I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing more beggars on street corners these days than I have at earlier times of my life. I see individuals who are out of work and need money, families who’s fathers have lost their jobs and have joined them on the street corners, homeless veterans, and many more. Each one has his story, and my heart cries out every time my eyes meet theirs.
When I went to the Philippines not too long ago, I saw beggars everywhere, from the dirty paths of street markets to the relatively cleaner streets by restaurants and businesses. They walked the streets, at traffic stops, on street corners, on sidewalks. Many were selling what meager wares they could make out of flowers and strings, but many more would just have their hand stretched out. There were few who would actually approach you and persistently plead for any change until you gave them something, and others who would watch and target in an organized fashion. I cringed whenever I felt like I was being targeted by those who begged as if it was for a living, fully expecting a handout, but I cried inside when I saw those who begged out of desperation.
As I reflect back now at those moments in the Philippines and at the times I see beggars here where I live, I’m discovering this one lesson: The beggar relies on the Grace of another to make it through another day.
What then is Grace? For me, Grace is someone’s goodness…a goodness from within that reaches out to help, to serve, to give…because of Love. It is a merciful act, a loving act. It is the heart acting out with love because it is filled with compassion, filled with mercy, or just filled with gratitude, joy, and love.
Grace has been described as “unmerited help” or “undeserved assistance”…as if to say that you don’t deserve to be helped, but I’m going to help you anyway. I don’t know if I agree with that just yet. I just can’t see God’s expressing: “You’re worthless, but since I’m so good, I’ll help you.”
Others have defined Grace as “divine help”. I like to see that as “help from the Divine”…whether or not it’s deserved. Once, in the Philippines, I entered a Jeepney (one of the forms of transportation there, like a bus…but with the face of a jeep) and paid my fare. At another stop, I observed a young man enter, and then a young lady followed after him. When the young man paid his fare, he also paid for the lady’s fare without her knowing…until she reached her money over to him to pass it to the driver. That’s when he told her that she was already paid for. I was impressed at this kind gesture, for he did it without fanfare and all out of kindness. At that moment, the thought came to my mind that this was an act of Grace. The young woman was completely capable of paying her way, she wasn’t in desperate need, but the young man did so out of the goodness of his heart, with no expectation of anything in return.
That’s one way Grace shows itself: Love given, with no expectation of anything in return.
But I return now to the true beggar…the one who is in desperate need, the one who has no one else to turn to, has no way of getting out of the situation he’s in, is hungry…hungry for help…because everywhere else he’s turned to, help wasn’t there. And his hand is stretched out…pleading, ashamed, helpless, hopeless, and humbled…with no expectation of receiving anything…only wishing that someone would…and grateful when someone does.
And then there’s you and me. There comes a point where we must also realize that there are moments in our lives when we’re the desperate one…not necessarily in the physical sense. We are beggars when we ask for forgiveness, when we’re misunderstood, when we’ve disappointed someone, or when we’ve broken someone’s trust. And for those who believe in God, we’re beggars when we’ve sinned and fallen short of who we’re supposed to be. We’re beggars when we feel or realize we’re not up to the task that’s presented before us…but we’re asked to do it. Do we not plead and ask for help? Aren’t we also ashamed to ask for help, but find ourselves humbled…even compelled at times to fall to our knees in bitter humility? We’re all beggars…somehow.
So how do we treat the beggar, the truly desperate, with their outstretched hand? Do we leave them empty-handed? Only if we expect the same for us when we find ourselves in that very position.
There are those who give plenty, even generous amounts, to the poor…but only for show. It is the attention they truly want; thus their action constitutes Conceit and Selfishness. It is no display of true Grace. It is merely an empty shell of Grace, and they are empty vessels of Generosity (or, as the scriptures teach in Matthew 23:27-28, “whited sepulchres…filled with dead men’s bones, and full of uncleanness“).
Then there are those who give quietly, secretly, and genuinely of even what little they have. They seek no attention nor do they require it. No fanfare nor declaration. Their simple act of mercy and compassion shows true Grace.
Each one of us has Grace…a goodness within us to reach out with love, to give…whether or not it is deserved. I’m learning to reach out more….to give from my heart with what I have. If we have, let us give. If we do not have anything to give, may we say in our hearts, “I give not, for I have not. But if I had, I would give.”
Aren’t we beggars, too? For how we treat the beggar is how we can expect to be treated when we become severely lacking and, ultimately, desperate for any kind of help…a true beggar…in need of true Grace.