I think it’s his corner. He stands on the median next to the stop light and holds his cardboard sign almost everyday. One day on my weekly trip to Costco, I was dismayed when the green light turned red, and there I was sitting in my car next to this homeless man, or at least a man who is desperate enough to stand on a corner with a cardboard sign. I had time, and I had a dollar, so I rolled down my window. He jumped when he saw my window open and sprinted four car lengths to get the small token I offered.
When he reached my car, his expression shocked me. The look on his face resembled a man who just won the lottery.
He was so thankful I felt ashamed that I had only given him a dollar.
It was one of those moments when time stood still, and I knew that there was a greater lesson to be learned then helping the homeless with charity. But the light turned green and I sped away to spend much more than a dollar on food for my family at a warehouse where you can eat pizza and buy tires at the same time—a store where almost every item cost at least $10 if not $20 and I spend my entire weekly budget in 30 minutes.
When my son participated in a Vigilant Hope poverty simulation last year (meaning he lived as a homeless teenager for the weekend), he realized that the homeless we see around town are people just like you and me. They have stories and feelings and emotional needs that go beyond the soup kitchen. He was also amazed by the close community they had and how they helped each other. After his experience, he longed to know the story of every homeless man we passed.
My daughter often goes to Good Shepherd on weekend nights with a group of friends taking homemade cookies and games to play with the residents. The games don’t usually get played, but relationships are made as the college kids begin to visit with the folks living there. The residents laugh and share memories enjoying the fact that somebody wants to have a conversation with them. My daughter always comes home with a smile on her face.
Honestly, I am amazed that my kids have done these things without my prompting, and to be honest, I’m learning from them. But my point is not about my children’s good deeds. My point is: charity is good, but it only goes so far. A dollar may pay for a McDouble, but it will not feed a hungry soul. Only taking the time to develop relationships makes a difference beyond today. It takes time, risk, and energy.
Please know I'm preaching to myself.
Years ago, as I prepared for a sermon, I came across a Hebrew word that is the center of the Jewish faith. I think this word aptly fits what I’m trying to communicate today. The word is “Hesed” or “Chesed”. I have found it a very powerful word, one with mystery about which I do not feel adequate to write upon. But when I inquired of Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky of Wilmington’s Temple of Israel, he, like all good rabbis, sent the inquiring student to sources to study rather than writing an article for me.
I don’t have room for a whole dissertation, so please forgive this short attempt. There is so much more to this word but for today, I will share this short definition from the My Jewish Learning web site:
“Acts of hesed are the active representation of a covenant among people, a social contract…. This is not about simply getting a request in the mail for funds and writing a check, or bringing a can of soup to a box at your JCC or synagogue. It is not even about showing up once a year at the homeless shelter or soup kitchen or writing letters to Congress to effect social policies. Those are truly important, relevant acts, but they fail to engage people in relationships of understanding. It is when we become engaged with real people and communities on the other end of our giving of time and resources that we realize the covenantal aspect of hesed."
We live in a world where we have to be discerning and wise. I know I won’t invite a strange man holding a cardboard sign into my car unless my husband is with me, but I do want to know his story and ask if there is anyway we can help beyond money. I want to give more than charity. I want to give hesed.