The two men work different corners of a busy intersection in my delivery area. Their few teeth that remain are black, a shade darker than their clothes. On the back side of cardboard boxes one has written, ''Hungry. Anything will help,'' and the other, ''Homeless. Down on my luck. God bless.'' As they shuffle between the cars waiting at the red light, their faces betoken misery and want and hopelessness. One makes the sign of the cross incessantly as he walks. They are beggars. This is their livelihood, their source of income.
Yesterday I saw them conversing together away from their corners. Smiles graced their dirty faces. A joke appeared to pass between the two of them. One of them opened his bag a fraction to let his friend peek in, revealing who-knows-what inside. They exchanged a good-natured shoulder shove and laughed in unison. Then, a few minutes later they were back at work, transformed once more into the morose persona demanded by their vocation.
At his death, Luther had a slip of paper in his pocket on which he had famously written, ''We are all beggars. This is true.'' Indeed, so we are, for all we have is a gift from the Father’s hand, from whom, to whom, and through whom are all things.
But we are not beggars of the kind that work the intersections in San Antonio or any other city. The gifts they receive are prompted not only by the charity of the drivers, but by the demeanor of the beggar. It’s an unwritten contract between the beseecher and the beseeched that a wide smile will not elicit a wide open wallet. Better look the part. The more pitiful beggars appear, the more pity they evoke.
Not so with our Father. We need not look the part to elicit divine compassion. We need not be on our knees, face downcast, eyes watery, voice quivering, to make sure we get heaven’s attention. We need not play the beggar before God. Indeed to “play a part” before him is hypocrisy, whether that part be downcast misery or pious mirth. The wool is never pulled over the Lord’s eyes.
If you are joyful, pray joyfully. If you are depressed, pray depressed. If you are angry, pray angry. If you are in desperate want, pray desperately. You are a child speaking to your Father, who knows you better than you can fathom knowing yourself. And this Father loves you more than you love yourself, loved you even before you were conceived, before you did anything or were anything to somehow earn his love.
We may all be beggars, but our begging is to the Lord of love, who himself became poor and downcast and naked and hungry and thirsty and even dead on a cross, that he might make us rich in his Father’s grace, and who even now beseeches the Father to be gracious and merciful to us, his brothers and sisters.