The poor and needy are opportunities to help and be hospitable.
“I thought he was going to kidnap me!” said my 11-year old grandson after I had given a few dollars to the man in the Home Depot parking lot, asking for rent help.
I’ve read the articles about enabling addicts and homeless people and teaching a person to fish versus giving him a fish. And I, probably just like you, try to avert my eyes when I’m at the stoplight with someone two feet away from my car window with a hand-printed cardboard sign asking for money—the sign that often also says, “God bless you.”
But Jesus says I should help needy people. Who and how are questions for which each of us needs to find answers.
In the same Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus taught the large crowd about being “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13), he also said, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret” (6:3,4). You notice that he expects God’s people to give to the needy. He didn’t say “if.” He didn’t break the needy down into classes—“a bit needy,” “a lot needy,” or “most needy.” He just said, “Needy.”
St. Paul explains that this is especially true when God’s salty people show loving concern toward one another: “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13). Practicing hospitality literally means “striving or aspiring to be one who loves the stranger as a friend.” It has something to do with providing a welcoming, safe place, as Abraham and Sarah did for three strangers when they entertained angels and the Lord without knowing it (Genesis chapter 18). We understand that helping fellow Christians is not optional.
Katie Luther and her husband, Martin, who had six children of their own, also accommodated nieces, nephews, tutors, monks, nuns, indigent pastors, students, and others at their home. They even took in a fugitive pastor on their wedding night and sick people during the plague! Their home was definitely a hospitable place.
In his Treatise on Good Works (Luther’s Works, Vol. 44, p. 17-114), Luther told the world why Christians care for those in need. “For because a man trusts God, he is generous and does not doubt that he will always have enough; on the other hand, a man is covetous and worries because he does not trust God.” Our trust in God warms our hearts to be hospitable and care for the needy.
Being hospitable involves our attitude toward those in need. Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11). Moses said the same thing (Deuteronomy 15:11). I’ve sometimes wondered why the street corner beggar isn’t working at McDonald’s or why the Section 8 housing occupant doesn’t take better care of the place they are being provided. But Jesus never addressed the social/economic reasons behind poverty. He simply said to help.
We want to exercise good judgment. We feed a starving person food for the body but also provide God’s food for the soul—without being or appearing manipulative.
Good judgment also requires caution. We can’t, nor should we, give to every person, charity, or cause that comes along. Our own WELS Christian Aid and Relief is charged with the dual role of providing disaster relief and building bridges to the gospel through long- and short-term humanitarian aid projects. This is the best place to start when sharing our wealth outside of our local area.
The early Christians knew the value and dignity of work, but it appears they didn’t ask the poor why they were poor. Rather, they sold their own things so they could give to anyone who was in need. And they did more than send a check to a charity or drop a dollar in a hat. They invited fellow believers into their homes and “ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:46,47).
Notice how hospitable they were! They realized the importance of getting into relationships with one another, rich or poor, so they could joyfully share the gospel with one another. I’m guessing you have also discovered that personal faith conversations seem to go deeper with someone you have come to know than with a stranger whose motives and integrity you don’t yet know.
Not long ago, some of us from our church were asked to help a single mother whose older home badly needed a new roof. As we spoke with one another, realizing the importance of our work together to repair and replace that roof, Jesus was in those conversations and blessed them. Acquaintances in Christ became friends in Christ.
As a congregation, we continue to work at being hospitable and creating a welcome environment for all who enter our doors. There is food and coffee to gather around. We’ve been trained to look for the guest and help them experience Christ’s love. We have a very special man in our congregation who recently brought a friend to church and then invited him and about 25 of us to a restaurant after worship so that we could get to know him better. A number of members provide $25 gift cards to various grocery stores and gas stations so that our pastor, at his discretion, might help some who request aid.
My wife works hard at creating a hospitable home. We still laugh when we remember the time some seminary students called us one evening on spring break because the house they had thought was available turned out to be occupied and they needed a place to stay. They ended up camping in our backyard, and my wife made sure there were towels, food, and showers available for them. We are blessed to have some of our grandchildren near us, and my wife has turned our home into a haven for them, complete with devotions when they stay over. Countless missionaries and WELS school choir members have found shelter here as well.
It was Jesus who showed us what perfect hospitality is and looks like. He left the place of perfect peace in order to provide eternal peace for us. As we observe him on the pages of Scripture, we see him giving his time and attention to little children, grieving widows, the sick, the poor, and those disabled. Anyone could come to him for help. He personally fed two crowds of thousands. He had no home while ministering on this earth but has made it possible for the entire world to have a heavenly home forever!
By the grace of God, we believe in him and long to see him. While we are waiting, there is a growing desire in our hearts to be hospitable to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, and all others in need. It’s not because we’re going to earn a place in heaven—Jesus has already provided that precious gift. Rather, we just want to hear Jesus say those wonderful words, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
John Huebner, a retired pastor, is a member at Victory, Jacksonville, Florida.
This is the sixth article in a 12-part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.
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Author: John P. Huebner
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017
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