How do you respond to panhandlers and beggars? Do they represent an interruption and an inconvenience in your day? I walked by one on my way to dinner in Sacramento a couple of nights ago. He had lost a leg and was in a wheelchair. I was with three other people and thought, “I’ll talk to him on the way back” as I walked by him. But on the way back, he was gone.
Our own needs sometimes feel overwhelming when suddenly the needs of a stranger intrude in our reality. And in our better moments, when we’ve got our wits about us and we pause to assess the stakes, we may even pray about it.
World Racer Matt Snyder
spent a month in one of the most misery-ridden places on the planet – Delhi, India. He and his team experienced the heat, the press of people, the filth, the stink, the spiritual darkness. He sums up the turmoil in his soul in this encounter with a beggar:
I’ve found that my compassion for beggars has tended to wane. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I think Jesus would gravitate towards people like this, but I just don’t much anymore. The beggars here never see a cent that they earn anyway. They sit and beg and at the end of the day turn all of their money into the begging syndicate, a council that more or less is structured a lot like the mafia.
Imagine begging for eight hours a day and never seeing a penny that you earn.
I sat there and wrestled with my conscience for just a few seconds. But I kept seeing this man out of the corner of my eye, sitting on the ground, one leg curled in with a clubbed foot, the other sticking straight out, stiff as a board, with yet another clubbed foot. He dragged a small wooden cane along with him. His clothes were rags and his beard caked with dirt.
He just looked miserable.
And then there arose this battle in my spirit, almost as if the forces of darkness were grappling fiercely with the power of Light within me. I swear there was a physical battle in my stomach.
Through the sea of white people, bicycles, and salesmen, I made my way towards this child of God who perched himself on the ground, reaching his cup as high as he could for some spare change. Tourists were dropping in coin after coin as I began raising my voice. I just locked my eyes on this guy and started speaking life into him. Next thing I know my hands on this man’s shoulder, as I’m hunched over, looking directly in his eyes, he in mine, and I won’t move.
I spoke life into his bones, I prophesied the day he would pick himself up and walk.
And even though I spoke English, I think he heard Hindi because he listened with that much intensity.
I stood, while he sat and stared.
And then I moved. I began walking away, allowing myself to be caught up in the movement of the world. I didn’t see a man walk. I didn’t reach out my hand and invite him into a world of faith, into the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus Christ.
I’m always one step behind.
And so I wonder if I keep up this lifestyle of always being one step behind myself if I’ll ever see a difference made in this world. I mean I should have reached out my hand and seen if he would have grabbed it, if he would have put down his cup and pulled himself to his feet, but I didn’t. He didn’t. I just walked away with a varying lack of faith resonating in my bones and his. Or did I?