I remember the first time I ever encountered a homeless man. I was young, perhaps 11 or 12 years old, but the memory sticks out to me because homelessness was not something you saw growing up in a small, rural town. The man asked my father for money, and he responded by offering him to buy him a McDonald’s sandwich. My dad told me not to give homeless people money because you don’t know if they will use it to buy drugs or alcohol.
To this day, I tend to give members of the homeless community snacks, and items they may need, like clean socks or soap, rather than money.
While this lesson is not a bad one per se, it perhaps precipitates the idea that the poor can’t be trusted. If you read between the lines, this lesson says that some members of the homeless community don’t deserve help. They are poor because they want to be. They’re lazy. Freeloaders.
In the Relevant blog “It Not Our Job to Choose Who Deserves Help,” Craig Greenfield says that we have a natural tendency to divide the poor into categories: the “deserving poor” and the “undeserving poor.” Deserving poor are the ones we willingly help. They are down on their luck, perhaps laid off from their job or unable to work due to a disability. Undeserving poor could be alcoholics or drug addicts. We don’t want to help them because they don’t appear to work hard enough to help themselves.
But it is not our job to choose who deserves help.
As Greenfield writes, “God's work in transforming lives is more about God's love than whether the beneficiaries are deserving or not. No one is worthy. That's why we need God's grace.”
It is important to help everyone, not just the people we deem worthy. Here are three reasons why:
1. They deserve the same grace you give yourself.
We’re all sinners. Though you should not ignore their sin or enable destructive behavior, they are just as deserving of God’s grace as you are. Greenfield writes, “If we measured how much each of us deserve grace, forgiveness and love, you and I would both fall short.” But God loves us anyway. And we are called to love them as God does.
2. We’re not the judge.
We can never know the struggles of another person’s heart as well as God does. When we encounter people in poverty, we don’t know enough about their life to judge them. Instead, listen to their stories and seek to meet their needs. “My role is simply to love and serve, and pray for change,” Greenfield says.
3. You’re asking the wrong question.
Stop asking if a person falls into the “deserving” category of poverty. Greenfield says to ask this question instead: “How can I best extend God's love to this person today?” Then do it. This is the kind of action that steps toward a transformed life.
God offered us grace though we weren’t deserving. It is our turn to offer others grace because God says they are deserving.
Carrie Dedrick is the Family Editor for Crosswalk.com.
Publication date: November 13, 2015