run low and storms rage. We need safe shelter. We gather stones to build security until our lives are replenished and the storms pass.

Gatherer’s Guilt

Paul ended his last sermon at Ephesus with this: “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20.35) We’ve taken that quote (which, by the way, was off the record) and run away with it. And while its words remain intact, it’s gained new meaning over time. In Paul’s day, “blessed” meant “happy” or “pleased,” rather than current usage, which implies divine favor. Paul didn’t say God likes givers better than when receivers. He said we should take greater pleasure in giving than getting.

Misguided embrace of Paul’s quote spawns resistance to expressing our needs. We prefer going without to feeling ashamed and beholden to others when time comes to receive. But gatherer’s guilt is nonsense. First, it reveals ridiculous pride in us. Do we really think not asking for or refusing help convinces people we’re completely self-sufficient and invincible? They know we’re not, because they’re not. Second, it squanders energy and resources we should be gathering for shelter from what got us in trouble to begin with. And third, how can others give if we can’t receive? Denying our needs denies their opportunity. It’s horribly selfish. Why we go from giving times to gathering times actually has nothing to do with us. They’re just parts of the same redistribution cycle that we all travel. Giving makes us happier, not holier. Gathering makes us stronger, not weaker. Both are responsibilities we can’t forsake—for others’ benefit as well as our own.

Giving and gathering complete the cycle of Christ’s redistribution principle.

(Tomorrow: Holding On and Holding Off)

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