july 2

The Undeserving Poor


The problem is, I grew up in church. I raised my hand to receive Jesus when I was five years old. And, yeah, a few more times after that just to make sure it stuck.

Have you ever been jealous of other people’s testimonies? I have. I know people who can get up in church and say that Jesus rescued them from drug addiction or forgave them for adultery. What can I say? I was nurtured in the faith practically from the cradle. I was taught all the rules and supported from every side to keep them. I genuinely want to please God, so I have always been a good girl.

The problem is, I TOTALLY get where the Pharisees are coming from. I mean, we try so hard to get it right. We really hunger and thirst for righteousness. We know our Scripture. And we—the Pharisees and I—slip so easily into loveless-ness. In Luke 7:41-43, Jesus had this little conversation with a Pharisee named Simon:

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Sheesh. I REALLY do think I’m the fifty denarii guy, don’t I?

The problem is, I tend to highlight the passages that are possible to keep and find a Bible scholar to explain away the bits that cause trouble. If I really take Scripture seriously, its standards are disturbingly, outrageously impossible to keep. Without grace, I am in deep, deep trouble. I find myself desperately in need of a Savior after all.

So, what does this have to do with Generous Justice? If I don’t get how much grace I’ve received, I won’t get God’s idea of justice either. It is natural, if I think I kind of deserve good things, to think that people who “got themselves into a mess” are getting what they deserve too. But God’s crazy justice means nobody gets what they deserve.

Keller writes, “We all want to help kind-hearted, upright people whose poverty came upon them through no foolishness or contribution of their own, and who will respond to our aid with gratitude and joy. However, almost no one like that exists” (pg. 71).

Seriously, Tim? Are you saying Jesus calls it justice for me to give my precious time and hard-earned money to ungrateful idiots?

It is all too easy to forget that I am often ungrateful for and always undeserving of the forgiveness I perpetually receive.

At the end of chapter four, Keller writes, “Before you can give this neighbor-love, you need to receive it. Only if you see that you have been saved graciously by someone who owes you the opposite will you go out into the world looking to help absolutely anyone in need” (pg. 77).

Absolutely anyone.

Irresponsible people with huge credit card debt and even huger SUVs. Scammers. Criminals. Jerky drivers. Child abusers. Lazy people. Bigots. Terrorists.

It comes to this—once I create any standard that must be met in order for someone to be deserving of help, I have fallen back into my white-washed tomb. That place where I think I’m just a little more deserving of God’s blessings than other people.

Okay, so God wants me to hand cash out to absolutely anyone. I don’t need to think about “enabling” or “dependency” or “When Helping Hurts” right? Wrong.

The problem is, I’m an American, and it is so easy to read, “love your neighbor as yourself” and subconsciously transpose it in my brain to, “give money to your neighbor.” Love is not the same thing as money. Love is much more.

Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. It does not dishonor others. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (I Corinthians 13:4-7).

Let’s put legs on this.

Sometimes the vulnerable seek me out. They usually find me in parking lots and busy intersections, where they ask me for money. They usually tell me a fake-sounding story or hold up a pathetic-looking sign. The opportunity to be patient, kind, not-proud, honoring, not-self-seeking, etc. is fleeting at best. Preparation is key. Here are some ideas:

  • Before you go out, pray that God will give you opportunities to love. When you see someone in need, pray, “God, what do you want me to do,” and be prepared to obey if you get a response.
  • Offer to pray with or for the person, if you are face-to-face. Find out more about who they are and what they need.
  • Carry around cold water, Subway gift cards or even sack lunches to give out. Pack what you would want to eat (love your neighbor as yourself). This also helps with step 1 (praying for opportunities), because, let me tell you, lugging this stuff around makes you pray for someone to give it to!

The really cool thing about this is that God actually heals our knee jerk “oh no, here we go” reaction when someone needy-looking approaches. Instead, we find ourselves thinking, “Finally, here you are! I’ve been waiting all week for you!”

Finally, I have to say, if we’re only encountering the poor in these situations, we need to change our life choices. Love seeks out the beloveds. Humbly and intentionally go hang out with people who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, under-dressed, sick, and in prison. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Don’t wait until you feel warm and fuzzy toward them. Don’t wait for life to be less crazy busy. Just go. Do love to them.

Do they deserve our time, our concern, our assistance? Probably not. Just like we don’t deserve Christ’s atoning sacrifice, His persistent grace and His abundant blessings.

Image courtesy of Ashley Campbell / Flickr.com

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