In the city of Richmond this past week, an ordinance was defeated. That ordinance would have made it illegal for “panhandlers” to solicit money or help from passersby, either in cars or on foot. Essentially, the city of Richmond (for the time being) has said that those in such dire straits can continue to ask for help on the street, at the intersections, on the sidewalks, etc.
If you’ve been in a car at a red light, you’ve likely experienced it. Just feet, sometimes inches away from you is a fellow human being, often times with a cardboard sign that explains their situation in a sentence or even a few words.
“Lost Job. 4 kids.”
“Out of luck.”
“Need food. War Vet.”
“It’s cold out here. Need whiskey.” (One of my personal favorites.)
“Laid off. Need money for food.”
And there I sit at that red light, with the sudden urge to change the cd, make a call, or notice something in the opposite direction. Because, well…beggars make us choosers.
I know that beggars isn’t the “p.c.” term for these humans who have found themselves at a place where they must appeal to strangers for a handout, but I can’t think of a better term. And when we try and make everything politically correct, it’s usually in an effort to take the discomfort out of it. But no matter which way you slice it, homelessness is uncomfortable for everyone.
Just last Sunday afternoon, I took my family to Monroe Park in Richmond. We went with 2 crockpots in hand, and a bag full of new knit hats, gloves, and socks to give to those who needed them. I was astonished to see the number of people there in the park; not just the “homeless” but those who had also come to share a hot bowl of soup or chili, a coat, and a smile.
While we were there, I took my oldest daughter and we strolled around through the activity of the park while I spoke with her as to why her Mom and Dad would bring her to such a place on purpose. As we walked and talked, I felt that she was absorbing all the sights, and all the discomfort that those whom we came to help were in on an ongoing basis. We certainly couldn’t solve all the problems, but as one “homeless” woman said through tears, “I’m so glad that you have come. Thank you so much for coming out here for us.”
And I couldn’t help but think about the passage in Acts 3, when Peter and John went to the temple to pray. There was a “homeless” man there, a “beggar” who was brought there each day to beg for money from those going in to the temple (he himself was not allowed in). And while he was begging, Peter and John came along and were about to enter the gate when they stopped.
We’re told that the lame man was begging of those going in when Peter “fixed his gave on him” and said to him, “Look at us.” Now, while we don’t know if that “look at us” was meaning “let me have your attention” or “look at the kind of men we are”, that is not as important as the plain fact that Peter initiated the conversation. And that’s why I am glad that Richmond still allows the homeless and helpless to stand and sit in public, asking for help. I believe that more people need to “fix their gaze” on those in need.
We all have the choice to walk by–Peter and John most certainly had that choice. But instead, they stopped and got the man’s attention because they did in fact have something to give him.
But Peter and John didn’t have any money to give. Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I have, I give it to you.” Nope, my family didn’t have the solution to the homeless problem in Richmond last Sunday. But we did have 2 crockpots of chili and some things to help people stay warm. So, the answer to the common question, “What can I do?” is answered by the question “What do you have?”
And as it turned out, the silver and gold would have been a disappointment considering what Peter and John ended up giving this man: “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” Giving the man two legs to stand on for the first time in his life was the greatest thing that could have been done for him. Now he could work, now he could provide, now he could enter the temple, now he could help others.
So, the choice is constantly mine. And yours. Because its true that beggars really do make us choosers.