Jesus said, "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."
Reflection by Molly Baskette
Once I was walking through Harvard Square, that epicenter of smartness and power, and also, you might not know, an epicenter of homeless folks in greater Boston. Perhaps they are hoping some of the privilege will trickle down? Still waiting...
I encountered a homeless woman, and gave her a dollar. She said, "Thank you for noticing me." Not: thanks for the buck. Not: thanks for the means to eat, or live. But: "Thank you for noticing me."
It would be easy to sentimentalize this encounter, and use it to justify not handing out money, but handing out smiles or eye contact or a holy blessing instead. It is important to treat homeless folks like the whole human beings, the equals that they are. The trouble is, the woman still needs to eat.
My theology of how to handle panhandlers is still evolving. I used to argue that when Jesus said, "Give to all who ask," he didn't say what we should give - we could give attention, we could give Odwalla bars, we could give indirectly to a homeless shelter so that we could be sure our gift would go to the right things - health care, food and shelter and not drugs.
But isn't it a bit condescending of us, to presume to know who will drug and who will eat, with what we give? And frankly: none of what we have is ours anyway. All our dollars are a gift from God, held in trust by us for a little while.
C.S. Lewis famously said, when a friend scolded him for handing out money to beggars, indicating that they would only drink it, "Well, if I kept it, that's what I would do with it."
I still carry Odwalla bars in my purse and my glove compartment, and small Gatorades for hot days. But these days, when I run out of bars - or if I meet a woman - I give a dollar, to honor her, and to honor the request Jesus made of me.
God, change my heart around the homeless and the broke, that I may truly believe what my good mind knows is true: that there but for Your grace go I.
About the Author
Molly Baskette is Senior Minister at First Church Somerville UCC, in Somerville, Massachusetts.