So St. Louis city is about to make “panhandling” in certain places, in certain ways, at certain times, a crime.Read about it here.
Part of me is glad folks will not be accosted for money in a violent or intimidating situation. I remember the “squeegee” men in New York as I was growing up, “washing” my dad’s windshield at any given street corner. They actually would come to your car at a stoplight, lean over your windshield and smear stuff all over it, as if they had some sort of cleaning fluid. After making it impossible to see, they would lean in your window if you were unfortunate enough to have it open and aggressively ask you for money. This was indeed annoying, and I remember, before Guiliani enacted laws against such stuff, being afraid. I also remember suggesting to my dad that we turn on the wipers when stopped to make it harder for these guys.
Yet, I also remember the poor and think that we must do what we can for those who do not have what we do. John the Baptizer’s recommendation was, “Anyone who has two coats should give to whoever has none. And whoever has food must do likewise!” Jesus tells us that we will always have the poor with us, and that it is hard for a rich person to enter heaven. Another time he told a rich, young ruler who was good at keeping the 10 commandments that he ought to “sell everything he had, give the money to the poor” and follow after Him. The rich kid couldn’t do it and went away sad because he had great possessions. And who could forget Paul, taking offerings all over Asia to get money to give to the poor in Jerusalem? And never forget the beaten, bloodied, half-dead man on the road that the Samaritan had concern for and put up at a hotel, with hospice-type care, at his own expense? We must help the poor.
But we get into these types of arguments: do we help so-and-so with our own money, or direct them somewhere else? Doesn’t the government have programs for this type of thing? They will probably spend it all on drugs or alcohol, how do I know if I am helping them or harming them?
Yet, Jesus the Messiah said that we are to give whenever it is asked of us. Guess that solves it.But how hard is it for us to go through this “eye of the needle?” We don’t like that there are poor among us, but we don’t like the alternatives of self-sacrifice either. As C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity, acts of charity must be those of self-sacrifice, that loving our neighbor sometimes is a detriment to us, and this is how the Christ envisioned our society. That we are all part of the same organism.
Now, I am no great example of this type of charity, but I do think it’s important to give when asked. I do not agree with the Muslim code that only righteous people, worthy of charity, should receive the charity. Did not the Christ come for the lost? Don’t the sick need a doctor, not the well? I think we could afford to sit down and dine with these folks more than we would like. If you don’t want to give them money, then offer to buy food! If they turn it down, then it’s their problem. But that’s only happened to me probably 1 time in 10. That person probably did want a “fix” that my McDonald’s offer could not get. She wanted to be lovin’ somethin’ else. God does INDEED help those WHO CANNOT help themselves, but some will fight the help God wants to give. That is where prayer comes in.
So, as I sit in my safe, suburban house, on this cold snowy day, I pray we can find little and great opportunities this day to serve the poor neighbors among us.
“…For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.”