One word that is often used to describe Jesus is compassion. Throughout the Gospels, several occurrences within scripture specifically state that Jesus had compassion for the people. Luke 7 is a prime example of his compassion.
Jesus enters the city, where a woman, accompanied by a procession, is carrying her dead son out of the city to be buried. Imagine the sadness. Imagine the cloud of despair that follow this procession. Imagine the pain that the woman feels. Showing compassion, Jesus heals this widow's son.
Yet what is not said is equally important. In this story, Jesus asks no questions before helping. He simply consoles the woman, letting her know that her time of mourning is over. He walks over to the man and commands him to rise. And he does. The man gets up, and he and his mother continue on their way.
Jesus doesn’t ask anything to test if this man was deserving of a second chance. He doesn’t ask how the son died. He doesn’t ask what their situation is. We know nothing about this man. He may have been a criminal. Maybe he was a drunk. Maybe he just collapsed from heat stroke. Or saved a child from danger. All we know is that he died.
That is all we know. That is all we need to know.
In our interactions with others, how often do we make judgments before we act? In many cases, we only help those we believe “deserve” it—those who have fallen on hard times through no personal fault—whether it’s with our gifts, talents, or money.
A joke I saw a while back went something like this:
Comment: Why would you give that homeless man money? He is just going to spend it on booze
Response: And I won't?
For people of means, it’s become acceptable to question how others in poorer situations spend their money, while assuming that those with a plentiful bank account know best. If we do not give our excess money to others, how do we spend it? Do we always spend it on something necessary? Do we use it to better the world? Or do we waste it? For example, maybe you don’t drink alcohol, but you might use the money to buy fancy coffee or a nice meal. The question remains: could you have done without that money? Could it have lessened someone else’s suffering?
Of course, we tell ourselves, "yes, I could have done without that money, but I consistently spend my money wisely and deserve to splurge occasionally." This translates to “I am entitled to enjoy money. I can enjoy life and deserve luxury. Others are undeserving.”
How others spend their money is a moot point. The same applies to how someone came to an impoverished situation. None of that matters. What matter is whether you show compassion. What matters is your response. Judging another is not what we should be doing; we must show compassion.
We must trust others, not assume that they’ll falter and “waste” our charity. Our actions must be filled with charity and grace, not disdain and resentment. Charity should be selfless giving, not awarded on merit or preconceived notions, but as a way to give back to God and share all that he has given us. Describing a charitable person, Thomas A Kempis (1850) writes, “He attributes nothing good to any [person], but refers it totally to God, from whom all things proceed as from a fountain..." (p. 43). It is not our place as Christians to decide who we extend charity to based on vague societal assumptions or litmus tests. Christ didn’t have a test. He extended charity to the world without any qualms, just as he showed charity to the widow and her son. Jesus did not expect anything in return and did not ask any questions. Living in his light, we must do the same and be charitable to all.
Kempis, Thomas A. The Imitation of Christ. Translated by Richard Challoner. London: James Duffy, Wellington Quay, and Patterson Row, 1850.
Evan J. Stark is a graduate from University of Dubuque Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity. He provides pulpit supply around Eastern Iowa and works in social services. Evan is an amateur theologian who focuses on the works of Karl Barth and church doctrine. Evan and his wife, Jess, have a loving dog and a one-eyed cat. He spends his free time playing board games and video games or enjoying a good beer.