Give freely and spontaneously. Don’t have a stingy heart. The way you handle matters like this triggers God, your God’s, blessing in everything you do, all your work and ventures. There are always going to be poor and needy people among you. So I command you: Always be generous, open purse and hands, give to your neighbors in trouble, your poor and hurting neighbors. [Deuteronomy 15:10-11 (MSG)]
We’d purchased a gift card at a grocery store for someone in serious financial straits and started talking about her, wondering how she got so deep in debt. A lot of unwise decisions combined with the loss of employment and topped off by major health issues was the answer. We then reminded ourselves that our task is not to analyze the hows, whys, could haves and shouldn’t haves of her or anyone else’s life—our task is simply to lay some love on our neighbors.
I recalled a discussion we had in Bible study about this very thing. Someone asked about giving money to street people—wouldn’t they just use it for drugs or drink? Our pastor reminded us that we’re not to be the judges; that’s God’s job. We’re simply to be the conduits of God’s grace. He also suggested doing what he does—rather than offering money, he gives $5 McDonald’s gift cards to panhandlers. They’re not valuable enough to be traded for drugs and can only be used for food. Another person shared that she gives street people a baggie filled with things like socks or mittens, hotel-sized toiletries, a religious tract and a card with information about local shelters and food pantries. Those kinds of gifts neither enable nor judge but they do spread God’s love. Money, gift cards and socks are just temporary solutions, however, and connecting someone with the right resources is ideal. Nevertheless, immediate needs must be met immediately, social services are rarely immediate, and some situations fall through the cracks.
When I see street people or panhandlers, I think of my nephew who, because of a combination of incredibly poor decisions, mental illness, drugs and alcohol, is one of them. They are the modern day version of the Bible’s lepers who had to sit outside the city gate—outcasts. Society has no use for them and they no longer fit into society. To a great extent, they must depend on social services and handouts to get through the day. Some are lost souls and some are scam artists, but how am I to know and who am I to judge? Rather than getting self-righteous, I remind myself, “There, but for the grace of God, go I or my children or grands.”
Jesus didn’t ask people how they got in their predicaments before healing them or ridding them of demons and the prodigal’s father didn’t ask his lost son for an accounting of his wastrel ways—they simply laid on God’s grace. Whether or not someone is worthy of our assistance is not a question that we, as Christians, should be asking. Rather, we should be asking what we can do to remedy the situation both in the short and run long. Remember, none of us are worthy of God’s grace but we all happily accepted it!