Moving toward the Reign of God with mutual sharing
“Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8 NIV). This is part of the instructions Jesus gave his disciples as he sent them out to proclaim that the Reign of God is near. Following Jesus’ lead, his disciples and the early Christian church sold all they had. They traveled with no possessions and did not charge for their services. They had a common fund of resources, accepted hospitality and received support from benefactors.
They did all of this for the sake of making real the Reign of God on Earth, where all are respected based on their inherent dignity and goodness. Where all have what they need to thrive, regardless of their ability to produce or pay.
Jesus’ instructions and lifestyle show us an alternative way of living that is as countercultural today as it was then. Freely we have received. Everything is a gift from God — our bodies, food, water, life itself — nothing truly belongs to us. Holding these gifts lightly with gratitude and reverence, we are encouraged to freely give by sharing — our gifts, talents, resources, our very lives — no matter how small the offering seems. We don’t give because we have received. That is too transactional. We give as a way to reflect the image of God in which we are made — a God of unconditional, self-emptying generosity.
Mutual interdependence is not a new way of living. It is the circle of life of the universe — sun, Earth, water, plants and animals. It is the way of many indigenous cultures. It is represented in the inhale and exhale of our breath.
This alternative way is often called a gift economy. It is centered around relationships, not money. It is based on interdependence and mutual sharing, with the goal being the well-being of the whole community.
As disciples of Jesus, the Sisters of Providence endeavor to build a community that reflects these Gospel values. We follow Jesus’ example by communally organizing ourselves so that everyone receives what they need and contributes what they can. Just like Jesus’ disciples, the life and mission of the Sisters of Providence rely on living simply, sharing what we receive and the generosity of benefactors.
Some of the ways we try to live a gift economy are through our vow of poverty and contributing what we receive to the Common Fund of the Congregation. Each sister then receives what she needs from this fund. We also have “free tables” and “free racks,” passing along clothing and other items that we no longer need. We share cars, books and art supplies. We also compost, recycle and reuse items.
We do this so we can continue Jesus’ ministry and God’s mission, freely building community with those who are devalued, marginalized and struggling to meet their basic needs. We are working toward the Reign of God where the entire Earth community has what it needs to be well and thrive.
Giving freely is our response to a Provident God. Sometimes we need more and can give less. Just the same, every sister is valued based on who she is — not what she can do or earn. A “retired,” ill, or injured sister may not give as much as she did before, but she is still actively giving. Giving what we can also means honoring our abilities and limitations. Each contribution, no matter how small it seems, is a welcomed and useful gift.
Seemingly small ministries like answering the phone, greeting guests, making sleeping mats for the unhoused, liturgical ministries and prayer — as well as an attentive presence — witness to the goodness of life and love. They are ways of being a gift and contributing to the common good.
The Reign of God is near
We all carry with us human fears and anxieties around scarcity and financial security. These as well as the beliefs and patterns of our families and cultures can make it hard to live in this way. But even so, the Reign of God is near.
How do you choose to participate in the generosity of God for the well-being of all? How do you express gratitude for what you have freely received and give what you can?