Of course this is a loaded question. When we meet people on the street asking for money, we can’t know whether they are bums who refuse to work. We don’t know their background, what brought them to this condition, whether they are physically or mentally disabled, whether they do work but earn an insufficient amount, or whether their need for assistance is temporary.
Yet many are quite ready to assume right away that people in this situation are lazy and refuse to work. They might also assume they will use whatever money they receive on drugs or alcohol. Perhaps they will assume that they are making quite a living scamming the bleeding hearts who give them money.
Some refuse to give because ‘what’s theirs (money) is theirs’ and if these people need money they should get a job and work like the rest of us. Some refuse because of fear of being robbed or injured by the deceptive ‘beggar’.How I Prepare for Encounters
I made a decision some time ago that whenever someone approaches me for money I will help them. In preparation, I try to keep a number of ones and fives in my pocket in case I happen to run into a person in need.
My preference is to buy them food. If I am in a situation where I can, I will offer to take them to a restaurant and buy them a meal. Occasionally they refuse. I was once approached by a family of three who claimed they were hungry. There was a fast-food restaurant in the same strip center where we were, and I offered to take them there and buy them food. They respectfully declined and walked on down the road—with none of my cash. But usually my offer is happily received.
I don’t like being approached on a big parking lot because it is a more suspicious and potentially dangerous situation. Loaded with purchases and the keys to my car, with no one else around, being approached on the parking lot is particularly risky. Usually I decline, and I advise my wife always to decline in this situation because she is at risk of having her purse snatched.
But if I am not encumbered, I might give a couple dollars out of my pocket. They would have better luck with me closer to the store with other people around.
Why I Give Money to Those who Ask
The reason I give money to those who ask is because Jesus taught us to love others as we love ourselves and to treat others as we would like to be treated. If I were in dire need, I would hope someone would be willing to help me.
I know that a person asking for help might misrepresent their situation. I know I might be scammed. But it is not my place to determine whether a person is ‘deserving’ of my help. There is no way for me to determine that in a random encounter, and there is no time to deliberate on it. So I take them at their word and offer my little bit of help. On rare occasions, I have been able to do more by using my network of friends to help find a place for them to stay or to get them a job, but it is usually impractical to do that.
The main point is for me to help people when I can and to be prepared in advance to do so.
This is What Happened to Me Recently
Being approached while stopped at a stop light can be a problem; the traffic might begin to move before I am able to respond. But being prepared with fives and ones makes it easier. A few weeks ago I had such an encounter. A man was walking between two lanes of traffic with a sign. I was able to reach my pocket and give him a five without difficulty.
I knew I might be scammed in some way but in this case he took my $5 and, instead of continuing down the lanes of stopped traffic, he left the road and walked directly to a fast-food restaurant I had not previously noticed. I watched until he went through the door. Apparently he was hungry at that very moment and my $5 was enough for him to help him with his hunger. I made a small difference.
Now I could refuse to give money to those who ask for fear of being taken advantage of, but with that attitude there would definitely be those in genuine need who would be overlooked. If I am going to make a difference to the needy, I cannot base my actions on whether I think they are worthy of it. Jesus didn’t help people he thought were ‘worthy’; he just helped those in need. Hospital staff also attend to patients in need without first determining whether they ‘deserve’ the help.
What does this Mean for You?
I don’t know what this means for you. This is my decision for helping those in need; it is not a template I expect others to follow. But if we are believers, we must consider seriously how the teachings of Jesus for us to love others as ourselves, and to treat others as we wish to be treated, apply. We must decide what Jesus had in mind when he says in Matthew 5, “Give to the one who asks you” and how it should manifest in our individual lives.
I think that after consideration of the pertinent issues a believer can decide how they should act on Jesus’ teaching and example. But only you can decide for you.