Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting texts that provide a window into the early Church’s attitude towards hunger and poverty. Today, I offer the perspective of a non-Christian critic.
The late 2nd century satirist Lucian of Samasota mercilessly mocked Christians for their gullibility. Railing against their generous giving, and seemingly naïve trust in the goodness of those in need, Lucian tells the tale of a man named Peregrinus who joined the fledgling movement to swindle cash from unsuspecting “orphans and widows.” After Peregrinus was arrested for being a Christian (but make no mistake, Lucian felt Peregrinus deserved every bit of it, being the charlatan that he was), Lucian describes how “from the very break of day aged widows and orphan children could be seen waiting near the prison,” as if these were shorthand for Christian believers. Lucian was not the only ancient Greco-Roman author to comment on the generosity of Christians, it appears to have been one of the marks of the nascent movement, and Christians were nearly universally mocked for this trait.
Which brings me to today. When I think of the various idiosyncrasies of the Christian Church, those things for which Christians are (sometimes rightfully) mocked, unfettered generosity does not immediately come to mind. To be sure, there have been significant changes in Western culture in the last 2,000 years, and generosity in general is much more accepted (even expected?) today. That said, in these turbulent financial times, when many of us are hunkering down for the long haul and working to protect our assets, wouldn’t it be great if the Church reclaimed the piece of its heritage that gives generously, even to a fault? It starts with you and me. Let’s do something mock-worthy.