What is charity all about? The King James Bible uses the word where most modern English translations will substitute the word “Love” in its place. At its root, charity certainly is a tangible expression of love, but what does it look like? Is charity a fundraiser for a cause most of the fundraiser attendees will never see? Is charity even about money at all? Is charity a simple hand out, or does it go deeper than one meal can provide?
I propose that charity is at the heart of the Gospel. I suggest to you today that loving your neighbor as yourself is the root of charity. Simply that it cannot exist apart from love. Gifts are nice, but if they are not given in love, they are just money. A hungry belly always appreciates food, but if it is not provided in love, it’s just calories. An uncovered back will always welcome a shirt, but if it’s not given in love, it’s just thread. Love can change a person’s life. Money, food, and clothes never did a thing for anyone by themselves.
There’s a story in the Gospel of Luke (chapter 10) that always sticks in the minds of its hearers. You’ve listened to it a thousand times. It’s the story of the good Samaritan. You know all the details in the story. Samaritans were hated by Jews (and vice versa). Priests and Levites were revered. The highly held avoided the hurting man. The despised picked him up.
The phrase that gets me every time in this story is “he (the Samaritan) placed him (the hurting man).” He had to touch him to accomplish this. Before the story is over all the elements of charity are involved: money, food, medicinal care, transportation, clothes, and shelter. But it is in the moment he touched him that true charity was demonstrated.
Compassion is another word Jesus uses in this story. Compassion is a gut wrenching love expressed where the hurting person lies. It comes in at the point of need. It meets the person where he/she is and doesn’t let up until the need is met. It goes the distance, sometimes at great personal cost.
In our self-centered, world we often forget the compassion that has been shown us. We have a great tendency to sit in our comfortable chairs, eat our lavishly prepared food, and wear our designer clothes without any regard to the hurting masses around us. I ask you, is it love shown to give our worn out clothes to Goodwill when we wear the best? Is it love demonstrated to donate our worn out couches when our bottoms won’t touch anything but the finest leather? Is it truly compassion to look at the cigarette smoking homeless man and say, “If he wouldn’t smoke those cigarettes he would have plenty of money for food,” or are these just acts of priestly indifference that feed our somewhat guilty consciences?
I do not write this to make you feel bad. Conviction is the job of the Holy Spirit. I do write these words to hopefully cause you to look around; to be aware of the needs screaming in our faces on a daily basis. Our iPod, heated seat, tinted window, leather encased world lends itself to keeping us blinded from the most basic needs, many times in our own neighborhoods, in our churches, and sometimes even on our back step.
Could it be a possibility Jesus intends for us to sometimes give away our nice couch and keep the worn one? Maybe it could be an option at least once in our lifetime to keep an old car and give away a new one? What if we took a family on a shopping spree and used the money we had set aside for a new addition to our already crowded wardrobe? Shouldn’t the church be known more for its gifts of compassion and less for its elitist attitudes? The battered man on the donkey would probably answer “Yes!”
I challenge you to take a step in the direction of charity. Get to know a hurting person. Work to discover a need near you and do what it takes to meet it. Build a relationship that is outside your comfort zone or daily routine. Step into the shoes of the Samaritan. The difference may be life or death.