Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reflection: Bus Fare and the Gospel

Terry[1] asked me for money today. As I read my Daily Office at First Church of Panera, he sidled up to a nearby table, took a seat, and very politely asked if I might help him with bus fare. I’ve seen him there before, poorly but cleanly dressed, waiting inside on cold mornings for the Knox Area Transit bus which stops very near the restaurant. He had never asked for money before, perhaps because I had never prayed that God would prompt him to ask me for help before – before today, that is.

We talked awhile and I learned that Terry is a regular guest at a local mission. They put these “guests” out at 7:30 each morning and let them back in at 5:30 each afternoon he told me, and I know it to be true. For ten hours – often very cold hours this time of year – Terry wanders the town trying to keep warm. This day, provided he could find bus fare, he planned to visit his mother before heading back to the mission.

Would I help him? I admit to a certain ambivalence about giving money like this. There is a liquor store next to the bus stop. Might Terry seek warmth there? Possibly: I’ve helped others before only to learn that they have abused the help in this or some other way. I’ve struggled to find a generic rule for how to respond to such a request. For some reason, things were clarified for me today through Terry’s request. Perhaps it was the Bible and prayer book he saw on the table that put things in context. Terry was not asking me for my money, though he may have thought so. He was asking a disciple of Christ if the Master had enough mercy to spot him bus fare. He was asking money tou Christou, from Christ, a Greek expression that attributes all good gifts to the Lord.

I knew in that moment that any judgment Terry might make based upon my response would be a judgment on the One whose name I bear, upon the One who said, “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away” (Mt 5:42, NKJV). Of course, it would also be a judgment on my obedience to the One who said that.

I know the arguments against giving money – many of them quite reasonable. I know that such requests might be scams; I’ve been scammed before. But none of this seemed to matter this morning. I choose to believe that the Lord can and will draw good from the obedience of his people, reasonable arguments and scams notwithstanding. I cannot solve homelessness nor can I ensure that even one man will use well the little I have to offer. But, this morning, I could commit into God’s keeping the little bit of money requested and, by so doing, offer God’s mercy. I know this: Terry gave me this morning far more than I gave him. Thanks be to God.

[1] Not his real name

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