Entitlement: the unhealthy belief held by an individual that they deserve special treatment because of their special circumstances. Constantly giving a handout reinforces this mindset.
Empowerment: providing an individual the skills and information that helps them make an informed decision. Giving someone a hand up by taking the time to believe in them, nurture them in love and teach them a new skill.
After my meeting with Sally, regarding providing her assistance for her rent, my thoughts turned reflective. What should be the preferred approach for connecting her to local assistance? I don’t question the difficulty she has being a single parent of three, working part-time in the university’s food service department. I find it difficult not to judge her deeply ingrained notion about receiving help from a Christian. It is the belief that Christians are expected to be generous in assisting anyone in need. Secular experts often refer to this as a form of entitlement because she believes her status as a single, working mom automatically qualifies her for assistance from the government, or anyone better off. Yet it is this notion of entitlement, not Sally herself, which perplexes me. Even though I have worked with her three times in ten months, explained that my program has no funds to distribute and I guided her to local sources of assistance, she seems unwilling to give up her imbedded mindset and embrace my effort of empowering her. Why isn’t there any sign of her moving towards empowerment? Is there a barrier she needs help crossing? Am I really walking with her on this journey? On the other hand, with my middle class, suburban mindset, am I undermining her efforts towards empowerment because I don’t understand her life? My racing thoughts come to an agreement and pose a question; do I quit helping her get assistance until she is ready to accept empowerment? Before I can answer that, a deeper underlying question is raised – what does Scripture teach?
In Luke’s gospel 17:11-19 we find Jesus demonstrating unconditional compassion to strangers. Jesus did not ask them if they were in a position to do anything about their situation, he responded to their plea for mercy and assistance with compassion. Like many of us Jesus is surprised by the mixed responses to his act of compassion. “And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices, and said, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us’. And when he saw them, he said unto them, ‘Go show yourselves unto the priests’. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, ‘Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.’ And he said unto him, ‘Arise, go your way: your faith has made you whole.”
There are other verses and passages, which point towards compassion and mercy; each of them highlights an interaction between the one receiving help and the helper. This interaction is a form of change brought about by God in both lives when they see Jesus in each other. To the helper, it is remembering that our treatment of the marginalized reflects our treatment of Jesus. For the one receiving help, it is the reminder to listen to the cry of the needy. Above all, it is about participating in unconditional love and seeing the image of God in each of us no matter our perspective. There is much to learn when it comes to relating with others who don’t fit the category of “our kind of people” yet deserve grace as we strive to follow the command Jesus gave his disciples, “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Whether it is entitlement or empowerment, what really matters is the way we love one another.
— Chip Guyton