If you’re on the eastside of Athens on a regular basis, you’ve probably seen him. He stands at the red light at the corner of Barnett Shoals and the access road that runs in front of Publix – in front of Firehouse Subs and Keba. He usually wears khaki pants, a long-sleeve light blue button-down shirt, and a tan cap.
The first time I gave him some cash he didn’t want to take it without working for it. I told him that I didn’t have any work for him to do and to please take the money. I don’t know how long ago that was. It seems like forever to me, so I can’t imagine how long it seems to him.
Since that day, I have given him money from time to time and food at other times – a couple of slices of pizza from Papa John’s on a Tuesday night or a sandwich from Chick-Fil-A. More importantly, I’ve learned that his name is Joe, and I’ve gotten to know him a bit.
One thing about him that has always stood out to me is his eyes. They’re not hardened or glazed over – what you might expect from a man who’s had a string of rotten luck. His eyes are gentle and kind, and they display a sense of gratitude that I have not seen often. He is always so thankful and looks me in the eye when we talk.
Tuesday night as I drove home, I saw him and I said to myself, “I don’t have anything for him today.” The next thing I knew I was in the CFA drive-thru line getting him a chicken sandwich; I guess God knew better. I parked near his spot, got out and walked over to him. As always, he was amazingly grateful. He told me about a job that he had just started. He told me about how hard it was to get some documents he needed to get the job, but “I’m not going to give up,” he said. The entire time as we talked his eyes showed that same kindness I was used to seeing, but this time I saw joy and pride also. As I headed for my car, he said, “Thank you, brother. Maybe one day I’ll be able to help you the way you’ve helped me.”
I’ve been told and formerly believed that you should not give money to people asking for it because they might use it for less than noble reasons. That’s just not right. I should give and give the benefit of the doubt. Matthew 5:8 reads, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Sometimes people who are pure in heart can be taken advantage of. If you always give people the benefit of the doubt, chances are that at some point doing so is going to bite you in the butt.
I’ll take my chances because as I think about Joe’s eyes I realize that I see God in them, in him. Maybe on Tuesday I didn’t have anything for Joe, but he (and He) sure had something for me.