I know. I know. They’ll just blow it on drink or drugs. And there is a case to be made for that. But there is also something to be said for C.S. Lewis’ reply to Tolkien when he scolded him for giving to a beggar by saying, “He’s just going to spend it on drink.” Quoth Lewis, “I was just going to spend it on drink.” As the article notes:
There are many excuses” to justify why one does not lend a hand when asked by a person begging on the street, Pope Francis said. Some may think, “‘I give money and he just spends it on a glass of wine!’” Francis said.
But, he joked, a “glass of wine is his only happiness in life!”
There’s something important at work here that often goes overlooked. It is the deep bigotry of many and many a good white Christian that says there are ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor and it is our job to pass judgment on the undeserving and (just between you and me) punish the undeserving for daring to seek some pleasure in their hard and bitter lives. We are here to impose discipline on these shameful, lazy, wasteful people in order to whip them into shape. The life verse for the disciplinarian Christian is from Paul’s second letter to the Republicans ‘If any one will not work, let him not eat.’ (2 Th 3:10).
But, in fact, Paul is talking to fellow Christians at Thessalonica, not to the world in general. He is addressing discipline in his Church, not talking about our duties to beggars in the street. When it comes to that, all we have is Jesus’ frightening unconditional command:
If any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. (Mt 5:40–42)
So Dorothy Day is simply accurate when she says:
Christ did not talk about the deserving poor. He did not come to save those who deserved to be saved. He died for each one, even for the very worst. The gospel takes away our right forever to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.
Indeed, the only qualification Christ puts on our giving is this: he commands us to make sure that the people to whom we give shall never ever ever be able to repay us. Worst. Republican. Financial. Advisor. EVER!
It is curious that we obsess so much over the possibility that a poor man may spend our gift on his pleasures, or in some way we disapprove, or sinfully, but we don’t spend much time fretting about how the rich blow their money. We reflexively say things like, ‘That’s because the rich come by their money honestly’–perhaps the biggest lie in the world.
I think it worth asking ourselves if the real reason we spend so much energy fretting over how the poor spend their money is that we want to be able to control the poor as the rich control us.
Worth considering this Lent.
Meanwhile, here is a way to actually give to the poor: by supporting the Native American Heritage Association, a charity with a four star rating from Charity Navigator that is dedicated to helping Native Americans living on the tribal reservations in South Dakota. The state of South Dakota is home to some of America’s most scenic landscapes, the Badlands, and also the home to the poorest people in our nation. NAHA supports the Sioux people through medical, food, fuel, and clothing programs.