Giving money to strangers.

When people asked Jesus for help, they legitimately needed it. They were blind or deaf or possessed by a demon. When he helped them he didn’t have to worry what they were going to do with his help. He didn’t have to worry if they were going to take what he gave them and use it to get alcohol or drugs.

Jesus says that if someone asks us for a coat we’re supposed to give them a cloak as well. At the time he was talking that was everything you had. Those were your two ways of keeping yourself warm and protected from rain. We are supposed to give them what they ask for and more. Jesus says that if somebody asks you to walk a mile with them, then walk two.

It just doesn’t seem logical to do what Jesus said these days. Here we are 2000 years later and people seem to have twisted this for their own benefit. They ask for help, taking advantage of our soft hearts and our indoctrination to do good. They don’t need money, they need counseling and better life choices. Money won’t help, it will hurt instead. It will enable them to stay disabled.

I say, “Jesus, how are we supposed to handle the situation? What if we’re just aiding and abetting a sin? Is this right to hand them what they ask for which is always money, all the while they’re probably going to spend it on something that’s just going to keep them in the same place where they are?”

Jesus says “It is about them, it’s not about you.”
Jesus says “It isn’t about what they do with the money, it’s about what YOU do with it.”
Jesus says “What they do is between them and God. What YOU do is between you and God too.”

And that’s what it all boils down to. If somebody standing in the parking lot, asking for money, holding a baby, telling a story about how they were robbed and they are staying in a hotel room and they just need enough to get back in the room, give them what they asked for. Give them twice as much as you felt like giving. If they abuse it, that’s on them. But if you don’t help them, that’s on you. Pray for them, and wish them well. And then go on your way.

Piety

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.