Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Ephesians 4:28
“Perhaps someone will say, what injustice is it, if I do not meddle in anyone else’s property, but diligently take care of my own? O impudent statement, what are you calling “your own”? Do you mean those things which you brought down with you in this world when you entered into this light, when you left your mother’s womb? With what property and with what provisions were you accompanied when you entered this world? Let no one call “his own” what is common to all. That which more than suffices for one’s expenses has been violently obtained.
You do not think, do you, that God is unjust, so that He does not distribute equally the provisions of life so that you are wealthy and in abundance, while others are in want and are needy? Do you not rather think that He wished to confer proofs of His kindness to you and to crown your poor neighbor with the virtue of patience?
When you have received the gifts from God and drawn them into your bosom, you do not think that you have done anything wrong, if you are the only one to have obtained the sustenance of so many people’s lives? Who then is so unjust and so greedy as he who uses the livelihood of many other people not merely to satisfy his own needs, but to have an abundance and ingratiate his delights?
…You should be reproached for nothing less than robbery when you are wealthy and can be of assistance and yet reject the requests of the poor. It is the bread of the hungry which you hold back. It is the widows’ covering which you hide away. It is the money to redeem the wretched that you dig up in your treasure chest.”
Ambrose of Milan (c. 339-397) as recounted in On Almsgiving by by Martin Chemnitz (St. Louis: LCMS World Relief and Human Care, 2004) 5.
Three thoughts this morning from sunny Florida.
Firstly, when Ambrose asks “What you are calling your own?” he smartly reminds people that they brought nothing into this world but were blessed with abundance because of God’s kindness to be a blessing to others. That’s what almsgiving is all about. If you have more than enough, there is likely someone you know who has less than enough. They are struggling to get by. Their work is not making ends meet. Their crisis situations are overcoming them financially. Help them.
Secondly, Ambrose contrasts those with material wealth as having “proofs of His kindness” and the poor neighbor as having “the virtue of patience”. This is a profound thought. At times when we have experience lack, we have found ourselves on our knees, waiting. Patience is something that you can only learn in a place of dependence on God. The rich want everything and expect it right away. The poor have learned to wait. When the rich share, they too learn patience while the poor experience a taste of delight. What a deep truth!
Thirdly, and most Americans think culturally rather than Christianly on this point, not to share abundance is robbery. We work to have resources to enjoy and share. To stockpile for ourselves before God is thievery. God sees it as such. As we have learned, a key reason for almsgiving is to bring about justice, equity, or fair balance as the Scriptures call it. Help others if you have been resourced to help. Do this during Lent and beyond. God sees and will bless you for it. Living this way reflects biblical generosity.