Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you. Luke 11:39-41
“The moment the Christian finds himself laying up treasure for himself, the moment he discovers a selfish purpose animating him in the pursuit of the material, that moment he must let it go or lose his Christian character.” E. STANLEY JONES
IN PART 1 we made some introductory remarks from this passage on Jesus’ radical claim that somehow being generous with the poor can actually clean us up.
It’s the contrast of outside and inside that intrigues me most about Jesus’ words here. He’s saying, “If all you want is a righteous looking life, a facelift exterior, you can’t enter my kingdom.” An exterior version of the Christian life is merely “makeup.” It might make you look better from a distance but you’re not you’re not actually as good as you look.
I’ve taught on this tithing verse dozens of times over the years as a pastor, and not just to squeeze the saints and coax them to cough up their ten percent. I genuinely believe tithing is good for us. But Jesus indicates here a specific benefit not commonly brought up in most pastors’ yearly “Cheerful Giver” message.
That’s the one where we remind people that though God loves a cheerful giver, he accepts money from a cranky one! While that may be true, and such a practice might effectively stave off pests from our crops for a while, I’m not so sure that that kind of giving has the inherent power to clean out self-indulgence and greed from our souls and improve our reputation to the world.
FYI, you can’t find here an automatic guarantee of financial benefit if we’ll give a certain percentage or amount. Giving to get something in return is a crock and the preachers who preach it are posers. In that arrangement, the giver is skunked and all the financial benefit goes to the mansion fund of the preacher!
“Very often the giving of the one tenth may be the buying of an indulgence and may be utterly unchristian,” claims E. Stanley Jones. “The line is not to be drawn at the place of the one tenth, but at the place where our treasure ceases to be laying-up for others and becomes a laying-up for ourselves, hence unchristian.”
But there is a benefit to the giver for his or her giving. Jesus says here that being generous with the poor acts as a cleaning agent. How does that work?
First of all, don’t forget that in their day, it wasn’t as though they would sit on their couch and drink wine coolers while giving on their phones through Paypal. Texting in their tithes wasn’t an option. They had to actually know a poor person or family and when they decided to share out of their resource they had to have actual personal contact with them.
Through all our media outlets we can know all about poverty but still not know any poor people. This, in my opinion, is a tragedy––for both us and them. One of the most sanctifying influences in my life is hanging out with people who have less than I do.
I’m not saying that writing a check, giving online, or texting it in is meaningless. I do those things too. There are billions of impoverished folk who beyond our personal contact. But knowing and enjoying a mutual friendship with disadvantaged humans is a most soul-cleansing priority.
Don’t you think that when Jesus and his disciples embraced the “unwashed” masses in their communities that some of the dirt rubbed off on them? Ironic, don’t you think, that in order to get clean on the inside we might have to get a little dirty on the outside in the process?
READ ALSO: How Jesus Feeds the Hungry
I think of two reasons “the poor are always with us” like Jesus said. First, they’re always with us, i.e., hang around us, because we’re the kind of people who care about them and love caring for them. Second, God keeps the poor around us, like any number of other sanctifying influences, because they’re good for us. When we serve the poor we serve Jesus, murder Mammon, and get our souls cleansed of greed. Win, win, win!
God sends the advantaged to the disadvantage and vise versa for mutually enjoyable relationships. A true symbiosis occurs when we interact with folk from the “other side of town.” “Compassion is hard,” says Henri Nouwen, “because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering . . . We ignore our greatest gift, which is our ability to enter into solidarity with those you suffer.”
Jesus told a rich guy to sell everything he owned and give the proceeds to the poor. The poor, if he’d been willing, would’ve been a huge blessing to him by being there to relieve him of his greed and self-indulgence!
Wanna be relieved of yours and be clean inside and out? Find someone worse off than you and share your life and resources with them and see what happens!