II Cor. 9:6-11 and Matt. 6:1-6, 16-18
Yesterday one of the students in the class I am teaching this week raised the question of whether we should strive to be happy. Is happiness something we should desire, something we should seek? Is it selfish to want to be happy?
We live in a culture that constantly encourages us to seek our own happiness, and which bombards us with images of what happiness looks like. Smiling, care-free people show us how happy we will be when we own this shiny new car, when we wear this expensive jewelry, when we visit this exotic vacation spot, when we try this new medication, when we open this refreshing can of soda!
The scriptures we have read today point us towards a different kind of happiness, a happiness that is based on giving rather than receiving. When we live and act with generosity, with greater concern for our neighbors than for ourselves; when we give without expecting to receive; we will discover a deeper and longer-lasting happiness than that which the world offers.
Paul encourages the Christians at Corinth the give cheerfully, not reluctantly or under compulsion. He promises them that they will be enriched by their generosity, because it will produce thanksgiving in those who benefit from it. “One who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,” he assures them, “and one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” If they wish to know God’s abundance in their lives, they should act with the same generosity with which God has acted towards them.
In the same way, Jesus encourages us to be generous in praying, in giving alms, in fasting – not looking for recognition and approval from others, but offering our gifts and ourselves without thought of return. Those who do these things only to be noticed and praised by others have their reward, says Jesus; the empty, fleeting reward of having been seen.
How can we grow in the spirit of generosity? Let me suggest some ways.
- By awakening to each new day with the intention of brightening someone else’s day – by listening and caring, by small acts of kindness, by offering a compliment, by sharing a burden.
- By deepening our sense of gratitude, and growing in our awareness that all that we have and all that we are comes from God, and that we are not our own, but belong to him. We can give freely to others, because God has given so freely to us.
- By gazing on the vastness of the sea or the sky, by contemplating the stars and considering the vastness of the universe. When we do this, our attachment to our own smallness, the obsession with “me, me, me” will fall away. The heart will open and fill with joy and wonder, and we will cease to be interested in acquisitiveness and competitiveness.
“Give and it will be given to you,” Jesus said, “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:38).
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