Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
After two teachings about generosity and forbearance in the face of violence, Jesus offers a gentler admonition, "Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”
Perhaps he was thinking, "You have to crawl before you can walk."
Before "heroic virtue" comes ordinary virtue, the kind of thing we do at home with our loved ones. Give to the one who asks.
When someone at the table says, "Please pass the water." we do so without hesitation. If someone asks for a short term loan of a few bucks, with payday just around the corner, "Sure, why not? Don't worry about it. We're all in this together."
Practicing ordinary charity within one's home, it's not so hard to take the same open attitude into the neighborhood, church or workplace. We're surrounded by people we know and respect and, hopefully, trust. At least we know how much they may be trusted and our kindness is appropriate. Because they know us and have the same attitudes of respect, they know not to ask too much, but are confident of our openness.
It's true that times have changed since Jesus uttered this teaching. But the bigger change is in my head; that is, how I imagine the world. Growing up in Nazareth and Galilee, Jesus rarely met a stranger. People didn't move around like they do today. Even the beggars were familiar faces, known by their gratitude or meanness. His worldview was not peopled by strangers.
We think of ourselves as living in a strange land, surrounded by strangers. The fact that I don't encounter strangers every day, or every week, doesn't change the mindset. The fact that I am not accosted by beggars daily and many times a day doesn't make me more open to their approach.
When I was a pastor in a small Louisiana town, beggars often came through town on Interstate 10, which runs from Florida to California, through many major cities including New Orleans, Houston, San Antonio and El Paso. It was a highway for hobos. I didn't know these people but they found me through the local phone book. (I'm talking about the recent century, you understand, when life was simpler.)
I developed a practice of assisting some with gas or groceries, and no cash. Local people also came to me and I assisted them too.
I didn't feel obligated to help everyone and I didn't. Someone could say it depended on my mood but I'd like to think I let the Holy Spirit guide me. The local churches had created a backup plan. We collected money at Thanksgiving and other occasions and handed it to the local police. If we weren't entirely comfortable with assisting certain travelers we sent them to the police.
God is never compelled to give to us; nor are we compelled to give to anyone and everyone. Rather, "Freely you received; freely give."
But our attitude toward strangers begins with openness to family, friends, co-workers and co-religionists. People with whom we live. With them generosity is a habit. The Holy Spirit will guide us farther. Having mastered the art of crawling, we're ready to walk in his footsteps.