So a few weeks ago I left Urban Junction and was walking past the new library when a woman started to shout at me. I hadn’t seen her before. ‘Are you going to help me?’ she was shouting.
As you can probably guess this all took me by surprise. So I took my headphones out of my ears and walked over to her.
‘Hi, how are ya?’
‘Are you going to help me?’
‘I’m Michael, what do you need?’
‘Are you going to help me?’ Her voice is getting louder and this is causing people across the street to look over to see what is happening.
‘I’m not sure wha…’
‘Are you going to help me?’ Volume continues to increase.
‘What do you need?’
At this point I was getting used to the way conversation was going and was expecting the usual response, but that is not what I received. Instead, she looked at me and said quietly ‘Do you have a light?’
I notice the cigarette in her hand and replied ‘Sorry, I’ve not got a lighter’ followed by a little ‘sorry’ smile and empty pockets mime to emphasis my reply.
She looks at me with a tinge of disgust ‘fix my hat then’ she snaps.
‘Fix my hat’
She was wearing a baseball cap. Now, this really wasn’t what I was expecting.
‘Hmmm… yeah… I suppose… I can…do you…eh… want it…eh…’
‘Straighten my hat’ – volume increasing.
I look around the road, just wishing there was someone else, anyone else. Perhaps a travelling professional hat sales man or something. But it’s just me. So I take her hat off her head and into my hands.
‘What are you doing??!!!’ volume still increasing
‘Eh…what…eh…just…you know…fixing, straightening…eh…hat’
In general I never deal with these types of situations well. I quickly fumble the hat back onto her head.
‘You’re doin’ it wrong! Not that way! That’s too low, I can’t see!!!’ And ladies and gentlemen, we have now officially reached maximum volume.
I can’t really remember how this all ended. Either I just legged it, or I’ve blanked out these few minutes from my memory. All I can say is that the whole experience just felt uncomfortable. I was left puzzled. Wondering, could I have been nicer? Could I have handled it better? What actually happened there?? Why did she want me to fix her hat? Why was she so angry?
Life is so much easier and (temporally) fulfilling when I only help those that appreciate it.
How am I meant to respond to people who don’t show any appreciation?
The 18th Century pastor, philosopher and theologian Jonathan Edwards (not the triple jumper!) highlighted in his work, Charity and it’s fruits, we can often end up thinking “I don’t want to help this person because he is of an ill temper and an ungrateful spirit” and “I think this person brought on their poverty by their own fault.” And I have to admit these thoughts can, and do run, though my head at times. Why should I waste my time and resources on those who will continue to treat me with contempt and waste the things I offer time and time again?
I’ve almost convinced myself…but there is just one problem. I have committed my life to following Jesus. And Jesus Christ calls me, us, to help the ungrateful and unrighteous.
Sodom and Gomorrah
There are probably several places in the Bible that I could point to in relation to this. But, if you know me, you know I love the weird, wacky and dark stories. That, obviously, brings me to Sodom and Gomorrah.
The story of God raining down judgment on these cities because of their wickedness is well known. And most people think that the sin for which Sodom was judged was sexual immorality. This is certainly how I understood it for many years.
But Ezekiel tells us otherwise. Ezekiel 16:49 says, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” Sodom was judged for pride, living a life of ease, and neglecting the poor and needy—not simply for sexual sin. I don’t know about you, but suddenly this story just became a little uncomfortable for me. Suddenly, I began to identify with the people of Sodom.
But how does this story talk about serving the ungrateful and unrighteous?
The answer is that the neglected poor of Sodom were not considered by God to be righteous. This is why they too were judged. Remember, God told Abraham that he would spare the entire city if just 10 righteous people were to be found, but there were not even 10. They were all unrighteous—rich and poor alike. The sin of Sodom was their lack of concern for the unrighteous poor, and the result of this sin was God’s judgment on both the rich and poor alike.
Life is so much easier and (temporally) fulfilling when I only help those that appreciate it but this isn’t what God calls me, us, to do. This isn’t the way Jesus lived his life, so this can’t be the way I choose to live.
As Jesus says in Luke 6:32-33 and 35-36:
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that… But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”
Why should I waste my time and resources on those who will continue to treat me with contempt and waste the things I offer time and time again? Because in a nutshell, this is how I treat God.
I did not receive God’s love, grace or mercy because I deserved it. Jesus Christ did not give his life for me because I was just such a lovely person that he couldn’t resist. No, I was his enemy, full of sin and hate, when he died for me. I never did and never will earn his grace. So when I see how others can respond with bitterness to my simple acts of kindness, I am reminded of my own spiritual condition.
As Jonathan Edwards says “Christ loved us, was kind to us, and was willing to relieve us, though we were very evil and hateful, of an evil disposition, not deserving of any good . . . so we should be willing to be kind to those who are of an ill disposition, and are very undeserving. . . .”