I'm interrupting my series on Loving Your Enemies to deal with a significant story that I've been following
Jesus said, "Give to everyone who begs from you" (6:30). This sounds simple enough to follow, but I can't tell you how many debates I have been in with other Christians about this particular verse. When I was in college, my friends and I dealt with this issue almost daily, because there were many beggars in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During my freshman year, my dorm sat right on Harvard Square. I couldn't go to the bank or get an ice cream cone from Brigham's without running into folks who'd ask me: "Got a qwa-tuh?" (That's Bostonian for "Do you have a quarter, please?")
Then, I spent my first seven years of professional ministry on the staff of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. In any given week we had literally hundreds of street people coming to the church looking for financial assistance. It was truly impossible for us to give to everyone who begged from us. We had neither enough time nor enough stuff. Moreover, there was the perennial problem of what people would do with what we gave them. Money would, in many cases, be used for cigarettes or alcohol. Food vouchers would often be sold on the streets, with the proceeds supporting unhealthy habits. Literally following the command of Jesus seemed to be enabling harmful behavior, not helping people in genuine need.
So what do we do with the command of Jesus to "Give to everyone who begs from you"? It's true that in the time of Jesus most beggars needed the basics of food and shelter, and wouldn't have squandered their alms on unnecessary and unwholesome items. Moreover, it's also true that Jesus wasn't laying out here a systematic ethics of charitable giving. He was using hyperbole–exaggeration, if you will–to get His audience's attention and to make a striking point. God help us not to blunt this point with our rationalizations! Yes, it might in fact be true that there are times when we ought not to give to one who begs, or at least we should not give what that person asks. But our habit, our pattern, our inclination should always be in the direction of generosity. Better to err by giving away too much than by withholding too much.
Will we be deceived sometimes? No doubt. Will we feel ripped off? I'm sure of it. I've felt this way dozens of times throughout my life. But then I remember that Jesus said, "From anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt," and "if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again" (Luke 6:29-30). I'm quite sure that when I finally stand before the judgment throne of Christ, He won't say to me: "Mark, you were too generous. You were a patsy. You gave away too much."