Have a question about life, love, or faith? Post it as a comment or email it to melfert@stjohns-cathedral.org, or submit your question online privately.

The Buddha says to give when asked. Jesus also says to give unto others. I want to do this, but how do I know when the timing is right, and how much is enough? I want to give to all who ask of me, but I don’t make much money. I don’t mind cutting back on luxuries, but the reality is I still need my pocket change for parking meters and money for food, bills, etc. Yet I feel guilty walking past a homeless person or not putting money in the plate at church every week, or not donating when a charity calls.

- Giver

Helping the homeless

Helping the homeless photo courtesy Shutterstock

Dear Giver:

Thanks to modern technology, it took me under a minute to find every variation there is on the word “give” in the four canonical Gospels. (I imagine that you could do something similar with Buddhism’s sacred texts. Because my knowledge of the Buddha’s teachings is really limited, however, prudence demands that I confine myself to talking about Jesus.) Lots of Jesus’ sayings on the subject of giving do, indeed, have to do with money. But Jesus also talks about giving light, giving glory, giving rest, giving words, giving the Spirit and giving eternal life. That suggests to me that Jesus understands giving as something which includes money but not as something which is limited to money. So, let’s talk about financial giving. But, as we do so, let’s also wonder about the other kinds of giving that we might discover.

For better or for worse, money is one of the major ways that we assign importance in our society — as one of my mentors says, show me your check book (or your credit card statement, as the case may be) and I’ll tell you what’s important to you. Thus, periodically reviewing your income and your expenditures is not just financially prudent, it’s also a vital way of making sure that your priorities are aligned with your values. Some of us have been startled to realize just how much we are spending on Starbucks and smartphones and how little we are giving to the communities which we say sustain us!

These days, Mrs. FKB and I use the Biblical tithe as the guide to our financial giving. That is to say that we give away 10 percent of our income to our church and to other charities. Tithing is an important part of our spiritual practice — it’s one of the ways that we work on living our lives through a lens of gratitude, of generosity and of compassion.

There was a time, however, when tithing was impossible for us. Both when I was a student and during those stretches when one or both of us were underemployed, attempting to give away 10 percent of our income would have been a choice to send our kids to bed hungry — a tithe would have simply been too much. By contrast, if we look ahead, there probably will come a time in our lives when a tithe won’t be enough — in a couple of decades, should our children be done college and our mortgage retired, we’ll be called to give away much more.

Jesus teaches us to be generous in our financial giving. What Jesus does not do is teach us to give away money until we’re destitute or to wrack ourselves with guilt when we’re maxed out. Therefore, Giver, donate in a way that is genuinely sacrificial for you. But also learn how to graciously and firmly say “no” when you’ve reached a reasonable limit. In addition to being healthy and financially responsible, that’s also a smart way to donate; you can do more good by making a significant gift to three or five charities than you can by giving a token gift to 50 charities.

Let me leave you with a story, Giver. I met a man a while back who regularly went to the bank to take out a stack of two-dollar bills (yes, there is such a thing). He kept them in his pocket in order to have something to give away when people asked him for money on the street. That’s a really cool idea. But it’s not what caught my attention. What caught my attention was what the man did after he handed over the two bucks: he would shake the hand of the person asking for money, introduce himself and ask the recipient of the two dollars what his or her name was.

How much did he give away in that moment? And how much did he receive?

That man’s actions were simple. But they offer us a glimpse of what God’s kingdom looks like. The offer us a hint at what Jesus means when he says, “give, and it will be given to you.”

Have a question about life, love, or faith? Post it as a comment or email it to melfert@stjohns-cathedral.org, or submit your question online privately.

Categories: Beliefs


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Martin Elfert

Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which the Divine was at work in the world. Shortly thereafter, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination.

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