Give to Everyone Who Asks
Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:42
This is a verse that pops into my head often, but is seldom a welcome addition to whatever I am thinking at the time. There are many things Jesus said that are difficult for me, and this may be chief among them. I was walking downtown last week, and I came across six panhandlers – people asking for money. They held signs saying, “Homeless, please help” or “Hungry” or “Need bus money to go home.” I remember thinking I should help them, but I did not. I walked by, pretending I did not notice, like almost everyone else. At such times, this verse pops into my head.
I used to justify my stinginess by thinking that the beggars might use the money for drugs or booze or cigarettes. How would I be helping them by enabling their unhealthy habits? In addition, by giving panhandlers money, I might be perpetuating their poverty by helping them survive without getting a job. Even if these arguments were true in some cases, Jesus’ words still sound in my head, with emphasis on the words everyone and anyone. Ultimately, I am unable to judge the heart, intention, or life situation of another.
There is another time this verse enters my mind, and it happened recently as I bought a flowering tree for our yard. Mind you, we already have lots of flowering trees in and around our yard. The money I spent on the tree could have provided a decent meal for all six of the panhandlers I encountered the day before. And this verse popped into my head. Perhaps Jesus asks us to not only consider the price we pay for commodities to enhance our lives, but also to weigh the alternative uses for that same money.
If this verse about giving to everyone who asks is not compelling enough, there is a corollary verse that I find every bit as uncomfortable. It is this: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). This comes from a parable where Jesus illustrates that how we treat the least in society is how we treat him. If I recognized Jesus on the street and he was hungry, would I refuse to feed him? Yet, if I believe Jesus lives in me, how can I not also believe Jesus lives in the panhandler on the street? For me, it is a dilemma with only one solution – give.
It is not my intent to lay a guilt trip on anyone, including myself. Guilt trips accomplish nothing. I believe this is a social justice issue God challenges us to wrestle with and draw our own conclusions. If I truly believe that everything I have is a gift from God, however, then I have not earned any of it. It does not belong to me. If everything I have is a gift – from the money in my pocket to my home, car, and possessions – what right do I have to refuse to share it with others?
The second half of the verse continues, “Do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” If nothing in my possession actually belongs to me, does not that also make me a borrower? I should absolutely take care of what is entrusted to me, but I have no right to hoard it beyond my need. Do I really believe God will cease blessing me because I allow others to share the abundance on loan to me from God?
I do not believe this verse is a call to self-deprivation. Nor do I believe there is a single answer for everyone. There are many non-monetary things we can give, some of which may be needed more than money – attention, encouragement, and a listening ear to name a few. Our challenge is to identify what we can give cheerfully, extravagantly, and without expectation and see where that leads us. We need to give something of ourselves, however; not just for the sake of those who ask, but for our own well-being, too. There are many things Jesus said that are difficult to understand. This is not one of them. Give.
This is the 21st in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”
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