A couple of weeks ago
We had a knock on our front door. A middle-aged man in a tattered t-shirt was standing there with a bright but longing grin.
He offered a handshake, shared his name, and went on to introduce himself as being a neighbor from down the street. Due to a family emergency of some kind, he was trying to find $14 and change for gas, and he asked if we could help.
It is definitely not the first time that we have received such a knock. The median household income in our neighborhood is approximately $30k. Many folks are struggling to make ends meet.
However, nearly all of the teaching and mentoring I have received in ministry to the poor has directed me to avoid giving out money. I still have an internal wrestling match every time I am faced with these requests. What does loving like Christ look like in this real situation between this man at my front door and me? The logic on one side is that the cash might be used to fuel an unhealthy addiction. Undoubtedly, this might often be the case. On the other hand, though, what if I were in his shoes? What if a few dollars would make all the difference in helping me get through an emergency?
We decided to share with him the only cash we had readily on hand – a five dollar bill. He was incredibly thankful, and he surprisingly promised to pay us back as he was walking away.
We were indeed treating it as a gift. I calculated the probability that he would pay us back at barely above zero, despite his promise. I assumed that he was lying.
We had another knock on the door. It was not the maintenance guy coming to fix our kitchen drawer. It was not a UPS guy dropping off an Amazon box. It was our neighbor with a fiver in hand. “I just saw your house, and I remembered that I forgot to pay you back.”
Addiction, poor choices, and sin are real. But goodness is also real. Assumptions about people can get in the way of making a difference. I still do not condone handing out cash. I am far from convinced that it was the right decision in this case.
And, I am still pretty convinced that my probability calculation was correct. Most strangers who ask for cash and promise to pay it back would not have paid us back. But, the funny thing about probabilities, is that the less likely can still happen. Just ask Villanova. Or Hillary.
I guess, what I am trying to share, is that I learned that there is a fine line between logical assumptions based on experience and judging a real person’s character before getting to know them. Probabilities are only marginally useful in real-world scenarios. When I assumed this neighbor to be a liar, even though math might have predicted that he likely was, I demeaned him. Sin can occur within and exclusively in the confines of my own brain. Grr. Holy Spirit, help.