I drove my Ford Mustang GT into the apartment complex searching for apartment #34.
Moments before, I walked through the aisles of the local grocery store picking up food items for someone who requested assistance. The woman is a "regular" in asking for help from our congregation. I have had numerous conversations with her. She is in her mid-30's to mid-40's. I've never asked her her age. She is on dialysis, does not work, is on disability, and has applied for food stamps. I personally believe she perpetually tries to "work the system."
Perhaps we should cease and desist when it comes to helping her. Perhaps forcing her to do something else instead of the same things over and over again would be more appropriate, but I am struck by a couple of things--one practical, the other theological.
The practical: I have encountered a lot of people in my lifetime. When you work with people, you learn who the extremely intelligent people are, who the average folks are, and the folks who struggle with thinking through their decisions. The woman I was bringing groceries to falls squarely in that last category. Her intelligence level is not high in the least, and frankly, trying to get her to see anything beyond one day would be a very, very difficult task. She is functionally literate, I believe, but being able to manage money and time is almost beyond her capability. It's sad really, but true.
The theological: Every time I am faced with someone who "works the system," I return to Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount. I almost wish He wouldn't have spoken them. Then it would be a lot easier to just walk away from such situations. "Give to everyone who begs," the Master spoke. Hey, Jesus, do you realize there are those who play the system? Do you realize there are those who prey off the generosity of others? Do you realize there are those who are capable of working yet do not? Do you realize there are those willing to take as much as they can without so much as a pang of guilt? Didn't you see the story about those who are on the EBT cards who filled up their grocery carts with tons of food items when those cards showed they didn't have any sort of limit on them? I did, and I think it's blatantly wrong of people to do such things! Don't you care about such manipulation?
Perhaps He does. Perhaps He will take care of that judgment in His own good time, but at this time, I am bound by His Word and His Word alone: give to everyone who begs. And when it comes to food, Jesus' command is explicit. "When I was hungry, you fed me." When? "When you did it to the least of these, my brothers, you did it for me."
Yesterday, I received a call asking for food. It is our policy as a congregation to never hand cash directly to those who ask unless there are special circumstances. Therefore, I headed to the local grocery store to pick up a mess of groceries. I spent $50. Ten pounds of potatoes. Ten pounds of chicken leg quarters. Large bags of corn, green beans, and broccoli. Two loaves of bread. Peanut butter. Sugar-free jelly. (The woman is diabetic.) A bag of fruit. Cheese slices. Oatmeal. Eggs, rice, and beans.
I headed for her apartment.
I turned into the entrance, and the woman was on the balcony with a friend. She recognized my car, and walked down to meet me. She said her apartment was in another complex across the lot. She wanted to walk. I offered her a ride. She accepted. We talked for a few moments.
"I really need to move. My friend is moving because her water heater caught on fire. Mine did that not too long ago. Now, I have a water leak in my place and no one is fixing it. I keep mopping it up, but now, there's mold, and I keep waking up coughing."
We park. I pop the trunk, and she asks if she can help. I reply, "Yes, I can't carry it all." She grabs several bags. I get the rest.
We pass a gentleman smoking a cigarette on the patio. He lives in the apartment next to her. I notice a pot brim full of cigarette butts on this woman's patio. Details.
Her apartment is relatively clean but a bit cluttered. Older furniture. Few decorations. I can see where the water has been leaking. She is very thankful for the groceries. I tell her I didn't know exactly what to get and that I hoped the fare was o.k. She says, "I'm not picky in what I eat."
She thanks me again profusely and says, "Pray for me Pastor Kevin." Yeah, she knows me by name. No anonymity anymore. I tell her, "I do." In fact, this woman is on our prayer list.
I walk back to my car. I look around at the complex and see its run down condition. I look at the automobiles sitting around. These folks here do not resemble those stories you hear about folks who really "game the system." There are no Cadillac Escalades or souped up sports cars. All are in pretty poor condition with dents and scratches at the least and missing body parts at the worst. None are even close to being newer models.
I drive off and head back to my reality.
$50 worth of groceries can actually buy quite a bit these days--especially if it is for someone else.
It can buy you a trip into an entirely different world.