The Man on the Street
A few weeks ago, I was walking downtown with some friends, and a man approached and asked us for money. I had some cash in my purse, but I also had to get out of the parking deck, and I wasn't sure I had enough cash on hand to do both. And what was I supposed to do, anyway? Give him my Visa? Or worse, find an ATM? (I would hear this story later that evening.) So I let my friend handle it, and we walked on. But my insides were churning. I felt so guilty. The six dollar bills in my purse were screaming at me: "Let us out! That guy needs us!"
We walked the rest of the way to our cars, and as we were pulling up to the parking attendant's booth, one of my friends hopped out of the car in front of us, and ran towards us, waving money in her hands. "Here - it's for parking," she said, threw the money in my passenger side window and ran back to her truck. This was my provision for you. The words were almost audible. My shame was no less real. "Keep it," I mumbled to the friend who was riding with me. I paid the attendant with the money that was rightfully the Man on the Street's, and we left. As I drove home, I prayed for another opportunity to be His hands and feet, and I promised not to be a coward this time.
In All Things at All Times
So I began to contemplate ways that I could always be prepared to give. You know, keep an envelope with cash in it specifically for that purpose in my purse, carry baskets of bottled water and crackers and handi-wipes and clean socks in my truck, that kind of thing. The old familiar "They'll just use it to buy booze" sounded in my mind, and I stopped. And I thought about it. I started thinking about Jesus, and the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. That "inasmuch" is what always makes my gut wrench when I see someone in need and I fail to respond. I picture Jesus. Would I leave Jesus on the street, hungry? No! I would clothe him, bring him to my home, feed him, shelter him...I would treat him like royalty. But I had ignored the Man on the Street. I had not so much as acknowledged him, and I most certainly hadn't fed, clothed or sheltered him.
Then the thought occurred to me: there's no qualifier in Jesus' statements other than this - I was hungry, and you fed me. Not: I was hungry, and you gave me leftover food instead of money because who knows what I might have bought with your money. Or: I was legitimately homeless and not an addict or anything, so you drove me to a shelter and patted yourself on the back the whole way home. In other words: I had a need, and you verified its worthiness, then you responded in the most foolproof manner possible. This, Jesus did not say. This is barely better than what the goats said. No, this is what we, in all of our brilliance, have constructed so that little bits of our greed and insecurity and fear of actually living the kind of life Jesus lived can be ever so neatly swept under the rug of our sleeping faith. And when I say "we", I mean me.
On that Friday night last month, I prayed fervently for another opportunity to give. To see another Man on the Street and be able to give him whatever I had that he needed. I haven't seen him yet. What I've received instead is a greater understanding of Jesus' words and a deepened desire to give indiscriminately, to imitate my God who "gives generously to all, without finding fault." (James 1:5) My prayer is that I will see only the need and the one who has it, not the back story or the presumptions of guilt or innocence; that I will eagerly rise to be "generous on every occasion" (2 Cor 9:11).
This is why it is said:
“Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”