(Reposted to restore missing link from other published posts.)
As people, we tend to become judge and juror towards those in need. It is part of our fallen nature to resist parting with our goods, even if someone else is hurting.
But when we send money to a charitable organization that gives us a tax write off, we’ll do so willingly. We can justify it because it means we have less taxes to pay on our totals at the end of the fiscal year.
Corporations have fallen into this trap willingly. Especially with the amount of taxes paid just for the privilege of running a business in the United States.
But the dilemma this causes is that it leaves those who truly need help, begging for dignity as human beings. They have become an object of tax relief, not an individual who needs compassion and mercy.
Real charity is a selfless act of compassion toward those who are unable to do for themselves. It is the provision of food and water, shelter, clothing, and showing them that they are loved.
Charity doesn’t mean giving dollars to an organization, although that is part of the equation. Charity is done as a heartfelt desire to assist others and lift them out of their misery. The act itself shows them that they are important enough to be cared for…that they are not forgotten.
But one must remember that giving should be to those in need. Directly if possible. Often it no longer becomes a tax write-off, but a real world way of touching people’s lives without expecting any compensation for the act.
Who to give to?
Patting one’s self on the back for giving to little starving children in Africa does little for those living in their own backyard.
There are two personal examples I can give of real charity, and one that was not.
Generosity of the heart…
A few years after losing my spouse, we ended up losing all our food supply. Weevils destroyed all our pet and human foods in the pantry overnight after an unexpected heat wave hit the area. The fridge was almost empty, as was my bank account.
One of our neighbors notified the VFW without our knowledge. A knock at our door was heard, and two kindly gentlemen set down several boxes of food on our countertop.
For the next week or so, we didn’t starve. It moved me to think that someone saw our need and set about helping us get through it.
As time went on and our situation didn’t improve, I was forced to beg from food pantries at churches to feed two little children. One of them exemplified something completely different from compassion.
In order to receive a box of food, all of us there had to sit through an hour long lecture on how we were all sinners and needed to be saved. None of us were spoken to, so neither who we were nor our current situation was of any interest.
When the food boxes were distributed, we received mostly old, wilted vegetables, some bread, and a few other items. Most of it was inedible. But it was all we had to eat.
For a few weeks we continued to go.
When Thanksgiving came, we were asked if we needed food for the holiday. I said we did and was placed on the list. We had to arrive at exactly 9am to get our share.
With car trouble and getting children into the car, we ran late. I was informed that because I did not arrive on time, my share was given to someone else.
As I walked slowly back to the car with the children, I was crying, not knowing what to feed them during the coming week.
I heard behind me, the woman who had turned us away.
“Wait. I’ll give you this other lady’s box. She doesn’t need it anyway. She’s living a sinful life, so you can have it.”
I began to turn it down because I felt it unfair to receive food designated for someone else. But she insisted, and it was put in my car.
A while later, I was told about a Jewish couple who were active in giving food and supplies to the needy. I contacted them and was directed to their location.
Inside a large garage was a wall lined with refrigerators and freezers packed with perishables. Tables help treats and breads that seemed like it went on for miles. Clothing was supplied to those in need as well.
It was like paradise after a famine!
The couple quietly said, “Pick out whatever you need, as much as you want.”
I was stunned. Because of the past treatments and rejections, I hesitated. The wife began to help choose foods and items for me, encouraging me to take whatever I wanted. It was amazing. They really cared about my family and me.
After a few trips there, I had gotten to know the wife fairly well. She took me inside her house and gave me clothes for the kids. We would sit and talk while the children played.
It was delightful!
But deep inside I felt like I was a taker, and wanted to do something for all their kindness.
She looked at me and said, “I’m not worried about you. You’ll make it through this. It’s the other people that concern me.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because they don’t want to change.”
The two experiences taught me something about what real charity is.
Real charity, as defined by God’s teachings, shown through the first and last couples. They gave from their hearts, never desiring anything in return. For them, they wanted to show how much we were important to them for love of God.
The middle person didn’t realize that what she was doing was hurtful. It not only hurt the testimony of the One who sent them, but also undermined the dignity of everyone encountered.
What to do…
If you know of someone in need, give with compassion. Let the other person know that they are important, and that they are loved. Not because of what they look like or act like, but because they are each created in the image and likeness of God.
If they are important enough to Him to have been created, then they should be important enough to us as well. Even if we don’t like their personalities.
Everyone has a purpose. Honoring them gives us the ability to share in the purpose – theirs and ours.
Prudence in necessary…
When giving to others, we must be fully committed to the act of compassion. But through the eyes of prudence. Vet with compassion, vet through the eyes of mercy. But vet them.
There are many scammers out there today who are fully vested in “working the system”. Stories abound of those who dress as if dirty and homeless, but park their jaguar 10 blocks away so they can earn money without paying taxes. There are those who take because it’s free, and having lost all sense of honor about themselves. They have no shame in doing so as well. Even if it cost them their dignity. Their consciousness is seared and numb.
Be meek as lambs, but sharp as serpents. Give not to those who are taking advantage of the gifts. That, in itself, is being uncharitable because it encourages them to remain in their sins.
Sins against charity…
Two outstanding sins against charity encompass the giver and the recipient.
The giver must do the giving out of their heart, for the right reasons. Selfish acts are only rewarded in this lifetime. It makes the giver feel good, but their bragging on their charitable giving.
The other is on the part of the recipient.
If someone refuses the gift, it typically has at least two main underlying causes.
One prominent one is the sin of pride. If one is proud, they will refuse to accept charity because it means, to them, that they have failed to achieve a goal they desired.
The other is the sin against charity itself.
The refusal prohibits another from exercising the virtue of charity. If one prevents the act of any virtue from being exercised, the refuser sins by stopping God from doing His work through the hands of another.
But the sin can also take another form…
It comes from those who take but do not truly need.
These people do not concern themselves about what is right or wrong. Their only concern is that of filling their own desires, regardless of who actually is in more need. Were there a bread line and behind them was a mother with two children in desperate need, these selfish people would take all the bread from the shelves for themselves, leaving nothing for those who come after them.
Those individuals are the ones who seek government handouts and do not lift a finger to repay. Nor have the shame or guilt of taking what they did not earn.
These are the ones who destroy property to take what they want, not realizing the impact they have on anyone else.
It even occurs among the homeless. Many have had their only shelter stolen from them, sometimes at knifepoint, because another individual felt they were more deserving.
Real charity begins at home…
We hear that saying at times, but have little concept of what that actually means.
But if we look around us, we will find neighbors in need, or even family members in need.
Maybe the act of charity is to give the gift of a hug to the hurting. Perhaps it is cookies and a quiet conversation to those who have had hard times.
Or maybe going out of one’s way to take care of a sick neighbor’s lawn, provide the hungry with good meals, take blankets to those who just lost everything, or help repair a shelter that was damaged in storms.
It isn’t about just writing a check to some organization that gives money to a place you’ll never see.
Look in your own backyard.
And do unto those in need as you would have them do to you.
But do it for God’s sake, not for yours.