And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. Luke 16:20-23
As I pulled into my office parking lot, I was approached by a man with a gasoline can.
“Hey man, can you help me with a few dollars for gas?” He asked. “No,” I replied hurriedly, as I made my way into the office.
What he didn’t know, is that he has approached me three times with the same gas can story, and that he has been observed in our parking lot and a few of the nearby lots with the same story for the past month.
“It’s his act,” one fellow employee joked. “He must have found the gas can in a dumpster and came up with this story. And, it must work, because he has been using it for months!”
The following day at noon, I rushed out of the office to attend the 12:10PM mass at St. Bernard’s. As I pulled into the parking lot I spotted another man near the side door, soliciting money from the mostly senior citizens going to mass. Like the man the day before, I recognized him as a person that had “hit me up” for money on that same spot a while back. I was infuriated!
“Hey buddy, can you spare some money for a couple hamburgers, I haven’t eaten in two days,” was his pitch.
“No, I can’t, raising my voice slightly! I’ve seen you hear before and if you are hungry, like you say you are, then, you also know that there are at least five or six places where you can get a lunch, right now.” The Haven of Rest, Salvation Army, Open M Pantry, Gennesaret, and Catholic Worker were a few that I quickly rattled off.
“And you choose to stand here and take money from the very folks who support those organizations!” I concluded.
Embarrassed, he bowed his head and walked away, knowing that he had been dishonest and was found out.
I share this story for two reasons. First, since I work with the homeless, I am often asked, “Should I give them something?” Many people are confused when they are approached as to whether they should offer help. Some have been burned in the past, or have heard stories of people “scamming” the system. They see panhandlers on every freeway exit with their signs and are stopped as they go about their everyday activities.
“Are they really in need, or just taking advantage of the poor economy to take money from unsuspecting folks,” they continue. The answer is not easy. I have been scammed, too many times to mention, often with the same sad story. It makes helping difficult! You just have to look at every instance and go with your intuition.
As I left church and made my way back to the car, I spotted the same gentleman leaning against a green dumpster.
“You give love a bad name!” I said, half serious and half smiling. “You’re right,” he answered back as we got closer. And I want you to know it that won’t happen again.”
“Good,” I exclaimed, as I gave him a firm hand shake, pressing a five dollar bill into his hand. “Have a burger on me.”