November 23, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Matthew 6:2-4 (NIV)
So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
It’s easy to forget that all of us live lives rooted in gift.
Solidarity is not a word that I use often. And the phrase “solidarity with the poor” is even less familiar. Those from a Catholic background may find it more recognizable. So what might the phrase mean? Pope Francis defines that kind of solidarity as “sharing the little we have with those who have nothing, so that no one will go without.”
In this time of Thanksgiving and of the upcoming holiday season, that’s worth thinking about more.
Perhaps surprisingly, Jesus warns against certain kinds of generosity towards the poor. In today’s text, he cautions those who would parade their philanthropy before others, including the poor themselves. He advises reticence about public displays of generosity. In a way that has been etched in our memories, he challenges us with the provocatively humorous saying:
Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing!
Why might Jesus say something like that?
As I suggested yesterday, there are two fundamentally different ways to approach life. One begins with gift. The other begins with obligation.
To illustrate that point, Jesus said another startlingly funny thing about leadership: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors” (Luke 22:25 NIV). I’m sure that line got a chuckle out of his hearers. “Benefactors?” Yeah, right! History is littered with tyrants who seek to characterize their rule as being beneficent for those they actually oppress.
In contrast, Jesus calls us to a different way of life as leaders. “But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves” (Luke 22:26 NIV). Instead of imposing obligations on others, we are called to give them a gift. We are called not to stand above or apart from others, but to identify with those we serve. In other words, we are called to solidarity.
This is why Jesus calls out those who focus on making a public spectacle of their generosity. Instead of identifying with the poor, they see themselves as “benefactors.” The act of giving gets distorted into being about them, rather than about those their gift is meant to serve. It’s easy to forget that all of us live lives rooted in gift. As the Apostle Paul says later, “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 NIV).
We might conclude that Jesus wants all our generosity to be anonymous. But, like so many things Jesus said, it’s more complicated than that. While a certain reticence is healthy, there are many examples of the early church encouraging people to be generous by pointing to the generosity of others. As one example, the Apostle Paul encourages the church in Corinth in their generosity by talking about another church’s collection for the poor (2 Corinthians 8-9). It’s a good thing to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24 NIV).
In my own experience, sometimes it is easier to remain anonymous. No one likes getting innumerable solicitations for year-end gifts. Staying below the radar is sometimes necessary but not always appropriate. Jesus’ words challenge us not to be secretive for our own sake but so that the focus might be on those in need. And sometimes, that requires us to go public so that we can stand with those who are in need and encourage others to do the same.
In the end, it’s worth remembering that all of life is a gift. Or, to say it a bit more starkly, we all are poor. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are all recipients of the gift of God’s remarkable creation and extraordinary redemption.
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 (2 Corinthians 8:9 NIV).
That’s the measuring stick for our generosity. And that’s the high watermark for our leadership.
How does your generosity show solidarity with the poor?
Take time to review your year-end charitable giving. How do your gifts reflect your concern for those who are weak and vulnerable? What practically might you do to express your solidarity with the poor?
Giver of all good gifts,
In this season of Thanksgiving, we are grateful for the many gifts you have given us – the large and the small, the seen and the unseen.
Help us in this season to see those among us whom we often choose not to see. Help us to recognize our common humanity and the common gift of life that you have given us all. And open our hearts and our resources to them. Help us to share the little we have with those who have nothing so that no one will go without.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: God Is Your Reward.
Subscribe to Life for Leaders
Sign up to receive a Life for Leaders devotional each day in your inbox. It’s free to subscribe and you can unsubscribe at any time.
During his adult life, Uli Chi has lived and worked in the intersection between business, the academy and the church. He has had the privilege of serving as past Board Chair of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, as current Vice Chair of the Board of the Max De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Seminary, and as current Chair of the Executive Committee of the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University. He has also been involved in all aspects of local church leadership, including as a member of the adult ministries team’s teaching faculty at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle.
Click here to view Uli’s profile.