Rev. Andy Ferguson
July 2, 2013
It was late on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. The meetings of the day, all except one, were behind me. An hour break offered a moment out of the office, so I headed to Rita's on Market Square for Italian Ice. The new flavor was Starburst Pink, so I went for it; the owner objected, "But you always order something blue." I wanted to argue, "I'm not that predictable; I have lots of variety in my life," but I let it stand: Starburst Pink.
After I paid the bill, I went out into Market Square. I wanted a place to sit, but the rain had left every seat sprinkled with water. So, I wandered aimlessly from bench to bench looking for one with enough dry space to sit down to enjoy my Starburst Pink. I passed two homeless-looking guys taking. I saw others avoiding the rain-sprinkled benches. I watched two children eyeing the fountain, measuring to see how close they could get to the spray without getting wet enough to get in trouble with their watchful mother.
Finally, I found a bench. It was a seat, really - one of four around a table. It had a dry spot big enough for me. I sat down and began to explore the Starburst Pink. Not long into the Italian Ice, one of the homeless-looking guys came over. He said that he wanted to talk with me.
I thought about that request: "to talk with me." He wanted money, I was sure. Do I push him off now? Do I hear him out and then push him off? I was not going to give him money; I was already decided. It occurred to me that he needed to pass the time as much I did, so I motioned for him to sit down. He took the next seat around the little table. If he checked for raindrops, I did not notice.
He had come from Florida to see his sister for the 4th of July. Last night while he slept, someone had stolen $90 from him. His pants were baggy; he did not feel a thing. The thief got away clean. He had tried to call his sister, but he could not reach her. Four or five people had allowed him to use their cellphones to call her number, but he could not reach her. It was getting late; he needed a place to stay.
He needs a bed and a bathroom. He wants to watch TV until he gets sleepy. What about it? Would I get him a room? I had been looking at him as he told his story. I did not tell him that I had heard this storyline many times before.
Turning back to my Italian Ice, I replied, "No, I'm not going to get you a room." "Why not?" "Because I'm not going to do it," I said. I saw no point in explaining or asking him for more explanations; I just said, "No."
Not ready to give up, the homeless-looking guy explains: His sister is married to a preacher; they take good care of him. As soon as he finds them, he will be OK. They are good people, generous with him whenever he finds them.
Again, I said, "I'm not going to get you a room." I thought about the many steps required to "get him a room." Unless I was going to spring for an uptown hotel, I would have to walk with him to church, take him in my car to a low-cost motel, go inside with him, play the bill. He would need supper; you can't just leave a guy in a motel without any food. My training said that I should never give cash; that was too easy to abuse. The answer was No.
One final attempt; it was time to play the God card. The homeless-looking man asked, "Do you know about God?" I nodded my head, "Yes," I know about God.
"God sent me over here to talk with you. He said you would help me. You are making a liar out of God. But, God ain't no liar. He is a good man."
With that, he walked away to look for a more willing target. I finished my Starburst Pink Italian Ice. It was time to get back to work; I crushed the cup and stood up. I looked around for the homeless-looking man. He was gone. But, I kept thinking about his parting comment: "God ain't no liar; he's a good man." He was quite a theologian, that homeless-looking man, quite a theologian.
I have been thinking about adding some commentary to the end of the story. Maybe we could reflect on how Christians should deal with panhandlers. Maybe we could reflect on the character of God he raised. But, I think I will leave it to you to decide what to make of this tale. I haven't decided yet. AF