For Christians around the world, Christmas is a joyous occasion to celebrate the blessed nativity of Jesus Christ. Some say that gift-giving became integral to the holiday to commemorate the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh the Three Wise Men offered the Baby Jesus sleeping in the manger. Yet the greatest generosity to celebrate and emulate—and not just during the Christmas holiday—was that of God the Father, offering His only Son for all of mankind’s salvation.
Generosity is a central tenet of the Christian faith, built on the notion that, since all things come from God, people should share what they have, especially with those who have less. Giving to those in need therefore does not subtract from one’s wealth or blessings but, in fact, multiplies it. In Luke 6:38, Jesus Christ said: “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. For by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you in return.”
Islam shares the same view. According to the Sahih Muslim, the Prophet said: “Charity does not decrease wealth.” In the Koran 30:39, the Prophet taught: “That which you give in usury for increase [or interest] through the property of [other] people, will have no increase with Allah: but that which you give for charity [or zakat], seeking the Countenance of Allah, [will increase]; it is those who will get a recompense multiplied.”
And those who give should not expect something in return. In Luke 14:12-14, Jesus Christ taught while at the home of a leading Pharisee: “When you hold a lunch or dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives, or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Hinduism emphasizes something similar. In the Bhagavad Gita 17:20, the Lord Krishna said: “Charity given to a worthy person simply because it is right to give, without consideration of anything in return, at the proper time and in the proper place, is stated to be in the mode of goodness.” It would actually be harmful to both the giver and the recipient, if charity is extended with some expectation of return.
In Buddhism (also in Hinduism), such lesson on selfless giving is called “dana” and is considered one of the religion’s paramitas or “perfections.” Under dana, a person’s generosity should arise from a recognition of the interdependence of every living thing. As one writer noted: “Practicing selflessness in this way…is also an antidote to greed or grasping to possessions or other resources.” This explains what Gautama Buddha meant when he said, “True charity occurs only when there are no notions of giving, giver or gift.”
In Judaism, charitable giving is often associated with Tzedakah, a classical Hebrew word that literally means “justice” or “righteousness.” While Tzedakah commonly refers to alms-giving, it actually points to every Jewish person’s religious obligation to uphold fairness and justice in the community. According to Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah, “the highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.”
Some of this can also be seen in Confucian thought, where charity and generosity are subsumed under the concept of “ren.” In the Analects, Confucius repeated this word hundreds of times. Rich in meaning, ren is roughly translated to “benevolence,” “humaneness,” “goodness” or “altruism.” The translation of A.C. Muller quotes Confucius: “Now the ren man, wishing himself to be established sees that others are established and, wishing himself to be successful, sees that others are successful. To be able to take one’s own feelings as a guide may be called the art of ren.”
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