I myself am wrestling with this issue. I read the best selling book Radical by David Platt, and I am reading the book One.Life by Scot McNight. Both books call us to give to the poor, but yet I am uncomfortable with how they expressed this call. I have just been elected to be part of the board of directors of a rotating homeless shelter, in which our church participated last year. I enjoyed the interaction with the men, but I was also made aware of how we might be enabling homelessness. As a pastor of a church, I have also received requests for help from those in need. Plus, I have volunteered as a driver for an organization that seeks to help young mothers know how to parent and to get their GED's. So I am wrestling and still searching for the appropriate response or responses for each situation. Thus, I am wondering what Jesus himself would do.
Let me make some observations from the gospels and maybe you can add on:
1. Jesus called us to treat each poor person with dignity. In Jesus' time, and probably ours, people who were poor were considered second class citizens. You avoided them. You stayed away from them. That was not true with Jesus. He addresses his disciples: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20)" "Blessed," he calls the poor "blessed"; in other words, favored by God. If you read the rest of the blessings and woes of Luke 6:20-26, there is definitely nothing second class about the poor or the weak or the helpless in his eyes. In the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), Jesus taught that whoever helped a brother or sister who was hungry, thirsty, needing clothes, sick, or in prison, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." Did you hear that? The poor, who were followers of God, were considered part of his family. Feeding them equaled feeding Jesus. Wow! What dignity and value he provided them? When Jesus announced that he came to preach good news to the poor (Luke 4:18), did that mean they were now going to be rich and that he was going to hand out money? No, instead he was announcing that in his kingdom the poor are not despised, not considered sinful, and not looked down upon, just because they have little or no money. In his kingdom, the poor are people of value. What refreshing news!
2. Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons from people. Quite frankly, that was why many were in great need. They couldn't work; thus, they couldn't make money or grow food. So, by Jesus healing people, they could "return to work" to produce enough wealth to subsist on. Thus, Jesus went to the root of their poverty.
3. Let me go back to the question: would Jesus give money to a beggar? The gospels never tell us that he did, at least I couldn't find it (John 13:29 might be an indication that he did). However, Jesus did commend giving alms to the poor, "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. (Matthew 6:3)" Of course, if Jesus followed his own teaching, we wouldn't know if he would have given to the poor.
4. By the way, Jesus taught that if you ever throw a party or banquet, "invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. (Luke 14:13-14)" Break down those socioeconomic barriers and fellowship with the poor and you will be divinely favored.
5. What is more, Jesus taught his followers to value those who are poor. So, as we read the book of Acts and the founding of the church, and as we read the epistles of Paul, we see that the followers of Jesus, those in Jesus' kingdom, cared and ministered to the poor, especially to those in the church. It was one of their priorities.
So, how did Jesus treat the poor? He valued them as individuals. He didn't get involved in politics to change the laws; he didn't create a Marxist revolution; he didn't go around tossing money at them, after all, he was poor himself. But yet, he valued them. He spoke with them. He enjoyed their company. He addressed their need and healed them. He invited them into his kingdom where there is no classification of rich and poor. Maybe, that should be part of my answer.