Our church had a wonderful lesson about charity this week. Many told inspiring stories of times when they had seen someone in need and filled that need. Others talked about organizations to sign up with to help give to refugees or to the homeless. And there were also stories about helping those in our own church.
But for some reason, as I listened to these stories, I felt as if there were something missing. Certainly Jesus had plenty to say about how difficult it was for the wealthy to get to heaven, and that part of that problem is that they are unwilling to share with the poor. But it's more than that. In my reading of the New Testament, and particularly the Sermon on the Mount, Christ is trying to build a community of believers who see each other as equals, and this way of talking about charity smacked instead of superiority.
Christ never saw the rich as superior to the poor in any way. And when we see ourselves as beneficently bestowing our wealth on others, we are missing the bigger picture. First of all, viewing our own wealth as ours is part of the problem. If we see everything we have as really belonging to God, then we don't give anything away. We just make sure that God has His own use of it rather than selfishly and pridefully imagining that money is ours to keep or to give away.
Second, we are placing too much value on material wealth in the first place. Yes, there are times when money is useful. But Christ also said to render unto Caesar what was Caesar's and unto God what was God's, reminding us that money is fairly insignificant in comparison to the more valuable things of the spirit.
Most importantly, charity is simply love. This means not seeing yourself as above those you are giving to, but as part of their community. We aren't giving money to the homeless or to veterans or to refugees because we're trying to earn points in heaven. We don't spend time with the elderly or with the dying because we're hoping they'll tell God how great we are. We do it because we understand that we are all part of the community of Christ. If we have something to give to them, they have just as much to give to us in return.
That's why it shouldn't be a surprise when people who tell stories about feeding the homeless end those stories with the promise that they were given just as much in return. We shouldn't demand a "good feeling" or some blessing of a supernatural gift of knowledge or assistance in exchange for our doing what is "right."
Charity isn't about us giving to those who are beneath us and thus proving our devotion to Christ. Charity is about us being freed from the shackles that bind us into this mortal way of seeing the world in terms of those who have money and those who don't. Charity is about joining the larger community of love that we had allowed money to separate us from.
Of course we learn from those we give charity to. We have finally opened ourselves up to the truth, that there is something to learn from everyone. God makes no distinctions between us. He sees us all as lovable and if we can just let go of our worldly desire to score charitable points for giving, we can start to really see everyone, including ourselves, as we are. Charity is for us, not for someone else. We're not doing what's right. We're allowing what's right to come into us. At least that's the way I see it.