I’ve been reading online comments about the people who stand on street corners asking for donations. Often it’s a family with a sign pleading for some help. The online comments usually list all the reasons why we should not give these panhandlers money.
Some say ‘they drive BMWs’ or ‘they live in nice homes’. People have actually followed them to their supposed houses. ‘They are ripping us off’, or ‘they are part of a scammer gang’, I read. ‘They use their children to play on our sympathies,’ one person suggested. ‘They should get jobs, like the rest of us’, or ‘we shouldn’t reinforce their behavior.’ And there are some good-hearted folks who suggest that people give to a rescue mission where one can know the ‘needy’ are being taken care of. Good idea.
I recall Jesus words, ‘Give to everyone who asks of you.’ (Luke 6:30). I like the MESSAGE VERSION: ‘If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life.’ How many people ‘used’ Jesus for their miracles? Remember the lady who stole a miracle when she snuck up and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment? And there are still people using Jesus like a vending machine. ‘Cheap grace’ is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it.
I am embarrassed to recall an incident in NYC when a street person asked me for money and I took to the time to explain to him how he would probably use the money for drink or drugs and such. Was I a jerk or what?
Here’s what I think. Giving is good, not just to help someone but for the building of our own character of grace. It’s probably why Jesus said, ‘Don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.’ (Sermon on the Mount) It means that we are not to keep track of how we give money. Certainly stewardship is a good thing. But grace is even better and it may cost us a dollar or two. Grace has even cost people their lives. That’s what happened to our Lord. If he had been more earthly sensible he would have moved to Galilee and set up shop for the rest of his life.
I’m thinking of a scene in the final judgment when God looks over my life and says, ‘George, you were so wasteful for giving $10 to that so-called family on the street corner or that supposedly homeless man who begged some money from you.’
I know that we can find some creative ways to help those in need but remember that grace comes in the giving, not in any form of judgment on our part. Listen, God knows how wasteful I have been in spending money for myself. And while I am not deliberately trying to be wasteful on ‘panhandlers’ it is a good lesson for my soul to just give ‘without asking for anything in return’. And please let’s not judge the people who are asking. In this past year those people have been some of us.
Just maybe, out of all the money we give away in such instances, someone’s life is touched by the love of God we show. And by the way. Offer a blessing of God to those in need. You are the one who will be truly blessed.