BEYOND / No Judgment or Means Testing When Helping Those in Need

A Story from the Lester Family

In January 2016 I was laid off from my job. My partner Mel and I were living in Montana at the time, and employment prospects were scarce for both of us. We had no children, fortunately, but between rent, car payments and food for our animals, my unemployment insurance wasn’t nearly enough. We didn’t have enough credit to get by on until our situation improved. We needed help and fast.
That winter I learned what it was like to be totally dependent on the generosity of others. We were ineligible for any sort of government assistance, so we reached out to family, to my podcast listeners, and to the local charities in our area. My parents paid for our car insurance and Mel’s family paid for pet food. Dozens of listeners, who had followed my work for years, stepped up with monthly pledges, donating a few more dollars each month until I could find work. But perhaps the most touching help came from an organization called Loaves and Fishes.
Loaves and Fishes was a joint charity operation run by several churches in our little town. They operated out of a former restaurant that they had converted into a community kitchen. Every weeknight they served up dinner for anyone who came and asked for it—no questions asked. It didn’t matter that Mel and I didn’t “look” like we were poor, that we had clean clothes to wear, and a nice car and a roof over our heads. There was never any judgment, never anyone trying to figure out if we “deserved” the help they were offering. We just came, night after night, and they loved us in the ways they could. I told them about my job search, and they said they would pray for me. It was a different church every night—Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians—but the love they showed us always felt genuine. They were being generous because it was the right thing to do. And it kept us alive until I found a new job, and a new home, here in Madison.
Jesus never told his disciples to do “means testing” before helping the needy. He did not distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving poor. Jesus saw a system around him with deep inequities, with rampant cruelty and oppression, with pious Pharisees who thought that poverty and hardship were God’s punishment for sin. Our world is much the same today, only the labels have changed. Jesus’s command is the same now as it was then: Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Heal the sick. Visit those who are alone and in prison. Tell those on the margins that the Kingdom of God is among them—and demonstrate it. The men and women at Loaves and Fishes understood that. So the next time a person on the street asks you for spare change, don’t try to judge their motives. Don’t try to judge what they’ll do with the money or the choices that led them to this moment. Just help them, as generously as you can. Because that’s the Kingdom of God in action.

Chris plays piano and sings with the Echoes of Grace worship band. He and his wife Melanie have been attending Good Shepherd since 2016. They live in Fitchburg.

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