With Christmas just around the corner, it’s more than appropriate to think about helping the poor. It was, after all, a very important part of the message of the man for whom the holiday is named.
Here’s my take.
Christians are commanded to love, to pray, to be kind, to serve, to forgive, to be truthful, to worship the one God, to learn and grow in both spirit and character. All of those things are to be very personal. They must come from the heart. They require no politicians, police, bureaucrats, or political parties and programs.
“The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want,” says Jesus in Matthew 26:11 and Mark 14:7. The key words there are you can help and want to help. He didn’t say, “We’re going to make you help whether you like it or not.”
Christianity is not about passing the buck to government when it comes to relieving the plight of the poor. Caring for them—which means helping them overcome it, not paying them to stay poor or making them dependent upon the state—has been an essential fact in the life of a true Christian for 2,000 years.
Consider what the apostle Paul says in II Corinthians 9:7: “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Throughout his extensive journeys, Paul practiced what he preached, pitching in to assist the deserving needy. He never endorsed compulsory redistribution as a legitimate means to that end.
Jesus clearly held that compassion is a wholesome value to possess, but I know of no passage anywhere in the New Testament that suggests it’s a value he would impose by force or politics.
True compassion is people helping people out of a genuine sense of caring and brotherhood. It is not asking your legislator or congressman to do it for you. And a person’s willingness to spend other people’s money is not evidence that the person is himself compassionate; sometimes it’s just the opposite.
If you want to determine how compassionate an individual is, you are wasting your time if you ask for whom he plans to vote; instead, you should ask what charitable contributions he has made and whether he has done any volunteer work lately. Example: In the decade before he ran for Vice President in 2008, Joe Biden donated almost nothing to charities (an average of $369/year) but he claimed he was for the poor, which rang a little hollow.
What made the famous Good Samaritan good was that he personally helped. If he had simply told the helpless chap to hang on until a check from the government arrived, no one to this day would have the gall to call him anything but a Good-for-Nothing Samaritan.
The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia explained, “The transformation of charity into legal entitlement has produced donors without love and recipients without gratitude.” Amen.
So as the Christmas holiday approaches, I salute the many people and organizations in our community who put their own time and money where their mouths are instead of somebody else’s.
Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president of the Foundation for Economic Education. He writes about exceptional people, including many from his book, “Real Heroes: Inspiring True Stories of Courage, Character and Conviction.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .