By Javier Garcia, Director of Agape Europe
Photo by Matthias Zomer on Pexels
Generosity shows itself in the hard work of people who whole-heartedly give themselves to others: medical staff, state security forces, essential services, and the myriad of volunteers who offer to help their neighbours, care for the outcast, the homeless and those who do not even have a country to live in.
This generosity clashes with the selfishness of those who try to benefit and take advantage of misery and suffering, something that, unfortunately, is not new. French author Jacques de Lacretelle wrote that “the great principle of selfishness is being persuaded that all humans are selfish”. However, COVID19 shows us that this assumption is not true. As historian and essayist Thomas Carlyle said “when men come together with a certain purpose, they discover other purposes they can only reach through unity.”
History teaches us that generosity is a seed, which is latent in the human heart and can thus germinate or wither. The Bible also teaches us that a defining principle of its message is a heart that gives without any reservations. Jesus, in his excellence, the model to follow. He gave himself for love and he expects his followers to have the same generosity. Around the year 215 AD, Tertullian wrote that “caring for the helpless and practicing goodness characterizes us according to our opponents. Look, they say, just see how they love each other.”
Between the years 165 and 251 AD, there were two devastating plagues that annihilated between one fourth and one third of the Roman Empire inhabitants. The Bishop of Alexandria Dionisius made the following observation about the Jesus followers’ reaction to the plague in 251 AD:
“Most of the brethren showed an unlimited love and loyalty, putting others always first. Ignoring danger, they took care of the sick, meeting each one of their needs and ministering them in Christ. And together with them, they left this life happy and in peace, as they ended up infecting themselves. Many, caring and healing others, finally died in their place; that was the case of a series of priests, deacons and laymen; gaining the right to be mentioned as dying for their great piety and faith – which can be considered at all effects as martyrdom.”
In the year 362 AD, emperor Julianus wrote, “The impious galilees (referring to Christians) not only help their poor, but ours as well; everybody sees that we do not help our people.”
These days I see that generosity can change many things. As the Talmud affirms, “who saves a life, saves the whole world.”
It is clear that, after the pandemic, society as we know it will be significatively different to what it was. The drama that entails the loss of thousands of lives, the fear that this pandemic or a different one will happen again, the loss of millions of jobs and a deep financial recession foreshadows an upsetting scenery. “Glocalization” shows the other side of “globalization.” The future needs to be reconsidered. Borders will be reinforced, the economy will prioritize essential production locally, the digital world will flourish, society will change many rules of behavior. No doubt we can expect a new social wave.
The deeper future change does not depend on these structures. Those must certainly progress and adjust to the reality of a changing world. However, nothing will change if the essence of the human heart – the values that hold our life, behavior and actions – does not change. As we read in the Gospels, “for where your treasure is, your heart will be also,” and “a good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him.”
The future and our society have hope as long as we do not let the seed of generosity wither, as long as we are willing to change our hearts.
The life and example of Jesus challenges us to exercise our heart. Jesus pushes us to turn generosity into true love. When an interpreter of the law put Jesus to the test by asking him “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asked, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The man answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus replied, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
When you visit the United Nations building in New York, the first thing you run into is a huge Venetian mosaic on which the following words are written on golden letters: “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” Jesus of Nazareth pronounced these words in the context of one of his most renowned speeches, the Sermon of the Mount.
They have become a universal golden rule, present somehow in many cultures, religions and philosophies; a maxim that human beings should rediscover and express in three ways. First of all, by taking the initiative, being proactive with our neighbors, getting personally involved and forgetting about indifference. Secondly, sharing with others what we are and have with no reservations. Generosity is a virtue. Thirdly, valuing what we can do for others; what each one of us can do is more important than what we can imagine. We all have something to offer and should not underestimate it no matter how insignificant it might seem to us. Let generosity flourish in our hearts.
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