Hey, Calvary Fremont –
Here’s an ethical question you ask yourself everyday: “Should I give money to that man, that woman standing at the intersection with a cardboard sign reading, ‘Please help’?” Or, maybe you ask yourself, “How much money should I give that person?” Or maybe you ask, “Why should I give them anything at all?” Or maybe you’ve stopped asking the question because you’ve stopped noticing all the Ragged People and their cardboard signs. Each of these four scenarios have played out in my life – sometimes every day! On some days I see the Ragged People and I am heartbroken. On other days I see the Ragged People and I am annoyed at them for the situation they’re in and the moral dilemma they pose for me. On other days I don’t see them at all.
My latest generosity was about two weeks ago when I saw a woman with two preschoolers sitting in the dirt by a busy intersection with a sign asking for help and her husband/partner was walking up and down the line of cars with his sign. I don’t know exactly why, but I was overwhelmed with compassion for this woman. I have no idea how she got together with the man she was with or what their story was, but I know this – she didn’t sign up to sit in the dirt on the side of a busy intersection and try to keep two preschoolers entertained while her husband/partner solicited for handouts. Believe me, I don’t normally have a $100 bill in my wallet – but I did then. And so I parked my car in an adjacent lot and walked over to the woman – the man was down the street working the cars with his sign – and handed her the $100. When she said, “Thank you,” I could tell that she was mentally handicapped. This made my heart heave with even a deeper sigh.
I know I run the risk of inviting someone’s judgment – but I’m not seeking to draw attention to my generosity or somehow show how ‘spiritual’ or generous I am. Just yesterday upon leaving the Walmart parking lot, I positioned my car at the stoplight so I wouldn’t have to see the Ragged Person with his cardboard sign who was standing there. Don’t judge me – you do the same thing!
I’ll often give whatever change I have in my pocket, or a few dollars in my wallet to someone standing outside the 7-11 or the door at Taco Bell. A while ago, upon entering a 7-11, there was a Ragged Person by the door without a sign and he didn’t ask me for anything. Inside, I sensed the Lord prompting me to give him the largest bill in my wallet. I thought that I only had a few $1 bills. But as I opened my wallet, I saw a $20 bill tucked away in the back. My heart dropped a little bit and I scoured my conscience for a way out, but that was a no-go. The $20 went into his hand as I exited. “But what if he uses it on cigarettes and alcohol, or uses it to buy drugs.” My attitude is – that’s on him, not on me. Now if someone has a sign that reads, “What the hell – why lie? I want to buy dope,” they’ll get nothing from me.
I am very aware that I, or anyone who gives money to the Ragged People, are not solving any long-standing social problems. But I’m not pretending to solve any long-standing social problem – I’m just trying to meet a need. And since I can’t teach them to fish – I can give them a fish. I know that this only meets the immediate need – but that’s all I’m trying to do. Generosity to a Ragged Person isn’t sexy or utopian or paradigm shifting – it’s very ordinary and mundane and unexciting. It doesn’t provide a long-term solution, but it does meet an immediate need. And that’s all I’m trying to do.
Whenever I give the change in my pocket, or some bills out of my wallet, I say, “I give this to you in the name of Jesus.” Jesus said that a disciple who gives even a cup of cold water to one of the little ones shall not lose his reward. A cup of water can be drunk in a few seconds, yet this smallest act of love and generosity is recorded forever in heaven. Your generosity will be a blip on the scale of meeting the need of a Ragged Person, but it has an eternal weight of glory attached to it. God is seeking to make you into a generous person – in tithes, offerings, service, and worship. May your abundant life in Christ overflow in generosity to your church, those in need around you, in servanthood, and in a heart overflowing with praise to the One who has given all. Our greatest act of generosity is but a faint echo and shadow of all God has given to all.
Jesus was a Ragged Person with no place to lay His head. He wandered from town to village to city and accepted donations and handouts. Jesus said this in Matthew 25, “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” Jesus presents Himself as hungry and thirsty and a stranger and naked and in prison. And those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, invite the stranger in, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner are ministering unto Jesus. When you give money to the Ragged People, you’re giving money to Jesus.
No, I am not a Social Justice Warrior. No, I am not following the platform of any political party. I am responding to the words of Jesus. There’s no need to politicize the words of Jesus or turn them into a rigid social philosophy. You can overthink yourself into disobedience. I am not saying to give precisely this much to these specific people at these appointed times. I am saying, “Follow Jesus and be generous.”
Be blessed and stay healthy and follow Jesus – Pastor Tim