Wednesday, January 04, 2006


I came across an interesting situation the other day. A young married couple, living in an expensive area of the country, were quite strapped for cash. One of them had parents who were quite openly very well off.

The young couple usually found Christmas very helpful, as the rich parents usually gave them some money. Imagine their reaction then when they found that the parents had bought them some of Oxfam's latest range. Basically, they gave the money to Oxfam to get something for people in poor countries. They then gave the young couple a card, saying that they'd done this and what they'd bought.

Now, to my mind, this doesn't seem very good. If you want to give money to Oxfam, that's fine (though I'd think Tear Fund would be better). But why should that detract from gifts to others, especially when they were relying on those gifts, and especially especially when you hadn't asked the couple first?

This got my sympathy, of course. But it also started ringing bells in my head.

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat." He answered them, "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.' But you say, 'If anyone tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is given to God, he need not honor his father.' So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.
Matthew 15:1-6, ESV

Seems like there's nothing new under the sun...

To avoid hypocrisy though, it is worth thinking about how I sometimes think of pious excuses for not supporting my family and friends.


Anonymous said...

Do you really think this?

Anonymous said...

I've deliberately slightly overstated it.

Do I think that parents and children should be supporting each other? Yes.

Do I think that should be one of their top financial priorities, even ahead of giving to charity? Yes - I think that's what Jesus' point is with Corban.

Do I think the Oxfam cards are a good idea? Yes, but I think it's a lot better to ask for them to be given to you than to give them to people who haven't asked.

I think giving them to people who haven't asked instead of a normal present is essentially showing off your giving, which Jesus didn't like much.

I think that asking for them, or giving them to people who would appreciate it, is a great idea.

Susan A said...

i can see the issue you take with it, but the idea (as it has been explained to me) is to give a present that supports someone else as a surrogate present person on behalf of the normal receiver. i don't think this is necessarily showing off giving any more than giving someone a normal present. if it goes any way towards helping people who are genuinely in need and combating real issues (e.g. giving a family a goat so they can survive instead of starve) then it seems like a good idea; actually if it does anything to challenge our rampant materialism and raise awareness, which obviously it is, then it seems like a pretty good idea too. but as with all things it would need to be done in a spirit of humility. at least that's a random early morning splurge so sorry if it makes no sense.

John said...

I agree about the spirit of humility being key.

I guess I find it a lot easier to see the holier-than-thou aspects for doing it that way than, for example, giving a slightly smaller gift and giving the rest of the money away secretly.

Also again the huge difference between giving one and asking to receive one. On the face of things, it looks like something that costs the sendee rather than the sender. Always better to give gifts that cost me rather than cost someone else. 2 Sam 24:24 and all...

Susan A said...

But a present is surely a present, not an obligation. Am I missing something?

John said...

I agree that a gift is a gift, not an obligation.

However, in some contexts (e.g. this one) there can also come to be an expectation and it can be a means of discharging obligations within a family context and without producing feelings of guilt in the recipient.