Driving down the streets of this city, there are so many corners where I find people holding up cardboard signs with roughly scribbled down summaries of their predicaments, as well as their blessings on those willing to donate to their cause. When I first moved to this city years ago, such sights were so rare that one was compelled to feel genuine pity for them and their condition. Over time, it has become harder to distinguish between the “real” needs and the less real. It seems that nowadays beggars can be found in every corner. Not only that, at times, when they take breaks, one can sometimes find them congregating in groups, seemingly going over with each other their begging experiences of the day thus far. I say “seemingly”, because it is hard to tell what exactly they talk about, huddled together, when one isn’t actually among them.
Nonetheless, it has therefore gotten that much easier for passersby and “driversby” to become increasingly cynical regarding the motives of said beggars. It is hard to see them all as truly needy, and not as people looking for a way to simply get money for whatever they plan to use it for, e.g. to feed their drug addiction. I’m just speaking frankly here: it is harder to trust that what they write on those pieces of cardboard are actually the truth. So, what now?
How am I called to respond? What are we to do? What does it mean to be the hands and feet of Jesus in such a situation? In America, there appears to be a simplified understanding of life, however inaccurate. It is assumed that the Republican party is a “Christian” one, and the Democratic one not. Of the two, the Democratic one is said to be more about doing good works to help society and its downtrodden. The Republican one hasn’t been known for that. I describe it as a simplistic view because, of course, no human being is that one- or two-dimensional. We are complex beings. Hence, you will totally find Christians in both parties, and the same with non-Christians. I go even further and argue that as Christians, our decisions regarding how we ought to live and treat others should not be limited to the outlines of any party (awesome article on this issue right here). We have our own guidelines as found in one Book: the Bible. A lover of Christ is called to love others, especially those God has a special heart for: the brokenhearted, the widow, the orphan, the alien (stranger, immigrant), the poor, the forgotten, and so on. It is clear throughout the Scriptures that Jesus Himself was all about this. So I truly don’t expect to pull myself off that mandate because I doubt the veracity of someone’s plea on the street corner.
That said, there is wisdom to be applied. Here’s how I live, therefore. I approach every one of them with a heart to help or be a blessing. Since I know that the Lord would want me to bless them, I approach them with a readiness to. But then again, there are times when something doesn’t seem right, when I have a hunch that something is off. Holy Spirit is great at alerting us to things like that. People in the world may just refer to it as a gut instinct. Either way, in that moment, while I am considering helping a person, if something within me gives me pause, or immediately seems to hold me back, I go with it. Sometimes, it prompts me to give food instead of money. I go with it. The point is to walk through life as led by Father God who knows every human being and his or her need. When you and I learn to do things His way, the world stands a much better chance at truly being blessed.
For that reason, I choose to go easy on the skepticism (this has to be a conscious choice each time), and instead see each of these people as worthy of love – His love, His way.
With that, I ask you to (re)consider your stance toward such people.
Isn’t it interesting that the following phrase is a staple in the English language: “beg your pardon”?