I had a dream that I was at some church gathering where we all were going to get lunch. It was at a local restaurant, not at the church itself. Near the entrance of the restaurant were four beggars. Also near the entrance was the pastor, but hiding.
It was a test. Do the members stop to talk with the beggars? Do they give them money or food? At the very least do they give them a smile and treat them like they are human? Or do they ignore them?
There is a saying from Jesus to not let your piety be seen. It is rude to do something good so that you will get bonus points. Matthew 6:1 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
But it is also a bad idea to learn to love your neighbor in the abstract but not show it in the concrete.
But how loving is it to allow someone to be dependent? To give food or money to someone who has the capacity to earn it themselves is to undermine their basic humanity and dignity. It is to encourage them to continue to be a beggar.
And how is it loving of a pastor to try to trap people? The purpose of a pastor is to lead, to teach, to educate.
It is all very complicated. Sure, it was a dream, but it has a basis in reality.
It reminds me of the videos that Jon Quinones’ show “What Would You Do?” where they secretly films people in posed morally questionable situations. Instead of teaching people what are good ways of dealing with the situation, he basically mocks people who fail to rise to the occasion.
I think the goal of any leader, but especially of religious leaders, is to instruct and inform, rather than point out flaws. Instead of figuring out ways to catch people sinning, help them to know what is the right thing to do. If they fail in a “test” – it isn’t their fault. It is the leaders’ fault for not teaching them correctly.
The whole verse is here (Matthew 6:1-8) (NRSV)
1 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.