During Great Lent, we are called upon to fast, pray, confess our sins, and turn to doing good instead of evil. We do that by giving alms, or help to the poor.
We hear in the Divine Liturgy that “Every good gift and perfect gift comes down from Thee, the Father of Lights…” All of the things we ‘give’ to one another are patterned after the One True Gift – Our Lord’s giving Himself to the world, at His voluntary crucifixion. You may think that Christmas gifts, Birthday gifts, Baptism and Wedding gifts are personal gifts between yourself and the recipient, but in fact, if they are true, genuine and wholesome gifts, they’re patterned on the Lord’s self-sacrifice.
The Lord’s sacrifice is repeated in the Divine Liturgy. Offered on the altar is His body and His blood, which He gives to us continually. This gift is pure, holy, self-less, and eternal.
The gifts we give are often less than pure, as they’re given in an effort to bribe someone, to put our controls on them, to make them beholding to us. Those gifts are not given without the hope of getting something in return. Often, someone gives something to the Church, but puts their name on a plaque or inscribes the gift itself or requests that it be announced in the Bulletin. Those are gifts which people think they can control, they think they can demand them back when things don’t go their way.
Donations to the Church are always given to the Church, not to individuals. God loves a cheerful giver, but He also does not favor gifts which were not given freely, not given without strings attached, not given from the heart. The only true and valuable gifts are those things we have worked hard to earn. Gifts which we did nothing to earn are not genuine. For example, a real gift would be something which we make ourselves, as opposed to something we buy or pay for, or give from money earned by ‘money-changers’ or bankers – money earned from interest, and not from the sweat of our brow.
Remember the words of the Divine Liturgy, “We offer unto Thee Thine own of thine own on behalf of all and for all”? This is the key to understanding donations. We offer to God what is His, what we used, like those three men who received 10 and 5 and 1 talent when their Master went away on a journey? We use those talents to make more talents. We do NOT offer to God what we did not earn. The first servant earned 10 talents more, the second earned 5 talents more, but the third one simply buried the talent he was given in the earth and earned nothing. The master said, ‘Worthless and lazy servant! At the very worst you could have given the money to the bankers who would have returned interest on the talent – but you didn’t even do that.’ (Matthew 25:28). The Master didn’t recommend that the money be given to the bankers, but as a last resort, the servant could have at least done that much.
Isn’t it a more wonderful gift when we know it was made especially for us by loving hands and heart?
“The Lord loves a cheerful giver” “Each of us should give what we have decided in our hearts to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7). No gift which comes from trying to show someone up by giving a better or larger or richer gift is a worthy or meaningful gift.
Do not be afraid to give to someone you think may be a thief or charlatan because the Lord blesses your intention. And your gift may be the one which changes the black hearted man into an angel of good.
Brothers and sisters, Holy Scripture tells us: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up”. (Galatians 6:9) “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them. (Hebrews 6:10) We must be tireless is struggling to live good and holy lives, and even more, to give ‘until it hurts’ to those who ask of us (aloud and silently) and are in obvious need.