I live in Memphis which has the highest percentage of poor people among the major urban dwellings of the United States. The neighborhood in which I live is not the worst in poverty but it certainly is not rich. You might describe it as a low, working-class economy. As a result it is not surprising to see occasionally people that society describes as a “transient-homeless-begging-bum.” But I take serious (or at least try to) the second greatest command to love my neighbor as myself and I realize that even the beggars of the street are my neighbor.
So early this morning I went and filled my vehicle up with Gasoline and while I was at the gas station, I noticed this man who was walking up to everybody but seemed to be walking away from the people as fast as he approached them. I called out to the man and told him that he looked like he needed help or something, and then asked if I could help him. He said that his car was out of Gas and needed to get to Marion, AR (which is a suburb of Memphis across the river). I quickly thought “here we go again.” I wanted to know first whether he really was the driver of the car and asked for his name first and then if he would show me his driver’s license (not that I was not willing to help, but I also don’t like the idea of someone thinking that they can lie and try to con me in order to get money). His name was Carl! He then responded to me saying, that he was not looking for cash rather just asked if I could pay for $15 dollars of gas on my bank card (which I was using to pay for my own gas). I told him that I would, but that he had to pull his car up to the pump and let me pump the gas for him and so I did.
I think he legitimately needed help with some gas money, but I am not sure. Maybe he was just another “transient-homeless-begging-bum” that had a car and was using it to take advantage of someone else’s generosity. I don’t know but I know that often Jesus had people who came to him just for what he could do for them, not caring one bit about Jesus and occasionally I imagine they took advantage of Jesus’ generosity too. So since I take seriously (or again, at least try too) the call to follow Jesus and live my life like he lived his, I feel a burden to help such people when they ask.
I struggle however, in knowing how to help such people. There is not a week that goes by in which I do not meet someone in the store parking lot of gas station parking lot who needs a little help. It is almost like I have a neon light flashing above my head saying “ask me for help.” Many of these people really only want cash to fuel an unhealthy lifestyle (I refuse to give cash to anyone), but some of them will simply let me by them a sandwich (those kind you find in the gas-station coolers) and a soda-pop or cup of coffee. But I still struggle, because my wife and I live on a small budget since I am a full-time graduate student and we also have a daughter to take care of. Our money also needs to be used to pay bill, buy groceries, etc… So I struggle and the struggle continues on.
What bothers me is the fact that Carl had spoken to many other people and was simply turned away, without any of those people even taking the time to find out what sort of help he needed and whether or not they could help him. Why does that bother me so much? Because I live in Memphis, the city also dubbed as the “Belt Buckle of the Bible Belt.” I take it that this means many Memphians consider themselves to be Christian. I presume that I was not the only confessing Christian that Carl spoke to and that bothers me. It bothers me that many Confessing Christians teach say “don’t drink, don’t swear, don’t…” while at the same time they ignore their neighbor(s) need. It bothers me also, because there are plenty of times that I still ignore my neighbor(s) need, foolishly telling myself that I am to busy, that someone else will help them, that the individual is just looking for “drug money,” etc…
I wish Christians, I included, would stop thinking of the people less fortunate than us who approach us on the street as nothing more than a “transient-homeless-begging-bum.” We need to remind ourselves that God created them too and he still loves them too – as much as he loves us.
But I still struggle. So I invite you to post comments on how we as Christians can help those we meet on a daily basis with their needs. I invite you to post on how we can encourage each other to not become hard-hearted by the many people who will try to take advantage of our willingness to love our neighbor as our self.