Thursday, May 05, 2005

The widow's mites

"And Jesus sitting over against the treasury, beheld how the people cast money into the treasury. And many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow: and she cast in two mites, which make a farthing. And calling his disciples together, he saith to them: Amen I say to you, this poor widow hath cast in more than all they who have cast into the treasury. For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want cast in all she had, even her whole living." (Mark xii.41-44)

The other day my wife and kids were walking downtown when they encountered a homeless lady. My wife felt sorry for her because she was begging for money but no one had put anything in her cup. So she gave her all the change that she had. When she started to walk away, the homeless lady called her back and gave each of the children a penny from what little my wife had given her.

Working downtown as I do, and having gone to college in the inner city, I've had a lot of encounters with the homeless that have left me feeling swindled. Too, our American culture (there's that phrase again) tends to look down upon people who don't appear to be doing anything with themselves (including, as the ladies here will no doubt attest, stay-at-home mothers -- but now I'm getting off-topic). What is the dividing line between being generous with the poor (in this case, the homeless) and enabling them? Is there any? Should we give without regard to such concerns? If I give money to a beggar, I may be helping him or I may be enabling him; but either way I am giving him an opportunity to grow in grace.


At 4:52 PM, Blogger BekahS. said...

"Too, our American culture (there's that phrase again) tends to look down upon people who don't appear to be doing anything with themselves (including, as the ladies here will no doubt attest, stay-at-home mothers -- but now I'm getting off-topic)."

Good questions, whose answers elude me at the moment. ;) Your sentence here, though is a great reflection of this from the CCC 2424 ...Every practice that reduces persons to nothing more than a means of profit enslaves man, leads to idolizing money, and contributes to the spread of atheism. "You cannot serve God and mammon."

I guess that the answers to your questions would require knowledge of which we generally lack towards those caught in such predicaments as to render them homeless. The CCC endorses the necessity of work, quoting Paul, "If any one will not work, let him not eat." But also, we cannot allow society to neglect those who cannot work, due to physical or mental disability, or those who have lost jobs through no fault of their own. But how is one supposed to make such a determination in real time when faced with real need?

CCC 2443 states "God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them: "Give to him who begs from you, do not refuse him who would borrow from you"; "you received without pay, give without pay." It is by what they have done for the poor that Jesus Christ will recognize his chosen ones. When "the poor have the good news preached to them," it is the sign of Christ's presence."

So, I guess the right answer is to give and let God sort out whether or not the recipient was worthy of the gift. Perhaps you can allay your concerns about feeling swindled by focusing on serving Christ through the individual, instead of worrying about whether the need was just.

However, we also have to remember what Christ said about the hypocrites who gave all they had to the temple depriving their family of what they needed to live. Our families are given to us to provide for first, and others as we are able. It does no good to deprive your family casting them into poverty, either. Of course, I say this recognizing legitimate needs, not merely indulging inordinate desire.

At 10:56 AM, Blogger David Hopkins said...

I have struggled with this as well. A couple of year's ago, the Mayor's office here put out a directive admonishing people not to give to panhandlers. The feeling being that the money would be used for booze and drugs and would be embarrasing for the city (similar to the adage about not feeding the pigeons unless you want more of them). They advised the citizenry to give to soup kitchens, poverty alleviation orgs, etc. I subscribed to this line of thinking until very recently. A few months back there was a thread over at the DCF on this very issue (one of Jimbo's Book of the Banned was very emotionally involved!). The "whatsoever you do the least of my brothers" story from the Gospel was raised, which in IMO is not without merit. So now I give the change in my pocket to the homeless on the street, whereas in the past I would not, but still reserve the majority of my alms for worthy organizations.

At 12:23 PM, Blogger BekahS. said...

I've also heard a few people recommend to give food or take the person to a restaurant so that the money isn't wasted. That's an option if you have the time for it.

Being home most of the time, I'm not faced with these people or this decision very often.

At 1:05 PM, Blogger st_ignatius110 said...

Here are my thoughts. There are plenty of people who are indeed starving and homeless and many of them have children. How do we know that when we turn down someone who asks for money that we are not turning down one who really needs it? I give money without reservation. It's not alot because I don't have alot. But, many of the people I have given money to are just as happy if you buy them some food while you are in the gas station. Sometimes if I see someone on the street panhandling I will pull into a fast food place and get them a meal. They are more then grateful. I can no longer in good conscience deny someone who says they are hungry or in need. I will add as well that for these people it is most imperative that their physical needs be met in order to share the Gospel.


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