1 Timothy 6:17-19 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
A man once told me that the most generous people he had ever met were the poor. These people, who had next to nothing, were quick to give the small amount they had to another in need. I can personally attest that living here in Mexico has revealed to me that same astonishing and profoundly moving generosity in the lives of the poorest of the poor here. It has also shown me that I have understood very little of authentic liberality in my own life.
As regards my own life, I have seen God do wonders with my own gifts of love. But what I have seen here has informed my conscience that all is not well. A hidden selfishness lurks still deeper in my heart coloring my would-be acts of generosity with self-aggrandizement, guilt-ducking and mere theatricals displaying my own excess. How often have I given when I have had little or even next to nothing? When have I dropped in my widow’s mite? More often I have merely given what I didn’t need in the first place. I am convinced that one of the reasons it is so difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom (Luke 18:25) is that he rarely has an opportunity to give from his need. His giving is from his excess and thus never really touches down into his soul. He, only with great difficulty, can enter those obscure moments of impoverished existence where all the future seems wrapped in blackness and ignorance, where one’s only hope is to plead to God for sustenance and safety. Only in deep poverty can one climb the mountain of God and enter the cloud of unknowing and encounter the mysterious Beloved who became utterly poor for our sake (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Recently I was speaking at one of our Monday night Bible study groups. I told them that they needed to share their testimonies with others here in General Cepeda. They were surprised. One woman said she didn’t have a testimony. The Holy Spirit gave me this verse to tell her. “Si uno cree en el Hijo de Dios, tiene ya el testimonio de Dios.If anyone believes in the Son of God he already has the testimony of God.” (I John 5: 10) I said that if you believe in our Lord Jesus Christ you have a testimony. God has called all of us to be missionaries and to testify about the good things He has done. Our testimony is really His testimony (Luke 12:12). Some women cried. We invited them to come to the villages with us. They agreed and we went to pick them up.
On Thursday, we picked up four people in one of the neighborhoods in our town. The homes in this neighborhood are usually one room per family. The walls are of dirt. The roofs leak and often cave in. The people are so poor. We do most of our work in and around this poor neighborhood. And yet in the darkness of this poverty the light of Jesus shines bright and warm. God is beyond good. I am seeing Him transform hearts and lives here in GC.
And great was my surprise when we arrived to pick up the people and they had a large bag of clothes and seven old purses to bring to the rancho. They said they wanted to share what God had given them with the “poor.” I was deeply moved. I wouldn’t have even thought of asking these people to give anything. They gave what they could and, what is so much more, they gave what they couldn’t. Not only did these poor women give some of the only clothes they had, but as we were leaving town they said they wanted to stop at the store. I stopped and they bought 2.5 dollars’ worth of candy (a fortune for them) to share with the children of the village. They asked me “Isn’t this what Jesus would do?” I was stunned. Here was the Kingdom of God in all its splendor. Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on. (Mark 12:43-44.)
Sometimes we employ men in the town who are in desperate need of work to help us in our projects. The men we employ often have only one set of clothes and very little to eat. Last week one of the men, Lalo, who had worked for us for a week asked if he could work Monday without pay. I asked him why he would want to do that. He replied that he also wanted to give to God but he didn’t have any money so he would work without pay as a gift to the family who needed his skills and to God who had given him so much already in his life. “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35) I was in tears. God is truly changing hearts and lives of people down here in Mexico and mine is one of them. “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” (James 2:5)
Pope Francis after becoming Pope said, “Oh, how I would like a poor Church, and for the poor.” The Church cannot become a poor Church for the poor unless She gives all away. I believe deeply that Jesus is calling us Christians to enter into the poverty of the Son. “He Who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness” (Philippians 2: 6-7a) The Son emptied Himself, so we must empty ourselves. We must be willing to enter into His self-poverty and suffering. And yet is this not our great joy? “For to you has been granted, for the sake of Christ, not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him.” (Philippians 1:29)
I have seen our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus here in Mexico give from their suffering and not from their excess. And yet I have seen a great joy welling up within them. I pray all Christians can lay aside the treasures of this world, “which are not of the Father” (I John 2:16) and seek rather the Kingdom. (Matthew 6:33) As Pope Francis said, we need to know “how to make available to God what we have, our humble capacity, because only in the gift of sharing our lives will we be fruitful.”