I have a friend with a large house on the Jersey Shore, and a 45-foot boat on which he invites friends to go fishing. He mentioned the other day how his cleaning lady had asked him for some help to pay the medical bills of her sick mother. The mother has no medical insurance, and she had already been in the hospital for three weeks. My friend said he was glad to help
---- "My cleaning lady has so little and I have so much," he said. He gave her $200.
My friend said he realized that his gift would cover only a small part of the hospital bill, and now he felt guilty that he had not given more. But, he said, at first he was not inclined to give her anything, and then guilt induced him to give the $200.
There was no spontaneous generosity here. He seems not to have been moved by compassion.
What kind of mercy do you think God requires? Showing mercy is commanded both by Jesus and often in Scripture. But shouldn't it be initiated by a willing heart, and not just be in response to a Bible command or a feeling of guilt? What is the right magnitude of response, given that each of us always has many concurrent demands placed on us ---- for our money, our time and our emotional support? How do we make the choices for how much of us to give, and to whom?
And don't we have a legitimate claim to some of these resources? If we give away all of our food, for example, are we not going to starve, and thereafter be unable to help anyone else?
One extreme way to look at this is to ask ---- "How selfish are we if we eat steak and drive two cars. while many in the rest of the world are starving?" This may create some emotional conflict in the hearts of those Christians who hear such questions. They may feel a little guilty!! However, all sorts of defense mechanisms are quickly engaged:
----- "Can I help it if I was born into this rich country?"
----- "How will it help anyone if I stop driving two cars?"
----- "Don't I have the right to enjoy the fruits of my labor?" etc.
Soon with anxious weariness, we may turn away from books or speakers who simply make us feel guilty toward the needy.
There is another way to approach this dilemma. Think of showing generosity to the needy as our "sacrifice of praise" for God's gift of Grace to us. What is this Grace? It is unmerited divine assistance given by God to sinful mankind, thereby freeing us from the curse of our sins. We believe we have received this God-given Grace free of charge. It is a huge benefit we have received, but have not earned.
It is truly a "sacrifice" on our part, because whatever we give to others ---- be it money, time or our emotional support, we have given it away, so we do not have it any more for our own use. But, perhaps such a sacrifice is the best way we can show our thanks for the God-given Grace which we have not earned. Jesus, the Risen Lord of our salvation is not here bodily for us to anoint his feet. Instead we have the opportunity to help the needy as our sacrifice, to show our love of Jesus, and to honor Christ.
True compassion is spontaneous ---- it is an expensive love inspired by our gratefulness for the Grace of God. Hopefully, the deeper the awareness of this free Grace from God, the more generous we might become to others. One measure of a Christian may be how much he or she loves to give. How regularly are we aware of God's gift of Grace to us? Is it something we regularly repay by passing our compassion on to others?
A sensitive social conscience, grateful for God's free gift of Grace to us, will lead us to deeds of compassion for the needy. Guilt should not be the main motivation for helping the needy.
These thoughts are brought to you by CPC's Adult Spiritual Development Team, hoping to encourage you to pursue some personal growth this summer at CPC.