There are certain aspects of the Sunday worship service at my church that are the same each week, down to the exact phrasing that my pastor uses. For that reason I’ve described it as “liturgical” before, although it’s not a liturgy that we use, necessarily.
One of those phrases that we hear each week as the service ends is an instruction that goes something like this: “The Bible reminds us to be careful of how we entertain strangers, for some of us have entertained angels unaware.” My pastor is referencing Hebrews 13:2 each week, and that reminder has often resonated in my head as I’ve encountered people on the street asking for something—change, food, a SEPTA token. As I walk away with my money still in my wallet, I have thought a couple of times, “What if that was an angel?” Jesus himself said that when we feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, or clothe the naked we are actually doing those things to him as well. So I’ve thought before, “I just denied Jesus a couple of dollars!”
I bring up these thoughts because of a discussion we had at our Wednesday night Bible study this week. In a conversation about living your faith out in works, the topic of giving money to panhandlers came up as such an opportunity to “prove” your faith. The discussion went all over the place, with many people having stories to tell about how they’ve handled the situation so familiar to all of us. Some had given out $20 bills and others advice such as “Get as job” (a response to which I have not the time to deliver here). The clearest answer I came out with was “Do as you feel led in the moment, considering the Bible’s strong bend toward generosity.” It was a reasonable answer that left room for “discernment,” a word that came up several times during the discussion.
But this morning I was reminded of a striking instruction from Jesus during his famous Sermon on the Mount as recorded by Luke: “Give to everyone who begs from you…” So simple. If someone begs from you, give them something. This was such a freeing command. Just give.
Of course there is the consideration of what to give, which Jesus does not address. And I agree with Jesus that it doesn’t need addressing. We are to give. To everyone who begs from us.
So as I learn about how to practice simplicity, I’ve decided that I’ll not be caught unprepared any more. I will have things on hand to give, mainly granola bars and SEPTA tokens since I’m usually asked for food or “money for the bus.” I’m commanded to give and I’m confronted with opportunities all the time, so I’ll not leave any more angels with empty hands, and I’ll certainly not leave Jesus with an empty belly. I’ll give.