A hermeneutic of generosity

Some weeks ago, someone asked me: “Is Jesus really that concerned with the poor?”  This came not from a place of disdain for the poor but more from a place of personal angst.  If we are willing to sit with a question like this, to hold it and let it incubate and move in us, to notice our discomfort without moving to squelch or bury it, we will be changed.  If we enter into this process with integrity, without preconceived expectations, there is no telling where it will take us.

It is not unusual to equate times of inner peace and contentment as well as times of great joy with the proximity of God.  Often, in the absence of such peace, I have tried hard to return to that place of quiet, to experience what mystics refer to as the “consolations” of God.  Overtime, though, I have come to recognize the nearness of God in the disquiet, in the discomfort, in the unsettling questions.  In Mountains Beyond Mountains, a biographic portrayal of Partners In Health (PIH) founder Dr. Paul Farmer, Tracy Kidder speaks of the hermeneutics of generosity — or the shorthand “H of G” — for PIH lingo that involves interpreting the intentions, statements and actions of others in a positive, favorable light.  In this time of contentious political and religious banter and overly abundant, far-reaching reactive communication via “social” media and 24/7 news, we would be well served to employ a hermeneutic of generosity.

In his efforts to help curtail and prevent the spread of TB and other infectious diseases, Farmer recognizes the need for cooperation and a shared commitment that requires a willingness to let go of practices and treatments that have been trusted and sanctioned by established institutions and organizations, from national governments to the World Health Organization.  Farmer understands that this hermeneutic of generosity helps to open minds, doors and pocketbooks to a new way of practice.  While we strive to honor the call of Jesus in Matthew 25 in our individual lives, Farmer knows if we live into it communally, we’ll have much to celebrate.  “‘If I saved one patient in my whole life, that wouldn’t be too bad… (but) to have a chance to save a zillion of them, I dig that.’” (Mountains Beyond Mountains, p 187)

Jesus really is that concerned about the poor.  He is concerned about the orphan, the widow, the prisoner and the alien.  He is concerned about the sick.  He is concerned about every living thing.  He invites us to follow him in this.  Rather than making a list of New Year’s resolutions, I ask myself this: What is it that disturbs me? What unsettles me?  If I am willing to allow it to bubble up, to sit with it, even to name it, there I will find Jesus, loving his creation in me, longing to love it through me.

(Icon written in a workshop led by Teresa Harrison, June 2008)

About Mother Beth Tjoflat

Episcopal priest, urban contemplative, playwright, lover of hounds, American of Chilean-Norwegian-Moravian descent. Interests include transformational ministry with the forgotten and marginalized; church planting and congregational development; 12-step spirituality; Hispanic ministry; radical hospitality, and spending time with dear friends.
This entry was posted in faith, peace, St. Clare of Assisi, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to A hermeneutic of generosity

  1. This is a beautiful reflection, and I love that phrase “hermeneutic of generosity!” Thanks for sharing!

  2. Betsy Free says:

    I struggled a long time over the word “hermeneutic”….. I think I operate out of a “hermeneutic of gratitude. I am thankful for that. Hermeneutic is one of those “$1000 dollar words”….love it !

    • Love your hermeneutic of gratitude — a definitely a keeper! (Hermeneutic is one of those words I had to write phonetically in my first theology class at divinity school, then go home and look it up…)

  3. Pingback: Practice What You Preach by Corinna Guerrero « Feminism and Religion

  4. Pingback: Hermeneutics, Suspicion, and Generosity | Gaudete Theology

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