In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus tells a story about a rich man who dies and ends up in Hades. Across a “great chasm,” he sees another man, Lazarus (a beggar the man often encountered outside his gate), in Heaven. When the rich man asks why he cannot be in Heaven with Lazarus, the prophet Abraham tells him it is because he failed to help Lazarus when he needed it most.
When you encounter the Lazaruses in your life, what is your response?
Last summer, my son (a fifth grader at the time) taught me a valuable lesson about giving. We were visiting Niagara Falls for the first time and had given our three children each $5 to spend on a snack/small souvenir. While walking along the strip up Clifton Hill, we passed by a man in a wheelchair. He was missing both of his legs and was holding a cup out for money. Like most of the other tourists, we walked by—pretending to be so mesmerized by all of the attractions that we did not see him.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed my son stop. He reached into his pocket, pulled out the $5 and gave it to the man.
Now, $5 is not a lot of money. But it was all of the money my son had at that moment in time. Without question or doubt, he gave the man everything he could. I had given nothing.
Faith in action
After leaving Niagara Falls, we continued east, eventually visiting big cities, like Boston and New York. Homeless people and beggars were common on almost every street corner. My son wanted to help them all; however, my concern for his safety and our limited money did not allow it. After a long discussion, we came up with an idea.
When we returned home, we went to Sam’s Club and bought a bulk supply of granola bars and water. We filled empty plastic grocery bags each with one granola bar, one bottle of water and an envelope with $1 inside. These bags were placed in my car so that when we passed homeless people holding up signs asking for food and money, we had something to give.
The bags may not offer much, yet we have always received a smile and “thank you” from the people accepting them. I do not know if these people are really homeless or in the situations they claim to be, but is it up to me to decide? For them to be asking for food or money, something in life must be out of sorts for them. Jesus did not say, “Give drink to the thirsty. Give food to the hungry—but only if it looks like they are good people or have good intentions.”
No, he said to “give.”
While it was humbling to be taught a lesson by a fifth grader, I treasure what I learned from my son about recognizing need in the eyes of Lazaruses I encounter in my life and how to respond faithfully. It also gives me hope.