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.

39 comments on “Jesus, Jason & Kate”

  1. What a great title! I couldn’t wait to see what you had written.

    I admire your approach to giving without judgment. Difficult for me. Your wife sounds like she has a heart of gold also – no wonder the two of you are so happy together. Just don’t give it all away.

    I don’t know what I make of the guy in the jeep yet, but I know you wrote a great post. Thinking…

  2. I had a homeless woman swear at me: she crossed the street on a red light and I stopped to let her go by. So SHE swears at ME? Topsy turvy.

    Not too sure about the Jeep guy…

  3. What a lovely title. And what a lovely person you are, Cheri. I agree with you. I don’t think the guy would have asked for money if he didn’t need it.

    I’ll have to read those posts of Kate & Jason’s.

  4. I once had someone grab for my wallet while I was getting some money to give them – which put me off doing that for awhile. However, I solved the problem by keeping some money in my pocket for when I’m approached to “help out.” And I don’t care if some people consider me an “easy touch.” Better that than too fearful to give – or unapproachable.

  5. I’m a big believer in giving to food banks and homeless shelters but not directly to panhandlers. At the risk of sounding like a big stick-in-the-mud downer, I will say that most of the time giving cash is, sadly, enabling an addiction. I have been sorely tempted seeing this or that very desperate looking homeless person but then resist. (we have scores and scores here).. It just keeps them sick.

    Your thought is good but I’m not sure there was crack in Jesus’ time ; )

  6. I give – but I don’t usually carry much cash so it’s never a whole lot of money. What I prefer to do, if there’s a store or gas station nearby, is have them meet me there and let them get a few things that they need.

  7. Wow, Cheri. This really brings this whole subject up to a whole new level. Even after my recent experiences with people asking for money, I wonder how I would have handled this one. A brand new jeep?

    But you didn’t even question. You amaze me, and not just today.

    I’m so flattered that you included me in the same title as Jesus and Kate! I couldn’t ask for a higher honor!

    I’m happy that my post has made people think.

  8. Wow. I never give to people on the street. Ever. Never ever. Never never ever. In our area, if I gave to every person who asked, I would never do anything but hand out cash. The begging is extreme. And heart-wrenching.

    I do give to our church and to both non-church and church-sponsored relief agencies and hope that that money does some good.

  9. In reading your post and comments to it, I remind myself that our social assistance systems are different. My tax dollars are already supporting a substantial unemployment insurance and welfare system plus universal medicare.

    Having worked in poverty law for almost 7 years, I would treat my impoverished clients to working lunches (out of my pocket), and periodically I would give small sums of money on the street. I would also buy food for those on the street and periodically contribute to the local food bank. (I use the past-tense as I no longer work downtown and don’t find myself in this situation very often any more).

    Would I have given the Jeep guy money? No. Something weird was happening in that scenario.

    In many ways, I wish I weren’t so judgmental (so more like you).

  10. When I was 16 I became very jaded about street corner beggars after seeing a guy in a wheelchair stand up and give another beggar his turn in the seat. They even traded cardboard signs. For years I refused to give out cash on the streets. Then someone in church pointed out that the we aren’t here to help the homeless, the homeless are here to test us. I now give cash whenever I have it and keep my car stocked with water bottles and granola bars to share.

  11. Phd in yogurtry sums up my feelings perfectly. If I do feel moved to give in the moment I give McDonalds gift books.

    You and Kate keep doing it your way though–I enjoy reading about your generous spirits.

  12. I have to admit that I wouldn’t have given to the guy in the Jeep. My thinking there is if you’re hurting for money, don’t buy a new Jeep.

    But I’m cruel and bitter and not gentle of spirit.

    I get approached for $$ all the time in my area, and I believe that to truly truly help the people who ask, I should volunteer for a shelter, give food, clothes, etc. (last month, I gave a homeless man my umbrella), but not give cash directly to the man on the street, which can be used for things I’d rather it not.

    I’m too judgmental, I guess?

    I love your kindness though.

  13. i don’t know if it’s still true since credit crunched, but it’s been rediculously easy in the past to get auto loans. it wouldn’t surprise me to learn the guy with the new jeep is broke. or has just lost his job. things are tough, and everything i read says it’s going to get rougher.
    i let intuition be my guide. most of the time i say no thank you when people ask for money. sometimes though, i’ll give loose change from my purse to someone.
    i never regret giving it. it makes me feel good.
    i know i should give more to homeless and needy people, but i prefer to give money directly to favored charities and schools, rather than to people i don’t know.

  14. Great post, very provoking.

    I don’t give to people on the street (in any form) unless it’s maybe 20p for a phonecall, mainly because of bad experiences.

    We once were stopped by a well-dressed guy who claimed to need money to get home to London. He gave a beautifully moving story etc.

    My wife bought him a ticket as we didn’t want to just hand him 20 quid. He looked disappointed, and then we saw him later in the day trying the same story on someone else.

  15. Do you know who I always give money to?

    Buskers. Whether they are terrible or brilliant. I love that they are out there playing their instruments and making a buck.

    Jeep guy? Very uncertain about him.

  16. I don’t think I would have given to the guy in the Jeep.
    Living a a rural area we are sequestered from the rampants of big city life and I’ve never been asked for help by a homeless person.
    I do give to church.

  17. Cheri, this is really thought-provoking, and I LOVE your title!
    Many years ago, I worked in downtown Seattle. I had no money for a car (let alone gas, insurance, and parking money). My job paid for my portion of rent (3 of us) in a low-priced neighborhood, food, bus pass, and 1 or 2 classes per semester at the university. I would give a dollar or two a week to panhandlers on the street. But one night, alone on a dark street, a bum asked for money. I didn’t have a dollar, but I did have an apple. I offered him the apple and he gave me a story about how he couldn’t eat apples after spending time picking them years before… He only wanted money, and he berated me for offering food.
    That experience turned me off to giving money for a long time.
    Fifteen years later, I lived in a different town with many homeless people. Our church supported (financially and physically) a city-wide organization that helped people with food, shelter, and generally getting back on your feet. There were organized beggars there in that city: a “pimp” would put women (often with their babies) at begging stations and then collect them at the end of the day (skimming a portion of the “profits”). They’d drug the kids so they wouldn’t cry or run about. It was so sad. Food, heck yes, I’d give food! But money? NO.
    Now the women who would sell a homemade basket on the street? Yes, I’ll buy for their asking price. Buskers? Yes, I’ll give money. They are DOING something. Supporting a good organization that helps folks down on their luck? Absolutely! (That wonderful city-wide organization? It was run by a man who was formerly homeless himself. He knew exactly what was needed.)

    On the other hand, maybe that guy in the Jeep was an angel, or even Jesus himself in disguise.
    It’s a hard call.

    I’m pondering your post and listening to my conscience.

  18. VERY interesting moral dilemma. The Matron always gives women money, lots of it to pregnant women. She gives $ 98% of the time but she might not have given it to the guy in the jeep.

    But this story reminds her why she isn’t Jesus — but should strive to be more like him. Aim for 100%.

  19. A few years ago, a very needy lady asked my religious MIL for money and she responded, saying that she gives at church. (I didn’t agree with her, but she is generally a generous person so I was surprised.)

    I didn’t have any cash on me, and I felt SO ashamed. It really has changed how I give.

    I figure while they ask, there is need.

    And I am careful. My husband chides me often that someone is going to hurt me…

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  20. I’m sure you earned some good karma there. I wouldn’t have given him anything – I probably would have been put off by the new Jeep.

    But I wonder what his story was?

  21. I go through stages of giving and not giving. Not sure what it’s based on. How much money I have on me? Which kids I have with me? How needy the person appears? How safe the person appears? Interesting post.

  22. You’re a good woman; I’ve always said so. 🙂 Reading the post, I felt a little guilty that I’ve never given anyone with a sign more than a dollar…

  23. I live near a series of interchanges along an interstate, and people will often sit at the end of exit ramps asking for money or food or jobs. Even though I suspect a lot of them are there because of their own bad choices, I give what I can because I’m responsible for my own sense of generosity, not their mistakes. It’s a tough call, though, sometimes.

  24. The guy in the Jeep wouldn’t have asked if he didn’t need it- I just have a gut feeling, there.

    These days, you never know what has just happened to make someone ask for a few bucks. Keep on giving, friend.

    This is a great discussion!!

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