I saw a growingly familiar sight on the off ramp today. A disabled “begger” who was clearly in a bad way. He had this eerie million-mile stare on a very downcast face. As he leaned on his crutches there was no way you could look at him without your heart strings being pulled. It definitely worked on the car in front of me. Like an ATM transaction, the window went down and money exchanged hands. There was a thankful nod from the begger, but no real change in that haunting expression.
As I drove past, a Bible story popped to mind. In Acts 3, Luke writes about a similar encounter where a disabled man begged for money. Peter began his response to him with this: “Gold or Silver I do not have…”. I often wondered why Peter said this. At this time, Christians were selling stuff and to give to those who needed the money. Peter would have access to that money. Wouldn’t the beggar qualify as needy?
Sometimes gold and silver meets a need. A handout in whatever form can be a lifesaver in an emergency. For this to happen, it must fill an immediate and TEMPORARY need while the person in crisis gets “back on their feet.” In many cases though, a handout isn’t about getting a person through a tough and temporary situation. It’s part of how they are meeting their needs longterm. Handout to handout. Food pantry to pantry. Car to car. This is not an emergency as much as it is an unhealthy relationship with creation.
WE all have an unhealthy relationship with creation on some level. God placed us in the garden to take care for it, to subdue it, to master it. And to do all this to bring Him glory. As we do so, we reap the rewards and benefits from it. The garden produced fruit and we were to eat. Even after the fall the command still stands. It’s just now there are “thorns and thistles” in the garden along with the good fruit. As God’s work brought Him pain when humanity sinned, so to our work will be painful. These thorns & thistles are a factor in this broken relationship with creation.
Some unhealthy relationships are easy to see. The sluggard who could learn a lesson from a hard-working ant – a handout enables their lack of work ethic. The workaholic who finds their ultimate purpose in their activity – their work is their god and society’s approval feeds their pride. The woman who made a poor education decision in their youth – their lack of education hampers their financial security. Some unhealthy relationships are not so easy to see. The man leaning on crutches or the woman with autism – yes, they do have limitations. Many in society would write them off. Toss them some gold.
Back to Peter and the beggar. Peter said, “Gold or Silver I do not have…But what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” And that “beggar” walked. Most importantly he REJOICED. His downcast face was made alive. He walked, jumped, and he praised God. I’m sure being healed was a big reason for this. But mark my words, he would no longer have to beg. His relationship with creation was being mended.
We all have something to offer “beggars.”Maybe it’s not gold or silver or physical healing. We do have this amazing truth: WE all have value.
Each of us have amazing value and God given purpose. I love the Ephesians passage that says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared advance for us to do. (italics mine).” No one is a “beggar.” No one is useless. No one is of no value. The man on the off ramp (who is no doubt experiencing a major “thorn”) remains downcast even after he has received gold because he believes the lie that “I’m a beggar.” And sadly, each “gift” inadvertently reassures him and millions of others that they have no value. “I agree with you. You are a begger. You have no value. Here’s your gold.” Their dignity is robbed with each transaction.
We all have value. We all have a purpose. We all can contribute. And we all can reap the rewards of our labor. Salt & Light believes and practices this. Except in REAL EMERGENCY situations, we don’t give handouts. We bring in the downcast and help them self-discover their god given gifts. They contribute as they are able. Even those that society has written off can contribute, and they do. As they do so, they also reap a harvest. They earn the resources they need. Downcast faces rejoice! Our member surveys confirm this. Overwhelmingly, our friends are reporting that their dignity is being restored.
A woman in the program came up to me and thanked me. “You saved me and my kids life.” No. No I did not. I told her thank you, but I could not accept the praise. I didn’t save her. She did the work. She earned what she needed. She met the needs of her kids. “You did this.” I didn’t even give her the opportunity. I simply pointed to the truth and, most importantly, the author of that truth. As Peter said, “… In the name of Jesus Christ….” I told her we must give the glory to God. It’s His work. It’s His calling. We toil. He brings forth the fruit.
Years ago I attempted a drywall project. My second oldest, 4 at the time, helped me. I hung the drywall and fastened it to the wall. My son stood by with his plastic hammer. He called it a knock-knock. He contributed nothing to the project but his presence. And yet, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Why? Because we spent time together. It was a factor in building our relationship. The truth is this: It’s not always about the work. It’s about building our relationship with God while we have a proper relationship with creation.
“What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.” Hebrews 2: 6-8