What would 2014 and beyond look like if we as people decided to generously share both our life in faith and money with no expectation of return? Well, it would set us free to experience blessing. A few days ago a total stranger shared generously with me. When I tried to thank her and give back, she refused with a smile on her faith. It caught me off guard. It was an action that was so counter cultural. We live in a world where we give and usually expect something in return. In our popular market driven worldview, our money and faith lives are linked in that they are both means of reciprocity. I trade my time and talent to get money, and then I trade money to get what I need or want.
Here is a confession. Many good people, people of strong faith, often engage in conscious or subconscious systems of reciprocity where we believe in order to get what we think we need (salvation) or want (meaning or services).
There are a lot of sermons, ministries and church communities that use reciprocity as a tool of motivation. We turn on the TV or read books that say, “If you give, God will reciprocate and bless you.” In church communities, many might even give their offerings as a way of a reciprocal exchange of saying thank you for meeting my spiritual needs or for visiting me in the hospital. Church members have moved from being generous stewards of all God has given to us into being consumers. Under the influence of reciprocity, if church services are perceived as bad, the giving will coincide. Giving in ratio to what we get presents a struggle.
In the Bible, in Luke 4: 18-19, Jesus teaches the good news saying: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. The Lord has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus’ proclamation is in the midst of struggle. Jesus’ good news frees us to share generously with those who struggle without expectation of return. Jesus is not being some spiritual snob; he is offering real life release for all involved.
He is proclaiming a real release from systems that oppress and bind people. He gives without expectation of self benefit.
Imagine a world where all people, despite faith association or not, might give with no expectation of return? This would suggest that we do not give in order to get or with the expectation to earn something through reciprocity. Jesus’ new way of living exposed the oppressive systems of reciprocity and invites us to give without expectation of self-benefit. For instance, Jesus loved without expectation to be loved. In Luke 6: 33-35 Jesus suspends reciprocity all together: “And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.”
Contemporary communities of faith, people who want to make a difference, individuals who wish to experience blessing and freedom, all set within the strong influences of our larger market economy and society, might explore how we together might benefit from Jesus’ teaching. In embracing his counter cultural ethos, we would thoroughly be engaged in giving without the expectation of getting because we gave. Reciprocity in our market driven world view creates systematic alienation and bondage.
There are haves and have-nots. The haves give back and forth to one another because they can. The have-nots are alienated because they cannot return expectation. This system actually alienates us from one another and binds us to an oppressive system.
To give without an expectation of return can free us and release us from that bondage with nothing left but blessing. If we want to be free, then releasing other people from what we hold over their heads in the form of returned value is a place to start. To release people through simply blessing them will not only set them free, but it sets us free to experience blessing. This is good news! This is a life of blessing!
One of my resolutions for 2014 is to look for opportunities where I can give with no expectation of return. It is hard, but the opportunities are endless.
• Dr. David M. Marz is pastor at Spirit of Joy Lutheran Church, 1159 N. Greenfield Road in Gilbert. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @spiritofjoyluth.