Did This Guy Rip Me Off?

photography by Daniel Plasman

I crossed paths with this gentleman on a busy street corner.  He was taking a break from standing near the intersection.  I gave him five dollars and asked if I could take a few photos. He was more than happy to oblige.  His buddy, perhaps far more suspicious of my motives, stayed on the curb holding a cardboard sign of his own.

He said his name was Jim.  He was a Vietnam War vet.  During the war it was his job to burrow into the jungle tunnels where the Viet Cong hid.  It turned him into a crazy, homeless rat.  I don’t know how much of that’s true, but I do believe his name was Jim.

I didn’t ask where he and his buddy stayed the previous night, and he didn’t offer to tell me.  I wondered how much money the two of them made in a day holding up their signs, but thought it best not to pry.  He eyed my camera, “How much did that cost?” “Way too much,” I said, gripping the strap.

In a recent conversation with a group of church folks the discussion centered on how we practice hospitality to strangers.  What do we do when street people like Jim ask for money and hold up signs explaining their plight?  Some folks were sure it’s a scam, an easy way for the unmotivated to make a few bucks.  “I heard they can make $200 a day!”  Some think though the economy is improving for a few, many are left behind.

I was reminded that the money goes to buy more booze.  A woman in her sixties shared how she recently invited a “homeless” person to sleep in her basement for a night.  The room fell silent.  Others pointed out the many local agencies that are better equipped to meet the needs and to keep track of those who abuse the system.  One gentleman, listening quietly, finally spoke, “Some of those people on the street corner work harder than I do.  I give them what I can.”

Jesus told a story about a farmer who sowed seeds.  Some seeds fell on the harden path; birds quickly devoured them.  Other seeds fell among the rocks; they sprang up but soon withered for lack of moisture.  Some seeds landed on a patch of thorns; the weeds outmuscled the plants in no time.  Then there were the seeds that fell on good soil; they yielded crops as high as a hundred fold.

Stupid farmer!  Planting seeds where the odds are slim to none they will survive!  Failing 75% of the time!  Wasting so much!  Only a damn idiot, knowing the absurdity of it all, goes ahead and indiscriminately casts the seeds anyway.  Such is the God Jesus came to show us.

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  1. Lou June 7, 2013 at 1:49 pm #




  2. Kris June 7, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    Thanks for your insight into what strangely enough is a difficult moral choice. What does it mean to be a Good Samaritan? Who is my neighbor? Who is my brother? Sister? These are questions I struggle with more these days. And especially how will I help.