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Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 19th July 2021.

‘Generosity’

The second reading set in the Church of England Lectionary for Morning Prayer on Friday was from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 9, and it included these words:

“The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

When we think of giving, we tend to think first about charitable giving, about giving money to benefit someone else. Many people do give generously to help the poor, the sick, the hungry, the homeless and others. St. Paul is saying, give what you can afford, and do it cheerfully, not out of a feeling of compunction. There is an old Jewish proverb which says: “The man who gives little with a smile gives more than the man who gives much with a frown.”

Of course, some people can afford more than others, but may not necessarily give as freely as they could afford. Albert Camus, the French philosopher, author, and journalist, who died in 1960, once said: “Too many people have decided to do without generosity in order to practice charity”. In other words, in order to be seen to practice charity, they give the minimum they can. I can recall some years ago collecting for Christian Aid in a parish outside our benefice. From five of the most expensive houses in the village I came away with a total of £2.00 in small change.

If we are going to give at all, then we need to give willingly and lovingly. Love is all-important. The American academic Richard Braunstein said: “It is possible to give without loving, but it is impossible to love without giving.”

St. Paul said: “The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” When we give freely and generously and with love, it benefits both the giver and the receiver.

Perhaps our experience in life of receiving may be reflected in our willingness to give. For example, if our parents have given us a good education, then we want the same for our own children. If we have been greatly helped in our careers or work by someone whom we have admired for their help and support, we may wish to be just as helpful to others who are wanting to learn. Looking at this the opposite way round, people who do not receive love or support when young may not show love to others later in life. For example, I have heard it said that people who as children were abused by their parents are more likely to abuse their own children. But equally I am sure we have all come across people in life who have had a poor upbringing, but have later become very generous givers to others. They have learned how to give, because they have learned how to love.

Generosity is not something we should flaunt. It should be personal to the giver and the receiver, and not an ostentatious show of generosity. It is a bit like prayer. You may recall the story in St. Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus says:

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

The late actress and comedian Joyce Grenfell once said: “If ever I am rich enough to make generous gestures, let me hide my hand. Let me give freely and my giving take freedom from it.” The Australian journalist Clive James wrote this about her: “She was one of the few who actually did good by stealth”.

So our homework for the coming week (!) is to think about whom we might be generous to and how – and then actually do it! Generosity does not have to be about money. It can be about some other way of showing love and support to someone else, to someone we know, or to someone we may never know. Here are some suggestions from Arthur Balfour, who was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1902 to 1905:

“The best thing to give …
to your enemy is forgiveness;
to an opponent, tolerance;
to a friend, your heart;
to your child, a good example;
to a father, deference;
to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you;
to yourself, respect;
to all men, charity.”

Fr. Ray