Alms,” by János Thorma

It’s not hard to think of kind things we can do for the people around us. Life seems to be arranged in a way that makes it natural for us to serve one another. In all aspects of life, some of us have more than we need, while others don’t have enough. Furthermore, all of us are lacking in some way and can benefit from the kindness of others.

The Greek word eleimosýni (ἐλεημοσύνη) means “mercifulness,” specifically as demonstrated by good deeds. A variant of the word found its way into Latin (eleemosyna), and from there into multiple European languages, including Old English (ælmesse). Over time, the English word was shortened to “alms.” (See “alms,” Online Etymology Dictionary.)

Jesus warned us not to “sound a trumpet” when we do alms (Matthew 6:2, 3 Nephi 13:2). This is because almsgiving brings inherent joy and blessings from God which we might entirely miss if we are focused on impressing other people. But it’s also a simple matter of proportionality. Small acts of kindness may be meaningful to the recipients, but there may not be any value in sharing them more broadly. In terms of their relevance to other people, they may simply not be important enough to be advertised.

In contrast, Jesus gives us the following instructions, “When thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 5:3-4, 3 Nephi 13:3-4).

Anonymous giving is fun, and it’s sometimes easily achievable. Other times, our giving is necessarily conspicuous in nature. We can’t avoid it. Either way, I think the principle is the same: Don’t draw unnecessary attention to your alms. Focus on the gift and on the recipient, not on how other people may perceive it.

In the New Testament, Jesus opens this part of the sermon with a warning: “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them” (Matthew 6:1), but in the Book of Mormon, He inserts the following admonition before the warning: “Verily, verily, I say that I would that ye should do alms unto the poor” (3 Nephi 13:1). I like that insertion. It’s a reminder that the main thing is the alms, and anonymously or not, the Savior wants us to do them.

I have a friend who is an excellent almsgiver. He always seems to notice when an act of service is needed, and he jumps into action immediately. He is uncomfortable with recognition, and is quick to deflect attention from himself when he is praised. He never draws attention to his acts of service, but those of us who know him are inspired by his example of quietly going about doing good. (See Acts 10:38.)

Today, I will seek opportunities to perform small acts of service for the people around me. I won’t make a big deal about those activities, but will focus on doing what I can regardless of how visible or invisible my service may be.

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