Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, in which is read this from the Gospel of St. Matthew: “ . . . when you give to the needy . . . when you pray . . . when you fast . . .”
Thus, throughout the history of the Christian Church, the season of Lent has focused on these three things: giving to the needy, prayer, and fasting. Let us look at the first: giving to those in need.
God has distributed the human race into two categories: those who possess wealth and are to give to the needy (Matt 6:1–4) and those who are in need, who are to be helped by the giving of others (Deut 15:11). But Scripture gives no third category (Chemnitz, Loci, “On Alms”). But we object, “There must be. Is not self-sufficiency a virtue?”
If you are self-sufficient, if you live by your own merits and not from the giving of another, then you are wealthy. You are called to give to the needy, to help your neighbor in his needs. But even this isn’t the whole story. For you have brought nothing into this world and everything you have and are has been given by God’s grace from His fatherly divine goodness and mercy. You have received all things because of God’s giving to you.
More than this, the generosity of God in the giving of His son, our Lord Jesus Christ, has saved us from our debt because of sin. God has loved us. Christ has died for us. It is this generosity
of the God who counts us righteous for Christ’s sake that inspires the wealthy and the poor to be united in the common task of giving to the needy and receiving needed gifts. His generosity begets the generosity of His people.
But we are obsessed with the ideals of “living well” and “the good life.” Indeed America has enjoyed such unparalleled prosperity that even those of middle and low means may seek this ideal. But at what cost? For what will a man exchange his soul? “The good life” and “living well” are not in and of themselves bad. We should live joyfully and be content with what we have, recognizing daily in thanksgiving that God has given us every good thing. But let us not ignore those in need. Let us not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to the needs of Christ’s Church on earth, which dispenses the very gifts of forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and everlasting salvation in the Gospel and the Sacraments. Rather, let us give as we have received, that joy in God’s temporal and eternal blessings may be full for all.
For when you give to the church, you pass along those things that God alone has given. You do not earn God’s favor but rather demonstrate the very compassion of God the Father and Christ. You reflect what They have done and are doing for you. This is not a burden but a joy. For He has given you a part in the administration of His kingdom. He provides for the needy through your hands. He ensures that the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments are given out through your hands. And He honors and blesses this work and generosity as it redounds to those around you.
So as you journey with the crucified and risen Lord to His cross and the empty tomb, think not of how your giving has lacked in the past. And do not be afraid. For where you have failed to give, Christ who is gracious and merciful has never failed. He forgives. He cleanses. He blesses. His perfect life counts as your life. He has paid for everything by His death and overcome it for you in
His resurrection. He proclaims you to be righteous, innocent, holy, and perfect in every good work—even in the work of giving.