In a recent debate among friends, the topic was the homeless, the beggars, and the unemployed. Mostly Christians, the debaters argued whether or not charity should be extended to those on the street corners with cardboard signs stating their pleas for handouts. It all began when one person said they saw one such beggar talking on a cell phone while begging. At first glance, this does seem like humorous irony. On second thought, it was argued that there is a "Lifeline" plan that only costs around $3.00 a month for a few hundred minutes. Also, there is the possibility that the phone was donated by the man’s family. Perhaps the man recently met his misfortune and couldn’t afford the cancelation fees. Maybe it wasn’t even a working phone, as many of the homeless have mental conditions and imagine all sorts of conversations. In any case, the issue of this man deserving charity was at hand.
It’s easy to think of the Biblical illustrations of charity. The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), for example. From this story, Christ taught that we are to love our neighbors and extend charity (or love in action) to any neighbor in need. He also explained that a neighbor was anyone who needs our help. Even the most hostile in the aforementioned group of debaters wasn’t going to argue against that. So, from there, came the debate of whether this man was truly a neighbor "in need." Well, what is "need?" In the our society, we deem a lot of unnecessary things as "needs” like cell phones, for example. No, this man did not "need" the cell phone. If it was even a working phone, why should we judge how he got it and whether he deserves it or not? We are driving past him, most likely talking on our own cell phone, but because he is asking for food – he doesn’t deserve connection with family or friends? Whatever his reasoning was; he felt it necessary to ask for food and money. This tells me that he does have a need. Maybe it isn’t even a need for that food or money. Being willing to stand on a freezing street corner showing his face to the public, and asking for their pity tells me he has a need. It may be a physical, mental, financial, or "just" a spiritual need, nevertheless, I believe he was in need. I’d never give the man money, but food? Maybe. And, when I could, I wouldn’t hesitate to hire such people for odd jobs, and feed them for it.
I definitely think we should let the charity fit the need!
No doubt she was feeling guilt when one of the group offered to display her receipts for charitable contributions as proof of their true nature while arguing whole-heartedly that this man needed to stop begging and "get a job." It is easy to "throw money" at a situation, giving in the offering plate, taking those out-dated clothes to Goodwill, but is this the only kind of charity Christ expects from Christians? Jesus in the Gospel of Luke tells us:
"But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just, (Luke 14:13-14, KJV).
It may not be wrong to give in the easy ways, but it’s through sacrifice that love is best displayed. I once had a homeless, drunk man take and keep my Bible. I cried. It was my concealed-carry Bible: a small, pocket-sized text that I kept in my diaper bag to read to my kids when waiting at the doctors, or to use to witness if I got the opportunity. It wasn’t that I minded losing it because I knew I could replace it. It was the feeling that he didn’t need it because I doubted he would ever read it. A verse came to mind, “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper [in the thing] whereto I sent it,” (Isaiah 55:11, KJV).
It wasn’t up to me to decide if God’s Word would affect this man or not. It was up to God. Maybe the Bible found its way into someone else’s hands – someone who was sober, and searching for Truth. Maybe the man read it when he was sober and able to discern it properly. I may never know, but I believe God let that man take His Word and that His Word will not return to Him void, but will prosper and accomplish His will.
Another thought, many of the homeless face mental conditions that keep them from ever obtaining a job. Even at "Mickey Ds” or "the garbage dump (where it doesn’t matter if you’re dirty)," as two of the debaters suggested. These same people judging the beggars are among those of us who aren’t thrilled about government intervention… yet as they drive past and tell these folks to "get a job," they pass the responsibility of charity from the Church to the government. If Christians don’t help the handicapped, or, as the Bible says, "the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind," then society says the government has to. God’s word has already told Christians to step up to that plate, to take that job. If we fail to do so, we are the beggars, begging our country to do our job of charity for us. God forbid it!
I don’t find any Biblical indication that God will judge or punish the Christian for offering charity to someone who humanly doesn’t deserve it. There is, however, indication that the self-righteous, greedy Christian will be judged.