Street beggars make me uncomfortable. My automatic reaction is either to ignore them or just say I don’t have any money. I get legitimately annoyed. I guess it is as if I am assaulted by their humanity, forced to do something about it when I just want to go on with my life. Who would think that humanity could be a weapon, yet it is a powerful one. In a city like LA, especially downtown, you are bound to meet many people who will ask you for a dollar or two. I quickly realized that this was a reality I had to come to terms with. I also realized that being annoyed by it was not really in line with the values of our humble King. It was easy to rationalize my behavior with the ideas that giving money won’t help and that the best I could do was to support charitable organizations that are already addressing these problems. No, it was a cop out. I needed a different approach.
This past Monday, I went downstairs from my downtown building for a walk as I do often. As I was walking back, there he was. I avoided eye contact as he asked for a dollar and simply mumbled that I didn’t have any. Yet, the tug from the Spirit would not let me get away so easily. I was bothered again, not by the beggar but by my robotic reaction to him. I had a meeting coming up in 15 mins and thought: “Oh well, I will try to do something different next time.”
Back in my desk I saw a recent message informing me that the meeting had been postponed for 15 minutes. No excuse anymore, God was giving me a chance to re-do our encounter. I battled with thoughts of “what ifs” but hesitantly went downstairs again. I saw him from a distance and this time I was determined to do things differently. As I approached him, I stopped and waited for him to make eye contact. He asked me for a dollar and I said: “ sure, here it is. What is your name? “. He told me his name was Eddie. There, now he was not just a fixture in the street but a real person with a name. I proceeded to shake his hand and treat him like the human being he really was. I started small conversation and then out of nowhere stated these words “You are loved in God’s eyes.” He would barely look at me but I could tell he heard it. I walked away and then it hit me: something powerful has just happened. In that moment, in middle of a work day, where misery and privilege meet, God overwhelmed with his presence. I am not one to cry easily but as I got back to the office, I had to find a secluded place to let the tears flow.
I still am not fully sure what to make of this. I guess the main point was obeying God in a simple act. I don’t think doing this changed his life nor do I plan to make him my ministry project. It was deeper than that. Somehow by being obedient I discovered that the street could be holy ground. Sometimes by simply recognizing each other’s humanity we can see a glimpse of the face of God.
I don’t expect every future encounter with a beggar will be this glorious. I do hope I will act less robotically and start engaging them as fellow human beings. I pray the Lord will give me the wisdom to listen to His heart rather than to follow my programmed reactions in the streets. I also pray that we as a people learn to see the face of God in every person we come into contact with, especially the rejected, the downcast and the invisible.