What did Jesus Teach about Charity?
During His mortal ministry, Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest or most important. He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40 NKJV).
For the Savior, love and charity were identical, so the definition of charity is “the love of Christ.” All of His acts of charity were done not from a sense of duty, but from a deep feeling of love for all He encountered. He didn’t limit His service to His friends, although He served His friends as well. He didn’t limit it to those who were wealthy or middle class. He didn’t limit it to those who were considered worthy of charity by the world’s standards.
We can best learn how the Savior felt about charity by observing how He treated others during His ministry. One day, the scribes and Pharisees brought to him a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They reminded Him the law required her to be stoned and asked what He thought they should do. Their goal wasn’t to seek advice, but to trap Him. The world couldn’t influence how Jesus treated others, however. He knelt down, writing in the dirt as if He hadn’t heard them. They continued to ask and He responded, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7 NKJV). Chastened, the men began to leave. When Jesus and the woman were alone, He asked her if any accusers remained, and she said they had not. He gently told her he didn’t accuse her either – but warned her not to repeat this sin again.
This is one of the more powerful examples of the Savior’s charity. He rescued her from humiliation and death, preserved a certain amount of dignity by refusing to judge her worthiness for His help, and counseled her on how to avoid the same problem in the future.
On a different occasion, a blind man called out to Jesus for help. The man had been scolded by others not to bother Jesus. After all, he was only a blind beggar, not someone “important” by the world’s standards. However, Jesus heard him and called the man to him. He asked how He could help, and the man asked for his sight. Jesus not only restored the man’s sight, but sent a clear message to those who had deemed him unworthy of the Lord’s charity. Jesus told the man it was his own faith that had healed him. This man, seemingly unimportant, had possessed sufficient faith to be healed, and this certainly sent a gentle rebuke to those who had dismissed him as being unimportant or unworthy of notice. (Find the full story in Mark 10.)
The Savior’s charity always helped people learn to respect themselves because of the way He treated them. Everyone received His respect. Charity pointed them towards a better life. His charity also addressed basic needs, like feeding a hungry multitude who had gone without food for days for the sake of being near Him. He fed thousands on at least two occasions, recorded in Matthew 14 and 15.
Although it was not the primary purpose for telling this story, Jesus told a parable about a rich man who lived in an elegant home. Outside his gates lived a beggar named Lazarus. Notice Jesus names the poor man, but doesn’t name the rich man even though the story is mostly about the rich man. The wealthy man doesn’t do anything to serve or help the beggar, who was in need of food and medical care. When both men die, it is Lazarus who goes to heaven, and the rich man suffers eternal punishment, which he finds upsetting. When he asks that Lazarus be sent in to serve him and help him feel better, Abraham says, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented” (Luke 16:25 NKJV). The Savior made clear in this parable that a person who refuses to serve others and to practice charity can’t expect to receive charity for himself when it’s needed.
We see, in the examples of the Savior’s service, that He lived according to this same belief. The greatest example of the Savior’s feelings about charity, of course, is found in the final days of His life, when He took upon himself our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane. Although Jesus lived a perfect life, He suffered for every person who ever lived, worthy and unworthy alike. Jesus made no distinctions. He loves all of us equally, and asks us to love each other in the same way.