We see them almost every day. They are sitting or walking on the street as if they have nowhere to go and nothing better to do. We look past them and go on our way. If they would only stop asking us for money. Can’t they get a job? Are they lazy? If I give them money won’t they just buy booze? It’s Christmas; can’t the police keep these people off the streets? Are there no prisons? Are there no work houses?
In the mid 19th century, Christmas was a holiday when the well-to-do gave to the poor. When Ebenezer Scrooge turns away the men who ask him to donate to the poor, we see him as being stingy. In Charles Dicken’s day, his offense would be viewed as much worse. It was the duty of the rich to help the poor at Christmas time. Scrooge would have been seen as shirking his civic responsibility. Rather like finding out that your neighbor with his huge home and luxury cars is cheating on his income taxes.
I do not remember a time in my life when the poor and homeless have been so visible and so invisible. We have used a poor economy and fiscal restraint as an excuse to cut programs that address poverty and homelessness.
I do not wish to sound self-righteous. When a man or woman asks me for money, on the street, I get annoyed sometimes. This summer I was eating lunch in an outdoor venue when such a man approached and asked me for money so he could buy insulin. He tried to show me a paper to prove he was a diabetic. I was annoyed. Can’t they even leave me alone when I am eating lunch? I was grateful when a policeman segwayed by and shooed the man away.
If I am feeling generous, I give a street person money; sometimes not. Dickens tells us of Ebenezer Scrooge:
“The cold within him froze his own features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.”
I have many excuses for those moments when my heart turns cold and the Scrooge in me comes out. I am not rich. I work for my money. There are jobs if you want one. Are there no prisons? Are there no work houses?
There is always the nagging idea that I am being conned; the woman with the child in tow, who asks me for train fare. Is this even her child? Good gimmick I think; nothing like a child to make me reach into my wallet. ARE THERE NO PRISONS? ARE THERE NO WORK HOUSES?
I know that many homeless people are mentally ill. I wonder sometimes where they go today for help. Many others have been out of the workforce for so long they are highly unlikely to get a job even if they could marshal the resources to apply. So far I have not taken these thoughts seriously.
The man whose birth we are about to celebrate with abundant food and gifts said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, you must love one another.” (John 13:34).
My Christmas Wish
There is a Scrooge in all of us. That is why A Christmas Carol has always been Dicken’s most beloved novel. In the end, Scrooge is redeemed; the greed is lifted from his heart.
“I don’t know what to do,” cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath. “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy.”
Pray it shall be so with all of us.