Do Not Let Your Left Hand Know What Your Right Hand Is Doing: Jean
American Generosity. Americans are among the most generous people in the world. In a study conducted for the UK based Charities Aid Foundation, Gallop asked individuals from around the world three questions:
Have you done any of the following in the past month:
(i) helped a stranger who needed help?
(ii) donated to charity?
(iii) volunteered your time to an organization?
The survey was taken over a ten-year period and included results from approximately 1.3 million individual interviews. Not surprisingly, the USA ranked number 1. One needn’t look any further than our community food pantries and voluntary responses to tornados and hurricanes to see American generosity in action. We are by no means a perfect society but there is a rich vein of generosity in the American spirit.
I attribute our ranking, which admittedly is opinion, to our culture which is still influenced by Judeo and Christian values, both of which promote generosity, especially to those in need. I am not speaking here against other cultures or nations, with which I have little experience, but am simply trying to understand America’s spirit of generosity.
Covid-19. When the pandemic first became national news around February or March of this year, I thought at that time that America could manage comparatively well and, in particular, that Christians could be leading citizens in a communal response marked by generosity and a spirit of looking out for the health of one another. I thought churches, seeded throughout the country, could be public witnesses of generosity and hope, grounded not in fear but in Christ and His Spirit of neighborly love.
American Responses. However, to my dismay, I have been, thus far, sorely disappointed and dead wrong in many cases. Without unfairly generalizing, because with tens of thousands of churches in America, there is no single or unified response to the pandemic (and many have reacted with generosity), many Americans, and among them many Christians, have taken on a role in response to the pandemic, not of generosity, but of resistance and denial; not of service to the neighbor, but of advocacy for individual rights at the neighbor’s expense.
I hear a frequent drumbeat of Americans saying to one another, “If you do not feel safe, stay home,” but I am going out without a mask and without social distancing. Fair enough, but does that sound at all like generosity? How would a congregation commune together with such a spirit of division? How can a person who needs to work outside the house to feed his or her family stay at home?
Cognitive Dissonance. I will not speculate on the thoughts of non-Christians here, but I have been confused by the Christian response to the wearing of masks and CDC guidelines to social distance. Some have responded by becoming their own doctors and infectious disease experts. Others have responded by denying the existence of the pandemic as a public health emergency. Some have politicized the pandemic. But missing from the conversation among many Christians is the spirit of generosity, a spirit that America is known for. That is what confuses me.
Do Not Let Your Left Hand Know What Your Right Hand Is Doing. I have no doubt for the vast majority of Christians that, if they could know with certainty that any time they wore a mask to the supermarket they would save or prolong another life, they would happily wear a mask. But this is what distinguishes generosity in a pandemic from generosity after a hurricane: we do not know if on any occasion that we wear a mask we have helped anyone. Maybe we have; or maybe we haven’t. On any given occasion, my wearing a mask may protect someone else or it may not; it may break a chain of infection, or it may not; someone else’s mask may protect me, or it may not. I do not know, and most likely I will never know. Only in the aggregation of anonymous epidemiological statistics is our generosity recorded.
As I have thought about my response, as well as the positions of other Christians, I have been drawn to the Sermon on the Mount, Chapter 6, and Jesus’ teaching on final judgment in Matthew 25. In those Scriptures, Jesus describes the invisibility of Christian generosity. It is not seen by the public and is even invisible to the disciple himself or herself; but it is seen by our Father in heaven. This invisible generosity is not rewarded here on earth but is rewarded by our Father in heaven. Invisible generosity is real generosity.
Living by Faith. The Christian life is one lived from beginning to end by faith, not by sight. Our love from God is by faith, not by sight. Our righteousness before God is by faith, not by sight. Our prayers are given and mostly answered by faith, not by sight. Even our generosity in the middle of a pandemic may be offered and commended by faith, not by sight. I do not think we are any less generous if we cannot see the fruit of our generosity. Our Father in heaven sees it.
The Christian witness is not primarily marked by political protest, defiance and civil disobedience. It is marked by generosity, aimed towards each other, as well as towards our neighbors in need, including our enemies. That generosity may be interpreted by the world as defiance and civil disobedience; and so Christians suffer for righteousness sake, for Christ’s sake; but not for one’s own sake or in defense of his or her own “rights.” The Christian witness is marked by going out clothed in Christ.
For the sake of our neighbors, may we express our generosity invisibly in the coming months by each doing his or her part to contain the Covid-19 epidemic, by listening to our nation’s health experts, by wearing masks and by social distancing. This is not a mark of fear or of political correctness, but of generosity and communal responsibility. Our Father in heaven, who sees all and knows all, will reward our generosity. Amen.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Mt. 6:1-4) Amen.