In part one of our four-part series on the different set of rules Christians are called to live by, Rev. Pedro Pillot of Asbury UMC in Camden, NJ offers an alternative understanding of growing through giving.
My name is Pedro Pillot. I’m the pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in Camden, New Jersey.
The first time I over drafted in my checking account, and got multiple $34 fees for spending more money than I had, I learned something about the world. The world tends to be generous toward those who have, and stingy toward those who don’t. And once you see it, you start to notice it everywhere. You realize it’s expensive to be poor. Like, if you can’t buy products in bulk, you end up paying more in the long term for your necessities, just because you started out with less. And it’s just the way things work, but it’s not the way things should be or the way things have to be.
In the Hebrew Bible, at the end of the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 24, God commands the ancient Israelites to leave behind whatever they missed on the first pass while they were harvesting their fields and vineyards and orchards. What they missed on the first pass was to be left for immigrant, for the orphan, for the widow, for people who didn’t have land of their own. See, the rules that we’re used to tell us that if it’s our vineyard, our orchard, our income, we have every right and duty to collect it all and give away some of it if we want. But God follows a different logic. God told those farmers to leave behind what was theirs for the benefit of people who didn’t own fields or vineyards or orchards. By default, they were to take care of those people who had no stake in their economy, no social protections.
The New Testament is even more extreme. Jesus teaches his students to give to whoever asks. He said, “If someone tries to take your jacket, you should give them your shirt too.” He teaches that rather than lending to people who can pay you back, you should lend to people who you know cannot pay you in return. He said we should live as though the good we do on earth fills up a bank account in heaven. The rules that we’re used to tell us that all of that is bad financial advice. But Jesus was operating on a different set of rules. He taught his students to live as though God was the leader. He called it the Kingdom of God, and naturally, like any other country, the Kingdom of God has its own laws based on its own culture. The Kingdom of God turns our expectations upside down and call us to love beyond the point of reason.
In the Kingdom of God, we recognize our obligation to make sure that those who don’t have enough, who may not enjoy all the social protections that we do, who haven’t inherited the same privileges that we have, can still get what they need. In the Kingdom of God, we know that what we call our own, is only in our hands for the moment. That our duty to keep ourselves fed also requires us to care for others. In the Kingdom of God, we recognize that even those who don’t have the means to feed themselves deserve just as much to eat.
The Kingdom of God that Jesus preached teaches us that generosity is not about being nice, or about giving a little bit of what we have left over. Generosity is living according to the principle that what a person has does not define who they are, and that our individual wellbeing is intrinsically tied to the wellbeing of the least fortunate individual.