When You See Someone in Need 


But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.  (1 John 3:17-18)

Here is a story from the Church Fathers regarding providing for those in need. It raises the difficult point of what if we notice someone seemingly taking advantage of charity and taking more than his/her share?


“In Antioch the Great in Syria there are different kinds of social services. A man who was a friend of Christ was in charge of one of them. It was his custom to provide those in need with what each of them lacked on each occasion. He used to buy things with which to supply their needs. Amongst other things he used to get linen undergarments which came from Egypt and from this supply he would provide garments for those in need, in accordance with the pronouncement of the Lord which says: I was naked and you clothed me (Mt. 25:36). A brother came when the distribution of clothing (as I described it) was taking place, and he received a linen garment, not only once, but two and three times. That friend of Christ, realizing that the man came a second and third time, decided to speak to him about it. When he came a fourth time, moved on that occasion to single him out from the rest of the poor, he said to him: ‘Look, you have received a garment a third and a fourth time and heard nothing from me. Do not do this again in the future, for there are others afflicted like you and in need of good works’.


[The man giving the charity is not wrong in what he sees – this one man coming multiple times to receive charity. The charitable man points out to this recipient of multiple gifts that there are other poor people as well and he shouldn’t be ‘greedy’ and take more than his share. It is possible for even the poor to be greedy. However, as we shall see, Christ says He is blessed by our giving to the poor, and we should be careful about judging those who show up to receive charity.]


The poor man withdrew in shame. The next night, the supervisor of the social service saw himself standing in what is called the Place of the Cherubim. It is a very sacred place and those who know say that in that place there is a very awesome icon bearing the likeness of our Savior, Jesus Christ. As he stood there in deep thought, he saw the Savior coming down to him out of the icon and censuring him especially on account of the four garments which the poor man received. Then, falling silent again, Christ removed the tunic he was wearing and showed him the number of under-garments while saying: ‘Behold, one; behold, two; behold, three; behold, four. Do not be dismayed; inasmuch (cf. Mt. 26:40) as you provided those things for the poor man, they became my raiment’. The man recognized the clothes and fell down at his feet, saying: ‘Forgive my faint-heartedness, Lord, for I reckoned this matter in human terms’. When he awoke, he gave thanks to God who had shown him this revelation; and from that time on, he gave to all who asked, with simplicity and joy. And all who heard of it glorified God.” (The Spiritual Meadow, pgs. 212-213)


If we are going to give in charity (love) then we should do the good deed with joy and not be critical of those we are serving. Christ receives our charitable gifts even if we think the needy are being greedy.