Parable of the Generous Street Performer

I wrote this parable in response to my own attitude toward the beggar on the streets of Seattle I encounter often. I would purposefully not carry small bills in my wallet so I’d have an excuse not to give anything to them. I was reading Brad Young’s book ‘The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation’, after having read The Parable of the Good Samaritan, I realized I wasn’t a neighbor to these people.

In essence, you cannot be a neighbor to someone if you don’t approach them and find out what they need as the Samaritan did. The real issue for me was my stingy heart. I had also read Lois Tverberg’s ‘Walking in the dust of Rabbi Jesus’ where she covers generosity. There’s a quote from a Rabbi about how you can practice generosity by giving small amounts many times. Every time you do this, you become a more generous person. Understanding that having a ‘good eye’ is the same as us saying ‘generous’ and ‘bad eye’ is the same as saying ‘stingy’ or ‘scrooge like’, Jesus’ words penetrated my callous heart.

The parable below, then, is my attempt to explain my situation. I had thought to myself, “What if I encountered a beggar who really could accept credit cards, would I give?” Because, well, the only form of money exchange I had left in my possession was my debit and credit card. After all, “If I don’t carry cash around and I get mugged; I won’t have lost as much, right?”. Ha! Seriously, this is how I justified it. My conclusion is that we should prepare ourselves to give, even a small amount is a start. By being prepared to give, you not only have prepared your heart, but you also put yourself in the position to make a great investment in Olam Haba or “The World to Come”. The poor are not a bad investment.

The theologian asking the question and the men in the parable represent me and my attitudes. The beggar in the parable represents all my excuses, of course he’s unreasonable and in your face. In the end, the men find themselves in an embarrassing situation.

I’ve resolved to try and carry ones around with me. The point isn’t to suggest an amount per se, however in our current time, $1 isn’t much. For me, it was a start. A path to becoming more generous, to go out my way to be prepared to give. I realize you might counter and say, “These people are going to misuse what I give them.” While that might be true, you can be creative, the real point of this is about the condition our hearts, not theirs.

And now, on to the parable….

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Just then a theologian asked the pastor a question. Pastor, must I be generous to everyone?

What do the scriptures say and how do you interpret them?

“You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.” also, “He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his good deed.”

And

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness.”

The Pastor replied and said, practice these things and your desire to give will increase.

But wishing to excuse his unwillingness to carry small bills in his wallet, he asked, ‘Must I give to the beggar?’

After considering the question, the pastor told this parable.

Three men decided to attend a Seahawks game. Visiting an ATM for beer and hot dog money after having parked some distance away they passed by a street performer and some men sitting on the side of the road by Dunkin Doughnuts.

A smelly man held out a can with “$1″ written on the side saying, “One dollar, that’s all.”

All three of them slowed down and one of them said, “Sorry man.” Each one of them thinking to themselves that they had no small bills.

The man, holding up a finger said, “One moment”.

The man began rummaging through his bag. Finding what he was looking for, he began to pull his hand out, revealing an older swiping credit card machine, he proceeded to also put carbon copy on it prewritten for $1. In his other hand he held up a sign which read, “Now accepting VISA and Mastercard”.

“You find alot of neat stuff in the trash, don’t cha?” the man said with a serious look on his face.

The three men looked at each other, barely able to hold in their mirth.

One of them being a businessman himself said, “Seriously, you have a merchant account?”

The other two men couldn’t help but to start laughing.

With a smirk, the bum replied, “Seriously, you don’t have one dollar?”

“Well, I’m not letting you swipe my card.” Raising his voice and pointing his finger at the man he spoke down saying, “I go to work every day to provide for my family. Why don’t you get a job and take some personal responsibility for yourself.”

Trying yet again, he slowly began to turn his sign around.

It read,

Paypal account

leastofthese@goodeye.org

Looking back up he said, “Talk about taking personal responsibility, one of you who I just saw at the ATM couldn’t help me out? Instead you figure, if all three of you don’t give me anything, then no one of you is better or worse than the other right? I mean after all, you’re thinking the guy is a bum. We know his story. Which one of you asked what I needed? Who’s a neighbour to a beggar?”

Looking directly at the first man, “Don’t you share among yourselves? Couldn’t you have shared between yourselves inside the stadium if you gave me a $20? Did you want me to make change? How hard would it have been to break that 20 at the Dunkin’ Doughnuts over there?”

Looking at the second man, “I’ve made it easier than ever to help me. Slide your credit card right here.”

Looking at the third man, “Do I need to put an auction up on Ebay? What do you think Paypal?”

Finally addressing all three, “Have a great time at the game! Drink some beer and eat a hot dog for me.”

Just then, the street performer took 4 quarters from his case and put them into the man’s can.

The pastor said, “Of those present, who had the good eye?”

The theologian replied, “The one who was prepared to give and then gave.”

Hearing that the theologian answered correctly, he replied, “Since you prepare yourself to enjoy the game, so also prepare yourself to give to the poor and needy according to your ability.”

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Shalom Friends!

Joshua McClintock

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