Give A Man A Fish And He Eats. Teach A Man To Fish Blah, Blah, Blah…

Jesus says to give. He says to give to those who ask of you. He says to give to those who cannot give back.

Frankly, this pisses us off.

So, we attempt to find rationales to justify our not giving.

There are two rationalizations that I find particularly bothersome. The first is: “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.” This one does not bother me because it is untrue or because I disagree with it. I do agree with the concept. Nevertheless, those who tend to propose this axiom never seem to fish, to teach, or to give. It is simply a pseudo-wisdom mantra to justify not giving and ignoring the needs of others while convincing ourselves that we are good Christians and following Jesus’ command to give without actually giving anything. So, I agree with this concept as long as we are feeding a man while we are teaching him how to fish so that he will not starve before he can fish for himself (and teach others to fish).

The second rationale I find particularly troubling.: It goes along the lines of “Don’t give money to a beggar because they’ll only spend it on drugs (or booze).”

The problem with this is, like the first, it sounds like wisdom, and it convinces us that we are actually helping the person by not giving to them.

In honesty, what we are usually saying is: “I like my money and I want to keep it, but I know Jesus tells me to give, so the person I give to has to prove to me that they are worthy of my gift.”

We have conflicting desires and the brilliance of this maxim is that it allows me to reconcile all of these conflicting desires while keeping what I desire most — my money — and doing it in a way that allows me to believe I am serving the needy person and Christ by keeping my money.

I get to keep my money, I stop to hear the beggar, I deduce he will spend it on drugs, so giving him money will only hurt him further, so I decide to keep my money, leaving the beggar with nothing and me with an inflated sense of moral superiority because of my discernment. It is actually quite brilliant. I get to ignore the needs of another and feel as if I have helped him by my inaction. I may even thank God for allowing me to show God’s love to the poor by my inaction and by my withholding of money because it will help them kick their drug addiction.

I am so generous in my not-giving!

The genius of this is that it allows me to do absolutely nothing with an emotional sense of doing something. I get to feel by not helping him, I am helping him, and by keeping my money for myself, I am giving nothing, which is somehow of greater value.

hand of old woman and and daughter with money

Here’s a secret, even if the beggar is a drug addict, sometimes drug addicts get hungry. So, the money you give may be spent on food even if the person uses drugs. Even if some of the money that is gathered by the beggar that day is used for drugs, what makes you so sure that this is what YOUR gift will be used for? Maybe you are the one who feeds him for the day, and because you determined that he is unworthy of your giving (because you like your money more than you like him), he will not eat. You are taking food out of his mouth because you decide that he is unworthy of your help or unable to use the money in a way you would approve of.

Jesus does not tell us to give wisely but simply to give. We are not told to give according to the result of our giving. We are not told to give only if we approve of what the person will do with our gift. That would not be a gift. A gift given only on the basis of how it will be used is not a gift — it is an investment. And we withhold that investment unless we are certain that it will yield dividends for ourselves.

In the end, God gives us all good gifts, and in the end, we use many of those gifts poorly, wrongly, or we simply waste them. And we are good Christians. So, who are we to judge how someone else will use our gifts to them? All that we have and all that we are are God’s gift to us. All that we have and all that we are can be our gift to others.

Our job is not to prequalify the poor and the needy. We are not bankers. We are Christians and disciples. Our job is to give. If they use it well, then Thanks be to God. If they do not use it well, then Thanks be to God. Because it is about us giving, not about them using.

We are not helping the others as much as the other is helping us. Without that person, I cannot be who I claim to be. The beggar gives me the opportunity to follow Jesus and to live my faith. By giving, I show I follow Christ. By withholding, I show that I follow wealth and my own desires.

We may not be saved by the good deeds we do, but if we have no good deeds, we may not be saved. The evidence of our salvation lies in our service to others. They will know we are Christian by our love, and where there is love, there are good works; where there are no good works, there is no love, and we are Christian in name only. We are guilty of false advertisement and of using the Lord’s name in vain.


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