The second command that Hermas receives is a bit more involved than the previous. The bottom line, at least, is pretty simple: “be simple and guileless. A benefit of following this command is also quickly offered: “you will be as the children who know not the wickedness that ruins the life of men.” It’s like what Jesus said in Matthew 10:16: “be… as innocent as doves.” Yes, in that verse Jesus tells us also to be shrewd, but this command of Hermas is focusing on just the second part.
Elaborations on this command are then offered: 1) Speak evil of no one, and 2) don’t listen with pleasure to anyone who speaks evil of another. So, part of being simple and innocent is to restrain the tongue from slander. And to add to that, we shouldn’t even listen to other people slandering others, because if we end up believing it, we might spread it and share in the original slanderer’s guilt. But if we keep away from slander, we’ll be much better equipped to live at peace with others.
Another elaboration of living simply and innocently is to “practice goodness” and to give to the needy “from the rewards of your labours.” Caring for the poor and needy is a frequent command not only in Jesus’ teaching, but through the Old Testament as well. One of the biggest questions Christians raise today, though, is how we ought to give to the needy. Are we just to throw our money around whenever someone on the street asks for it? Should we stick to “official” charities or do we trust the bum on the street not to squander our cash on alcohol and drugs? Hermas’ answer is very clear:
give to all the needy in simplicity, not hesitating as to whom you are to give or not to give. Give to all, for God wishes His gifts to be shared amongst all. They who receive, will render an account to God why and for what they have received. For the afflicted who receive will not be condemned, but they who receive on false pretenses will suffer punishment. He, then, who gives is guiltless. For as he received from the Lord, so has he accomplished his service in simplicity, not hesitating as to whom he should give and to whom he should not give.
I don’t really need to comment further, Hermas makes it quite clear that charity is to be utterly unconditional. What I can point out, though, is that this is all written in the context of being guileless (as Hermas put it), or “innocent as doves” as Jesus put it. But Jesus also wanted us to be shrewd as snakes. That being said, unconditional charity on our part is a more consistent approach, in reflection of Christ’s unconditional love for us. And the argument that the just & unjust receivers will be judged accordingly, while the givers will be blessed, is also rather compelling. Challenging words!