Something that Phil and I discussed later in the evening, after tonight’s talk had ended, was what it means to give and act responsibly. Let us start out with the premise that it is best to act responsibly whenever possible. Our first question quickly becomes, what does it mean to act in a responsible manner? Different people will have different answers, but I suspect that the majority of us could find some consensus on its meaning, that is, to make good choices.
What is problematic, though, are the reasons for the choices that we make when it comes to responsible judgments and actions. I can choose to be responsible in a given situation, but is it really for the sake of responsibility? Let us give an example: There is a homeless man begging for money on the street–two obvious responses are as follows: to give or not to give. In the case of the latter, a reason for not giving may be a belief (justifiable or not) that the homeless person will spend the money unwisely, thus making him undeserving of one’s charity.
Jesus addresses this situation in a peculiar fashion, one that is often overlooked when discussing the merits of charitable given. In Luke 6, Jesus compels us to give alms (to the poor) without reservation, and to lend to people without any expectation of being repaid. Jesus gives us an example of charity that is, by any standard definition, irresponsible. In our world, we do not lend to people who cannot pay a loan back. And we often withhold money from the poor for fear of how they may use it.
Perhaps the most difficult part of giving is understanding its motivations. I believe that Jesus is not simply giving us an example of giving that is by definition “irresponsible”, but is encouraging us to examine the reasons behind why we give (or do not give). Do we give only because it is convenient, only in situations where we feel we can control its outcome or direct it towards some desired effect? Ultimately, the definition of responsibility is tied to some cultural expectation, some meaning that is connected to more than just a religious perspective. I believe Jesus gives us an example of giving that goes beyond some merely human idea of what it means to be responsible, an example that at its core is not tied to either an idea of responsibility or irresponsibility, but is tied to the very heart of the matter; why we give and ultimately to whom we believe we are giving.