Maybe It’s Time to Be Irresponsibly Generous

The Generosity of a Shoe-Shine Man

For over 30 years, Albert Lexie has set up shop in Pittsburgh’s Children Hospital where he buffs and polishes footwear for doctors, administrators, and whomever else is willing to pay $5 for a new shine.

Now and then, a satisfied customer will leave a tip. Most give an extra dollar or two. Once, near Christmas, he received a $50 tip.

While tips like that are not common, Albert is glad for whatever customers are willing to contribute because he gives every tip as a gift to the Children’s Hospital.

When interviewed by an Associated Press reporter, the hospital administration confirmed that by contributing his tips, Albert had donated over $200,000 to the Free Care Fund, which helps to pay the medical costs for children whose parents are unable to afford treatment. (The Associated Press, “Pennsylvania Shoeshine Man Gives Hospital $200G in Tips,” 2–21–13)

Not $2,000. Not $20,000. But two-hundred-thousand dollars!

But that is only from tips. Albert also has donated a third of his entire earnings to the children’s hospital.

Irresponsible Generosity?

As inspiring as that story may be, one could easily argue that his giving was irresponsible. A shoe-shine man giving over $200,000 away? I wonder what his wife had to say about his continual giving to the Children’s hospital. What about his own children? They would have been baby formula to buy, clothes, college tuition, car notes, retirement savings to set aside, and countless other reasons not to give so… irresponsibly.

The same charge of irresponsible generosity could be leveled at the woman who puts an offering in the temple treasury in Mark 12:41–44.

How would the onlookers view her gift? How did Jesus evaluate it? How does he evaluate my giving? Like the woman in Mark 12, could I ever be charged with irresponsible, excessive generosity? Could you?

It is an important question to ask because, as we turn to the text, we see that…

Jesus Pays Close Attention to Our Giving

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

How would you feel if someone intentionally positioned himself so that he could watch to see how much you put in the offering basket on a Sunday morning? I don’t think most of us would like that very much.

But this is exactly what Jesus does on one occasion at the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. He doesn’t just happen to see someone give, but intentionally sits down in a spot where he is able to observe people. For some reason, Jesus had a keen interest in what people were giving.

It may help to know that within the temple, there were several separate courts or spaces where people would gather for worship. One of these spaces was called the Court of Women, which is where thirteen trumpet-shaped receptacles were located into which worshippers would place their offerings that funded the ministry of the temple and supported the Priests and Levites who worked there. This is where Jesus was watching the worshippers place their donations in the offering jars.

Jesus observed that the rich, out of their abundance, gave much, while a widow, in her poverty, gave two thin, almost worthless copper coins called lepta that together equaled a quadrans, which was the smallest of all Roman currency. She literally put a penny in the offering vessel.

The relevance for us is that giving to the temple treasury then was like putting money in an offering basket today. And just like Jesus paid attention to what people gave then, he pays attention to what we give today.

But why?

Because how I give or don’t give, reveals what I believe about God’s ability to provide. In this context, generosity becomes a litmus test for faith.

Jesus pays attention to our giving to evaluate whether or not I really, and radically trust God or whether I functionally am putting my hope in wealth as my security — as the true Ruler of my heart.

The next thing we need to realize about generosity is that…

The True Value of a Gift is Not Measured by the Size of the Offering

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on.”

In purely monetary terms, the wealthy donors gave far more than the widow. How then could Jesus say that the widow’s tiny donation amounted to the greatest gift among all of those presented in the temple?

Because the scale Jesus uses to evaluate offerings does not measure the weight of gold but the weight of faith.

Imagine that someone who makes $100,000 a year gives $5,000 a year to fund God’s mission on earth through the local church. Now, imagine someone who makes only $1,000 a year gives $100.

Which one has given the greater gift?

According to Jesus’ generosity scale, the gift of $100 is twice as valuable as the $5,000 donation. Why? First of all, the $5,000 is only half of a tithe. The base gift for someone making $100K would be $10K, not $5K. According to the word of the Lord through the Old Testament prophet Malachi, the one who gave $5,000 actually is stealing $5,000 from God, while the gift of $100 is a tithe on the $1,000.

The point is that it took more trust in God for the person who gave the $100 gift than the one who gave $5,000 because the $100 donation was much more of a sacrifice than the $5,000 donation.

Does that make sense?

I’m using numbers like these simply to illustrate that what Jesus was evaluating in the temple was not giving amounts but giving percentages — and more than that — giving motives. The widow’s offering demonstrated greater trust in God to provide. The large gifts may have impressed other onlookers, but they did not impress Jesus because those donations were given out of a surplus. It didn’t take much faith for the rich to give more than the widow.

But for the widow, her gift was an act of extraordinary — some would say irresponsible — faith. But her giving impressed Jesus, who is telling his disciples, “Finally, someone who was willing to radically trust God to provide for her needs!”

It is not the money as much as the faith it takes for her to give that fires him up!

I wonder if I have ever trusted God like that? Living by faith in such a way that my generosity causes Jesus to notice and fires him up.

Have you trusted him like that?

Remember, it is not the size of the gift but the size of the faith that it takes to make the gift.

For some of us, tithing represents tremendous faith. In light of our bills and debt and unexpected expenses, devoting the first 10% of your income to God’s mission is a huge faith stretch.

For others, giving a tithe is like the rich in the temple. It takes no real sacrifice. In that case, you may want to consider stepping up the percentage of your giving.

The point from the text is that the true value of a gift is not measured by the size of the offering but by the faith required to make the offering.

A third a final lesson in irresponsible generosity is that…

You Don’t Have to be Rich to be Generous

The widow teaches us this. So do the Christians whom Paul uses as an example for the Corinthian believers when he challenges them to generosity in 2 Corinthians 8:1–5. Macedonia was just north of Greece, essentially next-door neighbors of Corinth to the south. Here is the challenge to the Corinthians concerning the giving of the impoverished Macedonians:

“ 1 And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 5 And they exceeded our expectations. 7 See that you also excel in this grace of giving. 8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.

Whether the poor widow or the impoverished Macedonians, both are examples to us that you don’t have to be rich in order to be generous. Even pennies from the poor are considered substantive, weighty, and even lavish gifts in the eyes of Jesus.

Ethan Noticed

In 2005, Glen James lost his job. For the next eight years, he was homeless — living on the streets of Boston. Until he found a backpack under a bench near the entrance to the subway. As he unzipped the bag, he discovered $42,000 in cash and traveler’s checks.

He had just won the homeless lottery! Finally, his worries were over. He could get off the streets, rent a nice room, buy new clothes, and enjoy meals at the nicest restaurants in town.

As he considered his options, instead of using the money on himself, Glen decided to take it to the nearest police precinct.

I wonder what his friends on the street thought when they found out he’d given the money away. To think of what it could have been used for.

That is how I often think of money — what it could be used for to benefit myself.

But someone noticed.

Ethan Whittington of Midlothian, VA, heard about Glen’s story in the news. In response, he started an online giving fund for Glen that, in just thirty days, had raised almost $160,000 — four times the amount that had been found in the bad.

All for Glen.

Whether he knew it or not, Glen was living in view of Matthew 6:26, where Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds [provides for] them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

Just like Ethan noticed Glen’s act of selfless generosity and found a way to provide for Glen beyond all expectation, Jesus notices our generosity and is able to do far more than we could ever expect in providing for us.

We know this is true because of the greatest gift Jesus has provided. In fact, of all irresponsible acts of generosity, Jesus’ giving his life for sinners is the most dramatic demonstration of selfless giving the world has ever seen.

In 2 Corinthians 8, just after his challenge to the Corinthians, he writes in verse 9,

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

While Jesus wasn’t wealthy with material possessions, he was rich with the righteousness — the moral rightness — that he had achieved through his active obedience to the Father. Where I failed to love, he loved. Where I was selfish, he was selfless. Where I sought to gain, he sought to give. Where I rejected God’s wisdom, he embraced it. Where I was proud, he exercised humility — a humility that culminated in his death upon a cross, where he impoverished himself for my sake.

For on that cross, Jesus gave himself as the righteous for the unrighteous, taking on my moral bankruptcy so that I can take on his perfect righteousness.

This is how we become rich. Not by accumulating gold and silver, dollars and cents. But by receiving God’s riches of grace through faith as a pure gift, where Jesus’ record of moral perfection becomes my record before heaven. All through his poverty — through the incomparable generosity of a crucified but now risen Savior, our Lord and Treasure, Jesus.

LISTEN to the post here.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does it make you feel to know that Jesus pays attention to our giving?
  2. How is financial generosity a litmus test of true spirituality?
  3. Why does Jesus notice the widow’s offering?
  4. In what ways is the widow’s offering irresponsible?
  5. How is the cross the most supreme act of “irresponsible generosity?” Why is it not irresponsible after all?
  6. What next step in generosity do you think the Lord is leading you to take?\