One of the hardest thing about being a minister in the 21st century in the United States is saying “no” when people ask for assistance. I get calls after calls or people coming up to the door asking for help telling wild stories, like this one I wrote about in an earlier post. After a few days had past and I thought about this man and I talked to my parishioners the more was revealed about this man. One of them even commented “we were swindled”. Yes, I thought, but we were swindled in the best possible way.
We are a privileged people, there is no question about that. We live in the United States with 1st world problems. We have more problems that we’ve created for ourselves because we already have so much. But that does not mean these problems are not real. This man, this “swindler” did more for me in 1 night than $32 could ever do for him. He allowed me to see the grace in my life, and for that I am thankful. But here’s what I really think about the situation. For each of us there is always an angle to the way we look at things, the glass half full, empty… you get the picture.
The way I see it is that there are always people who play the system, but even though the story may not have been true for this man, his story was true for many people. Many people do feel hopeless, depressed, are poor in spirit- many are not able to feed their families. But the saddest part for me, the honest to God most realistic part of the story, was when he knocked on the door of the church and they told him to “get off their property”.
We “church people” are too uncomfortable with poverty. We are too uncomfortable with hunger, real hunger and desperation. Maybe we should be, maybe we are jaded for good reason, maybe we should not help people because they are telling us lies that they think we want to hear because we are a means to an end. But I also think I’d rather be on the side of grace.
I really do think that every lie is based on a bit of truth. Some part of the story is real, some part is the truth for him, if even in the abstract. When someone is to the point of telling a story of committing suicide because they can’t feed their kids, then they are in need of prayer, great prayer. Even if… even if the story may not be the complete truth, they do need help. And if that help comes in meeting some compassionate people that they swindled, then so be it-than for me, it was a good day’s work.
Jesus said “feed my sheep,” “blessed are the poor” and “When you do these things for one another, you do them for me”. I take these commands seriously, which is the hardest part of saying no. But I think twice, knowing that there is real need; praying for the guidance to see it, and if nothing else, erring on the side of getting swindled. Because the story is important, hearing is important, praying for them is important, and somewhere deep in the lie, is the truth waiting to come out.