Jesus said, “And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.” (Matthew 10:42) I don’t like this translation (New Living Translation), but I quote this one cause I think it’s how we see the homeless, the poor, those who aren’t the top of the heap in terms of status and favor — as “the least of my followers.”
And they’re often the ones we are least inclined to bother to stop to help, cause they aren’t always easy to cater to. Maybe they’re not grateful. Maybe they don’t smell good. Perhaps they are embittered or act entitled.
But I really do think that one of the sacrifices we can make as we encounter people of any type is to notice them with some specificity and give them what they want if we have it to give, or can get our hands on it. Without berating them for being picky.
Those of us who can afford to be picky are. So why do we think “beggars can’t be choosers.” Why can’t they? They only can’t choose because we decide for them what they must take.
So I’d like to advocate a campaign where we go out of our way to give beggars (and I’m using that term because the phrase is a familiar one) their choice. Of anything we have to offer.
Recently I heard a story of a woman who, when offered food from Ben’s Chili Bowl (a D.C. institution) said — although she was sitting in her wheelchair just outside the door of Ben’s — “I don’t like the food here. I like McDonald’s.” And the people she was talking to went down the street and got her exactly what she wanted at McDonald’s, bringing it back to her shocked and grateful eyes and trembling hands. Was she messing with them, to see if they really cared what she wanted or whether they would only do what was easy for themselves? I don’t know. Who cares? Sometimes you crave a fish sandwich and a Diet coke, and a half smoke just won’t do.
So when a guy at a homeless mission grumbles that there’s never any hot sauce with dinner, I personally think that Jesus would get him his own bottle of hot sauce to stash in his shelter locker (and some cold water to go with it) rather than tell him coldly, “Beggars can’t be choosers.”