A Very Special Christmas Curse
It is Sunday morning. The service is starting in about 45 minutes, and I'm in my office going over the sermon. There is a knock at my door, and I open it. In front of me is a man whom I have never seen. He is a bit taller than me, maybe a bit older. His clothes are in disarray, and he has red and puffy eyes. Unfortunately, I know what is coming.
He starts to mumble, something about a divorce and needing money for custody. He shows me a check for a hundred dollars, written by another church. Its hard to understand him, but I don't let him talk for long.
Me: "I'm sorry sir, but we don't give out cash to people who come in off the street."
Him: "Oh, okay."
Me: "Sorry, but I can give you some direction for where to get . . ." (I'm about to give him our resource list of local agencies, but he interupts me.)
Him: "Yes you do, you gave me money last year."
Me: "Oh, that must have been the church that used to be here. We bought this building, this is a different church."
Him: (beginning to walk away) "Oh, okay." (pause) "So, you don't help anybody out."
Me: "Actually, this church does a great deal to help people out. However, we don't give money to people who come in off the street because it generally fuels addiction."
Him: "I'm not addicted to anything." (he says this to me while looking and talking like someone who is high.)
Me: "Sir, I have no way of knowing that. And, frankly, I don't believe you."
Him: (he is walking away) "Jesus is going to come back, and he's going to ask you why he should let you into heaven."
Me: "You are right, that's true."
Him: "I mean it."
Me: "So do I."
Him: "Not all pastors are going to heaven. He's going to send you to hell."
Me: "Thank you for the condemnation, have a good day."
I went back into my office. He drove off in a powder-blue mid-size car. I was left to ponder both my compassion and my salvation.
Did I do the right thing? Its Christmas, and the poor are on my mind (as they often are). I know that my church gives 20% of its offerings directly to mission and outreach outside of ourselves. I know that in the past year my church gave $10,000+ more than that to people who were in direct need in our community. Besides that, we are in direct ministry with the poor practically every day. My personal efforts for the poor I will keep to myself.
However, I still had that knot in my gut. I still know that this guy is in need, and not only did I not help but I brought out some anger from him. Of course, I am also familiar with addiction, and I fully believe that if I had given him any money it would have most likely gone to drugs and alcohol, or at best would have freed up other money for his addictions. And his reaction to my refusals did not bolster my confidence that he was on the up-and-up.
So, as I celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, Savior of the Poor, I will remember this man in my prayers. I will wonder if there was a way I could have been more Christ-like to him. And I will also remember that he does not make decisions about my salvation. That my salvation, and his, is a gift made available to each of us through the miracle of the God born poor.