Summary: We are divided over whether to invest more in charity or more in the church program. A key element must be the compassion that gives from the core of our beings.
It seems as though just about once a week someone will phone from one of the charity agencies -- the Purple Heart, the Good Will, the Disabled Veterans -- and I always know when they are calling, because they will ask for Mrs. Smith. Nobody asks for Mrs. Smith when they could ask for Margaret except the charities. I guess they think that women are more compassionate than men, and so when they hear my voice, they appeal to the Supreme Court right away! At any rate, just about once a week, one of the charity agencies will call and will ask if we have anything they might pick up, and when we do, which is frequent, since nothing expands as rapidly around our place as does junk – when we do, I am more than happy to round it up and set it out on the front step and wait for my nice little tax deduction receipt. I like giving to these charities.
But let someone approach me on the street corner while I am waiting to cross and ask me for a little change, and I get flustered. Let someone stop me on the sidewalk and tell me he hasn't eaten, and I get embarrassed and look for a quick and easy way out. Let someone call me on the telephone and ask not for old clothes and battered furniture but for a donation for this cause or that, and I get all mealy-mouthed trying to think of a decent way to get rid of the call. Do you know what I am talking about, do you feel that too?
What's the difference? One kind of charity claim makes us happy to respond, ready to give; the other kind embarrasses us, ties our tongues, and, more than likely, seals up our wallets. What's the difference?
One difference, I believe, is that one kind of giving costs us something we don't want anyway, and the other lays claim to something we do want for ourselves. When the folks from Purple Heart stop at my front door, what they get is a motley collection of ill-fitting clothes with the wrong size lapels and with odd colors that we wouldn't wear on Halloween. But when the fellow on the street corner stops me, he is asking for something that does fit, it fits in my wallet; for something that is the right color, cash green; for something I would take with me any place, any time. The difference is that some gifts cost nothing you'd really want to keep anyway; and others take from you that which you do value, that which at heart you'd really prefer to keep for yourself.
Would you agree with me that a gift is not really a gift until it costs you something? Would you affirm with me that if I give you only that which I didn't want anyway I have in truth given you nothing? If I give you a coat and I say, here, take this, I was only going to throw it away anyhow, then it would be· better if my thanks came not from you but from the garbage man for keeping his load a little lighter. A gift that does not represent something I value, something I care about, is no gift at all.
I think there is another reason why I can give to charities so readily and am yet so embarrassed and so torn up inside by the man on the street corner. And that is that with the one, there is no personal dimension, there is no face-to-face encounter. But with the other I have to deal with flesh and blood, with a real human life. When I give – or, let's not say give – when I allow the DAV to be my garbage collectors, I deal with a nameless voice over the phone and leave boxes out to be picked up by somebody whom I never even see. Clean, quick, impersonal. But when that face, with sunken eyes and unshaved cheeks, encounters me, I cannot avoid knowing that now I'm dealing with a person, I'm dealing with a child of God; however much he may have denied it, however much he may have tarnished the image of God in him, still I am dealing with a child of God. And that gets personal, doesn't it? That gets down to where some contact is made with the inner me, where my soul begins to be disturbed. That's different.
The little letter of John in the New Testament uses some very strong language to help us assess exactly what we feel arid what we are to do in times like that. John's words are surely the most biting, the most straightforward in the New Testament. “We know that we have passed out of death into life, if we love the brethren; He who does not love remains in death.” And more than that; more pointed still, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.”