Charity vs. Cruelty: When to shake the dust from your feet

Charity vs. Cruelty: When to shake the dust from your feet July 14, 2015

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I bet you’ve experienced this, or are experiencing it right now.

You have a friend, or a family member, maybe a fellow parishioner, who frequently distresses about how hard they have it. And they really do have it hard, and they need help. It might be neglect, a financial crisis, poor living conditions, or any number of causes.

Regardless, they need help.

But, when you do offer to help them, they decline. Or, they take advantage of you. They are needy, and their neediness consumes you.

They aren’t strong enough to make the proper changes on their own, and yet they decline your help in making those necessary changes.

I’ve been going through that with a friend of late. She’s in a terrible situation, needs help, but doesn’t want to receive help that will offer a significant, long-term solution, I had at one point talked her into receiving concrete help, and she initially accepted. Then, she did an about face and now refuses help.

And it’s driving me crazy.

I’m angry – both at her for refusing help and at her husband, the perpetrator of the mess, for manipulating my friend into refusing the help. I’m frustrated because I can’t get through to her. I’m discouraged because I see further disaster lying ahead for this couple. And, I’m burnt out from trying to remedy a situation that can’t be remedied, at least not as it presently stands.

There’s nothing I can do.

I’m ready to wash my hands of the whole mess. In fact, I see no other way. But, that leaves me struggling with the question of cruelty vs. charity. Is it cruel to turn away? Would the charitable thing be to keep trying to help? What’s expected of me as a follower of Christ?

As I’ve been mulling this over, one scene from Scripture keeps coming to mind. It takes place just after Jesus summoned the Apostles. He gave them authority over unclean spirits and the ability to cure every disease and illness (see Mt 10:1-4).

He sent them out to the surrounding territories in order to preach and heal. He told them,

Whatever town or village you enter, look for a worthy person in it, and stay there until you leave. As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you. Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet. Amen, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (mt 10:11-15)

Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words – go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.

Granted, in this passage our Lord is talking about folks who refuse to listen to the Good News and repent. Still, I think the principle is much the same.

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