At Mass on last Sunday, February 19th, the following passage from the Gospel of Matthew caught my ear:
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
This passage stood out to me because at first glance it stands in contradiction to another passage, Proverbs 22:7, I’m relatively familiar with due to Dave Ramsey quoting this passage:
The rich rule over the poor,
and the borrower is the slave of the lender.
I’ve adopted Dave Ramsey’s advice regarding lending money to others: Mainly, I prefer to give, rather than lend, money to family, relatives, or friends who are in need, as I don’t want to create an obligation for them and have them indebted to me. Note that I have to see a strong need present in order to consider giving money to friends, family, or relatives. Dave often sites the “Thanksgiving dinner situation” where one relative owes money to another, resulting in increased tension between the two due to debt. I want to avoid this situation in relationships with people I care about. Proverbs 22:7 certainly supports this philosophy.
Given that Matthew 5:42, though, exhorts us not to turn our backs on the one who wants to borrow from us, how does this not create a contradiction, and where does this leave us when someone wants to borrow from you? When I need clarification on scripture, I go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and it provides some clarity in this case.
VI. LOVE FOR THE POOR
2443 God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them: “Give to him who begs from you, do not refuse him who would borrow from you”; “you received without pay, give without pay.” It is by what they have done for the poor that Jesus Christ will recognize his chosen ones. When “the poor have the good news preached to them,” it is the sign of Christ’s presence.
We are called to help the poor and give and lend to them. The Catechism also calls us to be prudent in giving and lending:
1806 Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; “the prudent man looks where he is going.” “Keep sane and sober for your prayers.” Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle. It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.
In my multiple years of serving dinner at a local homeless shelter, l learned that the Dallas/Fort Worth homeless population struggles mightily with mental illness and associated alcohol and drug addictions. Although these homeless certainly are poor, prudence has us put “right reason in action” and consider that our giving and lending could potentially enable their addictions. As a result when interacting with the homeless, I prefer to give them food or supplies, or offer to take them to buy a meal. Further, I give monthly to Catholic Charities, who has expertise in providing services to the homeless while not enabling bad behaviors.
Matters are more complicated, though, when considering lending to family and friends. As I mentioned before, I have to see a significant need (major health issues, hunger, etc.) as well as effort to improve financial habits that may have placed them in their precarious situation. A friend recently asked to borrow money from me in order to take a vacation, saying “I would have my money back in five days, so what’s the difference?” I didn’t lend them money, and certainly didn’t give them money, as I reasoned she should be a good enough steward of her money so that she isn’t living paycheck to paycheck. More to the point, a vacation isn’t a need.
As in many cases where scripture is difficult to interpret, seeking the guidance of the Church will provide clarity. The virtue of prudence provides further clarity in this case, as well.