Jesus is still talking directly to the disciples, although he’s also surrounded by a crowd of people who have come for miracles and healings. But his words are about discipleship, about what it means to truly follow him, and more, what it means to imitate him in the hopes of being able to heal and bring peace like he does. Since his actions and words are revolutionary, he is laying out a revolutionary model for his disciples, one that will overthrow all of their societal assumptions about what is good and what is right.
We barely get three sentences in to these instructions before we confront one of our own deeply held societal assumptions. “Give to everyone who begs from you,” he says. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard Christians quibble with this injunction. People tell stories of giving money to a beggar and then seeing him enter a liquor store or drive away in a nice car. Wouldn’t it be better to simply give to some honorable charity, particularly if we afraid that we’re feeding people’s addictions or letting them get one over on us? Jesus’ answer is no. Give to everyone who begs from you. He insists on this because giving is spiritually transformative. In a way, its not about the person who is asking you for money. It’s about whether you can cultivate a spirit of generosity, and hold your wealth and possessions loosely.
“Do good,” he says, “and lend expecting nothing in return.” We might agree with everything surrounding these statements. We might concede that loving our enemies is important, and that we shouldn’t sit in judgement on others. But many of us openly rebel against the idea of giving freely, with no expectation of anything in return, and not only that, giving to people who might be unworthy.
But Jesus tells us to imitate God, and God is profligate. If we are to be imitators of Christ and perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect, then we can’t be scared, overprotective people. Ronald Rolheiser describes God as “joyous, happy, playful, exuberant, effervescent, and deeply personal and loving” in Wrestling with God. For us mere humans, exuberance, love, and joyfulness require a strong willingness to set fear aside and trust in goodness and beauty. Profound, unsuspicious generosity is a key spiritual practice that will help us do this. We give to everyone who begs from us because we are invested in becoming more joyful, playful, effervescent people.