Last night a large group of us went to a local restaurant to eat and meet. At the meeting was a new person who had never attended before. Because our church's budget is very tight this year, the pastor asked if our group could donate to a particular church project--he was asking for second-mile giving. And while it is true that most of us go the second and third mile in giving, there was some hesitation and further discussion about the normal things like how much are we really talking about, how many other times will we be asked, why is the budget so tight, do we really need this, didn't the pastor know that we were short on funds too?
You get the picture and the direction of the conversation. The glass was not only half empty, but losing its contents with every passing moment. You won't be surprised to learn that the upshot of the discussion was to wait and see how much money are group had later. How much later was not considered.
While you might think that we were just being responsible and thoughtful in considering this request that actually came from the trustees and not the pastor (I asked him when I got home.), we were really being negative and, in my opinion, petty. We were not talking about thousands of dollars but maybe $200. And looking at most of the people seated with me (there were more than 20 of us), we all had the ability to write out a check then and there. But no one offered.
When we finished the meal, the new person ducked out. Nobody thought anything about it, but when she came back she whispered to me that she had paid for the dinner. At first I thought she meant that she meant just her's. But no, she really did mean dinner, all of it, everyone's dinner. She didn't want to announce it and asked me to. Actually she did it because with so many of us, it would take forever to get out of the restaurant and get home. It was already late. She didn't do it to be generous or make a statement. She just did it because she could. She did it for joy.
When I made the announcement, you can believe that everyone was surprised, to put it mildly. What a gift. It was unearned, unmerited, freely given, no strings attached. It was grace pure and simple from a guest at our table. The irony could not have been more profound. It made me reflect on what Jesus probably was thinking about our "responsible" behavior. It was not a proud moment for me but it was, nonetheless, a grace-filled experience of extravagant generosity.