I admit it. For a long time, when I was in my car and saw someone on a street corner begging for money (there are tons of them in Algiers and in the CBD), I instinctively judged. I asked myself, “Isn’t that person trying to scam me?” If, as is often the case, the person was young and seemed physically fit, I just naturally also asked myself, “Why isn’t he or she working?” Was that flying in the face of Jesus’ command not to judge? While it might seem so on the surface, I told myself that was not, at least in the abstract. It is natural and sometimes necessary to judge a person’s actions. that’s what juries and judges do all the time. What would have been wrong, I told myself, would have been if I concluded the person was sinning. Since subjective sin always involves internal intent to sin and we humans cannot see whether a person has given internal consent, Jesus tells us not to make that kind of judgement. Jesus says that kind of judgement ALWAYS belongs to God the Father. But, I told myself I was not doing THAT.
Was I splitting hairs? You know what, after much prayer on the subject, I concluded I probably was. Although everything I said above is abstractly correct, I eventually determined that I was doing more than just judging actions. I WAS judging the morality of what the panhandler was doing. I realized I was, in fact, looking at the beggars with at least mild contempt. I was implicitly judging them as beneath me, both in what they were doing and why they were doing it. And the why piece fell into the sin category.
I committed to breaking the habit. I went to Scripture. I read James 2:1-4. “Show no partiality as you adhere to the faith. If a man with gold rings on his fingers comes into your assembly and a poor person with shabby clothes comes in and you say to the one with fine clothes, ;Sit here please’ while you say to the poor one, ‘Sit at my feet’ have you not become judges with evil desires?”
Since I love stories, I then went searching for one. And, here it is. Pastor Mike Breaux entered his church just as services were about to begin. He had on several layers of old, sweaty clothing, including a dress. A dingy straw hat covered his face. He was carrying many bags. Pastor Mike took a seat. Many of his congregants cast disgusting glances at him. Some moved away from him. The “Bag Lady,” then got up and walked toward the platform. When he got there Pastor Mike took off his disguise and said, “Would you please listen as I read James 2:1-4.”
Okay, so what do I do now when I see a street corner beggar? I still give him or her money only if I have concluded he or she needs it and cannot work for it. But, I don’t look away. I smile at them and pray for them, “Lord, this person is my spiritual sibling. Please give him or her what he or she needs. And Lord, please put love into my heart.”
Essentially what has changed is my attitude. And you know what? I feel far better about myself. When I encounter a street corner beggar, I no longer focus on whether he or she may be trying to scam me. I don’t judge a book by its cover. I use my time praying for my brother and sister in Christ.