September 20th, Judging those in need.

No reflection today.  This morning on my way to work I made the usual coffee stop at my local Holiday store because my three year old daughter reminded me that “there’s the coffee store daddy”.  As I was taking her out of her car seat a gentleman approached me with a request for a few dollars.  He said he was living out of his car, needed the gas money.  “Just a few dollars sir” is what he told me.  This isn’t the first time I have been approached for money.  It won’t be the last.

His story was a little different than your average story.  I always try and get the person asking to tell me a little bit about themselves.  I am trying to figure out if they are down on their luck or if they plan to use it in a less than honorable way.  In the past I have been very cynical about giving people money blindly.  I have softened over the years because for six years I worked with clients that were very poor.  Everyone has a story.  This guy’s was that he needed a few bucks to put some gas in his car because it was sitting at the neighboring gas station out of gas.  The cynical part of me said to myself, “Then why is he over here at this gas station hitting you up?”  With my daughter in my arms I eyed the guy over and told him to sit tight, i’ll be right out.  Normally I empty my pocket change for my cup of coffee.  But this morning I went straight to the “money machine” as my daughter calls it.  Took out a “20” and paid for my coffee and walked out the door.

The man was standing next to the door leaning up against the building as I came out.  I told him to sit tight for a minute and put my daughter in her car seat, buckled her up and told her that, “Daddy is going to talk to this nice man for a minute.”  She nodded and said, “OK”.   I walked up to the man and introduced myself to him and offered my hand.  He wasn’t shy about introducing himself back to me telling me his first name.  I asked him, “Why are you living out of your car?”  He said his, “…family had locked him out of his house”.  As sad and tragic as that sounded, It was actually halfway believable.  He went on to say that he had been living out of his car for the past week and it was getting cold.  I asked him if he had went to the local shelter.  He said he had and had applied for some assistance from them but hadn’t received anything yet.  I asked him why he wasn’t staying there until he got back on his feet and he said they had no beds available.  I decided that whether or not he was lying to me or being honest I’d give him $10.

Now I don’t know if any of his story was true.  I didn’t bother to check.  All I could think of was, Matthew 25:31-46.  I can’t say I wasn’t suspicious of this man’s story.  If I wasn’t I probably wouldn’t have followed him from the alley on the other side of the block.  No I didn’t see any cars parked at the neighboring gas station that were unattended.  No he didn’t stop there and go inside either.  He kept on walking.  It seemed I had been lied to.  I don’t know what he’s going to use the money for.  I don’t know if he’s going to the local bar, going to buy a pack of cigarettes, or use it towards drugs, or put gas into his car, or get a bite to eat.

Some people say we shouldn’t judge those who claim they are in need.  Others say we should not give blindly to them because they “probably will just go use it for drugs or booze”.  For me, I think we should probably use a little prudential judgement in a situation like this.  If you can afford to give something, then you probably should, unless you know it’s going to be going towards something like drugs, alcohol or worse.  It doesn’t have to be money.  You can pay for their gas.  You can buy them a burger.  You’ll know in a hurry if they really need it or are just saying that they need it.  On the other hand, if you truly can’t spare anything, then be honest with them and tell them.

I have learned over the years that we truly don’t know everyone’s story.  We don’t know why they are asking for money.  Some of us don’t know what it’s like to be addicted to a substance while others have witnessed first hand the tragedy that entails.  Unless we don’t know the whole story, we shouldn’t say no to someone because of what we THINK they will do with the money.  Jesus tells us to have a childlike faith.  That means that we should take everyone’s word at face value unless we know for sure something contrary.  Jesus tells us that we should love our neighbor.  That means for us to help others out even if we don’t think they need it.  Jesus tells us, “whatever you did to the least of your brethren, you did to Me”.  He also says that, “whatever you didn’t do to the least of your brethren, you didn’t do to Me”.

I tell my kids every morning to look for Jesus in someone today.  I don’t know if that man this morning, or the next one I come across really was in need or not.  I had no way of knowing for sure without a shadow of doubt.  So it really doesn’t matter to me if I didn’t see him use that $10 for gas like he said he would.  He’ll have to answer for that someday on his own.  It’s not a sin to be charitable.  It’s not a sin to give to another in ignorance.  But it is sinful to say no to those in need.  That’s why I am at peace with that decision that I made this morning.

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