Monday, May 02, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: How Would Jesus Want to be Treated?

After making a compelling case for why, in most cases, it is better for believers to spend money rather than give money to charity, Teresa leaves a comment claiming she would like to someday give away 90% because she believes it is what Jesus would do. [Big Sigh!] Obviously, I have work to do. Let’s try again.

It is impossible to know exactly what Jesus would do since there is no record of Jesus ever spending money, or giving money away, or even ever having his own money. Almost certainly he had his own money and he spent and gave, but we just don’t know. However, it is clear from what he taught, we are expected to be good stewards of everything we possess, including money, and we are expected to treat the poor as if they were Jesus himself. Therefore, the question we need to answer is: How would Jesus want us to treat him? HWJWTBT? Did Jesus ever take without giving? Would Jesus want to receive something for doing nothing?

We could also look at the type of charitable behavior Jesus modeled? On the cross, Jesus gave us what we could not earn. This is the ultimate model of charity. No amount of brilliance or effort on our part will lead to salvation. Jesus also performed miracles by healing many sick people. He never healed anyone who could have been healed using the medicine or medical techniques of his day. He only healed those who had no other alternative. We don’t have salvation or healing to offer, but we can and should be careful to preserve the dignity of recipients of charity by allowing them to do for themselves what they can do for themselves.

As I pointed out in my previous post, every time we pass money to someone else, either through giving or spending, we reward and encourage certain behaviors. Perhaps, I wasn’t as clear about when we reward and encourage some behaviors, how we also penalize and discourage other behaviors. Giving money and time to a charity could be, and I believe often is, much more selfish than spending money. Would Jesus want to receive the rewards of the work of others while at the same time making life more difficult for others who are poor?

Habitat for Humanity is an example of a well meaning, but misguided, charitable organization. Anyone who donates time or money to Habitat for Humanity is doing more harm than good to the poor; especially in places like southern California where the price of a home is based on the supply of homes and lots that are listed for sale. Every time Habitat for Humanity builds a house, the supply of available houses goes down, and the cost of available houses goes up. Poor families working to earn a house are penalized while a poor family that didn’t work to earn a house is rewarded. Carpenters who earn a living by building houses have one less house to build and earn a living. Those who donated time and money to this cause may selfishly feel good about themselves, but what they have done is rob a certain amount of dignity from one family and made life more difficult for many more families. Sadly, most charities are in the very same business of making donors feel good at the expense of the poor.

I don’t believe for a second this is what Jesus would do. I think if Jesus had to choose between buying fish and giving money to charity, he would buy fish from the fisherman who was willing to get up early and stay out late in order to provide for himself and his family. I also think Jesus would be the one to get up early and stay out late in order to provide the fish as a food supply for his village. Obviously, I am projecting on to Jesus what I would do without really knowing what HE would do, but how is that any different from thinking Jesus would want anyone to give 90% to charity?


Hammertime said...

I guess I read the last post too quickly - I didn't grasp your point.

It's pretty far outside of anything I have ever considered. Give me a couple days to think on it. I'll be back!

Buz said...

David. I am not sure I can go along with this one. I agree that there are some who give to charity to soothe their own feelings rather than to honor God's wishes, but blaming Habitat for Humanity for the rising cost of housing is a bit of a reach, I think.


David M. Smith said...

Hi Buz,

I am not blaming Habitat for Humanity for the cost of housing. However, I am pointing out how they have an effect on the cost of housing. The effect may not even be measurable because of all of the factors involved, but the effect definitely is real, regardless of how big of an effect it is.

Buz said...

Sorry, Mr. Smith, but I still think that you are off base here.

"It is impossible to know exactly what Jesus would do ..." quite true, but we can look at what he did do and what the word of God teaches. "... we are expected to be good stewards ..." naturally, but we are also expected to be kind to the poor. In the OT, people are told to be generous, and not to harvest to the edges of their fields.

"Did Jesus ever take without giving? Would Jesus want to receive something for doing nothing?" Well, we read that he took heads of grain when he passed by the fields, so I suppose you could say "yes". He also used someone's upper room for the last supper, and there is no record that he paid for it. In other words he made use of the charity which others offered.

You say that he never healed those who could have gone to a physician. How can you know that? He would heal people for hours and hours. I don't think that he asked each one if they went to the doctor first.

I don't see where he tried to preserve anyone's dignity. I think that sometimes our "dignity" can be a hinderence to being healed. When Jesus was being ridiculed for the crowd he hung around with he said that the sick need a physician, not the healthy ... in other words, those who have surrendered their dignity to admit that they need help were the ones who would get help.

In the Kingdom parables, Jesus talks about a great feast, and how those who were invited were too busy, so the provider of the feast tells his servants to scour the countryside for the poor and homeless and give them a new suit and bring them to the feast.

I agree that we should not knowingly enable the indolent to remain in their sloth, but if we must err, I believe that the Christian thing to do is to err on the side of charity and mercy.

I have been in Detroit for a month, and I have run into 10x as many beggars as I could ever run into in Lansing. I have tried to be kind to each of them and give them $1. If I had the ability, I would have at least taken them to McD's for a burger ... but I have not had that luxury at this time. Have I been taken advantage of? Most likely. But don't forget that Jesus says that when we give someone even a cup of water, we do it for him.

Personally, I don't want to stand in front of Him some day and have Him say, "I needed a coke and you couldn't spare a buck because it would have ruined the economy?"


David Hunley said...


Thought provoking...certainly worthy of a read. Although I'm certain a great deal of charity is misguided and can be more harmful than helpful...I tend to lean toward Buzz's point of view.
I think we run into trouble real quick whenever we try to cross what is Caesars' with what is Gods. Thanks much...I enjoyed it.
By the way, have you seen any statistics that support the effect habitat for humanity has on the housing market? I admit I don't care much for Mr. Carter...and it might not be a good thing that I'd enjoy finding info like that...but lying about it wouldn't be a good thing

(Via Hammer)

David M. Smith said...

Hi David H.,

Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. I know you as a regular at Hammer’s site.

My opinion about Habitat for Humanity is basic supply and demand. The price of anything is related to the supply. Reducing the supply increases the price. I have never read anything critical of Habitat for Humanity, but I don’t need someone else to do a study to know about housing in Southern California since I spent three years looking for a house. The supply is low and prices are high. Every home given away by Habitat for Humanity is one less home that can be sold to a family that has been working and saving for years.

My point was more about the distinctions we use for helping the poor than it was specifically about Habitat for Humanity. I think the “Charity” verses “Spending” is an inadequate distinction for measuring the good we are doing. Please join in more often if you have the time and the inclination.