For years, I’d drive to my urban office. After parking my car, the area’s homeless would often accost me. My goal was avoidance. And when that didn’t work, to minimize contact.
“Can you spare some change?”
I’d shake my head as I made a beeline to the safety of my work. Sometimes, they’d follow.
“It’s for food,” they’d say when I’d scowl at the brown paper bag in their hand or withdraw from the stench of alcohol or body odor.
“I don’t have any money.” On some days, that was true, but most times, it was a lie. I’d have a couple bucks – and I planned to keep it for myself. Plus, I didn’t want to enable their habit or perpetuate their lifestyle.
But one day, I felt the disapproval of Jesus. Surely, he would not shrink away. Surely, he would engage. If I was truly his follower, I had to do the same.
So, I began offering to buy them a meal at the local MacDonald’s. Usually – for various lame reasons – that wasn’t to their liking. Only once did someone accept my offer. I bought his meal, wished him a good day, and retreated with a smile. My smug satisfaction, however, didn’t last long when I realized I hadn’t considered him as a person. I met his request, but likely didn’t provide what he needed. I could have sat with him, listened to his story, even asked his name. I should have, but didn’t.
In the years that followed, I attempted to do better. Desiring to be a good steward of the money God gave me, I’d talk with them, seeking to distinguish need from greed, to help when needed, while not letting them take advantage of me.
I did some foolish things along the way: giving rides to questionable characters, flashing my wallet, and giving out my phone number. Thankfully, God kept me safe from my naiveté. Usually their con fell apart as I pressed into their story. But occasionally it didn’t, and I’d buy a meal, a bus ticket, or a bag of groceries. Twice, I couldn’t escape their fast-talking hustle, handing over money just to get them out of my car. They accepted my pittance because my probing was wearing them down and they knew it was the best they could do.
Even with the care I took, I suspect most of the time, they took advantage of me. Yet I did my best to exercise good judgement, so I’m okay if a few of them conned me.
However, the counterpart to being a good steward of the money God has provided is to give to anyone who asks. It’s a balance I haven’t figured out yet, but I’ll never stop trying.