I remember the first time I experienced a beggar on the street. It was in Toronto and he looked right at me and my friends, I was around 14 years old and he asked me for money. My first reaction was to give him whatever I had. He looked awful and smelled as bad. I think I remember giving him a buck or two and then walking away in awe that people actually live like that. Since then, I’ve seen, talked to and been around a large amount of those without homes. The amount of beggars that I saw in Europe was mind boggling; from four year old children that didn’t know any English words except “please” to an eighty year old women hovering at the entrance of Notre Dame shaking and crying for anything that anyone could spare. Seeing the amount of people like I did forces one to rethink everything. Yet at the same time it doesn’t take long until you are completely desensitized to those that beg for your money on the street. In fact if you’re like me you probably already have a list of reasons and justifications of why you don’t give to those that beg for money on the streets. The reasons are plentiful like
– they have more money than you do
– once someone saw someone beg for money and then jump in their BMW
– they don’t want to get a job
– they will just buy drugs or booze
– they will waste it
– it doesn’t help them and you are only making the problem worse
– they don’t need money, they need help of some other kind
I am sure you could add more to the list if you’ve spent any time thinking about it at all. I basically have had one of those views listed above as my dominant view to the homeless for the past 8 years or so. This usually caused me to respond to such begging by asking them if they would prefer a burger or some food instead, where I got a positive response half the time and would buy them something to eat or just to walk away from them and try to shake them from my memory. Other times they would only accept money which would just go to prove everything I thought. I say all this until probably the past year. This last year has been one of stretching for me when it comes to the homeless and those who are more economically challenged than myself. Part of it comes from these sets of posts where I thought a lot about the poor and what it means to be with them and among them. I think I’ve done a complete overhaul on my theology of the poor over the past year and more specifically my theology of the poor beggar on the side of the road.
I would encourage Christians to give to all beggars, and I would encourage Christians who donate to charities to refuse the offer of tax receipts.
At first this sounded utterly ridiculous. It sounded irresponsible, being a bad steward, idealistic and unintelligent. Yes I thought all those negative words at one simple sentence. However now I think it reflects a kingdom mentality better than I thought. So hopefully this post can expand a bit on his post here to why I think this is the way of Christ.
Keeping all those reasons that I listed above in mind, there are typically for most people two things that happen when you see a beggar on a street. You either throw some coins their way or you walk past them. Some of us, sometimes but rarely, offer to buy them food, sit to talk to them, build relationships with them, or give them some clothes or a place to sleep that night. But typically the average person (Christian or not) usually does one of those two things. So really what we need to ask ourselves is if you’re not actually going to do what we are supposed to do by giving them clothes or a roof then what is the better option? To walk away or to give them what they are asking for. Because most of us are unwilling to actually work alongside of the poor in any sort of way then I think breaking it down to those two options is probably accurate for us. So the question remains is it better to walk away or to give them what they are asking for. Dan quoted this passage in Luke.
Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again… If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same? If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return… Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
~ Lk 6.30, 32-35a, 36.
So really if they ask we should give. Bottom line, I don’t really see any way out. We constantly put our made up fruits of the spirit of responsibility, being a good steward, being wise in front of our duty to be those that give of ourselves. Our money saturated culture tells us that it is only “good” to give if there are tangible results. I think Christ tells us to give without any results. In fact maybe that’s the only way that the kingdom actually moves forward, giving without expecting or mandating a return of any sort. If we are all giving expecting something to happen or else we stop giving then I can’t see us getting very far. The more I understand Jesus the more I understand him to be nonsensical and irresponsible to what we have standardized today.
Now I hear the objections arise, all the same ones that were flying through my own head. But what if they just go buy drugs, aren’t we encouraging the problem? What if they are just lazy and don’t want a job? I think however with every excuse it comes down to us simply not judging ANYONE and giving to EVERYONE. As soon as we assume that someone is doing something (like buying drugs) for whatever reason we have put them in a box and we’ve made our giving conditional on who we think they are. If you are just going to walk away because you think they will be irresponsible in whatever way, this means that you have chosen to judge that person on the street and based on your judgment of someone you’ve never talked to refuse to give them what they are asking for.
With all this said, I don’t think the answer to those that beg on the streets to throw money at them all day long. I don’t think the answer is walking away either. The answer lies in doing what Christ asks us to do by taking care of them and making them part of our lives and relationships. However, if you, like me, aren’t going to do that at any specific moment and you’re going to do one of two things then I suggest you give them what they ask for.