Generosity is almost universally recognized as a virtue. While some may define it differently, ultimately it is about someone giving of themselves to help another. But how does one measure a person’s level of generosity?
It is somewhat easy to look to the size of the donation or the amount of the charitable deductions at the end of the year, but there is a famous story from the New Testament that suggests that the amount of the gift is not the right way to value a giver’s generosity or even the gift itself.
According to the first few verses in the 21st chapter of Luke, Jesus and his disciples were watching rich people of the day making showy, and large, contributions to the Temple. History suggests that the custom of the time was for gifts to be made in a public area of the Temple, and therefore some would be very public in their giving. Yet one poor woman gave a very different gift — only two small copper coins. Jesus is recorded as having remarked that “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these [rich]people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
I’ll admit, I find that observation personally challenging — particularly since I do not view myself as a naturally generous person. The story of the widow’s gift suggests that the level of sacrifice is a better measurement of generosity than the amount given away. If that’s true, then fostering the virtue of generosity is perhaps more difficult for people of means than for those in want. If that’s true, then much of our preconceptions of how to live a generous life may need rethinking.
What do you think?