The Greatest Act of Generosity, Ever

What is the greatest act of generosity in the history of the world? 

There are a lot of potential answers that come to mind.  And to be fair, a few other articles have already taken a stab this subject.  For example, after the horrific 2012 movie theater shooting in Colorado, the Huffington Post ran an article called, “21 Acts of Kindness that will Make You Believe in the Human Race.”  A separate article titled, “10 Dramatic Acts of Human Kindness” documents Pope John Paul II forgiving his would-be assassin as well as the work of Westboro Baptist Church counter-protestors.

There are potentially thousands of acts of generosity that happen every single day.  So, this is no easy task.  With that in mind, what would you call the greatest act of generosity ever?

Some may argue that the greatest act of kindness ever was captured in a movie.  Anyone who has seen the movie Schindler’s List knows the story.  This true story follows the work of German businessman Oskar Schindler during World War II.  Mr. Schindler owned a factory that utilized cheap Jewish labor to produce artillery for the German Army.  Through a tightly controlled factory system and through a series of bribes, Schindler was able to save the lives of hundreds Jews – sparing them from the Nazi gas chambers. 

After hiding these Jews for over five years, Schindler’s secret was discovered by the SS.  He had to flee for his life.  But before he left, he was handed a gold ring by the workers that he saved.  The ring was inscribed with the quote, “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.”

Schindler was moved by this gesture, but also felt deeply ashamed, believing he could have done more to save many more lives.  Weeping, he lamented how many more lives he could have saved if he would have sold his car or other personal possessions.  As he continued to cry, he was lead to his car and he made a mid-night departure to save his own life.  The next morning, a Soviet platoon arrived at his factory, announcing the end of the War and the liberation of the surviving Jews.

But, as amazing as his act of generosity was, I don’t personally think this is the greatest act of generosity in human history.  It was great, but not the greatest.

Others may argue that the greatest act of generosity was found in the day-to-day life of Mother Teresa.  After teaching at a high school in India for twenty years, she sensed God’s calling to “serve Him amongst the poorest of the poor.”  Although she had no funds to complete this work, she started an open-air school for homeless children in 1948 and by 1950, she received permission to start her own order, “The Missionaries of Charity.”  For the next forty plus years, Mother Teresa dedicated her life to caring for the sick, diseased and poor that no one else would look after.  So, it could be said that the greatest act of generosity in the history of humanity was the life’s work of Mother Teresa.

Even though I have ridiculous respect for Mother Teresa, I don’t think her life equals the greatest act of generosity ever.  Don’t stone me yet.  Let’s keep going.

Religious people, Christians particularly, may claim that the greatest act of kindness and generosity came from Jesus.  It could easily be maintained that the cross of Christ was the most remarkable act of kindness that the world has ever seen.  He, who had done no wrong, who lived His life in service of others, took the penalty of death for the sins of the world.  He did what Scripture had been foreshadowing for centuries.  Through His death, He did what none of us could accomplish.

One devotional writer has noted that:

The death of the animals in Genesis 3 is the first biblical hint that atonement requires sacrifice.  It points us forward to the ultimate sacrifice.  Jesus Christ suffered and bled and died so that we could be adequately clothed—clothed in his righteousness.  The blood of Jesus is our atonement, our covering.  Just like Adam and Eve, we can’t cover our own sin.  God must do that, and he has made that possible with the costly sacrifice of his own Son.[i]

Surely, the brutality that Jesus suffered on the way to the cross…the substitutionary death that He died for us…surely that is the greatest act of generosity in the history of the world.

But…maybe not.  Maybe there is an act of generosity that is even greater in scope and depth than the death of Jesus.

I would contend (if you are still willing to listen to me) that the greatest act of generosity in the history of humanity was actually something else that Jesus did.  I think the greatest act of generosity that has ever taken place occurred a short time after the death of Jesus on the cross.  I would say that the most unequaled act of kindness happened, not on the Friday of Jesus’s death, but on the Sunday of His resurrection.

When Jesus rose from the grave, He offered a once-and-for-all-freedom to anyone who would accept it.  On the first Easter Sunday morning, He offered the world freedom from death.  But, it wasn’t just a freedom from the grave.  He offered freedom from every other fear of life.   In His death, He took the penalty, but in His resurrection, He came back to unlock the prison doors for all that would follow Him.  When He conquered life and death, He unshackled us from shame, guilt, anxiety, self-condemnation, worry, greed, bitterness, anger, hatred, envy, and lust, peer-pressure, people-pleasing and façade-building. 

In His death, He took our place.  But, in the resurrection, He allowed us to step into His place.  He invited us into the kingdom of God…which is a kingdom of freedom.  Brennan Manning says, “Jesus invites and challenges us to enter this kingdom, to walk the royal road of freedom, to be set free by the Father’s love. He calls ragamuffins everywhere to freedom from the fear of death, freedom from the fear of life, and freedom from anxiety over our salvation.”[ii]

And since He did not leave us pardoned but still imprisoned…since He gave us the opportunity to be raised to new life with Him…I think the resurrection of Jesus is the greatest act of generosity ever.


What do you think?  Let us know in the comments below.


[i] Haug, Kendal and Will Walker. Journey to the Cross: Readings and Devotions for Lent, pg. 100.

[ii] Manning, Brennan. The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out (Kindle Locations 1621-1623). The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group.