Sunday, January 07, 2007

As always, it's the small things

A recent encounter has been much on my mind. Due to the type of vehicle that I drive, I carry it to the dealership for all repairs. The only problem with this arrangement is that the dealership is 100 miles away, in Dallas. But hey, this is Texas. What's 100 miles? Anyway, a friend and co-worker was driving me there to pick up the vehicle, and I had promised him a steak dinner afterwards in appreciation.

Things went off without a hitch. I paid for the insanely expensive repairs with a swipe of the credit card. We then located a nearby steak house where we both ate very well. I am generally not one to eat much steak, but this seemed the generous and expansive thing to do. Anyway, the meal was delicious. Another swipe of the credit card paid the tab. As I was headed towards home, I pulled in to fill up the tank--again, all made possible with the magical card.

As I was pumping gas, a young man approached me. My defenses automatically went up. He wanted to know if he could ask me something. I mumbled something about not being from there. He then asked if I had any spare change I could give him. Again, I tried not to look at him and mumbled something about having only $5 on me and that it had to get me back home--100 miles away. (This part is true. I have taken off across 5 states with only $3 and some plastic in my pocket.) He turned and started walking off. I knew I had just blown it. I called out after him and said for him to wait and let me see what I could do. I opened my wallet and saw that I actually had $6 on me--a 5 and a 1. I pulled out the dollar and gave it to him. He thanked me and walked off.

If you look at such encounters as something of a test (and I definitely do), then I realized that I had just failed miserably. Almost any alternative would have been preferable to what I actually chose to do. I could have given him the $6 (it's not like there are no ATMs around). I could have given him the $5 instead of the $1. I could have been gracious in giving him the $1--which I was not. I could have said something--"God bless you"--anything. I just gave him the $1 and cut things off as soon as possible.

As I drove off, the chance encounter stayed with me, as did the words of Jesus from Matthew 25:31-46..that whole "least of these" thing. So, there is still a lot of work to do here. Maybe next time. Lord have mercy.


Dixie said...

I have failed this test before as well. In fact, there was a time in my life when "sorry, I have nothing for you" was my pat answer. Then I went to Puerto Rico for a week for work. I noticed my Puerto Rican colleagues always kept spare change in their cars and pockets to give to those who asked. My colleagues admitted that some of the people who asked were poor and would use the money for life's basics and others would spend the money on alcohol and drugs. They could not know who would do what so they just gave so as not to penalize those in great need who would spend wisely. I learned so much that week.

John said...

Thanks for sharing, Dixie. I'm learning, as well--just slowly!

s-p said...

I hang around with a guy who hands out money to panhandlers and homeless people like its candy. He tips 30% even for bad service. I watched him hand a homeless guy in a restaurant parking lot a 50.00 bill as we were going in for dinner. I asked him why. He said, "I spend more than that on lunches every week. What's five or ten bucks to me, or even twenty, really? I've never gone hungry because I gave someone my lunch money. Tipping 30? Aren't we supposed to go the second mile? For bad service? Aren't we supposed to give to the undeserving? Don't we read every Sunday "He hath not rewarded us according to our sins..." Christ died for the ungodly, right? They might use it on drugs? Yeah, I'm such a great steward... I NEVER use my money for selfish pleasures." So, yeah...tough stuff for us stingy tightwads. Good thing we are in God's image and not He in ours.

Hilarius said...

I posted about just such a moment of testing here:

and I might say to you that you are like the man with five talents to my one talent . . . at least your conscience moved to to do something, if not everything.

I find these moments (which come more often than I would care to mention) will hit at the 'worst' possible moment - when I am hurried, or have no coins but only bills, or not feeling particularly giving; whereas when I am feeling generous and 'cheerful' and am thinking about the needy brother, the streets seem empty.

Alas for us, so rich and so poor.

Mimi said...

I'm sitting here with a big fat "F" myself.

John said...

s-p, thanks for sharing about your friend. What an example!

hilarius, you are exactly right. These situations always hit at the worst time. It's almost as if we get blindsided by them--and that I suppose is the true test, that our generosity be so instinctive that we don't even have to think about it.

mimi--if you're an F, then that puts me at F-. Ha! But I guess the hopefull thing is that we realize it, which gives us the time, and the incentive, to work on our repentance.

Anonymous said...

Someone once told me that the money given in charity reaches the hands of the Merciful before it touches the palms of the beggar.

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