Throughout the Bible there are chapters, parables, and verses about strangers in need. In the Old Testament, stories unambiguously assert that we are to care for the poor and extend hospitality to strangers. In the New Testament, for example, we learn about the Good Samaritan who meets the needs of a wounded stranger on the road. Jesus tells us that what we do for the least of these, we do for him. I think the biblical message is clear that it is not up to us to question or judge, but to give freely, albeit responsibly, to each other. Determining what means “responsibly” to each of us is a worthy pursuit.
Recently Jason of The Jason Show asked his readers to do just that. Jason shared about an encounter that he had with a homeless woman outside of a restaurant. He asked for reactions, and it was interesting to read how others view and handle encounters with needy strangers. I was reminded of an encounter I had many years ago with a homeless woman outside of an L.A. grocery store during which she spat on my windshield and frightened my oldest daughter, who was eight or nine at that time. For a while after that encounter, I turned my head from anyone who begged for money. But somewhere down the road I realized that the woman who spat on my windshield was probably more in need of help than someone who would wait for me to get my child into the car and get out my wallet.
Last month, as my husband and I were leaving a restaurant after lunch on his birthday, a woman approached me and asked for money. I reached into my wallet and gave her the small amount of cash that I had. When we got into the car, Tom asked me to be careful in the future. He didn’t ask me to stop giving strangers money, but he said that he worried that I might be harmed or robbed if I pulled my wallet out for a stranger. I assured him that I always take my surroundings (day or night, secluded or public location, etc.) into consideration before pulling out my wallet, but that safety is my only consideration, not whether the person is scamming me or truly needy. I told Tom that I figure if a person asks for help, the person needs help.
So last week on my way to meet my wife for coffee, I stopped for gas. Kate and I had previously emailed back and forth about Jason’s post and our thoughts on giving to someone who asks for help. You see, my wife is one of the most trusting, loving, and beautiful spirits on Earth. So, while some people might call her manner of giving irresponsible, I think Jesus would totally dig on the woman with the superior ponytail who gives the homeless guy in her neighborhood $20 bills. As I finished filling my tank, imagine my surprise when a man exited a brand-new Jeep parked near the pumps, approached wearing a nice Adidas warm-up suit, and asked me for money. He apologized, pointed to the Jeep (still with a sticker on the window), and said, “Yes, that is my car. I’m having a hard time and I really need help today. Could you manage just a little money?” I reached into my wallet (it was broad daylight and at a busy gas station) and handed the guy five dollars. He thanked me profusely, said God bless you, and got back into that brand-new Jeep.
I drove across the street and there was my wife waiting in the parking lot outside of the coffee place. I told Kate what had just happened, and said that if ever my intention to give to people who ask without question as to motive or need was to be tested, today was it. She laughed, agreed, and then added, “I bet you only gave him money because you were hoping to get good Internet karma.” I laughed and said, “I only gave him money because I was pretty sure you were lurking with a hidden camera.”
I don’t know what you all make of the guy in the brand-new Jeep. But as for me? If the recent lessons from Jason and Kate weren’t on my mind, I might have been tempted to ignore the one from Jesus.