I know that you guys have probably all seen this at one point or another in your lives so far. You’re walking or driving along and you see a person with a cardboard sign and think, “Oh great. This dude’s gonna hit me up for money. I mean, yeah, I have some cash on me…but I WORKED for that money!” That’s a natural reaction, and it’s also usually our first response. We want to know why this person can’t just go get a job like everybody else. We want to know why this person can’t just go ask some charity for help. But most of all, we’re afraid that the person is lying. We’re paranoid of having the wool pulled over our eyes, of giving money to some guy who actually drives a nicer car and lives in a better home than we do and just holds up this sign for laughs and a few easy bucks.
So, when it comes right down to it, we’re afraid of wasting our money on someone who doesn’t really need it. We’re afraid of looking stupid.
Let me tell you a personal story.
A few years ago, I went to Paris (yes, France) with a group from my school. On one day of the trip, we were standing outside of Notre Dame in Paris. For those of you who have never been to Paris, the cathedrals and churches in Europe are the hotspots for many of the city’s homeless and poor. They stand outside of the churches for hours at a time, begging for money. I was standing in line with some friends of mine waiting to go inside. As we got closer to the doors, I saw this man sitting on the ground with a cup in his hand. I didn’t pay any attention to him and just kept talking to my friends.
We were far enough up in the line that we passed the man. I was staring up at the facade of the church, minding my own business, when the woman in front of me turned around. She had seen that I hadn’t given the man any money. And she said something to me that I’ll never forget: “Why do you not give to the poor?”
I was completely at a loss. How do you even answer a charge like that?? But what was my first reaction? A lie.
“I don’t have any money with me,” I stammered. The look on her face told me that she didn’t believe THAT for a second. Rightly so. At that moment, I had at least 50 or 60 euros with me, roughly the equivalent of 75 or 80 dollars in the United States.
That encounter haunted me for the rest of the trip. Why had I not given that man another thought? Why hadn’t I thought to reach out to him? Why had I refused to give him something? It struck me then, and is still my conviction now, that that woman’s accusation that day came not from her, but from Jesus.
We used to have a priest at my parish named Father Les. At that time, people with any kind of need would walk up to the parish office and ask for money. And Father Les would always give them something, even if they had been there the day before. Even if they came every week. He always made sure they didn’t leave empty-handed. Now, this used to drive our parish secretary a little crazy. She was worried that these people were taking advantage of Father Les’ generosity. So she told him about her concerns.
Father Les’ response?
“What if that person is Jesus?”
Yes…what if? What if that person really is out of work? What if that person really does have three kids at home that he/she is trying to support? What if that person really is disabled and can’t work? What if that person has already been turned down for assistance? What if that person is Jesus?
And not just the homeless or desperate person on the street! What about the woman walking into the abortion clinic? Is she in need of help? Does she really want to do it? Is she torn over this decision? Is she broken? Is she “the least of these”? What about the child in your classroom who seems hostile? What if that child needs your love and attention? What if that child just needs to express built up emotion? What about that kid who gets on your nerves in history class? What if that person just needs someone to talk to? What if that person just needs someone to show the love of Christ to him/her? What about that person who just got out of prison? What if he/she really is sorry for the crime committed? What if that person really does want to change?
“Be kind to everyone. You never know if the person you meet is fighting a battle.”
“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’” -Matthew 25
Perhaps we should be quicker to see and love than we are to see and judge. Perhaps we ought to remember that our money and our time are gifts from God. How can we, then, refuse to share these gifts with our brothers and sisters in need? How can we refuse to share with Jesus?