Beggars. Panhandlers. Homeless.
Whatever you call those who ask for money or help on the street…or on the subway …or at a stop light.
What are we supposed to do?
What would Jesus do?
I do a few different things …a few that I am proud of…a few more that I am not so proud of…
Let’s start with the not so proud…
I look away…try not to make eye contact…I ignore…I judge…I do nothing. Jesus would not do that.
I make breakfast and lunch for my boys everyday…some mornings I am not as focused and I toast the bread too long …or one of my boys doesn’t finish his bagel. Those days I butter the over toasted bread…wrap up the ½ eaten bagel in foil and hope to run into someone during my commute that will be able to eat these items…One time I offered the bagel to an older homeless man and he asked, ‘what is it?’ I said, ‘a bagel”…he smiled a toothless grin and said, ‘can’t do bagels. Thank you anyway.’ Sometimes I will hand the wrapped bread to a person sitting on a subway bench amongst their things and they take it. Jesus might do that.
I bring fruit to work almost every day…sometimes at the light off the exit from the Grand Central I offer the man who is asking for money the orange or the apple I have…sometimes he takes it…sometimes he nods his head no and does not. Sometimes I hand the fruit to a man or a woman sitting in front of McDonald’s …Jesus might do that.
I am not sure if I can exactly explain my decision on who I give money to …and who I don’t …if you play music on the subway I usually give money…if you are begging and telling me a story that includes your being a veteran, now homeless or the victim of domestic violence and I have heard you tell the same story over a 6 times over the past 2 or 3 years…I don’t give money. But I do something.
I pray. I pray for the person…pray that they find help, money, peace, a better life than what they have. And then I say a prayer in thanksgiving that my life is good. That as bad as my life gets…It is not necessary for me to beg for money on the subway or on a street corner. Jesus might do that.
Other times I remember Willy. I think that was his name. He was a formerly homeless man that Peggy Bergin (if I remember correctly) brought to an MYP Day to speak to the group. It was super impactful. Willy told us, very candidly, how it felt to be homeless. To be forgotten, overlooked, ignored. He said that a lot of times he just wished for someone to ‘see’ him…to make eye contact…to say hello…in order to not feel forgotten. Maybe I am embellishing this memory…but regardless it did impact me…
The moments I remember Willy, I do not look away. I make eye contact. I say, “Hello” or “Good Morning”. I smile. The majority of the time I get a smile and a nod in return. Jesus would do that.
Jesus would try to make the person feel like a person…not forgotten…not invisible. Jesus would make eye contact. Jesus would make the person feel loved. And isn’t that what we are supposed to do? Approach all people and situations from the starting point of love…? Something I will continue to think about.