Acts of charity to our less fortunate brethren can go a long way to wash away our sins and to redeem ourselves, for what little we do for our brothers is done to Jesus Himself. “You do yourself a favor when you are kind” (Proverbs 11:17). “If you give food to the hungry and satisfy those who are in need, then the darkness around you will turn to the brightness of noon” (Isaiah 58:10). What good is there in our saying to the hungry and to the homeless, “God bless you! Keep warm and eat well.” It is like pointing a finger rather than offering a helping hand. Faith without actions is a travesty. Abraham’s faith was made perfect only through his actions. “His faith and his actions worked together” (James 2:22). “As the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without actions is dead” (James 2:26).
While faith is made perfect by actions, it is also a truism that actions are propelled by faith. When we look upon the suffering humanity with eyes of faith, we cannot remain callous and indifferent and we do not mind giving our surplus rather than hoarding it. In fact, Jesus applauds the widow who gave the only coins she had. The Scriptures advise us not to be obsessed with money for God provides for our needs. Those who are generous will always be well provided for. Their generations too will be taken care of. As Psalm 112:9 assures us,
He gives generously to the needy,
And his kindness never fails;
He will be powerful and respected.
Or, “When you give to the poor, it is like lending to the Lord, and the Lord will pay you back” (Proverbs 19:17).
Deuteronomy 14:29 advises us to offer our surplus to the widows and the orphans and the Lord our God will bless us in everything we do, just as the rules for the Harvest Festival in the book of Leviticus advises us not to return to the field after harvest, to cut the ears of the corn that was left, but to leave it for orphans and widows (Leviticus 23: 22).
After all, everything that we have comes from God. He holds the power to give and to take away. The Lord is Sovereign.
In the New Commandment of Love, Jesus tells us to love one another as He has loved us. He assures us of rewards for our good deeds. Speaking about the Final Judgment, Jesus says He will call all those to possess the Kingdom who were kind to others. In fact, Jesus explains that deeds of kindness to others will be counted as deeds of kindness to Himself. Jesus explains in Mathew 25: 35-36, I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.” This makes us ponder on the various connotations of the term ‘charity’. It includes taking care of the suffering and the sick, visiting the prisoners and the lonely. Charity does not necessarily mean simply helping with money. It also means lending our time and extending our love. It means showing our concern for others. It means not despising others based on race or class. It means not neglecting the aged. It means speaking words of kindness. It means uplifting the downtrodden. It means speaking up for the oppressed of the society. It means boosting the morale of the depressed. It means according dignity to another human being. It means not misusing positions of power against others. It means not intentionally depriving someone of his livelihood. It means not denying someone of his rights. “Speak up for people who cannot speak for themselves. Protect the rights of all those who are helpless…Protect the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8). It means working on bringing people to right paths of holiness and righteousness. It means working for peace. It means assisting someone come out of his bondages. It means speaking to the lonely. It means sharing our food. “Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear, and do not refuse to help your own relatives”(Isaiah 58:7). But charity begins at home. It would be a sacrilege to extend our charity to others and neglect our own family and relatives who are in need.
But Jesus also warms us against making a display of charity. In fact, he solemnly warns us not to show off our acts of charity in public, rather to help the needy in private (Mathew 6:1-4) just as we are also advised to give with a cheerful heart. “Each one should give, then, as he has decided, not with regret or out of a sense of duty, for God loves the one who gives gladly. And God is able to give you more than you need” (2 Corinthians 7-8). Again, we are told that there is more credit in our deeds of charity when the person cannot pay us back and when we expect nothing in return. “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind; and you will be blessed, because they are not able to pay you back. God will repay you on the day the good people will rise from death” (Luke 14:13-14).
Give to others and God will give to you. Indeed, you will receive a full measure, a generous helping, poured into your hands-all that you can hold (Luke 6:38).
Should one feel guilty for being rich? Abraham was rich and so was King Solomon. It is not a sin to be rich provided the wealth comes from God’s blessings and is not ill-gotten. What the Scriptures warn us against is, putting our hope in wealth instead of the Giver of wealth. Scriptures advise us about storing our wealth in heaven where no thief can pilfer. A man’s heart is always where his wealth is, so being attached to wealth can make us earth-bound rather than heaven-bound. Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot only for a few coins of silver. He chose to be earth-bound. The love of money is a source of all kinds of evil. Some have been so eager to have it that they have wandered away from the faith and have broken their hearts with many sorrows (1 Timothy 6:10).
Jesus did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life to redeem many people. He is the perfect example of a Charitable Man. He did not discriminate but ate with tax-collectors. He was deeply moved with compassion whenever He saw suffering. He helped the lowly and the downtrodden. In so doing, He gave us lessons to be emulated. Today, His Heart sorrows to see the hungry and the homeless; the oppressed and the neglected; the sorrowing and the dejected. Do you want to comfort Jesus?
Dr. Nina Caldeira