I’ve been meeting some new friends as I continue on my new journey of starting a new church. The experience of meeting new people and getting to know them has been a humbling and learning experience. I have learned of the need to be patient and listen, to hear stories that are shared and to ask questions.
The other day, at a weekly breakfast gathering I attend, a new friend started talking to me about his approach towards helping those in need. It’s funny, people who know that I am a pastor seem to feel compelled or even obligated to share certain things with me. This was no exception.
I don’t really remember what it was that led to my friend’s comments, but he said that some people give to the deserving poor, like widows who have lost husbands or orphans or foster children. He told me that he doesn’t distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving. Some people would call undeserving poor those they encounter on the streets, the ones who might buy alcohol with the money that you give them, the ones that have a look about them.
If we’re honest, a lot of us probably take a look at someone and make assessments of their story before we even hear a word from them. They’ve gotten themselves in this situation, we might think. Why can’t they get a job, we might ask. Let them work just like the rest of us, we might complain.
But my friend’s words struck me. It’s sad that we would somehow elevate ourselves to the place of judge and somehow make assessments without knowing the back story. Somehow, we give ourselves the right to judge whether a person is deserving or undeserving of our charity or grace.
It’s hard for me to not make a correlation here to spiritual things. While some of us may make assessments as to whether or not someone is deserving of our charity, I also think that more of us will choose and judge whether or not a person is deserving or undeserving of grace. How have they treated us? What have they done to deserve this, to earn it?
Funny, the whole premise of grace is that it is something that has been given freely and without merit and yet some of us continue to mete out judgment about it. But if we’re judging whether or not someone deserves grace, then it no longer qualifies as grace.
Now, what would we do if God looked at us and asked himself whether any of us were deserving of grace? What if he said, “I’m not going to give them grace because they’re just going to squander and abuse it. If I give them grace, they might not use it on something beneficial.”
And yet, that’s exactly what we do. We go around labeling people as to whether or not they are deserving or undeserving of our charity or of our grace. We play God.
The words of my friend have plagued me since he said them. I can’t help but think about my own judgment, how I label people, how I somehow become the judge and jury, and I tell myself their story in my head without even asking them.
Sure, there’s such thing as toxic charity, and there is a likelihood that sometimes, when you give something away, the person who receives it won’t respect it and treat it as you had hoped or even thought they would. But what does that have to do with us?
I’m doing my best to stop asking about what a person does or doesn’t deserve. Jesus said to love our neighbors as ourselves, I’m not so sure that I always use what I’ve been given the way that I should or in a beneficial way, so what gives me the right to keep something from someone else?