35 cents and a Little Guilt

I took the church van to run some errands on behalf of the church. While about I stopped to indulge in my favorite bad habit, a fountain Dr. Pepper. As I exited the van a guy approached me. He didn’t seem homeless, but had a disheveled look about him and some unidentifiable substance on his teeth and hands. He asked me where I attend church, I thought it pretty obvious since it is emboldened across the side of the van, but obliged him anyway and told him I attended South Pasadena Christian Church.

He then asked me if I had a catalog, by which I think he meant bulletin or something like that, to which I said no. He then asked what time we met and I told him, to which he promised to join us Sunday morning. Then the question I had been waiting for, he asked for 35 cents.  I told him sorry I didn’t have 35 cents, which was true because all I had on me was a twenty.  Without hesitation he said, “Then I won’t come to your church.”

This was an obvious ploy, an attempt to elicit some Christian guilt.  I told him I was sorry and went in to purchase my drink. I broke my twenty, gave him a dollar and an invitation and information about our upcoming Thanksgiving dinner. He won, I lost.

Before I moved to Southern California I rarely encountered homeless people asking for money; now it’s a weekly if not daily occurrence. Since moving here I have swung back and forth between the idea that if they really want help, the homeless have resources they can seek out and it’s that they’re choosing not to because they are addicts or junkies; and the idea that Jesus doesn’t tell us to create criteria for those to whom we show mercy and compassion.

In Luke 6:30 Jesus states: “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” If we followed this literally then we would often be taken advantage of and often made to look foolish.  I don’t think Christ cares if we look foolish or whether we lose. Christ cares about our faithfulness to him both in word and deed. His life was more than just a teaching ministry, but was also a life in which he modeled how God wants his people to live in the Kingdom of God, a kingdom in which the principles of this world are turned on their head.

I don’t always give money to people when they ask, I try to use some discretion and follow the Holy Spirit; but I find myself more and more without reason to say no as a follower of Christ. I know the argument that often the homeless are addicts who will use our money to continue their addiction, but I can only hope and pray that my dollar is the one that purchases food. And when I have time I offer to buy them food.

But what do you think? How do you as a Christian respond to those who ask you for money?  Is there a policy we can follow in which we can sometimes say no and be faithful to the life Christ calls us to?

Share This Post

8 Comments to “35 cents and a Little Guilt”

  1. Jason Bennett Says:

    I encountered a lot of homeless people while I was in college in Atlanta, and got scammed more times than I can count (fortunately, never out of any real money). One guy gave me a sob story one day, I gave him something, and when I saw him again two months later, he told me the exact same story!

    Those experiences have made me fairly cynical about giving money to people on the street, and I try to focus on tithing and serving in the church instead. Having said that, I don’t believe that the Church (capitalized) does a solid, coherent job of dealing with people and their needs. We as individuals don’t stop, don’t ask, and generally don’t want to care about “those” people, other than to reassure ourselves that we made dinner at the shelter last month.

    Regardless of whether we give people money, I think we can all agree that we have a duty to make sure that all of those around us are cared for as fellow children of God, that we take Jesus’ challenge seriously (if not literally), and that ultimately we take an interest in those around us who are suffering in one way or another. Our attitude matters far more than our cash, because it’s ultimately what creates the world we live in.

  2. Corinne Bergmann Says:

    Here’s a quote that comes to mind upon reading this:

    The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we as Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined.
    – Søren Kierkegaard,

  3. Ellen Reekie Says:

    Hmm. For some this is a hard one. Buying someone something to eat if one has the means is good…even just a bottle of water, a banana, an apple, nuts…something ” in the name of Jesus”. Many have come to know that it is good to say “God bless you” and once in a while I find that a little irritating! But we have all needed a glass of water at one time or another in our lives. If one looks into the eyes of the “beggar”, one can see either the pain or the anger . Jesus had compassion. Should we not also? (Of course, He had the advantage of “knowing” the hearts of others.) He spoke wisdom – we, too, can do that and as we leave the situation ask the Holy Spirit to do whatever He will in that person’s life.

  4. Corinne Bergmann Says:

    Another, more practical thought. I knew of a man, a very devout Christian, who was asked for money every day by the same guy on his walk to work and struggled with what he was supposed to do about it. Was he supposed to give this same man money every day? Finally he decided that he would put a certain amount of money in his pocket each morning and pray that if God wanted a him to give to give away that money then he would guide the right person to him who genuinely needed the money. Once that money was in his pocket, he reasoned, it was God’s money and God could do what he wanted with it. The next day that same guy didn’t ask for the money but someone else did.

    I don’t know what happened long term but I like the idea of setting aside some money like that as a spiritual practice and prayerfully dedicating that money to God and asking God to show you how to use it.

    This answer may not be quite the same as the answer Jesus gives in Luke 6:30, and for the most part I’m more apt to follow the “give to everyone who asks” – by buying food if I have time or by giving money if I don’t- command unless I genuinely don’t have money with me.

    With that said though, I think we can give things other than money. One of Aaron’s spiritual practices that I really admire is to give time and prayer. When someone asks him for money, more often then not he stops what he’s doing, sits down with the person and asks their name and a little bit about their story. He usually prays for them and then goes and buys them something to eat. When he runs into the person again he usually remembers their name, says hello and “catches up” with them as with a friend. I like the human dignity that this brings to the whole encounter.

    These are just a few thoughts. I’d be curious to hear how other people respond.

  5. Keith Says:

    This is a tough one for me as well. If we take the Scriptures literally, then all of us men should be thoroughly blinded by our own hands. (If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.) There must be a line we can draw between being faithful servants and being doormats.

    I too like the idea of offering a meal instead of money. Sometimes they argue and one once admitted that it’s because she wanted a beer. I told her ‘my terms or nothing’. She surrendered and got lunch out of it. But I don’t like giving my money to everyone who asks. Again, taking everything in the Scriptures literally would leave us all hospitalized and destitute.

    Perhaps this requires some real study. Some things do not translate into the english well, for one. Our contemporary culture, language, etc., all can lead to confusion and misleading directives from the Divine Dad.

  6. Keith Says:

    I dunno. We can’t take everything in Scripture literally. If we did that, all of us men would have had our eyes gouged out by our own hands the moment we started seeing women as more than icky girls.

  7. Keith Says:

    Oops… sorry… thought my post didn’t go through and I decided to re-send a Reader’s Digest version of it.

  8. Mike Perez Says:

    I tend to disagree with the over analyzation of it all. Give every time. That simple. What beggars do with the money is not for me to decide. It’s in their hands now.

    If I were given the grace Jesus gave me, and he witnessed what I did with it, he could easily cease from giving anymore. He gives, even when I “buy” the wrong thing with that grace I just begged for. We often will say to ourselves, “this beggar is only going to buy another beer with what ever I give him.” In the same way, Christ can say, “He’s only going to go right back to the behavior he asked forgiveness for.” Yet, we do fail from our promises, and guess what? He forgives, again and again. He knew from the beginning that we were never going to buy the “food” and really buy the “beer” that we tried hiding from him. And Christ still gives.

    Do people on the street really ask for a “$20” or a “$10”? It’s the small stuff that they ask for, and its the small stuff that we take a stand against. Arguing why we deserve it more than the one who hasn’t worked for it. How can that defense ever hold water? That we have earned every penny we have? Does anyone think that at every second at our jobs we have been working? That we never have slacked off for just 5 minutes while still getting paid? Maybe that is what we can offer to the “beggar.”

    I am so glad Christ doesn’t hold me to the same standard I put on others. He gives it freely without ever asking, “Let’s see what Mike will do with my grace first, before I give it to him.”
    If you own a cell phone or have cable TV, then one dollar won’t kill you, will it? That’s just my $.02.

Post a Comment