From the Editor

Let it be in secret

When we give, it should be unconditional

Everybody likes to see their name honored. We give money to causes in which we believe, but sometimes the added enticement of seeing our names in print encourages us to greater generosity. (Metro Lutheran prints the names of financial contributors each year in its Annual Dinner publication for this reason.)

Colleges, universities, libraries, museums and other institutions encourage “naming gifts,” often with great success. “The John R. Wilson Reading Room” is J.W.’s reward for contributing a substantial sum. (Of course, when the room is refurbished in 20 years, it could become “The Eleanor Otis Reading Room,” but that’s one of the hazards.)

By contrast, Jesus taught his followers to contribute in a way so that “the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.” He told us to make our gifts in secret, so that those who receive would not be able to repay us. It’s not that we shouldn’t have a reward. The knowledge that the gift was needed and valued is reward enough.

The legend (based on historical fact) of Saint Nicholas, the bishop of Myra, Asia Minor (modern Turkey) includes this giving-in-secret element. Nicholas persuaded wealthy church members to turn over their surpluses, which he gave to the needy in secret. One story says he threw bags of money in an open window and hurried away, so the recipients couldn’t tell where they came from.

Why is giving in secret important? Partly, because it saves the dignity of the recipient. (It can be shaming to a needy person to realize he or she cannot repay what was given.) Another reason is to keep the giver from false or unrealistic expectations. (“Maybe if I make this gift, I’ll receive something wonderful in return.”) Still another reason is to allow us to escape the trap of “exchange mentality.” (Have you ever given a gift to someone because you already received one and now feel the need to “return equal value”? Think about the last “gift exchange” in which you participated. The term itself is an oxymoron, if there ever was one.)

There appear to be levels of giving. At the lowest are gifts given grudgingly. (“I guess they need the money, so I’ll give them some.”) Higher on the ladder are gifts given in order to receive a reward. Higher still are those given when no repayment is expected, or possible (Lutheran theology puts our salvation in this category).

In this month’s Giving Guide (pages 17-24 in the print edition) there are suggestions for such high-level giving.