As mentioned two weeks ago, today we’re going to re-examine our financial generosity, because that’s the focus of today’s Second Reading.
However, I had a significant change of heart two weeks ago when my third action item was to ask you to think about increasing your sacrificial generosity. That Sunday afternoon, I realized: The priority is not for you to increase your sacrificial generosity. The priority is for me and the leadership of the parish to spend the money we already have on mission! When I wrote that homily, I was still living out of an old mindset, which said, “If we’re going to spend more money and run a deficit budget, I need to ask for help first.” But then I understood God’s faithfulness and yours and thought, “No, the parish leadership needs to prove to God and you that we’re willing to take risks for Him and for souls, and once we do, then you can support these initiatives.”
[Watch Fr. Justin’s homily delivery here.]
So, I’m actually telling you today that you don’t have to increase your generosity now! Can you believe this? The goal of our parish now is to be bolder with the gifts God has given us! I cannot tell you how happy I feel about this. I feel so free, knowing that He’ll take care of us!
Nevertheless, we’re still going to examine the Christian understanding of sacrificial giving because that’s the content of the Second Reading, and the time will come when God will ask us to increase it. The context for the Reading is that St. Paul is writing to the Corinthians, in modern-day Greece, asking their financial support to help Christians in Jerusalem who were suffering: “Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking” (2 Cor 8:7).
First, St. Paul wants the Corinthians to avoid over-spiritualizing our faith. People might say that faith is about belief in God, love, and other spiritual matters. But it also affects tangible things. Let’s say someone prays but doesn’t love their neighbour, or studies theology but doesn’t take care of their health (Thomas D. Stegman, SJ, Second Corinthians in Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture,195-196). That’s why St. Paul tells the Corinthians that their excellence in spiritual things should carry over into something practical.
Second, the term ‘generous undertaking’ is a loose translation of the word ‘grace,’ which St. Paul uses ten times in this part of his letter. ‘Grace’ means a favour, the goodwill of a giver, or the gratitude of a receiver; most importantly, it refers to God’s love for us, that He gave us Jesus, Who died and rose for us. St. Paul is reminding them and us that we’ve received the most important gifts, so we should be generous in giving as well.
Then he points to Jesus’ example of sacrificial generosity: “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). Jesus couldn’t suffer, yet, He took on our humanity and suffered humiliation so that we could share His glory. Sacrificial giving is part of this: We give up what we could use so that others will benefit.
Then St. Paul gives some practical teaching: “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need… As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little’” (2 Cor 8:13-15). When we talk about sacrificial generosity, it should hurt, meaning it challenges our current comfort level of giving, but it doesn’t mean it should cause us financial harm. Here are four steps or levels of generosity that help us grow without putting pressure on ourselves:
1) Planned giving: All generosity starts here, when we choose to designate money in our budget to give to others.
2) Priority giving: As we grow, we give to God first before other expenses. This is what the Bible means about giving God the ‘first fruits,’ because His mission is the most important mission. And our parish isn’t the only one sharing in His mission. If God calls you to help other spiritual missions, please do so!
3) Percentage giving: We don’t give a dollar amount, but a percentage of what God gives us, because He only gives us more so that we can give more.
4) Progressive giving: We increase our sacrifice regularly, if that’s what we discern is God’s call for us (Michael White & Tom Corcoran, Rebuilt, 182).
As we grow in spiritual maturity, we will ascend in these steps.
When St. Paul says, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little,’ he’s quoting the Book of Exodus, when the Hebrew people were in the wilderness and God gave them manna from heaven. God told them to go out every day and collect the manna, and that no one was to collect more than one day’s worth of ration. Why? It was to be an act of trust; He would give them their daily bread. Those who collected much would miraculously have just enough, and those who collected little would also miraculously have just enough.
This is a good opportunity to remind everyone that, if you have a job, then you should give financially. Even if you’re a student and have some money to buy a Starbucks coffee, you should give. If you are old enough to get an allowance, you should give. Don’t just have your parents contribute! If you have money, make sacrifices with it. It’s good to start young, since that will prevent greed and selfishness from growing in our hearts.
I want to praise God again for His faithfulness and your generosity! And please pray that we hire an amazing Director of Evangelization, and start moving on those other hires. Please pray that we’re bolder with the resources God has already given us.
There’s an amazing Evangelical group with a staff of 24 people that helps churches grow. They only put three months of operating expenses into the bank and spend the rest on mission. Their thinking is: If money is just sitting in the bank somewhere, it’s not a good stewardship of God’s resources. That’s what they tell churches to do as well. And we are going to aim for mission like this!
This is what’s called the abundance mindset (the more we give, the more we’ll receive), as opposed to the scarcity mindset (I can only give so much because, once I do, there won’t be much left for me). St. Paul teaches the abundance mindset: “He who supplies seed to the sower… will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness”(2 Cor 9:10). That’s how God works: The more we spend on His mission, the more He’ll send the resources.