Monday Musings - Who Was That Man?

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
[If God used Balaam’s donkey to get that prophet’s attention, I guess he can use me to get yours. May these periodic postings on the second and fourth Mondays of each month (God willing) generate fruitful discussion and faithful change.]

I’ve walked these few blocks countless times over the past twelve years during my visits to see my ailing sister. Although I have seen homeless individuals soliciting money many times, I had never seen anyone quite like the gentleman I saw this day as I headed toward confession.  

There he was sitting with folded legs on the cold dirty icy cement sidewalk in front of the Catholic Church I was about to enter - sitting right next to the little tree where neighborhood animals defecate and urinate. His presence there caught me my surprise and made me uncomfortable.

He had a thick white beard. He wore several layers of dirty clothing hoping I am sure to stave off the bitter cold. He just sat there staring at the concrete slab and passing feet that rushed past him, holding the smallest of Dixie cups in his outstretched hand - his head bowed down conveying a sense of shame and utter despair. The paltry size of his cup suggested he was not anticipating any sizable donations from the hundreds that would pass him by.  In the few moments I watched him, no one stopped. No one said anything to him. No one put any money in his cup. No one seemed to care.

Who was this man?

The cynics who passed him by probably felt he was an alcoholic or addicted bum looking for money to get drunk or high. No way would they be enablers by throwing a few coins his way.

Others perhaps believed he was just a lazy man unwilling to work for food and thereby not deserving of their assistance.

Maybe he was one of those professional “homeless” one sometimes reads about who actually rake in a nice chump of change. If he was, parking himself right in front of a Catholic Church was a stroke of marketing genius – really how could Catholics entering and leaving Church ignore a man in such obvious need? But they did, without exception.

Perhaps he was there conducting his own personal “undercover” research, feigning to be in need in order to assess how many Catholics authentically live out their faith and follow God’s command to be generous and willing almsgivers. 

Or maybe, just maybe, he was legitimately and desperately in need, through no fault of his own, unable to feed himself or find safe shelter, ashamed to or unable to access programs that might be able to help him.

Whomever he was no one cared enough to stop.

But what if He was actually Jesus disguised as an unkempt and despairing beggar and nearly everyone passed Him by?

Our Lord meant it when He said: “I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me…as often as you neglected to do it to one of these least ones, you neglected to do it to me.”

This Lent let us remember that we should not pick and choose between those we feel worthy of our help. For if the one we neglect is the Jesus we profess to love, what could we possibly tell Him when He asks us why we did not stop and help?


  1. This touched my heart. I knew such a man for several years on my way to work. After a time of gentle urgings and the love and concern of many he agreed to leave the streets and take shelter. It just takes one person who cares.

  2. Anne:

    Thank you. You have taught us more in these four sentences then I was able to express in thirteen paragraphs. God's peace be with you.

  3. What a sad story. Yes, what if he really was Jesus? Could I live with myself if I passed by, thinking, "Oh well, somebody who knows how to help will surely come along."

    1. We certainly can not help everyone but even a kind word, a concerned voice might be all a person needs.

  4. I tried posting a comment earlier, but it must not have gone through, so I'll try again.

    I certainly agree that we need to be on the lookout for opportunities to help the needy. As Christ Himself said, we will be judged by how we treated 'the least of these my brethren.' And we should never assume that an indigent person is just some worthless bum who won't go out and find a job. We haven't walked in their shoes, so we shouldn't rush to make judgments.

    At the same time, I have conflicted feelings about how best to approach a situation like the one you describe in your post. For one thing, there's always the concern about being taken advantage of by a 'professional beggar', someone who is good at fabricating sob stories about being sick, disabled, or otherwise unable to earn a living, when in fact they're perfectly able-bodied. While I was living in Costa Rica, I was accosted by beggars a number of times, and initially I would usually give them a small handout. However, even the locals told me not to give them money, as many of them were frauds, sometimes even faking handicaps to elicit sympathy from passersby. And I've heard that some of these beggars make as much money if not more than some working people do. Granted, you could just give beggars some change and thereby not lose much if they're lying to you--and if they really are needy, then you've done a good deed. Yet at the same time, you may unwittingly be an enabler to a petty huckster.

    The man you discussed in your post was sitting in front of a church--something that raises other concerns. Some months ago, my pastor delivered a message before mass one Sunday morning in which he and the parish council asked parishioners not to give money to any panhandlers who approached them on church property. This was mainly for two reasons. First they didn't want the church becoming a magnet for panhandlers. Giving money to those people would not only encourage them to keep coming back, but word would probably get out to other beggars in the area, resulting in their flocking to the church as well to hit parishioners up for money. In addition, there were a few incidents when some vandalism was done to the church by beggars who got angry when they were refused handouts.

    So while we shouldn't ignore or look down on the indigent, we still need to exercise good judgment when seeking to help them.

    Any other thoughts?


    1. It is not possible to help everyone in need. Nor do any one of us really have the ability to discern the real needy from those feigning need. Only God can judge hearts.

      We pray. We offer a kind word and maybe a dollar. What harm have we done? On the other hand what immense good may we have accomplished by a simple gesture of concern and an affirmation of that individual's dignity as a child of God?

      I am not talking about the aggressive confrontational individual. In this instance, this man was as passive, non-verbal and nonviolent as one could be.

      There are con artists and those who pose a danger to others. We must be prudent.

      But to issue a blanket prohibition about approaching or offering a few coins to someone who peacefully presents himself outside a Church as being in need is a bit much for me to understand.

      Our Lord invites those who are weary and heavy laden to come to Him, to His Church and to His followers and He (or those who profess to follow Him) will give them rest.

      Walking away from Christ disguised as a beggar even one time, would be one time too many.


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