We are simply doing for others what has been done for us."
This startled me a little--I try to be "wise" about money I give to causes outside of my regular tithes and offerings to my church. I sometimes give money to people who are begging and sometimes I don't. Jesus said that the poor would always be with us and Jeff's comments made me feel more responsible than ever to stop long enough to hear a story and then try to discern what I should do.
Jeff also quoted the early church writer, Tertullian who said, “It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents, who say, ‘See those Christians, how they love one another.’” This love has to begin at home. It has to begin in the domestic church.
I came home and did a little rooting around and found that the early Christians were known for their charity, even leading an anti-Christian Roman emperor named Julian to take notice. The emperor so hated Christians and Christianity that he sought to "re-paganize" the Roman empire following the expansion of Christ's kingdom. Nonetheless, Julian noticed the benevolence of the early church, saying “The impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well. Everyone can see that our poor lack aid from us.” (see http://touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=17-04-038-f#ixzz4RhIJvwZu).
So now I am really intrigued. How are we supposed to help the poor break out of a lifestyle of poverty? Is is an act of faith to give money to a homeless man, even though you suspect he will spend it on something other than food?
I have been pondering the "boring" books of the Bible, the ones that often stymie our attempts to read through the whole Bible. I am talking about Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Genesis it great with all the stories, but then you get to Exodus and the adrenaline level plummets as you begin to read about "Sundry Laws." Leviticus 23:22 says,
"'When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the LORD your God.'"
A quick search found more than 20 other verses which mention the idea of gleaning. The principle of gleaning is that a farmer is supposed to leave edible crops behind. When harvesting was complete, some of the stalks, grain, grapes--whatever was to be intentionally un-reaped so that a person in need could go through the field behind the workers who harvest and get food for them and their family.
Don't "amen" with an attitude of "if they don't work, they don't eat." Many are not able to adequately provide for their basic needs. As a church, we are called to help them. The Bible usually calls them widows and orphans and the signature verse is James 1:27, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." Paul also implied of this responsibility: "Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do." (Galatians 2:10).
I am provoked to do both. I am praying for a way to create microbusiness opportunities for underserved or marginalized who are willing to work and I am praying for wisdom in distribution of resources for the widows and orphans. Unfortunately, all who give generously have been taken advantage of by persons who played the system. I am praying for my attitude that God forgives me for my attitude towards the con artists and gives me a spirit of forgiveness and trust that He sees everything.