The root of Christian giving is found in our understanding of God and a reflection of what we see in Jesus' life. The essence of our faith is that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. That is the foundation of all our almsgiving - God's giving of Jesus to us, and there are three strands to this gift.
Firstly, it is gracious; that is, it does not need to be given, and certainly is a gift that we have not earned. This present is given not because we have been good and deserve it - far from it. It is not given because we have negotiated our way into a kind of contract with God. From us, nothing is demanded, though much may be expected.
Secondly, God's gift comes to us out of his pure love. The Creator continues to love his creation; after loving it into being, he loves it despite the mess that we make of it and of ourselves.
Gracious and unconditional
Thirdly, and as a consequence of the other two, this gift is unconditional. There is no trade-off. God risks rejection and still offers us his gift. We can overlook the magnanimous gesture of God if we so desire, but the gift is still there waiting for us to take up his offer. Gracious, loving and unconditional.
This lesson is also surely learnt as we look at the life of Jesus. His presence in
the world is surrounded by an air of gra-ciousness. The healings, the teaching, the itinerant life all show that Jesus matches the Father's model to a fault. And is not Jesus one who offers his friendship unconditionally? He may say go and sin no more' but this is not a condition of forgiveness, for he will say the same again and again - even seventy times seven if need be. It was expected of Peter that he would be the rock on which the Church would be built, even though he would go on to deny any knowledge of Jesus.
So, our almsgiving, if it is with a Christlike determination, offered with gra-ciousness, love and without condition, is an imitation of Christ's own life. But the matter goes even further.
Becoming one with God
Jesus was not imitating the love of God; he was not following orders, as it were. Because we believe that in the Incarnation the gift from God was God himself living and loving in this world, Jesus was living the life of God. God's gift and Jesus' life are all of one.
In God's invitation to us to be almsgivers, he is not asking us to follow his good example, but to join in with his life. That is what our Christian faith is all about, sharing in the nature of the love within the Godhead. That will be our reward, not to see God from a distance, but to be absorbed into his life, and become one with him.
So our almsgiving is not just a discipline that we inflict on ourselves to set Lent apart from the rest of the Christian year. By giving, with graciousness, with love, and without condition, we are entering into the reconciling work of Christ.
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