Give to Him Who Asks

by Lois Tverberg

Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:42

This saying of Jesus’ (above) can sound as if we should give without discernment. Is it saying that we should blindly donate to every charity, and we should lend to others indiscriminately too?

One scholar (1) suggests that it is helpful to see this saying as a Hebraic parallelism, where the second phrase is almost synonymous with the first. In Hebrew, the word “ask” is one of two alternative terms that is used when a person wants to borrow something. Sha’al, (ask) is used when a person wants to borrow something that will itself be returned, like a hoe or a donkey; and lavah (borrow) is used when the item is consumed and then replaced later, like a cup of flour or a quantity of money. So this saying of Jesus’ may be a parallelism that reinforces the need to loan to those who need things.

But why is loaning so important? In the Bible’s Eastern way of thinking, people were community-oriented and they depended on borrowing and lending between neighbors for survival. In fact, our wealthy, individualistic way of life is quite unusual in the world, where we always buy everything for ourselves and do not depend on borrowing from friends. In Eastern cultures, to not loan something is to not fulfill an expected kindness, and to show a callous disconcern for the needs of others.

More than that, in biblical times, loans were sought out of poverty and crisis, and not out of a desire to buy a luxury. Interest was not allowed because the poor who received loans could hardly pay back the principle, much less interest. Many times God tells people to be generous to the poor and lend to them:

If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. Deuteronomy 15:7-8

A person who loaned to a poor man knew that he may actually be giving charity, because often the poor could not repay. In that case, lending to someone becomes a type of giving. Then the “giving” in the first phrase is also a parallel with the lending of the second phrase of Matthew 5:42, because the loan may become a gift. This teaching is similar to Jesus’ instructions to hold a banquet and invite the poor rather than one’s rich friends, because they were the ones who never could repay (Luke 14:12-14).

Jesus was once again reminding of us of our responsibility to love our neighbor and to share with others. We need to be especially sensitive to those who may look to us for help, whether we will be repaid now, or will have to wait for heaven.

(1) David Bivin, Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, Shippensburg, PA, Destiny Image Pub, 2001, pp 72 – 75.)

Photo: A. David Holloway