Begging the Question

Everywhere They Are Asking for Money—Do I Give

Give, and you will receive. You will be given much… The way that you give to others is the way that God will give to you.
-Luke 6:38

I remember walking on High Street (in Columbus, Ohio) and seeing a dirty, scraggly-haired man, holding a paper cup in his hand. “Spare change, man,” is all he said and smiled when you gave him a few pennies. He was one of the few people I ever saw begging in the U.S.

It’s different here in India. Beggars sit outside churches, stand at traffic signals and outside restaurants, and some even roam the neighborhoods. They’re everywhere, and some of them are so pushy, it rankles.

Alms from the sucker
During the Christian season of Lent, one of the things we are asked to do is give alms and be charitable. It’s one of the three traditional disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

I must admit that I am a sucker, and I don’t restrict my almsgiving to donating to charitable organizations. I give beggars money. I try not to give to children because I’ve heard the stories—that children are maimed so that they can evoke sympathy, that they hand over their “earnings” to a handler. I don’t know if the stories are true.

The beggar with a bad back?
One of my friends chuckles when I give to people who (in his opinion) look fit enough to work. He gives only to people who look old or sick.

My counter argument is that I don’t really know if someone is healthy or not. Maybe he has a bad back and can’t work. Maybe she’s depressed and can’t work. There could be a number of reasons. It’s not my place to judge. Jesus never said, “Give only to those people who you think deserve your alms.”

The accidents of birth
A friend told me about how a girl he was dating went into McDonalds, bought a sandwich for a beggar, and gave it to him—he said he was hungry. She didn’t want to give him money so she bought him a burger. My friend laughed at how gullible she was, and though I don’t remember laughing, I didn’t defend her.

Looking back, it’s clear that what she showed was empathy . She probably understood that if it were not for where she was born (and to whom) and opportunities that came her way, it might well have been her asking for the money.

Plus, we don’t really know what goes on in another person’s life. Even friends don’t know the whole story about one another. Most of us tend not to reveal everything to anyone. So, it’s hard to look at someone and figure out his/her life’s story.

Anyway, as it it says in the Bible (Proverbs 11:25),Whoever gives to others will get richer; those who help others will themselves be helped.”

The art of giving
Sometimes giving may mean parting with some money even when we don’t have much, but we can’t wait till we’re rich to give it away. Carpe diem. The time is now. Like the widow in the Bible (Mark 12:41-44) who had two coins and gave away one, we are asked to give, even if it hurts.

Not that anyone ought to make a big deal out of it. Give with compassion and let it go. As Jesus said:

When you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing
Matthew 6:2-3

Jesus is telling us to give without fanfare. When you give with compassion, don’t you feel a warmth come over you? You don’t have to tell anyone or thump your chest, just the feeling you get afterward is reward enough.

And that’s what giving is all about, isn’t it? Feeling compassion for our fellow human beings, since deep down we are all one.