very time my husband, Cale, and I go to the grocery store, a familiar face greets us before we even enter the parking lot. Most days, standing on the median, is a grubby-looking, gnarly, black-bearded man holding a cardboard sign that reads the usual “Will Work for Food.” Both Cale and I often pass this man. We never give him anything, and we always feel guilty about it.
We’ve heard the typical warnings: “He’ll just spend it on alcohol” or “Giving him food won’t save him from homelessness.” And beyond these skepticisms lie safety issues.
The guilt, however, remains because another “warning” comes to mind: “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matt. 25:45). This man obviously needs something.
One day Cale was on his way to work when he noticed the same man standing in his usual place near the grocery store. He decided right then that the next time he should see this man, he would not only give him some food but also bring him home. He would give him a dry place to sit for a while, a warm meal, a shower, and maybe some money for a motel. Risky, yes, but he prayed about it and resolved to go ahead with the plan.
So the next time Cale drove by the man, he pulled up near him and rolled down his window.
“Would you like some food?” Cale asked.
The man stepped over to the car. “Got anything good?” was the surprising reply.
Cale was taken aback.
“Well, not with me right now, but if you’d like to hop in I’ll take you to my home for a whole meal.”
The man thought for a minute and answered, “No, I think I’d better stay here. I’ve got some other people bringing me stuff. If you want to get me something from Burger King or McDonalds, that would be nice.”
“OK,” Cale said as he shifted the car into drive. He decided that fast food was probably not the healthiest option, so he went inside the grocery store and bought a sandwich and a box of crackers. He pulled up next to the man again and offered him the small meal. The man gave a quick “Thanks,” stuffed the items into his small backpack, and continued to stand there with the sign.
When Cale got home and told me about the encounter, I was surprised by the daring proposal to bring the man into our home. But I was mainly irked for another reason: the man’s response. How dare a beggar be such a blatant chooser? Here Cale was trying to help him, and that’s how the beneficiary responds?
But there was my problem. I had to ask myself, “Did Jesus do good only to those who would give Him a favorable reaction? Did Jesus heal only those who He knew would appreciate it? Did Jesus offer forgiveness only to those He knew would change their ways?”
No. Jesus spread the love of His Father to anyone, regardless of their reaction, disposition, or tendency to sin again. Jesus had the gifts of ultimate love and mercy, and He gave them freely. It was as simple as that.
I made a commitment that day—not necessarily to try and save the world one homeless person at a time, but not to let someone’s perceived reaction stop me from lending aid. God just wants me to help; it’s not my place to wait until I can determine what they will do next.
“Got anything good?”
We certainly do. As followers of God, we can channel
an incredible love. We have a command, as stated in Isaiah 58:7, to “share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood.”
We need to take that command seriously. That doesn’t mean we should always take people in need home with us, but God expects us to do what we can to help—even if the response isn’t what we expect.
Amy Prindle is managing editor of Mid-America Union’s monthly magazine, Outlook.