One of the great notions of Western Civilization and Christianity is our penchant for kindness and charity. Often, we give up our own time, of our own accord, to help others in whatever way we can. It might be cooking a meal for a friend or family member who is going through a tough time, helping the elderly with regular tasks, volunteering to help those less fortunate than us, or spending time with someone who is struggling. (sometimes just having a listening ear can be all one needs to decompress, to get their thoughts and feelings out into the open, process them, understand them, and then move forward without that baggage weighing them down, demotivating them, and preventing them from doing things they want to do and living their lives the best they can). When we show kindness and charity towards others, it is important that we are doing so out of the goodness of our own hearts, not merely for the sake of doing so or because we are being forced to. That is how resentment is bred.
A key message given by Jesus Christ is written in John’s Gospel, where Jesus said to His disciples:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Jesus demonstrates throughout his Earthly life his love not only for His disciples, but for everyone else as well. He heals people without a second thought; He listens to those who are struggling in their lives; He forgives those who others may deem unworthy of forgiveness; He helps those who have been cast out of society, deemed beyond assistance. It is, however, important to note that Jesus does this not because He is being forced to, but out of his own goodwill.
There is a common misconception in Western society that Jesus Christ was a socialist. Now I want to be clear, I do not intend for Uncovering Christianity to become overly political, but this is a point that must be addressed once and for all. Jesus was not a socialist. How do we know this? Because what He did, and how he told people to go about living, was not forced. It was completely voluntary. The distinguishing feature of socialism is force. If something is voluntary, it is not reminiscent of socialism.
In the New Testament, the place in the Bible where the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) reside, those four Books of the Bible that detail the life, death, resurrection and Ascension of Christ, there is not a word spoken by Jesus to call for the empowerment of politicians and bureaucrats to control every aspect of society. Jesus did not say that these people of power, a power He reminds them was given to them by God, should allocate resources, impose minimum wages, tell people how to run their own businesses, compel workers to join a union, or even raise taxes. In fact, when the Pharisees (the Jewish sect in power at the time of Jesus’ Earthly life, who we have discussed in more detail in previous editions of Uncovering Christianity), attempted to trick Jesus into the endorsement of tax evasion, He cleverly said the following:
“Then, give to Caesar that what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” (Matthew 22:21)
Immediately after this, those sent by the Pharisees to entrap Jesus leave Him, astonished at His response to their baited question. Christ’s response demonstrates His quick ability to bestow wisdom upon those who He meets, and those who attempt to test Him. In saying what He does in the above verse, He allows others to decide what property truly belongs to the State, the rest belonging to God Himself.
There are two particular moments in Christ’s ministry often cited by those who claim Jesus was a socialist, Communist, Marxist, or whatever other absurdity they wish to lay claim to. They see these moments as times when Jesus rebuked the rich. These are clearly misinterpreted, which is unsurprising given the Bible is likely one of the most greatly misinterpreted books in existence. The first of these is the time when Jesus drove the money changers from the temple. This had absolutely nothing to do with money. Jesus was angry at these individuals because they were misusing God’s house, the temple. It also serves as a foreshadowing of the destruction of the temple, which Christ Himself would be destroyed and raised back up in three days (this was in reference not only to the physical temple, but His own Body, the temple of the Holy Spirit). The second is more commonly cited amongst those who are of certain political persuasions but appear to have little to no knowledge of the Biblical text other than verses they have cherry-picked and twisted to suit their own agendas. The verse in question reads as follows:
“Yes, believe me: it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:24)
Most who take this out of context do so as a means of attacking the wealthy, of rebuking capitalism or the free market. Again, this has nothing to do with political ideology, nor is it an example of Christ supporting socialism. What Jesus meant when He said this was that it is difficult for those who are wealthy to resist temptation and therefore it is increasingly difficult for them to attain entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. Being rich may have its perks, but one must ensure they are responsible with such wealth. It is far easier to give into temptations, to become a slave to temptation itself. Jesus is thereby merely warning those who have such riches to tread carefully, to watch out for temptation when it rears its ugly head, and to be prepared, to have enough restraint, to shoot them down when they do, keeping in mind that this earthly life is only temporary, that how we spend our eternal life is of great importance.
To go further on this point, we may look to another story from Jesus’ time living amongst us on Earth:
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Master, tell my brother to share with me the property left by our father.” He replied, “My friend, who has appointed me as your judge or arbiter?” Then Jesus said to the people, “Be on your guard and avoid every kind of greed, for the quality of your life does not depend on the possessions you have, however great they may be.” (Luke 12:13-15)
Again, Christ tells us that our Earthly possessions are not what enrich our lives. They are not what make us who we are, they do not make our lives more valuable than others’. We must be self-aware and ensure we do not become enslaved by greed. What enriches our lives are not tangible assets, but the very parts of our lives that we cannot put a price on. These are the very entities that are core to our being. They are the intangible parts of life, including those such as love, happiness, spirituality, grace, kindness, courage, all the pieces that make up the complex puzzles that are our personalities, that are our intrinsic natures. To that we may add friendships, invaluable special connections and relationships. And, of course, our relationship with God. With these, we are able to live a more fulfilling life.
When we think about helping others, our minds typically go straight to the poor and the needy. People who attack Christianity like to use these people to make a point. They like to say that Christians should support socialism because it would mean the poor and the needy would be less poor and less needy and in a much better position in society. They say Jesus was a socialist because He helped the poor and the needy. Once again, they are twisting the Biblical text to suit their own agenda.
Yes, Jesus Christ did help the poor and the needy. He healed the sick. He encouraged charity, Christian charity. But it is again important to understand that Christian charity is voluntary, that it is heartfelt. It does not come out of a place of obligation, of impersonal compulsion, but of a love of neighbour and of the goodness of one’s own heart. When Jesus spoke of the poor, He did not say “We’re going to make you help whether you like it or not.” He said,
“At any time you can help the poor, for you always have them with you, but you will not have me forever.” (Mark 14:7)
And this message of helping the poor out of personal choice, out of Christian charity, is reinforced in Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, where he wrote:
Let each one give what he has decided upon personally, and not reluctantly as if compelled, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)
These two verses reinforce the nature of Christian charity. The first goes to how we always have the opportunity to help the poor, but it is up to us to do so because we want to. This links to the second in that God wants us to give of our own free will, of our own volition, of our own charitable thought. It is all well and good to give out of compulsion but doing so generally creates an air of resentment around carrying out an act of charity, or an act of kindness. This means your charity or kindness is not well-intentioned, it is not enshrined in goodwill. Ultimately, for an act of charity or kindness to be true to its intrinsic nature, it must be given freely, voluntarily, and wholeheartedly. For as Paul writes, God loves a cheerful giver.
One of the greatest examples of true charity is the Good Samaritan. In His teachings, Jesus spoke in parables to help the people understand the messages He was trying to get across to them. The parable of the Good Samaritan, taken from Luke’s Gospel, is a truly memorable story with a key message of kindness, charity, and love of neighbour that we can all live by. Particularly for those who are unfamiliar with the Biblical text and have the urge to learn more, here is the parable in full:
Jesus then said, “There was a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him and went off leaving him half dead. It happened that a priest was going along that road and saw the man, but passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite saw the man and passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, too, was going along that road, and when he came upon the man, he was moved with compassion. He went over to him and treated his wounds with oil and wine and wrapped them with bandages. Then he put him on his own animal and brought him to an inn where he took care of him.
The next day he had to set off, but he gave two denarii to the innkeeper and told him: “Take care of him and if you spend more, I will repay when I come back.”
Jesus then asked, “Which of these three, do you think, made himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The teacher of the Law answered, “The one who had mercy on him.” And Jesus said, “Go then and do the same.” (Luke 10:30-37)
In telling this parable, Jesus is highlighting the importance of having mercy on others and showing them charity, showing them kindness, out of the goodness of our own hearts. Although there were two men, the priest and the Levite, who saw the wounded man in a terrible state on the side of the road, they did not go up to him and spend time helping him, tending to his wounds, and assisting him in getting to safety. The Samaritan, however, put a hold on his journey to wherever he was travelling, went to the man, used his own time and resources to treat him and took him to safety. He went out of his way to do all this, even going so far as to pay for the man’s expenses at the inn, and did so purely out of compassion, out of true charity, out of the goodness of his own heart, out of love of one’s neighbour. Jesus Christ told this parable to teach us how to live well. We must follow in the stead of the Good Samaritan, treating others with mercy, with kindness, just as God does for us. The Good Samaritan did not just tell the man to wait for help from the government, or from somebody else. If he did, we may know him not as the “Good” Samaritan, but as the “Good-For-Nothing” Samaritan. Like him, we too should endeavour to help others in a compassionate and heartfelt manner.
The way we act towards others is not only an important part of the way we live, but also of our personalities and the very core of our being. If we force kindness, if we force charity towards others, we will only breed resentment, and that does not work in our favour. It creates a loathsome mentality, one of bitterness, hatred, contempt, all those tendrils of darkness that work to blacken our hearts and our souls. Similar occurrences come into being when we undertake these actions as a means of elevating ourselves to some higher status, or merely for the purpose of boasting about it. But if we act kindly and charitably of our own free will, of our own volition, with goodwill, drawing from the goodness of our own hearts, this will allow light to shine through, creating joy, hope, love and peace in our hearts and souls.
So, if you are looking for a way to brighten someone else’s life, as well as your own, do a random act of kindness. It can truly change a life, or even several. Kindness and charity emanate throughout society. It just takes one good-natured person to start a ripple.
This is the Ninth Edition of a Series entitled Uncovering Christianity: Exploring the Roots of the West. This series explores the values and ideas originating from Christianity, looking back at Biblical times, and relating them to the modern world. There are central themes to each piece in this series, with key messages throughout to guide you in your own life. The series also looks at some of the threats to the roots of Western Civilization and discusses what can be done to placate them and protect the foundation of society. Keep an eye out for new series pieces each week.