Jesus said give to everyone who asks. That’s a tough command. Sometimes we wonder what Jesus would do in the Calcutta slums or in these heroine-haunted streets where folks ask for change on every corner. What we can say with confidence is that we are to give something to everyone who asks – dignity, attention, time, a listening ear. Sometimes we may give money, sometimes not. But we can always give love. And there are times when giving money can even be a way to insulate ourselves from friendship or the messiness a real relationship might demand. So you can toss a few coins to a beggar or write a check to charity precisely as a way of insulating ourselves from relationships (and still appease our consciences)… but at the end of the day Christ’s call is to relationship and compassion. When Jesus speaks in Matthew 25 about caring for “the least of these”, the action he speaks of is not about distant acts of charity but personal actions of compassion – visiting the prisoners, caring for the sick, welcoming the strangers, sharing food with the hungry. Better than sharing money is sharing life, a meal, a home. Having said that, most Christians need to get taken advantage of more. And we can usually spare some change. Sometimes folks say this question about giving to beggars and panhandlers with suspicion, speculating that homeless folks will just use their money for drugs or alcohol… which happens sometimes. But we don’t always ask what CEOs are doing with our money when we give it to their companies (and the recent events on Wall Street raise some flags about how responsible they are!). In the end, if we cannot take someone to dinner or give them a ride when they ask for money, we might as well give some money. It’s better to err on the side of grace than on the side of suspicion. And we doubt that Jesus is going to reprimand us for giving too much money to addicts… more likely, we will discover we could have been a bit more generous than we were.
Shane Claiborne answers the question, “Should I give money to homeless folks or beggars?” on The Simple Way’s FAQ page http://www.thesimpleway.org/about/faq/