Any given day, I encounter people who are homeless. When I drive home from my office on the North Shore of Pittsburgh, I pass 3-5 homeless people with signs asking for help. They are usually situated at intersections with traffic lights. When the light is red, I usually feel awkward. Do I make eye contact? Do I smile and wave at them? Do I give them something? Honestly, I feel a tension between my Christian beliefs to “love my neighbor as myself” and thinking, “If I give money, then they’ll just spend it on drugs or alcohol.” Usually, I avoid eye contact and move on like they weren’t even there. I feel horrible and have residual thoughts like, that’s somebody’s daughter, or why are they homeless, or I should have given them something.
This past week, I acted differently on two occasions. In the big picture, they are small acts of mercy, however, they’ve had a profound impact on me. The flaw in my original thinking was that the Holy Spirit is not present with me in my act. The correction in my new thinking is that He indeed is present. As I reflected, it made me think about something Mister (Fred) Rogers once said, “Who would have ever dreamed that a simple offering life we make on television for children would be used in so many ways, in so many wonderful ways. You know the space between our mouth and the people’s ears or eyes who receive what we make, that is holy ground. The space between the television screen and whoever happens to be receiving it, I consider that very holy ground.“
That statement completely transforms my mind and heart. Who am I to think that the recipients of whatever I give won’t use it for good? That’s not up for me to decide. I need to treat that space between my hand and their hand, my eyes and their eyes, my heart and their heart as holy ground, and trust the Holy Spirit will do the rest.
Small Act of Mercy #1
When walking in the city, it’s not hard to miss someone in need on every block. I had just enjoyed a business lunch at Alihan’s Mediterranean Cuisine and upon leaving the restaurant, my group was accosted by a black woman screaming, begging for money to pay the bus fare to McKeesport. Somehow she was stuck in Pittsburgh and needed to get to McKeesport. I was the last to see and hear her. Everyone else seemed to be startled by the woman’s approach. Rather than ignore the woman, I looked her in the eyes and asked, “What do you need dear?” She replied in a loud, cry, “I’m stranded and need to buy a bus ticket to McKeesport to get home.” I paused and then said, “I’ll give you what I have in cash in my wallet.” Normally, I don’t have any cash, but I knew I had $11 so I gave it to her. A sense of relief came over her face, she thanked me and walked away.
Small Act of Mercy #2
On my commute home, I approached the main intersection for the on-ramp to I-279. I noticed someone I hadn’t seen before, an older white woman with a dog on a leash. She was holding a sign saying, “Homeless. Hungry. Anything is appreciated. God Bless.” I happened to have a $5 in my wallet this day. I made eye contact with her. She smiled at me. I rolled down my window. She turned to her dog and told her to “sit.” As the $5 transitioned from my hand to hers, she thanked me with a look of genuine gratitude.
Who knows what they did with the money? It wasn’t a lot, but it’s what little I had at the time. Sure, they could have used it to buy something I wouldn’t approve of, however, the gesture could also have touched their hearts because someone noticed them, showed them dignity, and had mercy on them.
After all, that is what being a neighbor is really all about … having mercy on others. Mercy is being loved when we deserve it the least but need it the most. Mercy is the most powerful form of God’s love.
Now, “go and do likewise.”