"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On Being a (Good) Beggar

By Micky Wolf

Beggars have gotten a bad rap. We typically associate begging with aging-before-their-time individuals clad in worn, torn, or soiled clothing while huddled on hard, gritty, sidewalks, propped against a brick or crumbling graffiti stricken wall.

Most of the time we go on our way, choosing to ignore these disheveled figures of human beings. Sadly, we tend to believe many of them are addicts, mentally incompetent, or simply lazy and irresponsible. With the best of intentions, some communities have passed laws prohibiting any kind of panhandling.

It is an unfortunate fact of present day life that some beggars (street corner or otherwise) will use what they receive to purchase their drug of choice, but is that truth justification for glossing over the greater issues of what it means to beg?

If we are wont to look down on these folks, for whatever reason, at the very least we need to consider what might be stirring within our own hearts, especially if we take a few moments to reflect on their—and our—situation from a Christian perspective.

The bigger picture…

According to the definition, to beg is simply to “ask in earnest.” Additionally, there are approximately 25 references in Scripture given to this particular activity. A bit of study and it quickly becomes obvious ‘begging’ is not limited to those only asking for some cash for their next meal.
Those “asking in earnest” run the gamut:

At the end of the seven years she came back from the land of the Philistines and went to the king to beg for her house and land. (2 Kings 8:3)

Then David said to God, "I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing." (1 Chronicles 21:8)

The king got up in a rage, left his wine and went out into the palace garden. But Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life. (Esther 7:7)

A man in the crowd called out, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. (Luke 9:38)

In these few examples we have a poor woman, a calculating man, a king, and a father—all asking in earnest--and from all appearances and life circumstances, as different from one another as would seem humanly or geographically possible. Beggars, one and all.

More than a handout…

Notice again, the details of each life, each request.

Shelter from the elements, and land for growing crops.

Forgiveness, for having sinned.

To live, and not be executed.

For healing, and restoration of health.

The manner, form, and description of begging and being a beggar vary, but not the urgency to ask. In a similar sense, while Jesus does not specifically use the word beg, there are two important events (of several) that give a good indication of his having little hesitation with “asking in earnest”:

Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38)

Withdrawing a second time, he prayed again, “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” (Matthew 26:42)


The ways in which we might be moved to “ask in earnest” emerge from our hearts, thoughts, emotions, or a combination of all. As human beings we have basic needs—food, shelter, clothing—but also a need to love and be loved. God understood this from the beginning of creation and in this awareness, hard-wired you and me to be in relationship, most certainly with Him, and with those He places on the path with us.

Being a beggar and begging is always a two-way street. It boils down to having a need, or meeting a need. While God is more than able to respond to our “asking in earnest” for whatever that may be, He has also made it an integral part of our journey to be His hands and feet to one another through behaviors and actions which may take many forms. A hug. Time to listen. A ride to work. Respect. A bag of groceries. Forgiveness. Kindness.  

There will be occasions when God nudges you to give of your time, talent or resources to those in need. In the same breath, there will be those moments when He will nudge you to “ask in earnest”. Either way, let us be open to the Spirit in helping us see the need, whether in our neighbor, or in ourselves. And then, let us not be afraid to “ask in earnest” of the One who knows best how and in what way to respond.

How do I feel about being a beggar?

Do I tend to judge others when they “ask in earnest”?

Am I reluctant to beg? Why?

What do I need to beg God for in this moment?

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