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ESV: Book of Common Prayer Daily Office Lectionary

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BruceA

Here are Jesus' words from the sermon on the mount:

"Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you." - Matthew 5:42

What does it mean to put that into practice?

One rainy March afternoon I was leaving the public library when two homeless men approached me. They wanted a ride. "To where?" I asked. They were vague, but they gave the general direction. It was exactly opposite of my way home. Still, something compelled me to agree to let them into my car.

As I drove, they gave more detailed directions. "It's at 13th and Waco. There's a Dillons [grocery store] on the other corner." But they wouldn't get more specific than that.

When we were within about a mile, one of them said, "You know what's going down," and asked me for money. I couldn't give them any. No, the truth is, I wouldn't give them any.

They accepted my refusal, and the rest of the trip passed uneventfully. I'll admit, though, that I had a moment of panic when they joked with each other that they might be able to get shelter from the rain by going to jail. Did they mean to make me their victim? But no, they weren't violent people.

When we arrived at the corner they told me I could let them off in the Dillons parking lot. I did, and then I watched them walk across the street to a liquor store.

Was I wrong to not give them money when they asked? I don't think so. Are there things I could have done better? Probably. I could have offered to take them to a shelter. Maybe I could have bought them a meal. Or even waited in the car and given them a ride back from the liquor store to the library. It's not always easy to know what would really help people.

I guess what I am trying to say is that, although I don't completely agree with Dan's comments, I think he does raise some valid points. If we take Matthew 5:42 by itself, we could easily turn into enablers. I don't think that's what Jesus had in mind.

Dan Paden

By the way, I liked your blog.

Dan Paden

I beg you to go back and look at the comment to which I was responding, that is, the one where your commentary was all about me having excused everyone from the exercise of grace, from having to love others, and the obligation to take up one's cross daily, and then to your second installment, which is all about your objections to my citations of Paul regarding under what circumstances under which we are to give financial and material aid. What you have done is to conflate the two, to assume a priori that loving the unlovely and giving them material aid are the same thing, all the time and under all circumstances. Since my point was that I've been accused of wanting neither to love nor to help the unlovely, and your dissection seems to be aimed at proving that I have criteria as to what kinds of help may be legitimately be offered (a point which I did not dispute: I obviously do have such criteria), I have to regard your assertions as yet unproven.

There seems to be no room in your worldview for the concept of aid that does no good; aid that enables self-destruction; a gift that destroys the recipient. I am all too familiar with such giving; it has destroyed the lives of tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands. I see more than a few of them on a regular basis. Where on earth did you ever get the idea that I have never ministered to the drunkard, the addict, the whore? It is true that I refuse to finance more drinking, more drugs, etc.; is this unloving? I don't want to put words in your mouth, but this is how you are coming across.

That is my first objection to your response. The second is going to sound harsh, so bear with me, for no ill-will is intended, but I can't think of another way to put this. The second objection is that--to judge by your posts so far--you apparently think the entirety of Christian practice is contained in the four gospels. The only response you've given to my citations of Paul, which are perfectly accurate, to the point, and bear directly on the discussion, was, frankly, nothing more than a sneer.

Establishing a criteria for who we are going to assist and who we are not going to assist - a test of any kind - is the exact antithesis of grace, and completly opposite to Christ-like love.

Since this is exactly what Paul did, in person and by letter, what do you expect to say to Paul when you eventually meet him? Do you expect to tell him, face-to-face, that the doctrine of the apostle to the gentiles is "completely opposite to Christ-like love?" Surely not! I don't even know you, and I think better of you than that!

You think my views (which, I would argue again, are directly derived from Pauline doctrine, and which in no way contradict or negate Jesus' teaching, but instead, amplify and explain it)are unloving; I think they demonstrate a discerning love that observes what should be a principle rule: First, do no harm.

I've got to give you credit for zeal and the desire to do good (which, I will observe, is more credit than you gave me), but I think, obviously, that you are in error on this point.


[rhymes with kerouac]

Well, first there's this: "There's the "test" that so many abhor." The 'test' you mention is a set of criteria to determine who is worthy of receiving our charity.

Then there's this: "and even then, subject to the restrictions he places upon such care." The word 'restriction' representing another set of criteria.

And there's this: "By all means, give--but remember the saints first, and give discerningly, so as not to further indolence (and it is rampant)." Which is yet another set of hoops that the poor must jump through, proving that they are not lazy before they receive our gracious gifts of love.

Here's the thing: Jesus had no clue such restrictions or tests existed. None whatsoever. He gave up limitless glory in heaven to be brn among the muck and filth of a stable. He lived among us, as one of us. He was betrayed, arrested, totured and murdered by the very people he came to serve. He did all this >knowing< it was going to happen, and yet He did it anyway. All He asked in return - all He has ever asked - is that we accept His gift.

Establishing a criteria for who we are going to assist and who we are not going to assist - a test of any kind - is the exact antithesis of grace, and completly opposite to Christ-like love.

Living in Christ is - more than anything else, I think - about coming to terms with the lavish insanity that is grace. Grace makes no sense whatsoever. To live in a state of grace is to live in a place that is so far beyond ourselves that we cannot even function except that God be present and active. It is the realm of the miraculous and the mystical; it confounds wisdom and defies logic. It's where He is.

Dan Paden

As a matter of fact,

If you bring this sort of thing up, quicker than lightning, you will be accused of wanting to make people prove they are worthy of help.

it looks like I had you pegged before you even got started.

Dan Paden

I defy you to demonstrate, as opposed to just saying, that I have said any such thing. Nothing I said can be fairly construed in such a fashion.

[rhymes with kerouac]

Dan, thank you for using scripture to excuse us all from the exercise of grace. It's comforting to know that I don't have to help anyone who doesn't deserve it.

I'm glad to have been finally excused from having to love people I don't like. I'm relieved that I no longer have to share God's love with the shiftless, the lazy, the incompentent, the lost, the damned, the dying. Your carefully reasoned doctrine has freed me from the dynamics of a lavish love lived large, and I am grateful.

Besides, I was getting tired of all that 'carrying my cross daily' stuff. I was getting tired of extending grace to people who didn't do a single thing to earn it. I can now see how that kind of thing makes a mockery of grace, and I sure wouldn't want that.

Dan Paden

Our church, of course, participated and continues to participate in the ongoing relief efforts of the Southern Baptist Convention (Last figures I heard were twenty million. And it's still growing and we're still working. Haven't you seen the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams? Are you unaware that Southern Baptists, overwhelmingly, staff the Red Cross feeding facilities? Not to mention all the work that the PCA and some Episcopalians have done. To listen to you, you'd think that the Church has turned its back on people. Such is far from the case!). Personally, I've given twice and will give more out of each paycheck for a while. There is not nearly as much trouble in terms of giving from churches as one might think.

More directly to the point(and I do still have a post in development on this sort of thing that will eventually get posted on my own blog), there is the usual cavil to the effect that the Church should adopt the economic system of the Old Testament Law. This always strikes me as weird. People always seem to want to adopt the Law as regards the poor--usually without regard to Paul's tempering admonitions in the New Testament, to boot--but they never want to stone the adulterers, homosexuals, or witches (note, in passing,that consistently applying the Old Testament Law would require the execution of a certain notorious bishop). Yet the grounds for adopting the one are every bit as compelling as they are for adopting the other!

Then, I have to note that while there are business people--too many of them--who do in fact operate as Amos describes, what he is describing is nevertheless not capitalism, but a perversion thereof. I don't deny that the perversion is rampant today, just that it shouldn't be confused with the genuine article.

There is no question but that the church should take the leading role in caring for the poor. All too often, though, people don't want to think about what "poor" means, or who should come first. If you bring this sort of thing up, quicker than lightning, you will be accused of wanting to make people prove they are worthy of help. But Paul wasn't afraid to talk about this sort of thing, and we ignore his words at our peril. Paul makes it clear that family members have the first line of responsibility (he is explicitly talking about widows with no means of support, i.e., a very large segment of the "poor" in his time)--and, shockingly, he makes no bones about the fact that this is so the church won't be unnecessarily burdened with their care! Elsewhere, he points out that our good deeds should begin with the household of God--in other words, there is precious little point in worrying about those outside the church until you've taken care of those inside the church, and even then, subject to the restrictions he places upon such care. In the most infamous command, Paul explicitly says that those who will not work should not be fed at church expense. There's the "test" that so many abhor. Meeting that standard requires discernment and intimately knowing the people you would help --which is exactly why the government fails so spectacularly at it. Don't cavil to me that Paul is talking about lazy Christians, and that we should be willing to feed the lazy heathen! At that point, you are talking, whether you realize it or not, about taking the Church's resources that should be used for the support of "widows indeed" and for those who really cannot work (and I am acquainted with many, and do not begrudge them a dime of what they receive), and using them to support bums. It is almost blasphemous.

There are a lot of good, caring, Christian people out there who won't face up to the fact that the commands requiring us to be discerning in our giving require every bit as much obedience as those commanding us to give to the poor; many don't like to differentiate between "poor" and "lazy" (Good gravy! Look at Proverbs!)--though, I guarantee, if you were to follow me around for a month, you'd see enough of "lazy" to convert you to my point of view; or to the fact that the Church is not Israel and Israel's Law is not her operating standard.

Since I have almost certainly annoyed the mess out of everyone with this diatribe and convinced them, no doubt,that I am a money-grubbing, cruel despot, let me point out--again--that I do take part in charitable giving, even putting in some of my overtime for the explicit purpose of being able to do so. I will also flatly guarantee that due to the nature of my work (which I will not go into very much out of respect for my employer), I am far more intimately acquainted with the "poor" than almost anyone else you are likely to meet--so I do not speak from ignorance or lack of personal experience!

By all means, give--but remember the saints first, and give discerningly, so as not to further indolence (and it is rampant). If you are going to appeal to the Old Testament Law as your standard of governmental involvement, at least go all the way and insist that our government adhere to all of its requirements instead of just to those that you like. And please don't confuse capitalism with fraud, theft, and piracy.

kimj

Spot on, PM.

Great post, Monastic guy.

[rhymes with kerouac]

The abandonment of the poor. Hmmm. We should have a conference about that. Winter's coming, so let's pick someplace warm and tropical, with a hotel attached to the conference center. And it's gotta have a spa/pool/gym. Maybe we could bring in some big-name speakers and a really rockin' worship band for the Saturday night. We'll put together a package price - airfare, hotel and meals - to make it more affordable.

My own church participated in a Canada wide iniative to practice acts of service to our community. On one afternoon we picked up litter in the church neighbourhood, in another we gave out bottles of water at a local skateboard park. Then we had a big concert downtown with all the other churches to congratulate ourselves.

It was on tv.

Bryan

"The bread you do not use is the bread of the hungry. The garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of the person who is naked. The shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot. The money you keep locked away is the money of the poor." (St. Basil the Great)

Lorna

Robb's comment made me so sad. I'm sitting here stunned into silence. Where did we go wrong? More importantly how can we turn ourselves around?

Bryan

Great post. All I can say is that you usually write about things close to my heart. Keep it up. It's always a pleasure to read your blog. Peace.

Erin

There is a book called Christianity Incorporated which talks about how the Church has given up her prophetic voice into Western culture, and settled for merely being a chaplain within the system. Instead of questioning the basic consumer principles of unsanctified capitalism, we speak against materialism. Seems like we could be missing something.

HeyJules

I'm stunned by Robb's comment...absolutely stunned.

The first Sunday after Katrina I visited a friend's church at his request. They had plain white envelopes sitting on every chair and explained as soon as the service got under way that those plain envelopes were for a special "Katrina" offering on TOP of the regular offering that day. I don't know how well the church did that morning, but right there, no previous notice or anything, those people raised nearly $3,000. I was stunned then too...but in a good way.

Amos must be going to THEIR church, you think?

Robb

I preached the Sunday after Katrina struck, and implored people to look into the faces of those who were suffering and see God in them. I said the government was not going to offer the solution to this, that it was up to us as Christians to see the great need and respnd in kind.

I had someone get up and leave. I had people roll their eyes. I got two very nasty emails accusing me of playing the class warfare card. All because I said these people needed water and food.

We are not a Christian nation, we are a pagan nation that bows to the God of Civil Religion that supports the ideals of the ruling classes.

Amos would have had a field day with us.

Damien Scott

A few years back, during the Easter season when the scriptures for the Office of Readings were from the Book of Revelation, I was struck by how painfully familiar the descriptions of Babylon were -- it sounded a lot like a place I like to call home. And the sins in question were not about same-sex marriage but economic: Revelations 18:11ff The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn for her, because there will be no more markets for their cargo... All your luxury and splendor are gone, never again will one find them. The merchants who deal in these goods, who grew rich from her, will keep their distance... Alas, alas, great city, wearing fine linen, purple and scarlet, adorned in gold, precious stones, and pearls... Alas, alas great city, in which all who had ships at sea grew rich from her ealth...... Because your merchants were the great ones of the world, all nations were led astray by your magic potion...

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