Alms Giving, the “Deserving Poor,” and Octuplets

john_chrysostom_russian2 Lent will be here in a few weeks- tomorrow is already the Sunday of the Prodigal Son! This is the time of year when we are preparing to quiet down and concentrate on the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and alms giving.

Before the days of government assistance, the disabled poor lived on alms. They were called beggars back then. We call them “homeless” or “panhandlers” now. What should our attitude be towards these people? Are they deserving of our help? Oftentimes, we pass them by, consoling ourselves with excuses:

  • He looks like a drunk- he’ll just spend my dollar on alcohol
  • She looks like a drug addict- she’ll just buy drugs with my dollar
  • He’s been standing on that corner for weeks. He should get a job
  • She has a dog- why should my dollar go to buy dog food?
  • I contribute to the Salvation Army. He can go there for a meal
  • My sister hired some homeless people once and they never showed up for work
  • The Bible says “If you don’t work, you don’t eat”
  • I have my own problems- I can’t be giving money away to strangers
  • I tithe at church- I can’t be expected to give more
  • The government should be taking care of these people.
  • My cousin told me that these people make fortune panhandling. It’s just a scam

I once read a sermon by St. John Chrysostom about withholding alms from the “undeserving poor.” I wish I could find it now, but I’ve misplaced it. The gist of the sermon was this: Who are we to judge whether or not a person is worthy of our charity? Is he not created in the Image of God? Are we ourselves worthy of God’s grace? And who knows if our gift might be the very act of kindness that turns the person around. Who knows?

I had the experience a few years ago of riding to a major American city in a car-full of Christian ladies. All along the way, we listened to Christian music and talked about the things of God- what our churches were doing, what Christian books we were reading, etc. When we got to our venue and parked the car, the homeless man on the sidewalk was completely and totally ignored, as if he were invisible. Our group hustled right past him, as if he were of no more significance than the trash that littered the street.

In the spirit of this post, I want to commend the ladies of the women’s ministry of a southern California Calvary Chapel who are volunteering to help care for the children of the woman who recently gave birth to octuplets. Most people don’t think the babies’ mother is “deserving,” and I agree, she’s problematic! These church ladies are going to be very frustrated in the days to come, I think. But God bless them and give them strength! They were able to look past the “undeservedness” and are showing the love of Christ to this family. People will mock them for being duped and being taken advantage of, but agape is not without risk.

Edited to add: In a Jordanville Prayerbook list of daily sins that we might need to repent of, there is this line: “… or if a beggar hath come to me and I disdained him…” (page 45)


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. pdxurbanoutdoorsman
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 20:13:56

    Your thoughts regarding the homeless are slightly flawed.
    As one of the homeless of Portland OR. I can honestly tell you I have never panhandled. I can also tell you that giving money to most panhandlers does not go towards food. The assumption that it will go to drugs and/or alcohol is generally spot on.

    If you would like to help somebody who has their hand out do so buy purchasing a meal for them. By doing this you can be positive the help you provide goes where it should. If you don’t mind pumping your money into the local drug trade then go ahead and fork over the cash but do not delude yourself into beliving you have helped.

  2. Xenia
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 20:40:09

    Urban Outdoorsman, I agree that buying a person a meal is a very good idea, if it’s possible. It’s scarier than handing someone a dollar, that’s for sure.

  3. Khaleas
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 22:42:21

    Our local newspaper in MD when I lived there did a test how much they make on the street corner panhandling. Guy made almost 300 bucks and they also interviewed a guy who panhandles in DC and he drives a Lexus and lives in a nice home. I have a few ‘regulars’ I give to because they are nice. I’ve offered to buy people food and gotten spat on. My friend got approached by one man asking for money for his children and he offered to go buy a bag of groceries and got called every name in the book.
    We collect all money that gets left in pants and pockets over the year and twice a year that money gets given to IOCC.
    Locally I give to the Mission because they provide the food and shelter services and it’s very concrete.

  4. Maryb
    Feb 16, 2009 @ 00:39:12


    I think now that the babies are here… they should get help. I think that the dr. who is responsible for this should have to kick in payment… he just did this to another woman on welfare… I think he needs to be stopped.

  5. Diane Moos
    Feb 16, 2009 @ 03:07:52

    Mary, I agree with you.

  6. Debbie Z
    Feb 14, 2010 @ 01:38:23

    I agree with you about the needy. When I give money to someone I just pray and ask God to deal with the person, not me.

    I was in LA years ago sightseeing in Beverly Hills, I think. I noticed an homeless man sleeping on a bench at a bus stop. Of course no one was paying any attention to him. When the bus stopped and started again the exhaust blew right in is face. Broke my heart.

    What does the Bible say about entertaining angels unaware? I forget the exact wording but I’m sure you get the point.

    An homeless woman came up to me at a Carl’s Jr. several years ago and asked if I would buy her lunch. I had the money so I said yes. We ordered and ate together. Needless to say we weren’t the most popular couple there. We got plenty of stares. I don’t remember what she was wearing bur I don’t think it was very attractive.

    She said she had a cat and needed cat food. Being an animal lover I couldn’t let that pass by me. I told her I would meet her at X time and give her some food. I came back later but she wasn’t there, I have no idea why not, but it’s really not my business. It’s Gods.

    And anything I did to help her was because God has put His love for others in my heart. I told a fellow Christian this story and she exclaimed-you’re so brave, and you even went back!-she seemed to think that what I did was scary or brave, I just don’t get it. God protects me wherever I go and whomever I’m with.

    Praise God for He is good!

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