When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
I never know what to do about the kettle-ringers at Christmas time. On the one hand, I think there are better charities out there than the Salvation Army. If you did a statistical analysis and really crunched the numbers and looked at things objectively you could probably get more bang for your buck elsewhere. But on the other hand, it’s awful hard to walk right by that big red pot and the courageously shivering volunteer who tends it when you know you’ve got 3 or 4 bucks in your pocket that you’re about to drop at Starbucks. It’s hard not to feel like if you walk by without giving something you’re the worst human being on the face of the earth.
I think that as Christians in the Presbyterian tradition we do a great job of being shrewd as serpents when it comes to giving. Some of the most generous people I know would probably never throw a dollar in that big red kettle. But it’s certainly not because they don’t care. It’s because three days earlier, like they do every single month, they gave a thousand dollars in donations to carefully selected charities and religious organization in accordance with their long-term, logically constructed plan for giving. The generosity of these people is not driven by an emotional reaction to some immediate or pressing need, but it’s a pro-active, thoughtful approach to maximizing our potential in service to others over a long period of time. And really, I’d take an intentional giver like that any day of the week over someone who only thinks to be generous when they feel shamed by some stranger ringing a bell in their ear.
But at the same time, I think that we shrewd serpent types would do well to learn from the way Jesus showed compassion. There were some times in his ministry when he did change his plans. He was moved by what he saw and it caused him to react. So this Christmas be shrewd and smart in your generosity, but always be prepared to act when the Lord puts a kettle in your path. Sometimes listening to your heart is not such a bad thing. Especially when your heart is in tune with the love of God and inhabited by his Spirit.