My friend over at Wondering Pilgrim wrote a post this morning called “Peace is a Pair of Shoes” (you can find it here). He discusses the perennial problem of giving, and the questions raised when we give to the poor; or rather the questions we raise before we give to the poor, such as, Should I? Shouldn’t I? Is this the right person? Is this the best way to help?
They are good questions. I don’t know about other parts of the world, but here at the bottom end of Africa traffic lights are overflowing with outstretched arms. Some are empty; some hold a placard, “Plees help! No work! God bless!” Other entrepreneurial souls offer sunglasses, plastic coat hangers, toys and Christmas hats.
Should I? Shouldn’t I? As always we would like definitive answers, wouldn’t we? We need a formula so that whenever we are tapped on the shoulder or tapped on the heart, we can put the situation through the flow diagram and get the answer. To give or not to give?
My rule is a simple one. Don’t give to beggars on the street. Yes, there are some who genuinely cannot find work, or whose disability precludes them from every form of income, and who are reduced to begging. But there are too many others whose begging supports an addiction I am not willing to fund. And the genuinely needy cases? They are better helped through welfare groups and non profits, which are better equipped than I to identify the real needs of the community, and to make good use of my meagre offerings.
There, that was easy, wasn’t it? The problem of the poor, sorted, and boxed and put away, nicely out of sight. Except that Jesus didn’t treat the poor as a “problem”, did he? He reached out to real people who were poor and broken, and lost and hungry. He didn’t say to his followers, “Seek answers to the questions of life.” He said, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” (Mark 12:31)
Jesus doesn’t give us or ask us to find answers, does he? It’s the questions that are important. There is never going to be an answer to the “problem of the poor”, or the lost, or the lonely, or the broken or the captive, just questions. What does it mean to be a neighbour in this situation, for this person, on this day? What does it mean for me to love, here and now?
Does that mean I must scrap my rule, and give to every beggar I meet? That would be another “answer” rather than a question, wouldn’t it? “Give” is just as simplistic as “Don’t give”. We are still looking for an answer, a rule; and we are not going to get one.
Jesus doesn’t appear to us in formulae and flow diagrams; he comes to us as a human being.
“Which one?” we would like to know. “Will we recognise him?”
Not many did then, why should it be any different now?
“What does he look like?”
Well, he comes as a baby (illegitimate at that), a child, a workman, a wandering rabbi, a blasphemer and a criminal—a traitor against church and state, a man on a cross. We certainly won’t recognise him if we resolutely avoid eye contact. No, we are not required to give every beggar whatever he or she wants, any more than God gives his children everything they want, but we are called to notice, to be aware.
The point about the Good Samaritan was that he didn’t ask, “Who is my neighbour?” He looked for opportunities to be a neighbour. Your opportunities will be different from mine, because we are different, and our circumstances are different. But if we keep our heads up, and if we are willing to risk looking people in the eye and asking God to reveal himself to us, the opportunities will come. And the love of God, not the answers about God, will begin to flow more freely though us and in us.
Are you afraid? I am, but if that’s where God is at work, isn’t that where we want to be?