Making a Loan to God 


He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given. (Proverbs 9:17)

St John Chrysostom took many of the biblical passages seriously which portray charitable giving as a transaction which puts God in the debt of the person giving the charity. The notion is that our giving charitably to the needy makes God indebted to us since God promises to reward those who are generous to the poor. Chrysostom writes:

So don’t spurn such wonderful profit accruing to you from hospitality, but day in and day out exert yourself to gain this fine merchandise, in the knowledge that our Lord looks for generosity of spirit, not great amounts of food, not a rich table, but a cheerful attitude, not simply attention in words alone, but also love from the heart and sincere mind.


Hence a certain sage also said, ‘Likewise a kind word is more acceptable than a gift’ (Sirach 18:16).  In many cases, you see, attention in word has helped a needy person back on his feet more effectively than a gift. Aware of this, then, let us make no difficulty about meeting visitors; instead, if on the one hand we are in a position to alleviate their poverty, let us do so with love and cheerfulness, not as giving something but as gaining very great advantage. On the other hand, if we cannot do so, let us not be uncivil with them but at least offer them attention in word and respond to them with restraint. (HOMILIES ON GENESIS 18-45, p 416)


Chrysostom, like many of the fathers, holds to a notion that there is the best way to follow Christ, but if we can’t live up to the best, there are other things we can do which though not as good as the best are still good. In this case, giving to the poor is the best thing we can do, but if we don’t have the resources to be generous to the needy, then we still can do the good by being civil to the poor or offering them what we might have – we can lend an ear, lend a hand, lend a shoulder, give of some of our time, offer compassion and prayer.  Maybe some of these things aren’t as helpful as giving financial support to those in need, but all of them are far better than showing indifference to the poor or ignoring them or avoiding them. As St Peter tells the lame beggar: “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong (Acts 3:6-7).  We are to give what we have to share, which will be something different from each of us.


Better that we do something for the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters than to hear Christ judge us with these words as we stand at his left side:  ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me’  (Matthew 25:41-43).