Wretched Man That I Am…

… why don’t I minister to the poor.

I really want to develop this a bit more, but I here is where I think I am right now in this discussion…


1. No matter what I do, vis-à-vis “the poor”, my motives are touched by my sinful heart. So that whether I give a bum a dollar or send a five spot to the mission I fail to love as I ought. On one hand I am doing the absolute minimum for the poor and on the other I am keeping my distance from an untouchable man or woman. I am pathetic, I know that. 


2. The closer I am to a person the more difficult it is to give cash to that man or woman in need. If I read about children living in a garbage dump in Cambodia  I ‘know; what they need. They need money; I should send them cash right away.

But, as the needs get closer to home the more difficult (complicated?) it becomes. We don’t have children living in garbage dumps here, but we do have the chronically homeless man or woman. They need money too, but I am aware of opportunities for them to work, eat and receive other help. So, I begin to despise them, believing that they are somehow more deserving of their suffering than the children in Cambodia. The question then becomes how do I best represent Christ to them?


I think the best we can give is our time and interaction. Stooping to meet their needs by providing them food with conversation and a little human contact seems the best. I think Josh, Matt (over at www.theCedarRoom.org) and the others make a good point when they ask, “what does love look like to a bum?” Perhaps it does look like $5.00 with a verbal blessing, but I don’t think it can stop there. If we don’t help them out of their sin I don’t think we are ministering the best that Christ has to offer. Do we believe that drunks will not inherit the kingdom? Are we seeking to give them the kingdom at all? (Gal 5)


Let’s bring this even closer… If your flesh and blood brother was an addict, let’s say using cocaine, and he came to you every day asking for money. Would you be showing the love of Christ by giving him the cash? I don’t think so. Offering him a place to live (for awhile), food to eat and loving him out of his addiction is being Christ to him.

But, see how closeness to my brother precludes me giving him cash? I know his wife and children. I see what the drugs are doing to them and I know that any money I give could end up killing my brother, whom I love.  Who would want that?  The bum on the street is someones son, brother, husband, father…  What are we doing to them with our five bucks?


3. Lastly, those who work with the poor and homeless on a daily basis recommend that we not give to the bum on the street.  Those who have given their life to helping the poorest of the poor in this country believe it just does not help in the end. 

One of the things the shelters, agencies and soup kitchens do is prevent the rich in stealing from the poor. That is what the girl is doing in this video. She is stealing from the poor and those less fortunate than herself. Notice the lady who lives in a trailer, being tricked into giving the wealthy girl money.  Also notice how heartbroken her mother is…

Sad, really…

and complicated all around.

al sends


6 responses to “Wretched Man That I Am…

  1. Good thoughts here Al. I’ve had many of the same. That’s why I am thankful that we have a Gospel Rescue Mission in our town where people in need cand and do come for help – in the droves. All kinds of people, from burned-out addicts and alcoholics to families having a tough time financially, etc. And we at the mission help them, with all their real needs. The short-term physical needs, the longer term lifestyle needs, and their eternal spiritual need. Personally, I have involved myself in this ministry because it’s just too easy to not see and have compassion for people with these needs. And I have to say, this is probably the most rewarding areas of my personal ministry – seeing God at work in the least of these.

  2. I liked this post, and I think I more or less agree with it. I certianly don’t believe that we should stop with giving a bum $5, and so often we just toss money at something to assuage our conscience. When I worked in D.C. I heard the following joke:

    What’s the difference between a Democrat and a Republican? When the Republican sees a bum, he gives him his card, tells him to apply for a job, and leaves self-satisfied. When the Democrat sees a bum, he throws five dollars at him, and leaves self satisfied.

    But, aside from the self-satisfaction, both are making the same fundamental error–they leave. They don’t use unrighteous mamon to make a friend, they see a brother lying beside the road, and either give him the address to a hospital, or toss some money at him from the other side. But both pass by on the other side.

    The problem with just giving money is that the bum doesn’t really want money, nor does he really his next fix. Imagine how lonely you would be without home, without family, and with everyone treating you as a means to assuage their guilt. What he need is a friends. What he needs is a home. The drugs (and perhaps the food) are just his attempt to hide from the Cross Christ commands him to take up–misery and rejection by all. We can give them food, money, etc. but if we don’t raise one finger to help them bear their Cross, it ammounts to nothing more than vinegar on a reed. Though they may not realize it, we join in the crowd jeering at the foot of their Cross, mocking them to scorn. We offer them vinegar to drink.

    But the problem is they are so caught up in their ordinary fixes–that is they have joined the jeering at the foot of their own Cross–if we give them anything but their fix, they will reject us as a tool, or it will prove an emetic. We will be giving a starving man a lavish feast. We will be greeting our neighbor loudly in the morning. We will be shooting out our lips, and shaking our heads saying “Let God deliver Him, if he delight in Him.”

    But we are called to a righteousness that surpasses the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. We are called to a righteousness that lifts burdens. The Spirit of God is upon us to proclaim the gospel of peace to the poor. We are called to be crucified also for them, to descend into their hell, descend into their hell, that we might be raised again with them on the third day, and ascend into heaven, bearing them on our boosom. We, who are in the very image of Christ, must not consider equality with Christ something to be grasped, but must be made in the form of the poor, and being found in their fassion, to humble ourselves to their death. For only by being conformed to His sufferings may we atain to the glory. We have the righteousness of Christ, the righteousness that makes others righteous.

    But we must take them where they are, and start by giving them gifts they can accept. That is, often (but not always) we must initate a relationship with them through the sacrament of $5. Perhaps later we must excommunicate them–cutting them off from the Sacrament of ourselves, and from our gifts. But we must first begin by washing them with the our baptism, and feeding them with our Supper. By making our righteousness known among them, a righteous that fills the hungry with good things, and makes sinners righteous.

    In Christ,


    (And as I said at the beginning, I liked this post.)

  3. I am glad you are living out the gospel Phil. It is important that our theology touch others with mercy and love. How will they know that you are His unless by your love?

    Some excellent points here. Our calling to come along side and lift the burdens of others is hard work of carrying the Cross. They are not called burdens for nothing.

    I don’t know if the bum wants more than money. They need much more than money, but they don’t necessarily want it. Pride, fear, and shame often prevent the reception of more than that. To take the cash means I do not have to take my eyes off myself. Taking the $5 is the easiest thing to do, and we all love the broad way.

    I would also take exception to the use of the word sacrament in describing the giving of money to the poor. It may be a “visible sign of an invisible” common grace; I think it is more proper to give the word more meaningful expression in limiting it to Lord’s Supper and Baptism. If everything is holy then nothing is.

    Thanks for interacting and it was a real pleasure meeting you last week. God bless.

    al sends

  4. This may be a controversial question, but I’m going to put it out there anyway. I want to interject this into the conversation because we (I) tend to think in terms of the ones who “deserve” our (my) help. It may just muddle the whole thing, but here goes.

    I am moved to tears by the first link…the one about the children scouring the garbage dump for food, boys addicted to sniffing glue to beat their hunger, children beaten and neglected by their families. It is tragic and horrifying.

    When I watch the story of a girl panhandling, manipulating and deceiving others for money, I get angry. I get mad at every pandhandler everyhwere ever. I want her to be punished for her wrong-doing and to be forced to pay back every penny.

    Here’s my question: Aren’t they both “the least of these”?

    For me this wrecks my tidy attempts to help the helpless, and reminds me that the world is stinkin’ broken! The girl is just as broken as the boys who have had the crap kicked out of them their whole lives. The homeless guy in America is no less guilty than the girl who is stealing. He’s homeless because of sin. And there but for the grace of God…

    God grant us wisdom.

  5. I think those two links really set the difficulty of the issue in an appropriate light. Sin abounds in both of them. The children at the dump are a vivid picture of the heart of the girl in the video. They are no different in terms of their enslavement to sin and the only thing keeping the video girl from the hell of the garbage dump is grace.

    Oh, and if we got to see the sin of the children up close we would be just as repulsed as we are with this thief. And perhaps our tears would dry up and we would be crying out for God to send fire down from heaven to consume them.

    We have met the enemy and it is us. May grace abound.

    al sends

  6. Al,

    I think the disagreement over “want” is merely verbal.

    Regarding the word “sacrament”: I’m trying to use specifically Christological words to describe our actions in imitation of Christ.



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