This morning, as I was getting off I-95 at the Abercorn Extension exit, I came across a person asking for a handout. You can call them panhandlers or street people, I suppose; the Bible just calls them beggars.
I must admit that I struggle with what I should do when I encounter a beggar. On one hand, I am fully aware of the research showing beggars can make $300 per day, and after they are done begging for the day, some walk to their car and drive to their apartment. I am also familiar with the fact that some folks on the street are in need of funds to support drug use and other destructive behaviors.
On the other hand, I am completely aware of the many biblical verses that speak of God’s special concern for the poor. And even if we see them as undeserving in some way, didn’t Jesus minister to those considered social outcasts and undeserving on many occasions?
What’s more, doesn’t that place us in the uncomfortable position of being judge and jury?
Still, if I am going to be completely honest, I struggle. Perhaps you do as well.
I hear of people who bring a homeless person to lunch or drive a street person to a shelter. But, truth be told, while that is a nice thing to have happen, I don’t think that is a workable or even smart answer for many people. And that certainly doesn’t help me at that moment. So, there I remain, stuck in my car, trying not to make eye contact with the person carrying a sign and walking by on the exit ramp, not sure if I should roll the window down or not.
I do, and pull out a few singles. I really don’t know exactly why.
Perhaps I have John the Almsgiver in mind. The sixth-century Christian would respond in this way when hearing of a person begging who did not really need it: “Give to him anyway. He could be our Lord in disguise.”
But, more likely than not, I roll down my window because I remember the words of C.S. Lewis. Once, while walking down the road with a friend, Lewis came upon a beggar who asked for help. Lewis’ friend kept walking, but Lewis stopped, and emptied his wallet. When they began walking again, Lewis’ friend asked, “What are you doing giving him your money like that? Don’t you know he’s just going to go squander all that on ale?”
Lewis paused and replied, “That’s all I was going to do with it.”
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.