I'm pretty sure all of us have come across the person who stops us along the street and asks for a dollar or two. Or, the person standing on the street corner holding up the sign that says, “Vietnam Vet: Out of work – please help” (or something along those lines) as we pull up to the stop light.
I think this tends to be a rather uncomfortable situation for many of us due to the fact we are torn. Many of us desire to help our fellow human out. At the same time, something doesn't feel right about giving money to someone you don't know – or you don't know what they'll do with that money once you give it to them. Many presume the money will go to drugs or alcohol. So, we assume this – ignore the person and keep on going.
In reply to a lawyer asking “who is my neighbor?”, Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan, who stopped alongside the road to help a Jewish man beaten and left for dead. Jesus praises the Samaritan for helping out the injured, even though the two groups (Samaritans/Jews) didn't get along real well. (Luke 10:25-)
I think of this story often when confronted with a person asking for money. I also think about a couple things I heard from my old pastor. He indicated that it is often with pride in our heart and judgment that we pass the beggar by. We often think, “they aren't going to take advantage of me!”.
When I lived in downtown Minneapolis, I often came across people asking for money. And, I didn't always give it to them. Especially if they had been drinking. I think there is some discernment here. However, at the same time, I want to lean towards offering assistance. It is not my job to judge why they are where they are or to look down on them.
I also try and meet an immediate need. Do they need food? I will take them to a restaurant. Or a grocery store. This is something I learned from my father. This way, you'll have some time to engage and find out more about their story.
Obviously this requires time and the risk of getting involved. Also discernment. I've known many on the streets to lie about why they need the money. And others, have lived this “dependent” life for so long they don't know anything better.
Still, my default response ought to be to meet the immediate need – however small that might be. Usually, I tell the person in need, “I give this to you in the name of Jesus.”
I'd much rather be the Samaritan than the Levite.
How do you handle this situation?