There was a story that came our yesterday that immediately went viral. (story) It is a picture of a police officer giving a homeless man boots and socks in Times Square. It is a heart warming story for a number of reasons, one of them being that the man was doing this with no fan fare. The picture was taken by someone who happened to be there at the moment. The other reason is that not only did the man buy the boots, but he put the boots on the man’s feet. That is above and beyond the call of duty. I am grateful for the concern of people like this man, especially if this man had blisters on his feet, as the article describes.
What I wonder is how many other people just ignored this man. This is Times Square with many people around. The article even quotes a man who says, “we just sort of pass by that kind of thing.” How have we gotten so callused? I know how awkward it can be to discern the true needs of people we meet on the streets, but to not even notice seems especially harsh. We usually run into a number of scams while at conferences. These are people who know we are there for a conference and hope to capitalize on it. But a man sitting in the cold with bare feet truly is in need of some help. Why is kindness the exception? It really shouldn’t be.
There is a fine line between helping the poor and enabling people; I get that. But I think being reminded of what Jesus said is helpful.
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” – Matthew 25:37-40
This is what makes this scene so awesome. We are watching a man minister, as if it was Jesus sitting there. Maybe it will catch on. I know that with $59 billion spent on black Friday or should I say debt Friday spending a few dollars on someone in need is not going to be too much to ask. Maybe during the next few weeks we can make kindness more the norm than the exception.
Here are a few thoughts on ways to do this without getting scammed.
1) Talk to the person. Listen to their story. Find out what they do for work and what exactly they need. Sometimes it is obvious like bare feet in the cold. Sometimes it isn’t. I have talked with people who seriously just need eggs and milk. If that is the need, we can buy those things for them and share the love of Jesus in a practical way.
2) Don’t give out cash. I know a lot of times people will ask for cash, but I don’t just hand out cash to people. There have been people who have come to the church looking for help and we will help them. I will take them to get gas in their car, or hand them gift cards for the grocery store. We do not hand out cash. In this story, the man bought him some boots. That was a wise move.
3) Let God prompt you. I know we all have experienced times when we know we should talk to a person, but we have made excuses about why it couldn’t be God’s voice. Be obedient.
4) Give people the benefit of the doubt. I have had things go both ways. There are times when I feel like they might be lying, but I still help them. Be smart. I guess I would rather be faithful to Jesus Christ and help someone who was scamming me than not help someone who might need it.
Thank God for the exposure of this story. The NYPD likes it because the man was in uniform, but I think we need to look beyond that. This is a man who cares enough to do something. In that way, whether he realized it or not, he gave Jesus socks and boots.