As yet another cargo train thunders past her house in Fortín de las Flores, Mexico, Benita Juárez wraps a scarf around her head and looks up. In addition to its usual load of sugar cane, coffee and automobiles, the train carries migrants traveling north from Central America.
You will not find the term generosity in your theological dictionaries. Most ungenerously skip from “Generation, Eternal” to “Genevan Catechism” or from “Gaudium et Spes” to “Genocide” without “Generosity” slipping in. Don’t blame the authors. They need something with which to work, and the Hebrew and Greek words translated as “generosity” rarely appear in the biblical texts. But since theology (theos+logos) involves words or language about God, generosity has to be attached—as in “the generosity of God.”
One of my seminary teachers once said that if you can’t think of anything original to preach, you should tell Bible stories—they have enough power to turn people’s hearts toward God. This may not work with every text, but it certainly works with the drama and wisdom of the story of Naboth and the story of the woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears.
My last column was on gift-giving, and I cannot refrain from writing another on the same subject. A recent “Reading File” in the New York Times (Jan. 4) contains a provocation I cannot resist. Ross Gittins, a writer at the Sydney Morning Herald, explains why economists regard gift-giving as foolish. Here is an excerpt:
We occasional preachers forage for illustrative material just as desperately as do those who produce weekly sermons. Recently I sought material that would help me render Luke 12:32-40 in contemporary terms: “Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.
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