Street Scene: There’s that guy, standing at the corner, holding a sign: “Homeless. Need food”. Or, the sign reads – “Will Work for Food”. Or, you are on your way into a store and are stopped by a young man who tells you he hasn’t eaten in two days, could you spare some money? Then there is that plea on television showing these sad little puppies or kittens who have been abused, and asking for donations. And, of course, we are asked to help victims of Katrina, or the tsunamis, or the crisis in Nigeria. It seems like everybody wants money! And all those pleas tend to give us pause when the next “opportunity” presents itself.
I was stopped by that young man and found I was at war with myself! How do I get out of this? No, help the guy! No! He’ll just buy drugs! No! He’ll buy food! And so it goes. In the end I gave him money! As I walked into the store the war continued: Why did you give him money? He’ll just blow it! Why didn’t you just walk him over to that Burger King on the corner and buy him lunch! You idiot!
We had a similar incident several years ago in Chicago. We had a late dinner and were crossing in front of Water Tower Place about 11:30 p.m. on our way to our hotel. We were approached by a well dressed woman, seemingly alone, who said she needed money to buy her child milk! We said “sorry” and hurried on. Then the mind games began — What if? Was her need real? How about that poor child? Then, are you kidding me!? She was dressed for a party! Where was that “child”? What is she doing this time of night if she is caring for a child? Get real!
What is with us? Are we distrustful of the needs that seem to find their way to us? Do we wonder how our donations will be spent. Do we read too much into it? Before we give do we check the “administrative overhead” numbers? Do we give only to our alma mater? How about the food drive to help the local Food Pantry? Does our generous nature change when we weigh it against “what will it cost us?”
I am reminded of the Good Samaritan: “…But a hated Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.”
This parable came in response to two questions. First, what must I do to inherit eternal life? Then, “who is my neighbor”? The “who is my neighbor” is critical. Who, indeed? How about the young man at the store? Or the woman on the plaza. Can you consider those my neighbor? What if they really were my/your neighbor? “Hi, neighbor. You say you are hungry and have nothing to eat? Well, drop around next weekend, we are having a cookout. When does the Scrooge of our personality “out vote” our compassion? Our generosity?
Now, about that homeless guy on the corner with the sign. Maybe we are plagued by the image of that guy, folding his sign, walking down an alley, climbing into his luxury car and driving off to suburbia. Or, perhaps, the reality is this: He folds his sign, walks down that alley, and crawls into a cardboard, makeshift, home, still hungry. Do you really want to make that judgment? Are we being fair to ourselves and the one in need?
In the parable, the Samaritan trusted the innkeeper to take care of the man and use the money to help him…no contract, no guarantees. Also, it seems apparent, that the Samaritan had no second thoughts, had no “war” within about helping, about giving. And what about you and me? Are we not the recipient of generosity? Are we not gifted? Are we not advantaged? Do we all pass on the other side? Compassion and generosity: those are two silver coins, are we willing to spare them?
Are you my neighbor? Can you spare two silver coins?
For What It’s Worth.