Living Tension Part II: Philanthropy vs. Generosity vs. Hospitality

Quite a few people believed Part I of this series was about them. That is both true and false. False in that the blog was not directed nor reflective of any specific person or persons. True in that the blog was an exposure and unveiling of Western-consumerist culture in which we all identify with and find ourselves. If Part I left you uneasy, maybe there are some deeper tensions to wrestle through.

If you haven’t done so already, please read Part I prior to this, Part II. As we move forward lets carry with us these brief statements expressing the message of Part I:

In both giving and receiving the heart must remain open, not closed.

In both giving and receiving the motivation must be from freedom not fear.

In both giving and receiving the act cannot negate the rest of God’s narrative

As we wrestle with living in tension a great place to root ourselves is in Scripture, so let’s begin with it:

Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate. – Genesis 18:4-8

She (Rebekah) went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” She said, “Drink, my lord.” And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels. The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not.  – Genesis 24:15-22

Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban. Laban ran out toward the man, to the spring. As soon as he saw the ring and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and heard the words of Rebekah his sister, “Thus the man spoke to me,” he went to the man. And behold, he was standing by the camels at the spring. He said, “Come in, O blessed of the Lord. Why do you stand outside? For I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.” So the man came to the house and unharnessed the camels, and gave straw and fodder to the camels, and there was water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him. – Genesis 24:29-32

These powerful stories in Scripture invite us into what God’s story is and what it is not.

Notice the difference between the stories of Abraham/Sarah and Rebekah, to that of Laban.

God’s story is not a show, it is not just about having and providing the resources to help. Look more deeply into the Text describing Laban. Laban ran to greet “the man” which we know to be Abraham’s servant. Laban had the resources and even provided those resources to “the man”. Yet, look deeper. “The man” unharnessed the camels, “the man” gave straw and fodder to the camels, “the man” washed his feet, and “the man” washed the feet of the men with him. Laban put on a great show. Laban gave “the man” the resources, but left him to do all the work himself. That was not the case with Abraham, Sarah, and Rebekah. Each of those stories showed unrelenting service and sacrifice for the guest and sojourner.

It is our contention that Western-consumerist culture has infiltrated our idea of God’s story, of true giving. Far too often we see Laban’s in this world and hold them up as Saints, as generous givers of their resources.

Philanthropy is defined by “the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.”

So, are we, as followers of Jesus, called to be a philanthropic people?

Or in being set apart, as a Holy Nation and a Kingdom of Priests, are we called to something greater?

God’s story is something greater. But what?

How do we parse through what culture deems the “gold standard” of doing good and what God desires?

Let’s continue with Dan Pallotta’s amazing Ted Talk, The way we think about charity is dead wrong. In it he scrutinizes the way we all view non-profits. We resonate deeply with his points. Maybe philanthropy has become just another market in Western culture. It finds it’s name rooted in love, but as Mr. Pallotta discusses, philanthropy and charitable giving were a creation of a penance system. Charitable “giving” was a construct of wealthy, capitalistic Christians who desired to “buy” their way into their idea of the world to come.

We do not think Jesus was after a 5 cents on the dollar kick back when He, in Matthew 19, tells the rich man to “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor,…then come follow Me.” The rich man isn’t evil. Jesus doesn’t argue whether the rich man has in fact kept all the commandments He listed. Jesus does say, in order to be complete, to enter into life, to have treasure in heaven — keep the commandments!

But Jesus mentions five not all six of the commandments regarding relationship with others.

The one He leaves out — do not covet.

In the words of Rob Bell, “coveting is the disease of always wanting more.” Greed is about the accumulation and protection of wealth. The rich man has issue with giving away his possessions. The rich man is greedy. Five percent to the poor is greedy.

Philanthropy is penance. And Jesus is not concerned with a self-inflicted slap on the wrist. Jesus takes the rich man’s question about life in the world to come and makes it about presently living out heaven on earth.

Maybe Jesus also thinks, like Ricardo Semler, “if you are giving back, you took too much.”

We believe generosity to be a step removed from philanthropy. It involves a deeper recognition of sacrifice and a more personalized giving.

But, we go one step further and believe generosity falls short of the example set for us by Abraham, Sarah, and Rebekah. Generosity is not bad, but it is missing something that is critical to bringing shalom into chaos. It is missing relief through relationship.

God’s story involves sacrifice and the surrender of comfort. God’s story involves stopping in your tracks and opening your home to strangers. God’s story involves being shade and water in a desert. God’s story involves being a refuge from the wind and shelter from the storm. Frankly, God’s story involves providing rest and relationship, not band-aids©.

God’s story is hospitality.


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