During the Lenten Season, it’s sometimes said that almsgiving is one of the three pillars of Lent, together with prayer and fasting. But almsgiving isn’t about charitable giving generally. Rather, it’s about giving to the poor and needy. The word “alms” comes from a Greek word meaning mercy. When we perform almsgiving, we dispense mercy to the poor and needy.
In Leviticus 19:9-10, what’s tantamount to almsgiving was made part of the Law of Moses. Israel wasn’t to harvest to the edge of a field or reap a second time — so that a portion of crops would be left for the poor. The Israelites were to sow and harvest their crops for six years but in the seventh year, allow the poor to get food from the fields. (Exodus 23:10-11) Paul took this theme further when he wrote: “Whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously…for God loves a cheerful giver.” (II Corinthians 9:6-7)
Proverbs makes a direct connection between almsgiving and God. Whoever is kind to the needy and poor “honors God” (14:31) and “lends to the Lord” (19;17) — two powerful images.
Perhaps the most familiar almsgiving scripture in the New Testament is Matthew 6:1-4 (KJV). Jesus said: “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them…when thou doest thou alms, do not sound a trumpet…as the hypocrites do…But… let…thine alms…be in secret; and thy Father…shall reward thee openly.” Almsgiving is for helping the poor, but it’s between God and us.
As scripture often does when speaking of our responsibility to the poor, Jesus took almsgiving to a deeper level when he said that it represents justice and God’s love. (Luke 11:39-42)
What’s more, it allows us to “take hold of the life that is truly life.” (I Timothy 6:19) That’s the deal with almsgiving.