Many Christians take the words of Jesus literally and freely give cash without asking any questions. Is this what Jesus really intended? At the heart of the issue is the question of whether your cash is being used to engage in illicit activity or destructive behavior or if it is being used for the advertised purpose. Perhaps an individual holds a sign which simply says, “Homeless and hungry.” After you drive away, the person may turn around and use the cash to buy drugs or alcohol, rather than securing food, clothing, transportation or shelter.
The rationale often used is that you cannot control what the person does with the money, and Jesus did not say we should make an inquiry. All we should do is give. Do we have a duty to ensure we are not enabling illicit or destructive behavior?
A number of years ago in South Florida was the case of a beggar at the bottom of an exit ramp on the interstate. A local reporter decided to observe the beggar. At the end of the beggar’s shift, the reporter watched as the individual walked to a Mercedes parked some distance away, climbed into the driver’s seat and drove away. More likely than not the individual collected a handsome sum equivalent to a day laborer’s wage, or more.
Perhaps making an inquiry is not always practical, however, there is another solution – giving in-kind. Still, with all this talk of giving, there is another problem – how do you protect yourself from exploitation or becoming poor by helping others?
You have to draw a line and stick to it no matter what. Very rarely will I give cash to anyone. I will give in-kind in certain situations. However, my line is integrity. Every healthy relationship that has any chance of conferring a meaningful benefit on both parties depends on honesty, plain and simple.
Willfully fail to be honest, and all giving stops. An example will illustrate this line.
Two years ago on a Friday morning, the secretary at the church where I attended called me. She explained it was the pastor’s day off, and she did not know who else to call. An individual called the church claiming a terminal illness and wanted to talk with someone. I agreed to call the person, who asked to meet with me personally. We settled on meeting at a fast food restaurant the next day (Saturday). The individual told a long story of being a college professor, retiring early because of terminal cancer, and having a pension and Cadillac health insurance plan.
The individual asked for a ride to a local non-profit hospital, but expressed concern that this would be the last ride. The individual requested transportation to a specific location to visit one last time, and I would come back the next morning to provide transportation to the hospital. Along the way was a promise of disclosing burial arrangements and a request to assist in conducting the funeral.
Who would not be sympathetic toward such an individual? Assisting someone in carrying out their final wishes is probably one of the highest honors we can have.
The next morning (Sunday), I went to retrieve the individual for the ride to the hospital. Obviously, something was very wrong. The individual complained of pain and was not very alert. I couldn’t get to the hospital soon enough, even offering along the way to call an ambulance. On arrival, the individual resigned to never coming out and asked me to be a contact person on the intake forms. Eventually the individual was settled in a room but was agitated and demanding of the nurses.
The next day (Monday), I returned to visit over the lunch hour and again at the end of the day. But I was becoming suspicious, mostly because the promise of disclosing burial plans and family contacts was not forthcoming. It was now Monday, and I was two days into this act of generosity. On Tuesday, I decided to back door the situation and talk to the social worker. I explained what I knew and that I was his contact person. The social worker simply said she was sorry, but I had been duped. This individual was a transient and came into the hospital high on narcotics. She explained that because they were a non-profit hospital many transients know they can get free drugs to enhance their high. The hospital has a duty to examine them and often gives them a free night in a room. But they commonly discharge the people the next day.
I walked out of the hospital, never visiting the individual again. There was nothing I could do to salvage the situation, and the individual was obviously not ready for real help because of the scheme of lies that were told. In attempting to deceive someone else, no doubt the individual had become deceived by the many lies that were told and had some distorted belief that the deception was truth.
This is perhaps the key when attempting to help the unhelpable. An individual who is honest and makes a genuine effort toward resolving a difficult situation is helpable, even if the situation seems impossible. On the other end of the spectrum, an individual who weaves a web of deceit is first deceiving themselves. An individual who is intentionally deceived about a difficult situation cannot be helped, at least not yet. That is not to say they are beyond help, but it does mean a higher level of care is necessary if there is to be any hope of intervention.
If you do not take time to draw a clear line, you can easily get sucked into the other person’s delusion.
R. Joseph Ritter Jr. CFP®
Zacchaeus Financial Counseling Inc.
866-862-2220 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.ZacchaeusFinancial.org