December 19, 2006

The beggar myth

Living in Lima, Peru, I daily encounter a number of beggars on the streets. And at each of these encounters, I still am beset by a number of often conflicting emotions. Pity and compassion come easily and quickly, wanting something better for these poor people. But usually not more than a split second behind is the thought—the oft-told myth—what if this person is one who beggs for easy money, too lazy to work at a real job. Or of course, this could be one of the beggars who use the money frivolously for cigarettes and alcohol.

Who hasn't heard someone voice this as a concern, and I'd dare say far too often as a reason for ignoring beggars? Because we seem to have this fear of being taken advantge of. "Of course I want to give to the poor," so why not now? Somehow this myth seems to win the day. Now, I grant you that there must be people out there who strive to take advantage of those more fortunate, or who use the money they obtain for less-than-noble purposes. But is this a reason to stop giving as a rule.

I've come to more and more realize that it's not my job to judge the person worthy of my condesention and aid. Jesus didn't go around finding the worthy beggars and most noble outcasts to befriend and heal, he went so often to what seemed to be the bottom o the social ladder. I admit that this isn't always comfortable territory. But that's okay. It is about time we realized that it isn't our judgment that these people need, but our love and acceptance. Like Paul says in Romans 2, it is our compassion and forgiveness that leads people to repentance, not our judgment in place of God. Not that we will always see the change in people, but maybe giving without expecting anything in return might begin to give someone pause.

And in the end, we are all beggars.

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