The homeless guy who lumbered through my subway car yesterday morning wasn’t as insistent as some about spare change or food to eat, but it was rush hour and you could feel all of us commuters sighing to ourselves, whether we were reading the newspaper, scrolling through texts or trying to wrap our minds around a Bible verse, as I was (and I must reiterate that I’m not the only one on the A train working on an inner journey).
I had my mind fixed on a line from Psalm 68, “Send forth your strength, O God; establish, O God, what you have wrought for us” (verse 28), and my eyes were closed, but I opened them as the guy passed through the car, trying to figure out the right thing to do. You’re not supposed to give to beggars on the subway, and I can guess at the reasons: They will spend the money on drugs or alcohol; they need greater help than any pocket change; many of them suffer from serious mental disorders and should be in treatment.
Still, an inner voice urged, Give him something. Even if it was just a buck. I fished around in my pocket, slow to extract a dollar, and by the time I had it in hand, the guy had moved on. There, I told myself. You’re off the hook. After all, I’d tried.
But then, are we ever really off the hook when it comes to the poor and the needy? Isn’t helping them at the heart of the Gospel? If Jesus were here on the subway this morning, wouldn’t he be able to cast out the demons that probably haunt this guy? At church we celebrated our soup kitchen and all the volunteers who make a difference, helping guys like this one. I give to that. Isn’t that enough?
For goodness’ sake, just do it. The guy standing near me saw me holding my dollar. With his eyes he signaled, “I’ll pass it on.” I gave it to him, he gave it to another passenger, someone called to the homeless man who took the bill. “Thanks,” I said to the other passengers. They nodded. That’s what this is about, I thought. Not so much about the guy who took the money as much as us, travelers on a journey through life, doing something together. That’s where God’s strength comes from. Like in our church’s soup kitchen. We don’t ignore the needy. They are God’s children, like us.
I returned to my psalm, better able to concentrate on the words.