We were always told to leave any cash or credit cards or anything of value behind when we went out on the streets in Cass Corridor. In highschool I was was able to take three trips with my youth group to that painfully troubled part of inner city Detroit. Talk about eye opening. I learned a lot about serving the Lord and took some huge steps in my spiritual growth during those times. But looking back I see a problem with some of what I learned.
On those trips and in general church life I was always taught that you really shouldn’t give money to a homeless person. Actually, you should probably be slightly afraid of them. More than likely they’ll spend on drugs or alcohol or something along those lines. Be generous, sure – give them some food, the coat off your back, a ride somewhere, just don’t give them money. Doing that would be unwise since they probably won’t use the money wisely.
This training, along with so many others that I received both explicit and implicitly from the Christian culture that I grew up in, seems to pit wisdom directly against the words of Jesus. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus says,
To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
– Luke 6:28-31
Give to everyone
The sermon on the mount seems to be Jesus’ vision of what a world looks like when people walk in step with the Spirit of God. He outlines a radical counter-culture that pushes us past what makes sense in a world where wisdom needs to be completely redefined.
You don’t get much more radical than a statement like, “give to everyone who begs from you.” Everyone means everyone, so Jesus literally means that every time someone begs for money or food or help from you, give to them.
There were drunks and drug users and people who were homeless from sheer laziness in Jesus’ day, yet he says “give to everyone who begs from you.” Where the leaders of the synagogue advocated wisdom and caution in generosity, fiscal or otherwise, Jesus simply says give to those who ask of you. But he doesn’t stop there.
The sentence goes on and Jesus gets even more radical, declaring, “from the one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.” Wait. What? When someone steals from you don’t insist that they give it back? What about restitution? What about the rule of law? What kind of society could function if the caught thief was allowed to keep what he stole?
Our idea of wisdom screams that such a thing is foolishness; that there needs to be punishments in place to keep bad things from happening. The problem is, our definition of wisdom is wrong.
Wisdom vs. Jesus
Biblical wisdom as outlined primarily in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Psalms, and several other locations throughout scripture can be boiled down to rightly applying God’s truth to daily living. The question comes then, what is God’s truth?
Our wisdom is generally fear disguised behind good principles wrongly applied. We don’t give money to the homeless person because we fear somehow being complicit in providing them access to drugs or alcohol. We fear being taken advantage of in the future so we demand restitution when stolen from.
The truth is that Jesus is wisdom and that following his commands and imitating his ways is rightly applying God’s truth to daily living. Paul makes this explicit in 1 Corinthians 1:30 when he writes, “because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”
Jesus became wisdom to us. For us. Let’s not pretend we have a right to pit his words against some plucked-out-of-context Proverb or culturally conditioned opinion and call the one that makes us more comfortable wisdom. If Jesus truly is the son of God, living the life of God on earth then he’s the one who knows how to live wisely. If he says “give to everyone who begs from you,” then that is what it means to live wisely.
Let’s not let our cultural assumptions define how we live. Let’s be people who take Jesus at his word, walking in wisdom by obeying him even when it seems foolish and ridiculous. It wouldn’t be the first time God asks his people to do something weird. And it certainly won’t be the last.
Keep some cash on you this Spring and Summer. When you come across someone begging, don’t hold back. Give to everyone who asks of you. If someone steals from you, be radical. Don’t demand it back. Instead, call it a gift and pray God’s goodness on the thief. Bless indiscriminately, just like Jesus does. Let’s be people who, with the wisdom of Christ, live with foolish generosity.