Must We Give Beggars Money?
At almost every traffic light, as soon as I stop the car, there is someone at my window wanting money. I give a little cash now and then, depending on how safe I feel, but most times I turn a cold shoulder, and I am upset to do so. Am I doing my Christian duty? What to do? Scrupulous Sue
Following the example of the Good Samaritan who showed great compassion to the man attacked on the road to Jericho, Christians have a duty to render assistance to their neighbour who is desperate for a helping hand. The best manner in which to do this is through the initiative of the local Christian community, your parish.
You can donate cash or clothing to organisations like the St Vincent de Paul Society or to others that make special appeals for the needy.
We can get a lead from Acts 11:29 where the disciples ask one another for donations to help the Church in Jerusalem whose members were struck by a famine. Each disciple gave something “according to their means”, or what each could afford.
We all have limited resources. Whatever we contribute to a charitable cause must fall within our limit. When the parish community wants to imitate the Good Samaritan it will ask you to dip into your purse and add your gift to the kitty. You can be assured that you are doing your Christian duty in this way.
You are not among the community when you are on your own and face someone who begs for your compassion. Here you must judge whether you can trust that this person really needs your money or is an opportunist playing on your sensitivities.
You cannot be expected to give every time you are approached at a red light or stop street.
If it’s someone who is regularly there day after day, you can be reasonably sure that this person gets help from many donors, otherwise he or she would not persistently stand there. You are one among many. There is no need to feel scrupulous.
There is also the consideration that welfare organisations routinely discourage us from handing out assistance through car windows because of the dangers involved.
When you are confronted by someone in real distress or destitution, you have to see that this person is one created in the image and likeness of God and may not be ignored. It may be someone who has been attacked (like the man on the road to Jericho), or a sick or desperate soul who urgently needs your assistance to survive.
It is hardly likely that such a case will be discerned from the driving seat of your car, but wherever it arises you will know, and your conscience will guide you.