Charity and Proselytism

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19, NRSV)

It’s interesting to note here how Jesus addresses the needs of others in terms of telling the good news. Suffering people are brought to his attention, and he alleviates their suffering, no strings attached, and sends them on their way. He makes no requests of them to become his disciples, or to follow him, or to worship God. He gives them exactly what they need, physically, and nothing more.

After receiving such a great gift from Jesus, one of the ten healed returns. Most of those who Jesus helped did not even acknowledge their helper, never mind thanking him in any way. Only one did, and certainly not the one who might have been expected to do so. The one who was grateful was an outsider, an expected cultural and religious antagonist, and the least likely of those healed who would be likely to have any natural affection for an itinerant Jewish rabbi.

I can’t help but think this should inform how the church handles its projects of aid and charity. If we are not so arrogant and hubristic to think that we can do better than our Lord and Master, we should be willing to handle charity cases in the same way as Jesus. He addressed needs as they arose, and did not force anything on those he helped. He sent them on their way without any kind of reciprocal demands. It only seems reasonable that we should do the same. And if we don’t get tons of people showing interest in the church, why should we be discouraged when Jesus himself only got a 10% return on those he helped? I should think it a wonderful gift if our works of charity were as effective as those of Jesus himself.

Similarly, targeting our charity on those who we would expect to be most likely to convert is not the way of Jesus. If Jesus’ only convert was the Samaritan, we have no business targeting our charity to avoid our religious rivals and seek “easier targets.”

I would therefore suggest to those Christians who would like to see more converts come out of charity ministries to consider scaling up the ministries rather than exerting pressure on charity recipients to embrace Jesus. It is the way of our Lord.


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