In the story Matryona’s House an old woman “never tried to acquire things for herself. She wouldn’t struggle to buy things which would mean more to her than life itself. All her life she never tried to dress smartly in the kind of clothes which embellish cripples and disguise evildoers.” As the story unfolds she is misunderstood and abandoned, even by her husband. Six of her children die but she carries on giving.
“We all lived beside her”, Solzhenitsyn put in mouth of one of her fellow villagers, “and never understood that she was the righteous one without whom, according to the proverb, no village can stand. Nor any city. Nor our whole land.”
Volf comments a gift is an “event between people. Gifts serve “to create, nourish or re-create” social bonds.
I don’t think I am a good giver. According to Volf “ungracious and reluctant givers inspect the causes of a need and dole out the benefits in proportion to its legitimacy.” He refers to Nathan the Wise , a play by Lessing written in 1779, in which Sultan Saladin enlists a beggar to be his treasurer. The Sultan wanted to end begging by ensuring that beggars could afford not to beg. He wanted a beggar as his treasurer “because only a beggar knows how to give to beggars appropriately”. Of his previous treasurer Saladin said:”He gave so ungraciously when he gave; first inquired so vehemently into the situation of the receiver; never satisfied that he wa slacking, also wanted to know the cause of the lack, in order to measure the cause stingily against the offering.”
I wonder whether Christian teaching about giving has helped. Most sermons seem to be about persuading worshippers to hand over their cash to keep the show on the road. On the drain/radiator test, this sounds more like a drain and a far cry from God giving life to the world. (radiator!)