I turned back to the pump, topped off the tank, and then heard shouting across the lot. A police officer was yelling at the man to whom I'd given some small piece of charity. The officer indicated this man's image was posted inside and in other area businesses because of his repeated begging attempts. Rather than a passerby with an emergency, apparently this man is a local with a habit of begging.
My first reaction was, "I should be angry." My second reaction was, "Why am I not angry?" My third reaction was something like sadness as I watched this man drive away with a woman who may well be his pregnant cousin, in his car who still may well be fresh out of impound.
In Matthew 5:42, Jesus says, "Give to those who ask, and do not refuse any who want to borrow from you." The NRSV pushes the translation even further, saying "Give to everyone who begs from you." That's an incredible image, and one that has become more and more important to me as a person of faith.
People use a plethora of reasons not to give, whether fear about how the person begging might use the money, or anxiety over a personal lack of money, or a conviction about work ethic based in the aura of American exceptionalism.
Christians, however, must deal with this command from Christ. Give to everyone who begs from you. There is not exception to this from Jesus' point of view.
But, you may ask, what if they use the gift for ill? Well, since we know full well that the consumption of alcohol is not only a recent phenomena, I'm pretty certain Jesus already knew that some people make bad decisions with their money. Even more importantly, we also know that some people struggle with a verifiable disease called addiction. It is dangerous to give precisely because we give up control of the gift to the person that receives it. And yet, Jesus said give to everyone who begs from you anyway.*
But, you might ask, what if I was going to use that money (or food or other type of resource) for something? Apparently Jesus has something in mind for that money as well: blessing those who are asking you. And so he said give to everyone who begs from you anyway.
But, you could also ask, what if they're lying about why they want it or need it? Jesus knew all about deceptive people (I'm looking at you, Peter and Judas). But was did he do? Blessed them anyway. And so he said give to everyone who begs from you anyway.
Ultimately, giving to those who ask is not about rewarding a good behavior or supporting some sort of lifestyle change. It is about blessing in the image of Jesus, the one who blesses despite the fact that we do not deserve it at all. To give to everyone who begs is to take on the identity of a God who gave everything to a world full of beggars, as we all begged for mercy from the depth of our sin.
Today, I think the Holy Spirit just got the better of me, because if I am honest, I all too often do not give when I am asked. I use the reasons above, or a myriad of others, to justify what is truly my own selfishness and prejudice. To give to those who ask is an exercise is choosing someone else over yourself, an act at the heart of God's steadfast love. To give to those who ask is to grow in the image of God, to bless someone simply on the basis of grace. The point is living the life of Christ, who gives to everyone who begs, and we are surely beggars in need of that gift. I want to learn how to give more freely because I want to learn more about those in need and I want to become more like the Giver upon whom we all rely.
So, really, why should we not give when we are asked?
*To be clear, I am not saying we should just leave the pandemic of alcoholism untouched, especially amongst low income communities. Rather, we must both give to those who ask as well as help to create access to avenues for deliverance from addiction. And of course, when called to give to those who ask, that means much more than money. If someone indicates a need for food, give them actual food. If you just stopped at the store, give some of those groceries you intended for yourself or your family to this person, part of the family of God. In these situations, our responsibility becomes greater, where we are called not only to give to the person who is asking of us, but also to work toward systemic change that offers hope and deliverance for those who suffer from such terrible diseases.