Many of Jesus’ listeners often accused him of impropriety as he spent time with sinners. They didn’t think he was proper enough or respectful enough to those who were obeying the rules. Jesus told stories of a shocking generosity and people reacted in true horror if they understood what he was saying.
In the prodigal son story in Luke 15, the listeners could not believe a father would treat his son like that. The son deserved so much worse. He deserved to die. But the father shouldn’t have given it to the son in the first place. He knew his money would be wasted, but he gave it anyway. Then when it was true, how incredible is it that the father would open up his arms and his heart and his love and his house to throw that wasteful prodigal son a party in his honor. He was so glad to see him back in his house, to be back in relationship with him. To love him.
That’s wasteful, isn’t it? It’s liberality. It’s generosity. It’s wasteful to leave the 99 to go after the one left behind (another story in Luke 15).
This idea is why Tim Keller named his book Prodigal God. Think about that title. God is being called wasteful in his love, in his grace, in his mercy. He not only doesn’t have to give this much – he shouldn’t.
We often turn to Philippians 2 because it is so incredible. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in the human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)
Jesus puts it another way, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
God came down. This is the U-shaped generosity path of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus came from heaven to earth and he did all that he did. He ministered. He lived out the perfect life. He taught. He did miracles. He loved people and showed us love. He died on the cross as a criminal, which was a death that the didn’t deserve in any way. He raised again on the third day, ministered again among us for 40 days and was raised back to heaven. He’s coming again for all of us. He’ll come back in the new heavens and the new earth. There is a path there – from heaven to earth and then back to heaven.
That’s the generous path. That’s the path that takes on the form of the servant. That takes the towel to serve others. That gives up privilege. That moves in. That gives over. That stops using. That considers others better than himself. That works on behalf of others. That befriends sinners. That allows things to happen that might ruffle feathers. That gets scratches on his car. That tells her story when asked instead of thinking it has to be perfect. That invites people into their homes and lives. That eats with sinners. That believes the best in people. That promotes the welfare of people created in the image of God. That hungers and thirsts for righteousness. That doesn’t give God 10% or less, but instead gives all to Jesus, all for Jesus. That pursues a fully-embodied wisdom. That is accused of giving too much, not too little. That puts her treasure in heaven and not in this world. That loves beauty and other “wasteful” things.
It’s a world of delight and not duty.
In his book on these seven sins, author and pastor Jeff Cook talks about how it’s like breathing. We have to take air in and we have to let air out. We breathe in and we breathe out. Both are literally vital.
We need to take in. We need to work and work hard and some of us need to work harder. Not all of us, but many of us. We should pursue the dignity of good and hard work.
And we need to let out. We need to release that work and the money we receive from it. While we make as much as we can, we should save as much as we can and give as much as we can. If we don’t let out, we will die.
When I moved to Oklahoma City, I soon enough met a man named Steve Mason. Steve often had meetings in the same coffee shop in which I frequented every day. So we eventually met each other and we started chatting now and then and got to know each other. It turns out Steve owns the building.
He’s done many things in his life, and has built and owned and sold companies, but he started investing in Oklahoma City awhile ago before it was cool to do so. Now things have turned around and it’s all proven a big success. So he can do other things.
He’s bought other buildings on other blocks. He wants to make Oklahoma City better. He’s not trying to squeeze everyone out so he can make more and more money – although he could. It would be in his right to do so. He’d get a better I’m sure return on investment. And I’m sure he’s made many difficult decisions and ticked many people off over the years. He’s a good businessman.
But I know he’s trying to be generous with his tenants. He’s trying to help them and he’s trying to help the neighborhood.
I know that because he’s also helped me. He’s invited me places that I have gotten to go only because of his invitation. He’s introduced me to people. He’s given me his time and his ear. And I’ve asked him for access too. I’ve asked him if I could and we as a church could use his space for meetings and parties and he’s always said yes immediately without any hesitation.
That’s liberality. That’s generosity, or at least a picture of it.
We should be the most generous people because of what we have in Christ. We have the good news and we have a good God who gives so freely because he has paid the cost. Let’s be content and generous as we share that un-earned goodness of the gospel of Jesus Christ with all who have wandered off from him.