chewing ideas down to stubble, then moving on…

My brother’s keeper?

Posted by Jason on December 4, 2008

Ichabod posted this wonderful challenge for us, and I just fell in love with both the message and the way in which is was presented. I love the ideal that we should all care for one another. We do it far too little, especially in the Christian world. And often when some act of charity or compassion occurs, it’s merely to make the charitable person feel better about themselves and his/her life as a Christian. Be that as it may, does a needy man care one bit about the motives of his benefactor?

Whatever the case may be, it’s pretty evident that people don’t help out one another nearly enough. The problem is not that there is a lack of sufficient resources for all; it’s that those with the resources think they are helping out someone in need more by not giving. Why don’t we give money to beggars that ask for it? Our parents told us they only buy drugs and booze because they clearly must be addicts if they’re on the streets. You wouldn’t want to contribute to a person’s downfall by enabling their habits, would you?

Because we have money, we feel as though we have knowledge, impossible knowledge about what is best for someone by merely looking at him. When we have something that someone wants, it automatically becomes a business transaction in our capitalist-minded society. Here’s an example: I helped hand out turkeys and meals this Thanksgiving at a local church that partners with my own church. Usually for this food ministry, people line up, and we pass out the food as soon as we arrive and get things organized. For some reason, the pastors of the church made everyone wait through an impromptu church service before we started handing out the food. “We have food, but you have to sit and pretend to listen about Jesus so that we can feel good about fulfilling our Christian duty…” We seem to think that being our brother’s keeper means being our brother’s mother: after all, mother knows what’s best for baby, right?

Why not just give someone what they ask for? I’m guilty of this failure, but maybe I can change. What’s so hard about that?

Another problem that arises when people espouse this view is that many Christians feel they have the right to choose who will be their brother and who will not. Does Jesus not tell us that we must help the least, the lost, and the last? In the United States, so many of  the people that fit into these categories are those of different nationalities and skin colors than mine. Why should I not help a Mexican, African-American, or Asian in need? “All these people come to our country and they’re just looking for a handout…” If someone is on the street begging for money, isn’t that by definition what they’re doing? There are people that live off of the charity of others, and they have their reasons. I doubt it’s laziness for many of them. It could be addiction, accident, mental illness, anything. Why do people with money automatically assume that anyone who is begging or hustling has done something wrong?

You do not choose your brothers and sisters, but you are their keeper and they are yours. That’s what it would be in a world that lived a little more in accordance with most, if not all of the major religions…


6 Responses to “My brother’s keeper?”

  1. ichabod said

    Hi Jason;

    I was curious who the ping back belonged to and discovered you at the end of the rain bow as it were.

    This message you are sending is fantastic.

    Thank you for the compliment, but my message sometimes is in direct contradiction to what many believe, although if the Son of Man were walking this earth today, I wonder if he would find fault with my writings?


  2. Schevus said

    In many circumstances I would say that money or resources could be better used by organizations devoted to helping the needy, rather than going directly to the needy themselves. That aside, I completely agree with your message.

    I think a lot of people look down on the needy because they themselves have never been in that position. It is unfathomable to them that someone could find themselves in that position without doing something wrong, because they themselves have never been there as a result of uncontrollable circumstances. Those who have experienced extreme need far better understand those currently experiencing it.

    One of the sad realities of charity is what you mention – that donors and organizations need to feel good about their actions. This often results in processes and policies that are very demeaning for those receiving aid. This can become so bad as to keep people from asking for help when they need it. Keep spreading the message of brotherhood! =)

    – Schev

  3. Jason said

    Schev: I do agree with you that it’s usually a better thing for US to give money to organizations, etc. But I think it still goes back to our capitalistic underpinnings: we want to make sure that we’re getting a good return on our investment. We want to know that our money is not going to go to drugs or booze or hookers… If we knew that a charity gave people money for those vices, we would be furious that they weren’t using our money wisely. So it makes us feel better when we give our material resources to a group that decides who gets our money and how and after jumping through which hoops.

    Does it help the beggar who asks us for money if we’ve donated to some organization on a monthly basis? Obviously not enough, since he’s still on the streets panhandling. Also, could it be that the mere act of giving a dollar or some change means more to someone than the actual physical currency? Maybe that person needs you to give him something in that moment at that place way more than he actually needs what you might actually give…

    Anyway, that’s food for thought. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Schevus said

    In response to your first point, I agree, of course I want my money to be used productively. No one benefits from furthering destructive behavior. I think abstracting that as a capitalistic thought might go too far, at least in all cases. I would not give someone money if I KNEW he was going to use it to buy drugs for the same reason I would not simply give someone drugs – I don’t want to contribute to the suffering of that person (arguments of the suffering of withdrawals aside).

    I agree that donating to organizations may not help a specific person. In that instance it may benefit them most to help them find the help they need. Many organizations do not go “in the field” to find those in need, so if the person never seeks official help they probably will not get any. I am skeptical of your thought that a person might be seeking the act of giving. Most beggars are at rock bottom. Most do not want to ask you for your money, but they need it so badly (for whatever reason) that it overcomes their shame.

    To give some perspective, I don’t make these claims based on hypothetical reasoning. I am very active in homeless outreach, and I have witnessed these things firsthand. One of the organizations that I volunteer with does go in the field to identify needs, and I think there needs to be much more of that. I think the reason there isn’t is because of some of the dangers involved. There are certain buildings that the aid workers will not enter because they are deemed to be too dangerous.

  5. Jason said

    I’m glad you’re speaking from experience. I can tell you are passionate about it! I’m not sure if anybody consciously seeks the act of giving, but could it be that sometimes the mere act of charity helps more than the product of it? That’s what I was pondering. This could be me spiritualizing everything, but are there times when a gesture means more to my soul than the actual physical outcome of that gesture?

    This is totally not to say that preaching Jesus is better than filling bellies. Not in the slightest! I heard a Sudanese man at my hyper-religious college tell a class full of Evangelicals that hungry people don’t give a damn what message anyone brings if you don’t bring food with that message. However, for someone who is at rock-bottom, a show of charity and caring might just give that person a little more hope than the 37 cents I give him from my pocket change…

    Thanks for your perspective, Schev!

  6. Schevus said

    Sure, it no doubt heartens the needy when someone acknowledges them and is willing to help. There’s no question there. I am agnostic, so I undoubtedly have a different view of these things than you, but I’m always happy to share my perspective. =)

    – Schev

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