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Alms-Giving

In Christ’s teach­ing, alms-giv­ing goes togeth­er with fast­ing and prayer. We have seen that this is also the teach­ing of Isa­iah (See Fast­ing) and of the Old Tes­ta­ment gen­er­al­ly. When one prays and fasts, one must show love through active gen­eros­i­ty to oth­ers.

Beware of prac­tic­ing your piety before men, in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heav­en. Thus, when you give alms, sound no trum­pet before you, as the hyp­ocrites do…that they may be praised by men. Tru­ly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1–4)

As with fast­ing and prayer, the gifts of help to the poor must be done strict­ly in secret, so much so that one should, as it were, even hide from him­self what he is giv­ing to oth­ers, not let­ting one hand know what the oth­er is doing. Every effort must be made, if the gift will be pleas­ing to God, to avoid all osten­ta­tion and boast­ful­ness in its giv­ing.

As we have already seen, there is no real love if one does not share what he has with the poor.

…if any one has the world’s goods and sees his broth­er in need, yet clos­es his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (I John 3:17)

Such was the com­mand of the law of Moses as well.

If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren, in any of your towns with­in your land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not hard­en your heart or shut your hand against your poor broth­er, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him suf­fi­cient for his need, what­ev­er it may be. Take heed lest there be a base thought in your heart, and you say, ‘The sev­enth year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye be hos­tile to your poor broth­er, and you give him noth­ing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and it be sin in you. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudg­ing when you give to him; because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you under­take. For the poor will nev­er cease out of the land; there­fore I com­mand you, you shall open wide your hand to your broth­er, to the needy and to the poor, in the land. (Deuteron­o­my 15:7–11)

Such also was the teach­ing of Wis­dom.

The poor is dis­liked even by his neigh­bor, but the rich has many friends.

He who despis­es his neigh­bor is a sin­ner, but hap­py is he who is kind to the poor.

He who mocks the poor, insults his Mak­er, he who is glad at calami­ty will not go unpun­ished. (Proverbs 14:20–21, 17:5)

Accord­ing to St. John Chrysos­tom, no one can be saved with­out giv­ing alms and with­out car­ing for the poor. St. Basil the Great says that a man who has two coats or two pair of shoes, when his neigh­bor has none, is a thief. All earth­ly things are the pos­ses­sions of God. “The earth is the Lord’s and the full­ness there­of, the world and those who dwell in it.” (Psalm 24:1) Men are but stew­ards of what belongs to the Lord and should share the gifts of His cre­ation with one anoth­er as much as they can. To store up earth­ly pos­ses­sions, accord­ing to Christ, is the epit­o­me of fool­ish­ness, and a rich man shall hard­ly be saved. (cf. Luke 12:15–21)

How hard it is for those who have rich­es to enter the King­dom of God! For it is eas­i­er for a camel to pass through the eye of a nee­dle than for a rich man to enter the King­dom of God.

Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?”

But he said, “What is impos­si­ble with men is pos­si­ble with God.” (Luke 15:24–27, Matthew 19: 23–26, Mark 10:23–27)

Woe unto you that are rich, for you have received your con­so­la­tion. Woe unto you that are full now, for you shall hunger. (Luke 6:24–25)

For He who is mighty…has filled the hun­gry with good things, but the rich He sent away emp­ty. (Luke 1:53)

The rea­son why a rich man can hard­ly be saved, accord­ing to Jesus, is because when one has pos­ses­sions, he wants to keep them, and gath­er still more. For the “delight in rich­es chokes the word of God, and so it proves unfruit­ful” in man’s heart. (Matthew 13:22, Mark 4:19, Luke 8:14)

Accord­ing to the apos­tle Paul, the “love of mon­ey” — not mon­ey itself — is the “root of all evils.”

There is great gain in god­li­ness with con­tent­ment; for we brought noth­ing into the world, and we can­not take any­thing out of the world; but if we have food and cloth­ing, with these we shall be con­tent. But those who desire to be rich fall into temp­ta­tion, into a snare, into many sense­less and hurt­ful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruc­tion. For the love of mon­ey is the root of all evils; it is through this crav­ing that some have wan­dered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs. (I Tim­o­thy 6:6–10, cf Hebrews 13:5–6)

The apos­tle him­self col­lect­ed mon­ey for the poor and great­ly praised those who were gen­er­ous in giv­ing.

The point is this: he who sows spar­ing­ly will also reap spar­ing­ly, but he who sows boun­ti­ful­ly will also reap boun­ti­ful­ly. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluc­tant­ly or under com­pul­sion, for God loves a cheer­ful giv­er. And God is able to provide…so that you may always have enough of every­thing and may pro­vide in abun­dance for every good work. As it is writ­ten, “He has dis­trib­uted freely, he has giv­en to the poor; his right­eous­ness endures for­ev­er.” (Psalm 112:9)

You will be enriched in every way for great gen­eros­i­ty which…will pro­duce thanks­giv­ing to God… (2 Corinthi­ans 9:6–12)

The spir­i­tu­al per­son must share what he has with the poor. He must do so cheer­ful­ly and not reluc­tant­ly, secret­ly and not for the praise of men. He also must do so, as the poor wid­ow in the gospel, not out of his abun­dance, but out of his need.

And Jesus sat down oppo­site the trea­sury, and watched the mul­ti­tude putting mon­ey into the trea­sury. Many rich peo­ple put in large sums. And a poor wid­ow came, and put in two cop­per coins, which make a pen­ny. And He called His dis­ci­ples to Him, and said to them, “Tru­ly, I say to you, this poor wid­ow has put in more than all those who are con­tribut­ing to the trea­sury. For they all con­tributed out of their abun­dance; but she out of her pover­ty has put in every­thing she had, her whole liv­ing.” (Mark 12:41–44, Luke 21:2)

Giv­ing alms, there­fore, must be a sac­ri­fi­cial act if it has any spir­i­tu­al worth. One can­not give mere­ly what is left over when all his own needs are sat­is­fied. One must take from one­self and give to oth­ers. In the spir­i­tu­al tra­di­tion of the Church it is the teach­ing that what one saves through fast­ing and absti­nence, for exam­ple dur­ing the spe­cial lenten sea­sons, should not be kept for oth­er times but should be giv­en away to the poor.

In recent times the teach­ing has devel­oped that the spir­i­tu­al man should work with­in the process­es and pos­si­bil­i­ties of the free soci­eties in order to make a social struc­ture in which the poor will not mere­ly be the object of the char­i­ty of the rich, but will them­selves have the chance to work and to share in the com­mon wealth of man. In this way the poor will have dig­ni­ty and self-respect through assum­ing their just place as mem­bers of soci­ety. “We do not want hand-outs,” say the poor, “we want to be able to learn and to work for our­selves.” The spir­i­tu­al per­son is the one who works to make this hap­pen; and it is right and praise­wor­thy to do so. The only temp­ta­tions here would be to have this atti­tude and to under­take this action with­out per­son­al sac­ri­fice, and to think that when such a “just soci­ety” will exist — if it ever will — all of men’s prob­lems will be solved. The spir­i­tu­al deca­dence of many wealthy per­sons demon­strates that this is not the case. Thus the words of Christ remain for­ev­er valid and true:

…the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me…if you would be per­fect, go, sell what you pos­sess and give to the poor, and you will have trea­sure in heav­en; and come, and fol­low me.” (Matthew 19:21, Mark 14:5–7, Luke 18:22, John 12:8)

The one who is tru­ly per­fect as the Father in heav­en is per­fect is the one who gives all for the sake of oth­ers, in the name of Christ, with Him, and for His sake. Such a per­son is most tru­ly liv­ing the spir­i­tu­al life.