I have had occasion recently to travel a good deal. While in Arizona, I spend a large amount of time on a bicycle. One particularly warm day I stopped on my way back to my room at Sushi 101, by far the best Sushi I’ve found in the area. While locking up my bicycle, a grizzled man on a rundown bicycle approached me. My internal radar blared and I knew he was going to ask for money. Even before he spoke, I was hit with a wall of odor that I’d not thought possible for one person to transport. His clothes were mismatched, his face haggard and unshaven, his hair long and matted. My mind was already whispering that he wanted money in order to souse himself with liquor – in other words, “I had him pegged.”
We see ourselves as qualified to judge the intents of others, but recoil when the tables are turned. A few weeks ago, I arrived at work only to be assaulted and accused of misdeeds far from how I viewed my own character. They originated from Alex, someone I had gone out of my way to lift and help. I felt angry and hurt and looking at my co-worker began to focus on the faults of the other, finding justification in their failings I could now perceive so easily.
Who among us hasn’t at one time or another felt falsely accused when our intent was to help? And who is to say that my natural reaction in each instance isn’t justified? I could see the vagrant easily with my own eyes and I could see my own heart and intent to help my co-worker grow beyond the bounds of their current situation.
Natural or not, in the common complexities of life we easily forget that we aren’t here to follow our natural reactions. In the final testament to his people, King Benjamin reminded them and us that, “the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord…”
The scriptures teach us that, “the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity is love. And except they should have charity they were nothing.”
The commandment to have charity isn’t an arbitrary requirement the Lord places upon us. It is Him trying to show us the path required to become like him. I think we forget that sometimes and see commandments as burdens – behaving like our own children who balk when told of curfew, bedtime or other rules. God explained the same to the early saints when he said that, “I give unto you a new commandment, that you may understand my will concerning you; Or, in other words, I give unto you directions how you may act before me, that it may turn to you for your salvation.”
Charity is the pure love of Christ. It is more than tolerance, more than love. It is something we cannot generate of our own accord. We can practice patience, seek to be loving – that is our part. But ultimately it is something we are given because we seek to obtain it and then ask for the gift in faith, expecting to receive it. It is the ability to see those around us through the eyes of the Savior.
Marvin J. Ashton illustrates some of the characteristics of a charitable person, “Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don’t judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. Charity is accepting someone’s differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn’t handle something the way we might have hoped. Charity is refusing to take advantage of another’s weakness and being willing to forgive someone who has hurt us. Charity is expecting the best of each other.
In Arthur Miller’s Crucible, a play built around the Salem Witch trials, John Proctor – a down-to-earth, forthright farmer speaks to his wife Elizabeth regarding forgiveness and her lack of charity. Says he,
“Spare me! You forget nothin’ and forgive nothin’. Learn charity, woman. I have gone tiptoe in this house all seven months…. I have not moved from there to there without I think to please you, and still an everlasting funeral marches round your heart. I cannot speak but I am doubted, every moment judged for lies, as though I come into a court when I come into this house!…
Then he pleads for what we often want of others, “Let you look sometimes for the goodness in me, and judge me not.”
When we cast others aside in our mind and seek to increase our own worth by lowering our esteem of others, we only debase ourselves. Charity, that change of heart that comes only by yielding to the enticing of the Holy Spirit and modeling our own lives after our savior Jesus Christ is the only way we can be lifted above the beasts of the field.
Christ told his apostles how they were to love; Jesus said that, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” The Savior is our model in all things, most especially in his demonstrations of love – of charity. So how did he love?
First, He blessed others, irrespective of other’s opinions.
Matthew records Christ’s encounter with an unnamed woman who had an issue of blood for 12 years. Without an understanding of Hebrew culture at the time, it’s easy to not see how radical of an encounter this would have been. Women were dismissed; their social status equal to slaves and children. Men were prohibited from looking at or talking to women in public. A woman could be divorced for simply speaking to a man outside her home. This woman’s situation was complicated further because she was unclean according to the purity laws. Her bleeding for 12 years would have excluded her from Jewish life and from relationships with others. She could not eat with people, worship in the temple, or have any contact with another practicing Jew.
Jesus’ speaking to and healing this woman would have shocked his disciples. His actions were a rejection of the cultural restrictions of gender and the religious-purity code. Jesus chose to relate to this woman, valuing her as a person of worth, healing her so she could resume relationships with others.
Do we sometimes worry and consider what others think before we meet out our help?
Second, He loved those that needed love, even when they would have been difficult to love.
Christ was harrowed up for associating with lepers, harlots and tax collectors – the fringe elements of the Jewish society. “But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.”
It’s easier to serve people when they show thankfulness or are amongst neighbors and friends, but ingratitude should never be a barrier for acts of charity.
Third, He lived for others even when difficult.
Christ didn’t seek to build an earthly mansion, to lift himself up. He served when it was needed, not when it was convenient. He served when it was difficult, not when it was convenient. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he bore our burdens. We were the beggars that he suffered for. “Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink— Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.”
He sought to do the will of the Father, living and ultimately dying for those around him.
Finally, He forgave, even when it was he who was wronged
In the final moments of his earthly ministry, Luke writes that, “And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.”
I want to share with you the ending of my two stories; my judgment of the beggar and the condemnation of a friend.
In talking with Alex later that day and sharing my dismay at the assault, I learned that it was the anniversary of the death of his Mother and he’d been snapping at everyone. Understanding replaced anger as my friend grieved and worked through his own feelings.
As for the grizzled beggar, as he began to speak, my mind lined him up next to myself:
But it was at that moment that I was given an insight into the worth of his soul compared to my own in the eyes of God. Both of us, regardless of the situation were sons of a loving God that wants both of his children to return. It was his turn to need and it was my turn to share. In giving him more money than he asked for, I was given more gratitude than I deserved. He hadn’t eaten for some time and was excited to have money for meals. I watched him go to CVS to fill a prescription and was humbled at just how wrong my judgment had been. But more importantly, even if my judgment had been correct, I would have remained in the wrong. I felt peaceful, bringing meaning to John Proctor’s phrase having had the “funeral that had marched around my own heart” abate.