[A] few weeks back I had an encounter with a stranger that has replayed in my mind numerous times since then. It was a Monday morning and I was walking from the parking lot to Liberty Market for a meeting with the worship team. A guy stopped me and asked me if I would help him get an inhaler for his brother. I hesitated, like I normally do when suddenly hit up for something odd, but then concluded that this was something I needed to do.
He asked me if I would drive him to a nearby parking lot where he could meet his girlfriend (who had his little brother with her). I took him to it and then he asked me for $13 to buy the inhaler. I only had a $20, but he had seven ones to make change. He then asked if he could use my phone to see where she was. After he called her, he said that she was apparently at a different intersection and asked if I could drive there. While he pitched it as “just up the street,” it ended up being a 10-15 minute drive farther. I asked him a bunch of questions during our drive and he had very specific answers for all of them.
I had the nagging feeling that I was getting scammed.
I dropped him off at the second destination as he told me that he would come right back to Liberty Market and pay me back for “loaning” him the money. I never talked with him again.
I’ve replayed this scenario in my head more than a dozen times. Was his story actually true or did I totally get conned? My reaction has shifted back and forth from feelings of generosity to embarrassment to total frustration.
As I’ve thought more about it I’ve resolved that I made the right decision and that I would do it again. I know the standard argument (and used it myself many times). “But what is he going to spend it on”?
It feels great to deflect our sense of responsibility behind this argument, but here is a tougher question: what am I going to spend it on? Does the fact that I earned those $13 allow me to spend it on anything that I want? Why are our spending habits viewed with such different criteria than a stranger that asks for it?
To make the story even more interesting, I shared it last week at my Ironman table and another guy said that he had a similar thing happen to him. A guy asked him for thirteen bucks to buy an inhaler. Looks like I was conned.
I’m not sure where I land on the issue. I can argue both points of view. We certainly need to be good stewards of what we have and use discernment. But there are times when you just don’t know exactly how to handle it. The nagging question that I have is that if we are uncertain in a scenario like this, shouldn’t we err on the side of generosity over skepticism? I’m reminded of what Jesus says in the sermon on the mount:
“And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:40-42
What do you think? Generosity or skepticism? And if you find a guy who talks with you about an inhaler, tell him he still owes me $13 dollars.
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