So, the question is, what does this mean for me? How should this realization affect the way that I live my life?
After two weeks of pondering this question, I can honestly tell you:
I'm still not sure.
I've got some ideas, but I'm far from certain. There is one thing that I am becoming more and more sure of, and that is the concept of being a giver as opposed to simply giving. When I first thought about this distinction, it seemed insignificant, but the more I studied, the more pronounced and significant it became. It is the difference between showing love and being loving, between giving grace and and being graceful, between telling the truth and being truthful. On one side of each pair there is a single instance that can be motivated by any number of things. I can give for selfish reasons, I can show love in hopes of reciprocity, I can give grace out of arrogance, and I can tell the truth when it is beneficial for me. On the other side, there is a property that becomes a part of who I am. I cannot hate when I've made love a part of who I am, I cannot withhold grace when I have made grace synonymous with my identity. I cannot lie when the Truth becomes a part of my being.
When it comes to giving, the connection is clear: if I seek to be a giving person, I cannot be selfish, I cannot hoard, I cannot demand things, I cannot value "my" things above the things of others. What it means above all is that what I keep matters more than what I give. When I "give" at one time or another out of my own abundance, I am valuing that which I have accumulated over that which is desperately needed elsewhere. When I have ten talents and I give one and keep nine, am I really embracing the ideal of generosity? The obvious answer is "no," and the sentiment in the story of the widow's mite in Luke 21:1-4 seems to be fairly unambiguous (also found in Mark 12:41-44):
As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”At best, as a Christian, I am a steward of wealth, a conduit for it to pass through. There is a quote by John Wesley (or perhaps apocryphally attributed to Wesley, but good nonetheless) that I've had on my facebook page for a while that I've never really fully grasped the meaning of until now:
Do all the good you can,If love and generosity are a part of my identity, then figuring out how much I can keep for myself becomes a moot point. My desire to protect what I own is replaced by a desire for justice in the distribution of what is only entrusted to me for the purpose of giving.
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
For my friends on the right, that might mean allowing an entitlement program to continue to exist because it does a better job of addressing human dignity than the church (as it has completely and utterly failed to do in many cases). Indeed, doesn't the attacking of entitlement programs come from our own sense of entitlement?
For my friends on the left, it might mean acknowledging that that same dignity can be better addressed through means other than government programs, and that in fully depending on the government for the distribution of social justice, we admit and embrace our failure as followers of Christ.
For me, it simply means living life more simply, that more of what I make might be given to those who truly need it, because let's be honest, I barely even know what it means to "need" anything.