Friday, May 23, 2008

The Least of These...

People call or come by church buildings all the time asking for help. People that I’ve never even seen before will tell me that they are about to be evicted, or have their power turned off, or get kicked out of the motel where they’re staying, or they need a tank of gasoline to get home to where their relatives live… and I’ve heard all of these stories before. A man told me once that he was dying of AIDS and was waiting to be admitted to a hospice center. He said his father had disowned him and wanted nothing more to do with him. This guy asked for money to cover the cost of two night’s lodging in a bad hotel until he could enter the hospice facility.

So what would you do if you were in my place? I said a prayer… and I’m thinking: “This guy may be lying and just trying to scam me out of two night’s stay at a hotel that I wouldn’t think of checking my family into. But here’s a man who’s saying that his own father has rejected him… so do I add a little more rejection to his load?”

Ministers don’t like to be scammed any more than you do. And I’m constantly having to fight becoming totally cynical in response to people who ask for help. It has always interested me that one of the gospel writers saw fit to include that Judas was the treasurer of Jesus’ small band of disciples… and that Judas stole from the purse. I’m thinking Jesus knew this was going on… so why doesn’t he put a stop to it?

Okay, so this guy with AIDS wants me to pay for him to stay at a hotel for a couple of nights. I could check out his story, ask for references, or just refuse his request.. But I don’t do any of the above. I call the hotel and make arrangements for him to stay. He grips my hand as he leaves and says, “God bless you.”

Now did I just do what I did to get a blessing from God? Should I feel blessed? Should I fixate on the possibility that maybe, just maybe, this man didn’t have AIDS but was only using the mention of that dread disease to capture my sympathy?

Four months later a man shows up at the door of the church building and tells me he’s just hit a lady’s car and fled the scene because he doesn’t have insurance or a valid driver’s license. He doesn’t know what to do… and is asking for me to help him. This man points to a guy standing behind him who he says was in the car with him… and it’s the guy with AIDS, or the guy who said he was dying of AIDS.

Now you’re probably thinking, “You probably felt pretty stupid, didn’t you?” And I won’t deny that I felt a surge of anger as I looked the AIDS guy in the eye. (He’s squirming at this point… probably wondering why of all the places he ends up with a friend who’s just run from the scene of an accident is here with me.) And I knew I’d been scammed… again… but that’s not what I was really focused on. I told this man that he’d lied to me… but that I’d get over that. However, using churches to extend your stay in a hotel was something I thought this guy and God would have a chat about one day.

I've told you how I responded to the AIDS guy. What do you think Jesus would have said to this man?