What happened to the wise men’s gold given to Jesus after his birth in Bethlehem?
I first asked the question in a 2010 editorial: “So, what happened to that wealth? What did Mary and Joseph do with the gold?”
I asked a second time in a 2011 editorial. I noted a few of the responses to the 2010 piece.
I wondered if the gold could have provided Jesus with the kind of training that would allow him to learn to read scrolls, to dialogue with rabbis and to debate with Pharisees. I raised the possibility that the gold could have helped to finance his traveling band of disciples.
When I put the gold question to a group at Little Rock’s Second Baptist Church earlier this year, photographer J.V. McKinney gave one of the more creative answers.
He said that Joseph took the gold and invested it in a fig farm that failed. That explains why many years later, still affected by his father’s bad investment, Jesus cursed the fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22).
Such speculation is probably a bridge too far for some who seek hidden theological symbolism in every text and others who favor the rapture theology.
Alas, because the text doesn’t spell out what happened to the wise men’s gold, we can only speculate.
Is it unreasonable to speculate that good things happened for Jesus and his family because of the gift of gold? Is it farfetched to acknowledge that Jesus benefitted from the good gifts of others?
We know Jesus benefitted from the hospitality of Levi. He was hosted by Mary and Martha. He had access to boats for travel and retreat. He used the gift of loaves and fish.
In the case of the philanthropists from the east, Jesus may well have benefitted from the gift of these strangers.
They came from a different culture, belonged to another ethnic group, believed in a foreign religion, and stood at a much higher rung of the socio-economic ladder than did Jesus’ family.
Benefitting from the gifts of others – both friends and strangers – Jesus made good things happen.
Likewise, houses of faith and faith-based nonprofits benefit from the financial support of donors near and far. The good they do is possible because of the goodness of donors.
Here are some basic facts about charitable giving, according to Blackbaud’s 2012 Charitable Giving Report:
â— Charitable giving increased in 2012 by 1.7 percent.
â— Giving to religious entities increased in 2012 by 6.1 percent.
â— The largest amount of charitable giving goes to faith-based organizations.
â— Giving to religious organizations and educational institutions accounts for 45 percent of U.S. charitable giving.
â— Online giving increased by 10.7 percent in 2012 over 2011.
For all sectors of nonprofit giving, by far the largest percentage of giving took place in December, more than double the next highest month, which was October. Almost 18 percent of giving happened in December.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy noted that “a third of charities’ online donations this year  are made in December. Perhaps more remarkable: 22 percent of online gifts are made in the last two days of the year.”
Although data isn’t available for faith-based online giving, 22.4 percent of online giving happened in December.
December giving matters – significantly!
And something else matters significantly with charitable giving.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported in 2012 that the top 10 states in terms of annual average household charitable giving were Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Idaho, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina and Maryland.
The bottom 10 states were Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire.
Mississippi ranks as the poorest state, but individual households gave an average of 7.6 percent to charity. Connecticut ranks as the wealthiest state, but gives only 3.3 percent to charity.
What explains why some states – poorer states – give a greater percentage to charity than wealthier states?
The Atlantic pointed out “the people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans – those with earnings in the top 20 percent – contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity.”
Why do lower income individuals give a higher percentage than wealthy individuals?
One wonders if religion makes the difference. Or perhaps the poor know better what it is to be in need than the wealthy. Or maybe the wealthy are more concerned with getting than giving.
What we do know is that the Bible has a range of stories about giving. Wise men gave gold. A widow gave out of her poverty. The believers in Antioch gave according to their ability.
One could say that the biblical witness offers an elasticity about giving.
One could also say that good things happened as the result of those gifts – large and small.
And so it continues. Donors expect good things to happen with their gifts to nonprofits. Nonprofits recognize that donors have a range of giving potential.
As the year draws to a close, I hope you will consider a gift to the Baptist Center for Ethics/EthicsDaily.com. Gifts may be made here online.
Please view this 5-minute profile video about BCE/EthicsDaily.com. It will show you what we’ve done, are doing and will do. Maybe the video will encourage some readers to become first-time donors and challenge proven donors to give again.
I hope you know that we will be good stewards to what you entrust to us – and good things will happen because of your giving.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.