Jesus made a big deal about giving to the poor. We've all encountered a poor person, whether it was being asked for change on the street or serving a meal to a group of homeless people. My perspective for why we serve the poor was always because they couldn't help themselves. In many instances that is the case, but what about when it's not? What about when someone's lowly position is of their own doing? I realize now how serving that person might be even more important as we try to see the character of Jesus.
A young, able-bodied man in his late twenties walks up to you and asks if you can spare some change. You see his worn clothes, the dirt under his nails, the glean of a face that's not seen a shower in quite some time. You smell the alcohol on his breath. You see the cigarette tucked behind his ear. He starts up with the age-old story of needing some money for gas. He swears his car is just down the street. You know, without a doubt, he wants money for beer and cigarettes.
The thoughts begin:
"Am I really helping him by giving him money? He's not actually going to buy gas. Couldn't he be working? I wonder what he did to end up like this?"
It's easy to give to the person who seems justified in their affliction, but it's really hard when you think the person is undeserving or capable of "picking themselves up by their bootstraps."
I think the reality of the Gospel, though, is that all of us were more like the homeless man I just described. Our stories are the same:
"It's my fault I'm in this position. I know what I'm doing is wrong, yet I continue to do it. I know what the answer is. I've seen beauty. I've been offered help. I've squandered what's been give to me. Time and time again. Yet, God, rich in mercy and grace, continued to move toward me in love."
Giving to those that don't deserve it nor make much of the gift is almost the same as forgiving those who don't ask for it or are still sinning against you. It's easy to be reconciled to the person who knows they need forgiveness, but to the one who is still rebelling, who doesn't care about reconciliation, it's hard to move toward them in love.
I think taking the first step toward to the one who doesn't deserve it or even want it is the Gospel in a nutshell. But the application is next to impossible if you've never seen yourself in the character of the underserving person. I can't be a forgiving father if I've never been the prodigal son. So any hesitation I feel, any pride that starts to swell, when faced with the opportunity to extend grace, is a result of me not having an accurate view of who I was before Christ.
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Not because all would receive that gift of love. Even when our rebellion and lowly position was of our own doing. Before we ever loved him. Or appreciated him. He still lived, died, and rose again.
So the next time pride starts to rise to the surface when approaching the "underserving" we have Philippians 2:6-8:
"Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross."
For you. For me. For the guy who's asking for a handout but could be working. For your worst offender.