“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone you be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” Luke 16:9
Recently I learned a new phrase “relational generosity. I came across it as I read “God’s Economy” by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Jonathan is a brilliant writer from the New Monastic movement. Following are some of my reflections on part of his book.
We are not isolated from the economy as if we adrift in a sea too big for us to exert any control. We may be up the creek but we do have instruments with which to paddle. We have a role in the economy. Often we talk about being stewards. This means that we have an influence. James when he talks about the tongue illustrates that a little instrument can have enormous influence i.e. a small rudder turns a huge ship (perhaps very slowly) or a little tongue can cause a world of hurt. That we are small (like a mustard seed?) ought not to paralyze us in inaction but is evidence of the upside down nature of the Kingdom. It is our very smallness and relative impotence which comprises the foolishness God wishes to use to confound the wise.
Jesus enjoins us to a relational generosity. This involves an investment in befriending people, particularly the poor, and investing in them. In the macro-economics of the world we will never eradicate poverty. Jesus seems to affirm this notion when He states “The poor you will have with you always.” But a Kingdom view seems much more holistic and relational. Our Kingdom focus then is not solely on the end result (ending poverty) but is more keenly on obedience to the Kingdom means. Perhaps what we should take most out of Jesus teaching that we will always have the poor with us, is the final pronoun. The word “us” is a word of belonging, it is the ultimate expression of an intimate relationship. Jesus in his incarnation became one of “us”, as a ‘show and tell’ for the Kingdom. He sends you and me “us” in the same way to be a ‘show and tell’ through our incarnational and missional lives. The challenge then is to live lives of relational generosity, making friends with the poor until finally there is only an us.
I have friends who decry the relational generosity exhibited in Acts 4, as believers shared relationally. They point to the need for Paul to take up an offering for Jerusalem, but the taking of the offering only demonstrates that the lesson of relational generosity had become normative for the whole Church.
This whole idea has great appeal, to me, by virtue of its truly subversive nature. This is so at odds with all I have experienced economically. The beauty too is that in terms of the world this is apolitical. A conservative or liberal can equally practise relational generosity.