Why I Give to Homeless People
“Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
-Luke 6: 30-36
Living in New York City, I have witnessed countless numbers of people come here to follow their hearts to make something of themselves to attain their life's dreams. But along with them, are those on the margins who struggle and are in a different place. Whether on the street or in the subway there is always someone on the side asking for a handout.
The poor. The struggling. The homeless.
Homeless people are one of the groups of people that society still willfully chooses to discriminate, ignore and have no sympathy for. Those who we believe are losers. We feel they have chosen not to work and participate in our way of life, so we say that they have allowed themselves to fail. Many people don't care to know why many of these people are homeless, because to listen to their stories would confront us with our own insecurities, fears and prejudices.
Some persons have fallen on hard times, perhaps losing their jobs, are too old to be employed or just have no family. Some are homeless because of drugs or drink. Some are homeless because they are mentally ill or refuse to participate in the rat race. Some were runaways from their families because of abuse or just searching for adventure. Some because their families kicked them out. Some are immigrants who don't speak our language and cannot get a job. Some have lost everything because of misfortune or mistakes. And some are just unemployable.
But despite their reasons, we also have our reasons for why we think it is OK to dismiss them. It can be their uncleanliness, their unkempt appearance and/or their smell. We may believe that they must lack drive or discipline to get their act together. That they will probably use the money to buy drugs or alcohol, or that they might just be scam artists. Whatever the reasons, these are the people who we as a society have chosen to avoid. The bottom of the barrel.
Our various excuses reveal a lot about ourselves: that we can be judgmental, lack empathy and are just very self centered.
I am not rich, but I work hard for what I make and have plenty of bills looking over my shoulder, so to give out even a small bit of change can be stressful. Whenever I encountered panhandlers, they became invisible to me and living in the city, I've learned how to give the cold shoulder, pretending not to hear their pleas, averting my eyes and walking away. Making up reasons and excuses about them and putting them out of my mind, made it easier to feel less guilty about my choice to ignore them.
Well, that is how I used to be.
Over the years, I saw the pattern of the same excuses I made for myself each time someone asked me for money. I saw my own self-centeredness and the need to protect my own interests.
One day as I was rereading the Sermon on the Mount, I read Luke 6:30 when Jesus says, “Give to everyone who asks you.”
I stopped to think on His words.
Give to EVERYONE who asks me? Everyone and anyone who asks? You mean if someone wants to borrow something, I have to give it to them? Yeah, but if I did that, I would have nothing left and I would be poor like them. And there it was again. The ME factor, my self-centeredness and concern for my own welfare above all others.
As I contemplated what Jesus meant I realized this is who Jesus asks us to be as His Followers. That LOVE surpasses everything else. We are to be a generous people who help, give and sacrifice for others to pass His love to all people, even people we despise. We are to be servants who are generous with our money, our time, our service and our Love.
When we act on Jesus' words, we begin to feel the compassion that He has for all people. And because of His compassion, we learn to LOVE, as He loves. Never withholding and always giving...unconditional Love. And when we love like He loves...we become as He is. A Light in the Dark. A beacon of love to the world.
A part of giving love is helping and a part of helping is to give money so a person can survive.
In my mind I used to imagine that panhandlers were collecting tons of cash, but when I think about how much money just slips through my own fingers everyday just to get by, I realized that even if panhandlers were getting generous amounts of money...it would still not be enough to live on. All of this made me confront my own feelings about money, my possessions and most of all...my closed heart.
When Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." - Matthew 6:19-21.
This meant that if I care more about money or possessions than LOVE...then I am definitely in the wrong place with God.
There was a time that I saw my self worth in the money that I made and the possessions that I owned. I was always concerned about every penny I had and how it was spent. And with that came the fear of losing and running out of money which also prevented me from giving. As time has passed, I see now that I am NOT my possessions. That money comes and goes and is NOT who I really am. But I AM a Child of God and if I truly desire to be a faithful servant...I am to love others in the same way Jesus loves me. Unconditionally. And that means that I may have to give some money to people who need it so they will not fall into hunger, danger, need or despair. As a Christian, I am to follow the path of Jesus to be a servant to all.
When I started to give a few coins to those who asked, my heart began to open up and I started to ask myself questions about these individuals. Did they do something or did bad things happen to them? Did they have any family? How did it come to this?
I began to have empathy for these persons. Compassion.
Now I don't think about the money and leave it to God and I find that somehow, God always takes care of me.
Each person's plea for help is a cry for recognition, compassion, understanding and love. And it is very important as a Christian, to respect each person and honor their dignity and self worth.
I am reminded that when we give we also receive.
Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” -Luke 6:38
In order to receive unconditional love, I must give out love without conditions.
"Freely ye have received, freely give." - Matthew 10:8b
In the past, I prayed for this world to be a better place but somehow I excluded myself from any responsibility for it. Yet by not giving, helping, volunteering or sharing, I AM a contributing to the decay of the world that I am complaining about.
As Christians we all pray for God's Kingdom come.
"Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in Heaven" - Matthew 6:10
Yet, if we don't give out His love on a daily basis, we are delaying His Kingdom from coming. We are the obstacles to God's will.
Well, I'm still not a perfect giver.
There are many days that I am not in the mood, have blinders on, have things on my mind and resent that someone is hounding me when I am feeling tired. But I am aware of my own weaknesses, prejudices and short falls and try to correct myself every day. I know that I can't help everyone, but all I can do the best I can to bring love into the world to each person I encounter.
There are times when passing a homeless person, that I catch myself falling back into my old mindset and so sometimes I turn myself around to give something. I need to watch myself daily to spiritually stay on track.
Yeah, but what about scam artists?
Yes, there are times that I am suspicious and wary of persons who are just trying to get money by posing as people who need help. So I will ask God to help me discern. But in general, I have decided that it is not my place to judge anyone and I give it to God. All that is required is that my heart is open to those people who God puts in my path.
The most important thing I realized was that when I ignore someone who is asking for help, I am also ignoring them as a person. I am acting as if they don't exist. Their pleas for help have fallen on deaf ears and a hard heart. I am untouched, uncaring, and unloving. I realize now that when I can, I must stop and acknowledge each person and give them something, even if it was a few cents. If I have nothing to give, I say a prayer for them.
The most important way to love people is to acknowledge them. When we acknowledge someone, we are letting them know that we see them and are including them in the family. Our family. The family of God.
There is an amazing verse:
"Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it."
Many times when I give to someone, I make sure to say, "God bless you" to let them know that God is with them. And many times, the person I give to says, "God bless you" to me. For some reason this always catches me off guard. This makes me wonder if that person might indeed be an angel in disguise sent by God to reveal the suffering in the world and whose presence is to challenge all of us to be better people.
Whenever I hear someone say to me, "God bless you", I always think to myself, "He already has."
© 2016 Edrick
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