by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

January, 2011

One afternoon last year, I was sitting in the laundromat when I was approached by a local panhandler. He’s something of a “regular” there at the laundromat and he generally approaches me when he sees me. “What ya readin’ today?” he asked. I showed him my book and he carefully read the title aloud. Then he asked, “Can ya help me out with somethin’ today?” This is the normal pattern of our conversation and I usually give the guy a dollar and send him on his way. On this occasion, though, the smallest I had was a $5 bill. Of course he said, “That’s all right,” but I told him I’d get change. I’m reasonably generous but I wasn’t going to give $5 to some panhandler.

I went to the attendant and asked for change for the $5 bill, then gave the man his usual dollar. A lady who was sitting nearby said I was “passing out blessings.” I don’t know about blessings but I generally give what I can. Afterward, I thought about the woman’s comment. I don’t know much about the panhandler in the laundromat except that he claims he’s a veteran, has no job and probably has an alcohol abuse problem. Perhaps, for him, a dollar is a blessing.

Panhandlers were common in Jesus’ time, except they were known as “beggars.” One encounter between Jesus and a beggar is the case of Bartimaeus, whose name means “son of Timaeus” (Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:53-43). Jesus and his disciples were near Jericho when they met Bartimaeus, who was blind. In those days, people who were blind couldn’t get along, except by begging. There was no Braille and no jobs they could do. Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by. Apparently, he had heard about Jesus because he began shouting, “‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (Mark 10:47b ESV). Even though people told him to be quiet, he persisted until he got Jesus’ attention. Jesus asked him what he wanted and he said, “‘Rabbi, let me recover my sight.’” (vs. 51b ESV). Jesus restored his sight and Bartimaeus followed him (vs. 52b).

After Jesus’ resurrection, when the church was just starting out, Peter and John were going to the temple to pray one afternoon when they met “a man lame from birth” (Acts 3:2a ESV). The man asked them for money but Peter said, “‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!’” (vs. 6b). When he had said this, Peter took the man by the hand and helped him to his feet. The man was healed and began . . . walking and leaping and praising God.” (vs. 8b). If you’ve ever sung or heard the song, “Silver and Gold Have I None,” this refrain should be familiar.

Beggars didn’t disappear when Jesus, Peter and John were gone. As Jesus said, “‘For you always have the poor with
you, . . .’” (Mark 14:7a ESV). Whether this is condemnation of us or a simple acknowledgment of cold, hard fact is debatable but it’s true nonetheless. In Jesus’ time, the poor, crippled and disenfranchised sat by roadsides or at the entrance to the temple or wherever someone plopped them down and nobody bothered them much. Today, they can be found at intersections, on highway off ramps . . . and in laundromats. Mark’s account is the only version that adds to Jesus’ statement about “the poor” with these words: “. . . and whenever you want, you can do good for them.” (vs. 7b).

The poor are there. They’re all around us. They probably always will be. But whenever we want, whenever we can, we can do something good for them. It might be a dollar, it might be a sandwich or a cup of coffee. Regardless, we can give what we have, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” In whatever way, with whatever resources God has given us, each of us can pass out blessings. Each of us can share the “good news.”

“Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.” (Acts 3:4-8 ESV.)

Copyright © 2011 by David Phelps