I was on my way to the downtown library, just geting off I-95 on Broward Boulevard. A woman was standing on the side of the road, holding a sign. I couldn't read the sign, but I know what it said, something like, I'm homeless, need food, or please help--that is a popular corner for that sort of thing, although I have never seen more than one person at a time there. I often see people selling the Homeless Voice newspaper at that location. The woman was middle-aged, and pretty healthy-looking, but had the unmistakable appearance of someone who has spent a lot of time outside. In Florida, in the summer, you get a special kind of burned and sweated-out look; I know it well. She didn't look like any kind of a hopeless case, though, and I wanted to help her. I didn't have any change, all I had was three twenty-dollar bills. There wasn't much time to think about it because the light was about to change, so I called her over and gave her one of the twenties. Well, you know what the Bible says, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." And I learned the truth of that because ever since I gave her that money, I've been thinking about that woman.
Why do we have beggars in America, the richest country in the world? I don't know it for a fact, but I have a feeling that there are no beggars in Switzerland, or in New Zealand. Other wealthy countries have unemployment and drug addiction and mental illness but manage to take care of their most vulnerable citizens much better than we do in the United States. I think what bothers me the most is not that the homeless people exist but that the more fortunate among us seem to hate and resent them, to blame them for their misfortunes. At church, where I would expect people to remember what Jesus said about "the least of these my brethren" instead I find a lot of people who are adamant in their righteousness vis-a-vis the less fortunate. "If you give them money," these people say, "they will only use it to buy drugs or alcohol, so you're not helping them. Besides," they always continue, "some of those homeless people have more money than we do--they don't work but they make hundreds of dollars every day." I'm not making this up. I've heard it over and over. As I type it now I can't believe people can actually say it with a straight face. But they have convinced themselves and it is convenient to believe it because it keeps them from having to confront their conscience on the subject of haves and have-nots.
One more thing cemented that Saturday library trip in my memory. When the light turned green and I drove on to Broward Boulevard, I immediately came up behind an SUV. The owner apparently had a message for the world and had bought a license plate frame to broadcast it. "Prosperity," it said on the back of the vehicle, "is my birthright."