Service Matters

A man named John was sent from God.   He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.     John 1:6-8


This morning between Masses I headed out to a grocery store in Cherry Hill to quick pick up some milk.    In the parking lot a fellow came up and asked for some money for gas to get back to Delaware.    I never give money to anyone.   If there is one thing I have learned being in this city it is that there is only one place that money will go.    In fact I now have a standard response for all money requests.   It is an ungrammatical incomplete sentence, but it gets the point across.   “No money,” I say.   And then I’ll add: “Have a good day, sister.” or “God bless you, brother.”


But I reached into my coat pocket and gave him a couple dollars.


Maybe I did this because we stood in the huge, busyparking lot of an affluent suburban shopping center.    Maybe because the man’s visual cues worked in his favor: a white guy, not young, no visible tattoos or piercings.   Hespoke standard English, and he began our 20 second interchange by leveling with me how embarrassed he was to be in the situation needing to ask strangers for gas money.


The moment I handed him the cash, I asked myself why I did that.  Why did I break my own rule?   Then I watched him get into a car—with a New Jersey license plate rather than the Delaware tag I expected.   And there was no wife and kids in the car—as I had assumed there would be, but three other grown men.


Since I am shining light on this encounter and confessing to acting on poorly formed assumptions, I probably shouldn’t continue down that road.   But I have learned enough talking to addicts in Camden and listening in the rooms of AA and NA to say with confidence that my couple of bucks are now in the pocket of some drug dealer in North Camden.


There are fair assumptions and probabilities, and there are unfair prejudices.   I am so disappointed in myself for failing here.   But I am grateful for the light of Christ that intends to bring us all to truth and to solid humility.

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