Thursday, June 28, 2007

I Refused to Give Money to a Beggar Tonight ... Twice

'Twas a strange night in Old Sydney Town tonight - and particularly ironic considering the uncompromising post I wrote yesterday.

When I got back to my home tonight at about half-past six I was told that there had break and enter in the building. Not exactly the kind of thing you want to hear when you've been living in a place for less than two weeks. The guy who was talking to me suggested that I should have a careful look inside my room, just to check that nothing had been stolen. My response? I basically said: "Oh well, there's not really anything of value to steal in my room". Upon reflection this isn't true, strictly speaking. For instance, the computer and modem set me back $150 - that would be truly devastating to lose. Perhaps the microwave I have could fetch up to $50 on the black market. I also have some books in my bookcase - what any thief would wish to do with a set of College of Law textbooks is beyond me, although on reflection the particular volume on Criminal Law might come in handy sometime. Finally, there's the single most financially valuable item in my room - my suit. If however the thief wanted to take that for a job interview and make an honest living for himself, then I guess I wouldn't be too unhappy.

Anyway, I got hungry later in the evening and went to World Square to pick up some food for the next few nights. When I got back there was a homeless man sitting in front of the door to my building who looked like he was under the influence of something or another. He asked me if I had any money I could give him. Since I had just been to the shops and had some loose change, I reached for my pocket, but as I engaged him in conversation and asked him what he had been doing with himself that evening he replied: "I've been smacking some bitches around". Anyone who knows me reasonably well will know that I absolutely abhor violence in all of its forms, so I instinctly took my hand out of my pocket and proceeded to walk into the building. He asked me again whether I had "any dosh", to which I replied "Not tonight, mate" and walked into the building.

After I got back into the room I felt guilty about the way that I had acted. Sure he had said what he said, but he was so far out of it that I suspected on second thought that was simply talking rubbish. And even if he wasn't, this didn't change the fact that he still needed help. So I decided to make up one of the macaroni and cheese snacks that I had bought, go back downstairs and offer it to him. I did that and he gratefully accepted my offer. However, he again asked me for money, this time telling me that he needed it for beer or wine. While I appreciated his honesty, I had felt like I had done enough and decided not to give him any money. I then returned back upstairs to my simple, although unmistakably middle-class existence.

I must admit, I'm not entirely sure whether I did the right thing throughout - it's sometimes hard to know these things. And truth be known, I probably could have done more than offer him a miserable cup of macaroni and cheese. But I guess at least my conscience propelled me to do something and that can't be entirely bad. I tend to think that it won't be the last time I have to think about this issue. I guess I need to pray that God will give me wisdom in such situations.

8 comments:

CraigS said...

This surprised me a bit David, given our previous conversations on the subject...

David Castor said...

What surprised you in particular, Craig?

One Salient Oversight said...

I was in Hamilton a few weeks ago and there was this guy begging for money. I refused to give him anything.

Today I was in a second hand record shop. The beggar came in and ordered a few CDs.

CraigS said...

David, your point before seemed to be that it's not up to us to judge how the begger uses the money. Just to "give to those who ask". You were quite adamant that we shouldn't say "It wont be well used."

David Castor said...

David, your point before seemed to be that it's not up to us to judge how the begger uses the money. Just to "give to those who ask". You were quite adamant that we shouldn't say "It wont be well used."

Ahh, okay then.

Well I should point out first of all that I'm not in any way trying to justify my actions. Indeed, I've made it quite clear that I'm questioning whether I acted as Jesus would have throughout and whether there is more I could/should have done. And I might add that I wasn't entirely sure that we have an absolute obligation to give to those who ask - I remember merely suggesting at the time that the Kiwi guy who made these comments might have a point and that I would have to reflect upon what he said.

I should point out that I was perfectly prepared to give the man money originally - even knowing that there was a strong likelihood because of his current state that he would wish to buy alcohol. I only decided not to do so after he said that he had been "smacking up some bitches". My response not to give him money at this point was more instinctive (that is, my profound offence at his suggestion of violence) than anything else. Indeed afterward I felt that my response to the situation was wrong and so I made him up one of the snack meals I had just bought him at World Square hoping to be helpful in a practical way.

I guess I'm trying to work out whether I did everything I could/should have done the second time around. I've been reflecting on the relevant verse and did observe that Jesus doesn't tell us to necessarily give those who ask everything that they ask, but simply that you should give to them. Whether that is a legalistic loophole to a clear command of Jesus or a legitimate application I don't really know - perhaps people have some ideas?

CraigS said...

Well, I pointed this out originally but it didn't cut any ice with you then. Maybe you had to be in the thick of it yourself to understand what I was saying.

This is exactly the issue we come up against. He asks for money for beer, but you give him pasta. Is that right? Why not let him buy beer?

And the fact that he "smacks up bitches" - is that relevant? Are we only to give to those who meet a certain moral standard? How can we judge?

David Castor said...

Hey Craig - thanks for my comments.

You'll have to bear with me because I don't exactly remember everything that I said on the subject. That said, I'll try to recollect to the best of my capacity.

Well, I pointed this out originally but it didn't cut any ice with you then. Maybe you had to be in the thick of it yourself to understand what I was saying.

Just to clarify, you were suggesting that we were obliged to give to others when they asked of us, but that we weren't required to give them everything that they asked for?

This is exactly the issue we come up against. He asks for money for beer, but you give him pasta. Is that right? Why not let him buy beer?

I think at the time I railed against the idea that someone automatically assumes that just because a person is homeless, that they want money for drugs and/or alcohol. I think that unless you know that for sure, it is most uncharitable to make those kinds of assumptions just because they happen to be homeless. I should point out that I made no such assumption - the man quite explicitly told me what he wished to do with the money.

And the fact that he "smacks up bitches" - is that relevant? Are we only to give to those who meet a certain moral standard? How can we judge?

Exactly - which is why I went back downstairs after I made some food for him. As I said, my reaction to what he told me was purely instinctive because of my hatred of violence. This said, that didn't make my behaviour any more justifiable.

David Castor said...

Or thanks for your comments, I mean! Please excuse me - I had some dental work done today and I'm not feeling one hundred percent.