The other day I had lunch with my daughter-in-law Jll. As we were driving to the restaurant (well, actually she was driving, I was a passenger without even one of those car seats with the little steering wheels that passed as a child safety seat in the mid-20th century), we drove by a man standing at the intersection holding a sign asking for money and God Bless You. The light was green, so we didn’t have one of those internal guilt trips where you think you should give money or should you? Because they might use it to buy drugs or booze. And is that a cigarette they’re smoking because if they can afford cigarettes, they don’t need my Abraham Lincoln.
“I used to carry bags with little containers of shampoo and soap and bottles of water that I would hand to homeless people,” she told me. “I haven’t done that for a while.”
I thought that was very clever and told her so. She admitted that while most were grateful, a few were not because what they really wanted was cash to buy the aforementioned drugs or booze.
Given that conversation, it was an interesting coincidence that this weekend’s Gospel from Luke told the story that Jesus related to the Pharisees about the poor man who was starving and covered with sores and the rich man who dressed in rich garments and ate delicious food. Knowing Jesus’ teachings, it comes as no surprise that the poor man died and went to heaven while the rich man died and went to “the netherworld.” The rich man begged for Lazarus’ help and was told that he had the goods when he was living, but it was now Lazarus who lives in glory.
The moral of the story, of course, isn’t that rich people can’t get to heaven. Of course they can. Instead, Jesus was reminding the Pharisees, and now us, that it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor. What matters is that you’re generous.
There was a priest, now deceased, who was well-known in the Archdiocese of Denver for being generous to the poor and homeless. He was asked on occasion why he so freely gave money to the homeless when they often spent it unwisely. He responded that it wasn’t up to him to say how they should spend the money he gave. Jesus simply asks us to be generous, not to be judge and jury. We aren’t generous for them; we are generous for ourselves.
I take for granted how lucky I am. I know this because I find myself griping that my steak has too much gristle or I can’t believe I had to eat chicken two nights in a row. As they say: First World problems. I mean to be generous, I really do. I have said for ages now that I want to carry dollar bills in my car and when I have the opportunity, I want to hand one or two to that woman standing with the sign at the intersection, even if she’s talking on an iPhone 11. As Fr. Woody said, it’s not up to us to judge. It’s up to us to be generous. I’m going to the bank tomorrow and get some dollar bills.
Hold me to it.