I have been trying to work ahead on my Sunday School lessons. Thus, I've been living with Luke 6 for a couple of weeks now. "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you... if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back... [L]ove your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back."
Even after soaking in it for a couple of weeks, I went to church Sunday morning with little idea where I was going to go with it. After all, I'm not living there. And neither are the others in the group.
My lack of preparedness actually worked out quite well, since only one member of the group showed up and we opted to join another class. Where, of course, we concluded that we can't really take Jesus' words literally and live that way. After all, if we did, we would soon join the rolls of the needy after all our stuff was gone, since the greediness of those around us will always far outstrip our resources.
Then last evening we had a session from the book When Helping Hurts in an ongoing attempt to figure out how to help the needy in our community. One person's name came up as a "poster child" for someone who comes to us often for help and seems either unable or unwilling (or a little of both) to find and keep gainful employment. I have been personally involved in the life of this man for quite a few years and mentioned that when he does have work, he has a generous spirit and tends to give away any money left over after meeting his immediate needs. The group quickly jumped on that as a place to start in helping him toward a better life. He needs to learn to take care of his family (fiancee and unborn baby) first.
"To be less generous," I rephrased.
No, not less generous. He just needs to care for his family first.
"And be less generous towards others," I repeated.
This did not go over well. We agreed we should find another person to discuss.
It's an interesting example of what happens when someone takes Luke 6 literally. Not that this person necessarily loves his enemy or follows any of the other instructions given in the passage. Rather, he has anger management issues that eventually end any employment he finds when he starts to view someone as his enemy and goes off on them. Still, I find it interesting that my church friends view his spirit of generosity as a character flaw.
One of my favorite passages on evangelism is from Rebecca Manly Pippert's book Out of the Saltshaker. She tells of counseling someone to just try living by the principles Jesus gave us. This person tried letting go of something someone took from her, and had amazing results. I have tried to follow that advice of just trying kingdom living as an experiment. But my boundaries are too entrenched to get very far in giving people what they ask of me. My resources are too small. I just know they would be exhausted if I tried it. Besides, I'm married and can't give away what isn't fully mine in the first place. Even my time isn't my own to give away. But I look at my generous friend and wonder if he's the one who needs 'fixed' or if it is my church friends and me who need a better perspective. What does it say that we see generosity as a flaw to be remedied? Is this the path to making converts "twice as much a child of hell as [we] are"?
"How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"
The one place I think I can start as far as learning the spirit of generosity from my impoverished friend is in the area of grace -- that goodwill toward others that overlooks their shortcomings and loves them deeply. Eugene Peterson tweeted this morning that "The world is no friend of grace." I added, "Nor, many times, is the church." The church can't afford to be generous with grace. People will take advantage of that type of generosity. I think that's the one place where I can take up the challenge of trying to live by the principles of Luke 6. Which includes, of course, cultivating grace toward my church friends who would love a chance to discipline the spirit of generosity out of my impoverished, but generous friend.