Driving down the street, I see them.
Street corners, outside schools, restaurants.
In my small town and on the streets of Los Angeles.
Some holding signs reading, “Homeless,” “Anything helps” etc. in black marker on cardboard cutouts. Some desperately asking anyone that crosses their paths, hands cupped and outstretched. Some on their own, some with dogs held on loose leashes, some even with children and their entire family by their side.
Faces somber, eyes hopeful that somebody, just somebody might stop to lend something.
And sometimes, it's then that I catch myself. I walk past, shoulder turned and eyes fixed straight ahead.
"What if they are fakes? Imposers? Drug addicts? What if my dollar is helping to fund their unhealthy habits? That can't possibly be helpful to lead them to a road up and out of poverty that clearly they placed themselves in."
And immediately, as soon as I pass that one person who asks me for help, I’m rushed with guilt. Because as a Christian, Jesus never commanded me to evaluate and tear apart somebody’s life choices to determine whether or not I can lend a hand.
He commands us over and over again to love, because people matter more than their circumstances and failures and past mistakes.
Does that mean that we always have to give money?
Because your dollar is not the only way you can help those who need help.
From food, to your possessions, your clothing, your shoes, your attention and conversation, and yes, to even your dollar. It’s being generous with all that we are. Helping those who need help have been a large stone in the foundations of the Gospel since before Jesus even stepped on the scene.
"If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brothers, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart ... and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, 'You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.'" Deuteronomy 15:7-11.
In fact, as John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus, the crowd asks him what they should do as they begin their journey of repentance.
"And the crowds asked him, 'What then shall we do?' And he answered them, 'Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.'" Luke 3:10-11.
The Gospel message is to give what you have to those who have nothing.
Then Jesus says it in Matthew 5, "Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you." Matthew 5:42.
Give. Not “pull out your checklist and interview them to see how they became poor to make sure they clear your guidelines for giving”.
There’s a twist, because as you bless somebody else with your food, your money, your conversation, or all of the above, you realize that it’s not just a one-sided benefit. You yourself actually benefit by benefitting others.
"Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blesses, for he shares his bread with the poor." Proverbs 22:9.
"Blessed is the one who considers the poor!" Psalm 41:1.
Some interpret the blessing to be of the financial kind, and although that may be true in some cases because we serve a God who is a God of provision, I believe full well that the blessing is that of a heart growing roots of deep-seeded compassion. That is the largest blessing we could ever attain.
Let’s drop the indecisive thoughts and challenge ourselves to have the heart of Jesus transplanted inside of us. I want to stop hesitating to lend all that I am to those who are standing on the street corners, no matter what road led them there, for God never hesitated to lend me his fullness of grace when my track record proved unworthy. Neither should we.