Saturday, May 02, 2015

My Inner Pharisee

At 10pm on Friday evening the trendy Belmont Shore area of Long Beach was alive.  All along the ten blocks of 2nd Street shops were still open, selling clothing and shoes and expensive bric-a-brac.  People strolled the wide sidewalks and packed into restaurants, the lucky ones enjoying outdoor tables on this warm Spring evening.  Lines formed for gelatos and lattes.

The beggar sat cross-legged on the concrete in semi-darkness in front of the Bank of America, his hands in his lap and his face downward.  It was easy to pretend not to see him.  As Carla and I passed, his head remained down but he raised his arms high and formed a bowl with his hands--a universal symbol of abject need.

Carla stopped immediately and began to fumble with her purse.  I had already gone a few steps further but stopped and turned.  I knew she would do this.  Carla has somehow managed to exorcise the inner Pharisee--the one who whispers "If a man does not work, he shall not eat"*; the one who rationalizes that to give money to a "street person" is to encourage his substance abuse and thus be complicit in his sin.  Perhaps it is because Carla is so unflinchingly aware of her own shortcomings and so transparently receptive to God's grace that her inner Pharisee (if she has one at all) seems to have long ago been humbled into silence.

Carla placed some cash in the man's hands and he looked up and held her gaze with an expression of gratitude mixed with shame.  He then looked beyond her to me with the same expression.  We both smiled kindly down at him, hoping to convey some affirmation of his worth as a unique human being created by a loving God, but knowing full well that what we had given him was a fraction of what we had spent that evening on dinner and parking and useless nic-nacs for our home.

*2 Thessalonians 3:10


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