Mercy with a Bite
Ever noticed how often Jesus would meet a request for help with silence, a hard question, a reproach, an impossible demand or even an apparent refusal?
The Syrophoenician woman’s story in Matthew 15 is a case in point. She cried out to Jesus for mercy for her oppressed daughter. Yet Jesus at first did not answer her (Matthew 15:23). When she kept up the noise He told her He was only sent for Israel (Matthew 15:24). When she bowed and begged He told her His bread was “for the children, not the dogs” – a Gentile dog like her being implied (Matthew 15:26). Ouch! Finally, as she persevered with Him, her request was granted.
Other notable examples can be found in Jesus commanding His disciples to give food they did not have to the five thousand (Matthew 14:15-16), asking a blind man what he wanted done (!) and a paralytic of thirty-eight years if he wished to be well (!!) (see Luke 18:41 and John 5:6 respectively), and seeming to put off His own mother when presented with a wine shortage (John 2:4). Why did Jesus do this?
To stir up faith. He commended the woman above for her great faith (Matthew 15: 28). Mercy assistance doled out, no questions asked, leads to loss of dignity, obscures the real source of the problem, and misses the opportunity to get people to contemplate why God has put them in that situation in the first place. For the Lord wants them to seek the true mercy of Christ, which is the forgiveness of, and freedom from, sins.
To that end, being a downtown congregation that regularly gets asked for help, from families without any food in the house to the druggie asking for twenty bucks “so I can visit my grandmother in the hospital in Indianapolis” (translated “so I can buy my next hit of crack”), we slow them down by asking some questions.
Since several have asked us recently about how we handle mercy requests, I thought it might be of some help to others to post below the general procedure we ask when someone calls or stops by. In each instance from Christ’s life I referred to above, note that even as He heals and feeds Jesus is directing them to Himself as the source of true spiritual health and food.
Psalm 136 tells the people of God 26 times that the Lord’s “mercy is everlasting.” What a sweet refrain! Yet read it and remember that the Lord’s mercy is praised in the context of Him sending plagues, overthrowing kings, and rescuing His people from adversaries. That’s mercy with a bite!
Reformed Presbyterian Church
Mercy Request Policy
When someone outside the church contacts us via phone or personally about helping them with shelter, food, clothing, bills or monetary needs, please follow the procedure outlined below.
1) Ask the following questions, being sure to write down the information.
- Contact info?
- Particular need?
- Family structure?
- Do you receive government assistance?
- Why has this need arisen?
- Have you asked any family members for help?
- Do you belong to or attend a church? If yes, why are they not helping you?
- Have you approached any government agencies, Rescue Mission or other churches for help already in this area? If so, why did they deny you?
- Why did you contact us?
To be honest, not only does this help us assess the need, but it will often reveal those who are merely panhandling and tends to chase away those wanting a quick buck (Do not be surprised if they hang-up or leave angrily). Also, if in this process the questions reveal obvious sin (i.e., “my live-in boyfriend used the money for drugs”), immediately ask them, “Have you ever considered that your need is the consequence of the spiritual problem of not obeying God?”
2) If they continue to seem responsive, then ask, “If we assist you, are you willing to receive instruction from God’s word?”
If they are not, we warn them that their hunger or need is God getting their attention about their sin and they are ignoring His message. We then politely tell them we will not be able to help them if they will not listen to the Lord. Jesus fed the 5000 only after they had listened to Him for many hours.
3) If they do agree for spiritual instruction, tell them you must talk to the deacons to see how we can best address their need and that we will get back to them as soon as possible (try to make it that same day if possible). Make it clear that you are not authorized to give them money at any time.
4) Contact deacons Ron Visser or Robert Jones at the Mission to have them checked through the database to see if they have received help or if these men know the individual or family (often they do). Then formulate with Ron or Robert the best plan for meeting the need and/or speaking to the person.
5) Usually a deacon will then contact them on behalf of the church and arrange for bringing the food, giving the ride, helping with a bill, etc. We always go with more than one person to meet the need and give them a church brochure, share a testimony, and invite them to church.
6) Always pray for the person(s) at our next gathering.