The Vocation of a Generous Life: Part 1

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At the start of each year I look for the word or phrase that will nudge me vocationally over the next twelve months. I am not so much searching for a word as I am willing to be found by the word God has in mind. Whatever I might think this word or phrase means is only a glimmer of what it will reveal to me.

The word that found me recently is one I cannot honestly say describes me. That word is: generous.

In a world whose conversation is more like two disparate monologues—the monologue of the one percent and the monologue of the ninety-nine—this word “generous” wedges in like sand in the oyster just itching to produce a worthy pearl. If I understand the Scriptures correctly, God’s heart isn’t with the high and the mighty who have secured for themselves enough and more than enough, but with the lowly who wrestle daily with their poverty and who look like they could benefit from the relief of divine generosity. Mary’s Magnificat proclaims what this generous-hearted God looks like in action.

Generosity therefore becomes a vocational word for us. Its fuller phrase, “living generously,” points us to an intentional way of life that is larger than ourselves. I am not speaking about the occasional donation to a worthy cause, or the tithing which is more like tipping. I know these modes of “generosity” quite well. I discern within this phrase, though, a vocational imperative to live life openhandedly, which is the only way God knows how to live.

But I immediately protest. Being an itinerant worker in the vineyard, I often do not know how I will meet next month’s expenses. I cannot always explain the math that somehow works itself out in my checking account. So this vocational imperative to live generously is not contingent on what I possess but on how willing I am to mobilize my trust in God. God takes our vulnerabilities seriously, and is counting on each of us to trust that God’s generosity is for us all.

What I discover is that I am called upon by God and anointed to live a generous life not because I have enough financial and material means for myself with some to share, but because I have faith in a generous God whom I believe is worthy of my trust.

I think of the poor widow of Zarephath, preparing the last of her food for a final meal before she and her son are overcome by starvation. She has no safety net, but she has the good sense to respond generously, if obediently, to the request of the prophet Elijah for a cup of water and a small portion of bread. And apparently, ignoring her inventory of supplies (“only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug”), he asks first for “a little cake” (see 1 Kings 17:9-16). Is Elijah joking, or merely out of touch? Or, perhaps, we are about to encounter that fire of generosity burning in the very heart of God through the person of the prophet.

The widow of Zarephath is presented with a vocational moment, and she responds to it. We find that a year later Elijah, who has taken up residence upstairs, and the widow and her son are still taking their meals together from the jar of flour that never went empty and the jug of oil that never ran dry.

Living generously does not happen when we finally have enough. Living generously means that we have God, and God is enough. From communion flows community, and within community comes the vocational call to act. Time after time God supplies materially for real physical human needs. God has compassion, and one way or another it will be expressed—either through us or despite us.

Next time: Examples of the vocationally generous life.

Copyright 2012 Mary Sharon Moore, M.T.S.

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