As Christians celebrate their last few days before Lent, a traditional period of sacrifice, we move toward voluntary austerity in our lives. We prayerfully reflect for 40 days in remembrance of the 40 days Jesus was tempted in the desert. We celebrate at the beginning of the season to use up the fat and meat in preparation, hence the terms Fat Tuesday or Carnival, (farewell to meat as a literal translation). We celebrate at the end of the season with the joyful resurrection of Jesus. The forty days are book-ended with festivity, as if the forty days were endless, instead of a moment in time.
What if everyday of life was a struggle with poverty and hunger? What if you were homeless? What if you lost your job? What if you had drug-addicted parents? What if the conditions of your life were not chosen, but merely a circumstance of birth?
These are scenarios all too familiar. Today, 49 million people around the nation will be hungry. It is all too easy for those of us with full bellies to complacently become what I consider the “but I’s”. What I mean by that is our attempt to explain how we would combat lack of income, “but I… would never let my family go hungry, would find a job, and would do whatever it took, would not sit back and accept charity, and would pick myself up by the bootstraps… ad infinitum”.
Many of us have an inner dialogue that assumes what we would do before we went hungry. It is very easy to fall into that trap of making someone else’s problems about us. In our attempt to understand, we assume.
It is very easy to turn away from giving with an open hand because we work hard for what we have and why should we give to someone who has never worked as we have? Why should we share what we earned rightfully? I have been tempted to add my name to a statement “make drug tests mandatory to get welfare”. It makes sense, of course. Why should someone who is doing something illegal receive the fruits of my labor? Then I wonder, what about their children? Should the children suffer because their parents make irresponsible choices? Should a child go hungry?
Much of what Jesus preached just did not make sense. Sell your possessions. Love the least among us. If you have two dollars, give one to your brother. There are no conditions attached to the call to be generous. There are no tests, hoops to jump through, or forms to sign. The call is simply to share. As Christians, we are saved by the gift of grace, we do nothing to deserve the gift, but it is ours.
As we spend the Lenten season choosing to give something up, choosing to reflect, wouldn’t it be something incredible if for 40 days, we chose to give up conditions for generosity? What if we simply give as Jesus gave, without question of merit or deserving-ness. What if we stopped thinking what we would do in such a situation and instead truly asked, What Would Jesus Do?