It was after dropping off our oldest that I decided to just drive that road anyway. I knew it would be bad, but I drove it anyway. It was the shortest route, and I wanted to get home.
It was a Friday. Parked cars lined both sides of the road. People walked alongside of the cars. Traffic jammed the road. State police cars and officers helped direct pedestrians and autos as the Islamic Society's religious meeting ended.
We moved through the congestion with surprising ease. Arriving at the traffic light, I looked up the line of cars. Many men walked to their parked cars and claimed the door handles with confidence. A flick of the wrist and the door was flung open. Over and over the men streamed out of the building, through the full parking lot, into the street to their parked cars.
Among all of this, stood one man very still holding a sign. He wore beige. A dingy jacket in beige to be exact. That flimsy jacket and his full beard were the only things keeping the freezing air from his skin. His head was bent into the wind. He held his sign over his chest. Was the cardboard also a wind breaker?
"Mommy, why is that one man standing there?" she asks.
Quietly, I choke a reply, "Can't you read the sign?"
"No, I can't see it."
I don't want to answer right away. How do you best explain a sign that says 'Homeless, Please Help' when you don't do anything to help? After all, didn't we just read that very morning the passage in Matthew 25 about giving to those who have nothing? But right now, I have nothing to give.
I rack my mind. Could we give anything from the car? A few CDs don't seem too beneficial. What is left? A manual, a ripped towel used for muddy slides, and a cooler bag. Ugh. Nothing. How is this man going to survive the night? Freezing temperatures and biting winds do more than sting the skin.
We drive on. I stare at him as we pass. He looks up at me, through me. I think of the fish sign stuck on the back of the van and the words we read this morning.
“…for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 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? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?”
And the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
Matthew 25: 35-40
At home, the Drummer asks what's wrong. I explain about the man, his sign, and not knowing what to do.
We talk about how we never know what people do with the money. I agree, but counter that I'm not responsible for their actions, only mine.
I tell him how I want to help, give money, but don't want to put the children or myself in a dangerous situation. Just how do you give a few bills safely through a car window? He tells me to open it just a crack and feed out the money. It's not the warm and cozy kind of giving I am use to, but it keeps us safe from those who aren't begging from a need, and those who use the opportunity to get close enough to harm another.
I sigh. I missed the opportunity to give to Jesus.
Hours later, the pot boils, vegetables steam, and dinner is started when they walk in the door. The Drummer has returned from picking up our oldest. "Hey honey, did that man have a tattered brown jacket?" He calls to me as he enters the kitchen.
"What man?" I turn to face him.
"The guy with the sign. And did he have a bit of a limp?"
"Yeah he was wearing all beige. I don't know about the limp, but something was wrong with his arm. Why? Did you give him some money?" I ask, hoping.
"Yeah," he replies with a sheepish grin.
As I hug him tightly, I smile widely. Thank you, Lord, for a man who gives to you.