I got this email the other day:
I enjoyed your sermon yesterday, as usual, but was curious about the [scripture] starting with [Matthew 25] verse 41 where it also says that if you do not give to the hungry and naked and do not give anything to drink, you have not done it for me. There are several more references but this has always bothered me since there are so many asking over the phone, through the mail, and even when you get out of the car in parking lots. There are those with signs saying they need food and work, all over the place.
My question I guess is are we turning away Jesus when we say no, which especially bothers me when they ask you in person. Should you give every time and do you consider your own finances and the needs of your family in these situations? I think probably there is no easy answer and also think my first responsibility is to my church and then make sure my family has their needs met, but with my family and myself needs are always met, it is just wants - so that is why this bothers me when I think about Jesus's words.
Just curious about your ideas on this and I am sure, as a pastor, you have people hitting on you for money all the time.Thanks for the help.
Great question, Marti.
I applaud you for being bothered when you think about the words of Jesus. I think the church would be better off if more people were bothered by what Jesus has to say.
I am reading a book called "Radical" by David Platt and it is really "bothering" me - a lot! He says that "we are starting to redefine Christianity. We are giving in to the dangerous temptation to take the Jesus of the Bible and twist him into a version of Jesus we are more comfortable with." His point is that North American Christianity has minimized the radical call of Jesus. It is a symptom of what I call our "impoverished Christology."
Here's a question that I puzzle over in situations like you describe. Which is easier, to give the person 5 bucks or invite them to lunch with you? Obviously, to give them the five and then be done with them is easier, and gives us the added benefit of believing we have helped someone in need. It soothes our guilty conscience and allows us to check another act of discipleship off our to-do list for the week.
But I don't think Jesus wants his disciples to stop there. Rather than asking, "Should I give him $5 or not?" I think Jesus wants his disciples to go deeper, and struggle at a deeper level. "Should I just give him $5 or should I take him out to lunch?" And further, "What can I do in the community that will help eliminate the conditions that cause him to be begging for help in the first place?"
Okay, so back to the question at hand. "Should you give every time?" I answer, "Yes." But should you give cash every time? I don't. I always give time and attention. I listen to their story and try to understand what is happening. I try to give myself to them in some way, and many times that ends up with my giving them some cash. But not always. Sometimes it means giving them a phone number or two where more resources are available to them. Sometimes it means giving them just conversation and prayer, and a friendly smile.
How do I figure out what to give? Well, I wish I could say there was a clearly defined set of criteria I use, but there's not. It is intuitive, mostly. It is me staying open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is being face-to-face with someone and picking up a "vibe," which I hope is the "vibe" of Christ. It is much more an art and much less a science.
And I know there are times I have made mistakes, both giving someone money that was then wasted AND not giving someone money when they really truly needed it. But I do not let the fear of making mistakes influence me. If I did, I would never give anyone anything, and I am confident that is not faithful Christian discipleship.
That's a long answer, and a complicated one. But I think you knew that your question was not going to have an easy answer before you asked, didn't you? :)
Andy Bryan, Pastor
Campbell United Methodist Church