Religions, no matter which one anyone maintains an affiliation, promote, as one of their basic tenets, giving charity to those in need. Hospice, in fact, is derived out of a tradition started when knights, or ordinary travelers, were on their way to the Crusades or holy sites in the Middle East and needed care on their trek. Stationed on their path were places of comfort, care, and safety. It was provided in the name of doing what is right for those in need. It was charity.
Care of those in need has clashed in recent months with our legal authorities, especially at the southern border of the US where charitable groups have deposited life-saving food and water for immigrants seeking safety. The photos and video of border personnel destroying the precious supplies are not ones which would serve to warm our hearts. Moreover, we mentally envision the death and despair of those for whom the supplies were intended. Death by the destruction of charity we might say was the intent. Is killing in this manner moral?
The least of these is not lost on anyone with a bit of religious background or social history. These actions we’ve seen are in direct contrast to what was intended. How are these travelers, unlike those going to the Crusades or the Holy Land, treated? Not as seekers of safety, but criminals deserving to die of thirst.
The corruption of charitable acts into ones of illegality doesn’t stop at the US border or with immigrants begging for life-saving assistance. We have now learned that the dire needs of our American citizens can be found in one of the most unexpected places of all, our schools.
Recently, a caring school official, Casey Smitherman, in Indianapolis, has been charged with medical insurance fraud. Her crime? She learned that one of her students was sick, living with elderly relatives without a car and needed medical care. The woman took the boy to an urgent care facility where she used her son’s medical insurance card to obtain help for him. Crime or charity? Ah, but she must be punished for this charitable gesture, they say. Why didn’t she pay for the services? Maybe she didn’t have the money? No, hang her high. She’s a criminal, right? The kid shouldn’t have gotten sick in the first place. It must have been his fault.
A homeless man in a major city, seeking a bit of food and toothpaste is sentenced to over 10 years in jail for an offense with a value of less than $25. In Great Britain, the so-called “rough sleepers” (their homeless) are being sent to jail instead of given the assistance they surely need. The Guardian newspaper estimates that 597 have died on the streets in the past year. Charity?
Assuredly, caring for the least of these has become an extremely burdensome chore for governments, but where has our caring for the less fortunate gone? Where is our “love thy neighbor” attitude that got us through the Depression and WWII? Would we turn away the desperate Okies today and tell them to go back where they came from on the desolate and dangerous plains of this country?
Would we tell the woman in the Dorothea Lange photo of “Migrant Mother” to go pick more peas to feed her family or let them starve? Would we tell her she shouldn’t have had children in the first place? That she shouldn’t have planned on living on a farm and earning her livelihood there with her husband and children? Would we deny her water and food?
Justice must be tempered with charity, too, when the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. A young man, who raped a woman, is permitted to go free. Is that justice? Cruelty should never be the intention of our courts or those in positions of authority to enforce the law. There is no black and white when it comes to these “crimes” committed by desperate or charitable people.
When did we stop caring for the least of these? How do we find our way back?