When you think about generosity, what first comes to mind? Money, I bet! That’s a brilliant answer, but I believe there is more to generosity than finances.
I love the Christian culture. When someone mentions a financial need, God’s people meet that need with ridiculous generosity.
It reminds me of a time when Moses called for a freewill offering of goods needed to build the Ark of the Covenant. He anointed and appointed the chief Craftsman, Bezalel, to oversee the building project.
Exodus 36:2-7 -“Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work. They received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. So all the skilled workers who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left what they were doing and said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.” Then Moses gave an order, and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so, the people were restrained from bringing more because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.”
Can you even imagine? An offering being taken and people giving so much that there’s no room to store all the stuff people donated?
Note the word ‘willing’ in verse two. It appears from the text that God gave the craftsmen a choice. They could do the work, or they didn’t have to do it. I read this passage a few times in different translations, and they all basically say the same thing. Outside of the chief Craftsman, Moses didn’t conscript them; they volunteered. They did these things as a freewill offering, just as much as the rest of the Israelites did when they brought their offerings of precious metals, linens, leathers, and jewels.
By no means am I discounting the material sacrifice of the Israelites. Remember, this was the booty they carried out of Egypt. Those items probably had great sentimental value attached to them beyond the financial value. After all, these treasures were the first things they actually owned in their whole lives as formerly enslaved people, outside of the clothes on their backs. I can imagine they counted the cost as they walked away, empty-handed, from the tent set up to receive the offering.
However, I believe the craftsmen brought something more to the generosity table. I think their sacrifice of generosity was the most expensive – the gift of their time.
The Israelites who gave material goods walked away from their good deed in the morning, rejoicing that they could contribute to the project. But the rest of the day was theirs. They were free to go about their everyday lives.
But the artisans who freely did the work? It must have taken them months to finish the task set before them. They had to lay aside a commodity more precious than silver or gold – their time. They had to lay aside their Israelite version of day planners. Perhaps they had to give up hanging around with their friends around the campfire because they had to get up early in the morning to go do their job—a job that they volunteered to do.
If you go down to verse six, you’ll see that it wasn’t just the craftsmen investing in their time. No. Moses declares: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” You really can’t make anything without some sort of sacrifice of time.
Let’s jump ahead 1200 years to another of my favourite accounts of ridiculous generosity.
Imagine it’s a hot and dry day like it usually is in Jerusalem. You’re sitting with Jesus and the disciples, observing people coming and going to and from the temple.
You spot the rich and the famous and the esteemed clergy, easily spotted by the robes they wear as they pass by. And you see the everyday folk, the young mothers and fathers, with babies in arms heading towards the temple to have their children blessed. But you might miss one person. But don’t feel bad; she’s probably pretty nondescript. She is your quintessential little old lady.
Her clothes are neatly mended, but it’s obvious that these are probably her only set of clothes. While her hair is neatly plaited, her head covering shows signs of fraying. But if you were as observant as Jesus was that day, you’ll notice she’s holding something in her hand. She’s carrying something precious by the way she keeps it close to her chest.
Once the widow reaches the temple offering box, she sighs an audible sigh of relief, unclenches her sticky fist and pulls out an old coin purse that contains two small coins. She carefully drops them one by one in the box with shaky fingers. Hobbling her way into the temple, the old saint does so with a smile on her face. Her contribution is complete. Any anxiety that was within her drifts away. She knows that she’s done her part, never minding the physical sacrifice beyond the coins that now lay in the offering box. She could have asked a neighbour to drop off her offering, but she knew she had to bring it herself. There’s joy in ridiculous generosity.
This is a woman that Jesus saw that day in Luke 21:1-2 as he sat looking down at the temple. Jesus pointed out her lavish gift of generosity. Even in her abject poverty, she didn’t expect somebody else to fulfill her contribution.
I believe time is the most valuable commodity in 2022 for most people. As most people’s lives have become insanely busy, it is easier for them to give to a cause than to serve a cause.
It’s not uncommon for a church to struggle for weeks to gather enough volunteers to run an outreach generously financed by that church’s congregation through a single offering.
I’d like to celebrate all those who read this who pour generously into others with your time. Your sacrifice of time richly benefits those who need a hug and a smile, and a word of encouragement. Your generous gift of ten or fifteen minutes of intentional listening, giving someone a ride, shovelling a sidewalk, or mowing a lawn is just as powerful in the Kingdom as those two coins that widow woman placed in the temple’s offering box.
Until next week,
©2022 Katherine Walden