Charity in Christendom
‘IT WAS the night before Christmas,’ and just as surely as the season, every busy street throughout the nations of Christendom was crowded with its share of “Santa Clauses”, collection drums and charity criers. For weeks in advance hospitals, foundling homes, religious and philanthropic organizations had raised their pleading voices. Newspapers, radio and television issued forcible reminders of the time of year. Like a new hat in spring, charity was trotted out and modeled for all it was worth. Prominent citizens and politicians took the lead in demonstrating the mode of the day. Religious heads stood by and applauded. The average man was expected to follow the leader and do his bit.
Then the day after Christmas dawned. The stores were jammed again—this time with people exchanging their gifts. But the streets were barren of “Santa Clauses”, of collection drums and their criers. Press and radio pleas let up. Tension eased. Charity went temporarily out of fashion. Prominent persons and politicians could derive little publicity from further giving. The clergy sought other means of filling church pews. The poor man’s pockets were empty. So charity retired to await the fanfare of its next entrance cue.
Can any seriously deny this graphic description of Christendom’s “holiday spirit”? Of the charity-boasting clergy of his day, who behind the scenes schemed for the substance of poor widows, Christ Jesus said: “Look out for the scribes that desire to walk around in robes and desire greetings in the marketplaces and front seats in the synagogues and most prominent places at evening meals. They are the ones devouring the houses of the widows and for a pretext making long prayers; these will receive a heavier judgment.”—Mark 12:38-40, NW.
Then, noting the temple contributions of the rich and prominent and seeing in their midst a poor widow, and noting her offering, Jesus observed: “Truly I say to you that this poor widow dropped in more than all those dropping money into the treasury chests; for they all dropped in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, dropped in all of what she had, her whole living.”—Mark 12:43, 44, NW.
Please note that Jesus condemned, not the giving, but giving for sake of show. It is so evident that the well-to-do and the politicians choose the most prominent incidents of charity to popularize their gifts “out of their surplus”.
A train derails and crashes into the headlines. Or perhaps a factory explosion covers the front page. On such occasions or when flood, fire, earthquake or windstorm make many homeless and rob others of life or limb, as surely as the press is there to report it, so will other familiar figures turn up. The community chest will be there, the Red Cross with its blood bank will be there, priests fully outfitted with pious face and last rites will be there and politicians will rush back from a Florida vacation so that they can be there—all to offer charitable help.
But let the disaster be on a smaller scale where the returns in publicity are not so promising; then the widely acclaimed charitable organizations do not flock to the scene. It is clear that they choose the publicized tragedies, that their giving may be publicized along with the event. The motive of attention and credit perches plainly on their every “good deed”. Contributors to the community chest receive a red feather; to the Red Cross, a button; to disabled war veterans, a poppy. A religious cardinal is considered a particularly appropriate individual to open a charity drive. He is photographed performing his contribution act, then his benign generosity is re-echoed from coast to coast through the newspapers reporting it. Sometimes it seems as if such figures scheme to see how little they can give and yet receive the maximum credit, praise and attention. Finally, after all of the shouting is over, greedy charity racketeers move in to scoop up the lion’s share, leaving only scraps for the supposed objects of the “charity”.
With a view to the purpose of true charity, Jesus said: “Take good care not to practice your righteousness in front of men in order to be observed by them; otherwise you will have no reward with your Father who is in the heavens. Hence when you start making gifts of mercy, do not blow a trumpet ahead of you, just as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be glorified by men. Truly I say to you, They are having their reward in full. But you, when making gifts of mercy, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, that your gifts of mercy may be in secret; then your Father who is looking on in secret will repay you.”—Matt. 6:1-4, NW.
In Jesus’ time it was customary for prominent Jews to be announced by the blast of a trumpet as they made public donations at the temple in Jerusalem. Without equivocation it can be seen how Jesus condemned this. Today’s givers in charity do not stop with a little trumpet. Their beneficent works must be boomed to the skies in the press, over the radio, on the newsreels and now by television. Not only their other hand, but the whole world must know what they are doing. Feathers, buttons, flowers and stickers label those who gave to this or that. Some business establishments and schools almost reach a state of frenzy to obtain a 100 per cent employee or attendance subscription to a current welfare drive of civic prominence. But of what avail such public display of righteousness? Nothing other than to be glorified by men—and that, said Jesus, was all the reward they would ever get.
Nothing more than the modern example of “charity” by nations shows the emptiness of such vain display. The United States let India lie in unparalleled famine for months, deaf to her cries for bread, while strutting her generosity before nations of more political significance.
Jesus advocated using one’s substance for preaching the good news of God’s kingdom. (Matt. 19:21, NW) He specifically prohibited advertising his acts of mercy in curing the sick when the only return would mean self-credit to him personally. (Luke 5:12-14; 8:49-56) On one occasion the apostles Peter and John caused a lame man to walk rather than heed his request for money, which they explained they did not have for that purpose.—Acts 3:1-8.
Today Christians carry on the most charitable work of all history. Their preaching of ‘this good news of the Kingdom in all the inhabited earth for a witness’ brings spiritual healing to new praisers of God.—Matt. 24:14, NW.