Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Scenario

Your neighbor approaches you and tells you their grandson needs to get a prescription filled and it has to happen tonight, but they don't have any money. She wants to borrow $8 or whatever you can spare. This same neighbor has already borrowed $7 from you earlier in the day and $10 last week (which was paid back), but your relationship is increasingly becoming one of give and take, in fact it's been weeks since you had a conversation that wasn't about fulfilling a need or giving her a ride somewhere, etc.

What do you do?

You are a Christian and you believe a Bible that says the following,

James 2:14-17
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Matthew 25:41-45
(Jesus speaking) "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

Now we can talk about theology and context, but let's just go back to the scenario and imagine that these passages begin running through your mind as your neighbor makes her request.

But, there's more, you know that your ministry philosophy calls for engaging a policy of empowerment. This means you believe in empowering people not simply providing for them. A hand-up, not a hand out.

You know that giving money can quickly create a dependency relationship, which the Bible does not teach (for Biblical empowerment see: gleaning in Deut 24 and Lev 19 or more direct: 2 Thes 3:10).

Further, dependency risks stripping the person of their dignity. As you become a "provider" (even temporarily) for your neighbor, they are degraded. If you can take it, there's historical baggage as well, here is a 50 year old African American woman standing at the doorstep of a 23 year old, white, college educated male asking for help. To make matters worse there are 5 steps between you, so she is literally 4 feet below, looking up to you, pleading.

This situation is demeaning. Your neighbor is made in the image of God and the dignity that precious title carries is being broken apart.

In the long term, dependency will never, ever benefit her.

But do you want to explain "your ministry philosophy" to her? Sit down and explain that its for the everyone's benefit and honoring to her, if you sit this one out.

Then you remember, Matthew 25 again, and that Jesus is the one doing the asking . . .

What to do?

Decisions, decisions.


Kristen said...

Interesting situation. I recently talked to someone from my church about this and some of the situations we'll face when going to Kenya that may be similar. It is hard because of exactly what you said - you are called to help any way you can, but at the same time, helping by building independence is more beneficial. The problem is how do you say no, and when do you make the transition from "hand-out" to "hand-up"? Is it a gradual or sudden transition? Very interesting and difficult indeed.

Evan said...

Matthew 25. What a thing to remember in a time like that. Man, how did I get 5 feet up on Jesus in this world?

Davey said...

Dang it Mark. I had this situation almost exactly happen to me a few weeks ago. I followed Matthew 25. But got a call at 1am in the middle of the work week for the next perscription order. I dunno the balance! And Evan, those words. You must be writing major!