Two interesting stories came my way recently and made me examine our tendency to generalize. It also caused me to examine the way Jesus listened individually not collectively to the people He came in contact with.
The first story hit the headlines in our town, was repeated several times on the local news stations and stirred many heated discussions. A 50 year old man, a familiar figure because of his daily begging on the same busy street corner, was found dead in his vehicle from an apparent drug overdose. The police also found $1,700 in cash and over $83,000 worth of cocaine in his possession. Week after week this man had put on his beaten down face, shuffled back and forth in a humble, down on his luck manner and and carried a sign pleading for “just one dollar”.
You can only imagine the reaction from the community. Much ranting and raving about how these street corner beggars are all con artists, dangerous criminals, only used the money collected to buy drugs, and should be outlawed. I can honestly say not one radio caller or letter writer voiced any kind of compassion. I can also honestly say I did not feel one ounce of compassion for the main character in this story.
My second story didn’t hit any headlines or talk shows. It was related to me by a co-worker who had walked from her home to a local convenience store. As she approached she saw a man standing by the door and could tell right away he was going to ask for a handout. Her mind flashed to the recent news story noted above and she shoved her hands deeper into her pockets where she was carrying several bills of different denominations.
Sure enough, the man approached her and asked for seventy cents. She was surprised at the amount and asked what he was going to do with the money. He answered that he was hungry and the convenience store sold corn dogs for seventy cents. She sensed honesty in his statement and quickly prayed for God to guide her. She felt compelled to give the man whatever bill she pulled out of her pocket. She had a twenty, a ten and a five. So she added to her prayer that God would let her fingers grasp the five.
Pulling out her hand she offered the money, which happened to be a ten dollar bill, to the man. To her surprise he refused it, reminding her he only needed seventy cents. She tried to encourage him to take the entire bill but in all humility he explained that all he needed was seventy cents and he would feel bad taking more. She went inside, picked up her purchases and on the way out handed the man seventy cents.
She couldn’t help but look back as she walked away and sure enough, the man was inside purchasing a corn dog.
Two beggars, two different motives, two different actions – proving not everyone lies, not everyone cheats, not everyone takes advantage of generous people.
We are so prone to generalize and paint similar groups with the same brush, be it race, ethnicity, gender, occupation or whatever else we can pounce on. Jesus didn’t stop healing lepers because one was ungrateful. He addressed the honest questions of Nicodemis even though other religious leaders had ulterior motives. And when a crippled man was lowered through the roof, Jesus assessed his faith and addressed the real problem, not of his infirmity but of the sin in his life.
Jesus weighed each scenario, evaluated each need, studied each circumstance to make sure He did the right thing at the right time. Very few things fit neatly in a box with a generic label. It takes an open mind and an open heart to seek the proper response in each situation.
There are plenty of people and talk shows and written articles to try to convince you that everyone is up to something. They will say don’t trust, don’t love, don’t give and don’t take a risk.
There is still one very good resource, however, to remind you that God listened to your story. He didn’t toss you into a pot of you’re-just-like-all-the-rest stew. Instead, He listened, He loved and He gave you what you needed. That resource is called the Bible, the precious Word of God. The more you study it the better you will be able to discern your part in the scheme of your every day encounters. Sometimes you will know to turn away and other times you will feel led to reach into your pocket.
Two stories, One God with all the answers.
“When Jesus saw how much faith they had, he said to the crippled man, “My friend, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:5