Sunday, November 20, 2011


Amen I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.   
Mt. 25:45

It was a weekday evening and I was at Penn station in NY waiting for a train home from a conference. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman holding a styrofoam cup shuffling from person to person.  While I couldn't yet hear her, I knew she was asking folks for money.  

And she was headed my way...

Now for those of you that do not know Manhattan well - I'll interrupt this story with some background.  Like any large city, it has its share of poor people.  Very poor people.  But it also has its share of people who pretend to be poor to get an easy couple of bucks.  Like this guy.  

And it is this latter group who have made me wary of wandering beggars.  So I tend to donate to places I know help truly poor people, rather than risk getting played like a fool.
Ok, back to the story at hand ...

Not knowing if the oncoming beggar was a phoney or not, I quickly put my headphones in my ears and started looking intently at my phone.   

"Sir, do you have any money to spare?" 

I ignored her, hoping she would move on to the next person. 

"Sir?  Sir?  I just want to eat tonight..." 

I stared even more intently at my phone, as she gave up and moved onto the next person. 

Shuffle ... shuffle ... "Ma'am? Can you spare any change?" 

Crisis averted.  Although anyone watching from afar must have been aghast at the scene they had just witnessed.  The iPod I faked listening to, the phone I pretended to tap away on, and the computer strewn over my shoulder, could have paid for this woman's meals for months.

I glanced up for a second to see a woman near me deposit a dollar into the cup.  

"Thank you ma'am.  Thank you so much.  May the Lord Jesus Christ bless you.  May He always bless you." 

With that, the beggar started shuffling away ... probably onto her next "victim".   She paused for a moment to turn back and shake her head in my direction.

I saw Jesus right then and there in that woman.  

Trust me, as bad as it is to know the Lord is upset with you, it is ten times worse to actually see it.

God Bless you.


Kathryn said...

Great post Michael. I really appreciate your honesty. It is a great mercy when God allows us to see our mistakes, within the power of His Love. How many times do I not even realize when I turn away from Him? May we always seek Him in others and see and hear Him call us back when we turn away. May God bless you this week! Have a Blessed Thanksgiving :)

Victor S E Moubarak said...

Michael, you are being too hard on yourself. You acted, reasonably, with suspicion because of what you have read, which may well be true. There are plenty of beggars who really are not that poor. I never give money to these mendicants because they never let me ride their Rolls Royce.

Let us suppose you wanted to give that woman $1, which you didn't; then I suggest you give that $1 as an extra donation in the collection plate in church on Sunday, or to a favorite charity of yours. What you did not give that woman will be given to someone else.

God understands your motives and He knows you did not intend anything wrong towards that woman. He also knows that woman well enough and knows whether she is genuinely poor or otherwise; and He will deal with her either way.

Maybe that encounter with the woman was God's way of asking you to donate a little more. Just $1 from each one of us is enough to make a difference.

Don't feel bad about this. We all hesitate from doing good these days because life is so full of trickery and lies; not because we mean to be selfish and less generous than we might otherwise have been.

God bless.

Anonymous said...

Michael, You were in a very difficult situation because you just don't know. We had a begger in our area once and our whole family felt so sorry for him that we started dropping off money and food everyday. It was months later that we found out he had quite a scam going on. On the other hand we were in a restaurant one day and an old women was being argued with my the store manager. He didn't want her in his establishment. Our son bought her dinner and asked the manager to leave her alone. These are two very different situations. It's difficult to tell these days who needs and who doesn't. I try to give to established places like Focus Hope where I know they will give to the people most in need.

Anonymous said...

It's a sticky wicket. Thankfully, I don't live or hang out in Manhattan (which I know well enough --the bridges' window washers alone scare me and I hate being cold to anyone, not least of all to the beggars standing silently palm-upward inside the Burger King doors and to those who don't beg, who simply live on the steam grates or inhabit the last pews of St. Patrick's). Around here, the begging is minimal and well-disguised, but it's there, and sometimes it's not valid. So far, I give something if I have something no matter what. But not so in Manhattan --I'd have done the same as you.