“. . . do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” – Matthew 6:3
I recall reading an article several years ago in one of the big New York newspapers – either the Times or Wall Street Journal, I don’t remember – about a wealthy couple who had pledged a large sum of money to the New York City zoo, only to withdraw their pledge after feeling insulted by the size of the plaque recognizing their generosity, which in their opinion, was way too small. . . . “Oh, give me a break!” I remember thinking.
Then, a few years later one of my close friends confided in me that he was considering making a large gift to a certain charitable organization who wanted to honor his generosity with a large plaque bearing his name. Unlike the New York couple, though, my friend at first refused, preferring his gift remain anonymous. But, in what seemed like a contradiction on my part, I argued that he should accept the organization’s offer to recognize him; for I had remembered once stumbling across such a plaque bearing the names of my grandparents who had made a similarly generous gift. Had I not seen that I would have never known, for neither my grandparents nor anyone else in the family had ever mentioned it. But that moment of discovery has ever since inspired me to be more generous. And as I told my friend, one of these days his children or grandchildren might stumble upon that plaque inspiring them to also become more generous donors.
“When you give to the needy,” Jesus says, “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” I wonder sometimes, is Jesus really that concerned about secrecy, or is it with the heart of the giver? That is what caused me to react the way I did when I read about the wealthy couple from New York. What were their real motives, to serve the community, or their personal fame?
As I had encouraged my friend, there are times when it is good that giving is made public, especially when it speaks to the hearts of others, as my grandparents had inspired me. And we should be thankful for those who share their good fortunes for the greater good. But for those of us – that being most of us – who are quietly generous in smaller ways, often one needy soul at a time, I can’t help but believe we contribute as much to keeping the world aright as the big public donors do. The fact is it takes both.