Should Christians Give Cash to the Homeless?

"What do you do in such situations? What should you do?"

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Bert Perry's picture

I prefer to give food or other things the person needs--and stop when I can to talk with them to get an idea of why they're asking for help.  There are many where it does not appear that intoxicants are the issue, but rather simply the poor economy.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Bert,

That has not been my experience. There are always jobs for those who are willing to work. They may not be glamorous or even desirable, and they certainly may require an adjustment to the style of life of the one affected. Unfortunately, my experience has been that the vast majority of those on the street are there as a result of their own bad decisions, and the vast majority will lie to avoid taking responsibility for their dismal condition. I never give cash. I will invest food and time if I have an opening to talk with them. After all, Christ came to me when my spiritual condition was far more desperate than any of their temporary, physical conditions are.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Larry Nelson's picture

 

A while back, the women's ministry at my church had an event at which they assembled kits of basic essentials to give to homeless individuals.  Think of a medium-sized zip-lock bag, which contains a new pair of socks, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, etc.  Church attendees can pick these up from a bin in our commons area, to distribute as needed. 

In addition, each kit contains a copy of The Story [ http://viewthestory.com/ ], which is surely the most essential thing they include.

Jim's picture

Support family members who are in financial need: cousins, nephews, parents. Buck the trend to leave it to the government. 

There is built in accountability along familial lines (like "what are you doing to find a job?" "Have you considered shopping at Goodwill instead of Macys?" "Do you bag your lunch or eat out?" "How much do you spend on cigarettes?"). I asked a relative how much he spent on shirt. $ 95 at Macys was his answer. He got more advice than money from me!

True help is to give financial / life direction AND money .... not just $$$

Ron Bean's picture

I have offered people requesting money the opportunity to earn it by mowing the lawn, sweeping the parking lot, raking leaves, etc. I have also offered to buy whatever they needed the money for (food, rent, heating fuel, gas for the car, etc.). Reactions were interesting. Never cash.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

josh p's picture

I met a guy who has several rentals and he said almost all of his workers are homeless people. He puts them to work on the place and they stay in it for the week or two that they work on it. He said most people refuse but the ones that do accept are almost always profitable employees.

 

Joel Shaffer's picture

My first problem comes from the fact that they believe that Jesus is somehow mystically present in homeless people.  Believing that Jesus is mystically present in the poor makes it even more difficult to come alongside the “least of these” so they can help themselves break the cycle of chronic poverty because it lacks a realistic perspective of the poor and what created their circumstances.   Moreover, many of those who hold to this sacramental view lack motivation to share the good news with certain poor people that have not repented and trusted Christ for their salvation because they believe that these poor are really somehow Jesus in disguise.  Ironically, by failing to share the good news of Jesus because they think them to be Jesus, they refuse to emulate Christ’s mission and purpose of bringing good news to the poor; good news found in the person of Christ that liberates the least of these from their own sin and being sinned against (Luke 4:18-19)

As for giving to panhandlers, most of the time I stay away from the practice because most of the people use it for drugs and alcohol.  In my city, we've seen where homeless people have frozen to death because they were given money.  Instead of going into the shelters where it is warm, they went under the overpass, drank their whiskey which gave them a false sense of warmness, fell asleep and froze to death.  Definitely an example of when our helping does more hurting of the poor than helping.......

 

Sean Fericks's picture

I worked for my dad's construction company as a teenager.  My job was to scrap out the lots, sweep driveways, etc.  Dad offered work to the panhandlers.  They were often assigned to work with me.  In all but one case, they would sweep a square or two of the driveway, collect a few bucks, and move on (likely to their bottle).  However, there was one case.  I still remember John.  His motorcycle had broken down.  He worked with me for a few weeks, came to church with us, asked Christ to save him, had dinner with us a few times, earned enough money to fix his bike, and then headed back home to get right with his dad. Bottom line (I think) is: don't give; invest. Giving usually just enables the problem. Investing helps them toward a solution.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Being from the Chicago area, and attending Moody Bible Institute (which, in those days, was located with skid row -- but now the neighborhood is Yuppieville), I saw many students from the country help every panhandler that came their way -- at first.

An ethic to "give to everyone who asks of you" is better understood as Jesus' exposition of a passage in Deuteronomy, i.e., to people you know -- whether it is near a Sabbath year or not; this is really about significant giving.

But there is a second ethic to offer minimal, essential support even to strangers (like a cup of cold water), but not necessarily financial support. From my first book, The Midrash Key:

Lending and Repayment of Loans

 

Moses and Jesus address lending money to poor friends and acquaintances in Deut. 15:7-11 and Matt. 5:42. The Deuteronomy text reads:

“If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs. Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,’ and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the LORD against you, and it become sin among you. You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand. For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land’" (New King James Version).

 

I propose that Matthew 5:42 is a succinct summary of the Deuteronomy text cited above. The Matthew passage reads:

Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.

 

Observations

Returning to the mother text in Deuteronomy helps us to narrow the subject matter under examination. In Deuteronomy, the discussion is not about indiscriminate giving, but knowledgeable giving.

The text calls our attention to the poor within the community, people who are known to the potential donor. These are the unfortunate of the land. Although we might include beggars and an entire class of people referred to as "the poor," the discussion in Deuteronomy soon shifts toward making business loans, not merely giving alms.

Loans and the Sabbath Year

Normally when one makes a loan, he anticipates being paid back. But the mitzvah regarding the Sabbath Year could make loaners hesitant to lend. This seventh year meant a cancellation of debt; if it was near at hand, the lender could lose all he loaned.[1]

The case scenario is that of an unfortunate man who would normally receive a loan from a friendly neighbor; perhaps his crops failed while the friend reaped a bountiful harvest. In most years, neighbors might lend freely to one another to cover such eventualities or other unforeseen issues. But, because the Sabbath year loomed near, the friend refuses to make the loan. Thus the Sabbath year could become a detriment rather than a blessing.

In Yeshua's statement documented in Matthew 5:42, the term "ask" and "borrow" are used in parallel, suggesting that the request is not that of a panhandler who wants cash for "a cup of coffee." We can infer that the one requesting help is known to us.[2] He is asking for a loan and intends to pay it back.[3] The loaner is not enabling the borrower to live irresponsibly or maintain an addiction.

The reader must remember that Jesus is reducing detailed teaching down to general, "hands on" principles. He is demonstrating how Torah passages could be expanded and applied to life in his day. These condensed, black and white generalities provide a starting point, not necessarily an ending point. They are not complete treatises, but wise sayings which sometimes must be weighed against other wise sayings.[4]

We have no idea how many minutes of conversation are not recorded between Matthew 5:41 and 5:42 or 5:43, so we must assume that these are summaries of longer discussions. It is unlikely that Yeshua rattled off these truisms in machine-gun like rapidity.

 

[1] Deuteronomy 31:10 reads, "Then Moses commanded them: 'At the end of every seven years, in the year for canceling debts…'"

[2] The Torah includes a separate set of ethics for strangers, as demonstrated in Leviticus 19:10, for example.

[3] David Bivin and Roy Blizzard, Jr., point this out in Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, p. 74.

[4] Matthew 7:6 (KJV) suggests that it can be wasteful to expend our efforts: “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” Like Proverbs 26:4-5 (KJV), there are situations where one must discern an approach depending upon the character of the individual with whom we are interacting: “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.”

This is becoming more of an issue as America is experiencing a growth in the class just above street people.  Churches (and Christians) not in affluent areas will need to offer more help to people who attend their churches.   Divorce, children out of wedlock, underemployment, constant changes in the job market (people are forced to switch jobs more often), and the insanity of rising health costs are creating a new subclass, not quite under-class, but close.

 

"The Midrash Detective"