Let’s Handle The Panhandlers
Our innovative mayor is asking us to NOT give directly to poor people. Rather, he wants us to add a layer between us and so-called “panhandlers.”
Let’s put a bureaucracy between us and those in need. Our kind mayor is sparing us from contact with human need, and assigning it to those who are benevolent professionals. This is what I call false benevolence. The needy will not get a good portion of those alms given, but instead they would go to “administrative costs,” that is, to some charity, with overhead. Administering those funds would draw a salary in whatever agency they would go. How un-Republican of Richard J. Barry to add a bureaucracy to do what we can do on our own.
One night last week on the news, a policeman shamefully called those asking for help “eyesores,” revealing a de-humanizing attitude! In reality, if we do not give directly to those in need, the hope is they’ll disappear from downtown, or from on/off ramps, or from street corners. Who wants to see eyesores?
Hear what the Scripture says: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth is rotten, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth… Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.” (James 5:1-6)
Jesus ministered directly to social outcasts and the “undeserving” on numerous occasions, so why don’t we? Three possible hang-ups to serving street people have troubled Christians through the centuries.
First, we judge them.
We judge whether or not they are worthy of assistance and what they will do with our aid. Consider this illustration, from C. S. Lewis, the novelist and Christian apologist: One day, Lewis and a friend were walking down the road and came upon a street person who reached out to them for help. While his friend kept walking, Lewis stopped and proceeded to empty his wallet. When they resumed their journey, his 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.”
Why stop judging those in need? An early Christian writer John the Almsgiver (A.D. 550-616) offers an answer. When a person whose need was called into question applied for alms John merely said, “Give unto him; he may be our Lord in disguise.”
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” Matthew 25:35
Second, we hesitate to give freely to those who ask because we fear it may leave us as givers without resources.
I believe many followers of Jesus lack faith to believe that if we empty ourselves of the resources God has provided us, he will fill our cups again.
Paul reminds us, “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (2 Cor. 9:10-11).
To be generous “on every occasion” requires faith to believe that God will, indeed, care for our needs if we show his love by caring for others. As Brennan Manning says, “God’s call for each of us to live a life of unlimited generosity is rooted in his limitless love and care for us.”
Jesus said,”Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”
But, you might say, If God’s going to feed me, why didn’t he feed the poor man? That was God’s plan, that’s why he brought you past the one in need. He was going to feed the poor one through you. Did you obey God?
“What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?”…James 2:14-16 Basically what this means, if you see someone in need, and send them away without you yourself (not 311), meeting their need, you have a useless faith, not believing that God will meet your need as God uses you to meet the need of this one in need.
Finally, I believe we fail to give freely to all who ask because we value our possessions more than people.
We cherish stuff more than people. In The Shepherd of Hermese, an early church writing, we are urged, “Instead of obtaining fields, provide for souls that are in trouble, according to your ability.”
What if we adopted this perspective when it came to tabulating our “asset” portfolios? How many street people could we bless in the name of Jesus if we all gave freely? As Jesus sent the first disciples, I believe he is sending us: “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matt. 10:8b). Jesus told us to build treasures in heaven, rather than on earth!
“We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.… !” John 3:16-17
May God help us stop judging people; freely give to others, trusting God to provide the resources for our generosity; and stop treasuring stuff over people. In so doing, this postmodern world will see Jesus in our generosity, and we may “rebuild the church” as Francis of Assisi did in his day.
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