I thought I was so clever (read: righteous), putting charity on my to-list for Vegas.I could sound all mysterious and say that I didn't know what form it would take but to be honest, I foresaw dropping coins into all the cups we saw and then proudly putting a check mark on the list as we flew back home. And that's how I started. When our rental car slowed at an intersection and I caught sight of a man pacing the island, I nudged my husband to roll down the window and give him change. And then we encountered several more as we walked the strip. Same thing. Drop some change. Feel good about self. Keep walking.
Then I heard a story about how many panhandlers here aren't quite as desperate as they let on and abuse this "system". So I stopped risking my money going into selfish hands and avoided eye contact with anybody in my peripherals for the next day. At one point we passed three placard-wielding Christians, hollering out repent, Jesus is the way-type exclamations. Straight out of the movies. How bold, I thought. Proclaiming your faith in a high-traffic area. Not thirty seconds later I saw a small huddle in front of me. A couple was squatting, facing a panhandler offering a sandwich from their box of about ten. The action looked intentional, with the remaining sandwiches headed for other street dwellers they would seek out.
At that moment I remembered some things (remembered and not realized because I knew these things, should have known these things). First, that dropping money in a cup while not even thinking about what their true needs are is not mercy. Second, withholding my generosity to avoid risking my (my!) money or time being abused is not an option God suggests. Managing those people's hearts is God's job, making my heart unconditional is mine.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:35-40 NIV)