To give, or not to give. THAT is the question.
His name is Roy. We passed him on the street today, as we were taking a nice mid-day walk to Gardener’s Restaurant, on our lunch hour. He was an elderly man, dressed in khaki pants and a collared work shirt, but both looked old and worn. His unshaven face was lined with wrinkles, and his shoulders drooped forward as he walked. As he passed us, he commented about the new building across the street and how nice it looked. We stopped to talk to him about the building, and my friend quietly turned her back to me, drew her wallet from her purse, and politely asked him if she could give him some money. He said, “Sure!” and took the money from her hand. I stood and watched, wondering if the man was homeless, wondering if he really needed the money, and wondering if he worked. I’m a strong believer in working for what you receive. I’ve always believed that it’s not fair for one man to benefit from another man’s work. I believe in giving, but only to people who are truly needy.
Roy began to open the paper bag he was carrying and withdrew a ripe, plump, bright red tomato. Obviously, he had just been to the Farmer’s Market nearby, and the only thing he had bought was this one large, delicious-looking tomato. He offered it to her, in exchange for the money she had given him, and she took it. I guess he felt that if he received a gift, he should give a gift in return. I was touched that he would give up the one thing he had purchased today.
He began to tell us that he had fought in the Vietnam War, which we could already tell from the label on the ball cap he wore. He began to tell us about the day he left for war. “I was seventeen when I got drafted. On the day I was to leave, my little sister, who was eight years old, stood before me with tears streaming down her face, begging me not to leave. Even at seventeen, I knew that I had to be the adult, and I had to be strong for her, while inside, my thoughts were completely different. Inside, I wondered what my life would be like, where I’d be going, and most of all, I wondered if I’d ever return, or if this would be the last time we spoke. ‘Now, now, Mary Beth. Don’t you cry. I’ll only be gone for a little while. Can you stop crying now, just for me?’ Mary Beth tried to stop her sobs, and slowly began to quiet them. He paused for a moment, as if he were looking at the past, and said, “And look at me now. I’m still here.” My friend and I were touched by his story, and we patiently chatted a while longer with the man, obviously a person who just needed someone to talk with today. A few minutes later, we thanked him for his service, as we turned away and continued our walk to lunch. The words he said, as we walked away, will stay with me forever. In a feeble, shaky voice, he said, “I’d go again for you, if I needed to”, as he smiled, waved and walked away, leaving me to continue my walk, blurred by tears at the thought that this elderly man would go to war again, for his country, and for ME.
That evening, I had a long-distance phone call with my mother, and she told me she had heard a sermon about giving, that day. I thought it ironic that she would bring this up, on the same day I had met “Roy”. She said, “The Bible says that when one man asks for food, you are Biblically required to give it to him.” I said, “But he didn’t work for it.” She said, “You don’t know his story, and you don’t know what he’s done. It is not ours to judge.“ Sometimes, moms have the best advice, at the most opportune moments. Her comments made me delve into my Bible, for what God has to say about giving.
Deuteronomy 15:7-11 says,
“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ ”
Proverbs 28:27 says, “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.”
So the true question is not “To give or not to give.” The true question is whether we, as Christians, will follow the word of God and give to the poor and needy. Or will we turn our heads and walk away?