Several years ago my wife and I stopped at a gas station just around the corner from our church to grab a drink. As we exited the convenience store we were approached by a petite young lady; “Excuse me” she said, “Can you help me?” The look on her face was one of fear and desperation. She then began to relate to me how she was from out of town and was about to start nursing school but had run out of money. She said all she needed was twelve dollars so she had enough money to stay in a hotel for the night. Tomorrow she would get paid and then everything would be okay for her. Our hearts truly went out to this young woman. I took a twenty dollar bill out of my wallet and gave it to her. She began to cry and gave me a big hug. “Thank you so much!” My wife and I really felt like we had done a good work.
I smiled all the way back to church. I was so touched by the young woman and her reaction I related the incident to a brother at church. The brother to whom I told the tale, looked at me and asked, “Was she a young, small-statured woman who only needed twelve dollars for a hotel stay?” (details I had not given in my account to him). “Well, yeah.” I said. “She got me last week with the same story” he said.
Instantly I felt like a fool
Instantly I felt like a fool. Instantly I became upset at being conned. Instantly all the good feelings I had were gone. Instantly my good work was turned into a criminal act where I was the victim. Instantly I became filled with regret. I can’t tell you about the rest of the day; what songs were sung, who preached the evening service or what was said. I was consumed by what had happened. How could we be so willing to do a good work and have it turn against us?
Maybe it wasn’t how it seemed. Perhaps she had an explanation. A few days later I saw her at the same gas station so I pulled in. When I got out of my car she looked towards me and very quickly moved in the opposite direction away from me as though I were her enemy about to strike. Proverbs 28: 1 The wicked flee when no man pursueth. There I was in the parking lot faced with the fact I had been the victim of a con artist.
How do I know who is truly in need? How do I keep from being conned again? How do I continue to live what the scriptures tell me in abundance? Mosiah 2: 28-31 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; And ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. Perhaps thou shalt say the man hath brought upon himself this misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance, that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just. But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this, the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done, he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God. (emphasis added) Jesus confirms this commandment and consequence in one of his parables found in Mathew 25: 31-46. The sheep are separated from the goats, with the sheep entering in to the kingdom of heaven and the goats entering the everlasting fire. What was the difference? The sheep fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, visited the sick and took care of strangers, while the goats did not.
Clearly, as a follower of Christ, knowledge and grace are not the complete recipe for gaining entrance into eternal life. Actions are required as well. James 2: 13-17 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment. What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Clearly, as a follower of Christ, knowledge and grace are not the complete recipe for gaining entrance into eternal life
So how do we follow the commandments and not be victimized? How do we not become jaded and in danger of staying our hand with wrongful justification? How? I believe part of the answer lies in putting off a modern way of operating. In today’s world there is nothing we can’t have quickly. We want food, we can have it fast. We want a new trinket, it can be shipped overnight. We want to go some place far, we jump in a car or plane, and in a matter of minutes or hours we have gone great distances. There really isn’t much we can’t have in a matter of 24 hours or less. This has had the effect of speeding up our lives to the point where convenience becomes a priority… and we treat the gospel commandments in the same way. Here is a soul in need; give them money. A quick easy way to show love and make it to my appointment on time. Is this wisdom? Is this what we are called to do? Let’s take a look at what Jesus said, and see if convenience plays a role.
Luke 10: 25-37 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
The good Samaritan, as this story is known, is the template by which we should measure out all of our acts of love. First, he was traveling; he had a destination, some place he was going to. I am sure those plans did not include a side trip, but that did not stop him from taking notice and compassion. Second, he could see the actual needs of his fellow traveler; naked, wounded and unable to move. Third, he took care of those needs; bound his wounds, provided him his beast and transported him to safety where he provided further care. Fourth, he ensured his continued recovery by paying the innkeeper. Let’s break down each of these points and see if we can find out a better way to serve our fellow man.
I have often prayed for opportunity to serve God (something you all should do as well)
I have often prayed for opportunity to serve God (something you all should do as well). God will hear your prayers and give you those opportunities. I doubt very much each opportunity you are presented with will be on your schedule of daily activities. It will not be placed in front of you when you are all of a sudden gifted with free time. This means a sacrifice on your part of what you have planned for; a deviation from what you had planned to take care of the needs of another. None of us have the time; we have to make the time.
Get to the root of the matter and find the needs a person has. We have all seen the homeless standing on the side of the road or at a parking lot with a sign asking for help, usually something to the effect of “Homeless, hungry. Anything helps.” So here is the beggar putting up his petition. Will it be in vain? The easy thing is to throw money at them, but is that what they need? Why don’t we just ask? Are you hungry, what can I get you off the menu from that restaurant? Can you use a clean shirt or shoes? I can get them for you. I have found asking simple questions will eliminate the simple lies and still take care of the needs a person has. If all they want is money, ask what they intend spending it on. If they tell you and it seems to fit a legitimate need then offer to purchase it for them. This will help eliminate you facilitating vice or sin.
Sometimes we are given skills or tools which can be put to use
Sometimes we are given skills or tools which can be put to use. I may not have the money to help everyone who comes across my path. Do I have the ability to change a tire? Can I make a phone call on my cell phone to get help? Could I provide a ride in my car? Do I happen to have an extra item I could provide instead of purchasing it new? Forward thinking can help us in this area. I once heard on the radio of a woman who would take old but usable pairs of socks, stuff them with things like tooth brushes, toothpaste, soap, deodorant and other basic care items. She would carry these things in her car and when she saw people on off ramps holding signs she would pass them out; needs addressed in a simple, easy and convenient package where she could still make it to her appointment on time.
Continued care in the parable of the Good Samaritan is accomplished by giving money to the inn keeper. While in today’s world this could very easily outstrip the means of the average worker, it does not absolve us from ensuring the help we give is healthy. I find it very interesting that the Good Samaritan never directly provided money to the victim. Money was involved, as he had to replace his oil, wine, bandages, lost time on the journey and payment to the innkeeper. But in it all, only the needs were addressed. I am not against giving money to people; however, when we give money it should be done with trust that it will be spent according to good biblical teachings.
A quick memory to illustrate my point: Early on in my law enforcement career I came across a homeless man who was wheelchair bound due to the loss of a leg below the knee. He truly was homeless, dirty, hungry and in need. We were frequently called to an intersection where he spent his days begging for money. Often he would block traffic trying to get to vehicles where people were handing him money, which is why police were often called. As officers so often do we gave him the nickname Wheel Chair Willie and, upon hearing the call, location and description we all knew what was happening. Willie would beg for money long enough until he was able to purchase a small quantity of his favorite street drug. He would then take the illegal substance and find a prostitute to share it with as payment for her services. I am sure everyone who handed Willie money had no idea this was taking place. They simply saw his needs and threw money at him to ease their conscience; definitely not taking care of his needs, short or long term.
Mosiah 1: 49-50 And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God. Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then had not ye ought to labor to serve one another? (emphasis added)
To me this speaks to a level of commitment beyond a handout. Wisdom must be present in our endeavors to help those less fortunate than we. This requires time and effort on our part. Make the time to notice, find the real needs; address the actual needs and ensure no harm comes of it. Pray for wisdom, pray against our adversary, pray you find the truly needy, and God bless you in your efforts.