Be Good To The Imposters....

Who likes an imposter? They are fake and phony. They are a shame and a con. Of all the people in the world, those double-crossing pretenders are among the worst.

I think we can all agree.

Among the worst types of imposters are those who use their fake-ness in order to freeload off the hard work of others. We all know the type. They are everywhere, and the last thing you want to do is encourage the behavior. Which is why I don’t give money to anyone who I know is faking it. They are taking advantage of the welfare of others and, if I had my say, we would eliminate all welfare everywhere.

There is a Talmudic teaching about the potential risks of freeloaders on the welfare system that instructs the faithful, “to be good to the imposters, for without them our stinginess would lack its chief excuse.” (source).


The great thing about this teaching is how it calls us to pay attention to where the source of the sin or problem is. The one who is stingy, needs the freeloader in order to justify being stingy. For without the freeloader the stingy person would not have an excuse to be stingy and they would need to become generous. And if there is anything a stingy person does not want to become it is generous. So if you want to remain trapped in being stingy, then you better be kind to the freeloading imposter.

Be good to the one who angers you, for without them your superiority would lack its chief excuse.

Be good to the one who wrongs you, for without them your resentment would lack its chief excuse.

Be good to the one who you hate, for without them your hate would lack its chief excuse.

The "Free-rider problem" and Christianity

The story goes like this in some form or fashion. 

Humanity came the the realization that we could accomplish more by collaborating together rather than in isolation. Some people would farm and others would build homes. The farmer did not have to worry about building a home and the home builder did not have to worry about farming because they collaborated and worked together.

The idea that we can do more together than in isolation grew until there were more "collaborators" than individualists. But as the collaboration grew, there were some who did not contribute to society but were able to work the system and take advantage of the group's work without themselves having to work. These "free-riders" became a problem.  

If too many people become free-riders then it puts the whole system of collaboration in jeopardy. If word gets around that anyone can freeload the system, then more people might. And if they did then we would all have to go back to individual isolation. Thus the rise of the "punishers".  

Punishers are those who keep a vigilante watch against the free-rider problem and who may very well be motivated by the greatness of collaboration and do not want to see it in jeopardy. (Punishers will honk at you when you are driving like an a-hole because it compromises the collaboration of everyone on the road.)

And while an excess of free-riders can be a problem, we are in a time in which being a free-rider of any sort is demonized. There is stigma toward those on extended welfare or disability. There is an understanding that those who benefit from social services are those who pay into it, and to not do so is an egregious "unAmerican" sin. But lets face it, we all at varying times and reasons, are free-riders. 

But as we continue to demonize free-riders in culture, the Church faces a huge theological obstacle - namely the nature of Grace.

Christians have always said that God's grace is free. We cannot do anything to earn God's grace. You and I cannot earn salvation because we are saved by Grace and that Grace is free. We are all Grace free-riders.

Like human culture, many Christians are are uncomfortable with too many free-riders. Perhaps we feel Grace is free but if too many people have it, then we may not get our share. Or perhaps we really want to keep a check on it so that Grace does not run out for others. For whatever reason(s), Christians have found our own version of "punishers" to the Grace free-rider problem. 

And so, while we say Grace is free, the punishers among us do our part to put some requirements on Grace. 

  • "Grace is free but you have to accept it."
  • "Grace is free for those who accept Jesus."
  • "Grace is free but you have to have faith." 
  • "Grace is free for Christians."  

Whenever there is a stipulation, Grace no longer is free.

The church is full of free-riders.

It does not seem to bother God. 

Why does it bother us?