3 Fables That Illustrate the Virtue of Generosity
Every everyone has a defining memory from their youth that involves being forced to share something they really, truly wanted all to themselves. Being generous with our possessions was challenging at the time, and it remains so now for most of us.
Generosity, in its simplest definition, is the trait of freely giving to others in need. Despite how simple the term may seem to describe, putting it into action is sometimes a another story. However, there are many models for us to follow in the Bible. Bible verses explicitly instruct followers of Christ to give of their time, money, energy, and possessions.
Don’t ask for your stuff back from someone who steals from you (Luke 6:30-31 ESV). And do unto others as you would have them do towards you.
But as we see in other books of the Bible, the details of what it means aren’t always laid forth. Look at 2 Corinthians 9:7 (ESV): Each person should contribute what he or she has decided to offer from the depths of their heart, not because they feel obligated to or because they fear rejection.
A focus on the adjective “cheerful” is apparent. No matter how much or how little we contribute, our intentions must be pure. To return to our original example, do we give (or share) because we fear a spanking from our parents or because our emotions tell us it is worth it? Were we the ones sulking with our arms crossed, or the ones who were having a good time with their pals?
Here’s the greatest part: not only is it helpful to issue commands, but doing so also has its advantages. According to Proverbs 11:25 (ESV), “he who brings blessing will be richer, and he who waters will himself be watered.”
Give, and it will be given to you; this is the motto of the universe, according to Luke 6:38 (ESV). You’ll be given a generous helping that’s been carefully measured out and then some more on top to make sure it’s just right. Because “what you give out is what you get.”
The Bible gives us lots of encouragement to be generous, so why do we still struggle to contribute as much as we would like to? Thanks be to God, Jesus provided us with numerous models of generosity in the form of parables. In spite of our natural inclination to hoard and our anxiety about running out of resources, we have a plan that will take us to an everlasting treasure chest filled with joy and wealth.
Three stories that illustrate the power of generosity and teach us how to incorporate it into our daily lives are provided below.
First, there’s the story of the “Good Samaritan.”
These lines from the Gospel of Luke relate the tale of a traveler who was treated badly by everyone he encountered.
In response, Jesus told the crowd the following story from Luke 10:30-36 (ESV): “A man was travelling down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell among thieves, who stripped him and beat him and went, leaving him half dead. Now, as luck would have it, a priest was also traveling down that road, and upon seeing him, he just went around him on the other side. A Levite who happened to be there at the time also noticed him and decided to go around him. A Samaritan happened upon him while traveling and felt sympathy for him. He tended to his wounds, using oil and wine while he did so. Then he mounted his own mount and carried him to a nearby inn, where he provided for him. The following day, he withdrew two denarii and paid the innkeeper’s bill, telling him, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will compensate you when I come back.” A neighbor of the guy who was killed by the thieves may have been any one of these three people.
The moral of this fable is obvious from the start. Each of us has, at one time or another, refused to help a person in need, while having the resources to do so. We have all served as both the priest and the Levite, whether in terms of the outlay of material resources (such as cash) or immaterial ones (such as time or effort). To what extent, though, have we acted as the Good Samaritan? The Samaritan in this tale represents the group least likely to provide assistance. Samaritans were looked down upon and treated cruelly by Jews because of the former group’s view of them as dirty and repulsive. The Samaritan was the only one who, in the midst of this continuing cultural conflict (imagine the Montagues and the Capulets on steroids!), paused to put his money where his mouth was. (He really bought the guy a hotel room.)
When we think about the story Jesus taught, we have no reason not to give of our material and spiritual possessions. Who are we to turn our backs on our neighbors if the Samaritan can offer selflessly despite great risk?
Parable of the Minas
In these verses from Luke, we hear the story of a wealthy father who advised his employees to invest wisely and the rewards and consequences that followed their actions:
Quote from Luke 19:12-27 (ESV): “He replied, ‘Therefore, a nobleman went into a foreign place to receive for himself a kingdom and then returned. He called 10 of his servants and told them, “Do business until I come,” before handing each of them ten minas. Nonetheless, the people of his country despised him and sent an emissary to tell him, “We do not want this man to reign over us.” When he got back to his castle after receiving the kingdom, he had his servants report to him so he could find out how much profit they made. He was greeted by the first who bowed down and proclaimed, “Lord, your mina has created 10 minas more.” And he congratulated him, saying, “Well done, excellent servant!” Because of your integrity in a small matter, you will be given control over 10 municipalities. The second messenger arrived, proclaiming, “Lord, your mina has created five minas.” And he told him, “You’re going to be in charge of five cities.” Then another one arrived, saying, “Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was terrified of you, for you are a stern man.” You get out of the bank what you didn’t put in, and you get back what you didn’t plant. A direct quote: “I will sentence you with your own words, you wicked servant!” You knew I was a harsh guy who would take what was not his to take and harvest what he had not sown, right? Then why didn’t you just deposit my money into a bank account so that when I arrived I could withdraw it plus interest? Amidst onlookers, he said, “Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.” In response, they informed him, “Lord, he has 10 minas!” To the rich more will be given, but from the poor even their few possessions will be taken away, as I have told you.
Each of us has been endowed with specific abilities and resources for the furtherance of God’s kingdom. Do we fearfully hoard them or intelligently invest so that there are more to give in the future? God expects us to put our abilities to good use, and he promises us benefits if we do.
Tale About Paychecks
These verses from Matthew teach us that we should never harbor resentment in our hearts toward another person for their kindness, and that our own sense of fairness and justice isn’t always reliable.
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who got up very early in the morning to employ workers for his vineyard, as described in Matthew 20:1-16 (ESV). He bargained a daily wage of a denarius with the workers and then put them to work in his vineyard. About the third hour, Jesus left the house and observed other people waiting about in the marketplace. He told them, “You go into the vineyard also, and whatever is proper I will give you.” This being the case, they departed. Going out during the sixth and ninth hours, he repeated his earlier actions. At eleven o’clock he stepped outside and saw that there were still people waiting. And he questioned their seeming inactivity by asking, “Why do you stand here inactive all day?” “Because no one has hired us,” they told him. You should join me in the vineyard, he said them. Once night fell, the vineyard owner instructed his foreman, “Call the workmen and give them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.” People who were employed at the last minute were given a denarius apiece when they showed there. At first, the newly hired workers assumed they would be paid more than a denarius every week. They complained to the head of the household after receiving it, saying, “These last worked just one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have bore the weight of the day and the burning heat.” One of them confronted him, and he said, “Friend, I am doing you no harm.” What, you didn’t give me a denarius’ worth of agreement? You should get your belongings and leave. In the end, I’ve decided to treat this final employee the same way I do you. How come I can’t do what I want with my own stuff? Or perhaps you resent my kindness. “Therefore, the latter shall be the former, and the former shall be the latter.
The “upside-down kingdom,” a term used by Christians, is well shown in this tale. In today’s competitive business environment, it’s “every man for himself.” Humans are masters of deceit, theft, and manipulation. They’ll try to disrupt other people’s relationships, even marriages, in order to gain what they want, whether that’s a promotion at work or a better living situation for themselves. And yet, as this story so eloquently demonstrates, “the last will be first, and the first last,” and the more we give, the more we gain. Inversely too! No Christian has ever been blessed by hoarding, yet there are countless accounts of miraculous events that took place as a result of Christians sharing what they had.
In particular, we must never resent the supreme act of charity, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for the sake of those who would put their faith in him.