In both the first reading from Proverbs and the Psalm response this morning, I was confronted with references to the ever-present concern of God (and Jesus) for “my neighbor”. Proverbs told me to “refuse no one the good to which he has a claim,” saying not “‘Go and come again; tomorrow I will give,’ when you can give at once.” (PRV 3:27-28). Psalm 15 speaks of the one “who harms not his fellow man, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor.”
As I considered these lines, the phrase “sticky wicket” came to mind. I actually had to go to a dictionary to be sure I was clear on the definition. I was somewhat surprised that what I found was exactly what I needed. A difficult or awkward situation; one requiring delicate treatment, it said. The difficulty came for me in the first reading when I thought of the panhandlers I drive or walk by sometimes (easier to ignore when I’m in my car). What should be my response to people who are obviously in need? What if I give money and they spend it unwisely? My judgment about such unfortunate people is where I get into trouble. My mind generally assumes all sorts of possibilities of why such people are as they are – all conditions brought on by their own weakness. Taking up a reproach against these neighbors of mine is easy. Deciding – on my better days – how to help them is not. Money is not always the answer. Maybe I should buy some gift certificates from a local restaurant or make some cards with the addresses of nearby food pantries. (These are just my first thoughts. There must be other attempts at a solution.)
One thing that is always possible is a smile and a kind word. Why would I be afraid to offer that, no matter the response?