I live in Nashville, TN. Over the last couple of years, I have noticed a new development. We have homeless people at many intersections selling a “homeless newspaper” called The Contributor. I don’t know much about this newspaper, who puts it out, what the purpose is, or where the money goes. Frankly, I’ve never bothered to find out.
I must admit my reaction to these guys has been, “Well, they found a new way to panhandle.” I have given them a dollar a couple of times, but most of the time I just look the other way or drive on by. Why? I ask myself, “How do I know where the money goes?” or “How do I know the guy isn’t just going to buy booze or drugs with the money?” And I guess on the surface those are legitimate questions. I don’t want to be guilty of blindly supporting something that is only enabling their dysfunction and addiction. I generally do want to give money to a place where I know it’s going to be used wisely, and that’s why I support my local rescue mission.
But I’ve been thinking and questioning my heart lately. It’s only a dollar. I won’t really miss it. And what if the money is going to something legit? What if the money is really helping to develop productive work in those who would otherwise be standing on a corner with a “will work for food” sign? What if it’s really helping homeless people overcome their dysfunction and return to society? I wouldn’t know because I’ve never bothered to ask. It’s been easier to just look the other way and be safe in my assumptions.
You see, it’s not really about that homeless guy selling The Contributor. It’s not about the principle, and it’s not even about the dollar. It’s about me. It’s about how easy it is for me to write something and someone off that I don’t know anything about. It’s about my safe zone. I’m willing to live with my preconceptions because they protect me from having to climb into the world of a homeless guy and find out what he and his newspaper are all about. It’s easier to drive on by than to recognize that it’s not just a homeless guy holding that newspaper, it’s a human being. A human being Jesus died for.
Maybe I’m right. Maybe The Contributor is just another clever cover for panhandling in 2011. Maybe the guy is going to take my dollar and go buy something cheap and numbing. And maybe I’ve been hiding behind words like responsibility and accountability so I just don’t have to get involved. Maybe this is what God told Israel in Zechariah 7,
Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion, everyone to his brother.
So I’m not going to stop making excuses. I’m going to give the guy a dollar any time I have one in my wallet, then I’m going to pray for that guy and trust that God will use my dollar to make an impact in his life. If I’m going to be wrong, I’m at least going to do it with my eyes and heart open, my head upright and not buried in the sand.
After all, maybe it’s Jesus standing on that corner.