I don’t share this story for a pat on the back, because I can honestly tell you that I would not have given that man money. The Lord prompted Mark and I to do so and we simply responded in obedience. But even as I was handing the man the money, the thought popped into my mind “what is he going to spend it on? Is he going to buy alcohol or food?” I have become so conditioned by my culture to be a judge of when someone deserves help or not that I have neglected the teachings of Christ. I share this story because the Lord has been challenging me in this area and has been teaching me about compassion and mercy.
I have been doing a study through Proverbs and have been surprised by all the verses that talk about taking care of the poor and needy. The excellent wife of Proverbs 31 is praised because “she extends her hand to the poor, and she stretches out her hands to the needy” (v. 20). “He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor” (Prov. 22:9). God is so burdened by the needs of the poor that he led Solomon to write that “he who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered” (Prov. 21:13).
Then there is James explanation of Jesus’s teachings about mercy and judgment (Matt 5:1-7:29). James explains that if I make a judgment on someone based on their financial status then I am a “judge with evil motives” for we are to “love our neighbors as ourselves” and so fulfill the royal law of scripture (James 2:4, 2:8). “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them ‘go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use it that?” (James 2:16).
What the Lord pointed out to me recently is that there is absolutely no qualifier in any of these statements. Nowhere does God state that it is okay to help one person and not another based on their choices. I tend to look at someone who is poor and think, “they need to learn how to manage their finances better” or “if they weren’t so foolish they wouldn’t be in that predicament.” The Lord, however, looks at the poor and needy and sees that they are in need of mercy and he gives it.
I am the perfect example. The Lord looked at me fifteen years ago and saw the sad, sinful state that I was in and He extended me mercy. He opened my eyes to see that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and in His grace offered me eternal life in Christ. He knew how depressed I was, and filled me with joy. He knew how lonely I was, and He gave me his eternal presence. He knew how much I felt like an outcast, and He accepted me as I am because of Christ. My life was a wreck because of the choices I had made and God helped me out of that state. So why would I now turn around and cast judgment on someone in the same situation and think I am better than them. They are in need of mercy and grace just like I was; therefore I should extend mercy and grace just like the Lord did for me for “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).
So even though it goes against everything I have been taught to give money to the beggar on the street, I am so thankful for a Heavenly Father who cares for that beggar and desires to fill his mouth (and heart) with good things. I am thankful the Lord prompted Mark and I to give a little to that man, and I pray that as I grow in this area that my life will be marked by more generosity and mercy to the poor and needy for that is what Jesus would do.