implications of radical giving

Jesus’ practice and teaching about working (and giving) without asking anything in return has significant implications. For instance, it makes our services more available to the needy. If we are not working for repayment, then our services are not limited to those who can afford our fees. Then need, rather than ability to pay, becomes the decisive factor and the poor and vulnerable are favored rather than the rich. We begin to respond to the vulnerable as God does.

This is further emphasized when we recall that Jesus recommended the same free giving of our possessions as well. Jesus’ ideal was stated clearly to the rich young man: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mt 19.21) And in other places, the same radical giving is preached more broadly to his followers:

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.” (Lk 12.32-33)
So, in addition to making services equally available, Jesus’ free giving also makes resources available to all. Instead of savings and investments that keep resources in the hands of the wealthy and powerful, Jesus’ giving offers resources to the poor.

This has a leveling effect, reducing the painful separation between the rich and poor, making both resources and services available to the most needy. This is loving and just. But, as was seen in Jesus’ life, this effect is not accomplished by somehow making everyone rich. Instead, we see the expected result of such generous giving: Jesus and his disciples become poor with the poor. As he warned a prospective follower, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Mt 8.20) In this we see Jesus responding to the needs of the most vulnerable, and in doing so becoming equally vulnerable himself.

The result of this is a mutual giving and receiving of gifts. Jesus preached and practiced a radical giving of resources and work freely to those in need, which resulted in his own neediness. Yet Jesus accepts this neediness, trusting God. And happily accepts the gifts of those who choose to follow his example and give freely to him and his disciples. There are many stories of him eating at the tables of others and staying at their houses, and when he sent out his disciples he specifically instructed them to accept gifts (for their needs) in the same way. Needs are met by free giving and receiving, not demanded by deals or contracts or legal rights but motivated by mutual love.

So, through Jesus’ radical giving, work and resources become a way to draw people together rather than a source of contention. And those who follow him are drawn together in mutual vulnerability, in mutual weakness that looks to God in faith and so is content to give all and remain weak.