As a young minister, I willingly responded to transients stopping by the
church seeking help. But, over time, my attitude radically changed. I started
calling them "beggars." I became more like the priest and Levite and less like
the good Samaritan.
I was very busy one Thursday morning when the call came: "Someone at the door
wants to see the pastor." A man in dirty clothes said he was a concert pianist
who had been ordered out of the house by his wife in Charleston, S.C., with only
the clothes on his back. He was hitchhiking to Salem, Va., to live with his son
until he could get back on his feet. I suspected he was lying.
I had profound respect for concert pianists. Concert pianists don't beg. He
waited in the lobby while I fixed him a ham and cheese sandwich. When I handed
it to him, I expected him to leave and let me get back to my work. To my dismay,
he opened the bag and began eating the sandwich. When he finished, he said, "I
want to give you a gift." He asked if he could use the piano in the dining room
close by. I insisted that he leave, but he walked into the dining room and sat
down at the piano. He played classical music as well as anyone I have ever
heard. He was brilliant.
Members of a committee meeting nearby heard the music and interrupted their
meeting to come out and listen. We sat there spellbound for at least 20 minutes.
When he finished, we gave him a standing ovation. As I walked with him to the
door, I said, "I am so sorry." "Why?" he asked. I replied, "Because I treated
you like a beggar, and you are not one." He said to me, "But I am a beggar."
And, as he walked away, he said to me: "You should treat every beggar as if he
were a concert pianist, and if you don't, you're not much of a Christian."
My life and my witness fundamentally changed that day. I resolved never again
to forget that every human being has equal worth and equal value.
The biblical call to extend hospitality to strangers does not preclude being
cautious. But, in our zeal to protect our lives and possessions, let us not
overlook one of God's most wonderful blessings. One never knows when offering
hospitality to strangers may also be an occasion for "entertaining angels
without knowing it" (Hebrews 13:2).