I get ripped off everywhere I turn in South Asia – higher auto ride fares, double parts prices, hidden labor costs, wacky weights and balances. I can’t buy a liter of petrol or a kilo of mangos without watching the vendor with eagle eyes. My white skin is a badge of wealth, an entry ticket into the upper economic echelon of this country. It also feels like a “kick me” note taped to my back.
World Bank says forty-two percent of this country live on a $1.25 a day. Oxford Poverty and Human Development says two thirds are poor on several dimensions. So the white skin test here is usually pretty accurate. My modest income makes me wildly rich. And it feels like my poorer neighbors are often more than obliging to lighten my financial load.
What does this mean for Christians?
My sense of justice rages inside of me: If I let these people take advantage of me, I’m teaching them it’s okay. I’m hurting the next guy they cheat. They need to learn justice and mercy, a just wage for good work. So I keep a posture of suspicion, double and triple checking, arguing at every turn, and squabbling over the last penny spent. It makes me miserable and miserable to be around I’m sure.
My sense of justice is pretty warped. A man born into poverty carts me around in a ragged auto rickshaw and charges me twenty cents extra to pad the couple dollars a day he earns. Who’s being cheated?
If a donor gives to a beneficiary, clear lines are drawn and we call it charity. If you let a poor person take advantage of you, is it still charity?
Jesus made some obscure references to offering the other cheek and parting with cloaks, of walking two miles and lending indiscriminately. Bonheoffer scoffed that even if we dared preach on this text, we’d try to come up with a costless application. He’s right. I’m already coming up with checks and balances to keep people from taking advantage of this. Which means I’ve already missed the point.
Grace-filled living paints a radical alternative. It would rather take a blow than give one; walk two miles than short an oppressor the one he didn’t deserve. It would rather be defrauded than sue a brother. It would hang around an opened prison cell to make sure the jailer is all right. It is so enamored by the gift given, the status lifted, the righteousness imputed, the payment sealed that it becomes reckless with rights.
I still prefer giving grace where clear lines on drawn. I want both parties to know who gave what to whom and why. I’d rather see the smile on a Compassion child’s face than hear the snicker of an auto driver who pulled one over on me. An ungrateful beneficiary is bad enough but an unknowing one is almost too much to bear.
Is it grace if you don’t get credit for it? Is it grace if you do?