The Age Old Question: What is my response to the panhandler?

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The Age Old Question: What is my response to the panhandler?

In a recent sermon on hospitality, I emphasized the need to press our hospitality outwards from caring for one another in the household of faith (Galatians 6:10) to extending the table to the poor, lonely and forgotten (Luke 14:10). The sermon led to a couple of engaging conversations about the Christian response to panhandlers who are appearing more and more on the medians at our suburban intersections. I understand the quandary of not knowing how to respond and the questions that are raised in our minds of what is going on, what is the story? What are we to believe and more importantly, what are we to do?

I’d like to share some thoughts that have been informed by my conversations with you. To start I suppose we can agree on what not to do – don’t fix your gaze straight ahead and wait for the advanced green. Our understanding of the stranger on the median as a beloved child of God demands that we not ignore her or him. At the very least, hold the person in your view and pray for them. You may even fix eyes with them, offer a warm smile roll down your window and say ‘hi’, while offering peace and grace. This may feel strange but really, you are asking they receive God’s well-being. As uncomfortable as it may be to say this, it is what you want.

If offering a smile feels like a mockery of their circumstances, prepare yourself with a few coins in your cup holder and pass them through the window. This is a matter of conscience. You may feel like you don’t want to enable an addiction. On the other hand, Jesus tells us to give to those who ask, and perhaps when a person doesn’t have access to pain medication or mental health counselling, it’s not ours to judge if someone needs a little something to numb the pain. We live in a broken world and these are complex issues. As I said, it’s a matter of conscience and I don’t think we will be judged for generosity gone wrong.

Recognizing that a real human exchange is not going to happen at a traffic light, consider pulling into the nearest parking lot, pick up something to eat or drink and bring it to them. Yes, this will take time and effort, but as you do this, keep in mind Jesus’s words in Matthew 25, “I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.”

Lastly, a simple suggestion was made to give a business card to a person with information pointing to free community meals. Through your generous financial giving, you contribute to over 2,000 healthy meals served week after week at Next Door, in Aldershot. To help you pass on this information we are printing business cards that you can share with people in Burlington, pointing them to Next Door. (We are also doing the same for Oakville and hopefully Milton.) We hope this helps you respond in a way that is Christ-like, offering real help while extending warmth and a smile.

I would love to hear from you. How do you respond? How has God’s Spirit been prodding you?

About the Author:

Paul lives in Burlington with his wife Elizabeth and their five children, Alexandria, Gabriel, Hazel, Sophia and Simon. His current interests are native gardening, mountain biking, trail running, basketball and visiting indie coffee shops in the Hammer. If he is doing any of the above with his family all the better!

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