We’ve all seen them at intersections all over the city. Men and women holding signs, saying they’re homeless, asking for help.
Sometimes they appeal for money; sometimes for food. There are those who say they are homeless veterans, others who are accompanied by a dog or two.
And they are controversial in ways some of us would have never imagined.
A couple of Sundays ago, the Gospel readings were provided by the Gospel of St. Luke, the great physician. In his telling of the well-known Sermon on the Mount — the one most of us recognize in St. Matthew’s Gospel — he relates to us what the Prince of Peace has admonished us to do when it comes to the poor.
It is a simple message: Help them.
We all remember “blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And Luke also said that “blessed are you that hunger now for you shall be filled. Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.”
St. Luke also notes that when people hate us, “when they shall separate you from their company and shall reproach you,” then we are also blessed.
Well, make no mistake, there are those among us who hate the sign holders. There are those who yell hateful things from their car windows as they pass them; those who ignore them, who would never in a month of Sundays dare to look them in the eye.
This is not to say, by any means, that all of those beggars are pure of heart. There are no doubt charlatans among them. But the level of vitriol, the number of conspiracy theories about them that sprout on the Web like flu cases in the winter, would surprise many.
Consider the following:
On a recent thread on social media, local people were complaining about the appearance of the sign-holders at various intersections in suburban Jefferson County, mostly the eastern portions. A few of those posting supported the poor and homeless, noting the calls of various religions to take care of the least of those among us.
But the majority by far had no kind words for those in need; they assumed the street-corner beggars were all fakes.
In one instance, the friend of a brother’s cousin’s uncle — or some other strain of suggested sources — had indicated that he “knew” that the sign holders went to a school in New York City to learn how to be successful at it. The allegedly needy person cited in this particular litany of inaccuracy was said to make in excess of $100,000 annually.
One poster called those he saw on the street corners “strays,” and “scumbags,” not interested in real work “because we all know in this economy every business in the county has a help-wanted sign in the window.”
How many of those businesses would be willing to employ people with no personal address, no way to get to and from work, and possibly no identification at all, that wasn’t considered, at least by this particular angry individual.
“If someone is jobless in today’s world it is because they choose to be,” one woman wrote.
Another poster said he had seen, (or perhaps a friend of his brother’s cousin’s mother’s uncle had seen) a local television show that followed one of the “local scumbags” back to his “brand new Mercedes or BMW. And the reporter said the guy makes hundreds each day.”
“And all that money is tax free,” he raged.
The thrust of this particular collection of internet postings was summed up by one man who told those reading to never give the time of day, let alone money, to those begging on the street corners.
“They aren’t homeless; they live in one house and one guy told me he owns a home and is trying to buy another,” the poster wrote. “These people aren’t poor, they are scam artists, mutts, strays — pick your own metaphor.”
Whether or not you give money or sandwiches or clothing to someone begging is a personal decision. Pope Francis has said that such a decision is between you and God, just as what the recipient does with the gift is between himself, herself and God, too. Yet as people of God, if we follow the teachings of Jesus, we are called to give to those in need.
You don’t have to necessarily hand money to a beggar; there are agencies and organizations that will use your contributions to help them, too. But we ARE called to help.
As St. Luke said, “Love your enemies, and do good, and LEND, hoping for nothing again, and your reward shall be great.”
Record Editor Emeritus