Just Darts Since 2009
How should Christians treat beggars?
February 7, 2007Posted by on
Since Sunday night, I’ve read over 900 headlines in my news feeder. I’ve skimmed over 300 articles, and read over 150 all the way through. I’ve been catching up. If you’re interested in what I’ve been reading, check my blogroll. Of all the stories I’ve read, what am I most worried about?
I walk through the streets of a decent-sized city every day. Almost every day, beggars ask me for money. I don’t call them homeless, because that implies that they’re exactly the same as you or me, except that they’re on the street. They come in two categories: people who should never have been released from institutions, and people who can’t get up the gumption to work for a living. The question is, how do you know one from another?
Actually, the relevant question is: does it matter?
I have three beggars I regularly give money to. There’s Chris, George, and John. They get two bucks every time they ask. Sometimes, I get a very creative sob story from a strange beggar. He gets more. Until I see him again.
My question is not: “Is this right?” It’s: “Is this enough?”
A little background:
Six or seven years ago, I knew a guy named Al. He lived under a bridge. He was the only guy I ever met in a bar who could discuss Greek playwrights. I gave him a lot of money. I thought if I did, that this valuable human being might be able to turn his life around. One of my favorite people in the world told me I was an idiot to give him money. I wasn’t an idiot. I was just hopeful.
Then one night he asked me if he could come and take a shower at my house. I said no.
Yes, I’m a very charitable man.
I haven’t seen Al in five years. He may have died in a gutter. Did the money help him? I’m sure it did. Would kindness have helped him more? I think so.
For the next two years, I gave nothing to any beggars I saw. Money hadn’t helped Al, after all. “Sorry,” I’d say. Other people would help them. I make next to nothing at my job, right? I can’t justify spending money on basic cable or high-speed internet access, and I’m going to give these bums money?
Except… Jesus says to do it.
I can’t get past that. Wherever the poor are mentioned in the Gospel, Jesus says to give to them. No conditions, no excuses. And he doesn’t have the decency to put a limit on it! Typical.
Three years ago I found a baby pigeon lying in the middle of a busy street. I took it home and nursed it to health and watched it fly away. Unusal, huh? A year later, I found another baby pigeon outside my own front door. I took it in, and nursed it to health, and watched it fly away. Unusual.
If you believe in God, as I do, you have to ask yourself: “Why have I never heard of another person finding even one baby pigeon?”
The same person who told me not to give any more money to Al was aghast that I had taken in two pigeons. “They’re flying rats!” he said. And I want to make it clear that this person is a friend of mine. I’m not criticizing him. God used him to complete the analogy.
If I could be so compassionate towards pigeons, why couldn’t I help human beings who were literally lying in the gutter?
I walk past human beings every day who are completely destitute. And I can’t change that. Every dime I have, divided among them, wouldn’t change that. Every dime I have, given to any one of them, wouldn’t change that.
So what do I do?
I don’t know. I’m going to look at it as an opportunity to tithe. They get 10% of what I’ve got on me ($2 out of $20, usually). That’s the minimum.
A couple of months ago, a beggar I didn’t know asked me for money, and I didn’t think I had any on me. I said, “I don’t think I have anything,” as I opened my wallet. For show. I was pissed when I saw five dollars there. I gave it to him, and walked away angry. An hour later I found a $20 bill on the ground.
That will never happen again. I’m not saying that if you give money you’ll get back even more. I am saying that I think it was a sign–just to me, because I’m always worried about money.
God talks to you all the time: sometimes with pigeons, and sometimes with cash.
You might be wondering why I said I was worried about my soul. Tonight I had a few dollars on me that I had plans for. As I was walking, I avoided the route that would take me past the beggars. I doubt they were even out there but if they were, I can only ask myself one question:
How cold is it tonight?