Tables > Fences

I’m writing this month’s reflection from my in-laws house in Maryland. We come out here every year to celebrate “Christgiving” a combination of Thanksgiving and Christmas. You see, my wife is the oldest of seven kids, and at some point the number of spouses and kids made it necessary for us to combine our efforts and get together for one big holiday celebration so that we could all disperse around the country to be with our ‘other families’ for Christmas. It’s a really fun time. My wife’s folks are some of the most generously hearted people I know. They are the type that immediately jump in to fill in places of need in their church community, whatever it might be. My wife’s dad has been generous with his time and resources so many times, especially in our early marriage, whether it was covering a car repair bill or working with me to teach me how to do the repair myself, because he knew it would save us money many times down the road. They both have continued this kind of generosity with all of their kids and kid’s spouses. It’s the kind of generosity that doesn’t expect anything in return.

The most recent sign of this generosity was when they moved to Maryland from Pennsylvania. They wanted to be closer to several of their kids, especially to their second to youngest daughter, her husband and two kids. This daughter, only in her late twenties, was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago. When my wife’s parents looked for houses they didn’t look for the fanciest or most luxurious for their own enjoyment, but rather the one that had enough space – enough space for their daughter and family to have a place to live while they continued through the hard process of fighting the disease, the chemo, the fatigue, all while raising two small kids. They also wanted a space that the whole family could gather together at Christgiving. It takes an abundance to provide such things for others, but it also takes a willingness to make room rather than grip tightly to that abundance.

There’s a saying, I’m not sure of its origin that says “When you have more than you need, build a bigger table, not a higher fence.” With my wife’s folks, as it is with other generous people I’ve had the joy of meeting in my life, there is always a sense that “there is always room.” A priority has been placed on the needs of someone else, not on just protecting or acquiring “their” stuff.  In Jesus’ parable of the rich farmer He tells the story of a man who yields many crops, a superabundance. In his decision of what to do with the crops he thinks first of himself and decides he will tear down the granaries he already has in order to build bigger ones. The goal? To be more secure so that he can then enjoy an abundance of pleasures. The world teaches us that this attitude is almost virtuous, but Jesus teaches something different. Jesus explains that the man is approached by God and challenged, warned sternly. God calls the rich farmer a fool for thinking only of himself when his soul would be required of him that night. The point is, how will all of those goods, all that wealth help you after you die? Jesus then directs His followers to be rich towards God, towards the things eternal, not towards the things that are passing.

This call that Jesus gives to be generous, to make room is not just a moral or ethical code given by God for man to try to follow. Christ set out generosity as a “way of life” because it precisely reflects how God lives and interacts with his creatures. Who has more of an abundance than God? God who is beyond what we can even conceive as eternal, who has no beginning or end, who created all things, without whom all would cease to exist ? And yet God does not hold tightly to His abundance, but gives freely, not only creating and bestowing life, but offering salvation and relationship to His creatures! As Christians we say the image of love, of grace, of reality is the Cross. Why? It is the clearest image we have of Who God is and how He relates to us. Jesus empties Himself completely, not out of a need to do so, not out of a contract He had to honor, but out of love, willingly from His superabundance. How amazing that is to consider!

The holiday season is a perfect time for us to consider the ways we have been blessed with abundance. This abundance can come in the form of material wealth or comfort, it can come in having a job, a house, a family, and so many things we can look at, especially in a nation such as ours and see an abundance. We begin the holiday season with Thanksgiving. Do we give thanks? Do we consider our abundance and whether we are willing to make room? Or are we holding on tightly, building a bigger barn to make us feel more secure? After Thanksgiving we journey towards Christmas, the celebration of the greatest gift, the gift from God’s abundance, the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. And yet, He began His story as one whom no one had room for, turned away. Even so, God continued to give, God still wanted to make room. He lived a life without a secure place to call His home, scorned by those He had come to save. Even so, God continued to give, God still wanted to make room. He was betrayed, beaten, and crucified unjustly, like a criminal. Even so, God continued to give, God still wanted to make room. And when He rose on the third day He showed the victory of generosity, the victory of love, which was an eternal victory, a victory that still makes room.

What excuse, then, do we have, when we fail to be generous, fail to build a bigger table from our abundance, and instead choose to build a bigger wall? We will be accountable for what we did with our abundance in this life, whether it be an abundance of material things that could have brought relief to those with less, or the abundance of the blessing of God’s love, forgiveness and mercy for us. Let us search our hearts this holiday season and find the ways we might be holding on tightly, building walls instead of tables, in how we are stewards with what we have and in how we regard our neighbor and the stranger.

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