“Go to the ant, you sluggard consider its ways, and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provision in summer and gathers its food in harvest.” – Proverbs 6:6-8
Often when we go shopping on Tuesdays we pass men who stand at intersections at various parts of the city of Kitchener. Usually wearing a hat, mittens and some sort of great coat, often a dog seated at their side, these fellows are shamelessly panhandling. With their hands they display a sign which reads something like “No Job – Anything will Help,” or “Hungry and Homeless, Thanks so Much.” One of my daughters sometimes takes a lunch bag with her in her car prior to going out. She will put a sandwich in there, a piece of fruit and a tract and will hand that out.
On December 12, 2016, the Dallas Morning News published an article about a new initiative to recruit panhandlers for day labor. The job program which was being proposed would pay people $10.37 an hour for cleaning up litter or working in parks. This particular program, however, did not work out, the article went on to say, because some panhandlers were reportedly making more than 50 dollars an hour just by begging.
The city of Bloomington, Indiana recently installed 28 signs downtown that read, “Please help. Don’t encourage panhandling. Contribute to the solution.” The sign has a large “no panhandling” symbol in the middle and a web address at the bottom that links to a webpage which lists several organization combating homelessness.
One of these organizations is Shalom. Shalom Community Center is an all-inclusive resource center in Bloomington for people who are living in poverty and experiencing hunger, homelessness, and a lack of access to basic life necessities. Last year, Shalom’s re-housing program helped nearly 200 people, a third of whom were children, move off the streets and into homes. Although concerned with bodies rather than souls, Shalom’s effort to help the homeless, does seem to be a laudable effort.
Work is a blessing
There have been both workers and sluggards throughout history.
British Field Marshal George Wade, (1673-1748), was an enterprising man and one who would have been ashamed to stand on British street corners for a hand-out. An officer who served in several wars, he worked hard to attain the rank of Field Marshal. (The rank of Field Marshal has been the highest rank in the British army since 1736.)
Between 1725 and 1737 Wade oversaw the construction of some 250 miles of road, plus 40 bridges. Roads linking Perth, Inverness, and Fort Augustus appeared where previously there had been tracks suitable only for single file passage of men or horses. Wade was popular with the British people and is the only person mentioned by name in the English national anthem. It’s not a stanza with which people are familiar or one that is often sung.
Lord, grant that Marshal Wade
May, by thy mighty aid,
May he sedition hush
And, like a torrent, rush
Rebellious Scots to crush.
God save the King.
Field Marshll Wade did have a sinful weakness. He loved gaming, which is a polite way of saying that he really enjoyed gambling. When he was occupied in this pursuit, he was not greatly concerned about the company he kept and could so totally lose himself in the moment of concentrating on his cards, that he became oblivious to all else. Gaming houses, or casinos, for that matter, are not mentioned in the Bible. God does, however, warn against temptations associated with gambling. There are numerous verses which warn against the love of money.
One evening as Wade was totally absorbed in a card game, he noticed that his valuable gold snuff box was missing. Snuff, a smokeless tobacco, is made up of pulverized tobacco leaves. It is inhaled or “snuffed” into the nasal cavity, delivering a shot of nicotine. These pulverized leaves were usually kept in a snuff box. As Wade absently reached for the box in his pocket, his fingers could not detect the coveted container – a container which had diamonds set into its frame.
“Stop the game!” he cried in a booming voice, suddenly very much aware of his rank and military prestige, “and no one shall leave this room without being searched!”
Every eye was on him and quiet descended on the gaming room.
There was a rather destitute gentleman seated next to Wade at the table. Dressed very shabbily, he was a soldier as well. The man had lost several times at the games and with great politeness had asked that Wade back his bets. When the problem of the missing snuff box emerged, and Wade insisted that everyone be searched, he alone objected.
“You will not search me,” he repeated several times rather vehemently, “I’d rather fight a duel to defend my honor or die in the attempt.”
His challenge was accepted with alacrity by Wade, who thought to himself that the fellow was obviously the thief.
The two men retired to an anteroom with two other men who had volunteered as seconds and the duel was about to take place. Upon reaching for his sword, however, Wade suddenly detected the snuff-box in a secret pocket compartment – a compartment he had completely forgotten to check while searching. Stopping short, he walked over to the other soldier.
“Sir,” he began, and his voice did not boom quite as loudly as before, “Sir, I have every reason to believe that I need to apologize to you and ask your pardon. And I hope that in the morning you might do me the honor of having breakfast with me.”
The other man looked surprised, but agreed to the arrangement.
The next morning, as they were eating together, Wade posed the other man a question. He was intensely curious.
“Why, friend, did you refuse to be searched?”
“Because, sir, being upon half-pay and alone, I am obliged to watch every penny. Yesterday I had little appetite; and as I could not eat what I had already paid for, nor could afford to lose it, the leg and wing of a chicken were wrapped up in a piece of paper in my pocket. I would have been mortified had these been found on me and I preferred fighting a duel rather than facing that embarrassment.”
Wade stared at the man opposite him at the table, weighing him, before exclaiming: “Enough said! You, sir, will also dine with me tonight. And afterwards we will talk about what to do regarding your dilemma.”
That night Wade presented the shabby-looking soldier who had been reduced to penury, with a commission, and a purse to enable him to join the regiment. The man who had attached such a great value to his dignity, received the commission with gratitude and began work immediately.
How best to help?
For Christians, work ought to be a great blessing especially when it is pervaded with gratitude to the Creator God. Work alone, however, will not open the gates of heaven for someone. Only the perfect work of the Lord Jesus Christ can do that.
Nevertheless, Christians have a working God. In creation God worked for six days and rested on the seventh. Our days, which have for the most part been reduced to a five-day work week, should reflect God’s work ethic. We see and read of many people who are unemployed. There are those who truly want to work and can’t find employment, but there are also welfare recipients who prefer to remain welfare recipients.
The Biblical welfare system, as described in Lev. 19:10 and Lev. 23:22, was a system of work. Panhandling was never prescribed for Israel. The Bible is quite clear in its condemnation of those who are sluggards – those who are lazy. The Christian work ethic is straightforward. In I Tim. 5:8 we are taught: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
Should we give money to panhandlers? The desire to give is a good one. Generosity is a virtue and should proceed from a heart which knows it has been given all by Jesus Christ. To give money to someone on the street is a personal decision with both positive and negative aspects. Perhaps satisfying an immediate relief that you have helped someone, the truth is that you will not know whether or not your gift will be used for alcohol, tobacco or drugs. It might be better to search for a Christian organization, so that you can be assured that your money will go towards definite needs. Or it might be better to take the panhandler out for a sandwich and a cup of coffee.
It is true that we presently labor among thorns and thistles and in the sweat of our brow. Yet our attitude should be the same as that of our Lord Jesus, whose food was to do the will of the Father Who sent Him and to finish His work. Someday, in the new heaven and the new earth, the sweat, thorns and thistles will be gone.
Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, her latest being “Katherina, Katherina,” a novel taking place in the time of Martin Luther. You can read a review here, and buy it at here.