My dad carried the small package to his office and carefully began to open it. It had weathered its Atlantic crossing well, and the array of international stamps on the cardboard box told the tale of far it had come. The smell hit him when he opened the plastic bag inside, and it was strong enough to trigger a gag reflex. With two reluctant fingers, my dad pulled out what was purportedly the most disgusting pair of socks he has ever seen. The filthy pieces of cloth were peppered with holes and frayed at the top—and the stench! It would have required extra effort to concoct a specimen this wretched. His face broke into a wide grin, and he burst out laughing, “He got me good this time.” A small donation for your ministry in Pennsylvania.
This infamous pair of socks came from a good friend, who has spent most of his lifetime as a missionary in Europe. It was the crowning glory of a humorous exchange over the (for lack of a better word) junk he and his family have received over the years in name of charity. They are not alone. Holey socks, used underwear, ratty clothes—things in such shape they can’t even find a home at the Goodwill. Fortunately he has a sense of humor—and friends to make light of the situation.
Do the people who donate such things think they’re being helpful or generous? Or do they just see a clothing drive or donation box as a way to off load their trash?
I’ve heard people defend actions like this with something akin to the phrase “beggars can’t be choosers,” accusing the recipient of being ungrateful. “It’s better than nothing,” we might say, as perhaps socks with holes in them are better than no socks at all. But if you don’t consider it useable for yourself, why should you expect another human being to use it? Are they beneath you? Or does your position of wealth give you the excuse of extravagance? Are we so different from each other?
I think this attitude undermines generosity. It is not generosity to give away your holey socks. Generosity goes beyond what is usual or necessary or expected. It is lavish, free-handed, ungrudging, unselfish. This is why we talk about giving being sacrificial. It seeks creative ways to bless people—and this includes far more than money. Generous hearts overflow through whatever channels are available to them.
The New Testament seems to assume that Christians will be people marked by generosity. Why?—Because we are recipients of the most extreme instance of generosity in the history of the world—the unexpected, undeserved, and extravagant gift of love and mercy given through Jesus Christ. As we look at God’s generous heart on display, we should echo it back to the world.