11-3-16 - The Giveaway

I once went on a brief mission trip to the Rosebud Reservation in North Dakota, home to some 10,000 Sicangu Sioux, one of the seven tribes of the Lakota nation. I never imagined such poverty existed in the continental United States. The deprivation is much more marked than in urban ghettos or depressed small towns – this was poverty akin to what I’ve seen in Africa or the Caribbean.

But the Lakota have a tradition called the Giveaway. It happens when someone dies, and again on the first anniversary of a death; for weddings and other big occasions. A family invites the whole community to a pow wow and, along with providing a feast and celebration, gives away what they have – sometimes belongings of the deceased, but other things too. The idea is that no one goes away empty-handed. A gift can be a low-cost dollar store item (I still use the plastic laundry basket I was given), or something more precious, a handmade quilt or family jewelry. Even in a place of such deprivation – perhaps especially in such a place – giving is valued far beyond keeping one’s possessions.

Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.

Why did Jesus highlight this attribute for those who would be his followers? Didn’t he know how hard it would be? Did he never see a city where people are begging on every corner? You’d be broke by the time you got to your office if you gave to everyone who begged from you. So the response of many, me included, is to give to almost no one who begs from me.

I don’t know why possessions came to be so important to our culture. They are to me; I don’t want to see my stuff lost or stolen, and though I have far more than I need, I’m not quick to give anything away. But I can see the freedom that comes when we do hold our belongings loosely, when we are eager to give and rejoice at seeing others receive.

Perhaps Jesus is so invested in our freedom he suggests we let things go even if it’s not our idea to give. Maybe someone who takes our stuff is doing us a favor.

I don’t know if that’s what we’re meant to think. But I am pretty sure we’re meant to value people more than things. God valued us above all and gave his most precious gift to set us free. What if we started to value that freedom most?

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