Should We Feed Hungry People Who Cheat The System?

admin admin Uncategorized 0 Comments

loaves and fish

Wednesday morning, while we were studying the book: The Tangible Kingdom, we stumbled across this quote: “Often ministry efforts focus on getting people to convert to Christianity but Jesus seemed to be much more interested in helping people with what concerns them now.” This quote led to a wonderful discussion about how  our new church can help needy people in our community. What a cool conversation to have!

The conversation eventually turned to feeding people in need and then it veered toward the always vexing question of: How to deal with people  who abuse and scam the system? This question is very important. I remember serving on the board of a food pantry in South Carolina when one board member said: “I can’t believe we gave three bags of groceries to a family who drove away in a BMW.”

Most Christians I know are torn about this issue. One one hand they desire to love God and love others. Yet, they are frustrated (is that a strong enough word?) with people who scam the local food pantries; cheat the welfare system and abuse the good will of others. I think the real harm is that ‘scammers’ diminish the willingness of people to give to charities.

As someone who helped launch a food pantry in South Carolina, I often wrestle with this question. So, what follows are my latest reflections on how to deal with people who scam the system. I hope some of you will join the conversation. I’d really like to hear from you.

Wrestling with this question, my thoughts turn to the story of Jesus feeding the multitude (Mark 6:30-44). Some say that the real miracle in this story is not that Jesus supernaturally multiplied fish and bread, but rather, the real miracle is that Jesus inspired the crowd to dig deep into their backpacks and purses (I know they didn’t really have packs and purses) and share the little bits of food they were trying to hoard. Thus, the miracle is that if everyone shares – even just a little – scarcity turns into an abundance.

Now if you can accept this scenario, then it’s highly likely that some folks in the crowd probably didn’t share, but instead hid their shinny apple in back packs or their favorite granola bar in their purse. It’s also likely that Jesus – who was nobodies fool – knew that while many were being generous, others would hoard their food. Yet, Jesus insisted that everyone be fed. Even though some folks were scamming the system, nonetheless, Jesus insisted everyone eat.

I think the reason Jesus insisted everyone eat – generous giver and scamming hoarder – is because the miracle is about more than multiplying food or making sure everyone left the party with a full belly. Ultimately this miracle, like all of Jesus’ miracles, is designed to show us what life is like when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. So when Jesus performed the miracle of feeding the multitude he was saying to us: This is what life is like when God’s will is done on earth as it is heaven. God’s will is that when people share generously there is always (and miraculously) more than enough.

I don’t like to see ‘scammers’ abuse the systems and programs designed to care for the poor and needy. But ultimately, I live with the reality that scamming is going to happen. But that reality is not a disincentive because I realize that when I give my time and talent and money to a program that helps others, it changes me; I grow in my generosity; I get a glimpse of people sharing abundantly and (imperfect though it may be) I see God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

I also  hope that the very acts of generosity will, somehow, transform the ‘scammers’ into generous givers. I hope so because I’m a scammer who, far too often, hoards God’s gifts instead of shares them freely.

Comments 0

  1. That was a great discussion yesterday morning, glad you continued it in your blog. I guess it isn’t really up to us to judge others needs. However, I hope we can give thought and discussion on how we can help others to help themselves. We want to help people build their dignity and self worth…not destroy it.

  2. Yes, good to keep this discussion going. Ultimately we can’t control what others do, only what we do ourselves. And I’d hate to not help some folks who really need it just in the name of avoiding scammers. But on the other hand, we have a limited number of resources available. It’s just good stewardship to try and make sure those resources are used in the most effective way possible. I think it’s practically impossible to systemize this – we just have to deal with individual cases as they present themselves, pray for discernment about what we should get involved with and use our best judgement as a community.

    It seems to me that most wastefulness in these cases comes through participation with groups where we don’t get involved personally but just send money. Sending money is great, but I think we’re called to be in relationship with people in need. After all, Jesus didn’t just help poor people – he hung out with them, ate meals with them and lived among them.

Leave a Reply