Monday, December 14, 2009

What then shall we do?

[John] said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “...Bear fruits in keeping with repentance...”

And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?”

And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”
The lovely green cottage where I live is actually in the middle of the city on a historical property full of trees and gardens, nestled between campus and a yuppie shopping center, and surrounded by some of the shadiest corners in the city. I’ve lived in a drug-ridden neighborhood in a poorer city before, yet for some reason the riffraff around my current home has set off more inner alarms in the past two years than I’ve had in the rest of my life put together. It brings out the suspicious cynic in me (yea, even in me!).

Yesterday as I returned home from church (significantly, from a local outreach team meeting held after the service), I got out of my car to open the gate that guards my green oasis in the city and was hailed by two men on the sidewalk. As I stood there cornered between them and my gate, they asked me for money.

A number of things went through my mind:
  1. They smell pretty strongly of alcohol. I can’t pretend I think they’re looking for food.
  2. They may not know this, but I am in front of my house. If they remember me when they’re sober, they could figure out where I live.
  3. I just had to take my car in for a thousand dollars of repairs this weekend, and I haven’t bought Christmas presents yet.
  4. This whole interaction feels degrading.
  5. Damn, what did John say in today’s gospel reading that I happened to hear three times over the weekend?
Frustrated, I gave the men a dollar each. One fellow shook my hand and held it too long. I pulled it away. He said, “I love you.” I said, “Merry Christmas,” and got back into the car feeling dirty.

Sometimes I wish I could either return to the joyful selfless giver I fancy I once had been in college or get hardened enough that all the very good reasons not to give money to riffraff would seem satisfactory to me. In the mean time, from this place in-between where hardness is creeping in but doesn’t have enough Scriptural basis for my comfort, I do the best I can.

After all, it seems that generous compassion is part of preparing places for Christ, perhaps less because it redeems the world than because it prepares places in our hearts. In the end, giving to the needy is part of the sanctification of our own souls, counteracting the cynicism of experience with compassion in hopes that compassion prepares the way for love. I pray my heart may not grow too hard yet.

1 comment:

Cliff said...

Your blogs help keep me honest.