The Common Good

Anonymous Generosity: Go Into the Closet and Do in Secret

I recall a discussion once with a friend about the different kinds of needs that existed within our own community. That discussion of the often desperate circumstances our neighbors face finally came around to my asking her what sorts of "mercy and justice ministries" she engaged in herself. Her answer surprised me, especially in a day where "getting credit" seems to matter so much to so many. She said, "I'd rather not say, since our Lord enjoins us to do our alms in secret." She not only took with complete seriousness the call to be faithful in alleviating the suffering of those around her, but she also took to heart the command of Matthew 6:1-4:

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Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before people, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Lord in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Lord, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

What if I told you there was a family-owned business on the West Coast that, though a fraction of the size of Walmart, had given nearly $500,000 to the relief efforts in Haiti -- only slightly less than Walmart has given? And what if I told you that when asked if we could share with others the generosity they are embodying in these difficult circumstances, they were reluctant to allow it. Why? Because they wanted to make sure that their generosity was not mistaken for a "PR" stunt -- not a way to gain favorable public opinion for themselves -- but rather that it be seen first and foremost as faithfulness to the One they name as Lord.

It would violate their desire to "do in secret" if I told you the name of the company (in fact, they give to numerous places like Sojourners and others trying to change the world for the better). However, I would like to hear from each of you, expressing appreciation that, in a world of over-hype, some still tread the path of humble service. I will take a sampling of your comments and forward them as a collective statement of affirmation and appreciation.

Chuck Gutenson is chief operating officer for Sojourners.

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