There’s an old tale of a monk who found a precious gem-stone. He picked it up and put it in his knapsack and carried it with his few other belongings. One day he struck up a conversation with a traveler. When the monk opened his knapsack to share some food, the traveler saw the jewel and asked the monk to give it to him. The monk did so readily.
The traveler went on his way, overjoyed by this unexpected gift that would bring wealth and security for the rest of his life.
After a few days, however, the traveler returned in search of the monk. Once he found him, he immediately gave the stone back and begged of the holy man: “Please give me something much more precious than this stone, as valuable as it is. Give me that which enabled you to give it to me.”
The particular feature of this monk that captures our attention is his generous spirit. Not his generous deed of giving away something precious, but his generous spirit that appears to shape his entire outlook on life. His generous spirit is part of his faith goal.
We like to distinguish these two aspects of generosity. Any of us is capable of carrying out a kind or charitable deed. All it takes is a soft moment, brought on by a compelling grab at our emotions, and our hands and wallets open wide. But a person who enjoys little spasms of generosity is not the same as one who is generous to the bone, as Jesus was generous to the bone.
A life steeped in generosity pours out love unconsciously. This is a person whose instinct for generosity is second nature or, as Jesus put it, reacts in a way that “your left hand (doesn’t) know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3).
These are the righteous ones in the parable of the final judgment, who seem surprised to learn that their reflexive kindness defined them. “When was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you . . . ?” (Matthew 25:38).
The most startling dimension of generosity may be the irrelevance of extensive wealth. Generosity has nothing to do with wealth, and everything to do with desire. The poorest of the poor can be as generous in spirit as the richest of the rich. The widow in the temple who gave her last two coins is an example of one whose desire runs deep. So are the men whom Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl remembers walking through the barracks comforting others and giving away their last piece of bread.
When 5,000 people sat hungry before Jesus one day, the disciples saw only scarcity. They proposed a go-it-alone strategy for resolving the crisis. Everyone in the crowd was to head home and fend for him or herself. Jesus stepped in to transform their frugal thinking into the mystery of abundance. Breaking open five loaves and sharing two fish would provide enough for all.
It can be hard to see how generosity fuels abundance, especially in a world where doctrines of fairness and reciprocation hold center stage. “There is no free lunch”, we hear. “You get what you deserve”. So what do you make of people who love you more than you deserve? And what about God who forgives you in more ways than you can comprehend or repay?
A deep generosity in the heart of God easily puzzles. We complain when others seem to land a better deal in life than we do. There is a payroll manager in scripture who looks and behaves strangely like God. When he says to his disgruntled friends, “Are you envious because I am generous?” we ought to sit up and pay close attention (Matthew 20:15).
Anyone can learn to be generous in life. It is, after all, one of the nine fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5. From those who have cultivated this fruit so well, I have drawn the following conclusions: Truly grateful people tend to be generous people. And generous people tend to be really happy people.
I don’t have scientific evidence to prove it – just a lot of experience to confirm it. I have never met a generous soul who is a grump. Should you even encounter one, however, take a good second look. You won’t want to confuse bursts of charity with bone-deep generosity.
Especially the bone deep generosity of Jesus in our gospel text.
Bartimaeus had no qualms about asking for help, and the results for him in doing so were nothing less than miraculous. He is an example of the kind of generosity and blessing that can come to us if we're willing to set aside our self-sufficiency for a moment, and seek out real help and healing from someone else.
He was sitting by the roadside as the crowd followed Jesus and his disciples out of Jericho on the way up to Jerusalem, when he heard that Jesus was about to pass by. Without hesitation, and without any sense of embarrassment, the blind man began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" (vv. 46-47).
Even the crowd around him thought this was scandalous and "sternly ordered him to be quiet," much like we'd be mortified to let anyone in public know that we had a problem (v. 48). But Bartimaeus continued to not only ask for help, but to cry out for it and it's through his story that we learn some important principles that can help us when we need to call for help:
1. Name your need, and vow to remain open to other possible resolutions.
Bartimaeus was a blind beggar, which meant that his only hope for a productive life was to regain his sight. He knows his need, but notice that he doesn't lead with his need for sight, but rather his need to be seen by Jesus.
He shouted, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner!" and not, "Have mercy on me, a blind man." Bartimaeus seemed to understand that his vision was not only clouded by cataracts but by his own need of spiritual healing. He opens himself to the possibility that his healing might be physical or spiritual, with an outside chance that it might be both. His faith goal is to be healed.
Asking for help begins when we acknowledge that we have a problem -- the presenting problem, yes, but also the underlying ones. While we may appear fine on the surface, we know that other needs are always lurking underneath. The more we try to hide it, the more insidious it becomes. There are certain things over which we are powerless, and sin is certainly one of them. To get help, be it physical or spiritual, we first have to name it.
Bartimaeus knows that, regardless of what's going on with his eyes, he's got even bigger problems. He prays the original sinner's prayer. He knows that Jesus can do something about the things that bind him, rather than the things that blind him. He is eager for whatever help Jesus can give. Are we as open to the possibility that we can be healed by Jesus, or by others whom he might send to help us?
2. Take a leap of faith and ask. We have to believe that we qualify for help before we can ask for help. Bartimaeus believed that he was worthy of help, not because he was a great person, but because he was one of God's children -- a Jew who had been looking for the arrival of the Son of David, the Messiah.
So, when Jesus heard his cries, and said, "Call him here" (v. 49), Bartimaeus responded by throwing off his cloak and leaping up to meet the one who could help him (v. 50). He puts himself in a position to receive help and risks further embarrassment in order to get close to Jesus. It's an act of faith. It is a faith goal.
Bartimaeus thinks to ask, and asking is the key to receiving most anything we need. Jesus, in fact, would tell his disciples, "Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours" (Mark 11:24). James, however, says that we "do not have because [we] do not ask" (James 4:2). Asking God for what we need in prayer and asking others for what we need in person opens the door to healing and wholeness and generosity.
Jesus' response to Bartimaeus is a question of invitation: "What do you want me to do for you?"
Bartimaeus is ready with a reply: "My teacher let me see again" (v. 51)
"What do you want me to do for you?" Can you imagine Jesus asking you that question? What would be your response? What are your deepest needs that you haven't asked Jesus or anyone else to help you with? How might you take a leap of faith and ask, believing that you can receive all that you need and more?
Jesus tells Bartimaeus, "Go; your faith has made you well" (v. 52). Faith can make us well, too. We may not receive precisely what we want, but we can be assured that Jesus is ready to supply our need. Faith is the catalyst for asking, and asking is the key to healing!
3. Be grateful. One of the keys to asking and receiving help is gratitude. When we have an attitude of gratitude, it tends to shake us out of our self-sufficiency, and allows us to celebrate what others have done for us.
In a way, giving thanks is the substance that unfreezes the wheels that drive community, and enables us to acknowledge our dependence on God and one another. Giving thanks through our financial commitment to our Divinity ministry unfreezes us to be generous.
When Bartimaeus received his sight, his first action was to follow Jesus up the road toward Jerusalem (v. 52). Although we know where Jesus is going (to his confrontation with the powers of evil on the cross), Bartimaeus is happy to go along, grateful to Jesus for all that he has done. His gratitude is not merely words, but the actions of a follower. He cannot reciprocate what Jesus has done for him, but he can give his life in response, he can be generous in response.
We know how good it feels to receive gratitude when we've done a service for others. It can feel just as good to give gratitude when someone has done something for us. It's not about quid pro quo, but rather about the simple act of saying, "Thank you." When we develop the discipline of gratitude, asking for and giving help becomes a lot easier.
We live in a world that has fallen, and can't get up on its own. We've fallen, too, and there are times that we need help in order to stand again. Let us not be afraid to ask, to have faith goals, to be generous, and to be grateful to the God who supplies all our needs, and be thankful for the people who are ready to help us on God's behalf!
As we begin a new ministry in sponsoring and supporting an Afghan refugee family, let us embody that bone-deep generosity of Christ!
As we baptize Milo Michael into the Lord’s family, let us be grateful to the God who has blessed Joshua and Lauren with a new son. Let us be faithful and generous in raising all our children to embody the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.