On the way home from matins this morning I fell into a reverie (“reverie” sounds so much more sophisticated than daydream). I was looking at a piece of property and immediately began imagining what sort of glorious Orthodox Church could be built there with 50 million dollars–although a quarter of that would do just as well. I noticed the feeling of goodness and generosity that swelled inside me as I imagined myself financing (anonymously, of course) the construction of a basilica, school, park area and cemetery. It felt so good. It’s amazing how good you can feel imagining the good you would do if it were in your power to do it.
When Jesus commented on the offerings of people made to the Temple in Jerusalem, he said that the widow who had given two mites had given more than all the others because the others had given out of their abundance whereas she had given out of her poverty all that she had. Giving ten, or lets be generous, fifteen million dollars out of fifty million is actually, according to Jesus, not much of a gift at all. It doesn’t dramatically alter your lifestyle and you get the immediate and long-lasting satisfaction of feeling you have done something good. Of course it is much easier to imagine what you would give if you could (if you could give a large sum without it affecting your lifestyle)–the immediate sensation is the same, but it doesn’t last very long.
What’s really, really hard to do is to give what you actually have, all of what you have, or at least so much of what you have that it pinches. It is particularly difficult to give when that pinching feeling overwhelms any good feelings that might also accompany the giving, when the dominant feeling is one of nervous “trust” in the Lord, the Lord-you’d-better-help-me-because-I’m-giving-it-all-to-you kind of trust. And for most of us, any sacrificial gift that we might give is so many decimal places to the right of fifteen million, that it barely makes a blip in the treasurer’s report. The giving really is in secret, no one even notices.
No one, except God. No one except the God who gives generously to us what money can never buy. The God who rewards openly those who pray and do good works in secret.