Today was one of the more interesting days I’ve ever had at work. A couple of things really worked together to make the day interesting, but one situation in particular has been playing on my mind, and I am curious to get some thoughts and insight from others. So here goes…
As I was working in the front of the store, I noticed a gentleman holding his side and sort of limping, walking towards me. When I saw him I immediately thought this guy was either homeless, or extremely down on his luck. As he approached the counter, he moved in closer to me so he could speak quietly. I had to listen closely because he had a bit of a speech impediment, or a lisp of some sort that made him a bit difficult to understand. The gentleman simply said, “I am a long ways from home, and was wondering if you knew of a good pastor, or deacon nearby that I could talk to?” After asking him to repeat himself, I wasn’t really sure what to say. I searched through my wallet, looking to see if I had a card that would have the number of a church I used to go to that was nearby, but of course I couldn’t find it. As I was fidgeting around it dawned on me, “Idiot(myself), even if you could find a number, he doesn’t have a phone!” I was working, and was a bit afraid of irritating my boss, or causing a stir at work, but I figured this was something I needed to deal with, so I called my boss and told him I needed to go outside for a little bit, I was going to try to help this guy.
I took the guy outside, and explained that I was a minister, and asked how I could help, and what he needed to talk about. After the gentleman apologized several times for his appearance, and for taking my time, he finally got on with explaining his situation. He told me he is from Richmond, Virginia but had been in Texas for a while. He really needed to get home, and somewhere along the way he was told if he could get to a town called “Sneads Ferry”, which is only about 15 miles from where I was, there was a “Christian” couple there who were on their way to Norfolk, Virginia the next morning and he could catch a ride with them. He had found someone to drop him off just outside our doors, but he needed a way to get the rest of the way to Sneads Ferry, and he needed some money so that he could stay at a hotel there, where the couple would pick him up. I told the guy that if he would stick around for a bit I would be happy to drive him, but I had no cash to give him for a room.
I noticed that after telling him I had no cash, he seemed a bit less interested in talking to me. I have to admit, as we were talking, I kept wondering to myself, “Is this guy for real? Is this guy just trying to take me for a ride? Is he just trying to take advantage of a ‘gullible’ Christian?” I felt horrible, and still feel bad thinking these things, but I just found it odd that he kept talking about finding a “pastor” or “deacon” or “some good Christians”(I think he used this description). I also found it odd, that as soon as he found out I wasn’t just going to give him money, he seemed to be less interested. I kept thinking to myself, “Does he just think a Christian is going to be an easier target, or does he just feel more comfortable going to someone who may be a little more compassionate?” Again I feel bad that these are the things that were going through my mind. I also found it odd that as I tried to press him a little bit, or ask more questions about himself, and his situation, he just didn’t really want to talk. All he wanted to talk about was getting to his destination, and money for a place to stay. I’m not entirely sure that the guy was totally mentally competent, so that could also have affected the conversation, and his approach to asking for help. I told the guy, that if he would stick around for a while, until I went on break, I would be happy to give him a ride, but again said, I had no cash. He informed me that he would try and find someone else to help him. I asked, if there was something I could pray for/with him about, or if there was more he wanted to talk about, or any other way I could help, and again, he said no. Still I told him, I would look for him while on break, which I did, but never did find him.
As I went back to work, really the rest of the day, I couldn’t get the guy out of my head. First off, I felt like a horrible person for having such suspicions of a guy I didn’t know, and really did seem to be in need. Secondly, I felt I should have done more, at least offered to get the guy a cab(still not sure why I didn’t think about that). Third, I wondered, even if the guy was trying to take me for a ride, is it my place to try to discern that? Shouldn’t I as a Christian just be willing to help, do what I can, and trust God to sort everything else out. And if I am going to err, isn’t it better to err on the “being too generous” side, rather than the other?
The Scripture that has been turning over in my head is quite obviously, Matthew 5:38-48, especially verse 42, “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” Also Matthew 25:35-40, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
I’ve been told before that we must be wise with our money and resources…I agree. I’ve also been told by a friend of mine, as relates to similar situations that we have to be discerning as to when our mercy ceases to be mercy. I’ve also even heard the “throwing pearls before swine” argument. But I wonder at what point does God give us that “out” clause? When does He say to “use your best judgement, and know when to not help someone in need, so they can learn to help themselves.” How do you know when the “swine” really is a “swine”?
I’ve heard someone say, and I think it is a tremendously true statement, that we use the fact that Jesus uses hyperbole, as an excuse not to take Him seriously, and to do nothing. It’s true to a great degree. How many times after reading one of Jesus’ hard statements, do preachers try to explain it away, or say, “Yeah, but what He really meant was….” We’ve all heard that, and we’ve all done that to some degree. Did I do that today?
That’s what I’m asking myself, and I would really like some feedback, and would really like to hear some thoughts, and have some discussion on this matter. This is something I’ve thought about often. I would also appreciate responses to be backed up with Scripture if possible….I would also ask you guys to pray for this guy, whatever is going on, he is in need. I pray he realizes his biggest need is Christ, and somewhere along the way I pray, he finds exactly what he needs.
Thanks guys, I look forward to hearing from you…