“As the ancient Hebrew Talmud states, the highest form of charity is to anonymously provide a man or a woman employment; the lowest is to directly offer him or her aid. Perhaps, then, it is time to revisit our wealth-disparaging theologies and reintroduce a righteous respect for the God-ordained capacity for wealth creation.” – Robert Lupton in Charity Detox Chapter Two
Blessed are the Merciful
Do acts of mercy exist on a spectrum? Are some forms of charity more worthwhile than others? In Jesus’ most famous sermon, he proclaimed, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7) Mercy is a characteristic of the God of the Bible. It is also a characteristic of those who would pattern their lives on Jesus. Mercy is a blessed thing. But if mercy is “helping individuals in need,” are there some forms of mercy that are more blessed than others?
In 2008 I traveled to Haiti with a physician and his wife from the church I was serving as a pastor. This couple had worked together over many years to offer medical care to Haitians living in a rural area near the city of Cap Haitien on the northern coast of the island. They would stock up medical supplies and medicine in the States and travel to Haiti as often as they could, setting up clinics where folks would come for walk-in care.
One afternoon when they had put me to work counting out vitamins for distribution, the wife called me into the makeshift exam room and handed me a baby to hold. The little boy was malnourished. “You can tell he is malnourished,” the doctor said, “by the patches of blonde in his black hair.”
“Take this peanut butter,” the wife said, “feed him.”
So I fed the baby, spoonful by slow spoonful, feeling his weight in my arms. As I cared for the little guy and held him tight, the weight of his circumstances knocked me flat. I was feeding this child today, but who would feed him in the days to come? Would he even make it to his next birthday?
Partnerships of Promise
Blessed are the merciful, absolutely yes. Offering a bit of peanut butter, medical check-ups, vitamins, and God’s unconditional love today, here and now, in this moment, is a holy thing. But more blessed, I believe, are those whose compassion leads them into deep commitment over time.
If that little boy is alive today, he would be eleven years old. To keep little boys and girls healthy takes a whole host of things going right in the life of a family, a community, an economy, and a nation.
To Robert Lupton’s point, if we truly want to help those in need, we will have to do more than provide a meal and go home. We will have to help parents find employment that can pay the bills. We will have to help communities provide those sources of employment. We will have to show up with consistency to forge partnerships that can lead to healthier economies. Are there higher and lower forms of charity? I think so. I think the highest forms are those that require the most from us and which function to move God’s children from suffering to abundant life.
“Blessed are the merciful,” Jesus says, “for they will receive mercy.” May God give us all the mercy we will need to love and work for all the babies, near and far.