About a year ago, my husband and I were traveling through Amarillo on our way to a beautiful mountain vacation in New Mexico. We stopped for gas in a shopping center right off the interstate, and it didn’t take long before a man with a backpack and a guitar made his way over to us. He boldly asked for any money we could spare; after we gave him $5, he went on and on with conspiracy theories involving everyone from the government to Osama Bin Laden to Michael Jackson and maybe even the Muppet Babies. A cop showed up and sent him on his way. A few minutes later, Caleb and I pulled out of the gas station and into traffic, and that’s when we saw him: the man that we had given $5 to, shouting at us and giving us the finger from the doorway of a liquor store across the street.
Normally I would expect myself to feel rage in a situation such as this. Do you know how many cherry Cokes I could’ve bought with $5? But instead of anger, a sense of sorrow washed over me. “Oh, poor schizophrenic guitar man. I wanted to help you. But you’ve taken what we so happily gave you and pissed all over it. My intentions were for pizza, and you’re guzzling Jim Beam.”
I wonder if Jesus feels that way when, time and time again, we take for granted His gift of salvation. “Oh, you selfish prideful schmucks. You’ve taken my life which I gladly sacrificed just for you and you’ve completely flushed it down the toilet. You’ve taken the Bible and you’ve picked it apart to serve your own purposes. My intentions were to love you and rescue you and redeem you, and you’re…guzzling Jim Beam and judging everyone within a twenty-three-mile radius. Everything good I just did? You’re doing everything in your power to destroy it.”
I’m not sure how Jesus feels. He knew us, personally, from the beginning of time and he knew what we would do and when we would do it. As He was dying on the cross, He knew full good and well that many of us would stone-cold reject Him—and yet, that did not stop him from giving His life for this entire world full of sinners.
Public enemy number 1? None other than high-and-mighty me. I would’ve stood before you any day of the week and told you that I took issue with throwing a few bucks at a bum. “Bum,” I said. “Let me tell you how to live your life. I know that up until today, you’ve probably served in the Army, done some drugs, drank a little bit, hit a few speed bumps, dealt with some family drama and suffered some mental breakdowns, but this alcoholism shit ends now, because I’m a Christian, damnit, and I’m giving you $5.”
How dare I? When God calls me to give, he doesn’t tell me to review applications and demand respect, or even thanks, from those on the receiving end of my so-called kindness. The dudes under the bridge aren’t there because their life-long goal has been to be homeless and depend on the sporadic generosity of a few strangers to make it through the day. Families don’t go to shelters and sleep there for funsies. America is full of some seriously hurting and hungry people–people who have known more pain in one day than many of us spoiled, suburban college-educated white women will know in our entire lives.
“But God,” I say. “If I give, they’ll just waste the money on alcohol. Or drugs. Remember that time that guy outside the grocery store asked me for money, he didn’t act very grateful at all when I gave him $2? What if I give money to a child molester or a wife beater? What if they turn around and hop in their Mercedes and drive home to their mansion? There are so many crooked people out there. So I’m just not going to give to anyone.”
And so God maybe says: “Do you remember the time when your husband was out of a job and you guys were drinking your heads off? I was the one who pulled you out of that mess and it was an entire year before you thanked me. And what about the time when you gave a granola bar to a toothless homeless man? He showed mad appreciation. Remember when your daughter was inspired to make kits for the homeless? Those came in extra handy at interstate off-ramp stoplights, and again after your town got hit with that tornado. So how’s about you get down off your high horse and worry about what I told you to do.”
You don’t just find poor people camping out under bridges. We walk around with our eyes closed more than half the time and we miss those who need Christ’s love and charity the most.
Orrrrrrr….if you’re like me, your eyes are completely open and you choose to ignore them. The people that just aren’t like us—the ones that make us uncomfortable, the ones we’re scared of becoming; the people that couldn’t possibly want our help, or our attention, or our prayers—Jesus COMMANDS us to LOVE them. And he doesn’t say love them in the privacy of your own heart, from afar. He doesn’t say to throw all your cash at them, either, but if we are really interested in being obedient, then we cannot allow our hearts to be hardened because of a few bad experiences. We simply cannot judge. We need to pray for knowledge and discernment where our giving is concerned. We need to pray also that God will take our pride and replace it with a generous and loving spirit. Does someone with the heart and mind of Christ stare straight ahead at the stoplight while a broken and needy man sits with his cardboard sign a mere 5 feet away?
I think of that guy in Amarillo sometimes and I wonder where he came from. What’s his story? I wonder if, for even just a split second, he thought about us that day, or the next. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. Maybe that little bottle of liquor gave his tired mind a break from spinning and worrying, if only for a short while. Maybe someone has since then approached him about finding a place for a quick shower or a hot meal. Maybe someone has talked to him about Jesus. And I especially wonder about that day: why didn’t I? Truth is, someone with the heart and mind of Christ doesn’t give $5 to strangers out of guilt. They’re giving, not only with money, but with so much more, because of their love.
I’ve got a long way to go.