Why Giving is Good For You
In a previous blog we looked at the parable of the servants and the talents. It is one of my favorite parables, and it appears in both Matthew 25 and Luke 19. Both versions run something like this:
1. Master gives three servants differing amounts of money, goes on long trip.
2. Master returns after a long time to see how servants stewarded his property.
3. Servant with the most doubles the master’s money, receives congratulations and more resources.
4. Servant with a medium amount doubles the master’s money, receives congratulations and more resources.
5. Servant with least amount buries money and does nothing with it. Gnashing of teeth and outer darkness ensue.
The lesson is that God is big into stewardship. It is part of how He grows us into mature men and women who can handle His authority. But what surprised me is what comes before and after this parable- giving, and sheep references.
In Matthew 25, just after the “talents” parable, Jesus follows up with a parable about the end times- the story of the sheep and the goats. The Son of man will separate the two groups, and put the sheep on His right, and the goats on His left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” Matthew 25:34-36
The righteous ask the Lord when they did all these things and he replies,
“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” 25:40
Things don’t go so well for the goats, because they did none of the things the sheep did.
Isn’t that interesting: just after Jesus tells a parable about initiative and building, He turns around and tells a parable about kindness and giving to the needy.
Let’s go to Luke.
Just before we get to the parable of the servants and talents (In Luke it's "minas") Jesus meets Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a tax collector, a job with a bad reputation for extortion. Being a short man, Zacchaeus climbs up a sycamore-fig tree to see Jesus.
“When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost.’” Luke 19:9
That last sentence is a quote from a prophesy by Ezekiel. Let’s go there next.
In Ezekiel 34 the prophet is speaking against the leaders of Israel for not looking after the people. He uses the metaphor of shepherds and sheep and goats. Israel’s leaders were the shepherds. They ate the curds, wore the wool, and slaughtered the best sheep, but they didn’t look after the sick or injured or lean. They scattered the flock to be eaten by wild animals.
With no protectors around, the goats and the strong sheep took advantage of the weak.
“I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek (lit. greasy) and the strong (lit. hard) I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.” Ezekiel 34:16
“See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak (lit. rubbed or worn) sheep with your horns, until you have driven them away, I will save my flock and they will no longer be plundered, I will judge between one sheep and another. I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them.” Ezekiel 34:20-23
There are so many lessons in these stories, but I’ll just highlight a few.
1. God intentionally teamed parables about initiative and industry with stories about kindness and generosity. They are meant to go together. God knew that there would always be people who are strong and those who are weak. By having us live together rather than separating ourselves, the strong learn to nurture, and the weak can be strengthened.
2. When protectors move out, predators move in. God spends a good amount of time berating the leaders of Israel because they had a job to do. They were supposed to protect and care for the flock. When they abandoned their responsibility, all sorts of predators rushed into the void: wild animals, goats, and stronger sheep. You can see this same storyline play out in churches, schools, and families.
3. When God appeals to the strong and wealthy to be kind to the poor, He does so by reminding them of the true hierarchy. God is above the strong, and He takes up the case of the weak. He even says in Proverbs 19:17, “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.”
4. Don’t be so sure you know who is strong and who is weak. I would have bet 100 minas that Zaccheaus was a goat. But it is clear from Jesus’ response that He considered Zacchaeus a lost sheep. Even the name Zacchaeus means “purity”. Somewhere he strayed from his design, but Jesus poked through that façade in one sentence. Turns out Zach was a softie. He needed to spend some time with the Shepherd.
5. We are not all weak in the same area. We are not all strong in the same way. Zacchaeus knew how to build wealth, but his choice of profession tells me he had trouble making friends. The crowds around Zacchaeus were more righteous from a moral standpoint, but they had no skills when it came to forgiveness or reconciliation. What Jesus offered was a blueprint for stitching together communities without exploitation by the strong, or vengeance from the weak. That would be handy right about now.
Throughout Scripture, we see that God made receiving, building, and giving a natural sequence. Sadly, not many of us excel in all three areas. Some are great at receiving, but lack building skills. Some may be fantastic builders, but don’t give well. Some are good givers, but struggle to receive from others.
In whatever place you find yourself, know that you can grow. Know that God wants you to be excellent in all three areas. That is the mark of maturity.
From one sheep to another,
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