On the Law of the Gift
(Prov.31:10-13,19-20,30-31; 1Thess.5:1-6; Mt.25:14-30)
Isn’t it nice when we get back more than we give?
Pope St John Paul II often talked about this. It’s called the Law of the Gift, and it says that the more you give away, the more you’ll receive in return and the happier you’ll be.
Jeff Goins gives us an example of this in his book Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into your Comfortable Life. When some friends visited him from out of town, he decided to spend his last ten dollars buying them coffee.
‘After that,’ he writes, ‘everywhere I looked people were offering us meals, giving me stuff out of the blue, and anonymously leaving money in places where I would find it.’
‘The strangest incident,’ he explains, ‘was when I found a random envelope pinned to a public message board with my name on it. Inside the envelope was a ten-dollar bill. Later that night, my friends and I went out to dinner. Without offering, someone picked up the bill. So, I did the only logical thing I could think of: I left the waitress a ten-dollar tip.’ [i]
That’s the Law of the Gift, which says that the more you share what you have, the more blessed you will be.
To understand this law, we need to recognise that God himself is a gift. Why? It’s because God is love (1Jn.4:8), and his whole existence is giving. Indeed, Jesus himself said, ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’ (Jn.10:10). Of course, living abundantly is living generously.
The only reason we exist is because of God’s generous love, and everything we have is a gift from him. But we’re not meant to hold onto gifts. They’re meant to be given. So, the Law of the Gift says that whatever you’ve received must be given away, and in return you’ll receive even more – thirty, sixty, a hundredfold (Mk.4:8). [ii]
Jesus taught this law in many different ways. In his Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes (Mt.14:13-21), the disciples only have five loaves and two fish to offer, but end up with 12 baskets of leftovers.
Jesus also teaches us this law in the Eucharist. We bring a few tiny gifts up to Jesus – a little bread, some wine, and a drop of water – and they come back to us as the Body and Blood of Jesus himself. And when we receive him, he feeds the deepest hunger in our hearts. [iii]
And in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents in today’s Gospel, a man is planning to go away and he leaves his money with three servants. In those days, a talent was a measure of gold or silver.
The first two servants use their talents well, and double their investment. But the third man simply buries his talent in a hole. The owner praises and rewards the first two, but he’s not happy with the third man. He confiscates his talent.
The message for us today is that if you’ve received any talents, you must use them, otherwise you will lose them.
But what are these talents? Bishop Robert Barron says we should think of them as everything we’ve ever received from God – our life, our breath, our strength, our abilities and all our many blessings.
Pope Francis adds that these talents also include the Gospel, our Baptism, prayer, forgiveness and the sacrament of Jesus’ sacrificed Body and Blood.
All these things are loving gifts from God. If we share them with others, they will grow. But if we selfishly hold on to them, as the third servant did, they don’t grow. They just wither away and die.
Do you remember Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843)? At the beginning when Scrooge is hoarding all his gifts, he feels sick, miserable and empty inside. But when he starts giving things away, his heart fills with love and he begins to feel happy.
That’s the Law of the Gift. It’s a paradox: the more you give away, the more you receive.
But all this is counter-cultural, because most people don’t think this way. Most people actually do the opposite: they hold tightly onto God’s gifts. But this isn’t the way things work in the spiritual life. If you want the divine life, then give it away. If you want love, give loads of love. If you want to be happy, then make someone else happy by living the Law of the Gift.
This isn’t just about donating to charity. It’s about adopting a whole new attitude towards the people around you. Instead of wondering what they can do for you, ask instead what you can do for them. How can you really help them?
Whatever you give away in a spirit of love is guaranteed to come back to you. It might not return immediately, but it will come back to you in some way.
Your life will become fuller and more complete, and
you’ll be much happier.
[i] Jeff Goins, Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into your Comfortable Life. Moody Publishers, Chicago. 2012:56. https://www.amazon.com.au/Wrecked/dp/B00NPB2HFC/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=wrecked+Jeff+Goins&qid=1605139033&s=books&sr=1-1
[iii] Weigel, G. City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Krakow. Image, NY. 2015:292.