There is a biblical account by Matthew where Jesus felt the need to retire into the desert but was followed by a great crowd of people.
Looking at them, he was filled with pity for all the people who had followed him. Matthew describes how Jesus out of generosity, was moved by the state of the people who were both suffering and hungry. He cured those who were suffering and fed all those who were hungry.
The Bible presents this episode as the miracle of ‘the bread and fish’. This miracle was a sign which pointed to something great: God’s generosity.
It happened beyond the laws of nature as a sign that Jesus was God’s envoy. More to that, it aimed at strengthening and at elucidating the faith of his followers. But more still, and in a very particular way, this miracle continues to shed some lights on what should be Christian generosity.
Christian generosity happens when we reach out to others who are in need, or when we give up some of our personal rights in order to serve others better.
In his teaching, Paul used to lay out some principles of generosity. He called generosity the test of true love. According to Paul, as we often wish to excel in many things like faith, speech and in knowledge, so should we feel the need to excel in the grace of alms giving.
He cautions us however that our generosity should be carried out with all liberty. It should be exercised with an attitude of enthusiasm rather than reluctance; for it is blessed to give.
Enthusiasm is also contagious; and thus our generosity may stir up a generous spirit in others. Each person should give what he or she decides without being reluctant or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Paul reminds us that God takes care of his ‘givers’ so that they may continue to be channels of his generosity. According to Saintt Paul, generosity goes beyond just meeting the need. It is as well a kind of prayer of thanks giving and praise to God.
In Mt 6:2-4, Jesus wants us to be careful when we exercise any kind of generosity in order not to hurt the feelings of those we help.
He says that when we give to the needy, we should not announce it with trumpets, as hypocrites would do. He said: “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, then your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
As Jesus told the meticulously tithing Pharisees, careful obedience of different norms is not enough, what is more important for us is to seek justice, mercy and faithfulness, especially for the poor and the oppressed.
When it comes to generosity, no one should be shy at doing the little that he or she can. God uses a new and drastic measure for our gifts.
He is not impressed with the quantity or any kind of large numbers. He rather measures according to the giver’s capacity and attitude. For him it is the heart which matters most.
Jesus spoke of this directly when he compared the temple gifts of the rich men with the gift of the poor widow, Lk 21:1-4.
Without over looking the importance of the rich men’s gifts, still by Jesus’ reckoning, the widow gave much more than the others, simply because she gave all she had to live on.
It remains true that her capacity was prohibitively little compared to the others, but her attitude was both exceptionally and immensely extravagant.
It is true therefore that our understanding of generosity or almsgiving may differ at times from the way Jesus looked at it.
But in the sign of the loaves and fish Jesus gives us the example of what he meant by generosity and he did it with the authority as he revealed himself as well as the new messianic Moses who nourishes God’s people in the desert.
The setting is explicit: the “lonely place” is a desert place, and recalls the manna in Exodus 16:12-35. In our human situation it reflects some kind of being in need.
He looked at the needy, at the hungry and he said: “You give them something to eat”. This shows Jesus’ compassion which comes before we ask him to do something for us. He is ready to come to our help when we are in need, using whatever means available and through people that we may or may not know.
He used the few provisions which were already there; usual loaves of barley and the fish which formed their daily meals. It all happened in a very normal way.
It is however of some importance that in helping them, Jesus used the Eucharistic language. The Eucharist, which is the church’s covenant meal with God, must always be seen in the light of the spiritual ‘eating’ and ‘drinking’ of God’s word that is faith.
It is this faith in sharing that generates our generosity towards others. Our communion with God is incomplete as long as we are not assimilated to Christ by living in a generous way.
The Eucharist is a sign not only of God’s love for us but also of our response to his love for man kind.
It is because of that love therefore, that Jesus could not let the people go back hungry. This was not a question of a vague “emotion”; the verb used by Matthew means to have very strong feelings, for those who suffer or who are in need.
Likewise, our generosity should be founded on such feelings. And from such a big heart, our generosity will never be insufficient and it will always be pleasing to God.