The Giving of Alms
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.
When I was first out of college and working in full time youth ministry, I took a group of ten teenagers on a mission trip to Juarez, Mexico. Each teen had been on a previous mission trip with my church, had spent several months preparing for the trip including studying social justice principles and learning about Mexican culture. It was my heart that they didn’t sign up for the trip simply because a trip to Mexico sounded like fun. I wanted the kids who went on this trip to be 100% invested in being the hands and feet of Christ for the 10 days of the trip.
Twenty years ago, Juarez was a border town you had to be smart about venturing into but a town which was fairly safe to take a group of white, mid-western, upper middle-class suburban kids into with a little guidance from a solid mission organization. That being said, it was still a town which was vastly different from what my small group of teens wanting to change the world had ever experienced. The first 36 hours in Juarez were an education for those ten teens. We drove by gated homes of rich gringos or drug runners. We drove through slums bordering garbage dumps where kids of all ages ran alongside the bus begging for money or food.
At the end of our first full day, we gathered as a group to talk, to process everything we had experienced so far, and so I could get a feel for who was adjusting well and who would need some extra help. I remember one girl specifically saying that she wished she could go home. She was simply overwhelmed by the sheer amount of need and poverty with which she had come face to face. Add in that we didn’t have showers accessible, we had to check our beds and shoes for critters like scorpions and roaches regularly, and the very different food and I had a homesick teen on my hands.
We worked through it over the course of the next day or two and by the end of the week, that girl truly didn’t want to leave. She had fallen in love with the people we were there to serve and their culture. Her motivation to serve that week was 110% to show these people God’s love. If she would have had her way, she would have been on a flight home that first night. While we all acknowledged that we couldn’t fix every problem for the community we were visiting, this girl in particular was moved to do what little she knew she could do to be a tangible example of God’s love.
This week’s topic is almsgiving. It’s a rather old-fashioned word we don’t hear a lot any more. Often we talk of service and charity and those certainly are related to almsgiving but there is something extra about almsgiving. To practice almsgiving is to pratice a merciful type of giving motivated, in a good way, by pity. It is a giving which is in response to witnessing the true wretchedness of inescapable poverty. The motivation comes from compassion when we, in some direct sense, witness the plight of others less fortunate than ourselves. It is intentional, tangible relief given to alleviate the suffering of the poor and powerless in our society.
One of the clearest examples of almsgiving we see in Scripture is the story of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10. Upon seeing the desperate need of the man on the side of the road, the Samaritan is moved to help him out in a very real and tangible way. He rescues him, takes him into town and pays for his ongoing care out of his own pocket, and expects nothing in return. The story says nothing of a previous relationship nor does it indicate the man remained in touch with the Samaritan in any way. The point of the story is to illustrate that this Samaritan man was motivated purely by kindness and compassion, by the pity he felt for the man when he saw him on the side of the road.
Often we give out of habit or obligation. Or we give so that we can get a break on our taxes. We give to ministries which have touched our hearts and lives in some specific, personal way but not to specific people. Those aren’t necessarily bad gifts. God uses every gift we give for his glory and honor. But almsgiving isn’t your weekly offering at church or monthly bag of groceries dropped off at the food bank. It is something which touches you in a uniquely personal way and it is something which God primarily sees and gets the recognition.
Consider again my teen from the Mexico mission trip. It was quickly clear that any friendships she developed with the local people would be difficult to maintain after we left. They did not have cell phones, computers, or access to the internet. Even if we returned to the same site the next year, it would be likely that many of the families in the neighborhood would have moved on in search of work and a better life. Her challenge was to truly invest 100% of herself knowing there was not going to be any long-term friendships like she had experienced in other, domestic mission trips. She forced us all to really examine our motivation for not only being in Mexico but going on any mission trip. Was our motivation really to do the work God had called us to do in that place for that time? Or was it to make ourselves feel good, get a new pen pal, and get a good story or two? What’s your motivation for your giving?
Check out the video for this week’s Lenten Journey!
There is a lot of hurt and suffering in the world. In today’s world, it is both easy to see with the internet delivering stories right to our phones and easy to ignore because we have become so desensitized to everything. Take some time this week to listen to a non-US based news outlet and observe what humanitarian issues the rest of the world is talking about right now. Do a little research into the history of the issue which stands out to you the most and consider how God might be calling you to get involved.
Often it is easy to ignore the real needs of our friends and neighbors. Consider one local person you can tangibly help anonymously this Lenten season. It doesn’t have to be something huge but it should be something meaningful to them. Maybe it’s the gas card to help them drive to and from work, or the Easter dinner dropped off on the front porch, or it could even be a simple note of encouragement slipped into the mail.