“God loves a cheerful giver”
2 Cor 9:6-11; Matt 6:1-6, 16-18
Today’s Gospel reading is the same one used on Ash Wednesday to encourage fasting, prayer and almsgiving. The emphasis is on doing these practices without drawing attention to yourself. God sees and will reward you. Jesus knew from visiting the temple just how much theater there was in being generous for human approval. Big donors dropped their contributions noisily into the metal treasury kettles with a trumpet blast. People who were fasting walked around with long faces. People prayed in public with a flair, like the Pharisee in one of Jesus’s parables who stood in front and praised himself. Jesus noted the humble tax collector in the shadows beating his breast and the poor widow who slipped her two small coins in among the big donations without fanfare.
It is hard to be generous or virtuous without seeking some approval. Most human behavior flows from mixed motives and the in-built quid pro quo that checks automatically for self-interest in everything. In today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he continues his encouragement to be generous to the collection he will take to Jerusalem by promising blessings to those who give freely. Many of his images are from nature and farming: Sow bountifully to reap bountifully. God has cared for you, so care for others. Do it cheerfully. Increase the harvest of your righteousness. Paul was an effective fundraiser, and the collection was substantial.
Yet even Paul’s grand collection had agendas beyond feeding the hungry in famine-stricken Jerusalem. He wanted to show the Jewish Christian mother church the generosity of the Gentile Christian missionary churches in order to promote unity between them. Paul wanted to appear before leaders who had questioned his call to show that the Spirit had blessed his ministry with success. He wanted their acceptance and approval.
How fortunate for us that only God can see our hidden motives and best intentions. Our efforts at being generous are a prayer to get closer to God by imitating the divine selflessness. The ultimate reward of such a prayer is to find an intimate relationship with our all-knowing God, who sees us as we are, including our mixed motives, and still loves us.