How does one balance compassion and caution. Often I’m asked to address a need and my first reaction is doubt. Is this real? Is it a scam? In the last few days a friend from another country with whom I have worked asked me to pray for him and, if I could, help him with a critical financial need. This is a guy I trust, but a part of me wondered if the request was really from him? How could I prove his identity? I thought of something he had said to me in the past so I asked this unknown entity in cyberspace if he remembered it. He did! So through another friend who is headed to that country right now, I and another colleague are sending some assistance.
What bothers me is that I have become jaded about helping the needy. Jesus didn’t seem to treat people like scams before they passed a trust test. I am so ashamed that I made my friend prove who he was before I helped him. The closest Jesus came to doing such a thing was with the Canaanite woman who wanted help for her daughter. Jesus responded by saying that his mission was to help only the Jews. His next statement is so unlike Jesus, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs (Matthew 15:26).”
This smacks of racism, prejudice, and elitism, but, of course, Jesus was just checking out her faith. And she comes through! It’s still a problematic passage for me, but it proved her mettle. Does it let me off the hook for wanting to prove that my friend’s need was legitimate and that he was who he said he was? Where do we find the gall to need to prove if someone really needs our help?
Well, I, for one, don’t want to squander my hard-earned money. I also don’t want to get caught in a co-dependent relationship that does more harm than good. Been there, done that. And, in general, on more than one occasion I’ve set out to help someone, and it just hasn’t gone the way I anticipated. A very real for instance is that, early in my ministry, Cindy and I felt sorry for a particular young lady in one of our churches. Life was hard for her. As this woman portrayed it, she was a relatively attractive person, but nobody would date her because her poverty prevented her from getting proper dental treatment. Cindy decided that we should do something about it, so we raised money to help; we drove her to a clinic for the procedure, and her appearance was dramatically changed. Her outlook and confidence were just as changed and, for the first time, she had the attention of young men. Within a month this young woman not only had a boyfriend but was also unintentionally pregnant. As our ministry continued with her, we could all agree that our initial vision of helping had come to an entirely unforeseen place. Ever since then I’ve tried to take care in offering help without considering some of the potential outcomes.
How do you determine whom to help? How do you balance compassion and caution? I had a conversation yesterday with someone about how to welcome someone into the life of the church who might potentially feel unwelcomed. I went to Paragraph 4 in the United Methodist constitution which states: “…all persons are of sacred worth. All persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments…” This part of our UM constitution is great! All are welcome and all are eligible, but hold on, there’s a serious omission.
What’s the one condition that’s missing? It’s “mental condition,” and it bothers me. Sure, just as I want to balance compassion and caution for the sake of protecting myself, church members, and those whose mental health is tenuous, how can we exclude those whose torment is so insidious, unseen, and misunderstood? There is a point at which we need to throw caution to the wind and show unrelenting compassion to anyone and everyone.
Lately with school shootings and other acts by persons whose mental conditions have gone untreated there has been an uptick in fear toward those particular sufferers. In my mind, this is the wrong response. Rather than fear, we should be inspired to act with compassion. My prayer is that we might offer love, understanding, and treatment with complete dignity to those thus affected. Let’s pledge as Christians to reach these who are too often left on the streets and offer them our best. The Gospel says that the world will know Him and us by our love.