King Benjamin’s instructions that ye “not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain,” has long bothered me. At first reading, it sounds as if whenever I see a man with a sign, “Homeless… every bit helps,” I need to roll down my window and hand him some dollar bills.
I hesitate to hand over the money, not because I think he deserves his fate, but because I don’t want to aggravate his fate. From a mental health perspective, I know full well, that if I stop and give him money I may be enabling him. I could be making the problem worse, not better. My contributions may make it so easy to survive without becoming self-sufficient, it destroys all motivation to become self-sufficient.
To solve this dilemma I have taken the easy way out. I give to the Church. I trust that the Church will use all its resources and wisdom to determine whom my money will help, and not give it to those whom it may hurt.
Begging for What?
A more thorough reading of King Benjamin’s message, however, reveals he’s not talking exclusively about those who beg for money. The beggar in Mosiah 4 does not necessarily look like the scruffy-haired old man with a tin cup in his hand, waiting for a coin to clang against the bottom. The counsel to “not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain” applies even if the beggar is wealthy.
The rich may not beg for money, but we all beg for one thing: forgiveness. King Benjamin persuades us to give money to the beggar with the reminder that we are all beggars. We all beg for God’s forgiveness. Because God is so generous with his forgiveness, we also ought to be generous, not just with our money, but with our forgiveness.
The beggar that extends his cup to us may not need us to fill it with coins. The beggar that extends his cup to us may need us to fill it with forgiveness. Dare we respond, “the man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand”?
Frequently those who beg our forgiveness have, indeed, brought upon themselves their own misery. If we were judging by the standards of the world we might think they deserve what they get. If we were living in an eye for an eye world, we would never speak to them again, or we would never invite them to our gatherings, or we would insist they pay back every penny they owe us. But we don’t live in an eye for eye world. At least followers of Jesus Christ don’t live in an eye for eye world. We are commanded to fill the beggar’s cup with forgiveness even if they have brought upon themselves their own misery.
Sometimes we withhold our forgiveness for the same reason we withhold our money. We worry that we will “enable the sinner.” We fear that forgiving him may make it easier for him to continue sinning, rather than to repent.
Fortunately we don’t have to make that call. We never have to decide if our forgiveness is enabling the sinner or helping him. We give our forgiveness regardless, and let God decide what he’s going to do with the sinner. What a luxury to be relieved of this responsibility!
The Humble Beggar
The very act of asking forgiveness has to be somewhat terrifying. When someone extends his metaphorical tin cup, surely he fears, “What if they knock it out of my hand? What if they chase me off their doorstep? What if they pull out a shotgun and threaten to shoot me if I return?” The beggar, begging for forgiveness, may have good reason for these fears. That’s how some people react to those begging for forgiveness. We shame them all over again, reminding them of the horror of their sin.
Can you even imagine the father of the prodigal son doing such a thing? That boy certainly brought upon himself his misery. Yet when he came back, with his tin cup extended, the father poured the coins in, poured them in until the cup could hold no more. “Son, you are welcome in my home.” I can hear the father exclaim. “I extend my wholehearted forgiveness. There may be judgments to come, but they will not come from me.”
When people come to us begging for forgiveness, they may not be in rags. They may not literally extend a tin cup, but the fact that they come at all should elicit in us unabashed mercy. How difficult it is to beg! How humbling it is for a sinner to even present that cup to one in a position to fill it. When those who have offended us take the difficult step of asking our forgiveness, who are we to withhold it? When they come to us with their tin cup extended it would be stingy of us to knock it down.
The Gift Everyone Can Use
We will likely scour advertisements this Christmas season. We may spend hours walking through retail establishments, or shopping online. How many of those to whom we are willing to give money, would prefer something far less tangible? How many would prefer, above all else, our forgiveness?
Who have we expunged from our Christmas lists, refusing to put money or anything else in his cup? As we search for people to give to at Christmastime, we need not wait for an envelope in the mail requesting a donation. We need not peruse the paper, ferreting out the most compelling stories of the poor and downtrodden. Perhaps we need only call up an old Christmas list, or pull out the file full of family addresses. Perhaps the beggar holding out his tin cup is not a stranger, but someone we know very well.