My gut told me that the gentleman who interrupted my walk to the car was going to be trouble. It's hard to tell how old he was. He looked worn from what I presumed to be a difficult life. A couple of teeth were MIA from his mouth. He wore baggy black sweat pants with the legs raggedly cut off about six inches above his holey tennis shoes. A much-too-big Liberty University red t-shirt topped the pants while one of those flimsy sackpacks draped across his back. It was hardly the image of a successful entrepreneur.
"Hey," he called to me. "Can I talk to ya for a minute? I gotta ax you sumpin."
Oh, boy. I started getting very uncomfortable but turned to watch him weave through the cars to come closer.
"My car be stuck in dat park'n lot down der. Can you gimme a couple dollas so I can take da bus back home. Ya, know, off Timberlake Road."
"Your car is stuck?"
"Yeh. Down der. Da alternator, it be bad."
"How much do you need?" I heard myself say, though I sincerely doubted that any car of his was "down der."
"Three or four dollas."
I hated the position I was in. Should I ask to see his keys? Should I call his bluff and ask to see the whole car? Should I offer to take him home? Uh..no. Scratch that third idea. He was a little too creepy for that. But still. Here I am standing in the parking lot of a Christian school, outside of a church, and contiguous with the largest Christian university. Would Jesus hand him some bucks or kindly suggest he get a job. Major ethical dilemma. But could I really say no? Though it was a long shot, what if he was telling the truth?
He thanked me but as I turned back to my car, I heard him approach another man sitting in a nearby car. Wouldn't you know it?!?! He started spinning the same tale. I turned, took several steps toward him and asked, "Hey, are you asking for more money?"
"You didn't give me 'nough. You gave me three and I need foe," he offered with a side of indigence.
"No, I gave you four. Count it." Sure enough, he held my four crisp bills in my hand. With that, he turned from his newest mark and I continued to my car. I'm sure the guy in his car was grateful for my interruption.
Having to run into a store across the street, I made the short drive and noticed the dirty, ragged man standing on the curb counting his money. And not just my money. In his hand was a stack of bills. Yep. I was suckered. I pulled beside him, rolled down the window and said, "Wow. You sure have a lot of money. How many people have you asked for money? And I thought you said you were getting on the bus."
The money was thrust into his pocket while he told me he really was waiting for the bus. "It comes by right here." I noted the absence of a bus stop sign. There was little I could do although admittedly, I wanted to ask for a refund. Nevertheless, I went on my way and by the time I came out of the store, he was being questioned by a policeman. Good. Maybe they'll put an end to his shenanigans; stop his lollygagging ways.
I was a little miffed at being taken. Still, a part of me felt sorry for him. Was there a mother somewhere who worried about her son's ability to make a way for himself? Was my money going to buy him a meal for the first time is a week? What if that was my kid, albeit grown? Would I be grateful for the kindness of a stranger? I was still mulling about these things when I came out of another store. Guess what? There he was, this time standing directly under the bus stop sign. I had to smile. I suppose he was taking the bus afterall, probably smiling and singing "Wee, wee, wee all the way home" (just like "this little piggy"), pockets full of a day's worth of money he wrangled out of people like me.
It was only four dollars. Yes, I'm pretty certain there was no car. And yes, I bet this is how he makes his living. Was he deceitful? Probably. But does that disqualify him from receiving a little mercy, a portion of grace? I concluded he was worth the risk.
"God," I prayed, "Take those four dollars and bless that man. Multiple it and let him see your hand. Help me see through the dirt and ugliness. Let me see a man who needs to be loved. And God, if you could, give me discernment. I want to be your hands and feet but I don't like being ripped off. Still, teach me. Was this a test? Is this what you were talking about through Matthew?"
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For
I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you
gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the
least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I
was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you
did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after
also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a
stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:34-46).
Okay. I get it. I think I'd rather be suckered than not see Jesus.