Don’t forget to give, then remember to forget

imagine not knowing what’s on the left side of your body. Well, that’s how generous we should be; give (as if) we don’t know what we gave.

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. 

When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—to call attention to their acts of charity! ….they have received all the reward they will ever get. 

But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. 

Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”

Matthew chapter 6, verses 1-4

Holy Bible, New Living Translation copyright 1996, 2004, 2007, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois, 60188. All rights reserved.

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drawing of a laptop with GIVE on the screen
graphic from LIGHTSTOCL.COM, stock photos and graphics, affiliate

Stay anonymous?

Have you ever made a charitable donation online or by mail, where they asked you to check a box “make my donation anonymous”? I usually don’t, I’m ok with my name being listed as a donor.

Not that I want people to think I’m a kind, generous person, but so maybe I can encourage others to be kind and generous.

If an online donation prompts a “share to Facebook” I may do that. My motive is to set an example as well as to share needs that someone else might find appealing.

So, what about Matthew chapter 6?

The Bible scripture passage quoted above, from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, seems to tell us we should give in secret, not letting anyone else know.

But Bible scholars interpret it less literally. Considering it in context of the whole sermon, they suggest it means we shouldn’t give just to impress people nor brag about what we give, not that it always has to be secretive (although sometimes it should be.)

Giving from the Left or Right

Now I don’t think Jesus was making a political statement here. Nor was he just using hyperbole-an exaggerate statement or claim not meant to be taken literally . But I do think he was using a figure of speech to make a point, although it’s not a figure of speech either.

Because not knowing one side of one’s body is a real thing.

Hemispatial neglect

People with the syndrome of hemispatial neglect experience reduced awareness of stimuli on one side of space. This may occur after damage to the brain as from a stroke or trauma.

People with hemispatial neglect are often unaware of their condition. Friends or relatives might suggest they look to their neglected side but that instruction misunderstands the problem they have with navigating the space around them… people are not aware that something is missing, so why would they seek it out?

the Guardian.com

So imagine not knowing what’s on the left side of your body. Well, that’s how generous we should be; give (as if) we don’t know what we gave. (Obviously, if we take that too literally, we might not manage our money very well, which might limit our ability to be generous; we still need to be financially prudent. )

The man who didn’t know what he had done

Every year at Christmas time a classic movie makes it’s way to network television and streaming services. Like many famous movies, the script was adapted from a book, or rather a short story titled “The Greatest Gift” .

George was a man who had a good life until things started going wrong, so many that he concluded his life had been a failure and he had never done anything right or good in his entire life. He even contemplated suicide.

That is until a mystery “person” came along and showed him how the world would have been without George’s life and good deeds. Poverty, crime,unemployment, alcohol abuse, even deaths would have occurred had it not been for George’s life. And he had no idea!

His left hand didn’t know what his right hand had done.

Of course you know I’m talking about George Bailey from the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life, released in January 1947, nominated for 5 Academy Awards, and considered one of the best films ever made. But most people like it because it’s a feel good movie that can make you laugh and cry.

Each man’s life touches so many other lives .

It’s a Wonderful Life

If you’re not familiar with the story, or just want to review your favorite parts, you can follow on the public It’s a Wonderful Life Facebook Group.

Ba-humbug!

Of course, Ebenezer Scrooge of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol didn’t have George’s problem. He knew exactly what he had done to help others-nothing!

It took dying (almost) and three scary visitors to show Ebenezer how stingy his hands had been, never giving anything away, and convincing him that generosity was better than miserliness and loneliness. At the end of the story , both of his hands were busy passing out food and gifts to strangers, friends, and family.

A Christmas Carol Facebook Community
I will honor Christmas in my heart. Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens, English author –
graphic by LIGHTSTOCK.COM

George, Scrooge, and Us

Like George, all of us have done acts of service, kindness, and giving that have made someone else’s life better, whether we know it or not. And like Scrooge, we’ve all missed chances to be generous, to “go the extra mile”, and to treat others the way we want to be treated. And like both George and Scrooge, it’s never too late to cultivate a gracious heart and generous hands-right and left.

Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others.

 1 Timothy chapter 6, verse 18

I wrote more about Dickens at this link
and at this post about generosity
two women sitting on the floor with open Bibles

Living and giving lavishly

Therefore, because God is so generous to us, we’re to be lavishly generous to others.
Who has been “lavishly generous” to you?

sharing the HEART of giving

I appreciate all of you who are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.

Thanks, Dr. Aletha

Why we need the wisest gifts this Christmas

The four Gospels- Matthew, Mark, Luke, John- relate the life of Jesus, but only Matthew and Luke tell the story of his birth and their versions differ. Luke tells about the trip to Bethlehem and the shepherds’ visit. Matthew misses the Bethlehem journey and the shepherds, but from him we meet the wise men- the Magi.

The Nativity of Jesus Christ

Whether you go to a Christian church or not, you likely know the Christmas story from the Bible as it is depicted in the Nativity. Nativity is a fancy way to say “birth,” but is especially used to refer to the birth of Jesus Christ.

You’ve seen countless Nativity scenes, with Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in the manger with adoring shepherds and wise men standing or kneeling near by. A donkey, cow, and sheep may complete the scene.

Except that’s not exactly how the Bible tells it. The four Gospels- Matthew, Mark, Luke, John- relate the life of Jesus, but only Matthew and Luke tell the story of his birth and their versions differ. Luke tells about the trip to Bethlehem and the shepherds’ visit.

Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went from.. Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea.

 He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant.

 While they were there… Mary …gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

Luke 2 , CEB
figures in a nativity scene with a bright start in the sky
The Nativity of Christ

When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.”  They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger

Luke 2, CEB

Matthew misses the Bethlehem journey and the shepherds, but from him we meet the wise men- the Magi.

When they (Magi) heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 

 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Matthew 2, CEB

Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible

“Three Wise Men”

Most Bible versions call them wise men, a translation of a Greek word Magi, used in the New International Version. The Message Bible calls them “a band of scholars” which might be the most accurate as none of the versions indicate there were only three.

Nor did they visit the barn. Matthew indicates they came to the house, to visit the child. So perhaps this was as much as two years later.

But however many there were and whenever they arrived, they brought three gifts-gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men— who brought gifts to the newborn Christ-child. They were the first to give Christmas gifts. Being wise, their gifts were doubtless wise ones.

O. Henry

I assume William, the real name of O. Henry, must have known this Bible story. Why else would a druggist, ranch hand, magazine editor, and convicted felon write a story about Magi? Or rather, about their gifts.

Three Wise Gifts

In a previous post I told you about William Sydney Porter, who wrote short stories under the pen name of O.Henry. He wrote and published over 600 stories, the most famous of which was published in 1905.

As a druggist (although of uncertain credentials) I suspect he knew of the medicinal properties attributed to gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We think of gold’s value in terms of money, but 2000 years ago, people probably valued healing substances more than money.

Doctors once treated rheumatoid arthritis with medicines developed from gold, now mostly replaced with more effective and less toxic drugs. Traditional Chinese medicine uses frankincense and myrrh for their reported anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects.

As I write this, scientists are working around the clock studying medicines and vaccines to slow, cure, and prevent the ravages of SARS-CoV-2, a pathogen the world has never encountered before and the likes of one we never want to deal with again.

By the time you read this over 77 million people worldwide will have become infected with this novel virus which will have killed 1.7 million of them.

In the United States 18 million are confirmed infected, and 317,000 have lost their lives to COVID-19. (updated December 20, 2020-Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center statistics)

Christian scholars also attribute spiritual significance to the gifts. Among the many references I reviewed, this one sums up the general consensus.

gold can be taken to symbolise royalty and kingship; frankincense divinity and holiness; and myrrh suffering and death.

Although we don’t know if O.Henry considered the gifts in spiritual terms, he painted an unexpected and ironic picture of what “wise gifts” are in his now classic short story, “The Gift of the Magi.” (No spoiler alert, I’m not revealing the story plot.)

Christmas 2020

The world needs comfort and healing this year.

People have suffered through several pandemics since the time of Christ’s birth. Imagine how frightening the plagues were at a time when science couldn’t explain the source of disease, much less know how to prevent it. Even as recently as the influenza pandemic of 1918, doctors still didn’t fully understand the means of spread or how to stop it and medicines to treat it and it’s complications didn’t exist.

“In the case of COVID-19, prolonged disruption, grief, and stress add markedly to the burden of disease.”

Harvey V Fineberg, MD,PhD- JAMA

In a year we will remember for so much

  • uncertainty, friction,unrest,anger,blaming, loss, pain, sickness and death

perhaps the gifts we most need to give one another are

  • understanding, patience, listening, caring, generosity, forgiveness, friendship, and love.


But let me speak a last word to the wise of these days:

Of all who give gifts, these two were the most wise. Of all who give and receive
gifts, such as they are the most wise. Everywhere they are the wise ones.
They are the magi.

O. Henry

The Gift of the Magi

It’s worth reading, re-reading, watching, or listening to Williams’s story. Do it before you start Christmas shopping; you may change some of your choices once you learn what “wise gifts” are.

Follow the link above to a PDF version which you can print, or any of the other links below (some of which are affiliate links) to read O.Henry’s timeless story. Spoiler alert- the descriptions may reveal the story line, but you probably already know it. You might want to start with the PDF version above.

read the story
watch the movie
look at a picture book
read other stories by O. Henry
listen to the story as told by Kristin Chenoweth

exploring the HEART of Christmas giving

Thanks for joining me to reflect on this timeless story. Whether it was your first time to hear it, or one of many, I hope it tugged at something in your heart.

I appreciate all of you who are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.

these three remain, faith, hope and love, but the greatest is love
graphic by Althea Solomons at LIGHTSTOCK.COM, affiliate link
Bonus info-do you know there is a Three Kings’ Day?

Epiphany is celebrated …. in Spain as Three Kings’ Day, with more gusto and bang than Christmas Day. There’s a big parade on January 5, culminating with the Three Magi taking thrones in the town’s central park, letting kids sit on their laps to ask them to bring them something on Three Kings’ Day.

Then that night, legend has it, that the Three Kings sneak into all the homes and leave gifts for the kids—not unlike Santa Claus.

“Who Were the Magi?”

Read or listen to more of this story by Bible teacher Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth at her website Revive Our Hearts.